Eighteen months ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed I would be ticking along the way; I am now. I had experienced a trauma, the effects of COVID had hit me hard, and between the isolation of being in my home more than I wanted to be and our two oldest daughters being 8000 miles away, I had begun to shut down. My world was growing smaller; I had an empty hole inside that I couldn’t fill, and I felt lost.
Last night a neighbor we’ve just begun to befriend invited us to their home. They said their impression of me was energetic and vibrant. They told us they look across the street and see the perfect family, so happy and active with our youngest daughter. They said, “wow, you all really have it together and are like a powerhouse.” I said, “yes! Thank you. We are at a beautiful point in our lives, but don’t be mistaken; we have our struggles and lows too.” I explained how I had gone through a rough patch, as mentioned above, and they told me I was blessed. Yes, I am blessed in the good and the bad, along with being blessed though I had to fight to find my light again. And in that fight things finally started coming together.
I began to move and my world started to expand. One by one, things started happening again, and I started blooming. I began a volunteer role for a mental health coalition, went to NZ to be with all 3 of our girls for five months, started my education journey and am completing a certificate course at the University of Miami, opened my digital marketing company; MKRT Communications (and gained my first client two weeks later), was hired part-time as the administrator for the Leadership Collier Foundation; a fantastic organization within our local chamber of commerce and finally; have been active with old and new friends that make me laugh and feel valued.
For a while, my most significant companion and healer was my written word and the words of others. With the newfound activities that fill my days, I haven’t been blogging as much, and my memoir is on hold. I may have a lot on my plate, but somehow my schedule is perfectly balanced. I’m genuinely content, and my life is coming together.
For anyone who has struggled through a lonely, dark, and painful lull in their life, I have this to say. Give in to the stillness that life has imposed on you for a time if you can; healing rest is necessary before the fight begins. Then fight to climb out of the void. Shout for help until someone, anyone throws you a rope, and then take it! Say yes to everything once you reach the surface and keep moving. Trust the process and be faithful, share all of your gifts with others and be thankful for waking up to another day. Love everyone, forget about the polarization of today’s politics and drop your grudges, take long walks daily and smile at everyone who crosses your path.
These actions have gotten me moving forward again. Sometimes we stall out in life, and that’s ok; as long as you remember your dreams, find the determination to capture them, and help others do the same once you have hit your stride.
I stand outside my rented flat looking up at the stars shining in the clear sky as they float over Devonport. The Southern Cross hangs in the cool crisp air, and the streets are quiet. I’ve been writing all day. After walking 10 miles, I listen to jazz, sip wine and work on my book. I’ve gotten a lot done. I’m able to collect my thoughts and settle into the stillness that surrounds me. My youngest daughter sleeps on the pull-out sofa in the living room. A man walks past briskly, taking his Australian shepherd for its nighttime walk under the street lights. Dim light glows in the windows of the homes that surround us, and everything is still. The sound of music, conversations, and footsteps in the house above us fill the night air.
I am at peace knowing that I’m making progress on my memoir and want to continue but have to get some sleep because I have 2 Zoom meetings with the US in the wee hours of the morning. The COVID cases here looked terrible today, 45 in the community. I’m not sure whether we will go to level two or not when they re-evaluate this coming Tuesday. I walk up and down the hilly sidewalk along the empty street just outside the fence of our flat and wonder if I should ask my hosts to extend my booking for yet another week. The thought of living on top of my girls in their one-bedroom flat makes me anxious, and this peaceful place I have found would be hard to leave if we are all isolated together with no end in sight. This lockdown is an unusual situation and one everyone in Auckland has to accept and get through together for the greater good.
I make my way back inside and decide to shower and settle in for the night. I have found a calm place in all of this isolated stillness which is maddening. The long walks, runs, rented flat, volunteer online marketing for the mental health coalition and writing have been my saving grace. The icing on the cake is my visits with my girls. Just knowing they are a few blocks away and happy in their space makes me feel good. I want everyone to be comfortable during this stressful time. Mental health is hard to maintain in isolation. It’s hard to stay sane when you can no longer tell what day it is without checking the calendar, and there is no definitive light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I am blessed to be where I am, where I’m supposed to be at this moment. I am productive, healthy, and happy. I have gotten what I asked for, time with my girls, time to write. What more could anyone want.
Steps in a positive direction are being taken all around the world. Many of our military soldiers have left Afghanistan ending the 20 yr war, Inspiration4 the first entirely civilian crewed SpaceX mission, has successfully launched and is orbiting the earth. And on a smaller scale, I achieved my first of many 3.15 mile/5 km runs probably since 2008. To say I was excited is an understatement. If I could do back handsprings to celebrate, I would have, but even in the best of shape, I’ve never been able to do those.
We are sadly still in lockdown here in Auckland, which means everything but grocery, gas, pharmacy, and utilities are closed. We are in the 5th week in isolation (additional to the two weeks Zoe and I spent in MIQ). Our three daughters and I have been holding up in their tiny one-bedroom flat. The only option for escape or sanity is to exercise outside. That, for the most part, means walks, runs, and biking. So I have been walking and walking and walking. First 3 miles daily, then 5 or 7. I got to the point where I ran out of land to cover unless I doubled back. Last week I decided to make myself run on any area flat or downhill. To my absolute amazement, on the second attempt at this, I forgot the flat and hills and just kept running. My legs are heavy, and I may run as fast as the tortoise racing the hare, but I got into the zone I used to get into as a young runner and did what I thought was no longer possible for me. I have watched my daughters run over the last 13 years and dreamed of running again. With failed attempts to get back into it, I’ve often tried to convince them that I used to be a runner, and I’m not sure they believed me. On my first run of 2 miles/3.21 km, Sabrina and Zoë walked behind me. As I pulled away from them, they doubted my ability to get very far. I forgot about what they thought, though, and kept peddling my feet along the pavement through the cool air. Man, the freedom of running can’t be beat.
There’s also something empowering about knowing that you may someday be able to outrun a hungry predator if needed, something I had decided I was beyond in my previous blob state. I figured I would inevitably be gator bait sometime in the future. At the end of my first attempt, the girls caught up with me. As Sabrina walked beside me, she said, “I’m proud of you, mum. You can talk a pretty big game, and I have to admit, I didn’t think you would do it, but you did. Good on you!” So I’m charged up and feel like I’m getting younger. I’m heading for a new pair of Hoka’s instead of a walker and triple X spandex covered by an even larger T-shirt to cover my bits. Being here with my girls has empowered me; I call it the power of 3. They encourage me, push me and cheer me on, then celebrate my wins with me. They make me feel special, and I’ve needed that. I’ve needed them, their energy. So between running, I am blogging, chipping away at my memoir, and developing the social media presence and website pages for my favorite non-profit. I’m in isolation yet more productive than ever. We live on a postage stamp, yet I have been moving and stretching myself wider than I have in over a decade. Who knows what ill achieve next! In the profound words of Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” or in my case, woman and womankind.
I’ve completed the outline and first chapter of my forthcoming memoir/book. I’m well into writing chapter 2 now. And I can’t sleep. I just began feeling this niggling anxious agitation in my chest after editing chapter one and doing some rewrites. Though I’m approaching my story with a mixture of blunt truth and humor, I’m already starting to feel things and stuff that my panic disorder meds may not be strong enough to help me keep in check. I knew parts of writing this book would be unsettling; when I finished listing my outline in managed isolation in mid-July, I felt exhausted and broke down in tears. I read my ideas, and my life rapidly flashed before my eyes. At that moment, things I’ve questioned became clear to me for the first time. People I miss stood before me, and events I’ve wanted to forget felt fresh, wounding me as I read them on the page.
I am writing this story and all of the subsequent tales that spin-off of it. This is my lifelong dream. I am more than thankful to my husband for supporting my passion for writing while I’m am at the same time with our daughters and family in NZ. There’s so much to say about my journey. I worry that my words will fall flat and not be entertaining enough. But all I can do is tell my story, write what I know, relay the details in my Jeri way, and hope for the best. I just thought I would share.
I was holding my phone when the alert alarm went off. It scared the crap out of me. I was reading an online book, and out of sheer reaction, I almost threw my device across the room. Once the noise stopped, I started laughing at myself, and then I read the message that came with the alert and thought, “Bummer!” And also not a bummer. So now I will get to be really close to our girls for seven whole days. We won’t be entirely couped up in their one-bedroom apartment. We will take heaps of walks, I’m sure, and just imagine the organizing we could get done! In reality, we will take heaps of walks, and then all of us will come home and get on our devices. All three girls will now be doing school online, and I, of course, will be watching and writing as usual.
I stayed home all day today and cleaned so we could enjoy being out and about for the rest of the week. So now I can say I did an extra courtesy day of quarantine to make up for all of the uncooperative anti-masking, anti vaccinating of my fellow countrymen (and women) in Florida, USA, which by the way, is now the epicenter of the delta variant! Yes, good old Florida, the sunshine state and the home of the fountain of youth. My home town Naples, Florida, declared by Forbes to be 2019’s “happiest, healthiest city in America to live in.” They are so healthy and happy and resistant to protect each other (like they do in NZ) that 75% of our hospital is housing covid patients again and only scheduling emergency surgeries. (I could be off by a small percentage but not by much, I’m sure).
Poor Paul, I hope he is protected and safe. He’s a Kiwi (New Zealander) that is pretty chill. In times like this, his “she’ll be right mate” attitude doesn’t always serve him well. My dear hubby is surrounded by many of “those” people I talked about in the previous paragraph. So, let’s all pray for him (and my sister, she works with him).
After hanging my last load of wet laundry on the drying rack in the living room, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Cars, buses, and grocery delivery trucks whiz past. Molly and Zoe have run to the store to grab items from a list I gave them. Molly said, “mom, l may no be able to get wine. It may all be gone.” Adding, “Devonport moms ya know.” I didn’t even think to ask her to get toilet paper. I had to limit my order, we are without a car now, and they are carrying the bags up “Hell Hill” on foot.
Yahoo, I get to experience my first absolute level 4 lockdown Kiwi style!
I stand on the patio of my girl’s victorian villa flat. Rangitoto sits out beyond me across the water in the night. I look up and close my eyes. “Thank you, God, for bringing me to my home, my girls.” I take a drag off my cocktail cigarette. I breathe out the charred smoke and then breathe back in the cool, moist air of the north shore. A long white cloud hangs over me. Spits of rainfall on my face, and I glance at the towels drying in the fresh air being laundered again by the rain. Inside, the girls are watching Woody Allan’s “Midnight in Paris.”
I think back to their childhood. Waking up on a Sunday morning, An empty wine bottle sits on the dining room table surrounded by the girl’s drawings and cards from playing Wally, dress-ups sprinkled across the floor. The morning sun shines its rays through our front door windows, regularly covered in chalk pen drawings. They could be seen from the street by every passerby. I stand on the patio out the French doors of my girl’s flat in the present and think of the hints of bohemian Gypsy life they have had. The way it shaped their free-thinking, style, and creativity. It rains harder, and I stamp out my cigarette leaving half of it for later.
We have moved from NZ to America and back, and no matter where we are, the only time I am genuinely home is when I am with my children. Each beautiful girl is a perfect one-third slice of a particular part of me. Yes, I see Paul in them too. I can spend 100 percent of my time in bliss with each of them individually, and though they are sparkling originals in their own right, I fit perfectly by the side of every one of them. I love them and feel complete. My world, the cool air I breathe, the complexity of me that I question when I’m in their presence. I sit down on the warm $10 college girl couch inside the villa and write as I listen to the movie in the background. Others move around the room, getting on with their business and preparing for bed. I spent the day snuggling in my pajamas, drowsily watching formula 1 with Molly. Zoe and Sabrina walked in after a long day in Auckland. The room filled with light and smiles. The commotion of my family fills the room. Sabrina says, “hi mom, we’re home.” And silently, I think to myself, “yes, we are.”
The first time I went to castings was when I was around 12 yrs old. If it wasn’t for the local playhouse, it was for dinner theater or jingle work. So when my girls were born, it seemed only natural that all three of them have an agent. Sabrina had her first agent at 18 months. She got a couple of jobs, but we weren’t too involved as 2 more children were born following her. Her sisters were in commercials on their own or with her, and they had fun. Molly and Zoe never had showbiz fever, though. Not like Sabrina. She wanted to model from the first time she watched America and NZ’s next top model. She was signed to her first agency at the age of 17 and left home. I’m happy that she has followed her passions, but it has been hard to lose my baby to NZ and the international fashion industry. The industry seems glamorous and exciting but it doesn’t pay unless you’re one of the well known models. So much of what she does drains everyone financially, and only now at the age of 22 can she be picky about what jobs she takes and demand the pay she deserves.
NZ fashion week is coming up. I’ve only seen her walk in Miami Fashion Week, so I’m excited to be in NZ now. I’ve taken her to castings a million times and played Mammager. We’ve walked the streets of New York, Miami, and now Auckland, bouncing from one designer to another. I don’t go in with her. It’s not cool to drag your mom to a casting or into your agency (well, not the NY agencies). Paul went with Sabrina to Greece and played poppager, walking here from casting to casting, waiting for her in cafes, and drinking Greek coffee. He loved it! Paul had even been offered a lead in an ad campaign (as a model) had he been able to stay in Greece longer he could have been a contender.
I love the conversations Sabrina and I have when we go for walks. We can wander on for miles and hours and never run out of things to say. These walks are when we bond the most. It’s exciting to be a part of her day and feel the buzz and excitement of her preparing for another modeling job.
Among a row of white gowns, I spy Sabrina in a sparkling wedding dress. The designer is talking to her about seeing her in the casting videos for NZ fashion week. Sabrina blushes and smiles in her sweet way. She is humble, gentle, and kind. Beautiful inside and out. She has modeled for this designer before, and the wedding dresses she has worn in the past are top-notch. Sabrina has very high standards for wedding dresses at this point, and finding one for her magical day will be a challenge. I wonder what kind of person my future in-law will be as I look on dreamily and my angelic girl in white. In reality, she will probably want a dress that’s as comfortable as her Pyjamas, just like her mom wore.
After castings, we wander in and out of shops and hike the city until our feet are throbbing. We turn into a small alley and down a flight of stairs. We have only eaten coconut ice cream all day, and I’m starving. We are the only ones in Renkon, and I order teriyaki salmon and rice. I guzzle water and a bottle of green tea with honey. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I took a bite of my food. Heavy greasy, not the heavenly Renkon I romanticized while away in the US.
We end up walking 9 miles in total! I’m training for an inner-city walking marathon (I’m not, but I may as well at this point). In and out of shops we go until my feet can’t take anymore. We hop on the ferry and head home. The sun sinks below the Auckland harbor bridge and disappears behind the hills. It’s been a long casting day. I enjoy these moments with my big girl. These are the days I’ll remember.
I haven’t written for several days! My God, how time flies when you’re having fun with the three best girls in the world. We’re a bit cramped here in their one-bedroom apartment, but honestly, none of us seem to be bothered by it too much yet. My role here (while visiting) is to do what I’ve always done, shop for food, do laundry, dishes, make beds, and vacuum. An almost empty nester is supposed to do this for their kids. Look, they’re working, going to school full-time, trying to squeeze in moments with me, and attend dinners with old friends that I keep arranging (that they can’t make). It’s a lot! There is no time for them to clean and do homework on top of all of that. So homework comes first.
Admittedly I’m exhausted. Auckland is one hilly place, and we walk and walk and walk!!! Yesterday we walked 12.12 miles (a half marathon). For you, kiwis, that’s just over 19 kilometers. Today we had some errands in town, and after the 4th mile of walking, I just couldn’t anymore. My old legs are beyond tired. So I’m snuggled under the duvet in bed. There’s a chill in the old Victorian flat, and a cold wind blows through every crack and crevice. Days like today stick out in my mind. I remember our life here—trying to shake the damp winter cold that follows you everywhere. My least favorite chilly NZ feeling is jumping out of the steaming shower and gritting your teeth as the frigid air envelopes your wet body. You quickly towel off and get dressed, shivering and covered with goosebumps; after the Florida heat, though, I am enjoying these cool days.
Everything is different here compared to home. Both places have their pluses, each a paradise in their own right. NZ has something so special, though, my girls. It’s hard to imagine when all 5 of us Bruntons will be on the same soil again. And trust me, the wheels in my mind are spinning. I can’t decide whether I need a time machine, transporter or 10 million dollars to cure our NZ/US family logistics issue. It’s not easy being in a bicontinental family. Each moment we get to be with those we love on either continent is precious and cherished so much. I’ve missed my NZ friends and family, and catching up with some of them so far has been an absolute joy! You know a good friend when you haven’t seen each other for YEARS and the minute you’re together, you gel again as if you never missed a beat. Love it.
We’re just taking one day at a time here in NZ, reconnecting, walking, watching, listening, and loving every bit of it.
We’re here—the final day. Isolation seemed like it would feel like forever yet passed by in a blink. All of our days started running into each other, and with little variety in our activity, every morning felt like groundhog day. We’ve driven by car, flown two flights, taken one bus, and stayed in two hotels over 16 days to get to where we are now, and still, our NZ adventure is only just about to begin. We have eaten, slept, eaten, played games, slept, read, written, and binge-watched. We have laughed, thought deeply, jumped on beds, stared for hours out the window, and snuggled in front of the TV. We had repeated Covid tests and daily health checks. And dreaded the ringing of our phone in fear of that call, saying, “surprise, you’ve come back positive, and we’re moving you out of this hotel to Jet Park for an extended stay!” Our tests have all come back negative every time. We were aware that Covid could be lurking anywhere. And as it happened, a woman on our exact flight and in our hotel tested positive for Covid. They moved her on day two of our time here. We wish her well.
At 7 am Monday 26 July Zoe, and I will walk out the doors of our safe, friendly, quiet waiting place to the open and loving arms of family. All we will leave behind at Rydges MIQ is the essence of our presence. Every nook and cranny will be washed, scrubbed, sprayed, and ultraviolet light sterilized. And our organic and inorganic rubbish disposed of carefully.
We thank all the staff at #NZMIQ #RYDGES #AUCKLAND who have been so kind, careful, and patient. Thank you, #NZ for looking out for each other and having the smarts to make your country a safe, healthy place to roam freely. Thank you for welcoming us home with protection. We were more than willing to sacrifice 14 days of our lives in quiet reflection so that we can jump back into Kiwi culture and protect our friends and family.
We are packed and ready to head out. And we are looking forward to experiencing and embracing everything in our down under home to the fullest, freely and fearlessly. 14 hours to go.
I used to fly down giant hills, jump curbs and skate backward on my rollerblades; I was fearless. I did it for about ten years, so you’d think jumping back on them would be like riding a bike; you never forget. I used my Mothers Day rollerblades three times, and on the third day, I fell. I didn’t hurt myself, but as I lay on my back on the pavement looking up at the sky with an aching posterior, afraid to move because I was sure I broke every bone in my body, I thought, why am I doing this? (I was barely moving when I fell, and I didn’t even fall hard. I’m a baby, a brave baby.) Each time I skated, I put on more clothing and padding. I even considered wrapping a life jacket around my backside to add additional padding to my butt. I am acutely aware that I have 100 lbs more on me now compared to when I skated as a young fit gal, and this present-day voluptuousness doesn’t fall well. All three times I rollerbladed, I was shaking like a leaf and sweating bullets. I was petrified, but I wanted to do it with my sweet daughter, so I sucked it up and gave it my all. She was so encouraging and excited that we were doing something sporty together (I think). I didn’t want to let her down until gravity pulled me down, and then I just parked them in the closet. So yesterday, I gave them away to a dear family friend who put them on and skated after only an hour like gravity doesn’t exist. She’s 12, and her feet are the same size as mine. She rollerbladed with our girl Zoe the way I wished I could, and I watched on with joy over the happiness I had just given someone else and breathed a sigh of absolute relief that I never have to get on those things ever again. I will roll with my girl however my next purchase will be a scooter with huge wheels
AUTHOR NOTE: I don’t drink unless I am on an outing with friends or family, and there have not been many opportunities for those outings lately, so I haven’t drunk much and have become a lightweight. Now my story.
I took what I thought was the last sip of my skinny Pina cola. I had only had one, and that was perfect. They weren’t cheap, and I drank every drop. My Niece and I sunbathed by the resort-style pool with her two children; I haven’t seen them for over three years, and it was a joy to be with them, so we were celebrating. After two sips of her skinny drink, my niece was done. She slid her almost full plastic cup over to me, and I happily drank it. The sun was beating down, and as my body became relaxed, I slowly melted into the lounger where I lay. The pool was huge, and the sound of the waterfall began to lull me to sleep. I dozed for a second and then hopped in the inviting clear sparkling water where I floated weightlessly free with mellow content. I noticed my niece shifting the wet towels on the lounge chairs, and I took it as a sign she was ready to go.
I said, “are you leaving?” She looked at me puzzled, “well, we can…, yeah we’re probably going to go soon.” She thought that I wanted to, so she packed up. I did the same and headed for my car. I secretly fretted as we left the safety of the pool. Had I known we were going home so soon, I would never have finished her drink for her (she seemed to really need help disposing of it, though). In retrospect, neither one of us was ready to leave. It seems we got our wires crossed trying to read the hidden messages our body language was sending. Due to our lack of communication, we packed up for no reason. In my car, I sat in the driver’s seat calculating how much food and water I had consumed, my weight to alcohol ratio after two vodka filled skinny drinks and regretted drinking that second one (don’t judge readers, I’m sure there is some point in your life where you have done this or something like it).
I sat in the parking lot patiently waiting for the minimal buzz I had to pass. I drank my two-liter water bottle till it was empty and did some writing, read social media, clipped my fingernails, listened to music, checked my emails, did some writing again, and then decided to head for home. I was not loopy, but I knew the alcohol was present in my bloodstream. (Ok, I wasn’t loopy, but I did feel VERY relaxed!) I called my husband to keep me company while I drove home and he was concerned (loopy Jeri is not often a normal state). I had two blooming drinks; I don’t even think driving with two drinks and two liters of water in your system is illegal, but I felt like a hardened criminal. I was in a part of town I had not ever explored and decided to stop at CVS for dog treats.
I saw a smoke shop next door and peeked in. The shop, stocked with bongs, CBD, Vape pens, and everything “Marijuana” was stoner central (no, it wasn’t a dispensary, that’s not legal in Naples). I quickly walked in and back out again. I walked further along the plaza and popped into the liquor store. A woman greeted me at the door and, noticing my wet hair and dress, said, “did you just come from the beach?” “No, I was at a pool,” I replied. She was a small Indian woman with kind eyes that looked me up and down as If I was out of place, and she couldn’t quite figure me out. I was there for a teeny tiny pack of cigarettes.
I thought If I just had one, It would snap me out of this foggy feeling. The kind woman called her husband to the front to help me. After asking for the skinniest tiniest pack of Virginia Slim menthols anyone could ever smoke (literally, you practically need tweezers to hold these things and a magnifying glass to see them), he asked me if I smoked often? Man, you had to answer security questions to get a pack of smokes; now I truly felt like a fugitive. I didn’t hold back; I told him everything I knew for fear of failing whatever secret test I was taking. In one giant run-on sentence, I said, “OK! I had a couple of drinks by the pool a little over an hour ago and my daughter will be home from school soon If I ever feel tipsy I usually smoke a cigarette and it makes me feel normal again I would never smoke in front of my children so I thought I would grab a quick one here before I head home!”
I stopped talking, and as usual, there was silence as I realized I said more than I needed to. The couple started at me, and then the man looked at me and smiling said in a soft indian accent, “You are a good mom. Be careful driving home.” I passed, I passed the test. There was hope for me yet, so with confidence, I sat outside the store, on a bench drying off and smoking the anti buzz remedy. “You are a good mom” rang in my ears. I had felt so guilty over my morning staycation actions and was so worried that I had not done my day perfectly, but now I could relax. I did snap out of it. I took my time getting home. Overall I spent 2 hours traveling 20 minutes because I was ultra-careful and waiting until it was safe to get behind the wheel. I haven’t touched those cigarettes again since I bought them; that was a few days ago, and I have maybe smoked one pack total in the last four years. I used to drink wine with my mom, and we would have a social cigarette together on the patio, but nothing more than that. Since she has been gone, there hasn’t been much thought of doing it.
This event has led me to wonder about the anxiety I manifest for myself over needing to do the right thing, appear to be the perfect mom, sister, etc. (when anyone who knows me knows I’m not, but I sure do try). I know I’m not the only one who does this. We all have our reasons for wanting to appear perfect on the outside. I understand why I hold myself to high standards. There are reasons I won’t just let go and go wild like my head sometimes tells me I should, but every once in a while, a girls just gotta have some fun, you know.
(This story is a time capsule of words and thoughts shared from my diary. Written one year ago today, June 5, 2020.)
The mood of the day, gray, rainy, calm, quiet, hopeful yet frightening, motivated, loved, and slightly bored.
My feelings are all over the place this week as the world erupts with bubbling issues of racism, isolation, fear, and depression. The deaths of George Floyd over a counterfeit $20 bill and Ahmaud Arbery shot by a retired police officer and friends while he was running; have sparked peaceful protests and riots not just in America but around the entire world. In Auckland, NZ, there was a peace march of 9000 people to support #blacklivesmatter. Our two oldest daughters were there, marching with the others, demanding a global end to systemic racism. I am so proud of them. While proud of them, I’m dying to get out there and peacefully protest myself. Our youngest daughter fears for my safety and begs me not to; she is scared. Business owners are frightened. Businesses of every kind in towns around the US, broken into, looted, and burned. A Target was destroyed, along with CVS and Walmart, who had to close over 100 stores until there is order. Angry groups don’t care if you are rich, poor, white, black, Asian, Hispanic; they are fed up and are destroying people’s businesses and lives to make a loud screaming statement.
#nolivesmatteruntilblacklivesmatter I get it. I don’t blame them. I am ashamed to be white at times. I can’t express enough how I long to be united with black brothers and sisters (united with all races actually), and no matter how much I try, I will never feel the pain of the scorn heaped upon their backs repeatedly, heartlessly. We are one race, the human race. We all love, bleed, rejoice and grieve the same. We are one people. I am confused and angry, even sad and again ashamed of the way some (many) in my country, entitled Americans, still embrace racism and, on top of that, have responded to COVID-19 with anti-masking and misleading lies stating that it’s all a hoax. Over 500,000 people with families, spouses, and children, parents and friends who loved them, were killed by a hoax. Yes, Information is misleading or confusing. Politicians are worried about money over lives; Americans have lost jobs in the 10’s of millions. People are dying, starving, committing suicide (because it’s all too much). The world is riddled with rising mental illness cases, and many of us are hanging on by a thread. It’s a crazy time.
It’s hurricane season now, and we’ve had homes destroyed in our Florida brush fires. I thank God for today’s rain as it slows the flames. Yet someone in another community is praying for the rain to stop because landslides have washed their homes into the sea, taking more lives. Global warming, I say. Today people and parties do not respect each other, and our leaders are greatly divided. Some deplore Mr. Trump and his cronies, saying he is the “worst president in the history of all presidents.” He has been referred to as ignorant, a coward, and at times evil. The world feels as if it’s going mad. The chaos reminds me of scenes flashed on the news when I was a child, during the ’60s and ’70s.
I was laid-off from my job on March 20th and forced to get a lawyer and threaten litigation to get my last paycheck for three weeks of work. What is wrong with people? I don’t understand. I’m gun shy at the thought of working for anyone again. I don’t want to sell ice to Eskimos, and I don’t want to be an easy to replace cog in another machine. My husband and God have provided well for us through all of this, and I am thankful. Today, in the stillness of this very moment, I love my life, but there are people lost in depression who are in the process of ending theirs.
Beyond my front door, the world around me is in chaos. In my home, there is safety, love, and contentment. Privileged folks make home repairs and renovations in isolation while others walk that fine line of living paycheck to paycheck while tipping over the edge into homeless obscurity. There are rich who can’t fathom what it’s like to go hungry as they lay their heads down at night on a mountain of soft Down pillows. Then there are the devastatingly poor who are struggling to fill the stomachs of their fearful starving children and provide them an isolated online education while sleeping in cars, under bridges, in bug-infested woods, and abandoned houses. Now is a time when there is much to do. We must find common ground rise from our complacency and plan for a better tomorrow as we isolate. We need peace across the aisle and over the back fence. “There’s a change a comin” it’s time, we’ve been “woke” and what we’ve seen can’t and shouldn’t be unseen.
(Looking back on last year’s writing, I think we are changing with each tiny step forward. We have changed political leadership. We remember the lives of those we’ve lost. While #blacklivesmatter isn’t speaking as loud today, I haven’t forgotten, and those with a conscience, bravery, heart, and voice are still talking, protesting, and will fight till their last breath (hopefully peacefully) until we have evolved into an actual accepting, loving, multicultural society. With vaccinations administered to half of us, we are coming out of our homes and returning to the office maskless in some places here in the US. I have the privileged opportunity to write my blog and memoir. Brush fires in FL are minimal this year, and hurricane season is approaching. We don’t know what storms we will weather yet; we can get through them better together if we learn from our past, allow ourselves to grow, fight against morally wrong behavior and actions and unite as one people, a beautiful blend of colors. The colors that God chose to paint the world we live in on a planet we must equally share in love.)
One hundred thirty-six million Americans were fully vaccinated as of May 31st; according to “Our World in Data,” that’s 41.4% of us; so we are slowly opening back up. I watch as people begin to shop, dine and socialize again and in my head, hear, “Please notice that the seatbelt sign is off, and you are now free to roam around the cabin” (that’s airplane talk, seems I’ve taken one too many flights in my lifetime). I’m getting out there tentatively and still wear a facemask even though my husband and I have chosen to vaccinate fully, and our 15 yr old at this point is 1/2 vaxed. I’m anxious and gun shy. I do Shipt shopping for a couple of hours a day, a few days a week, to offset the cost of my smoothie bowl addiction. When I’m out there in the stores walking around shopping, I feel traces of the paranoia that had set in at the swell of the Covid 19 pandemic run through every fiber of my being. I’m sure a lot of people are still feeling uneasy. Pre vaccination, I was anxious and downright angry about antimaskers rubbing past me while I shopped, and sometimes I would comment to those who wore their masks only over their mouths, saying, “ Hey, you know that mask only works if you cover your mouth and nose.” I admit I was sometimes downright shitty and would glare at people who came too close without protecting the people around them like I was, and I would think, “what an asshole, what a selfish human being!” I would get upset because I was in the store working. Though I was sweating bullets due to 53-year-old menopausal hot flashes behind my mask, I still found it monumentally critical to protect others, myself, and prevent the spread of this crappy disease that some had the nerve to call a hoax. What became most apparent to me due to the pandemic and how people reacted to our new normal was that the narcissistic, entitled “give me liberty or give me death” monster is real. It took over the most unsuspecting of friends and family, tread on you like a pack of wild kids running over ants on a crowded playground, and got stronger the more you objected to it! It’s been hard not to judge through the Covid days.
Frankly, the last year and a bit have been exhausting. I got to a point where I didn’t have energy left to follow the news, CDC guidelines, my friends opinions and beliefs on social media, the trumped-up election commentary for or against it, look for a new job, worry about being separated 9000 miles from my two daughters, wonder when I would be able to hug them again, think about when we would be able to start paying ALL of our bills again, poor health I was experiencing and the body numbing feeling that my world was closing in on me; so I hit my wall. Mental health was a struggle well before all of this. I have battled an acute panic disorder, anxiety, and depression since I was 13. It came on as my hormones changed while going through puberty. The tween years is an expected time of onset for this kind of hereditary disorder. Covid was exceptionally challenging for me and has changed my thought pattern somewhat. Because everything had gotten so heavy and so hard in the world outside my home, I had taken to isolating and staying inside when I could. The CDC had suggested we stay home when possible, and I had no problem with it. Our 15 yr old was also home and doing school online; plus, we have our two dogs, who, by the way, were highly thankful for Covid isolation because they got to snuggle us every day.
I got too comfortable in my bubble, and Isolation for me over a long period is not good (it’s not really good for anyone). In my mid 20’s I suffered from Agoraphobia which, according to Wikipedia (for those of you who don’t know), “is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centers, or simply being outside their home. (in my case large crowd of people). Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases, people may become completely unable to leave their homes.”
When I experienced Agoraphobia, I was one of the lead singers of a top 40 band that performed 5-6 nights a week in Naples. People would say, “wow, you must be having a blast!” But in reality, 50% of the time, it was terrifying. I would spend my mornings and afternoons in the safety of my home or rollerblading and running alone, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was sleeping; in fact, I became addicted to sleeping during the day (it’s an escape, it’s a thing). If our phone rang, I refused to pick it up. The thought of talking to anyone made me panic and feel nauseous. It was extremely hard for me to grocery shop at that time; it seemed like everyone in town knew me even if I didn’t know them, and they would stop and talk to me every few aisles. After a while, I started leaving my cart in the middle of the store and hiding in my car where I would go numb with panic, become disoriented, and have to call my then fiancé to save me in the parking lot because I couldn’t move my limbs to drive my car. I viewed the world in single slow frames because my visual tracking was off due to overstimulation in my brain. On one occasion, my husband Paul and I went car shopping at a huge open-air car market in NZ. It was shoulder to shoulder with people. Somehow I lost hold of Paul’s hand, and when we got separated, I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to hold it together, but as my anxiety began to surge, I started shaking uncontrollably and crying so hard I could barely see through the tears. My limbs began to lose feeling just as Paul found me, and when he grabbed my hand again, I furiously yelled at him, “why did you leave me like that? I was scared, and you just left me!” My poor husband, if he had no mental health issues before we married, I’m sure he does now; please pray for him.
The act of panicking and running into triggers became a vicious cycle. The more I isolated or felt abandoned, the more those triggers flicked on, causing my issues to accumulate like onion layers building up into a more complex series of disorders. Peeling back those layers to find some semblance of normal Jeri inside has taken years, long sessions with several kinds of therapists and doctors, and begrudgingly but very necessary, medication. It’s been hard, and even though I have long periods where everything is running smoothly, the fact remains that there are still a few fried circuits inside me that, if tapped the wrong way, set the cycle in motion again. So fast forward to today, I am finding it hard to move outside of my head and my house, to fight the urge to continue to isolate even though the reason to do so is diminishing. I don’t talk as much daily as I did pre isolation, and when I do, I verbally puke out any and every thought that hits my lips because I don’t know when I’m going to have the chance to do it again, and I can’t help myself.
We planted some Clusia hedges in front of our house during our home improvement stage of Covid isolation, and I have been excited about how lush and green our new landscaping looks as it grows. But I found myself looking at them this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway to go Shipt shop (which I make myself do, so I have to leave the house for something), and for a second, I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait till those grow so tall no one can see our house. Then I will be able to step out on my patio and sit there in comfort, and no one will see me hiding behind the hedges.” It’s not an irrational thought; everyone wants privacy, but I am mindful of these thoughts of wanting to hide and putting them in check while taking baby steps to break out of my bubble and roam freely around the cabin in an attempt to get back to a life that feels free and somewhat normal.
It’s over! 31 days in a row of trying to blog something meaningful, with depth and heart that isn’t just fluff and stuff. Only you can be the judge of how I did on capturing your attention. I know I did my best. It was tiring trying to keep up with a 31-day blog challenge. My husband got a little frustrated at times that my nose was in my iPhone notes or computer every day, and he made several comments about how obsessed I had become. But hey, as I told him, “blog challenge or no blog challenge, I have found my rhythm, so get used to it; I’ll often be writing and for long hours sometimes.” I missed 6 out of the 31 days; that’s not too bad. I didn’t write on the days where I honestly had nothing to say. I gained about 100 new followers on my @jerisbraindump Facebook page alone. Thank you to all who have followed and are engaging with sharing and comments on my stories. I have gained 54 new WordPress.com community followers and about 100 more between Instagram and Twitter. I enjoyed reading the stories of fellow bloggers in this challenge, and I’m sure we will all keep an eye on each other from this point on. I think the story I loved sharing the most was “Mother”. It contains memories close to my heart, and I had a chance to bear my vulnerability. You all shared and commented and showed support as fellow parents, and again I thank you. I will continue to blog while working on my memoir. I haven’t forgotten, at one point, someone asked when I would post me singing; here you go (find the link at the end of this blog). I enjoyed having a blog family. Keep in touch.
NOTE: I don’t own any of the writes to the music I’m singing. I used to sing this song for my girls when they were little. I just recorded it on my phone with an app for you all recently. Enjoy! Part of Your World (from The Little Mermaid) https://www.smule.com/sing-recording/1826154647_3755224429
I didn’t read any blogs until recently. I picked up a book by an author named Jenny Lawson, and it grabbed me. The first book I read of Jenny’s is the second one in her series of memoirs, Furiously Happy. If I ran into Jenny Lawson on the street or went to her famous indie book store, The Nowhere Book Shop in San Antonio, TX; I wouldn’t get all Stephen King Misery psycho Nurse Annie Wilkes on her and say anything creepy like “I’m your number one fan!” But I would graciously tell her she spurred on my creativity and thank her. Her ability to voice her truth in my language helped me move past my fear, doubt, and insecurity into a place of inspired confidence through laughter. Jenny’s words had an impact on me because of where I was in my life at the time that I picked up her book. It coincided with me coming to a close on a several-month battle with depression and a panic disorder that left me incapacitated for several months. Jenny Lawson is not a hero or superstar; she’s not a Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, or Elon Musk. She’s not Shakespeare or Ruth Bader Ginsburg; no, she’s a mom, wife, small business owner, woman fighting a battle with mental illness, and The Bloggess.
I have other people I admire who have shaped my life, but at this moment, this is the person whose voice has spoken to me. She’s not poetic or brilliant in her writing. She scratches lines out in her books and adds humorous lines over them, going against the better judgment of her publisher. She’s not exhaustingly fighting for a cause like other female authors I know these days who have gone beyond telling their story and decided to take over the world. I like Jenny’s style because she doesn’t seem to try to be all things to all people; she just is. (at the moment, watch this space; the fame demon may whisk her genuine nature away too). I like that she feels real and isn’t desperate to be a superstar. Most of all, I like how it feels to relate to her experiences, to understand her words, and to feel like you are reading the writings of a good friend who sees you. I have sent her a message on Twitter because she started following me (very cool), but she probably thinks I’m some creepy fan girl stocker. I’m not; I’m just Jeri from the block, also a mom, wife, and someone who has been wrestling with mental illness for a long time, trying to navigate around anxiety which has shut down some of my dreams and frozen me in my tracks, making it hard to relate to others, feel sure of the decisions I’m making and be comfortable in a room full of people. I encourage you to read her stuff. You may not see genius between the covers, but if you aren’t too much of a snob to laugh till you cry at the ridiculousness of life, you may just feel relief in knowing you’re not the only freaky person in the world and it’s ok.
Fully immersed in my little universe, I am unaware of the world around me. When I’m writing, I can sit down at 10 am, thinking I have hours to pen my truth in silence, and then suddenly my daughter walks in the door from school. I find it hard to imagine it’s 2 pm already and feel she has played a trick on me and come home from school early. Have you had that feeling? Have you experienced those times when you’ve been doing something you love and are so focused that the passing of time seems irrelevant and unnoticeable? If you have experienced this like me, you have possibly found your passion. I have had more than one in my life. Those passions are writing and reading, playing the piano, singing, rollerblading, hiking, running, and baton twirling.
This morning I invited a few people I love to share something they remember about me, and my sister accepted the challenge. She sent me a comment by text that sparked the idea for today’s blog entry. You see, during several of my full immersion moments while practicing my baton twirling, my sister was sitting on the outside looking in. Because I was laser-focused and determined to be the best, I tuned out everything and concentrated only on twirling. I was so determined to sharpen my skills I would practice with as little light as possible outside at night and depend on my timing and senses to feel when to snatch the spinning baton that was falling towards me out of the air. Sometimes I would miss, and often I would end up with a few bruises on my face, arms, and legs. I never felt the pain, though, because I was on a mission. I never noticed someone sitting there and had forgotten how often my sister was watching. I would never have imagined the feelings she had for me as she stared on at me feverish, laboring for perfection. The truth is, You don’t always know who’s watching you, and you can never be sure what they see. I have always looked up to my big sister, and the text she sent me following my request for a memory made me realize while I was stressing and striving to be my best, someone was standing right beside me who already thought I was.
I am 53 now, and the text from my sister reflects a memory she had of me when I was in my teens.
“Jeri, the only memory I can think of is when you were in high school, and you were head majorette. I would sit and watch you many, many evenings while you practiced your twirling. I was so amazed at how cool it was that you could do that so incredibly well and how hard you worked at it. I was so proud of you ❤️. I am still proud of you! You were a very talented person. Then and now!” T.A. (My sweet sister)
Except for you, you are the only thing holding you back. I hear this in my head when I read quotes like this, and I wonder, Is this 100% true? Maybe I’m the only thing keeping me from reaching my goals and fulfilling my dreams, obtaining love, happiness, contentment, spiritual well-being, and all of life’s creature comforts? Well, first of all, that’s a slightly extensive list, and I tend to overthink things. The quote above is motivational and, in the most simple terms, accurate. If I do what I think this quote is suggesting, “let go and let God,” which means letting go of all of the negative stuff in my life that’s blocking me like fear, anxiety, loneliness, and self-doubt and hand it over to him/her to hold while pursuing my purpose; I have the motivation and confidence to start over, draw a line in the sand and approach life from a new perspective. If I overthink letting go and starting over and what in the universe could stop me, my head spins. I don’t mean to be a negative Nellie, Karen, and let’s not forget Dick (it’s not just the women who annoy us people), but there are a few realistic items that would hold me back from letting go and starting over or make it pretty darn hard:
• losing the funding provided by my hard-working husband so that I can work a flexible job and write for virtually no money at all! (not everyone has that!).
• I have an eternal need to say precisely what I think all of the time. (Admittedly, I don’t always pick up on social cues and have a knack for taking things a bit too far. Even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, which includes doing good deeds and standing up for my rights and the rights of others; it never ends well).
• My anxiety and how socially awkward I feel inside when in an office environment or in a crowd of people socializing where I feel like I have to say anything and everything so there’s no dead air floating around. (I usually say something random and inappropriate and hear people say, “oh Jeri” in a tsk, tsk kind of way, not a surprising kind of way, and if they don’t say it, I see it in their eyes). Disclaimer: This usually leaves me with an uneasy feeling when departing people, and I’m never quite sure if we’re still friends or ever were.
• My children and husband. I wouldn’t let them go to start over. In fact, if we’re talking about things in the universe that could stop us, I would most likely jump in front of a rapidly moving meteor for them, and just like my previously mentioned habit of taking a stand for people and myself, I’m reasonably sure the meteor thing wouldn’t end well).
What I’m saying, I guess, is that looking at that beautiful sentiment above while heartwarming and encouraging makes me feel a bit prickly depending on what I’m considering letting go of and what I’m starting over. I am also confirming the fact that I totally overthink things.
Lately, I’ve been blogging, and there are several days where I sit in silence, just rattling around inside my head digging up memories or imagining the future coming up with things to write. Some days it flows easily, and others, I feel mentally drained. I’m writing in a 31-day blog challenge, and at the moment, I have missed 4 out of 22 days. I’m not going to punish myself for the missed days or fret because I didn’t do it perfectly. I’m just going to carry on and do my best.
I have been struggling with what to post and what to keep for my memoir. There is some very personal stuff that could help others out there but also so emotional. I’m not sure I want to be that exposed on the World Wide Web. I’m sensitive to my family and whether they’ll be prepared for the things I’ve written. I’m finding it hard to speak my truth without shocking or potentially hurting those I love; It feels selfish. Most of my Blog posts are witty or light-hearted and, at times, informational, but now that I am in a secure routine in my writing, I feel I have more profound items I want to share. It’s hard to know what space to do this in.
I experimented on Facebook. Seeing that I’m new to blogging and trying to understand what my audience likes to read best, I’m still unsure what stories attract my readers. In my experiment, I tried to see if I could make a post go viral in two ways. (there are proven methods, I know. My problem is that I don’t know what they are yet! HELP NEEDED!!!)
1. PPC (pay per click) advertising (I put $50 towards a story post that had gotten the most attention 1x per month).
2. Asked 100 of my Facebook friends and family to share my story on their FB timeline (not all 100 people shared, I understand putting a story written by someone you know personally on your feed is a big ask).
That said, I found that neither method made my post go viral. My post had almost the same amount of views both ways. I was surprised to see an unpaid boost in readers of my blog, with just 13 out of the 100 people I asked to share my Facebook page post kindly giving me a hand. BY THE WAY, THANK YOU!
Let’s be realistic; there is the scary thought that my writing is just crap and not “viral” worthy. I have to push that thought out of my mind, though, and write on! My blog is still in it’s infancy (only 2 months old). Following my passion and the joy I get from it shouldn’t be measured by statistics. Maybe I’m just documenting my life to leave behind for my family and generations to follow (maybe by the time I’m dead and gone, my children and husband will care to read my blog, seriously).
All is not lost, though. Things are ever-changing in the online space, and as a blogger, I’m still learning. Gaining knowledge from this experiment is a win because even small gains are growth. Feedback from those in the know is always appreciated.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you find your viral sweet spot? What gets your followers excited? Please comment and share.
If I had a theme song, what would it be? Boy, that’s a hard one for someone who loves music as much as I do to answer, especially if you’re asking me to choose just one. My theme song would have to be a music mash-up. I would pick a song that might say I light up the room when I enter it, only because that’s what my mom used to tell me. I loved that woman. If my theme song were to honor how she thought of me, I would choose the song I played the piano and sang in my first solo performance at Naples Park Elementary School in my 4th-grade choir class by Debbie Boone, “You light up my life.”
Or maybe my theme song is what I hear in my head as I perform my duties as a mother. I shout out orders to my captain/husband while leading and keeping my little soldiers in line like Wonder Woman in 1984, fighting the war to end all wars. Picture me walking down the hallway slamming the doors on my children’s messy bedrooms and kicking toys, school books, and clothes out of my path, turning my back on the evil mess. I walk in slow motion shaking my head with a cocky grin followed by a pyrotechnic explosion erupting in a blaze at the end of the hallway behind me! That theme song would be by Hans Zimmer composed for “Wonder Woman 1984”.
My theme song could also show my tender side—the side of me where I love deeply, wholeheartedly, and with lifelong devotion. My husband is a happy lovable teddy bear but not big on saying constant sappy I love you’s. I’ve grown accustomed to his minimalist expression of the L-word, but every once in a while, I pull out the big guns and play the song that we did our first wedding dance, too, to see if I can get some mushiness out of the man. Now that I think of it, maybe this is more of a theme song for our marriage, not me. Anyway, honey, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”
Then there are those times when I want to be with the girls, my sisters, nieces, and friends. This domestic Goddess still contains a lot of party energy that rarely gets tapped into these days. When I get to let my hair down and jettison some of what’s left in this pent-up party tank, I dance like no one is looking (or at least I hope no one’s looking). Yeah, that’s right, one glass of wine or two gin and tonics, and I’m a madwoman dancing on the lowest coffee table I can find (because I just can’t hop up on a bar as I used to and I would be doing this in a living room at this point because I can’t stay awake long enough to reach the rowdy wee small hours of the morning at a raging night club where you would actually see people dancing on a real bar). Come on, just picture me all punked out and off my face tearing it up to my fun side theme song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper, or better yet, “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse (RIP). (It’s hard to imagine, but this really happens, maybe once every ten years).
And finally, there’s my day-to-day Jeri theme song, one that keeps me going, boosts my confidence, and reminds me that I am all that I need to be for me and no more. The song that I can sing scream and cry out all at once, and it awakens any part of me that may feel weak or need a helping hand. Yes, this is my newfound anthem and real-life theme song. I love the chorus,
“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ’em out I am brave, I am bruised I am who I’m meant to be, this is me Look out ’cause here I come And I’m marching on to the beat I drum I’m not scared to be seen I make no apologies, this is me”
Yep, the song that suits me and my life most at the moment is “This is me” sung by Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble. And on that powerful note, I drop the mic, and I’m out.
You can find my music mash-up songs on YouTube by clicking the bottom links.
Last week I suggested and shared some links to technical blogging tools that I use. I said, “use these tools to amplify your writing voice and build your audience.” I suggested that you start with one blog account and take it slow. And also noted that “taking it slow is better than doing nothing at all.” While having and knowing how to use all of the gadgets, platforms, and software available for blogging is handy, it’s not everything. The list of links I provided is a vehicle for distributing our stories to the public (and your mom, face it, your mom is always the first to comment on your work). Those blogging and posting tools are necessary, but I want to talk to you about another critical component to being a blog writer, so let’s talk about our writing and what we use to get the written word from our brains to paper or screen with authenticity.
Before I can take my written thoughts and throw them up on the World Wide Web or into the cloud, I have to access some essential tools in my possession. These basic yet necessary and powerful tools took me a long time to learn how to use, maybe longer than learning to use the online tools and platforms I have shared with you. Over time I have fine-tuned these essential tools and discovered that having a clear understanding of this component of my writing is imperative when telling my story.
If you are an artist, singer, writer, or chasing any form of creative endeavor; you have probably searched high and low for that one thing that will make you relevant, pull people in, keep them hooked and give them the desire to share your creative genius with everyone they know. I have honestly spent years reading about how other successful people have found their voice. I have followed their journeys to see where that magic moment happened, that defined them, made them unique, and set them apart from us ordinary folk. What set them on the road to success? Through all of my searching, I found that no two stories are the same. The successful people we look up to and model ourselves after come from varying backgrounds. Some lived in cars with their family and desperation drove them, some had been in the right place at the right time, some were born in the spotlight and chose to carry on a family legacy, and some had greatness thrust upon them (yes, some of those that we look up to found success by accident). But what if all of these individual universes made up of complex stories flavored with personal experience, perception, beliefs, and unique environments use the same tools to accomplish their goals?
I believe they do, and I think I’ve finally discovered what they are in me, and you have got them in you too. I think we can all express ourselves authentically. You have had these tools and have been developing them since the day you were born. You don’t have to go out and buy them, and you can’t download them on your computer or phone as an app.
These special tools are our HEARING, HEART, and HONESTY. Let’s call them the 3 H’s. Remembering to pay attention and use these internal tools intentionally is not always easy. Sometimes I forget to tap into the 3 H’s and write a fluff story that falls flat. It takes time and practice to implement the 3 H’s. And because I make myself write every day, no matter what, I’m not always going to hit it out of the park.
Here’s what happens when I implement the 3 H’s:
When I HEAR or listen in silence, what I hear comes through clearly. It is important to me to listen to my inner voice. I also listen to the voices of those around me (discerningly). Being still and learning to listen patiently helps me understand the world around me and allows me to paint a distinct picture of where I and others fit in my stories. If I only listen to MY voice, I fear I will become very one-dimensional.
When I open my HEART, I tap into authentic emotions. I show my vulnerability and, by doing so, set myself free. Writing from my heart allows me to share my ideas, dreams, compassion, anger, desires, fears, pain, and joy with humanity. Being able to speak from my heart, I believe, makes me relatable to others. We all feel something whether we play our cards close to our chest or put our crazy out on the front porch. I speak from my heart and have seen firsthand how it has helped others open up, face, and share their emotions. I believe this is what pulls people in and gets them hooked, and because it has come from deep in my soul, I feel good knowing I’m not just bullshitting people, which brings me to the 3rd H.
When I am HONEST with myself about my past, present, and goals or dreams set for the future, I can share my truth. My truth is my voice. Finding my voice as a writer has been the most challenging thing for me to do (it’s an evolving process). In the past, I had trouble writing in my voice because I was afraid of offending someone or revealing too much of myself; doing this caused me to write inconsistently or not at all. After a while, writing felt like a chore because I wasn’t honestly putting on paper what I wanted to say. I found my honesty by setting a timer for 10 minutes a day and just writing the first thing that came to my mind. (If you decide to practice this, DO NOT stop to think about what you are writing, just let whatever flows into your mind flow out. Also, please DO NOT go back and correct or read it for a week) doing this helped me to loosen up and freed me from my inhibitions. When I read what I wrote in my 10 minute “stream of consciousness” sessions a week later, I saw honesty and authenticity instead of fabricated thought.
So there they are, the tools that I find the most valuable in my life as a blog writer who is also working on a memoir and dabbling with some short fiction ideas. Focus on the 3 H’s; meditate, silently observe, ask questions, try not to talk for a change (if you’re a talker). Open your heart and share it with others (it may get broken, use that shit). Be honest; always be honest. The older I get, the more I realize that life is too short for BS, fake people, being stuck in toxic relationships, letting others control me, and constantly smiling through the pain. Instead, smile because you feel empowered over having just shared your truth with someone. Remember the saying, “the truth will set you free”? Well, it does.
Use the 3 H’s above, and once you’ve put your words into writing, grab the handy links below, turn up your voice and touch others’ lives. I believe there is no failing in writing. The act of documenting your life is one of creating a legacy that will be here when we are long gone. Did the cavemen or Egyptians worry about the pictorial stories or hieroglyphics they carved into stone and left for generations to come? (I don’t actually know, but I say NO!) If I’m sharing my truth, history, or dreams, I know It can’t be wrong. So come on! Let’s WRITE!
Comprehensive list of the channels, tools, and accounts I have adopted (please comment kindly, follow, like, or subscribe to any or all of my channels, and by all means SHARE!!!, the point of this is that we’re working to tell our stories and to be seen and heard):
• Anchor https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episodes (this is the tool I use for creating excellent Podcasts where I read and record my blog for friends and family who don’t like to or have the time to read). Anchor is easy to use and allows you to record from your phone or computer. I sit in my closet and record, so there’s no background noise. Anchor then distributes my Podcast to their affiliates:
• THERE ARE MANY, MANY MORE CHANNELS ANCHOR PODCASTS ARE DISTRIBUTED!
• YouTube https://youtu.be/iIzuHRTaMt0 (I had to use a tool that turns audio into a video format to be posted on YouTube. YouTube doesn’t allow audio-only posting. I recommend Wavve; it’s easy to use and free. (FREE IS GOOD!) https://wavve.co
• Grammerly.com for editing and correcting text before posting a blog (if you don’t have a trusted proofreader, this is a MUST!!! Even this excellent tool doesn’t replace the sharpness of a trained human editors eye)
I used to rollerblade daily. Everywhere, for miles, in flat Florida or down the steep Tennessee hills. I was addicted to rollerblading and running for years. I learned to rollerblade when I was 23 and stopped after I had my first child 22 years ago (I did rollerblade 10 miles one time since then in 2012, I don’t know how I did it).
Lately, I have been dying to run and get back into rollerblading. I have missed the charge I got out of both activities as a fit young woman. I also miss the body I had (pre-babies 22 years ago). My body didn’t quite bounce back after children, and no matter how much I have worked out or dieted, I have never been thin again. At this point, I don’t care if I’m skinny; I just want to have fun, fly across the pavement with the wind blowing through my hair, feel young and be fit again.
For this past Mother’s Day, our 15 yr old daughter and my lovely husband gifted me with Zetrablade Elite W Rollerblades! We drove 1 hr to the only store close to us that had my size and bought those with a full array of padding. I also looked for ski poles, but the store was out of stock. (My daughter didn’t want me to work back into blading with ski poles anyway. She said, “once a ski poler, always a ski polar.” She may be right).
We found an excellent park on the waterfront with a mile loop of smooth pavement. I suited up and prepared to wow my family with my rollerblade skills. I always bragged about how I used to jump things and do extreme downhill blading with no fear. I put on my new wrist guards, knee pads, elbow pads, and finally, my rollerblades. The moment of truth had arrived. I stood up and immediately felt beads of sweat begin to roll off of my face. I hadn’t even moved yet. I looked at my family with an awkward smile and said, “I got this, it’s ok, hold on, hold on.” It turned out the “truth” at that moment was that I was no longer fearless. I suddenly became aware of how tall I was on the rollerblades and how far away the ground was. All I could hear in my head was my heartbeat and “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” I was acutely in tune with my new 53 yr old body and the weight of it and thought, “man, this is not going to fall well!” I WASNT EVEN ON THE PAVEMENT YET! I toddled across the grass in slow motion, and my sweet daughter cheered me on with positive affirmation, “you can do it, mom. Just take your time.” I had to skate. My whole Mother’s day was building up to this very moment.
I mumbled nervously as I reached the edge of the sidewalk and carefully positioned myself to place my left foot on the concrete and push off the grass with the right foot. I thought, “shit, just do it!” I pushed off and, to my surprise, glided a few feet across the pavement. I literally went 3 feet and was shaking so badly I thought I would fall apart. I was now sweating buckets, on the verge of puking, and almost burst into tears. My husband said, “are you ok, honey?” NO! I WASN’T OK! But I wasn’t going to let him know that.
I said, “oh yeah, just a little shaky’” and held my hand out so he could see that I was a wreck. There was no turning back, though; I made myself do it. I Ski plowed, in and out along the pavement, pushed off my right back foot to keep moving slowly forward along the mile-long concrete track, and promised myself that no matter how terrible this felt, I wasn’t going to give in. I stepped off the pavement from time to time along the path and walked through the grass. OMG, my inner thighs were killing me, and I think I had engaged my glutes; I mean really engaged them for the first time in years, maybe decades. I fell one time; forward and landed on my wrist guards and padding. To my great surprise, it was very cushy and didn’t hurt at all! A group of 40-50-year-old women walked by and cheered me on, “way to go, there’s no way you’d ever get me on a pair of those again; you’re a brave woman!” My sweet girl said, “Hey, they gave you mom creds!” I looked behind me to see that I had gone a half-mile. I was doing it. I was still alive and in one piece. I realized that I might be able to recapture a bit of my youth after all. I finished the mile path and passed the car. I did it all again! I went another mile. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, that I was skating and really doing it.
I showered the nervous sweat of the day off of me when we got home that evening. My legs and inner thighs were so sore, and I knew I would be feeling it in the morning. I was so proud of what I had accomplished. My family showered me with tons of hugs and kisses all evening. I think they were proud of me too, and it felt good.
I have advice for any of you out there who want to recapture your youth with something as daring as rollerblading. Here are five tips for rollerblading over 50:
1. Suit up! Wear every pad available (if I had a pillow, I would have duck taped that to my backside, seriously don’t be afraid to do that).
2. Wear a helmet! (I didn’t, and my sisters saw me in photos and gave me hell for not doing so)
3. Take it slow and know that a tiny step is larger than not taking any steps at all. (Take the first step, push off that grass and ride across the pavement like you own it, and also pray).
4. Focus and breathe! You have to breathe; if you don’t, you’ll get dizzy and pass out, at which point you will crash to the pavement with all of your weight and probably get hurt. (Again, SUIT UP! PUT ON EVERY PAD THEY MAKE!)
5. Make a promise to yourself to put your rollerblades on at least three times a week. (Push yourself; remember how you learned when you were younger. Your mom told you to take that stuff outside because you left rollerblade marks all over her clean floor, but you were hooked. You would wear them to bed if you could, but they’re hard to roll over in and harder to go to the bathroom in the dark in, so you didn’t, but you still did it in the house and got good at it because you were obsessive about it). Be consistent like that.
6. Have fun, make fun of yourself, be gentle with yourself, and don’t forget to take Advil and ice those sore muscles at bedtime. It’s day two that hurts the worst.
My children have inspired me to grow as a person, caregiver, friend, healer, disciplinarian, and nurturer. Thank you.
I put off having kids until my early 30’s. I was scared to become a parent. I was afraid I wouldn’t do it right. It always amazed me that you had to get a driver’s license to drive a car or operate heavy machinery not to harm yourself or anyone else. Still, any idiot could have a child and totally destroy a new untarnished soul or have the means to crush their hearts with little to no training. Not everyone has role models to mirror their parenting skills after. Not everyone grows up with two parents; some children have no parents. In my eyes, parents were complex, broken, sad, confused, sometimes scary people who loved you fiercely or chose to ignore your very existence. Sometimes parents may be your best friend and forgot they’re supposed to be parenting, sometimes the child has to be the parent, and that’s what I had to do from time to time.
I watched my mom struggle, love, escape, evolve, regret, search for joy and find herself as a parent. Torn, she made her children a priority and tried to define herself, cutting out a patch of freedom from her burden of parenthood with limited means and no real support. My example of love came from someone who desperately wanted to be loved but struggled to show it. She had no model to go off of herself. She wanted to be close but felt confined and smothered by the clinging nature of those who needed her or depended on her. She wanted to be fun and was but didn’t know where to draw the line. She wanted to be the mother everyone could talk to and adore and at the same time needed someone she could lean on and talk to, and in her world, that was hard to find. The family was important to her, and keeping relatives close was imperative. My mom took pride in keeping in touch with her siblings and needed to feel that never-ending connection. My mom’s parents had died well before she was out of her teens, and she craved that bond; having it strengthened her and gave her a sense of home and belonging. Mom and I made the journey to be with her siblings several times in my childhood; It was paramount that we have those family connections. Whether there was family around or not, my mom was lonely, and watching the pain she struggled with made me uneasy and unsure about becoming a parent myself. It seemed to bring her more sadness than joy. And my dad was no parent to me; he just plain left.
I didn’t have babies around me growing up. I didn’t have a lot of cousins, nephews, and nieces, or minor siblings to hold. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was petrified. Would I be a good mom? I wasn’t ready. Paul and I had gone to a picnic, and there was a newborn there. The glowing mother asked me if I wanted to hold him to practice a bit. She gently put her baby in my arms, and though I seemed comfortable and cooed Into the sweet baby’s face, every fiber of my being was screaming to give the baby back. I was afraid I would drop it, break it, or squish it. No good could come from holding that tiny miracle. I smiled, said thank you, and handed him over almost as quickly as she placed him in my arms. Paul took a turn next. He is the baby whisperer. The minute my husband touched that baby boy, it relaxed, having been crying from the jostling of being passed around like a hot potato between his mother and me. Paul made faces at him, and he rocked him gently in his hands. Paul was secure and comfortable, and the child felt safe in his arms, you could tell. A smile crossed my face as I watched this and listened to the mothers surrounding us saying what an amazing father Paul was going to be. Inside I was crushed, though, I couldn’t pretend to love holding that baby, and I felt jealous that Paul had more ability to nurture a little soul than I had in the tip of my pinky finger.
Later, Paul and I drove home in silence. I broke out in tearful sobs and said, “I can’t do it! I can’t have this baby; I don’t even know how to hold one. I’m going to mess everything up. There’s no way I can do this perfectly.” Paul listened as I freaked out and declared impending doom on our baby due to my lack of ability to mother. I couldn’t imagine ever holding a child and feeling at ease like Paul did that evening at the picnic. I had anxiety over the possibility that it would all fall apart, and I, without the proper training and a parenting license, would crash and burn, killing everyone along for the ride. Paul reached across the car and put his hand on mine. He spoke gently in an attempt to calm my nerves. “Jeri, when you hold your baby, it will be easy. You’re carrying the baby now inside you, and it’s safe, and your both fine.” he said, “you don’t have to know how to do it all right now; motherly instinct will kick in.” I didn’t feel immediately better, but there was truth in his logic, which gave me comfort. He gave me hope that somewhere in the fiber of my womanhood, I would understand my role as a mother when the time came. I played his words over and over again as we made our way home and locked them in my heart as my pregnancy progressed, hoping that I would instinctually fold my newborn child in my loving arms and it would feel natural, meant to be, and beautiful. Maybe my mom had the same fear I had before the birth of her children. Perhaps she always just wanted to do it right but, in the end, did what she could. She was an unlicensed driver carrying her kids on her journey over every bump, dip, and pothole in the road. She stayed true to her role as a mother with the skills she had acquired, not skills that someone had taught her. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
As I realized this about my mom, I decided to educate myself on parenting and childbirth. I felt that the most significant and crucial step in becoming a good parent was to be true to who I was and be sure of myself so that it was clear to my baby or babies that they were planned and loved from the moment we realized we wanted them to conception and birth. My next step was to surround myself with solid parenting role models. I found them at church, at the Park where I volunteered, and in my women’s writing group. I gobbled up the wisdom of seemingly healthy moms and dads who came across my path. I prayed that God would guide me, and I leaned on Paul. He knew how to do this.
It was Paul who one day, while sitting at a stoplight on Westend Ave in Nashville, TN said to me, “it’s time for us to have a baby” I was shocked at the suggestion. We had been together for 5 yrs and married for 2 of them. “I’m not ready; I’m still working on my music career,” I said nervously.
Paul shrugged and let out a frustrated sigh, “You’re always going to be working on that! It’s time; I want to have a baby.”
Begrudgingly I said ok and started processing the idea the only way I knew how; I set a firm date on my calendar. If it was in writing, I couldn’t back out. I think I still have the calendar with the date in it.
On the official “day to get pregnant,” I went to a girls’ luncheon. I naively told my girlfriends, “I’m supposed to get pregnant today.” they looked at me in surprise and offered me good luck, fertility, support, advice, and lots of food as if I was already eating for two. When I walked into our old brownstone apartment that afternoon, I felt like a nervous virginal bride entering territory that was mysterious and frightening. I shook as I entered my bedroom, knowing Paul was in bed. I had the feeling a big part of me was about to be sacrificed and offered up to the God of fertility and life. I laid down and found that Paul was sound asleep. I nudged him and said, “hey are you having a nap?” he said, “ yeah, I had a couple of beers this afternoon.” Already I was worried that this was a bad day to get pregnant. What if the beer tainted our unborn child? I was a confused mess, but a plan is a plan. I laid there next to Paul and tried to quiet my mind. I, too, dozed off after a while, and when we woke up, I reminded him of our commitment for that day and made good on it. We had made love a million times before, but this was different; we were now on a mission to bring new life Into the world. It changed the way I approached Paul and the way I saw sex between us. It was now not just a physical act of love and release but a spiritual right of passage. Like so many others, we were attempting to join the ranks of parenthood.
We didn’t get pregnant right away, but it wasn’t too long after we began trying that my breast became sore, and I felt a shift in my hormones that caused me anxiety and made me glow. We had taken a vacation with my mother, the childhood road trip we had taken to visit my mother’s siblings and hometown so many times before. Paul and I continued our efforts to get pregnant in every place along our journey on that trip. We discussed getting pregnant with the family members we visited. We made love in a tent, bed and breakfast, hotel room, aunt and uncles houses, and finally under a waterfall in Shenandoah national park. There that day, in the trees among the rocks with the smell of earth and moss all around us, there was a magic that touched us. We knew something special had just happened, and we even documented it with a selfie, well before the cellphone selfie had become a thing. The next day we packed the car to return home to Nashville. I was tired, moody, and my breasts felt tender.
I had all the signs of being pregnant. I took a store-bought pregnancy test, and it came out positive (I saved it and still have it in a ziplock baggie in my hope chest). Our baby journey had begun, and the road ahead was unfamiliar. We were about to become unlicensed parents, and it was all at once exciting and scary. Admittedly I was apprehensive at the start. Having the first baby seemed impossible, and there was no way I would have predicted that Paul and I would have three beautiful girls or how much they would mean to me. Paul was right; my motherly instinct did kick in. I have gotten so lost in my children that I can’t remember what it’s like not to be a mom/mum, and that’s ok. I am happy to give myself to them fully in the short time we have together. Snuggling them is my happy place (whether they’re 2 or 22). They are my everything, inspiration, pride, joy, and love, and I wouldn’t trade being their mother and all of the lessons we’ve taught each other for the world.
I don’t work a 9-5 job. I lost my admin position in March of 2020 when COVID 19 hit the world. I spent a great deal of time over the last year reevaluating myself and what I wanted for my future. I wasn’t sure when the world would heal from the effects of the pandemic, and I needed to make some decisions for myself that gave me peace and lifted me out of a long bout of depression I had been in and couldn’t seem to shake. I had been looking for another job as an admin assistant for upper management. However, that position was never one that made me happy and left me feeling empty. I dreaded working for another power-tripping company owner or organization leader. What I wanted to do was follow my passion and dreams, not help someone else with theirs. I’m sure many people have rethought their goals and aspirations since the onset of covid, and after my isolation-induced struggle with my emotions, I decided to look out for myself first for a change.
My best friend and husband had been encouraging me to go public with my writing for years. I considered the idea for several months while I stayed still and watched how people had changed their approach to life; as a result of covid, I decided to follow suit. So again, I don’t work a 9-5 job. I don’t work, I write. I write when I’m inspired, no matter what day it is. To help supplement income, I take odd jobs shopping for people or delivering packages to them from a platform that allows me to make my own schedule. I make what I need each week in my own time with no boss, and I take a break or knock off for the day when I get the urge to jot down another story. It doesn’t matter to me if I write on the weekend or during the week. In fact, I’m lying in bed right now at 10:30 pm on a Saturday, writing this while my husband snores next to me.
My life has changed since March 2020, for the better. My goals and focus aren’t about what title I can have or how much money I make annually. Those things look so superficial to me now. Don’t get me wrong. I respect those who have found a title, money, and happiness in the corporate world (as long as it’s true happiness); it’s just not for me. I feel free, and my life has balance and meaning. I am fortunate that my husband supports me in my efforts financially. I know not everyone with a dream has someone like him in their corner. I am a writer, and I write because it is my voice. It’s what gives me authenticity. I hope everyone can carve out enough time to find that deep within themselves.
I started seriously building my online presence and blog space in early March 2021. Seeing that this is early May, I don’t have a lot of stats to go off to show proven success with the methods I have researched and applied. This doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing, though. I have worked as a successful social media marketer over the last ten years and have kind of figured it out for myself. Writing a blog without formal education is hit and miss at first (so I take tips from other successful bloggers). The key is to constantly research, listen to those who have proven success, and continuously fine-tune. One year in, I may have a whole different idea for my blogging methods.
I started with a blank slate and built WordPress and Blogger account pages. If you google those, you should be able to find them. WordPress even has an easy-to-use app for iPhone that allows you to create and post content on the move. I LOVE IT! We all know that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” so It made sense to me to put my blog content up online in as many forms as possible without creating a digital monster I would spend too much time feeding. You don’t want to have so many accounts that you don’t have time to focus on your primary goal, which is WRITING YOUR BLOG!
Time will tell if the tools I am currently using will be the most effective in building my audience and monetizing my efforts. Please click the links I provide below to see what I have created in various spaces, even if you don’t stop to read the stories.
My main webpage is https://jerisbraindumpblog.com (this is a WordPress site). Anytime I post a story there, the widgets I use within the site builder push my posts to social media channels I have chosen to link to WordPress. Doing this saves a lot of time and is very handy. Another great feature of WordPress is that there is a community of other bloggers who live on that platform where we connect. We all follow, comment, and share each other’s material which is essential when building your audience. On top of my website, I have a podcast and utilize Youtube. Learning how to do all of this took a great deal of research and study, and you may notice here and there that I’m still in the trial and error stage, so be gentle.
Below I have created a list of the channels, tools, and accounts I have adopted (please comment, follow, like, or subscribe to any or all of my channels, the point of this is that we’re working to tell our stories and to be seen and heard):
• Anchor https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episodes (this is the tool I use for creating excellent Podcasts where I read and record my blog for friends and family who don’t like to or have the time to read). Anchor is easy to use and allows you to record from your phone or computer. I sit in my closet and record, so there’s no background noise. Anchor then distributes my Podcast to their affiliates:
• THERE ARE MANY, MANY MORE CHANNELS ANCHOR PODCASTS ARE DISTRIBUTED!
• YouTube https://youtu.be/iIzuHRTaMt0 (I had to use a tool that turns audio into a video format to be posted on YouTube. YouTube doesn’t allow audio-only posting. I recommend Wavve; it’s easy to use and free. (FREE IS GOOD!) https://wavve.co
I hope you find this helpful. Use the tools provided to amplify your writing voice and build your audience. You don’t have to do all this, so don’t get overwhelmed. Start with one of the blog accounts. Take it slowly; that’s better than doing nothing at all. So get going! BLOG!