I am not fine.

I have been saying to myself all day “I wish I were brave enough.” There is this urge, this nagging feeling to share my experience. Perhaps it’s a way of validating my despair, acknowledging that this has happened; an attempt to satiate a narcissistic need to prescribe to the construct of a millennial documentary culture; or maybe, just maybe, I am not “fine”, and I no longer have the wherewithal to pretend I am. So much of our time is spent pretending in some form or another: interpersonal relationships, first dates, negotiations of social and economic value. The mask we wear each day, be it via makeup, or clothing, or over-exaggerated bravado as a means of camouflaging insecurity, supposedly protects us from the harshness of an unjust world–one where beauty beats brains or connections trump skill. But no matter how much we pretend, no matter how much we try to hide behind “fine”, we still experience pain. Love, loss, and all the in between–the molecular structure of the human condition.

Although I have been struggling with this for over a month (but really over a year), it seems like some sort of cosmic, universal sign (if you believe in that sort of thing) that today, October 15th, is #pregnancyandinfantlossawarenessday.

I feel like I have been carrying this secret, this shame for something of which is not shameful, embarrassed and disappointed in myself. It took almost a year, but I became comfortable sharing my experience: in July 2016, I miscarried my first child at 5 weeks. After followed a year of denial and a self-propelled campaign to convince everyone (but mostly myself) that it was earlywe can always try againwe’re young and healthy, plus I was barely pregnant. I am fine.

But then a year passed. No medical reason could be determined, but we could not conceive. I cried every month, hopeful at any sign of something being different, only to be greeted by a familiar visitor who reminded me for 4-7 days of my failure.

I would listen politely as family and friends would make comments, suggestions, or inquiries. I’d brush them off as well-meaning, or naive, or just the way they are, and then sob on the car ride home, every.single.time. I started to share my struggles, hoping the mentions would stop. They didn’t. I got used to dodging questions, became trained in a choreographed duck-and-weave, spinning toward a new topic while willing the tears to stay comfortably at the back of my throat, as they had been resting for months.

In December, I was late. Really, really late. And was so filled with glee, like a child the night before Christmas, when Saint Nick was headed on his way. I was going to have a child, whose eyes would glisten as they fought sleep, trying in vain to be awake for Mr. Claus’ arrival. The day after Christmas, the familiar tinge of pain and rush of confirmation that I was not pregnant came. That afternoon, my sister-in-law announced she was pregnant with her second child.

This is my experience, not unlike so many others. And when July 2017 came, I was run-down. It had been a year of trying and tracking and testing. I was so exhausted I could barely see straight, resorted to taking naps under my desk at work on my lunch hour, and wondering if depression had finally decided to wrap me in its warm blanket for good.

I was pregnant.

This time was different. Morning sickness (they lie, it’s all day sickness), aches and pains, insomnia, I had it all. And I was ecstatic. They say strong symptoms mean strong pregnancy, and I had taken every possible test to confirm.

I’m not ready to talk about that time. The joy, the stress, the secrecy–I hold it in my heart as a piece of me that no one else, except maybe my husband Ben, will ever be able to touch.

At 8 weeks I had my first OBGYN appointment. At 9 weeks, I had my first ultrasound, and my cocoon began to break as the alarmed whispers flowed outside my exam room door. At 10 weeks, it was confirmed that I would miscarry. And at 11, in early October, I would ultimately have 2 surgeries (one planned, one emergency) to address complications.

At a loss for words (and self and will to move on), I couldn’t bring myself to do what I normally do: write. Instead, I held my phone, and said all the things I was afraid to utter in front of another person.

What follows is weeks 9-10, when I was notified that it was most likely that I would miscarry, but had to wait a week before confirmation. I was not fine. I am not fine. Maybe now you’ll understand why.

Day 1–Notification

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8–Confirmation

 

 

Cover image via

 

 

Runner-up, Ms. Popularity 2016

vote

I have been thinking about “likeability” a lot lately. As much as I claim to be above the fray, a lean-in era woman who cares more about accomplishment than acceptance, I realize with each passing day that I am just like everyone else (who wants to be liked by everyone else). I don’t want to care, but the human nature that runs through my blood warms my body with anxiety and shame. Why do other’s opinions matter so much?

Recently a colleague of mine was promoted to a position for which I was well-suited, but did not apply. The fear of being ostracized was too much to bear. In a (before my time) turf war that is still an unsolved mystery to me, I had been branded an “enemy”. Also, my crisp blazers and type-A tendencies did not sit well with a more casual, long-tenured group who did not enjoy a shift in the status quo. Ultimately, I bowed out, taking a can’t-lose-if-you-don’t-play approach and moved on.

Multiple sources have since confirmed that yes, even though I carry more experience/qualification, if matched against the now-transitioned employee, I would have lost. Because she is more well-liked. This was something I knew, but it still wasn’t all that easy to hear. I thought I had accepted the fact that you cannot control other people’s feelings–that sometimes, you have done nothing wrong. But hearing this casual reaffirmation of once held beliefs was a smack in the chest while struggling to remain upright, like a Weeble that will just.not.fall.down.

How do I combat a reputation that I do not feel is representative of my true self? How can I navigate the murky in-between of social acceptance and staying true to oneself?

The current political climate is rough. As with most non-incumbent presidential election cycles, there are so many opinions and pitches and nonsense thrown our way. Although it is definitely not as high-stakes as who will be the eventual leader of the free world, office politics function very similarly. Departments instead of parties; the eager millennial working for a third less pay than the disgruntled, somewhat lazy incumbent with “experience”; the dysfunction of playing telephone through e-mails and whispers instead of backroom deals.

If I could have my own office campaign ad, what would I say? “I might be hyper-organized, but I love creativity!” “I am supportive of female leaders taking charge!” “These blazers are actually super comfortable!” “I’m not that bad!”

I don’t ever want to get to a place where I wouldn’t even vote for myself. But with the daily chip.chip.chip at my self-esteem, and the constantly hopelessness that accompanies not knowing “what did I do to make you hate me?” the threat of an unchecked ballot looms ever greater. Would you still submit your vote when you know it won’t be counted?

(Image via)

Conversational Free Speech

I have never been one to subscribe to the #tbt trend. Most items of note from my past that are truly “throwback” would probably involve several less inches in height and my at-the-time-on-trend Sally Jesse Raphael glasses. I’ll leave such pictures to my parents, whom post aplenty. But the other day, when discussing the merits of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, I had a visceral flashback. Wait, I thought, I’ve had this conversation before.  Could a woman be trusted with the highest office? Does she look like a President? Is she qualified? While I maintain everyone’s right to their own political opinion, I was gobsmacked (not being hyperbolic here) that EIGHT YEARS and a Secretary of State post later, the question of resume could still come into play.

Aside from pondering the regressions of women in politics, there was another “flashback” of sorts I had during this exchange. CosmoGirl! My first major-publisher freelance (emphasis on the free) gig. I was eighteen and did my own make-up, hair, script, and unfortunately for my calves the next few days, my own stunts.

The next chance I got, I was on the computer frantically Googling–I wasn’t yet sure if the existence of these captured moments of a youthful ideologue was a testament to my conscientious spirit, or an embarrassing remnant from a girl who thought the world was wonderful.

That internet search only resulted in broken links to a now defunct site, and my worries were forgotten. Until today. Until in a wine-fueled cleaning spree (a weird combination, I know), I found a sharpie-labeled CD. Holding this somewhat foreign piece of technology (none of the laptops in my household have a CD-rom drive), I felt like a girl who just found a VHS tape labeled “dance recital”…come to think of it, I have those too.

With a mix of curiosity and dread, I fired up the desktop and held my breath. And it wasn’t too bad. She looked, and sounded, like a sketch of who I am now. The main features were all there, but a little off. Her lines were smooth, rounded. She hadn’t become jagged with time, age, or disappointment. It was like looking at a kaleidoscope under water, distorted in a beautifully complex way. And I mourned that girl.

That girl believed in possibilities. She hadn’t yet experienced sexual harassment, or workplace misogyny. She truly invested in her community, hopeful for the possibilities of hard work and innovative compromise. She hadn’t been told no when the answer should have been yes. She had never heard that she couldn’t do something because, you know, women can’t do that.

Loss is a process. It’s difficult, and messy, and it hurts. Loss of self is heartbreaking. Not the that-relationship-didn’t-work-0ut heartbreak. Not an I-didn’t-get-the-job heartbreak. Loss of self stops you in tracks that you are no longer sure belong to you.

This video made me laugh, and tear up, and then laugh some more. Sometimes, you just need to see life through your eighteen-year-old eyes. It’s a beautiful view.

 

 

Ring Them Bells

bell

When you tend to write about your real life, you are constantly asking yourself the question, “is that too real?” Deciding what to share is a daily battle between a proud, authentic self, and a calculated and logical side that is always looking out for the future.

The conversation goes a little something like this:

Immediate Term: “Is this something I can say out loud?”

Short Term: “Do I want my mom to read this?” (because she will read it)

Longer Term: “Do I want my kids to one day read this?”

Longest Term: “Should this be my legacy?”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, that is a lot of pressure to put on a singular piece about a past heartbreak or a current obsession. But it doesn’t matter. Each personal essay, or think piece, or yes, even listical, leaves me momentarily drained. I am not able to write without feeling. I cannot turn in a piece that I just feel “eh” about. Maybe if I could, I’d be more productive.

I know this about me. But that’s not it.  That’s not why I think and re-think before hitting that “Publish” button. The thing is, you can’t un-ring that bell. Once it out there, it’s like a middle-school nickname or a scar from that time you fell out of the tree you weren’t supposed to be climbing. It will always.be.there.

If writing is a catharsis, then this line of thinking is in direct opposition of that aim. How can a massage be relaxing if at the same time you’re furiously typing away on your iPhone? Yet in this cultural moment, it’s hard to unplug when technology feels like our lifeline. Apps add convenience to every day drudgery, but we perceive it as necessary. How did the Pilgrims live?!?

How do we prevent living online from killing our life? Bravery is a choice.

 

(Image Via Verdin )

 

When dreams and goals collide

Hang-In-There-Kitty

I have been thinking a lot lately about goals. In graduate school, we are constantly talking about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), and I must admit that this practice has seeped into my everyday life. But I wonder–do goals have to be smart? Sure, you want to succeed, but if I limited my goals to things that I knew I could achieve, I think I would be missing out.

I am a self-described dreamer with a splash of realism. My current (corporate) job is to evaluate–to follow specific procedures and protocols, and ensure that others are doing the same. Yet, my other job (freelance writing), requires that I put myself out there–free from the insecurity and self-doubt that are inherent in SMART goals.

As I grow older, I am recognizing this dichotomy in myself even more. As I evolve as a writer, I also become more organized, more focused on completing tasks with certainty. I am fascinated at how I fluctuate on this spectrum.

My dreamy goals give me life. They keep me afloat in the tough times, when job, or relationship, or routine-ness dissatisfaction threatens to extinguish my spirit candle. Now I just have to work on quieting the realistic voices that are ever-ready to throw up mental blocks.

I have been lucky to accomplish a lot that I have set out to do (and some things I never dreamed possible). As the pendulum of life swings, I never quite know where I am going to end up, and this terrifies me. I guess, the best I can do, I s’pose, is to just take a deep breath, grab on, and never let go.

Image Via

When Will I Be Boring?

When you make it a habit to write about your life, you eventually question: will I run out of stories? Like most of us, I could (and have) fill journal after journal with my exploits. Sometimes they are actually interesting nuggets of wisdom that someone else can use; more often than not they are run-on sentences with no clear beginning, middle, or end.

That’s life though. If you would have asked me two years ago if there is where I’d be: halfway through graduate school, married, living in a house…I would have looked at you the way I look at a Pepsi can when it is the only option. A begrudging bewilderment. I’ll accept it only if I have to.

So I aim to write stories as they happen, as I remember them, or as they become culturally relevant. Yes, I could save them up, wishing for a better offer–planning for a big break. But honestly, it may never come, but these stories always will.

How to Love, Lose, and Everything in Between

When it comes down to it, most great literature is about two things: love and loss. And in some cases, the loss of love. This human emotion, raw and tender, drives pen to page day-in and day-out. I’ve tried to deny it. I’ve looked back at old work, searching for a different category, a different meaning; I was unwilling to admit that my work, all that I’ve ever felt the urge to express, the hastily loopy words that flowed from my BIC, could in fact be so simple.

There is a sense of release when I write something down. I occupy a space where my thoughts are five-steps ahead of my words, and language is a daily ropes course I try desperately to traverse without slipping. That hamster wheel, round and round. Just when I think I know where I’ll end up, I emerge in unfamiliar terrain, bumpy with questions.

I’ve never been to Denver, but to me it is like a Fairyland. “It’s fine,” I say to my husband in frustration, “when we’re in Denver it’ll be better.” I imagine it to be lush and green, rolling hills and changing temperatures. Not like Florida: where it’s just plain hot on the best days, and unbearable on the worst. The weight of sweat-soaked skin is a heavy burden.

Like most days, I’m not sure where I’ll end up, what I’ll write. Maybe it will be Denver, or the next listicle on BuzzFeed, or smeared scrawling in a Snoopy Moleskine. The only thing I’m sure of, the only loss of love I’ll never have: composing snapshots of moments, easily forgotten and sometimes painfully remembered. Do we have to lose to know how to love?

Eight

When I was ten-years-old, I met
then President William Jefferson Clinton—Bill, for short.
Frosty cheeked and underdressed, I stood waiting outside
an airline hanger, South Korea, of all places.
Bomber jacket and relaxed grin, I was enthralled.
Quick handshake sent tingles of warmth, outer-body experience.
Mother said, “Wash your hands.” Pretended naiveté.
My first sexual experience said in later years.

The first time I had my heart broken
I wasn’t in love. At least I think.
Yet the pain! Oh the wretched, debilitating pain!
All that time wasted. I’d kick myself today
if that feat were humanly possible, of course.
All the clichés are true: time, space, perspective.
I hate them instinctively: hurry up and wait.
The old man in the sea had patience.

I’m not the story you want to hear—
white, middle-class nuclear family, two kids and all.
But an identity? Now that’s the tricky part.
White: the absence of color, the blandest taste,
produces power and fear—but I’m absent, remember?
Absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder,
not harder or smaller, tighter—oh how I lament!
I grew up in a cardboard box; repeat.

My first kiss was a short, comical relief.
Five years since Bill; I, still holding on,
finally realized he’d moved on (to my dismay!)
It was sweet and genuine. He was eighteen
and told me he loved me. I reciprocate
not knowing what it meant, honestly not caring.
I once tried counting all I’d kissed. de-press-ing;
didn’t feel until twenty (boy I didn’t love).

Dreams are liars. You can’t just walk away
from mental prison fueled by fatigue, desire, Ambien.
Came to me the first time I ever
talked to Eddie. We’d just met. Mutual friend—
something sparked an undistinguishable flame, his & mine.
Kindred or kindling, charged by kind, inquisitive eyes.
There is beauty in a stranger knowing secrets>
Human to human—until we are all ashes.

The couches are not as comfy as television
depicts. Just a room, Kleenex at the ready.
Ten years seems longer, when it’s only twice.
Three “lost” as if I’d simply misplaced them.
Trauma and textbook, 2009 was a bad year.
Grief in waves, peaks and valleys. Mostly peaks—
the hidden mind, once opened, cannot be closed.
Boy! What I have gained! A new life.

The first time I saw my Father cry
we were standing on a grassy patch where
we had once been before. Hugged so tight,
in front of tourists, marble, and granite: monuments
to great men. Before me stood a great
man. Pulled up by bootstraps and ethics, things
long thought forgotten: stockboy to Bigshot—my
American dream. The past, an obstacle, if allowed.

After school I’d explore the forest, uninhibited, fearless
behind the YMCA, my older brother 100 yds away.
The world an oyster, I the shiny pearl.
Secret caverns hidden from view; gushing waterfalls
I never cried, the scrapes and bruises perfunctory.
I wish I could remember more, my youth.
But I merely catch glimpses of blurred figures.
Except fruit-flavored Mentos, a smell sickeningly sweet.

Atoms

You once told me,
quite defeated—
“I look at rocks.”
Human history started by a single grain.

Face flushed, I retreat
into myself—
turtle without its shell
A single grain seeps through weathered scales.

Near misses and stars mingle
ignore the signs; it would be too easy
to be happy
with a single grain.

Count rings of a tree,
lines on a face
tell a time we’re too afraid of—
wasting a single grain.

A spark, a continuous flame
flickers and wavers and hovers-
doesn’t extinguish an unfed hunger
for a single grain.

Business casual covers,
mortgages bind,
losing sight of a tiny,
single grain.

I will tell you someday,
quite proudly—
“I look at rocks.”
and marvel at every single grain.

Glenna Lynne Schubert

Fortune

Ascend the stairs, trembling-
quietly.
Follow the cues in silent obedience.
You’ve never believed,
So why now?

Dimly lit wrinkles
show every earned line.
Wallpaper soaked with smoke
and secrets.
Is it time?

Sweaty palms, skeptical-
hopeful.
A curtain of beads clink in calling.
We can tempt fate
But can we change it?

A long life
some vague list of common attributes,
of your rights and
wrongs, decide:
What happens next?

Signs, stars, chances-
they will all align
in your favor,
of course.
Is this how it works?

Pay the price;
more than you thought.
But hey, it’s a bargain
to know the future.
Do we really know anything?

Glenna Lynne Schubert