I’ve started having a little fun with instagram the past week, trying to capture images that lend themselves to narrative. I wish there were easier ways to embed the video here, because I think they make neat little #fridayflash entries. Anywho, here’s a link to the first one I did (my favorite so far).
It’s both hard to believe it’s already been two months and that it’s only been two months since I stopped being pregnant and started being a parent.
It’s also been six weeks since I wrote my post about postpartum depression. And while I still have days or collections of days where it’s a harder fight than others, for the most part, things are definitely better. I feel more like myself more days than I don’t, and I also can go several days without crying, which is AWESOME. (I know that sounds super depressing, but if you’re going or have gone through it, you understand.)
How to Get Through Post-Partum Depression (or Any Depression Really)
If you or someone you know is struggling (this sounds like the beginning of a PSA for a helpline, but it’s not), here is the three-prong strategy that helped me (and continues to do so).
#1: Know That Some Days are Simply There to Be Endured
This is especially hard to swallow if you are a bit Type A like I am. I generally have a list of things I want and expect to get done, and when things start hitting the fan, it starts this spiral of guilt, frustration and ennui that’s hard to break out of.
For instance, there was one evening where I was on my own with Pip, during which I intended to get some freelance work done, fit in a workout and clean up the kitchen (while also fitting in at least one pumping session). Pip slept long enough for me to pump, but he woke up crying literally 5 minutes into my workout. Not just whimper-I’ll-put-myself-back-to-sleep-don’t-worry-Mom-crying, but full-on wailing. I stared at the monitor for a few minutes to see if this was temporary, and then I went up, dutifully replaced his pacifier and calmed him down, and then went back to my workout. A minute later, more wailing. I tried to ignore it for a few minutes (please no lectures about cry-it-out), since I knew he was neither hungry nor needed a diaper change, but it was not to be. He kept crying, and I couldn’t complete the strength moves because I was also crying and couldn’t pull enough energy to complete them, even though I knew I had enough muscle strength. I retrieved Pip, who was not content to be anything but held, and we spent the rest of the evening watching Mad Men on Netflix. And once I gave into the fact that that was going to be the extent of my achievements for the night — and forgave myself for it — I felt strangely better.
There will be days like this. Forgive yourself for letting go of your to-do list on those days. Even when those to-dos are imperative to accomplishing your big goals and/or lifelong dreams, they will keep. The Universe is understanding.
#2: Give Yourself Things to Look Forward To
Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a solo trip to a coffee shop with a book or a laptop, or an hour to get in just one focused workout, schedule things during the week — EVERY WEEK — to look forward to. Preferably several times a week. These events are absolutely necessary in my experience to surviving those Days That Must Be Endured.
I have an incredible network of support here (code name: Grandma & Grandpa with support from The Aunts) who love to babysit and have yet to turn down my frequent requests. I know not everyone has a network like that, but it is very important that you still find a way. Here are some quick ideas:
- If you have a significant other, give him (or her) some bonding time with the kiddo. They will both be fine (even if he or she experiences a few Hours That Must Be Endured).
- Hire a babysitter.
- If you cannot afford a babysitter, find a moms’ group and offer to trade.
#3: Tell Yourself a Different Story
I was reminded of this when I attended Jillian Michaels’ Maximize Your Life tour on Mother’s Day (an accidental but great gift to myself). The ability to choose our own narrative is perhaps our greatest power as human beings.
Here are two ways to put this into practice.
- Reframing: Wikipedia does a pretty great job of explaining the psychological concepts of cognitive reframing/restructuring, but in short, it’s the process of looking at a negative situation and reprocessing it into a neutral or positive one. For instance, my Night of Defeat and Mad Men could be reframed from “my failure to get stuff done” to “my success in soothing my kiddo and catching up on Mad Men.” Finding the humor in situations is also a fantastic use of reframing.
- Look for small victories: Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong (or not according to plan — see the reframing in action?), look for the small victories — the super efficient diaper change, the spit-up you caught with the burp cloth before it landed on your clean shirt, the phone call you got through without the kiddo crying in the background. I think it is probably always possible to find more small victories than defeats. Sometimes you just have to look for tinier victories.
Better Days Ahead — Really
Everyone always tells you that it gets better, and it does, but that doesn’t make the Now any easier to handle in any real way. Because the truth is, no one can really tell you when it will get better. For someone you know, it may be six weeks. For another, it might be six months. For you, it could be even longer. That’s why it’s important to find ways to endure right now. Try the strategy above, but also, let me leave you with a little affirmation.
Even at your weakest, you have enough power to create moments where it feels better, at least for a little while. When you start finding those moments more often, they will start finding you back. Seek irony and laugh at it. It takes a lot of effort, and some days you will fail. That’s OK. It’s not really failure. It’s a test of endurance, and you are building strength for new challenges. You have permission not to enjoy every moment. You have permission not to miss every moment years down the road. But do what you can to find those that you do enjoy and that you will miss, and cherish the heck out of them. That’s enough, and so are you.
Today I had my two-week follow-up with the birth center, which is basically just a screening for post-partum depression. They have you fill out a little questionnaire, which then scores you for PPD risk.
And I basically failed — or “scored a little high,” as they so kindly put it.
Which was not a surprise to me. The questions include things like, “Do you feel sad or miserable [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and “Do you feel so sad that you find yourself crying [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and so on.
Given my history with depression, I knew I’d have to be on the look-out for the symptoms. Mine so far have included:
- Increasingly frequent crying fits for the past two weeks
- Lessened interest in most activities
- Feeling directionless
- Loss of appetite
Basically everything I dealt with before, though luckily not as severe and usually not all day. It sucks, because Pip is, so far, a pretty easy baby. He eats well (now that we’re pumping exclusively) and sleeps well — which means we get the chance to sleep pretty well, too, if in chunks rather than in 8-hour stretches (which I never really did anyway). Whatever it is that tends to trigger my descents doesn’t seem to be related to any behavior of his, which is a relief.
Except that also means it’s harder to pinpoint. Some days it’s me worrying about T getting to do the things he wants to do or being rested enough for work, etc. Some days it’s fearing we won’t get to do the things we love to do, like travel or write or go on regular dates. Other days, it’s guilt over not having written anything in ages — not because I don’t have the time (pumping forces me into 30 minutes of downtime several times a day) but because I just haven’t had any motivation or drive to do so. It’s something I was already dealing with while pregnant, and it finally came to the surface again yesterday.
Sometimes I feel bad because I feel like T is either dealing with a crying baby or a crying me, but he continues to be a rockstar. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. Yesterday, in the midst of me sobbing into his neck, he took my hand, put it on my mouse, and forced me to open a document. He set a timer for 10 minutes and made me write whatever came out of my brain.
He also texted my mom to ask her if she could babysit while I went for a run. Those two things combined helped the fog lift for the remainder of the night.
This morning, I was tired, which always makes my weepiness worse, but I actually felt a little better after my appointment. I left with a plan, which always helps. Here’s what’s on the docket for me:
- Continuing to get exercise
- Getting sunlight, preferably at least 30 minutes a day
- 6000 mg Vitamin D
- Vitamin B Complex
There’s also some research that suggests caffeine can reduce the instance of depression in women, so, while I want to limit the amount because I’m pumping breastmilk, I think I’ll start adding that in during or right around my first pumping session of the day to keep most of it out of kiddo’s food. It has the added bonus of being a nice little treat for me.
If I’m still struggling in a couple of weeks, the next step will be to cut out gluten for a while, which is what I did back in 2011. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that, because I sure do enjoy gluten-containing foods, but I enjoy actually being able to enjoy stuff more.
I’m also trying to get back into one of my old scripts. At this point, it’s just reading through and taking stock of what’s there, what’s working and what’s not, but that’s the first step to the next draft. And it feels good to be doing that. And thanks to T, I’m also going to try to get back to writing some short stories in the meantime.
I’m lucky because I have an amazing support system. My parents are only a few minutes away, and my mom is always thrilled to babysit. T is my rock, my encourager, my comforter.
A lot of women don’t have such a solid support system. So this is the call to action. If you know a woman who just had a baby, reach out to her in those first few weeks and beyond. If she needs a shoulder to cry on for a while, offer it. If she needs a nap or to get out and just be herself instead of “mom” for a bit, watch the baby for an hour or two. If she needs someone to deliver a cup of coffee and a brownie, make that happen.
Above all, let her be honest. Let her say that being a new mom is hard and that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be at first. Let her say that she wants more out of life than to stare at her infant in awe for 24 hours a day. Let her say that, while she loves her baby, she’s not entirely comfortable with the role of “mother” yet — and doesn’t know when she will be. Let her say that she misses the way her life used to be, and that she’s afraid it will never be what she hoped it might.
In the end, people keep having kids, they all keep telling us it’s worth it, so I think most of us new mothers believe (or at least hope) that these feelings will pass. And for most mothers, they do seem to. But knowing that doesn’t always help right now. What might help is releasing the guilt of having those feelings. We are complex, amazing beings, and we can wonder if we’ve made a huge mistake while still loving our children with infinite devotion. It’s that complexity that makes us human, and that’s something to be embraced and celebrated. Honesty and compassion is a good start toward that.
In the interest of getting this posted and off my plate, I am going to post this unedited and unfiltered and very long version. It’s been written in several fits over the past few days, so please bear with me through any typos, weird phrasings, etc., etc. Right now I have a few more important things on my hands (or at least one very big important thing), so I’m sure you can understand. :-)
We were beginning to think our little Pipsqueak would never show up. I’d tried 95 percent of the old wives’ tales out there, and nothing seemed to be working. The little guy was still pleasantly cradled on his side, and while I was progressing in dilation, he wasn’t moving much.
At 41 weeks and 5 days, my midwife gave me the go ahead and encouragement to give castor oil a shot. I was advised to drink one 4 ounce bottle in two doses two hours apart. I took the first as I was leaving the birth center, “mixed” into a Coke. Kind of like mixing oil & water, except horrible. The taste isn’t pleasant, but it’s the texture that really gets you. The second dose I mixed into a smoothie, which thankfully at least went down relatively easy, though I’d already begun to associate the smell and taste with the first experience and what was about to happen.
A few hours after the second dose, I had my first, well, side effect of the castor oil. And since all birth stories basically fall under the category of “too much information,” I can tell you that after having been fairly constipated for the past nine-plus months, it actually was kind of a relief. The subsequent ones were not, and by the end of the night, I knew there was a ver slim chance I’d be able to force myself to do it again two days later if this first go-round didn’t work.
I awoke at 3 a.m. with mild contractions, but I had little luck keeping them going with any consistency. Still, it was something, and I couldn’t help but get my hopes up. I went to the chiropractor, and they taped up my belly to encourage Pippin to move into the right position.
I spent the day bouncing on a ball and walking around with T hoping the contractions would pick up. They weren’t doing much, but eventually I did develop a strange and fairly terrible pain in my left side, like the worst side stitch you’ve ever had. The midwives advised us to come on in, and so we did. They checked me, and I was dilated to a 4, same as my appointment the day before. They told me to go home, eat some food and try to get some rest.
My dad brought us over some Panera while I tried to relax in the bath with little success. The side pain abated a little enough for me to eat, but swiftly returned. The pain was so bad that it caused me to vomit, for the first time in my pregnancy. I didn’t even have time to make it to the bathroom, but thankfully spotted the empty Panera sack & saved us a major bout of carpet cleaning.
So we headed back to the birth center. I was dilated to a 5 by then, having contractions along with the now excruciating side pain, and struggling, to say the least. They didn’t want to keep us unless they were sure we were progressing quickly and far enough that we would be more comfortable laboring at the birth center than at home. They gave me a shot of basically strong antihistamines to help me relax. I was able to doze on the way home and conked out in bed for a little while before the pain returned, ten-fold. I’m not really a screamer, but I let out a shriek. Again, no time to make it to the bathroom, so I grabbed my trash can, emptied it onto the floor, and promptly vomited the little bit I had left in my stomach.
So off we went to the birth center again, where they allowed us to stay this time, as I was now dilated to a six. This was as the 20th was crossing into the 21st of March. I immediately went into the tub and found some relief from the side pain but increasing pain from contractions. They also made me a mixed berry smoothie that would have been really super awesome if I had felt at all like eating. T did his best to keep me drinking both it & water, though.
It was in the tub that I learned I would not be a silent laborer or even a quiet laborer as I had expected. Quite the contrary. They worked with me to get my tones low instead of high & squealy, and with less success to breath through them instead of vocalizing since vocalizing takes a lot of energy (at least the way I was doing it). I tried, but at some point, you kind of develop an “Eff you, I’m going to do what I want” attitude, even if you know they’re right and/or trying to help.
From this point onward, things get a little hazy time-wise. The first time I got out of the tub to use the restroom, I had a fleeting thought of closing the door and asking T to avert his eyes before I basically said to myself, “Screw it, he’s going to see a heck of a lot more than this by the time we’re done.” He actually swears I used the restroom in front of him at home before we left, and that’s how he knew it was definitely time to get to the birth center. I have no recollection of this, which also probably speaks to the fact that it was time to get to the birth center.
At some point, they started forcing juice on me, since I didn’t feel like eating — mostly because I was afraid I’d vomit again. I have never hated apple juice so much in my life, but it was better than the Coke they made me drink closer to delivery. I’m not sure when I stopped going back into the tub, but they suggested IV fluids because my energy was starting to fade. It took a few tries to get the IV in, but at that point, it would have taken quite a bit more to phase me.
They would check my cervix occasionally to see where I was and where Pippin was, and they were able to tell that his head was slightly off-kilter to where it needed to be. So that’s when we started the circus of different labor positions.
For a while, I labored on the toilet, which was my least favorite place in the world to labor. I got to labor laying down on the bed for a while, with T holding me, which was my favorite way to labor, if I can say I have a favorite way to labor. I think I even dozed off between some of the contractions, though that did make waking up to each new contraction way more annoying. I remember wanting to bite T’s arms a few times during the strongest parts, but I think I mostly abstained from doing so. Probably weird, but true.
The senior midwife, who I like to refer to as The Closer, came in during this period and offered just the dose of no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point direction I needed. I was so tired of everyone telling me how close I was when I’d been close for literally hours. She never said that but instead would give me basically short-term tasks. She suggested they break my water, and then told me I needed to go labor on the toilet for five contractions.
And that was the first time I really, really, really broke down & sobbed, because I hated that effing toilet so much. Little did I know what I had coming. After that, with Pip’s head still slightly turned and preventing him from progressing, they moved to a new tactic: lunges. That’s right. I was doing deep lunges during contractions, and it was pretty much the worst thing ever. Thank god I had T supporting me because no Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper or P90X workout can prepare you for labor lunges, folks. (I mean, maybe they did, because I actually had the muscle strength to do lunges, but you know what I’m saying.)
I think I begged to move back to the bed after a few rounds of those, and the midwives eventually let me. But then they were wanting me to start thinking about pushing, as I think we’d all given up on the kiddo moving down on his own. I think The Closer even told me as much at one point. So I was on my side, with my legs pulled back into basically a squatting position, and they told me to push when I felt like pushing. I had no idea what it was supposed to feel like, so eventually I just got tired of contractions and got stubborn and started trying to push. And finally the baby started moving, little by little.
And let me tell you, pushing is the weirdest, most bizarre sensation. Each time, I’d start the push, and then my body would hit a point & do a little on its own, until I ran out of strength. It was actually really disconcerting at first, but then I figured that was probably what it was supposed to feel like, so I just went with it. And yes, if you’re wondering, it does feel similar to trying to force out a bowel movement, but not quite. It more feels like you’re going to accidentally push out a bowel movement while doing everything else. Which happens all the time. And I’d prepared myself for such a thing. So I have to admit I’m a little disappointed after all that mental energy I put into being OK with pooping during labor that it didn’t even happen (at least that no one has admitted to me).
So anyway, back to pushing. I’d asked several times if I could get into the tub again, but the midwives didn’t want me to change positions since the position I was in seemed to be doing the trick. They told me I probably could eventually, but I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I might not get to have one. But then The Closer came back in, and asked T if I wanted a water birth. He told her yes, and BAM, we were moving toward the tub.
Pushing was still very difficult, but it was such a relief to get in the water, and that made it easier. All in all, I think I pushed for half an hour on the bed and half an hour in the tub. Once in the tub, after a few pushes, I was able to reach down and feel the baby’s head, which gave me a huge boost of motivation that we really were for sure absolutely almost there. Having a goal beyond “endure this” and something I could physically do to make a difference was an incredible change. I don’t know how many more pushes it took, and I swear I was dealing with that ring of fire thing everyone talks about for way more contractions than I wanted to, but eventually I felt his head give way. And it was AMAZING. But I still had to get his body out. It took a few more pushes because I was so tired, but when his whole body came out, it was the biggest sense of relief I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’d had my eyes closed through 90 percent of the birthing process, but my eyes were wide open when they finally put him in my arms.
And T was right there, looking down at us, and I remember not being able to tell who I wanted to look at more, him or the baby, because I was so in love and amazed with this little guy on my chest, but also so in love with T, who’d helped me make him and get him here.
There was some scrambling to get a picture of us right after he was born, which was surprisingly amusing. I looked up & realized I had a whole crowd of midwives and nurses who had helped us deliver, and I immediately got a little self-conscious about how I was going to look in that first picture. And sure enough, they are not my favorite pictures in the world, not the least of which that it looks like I’m sitting in a tub of blood, but I’m glad we have them nonetheless.
After a few minutes, they clamped the cord & I handed our little guy off to T so we could take care of the placenta & get me cleaned up. Apparently he came out with his fist by his cheek (or “superman’d his way out, as one friend put it), which made it even more amazing that I had one tiny literal tear that they considered not even stitching (though eventually settled on two just to be safe). They told me I had “really good control” with the pushing, but I think it was more a case of, “I was really, really exhausted & didn’t have the energy to push him out too fast.”
Now, just about every labor (or so I’m told) has its “I can’t do this moment.” I remember having this moment at least four times for much longer than a moment. During these several miserable phases, I vaguely remember begging T for help — literally begging. I kept hoping he’d say, “OK, this is enough, let’s head to the hospital,” or that one of the midwives would say, “You know what? She’s done. Let’s get her transferred.” Every time I said, “I need help,” I was pleading with them to let me off the hook. I know they knew what I was asking for, but they did not listen to me one single time. The notion was never even entertained by anyone besides me. Maybe T had his moments, but he never made them known. Every time, he told me I was doing an amazing job and that I was strong, and every time I said, “I can’t do it,” he would reply adamantly that I was doing it. I honestly feel like I did a fairly mediocre job with the labor experience, but T was a rockstar. Afterwards, one of the midwives actually asked him if he’d been a labor coach before, and I’m now considering hiring him out as a doula. There is literally no way I would have made it through everything without him there by my side the entire time. I’m convinced his work was just as hard as mine, if in a slightly different way. While I was in sort of a trance the whole time, he was fully there and witness to all the pain and exhaustion, which if you knew how tender-hearted T is, is basically torture.
And now, post-birth, he continues to be awesome. When I’ve been weepy and exhausted due to hormone fluctuation and everything else, he has been nothing short of wonderful. I truly could not have asked for nor even designed a better partner in this adventure. I am so, so, so lucky.
As for the labor and birth experience itself, I was asked pretty quickly if I’d go the unmedicated route again. Let me first preface this with the fact that I believe every woman should have the birth experience she wants no matter what that birth is, and I believe every woman should be informed enough about the pros and cons of all the options to make the best decision for herself.
As for me, in the end, I am glad I chose the unmedicated route, despite the 31 hours of labor and the begging to be taken to the hospital (if not in so many words) and the two extra weeks of pregnancy. If Pippin’s head had been in the right position, all of those problems very likely would have disappeared. And as someone who wanted to avoid interventions like pitocin and an epidural and a C-section, and knowing that a typical hospital situation very well might have led to all of those things given the specifics of my situation, I’m glad that I had other options and a team of people to support me in doing my best to adhere to my original wishes (rather than my “in-the-worst-pain-of-my-life” wishes).
After the birth, we had more than an hour basically all to ourselves, just cuddling together in bed as a new family. I wasn’t hooked up to anything, and Pippin was alert and precious and immediately ours. He wasn’t whisked away to be poked and prodded and weighed. All necessary vitals were done right on my chest in those initial moments (which is a practice many hospitals are moving toward). We had enough time to take a little nap together as a family, and while we could have stayed longer, we were ready to get home and left around 7:30 p.m., as soon as they could get through the paperwork to get us discharged. While the next few days proved quite a transition (which I will write about at a later date), getting to sleep in our own bed together that night with Pippin right by our side was wonderful.
While I can confidently say I am happy we did a natural birth, I still can’t answer with a confident yes yet if I’d do it again this way, to be honest, because everything is still very fresh. If I could guarantee the next kiddo would have his or her head in the proper position, then I’d probably be all for it. The thought of another labor like this one makes me a little more wary, but luckily I don’t have to make any decisions for some time yet. For now, I can simply revel in our new, brilliant little family, and the ever-deepening love I have for both of my guys.
I could have forgiven him for being fashionably late. I’ve been known to be so myself. In fact, I came into the world three days late, which allowed my parents to enjoy a relaxed Thanksgiving meal — and then recover from the subsequent food coma.
See, I was conscientious. I was considerate.
But this kid has apparently decided to do things on his own terms. And I can understand that. I can respect it even. But my tolerance for it is low until he starts doing those things outside my body.
I keep trying to convince him he’d like it a lot better out here. There’s plenty of room to stretch out (instead of being boxed in by my ribs and hips), and we’ve got plenty of stuff to keep him warm in case he’s worried about that (thank you, freak Midwestern snow dumps). He’s got to be getting pretty bored in there, so I told him about how much there is to see in this world, not to mention the excellent library he already has going in his own room.
But so far, he remains unconvinced.
I thought having to do all the extra tests might be enough motivation for him. Whenever they strap anything to my (huge) belly, he starts squirming & kicking at it. Between the non-stress test and the biophysical profile ultrasound, I thought for sure he’d be ready to come out guns ablazin’ to give them a piece of his mind.
Instead, I fear he has taken his perfect scores on both as an invitation to stay put a while longer.
And don’t even get me started on all the old & new wives’ tales out there. I’ve tried them all (except the coffee potty, because I refuse to waste good coffee sitting on it when I could be drinking it). (Also, who comes up with this stuff?)
I have to admit, part of me hoped he’d get his father’s stubborn streak — which is about 2.7 percent of what mine is. It sure would have made things a lot easier on me, especially down the road. I’d originally thought that Lorelai would be my motherly spirit animal, but now I’m thinking we may end up looking more like this.
Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether that means you celebrated it or ignored it. Per usual, if anyone has any feedback to offer on this week’s slice of science-fictionish #fridayflash, I’d love to hear it. (Thanks to T for forcing a prompt on me.) Have a good weekend, and don’t forget to check out the rest of this week’s #fridayflash submissions.
A NEW HYPOTHESIS FOR A BETTER TOMORROW
Harold had been sorting applications for hours when his colleague tossed yet another one at him.
“Nuh-uh, this is my last stack, man.”
“No, look at it,” said Larry.
Harold hated Larry. He always had a stain on his shirt, and always in the same place. You’d think he’d learn to lean over, or at the very least tuck a napkin into his collar. But the look on Larry’s face plus the fact that they rarely uttered more than a grunt of acknowledgment to each other convinced Harold to overcome his distaste.
“Fine, but this had better be good.”
Harold set eyes on the piece of paper. It had the standard stats as everyone else. All applicants fell into three categories: military, academic or convicts (who subsequently fell into two categories: those looking for redemption or to better cover up their crimes). He tossed the paper back at Larry.
“Same as everyone else. Another professor looking to impress his colleagues and gain tenure.”
“No, the essay, dude. Come on.” Larry handed it back to him.
He’d never seen Larry so excited about anything. He rolled his eyes and snatched the paper back.
My name is Stephen Jackson, and my mission is simple: to be a better person.
“Seriously?” Harold deadpanned.
“Keep reading,” Larry insisted.
With a heavy sigh, he continued.
I’ve followed your program since its early days, and in my youth I highly considered joining your ranks as a temporal physicist. Alas, science turned out to be one of my lesser suits, and so, as you can see from my application, I became a professor of music instead. And what I’ve learned during my long career (as you no doubt saw in your review, I am nearing retirement, having long ago secured tenure, so that has not factored into my motivation), is that it’s often the smallest actions that make the biggest difference.
Spending as little as ten minutes a day diligently practicing scales has a far greater effect on one’s success as a musician than cramming to learn a piece the night before an audition. A waiter who smiles at you and makes polite conversation turns your meal into a treat rather than a simple escape from having to clean your kitchen. And the person who acknowledges the homeless man on the street and gives him money for a warm meal offers a dose of inspiration to carry on another day.
I have seen instances of this principle time and again throughout my career. Early on, I was a task master, always pushing my students harder and harder, until I noticed something: nearly three-quarters of them dropped out of the music program before the second year. So, after a decade of this, I changed tactics. I smiled. I coached. I cheered them on. And the rate of retention — and success after graduation — increased by 63 percent.
Now, as I’ve noted, I’ve followed your program for a long time, and I’ve studied with great interest all the grand gestures over the years. The attempts to stop key assassinations. The schemes to elect other politicians to office. The efforts to prevent large-scale disasters, both manufactured and natural. And I’m sure you do not need me to point this out, but your rate of success has been less than stellar.
So I propose a new hypothesis for the efficacy of the Temporal Transfer for a Better Tomorrow program. If you want to change history, start small. Send someone back whose only mission is to be kind, to inspire, and to make the world a better place one small action at a time. Let someone be the pebble who creates ripples.
Enclosed you will find endorsements and recommendations from a variety of people, from esteemed academics to former students to community officials. I assure you they will all attest to my intentions, and of course I am very willing to undergo any screenings you deem necessary. I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you to effect an ideal future by changing the past.
Harold set down the piece of paper and looked at Larry, whose face was filled with such expectation he almost wanted to smack him.
Harold shook his head. “You buy this?”
“Why not? He’s right — nothing else has worked. We’ve never tried this. We’ve never even had anyone suggest it.”
Harold handed the paper back to him. “Hey, it’s your career. You want to recommend him, go ahead, but leave me out of it. The guy’s a nutcase.”
Harold went back to his own stack of papers. An hour more and he’d be able to get the hell out of here for another 15 hours of freedom.
When that hour had passed, Harold saw that Larry was still staring at the same application. Harold shook his head and grabbed his things. As he passed behind him toward the door, Larry finally set down the application and began typing. Harold glimpsed the screen: “Dear Mr. Jackson: We are very pleased to inform you that you have been chosen for an Initial Evaluation for Admission to the Temporal Transfer for a Better Tomorrow Program. An official from our program will be in touch shortly…”
Harold scoffed. “Been nice working with you,” he muttered.
Larry looked up at Harold with a different expression than he’d ever worn before. “Have a good night, Harold,” was all he said.
Harold opened his mouth to say something, but no words came. He pulled on his coat and headed out the door, the sound of Larry’s typing fading as he went.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
I got a message from a twitter friend the other day inviting me to participate in a blog round-up where folks answer questions about their current works in progress. I sadly had to respond that I’d love to be a part of it except that I currently have no work in progress.
And I don’t feel good about that.
But it’s also not entirely true. Transitioning my home that less than a year ago was basically a bachelorette pad into a place where our kiddo can be safe to grow and play is definitely a work in progress.
On Jan. 1, I launched my freelance website in an effort to really focus on growing that part of my work life, and keeping up with regular blogging and the social media effort that goes along with that is most certainly a work in progress. (And in a moment of shameless self promotion, if you or your business is in need of a writer, editor or ebook formatter, hit me up!)
And in exactly one month from now, I’m due to have a tiny little human being for which I, along with my thankfully amazing and excited partner, am completely and totally responsible. And preparing my mind for that is perhaps the biggest work in progress of all.
And because of all these works in progress, I’ve set aside the bulk of my creative efforts. I want to start something in that nebulous “thinking about writing but not actually writing” sort of way, but in the moments where I have downtime, I find myself just kind of sitting and zoning out at the internet.
I think-hope this is just one of those seasons of life where I’m collecting input rather than creating output. Honestly, though, when I think about going through the contest rigamarole again, I just get really, really apathetic. After the complete and utter failure of my admittedly very-niche-but-very-dear script last year, I’m just not sure what the next step for me is. The steps I was actually motivated to complete — finishing my short film and submitting it to festivals — are currently being derailed by Adobe Premiere being a flaky butthead. I’ll still get it done, but the unexpected obstacles at the very end of the process have been disheartening to say the least.
I don’t really have a great wrap-up to this bit of rambling. Part of me thinks I just need to give myself a break and jump on the creative sparks when they pop up, and another part of me thinks I need to buckle down and commit to something. I don’t know.
So who’s got advice for me? So many writers I know have gone through the transition to parenthood and have done so with wonderful success. Is this lack of mojo just timing + circumstances? Can I expect it to pass? Or do I need to whip my butt into shape ASAP — and if so, how? I know all parents out there love to give advice, so here’s a wonderful opportunity.
Kicking off #FridayFlash in February with a love story of sorts. Did something a bit experimental here, so I’d love to hear any feedback you have to offer. Happy reading, and don’t forget to check out the other great #FridayFlash stories this week, too!
I cannot imagine loving anyone more than you.
Our hearts aren’t big enough for more than this.
This lock will symbolize our passion.
Here, let me.
The key turns, grasps, fails and drowns.
You can’t do this to me.
I’m not doing this to you.
You’re killing me.
You’ll live. I promise.
The lovers part. The lock remains.
Tear-reddened eyes stare.
No more words.
The wind gusts.
The lock clanks against the metal.
Night falls, but the stars stay hidden.
Mist covers the known world.
Steel pincers emerge and bite hard.
The lock falls, splashes, sinks.
All hope lost.
A friendly current takes pity.
The reluctant mud finally concedes.
The lock sails, then catches on a miracle.
The pieces, though battered, still come together like new.
Reunion delivers its sweet release.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
One of my goals this year (again) is to write at least 12 short stories, so I’m starting the year off right with the one below. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the #FridayFlash community comes up with for Week 1 of 2013!
HAPPY NEW YEAR
The old man stroked his long beard. He would not let the arthritis slowly turning his joints to stone deny him of this pleasure. It had only been a few months ago that he’d been able to grow a beard at all, and it had taken only a week for it to turn from a rich auburn to its current snowy white. In the last few days, it had grown down to his knees, but he knew there was no point in cutting it.
He stared at the little writhing thing across the threshold. Had he ever been that young? He refused to believe it, though he knew in his heart it was true, and not so long ago. He’d been in that same spot only 365 days ago, waiting on the decrepit man to die — that wizened fellow had stood in the same place where the old man now stood.
Even in his bitterness, he knew it wasn’t the thing’s fault. It was simply the way things were, the way things had always been. He’d had no sympathy for the man he’d ousted, and he expected the little one had none for him now.
He suddenly wished he could warn the child, that he could tell him that his grand visions would only bring sorrow sooner than he could imagine, that their legacies were hammered into the pages of time long ago. He opened his mouth to speak, willing his wisp of a voice to reach the baby’s ears. But then the baby smiled. And the old man knew he would give the child the gift of hope, just like the decrepit man before him had done. He backed away from the threshold and sat down, and the ache in his knees told him he would not stand again. The weight of the world had been upon him for such a short time, and yet it felt like eternity. Somewhere, a clock began to chime. He closed his eyes, took one last breath, and left the burden at the door for the next in line.
© 2012 Elizabeth Ditty
As the story of my life goes, I tend to retrospectively theme each year.
- 2008: The Year Everything Fell Apart
- 2009: The Year I Put Everything Back Together
- 2010: The Year I Became Me (aka The Year of Awesome)
- 2011: The Year of the Roller Coaster
And if I have to continue that, the only that thing honestly jumps to mind is this:
- 2012: The Year That Disappeared
- 2012: The Year That Threw Me For a Loop
There’s a little bit of that feeling every year, I think, but this year, I honestly just don’t know where time went. And if it weren’t for being able to look back through photos, blog posts and the bazillion spreadsheets I use to track my life, I probably wouldn’t have any clue whatsoever. A lot of the goals I set for myself fell by the wayside, but I ended up doing a lot that I hadn’t thought to do. In summary:
Health & Fitness
Since I was already more or less at my general goal weight/shape, my big health & fitness goal at the beginning of the year was to get into my bridesmaids dress for my sister’s wedding. I was between two sizes, so I took the risk and ordered the smaller one. And then I got pregnant and had to endure frustration from both my bride-to-be sister and my mother about having to have my dress altered, all while my in-the-know sister egged them on with comments like, “You probably shouldn’t have eaten all those Oreos, huh?”
Beyond that, the whole weight gain thing has been a struggle, but it hasn’t all been bad. For instance, I participated in two 5Ks this year, both while pregnant.
I’m still keeping up with a pretty solid exercise routine these days, even ramping it up a bit in the 3rd trimester with some P90X, Bob Harper’s DVDs, and Jillian’s more strength-based workouts. It’s typically 3-4 times a week rather than 5-6 times a week these days, but anything is better than nothing. Diet’s another story, but I’d say I’m trying to stick to a pretty healthy/in-calorie-range diet 5 days a week. Overall, I’m chalking much of this up to experience & just looking forward to getting back to my normal diet/exercise routine in the spring.
While I didn’t get to take my big “I’m turning 30!” trip to somewhere exotic thanks to that whole “getting knocked up” thing, I did actually manage to have a pretty great year for travel. I ended up taking 9 trips to new or favorite places.
- T & I took our first trip to New York City in January. It was also our first trip together — period. And it was lovely.
- We took a quick overnight getaway to St. Louis.
- We took a day trip to Joplin, where my parents both grew up, and where I spent the first 20 Christmases of my life and who knows how many other weekends. I hadn’t been there since before the tornadoes, and it was a bit of a shock to see that my maternal grandparents’ house was completely gone. But it was nice to visit some of my old stomping grounds, too.
- We took a nice little beach vacation with my family to Tampa, Fla.
- We went to a family reunion in Fayetteville & Bentonville, Arkansas.
- After missing out on the standing room only tickets by exactly one person in NYC, we traveled to Denver to see The Book of Mormon.
- We went to a family reunion on T’s side up in Plymouth, Wis., near Sheboygan.
- We took a trip with my family down to Roaring River, where we used to go fishing and crawdad-hunting with my grandpa.
- We attended the Austin Film Festival in Texas, where I got to meet up with a lot of my friends from 2011′s festival.
Next year will likely be much more home-based, but I do have my eye on a couple of getaways to new places.
I had big goals for this year, but taking on 10 to 15 hours a week of freelance work on top of my day job between March and October made getting things done in the creative department a little more difficult than I’d anticipated. I loved the freelance work and am hoping to build my business back up in 2013, but it was hard to find balance. That being said, here’s what I did accomplish.
- I did a page one rewrite on a script from several years ago. And while it zeroed out in all the competitions, I was and still am really pleased with how it turned out. It’ll get another draft next year hopefully.
- I wrote eight short stories.
- I completed my 8th NaNoWriMo.
- I’ve got about 4-5 more hours of post-production on my short film, STILL.
Next year will be another huge challenge in finding balance, but that’s sort of par for the course for life in general.
And then there’s everything else.
- I bought my house.
- T moved in.
- We adopted a kitten/monster.
- I saw a bunch of movies (though not as many as in previous years).
- I read 24 books, if I’m allowed to count two children’s books that took me like 10 minutes to read.
- I took my freelancing from basically a hobby to a business.
- I learned how to make pour-over coffee.
- I took a ton of photos.
- I completed seven of the nine months it takes to grow a baby.
And I feel like that’s just scratching the surface.
In 2011, I chose “Let It Be” for my theme for 2012. Looking back at what I wrote, I said, “Maybe I’ll really, truly learn that I can’t script my life, that people and the universe will ALWAYS throw you for a loop somehow.” Well, if ending up unexpectedly pregnant isn’t the universe throwing me for a loop, I’m not sure what is.
I followed up that statement with this: “Sometimes it’ll be super fun and exhilarating and affirming. Other times it’ll make you want to vomit.” So apparently some part of my subconscious knew about the whole morning sickness thing. In all seriousness, though, I set out to take life as it came, to try to add joyful complications and to eliminate the ones that only caused me stress. I haven’t always done a great job of the latter, but I think I ended up with a pretty great handle on the former.
Which brings me to my phrase for next year…
Needless to say, next year’s going to be very different than any of my previous ones. It seems like everyone is constantly telling me, “everything’s going to change.” And if I’m being totally honest, that kind of freaks me out. OK, it really freaks me out. Mostly because I really like my life the way it is, and when people say everything’s going to change, it makes me fearful that all the things I love about my life will go away. The travel, the creative focus, the desire to focus on my freelance career, the ability to work out for 30 to 120 minutes at a time, etc., the time I get to spend and things I get to do with T. But then I look around me and see all sorts of women who have managed to keep these things in their lives — and sometimes increase them — all while adding “mother” high on their list of self-definitions.
They haven’t changed; they’ve evolved. And that’s what I want to do, too. So from now on, whenever anyone says, “Everything’s going to change once the baby arrives,” I’m just going to smile & think to myself, “No, everything’s going to evolve, just like always.”
So, for 2013, my word (in case you haven’t guessed) is EVOLVE.
And I’m naming Lorelai my spirit animal.
Happy New Year to You and Yours
I’ve never seen anyone say it better than Neil Gaiman, so I’ll simply quote him here to close out 2012.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.
…I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
Happy New Year, everyone.