Monday, July 28, 2014

Goodbye, friends.

Because you know how I love haikus...
It has run its course.
Thus, with one last post, goodbye.
Sad, but time for change.

When I started Pillow Book over four years ago, my goal was to create a digital version of Vivian Swift’s illustrated travel journal, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.  I wanted it to be my own journal of staying put, a journal that detailed the quirky and beautiful that existed in my very ordinary daily life, a life that I was rather unexpectedly rebuilding in my hometown at the age of 29. I had hoped it would “reconnect me to the beauty I’ve been missing” and inspire this disengaged graduate student to actually enjoy writing again.

Well, I feel like I have basically accomplished those things. You have heard me philosophize/blabber on and on about my family, heartbreak of all sorts, collective joy, awesome v. not awesome lists, local restaurants and go-to recipes, my undying devotion to the Avett Brothers, personal insecurities, my love of all things whimsical, my distrust of false hope and unsubstantiated fluff phrases and technology and people who don’t return shopping carts to the collection bins, and my desire to see this wonderful little southern Kentucky town be a real-life version of Stars Hollow.  You have offered thoughtful comments and hilarious Facebook quips. Many of you have put me to shame with your guest posts, posts that always reminded me how fortunate I am to be dumber than my friends.  You have inspired me to write and think and read more.  You have reminded me that while perhaps different in hue, we are all basically fighting the same battles. You have helped me embrace happiness in simplicity. You have encouraged me to live a more creative and a more engaged life.  You, and this blog space, have kept me sane and kept this perpetual wanderer from roaming.  

Thank you for sharing the past four years with me.  You all deserve a spot in my gratitude jar.

Now, lets go write a book.J
Time for new adventures...:)

Monday, June 30, 2014

My favorite princess...

Isabella turns five on Wednesday. Although no poem, short story, or song could do justice to how much joy she (and Averey) bring to my life, I try to write her a little something every year. 

Happy birthday to the little girl who has the biggest heart of anyone I know. 
"My Favorite Princess"

It was a year of firsts for the newly crowned big sister of the clan,
“avenging” her mother’s t-ball fears, pink glove (and sand piles) in hand.
She swam in the ocean and at her BFF, Kynsley,’s pool,
and somehow, beyond explanation, made ruffled pants look reasonably cool.

She “earned” forty two new pairs of Wal-Mart pajamas on persuasiveness alone,
a convincing conversationalist, skills honed on her parents’ smart phones.
The day she pretended to be TJ, fake male voice and insurance lingo at hand,
was the day I realized her graduation from endearing to witty, foolish land. 

She became a daddy’s girl, piling in the truck or razor when farm duty called,
checking on fences and cows, insisting she “help” when hay needed to be hauled.
You see, Isabella Kurtys doesn’t really take “no” for an answer;
she’s “got it covered,” whether as farmhand, Averey’s babysitter, or BAFA tap dancer.

Speaking of which, her role as “big sister” is obviously the most important “first,”
a part she has embraced, one we’ve surprisingly never had to coerce.
I’m sure hairbrushes will be thrown and unfathomably unequal school desks arranged,
but for the time being, it’s living room laughter and a little red rolly ball exchanged.

They love each other just as the Anna and Elsa they both so adore,
a companionship that has naturally developed, one never implored.
And thus, to see them together would melt the most Frozen of hearts,
in matching Matilda Jane dresses they perfectly play the doting sister part.

And so, on this last Sunday in June, I write a poem for the little girl who has become so much,
the one worthy of labor-intensive homemade cakes, life-sized Disney cut-outs and such.
She is the niece whom I love far beyond the words I annually try to put down,
the birthday girl who this humble Aunt thinks everyday deserves a crown. 

Much love on your 5th birthday, Isabella Kurtys,
Aunt Liza, Willie, Lucy, Charley, DC, Wendell, and all the outside cats
A few points of reference:
-Isabella's t-ball team was called the Avengers.
-Leigh Ann and I both cried and refused to play when Mom took us to our first t-ball practice. 
-Leigh has never let me live down the time I threw a sage green hairbrush at her. I still talk about how she gave me the crap school supplies and makeshift office furniture.
-I hope you have seen the video on Facebook where Isabella and Averey are rolling the little ball to each other. It is incredibly endearing. 
-Isabella loves Frozen and had a Frozen-themed birthday party last Sunday. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

A little help from my friends...

I seriously doubt that I have ever been at risk of this; nevertheless, I really love this quote. Some people get intimidated or frustrated or defensive or just plain mean when in the midst of impressive people. I have learned to appreciate it (somewhat out of necessity...such is life when your friends tend to be amazingly handy, creative, well-read and intelligent). We should all put ourselves around people who make us want to be better. 

Thank you to all of you who do just that. 
As I mentioned in the last post, I asked several women in my life to answer the same questions related to fulfillment and expectations that I posed to myself. Since that time, I also decided to send the same questions to several male friends/family who I thought might be willing in contribute. I figured it would be interesting to see if males and females responded significantly differently.

Regardless of gender, the first received responses, as suspected, have already proven testament to my "find a comfy chair and stay put" room status.  
I taught next-door to Jackie Rogers at Pulaski County High School from 2004-2006. Even though I haven't kept in touch with Jackie much over the years, I'll never forget how much I enjoyed being around her. She was one of the wittiest people I had ever been around (and about the only person I knew who could so easily trade quips with Scott), the students loved her, and the staff and parents respected her.  If you were a kid, you wanted to have her in class; if you were a teacher, you wanted to have my classroom so you could crack jokes with her in the hallway and eat lunch together. 

"One of my best friends and I like to get away in the fall for a quiet week on the beach. We pack several books, drums of sunscreen, versatile outfits and lots of shoes. If it rains, we sit on our balcony with coffee and say, “bring it on.” If dolphins come close to the shore, we nod with casual interest like we have one at home. If a shark joins us in the water, we crap our skirted bathing suits full. It isn’t that we are uber cool, we don’t even use the word “uber”, it is just that we have become comfortable. We’ve settled into our 40s and are wearing it around like yoga pants.

Last year on our first morning in the condo, coffee in hand, sunrise on the water, making plans for supper in about 12 hours; I rubbed the dull ache in the middle of my forehead.  I told my friend, who was as content as I to sit silently together or laugh like sorority girls, that I hoped the headache would go away before we made our way to our pre-paid, umbrella covered chairs. She informed me that it would go away in 24 hours. “You’ve got an old woman headache,” she informed me.

Old woman headache. Now that was new to me. She explained to me that people “my age” start getting these perimenopause headaches and it would get worse. Being four years older, I am benefitting from her misfortune of going first. “Why didn’t old women tell us about this?” I asked her.

“They tried,” she said.

And then we laughed. Everything is much funnier after 40. By “after” I mean the moment you wake up on your 40th birthday. You’ve spent the last decade scoffing at the hundreds of people who comment on how you will suddenly not be able to read or how your body parts will give in to gravity. It seems so cliche, until you wake up the morning of your 40th birthday and wonder why you can’t make out the expiration date on the milk. For several months you blame it on the lighting, but finally you buy a value pack of readers and start wearing them on top of your head.

At this point, I embraced it. I wasn’t in this alone and I wasn’t the first to watch my 20s and 30s slip away. When I reflect on those years, they were fun but too full of competition and struggle and self-doubt. If I could pinpoint the moment I let that go, it would be when I saw this quote that seems to be floating around a lot on social media “Girls compete with each other. Women empower one another.” I didn’t have it tattooed on my foot, rather I burned it in my heart. The more I give, the fuller my life becomes. “Cast your bread on the waters,” the Bible says, “and after many days it will return to you.”'
Since most of you who read this are from Cumberland County, you likely know Barbara Booher. Even though I went to school with her son, David, it wasn't until I took the job at the library that I realized what a wonderful person this woman is. The library, our kids, and the community in general are truly lucky to have her. I promise you, you won't find many people with a bigger heart. 
1. Do you consciously resolve to be a better/happier woman? How do you do this? 
I really don't consciously think about what would make me happier.  I might realize that I need to make a change of some kind in order to function better. But, I have discovered that I have a personality that needs to be "helping or giving" to someone in order to feel fulfilled or "happy".  I find true joy in doing for others.   I have also learned that people aren't fooled.  I must be real and sincere in what I do.

2. What advice would you give to someone in regard to creating/inspiring a fulfilled life? 
My advice is to know exactly what your priorities are and make your decisions accordingly.   Don't get caught up in "busyness".  It will rob you of your energy, time and your peace of mind. I know that my relationship with my God comes first, my family second, and then anything else in my life.   I also know the importance of respecting the fact that people have different priorities.

3. What lesson have you learned the hard way? 
I learned the hard way that I can't do it all, I can't fix it all and that I can't be everything for everybody.    But I can do my part.

4. If you wrote one quote on your bathroom mirror, what would it be? 
There is a plaque in my house that says "Be Kind, Be Wise, Be True".  I think of it as a revision of the Bible verse that says "Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humble minded." 1 Peter 3:8

5. If you had one piece of advice for your daughter/best friend/[any other woman of significance in your life], what would it be?  
My advice is to always stay focused on what is important....and the importance of passing on the values you have been taught to others around you through your actions and words.
Jim Brady is probably one of the most interesting people I have ever met: father, author, wine maker, explorer, philosopher, animal-lover, jack-of-all-trades, [insert about anything else you can think of]. There are so many little nuggets of wisdom in his response....even if for some reason he did capitalize the entire thing.;)







Sunday, June 1, 2014

I would hope I'd be Chandler.

You would be hard-pressed to scroll through any online media or news site and find something along the lines of "What I've learned in my 32 years." or "How I chose to live a happier life." or "Advice to my 25-year-old-self" mysteriously missing. Why? Because these types of articles are the "philosophical" equivalent of "What Friends star would you be?"-type quizzes and "Bout to get my __________ on! Just sayin'." status updates....they are everywhere (For what it's worth, I take the Buzzworthy quizzes with far more fervor than any reasonably sane person should. The end result could be a conclusive explanation of what kind of cheese I would be or what city I should call home...i love them all. I am fairly certain, however, that I have never suggested I was 'bout to get my anything on). 

And in complete disclosure, I typically find myself clicking the link for all of these articles. I know that I will likely just find more of the same cliche stuff that frequents every other list - be grateful/mindful, value sleep, drink water/meditate/exercise, money doesn't buy happiness...but it makes things easier, never stop dreaming, you will always have to compromise - yet I read anyway.  I suppose a part of me is simply looking for validation of the things that I have also come to know/accept, but the bigger part is hoping that, in one of those bullet points, I will finally find the complete contentment, to trusting my decisions, to actually being the "best me I can be." 

And so I read...
But inevitably don't. 

And while I realize that my disappointment is illegitimate considering 1) there is no magic life key and 2) there is no sound reason some random blogger should be able to really "speak to" my soul and mind as though we were BFFs, I always find myself frustrated, thinking things like "Well, no shit, of course sleeping four hours on a couch every night isn't bringing out the best Liza I can be." 

If "sounds like someone needs to meditate and be more mindful of blah, blah, blah." is going through your mind right now, quit reading my blog. You are dead to me. 

Here's what I choose instead...
I have asked several women in my life to answer a variety of questions that typically inspire these types of articles. Some are very close girlfriends, some are acquaintances who I wish I knew better, some are women who I have never actually met, but who inspire me. There will be a wide spectrum of careers, incomes, ages, and locations represented. The similarities between this impressive group of women, however, is far more significant than their differences.  They all seem to really be living life. They take chances. They have fun. They think and read. They love. They seem passionate. They are the ones through whom I like to vicariously live. 

And so, in the next post, you will hear from these ladies. 

Until then, however, I offer my thoughts on the same questions I posed to them.  While none of us have that elusive magic key, maybe, just maybe, we will say something that makes you think, or laugh, or take solace in your own thoughts. 

Or...we might just make you roll your eyes and think cuss words. In which case, close Pillow Book and go get your Buzzworthy quizzes on instead.   
1. Do you consciously resolve to be a better/happier woman? How do you do this?
I do.  I actually probably overthink this. I am constantly trying to come up with ways to be more productive or a better steward to my community/world or just generally a happier person.  I have not settled on some definitive answer yet, but here are some specific things I do in search: I write letters to friends, I make to-do lists of things I really don't want to, but need to, do and I do at least two of them, I read through my gratitude jar, I reread passages from my favorite books, I go through my Pinterest boards and try recipes or projects that I pinned long ago, but never did, I take my dogs to the creek and let them play, I fix coffee, pour it in my favorite mug, and sit on the porch, I make lists of the places I want to go and the things I want to do, I tell someone why I appreciate them, I walk the farm or clean stuff at the barn, I declutter and give or throw away things that I don't need or have not used. 

2. What advice would you give to someone in their early/mid 30s regarding a fulfilled life? 
If you have to talk yourself into it, it probably doesn't fulfill you. Realize that stability is important - you have to have to job, you have to take care of responsibilities, you should appreciate what you do have - but if acceptance is the product of constant reminders and logical analysis, there is likely something more that you really want. Figure out what that is. You may never pursue it or you may even decide (sometimes upon crashing and burning) that your reality was in fact quite greener, but living with "what if"s or constantly questioning "What is missing?" will crush your soul.  Don't be afraid to consider this question. 

3. What lesson have you learned the hard way? 
One of the greatest fairy tales of life is that if you work hard enough or want something badly enough, you will achieve it/it will (or, will not, in some cases) happen. This is not true. Accept that. Sometimes this is learned through death. Sometimes through lost love. Sometimes through denial letters. There often is no silver lining. When one door closes, another one does not always open. But...
work hard and want something desperately anyway. One way to survive loss is take comfort in knowing you did everything you could. 

4. If you wrote one quote on your bathroom mirror, what would it be? 
"Decide what to be and go be it." 

5. If you had one piece of advice for your daughter/best friend/[any other woman of significance in your life], what would it be?  
Don't be around people who make you question your self-worth. You are stronger than that. 
This is switching gears a bit, but not entirely. Stay with me...

You know, jumping out of a plane sounds much more scary than it actually is.

No, really.

When I think about or tell people the basics - climbing to an elevation of 10,000 ft. in a five-seater plane on a cloudy, drizzly day (by the way, "drizzle" at 120 mph isn't like the "Oh, I don't need an umbrella to walk to the car. It's just drizzling." sort of rain); standing on a 6" ledge at that height in a slightly oversized, Kentucky-blue jumpsuit with black rectangle accents; crossing my arms, leaning my head back and jumping out with the parachute-toting, tandem skydiving instructor I only met about thirty minutes prior - I'll admit that it sounds pretty outrageous. I promise you, though, it didn't feel that way at all to me.  Exhilarating, surreal, inexplicable, yes. Scary, careless, unsafe, no.

I realize that seems to make very little sense.

Well, here is my rationale...
1. The staff at Skydive KY in Elizabethtown, while professional, was friendly and laid-back. They had an office dog. They didn't offer cliche or corny jokes about flying/jumping/landing. I did not hear "dude" once. They suggested that we would have fun, but never implied that we were embarking on some life-altering adventure.  In short, they seemed capable, but relaxed.  I had avoided talking about the trip to anyone beforehand because I did not want to answer questions or be burdened with others' fears or excitement. I appreciated that in the two hours or so before the jump, the time when we were signing liability forms, being trained, and watching other people jump, I could still live in this environment of relative calm, devoid of nervous chit-chat or unnecessary verbal build-up.

2. I trusted the person I was with. I never questioned whether Lee would do it. I never worried that I would have to talk him into it and in so doing, make myself more nervous. I knew that if anything seemed askew or I was in any danger, he would stop it. I knew that we would both have fun and not take it too seriously.  I knew he would be up for Cracker Barrel biscuits afterward.
3. I think we should do out-of-the-ordinary things when given the opportunity.
4. I realize that I could die tomorrow on my way to the library. I realize that if we worried about everything that could go wrong, we would do nothing, whether that was mundane tasks like driving to the grocery store or extreme sports like skydiving.
5. Even though I have certainly made mistakes, done my fair share of stupid, stupid things, and have regrets, I know that in the past few years I have consciously tried to live the best life I can live. I have made hard choices, I have taken chances, I have tried to be more open with my feelings, I have pursued some of my dreams, and kept hope that the untouched ones might be fulfilled. I guess I am just more of the Avett Brothers mindset, "if I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die."

Plus, as i said, jumping out of a plane really isn't as scary as it sounds.;)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day, Part II..and this one has nothing to do with Jackie Turner driving me crazy.

In a post long, long ago, I discussed my contradictory feelings toward rather randomly-and/or-arbitrarily-date-selected "holidays" like Groundhog Day, Labor Day, President's Day, Mother's Day (if you can find the exact post, good work you little sleuth you...because I sure can't find it). The basic point was as follows: Sure, most holidays benefit card companies and inspire us to give the impression, via words and actions that seem offered as much for our own self-aggrandizement as for an expression of gratitude, that we are far more sentimental than we actually are. At the same time, however, those who get on high horses and go on and on about appreciating parents, service men and women, and blue collar workers EVERY day rather than on one designated date on the calendar can be just as annoying as all those hokey, pastel, calligraphized cards I mentioned in the last post. Quit being dumb. Of course I love my country on more days than July 4. Of course I find my mother worthy of recognition on more days than a particular Sunday in May. Of course I know in non-November months that white settlers stole land from Native Americans. Holidays are fun and sometimes it is nice to do something, or buy a gift, for someone you love. How about we just leave it at that?

One article in connection with this discussion that has particularly interested me since I read it a few years ago, is one written by Anne Lamott (a favorite author of mine).  In this article, which I by no means agree with in its entirety, Lamott questions Mother's Day on the basis of these arguments: 1. it elevates mothers above other women who have chosen to or cannot have children. 2. it tends to ignore all those non-birth "mothers" who have nurtured us perhaps as much as, if not more so, than our actual mothers. 3. it plays into the notion that "true" love and self-sacrifice can only be known through parenthood.

As a non-mother, here is my take...

I didn't feel bad last Sunday.  I would never want pity or for others to assume that I sat around wondering, "Why isn't there a day for ME?" If I rolled my eyes when glancing at Facebook it was because public displays of affection of any sort tend to make me gag, not because it was some defensive physical embodiment of my biological clock. I would never want mothers to feel bad about recognition simply because there are those of us who do not have children, just as I would never want someone to feel guilty for mentioning their dad around me on Father's Day. Just because I do not have something, does not mean that I'm so selfish that I can't be happy for those who do.

In regard to Lamott's third point, I do think she is on to something here. Although I am not sure on the accuracy or source of her data, she mentions that roughly 98% of American parents seem to feel that unless one has been a parent, their capacity for love is diminished, that "non-parents can't possibly know what it is to love unconditionally." This point also reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's in Committed (I highly recommend) whereby she argues, "all too often, those of us who choose to remain childless are accused of being somehow unwomanly or unnatural or selfish." In both cases, the conclusion is the same: "they are not like us." Regardless of the validity of these general claims (and really, how could we ever really test this?), I would guess that they are assumptions most parents do secretly hold to some degree.

And you know, you parents might be right. I'm sure you want to roll your eyes when I talk about how I love my dogs like they are my children.  I know that when I talk about the privilege of being a stepmother to a wonderful, wonderful child, most of you probably think "that doesn't really count." I realize that being an aunt carries very little of the responsibility of a parent.  Nevertheless, I also know, without hesitation, that I would give my life for any of those mentioned above.  I know what I feel is not just something "kind of like" love.

I can't be defined by something I am not; thus to suggest that my ability to give of myself is relative to, and less than, a parent seems just as arbitrary as our national fascination with a groundhog coming out of a hole.
I am fully aware that this quote somewhat challenges the point I just made (that the roles we play do not have to be in competition with one another), but I love Jane Austen and I love that being an aunt is one of the roles that does define me.

"I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible. Now that you have become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence." - Jane Austen

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The real story of mothers and daughters.

I know what I should do.

I should buy my mother a pale pink, unfathomably overpriced Hallmark card that has a quote about unwavering love in oversized gold calligraphy. I should attempt to compete with all the other Facebook statuses, proclaiming my two sisters and me to actually have the "best mother in the world" (which brings to mind the scene from When Harry Met Sally where Marie says that everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor...but they couldn't possibly all have good taste and a sense of humor). I should write a blog post and make special effort to work this in: 

The truth of the matter, however, is that my mother often makes me want to do this:
or this: 

In short, my mother drives me bonkers sometimes.  She gives unsolicited beauty tips; if I had a nickle for every time she has commented on the width of my eyebrows, I wouldn't have to work. She sits still when I'm trying to talk to her roughly 1 out of 10 conversations. She states the obvious.  She will ask me about stuff I've repeatedly told her that I don't want to talk about or upon which I have already decided. She will do what we ask her not to do, even if our reasoning is "that's really stupid and unsafe, Mom." She is worse than many 15 year olds when it comes to having a phone out all the time.

No ma'am, Jackie Turner, no field-of-flowers-Maya-Angelou-quote-filled card for you.

My card would tell you that for all the reasons mentioned above, and a few thousand others, you make me crazy. It would then say...

I know I do the same to you....and basically for the exact same reasons. I do just as many dumb things for the same reason you once put a step ladder in the back of your gator and painted a barn: because we want it done. Now. Without help. I will press issues when I don't feel like you've given me a satisfactory explanation. If you would put your phone down and look up at me for ten seconds, I would critique your eyebrows. 

But there is one more similarity between us that has become increasingly obvious as I've grown older, a personality proclivity that has both forced tough conversations and ultimately made our relationship more honest and more substantial: You and I have come to accept that at least half the time, we are not going to agree with the other's decisions. In fact, we may occasionally think the other is making a gigantic, possibly life-altering mistake. But the thing is, even though we might hoot and holler about it for a little while, saying harsh things reserved primarily for mother/daughter relationships, we acknowledge that it's the other's life to live. We voice our opinion, but ultimately defer.  We understand that loving someone does not mean that you will always like their decisions, or them for that matter.  

Letting someone be who they insist on being is a wonderful gift. For this, Mom, I thank you. 

Oh, and for....
1. Instilling in us the notion that no man should ever control how we cut our hair. 
2. Making conversation in otherwise awkwardly quiet rooms or cars.
3. Raising us in a home where we had a choice of Kool-Aid or milk only and had dinner at the table nearly every night. 
4. Letting me climb in a pickup truck and drive across the country with Dad when I was about eight years old. 
5. Spending your summers skipping rocks with Leigh and me at the ponds and creeks near the house...or at Greenwood Mall with Sbarro pizza and our baby doll strollers in tow. 
6. Still doing Easter baskets and Christmas stockings for all of us. 
7. For offering to pay to have a horse's sheath cleaned even when your daughter tells you, "That's dumb. We're not going to pay someone without trying it first ourselves."; for nevertheless putting on your overalls and work boots when that same daughter pulls in your driveway at 5:15 and asks for gloves. 
8. For being the type of teacher people describe as "their favorite ever." 
9. For making sourdough bread from scratch.
10. Hell, for occasionally being the wind beneath our wings.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Solitude is blessed."

I finally did it.

Goodbye sliding keyboard phone. Goodbye keys that don't work and thus make my texts illegible. Goodbye surprise presents, ranging from twin decorated tin cans to an old Blackberry, that have been dropped off at the library to both mock and assist. Goodbye all Facebook suggestions to upgrade like a normal person.

Samsung Freeform! You are a much nicer non-smart phone than I had!

That's right; I refuse to cave until phone companies absolutely make me.
Here is why I refuse to get a smart phone:
1. I don't want to be like 95% of the people I know with smart phones. I don't want to be scrolling all the time. I don't want to have my phone out at dinner or when I'm with friends. I want to pay attention to people when they're talking.  I am already distracted enough; I don't need one more thing to fiddle with....and I'm on no delusional high horse; if I had it, I would use it. Hell, I've wasted HOURS watching America's Next Top Model marathons.  My willpower is not that strong.
2. I don't want everything to be easy. I like stopping to ask for directions (i.e. "get a fountain drink"). I like finding recipes in actual cookbooks and taking pictures with an actual camera and reading actual books.  I like trying to figure things out (same reason I am often hesitant to use a calculator) instead of just punching something in and relying on someone else to give me an answer. We are getting increasingly lazy and dependent; I want to prevent or stall that as long as possible.
3. There are other things I would rather spend the money on.
4. I think Louis C.K makes a couple of great points: A) Just because it's available, doesn't mean we have to do it. B) We rely on technology in part because of an inability to be alone.
Speaking of which...
I love this video, not only because it validates my loner tendencies, but because it reminds me to really be present in my life....and to do things like go to an unknown-to-me city and just roam.  I'm not going to lie and say that living alone is always easy. It's not. Sometimes I get stuck in my own head, the silence around me accelerating a medley of "what if"s. Sometimes I just want to cook supper for someone. Sometimes I wish I had kids' ball uniforms to wash.  For the most part, though, I embrace my solitude. I love going to movies alone. It has never bothered me to eat at restaurants alone. I like imagining all the things I can do, all the places I can go, and all the things I can try...primarily because I have few restraints. I like walking into a house that looks exactly like it did when I left in the morning. I like not having to compromise.  None of this is to suggest that I have no desire to be a part of a family unit again sometime or that I am unwilling to relinquish some freedom (I was very fortunate to live in that world for a while)...only that being alone and being lonely are not the same for me.
I like this a lot.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lessons I sometimes forget...

By: Guest blogger, Brandy Pruitt

A good friend once wrote me a note during a difficult time in my life that read, “Good people deserve to be happy, and you are good people.”  I received it sometime during 2005 (I believe) and I still have it tucked away in a box of special memories.  I go to this box on occasion and pull things out, reading over them and remembering; evoking feelings and tears that I am typically too busy for.    

I understand that life is full of both good and bad.  I am fully aware of the ‘God will not lead you to it without leading you through it’ phrase that should make me feel better.  I accept with my whole heart that yes, it CAN always be worse.  I know these things.  Every Debbie Downer and Negative Nancy I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet knows these things.  And yet, I still feel an obligation to say that an often cheery disposition can not disguise the ugly truth that life is a struggle.

There are days when my struggles are too much.  I’m simply too stressed, too anxious, or too emotional to continue with my daily life.  My chest feels heavy…my eyes burn and blink back tears; tears that are sometimes full of anger or disappointment, sadness or loneliness.  Sometimes, they are just signs of pure exhaustion and defeat: the only white flag I have the energy to wave.  Some days I allow my struggles to define me and they win.  

But there are other days that I win.  There are days that I allow my life, both the good and the bad combined, to define me.  I may feel stressed, sad, or defeated but I somehow overcome it.  I may still feel that heaviness in my chest but I choose to fight it.  On these days, I end up sitting on the attic steps of my home and reminiscing.  Sure, there are usually still tears; but they are the happy and therapeutic kind.

My special box lives on my attic steps, along with a lot of other not-so-special junk that has no where better to be.  Oddly enough, the entire time that I have lived in my home I have found solace in the attic.  Maybe it’s because it is the only part of the house that was built in 1956 that seems to remain unchanged.  Or maybe because it’s the only part of the house that my obsessive cleaning habits know they aren’t welcome.  Maybe it’s because all the keepsakes from my children’s lives are stored there or because you can hear everything going on in the entire house from those steps.  Whatever the reason, I enjoy it. I go to my favorite spot on the third-from-the-top step and just sit.  I sit and pilfer through notes that make me laugh, and cards that force me to realize I have people who care about me.  I read letters from my high school boyfriend and look at pictures my children have drawn.  These things may all fit into a box (although “fit” may be the wrong word when you see my box) but they are so much bigger than that box that encompasses them.  

Lessons I learn (over and over again) sitting in my attic:
-   Friendships can span years, miles, and even differences of opinion.  How corny is it that I am reminded of a song I used to sing in Girl Scouts? “Make new friends, but keep the old…one is silver and the other’s gold.”  But seriously, they are.
-   If you want to know something, ask.  But be prepared to hear the answer.  Know what you will do with it, even before you ask for it.  Make your decision and ‘own it’…hard as it might be.    
-   Family is forever.  They will love you and forgive you quicker than anyone.  But they can also hurt you quicker also.  And despite your best efforts, sometimes you will do the same to them. 
-   Write notes and send cards to people.  I honestly think taking the time to tell someone via ‘snail mail’ that you care about them is a special thing.  When my  ex-husband passed away, I received a hand written card from a stranger referencing a bible verse she thought might help ease my pain.  She lived in Richmond, KY and heard his obituary on the radio.  A little weird? Maybe.  More important than cards I received from close friends and neighbors? No.  But it made me smile at the time.  And this stranger has a spot in my special box because of it.   
-   Joys weigh more than sorrows.  Now that is a hard lesson to remember.  It’s easier sometimes to believe the opposite.  It’s almost effortless to just wallow in sadness and bask in the pity of others.  But don’t; it will be worth it, I promise.  Learn to refuse pity.  Either from yourself or others. 
-   Your life may be full of the very thing someone else fervently prays for; appreciate it.  I have been reminded so often of this.  Especially when I look around my attic: it is full of things my children have accumulated over the years.  They make me happy.  Also drive me crazy sometimes, but it’s a happy crazy. J It is hard to not sound cliché about one’s love for their children, but they are my soul mates. 
-   Forgive people. Even when they don’t ask, forgive them.  And also, yourself…forgive yourself. 

Every once in a while, there are some surprising truths and wonderful things that spring up exactly where you need them; exactly where you’d put them if life were a script you could write.  And for a fleeting moment…the world (or at least the tiny little part of the world you can call your own) is good.  Savor those moments.  Hold tight to those memories and visit them often.  Stuff them in a box if you must.    

Good people deserve to be happy, and you are good people.

My box runneth over. How lucky am I?
I was serious about that no cleaning up here rule. 
I have started a new box.:)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lessons from...a (semi)-Reformed Perfectionist

By: Guest blogger, Mandy Higgins

When I volunteered to write a post for Liza’s lessons feature, it seemed appropriate to discuss my penchant for perfection and the lessons I learned in, trying at least, to let it go. But, because I don’t believe you ever truly get over being a perfectionist, I immediately began to panic as I wracked my brain for just the right anecdote to make my point, and how to structure the post to make the most effective statement, and where to write it, and for how long, and what would happen if I chose the wrong words and…  You see, the pursuit of perfection, like anxiety, is a rabbit hole of doom. It leads you in all kinds of directions you didn’t know were even available when you began.  Luckily, since I’m semi-reformed and all, I can pull back the throttle a bit, open the shades, and stories emerge. So, readers, friends, and fellow Pillow Book admirers, I present to you an anecdote and a few extra “lessons” on semi-reformed perfection.

           In December, on the same day my doctoral degree was conferred, my husband and I closed on our second (and potentially forever) home in Lexington. It’s a 1950s rambling ranch with a small yard and a ton of space. We live in a cute, transitioning neighborhood close to all the things and some of the people we love in the city. However, we bought our house in the midst of the worst winter in recent memory. Here’s my first piece of advice: don’t buy a home in the winter. Just, wait til March. Why, you ask? Well here’s the thing—yes, you’re likely to get a better deal, BUT, but, you have no idea what your yard looks like when it’s covered in snow and the trees are dormant, and there’s no blooming plants. Fast forward to March—winter’s ice and snow began to thaw, revealing our new yard full of leaves, moss, and ivy. Those trees that were bare when we bought the place four months ago have begun to bloom and the future raking is already occupying my mind. You’re probably wondering how all of this relates to perfection. Very simply, I’ll never have a perfect, manicured, green, leaf free yard. We could rake every day, meticulously mow, seed, sod, water, and weed eat, and still, our yard will have leaves. The magnolia that was the selling point for us—oh, it drops leaves on a regular basis.

And the ivy—dormant in the winter, but in full force these days, the ivy is proof that my perfectionist tendencies are under repair. I spent most of Sunday pulling up ivy in a small patch along the side of our driveway.  It’s not even my ivy! Instead, it has burrowed under a fence and taken up refuge from the neighbor’s yard.  Perfectionist Mandy would have not even begun the project of removing the ivy. I’ll never get rid of it all, I’d tell myself, so why even start? It’ll just keep coming back, you’ll never get it right, so why try? But instead of giving in to my base assumptions, I spent the afternoon pulling and pruning, cutting and cursing through the ivy. The bed is mostly free; a few shoots are still visible between the fence posts and the root system is still intact in a few places, which means in a month or so, I’ll be back at it—attacking the ivy and my desire for perfection at the same time.  

The ivy is a visible marker of my semi-reformed status. Some of it remains, but a lot of it is gone (at least from that particular part of the yard). It’s proof that even when not done perfectly, effort makes a difference.

A few other lessons for you from my semi-reformed world:
·         Being a perfectionist stops you from trying new things. When you’re so focused on doing something perfectly the first time, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to fail, and so you don’t give yourself the opportunity to do something different.
·         Being a perfectionist steals joy. When your life is dominated by a plan, by the desire to have everything just right, and by the need to make sure no one sees a mistake or a misstep, it’s almost impossible to be happy. Things aren’t always perfect. Sometimes the flies get in the punch, or the words come out of your mouth wrong, or the timing isn’t right. 
·         Perfection is the mask that keeps us from knowing ourselves and others. We use it to hide our insecurities and to control our fears. We use it to deny others access to our true, often vulnerable self, and to rewrite our identity in terms that are comfortable. 

I haven’t fully let go of my perfectionist tendencies, but I’ve learned that there is beauty, and love, and magic in imperfection. Life doesn’t usually unfold on the path and along the plan that us semi-reformed perfectionists seek, and I’m learning that plans and paths are meant to meander.  Thus, I am semi-reformed.  I still seek perfection but I am no longer defined by it. I embrace, reluctantly at times, the chance to fail and I relish in the imperfect ways we all try to get through the day.

But, the perfectionist in me is always sitting dormant, waiting for the perfect opportunity to rear its ugly little head—don’t tell her I’ve got a book proposal, anthology chapter, and conference paper to write…she’ll be relentless.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lessons I've learned from my mower...

By: Guest blogger, Terry Staley
Spring is here
I'm ready to go
Let's get this show started
I'm ready to mow

Bruce tuned up the motor
New belts and new blades
I'm ready to go
Get out of my way

Up and down the yard I go
Things are going smooth
All of a sudden something happens
My mower will not move

I can't be out of gas
That just can't be right
I can't be out of gas
I filled it up last night

Oh yeah, I'm out
I've filled it up
I'll start again
I won't give up

I start again and to my surprise
As I am going up and down the rise
Woah Woah is what I said
But in the ditch I went instead

That is it
You sit and pout
I'm going in
You're staying out

After a call
Up came my son
We pulled the mower out
And it's ready to run

Just as I was about to be done
I started up the bank
I was on a run
When suddenly...I was done

Done, not as in finished
Done, not as in through
I mean done as in
Call in the tow truck crew

Upside down My mower lay
I get up
And I'm OK

Another call
to my son
Another "Mother"
What have you done

To my rescue
My brother came
He took my mower
Will it ever be the same?

Spring is here
It came once more
My brother, the mechanic
Has fixed up my mower

I love it
It's camo and looking like new
And now when I mow
I'll be hidden from view

So what are the lessons
I've learned from my mowing?
No matter what happens
You have to keep going!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lessons from an artist...

By: Guest Blogger, Elise Kieffer
Just writing the title “Lessons from an Artist” makes me feel pretentious. So let’s agree to this instead: Lessons From THIS Artist. I am no Guru, but these are my observations based on my own experiences. I am an Artist so the journey is a meandering one. Follow me!

Lesson One: Don’t ever let anyone put you in a box. 
You are gloriously jagged and flawed and plump and full and there is no box on this earth that can hold you. If, perhaps, there is a box that fits you today, tomorrow it will no longer suit. You will grow slimmer in some areas as you learn to let go and say goodbye while other pieces of you will expand as you learn and grow.

More than one box has been offered to me through the years. Here is one: You are an Artist, therefore flakey, flighty, unintelligent, etc. “This box does not fit!” Says the Artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre Performance and a Masters degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. A dichotomy? Probably. But nonetheless it is me and so I politely decline that box.

There are so many examples of boxes that we offer to one another. Perhaps the greatest victory of my journey was learning that I don’t have to accept any of them. I am too liberal for this box and too conservative for that one. I am too intelligent for this one and not nearly clever enough for that one. Aren’t we all just a little off? Too pretty. Too plain. Too funny. Too serious. Always too much or not enough.

You are better than any box that anyone will ever offer you. Realize that. Own it. Don’t apologize that you don’t fit in. Celebrate it. (Says the former sorority girl with the Star Trek costume hanging in her closet). We are all mosaics, stained-glass windows, infinite pieces and parts that together compose a fantastic creation. Don’t minimize it by squeezing into some tiny little cube that someone else says should hold you.
Lesson Two: Realize that you might never be content, and be OK with that.
I have been perpetually divided against myself. I long for the Theatre and everything about it. Makeup, costumes, sets, characters, intensity, the audience, the show. Oh how I love it! And I am a mother. I’m not just a mother. I am the particular variety of mother who wants to be there for everything! I want to be the one to put my babies to sleep at nap time and bedtime. I want to nurse them until they are old enough to ask for it in a full sentence. I want them to be able to climb into my bed and feel safe. I want to hang their laundry out to dry on the line because it is one little thing I can do to show I care. I cannot do that, and also be away at a show every night, rehearsing every day.

I had to choose. And I have to choose again and again and again as I continually ask myself. “What am I doing here again? How did my life become so much less glamorous than it once was?” I chose. And you know what? When I go back and make those choices again I end up right here, right now. That means that I have to make sacrifices for what I truly love. It means that I might have to continue to lay part of myself aside for the sake of the greater self I choose to cultivate. Life is made of seasons. In this season I am first and foremost a mother. When that season ends I will long for it and rue the moments I did not take the time to cherish. I will ever be longing for something I do not have and that is OK. That is what makes me the person I am and it is what makes me always strive for more. I am sure you have made sacrifices too. Accept them. And if you have to, keep accepting them every day. I have sometimes envied people who seem content with their lives just as they are but when I really stop to think about it I recognize how very much I have achieved in my life because of my discontentment. It is because I want something more or different that I continue to strive and grow and change.
Lesson Three: Be inspired. 
You probably expected this one from an Artist, didn’t you? Life drains us. It robs us of our individuality through the aforementioned boxes. It steals our dreams through the previously addressed sacrifices. Don’t let it steal the beauty around you. It is everywhere! Find what is beautiful to you and embrace it. C.S. Lewis talked of his first experience with what he called “joy.” It was Nordic mythology. I’m going to go ahead and tell you, that doesn’t do it for me. But Stephen Sondheim? Oh yeah. That’ll get me going every time! (If you don’t know who that is it’s OK. It might not be your inspiration!)

Lesson Four: Create SOMETHING! 
I am in no way an artistic snob. If you find fulfillment scrapbooking, then that is your art. Whether it is painting, dancing, model trains or even Legos that is your inspiration, your joy, take it and run with it. Just find time in your life to create something from nothing.

I have given birth to two amazing children and there is no feeling on earth like bringing forth new life. All men should envy the power and gift that women possess to usher tiny human beings into the world. However, I have also listened as actors brought MY words to life onstage. I have listened as MY songs were recorded by other Artists. Seeing, or hearing, your creation come to life, come into the world, is bringing new life, new beauty into the world. It is motherhood. It is fatherhood. You have a song. You have a story. You have something inside you that is uniquely yours, and the world needs it. I cannot sing your song and I cannot tell your story. Without your individual creation and artistry, the earth is not nearly as interesting.

Being an “Artist” is not a vocation. It is a way of life. It is an acceptance of oneself as you are with a continuing desire to evolve. I am liberated. I no longer feel the desire or need to conceal one part of my soul for the benefit of the other. I am who I was meant to be. Desires, Talents, Dreams, Passions, Hopes, and Flaws. I strive to grow, to evolve, to change daily. I am no one close to the woman I hope to become, but I will embrace who I am. I hope you will do the same. I am an Artist. Who are you?