The Dreaded Blank Page

Merry Christmas you filthy animals

Early this morning, we were blessed with cloudless, blue skies and a warm sun.  There is an inch of snow on the ground with a fine layer of ice beneath, and the winds are still blowing like crazy. Normally, this type of day energizes me and puts me in a good frame of mind, but today I closed all the curtains. For self-preservation, I will become a hermit for a few days, nursing what January usually brings me–feelings of joy mixed with nostalgia. My negative feelings and emotions can’t be helped, so I allow them to wash over me today.

You see, my son was born in California on January 14, 1988, and my mother passed away on January 22, 1992. My son is moving to Amsterdam on January 16, 2015. Yes, in a week’s time, I’ll be driving him to the airport, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He has been coming and going for years now with work-related travel, and a three-month stay in Thailand, but this is different. He says he’s not coming back. It’s not that we’ve quarreled or that he’s running away from home, nothing like that–I raised my kids overseas. What did I expect would happen? One or both of them were bound to travel extensively and live abroad; it’s what I hoped for.

Well, it is what it is, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My daughter and I send him off with much love, admiration, and enough hugs and kisses to keep him warm in Holland until we visit. Maybe we’ll return to Holland for a Spring visit, in time for the tulip festivals, as we did during our many years of living overseas. I try to look at the bright side of returning to Europe with my daughter for family visits with my son, but today it was hard to see the silver lining of his decision. I wondered how many decisions I’d made as a mother that caused my children the same pain.

So, after taking a week and a few days off to celebrate the precious Holidays with my beautiful children and my wonderful family, I sat at my desk this morning. I opened the new journal I bought in early December–one hundred and twenty blank pages of journal, to be exact, and closed the book. I’d vowed to begin writing on the morning of January first, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me tremendously as I’ve journaled for over twenty years as an advocate of keeping a journal, but every time I sat down to write–I froze. There was too much swirling, swishing, and slopping around in my brain to get it down on paper. I’ve felt overwhelmed this first week in January. What a pain in the ass. It’s not like I have tremendous burdens on my shoulders, we are all happy, safe, and healthy. I am looking forward to my novel, A Decent Woman, coming out this Spring, my daughter started a great new job as a therapist, and we three are embarking on personal journeys, but life is changing. Our family dynamics are changing and deep inside, I don’t like it one bit.

What did I do after closing my journal? I prayed hard. I cried even harder. I released. I counted my blessings. I shoveled my sidewalk, laughed at my Sophie’s Chihuahua antics in the snow, and I stroked my cat, Pierre. I made a tough phone call, one that I’ve been avoiding since early December, and I called to check on a new friend who just found out she’s in stage four of lung cancer. Please pray for my friend, Myrtle. Then, I sat with my unopened journal and realized I hate blank pages. I’ve experienced this fear of getting back on the creative horse before with my painting, after a long holiday. I’d sit in front of the easel, staring at my full-size, D’Arches, hot press, watercolor paper stapled to the board, hating the whiteness of it. The blankness of it. And I’d stress the mistakes I was sure to make as watercolor is such an unforgiving medium, but to which I took to like a duck to water. I like a challenge.

Bite-size pieces, I told myself after lunch. Own it and just do it for God’s sake. But, the words didn’t come. As much as I hate routine, I am a stickler for routine. My usual routine is to pray, meditate, journal, and write long into the night with breaks for walking the dog. What the hell was I so afraid of? That I might start writing, crying, and never stop? Was I pissed I hadn’t followed through with my plan of starting the journal on the first of January? It’s a Virgo thing. Was I grieving the past…again? Enough.

I gathered old magazines, found a glue stick, and created a mini-vision board for 2015 on the inside cover, which includes the cover my book. I thought of crossing off the numeral one I’d written in anticipation of starting the journal on January first, but instead, I changed the one to a seven. I christened the journal. I added the weather and temperature in the right-hand corner, as I’ve done for years, and I wrote three pages of my thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I added St. Michael’s prayer and the Memorare for protection, which felt great, and I closed the journal until tomorrow.

No, 2015 didn’t start exactly as I’d hoped, but that’s okay. I will celebrate my daughter’s new job in Northern Virginia; I will celebrate my son’s birthday and new life in Holland; I’ll cry for my mother on the anniversary of her death; and I’ll wave goodbye to my son as he disappears through airport security with tears in my eyes. I will continue celebrating and honoring life, and continue counting my many blessings, which includes my creative life. I look forward to launching my book, holding it in my hands, and sharing it with the world.

I tackled the beast today. No more will the blank page cause me anxiety and fear. Eff it; I’m stronger than that–I wrote a freaking book.

 

 

 

 

 

How I Got Rid of the Holiday Blues

Could I be any more behind this holiday season? Is my current situation any different than last year, the year before or the year before that?  The answer is no. No, it isn’t. If you compared me to when my kids still lived at home, you’d be shocked…or not. I bear little resemblance to the woman I was four years ago. I am a disgrace to the Virgo astrological sign–I’m supposed to be super organized. I used to be! What changed? What happened to me? Is this change a good thing? Read all the way to the end to find out!

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I was the woman who had two fresh family Christmas trees up on Thanksgiving Day with fresh garlands of greenery on the staircase banister, along the fireplace mantle, and holly and ivy everywhere you looked. The trees had different themes, of course, and they matched every pillow in the room, to include the drapes in that particular room. And I only used white lights, much to my children’s dismay, who loved the primary colors of our neighbor’s Christmas tree lights. Not in my house, thank you very much. Every year of my 25 years of marriage, I wrote a family newsletter, complete with photos (friends, please forgive me for those), which I stuffed in no less than 125 Christmas cards to family and friends. I bought gifts for my family and friends, wrapped way ahead of most of my friends, and prepared a sumptuous holiday meal for my family, friends and my favorite priest, Father Vincent, when he could join us. As a family, we visited Christmas markets from Germany to Holland, where I bought special ornaments for the trees…for the following year. Yes, I already knew what I wanted for next year’s tree as I decorated that year’s tree. I volunteered for holiday church events, participated in the Angel Network, and Toys for Tots. I still ran out of batteries for toys and gadgets on Christmas Eve, but doesn’t everyone?

After 25 years in a traditional marriage, I separated from my husband and moved from Belgium, back to the United States. We divorced, I went back to school and worked, but I still hung onto our (my?) holiday traditions like a woman clinging to her fading beauty. My kids were at were university in Washington, DC and Harrisonburg, VA, so we enjoyed four Christmases in our rented home in Northern Virginia with one fresh Christmas tree. I sent out less than 50 Christmas cards and we celebrated the holiday season with new friends and family. I hadn’t spent a Christmas with my single sister and her children in 13 years. My sister hosted us for Thanksgiving and I, newly single, hosted her family for Christmas dinner. We did this for four years and had a ball creating many happy, wonderful memories together. My son is the official turkey carver of the family for both holidays and my daughter is the most creative gift-giver. My job is to cook, take photographs, and enjoy my beautiful family, which I do! I’m good at that.

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In 2010, I decided to quit renting in Virginia and bought a great, old house in Berkeley County, West Virginia, two hours from my children, who’d graduated from college and were working in the Northern Virginia area. By the time Christmas rolled around, I still had boxes to unwrap and several rooms left to paint. The house wasn’t ready, but I longed to host my family in our new home. Was it really our home or my home? My kids were in their early 20’s now and very independent. I lived alone with a dog and a cat. We ended up spending Thanksgiving with my sister and her kids, which was great, and my daughter, who’d moved in with her boyfriend, offered to host Christmas dinner for our family and his mother. It was wonderful and let me tell you, my daughter was excited about this coming of age moment. I recognized it, too. She prepared our family favorites and decorated a beautiful tree. They had a huge kitchen versus my tiny kitchen, so it made sense, and we had a great time. No one had to drive two hours to my home and I didn’t have to wash sheets, towels, buy groceries, put up extra beds, and…decorate my home. For the first time in forever, I didn’t put up a tree. Why bother? It didn’t make sense as I was spending four days away from my home.

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Now, although I’d prepared myself and I understood I wasn’t ready for company just yet, it was tough for me. My mother’s heart grieved for the past. I tried hanging on with our changing family dynamics, and as much as I hated to admit it, I was afraid of my future as a single woman. I’d never lived alone. I’d left a good job in the city and now wrote full-time in a new city. There were many sacrifices to make, but I kept my focus on the prize–a published book. I moved where I could pursue my dream. I wrote every day, researched every day and soon, the house was ready for Christmas. I was ready! But…it didn’t happen. My kids were now working, my niece and nephew were in college, and our schedules just didn’t work out. I acquiesced and did the right thing–I drove to Virginia for the holidays. When would we ever spend Christmas at my house? I was bummed, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy doing very little to prepare for the holidays. I didn’t have to stress, clean my house from top to bottom, cook from sunup to sundown. I prepared one side dish, bought a pie (hello?), and away went down the road with my dog, Ozzy, as my co-captain. Not bad, really. I didn’t go home with holiday left-overs, but I went home with the turkey carcass, which I used for turkey soup for future cold, wintery days.

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Fast-forward to 2014. My daughter is no longer with her boyfriend and is living with a good friend until she finds a one-room apartment in Northern Virginia. My son is back from Thailand, where he lived and worked for three months, and he’s leaving to live and work in Amsterdam in January.  We spent Thanksgiving with my sister, had a great time and she has graciously offered to host us for Christmas. Sigh, I know. I could do that, right? I could ‘make’ everyone come to me, but I won’t this year. It’s much easier for one person (me) to drive to the family instead of messing with their schedules. No one can take much time off work right now; I get it.

In February 2014, I received a book contract from Booktrope Books and I hope to see my historical novel, A Decent Woman, in print around that same time, next year! It’s been a wonderful, but challenging year, but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Will my kids and I ever enjoy the kind of Christmases we used to enjoy when they were little? I no longer have the big house, where everyone gathered for the Holidays, and I don’t have extra money to rent a large cabin for the Holidays, which I’d love to do one day. It’s just not in the cards. But this year, I purchased a five-foot tall Christmas tree from Big Lots. I decorated that sketchy little Charlie Brown tree and my home with garlands of greenery from Michael’s, and I put a wreath on the door. But I won’t send out Christmas cards. Facebook is awesome for that and no more nauseating holiday newsletters, either! I was feeling good last week, but then began thinking about my non-Currier and Ives Christmas. What a pain. I tried keeping busy to get my mind off the past and then I visited two neighbor down the street. I sat listening to my friend as she dealt with her first holiday without her precious son, who died last year. I sat and listened to my other friend, who described how she’d crammed 13 people for Thanksgiving in her home, which is the same size as mine. Family, good health, and love; that’s all that matters.

What I learned: Never again feel sorry for myself during the Holidays. Forget the Christmas pasts, not the people mind you, only the things that I thought made Christmas because they really don’t. Embrace, kiss and love my family again! Thank God we are happy, healthy and together. And…prepare everyone NOW for next Christmas because we’re cramming together at my house for dinner and an overnight!

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Merry Christmas! Happy holidays to you and your family! Much love from me to you. xo