Travel and FOMO

adventures of the everydayMy sibling-in-law — aged 23 — spent the day here on Sunday visting with my son/their nephew for the last time before moving to Sweden for (at minimum) three months.

I’ve got all sorts of feelings about this.

Not in the terms that people are probably thinking; I genuinely like my sib-in-law, but between the age gap, distance, and other factors, we aren’t close.  We get on well when we hang out, but the frequency with which that happens is relatively rare, and when it does happen, it’s really them hanging out with Bear (which, fair; he’s a pretty cool kid).  But missing them while they are on their journey isn’t really an issue; we’d probably see them maybe twice in the intervening time.

It’s more that I’m wracked with a near debilitating case of FOMO.

I don’t even want to go to Sweden.  Like, don’t get me wrong, it’s probably a lovely place, but it’s not on my bucket list, nor do I have any particular connection tot he locale or the culture to fuel my desire to visit it.  It’s the concept of travel in general.  It’s the freedom inherent in travel that I envy.

I didn’t have much in the way of a young adulthood.  Between my mother’s over-protectiveness and need to micro-manage, my own mental illness/anxiety, and the fact that we were barely keeping our head above the water financially, travel was something that was never, ever on the table for me.  The furthest I ever went was to New Hampshire — and ten minute ride over the border — to take advantage of the lack of sales tax.  When I hit college and my dreams of studying abroad were dashed for financial reasons, I fought tooth-and-nail for the few opportunities that arose to do anything akin to travelling.  I made friends with a girl from New York my Senior year, and after crimping and saving and a number of screaming matches with my mother, finally managed to make a couple of trips to Westchester over breaks and long weekends.  That would be the totality of my travel experience until I got married.

In the intervening years since, it’s gotten a little better; I’ve been to Maine and Vermont, Florida multiple times, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Quebec, and Montreal.  But in the intervening years, despite shaking off the shackles of my over-bearing mother, I now have a job, a kid, and a mortgage.  I’ve never quite been able to pull my head above water financially, at least with regards to travel.

I get restless easily.  I, like my husband, thrive on schedules and routines, but I also love deviation from the norm, provided it’s self-directed and desired; I balk at change thrust upon me, but will gladly throw myself into something new should the prospect appeal to me.  Being told that there are Things to Be Done and that those same things are Things I will Never Have the Chance to Do Them in the same breath is heart-breaking.  Knowing that the stories so many of my friends tell of their exploits — be they student exchange trips, AmeriCorp or PeaceCorp service, backpacking trips as college kids, or luxury resort-hopping as adults — are things that are always going to be aspirational for me, without the prospect of fulfillment, kills me.

There’s freedom in travel, but not everyone has the freedom to travel.  My husband works a job where securing time off is difficult, and his time off is limited.  We need to travel someplace child-friendly, or else make sure we can find long-term babysitting for our son, and round-trip domestic flights alone often cost nearly half a month’s income (and that’s just the flight).  It’s not that we can Never, Ever Travel Ever, it’s that at the end of the day, it’s more work.  It’s months and months of saving and sacrificing, planning and prioritizing, and even then, our options are limited by when we can secure time off, how much we can afford to take, and how quickly we think we can recover our losses.

So when I see friends and family — and it’s been happening more and more frequently lately — talk about booking flights and resorts and trips and cruises, with what (to me) is startling frequency, it hurts. Just a little.  And just a little more each time.

I am happy for them; for my sib-in-law, for my friends and family.  I just wish it was something I could be a part of.

37

adventures of the everyday37 is not a “big” birthday.

It’s weird; there is a very specific point in our lives (at least in Western/American society) where we seem to be having milestone birthdays almost constantly: 10 heralds in double-digits; 13 is bat/bar mitzvahs and the start of the teenage years; Sweet 16 and being able to drive/at the age of consent; 18 and being a legal adult; 21 and being legal, full-stop.

Then nothing until 30 — you go over a decade having these big, celebratory birthdays one after the other, and then nine years of nothing before you hit a milestone that we are a society (And women especially) have been conditioned to dread.  It’s all kinds of bullshit, folks.  And then after that, we celebrate the decades.  40, 50, 60.  Ten years waiting to celebrate, what, surviving the preceding ten years?  How sad.  For real.  Just, how fucking sad.

Like, I get that the traditional societal milestones kind of taper off after 21; once you are a legal adult, what’s there to celebrate about getting older?

Like… lots, actually.  I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with my life than I have been in my 30s.  Some of that, granted, comes from the fact that I am, in many ways, quite privileged, and have financial, familial, and career stability, and I know that’s not true for a lot of people, through no personal failings of theirs.

But by the same token, most of the satisfaction I felt during the last decade or so has been because of choices I’ve made and efforts I’ve put in for personal victories and milestones, not because of pre-ordained rights of passage.  I’m happier because I’ve taken some risk, taken up new hobbies, learned new things, and, honestly, stopped putting so much stock in the thing society says I should be doing.

So, I think we should come up with, not new milestones necessarily, but new ways of celebrating our years after 30, each year with a new theme or new ritual.

Like, ok: I’ve noticed that there has been a trend in recent years where people love to write articles and listicles about what women over 30 should “never” wear.  Oh, fuck those articles hardcore.  Our 31st birthdays should be about celebrating and refining our personal styles; we should have swap meet parties, where all our friends bring over clothing and we swap and share, and/or go thrift store hopping, finding unique pieces that flatter and define our own personal styles, build a “Fuck You, I Wear What I Want” wardrobe, and have an epic photo-shoot.  That’s it, that’s 31.  We celebrate saying eff-off to people telling us how to look and how to dress, and embrace our own unique styles.

32 is when I started to really feel like I’d lost a lot of social connection (part of that was having a kid, which can be very isolating in the earliest years), so 32 maybe is a celebration of your closest friendships and a move to make new ones.  Spend the day reminiscing with your favorite people; break out photo albums (which are probably becoming obsolete relics, but I know I still have a few); have everyone contribute to a memory jar, writing down your favorite in-jokes, moments, milestones, and memories; have lunch at your favorite haunt from your younger years (if it’s possible; I know mine was Borders, and that’s a thing of the past now, sadly); and cap the night off by heading out to a meet-up for a mutual interest, where you can all make connections and hopefully forge some new friendships, as well.

I mean, it would take me a while to come up with one for every year, but how nice would that be, to have a reason to really look forward to birthdays again?  To feel like you’re still growing and that each year means something new, means new growth, instead of just another year older?

I’m not sure what 37 is yet.  I’ve got a few hours left to figure it out and define it, but I turn 37 tomorrow, and I’ll be spending time with a childhood friend who I haven’t seen in nine years, and visiting a city I adore, so I think I have a good foundation for a good day.

I’ll let you know what’s special about 37 on the flipside (and hey, if anyone else is interested in new rituals for each year of your 30s, I’m having fun and would love to continue this train of thought later), but for now I’m just going to celebrate seeing a beautiful city, an old friend, and another year.

Choosing Self-Improvement Over Self-Loathing

adventures of the everydayI am not an artist.

I mean, please; I don’t want people messaging me or commenting and being like, “if you create art, you’re an artist!”  I support that whole-heartedly.  But there are people who create art on a whim, for fun and personal enjoyment, and then there are people who have studied art for years and understand it on a technical level.

These people may both, validly, identify as artists, but they come at art from wholly different backgrounds and perspectives.  One of them applies to me; the other does not.

I’ve discovered — or rediscovered, rather — in the last few years that I really like painting.  On the one hand, it can be fun and relaxing, and on the other it can be challenging and surprising.  I like that versatility; it ensures that it’s never boring.

It also ensures that as my ambition grows, so, potentially can my frustration.

This week, I decided to paint portraits using a photo reference with the intention of being photo-faithful (I won’t say photo-realistic (that’s aiming way too high), but I want the colors and values to hold true).  This means instead of the fantastic skin colors most of my paintings have (of my last four portraits, three have had blue or green skin), I’m attempting to paint relatively true to life (Caucasian) skin.

I hadn’t anticipated how challenging form shadows on skin would be.

My instinct when faced with a challenge is, unfortunately, to quit.  To pack it all in, say “fuck it, guess I suck,” and abandon the project, but not before having a small mental meltdown — usually a messy crying jag followed by lethargy and self-loathing.

No, this isn’t healthy, and no, I’m not proud of it (but it’s all part of being neurodivergent).  So I’m working hard to change my reactions.

It’s slow going.

Today, for instance, I am in a bad place, mentally — anxiety is riding high, I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed with my house work, the tentative nature of my work assignment in September, GISH on Saturday, and the struggles I’ve been having with my painting.  I wish I was one of those people who could compartmentalize their entire life, so that the emotions and anxiety afflicting them in one area doesn’t bleed over to the others, and I’ve more or less got that mastered when it comes to work — my work necessitates I absolutely throw myself into it, so I rarely have time or breathing room to perseverate on my personal problems, but once I’m at home and able to kind of unmask, I just lose it.  Absolutely everything bubbles to the surface and the worries and anxieties from every aspect of life just leech into and infect one another.

Usually, I sink into a shame spiral.  And honestly, I can’t promise I won’t, because I feel it pulling at me.  I really, really just want to curl up and cry and not touch a paintbrush (or a vacuum, or a mop, or another person) again, ever, for all of eternity.  But I’m fighting that urge, this time.

As I was saying, I am working on a painting that I am excited about, that is both something I’m hyped about because of the subject matter, because it’s my first time fully working off a photo-reference, because it’s the first time I’m painting something with a ready-made audience.  I’m already putting a lot of pressure on myself with this project.  And then, like I said,  I had to do something I’ve not really done — paint form shadow on truish-to-life Caucasian skin.

And holy hell, was it hard.  I repainted literally at least fourteen time, until it was a caked on, crusty mess.  I went in with a wet wash, went in with thick strokes, went in with blocks of color, went in feathering colors as I went.  I couldn’t make it work.  The more desperately I tried to make it work, the more impatient I became, and the sloppier my efforts were.

Finally I had to stop and step back.

Instead of throwing my canvas in the trash, I washed it (I know, weird?  But I’ve done it before; it got all the caked on acrylic off and still left the outline and a surprising amount of the initial wet wash, so I don’t have to start totally from scratch), and put it aside to dry.

And then I went online and Googled how to create form shadows with acryllic.

What??? Crazy, right?  I problem-solved.  Instead of just blasting ahead or giving up entirely, I admitted I didn’t know something, and took productive steps toward remedying that problem.  Holy shit, guys, did you know that you’re supposed to use a color complementary to your base to create a natural form shadow?  Like, if you’re painting with yellows, your shadows should be, like, purples?  What?  Why did no one tell me??  I don’t remember that in studio class when I was still taking art in school, just a bunch of eighteen-year-olds, still creating shadows with grays and blacks.  Why was this not taught to me?

That’s really the question, though, isn’t it?

I need to be gentler with myself.  I need to be less scornful of myself when I realize I can’t/don’t know how to do something, and instead of being self-loathing and beating myself up for not knowing, I should remember, well, I was never told.  Or to put at least some of the onus on my shoulders, I never asked.  But I was never expected to just “know.”  I am insanely lucky to live in a time when, now that I know there is a gap in my knowledge or skill, I have nearly unlimited resources to draw from and fill that gap.

The canvas is drying in the living room as I type this.  I don’t know that I’ll be prepared to tackle it in the morning (too much else still weighing on my mind), but there’s still more research to be done, anyway.  I also need to remember, learning and planning in still doing; it still counts.  It’s still work.

adventures of the everydayMy wedding anniversary was last week, on the 17th — nine years married, can you believe?  Not bad for the couple who each thought they were never gonna get married, and never had any real ambition to do so.  Our marriage was very much of the, “this feels right for our situation” variety, rather than “marriage is a de facto life goal, so we gotta do it” variety.

I give my husband a lot of shit — mostly playfully, mostly jokingly — and this week has been no exception.  I’d been working on a painting that overall turned out really well, but with which I had a hell of a rough patch earlier this week.  It’s another portrait of sorts, and noses and midlines continue to be the bane of my existence (hence why I continue to paint them, over and over again).¹

I have a habit of talking, half to myself and half to whoever is un/fortunate enough to be present during my diatribes, while I work on a piece.  This meant that during the hours which I was working, my husband had to listen to what probably amounted to a litany of, “is this the color I was using?  Yeah, ok.  What would happen if I — oh, there we go, that’s pretty.  Should I do an extra layer of highlights?  Ooh, I should have put a wash down before I started this detail.  Does this look bad?  How does this look?  Andy?  Andy???”

Now, I get that given my penchant for rambling mostly to myself, it doesn’t bother me that he’s not poised to answer my every beck and call when I eventually address him directly; like, if I had to actively listen to someone go on the kind of tangents I do on the off-chance that maybe they’ll actually try to engage me, I’d go bonkers.  Like, it would just literally be impossible to get anything done, because I wouldn’t have the mental time and space to focus on anything except their tirades.  So it’s not that he isn’t automatically in active listening mode that bothered me.  It is, as I often tell him, that he “doesn’t care.”

And he doesn’t.  Like, he doesn’t care about painting.  At all.  And yes, it sometimes annoys me.  It’s sometimes disheartening that I can’t really have a meaningful conversation about something that has caught my interest with one of the most important people in my life.  And I’m willing to bet their are a lot of people who feel the same way about their partners’ interest — or lack there of — in their hobbies.

And honestly, I am going to continue to stand up and assert that I would like for him to exhibit a little more interest in my hobby, at least to the point of giving me honest feedback when I ask him for it, or giving me a candid opinion (because they whole, “I don’t know, I don’t know art” does not cut it; like, bitch, I know you’re not an artist, I live with you.  I’m still asking your opinion as my husband.  I have “Art” friends to get “art” opinions from if and when I need them).

But.  But but but.  I am also going to stand up and assert that I, and probably a lot of people, need to really examine the ways our partners interact with our passions and assess whether it’s really lack of support or lack of interest, because while one might be nice, the other is absolutely essential.

Much as I’d love for him to be interested in painting, or crafting, or art, he doesn’t owe me interest in any particular subject, and honestly, fair.  Because it’s not like I go out of my way to learn the ins and outs and intricacies of any of his games (video or tabletop), and I show about as much overall interest in his games themselves as he shows in my art (the real difference being that he doesn’t reach out and try to talk to me about his games with nearly as much ferventness or frequency as I do my art).

But while he show no interest in art, he show interest in my interest in art.  He shows support.

He comes home from the store with interestingly sized canvases for me.  He randomly stocks up on sketch books and notebooks when he goes out to do the grocery shopping.  He walks with me through galleries that I know are snorefests for him.  He points out cool colored paints that he thinks I’d like to experiment with.  He spends inordinate time holding various shopping baskets for me while I comb through the shelves in any craft aisle we go through.  When I’m on the fence about an art-related expense, he tells me to go for it, and more than once when I’ve ruled it as too much, he’s gone out after me and made the purchase himself.  

He doesn’t care that I came up with a new acryllic technique, except for the fact that I’m pleased with myself.  He doesn’t care that, hey, I finally painted a nose I’m happy with, save for the fact that I’m happy.

Yeah, I’d like him to actually be into the art.  But I can’t force him to love what I love.  I don’t intimately enjoy all of his hobbies, and he doesn’t expect me to, so it’s unfair to ask him to feign that enjoyment for me.

But he cares that I care.  He’s happy that I’m happy, and encourages me to pursue the hobbies that foster that happiness.

That’s a pretty good rule in a marriage, I think.  That’s pretty fucking important.


¹ “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.” –Jake, Adventure Time (look,  in this house, we take in wisdom where we find it).  I figure the more I force myself to paint something I suck at (instead of avoiding it, as is my instinct), I might actually improve my technique and grow from it.  Wild, right?

My Brain Doesn’t Trust Itself

adventures of the everydayI’ve been working at my job for fourteen years.  Fourteen years, guys.  I feel almost as at home in that building as I do… well, at home.  I know my coworkers’ rhythms, I know the routines, the programs, and the schedules — even the off-season ones.  I’ve been working Extended School Year itself for a decade, missing only the year when I was halfway through my pregnancy and (literally) couldn’t stand the heat.  I’ve worked every grade level, every skill level, every permutation.

All this to say, I know my job, okay?  So then why, for the love of Christ, did I spend an hour this morning freaking out over the absolute most basic aspects of my assignment?

And this happens every goddamned year, too.  Always, without fail.  First, I have a shitty night’s sleep the previous night, because I’m wound up and anxious about the start of something “new” (every iteration of a “first day” elicits this reaction in me — transitioning is hard).  Then, I get through the night, get up, get ready, and go, and spend the entire ride to work checking and double checking my bag, convinced I’ve forgotten something (this at least has precedence, because I forget something roughly, oh, every other day or so.  What’s awful is that once I’ve checked for and found said item, I’ll still stop and check for it at least three more times.  Lest it be summoned into the ether, for Christ’s sake).

Then I get to work — super early, too, because I have to carpool, and I only have the one ride.  You’d think that getting there early would be relaxing, right?  No rushing, just sit down, settle in, maybe bring a book?  And it gets to be; after the first day jitters are over and done with, it’s nice getting there more than an hour early and just sort of chilling.  But that first day?

Today I spent literally an hour doing laps and growing increasingly anxious that:

  1. I was in the wrong building.  The wrong building, people.  It’s always been this building.  It’s only ever been this building.
  2. That I had the date wrong.  You know, the same date it’s been forever and always into perpetuity (the Monday after the 4th)?  The date that was in my planner, on Google calendar, and in the three separate emails I got over the last few weeks reminding me about ESY??

And it’s gonna happen again tomorrow!!  You know how I know?  Because it’s already started.  I’m already second guessing where I’m supposed to be (this is a separate program conducted off-site), even though this program has always had me meet at the same place, and I confirmed twice with the lead that the schedule and routine was the same as last year.  Twice.  A program that I, again, have worked before (though granted not as long term, this is only (“only“) my fourth year).

But logic isn’t going to shake this anxiety.  Logic never does.  I am going to feel antsy and slightly panicky literally until I see my lead walk up to the building tomorrow morning, and that kind of sucks, but I don’t know what else to do about it.

After tomorrow?  Ah, the rest of the summer should be smooth sailing.  I’m honestly really looking forward to it!  But these first two days, man.  These first two days, my brain just short-circuits and it’s non-stop panic mode.

Hopefully I can get a decent night’s sleep, and find quick respite in the morning.

Fuck Anxiety Brain.

Children and the Relentless Onslaught of Time

adventures of the everydayThe last few weeks, even more so than usual, has been one long reminder of the relentlessness of time.

This should not be some grand revelation.  I know I’m getting older, you know?  Like, unquestionably.  My joints make noises that if, say, my car was making, it’d be in the shop the same day.  One beer, and I’m falling asleep at the dinner table.  And this past year, I realized I have a favorite goddamn Tupperware¹ — that’s game over, folks.  That’s peak Old Person, right there.

But I have the context of years to gauge my change, you know?  Everything that I’m cognizant of everything that defines me as a person, has come to be over the course of years.  And at some point, I don’t want to say I stopped growing, but I definitely hit a plateau.  Twenty-seven-year old Jess was a totally different person than seventeen-year-old Jess, but twenty-seven year old Jess and  thirty-seven-year old Jess have a hell of a lot in common (minus a penchant for painting, a few stretch marks, and about fourteen inches of hair), even though the same ten years separate them.

That’s because at some point we just sort of stop Becoming, and just… Are.  We spend years and years figuring things out, making major cognitive, social, and emotional leaps, and then — for most of us — that all sort of tapers off.  It’s not that we don’t still grow and change, but at some point in our adult lives, personal revelations and milestones generally become a lot fewer and further between.

But having a kid has thrown my sense of time out the window.  Because my son is four-and-a-half and still very much Becoming, and he is Becoming at a pace that is astounding, and exciting, and relentless.

Because in his life, absolutely fucking everything is revelatory.  Everything in his life is felt with the intensity of the novel: an Experience, or an Adventure, or a Tragedy.  He’s hitting new milestones at a breakneck pace, waking up some mornings suddenly able to do something or understand something that he’d be struggling with hours before sleep the previous night.  New words are entering his vocabulary everyday, and his ability to regulate, read, and respond to his own and other peoples’ emotions with nuance is growing and developing constantly.

And now he’s starting pre-K.

And we’re jumping in with both feet.  No half-day, three-days-a-week trail period; starting in September, Bear will be at school from 7:45 to 3:15, five days a week.  He has a uniform.  He’ll pack a snack and eat a served breakfast and lunch.  He’ll have music and theatre recitals, he’ll do art projects.  He’ll learn to read.

Jesus.

It’s scary. I mean, it’s ridiculously exciting, too, but also scary, to see the last remaining vestiges of the Baby I’ve coddled for the last four years fall away and reveal, like, a Big Kid.  Someone who gets their own food from the fridge, uses the potty by himself, picks out his own clothes and dresses himself, and now, goes to school.  Someone who’s sphere of influence is about to grow dramatically.

That does scare me.  I’m ecstatic for my son to meet new people — he is social and sociable almost to a fault (“I have no stranger danger!”) — but I am afraid of the boy I have raised to be curious, creative, experimental, and unburdened by gender expectations being hurt, or ridiculed, or called out for being different.  It’s a common fear, I know.  It’s probably also mostly unfounded, as he always has the support of our family and friends, but the fear is there.

My time as his Greatest Influence is coming to an end soon.  His peers, his friends — their opinions are going to start holding a lot more weight very, very soon.  It’s scary.

And it’s relentless.  It just keeps going on from here, where I watch my son move further and further away from me.

Here I am, trying to juggle the time I have left with my Baby while prepping him to be successful as a Big Kid, struggling to keep my own life on track and my creativity afloat.  Trying to cram as much as I can in the brief time I have before I have to re-add work to this mix.

Right now, I have one week left.

I wonder how long I would need for it to ever feel like I had enough.


¹Mr. Lid.  Fucking life-changing.

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