Sleeping For England Or Taking A Break?

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I would not want you to think that I have been sleeping my life away during my absence from my blog, but the last year or so has certainly been one with major blank spaces with regard to blogging, writing in general, and to some extent, my photography.

This photo of me napping under the MacKenzie plaid (one of my family lines) was taken last week after being in the US for two months. I don’t usually suffer from jet lag when flying back to the UK from my family home in Atlanta, but I have enjoyed a short, early evening nap most days since being met by my husband, John at Heathrow last Wednesday.

I have never been a big sleeper. Five hours a night is my normal, but over the past 18 months my normal has been way off.

I’m the sort who tends to tough things out, pushing myself to get things done even if the activity seems overwhelming and when I fall short or I’m disappointed in the outcome, I have trouble letting it go.

The last 18 months have been a lesson in letting go.

After writing over 600 blog posts, I kind of lost my drive (no pun intended) after our near head-on collision with a drunk driver in Wales. I’ve had increasing problems with my neck and hands since the accident which has affected my ability to do normal activities without numbness and pain. What was supposed to get better with time has not and my GP has ordered an MRI to see if something needs sorting in my neck.

Added to that, a shocking revelation about someone who had been our friend and neighbor sent me right round the bend about 8 months ago which made us briefly consider leaving the village we call home. The two events together made me want to withdraw from a lot of things I had enjoyed and even easy interactions became an effort.

Finally, I’ve hit a wall where I have grown tired of filtering certain aspects of my story but have not been able to figure out how to say what needs to be said without freaking out some of the people I love.

I know I have an amazing life so please don’t think I am ungrateful or having a big moan, I just wanted to give friends and readers who may have wondered, a little explanation.

I don’t have answers to most of what I have mentioned, but I am going to get off the couch and see where some forward movement takes me.

If you’re still reading GOTJ after my time away, please drop me a comment and say hello.

What’s In The Bag?

Heathrow Airport Arrival 2013

Coming home is particularly sweet after an extended time away.

There’s the obvious happiness of seeing my husband John waiting for me, and the ahhh feeling I get when the plane lands safely and I make it through customs and immigration, but this time has been different and I have been trying to figure out why.

I recently returned from a ten-week stay in the US and have been a bit overwhelmed since my arrival a little over a week ago.

I hear you thinking, What do you mean overwhelmed … how long can it take to unpack your bags and settle back into your routine?

Sometimes, it’s not about the stuff in the bags.

As you can see I am pushing a very full luggage cart and it’s not the first time I have arrived from an international flight looking like a smiling beast of burden. This collection of suitcases is fairly light compared some of my past Heathrow and Gatwick arrivals. Due to decreasing weight allowances, but increasing checked baggage costs, I tend to travel lighter on my trips between what I think of as my two homes.

Except this time.

This time the extra bag I checked carried some favorite product brands I can’t get in the UK along with some new clothes and other things I have needed for a while.

Needed might be questionable, but …

I tend to be a big charity store shopper with Salvation Army, Goodwill, and second-hand shops being my ‘go to’ places. This does not mean I don’t buy new, but when I do I tend stick to the sale section. Thrifty shopping can be just as bad as spending too much on new, a lesson my normally bulging closet would illustrate had its contents not been recently whittled down.

Thursday, John and I took seven huge garbage bags filled with clothing to a local charity shop along with several bags of barely worn shoes and two big boxes of books. I think I struggled more deciding which books to give away than I did with clothes and now after looking at my bookshelves and wardrobe more critically, I have decided to go back through and do another purge.

Remember when I said it’s not always about the stuff earlier …

I have been working on multiple parts of the house since I got home, clearing away clutter and organizing what is left. I have even been in the attic going through boxes and throwing out or giving away things while doing a total overhaul of what is allowed to stay. I’ve emptied a wardrobe and a too-full dresser in the guest room and I’ve reorganized other parts of the house as well even giving away loads of my books that were cluttering John’s study, but what I haven’t done is finish tidying up my studio space.

Studio sounds a bit grand for what I do there, but it is my creative get-away space and where I do most of my writing and photography work. It also doubles as my dressing room and has an en suite bathroom attached to it both of which have been an absolute tip (trash site) since I arrived ten days ago. I left it very tidy when I flew to the US in early July, but with the big clear out over the last week things have fallen into a bit of state.

Looking at it feels overwhelming and I have been finding ways to avoid slogging through what’s left to finish it off.

I decided to take a look at how my need for perfection keeps me from getting more done creatively after reading this post by Nadia Eghbal titled  Why I Wore The Same Outfit Everyday For A Year.  As good writers and bloggers will often do, she got me thinking.

Sure I can clean like I’m still in the Army getting ready for an inspection, or make a time-consuming special something _________ insert what ever suits you here, but be sure it’s something that could use a bit more of this, or a touch of that because that’s what my rarely satisfied self would do with something I make.

I could say I’m only nesting with all this clearing and decluttering, making room for the birth of some semi-new blog or book idea, or even some business daydream that can travel with us when John and I pack up and go and some of that would be true, but I have to wonder if there’s not something bigger underlying my need to restrict and control disorder in my environment to the extent that it distracts me from other parts of my life needing attention.

I’m not going to spend any more time mulling that one over as I do better when I make a decision and move on. With that in mind, I am committing to tossing a few extra things into my partially full give-away bag.

I am willing to begin by dropping in my perfectionist tendencies along with a too tight sweater and a dress that’s really a little young for me. Then there’s that old comparison rag where I tend to judge my work against that of others. Yep, that’s going too.

That will do for me for now, but what about you?

If you’ve got something you want to get rid of, something that’s keeping you stuck or distracting you from your next best thing, feel free to leave it behind in a comment.

Go ahead, I’ll bag it up and dispose of it for you.

Because you know I do like a tidy work space, and I’m already going that way.

One-Shot & Me

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Becky & Jenny at the One-Shot Cabin

When I was six, my Great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John published her first book, The Secrets Of Hidden Creek.

She was 58.

After Wednesday’s post, you can probably understand why this knowledge is more than a bit comforting to me.

That said, Aunt Wylly wrote for years before publishing her first book. As a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she had to constantly meet deadlines and she was paid to write long before she graduated from the University of Georgia where 47 boxes of her writings are archived in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

She went on to publish eight books, two of which were nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America award.

My cousin, McKenzie posted a comment on Facebook yesterday where she talked about how she and her young son were reading one of Aunt Wylly’s books at bedtime and how it gave him more insight into who his Grandmother Becky was as a girl, as well as his Great-great-grandmother Wylly.

Aunt Wylly loved using real children as characters in her books so McKenzie’s son is enjoying reading about his grandmother as the teenager she was in 1966 when The Secrets of Hidden Creek was published. Much of the story’s setting and characters are clearly modeled after the real thing. First books often pull in parts of the author’s life and my unfinished novel is no different.

If you’ve followed my blog for long it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a character in my book who is modeled in some ways after my aunt and you might also understand why seeing McKenzie’s message on Facebook felt like a little cosmic push especially since I’ve  been so unproductive lately.

Aunt Wylly would probably appreciate my thinking she was sending me a message given her interest in ghosts when she was alive.

The hammock in the first picture figures into the story that McKenzie is reading with her son. It was used on the book jacket in 1966 as you can see from the image below. In addition to Becky and Jenny, their brother, Chuck is in the illustration with them.

Wylly Folk St John

I have some lovely memories of time spent at the cabin with Aunt Wylly and later on with my cousins. And while my daughter doesn’t really remember it, she once had a chance to wrestle for the hammock like her cousins did as characters in Aunt Wylly’s book.

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Miranda & Elizabeth at the One-Shot Cabin 1993

This oft fought for spot had to be replaced more than a few times over the years as the humidity of hot Georgia summers and squirmy children did their damage. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Wylly’s lakeside hideaway, it was always snug like a little cocoon, making a perfect nest to read a book and drift off to sleep. Comforting and safe, it was a place I where could let my guard down during a dangerous time in my life and just be for a while with normal kid worries and daring daydreams.

The seed of storytelling for me may not have been planted at the One-Shot cabin, but it was most certainly nurtured there … in a hammock, on a porch, overlooking a lake, with a secret hidden deep under the water.

Big thanks to McKenzie for helping me aerate my roots a bit. 

Enter Spring – Write & Release

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If you were to peek behind the curtain at GOTJ, you would see more than a few potential posts that read, <no title> Draft.

Some have photos, some don’t, a few are complete and ready to publish needing only a last read-through first. But given what has been happening in the world over the last month or so, my posts seemed like an uninteresting waste of your time and mine. So I let them sit.

It is not the first time I’ve done this … taken an impromptu sabbatical where I have withdrawn into reading while neglecting my writing.

Unfinished potential some might call it.

A friend asked me yesterday how my book was coming along and I while I wanted to say which one, I just said simply, ‘ It’s not. ‘

‘ Oh,’  he said, as he shook his head slowly, ‘ I thought you would be one of the ones to do it. ‘

‘ Well I’m not dead yet! ‘ I said, with a sharper tone than intended.

I tried to explain, but it just sounded like excuses … the car accident, work, a bad case of the blues.

Inside I was thinking … other people get it done despite having full lives, what is wrong with me?

Perfectionism will be my undoing if I let it.

Write and release.

 

The Not So Lost Original 82 Posts … Of Gifts Of The Journey

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Unearthing An Archive

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog over the last few days you may have received an update or two you that found confusing. As long-time readers know, GOTJ had another home before moving to this one.

Stalker Forces Change

I was forced to change my website in early 2009 because I couldn’t moderate comments on iWeb and I had begun to accumulate ugly comments from a woman who had stalked and harassed me for months before finding my blog and making her vitriolic comments public. It’s an old story that I thought had died after not hearing from Maggie Namjou or  Margreta (Maggie) Kerr for several years.

Emails From Others

I have received emails from other people asking about her during this quiet time, people like Louise and Ian who contacted me last week with questions about what John and I went through while Maggie was harassing us.

Having saved hundreds of emails she sent us and recordings of the screaming rants in our phone messages on our wedding day, we told Ian and Louise that we would be happy to help with evidence as they deal with a lawsuit involving Maggie Namjou.

I don’t need to rehash the past, but if you don’t know the ugly story and want to know more, you can read about it by clicking on the links. http://stalkerupdate.wordpress.com/ and  https://giftsofthejourney.com/stalker-alert/

After Louise contacted me about the missing links to the old posts dealing with Maggie Namjou, I decided while I was dusting off the past for her, I would repost the original 82 posts ensuring all writing associated with GOTJ could be found in one place.

History Repeats Itself 

So if some of what you see over the next few days or weeks looks familiar, check the date to see if it’s one of the missing 82.

I’ve been able to transfer the comments associated with each post, but the links back to the blog sites of those commenting seems to be lost. Please feel free to leave another comment if you’d like and thanks so much for your interest.

New Posts

One last thing, I plan to add new material during this time so don’t stay away thinking it’s the season of reruns … you won’t even see the 82 unless you’ve signed up for an email notification found in the top right corner or you go looking for them in the archives. I found my footing with these early posts. I hope you’ll find something in them too.

Time Of Death – Reading The Obits & Waiting

I dreamed my mother showed up last night. She looked ten years younger than when I last saw her in 1994 and she came with a message.

She breezed into the room where I was sitting as casually as if she’d not been missing  from my life for the last 18 years and said in a loud voice, ‘I’m dying,’ much the way one might say, ‘I’m here’ after having arrived at their intended destination.

Before I could think how to respond she pulled a printer, already out of its box, but new and unused, from a handbag that looked like something Mary Poppins might travel with, an image totally incongruent with who my mother was when I was a child.

I took it from her when she offered it to me saying nothing as I did so, but inside my mind was a race track of whirling questions each thought like a numbered car going round and round with the lead car representing the overriding thought, a printer, 18 years of silence and you bring me a printer for my computer?

I considered for a moment that it might be a peace-offering of sorts although I’m not sure why as she had not said, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I wish things had been different’ or any one of many things that might have made room in my heart for healing.

Instead she walked about the room looking out of the window and checking the corners much like someone might go behind a cleaning crew, on a mission to find an overlooked speck of dust.

Her voice sounded unnaturally upbeat for someone sharing details of their funeral arrangements and the one-sided conversation seemed more as if she were planning a big wedding than an end of life ceremony.

I was still sitting in the same chair I’d been in when she arrived, holding on to the printer that I’d foolishly assumed was a gift. As she listed from memory all the things still left to do, I slowly realized that the printer was to be used to complete the tasks for her funeral and rather than an end of life reconciliation, what she really wanted was a personal assistant.

My mother’s birthday is only a few weeks away and I wonder sometimes if she remembers mine as I do hers or if she’s forgotten it as easily as she seems to have forgotten me and my sister, Margaret.

Our three birthdays all occur within 28 days of each other making it difficult for me to let hers slip by unnoticed.

I always notice and I wonder … is she still living and how will I know when she’s not?

Given her upcoming birthday, I’m not surprised to be dreaming of her now or even that she might be dying. Checking the obituaries is the only way I know she’s still alive, a sad end to a mother-daughter story that I feel sure began quite differently when I was born in 1960.

I wonder how many other adult children search the internet for signs of a parent’s passing and if there is any peace for them or closure when they find it.

If you’ve got a story similar to mine, perhaps you’d like share it in a comment below.

Oversharing – Opening The Door A Bit, But Not All The Way

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for about seven weeks. I just closed for business without so much as a sign on the door or a note saying I’d be gone a while and disappeared.

I didn’t intend to stop writing and it was not due to lack of interest in blogging or a shortage of things to write about but rather an overwhelming indecision about how much I should share about an unnerving experience I had last November. It left me feeling as if everything I wanted to write about was either too much or too trivial so I got lost in the inertia of indecision.

I often worry about over sharing the details of my life especially the darker parts of it and I rarely hit publish without considering the long-term effect a revelation might have on my future or that of someone I love.

It’s tricky deciding how much is too much. I notice other folks asking the same question from time to time, most recently Caitlin Kelly and Cindy La Ferle and I often wonder what my readers think.

Sometimes I happen upon a blog that is so deeply personal I feel I’ve stepped into someone’s therapy session by accident and I don’t know whether to pull up a chair and join in or slip quietly out the back door. I don’t want people to feel that way when they stop by GOTJ, but I do want what I say here to have meaning. That said, there are times when I worry that what I want to say is too personal … so much so that instead of spilling it here I go quiet afraid that if I open the door I’ll unleash a beast I can’t call back.

My words and posts are about my life and my experiences. It’s not always been happy, but it hasn’t all been bad either providing a balance that usually makes it easy to avoid the darker topics for less weighty ones. I generally feel as if I’ve been gifted with the power of resiliency, enchantment, and joy  … almost as if storybook fairies paid a visit to my crib and waved their magic wands over me as an infant saying a few words to try offset the evil they knew would surround me as a small child.

Childlike enthusiasm and leading with my heart have been used more than a time or two to describe me and where some might see these as the attributes of someone weaker than others, I see them as defiant badges that affirm my ability to hold on through the hard times.

But as strong as I am I sometimes need support.

Last November I had a panic attack. I’ve never had one before and actually thought I might be having a heart attack. John was out for a walk with his daughter who was down for a visit and I was alone in the house. Just as I was about to dial 999 for an ambulance, I did an abbreviated version of what I’d heard a doctor friend of mine refer to as a systems check.

Once I realized I was having a panic attack, I sent my old therapist a short email and she responded within ten minutes which I found remarkable considering I had not seen her as a patient for 17 years. I’ve mentioned Nancy Loeb here in the past and I say again, if you have a history like mine and need someone who can help you change your life, she’d be the one.

During my unplanned blogging hiatus, I spent three weeks in the US only returning about a week ago. While I was in Atlanta, an old friend of mine from my university days sent me an email after noting my blogging absence to ask if I was okay. Here is a bit of what I said in response.

” My reasons for not blogging lately have to do with a few internal struggles. I can’t decide whether to blog about it or not, but I have so much of substance that I want to say that it makes it difficult to write about travel and trivial things. In many ways I am doing very well and in others I feel I’m walking the edge at times as I deal with some ghosts.

It may sound odd, but the Paterno/ Penn State media coverage followed one night by student protestors being beaten with police batons and unable to escape triggered what I can only imagine was a panic attack of big proportions. I don’t have panic attacks and almost called an ambulance it scared me so bad. I was having trouble breathing and thought it was my heart for a minute and in reality it was my heart, but in an emotional way.”

Later, when reread the email I’d sent to my friend, I thought, ” Oh no, I meant Sandusky/Penn State “as he was the abuser, but then I realized that for me, I got it right the first time. The world is full of people like Sandusky, but it’s the Paternos of the world who are the real disappointments.

I think people who have the power to save a child and do nothing are as bad as the abuser and part of what caused me to become undone that day was description of what Mike McQueary witnessed and the obvious collusion involved that allowed a pedophile to have continued access to children. McQueary’s trial transcripts coupled with a video of college students being beaten while protesting, acted as a trigger for the panic attack and forced me over the last few months to confront my thoughts as to how much sharing is too much.

Secrets like the ones I had growing up are usually kept due to fear or shame. Good therapy can change that, but even when I think I have said all I need to say whether in therapy or with the people I’m closest to, there are still times when the urge to say more here is overwhelming.

Pat Conroy, author of one of my favorite books, The Price of Tides, was quoted years ago in a Vanity Fair article saying, ” One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family ” and I’m sure he would give me added points for having a family with deep southern roots as well.

Bits of my life creep into my characters when I write fiction which satisfies me for now. Some things are still too horrible to write on their own and I think writing it into someone else’s imagined life gives me the distance I need not to get lost in my own story. That may be a better option for me than memoir, at least for now.

That said, I’ve decided that certain details will not be part of what I write here. It doesn’t mean the tough topics are off-limits, just the amount of detail I’ll share about any similar personal experiences.

Many thanks to those who sent an email to check on me during my time away … it makes me smile to think I was missed.