Al-Anon, Theater, Michael Jackson & Trivia (December 20, 2013)

The experiences and diversions of which I availed myself this week, in an attempt to put back together the pieces of my shattered heart and move on with my life, were nothing if not diverse. As is the case with the dissolution of any toxic relationship, receding from crisis mode offers the benefit of perspective. I am slowly becoming aware of how many opportunities I declined or avoided in a futile effort to manage my partner’s temptations, to lavish him with enough attention and support to keep his thoughts and inclinations far from wasting time in a bottle. That these exertions of attempted control over an appetite and force larger than myself were destined to fail, now seems pitifully obvious. So much lost opportunity and energy.

Obviously, there’s nothing I can do to change the past, to rewrite history in order to let go when I should have. But I don’t have to keep making the same mistakes. I don’t have to remain in the fetal position lambasting myself for my time as “that girl,” the one who fell into the logical fallacy trap of believing that loving enough could foment change in one who made his choices years before our first encounter. And since I rarely do anything at half-throttle, I launched myself head first at every novel occasion.

Monday: The first of many Al-Anon meetings. As an atheist, I found myself more than a little uncomfortable with the recitation of the Serenity Prayer which opens and closes each meeting, as well as the frequent mentions of God or a “higher power.” But another friend of mine working the program gave me some great advice that I will endeavor to apply. Frame the “higher power” idea as the energy of the universe, your sponsor, or your own inner strength – whatever speaks to you. I can also see I’ll struggle with the forgiveness elements of the curriculum for the forseeable future, as well as the explicit instructions that what you place at the top of your priority pyramid should not be another person (obviously) or even the distracting intoxicants of work (dammit!). Somehow, some way, I’ll have to learn to put my own emotional and physical well-being there – a notion antithetical to my essence. I suppose that’s why I need to be in these meetings. I’m committed to change and that is never easy.

Tuesday: Back in my comfort zone taking in a production of Nina Raine’s Tribes at the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre. The play grapples with questions of communication and inclusiveness. Do we need spoken words to convey layered meaning or can we navigate the enormous depth and range of human emotion with visual symbols alone? What does it mean to be within or without a personal communication system, and what effect does that inclusion or exclusion have on one’s self-image?

This gets me thinking about my ex’s daughter and granddaughter. The friendships will be maintained but the terms of our relationships have changed and over time, shared experiences and inside jokes will accumulate without me. I will become more of an outsider, a “Somebody That I Used to Know.” This awareness fills me with bottomless sadness, but I don’t push it away. I take it in.

Wednesday: Major gear shift to attend the holiday party of my employer for the first time. Decent conversation, good food and drink and OH SHIT IS THAT A MICHAEL JACKSON IMPERSONATOR!? I jump on the seat of the nearest booth, so I can witness every crotch grab and moonwalk over the heads of my colleagues and everything else disappears. I don’t care that I am singing at the top of my lungs along with someone who only approximates the King of Pop, or that the wait staff gives me strange looks when I bend down from my perch for a wine refill. I am lost in the moment. Right now, right here, I am joy.

Later Wednesday Evening: As the great Ernest Hemingway would have observed, I am a little “tight” when I meet two of my best galpals for an Illinois Woman’s Press Association strategy session followed by a round of bar trivia. Fortunately I am 35 and appear to have learned a lesson or two about pacing. I switch to water, sip the half-price wine slowly and intermittently take mental steps back to appreciate the fact that I am out and about using my brain alongside two women I love, respect and admire. A broken, competitive and abusive relationship with my mother controlled my interactions with the other members of my sex for many years, and time was I could count close female confidantes on one hand with a couple fingers left over. No more.

These musings inspire me. I am capable of learning through a combination of self-awareness and frustration. Maybe that is my “higher power.”

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30 Days of Gratitude: 2013 Edition (November 26, 2013)

Yes, I have seen this meme work its way across Facebook over the course of November. I thought about participating, but my brain is usually too stream-of-consciousness for that level of daily content commitment, and I refuse to violate my personal rule of one status update per day (any more than that and I run the risk of the dreaded newsfeed “block” by bored connections). So with that in mind, here’s a month’s worth of people, events and phenomena for which I am grateful over the course of 2013, all in one shot.

1.Occupying the top spot with good reason, I am grateful for April’s reconciliation with my sibling and her family. Life is a lot less funny and loving without my baby sis.

2.Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently described by funny man Stephen Colbert as a “possessed Cabbage Patch doll,” I thank you for two things: reminding North America that the USA does not have the monopoly on mentally challenged local politicians, and for instilling waves of nostalgia for the comedic stylings of Chris Farley.

3.Early summer period of unemployment: I salute you. Were it not for the unexpected job loss, I would not be happily ensconced as a Marketing Manager with a wonderful company in downtown Chicago.

4.I am grateful that pompholyx eczema, while challenging and painful, has thus far limited itself to my hands. In many cases, the feet are also affected, ushering in a whole new wave of debilitating restrictions.

5.Early Fall welcomed Act III with the love of my life. We’re making it work this time, applying the lessons of the past with strategic guidelines for a balanced future. That might sound more business jargon than romantic sweetness, but I’ve finally learned that hard work and commitment are every bit as important as passion. And we’re lucky enough to have that too.

6.I’m grateful that the Illinois Woman’s Press Association chose me as their 2013-2015 leader. Together we’ve grown membership by 20 percent in six months, introduced dynamic new programming and collaborations with other communications organizations. The era of siloing and membership bleed is over. This makes me proud.

7.Thank you to the rollerblading ukulele player and singer who often greets me as I alight from the Red Line stop near my apartment. The sight of you gliding in circles with perfect tune and pitch never fails to put a smile on my face.

8.I cannot stress enough how much I love my de facto stepdaughter Amber and four year-old grandbaby Chloe. I leapt right over motherhood into a full and diverse family life as unexpected as it is treasured. Our growing bond is a source of continual joy.

9.Dr. T: You with your string of pearls, pale blonde hair and Stepford Wife looks. You may not have been the ideal of how my perfect therapist should appear, but when you echo my angry “f” bombs, I never feel more understood.

10.Salt Lake City: As an atheist from an all-business metropolis, I never expected to find your exceedingly friendly locals, natural cultivation and Mormon-culture appealing, but your $4 beer and shot specials, clean streets and sincerely helpful citizens won me over.

11.Breaking Bad: Thank you for five seasons of jaw-dropping storytelling and acting. I held my breath, I cried and I was angry. You shall never be duplicated. Thank you as well for leaving the party long before you got stale.

12.Mr. Roger Ebert: Your April death provoked a sense of public loss I had not experienced since the 2008 premature passing of NBC’s Tim Russert. My sincere gratitude for your thoughtful, diverse body of work and the opportunities to bond with a father who was and remains, mostly incomprehensible.

13.Thank you soft, black doughnut cushion (February 2013 – August 2013) for making hours of sitting bearable as my poor, busted tailbone slowly healed. Thank you also for doubling as a comfy Metra train sleeping pillow. I apologize for carelessly leaving you behind in the Salt Lake City airport. I like to think you are enjoying a second life comforting the buns of another injured soul.

14.Epsom salts: I just wrote about you last week, but it bears repeating. For your affordable, diverse ability to treat and soothe so many conditions, this Bud’s for you.

15.My growing adoration for the NFL, despite its imperfections and the perennial so-so-ness of the Bears, is the reason I do not entirely succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder each Fall.

16.The Republicans behind the late-Fall government shutdown: grazie for providing a much-needed, if temporary distraction from the abominable rollout of Obamacare.

17.President Obama: Thank you for breaking with eight years of W’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” to show the world that we are capable of talking and negotiating our way to a more peaceful world. Thank you also for being tough enough to stand up to warmongers who love to try to settle scores with bombs, yet failed to learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan examples that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.

18.I regret the coming conclusion to PBS’s Downton Abbey, but am grateful for the modern-day Austen void this society drama has filled.

19.Red wine: You’ll be on this list every year, you angel/devil, you.

20.The Boston Marathon bombing was tragic, frightening and a terrible blow to the assumed security of community events, but it taught the nation a couple of critical lessons: don’t assume Islamic terrorists are brown-skinned folks from distant lands and most of all, DON’T mess with the Boston PD.

21.Pope Francis: Like I said I am an atheist, but I am a huge fan of the compassion, good sense and humility you’ve unleashed on the Vatican thus far. There may be hope for a modern, relevant Catholic Church yet. I still can’t believe you made it through the Conclave given your radical ideas about poverty and tolerance, but I’m glad you did.

22.Not a fan of Edward Snowden, but I’m grateful for the public conversations about privacy and surveillance his shenanigans invited. It can easily be argued that we would not be having them otherwise.

23.Paul Krugman: For keeping Keynesian economics alive and mainstream and for standing up to destructive austerians and “deficit scolds” on the regular. Your brilliance, approachability and determination demonstrate why they don’t hand out Nobel Prizes to just anybody.

24.I thank the National Federation of Press Women for seeing fit to bestow my second first place national writing award in four years. The fact that my 2013 prize was for last year’s work on this very blog makes the victory that much sweeter. This page is me.

25.I am grateful for my diverse, eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park, and the multi-faceted benefits of lakefront living.

26.Zipcar: Thanks to your affordable membership prices and pickup location plentifulness, I don’t miss vehicle ownership one whit and shall never purchase an automobile again.

27.I don’t know whose decision at CNN it was to allow Newt Gingrinch to assault the airwaves on a weekday basis, but thank you. I now have a place to channel my sweaty hate whilst running on the treadmill.

28.Much love to PK and his painful, awful craniofacial massage techniques that have helped the Great Migraine Crisis of 2012 seem like a distant memory.

29.Wendy Davis: Your June, 11-hour filibuster badassery in the Texas Senate may not have killed the State’s assault on abortion rights, but your honey badger determination announced a new leader for women’s issues – and spiked sales of pink sneakers.

30.Last but not least, I am grateful that I have been given another year on this planet upon which to reflect.

35 to Life (August 8, 2013)

Well the moment has arrived. Today my friends, I turn 35 years old. Many single women in my position might be drinking heavily while mourning the loss of their prime childbearing years. Thankfully I’ve never valued my uterus that highly, or even thought about it much except as a source of monthly pain and discomfort. Subconsciously at first, then with more awareness as I progressed through the first half of my 30s, I found myself aligning with the philosophy of the title character in Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

Still if you’d asked me in early May, just three short months ago, about my feelings as I approached the milestone birthday, the reaction would have been visceral. A sigh, a cringe, a stated desire to filibuster the inevitable. To put it bluntly, I was not at all content with the state of my life. I’d just lost my full-time job, was immersed in a committed relationship that increasingly left me wanting and struggling with a variety of stress-compounded ailments: chronic migraines, recurring eczema and insomnia. There’s nothing like aging another year to remind one of diminishing time, and goals yet to be accomplished.

A lot has changed since a personal low in late Spring, some of these metamorphoses owing to good old fashioned hard work, some of the alterations out of my control. Relentless pavement pounding and networking produced a mercifully brief period of unemployment. In just 10 weeks I traded the dole for a big career step up, landing a position as a Marketing Manager at the tenth largest insurance brokerage in the world. With regard to so many variables, the new job is far more suited to my talents and temperament, and I envision at least several contented years in the role. It was also mid-May when I was formally sworn in as the President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, an organization of communication professionals founded in 1885. With an alacrity of which I force myself to publicly own some pride, I ascended the ladder from new member to Commander-in-Chief in just three years. I am proud of the work I am doing, capitalizing on the organization’s tremendous historical assets to recruit a new generation of talented communicators.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, I received notification that I had been recognized as the Best Personal Blogger of 2012 by the National Federation of Press Women. I’ll travel to Salt Lake City at the end of the month (the first time I have vacation days and income with which to board a plane since Summer 2011) to attend the NFPW Conference and accept the award. I’m learning to balance the responsibilities of my day job with the time I need to set aside to complete personal writing projects, because it’s clear I must have both. In numerous professional ways, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. And it seems that as I grow and mature, the ultimate late bloomer, I find these vocational endeavors yield the give and take I’ve been unsuccessful in eliciting from personal relationships. The more work I put in, the more of my soul I pour into words and administration, the higher the dividends. I have full control without subjective variables. Tremendously gratifying.

Though my last effort at love went bust, even that failure carried valuable lessons that are fortifying a current state of equilibrium. I realized that at this point in my life, I have no inclination to divide my internal resources and time. Slowly but definitively I became aware that I was turning into a Jill of All Trades, Master of None, chipping away at overall satisfaction. I shared every idea and strategy I had for trying to make our union work, but when I wasn’t met in the middle in creativity and effort, I let it drop. This may not sound like a big deal, but it really is. Friends and foes alike have described me as “relentless,” and in general, I don’t mind a stubbornly persistent reputation. But it has its downsides. Sometimes one (me) can doggedly pursue something when it’s obvious to common sense that it’s time to surrender. It’s not that my inner voices failed to notify me in the past. I am just learning to heed the warnings and walk away with more of my dignity, as well as mental and physical health, intact.

Make no mistake, I still have my issues with aging. The body seems to injure more easily and heal more slowly with each passing year. Trying to stay in some sort of physical shape demands a little more dedication. The forehead creases and crow’s feet that grow incrementally deeper can be mitigated with Botox injections, but I am aware this is merely cosmetic. The character of Truvy in Steel Magnolias throws the quintessential truth bomb when she states, “Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.” I am aware of the years lost in sedentary depression and confusion that I can never reclaim. All that said, I recognize that I wouldn’t be able to stand back and appreciate the accomplishments I’ve amassed – a loving family, a great network of friends, a thriving career – without the benefits of time and experience.

So today I celebrate movement out of the desirable 18-34 year old marketing demographic. My age doesn’t render me less cool. On the contrary. I know what I want, need, think and feel more than ever before. I’ll blow out 35 candles in celebration of the greatest gifts my time on this planet has given me: adventure and self-awareness.

Four Years and 60 Days (July 10, 2013)

Although the seeds began to germinate long before, the title reflects the exact length of time it took this blogger to realize her fullest potential.

It was May 2009, age 30, when I finally located the chutzpah to relinquish a stable career in corporate operations to strike out as a professional writer. Three people who knew me intimately enabled this Great Leap Forward: my beloved sister Jenny, well acquainted with my bookishness and passion for social issues, as well as a frustrating tendency to play it safe; the tireless Dr. T., my longtime shrink, who patiently retrained me to believe it ok to want for myself; and my ex-husband, who provided the financial safety net without which I could never have considered the risk. Two of these three people are still very large parts of my life, and while the ex is now past, I am forever grateful to him for believing in my talent enough to temporarily underwrite it.

Those first efforts at professional writing were low paid, plentiful, and in retrospect, somewhat embarrassing. There wasn’t a job I didn’t say “yes” to, and apparently, no such thing as a run-on sentence. I stumbled upon an amazing female mentor, the Editor-in-Chief of StreetWise, a local Chicago newspaper, who trusted me with six feature stories that year, despite a wholesale lack of journalism experience. She also introduced me to the accomplished ladies of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, an organization of communication professionals founded in 1885. Upon joining the group, I enjoyed regular fellowship, networking opportunities and lo and behold, state and national awards for the urban agriculture pieces Suzanne challenged me to write.

As the demands of a nascent career expanded to include Chicago theater criticism, a weekly political column and achingly confessional blog, my profile began to rise, spare time began to fall and my marriage started to unravel. My version of Sophie’s Choice became clearer: relinquish heretofore-inexperienced professional satisfaction or the love of my life. Gut wrenchingly, painfully, debilitatingly, I opted for the latter. To say I never looked back would be a colossal lie. For the better part of a year after the initial separation, my head turned in circles with alarming speed, like the possessed child from The Exorcist. Alone, broke and panicked, I waited for someone with authority to bless me, to provide reassurance that I hadn’t thrown it all away for nothing.

Two and a half years of progressive responsibility followed: a temporary resume writer, an entry level web content production and project management position at a small publishing firm, culminating in a Head Writer role at a successful Direct Response TV marketing company. In the latter two spots, I became a better communicator. I learned to craft marketing content with succinct, actionable clarity (run-on sentences, never a solid sales pitch make). I learned to edit and revise not only my own work, but that of others. I found my voice and learned when to say “not yet,” beginning to trust my skills and experience. I felt it slowly, in increments. Yes, I was born to do this. I was in the right place.

Until I wasn’t. Until I found myself suddenly and spectacularly unemployed 60 days ago and I worried that the incremental growth of my career might come to a screeching halt. Hadn’t I spent hours reading anecdotes and talking with talented, amazing friends who’d been out of work for six months, a year or more? Didn’t I know a plethora of fascinating people who struggled to have their resume viewed? I was no different from any of them, and in many cases, far less accomplished.

I did have one advantage. After just three years of regular membership and two years of serving on the board as the group’s Newsletter Editor/Social Media Strategist, my fellow IWPA colleagues saw fit to elect me as the Association’s 47th President, a stunning development I have yet to fully comprehend. Though the work is volunteer in nature, work it certainly is: administrative manager, cheerleader, public relations, recruitment and retention, strategic planning. Sworn in just days after I lost my full-time job, the IWPA promotion seemed to lend a legitimacy I struggled to feel. I’d been vetted and verified by the vaunted.

I filed for unemployment insurance. I applied ad nauseum. I temped. I took to the bed a couple times, unwashed, unfed, existentially haunted. Planning is impossible for those waiting in the crosshairs.

Then yesterday: the phone call. The Human Resources recruiter I’d been working with sounded stern and serious. Like a World War II widow shakily opening a telegram with Earth-shattering news she can already sense in her marrow, I braced myself to hear that I’d be the bridesmaid again. Stoically, I uttered the one word question: “Yes?”

This time was different. I was chosen. No screw that. I’d made it happen. Three interviews, one personality test, a nationwide background check, written references and a credit report later, I’m the new Marketing Manager at a multi-billion dollar, privately-held company. I’m President of the IWPA and in late August, I’ll travel to Salt Lake City to pick up an award from the National Federation of Press Women – Best Personal Blog of 2012. At this very instant, I find it difficult to believe it gets any better. It was all so worth it: the loose ends, the divorce, the ensuing depression, migraines and cancer, the poverty, the estrangement, the obscurity, the lost health coverage, fear and shame.

Four years and 60 days of doubt and recrimination. Four years and 60 days of “You’ll never make it. You’ll be sorry. Who do you think you are? How do you dare? (a voice that sounded remarkably like my own).” Four years and 60 days of introductions, writing samples and oh so much rejection. Four years and 60 days of growing-pain filled evolution that makes today a brilliantly lit vindication of a neurotic 30 year-old’s wonder. “What if there’s something else I’m meant to do?”

In the 21st Century, You Know You’re on the Right Track When… (December 9, 2009)

Google

I know it’s really small, but look! My name autocompletes on Google!

This caused me a considerable degree of excitement last night, because, as recently as a month ago, this was not the case. This development in my writing name recognition is purely the result of my work for the Edge, as a theater and book critic. Not only do I get “hits” for my reviews posted on the site, but my writings are in turn repackaged and requoted on other websites such as Beacon Press, Theater in Chicago, the Drury Lane and the Auditorium Theater.

Though I have recently been nominated for two awards by the Illinois Women’s Press Association in their “Features” category for my work for StreetWise on the topic of urban agriculture, StreetWise does not have an online edition. Though my reporting for the publication certainly boosts my chops and credentials, this does not raise my profile digitally. The awards will not be handed out until May, 2010, but I will be sure to post the outcome when the time comes (like you could stop me anyway).

I have had a lot to be dour about this year, and I have certainly struggled to feel “accomplished” at many intervals. The New York Times has not come a’knockin’ yet, but I left the corporate world just seven months ago to try and make a name for myself as a writer. According to the folks at Google, I am on my way.