Wednesday, July 1, 2020

March turned into April turned into May...

It's hard to imagine we were still 
wearing coats when all of this 
... and somehow we have arrived here, July 1. The year 2020 is half over, and it's like it's almost like it never really began. I find myself simultaneously saddened and relieved that I have not felt compelled to continue to document these days, COVID numbers, and deaths. 

I've done my darnedest to turn inward, to channel the obsessive energy and feelings toward something more productive. Reading books. Creating books. So many beautiful, wonderful books. And yes, even writing (more editing, rewriting) books. 

Miscellaneous Notes from a Pandemic Year:

April 13: "Writing about the character 'who done it' made me like the guy quite a bit; now I have mixed feelings about pinning the deed on him."

April 15: "Man, I've missed pizza."

April 20: It's time to think about what will we be. Not, "How do we preserve what we were?"

Notable in May: Started using InstaCart for grocery deliveries. Do not miss shopping.

May 24: Reading my own cards. Ace of Wands - An opportunity to take a fresh, new, exciting action; 10 of Swords - Surrender to unpleasant or unfortunate circumstances; The Empress - This is a time of great abundance and wonderful creativity, good energy abounds and is available for you to use and enjoy; 21 The World - the successful achievement of a goal, doing what you set out to do. Feeling pride and enjoying rewards. Feeling that all is right with the world; 5 of Wands - Trying to work together with mixed results. (Tarot of Pagan Cats, by Lo Scarabeo)

From a note to a friend: "I keep writing and making books because I can't think of anything else that would continue to motivate me to get out of bed each morning."

May 28: "I want to send the governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, a thank you note for being such a good role model and leader during this time of COVID."

May 31: "I have managed to celebrate [my birthday] through COVID stay-at-home, controversial re-opening, protests over our society's treatment of people of color. The world really does seem to be on fire. 
George Floyd. 
Ahmaud Arbery. 
Breonna Taylor. 
James Scurlock. 
Christian Cooper." 

Note: I also had four different kinds of birthday cake (spread out over a couple of weeks). 

"I must learn to speak out. I will not let people think I am complicit by my silence."

June 5: "I went to my first protest today."

June 8: "Outside me is all 😁 while inside me is all 😧AHHHHHHH!"

June 10: "... so productive. But I feel like I am in some alternate universe and I want to live in mine again."

June 20: "There is a part of me that just wants to take care of people and feed them good and healthy food and talk them into going on nature walks every day. But the other part of me wants to retreat to my cave and make art and be joyful and stop listening to all the noise in the world."

June 24: "... excited by all of the possibilities..."

German Chocolate 50th Birthday Cake

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Contemplations 50 x 50

My 50th birthday was on May 31. I have carried an image in my mind of what it was going to be like to turn 50 for a while. I was looking forward to celebrating with the Emporia and the DK gravel riders. My niece and her family would have been in town, and probably my sister. Maybe other family too. I figured the writers would join me at Mulready's Pub and I'd throw out an invite to farmers market folks. Plans were changed. I did put out a request on FB for cards in the mailbox, and boy oh boy did people come through. It was fun. And all who sent me a card got a chapbook of my 50 x 50 Contemplations project in the mail in return.   (This post was added on July 1 for archival purposes and dated to match my birth date.)

sunshine collage paper mache face

Cover Art: Sun for a COVID-19 Day, art from our time of stay-at-home, by TRMS


Tracy Racene Million Simmons – May 31, 2020
My mother said she sent me to preschool to learn to assert myself, to play well with others. She worried bold wasn’t in my repertoire. It’s okay, Mom. It took me a few years to recognize it in myself. I see it now, a streak of do-it-my-way fifty years long.
I can entertain myself for hours with the stories written inside my head, as well as spook myself into sleeping many nights in a row with the lights on. A mind that could readily conjure images, phantasmagorical and otherwise, was the key to a childhood I’ve never really tucked away.
Too much silence is best filled with sounds birds make when spring arrives, rumble of cat’s purr, chime of niece’s laugh when she calls by video to show me baby doves in her tree. Tapping of fingers on keyboard is also a good sound, captures these moments as they come.
My lifelong struggle with keeping up on current political affairs is the disruption to my sense of peace. I still believe that we could all get along okay if we dropped the labels and met each other for talks at the coffee shop and long walks through the local park.
Words develop a lyrical quality when enough time is spent playing with order. To make a sentence sing, add them and subtract them until I reach just the right note. I may never write a tune for my creations, but I dance to the beat of them just the same.
I no longer apologize for choosing to see my Mondays as magnificent, Tuesdays as terrific, Wednesdays as wonder-filled. The world is a kinder place when one chooses to focus on its marvels. This does not mean I am naïve to hardships; only that I have decided I won’t dwell there.
I used to confuse kindness with other traits, letting people take advantage of my ability to give, invade and reshape my boundaries, use my lack of push-back skills to their advantage. Sometimes the nicest thing one can do for oneself is to be a little selfish and draw hard lines.
Forever is a long time, but some things are everlasting; the swell of my heart where my children are concerned, the ping of regret I get when missing my mother, the thrill of making plans with my love Rand, the deep feeling of content when I hold a purring cat.
I used to long for the ability to speak quickly, envying those who could make a crowd laugh, pull off a quick and witty retort. Yet I have never regretted a decision to be deliberate with my words, to pause and take a breath, to edit myself prior to expression.
I prefer my summer sunshine with a dash of cloud cover, and often we agree to meet in early morn before it gets its passion on and really heats things up. In the wintertime I like it full on, irradiating ice crystals, reflecting bright but cool against a white-blue sky.
Excuse me while I reminisce: I want to tell you about my grandmother who went to college and became a nurse at the age of 56. She traveled far and wide, sent handwritten postcards to the grandkids, let me use her electric typewriter at the kitchen table. It was blue.
Everything I know comes from only 50 years’ experience. It wasn’t so long ago that 50 years sounded like forever away. Some women don’t believe that I’ve actually longed to get here. It wasn’t so long ago, and yet . . . here I am, 50 years of experience achieved.
There is probably not much about my curriculum vitae that would leave you flabbergasted, unless you are one of those doubters who is surprised that I have one, one of those who thinks that a woman who opted to stay at home and raise children perhaps lacked ambition or ability.
Have I come to the conclusion that the world is absolutely, totally screwed? Irrevocably broken? Gone to hell in a handbasket, as my momma would have said? Nope. Come on, now. You know me better than that. I will look for and magnify every silver lining until my last breath.
I have begun to look at my relationships in terms of not only how they impact my levels of energy, but my tone. When interaction with a person consistently brings out the dark in me, it’s time to rethink that relationship. I am better at creating healthy boundaries these days.
I don’t believe histrionic behavior is in my DNA. I am generally motivated to avoid the spotlight, don’t want people looking in my direction, though I’d be pleased if they were all carrying around a book of my words in their pockets, telling all their friends to read me too.
Caring is such an enormous word. It encompasses the feeding and sheltering and clothing of the self, of family, of children; it encompasses a sense of morality—I can act with or without caring what you think of me. Caring can be an act of duty, of art, of love.
Multi-pocketed men’s athletic pants (short and long), t-shirts (short and long-sleeved), tennis shoes with roll-bar technology, and magic socks (for bowling days): this summarizes the attire of authentic me. Though in my mind’s eye, I still wear floral patterned skirts, hoop earrings, and gypsy bangles that chime when I walk.
Tis the season of agoraphobia, it seems. Who knew that we would experience a heyday? That we would become quite usual, in fact. I once flirted with stay-at-home by necessity. Remaining home for your safety (and mine) does not faze me. Though I now long for a wandering road trip.
Ah, the junebug. Innocent of intention; abhorred by little girls with long pigtails. How easily one small critter can disrupt a peaceful evening of playing outdoors. Entering the house beneath porch lights, the rattle before the attack (surely accidental), hard shelled little brown beetle causes many to shiver for life.
Childhood BFF Mandy might suggest that I move my genre to horror with the inclusion of schistosomos reflexus on my contemplations list. She laughs as I consult veterinary pages, my mind now distracted by the idea of writing a short story, featuring Dr. Mandy, where the fetal monster remains alive.
It seems that I have a deep-seated resistance to creating a list of things it would behoove me to do. However, it would behoove you to: Fill your plate with veggies first. Never let your expenses match your whole paycheck. Take a long walk every day. Read purely for pleasure.
That pandemic was shitastic! Perhaps this is how I will describe this time one day. Because as terrible as it is on so many levels, I have found a surprising amount of pleasure. For instance, my endurance for reading many pages of a book in a row is gradually returning.
I may have a more sophisticated view of magic these days, but I absolutely, whole-heartedly believe in my magical bowling socks. They increase my power to roll the ball in straight lines. They make my skinny ankles look more attractive. They occasionally empower me to throw a strike or spare.
I collect brave role models, tuck them in and around my heart, all the while hoping I never need to put in practice what I learn from them. My nephew, John. My friends Sue, Ellen, Gretchen, and Olive. Mom. I fear I won’t measure up if my time gets here.
Love is an action word. It may seem easy at first glance, but for the long-haul it takes work and dedication, frequent reassessment of needs and technique, bettering of application, and sweat equity for all involved. Even when you understand this--give it your everything--love may not be enough.
I claimed spring as my favorite season through most of my adulthood. I think at half a century, it is time to change my stance. As of this moment I declare autumn, a season of change, but with an appreciation for life’s passing that I didn’t see as well before.
Schadenfreude, a fun word to say, is one of the most chilling concepts I can think of. If we all rise and fall on the same wave, as I truly believe we do, to find pleasure in someone else’s pain is also detrimental to those I would choose to protect.
What if the extraordinary is not something big or earth-shaking, but a multitude of everyday, ordinary things? The pause taken when observing loved ones from a distance. That moment you inhale and recognize the scent of coming rain. The quiet times experienced between doing things, appreciating nothing above all else.
I have memories of watching lights circle the room from my crib, of picking up new kittens as large as my two hands, of raising my leg high to straddle a rocking horse with a bell on its nose, and of Granddaddy’s orange chair. He was always telling us stories.
If I had a mix-and-match time machine, I’d start in 1986 where I’d pick up my jubilant mother. I’d proceed to make sure she had a moment to spend with each of her eight grandchildren, only four of whom she ever met, concluding our trip at my niece’s 2013 wedding.
I get so tired of listening to people lament the youth of today. Does it really matter that they don’t write in cursive? Etcetera? If you can’t find a person under the age of 30 who fills you with hope, you are not looking beyond your own regrets hard enough.
Me in 1994, not quite halfway to where I am now, perhaps wide-eyed and opportunistic in approach to potential course-changing life decisions--I would be lying if I did not admit to curiosity about paths not taken, but from here, I can see that the choices I made worked well.
To be brutally honest without filter or ultimately kind with selected truths; that is the conundrum. While I have dabbled with unbridled honesty and found it occasionally cathartic, there is less potential for long-term regret when some words remain unspoken. In the end, why create more regrets than are necessary?
Once upon a time my dream house had a fountain in the middle of a living area that extended into a large greenhouse. Modern me appreciates the simpler floorplan, knows I would only let all those plants die anyway, and may still buy a birdbath for the back yard instead.
If I wrote A Journal of a Coronavirus Year*, a reader might pick it up three hundred years from now, marvel at the familiar scenes. We behave as if everything that happens to us is new and unusual. We’ve worn masks before. Yes, government has told us to do so.
When I was a child, Wichita was the “big city” we drove to, perhaps once a year, a whole three hours away (felt like more). I now make day trips to Wichita and breathe a sigh of relief. After living in Houston, traversing Kansas City, Wichita feels small and home-like.
Quotidian details of my life at half-century; there is ritual to selecting veggies for my morning scrambled egg, the walk with the dogs (really, it’s for me), and the boxes drawn on the schedule must be checkable, preferably in a variety of colors, for aesthetics, not necessarily classification of tasks.
Because I write and edit, people assume I am a stickler for grammer and punctuatoin, yet “grammar police” is a label I find bothersome. At least in correspondence, I’ll take heartfelt sentiment with a dozen typos over shaming someone who struggles to remember rules or express themselves through written communication.
Were my halcyon days those years growing up on the farm, or when my children were little and I was rediscovering my own compass and passions? Or perhaps they were later, traveling abroad with my near-grown children, my dream-team companions for adventure. So many options. It’s the problem to have.
I think a happy career alternative—perhaps book worthy—would be one of serial apprenticing, only not so much as to learn a trade (though a bit of familiarization would be inevitable), but to be a dedicated, personal helper and learn the stories of each individual’s goals, motivations, and processes.
A piece of advice I once got from an author friend pretty much sums up the philosophy behind my actions in all arenas these days; when in doubt, simply do what the writer / mother / friend / citizen / entrepreneur you imagine you are inside your head would do.
If I said I was thirsty for a reckless and wild adventure, just the clothes on my back and a ticket for the next plane out of here, would you ask to come with? Request I snail mail postcards? Would you tell me to have fun or to be safe?
There are times when I would describe myself as a voracious reader, and times when I would simply admit that the world between two pages is the easiest escape, a route to adventure whilst lying safe in my own bed, avoiding a reality I am not yet ready to face.
I would choose the ability to time travel over becoming immortal, primarily because I want to go backward as well as forward in time, visiting places I have only read about in books and futures yet imagined. Though to reinvent oneself, lifetime after lifetime, does sound like an intriguing exercise.
The contrast in tone sparked by one word versus the next is striking when working on this 50 contemplations project. It is a lesson in the power of words, I suppose. Harmless alphabet letters combine to invoke memory or musing, take me down roads of melancholy as well as joy.
If I am considered nothing more than trustworthy at the end, I will be content. I continue to aim for more, but if people simply remember me as someone who was true to their word, whose actions were consistent with my values, and recognized as such, that will be enough.
If I were a philosopher (I had a falling out with that TA in college, never recovered) I suppose I might be of the school of transcendental thinking. I live my own life, but believe our strands are tightly interwoven. I am as much my community as they are me.
I am only fluent, so far, in one language, which is one of my regrets. But there is still plenty of time for immersing myself elsewhere for mastery of tongue, at least of sorts. I’ve not crossed this one off the bucket list, nor given it up as future possibility.
I sometimes examine the plight of others and wonder if my own resilience has never really been tested. More likely, my continuous quest to overcome, to take lessons from the bad, to rise above what pulls me down … leads even me to believe my life has been thus charmed.
Am I obtuse in my comprehension of phosphorescent properties? True, I am not particularly interested in the facts of quantum physics that make glow-in-the dark possible, just relieved that safer techniques than the radium paint, which took too many lives for too many years thanks to greedy companies, now exist.
*Journal of a Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1722. It is a novel which takes place during the 1660s Bubonic Plague in London. The story is reportedly based on the actual journals of Defoe’s uncle.

Dedicated to Everyone I Know, Have Known, Have Yet to Know

with a significant warm fuzzy going out to each who donated a word to this project: Lindsey Bartlett, Kimberlee Augusto, Onalee Nicklin, Stephanie Schraeder, Roy Beckemeyer, Curtis Becker,

Nancy Julien Kopp, Yvette Ediger, Derek Simmons, Doug Brauer,

Reaona Hemmingway, Crystal Gehrt, Bruce Miller, John Askew,

Kathy Stamatson, Tim Nicklin, Beverly Burney, Stephanie Pinky Juarez, Nettie Million, Dennis Etzel Jr., Amanda Neece, Lois Misegadis,

Sara Robb Nelson, April Neuman, Alma Robison, Lynetta Bauer Skaggs, Louise Pelzl, Charley Osman, Sue Griffith Claridge, Cindi Kerr,

Laura York Guy, Jeani Baker, Adina Sanchez, Simon Old, Elizabeth Yost, Erin Woods, Sandie O’Neal, April Pameticky, Mike Graves,

Tony Sanchez, Sherry Askew, Ann Vignola Anderson, Judy Blackburn, Jerilynn Jones Henrikson, Nancy Hamilton Sturm,

Candace Clover Carver, Brandy Nance, Deb Irsik, Jeremy Dorsey,

Cathie Germes Munsch, Lana Amawi Hanane,

Jan Schroeder, and Brenda White

moon face collage

Moon for a COVID-19 Night, art from our time of stay-at-home,




Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Great Pause

A friend (eventually several friends) shared this article today that I absolutely loved. Read the whole article. Read it twice. There are so many gems here. Kernels of truth I have been seeking for much of the week. And now I have the words to write on sticky notes, to paste upon my wall of wisdom, to write in the margins of my paper journal, to inspire my own writing and moving forward.

"...The Great Pause...the curtain is wide open...what would happen if the world simply stopped. Here it is. We’re in it." 

The hubby and I walked the nearby river trail this morning. The birds were singing. The dogs were beyond-silly-excited to be out in the wilderness with so many smells to smell. It was a good start to a brilliant day. The sun is shining. The breeze is blowing. I love coming home to a spring-chilled house and feeling no need to grab a sweater. The blood is already warm and coursing through my veins. My brain feels alive from the activity. I had a leftover pork chop and mashed potatoes and cauliflower for breakfast. It was a perfect morning, pandemic not included.

This, the third (more or less) week of our confinement, I feel as if I've made some progress. A new routine, of sorts, seems to be guiding my days. And I must admit that we are fortunate in so many ways. I know that so-called isolation must be easier in a house full of people. I know that our second isolation pod (the office) is a luxury not everyone has.

I've been working on the novel daily (yes, daily! It has been a while). I've been working on Meadowlark publishing projects most afternoons. Bookkeeping for the law office remains a feature of my days, though the pace has certainly changed. No in-court time for hubby. No in-office appointments. The phone still rings, but everything is different.

That said, I've also continued to experience moments of what I can only describe as intense grief, though they aren't as frequent as they were in previous weeks. As a family we are beginning to have more conversations about this. Everyone is working through their own disappointments. Today was supposed to have been the second day of our trip to Oregon. I subscribed to GeoGuessr last evening and worked a few "road trip" blues out of my system.

I wish my sister lived next door. I heard from my sister-in-law last evening and found myself longing for the long, quiet days of my youth on the farm. Grandma Skaggs and Aunt Gerry living right next door. Cousins just down the road. But mostly, I was struck by how easy it was to have a phone conversation with someone I love. It's not something I do much of these days. We have so many modes of communication, but that voice on the other end of the line--that was a good, good voice to hear.
"...take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud." 

So many gems. What if this is us--whole communities of people--defining our new normal. A better normal. A sweeter, softer, slower normal. There are some hugs I'm looking forward to giving and getting. But I'm also collecting some gems from this. Some of them are going to stick.

Dogs took us for a walk on the Cottonwood River Trail.
NYTimes has us at 1,271 with 51 deaths, 4/11/2020. Lyon County has 26 cases. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Stopped Counting

Last week was both better and worse. I had large chunks of productivity interspersed with great periods of feelings of doom. The sun came out, but then the skies grew cloudy again. It was almost shorts weather for a day, and the next morning icy pellets fell from the sky.

My friend Cheryl shared a 50 random sentences writing exercise with me toward the end of last week, and it has become my daily therapy. Though I'm not following the exercise to the letter, the idea of it has given me a useful method of processing. I get to create a personal record of this time, and having a 50 sentence target gives me space to expound on it, yet the hurry to get the sentences written quickly helps me to get the thoughts out and move on rather than dwelling for hours and writing myself in circles. I blame Cheryl (this is what we have writing buddies) for getting my words flowing again.

I am dwelling on the novel-in-progress again. That, and doing jigsaw puzzles with my husband.

Life is good.

Stay home; stay healthy
man with desert scene jigsaw puzzle
Second 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in one week!

NYTimes has us at 853 with 25 deaths, 4/6/2020. Lyon County has 23 cases. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Almost. Almost. Almost.

This almost feels like one of those wishes I should have thought a little harder about before I wished it. I know I'm not the only one who has daydreamed of a pause button, fantasized about stepping off the hurried, worried world into a place of stillness, have no reason to hurry, nothing that needs to be done for a while. Almost. Almost. Filing big chunks of time with the moment. I'd forgotten how long a day can be, how many pages of a book can be read, how many dishes a family of five can get dirty! In the spaces where I'm not thinking about why we are here, why we are doing this, I can almost love the pace of this life. This isn't how I wanted it to come about, but there are pieces of this I am going to save. Pieces of connection/disconnection, that I am not going to give away again.

Happiness sometimes comes on a sticky note.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Closed Because We Care

  • Morning walks with the dogs. Afternoon walks, too. The frequent rains have messed with our walking schedule. And this morning I slowed us down because I felt compelled to read and take pictures of all the signs along the way.
  • The girls and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together. I'm reading quite a bit these days, though probably not more than usual. I am drawn to anything that isn't current events.
  • Making plans for Meadowlark Books. Feeling like I've taken a bit of a stumble here. March and April were supposed to be months of book releases and poetry events. 
  • Preparing for the first board meeting via ZOOM of the Kansas Authors Club. We've talked about holding virtual meetings for years. I guess we needed the prod to figure out how to make it happen. I, for one, am going to miss the road trip and visiting with so many of my writing friends over lunch.
  • Yoga. Stretching. Core Strength.
  • Watching Star Trek - Picard, one episode per night. I love him.  
  • Book keeping, bill paying ... a lot of the usual going on at the law office, but more relaxed with the doors locked. All clients are now scheduled for phone consults only. And our days are shorter. I didn't go in at all today, and I may or may not go tomorrow. I haven't decided yet. Sometimes we play ping pong at lunch, which is also usual.
  • Texting. More texting than usual, with a wider variety of people than is usual for me. Been getting some nice notes by email, too. Not much by phone. I've never liked talking on the phone much. But I have talked to my dad and my sister this week, which is a lot for us.
  • Whole family eating evening meal together, and everyone is taking turns cooking, so only have to prepare a real meal one out of every five days.
  • Board games. Maybe every third evening or so. Love playing board games with the kids.

collection of "closed do to COVID-19" signs

NYTimes has us at 171 cases as of 9:07pm, 3/26/2020. Lyon County has 3. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Rhythms and Routines, or – Is My “Exact Change Gene” Showing?

Life has certain rhythms, and I have long been a person who enjoys embracing my routine, tweaking my routine, inserting personal bits and challenges to change-up my routine, occasionally upending it altogether and starting over fresh. It can be fantastic (though also sometimes scary) when changes to life’s rhythms are personally driven. For instance, I took on a Jen-Sincero-Bad-Ass approach to publishing last year and the results were/are exhilarating. When I decided at the age of twenty-seven to leave my job and try on full-time parenting as a gig, it was a bit terrifying, but resulted in one of the most satisfying and personally growth-filled periods of my life (never mind the growing of kids, which was also rewarding).

But sometimes we don’t get to make those choices about the changes to our rhythms and routines. Occasionally one falls down the stairs, as I did quite literally in 2006, and everything you believe about yourself changes. Or a plague comes along, just as an example, and you find your routines spiraling out of control.

When R and I moved to Houston, I almost immediately began having difficulty sleeping. I would lie down in bed and begin to immediately wonder if I had locked the door to the apartment. I would get up to check the door, find that it was locked, and go back to bed. I would lie there for a bit and begin to wonder, had I already checked that the door was locked? Was it possible that I was remembering checking the door the night before and that I had, in fact, failed to check that the door was locked? And so I would get up to check that the door was locked again.

three dogs
Gratuitous cute pup photo to
help spread the smiles.
In my favorite psychology course in college (abnormal – isn’t that everyone’s favorite?) I remember getting the giggles one day as I began plotting the extremes of the personalities of my friends and family to their most dysfunctional extremes. Because that’s both the beauty and curse of psychology, right? Things that we all experience and feel, become personality markers, and conditions or tendencies that may come and go, and for a few, full-blown extremes of debilitating proportions.
Psychology student that I was (or perhaps it was just my farm girl roots that taught me the solution to most problems was within me), I began to examine my “did I lock the door” behavior and ask myself, 1) when does this become a problem, and 2) what is triggering this behavior?

My solution was eventually two-fold. First, I began keeping a stack of hairbands at the door to the apartment. When I locked the door, I would slip a hairband onto my wrist, and when I was in bed and begin wondering if I had locked the door, I’d snap the hairband to remember that it was real and I had, indeed, locked the door. The second thing I eventually did was to stop watching the nightly news, a habit I had from my father, something that seemed to me to be necessary as an adult living in the world. I began to realize that the nightly news in Houston stressed the *lucky duck* out of me. Living in a metropolitan area that was larger than my entire home state of Kansas meant that the picture painted nightly on the evening news was very, very different than the one I had grown up with. I still vividly remember stories from our first few months in Houston, including a child that was abducted from a home and murdered on “our side” of town (it was miles and miles away, in a different city-entity… but in my mind northwest meant too-near me). One night, I remember the news anchor declaring that it had been a good day in Houston with not one stabbing, shooting, car wreck mangling, or death. That was my eye-opening moment. I turned off the television and began reading the newspaper, where I could skip over the headlines that triggered my “is the door locked” behavior, yet still feel informed. Eventually, the stack of hairbands became a simple convenience that I could grab to tie my hair up as I was headed out the door.

Through my late teens and early twenties, I had a developing hyper-thyroid condition, which I now believe also contributed greatly to my hairband on the wrist episode. When the body is in a constant state of fight or flight, the mind tends to look for reasons to support the accelerated heartbeat. The nightly news was feeding me an ample supply of evidence that I should be concerned about locking my door. I had half of my thyroid surgically removed at the age of twenty-four and immediately gained a whole new calm and perspective.

 More than a decade later, a time of blissfully embracing the rhythms of life and glorifying in my routines, I had an event (the above-mentioned stair fall) that put me on a path that eventually led to a number of less-than-healthy routines. Unfortunately, this round it took me much longer to identify and take action against the behaviors that were beginning to control me more than I was controlling them. I did not become agoraphobic, but I could certainly see it from where I stood. And I began to understand OCD on a level far deeper than my college textbooks ever showed me.

Most of my friends and family will be surprised if they are reading this. Or maybe they are nodding their heads, seeing it now--the must-be-the-last-to-use-the-bathroom Tracy, the she’s-never-going-to-let-you-drive Tracy, the must-pay-using-exact-change Tracy. I’ve never had the ability to share the things that make me feel weak as they are happening, only later, and often then only through writing or in intimate conversations with people I really trust.  

It wasn’t until the rolling panic attacks began hitting that I forced myself to stop and reassess the way I was living and take action to change it. They were terrifying. I would feel them coming on and had only minutes to prepare myself. It was like being consumed by an ocean wave. My body would break out in sweat, begin violently shaking, and then the tears would come. I had never experienced sobbing like that, not even when my mom was dying. I used all the breathing and meditation techniques I had picked up in my youth while dealing with a hyper-thyroid, but they wouldn’t stop.
I eventually figured out that lack of sleep was at the heart of my issue, and I wasn’t sleeping because of damage that had been done to my upper back and shoulder in the fall. The bruises on my butt had been so extreme, I hadn’t stopped to consider how the rest of my body had been affected.

This isn’t to dwell on my history of behavioral extremes, but to say (yes, as it is happening) that I feel my “exact change” gene showing. As I imagine do many of you.

Paying for groceries with exact change has—off and on through the years—been one of my challenges. For the positive, it’s great for budgeting, making me feel in control of money when I am attempting to hit financial goals. There have been moments in my life, however, when I’ve found myself fishing through my coin purse, my pockets, the bag on my shoulder, determined not to break a dollar bill when I look up and recognize the look of exasperation on the face of the clerk. That’s when I know I’m crossing the line. My quest for exact change has become a hindrance rather than a help. I did it at the grocery store, my one trip last week. My heart began to race as I searched for exactly seventy-three cents, while my fist was full of dollar bills.

These are stressful times we are living in. These are trigger-inducing times for the psyche, and I would expect that even those of you who have rarely ventured on this path of behavioral extremes (at least those you dare to recognize) are seeking coping mechanisms at the moment.

This is my 14,000 word way of saying—it’s okay. You are going to be okay. You may have to resort to snapping yourself with a hairband at night or disinfecting your doorknobs routinely with aplomb. Yes, your hand-washing routine may be feel like it’s becoming a major operatic production. You may be longing (like me) to tackle-hug friends and acquaintances with whom you’ve barely shared a handshake until now. (Oh, the horror, what is this world coming to?)

I leaked tears on at least four separate occasions yesterday, and my centered-self couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for any of it. Well… except for the plague and all. But you know, what’s a little social distancing for a solitary-loving girl like me?

It’s appropriate to have messy feelings right now. And it’s appropriate to come up with some creative behavioral modification techniques if that’s what it takes to get you through. Just don’t delay my grocery checkout by digging for exact change. That’s all I’m asking. Pay your bill and get a move on. I’ve got a decontamination routine to accomplish once I am through here.

No really, we’ll get through this. (Write it again, make it true.) We will get through this.
And maybe we will pick up some beneficial coping mechanisms along the way, and may those that are not beneficial for long-term use fall away naturally and gracefully as our “new normal” begins to evolve.

Sending love and light.

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