Marriage: More Than a Shiny Ring

When my husband proposed, I have to admit, part of my surprise was at the stunning, shiny ring he picked out. The vain, materialistic part of me always wanted a pretty engagement ring, and it made driving on sunny days very pleasing.

But…when my husband and I said our marriage vows, I realized the ring symbolized so much more. The size, the shape, the material of the ring does not matter. That ring is a visual reminder of something far more impressive. Your willingness to commit to another person.

I was 25 when I married my husband. That was only 3 years ago, but it feels like another lifetime some days. Since we said our vows, we have had our first child, and my husband spent a year overseas serving. These types of significant life events tend to change people, and I definitely feel like we have changed since that sunny June day nearly 3 years ago. Having a child in and of itself can put a severe strain on a relationship. Lack of sleep, stress, added financial responsibility, and a plethora of other worries can take a couple’s focus off of each other and off of keeping the spark in their relationship.

Here I would like to confess to another sin. I have not been trying to keep my relationship going. I love my husband, but a part of me, that exhausted, cranky part that is honestly just trying to make it to bedtime, has taken control and lost sight of the long game. I have been short, irritable, and disconnected. And my husband noticed.

Lucky for me, he called me out. A lot of men might shirk from that. A lot of women might too. Confrontation is not a fun thing. We all just want our days to run smoothly, to be happy, and not get into the dark, gritty stuff. I hate drama. I hate arguing. I hate crying. I just want to be happy and watch Netflix. But often, working through these low points is the only way to resolve and strengthen a relationship. And I had to be willing to set aside my pride and listen to my husband. I feel like last night was the first time I’d really heard him since he came home in November.

I have to learn to take equal responsibility in keeping our marriage a priority. Otherwise, we will fall apart. Like maintaining a home, it has to be lived in and tended to so that it doesn’t collapse in on itself.

I feel like we are getting stronger though. We have been through so much together. My husband is my best friend, the only person I can see myself growing old with, the father of our child. He is my soulmate and my person.

When you get that ring, especially when you’re young, it is so easy to only see the upside of marriage. You see laughter, dinners together, movie dates, a bed buddy, gifts, and kisses. You can’t possibly know the hardships that accompany maintaining your commitment. You will want to walk away a thousand times. But the real test is staying when you want to run. It’s planting roots when you want to take wing. It is a choice to make your relationship work and salvage the good from the wreckage of an argument, to use that to build an even stronger relationship each time.

I feel like a lot of people, especially my generation (Millenials) and younger, fixate on the parts of a marriage that can be shared on social media. The big engagement on YouTube, the photo of the ring on Instagram, the meshed or punny last names for the wedding hashtag on Twitter.

Those things are fun, don’t get me wrong. But there is an age-old aspect of marriage we shouldn’t lose as we take ownership. That is the solemnity of the commitment you are making. Because when it gets hard and the jokes aren’t funny anymore, you need something concrete to bring you back to why you married this person in the first place. And if you can’t find that in the beginning, maybe you shouldn’t be getting married at all.

If all you were there for is the bling and the party, maybe try renting a bouncy castle instead next time. It is not the rings, not the wedding decorations, not the hot air balloon ride over the English countryside that served as the backdrop to your proposal, but the people that will make the marriage. Make the more significant commitment to that and happiness will be your reward.

Writing Inspiration: How to Trigger Your Muse When All She Wants to Do is Take a Nap

That Muse is a tricky minx.

I have not made it a secret that I suffer from depression. I lived with major depression for years through high school and college. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter.

One of my biggest struggles with depression, besides combating suicidal thoughts, is just feeling exhausted and empty all the time. This is particularly frustrating because I still manage to get these inspired bursts of creative energy and I will write a novel synopsis, a poem stanza, and then I just poop out. I rarely have the energy to follow these thoughts through to completion.

Since having a baby and starting work full-time, I have had to learn to just get things done, regardless of how I feel. Maybe this isn’t conducive to creative genius. Regarding wheels to the ground, buckling down work, I have found some ways to get my butt into gear.

Disclaimer: If you are struggling with depression, please don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk to your doctor, there are options for treatment. This post should not supplant any attempts to treat your depression, and one aspect of therapy may be taking some time to step back from things that are causing you excessive stress. You can’t always power through an illness and depression is as much an illness as any other chronic disease. 

Triggering the Muse: A List

  1. Sit at a desk. Having a designated workspace can do wonders for productivity. Having an area that is blocked off from the television or other distractions can help you focus on the screen or page in front of you. Facing a window might indeed be the only allowable distraction, and that is mainly because outside light can be useful for your mental health.
  2. Disconnect from the internet. Stay with me here, short of needing to conduct research, the internet is ace for distracting people from their work. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (follow me on all of them!), YouTube, Netflix, Reddit, or whatever deep web site you fill your days with will only suck time away from the project you obviously desperately want to finish. Disconnecting the internet takes away that easy distraction and that few seconds it takes to plug everything back in, reconnect, establish that connection, etc. might be enough hassle for you to shrug it off and get back to your project.
  3. What if you are staring at your computer or notebook and you have no idea about what to write? I have gotten the writing urge many, many times in my life only to sit down and not have any concrete idea to start with. Just start writing. You will be inspired by your random musings as you begin crafting sentences and imagining characters and scenes. Putting pen to paper is often the hardest part of the process so don’t lose your momentum. Ideally, you should be writing SOMETHING every day (I admit this is advice I also desperately need to follow, even though I know better).
  4. Read books on writing. Besides being extremely useful for improving the mechanics of your writing, they also provide many valuable prompts for practicing these mechanics. I have squirreled away at least two novel ideas from Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.
  5. Follow your favorite writers on social media and subscribe to their websites if they blog. The best kick in the butt sometimes is exposure to those who have found success doing exactly what you want to do. And they often post really sound advice for writing, storytelling, and publishing.
  6. Find somebody who supports your dreams. Whether this is a significant other, a best friend, an online group, a club, etc. find somebody who can lift you up when you aren’t feeling yourself. They should be willing to read your work and offer constructive criticism. My husband is my biggest supporter, and I tear up now just thinking of all the times he supported me when I wanted to give up on my dream. I am still working towards that dream, don’t get me wrong, and I may never really succeed in this industry, but I will always be grateful for his support.
  7. Look through old photo archives on websites like Library of Congress and New York Public Library. These photos may serve as inspiration for a stalling story or a character that you haven’t fully fleshed out yet.
  8. Create a Pinterest board for your story. This method is useful if you already have a general idea of what you want to write. For example, I am currently working on the first draft of a YA novel about witches in 1400s Europe. I can search for witch lore from that era and find things like the tools they may have used for casting spells, clothing, buildings, etc. The nature of Pinterest allows me to save these really random links and images to a single board that I can refer back to, both to reference and to be inspired.
  9. Participate in a writing competition like Writer’s Digest Your Story which runs every other month and is free to enter. They also host several competitions which you have to pay to join. NaNoWriMo runs two novel writing competitions each year, in which participants try to write 50,000 words in a month. The goal of the contest is to inspire daily writing in the belief that it is better to churn out the first draft of anything rather than slog for years on the first draft of a perfect novel, which still probably won’t be perfect. It is indeed an exercise in persistence and creativity. There is no entry fee, and the only reward is a finished first draft and a sense of accomplishment. But hey, isn’t that enough of a reward as an aspiring writer? Plus they have a built-in community of like-minded people, and this very well may be where you find your tribe. I will be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this year, which is the April competition and is a little looser in structure, so participants are not restricted to the novel format (not that they are during the November competition). I hope to finish the aforementioned first draft about the witches during this month, so I can finally move on to the even more dreaded second draft.

My hope is that you can take something away from my advice, I employ many of these methods when I approach my writing, especially since I began blogging multiple times a week.

I Want to Hear From You!

Let me know in the comments if you were able to bust the writer’s block, what project you are working on right now. Or just shout-out if you are struggling with depression, but you’re still here, still working, and still trying to live your best life!

Working Mom: What I Learned About Self-Care From A Year of Solo-Parenting A Newborn While Working Full-Time

I was 38 weeks pregnant when I was called in to interview for my dream job. Well, dream job in my career field, at least. I had applied on a whim and at the urging of a relative of my husband’s who called my attention to the job posting. I never thought as a new graduate with less than a year’s work experience I would get the position.
Even though I had an interview, I didn’t think I would get it. But then I had a second interview, with a side of more doubts. Everyone was amiable and professional, even when confronted unexpectedly with my enormous belly poorly hidden under a suit jacket that would not button.
Then I got a letter offering me the job, my first salaried position WITH benefits! At 41 weeks pregnant with my first child, faced with the impending 9-month deployment of my husband overseas the next month. I accepted, of course.
I was working at a public library part-time, just shy of full-time. The workload was smaller, I had been a library assistant/page. I mainly worked circulation and assisted the children’s librarian with programming. But I had few responsibilities where I had to make substantial decisions. That changed drastically when I accepted my new job as a Reference Librarian and Information Literacy Instructor. My new position required commitment beyond your typical 9-5. As part of my job, I had to engage with the community and contribute to my institution beyond the doors of the library. This means my job would follow me home from time to time.
At home, I (eventually…finally!) had a newborn. And a newborn who developed colic around 6 weeks old, just in time to send Daddy off to the Middle East. I began solo parenting the same time I started my new job.
I’m not going to lie.
It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Parenting still is. Being a mom is incredibly rewarding but utterly exhausting, even with my husband home again to share the responsibility.
But going to work 5 days a week, then coming home to a colicky baby who needed to be breastfed once every hour, then also trying to find time to eat, clean, and sleep presented me with an extreme challenge.
How could I find a way to balance all these things?
How could I be happy when I was overworked, overwrought, and over it?
For a long time during my husband’s deployment, I could not find any kind of balance. I felt rushed, stressed, scared, and alone.
I want to pause here to applaud single parents. Bless you. I have so much RESPECT for you.
All day, every day, 24 hours, 7 days a week, I was wound up. I would go from breastfeeding to making my meals to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to comforting a screaming baby to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to cleaning to working to pumping to working from home to breastfeeding to changing a diaper to grocery shopping, etc. There was no minute in a day for me, for self-care, for my mental health.
I suffer from post-partum depression. Lucky for me, my OB anticipated this as she was aware of my husband’s upcoming departure. I was prescribed Zoloft which I am still taking and probably will need for the rest of my life. But even with the medication and medical support the depression would creep in and pull me under. I had to find some time for myself in the midst of this challenging period of my life.
Keeping a calendar was a life saver. Whether that is your phone, a planner, a desk calendar, keep track of your schedule. Besides your child(ren)’s regular check-ups, keep track of your own appointments, and make sure you carve time into that schedule for some time for yourself.
Hire a babysitter (and try to shake that guilt for spending time away from your kids when you aren’t at work), see a movie, get a haircut, a manicure, or visit a friend. You gave birth, that is not a life-sentence for isolation or imprisonment.
Children are meant to enrich your life not limit it. We make that decision ourselves.
Bullet journaling may help you to keep track of not only your schedule but your self-care. There are tons of fantastic templates out there for bullet journaling things like keeping track of the books you read, the movies you see, personal goals you want to set for yourself like starting a side business, pursuing a hobby, etc. I tried bullet journaling myself for a few months, and it was definitely a fun way of keeping track of everything.
Another way of alleviating the pressure of parenting and balancing your other obligations is to trust other people. My mom is my full-time babysitter, she watches my daughter every day I am at work which is incredibly reassuring. I know my mom, I trust my mom. I don’t have to worry that she is not going to care for my baby the exact same way I would because I learned how to be a mom from her. And she did a damn excellent job as a single working mother herself.
But what about when I needed a babysitter outside of my workday? It seemed excessive to ask my mom when she already watched my child 40 hours a week, and she works nights and weekends besides. (Seriously, my mama is a superhero.)
I had to learn to let other people help me. This included my husband’s family, his sister, and mother who are fantastic people and raised beautiful babies themselves. I had to trust the people who had genuine intentions of helping me out and caring for my daughter as profoundly as I do.
I never considered myself controlling until I became a mother. And I don’t necessarily think that having a controlling impulse as a parent is a bad thing. But there have to be limits to that, for your own sake. Allowing my sister-in-law to take my daughter to a picnic, giving myself a couple of hours of “me” time was just one example of how I needed to unclench and let people help me.
Besides allowing others to babysit your child, you have to be able to accept that you cannot do everything, and then, you cannot do everything well. I hate feeling weak. I hate when I fail at something. I am a perfectionist (see the controlling impulse above). There are going to be days when there are dirty dishes left in the sink, and when you don’t finish that report at work, and when you know your baby needs a bath but you skip it anyway, and when you know you need a bath but you skip it anyway.
It is okay to fall short of your own expectations.
Mama, you are doing your best.
Part of the process of parenting is just persevering through the difficult times. But don’t forget to appreciate those times for the joy and beauty they bring to your life as well. I went on auto-pilot a lot during this period and as a result there are some points I just can’t remember. Take time to pause, study your child’s face, and embrace the chaos for the blessing it is.
I think the most profound lesson from this past year of my life is seeing how much I could endure. I learned I could be independent, I learned I could be strong, emotionally and physically. I learned there is value in me apart from my role as a wife and a mother.
I had never known those things about myself before.
Somewhere in my head cold ramblings I hope you find some comfort, advice, and community. Remember, to fill the cups of others you must first fill your own.

The Measure of My Worth

I have reached inside my soul
and found that I am lined in gold.
It fills the cracks and fissures,
the erosion of my tears through troubled years.
It formed in veins, snaking over heart and mind
steeling them against the harsher times.
And my value cannot be seen by prying eyes
I’ve hidden away what makes it a prize.
It’s yours to take, yours to see
because you’ve always only seen the best in me.
 

Black Hole Pt. 2

No air to breathe
Smothering the flames
Inverting the energy
Of a sun
Collapsing into negative space.

Fire

Smoldering intensity unchecked by the smothering imminence of you
Red hot skin burning the prints from my fingertips
Distorting my identity and erasing all reality.
You are the only man I will ever love.
Caressing tenderly my cheek, my body, the fragile pieces of my broken psyche
Slowly mending me from inside out with practiced delicacy
Until I feel human again and the icy throne I sat upon melts away and I fall into your arms.
I fell in love from day one.
Laughing gleefully at shared jokes and your endless gaiety
Humor filled goodness leeching into the dark
Dragging me from the ledge of my depression.
You gave me a life again.
Hungry eyes starving for the sight of you never satiated no matter how long
Longing for your touch the way you stroked my hair in the blackness of the night
The way you held my hand during car rides.
You ignite the tender of my heart.

I Needed You Today

Today was hard. I wish every letter or poem I wrote to you could be full of encouragement and hope for the day you come home and most days I do feel those things. But not today. Today I cried. Today I broke down. Today I was weak. Today I needed you.
Our daughter is teething and the rice cereal the doctor recommended gave her gas. She fought sleep, she refused to breastfeed, I felt like a failure of a mother. I thought, if only you were home, maybe something you would have done could have helped her.
I always believed you would be a better parent than me. And now you are thousands of miles away, the more nurturing of the two of us, and I am the one solo parenting. I don’t know what I’m doing but I do it because there is no alternative. Our daughter needs me to forge on. So I push past the tears, the stress, the doubt, the loneliness and I find myself at the close of yet another day without you by my side.
I am tired today. My back aches from rocking her for hours. My head is pounding from the screaming. And my heart is heavy with the awakened ache for my partner, my help mate, my refuge.
Today I failed you, this deployment, and our daughter. But tomorrow is a new day and I will try, try, and try to do better, to be the strong woman you both need me to be. Because I know a strong support system at home can keep you safe.
I miss you a thousand times over. I just can’t wait until you are home again.
A Soldier’s Wife

Remembering Myself Next to You 

Three months apart from the love of my life may not seem like eternity from the outside and the countdowns, the lonely evenings, the barrage of consoling quotes hyperbolicly excessive. But rest assured this separation is the most difficult thing in my life right now. We know the measure of this sacrifice. The length between us is measured in our longing. The space between when last we touched and the promise of kisses to come.
And when I saw you walk away on the dawning of the last day I felt truly alive I had to quell the swell of pain, the stretch of agonizing apartness we have never truly known. I still suppress it because it is overbearing to let myself feel the scope of how much I truly miss you.
And now all I have is the memory of warmth on my skin, blood flushing my cheeks, and the quick beating of my heart. I am cold without you. In stasis. Waiting for the light you emit to thaw the freezing of my veins, my brain, my momentum.
Because I cannot allow myself to be the person without you that I am with you. That person feels with too much open, raw affection to survive cut open without protection. But I can remember the person I am when I am with you and revive her on that distant day of homecoming when you resuscitate the stillness, bring alive my passion, the life that thumps beneath my chest. When two souls mated are reunited the world will come awake again and I will find restored the pieces of my whole.

Forgive Me, I'm a Military Wife

Some days I will be a bear to bear.
 
I cannot promise to be on time
Every day of the week or any day of the week
Because I am a military wife.
 
I cannot promise to look put together
Every day of the week or any day of the week
Because I am a military wife.
 
I cannot promise to participate in every work event
Every day of the week or any day of the week
Because I am a military wife.
 
I will not promise to be a model wife, mother, or employee
Because I am a military wife
Because every morning I struggle to get out of bed
And face a world where I have to stand on my own
As a mother, as a husbandless wife, as a working woman just trying to get by
Where there are nights I do not eat dinner
Trying to rock my daughter to sleep
And I stay up after long hours of swaying and singing and shushing
Back bent, hair frizzed, clothing stained, weeping
Head throbbing through the night as she eats an hour at a time three times through the night
And I find spaces of sleep between her needs
Between times of insomniac manic worrying if my husband will come home:
 
Is he safe? Is he safe? Is he safe?
 
Heart racing, anxiety attacks building, body missing the security of my other half.
 
Because I am a military wife
And I too make a sacrifice.

Thank You For Falling in Love With a Broken Girl,

When I lost my grandfather over five years ago I felt like I had lost my best friend. To a little girl whose father had abandoned her, my grandfather was everything. He and my grandmother took my fleeing mother and us three fatherless babies into their arms without question and I as the youngest and weakest took to my grandfather’s quiet masculine kindness the most. I adored him. I followed him everywhere. I copied what he did. We ate cornbread and milk on the front porch on warm, humid summer evenings. We listened to whippoorwills hearken the coming summer days. He slipped dollars into my palms whenever I asked and often when I hadn’t. From diapers to college he did these things. Until he no longer could.
The years after he died I felt lost. In body, mind, and soul. I had looked up to him and respected him so much. You can’t lose somebody you loved and just go back to living like you did before. I didn’t know how to live my life anymore.
Then I met you. Like my grandfather you emitted an attitude of candor, generosity, and innate wisdom. You had an easy sense of humor and a ready smile for anyone. You jumped at friendships, regardless of the risk of free fall. You befriended me though I was nearly a shell of a person. Then a funny thing happened. We fell in love. Quickly, then everyday since. I was broken but you took the time to see I could be repaired, put back together with the golden adhesion of your patience, laughter, and gentle reminders that I mattered to the world.
I would not have survived not meeting you. You pieced the puzzle of my heart back together, and added a greater complexity of happiness and self-worth than had been there before. You understood my brokenness, the loss I had experienced, and respected the influence of my grandfather on my life by asking for my hand in marriage on a hike to visit his final resting place, a mountaintop he had frequented, taking long breaks to absorb the magnificence of the vista. A place where he had passed on a love of nature to his children and grandchildren, a respect for the history of our family, the silent nobility of mourning the loss of his loved ones. Where the gods of the Appalachian Mountains had welcomed his soul into their guardianship.
You understand all this about me and more than I probably even know about myself. Every single day I thank the stars, God, the gods, the divine uncertainty of Chaos that I skipped work that day and found the love of my life.
Once again a whole human being,
A Soldier’s Wife