An unexpected obstacle

This year my husband and I finally faced the reality of deployments, which for my husband means 6-7 months away with little to no communication between ports. Sometimes I can receive emails every few days, sometimes it goes quiet for a month, with no way to know if my emails are reaching him at all. I just write daily, little things to keep him connected to our world out here, and hope he receives them and that they help him deal with the stress of his daily life under the sea. That part of the military wife package I was completely expecting, though of course I hate it, it comes as no surprise. The part I was not expecting is the strange sort of starvation my body seems to be going through, the one form of sustenance that I never counted in my daily diet but now that it’s completely taken out I find myself feeling inconsolably empty. That part is simply the hug. Of course, people always jump to sex when thinking of the difficulties of marrying someone who deploys for months at a time, but even at our best, we still hug 200% more than we are intimate. We are a very touchy feely couple, not in a gross 15 year-old way, but rather in that when we are in the same room we are generally touching, even if it’s just my foot on his lap while he plays video games and I read a book. Even then, in a quiet moment he will squeeze my foot, hugging the closest part of me. At the end of the night before sleep there is always a moment of quiet hugging, forehead to forehead, just as there is every time he comes home from work. The longer he’s been away the longer we will lie or stand like this, almost recharging. It is such a part of our marital language that I never thought what it would be like to go without it for so long. 

Some days, especially now, when we aren’t even halfway through, it is more noticeable that I’m losing battery, limping along until the next port when I can hopefully fly out and see him for a few days, even if it does mean spending more time flying than actually being with him. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to fly out a couple times already, but honestly, I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been able to. I would probably just be a little miserable ball of pain, so stressed out that the fibro runs rampant. Nothing permanent, nothing I couldn’t survive, but definitely nothing I’m looking forward to going through. Also nothing that would make me very pleasant to be around; as my pain goes up my pleasantness tends to be affected inversely. So I’m very appreciative for the people in my life who have made it possible for me to fly out on a moment’s notice, because without all of them it wouldn’t be possible and I’d be in the middle of fibro hell right now. Instead, though I’m fighting a losing battle, at least I’m still fighting, not yet in little ball of pain form. And each little trip means another little top up which gets me through to the next little trip and the next little top up until finally he’s home and we, (hopefully), get a couple weeks of leave to just be together and actually recharge fully. As I always say, it’ll all be all right in the end, this just isn’t the end. 

While we go through this deployment there are a few things I can do to feel a bit better, to distract myself from what is missing, to keep myself so busy I don’t have time to miss him, (even as I write that I am shaking my head, because it’s crap, no amount of busy keeps him from popping into my mind constantly), but absolutely nothing that can replace that need for his hugs. Put quite simply: it sucks. I don’t want sympathy, though, I don’t want pity. I only write this in the hopes that by acknowledging it I somehow gain some control over it. Because there’s nothing to be done, no amount of distractions and hugs from other friends or family will ever add up to what I’m missing. There is only patience and sheer stubbornness, an unwillingness to let some stupid deployment be stronger than me. For the most part that means I become a hermit, which has proven the easiest way for me to deal with this time. I get a lot of work done and I follow my own weird internal schedule, and if some days pass without me saying a word to another person, that’s not to say I don’t have very lively discussions both alone and with my ever chatty cat, Bubs. Luckily, we’re both fabulous conversationalists, he especially can continuously discuss things til all hours of the morning, whether or not I’m even conscious. So my days are full and that way they pass as quickly as can be expected. 

At the end of the day, suck though it may, he’s worth it. And one day we’ll be so far past these years we’ll have forgotten how it felt to lose charge, life will be 100% again. I just have to




Searching for Home and Stumbling Upon Happiness

I grew up with one foot in Santiago, Chile and one foot in Chicago, Illinois, in a family of travelers. I was incredibly lucky, my parents gave me summers all over the place, from a quiet seaside town in Mexico, to Italy, to the Amazon and the Galápagos. I found that as I grew up I was searching for a place that felt like home, and as I grew older and continued to travel on my own I began to grow more afraid that no such place actually existed. I was accustomed to wandering off whenever I got bored, it seemed that I was destined to always be in a temporary state. I was always working somewhere new, living somewhere new, visiting somewhere new. I was always renting, living paycheck to paycheck, never expecting anything otherwise. I was an art major, I grew up knowing I wanted to be an artist, even if it meant living in a cardboard box. The idea of putting down roots, of buying a condo, much less a house, was laughable.

This was my mindset, learned from experience, when I ran off to Long Beach just before my 29th birthday. And all of a sudden there I was. I’d found a place that had all the parts of the places I’d loved. The friendliness of the midwest, the laid-back attitude of the Caribbean, the nightlife of LA just next door, the ocean and mountains of Chile. It just had everything. To make things even sweeter, there I met my giant husband, who embodies so well that spirit of Long Beach that I fell in love with. I also began to work for American Dad!, the beginning of what had the possibility of becoming a solid career in television, one that had me laughing and enjoying my workdays.

Yet, even then, I put down no roots, I knew somewhere in my deepest subconscious that this wasn’t permanent. And I was right, only a year later we were married and I left my job and my lovely Long Beach to follow my husband to Charleston, South Carolina, a place I didn’t feel at home at all. I had always known that once I found the right person I wouldn’t care where I was or what my job was, because everything else in life is temporary. The giant husband likes to say I married down, leaving my job in LA, but to me it was a no brainer, and even through the 2 years in Charleston, which were extremely difficult for me, I have never doubted that decision. Thankfully, 2 years later we were off again and landed on our lovely little island.

Now, just over a year since we bought our little home, something finally *clicked* in my brain. I’ve settled down. I own property in a place. I don’t expect to leave this place, (other than for visits), for the next 10 years or so. As if that weren’t incredible enough, imagine my astonishment when the giant husband and I had a long talk about our roles in the marriage now that we are settled and I learned that his wishes for our roles boil down to this: he expects to provide enough for us that we can afford to have me just art. His words. Because, if I art really good, that will bring in some money anyway, so I should art all the time. His words again.

Even re-reading that now I still can’t wrap my mind around it. You mean, after working 1 or 2 jobs since I was 15, I can just be an artist and you’ll take care of everything else? On top of that you want to take care of me in our own little home on a tiny tropical island?

Mind. Blown.

So I’ve settled into a routine, every day working on projects that have limped along in the time I had available after work for the last few years. And every day I look at my situation here and at the progress on my current canvas and I’m both content and astounded. Somehow, after so many years of searching, I managed to land in the lap of a man who had always dreamed of being an artist’s patron, and when he comes home to see me paint smeared and smiling he feels as content as I do being paint smeared and smiling. This is home, this is my giant husband, this is my career. I’m going to wake up any moment now, right? Shhhh…let me keep sleeping, this is such a wonderful dream.

Getting fit the fibro way! (Side effects may vary)

One of my ongoing struggles, and I know I’m not alone in this, is losing weight. Finally, I’m, (hopefully), coming to the end of the vicious cycle that the fibro has trapped me in for five years. I’m at the beginning of a long, tough road but as many variables as possible are in my favor at last, so if not now, when?

In my old life I was very athletic, I took dance classes from a very early age and became a part of a company before my hips began dislocating at inopportune moments, forcing me to quit dancing altogether. I was also very involved in tennis, playing on my high school team and taking private lessons for years. To be fair, I left that not due to anything physical but rather a complete lack of competitive interest. I love hitting a ball around and running all over the place, but I don’t care about keeping score or following rules. The only thing I’m really competitive in is Mario Kart, for some strange reason. So, I left that too. (Tennis, not Mario Kart, to be clear. That would be crazy!).

Then, at 26 years old my entire body started systematically breaking down and I was forced to quit every active thing I was involved in and focus on the constant physical therapy. Once they finally diagnosed me I was put on this medication called Lyrica, amazing for killing the pain, horrible for everything else. Most notably, I began to wake up to handfuls of hair on my pillow and I gained about 60 pounds in six months. Pretty good times, clearly.

Anyway, so now I was left overweight, unable to exercise due to the constant pain, and the pain was exacerbated because I was so overweight. When I moved to California the climate did wonders for me and I was able to start going to the gym regularly and working with a personal trainer. By the time I got married I was feeling fantastic, I was toned and fit, in the best shape I’d been both physically and mentally in at least three years, if not longer. Then immediately after the wedding we moved to South Carolina for two years and the climate, (not to mention the swamp smell and bugs), helped me break down all over again. I wasn’t exercising, I was barely leaving the house. I began to put almost all the weight back on, even fighting it off with a personal trainer, to no avail.

So, now that we’ve settled down somewhat permanently, (for the next decade or so at least), in the perfect cIimate, I have a chance to start fresh, to put the effort back into my health and lose the weight again. This time, hopefully, for good. Today I start with my new trainer, it’s the first small step on the road back to feeling like a semi normal functioning person.

Update: First session went well, will be cursing my trainer’s name tomorrow. A very successful session, if I do say so myself.

Now entering the age of acceptance

Lately I’ve been reveling in the epiphany of self acceptance, a very recent development in my life. I think it hits everyone at different times in their lives, but at some point everyone has a period of transition that leaves them finally comfortable in their own skin and in their own soul.
I think it comes when you finally settle into yourself, you’re not a wishy washy teenager, or a struggling to find yourself 20 something. You’re in a place in life where certain things are decided. Your temperament, sense of humor, personality, they’re all set. You are who you are. And if you’re lucky you’ve also found a partner in life who you know as well as you know yourself and so that’s a huge part of life sorted. And maybe, if you’re crazy lucky, you two buy a home and settle down somewhere. And all of a sudden you’re settled down. You look around and you see your roots growing, you see the impact your presence is making on this new space, this new community. And you start to feel grounded in a way that is impossible when you’re 16 and can’t decide if you want to be a cheerleader or a goth or a mathlete, and the slightest influence sends you careening off in another direction, pursuing another random person/fad/hairstyle.
So finally, at 32, I find myself in these beginnings. I’m far from my homes, of which I’ve had quite a few, and I miss people and things, (and food), from all of them. But I’m in a place that without all the people, without all the things, I’m at peace and finally at home in myself and in this place. It’s an amazing feeling, though still disconcerting, to find myself building a life here. I wake up each day and I’m surprised and amazed at my luck. It still feels like a dream I’ll wake up from at any moment. And because I feel accepted in this place, by the people most important to me, I finally have accepted myself. The best part is it’s just going to get better. To think, just five years ago I was in a bad way, getting diagnosed with fibro, losing my job, my apartment, my hair, my figure. But now? The fibro is managed, I have a house in paradise with an incredible husband who is too good to be true, and I’m learning a new set of skills, training to be a scuba instructor. This life is outrageous, beyond anything I could have imagined, but I am beginning to internalize these new facts of my existence, I’m slowly accepting this reality. It’s all real. It’s all mine. And every day I am so grateful for all these twists of fate, that led me here. To a place in my life where I’m finally happy with myself and my situation. Not that everything is perfect, but every day is an opportunity to make things better and I’m taking full advantage of that. Every day is a chance to go to the gym, to work on a project, to create a piece of artwork. Every day is a chance to be a better me, to choose a better life. Because everything in life we view through our own filters, and our attitude affects absolutely everything. If you see the world as bleak and hopeless you’re only hurting yourself. To focus on the positive, even in painful, difficult, or stressful situations, is so important. So every day I strive to be the best version of me that I can be, and those days when it’s 4am and I’m in pain and can’t sleep I’ll write blog posts to remind myself how good life is. So it won’t be a zero day, I’ll have created something, shared something, that makes up for a day stuck in bed. I don’t have to be vertical to be productive. And I’m ok with that, with all the ups and downs, the pros and cons of this life. Of my life. Because it’s mine, it’s what I have. I choose to celebrate it, every day, however I can. And when things are bad I know it’s temporary. And when things are good I appreciate them, they are sweeter for having gone through the rough times before. Life is extraordinary, we are capable of such beauty, kindness, strength…to waste or bemoan our existence is missing out on all the wonder that is our daily reality.
Just having lived, we are lucky.

Anxiety shmanxiety, no brain is going to tell me what to be afraid of.

At the end of my high school years, as I was applying for colleges, I started having these strange, random moments of panic. I didn’t know anything about anxiety or panic attacks, had no clue that what I was experiencing was related to the stress of the decision I was in the process of making. For me it seemed insane, I would be reading a book or daydreaming on my way to school and all of a sudden I would be in full on panic mode. I brushed it off each time and after I started college it faded away and I thought nothing of it. Then, as I was finishing college they started up again and I finally decided it was time to see someone about it.

By this time it had gotten so bad I would randomly start hyperventilating in public, and I was in a constant state of terror, never knowing what would set me off. Because the things my mind would obsess over were not at all related to my current situation it seemed like it was completely random. I would be reading happily and all of a sudden I would feel my mind plunge over the edge into this chasm of horrifying thoughts. Always the same worry, this overwhelming fear of death. Not dying, not pain, but the status of being dead. No longer breathing, and most importantly, no longer thinking. How could I even imagine no longer thinking? How do you think about not thinking? My mind is what tells me I’m alive, the idea that I won’t be here or anywhere or feeling or thinking anything is just absolutely terrifying. I would be frozen, unable to move, doing everything I could to force my brain out of its trap. To no avail, once I was over the edge and into the deep end there was nothing I could do to get out. Finally I would exhaust myself and fall into a coma like sleep, if I was lucky.

I ended up seeing a psychologist and then a psychiatrist, both immediately diagnosed me with classic anxiety disorder. The psychiatrist especially was very comforting, I spoke with him for five minutes, crying and choking on my sobs within the first two, and he immediately knew what the problem was. He told me that I was experiencing panic attacks related to the stress I was under and he explained the science of what was going on in my brain when I had these emotions. He prescribed me zoloft and klonopin, the former as a long term solution, the latter as a short term. I and my family were hesitant. Though I trusted my doctor, understanding that these thoughts were due to a chemical imbalance in my brain was difficult to process. How could thoughts be affected that way? It just didn’t compute, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I followed his directions and started taking the medication. In one week I called him back, crying again but this time joyfully, I felt like myself again. I could read, watch movies, talk about the future, and no breakdowns. I was beyond overjoyed, I was ecstatic. I had my life back.

Years passed and I continued taking only the zoloft, a minimal dose that allowed me to control these symptoms but didn’t leave me feeling numb as higher doses tended to. After a while I felt stable and went off the meds, thinking that I was balanced now, I knew the science behind what had happened and I believed it was a temporary problem that should be a non issue now that I wasn’t in the middle of major life changes. The result was that all of a sudden I had a hair trigger emotionally, the death related thoughts didn’t start up again but rather I would find myself tearing up at the silliest things. Commercials would have me sobbing, stupid internet videos would leave me melancholy and weepy for hours. But I thought, no panic attacks so that’s a good sign. But as things changed in my life, as I found out about my fibromyalgia, as I decided to go back to school and then move to LA, I found the death thoughts creeping in once again. Not full blown, no hyperventilating, but rather I could feel my mind skittering on the edge, trying desperately to grab hold of something so as not to plunge into that awful darkness. I held out as long as I could before caving and making another psychiatric appointment. I went back on the meds, evened back out, and all was well with the world.

But after all that, even knowing why this was happening and the simple solution to fix it, I was still hesitant about taking the meds. Such a stupid issue, but one that I don’t believe I’m the only person to experience. For some reason when it comes to mental issues I find myself saying, “I can push through this, I’m strong, these are just thoughts.” They’re not just thoughts, those thoughts are merely the symptoms of a physical problem. That’s the key, remembering that it is a physical problem. I’m not weak for having these thoughts, I can’t just force myself to “pull it together” and “calm down.” That’s not how these things work.

The mindless terror of a panic attack is not something easily explained to those that have never experienced them. You can’t break out of it. You simply can’t. You are absolutely powerless, a bystander watching as a some horrific accident unfolds in front of you. You stand, transfixed, as the car crashes and bursts into flames. And the worst part is watching this horror and seeing that, even as you stand to the side and watch, you’re also in the car.

It’s ludicrous, that these thoughts and emotions, these feelings that have no tangible qualities, are the result of a chemical imbalance. And so you try to push through, to tell yourself you’re fine, but you’re not, not at all. Because reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shouldn’t set you off in a terror spiral. So if a little pill will solve this problem, then trust me, just take the pill. Even if you think you can cope, think you can overcome and win this struggle, listen to me, and just take the damn pill. You can thank me later, when you’re able to watch banking commercials without breaking down in tears.

Starting the new year off with a purr.

My husband and I are cat people. Not that we dislike dogs, (or are part of the Cats touring company), we just tend to prefer purrs to barks. We had adopted an adorable little cow looking kitten about two months old when we first moved in together. Her name was Proton and she followed us across the country happily, she was very trusting and completely comfortable as long as I was nearby and calm. Long car rides were no issue, and by long I mean five days full of driving. She was always easy, loving, happy. And, on rare occasions, she quacked. We were happy to give her a forever home, and expected her to be our only pet for years. Until the fourth of July this past year when we happened upon a tiny mewing bundle of night, purring her heart out while all around her it sounded like a war. My husband fell in love and turned his unfailingly convincing puppy dog eyes on me, how could I refuse? I wanted her just as much, though first I needed to make sure she was healthy, had her shots, and was not someone else’s who might be missing her. So we scooped her up, took her in and to the vet the next day. She was not microchipped nor spayed so we decided to keep her, and get her all the health updates she needed. This little six month old girl became Electron, a feisty little jumper who was a complete cuddlebug.

In October we found out we’d be moving to Hawaii and discovered that we didn’t have enough time to quarantine them both at home before leaving so a friend was kind enough to take them in for us temporarily until I figured out what we needed to do to get them over here. My friend was very kind to take them in but I felt guilty for saddling them with her, even though she clearly fell in love with them herself.

After arriving here in Hawaii and getting settled in the house I started to look into how to bring them over and even the best case scenario worried me. It isn’t the cost that bothered me but the fact that they would either be under the plane, being subjected to all that noise both during loading/unloading and flight, or stuck in a carrier for hours in the main cabin. Neither seemed like experiences that would leave them well off and I worried that the stress of it might cause irreparable harm. I love those two to bits and the last thing I want to do is hurt them out of my own selfishness. So, I had a long chat with my friend and it turned out that rather than feeling stuck with these two kitties, she was miserable at the thought of losing them. So, it seemed natural to have her keep them, with the stipulation that I get regular pictures and updates, which she has been wonderful at providing. Seeing the two cuddling on top of her assuages my guilt and I realize that this was the best decision all around.

The only problem is now I have no cats, no snuggle buddies, no purring to put me to sleep when my husband is away. So, we discussed and decided that once the house was far enough along we would look into adopting a young cat from the humane society.

Then, today, I had a bad day. My lower stomach was cramping and I was in intense pain for most of the day, though there was no reason for it. One of the other lovely issues I’m stuck with is the fact that my ovaries insist on forming cysts when no one is looking and then apparently they use a melon baller to scrape their way out of my body to freedom. It’s unpleasant to say the least. I’d been free for a year or so, until this morning it just hit me and it was all I could do to force myself out of the fetal position and upright to run errands. In this situation I know what helps, a furry bundle of purr to snuggle up to. There’s simply nothing better, especially when there isn’t really anything to do but wait out the pain. I have a doctor’s appointment this week but until then it’s grit my teeth and suck it up. So, since we didn’t have any cats currently in the house and my enormous stuffed moose wasn’t doing the trick, we decided to just go and see what the humane society had. I thought we’d play with some kittens, I’d feel better, we’d go home. (I can be so naive sometimes). That was the plan, at least, until we started actually playing with them. I found a tiny two year old orange tabby who head butts as if her life depends on it and purrs almost violently when you pay her any attention at all. She was exactly what I wanted. Then I looked over to see my husband on the floor, with a gorgeous tuxedo cat twining around him, purring his heart out. And, of course, I get the puppy dog eyes again. I just can’t say no, besides, better to have two so they can have someone to play with the rare times I’m not home. Also, why do I always have to be the one to say no? I want all the kitties too! So, long story nowhere near short, we took home two cats today. The young orange became Ipo, meaning sweetheart in Hawaiian, (or secretly I can call her Hipo, pronounced the same but meaning hiccup in Spanish. Which entertains me to no end), and the tuxedo became Bubs, (an homage to the amazing cat loving Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys).

Now, at this insane hour of the morning I’m lying in bed with Ipo on my feet, purring so hard she keeps falling over. Bubs wanders in and out, coming up for a quick cuddle then going off to explore more of the house. Tonight was an intense night here, a massive storm came through, with wind battering at the windows and torrential rains pouring down. The two have understandably been skittish to start, hiding behind the couch or in a corner until we finally coaxed them both out. They each love snuggling so the promise of being pet is more than enough to lure them up to bed with us. And, though I’m in pain and exhausted and apparently catching a cold, I couldn’t be happier. I’m not a cat mom, I don’t call them my furbabies, but I feel like we are a family again. The benefit of having something so small depend on me allows me to push aside some of the pain and rise to the challenge of taking care of them…it’s immeasurable, absolutely immeasurable.

So, unexpectedly, which tends to be our style, we now have two cats. We’re starting out the new year right, building a home and a family and it is really starting to feel like it. Though I never expected to settle down so completely the feeling of putting down roots here is so fulfilling, and these two are an important piece of the puzzle. I finally feel home.

How I met my husband. Or, how I almost died at Disneyland.

My husband and I met at Disneyland, of all places. We were introduced there by a mutual friend, who he knew from middle school and I knew because my uncle had been the doctor at his birth. This friend’s family is Spanish, and as our family is Chilean we all ended up friends, as Spanish speaking people do when far from home. So, when he invited me to go to Disneyland for free I happily agreed, never expecting how much that decision would change my life.

We met up with his friend at the park, it was due to this future husband that we were able to get in free, at the time he worked there as a ride operator while waiting for his Navy contract to start. So, the three of us spent an evening playing in the park together, all getting along very well and having an altogether enjoyable night. The next day I texted this kind new acquaintance to thank him for showing us around, and he offered to take me again to do it “right” a couple of days later. Doing it “right” meant promising to go along with him 100%, to be at the park when it opened and stay until it closed, to trust and follow along with whatever he had planned. I promised, 100%. I knew all the rides at Disneyland, knew there was nothing I hadn’t been on and thus, I was safe promising this, there was nothing to fear. Or so I thought.

We met up that Tuesday morning and he started taking me all around the park, giving me a private tour, pointing out all the secrets and hidden Mickeys. We talked and laughed and got along very well, very comfortable from the first moment. Comfortable, that is, until he started leading me out of the park in the early afternoon. I was completely confused, what happened to staying until it closed? “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be back,” he said, “after California Adventure.” Now, the last time I had been to Disneyland that’s all there was. Disneyland. None of this newfangled California Adventure stuff. So imagine my shock when we walked in and I saw a massive rollercoaster. This was not like Space Mountain or the Matterhorn, this was a real rollercoaster, with a massive drop and a loop! Now, I should mention, I am deathly afraid of heights and rollercoasters. But fortunately, he said we were going on the ferris wheel. Not much better in my opinion, but still, better than that horrifyingly immense drop on California Screamin’! What I didn’t know at the time was that he is terrified of the ferris wheel, he took me on that first to show that he conquered his fear before asking me to conquer mine. This may have been helpful information at the time, but honestly, I don’t think anything would have made me happy to go on that coaster. I was just dreading it, hoping we would get off the ferris wheel and that would be it, I wouldn’t actually have to go on that monstrosity. But, after I somehow managed to survive the ferris wheel he, of course, led me over to the rollercoaster. I completely balked at the idea, shying away like a nervous mare, if I could have galloped off I would have. I tried to explain why I just couldn’t possibly get on the thing, but he sweet talked me and said, “You promised, 100%”. And he was right, I had promised. Sometimes I can be very stupid. But, a promise is a promise so I let him push me slowly towards the front of the nearly non-existent line, (there’s never a line when you want one!), and on to the ride. As impossible as it may be to believe, I did actually ride. My eyes may have been closed the entire time, and my hands death gripping the lap bar, but I did it! We got off and I was shaking like a chihuahua but thinking, thank goodness, there can’t be anything worse than that…and that’s when he told me that there was just one more thing we had to do before we headed back to Disneyland for the fireworks. I was thinking that after those two there couldn’t possibly be anything more terrifying. But clearly, this was a day I was just destined to be wrong, because the Hollywood Tower of Terror exists. I don’t know if any of you have been on this, but it’s absolutely horrifying. It’s the exact thing I dislike about rollercoasters. It is a ride that brings you up, in complete darkness to an insane height, and then drops you. Then it lifts you again and drops you again. And again. That awful feeling of your stomach rising out of your head is absolutely the worst sensation for me, falling is my biggest fear. We stood in front of it and I just kept shaking my head, saying, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” He talked quietly and calmly, rubbing my shoulders, whispering in my ear, telling me I could and I had promised. He kept using my promise against me and continued to slowly ease me toward the horrible contraption. After a few minutes I realized he wasn’t going to let me wimp out on it, and chances were I wasn’t going to actually die on it, so I let him gently push me towards the line, or lack thereof, and on to the ride. I even opened my eyes a little on this one, at his insistence! But as soon as we got off I started punching him in the arm saying now that I’d gone on all these horrible things I would never ever have to again! He laughed and hugged me and agreed. Then he took me to see the fireworks show and we spent the rest of the night laughing and enjoying the park. The night ended, we each went our separate ways but from that day on we were hooked.

We started seeing each other almost daily and fell immediately and completely in love. As the relationship progressed we kept that motto of giving 100% to each other, always. We only had six months before he left for boot camp so we spent all our time together, finding that even spending all day, every day, for months together we still wanted more. I waited for him through boot camp, sending letters, laughing when I’d receive his and find we had written the same things to each other. The synchronicity we have had since the beginning is astonishing, and every time we have one of those strange moments it has only emphasized our belief that we should be together. Beyond finishing each other’s sentences, we seem to be two halves of a whole. We make sense together. As cheesy as that sounds, it is simply true, and though we began facing many doubters, as soon as anyone spent time with us the way we fit became apparent. The day he graduated from boot camp he asked my father for his blessing and three months later we were married, one month shy of the anniversary of our first day at Disneyland together. As quickly as it all happened, as big as our age gap is, (10 years), there has never been any doubt in either of our minds that this was the right path. Actually, looking back neither of us can even remember who said I love you first or when, or even who brought up marriage first. It all happened so naturally and comfortably, as soon as we were together it felt like we always had been.
I look back at this and still can’t believe he managed to convince me to get on any of those rides. But I’m proud that I did, at least once. And happy that I’ll never have to again. I’m also proud that I kept my promise to him, and that we both keep giving 100% in everything. Three years later we’re still going strong, neither of us has ever had a doubt about what we have or the choices we’ve made. Love is important but even more important is recognizing it when you find it. And if you’re lucky enough to find it and recognize it you hold on with both hands and you give it everything you’ve got. 100%.

An artist’s life. Or, why my inner voice can just go ahead and shut the hell up.

I have always been an artist. Always wanted to be an artist. There has been no moment in my life, since childhood, when I have not wanted to be an artist. But, for some reason, I have only recently begun to think of myself as an artist. It was only once I was working and earning a living from my art that I began to feel like I had earned that title. And even then, I was a tattoo artist, a very specific type of artist, when in reality, I was an everything artist. I paint, I sculpt, I take photographs, I animate, I write…yet because until my late twenties I did not make my living from any of these ventures, I wasn’t an artist until then. But now, that I’ve had to give up tattooing, (twice), due to the fibromyalgia, I find myself reluctant to give up that title. And why should I? I realize now that every single day of my existence so far I have been an artist, because that is just who I am. Whether I am paid for my creations or not, does not change that fact.

I have been lucky throughout my life, I had parents who were completely supportive of my oddness, teachers who nurtured me, and friends who came to all my art shows. It has been very rare to find someone who didn’t support me doing what I loved, in whatever format I was focusing on at the moment. I think, if anything, it was probably my own inner demons telling me it wasn’t a “real” career choice more than anyone else. I used to joke that I wanted to be an artist because I’d always wanted to live in a cardboard box, but at my core I believed that was the truth of it. Artists don’t make money. The funny thing is, I don’t care about money. Never have, never will. As long as I have enough to live on, I don’t need any extravagances. Heck, I could live in an efficiency apartment, eating cereal or noodles with butter for all my meals and I’d be happy. In fact, I have. So, why then, has it mattered if being an artist didn’t equate to a pile of cash? Delving into that excuse further makes me realize that it was really only fear talking. Fear that I would never be good enough at any of this to make it “worthwhile.” But why does worthwhile have to mean worth money? Pursuing my artist interests has never been about money, it’s been about need. I need to create. I have no choice. If I don’t write, or paint, or sew, or knit, or whatever, I’m miserable. I start to feel under pressure and cornered, as if I have to escape and am unable to. Most of the projects I work on will never be seen by anyone other than myself and possibly my husband. It’s never meant to be seen by anyone else because it’s just a release, it’s just a fact of my life that I will regularly be creating things as the urge strikes me, like having to drink water or blink occasionally. It’s just a thing I do.

I think a lot of the fear that lies at the base of calling myself an artist is because I feel like a fraud. I’m not a “real” artist, for some reason. Of course, most people suffer from a lack of confidence at some point in their lives, but what’s so funny is that I would be doing this creative work anyway, whether I call myself an artist or not. So what is it about the word that I’m so afraid of? And is that something I will ever get over? Will I ever feel that I’m good enough at any of these endeavors that I will have earned that title? And that’s just it, I feel like I need to earn it. But this is all subjective, there is no objective basis to judge whether someone is an artist. The way I used to explain my frustration about this fear to people was to tell them about my husband. My husband is a swimmer, he used to compete and at the end of every meet he knew how well he did, it was right up there on the board in lights. At the end of the day, he’d go home, exhausted, hair sticking up at all angles, smelling of chlorine, and at no point would he question if he was a swimmer. Not only did he know he was a swimmer, but he knew how good he was, in comparison to his peers. There’s simply no way to do that with artists. Oh sure, there are competitions and gallery showings and all of that, but at the end of the day, if people don’t like your artwork, don’t buy your artwork, does that mean you aren’t an artist? No, of course not. But, try telling that to your inner voice.

Your inner voice is an asshole. It’s just that simple, it never has anything good to say, and it’s partly because part of being an artist means you face rejection constantly. So, of course your inner voice thinks it’s right in being an asshole, it’s only telling you the truth. Even when your work is liked, it is still critiqued, and in my youth this was torture, not taking critiques personally was impossible. You put your heart and soul into a piece and then give it to people and say, “Here! Take this and tell me every single thing that is wrong with it!” And they do. At length. Your work is an extension of you, it feels like you’ve literally hung yourself up on the wall for examination and you are, for some insane reason, asking for people to criticize it. You grow thick skin and try to remember that they aren’t saying these things about you but about your work. That they mean these things to help, not hinder. Doesn’t matter, that piece is your baby, you’ve nurtured it, fed it, shaped it, watched it grow. Your work is you. So those critiques, though, (hopefully), well-meaning, team up with your inner voice and become failures instead. Which your inner voice loves pointing out, day and night. Even when you have an unequivocal success, your inner voice knows exactly how to smother any positivity you draw from it. For me my biggest success has been my biggest stumbling block, it is a painting I did in college. I worked months on this huge painting, a portrait in oils that I obsessed over, reworking every tiny detail until I finally felt I was pleased with the results. And it’s good, if I do say so myself. At the end of that year it was in a competition and I won, outside sources agreed, it was good. I should be happy, I should be proud. And I was, for a short while. But then, that lovely asshole spoke up and said, “Oh no, what if that’s the best you’ll ever do? What if it’s all downhill from here?” Thanks, guy. Just what I needed. So, ever since that painting I haven’t finished one real painting. I’ve done little hobby paintings, but nothing just purely for the love of painting. For the art of it. And the longer it’s been since then, the scarier it gets. It’s only recently that I’ve fully embraced the ten thousand hours idea, that with practice you master skills, no matter what, if I keep painting I will keep getting better at painting. It’s a freeing thought, and one I try to keep at the forefront of my mind whenever I am facing a blank canvas or page.

A lot of my feelings about my creative life have changed recently because I’ve been able to take time to pursue these interests. Luckily, my husband is able to support us so that, though we are by no means well off, we are well off enough that I can work freelance jobs and focus on the things I want to without us having to sacrifice things like electricity and food. So now I have no excuse, I realize how rare an opportunity I have to focus completely on my art and I want to take full advantage of it. My writing and beginning this blog is a part of that as well, it actually stemmed from a conversation with my father a while back. He mentioned that he had always thought I would grow up to be a writer and I looked at him, shocked. This was back before he was super talkative so I was in awe that he had ever thought that as well as that he was telling me. I asked him why he felt that way and it was his turn to look shocked. “Because you were always writing and winning awards for your writing. You even went on tv because of it!” And he was right, I had at one point written a piece that won an award and led to me being interviewed and reading it on television. But I had completely blocked that out. Or maybe blocked out isn’t the right term. I minimalized it. I thought that everyone had that experience, like getting a participation award. But his comments led to some memory searching and I realized, he had a point. I had stacks of my writing, notebooks, diskettes, print-outs. Tons of my work, in English and Spanish, that had been very well received. I had won different awards, been published a bunch of times, all the way through my college years. Yet, I never really considered myself a writer. And I honestly have no idea why I didn’t. I read voraciously, generally finishing a couple books a week. I respect writers to a ridiculous degree, but yet, I never considered really focusing on following that career path. It’s like this strange, selective insanity. Because my soul is so happy doing these things, they can’t be legitimate things to do with my life.

So, I’ve decided to stop worrying so much on the titles and focus on what I love. Whether that leads to paintings that sell, or published novels, or even just an etsy store, I don’t think I really care. I love the idea that people would like what I have to make, would read what I have to say, but, at the end of the day I’m going to make these things and write these words even if I’m the only one who will ever look at them. And you know what? I’m pretty sure that makes me an artist, whether that evil inner voice agrees or not.

Starting over from scratch

After nearly two months of living in a hotel in a crazy touristy downtown area we finally closed on the house and moved in this past weekend to a nice quiet, suburb type area. This is our first home, and we knew there would be a lot of work involved but of course, it turns out things were even worse than we expected. The previous owners rented this townhouse out to a family that, to put it politely, was absolutely disgusting. For the first two days I couldn’t go up to the second floor because of the smell, they apparently owned a dog with some serious health issues because it had accidents in every room. In every corner of every room. On every stair too. The smell was horrendous, we started out thinking we could just steam clean the carpet but quickly realized that was not going to be enough. Both carpet and pad were stained completely, with an eye watering ammonia stench that seemed to hover over the floor like an evil mist. I should not imagine the hound of the Baskervilles every time I walk in the door. So, we ripped up the carpet, the pad and a million staples before sanding all the floors in preparation for new wood laminate. Now at least I can be upstairs and we’ve started moving things up into the bedrooms and bathrooms. Installing the new floor can wait, at least it’s livable now and we don’t have to sleep on the floor in the living room anymore.

That was the most major of the issues but there are hundreds more, no room is clean or free from some sort of problem. I can’t imagine living in this, the smell was one thing but the filth is another. How do you get to a point where the walls themselves are covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, somehow dusty, greasy and sticky all at the same time? Unless you are a roach, in which case you’d think you were in heaven. At least until we showed up and started vacuuming up your babies. I do not apologize for the massacre that occurred this weekend, nor for the ongoing campaign of slaughter. I expect some bugs, this is a tropical island after all, but opening a cabinet to have a horde rush out at you like blood from the elevator in The Shining is a bit much. So, we cleaned and put down poison and traps, and hopefully they’ll get the point that they no longer have free reign over this home.

Beyond the filth there are toilets and sinks to fix, missing screens and broken doors. The upstairs guest bathroom tub leaks, raining on whichever unlucky individual tries to use the downstairs toilet. There are just so many projects it’s overwhelming. I consider myself pretty handy, and luckily my husband is very good with repairs and cleaning, thanks to the Navy. But it’s just a lot, and it’s a bit terrifying because we own this mess. I am completely confident that we will not only finish all these projects but that we will end up with a wonderful home, but looking at the end result from the starting line is disheartening.

At the same time, it’s exciting. To be able to change whatever we want, whenever we want, it’s an unchecked power that I’ve never experienced. I love coming up with crazy ideas and having my husband not only agree, but one up me on the craziness. I want this home to be unique, to feel like us. I was always very affected by Frida Kahlo’s home, La Casa Azul, and I love feeling free to paint murals and build strange pieces into our home. Though we plan to stay in this house for a few years, at some point we will want to move closer to the water and into a single family detached house and I want the people who come look at our place to see and feel the love we put into it. I don’t want them to walk in and gag from the smell or call it a fixer upper, I want them to see a real home. 

More than that, I want to live in a real home. In a home like the one I was raised in. Where weekends meant the house smelled like banana pancakes and sounded like Inti Illimani and the Gypsy Kings. Where, if you stood in the right spot outside you’d feel the heat from the dryer on your feet and smell that amazing clean laundry smell drifting up from the vent. Where, when you walk in for the first time in a while you inhale that perfect smell that says, I’m home. Clearly, smell is very important to me. That probably is the most ephemeral of qualities to strive for, for your home to smell like home, but it’s vital. We are slowly clearing out the old, bad, weird other people smells and letting our own scent infiltrate every room. Soon, once we have all our furniture and the boxes unpacked, it will start to smell and feel like home. That’s what I’m reaching for, some semblance of what it will become in the end. I work for small victories, emptying one box at a time, sanding and painting one new step at a time, cleaning one room at a time. It’s like AA, one day at a time. We’ll get there, even if the end isn’t quite in sight yet, at least the halfway point is.

My father is planning to come out soon to help with the repairs and then both my parents for a visit, which I’m very excited about, but it has led to a strange feeling. I don’t mind my dad seeing it in this state but by the time my mom comes out here I want to have everything in place. I want to impress her with my homemaking abilities. Not that it was ever something she stressed, she was always more about my education than preparing me to be someone’s wife, but I want to show her that her example was enough to teach me how to make a real home. I want her to see how her polished, impeccable house shaped me, though I know I will never be as organized and neat as she is, I want to build a place that her heart will recognize. At the end of it all I want to build a home that I am proud of and that makes my heart happy. It will be a long, difficult, and dirty road, but one so very worth traveling.