Tag: Personality


Tea and Sympathy

I’m feeling a little fragile here on the other side of Thanksgiving, the kitchen still piled with mixing bowls even after three dishwasher loads (which my longsuffering and all-around-awesome husband did when I wasn’t looking) and Christmas flurrying in the 30-day forecast.

I shouldn’t feel fragile. We were gifted yesterday with a gorgeous, full-volume American Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, complete with rare-to-us delicacies like green bean casserole and (be still my heart) pecan-crusted sweet potatoes, after which we played Balderdash. No game does my word-nerdy expat heart quite as much good as Balderdash. Full of good food and laugh lines, I came home and queued up the Sufjan Christmas playlist, and I should be glowing every bit as brightly as the snowflake lights strung up around town.

Should doesn’t have much sway over my emotional life though, and I’m trusting wise women like Anne Lamott and Glennon Melton who say that it is in fact possible to sit with uncomfortable emotions, offer them tea and sympathy, and live to tell about the encounter. It’s a tough challenge, this. I prefer the Freakout And Then Disengage approach, subjecting my fragile illogical feelings to a tirade and then opening Facebook so I can stop interacting with them for a while. I’m not sure that this is the healthiest approach, however, and it is exactly as effective as covering my own eyes to prevent a monster from seeing me. It doesn’t make the thing go away.

Today’s fragility is a mixed bag, really. It’s sadness that we won’t be with family for the holidays mixed with sparkling anticipation of time with friends and of our own little open-ended Christmas. It’s abundant gratefulness for the people in our lives contrasting with good old-fashioned introvert exhaustion. It’s nausea of body and soul over a confrontation that I find myself obligated to pursue tempered with the assurance that everything most important to me is okay regardless of how it turns out. I’m hopeful and anxious and tired and enthused all at once, and I suppose, looking at it in those terms, that a little breakability is only to be expected.

Have some tea, self. You’re doing just fine.

Your turn now. How are you holding up here in these unpredictable holiday waters? If you could use a little tea and sympathy for your own fragile illogical feelings, come on over; I have plenty to share.


Diagramming Pessimism

The other day at breakfast, Dan said something characteristically Dan-y, like “What great weather!” and I said something characteristically me-y, like “There’s probably a tornado hiding behind that sunbeam,” and then we spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to the girls what optimists and pessimists are and why it’s good to have one of each as a parent. (He plans camping trips in Ireland, I remember to pack the umbrellas. We work.)

Truth be told though, it’s very, very hard for me to believe my cranky pessimist personality has anything positive good to offer the world. Even as I was extolling my natural gift for predicting worst case vacation scenarios and assuring my serious older daughter that neither personality is better or worse than the other, my mind was making a liar out of me, contradicting every upbeat word that left my mouth. It rattled me as it always does to catch myself teaching what I don’t believe.

My personality has much to do with why this little corner of the Internet has been so silent lately. I’ve been sunk under three particular adjectives that have weighed down my heart and my bones as effectively as cinder blocks:




I’ve been looking at different facets of my life and seeing portraits of black holes in their place. When trying to troubleshoot, I’ve been met with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing to hope for or move toward, that there is nothing I can do to change this, and that I should be ashamed of myself for wanting more, that my deep debt to happiness must now be paid in drudgery. It’s crushed me into my pillows in the morning and pricked me into tossing wakefulness at night.

And it’s untrue. I know that, even as I forget how to feel it. This lean toward depression, this willingness to lie under cinder blocks and accept a reality of cherry-picked discouragements, it is the dark side of my personality. There are other factors too, of course—stresses past and present that leech the color and gravitational pull from life—but pessimism is what turns dreary splotches into black holes. Pessimism is what turns uncertainty into hopelessness and challenge into powerlessness and restlessness into guilt.

Over the breakfast table the other day as I chirped about diversity this and beautiful-and-unique-snowflake that, I was really just thinking how f-ing tired I am of channeling Debbie Downer. Can’t a girl get a break from having to lug negativity around in her DNA? Doesn’t it qualify as a huge cosmic mistake that the thing I most often have to fight is the very thing draining the fight out of me? I would rather forget the umbrellas every single time than have my mind tuned as it is to the pulse of rain.

However, in the days since that falsely cheerful conversation, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t actually not-believe what I told my girls about personality neutrality. That is, I have trouble believing it when it comes to myself and the little black raincloud hanging over my head, but I cherish the difference in my daughters’ outlooks. I love the one’s habitual seriousness and the other’s innate silliness. I see how they form a beautiful Venn diagram of sisterhood, their personalities complementing and coloring each other’s, and I wouldn’t wish sameness on them for the world.

And perhaps the fact that I’m seeing it this way is proof of other Venn diagrams, ones forming behind the scenes of my marriage and my friendships, each one drawing my personality a little closer to balance. I’m never going to be Susie Sunshine; that would require complete genetic mutation and possibly narcotics. However, I’m seeing the Hopeless and Powerless and Guilty through more objective eyes this week—eyes that have spotted their reflection in my daughters’ beautiful faces, eyes that are noticing color again—and it seems that a girl can get the occasional break from channeling Debbie Downer after all.



The words don’t come easily this afternoon. I’m used to first sentences landing feather-light on my shoulder and tickling my ear with inspiration, or else hiding away as mute and unmovable as a hibernating bear. This is neither. This is more like a blizzard, the air so full of feathers and fur that it succumbs to a wild gravity of its own, a soundless frenzied dance. It makes me feel hopeful and lost at the same time.

Actually, I think that last sentence could sum up just about every aspect of my life right now. Finances, relationships, future prospects, identity… each one ruffles up hope and bewilderment together into a flurry of… well, whatever this is. Bewilderhope? Lostpiration? An epic sneeze waiting to happen?

This might not make a lot of sense given how much my personality resembles that of an aging turtle, but impending change thrills me more than just about anything else. I fear ruts and stagnation and listlessness more than I fear upheaval, so that first electric crackle of change in the air is enough to zap my spine straight. That’s how it is right now—a white-hot disruption in the atmosphere, a spicy hint of goodness, a swirling mass of anything can happen that I take as a promise.


Do you ever feel on the cusp of a different version of yourself? Do you love change or dread it (or float somewhere in between)?



I set up a Facebook page yesterday. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took me a year of “Huh, I should get on that”s and noncommittal throat noises to actually click the button… though honestlyhonestly, it might have something to do with this fun personal fact: I’m afraid of attention.

We’re talking woodland creature skittishness here, jumping beans in my stomach, thoughts sprouting gray hairs. I don’t think even Dan knows this yet (hi, honey!), but I had to fight back stage fright at our wedding. I still agonize trying to guess which day of the year Italian women will switch from ballet flats to boots because yes, the world will in fact end if I leave the house in unseasonable footwear. From the time I was a girl attracting double-takes with my homeschool uniform (picture an eleven-year-old Michelle Duggar), I’ve always had a wild desire to go unnoticed in public, and that self-protective instinct gets twitchier than ever when it focuses on my writing.

The simple truth is that this is my heart, strung out in black typeface and compulsive backspaces. When you read my blog, you read my heart, and my posting here is something like the CIA declaring Open House Day. My insecurities are here, my doubts, my hopes, the issues I struggle with and mull over, the insights that bring me peace… and by drawing attention to them, I am well aware I’m opening them up to criticism. It feels like standing on a busy intersection in my puffy denim jumper and even puffier bangs, waving.

There are the other fears too—the vulnerability of starting something new, the fragile alliance of “like” buttons, the safety net of personal privacy settings sidestepped. Always, always, statistics and purpose compete for precedence in my mind, and perspective can be as difficult to nail down as a live squid. I’ve moaned to Dan on an occasion or two [slight understatement] about how unfair it is that I was wired to write. As long as I’m following these heart-nudges, my goals and my personality will be at odds, and I wish I could be fulfilled in life by something simpler, less emotionally risky. Deep sea welding, for instance.

However, I can’t turn off the light in my core that says this, here is what I’m meant to be doing. It’s as clear a sense of vocation as I’ve ever experienced, and as much as I might like to dismiss this blog as a mere hobby (a monthly ritual of despair, which I’m sure has no correlation whatsoever to other monthly occurrences) or hide it under a bushel or amputate every stubborn neuron compelling me to write, a force stronger than fear keeps me here… and not just here, but honestly delighted to be here.

I know that sharing this with you is not exactly the act of withdrawal my inner stage-fright was hoping for. It’s the opposite in fact—a declaration of purpose and vulnerability waved from a busy intersection, eyes staring deliberately into the headlights. However, I wanted you to understand how much it means to me to be here with you, in typeface and photos, insecurities and Tweets, and a heart that wants to connect with yours far more than it wants to hide.


Is there anything your sanity compels you to do that simultaneously terrifies you? I’d love to hear about it; after all, commiseration and encouragement are two of the very best things about this great internet of ours.

Oh, and don’t forget to head over and “like” my Facebook page (why yes, I am making ironic quote marks with my fingers right now) if you’d like to connect, get blog updates, or otherwise make my day.



We lean against the kitchen counter with our espresso cups, the delicate painted porcelain ones he brought back from Sweden with an apologetic smile. He knew only too well that I would have rather had the trip than its souvenir. Travel was one of the first topics to draw us into each other’s orbits a decade ago, and now the scrapbook of our shared memory is fat with airport sprints and linguistic rodeos, not to mention the foreign hospital trips that are as good as guaranteed when globetrotting with young children. Still, my heart makes a habit of packing light, always reconnoitering our next big adventure.

I know his does too. Right now, he is dreaming aloud about next summer, and I thrill at the way his ideas leap like salmon up the rush of our present reality. My husband’s mind is never intimidated by the pushback of probability, and I’ve learned not to underestimate the survival skills of these rainbow-finned dreams (just as he’s learned not to bring them up without first offering caffeine).

Scotland, Slovenia, China, Brazil… the words dissolve like pillow mints on my imagination, leaving behind traces of pastel sugar and reckless hope. I wonder if one of these flights of fancy will solidify next summer or if we will just continue to catch glints of them in the moments before they re-submerge. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Dreaming and scheming and scribbling carefree lines across the map is as much part of what makes us us as packing the car to the gills and turning the key is, and I know that our leaning against the kitchen counter right now, coffee cups and possibilities in hand, is all part of the adventure.


What do you daydream about with your significant other?



I don’t know anyone who needs sleep the way I do, except maybe for our girls. Other parents are always shocked that Natalie and Sophie voluntarily drape themselves across their pillows at 8 or 8:30 in the evening, their small bodies purring from the liturgy of storytime and cannibal kisses. There they dream, one burrowed under the comforter like a dormouse, the other sprawled as carefree as a ragdoll, for eleven hours straight… and sometimes even then, they wake up with snarled voices betraying their need for an afternoon nap. The other parents’ faces take on the same free-fall expression we would get when friends found out our newborn was sleeping through the night and I would guiltily shuffle my postpartum exhaustion out of sight.

I see so much of my own internal composition in my daughters, and I would sleep for eleven hours a stretch too if not for these night-owl eyes turning bright and round under the influence of moonlight. My mind swivels at the end of a day in search of some small skittering amusement to pounce on, or I mellow into the luxury of time alone with Dan. No matter how tired I am or how pointless my diversion, I’m never quite ready to consign my day to the past tense, so my bed becomes a tide, pushing, pulling, rising, and eventually floating my feet out from under me.

In the morning, there is no tide—only the deep, watery warmth of sleep and my nocturnal feathers bristling against the alarm. Some days, I have just enough resolve to drag myself up and out into the faint pink of pre-dawn, knowing that every day started in quiet, with pen and lined paper and a sleep-dredged mist obscuring my usual doubt, is a day centered over who I want to be. Other days, I calculate the last possible minute I can snooze before lurching to get the girls ready for school. Once every so often, I sleep without agenda or alarm and wake at noon, discombobulated and regretful over the missed morning.

It sometimes strikes me as a great cosmic injustice that each day must start with waking up and end with going to sleep, though I realize that between the universe and myself, I am likely the one with her wires crossed. I am the one with the free-fall expression when friends describe rising at 6 on instinct alone or tucking themselves contentedly under the covers when the day’s chores are done. From my occasional dalliances with early-to-bed, I know that the mathematics of sleep don’t apply to me the way they do to others, that repressing my night owl does not turn me into a sun goddess any more than waking with the sky curbs my evening wanderlust. This is just the nature of my relationship with sleep—fiercely resistant, deeply dependent, tidal.


What is your relationship with sleep like?



I relocate to the balcony but only for a few minutes; the pool of sunshine is colder than it looks. We’re on the jittery downswing after a summer of record-breaking heat, and I’m startled as I am each and every year by how abruptly clinging sweat is replaced by clinging sweaters. The high is in the mid ‘50s today—beach weather in Scotland, if I recall—but my Texas-born toes cower inside my slippers nonetheless. I just need time to acclimate. Come March, I’ll be toasting to 55° sunshine with flip-flops and a margarita cappuccino (just being honest here).

The thing is, “time to acclimate” is a diplomatic phrase, all polish and tact, meant to disguise the fact that long months of gray lie between now and the day when 55° will prompt celebration. A hundred days of wet woolen skies shade the upcoming calendar, and I might actually look forward to them—their rapport with chocolate chai and scarves, the color lamplight makes against their too-early evenings, and the cocoon they form around creative impulses—if not for this solar-paneled heart of mine.

Sunlight is the low-voltage hum through my veins, most noticeable when it’s gone. It’s maddening to have my motivation wired to a celestial dimmer switch, to view approaching clouds as enemy armadas, to pine for the tropical breezes and sparkling white Christmases I’ve never met in person. Besides, I hardly have grounds to complain, here, in the golden cup of the Mediterranean. But still, the gray of winter often passes through my corneas straight into my thoughts, and I know acclimating to the upcoming months will not be as simple as putting on extra layers.

I’m writing this now, on the cusp of cold, as a preemptive measure, a hopeful immunization against the dreariness of years past. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but at least I can store up an extra pool of sunshine today.


What do you look forward to about winter? And how do you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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