Smelling the Roses (May 24, 2011)

I am highly self-critical. I am not known to give myself a break very often, whether it’s a browbeating for past mistakes and poor decision making, pushing myself to do “more” (exercise, work, writing, cleaning) even when my body and spirit have clearly had enough, or simply honing in repetitively on perceived flaws.

The last seven months have been hellish by any standards: extended unemployment that caused me to question my place (like, if there was one) in the working world, fissure in a marriage to the man I still (and may always) consider the love of my life, and most recently, a battle with stage 2A cervical cancer. So clearly, if one is judgmentally introspective by nature, life has handed me a veritable buffet of reasons to feel like a loser.

I have written about the need to develop new pathways for myself, because at nearly 33 years of age, one thing is clear: the grief I give myself hasn’t amounted to to any sort of spiritual epiphany or life fulfillment. If anything I’m beginning to consider that my own unforgiving navel gazing (this blog bears the title with good reason), has not been a tool for healthy ruminating and moving myself forward, but rather an overly self-conscious roadblock that has led me to make “safe” decisions that instead blow up into explosive peccadilloes. I have been too afraid to follow my “inner voice,” which I am learning a lot about from an unusual authority – star publicist to the fashion world Kelly Cutrone.

In recent discussions with my therapist, I have shared that the one thing I have done right in the last few years was to take a gamble on myself, finally heed the inner voice that screamed at me all throughout my 20s that I was a corporate fraud. I didn’t want to climb the ladder, grab the brass ring or sit in the corner office fending off sniping barracudas. I wanted (nay, needed) to be a writer. That admission was not an acknowledgement of talent by any means. I was completely unsure I had anything to offer, or even knew where to start.

I am not going to rehash the two year-journey spent hustling down unpaid freelance lane, the strain I put on my marriage by asking Eddie to comprehend what must have seemed like a midlife crisis of sorts, where I remained unwilling to birth babies, yet brought no income into the home. It was one of the first truly selfish things I have ever done – and it came with a high price.

As someone in the business of self-flagellation, I often succumb to the inviting temptation to second guess the decisions that brought me to where I sit today: sick, alone, and financially shaky.

But on another level, I am covertly and tacitly aware that I am doing it. I am living my dream, however small and unintentionally isolating it may be.

This past Saturday, and for the second year in a row, I was awarded writing prizes from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Last year, I went on to take first place from the National Federation of Press Women in one of their “Special Article” journalism categories. This year, proving that I am more diverse in my skillset than I have otherwise been willing to admit, I received two second place certificates for work on this very blog, “So This is What Fat Looks Like?,” and “A Generation X Bedtime Story.” Additionally, I received a first place award in the state category, “Column Written Specifically for the Web.” That honor was received pursuant to a piece I wrote on education for RootSpeak magazine.

The latter distinction means that I will be able to try my fortunes at the national level in August.

As a struggling writer, I feel very blessed. I have a lot to say, an abundance of avenues in which to be read, and best of all, the occasional validation of my peers to tell me I haven’t turned my life inside out for naught.

It’s important to take a moment now and then to acknowledge that.

 

A Hiatus From Hooch (May 22, 2010)

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My name is Becky Boop and I am a social binge drinker. I have been afflicted with this evil tendency since the age of 16, the first time I sampled red wine in mass quantities from the liquor cabinet of a high school pal’s parents. That eve I made prank phone calls and fell down the (carpeted) stairs, and the following school day was painful on many levels. This should have been a standard coming of age lesson against the perils of chugging alcohol, especially when you have responsibilities to face the next morning.

Yet this very incident, plus or minus a few details like young age, repeated itself recently, and in fact, I am good for an episode of this nature every few months. Now I recognize the difference between binge social drinking and full blown alcoholism. Alcoholism is a terrible disease that destroys many lives, and has personally affected members of my own family. I can go weeks at a time without touching a drop. My problem is that once I get going, particularly in a lively (or uncomfortable – try that dichotomy on for size) group gathering, I don’t know when to stop. There is a fine line between laughing at all the times I have puked out of cab windows, fallen down or turned in bravura karaoke performances, and backing up to examine if this is really the kind of gal I want to be. There is something decidedly less humorous about these hijinks as one approaches their mid-30s. I have made arguments in the past about the extended adolescence of today’s adults, and in theory I look down upon this. So why in this case am I such a willing contributor?

The shame spiral, physical recovery time and inability to keep my busy life on track after a night of rock star partying is not worth the few hours of fun. On paper, in the sober light of day I am aware of this. I also know that drunkenness affects good judgment. The best way to keep myself out of this trap is to stay away from the sauce completely. I don’t need a drink to have a good time, or do I? Let’s examine the evidence:

1. Last weekend, as I accepted an award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, and my nerves were frayed beyond belief at having to endure a public round of applause, I wished for nothing more than a shot of tequila so I could bear my own insecurity.

2. Recently, I was so excited at reuniting with my one of my best friends, traveling abroad from London, I felt the need to down a bottle of wine in 30 minutes so I could keep my tongue in check. I tend to dominate conversations when I am agitated, happily or not, and I am aware this is a turnoff.

3. When I am engaged in a household chore which I do not wish to do, like laundry or washing dishes, I tend to carry a glass of wine with me, and take a sip as a “treat” at given intervals.

Were I to examine this evidence from a purely unemotional, pedagogical perspective, it would seem I use alcohol as a coping mechanism. I do not like the implications of where that behavior leads, especially, as I said, coming from a family where alcoholism has been devastating. I don’t like what I see when I look in the mirror the next morning. But I can turn this self-loathing into a positive. I can take ownership of myself and my social behavior, the way I have co-opted adversity, self-inflicted or otherwise, in the past.

My plan is simplicity itself. Just stop. Stop drinking. Get some distance between myself and the bottle until I can learn to have a healthier relationship with alcohol.

The first test comes tonight. I am having a housewarming party. I am about to leave for Trader Joe’s, where I will stack up on frozen edibles and numerous bottles of wine. Only I won’t touch them. I will greet a parade of guests, pour their libations, and try to find something un-awkward to do with my hands (in the past, clutching and sipping from a wine glass was the answer). I realize that for me, the battle to cure my social binge drinking is about something more than curbing an appetite. It’s about learning to be more comfortable with myself.

Hybrid (May 15, 2010)

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Whenever I get too full of myself, sense my ego getting ahead of me, I have a go list of “gut checkers,” which remind me that I am just a normal, ordinary, imperfect, ball of neuroses. While self-appreciation is a necessary part of a healthy life, it is important to stay grounded by your flaws and inabilities, to cherish them as you do your greatest assets. They are part of who you are too. For example, my tremendous discomfort of speaking in public, my tendency to turn red and stammer the word “um” a little too much for my liking, is what drove me to develop swiftness with the pen (or the laptop). So I accept my ineptitude and try to reflect upon it with equal consideration, especially when I experience a personal high, because it is what motivates me to work that much harder. I like to think of it as utilitarian self-doubt.

I had a good day today. I experienced a writing career high when I accepted an award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association – for a series I wrote last year on the booming economic/ecological phenomenon of urban agriculture. I put on a fancy dress and accepted the applause of a roomful of respected, accomplished female writers. It was awful, wonderful, humbling and empowering all at once. Sometimes I think I’d be more at peace, and less bewildered, if my feelings came in black and white.

I did take a moment to feel proud of my award, of course. In fact I feel so fulfilled today that I am equally up to the task of taking the piss out of myself. Because at the end of the day, I am still, and always will be, such a work in progress.

Six idiosyncratic Boop-isms:

1. I can’t do a THING with my hands. It is awfully good I was born with a brain that functions adequately enough, because if I had to draw, assemble, sew or otherwise create or fix anything with my left and right, I would be screwed. Case in point: as bored teenagers, my younger sister Jen used to ask me draw animals (ex. elephant) just to enjoy the mirth of watching my earnest floundering.

2. The Lexulous application on FaceBook owns me. I have a Master’s in English Literature, and am one of the biggest nerds I know, yet I suck in the extreme at this glorified Scrabble. Perhaps my pedestrian use of the word “suck” contributes to my problems. Regardless, I have a deplorable win ratio of 12.5% (two for 14).

3. I cannot roll my tongue. I am not double jointed. I am not a great whistler, nor can I do a backflip. Trust me, there was a time in my life (secretly not over yet) when I thought all of these things were awesomeness itself.

4. I can’t take Vicodin. In fact, I am allergic to more man-made drugs than anyone I know. Do you know how much fun this has cost me over the years?

5. Motion sickness. Cruel irony: I am one of the most enthusiastic natural daredevils in existence. But around the age of 12, I inherited the family motion sickness gene to the tenth power. I have ralphed in public more times, and in more countries, than I can bear to remember.

6. Fears: bees, dogs, needles and human statues (that last one is another post for another time).

In short, I am weird. This used to bother me a lot until I realized that everyone else is too. They are just more or less adept at hiding it. Now I celebrate it. Because whenever I take a step forward, I take my oddities with me. We’re partners.

My Personal Credit Crisis (May 13, 2010)

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Long before the start of this protracted recession, and prior to the stock market thud of late 2008, I became acquainted with the collapse of an economy at the micro-level. In the late 1990s, as I wrapped up my high school career and entered college as a freshman, my family’s fiscal health imploded alongside the tenacity of my parent’s marriage. My father’s prolonged unemployment begat depression, which led to more fighting than usual, then separation.

As if the family unrest were not enough, my mother’s departure from the family home, where she had long been the sole breadwinner, led to foreclosure and problems with the IRS. Instead of working together as a team to figure a way out of the mess, my mother, who is no longer a part of my life, chose identity fraud as her personal salvation. Whilst I was away completing my degree, she took my very early stage credit rating to the cleaners – to the tune of over $17,000.

As a 22 year-old graduate in 2000, I had neither the means nor the mental capacity to deal with this level of duplicity and ruin. Ultimately, I chose to file for bankruptcy, oddly enough one of the smartest moves I ever made. It gave me a fresh start and the closure I needed to put the last five years of sleepless nights behind me. I am proud to say this bankruptcy finally rolled off my credit report this past March. For a long time, I felt the irony of being one of the most anal, responsible people in existence, but unable to rent an apartment without a co-signer.

But this anecdote is not the point of my post today. Though years of adulthood have helped me put this saga in the past where it belongs, it still very much affects the way I do business today – much to the chagrin of my husband. Call me old fashioned (like REALLY old fashioned), but I do not trust credit, electronic money or other slippery currencies. Once (or thrice) bitten, always and forever shy I suppose. Though I am far more solvent than I once was, I refuse to have my name on a piece of plastic, don’t buy things unless I have the cash in the bank to pay for them, and if I owe the smallest debt to an acquaintance, I pay it off before I have the opportunity to break out into a sweat. Am I scarred or just sensible? You decide.

Anyway, my husband Eddie bought a new sport coat yesterday. I am receiving an award from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association this Saturday, and as part of the deal, we get to attend a fancy luncheon at Chicago’s Union League Club. The sport coat was necessary, so as he trotted off to Macy’s, I felt relatively calm. However, that evening, when he informed me he had charged the $200 bucks spent to his American Express (note: HIS, I have refused to have my name added to the account), I lost it for reasons even I cannot fully understand.

As I tried to work it out, I clumsily explained that once the credit floodgates are open, they are tempting and hard to close. Look no further than the national debt for proof. I somewhat hysterically relayed to Eddie that I know well where that road leads and I’d just rather not risk it. We had the cash, so why didn’t he use it? Answer? Credit card points.

Another schadenfreude designed by predatory card issuers. Yes, we will let you “earn” a free iPod while we hammer away at your debt ratio, making it impossible for you to ever be free of our clutches.

Readers, am I overreacting? Possibly. But the combination of having fiscally irresponsible mentors, and bearing witness to America’s move in the wrong direction, farther away from financial independence each day, only renders me more set in my ways.

I will be back to read your thoughts after I finish stuffing my last paycheck into the mattress.

Square One (February 25, 2010)

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I am done with the CNTP (Chicago Neighborhood Tourism Project) at the City. If this seems rather abrupt, well it kind of was, but like with any decision I make in life, the seeds of certainty that this is the right move were sown awhile ago.

When the project began, it was all about the fun of exploring the City and sharing my research and findings in ways that would enrich the tourism experience, for locals as well as visitors. But as all City funded projects seem to do, this one started to derail. Between 1/29 and Monday morning, I worked with, and lost, three research partners (including the first and greatest, my Sammy Boy). I injured my hand on the job in mid-January. The fieldwork part of the position became less important over time as data entry and other bureaucratic initiatives began to trump hard research. In the early weeks of this month, I found myself continually getting up at 5 AM and trudging through the cold to reach the office in order to catch up on busy paperwork.

Bah! The very situation I had determinedly abandoned when I left the corporate world last May. At the risk of sounding like a totally delusional hippie, this is not life man.

With all the hours I spent devoted to spreadsheets of late, for slightly more than minimum wage, I began to feel like maybe I had taken my eye off the prize. I left the ADA last year to be a writer, not to spend my days typing data into Mircosoft cells. The job was initally supposed to last four months, but my contract was extended, and a little voice instead my head started to whistle with increasing volume that perhaps I had been hasty in agreeing to continue.

So anyway, I sort of came to earlier this week and resigned. Low and behold, that insomnia I have been battling for the last six weeks has evaporated. I have slept like a lamb since Monday night. I understand, belatedly, that my conscience, the part that felt obligated to stick it out until the end of April, was wrestling with my will and desire, which was to catchup on freelance projects, and make the time to find actual writing employment.

But I have freed myself from that moral picadillo now, and perhaps I ought to feel more guilt and panic (I have spent a lot of my years hanging out in these twin cities), but I don’t. I have a lot to look forward to. Eddie and I are moving to a great new place in Rogers Park on March 27th and someone has to get that business underway. The Shamrock Shuffle is on March 21st, a week before the move, and I’m training harder than even I believed I would. Team June/Jesika will strut its stuff on May 1 for the three mile Ovarian Cancer Walk, in memory of two of the most awesome women I ever knew. That same day, I’ll find out if I am an Illinois Woman’s Press Association award winner.

And somewhere in all that, there’s another job for me. I know the economy and the market still suck, but I believed in myself enough to walk away from a stable corporate gig, at the worst possible time, almost a year ago. When I did, it was with the certainty that this road was going somewhere – this path I’ve been wandering with a pen and paper in hand was going to lead me to career fulfillment. Despite this minor setback, I am not giving up.