The Unnatural Optimist

angel cemetery
I don’t want to wait until the afterlife to find peace.

I evidently was born not to look on the bright side of life. Critical, cynical, pessimistic … glass half empty. I can’t tell you how many friends I lost over the years because, at different points in my life, I became toxic. 

“This is just who I am,” I would tell myself. And if people couldn’t accept that, fuck ’em.

Until I couldn’t accept myself. Though honestly, maybe I never accepted myself. I didn’t love myself for most of my life. I’m not going to get into the years of emotional abuse I endured. I’ve alluded to it before. And I think that’s largely responsible for how I felt about myself growing up.

And then, once I rid myself of the source of that abuse, not liking myself was basically a habit. (Depression and anxiety don’t help either, but that’s beside the point.)

I’ve been on a journey since then (late 2011, in case you’re wondering) to turn myself around. To find gratitude and joy in my daily life. I will never be Susie Sunshine — I am too much of a realist for that. But I am learning to love myself, warts and all. And now I think my default font is set to upbeat.

(If that’s not a real font, it should be.) (HA! It is!)

That’s not to say I don’t slip up. I was in a really dark place two years ago, primarily because I was in a horrible job at an office with a toxic culture. It drained me. I relapsed into negativity and became as toxic as my environment.

Since I left that place, I’ve been doing better. I practice mindfulness (including meditation), which helps tremendously. I try — as advised in mindfulness practices — to let go of things that no longer serve me. Doing this has helped so much with my depression. And I still get anxious, but I think I have a better handle on it than I did before.

This current global crisis has been a true test for me. Do I give in to despair, as I see so many others doing? Do I freak out and start hoarding everything in sight in case this really is the apocalypse? (I don’t believe it is, but clearly, a lot of people do.)

I’m fine. Really. I’m calm.

I’m working from home. I’m avoiding going out, except for walks through my neighborhood because I need fresh air. There is still the occasional trip to the store or getting carry-out from a restaurant — I want to continue supporting local businesses because they need it right now. But I’m careful and following the CDC recommendations.

I still have a job, and so does my husband, so we are truly fortunate right now compared to so many others. And even if the worst-case scenario occurs, we’ve been prepared for it financially for some time. (People have actually accused me of being negative because I think about the worst-case scenario, but honestly, it’s just good sense!)

We still have our health. Our families are still in good health. I am doing what I can to help out — I donated blood last week because there is a critical need for it, among other things. (Please consider donating blood if you can. It’s badly needed.)

I am grateful. And blessed.

When things get back to “normal,” it will be a different kind of normal. Some things may be better, and some things may be worse. But this isn’t the first time there has been a monumental shift in normal, and it won’t be the last. Humans are resilient. We will adapt.

And on that note, I hope, dear reader, that you are well. Both physically and emotionally. If not, I send you light and wish you peace.

Mental Health

It feels lately like the world is on fire (metaphorically). A pandemic is spreading across the globe. Sporting events have been canceled. Museums and libraries are closed. Lines at the grocery store are two hours long. Toilet paper is being hoarded (for some reason). Everyone has been advised to practice “social distancing.”

As I stood in a massively long line at Kroger yesterday (not buying toilet paper, I might add. There was none to be had even if I needed it), it almost felt like we are on the verge of some sort of apocalypse.

We’re not, though. Honestly.

Anyway, you have no control over this microorganism that is wreaking such havoc right now. What you CAN control is your reaction to it. Stay informed. Use common sense. For God’s sake, wash your hands. Try to avoid touching your face. (It’s hard, I know.) Don’t shake hands with people. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Consider your vulnerable friends, neighbors, and family members who will be hit hardest by this virus, and keep your distance. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, you may be asymptomatic. Do what is within your power to do.

But this isn’t just physical. As the news seems to get worse every day, you need to protect your mental health.

Parks are still open. I don’t know about you, but nature is a soothing balm for my world-weary soul.

I took a day off work yesterday to hike around Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio.

I wish it was just a bit further from civilization. But it was still a wonderful escape for a couple hours.

Also, just because the museums are closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t visit.

Here’s a listing of several world-renowned art museums that offer virtual tours.

If you have 5 hours, you can enjoy this tour of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. (I have been there before. It’s incredible.)

Stay healthy, everyone. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Fashion

I’ve never been a trendy person when it comes to fashion (or anything, really). And I’m not sure how I would describe my style. It’s often bland and boring, but sometimes I make an effort. My everyday outfit for work is usually some type of t-shirt or tunic with a cardigan, a pair of chinos, and dress flats or booties. On weekends, I wear yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie or cardigan. I only put on jeans if I go out.

Anyway, I decided to give Nadine West a try. You provide your style profile and they have a stylist pick out an outfit for you every month (or every two weeks, if you prefer). Yes, there are other services like this. Stitch Fix is probably the most well-known. I chose Nadine West because their prices are extremely reasonable, their customer service seems to be amazing, their social media person is delightful (as a marketing professional, I appreciate that), and I liked what I saw with the customer photos they feature on their Facebook page.

My first shipment arrived today. I was filled with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation. It’s Schrödinger’s Outfit — simultaneously awful and amazing as long as the package stays unopened.

Well, reader, I opened it. Because why wouldn’t I?

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This is what they sent me, minus the bracelet, which is being sent back. (The necklace, by the way, is something I already own. A wonderful piece made by my friend Clever Kim’s Curios.) I have tiny wrists, so bracelets are problematic unless they’re adjustable, and this one is not.

Well done, Nadine West! I would likely have purchased the top and cardigan on my own if I had seen them in a store. The leggings, definitely not, because I wasn’t a leggings type of person. But I’m sold. And my Toms booties look great with it.

Winter of My Discontent

The title of this blog seems appropriate, given that I was recently laid up with the flu, and I have cabin fever like crazy. I haven’t been out much aside from work and running errands. I’m getting antsy for spring. (And anxious to start camping season.)

Here, have some flowers. I took these at Franklin Park Conservatory a few weeks ago, which is a great place to go here in Columbus when you have the winter blues. Their orchid exhibit is going on right now, and I love the Victorian theme this year.

Among the Stacks

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A photo of me from 10 years ago, when I still enjoyed the simple pleasures of browsing the bookshelves.

I’m such a library nerd. I have been since I was a kid, and every almost trip to the library resulted in me walking out with a stack of books in my arms, eager to go home and dive in.

One of my favorite activities used to be perusing the stacks to find a book (or several) to read. Sometimes I knew exactly what I wanted and sometimes not. I actually thought it was more fun when I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I would inevitably leave the library with a book I’d never heard of and an author I’d never read. The library is full of undiscovered treasures.

Even as an academic, I loved going into the dark, neglected recesses of the university library to look for dusty tomes that hadn’t been touched in years. (When you study some fairly obscure old texts, you have to dig deep to find what you’re looking for.)

I’d forgotten.

Everything went digital, and I forgot the pleasures of browsing at the library. Life no longer affords me much time to spend at the library, so I peruse titles on the library website instead. Oh, that digital book is available right now? Sure! It looks good! Download to Kindle.

That’s been my primary way of reading for some time now. No trips to the library necessary.

And the major difference with grad school now, as opposed to my last journey through academia, is that everything I need is online. I don’t need to drive to campus. I don’t need to visit the library. Everything is quick and accessible on my computer. (I’m still getting used to digital textbooks. There was something so satisfying about marking up a textbook, but now it’s all nice and neat.)

Yesterday, I had to stop at the library to return a DVD. But I found myself with some unexpected free time, and I had just finished a book on my Kindle. Why not, for old time’s sake, browse the library shelves and pick out something to read?

Suddenly, I remembered how great that visual and tactile experience was. I only knew I was looking for something on the shorter side. I have so little time to read for pleasure nowadays, I can’t deal with an excessively long novel.

To pull a book off the shelf, read the cover, leaf through the pages, and decide if I want to take it home with me? I forgot how wonderful that is. Doing it online is not nearly as fun, nor does it engage your senses nearly as much.

Ultimately, I chose Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke – a book I never heard of, but it was compared to Downton Abbey, so I could hardly resist.

It’ll be nice to rest my eyes a bit by looking at an actual paper book instead of an electronic device. I spend so many of my waking hours staring at some kind of screen.

And now I must make a point of visiting the library more often. It’s one thing to be a frequent patron, but you can do that without ever stepping foot inside the building. It’s a whole different experience to go in and take the time to really browse and see what the library has to offer.

Photo Challenge 2019

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I suppose most people use this time to reflect on the year behind them and look to the year ahead.

I do that, too. But I won’t bore you with those details.

Instead, I will focus on one project I did this year – a challenge, really. I decided around this time last year that I would post at least one photo every single day of 2019 on Instagram.

Seems easy enough, right?

Well, it’s not.

The photo had to be taken that very day, for starters. Some days, it was easy. Most days, it wasn’t.

But it’s not a challenge if it’s easy.

The harder days forced me to get creative – to think outside the box. If I was at home the entire day, I had to really look at things around my house (either outside or inside) in a new way to see if I could create an interesting photo. Sometimes I failed at that, but I even posted the photos that I didn’t like.

Sometimes, I forced myself to go somewhere for the primary purpose of getting a great shot for Instagram that day. And that’s good, too, because it got me out to explore more than I would have otherwise.

For better or worse, I stuck with it. And I got some really great shots because of this challenge.

But I’m glad it’s over. I want to pursue a new photography challenge for 2020. I haven’t decided what yet, but I’m leaning toward doing more macro shots.

You can see some of my favorites from this challenge below.

Here’s to a creative and inspirational 2020!

135 Highland Drive

photo of the outside of 135 Highland Drive from Google Street View
Google Street View photo captured September 2013

I knew when we left 135 Highland Drive that cold day in February 2011 that I would never step foot across the threshold again. My grandparents’ house, where we had so many Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, visits with cousins and extended family, birthday celebrations, gatherings for funerals …

Nearly every room holds memories. The upstairs bedroom, where I spent nights with my cousins, talking and giggling late into the night. The kitchen, where I kept Grandma company while she watched her soap operas or prepared a meal. The dining room, where we had many Thanksgiving dinners and games of Trivial Pursuit. The living room, where we spent hours playing Tetris. The family room, scene of our Christmas mornings. The patio, where we spent many summer days talking and laughing.

Grandma's kitchen
Grandma’s kitchen (photo by Marcus England)
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Grandpa on Christmas morning
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Me in the kitchen with Grandma, just before I moved to Germany in 2003

Even the backyard, where we played badminton. And the front yard, where we climbed the tree. (It was cut down eventually. It was a sad day.)

That house was my lodestar. No matter where I was or what was going on in my life, I always found my way back there.

My family moved a few times during my childhood. First, from a house around the corner from 135 Highland Drive to a place across town. Then out of town entirely, two hours south to Columbus. My brothers and I temporarily lived at 135 Highland Drive during that time while my parents were getting settled in.

Then a few more moves after that – still in Columbus – but to different houses on the westside.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive was always there, and my grandparents still in it.

I lived there again in 1996 during my fall semester at Bowling Green State University – my final semester at BGSU before transferring to Ohio State.

Even when I wasn’t living there, it was often more of a home to me at certain points of my life than wherever I happened to be living at the time.

After Grandpa died in 1999, the house stayed much the same. It just felt emptier.

The Thanksgiving dinners continued. The Christmas dinners. The family celebrations. I grew up, as did my cousins, and a new generation discovered the joys of visiting Grandma’s house.

My nieces raiding Grandma's toy cabinet in October 2010
My nieces raiding Grandma’s toy cabinet in October 2010

When Grandma went into hospice care in 2011, we stayed at her house. We all knew it would be the last time. My brother wisely recorded a video walk-through of the house, though I’m sure we all have every room committed to memory.

Her passing was devastating. Walking out of that house for the final time wrecked me.

The hospital bought her house. Over the years, the hospital slowly bought up all the properties in the neighborhood and demolished them to enlarge the parking lot. Grandma’s house was the only one still standing. We knew the hospital would buy it, and we assumed it would become a parking lot right away.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive stood. For nearly nine years, it stood. We drove by it every time we were in town, and the outside stayed pretty much the same. The landscaping changed some. But I could almost imagine it was still Grandma’s house and she was still there.

And now it’s gone.

I got the text yesterday from Mom. She met my aunt in town, and my aunt drove by.

Gone.

I’m sure the reality of it won’t hit me until I see it myself. But as I write this now, I stop to close my eyes. And I can picture the house as if it’s still standing there, pulsing with life and love.

My lodestar.