Thursday, March 24, 2011

Embrace the Moment

There’s only so much preparation that can be done in advance for a move. No matter how organized you are, how much planning you do and how ready you think you are, eventually it’s crunch time and you’re left pulling all nighters trying to clean and pack at the same time… then clean and unpack at the same time. Meanwhile, the unexpected expenses start to pile up and your net worth plummets faster than Obama’s approval ratings. You wonder how you accumulated so much stuff and where it will all go.

Lately my focus has been based solely on creating my new life. This is a far more stressful thing at 29 than it was at 19. A sad byproduct of that is that I’ve been extremely self-absorbed and haven’t checked up on my loved ones as much as I once did. It’s not intentional, but it’s happened.

A couple of weeks ago I received an unexpected text that was like a knife through my heart. I knew Judy, the mother of one of my first-ever friends and my across the street neighbor for 19 years, was battling cancer. But last time I’d bothered to ask how she was, it seemed as if things were OK. To hear that not only was she not OK but that she was down to her final days was devastating.

This was a family that had invited me to their dinner table, knobby knees swinging under my chair as I ate their meals with them and rambled about eight year old nonsense, hundreds of times. They’d picked me up from summer camp, driven me around town in their minivan and made me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I’ve had to face several things in my life I wasn’t ready for, but I can’t even comprehend the thought of losing a parent right now. I wasn’t sure what to do, so after a few hours of freaking out I reached out to my old friend on Facebook. I expected her to be absolutely devastated. Her response was so full of maturity and grace that it even calmed me down. Of course she and the family were terribly sad, but they were treating every last moment with her like the blessing it was.

When I got the call that she was gone, I was in Seattle handing out resumes like candy and juggling 10,000 last minute moving details. It was the beginning of one of the busiest weeks of my life and I worried I wouldn’t be able to make the memorial service. When I learned the celebration of her life would literally be on the one day that week that would be physically possible for me to go, I cautiously approached the subject to Mr. W, hoping he’d be OK with a mid-move stop in Yakima.

“Absolutely,” he said instantly, looking at me like I was crazy for even asking. “No question. We’ll get you there.” I chose well in the husband department.

That Friday we made the first of two trips across the state. As I packed the boxes and sped off to my new home, I didn’t feel nervous even though I had hundreds of reasons to be terrified (and still do). I felt better than I had in a long time. I felt so good, so alive, like I was finally listening to a voice beyond myself and doing what was right. I felt like I was truly living.

The next day, we climbed off our futon mattress, filled up Butters the van with overpriced gas (again) and raced to Yakima for the service. As we were seated inside the church and my old neighbor’s face greeted me from a photograph, things got real. 

I hate funerals more than just about anything. But this was no funeral. I’d always known Judy as the stern but loving mother who challenged her children to do their best (which shows through their many accomplishments). But during the video montage of photographs from her life, I was introduced to a woman I had never known before. This woman, so thin, beautiful and stylish, traveled to some of my favorite places, made funny faces at the camera and was obviously crazy in love with the man by her side who was now mourning her loss at the front of the room.

 I shed plenty of tears in that hour but I found myself laughing a lot, too. This wasn’t a woman who let life pass her by. She lived it to the fullest. In fact, the Reverend said Judy had worn a shirt that said “Embrace the Moment” during her chemo which is one of my favorite expressions. Unfortunately I’ve lost far too many people who have died before they’ve really gotten to live. Though Judy was robbed of some good years because of cancer, she obviously used the years she was given wisely, filling them with joy. I left the church sanctuary feeling sad, but also with a lighter heart and a smile knowing she was at peace. I was also ready to pack the last of my things in Idaho and head West for good, already.

After the service we headed into the foyer to enjoy Judy Cake, a chocolate delicacy she was known for. I skipped the cake (for maybe the second time in my life) in favor of catching up with some familiar faces from the church I attended as a child, the little church on the hilltop where I married Mr. W. One woman waved curtly at me and I turned to my mother with obvious question marks in my eyes, silently willing for help recognizing the face.

“That’s your wedding coordinator,” she whispered.

“Oh, the wedding Nazi!” I said. It was true. The woman took no joy in the happy occasion that day and barked orders at us with diligence. Nazi or not, I’ll forever be grateful to her because she informed the guests (so that I wouldn’t have to) that we’d provided them with sitters during the ceremony so their little darlings wouldn’t squawk during my vows. Still, her demeanor is often less than pleasant.

She walked over and greeted me and we made small talk. When she asked if I was living in Yakima, I informed her that Mr. W and I were in the process of a rather large move. As she asked questions and I answered them, the smile fell from her face. I could see the judgment clouding in her eyes and her wrinkles deepen as she asked, “So you’re just…starting over? New jobs and everything? Really?”

“New jobs and everything,” I said.

“Well good luck,” she said sharply before heading back into the crowd.

“Thank you!” I called out with a grin. Sure, I could’ve said something sarcastic or asked if she had paid attention to the whole point Judy was trying to make, but I didn’t. I’ve reached the point where I honestly couldn’t possibly care less what anyone else thinks of me and that feels indescribably amazing.

My family said our goodbyes and went back to my parents’ house. We changed back into our sweats, loaded up the dog, headed back to Idaho, packed up or gave away the last of our things, signed off our house, drove into the sunshine and embraced the moment. Not one cell in my body questioned our decision and I’d like to think that somewhere Judy is proud. The first time our Seattle friends have us over for dinner, we’ll make Judy Cake and we’ll remember that each moment on Earth truly is a gift. 

Embrace the moment.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The song that started it all

"I'm Moving On"
Written by Phillip White and D.Vincent Williams
Performed beautifully and poetically by Rascal Flatts

I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons 

Finally content with a past I regret 

I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness 

For once I'm at peace with myself 

I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long 

I'm movin' on 

I've lived in this place

 and I know all the faces 

Each one is different, but they're always the same 

They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it 

They'll never allow me to change 

But I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong 

I'm movin' on 

I'm moving on 

At last I can see, life has been patiently waiting for me 

And I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone 

There comes a time in everyone's life 
When all you can see are the years passing by 

And I have made up my mind that those days are gone 

I sold what I could

and packed what I couldn't 

Stopped to fill up on my way out of town 

I've loved like I should

 but lived like I shouldn't 

I had to lose everything to find out 

Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road 

I'm movin' on 

I'm movin' on 
I'm movin' on

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dear Idaho.... Goodbye

Dear Idaho,

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to be blunt: you and I are done. Trust me, this decision did not come without a great deal of careful consideration, heartache and tears. But there comes a point when you can no longer deny that the spark is gone and there’s nothing left to fight for. You and I are at that point. Actually, Idaho, we reached that point long ago. But we continued to try and make it work, and it simply didn’t. I’d like to say it’s not you, it’s me, but the fact is, it is a little bit me... but it's mostly you.

Our love was so beautiful in the beginning, wasn’t it, Idaho? The duplex on the hilltop with the cheap rent, spacious rooms and the deer that slept in the backyard. The fact that I finally got to live in a vacation destination with a multimillion dollar resort instead of a filthy town of gang members and gossips. The gorgeous mountains, the delicious food, Tubbs Hill… I was in heaven. Sure, we had our disagreements, but you were such a delightful combination of small town feel with a big city flair. At least, that’s the way it seemed at 22. I really thought we had a forever kind of love. I fell for you fully and completely.

The friendships soon followed. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to force myself into a group of friends or practically plead to be invited into a circle. I was the circle and I reveled in it. The nights in the limos, the Vegas trips, the partying, the dancing all night long, the laughter, the bonding… I cherished it with my whole heart. I’ll always cherish those memories.

I admit even then something felt a little off. There was the fact that I had a tough time getting a job that appreciated the fact that I was a college graduate and had to work at a bar longer than I should have. There was the fact that the winters were so harsh I could barely make it home for the holidays. There was also the fact that buying a home, which is supposed to feel incredible, never quite sat right. But I ignored the warning signs and tried, still, to love you with my whole heart and be happy. Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You try to make it work. You try to see the beauty you saw in the first place. I threw myself into loving you even when I lost part of myself doing so.

I think the first time you truly broke my heart was when I went on that sales appointment in 2006 and the first thing the redneck idiot said to me was that he was late meeting me because he was voting “to keep them queers, who should all be killed, from marrying each other.” I had to leave the appointment without even trying to make the sale and nearly vomited, I was so upset.... not necessarily at his stance on the issue (that's simply ignorance), but of his vile hatred.  Later, I was telling the story at a local bar and was told that there was nothing wrong with what the man had said. Apparently that’s just the way it is around here, Idaho, and I was supposed to accept it. Only I couldn’t accept it. I never have and never will.

Then when you refused to give people of a different sexual orientation than you think is acceptable basic human rights, I realized you were a long way from changing. I can accept differences in opinions, Idaho, but when you refuse to give certain groups of people  human rights (when you had no problems letting the Aryan Nation Neo Nazi jackasses parade through your beautiful streets, remember that?), that is what I can’t accept. No other place I’ve been in has been so concerned with what people do behind closed doors, I swear.

Then I began to see past your intense physical beauty…and God, you are gorgeous, Idaho, especially in the summertime and during the holidays when the resort spends so much time and money lighting up downtown… I started to really see the ugliness that surrounds you. Your health insurance options are abysmal. I know, I sold them for two years (and still have a guilty conscious over that). Your people are against programs like welfare and assistance for the poor. Yet if I want to have a child here, even WITH insurance, I have to pay a separate $5,000 deductible plus 30% of the costs, not to mention an extremely hefty monthly premium. Until very recently, I certainly wasn’t poor, Idaho. But I can’t afford that (not with your average wage being far below the national average) and yet would’ve been too “rich” to qualify for your awful excuse for Medicaid here. Idaho, you don’t give a shit about the middle class. You’ve pretty much abolished it and you think people who are poor are that way on purpose. Do you realize how wrong that is? Actually no, you don’t. That’s partially why we’re done.

Speaking of children, don’t think I haven’t noticed atrocities like this and didn’t take this to heart when my maternal urges finally began to kick in recently. Do you have any idea, Idaho, what I would do if my child came home spouting off the crap that your people not only condone but DARE to teach their children? I’d turn your little brats over my knee and spank them myself, and that's if they caught me on a good day. I want to teach my child that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord your ignorant wretches hide behind and use to justify their hatred. I don’t feel I can do that here.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on all of your people, Idaho. You have some genuinely good souls here who are amazing and I believe will make a difference in this world. I have met some of the best people on Earth here. Unfortunately, their voices are drowned out by the rest of your citizens (for the record I don't hate you like that guy does, he's just funny). I know there are racists, bad drivers, trash and hypocrites all over this country and we all have a little of those traits in us whether we want to admit it or not (I certainly can). I find it tragic that those that live amongst your beautiful hills have the urge to shout their ignorance from the rooftops and make your entire state look bad. I am tired of apologizing when someone looks at my driver’s license. I thought "it" (whatever is up with you) was everywhere, Idaho, but now that I've been everywhere, I can say with great certainty that it's not.

Above all else, you and I have simply outgrown each other. With the exception of a few, those “wonderful friends” I devoted my loyalty to and lived for were more after their own best interests and what I could do for them than forming true friendships. They still see me as I was at 23 and I’m practically 30 (They mean me no harm, but it’s time that I face it… they’ll never allow me to change).. I wish to grow. I’m stale when I’m with you. You make me feel dead inside and I want to live. My preferences in everything have changed since I’ve moved here and you are intent on staying exactly the same. And that’s fine, you make plenty of people very happy and I truly hope you always do. Just not me… not anymore.

But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t someone else. There is. Please don’t be angry... I denied my feelings for years and even defended your honor when faced with opportunities to be there before. But just like the platonic friend you one day wake up and see in a new light, I’ve realized I’m in love and I simply have to be there.

 She’s exciting, she sparkles, she treats me with respect, she likes my ideas, and I don’t have to hide my thoughts and feelings and opinions when I’m with her. In fact, they’re valued instead of “prayed for”. She makes me feel more alive than I have in a long time, Idaho. Even your undeniably stunning Lake Coeur d’alene has got nothing on my precious Alki Beach on a hot summer day. She’s seduced me with her skyline and dazzled me with her opportunities. I do not idolize her the way I once idolized you. I’ve grown past that. She's just a city, after all. But I love her dearly. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize she’s where I need to be, but I can’t change the past.

If only we could have parted months ago, this would have been far more amicable. But recently, Idaho, you’ve made it clear you don’t want me here any more than I want to be here. The signs are everywhere and trust me, I can take the hint. In the meantime, my new love has welcomed me with open arms and has been more kind to me in the week I’ve spent there than the six long years I spent here. I've been called classy, poised, intelligent and sophisticated there, Idaho... when did you ever call me anything but an annoyance?  I will devote myself to her the way I once devoted myself to you and will do so with great pride. I do not wish bad things on you and hope you’ll show me the same respect, but I do hope one day you’ll realize that happiness comes not from judging or ostracizing others, not from ripping them off or mistreating them, but from accepting them just as they are and helping them to better themselves. I will never forget you or the lessons you've taught me and hope one day to look at my time here with a smile.

Best wishes,

Jessica Lee
Proud resident of Seattle, WA  at last 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Start to Finish

It started so innocently. All the big revelations do, don’t they?

This move means losing much of our square footage. That means downsizing. That means making painful choices about what has to stay and what has to go. Today, I realized that means possibly parting with the beautiful hope chest Russ made me seven years ago.

The idea of leaving it crushes me. I remember how excited I was when he carried up the stairs of my tiny third floor walk up college apartment. It still has little claw marks from my long deceased kitty Isabella, also a gift from Russ. It’s where I kept my old memories from my childhood and high school. And though we’re still not 100% certain it has to go, unfortunately it’s not on the top priority list of things to take. So today, I opened it and took out the contents.

At first, there was laughter. My junior high pictures of my best friend Yennifer and me eating ice cream cake with coffee filters on our heads (I have no idea why). Old photographs of my brother and me on family vacations. My God awful poetry that reminded me of why, to this day, I write professionally and still can’t write a decent poem to save my life. My old badge from summer camp when I was 11… I worked so hard to earn every bead on it. The script from the Christmas church play my old neighbor, Chelsea, and I starred in during those years when I wanted to be an actress. And, perhaps the most hilarious, the plaque I was awarded in sixth grade for “ Most Outstanding DARE essay.”

I stopped laughing when I saw the picture of my old friend Jason, who died in 2002, with me at Cannon Beach. I got even sadder when I read the poem my high school English teacher wrote for the students of our AP English class the day before we graduated and his wise words to us. The senior wills, the goals I wrote down, my final poem… all depressing. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but as I looked at my things, my mother’s voice came back to me.

“So do them, already,” she said during our last phone conversation when she asked for the umpteenth time how all my projects were going and I told her for the umpteenth time that I am working on them.

“Finish something.”

Finish something.

The last decade of my life has pretty much been a perpetual state of chaos, there’s no denying that. All my travels and adventures and strange jobs outside the realm of 9 to 5 and lack of stability have left me with very little structure and rarely a routine. And I’ve managed to scrape by and scratch out a life. But I have so many things I’ve started that I haven’t finished. And today it hit me that I’ve been using all of that as an excuse.

I am a GREAT starter. But I am not a finisher. I’ve been that way my entire life.

I’m a starter, not a finisher. Shit.

That’s a tough thing for me to admit, but it’s true. And the kicker is, this is quite literally the worst possible timing for me to realize this. I mean, technically I’m doing it right now. I’m standing up blogging in my kitchen trying to finish dinner while a bunch of half packed boxes sit in the office. My whole goal today was to get the office packed. Shit!

We’re in the midst of yet another beginning. And beginnings are what I do best. I’m all about apartment hunting, job hunting, packing, imagining our new lives and new jobs and new everything. It’s terrifying, but it’s exciting. Because beginnings are what I do. Actually finishing things? Not so much.

And once we get over there, it’s going to be unpacking and adjusting and getting used to the newness. Not a lot of time, if any, to finish the projects I was so excited about starting. For example, my novel I began during NaNoWriMo in 2008, finally finished a draft of in early 2010, had professionally edited and even began the rewrites. Then came the epic road trip, the draft of which I’ve also started. Not to mention the business Russ and I plan to launch as soon as we recover financially from losing our asses on the house I wanted so desperately to buy and eventually remodel (shit!) or the admittedly amazing side business idea I came up with about a month ago that I’d just love to get the time and funds to get going. I have so many projects I desperately want to finish. But I’m a starter. Of course.

Twelve year old Jessica was a ignorant child who had no idea that the beads she busted her little ass for were worthless and she could get them just as easily at a college Mardi Gras party and they’d mean the same thing because they’re beads. She didn’t know the winning essay she composed on the evils of drugs was not much more than propaganda meant to scare kids out of trying things that may or may not harm them, but in the end, wouldn’t be necessary to be scared of if parents would just be 100% honest instead of using fear tactics. It was easy to laugh at twelve year old Jessica.

Sixteen year old Jessica was an overweight, unhappy, miserable, lost, constantly tired girl with Depression and acne and braces and felt alone in the world. Her bad poetry can’t be helped. But eighteen year old Jessica… she had some real goals. She had dreams and she saw a light at the end of the tunnel that was her time in Yakima. She wanted to accomplish things. And twenty nine year old Jessica still wants to accomplish over half those things. And today, it was eighteen year old Jessica who taught twenty nine year old Jessica a lesson: I am a starter. Not a finisher. Shit.

For God’s sakes, I don’t even like to finish my beauty products! As I clean out the cupboards and drawers, I find bottles of lotions and night creams and eyeshadows that are 80% gone because God forbid I finish a bottle of something and have to replace it. That’s so stupid. Now I’ve got a bunch of bottles with drops of expensive, expired, useless, dry junk. Awesome.

I want to believe that I’ve got another 100 years on this planet with plenty of time to finish that novel, the road trip memoir, launch the businesses, build my freelancing business back up, etc. etc. etc. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that no one knows how much time we have. I know why I haven’t finished my books entirely… simple fear of failure. I mean, what if I finish them and bust my ass getting an agent and then I don’t get a publisher? That would be tragic. But the only thing more tragic than that would be not finishing.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told.” This was written by a young Chidiock Tichborne in 1586 just before he was executed for treason. And centuries later, that line bitch slapped me right across the face. I need to become a finisher.

I’d like to say this little revelation will cause me to sit my ass in my desk chair and make the final changes to my novel and then do the tremendous task of writing about the great road trip of 2010. But right now, I literally don’t have a desk chair. It’s packed. We’re not even taking the desk. I’ve realized I’m a starter and not a finisher at a time when I truly cannot finish.

Even though I make fun of myself all the time and am aware of my thousands of flaws, this one was hard for me to admit. This blog post is to hold myself accountable. Because eventually, I’m going to get moved and unpack my boxes and figure out what hours I’ll be working, and where, and figure out some kind of schedule and dare I say…routine. And then I’ll know exactly when I can sit in the chair and finish. And I will. I have to. After all, it was eighteen year old Jessica who found the courage to make huge changes that led to her losing the weight, gaining the confidence, falling in love, and becoming someone who could love herself. I don’t want to let her… me… down. I’ve truly never really thought about how amazing it would feel to actually finish. I’m excited to find out…no matter how long it takes. 

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