Good Grief

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We all come into the world new. Without our say or knowing, life happens to us. I have had many experiences shape me, which is really the whole purpose of this blog. Reliving moments in time by grabbing the frayed edges of memory.

But recently, something has been part of my story that has shaped me in a painful way. In the pain, music has been healing. For me, it’s been the song “Let It Matter”by Johnnyswim from their album Georgica Pond.

Let me say that no one likes pain, especially pain in grieving. If the sure bets in life are death and taxes, then you’re bound to experience the pain associate with loss. And no one likes it. Why would you? It’s painful. Pain demands to be felt. And no one wants to feel it. The avoidance of it ends up seeping into your life in physical ways. I would know. Because it did with me.

I remember when my brother and sister-in-law told me that they were expecting. I remember the excitement and inherent joy. Meeting someone that has my brother’s ears and my sister-in-law’s creativity? I. am. here. for. it. It was truly thrilling for me to become an aunt. Mostly because I have sassy aunts and have been marking my calendar days until I got to inherit that coveted role.

Sewing is a hobby that my grandmothers kept up. Relics of their heritage, I picked it up because I wanted something I could do to keep them close in my life, since they had been absent for so long. So, I did what my heritage inspires me to do: I sewed for my nephew. I remember the excitement I had making the burp-cloths with foxes dressed in bow ties. So much of me in that project. Practical and cute.

Two weeks before his due date, I got a call.

It’s so foolish to believe you’re immune from that life changing call. That call that tells you the surgery was unsuccessful. That call that tells you that someone is no longer here. That call that tells you that it’s over.

I didn’t realize how foolish I was.

I was at work, pacing around a conference room filled with chalk, fake tattoos, stickers, hula hoops. Signs of my summer spent with kids. I felt it was ironic given what was happening to me.

My nephew died. My sister-in-law went in for an ultrasound and he was dead – two weeks before his due date. I blurt it out, because I still don’t know how to tell people. As mentioned previously, people don’t like pain or grief. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and awkward. The heartbreak of August 18, 2016 continues. Some days it’s a low hum. Some days it’s a high pitched scream. It’s always the 18th of each month – just like today.

The rest of the year brought job changes and distractions from the pain that I avoided. Which is pretty ridiculous, because I was avoiding the unavoidable. I was either sleeping too much or too little. I was experiencing anxiety over the most trivial things.

It was the manifestation of my grief in a very tangible way.

I had heard of Johnnyswim, as most white women have, from the HGTV show Fixer Upper. If you’re living under a rock, it’s a husband and wife that flip houses for clients and this band sings their theme song “Home”.

They released the Georgica Pond album in October, two months after my nephew Wyatt died. I bought the album because of this song. I had read a review of it on NPR, and the couple talked about this song – how the best piece of advice they ever got was to just let grief matter. When you lose something important, it’s okay to feel it. Because it was/is important.

So many times, music helps me get out of my shell, brings my joy, articulates my feelings, and provides healing. Any time I’m feeling any of the previ0us, it’s a gift to listen to something that helps you feel understood.

While every grieving process is different, “Let It Matter” was and still is my anthem as I continue to say goodbye to Wyatt. This ache of missing someone you never got to know. . . It’s just crappy. But I know it’s because it matters. He matters. And I know he will always matter.

Transitory Transit

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I have a sentimental relationship with public transit.

What I mean is, that I romanticized a group of strangers sharing a piece of space, for a brief time, to get to a next destination. What I really think that means is that I have never lived in a city where it is required of me to actually use public transportation.

Whatever. If that makes me a tourist I don’t care. I like it.

At the beginning of 2016, I went to Washington D.C. for a work trip. Initially, I just volunteered as tribute because I like D.C. In a previous iteration of life, I probably could’ve made a go of living there. I like history. I like monuments to dead people. When I retire, you will probably find me as a docent at your local museum that highlights the history of the usage of limestones for building facades or telling people “And on this spot on this day in history. . .”

Plus, I like public transportation. And my in-laws live in D.C. so I wanted a visit. Off I went to D.C.

In context, it was a very interesting time to be in our nation’s capitol (or is it capital? I can never remember the rules). Supreme Court Justice Scalia had just died and there was an rare mood in D.C.

I warned you. I like history.

I ended up taking the train to my work conference everyday. Except on the days when I was tired of being in work clothes and took an Uber back to my hotel.

On the train ride, I felt very metropolitan with earbuds in, messenger bag strapped and coffee in hand. An album I was really digging at the time was Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear. On what felt like my nth listening to the album, I somehow ended up becoming obsessed with “True Affection.

I have no idea how some songs just strike you. There’s something that happens in the context of your emotional or geographical state that it’s as though a lightbulb flashes.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t super satisfied with my job at the time. I was part of a national service/federal grant. And we did the same thing every year. There was part of me that wanted more, some sort of difference. As an achiever, I was striving. Bumping up against my limitations within my current career trajectory, wondering what I could do differently.

The conference I was attending made me wrestle with the question: “Is this what I want to be the expert in?” The content of the conference was great, and there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with my job. But I began to wonder if this was something I could do for another year; was this something I wanted to continue to pursue.

Those train rides back and forth, I would listen to this song on repeat. I was obsessed. A song manifesting itself into what was next. The same back beats replaying my obsession with change. I tend to obsess with change, and the abhor it once it comes.

It’s a weird moment, for me. Trying to figure out your need for something new within the facet of career that had mostly been good. I hadn’t been in that position very long, but it had been a very difficult couple of years. There was a lot of mess, frustration,  uncertainty, dedication and what felt like the very tips of my fingers shredded into my work. I was loyal into fixing a mess someone else had left, because I believed in what I was doing.

But my sense of loyalty felt betrayed. My completely natural desire of wanting to do something different, was convoluted by my own introspection. Because I had given so much to this part of my career, it was a sense of guilt.

Why should I dare leave something that I had worked so hard for? How could I leave when it had given so much? What am I thinking throwing away all that work?

These questions rolled in my brain. A spinning metal cage of uncertainty, pinging off the sides.

All of these things are trademark “Liz” moves. I question everything. I parse and fine tooth comb all decisions, sometimes to my detriment. Occasionally, it works out in my favor. Mostly, it makes life difficult.

Fortunately, I didn’t self sabotage as I tend to enjoy doing. I had an opportunity fall in my lap, but that’s a story for another time.

Anytime I hear “True Affection”, I think of all the space I shared with strangers on the train that week. How I doubt, and they all probably have some doubts too. It makes me wish I didn’t hesitate so much. How different would my life be if I ran head-long more often than not?

I wonder how we all get anything done when we’re all out trying to stab our desires to death. At least we have Father John Misty to soothe us as we contemplate how to prevent our own happiness.

Silver lining!

Party Hardy Har Har

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A story for another time, but my college boyfriend broke up with me. Twice. While I might still be a little resentful at myself for the blindsided reality of being dumped twice by the same guy, it lead to some of the more party driven days of life.

I’m a list maker. I make pro/con lists. I make to-do lists. I make grocery lists. I have spontaneity, but I enjoy being organized. An administrative achiever to my core, I like plans.

Then my senior year of college lead to the disintegration of said plans. One of the things that broke down the plans was the exit of said boyfriend. I grew up really believing that whomever (whoever? Does anyone actually know this grammar rule? English is so complicated, y’all) I was dating in college was who I would married. This is a pretty common ideal for those of us that grew up in the Southern, conservative states. When that didn’t happen, I really did wonder what I was going to do next. How my plans to attend grad school at Vanderbilt, become a counselor, get married. . . How this one guy saying “No thanks, boo” to me caused me to really examine if any of that was what I wanted.

It’s pretty nuts now, all these years, to see how those plans dissolving lead to the actual life I have now.

Ultimately, I scorched it all. I would put it back together two years later, but at the time I had no plans. I was terrified and exhilarated. Which lead to going out on a level I hadn’t done before. Which means “That’s Not My Name” – The Ting Tings was everywhere. It seemed that everywhere I went out to was playing this song. I’m probably being exaggerative, but I remember one night hearing it in every place I went.

Or maybe it was playing on my iPod the whole night and I never realized it. All likely scenarios.

In my ongoing search to figure out who I was or what I liked, I dated a guy from my hometown. Again, another story for another time. But it was a complicated, on/off relationship. Not complicated because I was terrible and he was stubborn. But complicated because we were both in transition – not sure of what was coming next or what the time table of life would bring.

One of the things that came out of me going back to my hometown on a regular basis, was that I was going out to clubs and bars. Disclaimer: I didn’t really do that in college. Sure, I went out. But this was different. I went out to party. I didn’t have any responsibilities in my hometown, while my college town had school, homework, organizations I belonged to and the job I had. In my hometown, none of that existed. Being over 21 and in my hometown was like catnip.

There was a time I remember that I was in the ‘off’ scenario with the guy I had been dating, but I knew our group of friends were all going out which included him. Naturally, as any 21 year old lady does, I dressed up. Did my hair, the whole nine. I remember thinking that I was young, single, skinny, pretty and deserved fun. I mean. I wasn’t completely wrong. Misguided, but not completely wrong.

That night, I danced so hard to this song – a song I had heard countless times. But I wanted to let go of whatever fear or doubt I had about what was to come. It was probably the tequila. No. It definitely was the tequila. But I felt bulletproof, happy and loved by myself.

As a girl that always played by the rules and had quiet rebellion, I wanted to see what a different life looked like. Was this the life I wanted? What did life look like after college without plans? It felt like everyone else had these life journeys and events planned. . . And I had tossed them all out. What I didn’t realize was everyone was unsure. With the closing of a big chapter of life, no one leaves without doubt. We chain ourselves to a destiny, without realizing we cut the chains whenever we want.

For me, I pulled out the bolt cutters after tequila, a night of dancing and pandering around like a newborn giraffe in heels. While it was fun, I knew my achieving type-A list maker was not cut out for it.

Anytime I hear this song, I think of that 21 year old girl. Aimless for the first time in her life, and enjoying it. I don’t experience that feeling much in life anymore, as I’m relatively settled into the routine of adulting/life. But that story in my life is a reminder that everyone isn’t sure. That the destiny I’m not sure about, it changes. You change it. You get to decide if you want to travel. You get to decide if you want to pursue another degree. You decide if you get to move. You.

So that’s what I did. I moved away. I traveled. I got a master’s. And I owe it all to The Ting Tings.

Well, The Ting Tings and tequila.

Master of Time

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Music filled my childhood home.

Not in an overly elaborate, graduation goggles type of way. It truly was filled with music. The daughter of a collegiate level drum major and a choir singer, I knew who John Williams was way before that was socially acceptable.

I distinctly remember listening to The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack on our family stereo and feeling really stoked to participate in the French and Indian War. Or at least run around in our backyard. Same thing, right?

Music has always had the ability to illicit emotion for me. I can listen to a piece and be moved to tears. I can listen to a piece and want to run until my lungs explode. I can listen to a piece and be transported to another time in life.

One that I can recall with such clarity that it’s intense is “Split Screen Sadness” by John Mayer. Heavier Things, his second studio album, it came at a very well timed portion in my life.

As any 16 year old young woman is wont to do, I totally dug John Mayer. When I first heard of him, I instantly swooned. It was a time and an age where guys with acoustic guitars really did something for me. I’ve since moved on, and brains, old timey manners and sense of humor rule. Which is spoken like the true adult I am. But I digress.

His soulful pop tunes and boyish looks, who wouldn’t swoon?! Plus his music was good. There wasn’t any denying it.

When Heavier Things came out, it was a couple of months after the end of a very intense relationship.

Sidebar: I know what you’re thinking. Because I would be thinking it too. “Intense?! Weren’t you like 16?” Yeah, okay. Maybe intense isn’t the right word. But it was the first boyfriend I had said “I love you” to, the first boyfriend that you get butterflies with all the time. That giddy feeling that is a hallmark of young love.

But with that intensity came feelings of jealousy, and pain that felt endless. It burned so hot that it burned. Not to say if the gentleman in question had asked me back – whoa, Nelly. I wouldn’t have hesitated. Because being 16 meant you didn’t mind pain and jealousy, as long as it meant you felt value.

Ultimately, I ended the relationship because I felt like crap. It had reached what felt like a natural ending. Nobody was really to blame, it just. Ended. It was that slow, sneaker upper of an ending. It was like Monty Python & the Holy Grail. It was all of sudden, but not really once you went looking for the obituary.

Being 15/16, and feeling those first breaths of love. It’s just overwhelming. The idea that someone did actually love you – the real you. Little did I know that was just a sneak preview for the true story. The real deal. But that came much later.

I remember going to the Wal-Mart down the street from my parents’ house. The Disney movie Sleeping Beauty had just been released for the first time ever on DVD (that dates me a bit). I always loved Sleeping Beauty because she sleeps through MORE THAN HALF THE MOVIE AND STILL GETS THE GUY. Someone get me her life.

I perused the CD aisle (remember when that was a robust area of the electronics department? Also dates me a bit) and realized John Mayer had just released a new album. Naturally, with my affinity for John, I bought it. I put it in my CD player in my car and listened to it on the way home. Took it out of the car and continued to listen on my stereo at home.

When this song played, it’s opening softness got my attention. It caused me to take pause and flip through the liner notes to read the lyrics. I immediately cried. A surprising facet as I hadn’t cried since the break up, but had cried the months leading up to it. The wave of tears predicting the breakers to come.

Because that song put into words what I was feeling. That’s what great music does, no matter the age or stage of life. It captures those grainy edges of time as it slips like sand between your hands.

I was recently in a store and this song was playing. Somewhat odd considering this was never a single, but in the age of Spotify, I think everything is fair game. I listened, took a deep breath, and smiled.

Smiled at life. Smiled at the intensity of those 16 year old feelings. Smiled at knowing a piece of you, that feels long forgotten, still exists somewhere between the notes.