The universe enjoys posting prompts at the oddest times and in the quirkiest places to elicit reflection. This morning’s no exception; my inbox and Instagram feed slapped me silly with thought.
I’m the consummate late bloomer. My mother took pleasure in reminding me of this (I assume because she knew it’d serve me well, ultimately). My close friends lovingly tease me about it. In my pursuit this year to grow where I’m planted, it dawned on me: it’s okay to take care of yourself and be of service to others. They’re not mutually exclusive.
For decades, I normalized the chaos of my “me versus them” mentality because it’s all I knew to do. Peace, calm, intention? I didn’t comprehend this trifecta. Kindness, compassion, empathy? My cup runneth over not with these virtues.
Spontaneity’s a thing for me. For as much as it’s kickstarted beauty and magic in my world, it’s also led to frustrating distraction, unfulfilled aspirations, and hurt. As a result, I went into this year focused on establishing balance with reasoned velocity. Happily, I’m coming out of the tornado of 2020 still capturing spontaneity but also embracing consideration and appreciation for others.
I’m far from figuring it all out. In fact, I look forward to sharing in the upcoming months the stories of those who’ve played an impactful role in guiding me toward brighter light, one murky dive bar at a time. Presenting the artists whose work fires my synapses. Exploring what’s feeding and eating at us. Discussing my journey as a child of a chronically ill parent; an adult who identifies closely with Louise Belcher; and a writer who isn’t sure what to say.
Hey hey, y’all! How’s your day of rest progressing? I’m doing laundry; I’m that person.
Every Sunday, on Facebook (search “Rebecca Emily Michael Gaffney” to be friends with the gal with the world’s longest name) and Instagram, I present a topic and explore what’s eating at you, me, and the global collective around that idea. I’d welcome your contribution to the conversation; please join us!
My bowl of cherries hasn’t been empty this year, just sour. I took bites anyway; nourishment’s nourishment and I’ll be damned if 2020 starves me of all hope.
There’s something about having already battled depression, when the outside world was seemingly sunny, that has made the challenge of battling a depressed outside world doable. 2019 was my 2020 of sorts. I made a promise to myself, as the clock struck midnight on January 1st, that this year would be different, regardless of any shitshow that might present.
Present it did, and how. But in the midst of the anger, disappointment, and sadness of 2020, there’s been light. I’ve harnessed focus and quelled fear enough to move onward with exploring this big world, allowing curiosity and ingenuity to be my guide. There was something magical about turning 45 in June; I became committed to flowing for what I want, and fighting when necessary. My writing, this blog, embracing the philosophy that life is my blank canvass and mine alone to colorfully ornament…
I’m jazzed to grow this site and unearth what’s eating at us collectively. I’m ready to reveal more of my story. Let’s illuminate the interesting.
I’m taking bites and savoring each morsel. The whole is the sum of its parts, you know. (Aristotle didn’t write this, by the way. Neither did Aquinas. The internet lies.)
Who are you becoming when you slow down and create with the world around you?
A rather intense inquiry but exquisite in its ability to elicit self-reflection precisely. I was caught off guard by my visceral response.
I don’t know. Fuck.
Intellectually, I’ve always known who I was becoming. When I was a child, I was becoming a professional dancer and performer. In college, I was becoming an astute academic. In my early career, I was becoming a fundraiser and event producer.
Throughout my life, I’ve always been a writer.
But my knowing who I’m becoming or who I am hadn’t been as defined in the past few years. This uncertainty was juxtaposed with that on which I’d been solid: my boundaries, proclivities, preferences, and interests. The clash of my confidence with my tentativeness was confusing and derailing.
Not one to sit idly by, my frustration led me to join the Wanderlings team last year. I discerned that being a member of the #wandercrew would, at the very least, tap the brakes on my frenetic anxiety, hold me accountable to creating something, and hopefully sharpen my focus of self-discovery.
I’ve considered Wanderlings creative director Suzanne Hansen Ofeldt a dear friend for 14 years; we grew up together professionally in the southern California wedding and event market. We became friends when we realized that not only could we pass for sisters, but we could hang with each other effortlessly. We’re both direct, art worshipping coffee addicts who love whiskey, whimsey, and world travel.
Suzanne requested I write a piece for Issue Two and said, “The theme is ‘joyride’. Write whatever you want.” Akin to where I was at that moment in life, I’d no idea what the impetus for my article would be. I started and stopped writing repeatedly; everything I produced felt inauthentic and dull. I’d just moved into my new apartment; was job hunting and growing increasingly nervous about money; and fostering a lingering heartbreak. Depression was setting in, and producing value anywhere in my life seemed nearly impossible.
To repeat: Conspicuous truth has curious timing. Past experience taught me that my propensity for depression’s a superpower of sorts. I become so done and over everything that my anger becomes fuel, and my despair becomes a telescope to see beyond the bullshit.
One night, mid-October, at the height of sadness, I harnessed my article’s topic and wrote my way towards healing. More on that later.
In Issue One :: HAPPENSTANCE of Wanderlings, Suzanne and co-creator Jenna Nienhuis revealed in their editors’ letter that the magazine was their “response to a call from the creative wilderness” as both were grieving and healing. “While we have our unique challenges, it’s been our preoccupation with beauty in the world that has brought us together to create in this space.”
As I was writing “To Joyride” for the haven Suzanne and Jenna built, I realized I was answering a call from myself: Just be, Bek, and write. It’s who you are and who you’ve always been. It’s how you uncover your purpose. Always has been.
I know. Fuck.
If there’s anything that the surrealness of 2020 has taught me, it’s that, to quote writer Glennon Doyle, “Nice is a peacekeeper. Honest is a peacemaker.” I’ve wanted to keep things nice these past years out of emotional burnout but my writing – my soul’s outlet – doesn’t allow for that. Writing memoir and sharing truth in an uncertain world is honest play. It’s hard work. But it’s real and it’s ME.
I’m forever grateful that an invitation to wander revealed the road ahead. Not the becoming; the being.
Ten years ago today, I celebrated the vivacity of my mother among beloved friends and family. Her passing was the launch of a new journey for me, and her salute was a North Star imbedded in my heart for the remainder of my days.
One year ago today, a man, with whom I was falling in love, ended his life. It was the unveiling of a new perspective on how I approach reality, and an experience I’ll never discount.
Heavy shit, yes, but…
Today, because of the ten and the one, I declare myself zero. An integer, a real number, that’s neither negative nor positive. It just is. The direction I choose to head from here is my call.
I tend to err on the snarky, sarcastic – gasp! – pessimistic side. To be frank, it’s a coping mechanism. A damn funny, witty coping mechanism, and one that feeds my performing artist ego. But, at times, it’s bitten me in the ass. Hard.
It goes without saying that this week has been one of reflection. There’s been journaling. There’s been tears. There’s been whiskey. There’s been cigarettes (gasp!). But you know what there hasn’t been? Despair. Drama. Depression.
This fact alone adds an infinite number of points in my favor. It proves a theorem I’ve been toying with for days, which is that when I simply decide, and then act, the energy around me becomes less vacuous and more electrified. It becomes positively charged.
I believe this was my mother’s main intention with her words and example; she wanted the bleakness of her prognosis to yield a result more uplifting and encouraging than anything we could imagine. I also posit that KP hoped for the same with his art; he wanted his work to breathe a life of its own, provoking thought and exemplifying the beauty of an occasionally bleak world, especially for after he left it.
October 25th will never be a downtrodden day for me. It’ll forever be my opportunity to reset, to course correct.
To remember that hitting zero’s restorative and life affirming. Thank you, PMDM and KP.
I currently lack the elegance and poise necessary to begin this correspondence in a manner civilized enough for honoring the 10-year mark of your passing. After a decade of mining, sorting, disinviting, grieving, and rebuilding…
I’m fucking tired.
But you knew I would be. You always said, “Some things are worth losing sleep over.”
When you died, I had zero comprehension of how badly my foundation had rotted, and how rickity yours was as well. I promised you, moments before you quieted, that I’d take things from there, so that you could rest in peace. I had no idea what my role as exterminator would entail.
But you did. You always said, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”
And as I write, I’m ravenous for more self-generated stability and passion in my life, now that I’ve had a taste.
But you predicted I’d finally get to this point. You always said, “It’s good to be hungry.”
I legitimately have a career as a writer. I have a kick-ass home that’s a reflection of me and filled with mementoes of joyful memories. I’m ready for mutual adoration with someone significant.
I trust myself and finally know my worth. This is my greatest achievement.
But something tells me you already know all of this. You’re just waiting for me to catch up.
And now that I have, it’s time for a break. Grieving’s an unpredictable, highly individualized process. I’m not making myself bad and wrong for how long it’s taken me to unfuck myself this far, but, good Lord, I’m ready for happy.
My gut tells me that you are, too, and have been. But you weren’t going to pull away until I was ready. You’re my mother, dearest friend, and guardian angel…that’s just your way.
Cheers, Pattie. May the next decade unearth, prioritize, include, celebrate, and enhance the life you always wanted for both of us…but this time, I’m behind the wheel.
Children. I don’t have my own for a reason. That reason: I irritate myself enough. This party doesn’t need a plus two.
In all seriousness, child-rearing was never of interest to me. I prefer (and enjoy) the titles of “Auntie Bek,” “Aunt Beki,” or “What’s your name?” The nieces, nephews, and I hang; we do kid stuff; I go home.
When I lived in Sweden four years ago, Anna’s son, O, was eight. Like his mom, he’s super chill and a sweetheart; we got along well for two people who don’t speak the same language. A game of Uno after dinner, jousting with plastic swords and shields in the living room…we had the routine covered. My social life paled in comparison to that of O’s, so, often, all I saw was his back walking out the door to play with friends or attend yet another birthday party.
In full transparency, I was slightly trepidatious about living with a child again when I moved in with Noey and Q. It had been a while since Noey and I spent time together, and our relationship was built around activities that weren’t kid friendly. I hadn’t visited much when Q was a baby, so fear of the unknown set in as I approached the house on Day One, belongings in tow.
Q, four-years-old at the time, greeted me fearlessly. A mini Noelle, she cared less about what’s significant to a weathered adult, like stress and unfamiliar territory. She was just excited to see me. In that moment, I knew with certainty that this child would have an impact on me.
She has an obsession with the original Mary Poppins; she plays Noey’s childhood vinyl soundtrack ad nauseum. She head-bangs to Rage Against the Machine and dances like a gazelle to Phish. She announces herself when she walks in a room; rates the meals Noey prepares unforgivingly (facial expressions included); thinks her glasses are bullshit; and is more decisive than most adults I know. Q’s crooked grin and belly laugh are her signatures; you get one or both from her, you know you’ve done something right. It’s for all of these reasons, and many more, that we call her “hambone.”
She’s an old soul, and has faced more challenges than most for a kid her age (she’s now six). As a child with Down syndrome, there are realities that are managed daily, but Q, Noey, and Q’s father navigate that territory with expertise. It’s remarkable.
It’s the purity of Q’s heart that’s impacted me most. Although her nickname is “boss,” her innocence prioritizes what it means to be human and kind, a lesson I’ve needed for years. She’s not a shrinking violet but she loves deeply, and that’s why I respect her.
In all honesty, looking at Q is like looking in a mirror of my childhood in some ways. It’s not just that we’re both only children whose parents are divorced, or that we both love our mothers fiercely. It’s not even that we share an impeccable taste in music and love to be sarcastic. It’s that there’s an incorruptibility she possesses that I once had, and I wish to God I could get back.
I’m in the midst of projects for two clients that require my brain cells to foxtrot, tango, and hustle simultaneously. I just busted my attention two-stepping over to thoughts of making out with my version of Aaron Samuels because it’s October 3rd and wouldn’t it be delicious to be…
Bek, STOP. Focus. Refresh your coffee and get back to work.
Get back to work. Work = writing.
Holy shit. I’m writing FOR A LIVING. Professional play. Bad ass wordsmithing.
If you’d asked me three months ago where I thought I’d be today, I would’ve responded with a shrug and said, “I’d like to be alone in my writing room in my city apartment, drinking coffee, creating content for clients, and building eatingatme.”
Bek, STOP. Breathe. Give the universe a big delicious kiss of gratitude and get back to work.
Maker’s Mark with club soda and lime juice refreshed. Apartment cozily lit and comfortably cradled by the faint hums of city life. MacBook Air pumped to 93%.
This is the calmest I’ve been since May of this year. The most clear-headed as well. Our Founding Fathers were really on to something with their checks and balances: it’s unwise to allow one branch of government to have too much authority. Unfortunately, the United Shitshow of Me was overturned by emotion this year, while my mental and physical entities were relegated to departments run by interns.
I’d experienced this administration before; I’m not a fan.
It wasn’t depression. It wasn’t even big, bad anxiety. It was an unsettling nag that took residence in my amygdala and painted the walls ecru. And didn’t open the windows for fresh air. And only played John Tesh.
On July 17, it was all about the lack of answers surrounding current events and unfulfilled desires. I knew I wasn’t precious, or unique, or alone in my debilitating quandaries; crowd sourcing for that didn’t help. It was about what’s always been eating at me: WHY DO I ONLY GET SO FAR.
What I needed was emotional excavation; the opportunity to put the haunting agony of the past to bed so my present wouldn’t continually halt my future. The Land of Enchantment, to which New Mexico is fondly referred, with its beauty and healing properties, was going to do that, dammit. And it did. But, y’all, it was an ugly process.
There are significant outcomes from my dig that are too lengthy to cover in one blog post, such as the permission I finally gave myself to be angry with my deceased mother (because we don’t speak ill of the dead, you know). Or the realization that I’m pathetically codependent with my partners. But these, and so much more, are based in a common notion. A focal point from which they’ve sprung. The root I never acknowledged that grew unfavorably over 44 years into a suffocating system.
I’M NOT WORTH IT.
At first, I didn’t believe that this was it. Truthfully, I’ve never lived a day feeling unloved. I was given a phenomenal education, have had wonderful experiences, have incredible people in my life, spoiled…how could THIS be it? Then I allowed myself to actually feel not being worth it, instead of reasoning the notion away.
It was the subtle loneliness I’ve carried for 44 years. A yearning for joy, but not joy itself. The approach of achievement, but not actualizing the result. Watching my life from a precipice.
I finally understood why I only get so far, with anything. It started when I was small. It began when I was shown I wasn’t worth it.
In The Land of Enchantment, my emotional excavation unearthed a demon slayer…and a motherfucking rock star.
When I was a child, my mother was given a t-shirt by a friend that displayed a print of a cow on its back. Under the cow was written, “Really, I’m fine…” The gift was an homage to my mother’s merciless habit of downplaying her lupus and the struggles that resulted from it. She wore it proudly.
This past July 4th holiday, I witnessed a likeness in behavior from Noelle. Frankly, the day just plain sucked. A man with whom I’d been in love broke up with me that morning and I was devastated. Always looking out for my best interests, Noey kept me appropriately inebriated in an attempt to lessen the blow. She listened to my sob stories, and when I crawled in bed, she sat by my side and rubbed my head until I fell asleep.
Throughout the day, Noey commented (never complained) that her left foot was bothering her. She thought she might have bruised it unknowingly or been bitten by a bug when she was gardening in the front yard. By the time I went to sleep that night, Noey had her foot elevated and was icing it in an attempt to reduce the significant swelling.
Around 4:00am on Friday, July 5th, Noelle barreled into my bedroom like a bull seeing red. She was the color of school paste and, with panting breath, she explained that she’d been sick for several hours and her foot was in excruciating pain. It had morphed into a crimson football and Noey said the feeling was pure torture. In less than 10 minutes, she and I gathered her essentials and fled to the emergency room. She could barely walk and was crying tears of agony. It was heartbreaking and terrifying to observe.
From the second we arrived at the hospital, there was concerned confusion as to what exactly was happening to her, and as the doctors’ investigation heightened, Noey’s life force seemed to lessen. The infection, still undetermined, was spreading throughout her body, and a strong fear that she might not pull through was rapidly becoming conversation. I sat in a chair in Noey’s emergency room cubicle, watched my best friend fight for her life, and there was nothing I could do to help her.
Wisely, the orthopedic doctor sent Noey into surgery as this condition needed aggressive action. Thank God for his decisiveness; it not only meant that Noey’s life was saved but that she avoided amputation. We learned after her surgery that she contracted necrotizing fasciitis, known more commonly as flesh-eating disease. The infection was killing her soft tissue and the damage was severe. Noey has been through several hospitalizations and surgeries as a result, and the point of origin for the disease is still not known. She’s recovering but still has a lengthy road of healing and therapy ahead of her. Her guardian angels really pulled overtime on this one; the survival rate, according to the interwebs, for necrotizing fasciitis is only 26.6%.
It goes without saying that this has been a trying time for Noey. Her strength has been remarkable; I’m not certain how this hasn’t broken her. I venture to guess that her unwavering sense of humor has helped (she now refers to her “acid foot” with a motherly affection). A private person, she’s managed the public attention and support that comes with rare disease cases with impressive professionalism. Having to be separated from Q while she recovers seems to bring her the most sadness. Not knowing how this happened brings the most frustration.
Similar to my mother, Noey’s “Really, I’m fine…” attitude leaves me speechless. She told me her first day in the hospital that she’s thankful to be the one who incurred the injury, not me or Q. She said she couldn’t live with herself if it happened to us. Hearing this was a punch to the gut; I couldn’t comprehend how someone in the face of such adversity could have the most positive, selfless spirit.
In that moment, the pain of the years of watching my mother suffer from a disease she, like Noey, didn’t have an answer for came flooding back, and haunted me for the days following. I was disgusted by what felt like a selfishness in not being ill on my part; I felt ashamed of my own skin.
I felt unrest in every cell of my body. Very quickly, that unrest turned to anger and panic. They ate at me until I decided to break the cycle and leave for Albuquerque.