Checkmarks

Or, A long overdue update that got held because I was waiting for news to actually report.

Back around New Year’s, I made a checklist of goals to achieve this year. 2016 has reached its final quarter, and I have finally crossed off enough of the items to warrant an update regardless of desire to resume blogging (which has, coincidentally – or incidentally, perhaps – finally returned).

Let’s see how I am faring:

  1. Get divorced
  2. Sell the house
  3. Move home
  4. Clock my last day working as someone else’s employee
  5. Formally start my own business (website up, registered as LLC – to be done only after I am divorced and back in the state where I will be living for the foreseeable future)
  6. Finish updating my wardrobe
  7. Figure out the proper make-up
  8. Find at least a couple scents to start my “perfume wardrobe
  9. Finish writing Anything But a Gentleman 
  10. Write at least one non-romance short story

The list is more than half complete. And, other than item 4, literally everything else on it is both within my control and within my ability to attain yet this year.

No longer having an external employer is still a goal I intend to work toward, but it is going to take longer than this year. My thought was, use proceeds from the house sale to invest in me. As things outside of your own control tend to do, things played out differently in the real world and the amount left over was…if not insufficient to support me not working externally for a few months, insufficient to give me long enough to guarantee a clear answer about whether I *could* generate a sustainable self-employed income. So instead I am going to moonlight with my freelancing on the side of a day job. I should know within a year or so if I will be able to find sufficient work to justify scaling back my external work hours.

I have added at least one goal to the list, which is:

11. Make my first art-sewing project.

Over the course of this year, I’ve realized that I want to do more than sew clothes and costumes. Those are enjoyable and satisfying and often represent genuine challenges I set for myself. But they are also a little unfulfilling. A sort of minor league game, when I am capable of playing for the majors – and want to play at that level, at least some of the time.

That leaves me four goals on my list for the last 82 days of the year.

  1. Finish ABAG
  2. Write a non-romance short story
  3. Start my freelancing business
  4. Sew a costume piece fabulous enough to count as art

Not impossible. A lot of work, yes, and crossing all of them off will require planning, dedication, and discipline to achieve, yes, but not impossible.

And for the first time in a long, long time, the only impediment is…me.

(I’ve been here less than a week and have had approximately 2 days of near-relaxation. And this is the to-do list I make for myself. So INTJ it’s painful.)

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Becoming Update

I have crossed several things off of my to-do list for 2016. Divorce is finalized. House is listed for sale, though not yet sold, which means I have not yet moved back to my home state nor stopped being anyone’s employee. I have started a perfume wardrobe and finished updating my make-up and added a few more things to my wardrobe. I have made huge leaps forward in the project of becoming the woman I truly am.

The furthest leap (both in terms of where it started to where it is now, and where it is in relation to the other aspects of this project) has been in perfume. I have acquired a scent wardrobe that I could live with quite happily for some time; while there are a few gaps in season/mood/occasion terms, and room for a few more “just because it is beautiful” fragrances, I am content to let those perfumes find me instead of aggressively seeking them out. In the process of researching and discovering my likes and dislikes both aesthetically and functionally (meaning on my skin), I have made a profound connection to cosmetic scent. Perfume has become a genuine love. I don’t know how I missed the fact that it was an art form and an emotional expression before now, because normally I am sensitive to such things and interested in any medium that embodies them, but yet it never did occur to me that perfume was or could be more than mass-marketed functional smell-good products. But it is. I will wear perfume every day for the rest of my life. It brings me happiness and comfort and a small piece of beauty even on days when I can find little else beautiful around me. Perhaps I will write sometime about the fragrances that speak to me, and those that speak for me. I am glad that I have come to an appreciation of perfume at this juncture in my life, despite the sense of disbelief at how long I needed to discover it, given that it has already become a part of my sensory experience that I cannot imagine being without. But because I have no olfactory associations with my ex or our life together, I won’t have to give up a beloved scent because it bears too many memories of the past. And every man that I meet going forward will see my perfumes as a part of me, and not a pretension or an attempt to play dress-up, the way I might have felt if I had developed this passion while in an established relationship. The fact that I have more than one perfume, and that I can explain why each one I wear speaks to me, will simply be a window into how I relate to the world around me and how I view myself and what I find beautiful and compelling. And any man with smell-triggered migraines will know not to apply.

I have mentioned previously using color theory to help with my wardrobe update and make-up lessons. What I have specifically been using is the “12 color seasons” approach, which is a great starting point for someone like me who likes to test theories. It was fairly easy to determine that I am a cool skin tone and one of the “winter” seasons, so having only a few palettes to examine made for easy experiments. I would have guessed myself to be a dark winter, based on having very dark hair and dark eyes and very pale skin, but in fact I am a bright winter. The bright winter, if you are unfamiliar with the palettes, is the brightest palette of them all – the purest colors, the highest contrast. When I saw the make-up shades I was a little terrified. On the clothes side, the colors simply made my heart flutter and my soul sing, because, might as well face it, peacock green and Amazon-butterfly blue and neon yellow and the hottest pink in the ‘verse are the colors that make up my personality. They suit me, at least when I am willing to be seen. But you do not know fear, or courage, until you swirl your brush into fuchsia pressed powder and raise it toward your face at 0730 on a weekday.

You see, these are the make-up colors I have ended up with:

technicolor

These shades do not look insane on me. In fact they make me look healthy and beautiful and allow me to use less make-up than I ever thought I needed to look both pulled together and radiant. They enhance. They make me look more myself than my bare face does. And they explain in one image why I never liked wearing make-up: because I was literally wearing the wrong colors. The shades I would have expected to like on me, or that I thought would look natural on me, were subdued. Pale browns, dusty pinks, wine reds. They maybe didn’t look terrible on me, but they didn’t make me better than my natural skin. They didn’t bring me joy, or make me smirk at my reflection in the mirror because I never thought I could look that…posh. I would NEVER have pulled these shades for myself. Well, maybe a couple of the more subdued lipsticks, MAYBE, but not the bright ones, or the deep ones. Never the hot pink. Not these brightly hued blushes. Not the pale iridescent eye shadows. The seasonal theory gave me a reason to try them, an easy experiment to run. And the difference was immediate, obvious, and undeniable. I find myself wearing make-up 6 days out of the week now, when I used to only do it when I was “dressing up.” Make-up used to be the same binary as perfume: worn/not worn based on whether the occasion met a certain threshold of formality or specialness. Not so any longer. Now it is a pleasure to wear, a means of self-expression and a way of claiming back my natural beauty for myself, because I am choosing to enhance it.

Are there days when I wish the lipsticks that look best on me aren’t so entirely…well, obvious? Sure. That’s what the “peach parfait” is for – a perfect nude for my lips that still adds that one extra shade of radiance to my entire complexion. I am still working out which shades I am truly comfortable wearing everyday, and which are for the times I want the elegance and drama of being obviously made up. But now I at least know this: I AM the sort of woman who chooses to highlight her charms, who puts on perfume and lipstick before taking her son for a walk in his stroller – not because I am trying to conform to anyone’s standards or expectations, but because wearing the colors and fragrances of my soul make me feel happy and centered. They allow the joy and appreciation of beauty and life that exist inside of me to be expressed literally on my skin. They help me become…me.

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On Social Signaling, Stigma, and Surround-and-Protect

I am now something I never intended to be and never thought I would be – a single mom.

It’s been a little weird for me, walking around the neighborhood with no ring on my left hand and a small child by my side. I feel like it’s a scarlet letter on my chest: “Irresponsible. Makes Poor Choices. SHAME.” I am a little uncomfortable wearing a low-cut sundress out with the boy, like it implies I’m a floozy and, well, that must be why I’m in the boat I’m in.

All of this is ridiculous, of course. If anyone even notices, in this day and age does anyone really care? And if anyone does think those things, the joke is on them, because it is so far from the truth of my journey that it’s laughable.

But that’s the whole problem. I can’t wear my journey on my chest so that any passerby can see, “oh, she did everything ‘right’ and got left anyway”; not sure I would really want to even if I could. In the first place – it sounds almost worse, phrased like that, than having had an accident or one wild night that reaped consequences which I was willing to undertake for a lifetime. My circumstances without the context of ME might make me a figure to be pitied rather than judged, and I am not someone who needs pity.

Within my actually community, though (essentially my work family, who know what I’ve been through), I do not feel judged or pitied. I feel protected. Almost every man I work with (2/3 of my colleagues) has at some point in the past six months come up to me and asked if there is anything he can do to help me. Do I need help moving? Did I notice my tire was low? Do I need someone beat up? Do I need someone killed (from one of the Italians…still not sure if it was a joke). It has made me feel like all of the men around me, who were offended at seeing a woman they like and respect disrespected, at seeing the social contract I upheld broken and thrown in my face, have sort of made a circle around me to protect a now-vulnerable member of their community. Whether I need the protection isn’t the point; it’s the sense of support and respect that I appreciate.

In the end I don’t really care what strangers think, but it has been interesting to feel my sudden…deviation from protocols. I have long made a habit of blending in on the surface, because it’s easier when the only people asking questions are the people you have invited in. Suddenly being something which creates questions is an odd feeling.

Maybe I’ll just go throw on my hot pink shirt and let that provoke different questions instead. As a dear friend recently reminded me, being unafraid to be looked at is part of self-ownership. Maybe it’s time to go back to the jungle philosophy of bright colors. Is it poison, or the sweetest delicacy of all? Only the brave will find out….

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The Unread Map

For the first time since all of this life upheaval started, I felt today a glimmer of excitement about the fact that I don’t know what comes next. The map of my past is filled in, explored as thoroughly as I care to, and spreads out behind the X labeled “You are here.” Until now the lack of terrain features on the map ahead of me was creating anxiety and fear, not interest or excitement. But I am finally in a place where the lack of certainty is exciting and not frightening. I have hopes for what lies ahead, certainly, and I have things I am capable of actualizing to give me some sense of obstacles to come, but the actual landscape? Unknown. Unpredictable. And, at long last, Undaunting.

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100-Watt Smiles

I looked through my old photo albums tonight, as I moved them from the trunk where they have lived for the last 5 years to a cardboard box for storage and eventual transport home (or only to my forever home, depending on how things go). The girl I was 15 years ago, and even 12 years ago, was almost a stranger to me because of how long it has been since my face bore that 100-watt smile. It will again someday, hopefully soon; I think it maybe even has a time or two in the last 6 weeks. But a time or two every quarter, instead of in practically every photo I took? I was sobered and saddened by that divergence.

I am also minded of The Princess Bride book and its description of Buttercup post-Westley’s death by pirates:

“She had entered her room an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.”

In that lies a kind of solace. I know things the girl who always had that smile did not, and knowing is always better than not knowing. My smile might never again have the innocence of hers, but its absence will make the happiness that much brighter.

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Loving In Reverse

I don’t know how other people process break-ups. I don’t know what the “standard” sequence is for working through and letting go of the various aspects of a faded love and its effects on you. I have this feeling that for most people it is easier to let go of and grieve the good, while the scars from the anger and betrayal and hurt take longer to heal. I could be wrong, but that is my impression of how it goes for most people. Perhaps it would even go that way for me in a different set of circumstances; hopefully I never have to find out! I don’t want to go through this again. But for me, this time around, I am finding the process of getting over the relationship to be a letting go in reverse. Kind of like Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, actually – the more recent memories are the first to be deleted, while the first memories are the last to go, except instead of excising memories I am excising pain. It has been quicker for me to heal from and understand and forgive the damage he did to me, which was mostly inflicted at the end, and slower for me to grieve the good parts and the hope and potential from long ago. I realized last night that what I have been struggling to admit, because it is shameful to admit given the full scope of his treatment of me, is that I DON’T REGRET ANY OF IT. I don’t know that I could willingly put myself again through the heartache and the peculiar Hell I lived in for a decade, but, having survived it, I cannot say I regret it. And not because of my son, or the deep and profound personal insight I have gained, or the hard lessons I have learned about loving another human that will, I believe, enable me to appreciate a true love in a way I could not have before. All of those are ancillary benefits. I don’t regret it, even though parts went horribly wrong, because the parts that were right were worth it, at least to me. I wrote last year about that being what it means to love; I realized that, yes, I stand by those words even though we did splinter shortly after I wrote them. The last thing I have to do, I think, before I can leave Limbo and the rest of Hell behind me for good, is forgive myself for that. It is not an easy thing to grasp, that you would be so willing to hurt your own self – because, in the end, I chose all this time to stay. I could have left a long time ago, and I didn’t because the good parts were good enough to be worth the pain. So I am at the part of unloving where I am back to the beginning, back to the beach party and the closed up house and the choice to stay or to run. There is no “Meet me in Mawntauck” for us; my future holds only a different kind of man and a different kind of love. But there is also no longing to rewrite the past, to go back to the girl I used to be and tell her, “Run.” She loved. If no other part was real, that was. As I un-love, I find that to be the hardest wound to heal. It’s the only one left. Limbo grows thin. “Hi. I’m Joel.”

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The Sleeping Season

The Honest Courtesan reminded me that today is Imbolc; I simply woke up thinking it’s a friend’s birthday (ironically a Pagan friend, so you’d think the association would stick…). The amazingly lovely graphic she chose and her simple benediction make an excellent preface to this post, which I have had partially written since November, when I was staring into the oncoming winter, but never felt the time was right to finish. Today is that day.

Blessed Imbolc 2016

The Sleeping Season

Autumn – when all that has outlived its purpose dies and falls away, leaving nothing but bones. It reveals what parts are immutable.

Winter is the sleeping season. The season of renewal. The season of rest. The waiting season.

The season of dying is long past, and the long darkness has fallen over us, taking over by degrees of frost and silence. It has now been silent so long we know it will not be broken until spring.

Perhaps because I live in the South, winter has never seemed a particularly dead time of year in the physical world, and it never really has to me in the metaphysical or metaphorical senses, either. Green can still be found; the fallen leaves are noticed more in the return than in the absence. When spring hits, it is this great wall of verdancy that just appears, and only then do you see how empty it was before.

I can always find beauty in things, and the melancholy grey of winter is no exception. But I have never felt winter so keenly as a period of dormancy and rest. My soul has never followed the seasons; like the subtropical land I call home, it grows and blooms and lives all the year round. But not this year. This year I had that period of dying through the autumn, of shriveling up and falling off and sloughing dead pieces that had grown burdensome. Thus the need to experience winter as the sleeping season. What is waiting to burst forth in glorious bloom within my heart is so eager, but the soil of my soul was so drained. It needed time and peace to replenish the resources that grow beautiful things. But feeling that inner fire makes the emptiness of winter serene and hopeful. A necessary stop, a point to simply stand still and exist, a space between the moments, a pause between movements in the symphony of life.

I sleep, frozen. Hungry. Patient. Waiting.

But today my inner fire stirs. Almost, almost, almost.

I don’t want to go back to sleep – but there are 49 more days to my winter.

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