It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to live in Iceland. Harsh winter weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, severe storms, avalanches, isolation from the rest of the world, and days with only 4 hours of sunlight are just a few of the challenges that Icelanders have faced. According to this article, the country’s founders arrived in open boats in the 9th century, fleeing Norwegian slavery. With no maps or navigational devices, they braved the harsh North Atlantic, and their descendants have thrived.
After enduring so much, it’s really impressive that their unofficial motto is þetta reddast, (pronounced thet-ta red-ust), which means, basically, everything will turn out okay.
Are they foolish, cock-eyed optimists? Not exactly. They just have confidence that they can fix things, combined with a capitulation to the fact that so much is out of their control. It’s a comforting phrase that helps them get through the harshest conditions. Perhaps we all need to adopt this attitude during these trying times.
Once we realized that our trip to Italy had to be cancelled, we considered Iceland. That was in the early days. But at the time of this writing, Iceland had reported 890 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. I’m sure by the time you read this, those numbers will have increased. May their positive attitude see them through.
Sometimes I expose my soft underbelly in this blog. I do that because I hope it will help others, and also because it’s therapeutic for me. I often find I am willing to say things that others are not, so I’d like to think that, in some small way, I’m giving them a voice.
Because of this, over the years people have confided in me. Sometimes they leave raw, vulnerable public comments. Other times they contact me personally.
Either way, I’m very honored. I know it takes a lot to put yourself out there like that. I know that in many cases what you reveal has been festering inside for a long, long time. I am humbled by what people have shared with me because of this blog.
At the same time, though, I often feel inadequate to the task. I’m not a mental health professional. I don’t have that skill set. I often worry that I’m not saying the right thing, or not saying enough. Sometimes I wonder if I should say anything at all. What if I get it wrong and there are dire consequences? I take this very seriously, because you matter.
Through this blog, people feel that they know me, and I’m proud of that. In fact, I’ve made many friends through this forum. But in actual fact, I’m a stranger. A stranger who speaks, and a stranger who listens. But I’m still a stranger.
It means a great deal to me that you’re reading this. It means even more to me when you participate in the conversation. I hope you’ll keep it up.
But please understand that I’m still just a woman sitting alone at a laptop, exposing my underbelly, and when all is said and done, my underbelly is no better or worse than your own.
Coffee ice cream is my kryptonite. If it’s in my house, I will eat it. In fact, that’s probably all I will eat. Even if it’s breakfast time.
Because of that, I try not to have it in the house very often. Dear husband knows not to bring any home unless I ask for it. Because the post-coffee-ice-cream guilt and depression is no fun at all.
Once upon a time, though, I was in a very unhealthy relationship, and he started bringing home pints of ice cream for me every single day. I never asked for them. It wasn’t a household habit. In fact, I begged him to stop. And yet the ice cream kept coming. It made no sense.
I did eat a lot of ice cream for a time there, and then one day I figured out what was going on. I don’t know if this was a conscious thought process on his part, or just his default passive-aggressive coping mechanism at play, but the fact was, we were in a bad place, and one twisted way to keep me in the relationship was to destroy my self-esteem by getting me to become fatter and fatter and fatter. If I was depressed and miserable, I wouldn’t have the energy to change my life, and I certainly wouldn’t find someone else.
At some point, I gave up trying to convince him to stop bringing home the ice cream. The crux of our problem was that he never listened to anything I said. So I was forced to take matters into my own hands. I’d just wait until he left the house, and then I’d take the lid off the ice cream and turn it over in the sink and let it melt down the drain.
Eventually, there were just too many examples of how he did not support my dreams and goals, and did not have my best interests at heart. He did not want good things for me. He just wanted me to stay right where I was and never change, so he could have the unambitious, never-changing life that he craved, and in fact still lives.
When I look back at that period of my life, I get really angry at myself for having stayed as long as I did. Now I know that one of the most important things to do in life is to surround yourself with people who want to lift you up, not hold you down. Those people who encourage you to educate yourself and push past your boundaries and experience the world are the keepers. I should have been taught this in childhood. But no.
I’m really happy to say that I’m in that beautiful place now, a place where I’m encouraged to fly. I’ll make a point to never find myself elsewhere, ever again.
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So yeah, this happened: I got dressed in grubby clothes, complete with an extra t-shirt to cover my hair, and a face mask and safety glasses and gloves, and I dragged my fat self under my house. Mission: installing insulation on the sub-floor.
I think it’s important to know one’s house from top to bottom, but I’ve never known a crawl space that wasn’t unspeakably gross, and this one is no exception. Despite the extra t-shirt, I was picking spider eggs out of my hair in the shower later that day. Fortunately, the rat poop was at a minimum, but it was still there. And I was blowing fiberglass and dust out of my nose for hours afterward. I knew I would feel it in the morning, and I wasn’t wrong.
Why do I put myself through this? For starters, I’m cheap, and can’t justify paying someone else to do something that I can do myself. But mostly it’s simply because I can, and I’m proud of this. When I was a teenager, I had a summer job with the Youth Conservation Corps and it taught me that I’m capable of a heck of a lot.
My whole life, I’ve been told I couldn’t do things. Because I’m a girl. Because I’m too young or too old or too weak or, well, because it’s just not done. So I used to change the oil in my car myself. I took vacations alone in the woods. I traveled overseas by myself. And I’ve done more than one home improvement project in my day. It does wonders for my self-esteem.
Sooner or later I’ll reach an age where crawling under my house will be foolhardy at best. I can see that time off on the horizon, but it gets a little closer every day. I wonder if I’ll be sad or relieved when that day finally comes?
My advice would be to ignore the naysayers. If you have the brains to learn how to do something (God bless Youtube), and the physical ability to pull it off, then do it yourself as often as you can. You’ll value the results more, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to climb over the next hurdle that crosses your path.
When I was a little girl, some well-meaning adult, who clearly didn’t know me at all, bought me a doll. I hope she didn’t spend too much money on it, because as soon as she left the house it got stuffed in the back of my closet, never to be seen again.
I didn’t play with dolls. I played with Tonka Trucks. (They went better with my overalls.) I built things with Legos. I did have a Barbie, but mostly because I liked the things that came with her—the convertible, the house. But I would tolerate no other doll in my world. I particularly hated all things that could be described as “frilly”. That word still makes me shudder to this day. No ribbons or lace for this girl!
So imagine my horror when, at the beginning of this holiday season, I started seeing the commercials for Wellie Wishers, a set of dolls put out by a company called American Girl. According to the website, these 5 dolls are “a sweet and silly group of girls who each have the same big, bright wish: to be a good friend.”
To their credit, this is a racially diverse group of dolls. But despite that, they’re named Camille, Emerson, Willa, Kendall and Ashlyn. How much more white and middle class can you possibly get? And one of them, Willa, wears bunny ears. I swear to God.
They aren’t cheap, either. Starting at 60 bucks, this price tag is sure to give the average parent pause. But of course you’re encouraged to collect all five! And they also offer a boatload of accessories.
And here’s where it gets really scary. There’s also a line of clothing for little girls so they can dress just like their dolls. And these dresses, in my opinion, are truly, truly, TRULY horrible.
I don’t have kids. If I had a daughter, I probably would be cursed with a girly girl. Such is my karma. She’d probably want to wear a dress like the one in the picture below. (This one isn’t put out by American Girl. Theirs are even worse.) Seeing my kid wanting to be dressed up like a Christmas turkey would make me want to curl up and die on the inside.
I wouldn’t want my child’s biggest goals to be being silly and a good friend. I’d want her to value her own intelligence and leadership qualities and independence. I’d want her to take pride in her own agency, and not be taught to put everyone else first. (And by the way, why is it not important to teach boys to be good friends? Hmmm?)
One of the current American Girl commercials assures us that any girl who has one of these dolls as “her new best friend” will “learn friendship and kindness and confidence, too,” as well as “how to be an American girl.” It does not say how these inanimate objects will achieve this goal, though. I guess to find that out you have to watch their “all-new animated series!” Or maybe instructions come with the Giggles & Grins Play Set. But that, of course, costs extra.
It makes me kind of queasy to think that people are out there spending 60 bucks to reinforce this appalling stereotype. What will it truly wind up costing them? Heaven help us as a society.
Here’s an idea. Buy your daughter a book, instead. Then maybe she’ll grow up to write one of her own, like I did. http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu
There is an interesting human spectrum that tells you a great deal about people. I call it the generosity spectrum. But it also has a great deal to do with trust, confidence, kindness, and a sense of karma.
At one extreme, you have people who are so wide open that they put themselves at risk. These are the people who will not only pick up every hitchhiker they see, but will invite them to come crash on their couch for a couple of months. Need a shirt? Here’s the one off my back. Yeah, I know it’s snowing, but you said you needed a shirt.
At the other extreme, you get the bitter old men who will not let the neighborhood kids retrieve their balls from their yards. They see everyone as a threat, and guard their property jealously. They are definitely not people who will support you in times of crisis. In fact, they will resent that you even ask.
I don’t think either extreme is particularly healthy, to be honest, but I must admit that I try to surround myself with people toward the more generous end of the spectrum. The reason I do that is that I’ve noticed that those people who look at the world from a place of abundance tend to have more positive things happening in their lives. As unscientific as it is, abundance tends to breed abundance.
Sadly, I’ve had quite a few encounters with the opposite extreme of late.
I’m working on an anthology that will include several of my blog entries on the subject of, ironically, gratitude. Being my first book, this is an extremely low budget operation. I saw some artwork that I would have loved to have used on the front cover, and I approached the artist. I told him that I thought his work was amazing, told him what I had in mind, and asked if he’d allow me to use a print of his painting, give him due credit and increased exposure, and give him a percentage of the profits should any arise. He responded that he was sick and tired of people trying to steal his work. Message received.
I also saw an amazing film at the Seattle International Film Festival and had the opportunity to talk to the director afterwards. I then wrote a very positive review for this blog, encouraging everyone to go see it, and sent the director the link, thinking he’d be flattered. Instead he told me to take the review down, saying he didn’t give me permission to use his words, and that it had been a private conversation. (Mind you, this took place in a crowded room, with a total stranger, at a film festival where he was present to promote his work.) Um… yeah. That was the first time I’d ever had to take down a blog entry.
But perhaps the most painful encounters I’ve had with people more toward the “lack” end of the generosity spectrum have come from friends and family. I wasn’t expecting this at all. It has caused me to reevaluate the way I view some of them.
Recently tragedy struck my family. I’m extremely close to my niece and nephew, especially now that my sister has passed away. So when my niece needed help, I naturally stepped up.
Her husband broke his neck. He was the sole breadwinner of the family, and they have three children, ages 1, 3, and 6. Needless to say, this is bad. No family should have to choose between feeding their children and paying the rent, especially when they’re already dealing with the stress of extreme pain and slow recovery.
This catastrophe has consumed me for well over a week. I have averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, and my whole world revolves around this situation. So I created a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise money to take some of the pressure off them. Then I asked friends and family to share the campaign on social media.
Mind you, I didn’t ask anyone to contribute money. Not everyone has the money to contribute. I totally get that. I live it. I simply asked them to spread the word. By doing so, they would be showing support at a time when I am feeling particularly helpless, and that is worth more to me than gold. They would also be giving their friends and family the chance to pay it forward if they have been through similar past tragedies and are in a position to do so, and that is a great opportunity for healing.
A lot of people stepped up and shared. This means so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes. But others showed that they are coming from a place of lack rather than abundance by reacting in a variety of negative ways.
I’m told I’m being pushy, or inappropriate, or embarrassing. I’m told that I have a lot of nerve, when there are so many people in the world who are worse off, and when there is so much drama happening all over the place. I’m being ignored by people who never ignore me. I’m being told that they get requests like this all the time, and if they shared mine, they’d have to share everyone’s, and we can’t have that, can we?
Oh, where to begin. Point by point, I suppose. First of all, I don’t think there’s any shame in asking for help when it’s desperately needed. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. Yes, there are billions of people who are worse off. How do you determine the cut off? Who is “allowed” to be scared, worried, stressed out, and in need of support, and who is not? I know that tragedies abound, but this is a situation where I can actually make a difference, and when an opportunity like that presents itself, I’m going to jump on it.
I would never, EVER ignore a plea for help. That’s just rude. And granted, my social network is probably smaller than a lot of peoples, so I don’t get requests of this type as often as they probably do, but I promise you, when someone comes to me, at the end of their rope, their lives changed for the worst, and asks me to simply share a Facebook post, I’m going to share it every single time. Every. Single. Time. Because the people on my Facebook feed are grown ass adults who can decide whether or not to contribute or pass on a post, so they’ll “get over” my intrusion. Or they won’t. Oh well.
And, too, coming from the more generous end of the spectrum, I truly believe that even if you can’t contribute financially to someone you love, you can, and should, always be able to contribute emotionally. It’s not easy to ask for help. But it’s made so much worse when you are rejected after you ask. It’s times like this that show what you’re truly made of. I’d hate to be made of selfish things. It don’t think it’s a good look.
I’ve always admired people who have a strong sense of faith. Whether that translates into religious belief or just an unshakable sense that everything’s going to be all right, it’s just not something that I possess as a general rule. Most of the time that’s fine. The only time it’s bad is when things are bad. Then I feel helpless. And that’s my least favorite feeling in the world.
I’d love to think that my little problems are significant enough to get the attention of some higher power, but I just can’t seem to take that leap. I guess it’s called a leap of faith for a reason. I’m just not a leaper.
Life experience has made me more of a believer in the laws of nature, and nature can be cruel as hell. I’d love it if the cute little baby zebra would somehow be snatched from the jaws of the lioness, but if that were the case, we’d be up to our butts in zebras in no time. In the long run that would be problematic.
I guess that’s the whole point. There is a bigger picture. We’re just not always privy to it. If there’s actually an organized plan (and I have my doubts), I am only one very tiny piece of the puzzle, and my desire to be saved from my misery is not as important to that plan as I’d like it to be. Oh well.
The only thing I am fairly certain of is that there’s usually a lesson to be learned from all of life’s drama. That, at least, is worth the price of admission.