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The other day, I sent my four-year-old to find a pacifier for my three-year-old.

“There are a few in her room. I remember seeing them. Can you go grab one for me?”

She helpfully and eagerly bounded up the stairs, only to return a while later, with no pacifiers.

“I looked on the bed. I looked behind the bed (Did you know I’m big enough to move her bed??). I looked all over. There are NO pacis in her room!”

Flustered, I walked upstairs, entered my youngest daughter’s room, and looked down at the floor, where no fewer than THREE pacifiers lay, scattered on the grey carpet.

Exasperated, I yelled, “Sophie! You’re so terrible at looking for things! Didn’t you see these? How could you not see these?!”

It’s amazing what kids just don’t see.

They don’t see mess.

They don’t see toys.

They don’t see the mud puddle.

They don’t see cars, or waiters, or busboys carrying precariously tall stacks of dishes.

They don’t see clean underwear or socks.

They don’t see the water drops on the sink. Or around the bathtub.

A lot of times, I think they don’t even see the toilet.

They also don’t see those five (or ten, or fifty) extra pounds you’ve been dieting over, or stressing over, or grabbing in hateful fistfuls and wishing, screaming, cursing over.

They don’t see the dark circles. Or the worry lines.

They don’t see the rough hands. The short, chewed nails.

They don’t see that zit on your forehead.

They don’t see the dirty dishes that have been piling up.

They don’t see the stack of mail cluttering up the kitchen table.

They don’t see the mismatched plates. Or the chipped paint. Or that really loud, squeaky spot on the floor.

They don’t see the failing.

Or the flailing.

They don’t see the tears.

They don’t see what you see.

They don’t see it.

Instead, they see that, even though you’ve served them cereal for dinner—again—tonight, you remembered to shake the bag before pouring their bowl, bringing all of the marshmallows up to the top. Just for them.

They see that you’ve still managed to shove aside the clutter on the table to make a space. Just for them.

They see, in the dirt that has built up on their faces and in their hair, all of the hours that you have let them play. And explore. And investigate. And given over to the grime of childhood. Just for them.

They see that you know exactly what their favorite shows, their favorite songs, their favorite apps are, and you can and will summon those things for them. Just for them.

They see that you are magic. Just for them.

They see the splashing game they played together in the bathtub, which you filled with perfectly warm, soothing water. Just for them.

They see a pile of clothes, still dryer-warm, perfect for a cannonball, that you have washed and left in the basket. Just for them.

They see unmade beds perfect for jumping.

They see round, soft bellies for story-time snuggles.

They see sleepy, bloodshot eyes that crinkle in the corners when you smile.

They see you kiss them goodbye early every morning.

They see you come back to them. Every night. And smile.

They don’t see anything that happens in between.

And what they don’t see? What they don’t see is all the stuff you are not.

They see you.

They know you.

And they love you for it.

Because they see it all.

 

November 1st: Today, I am thankful for my daughters. Every day, they teach me a little bit more about how to see myself, my home, and the world the way they do.

This is late. And for that I’m sorry, little girl. It doesn’t mean I adore you any less.

 

You are small.

You are strong. Stronger than anyone expects you to be.

Your eyes are a mystery. Brown from a distance, they transform when you look, unabashed, at me. Now green. Now hazel. Now a mosaic of moss clinging to a tree, a beautiful intruder who withstands, who endures, who protects.

Your hair is as untamed as your spirit, constantly finding its way into your eyes, your mouth. Constantly being pushed aside by a sticky, impatient hand. You still refuse any attempts I make to tame it.

You’d rather endure the annoyance of freedom than suffer the convenience of control.

You love books.

You love stories.

You love music more.

Your smile inspires.

Your smile captivates.

Your smile must be earned. It is not given away.

Your smile will one day drive your lovers to desperation, I fear. Chasing that elusive, hard-earned, mysterious smile, I chuckle and cringe to think what they will one day do for you.

Your sister is our sunshine.

You, my dear, are our moonlight.

Changing. Alterable. Seen only through a glass darkly. You wax and wan, but still possess the power to control the tides.

You bend the very oceans to your will.

Yours is not a naturally generous nature.

But your instincts are impeccable.

I promise to always trust them.

You turn every surface of our house into a drum kit. Into a guitar.

And you play your music for hours while dressed as a princess.

You clap with delight when you see an animal.

You stop and pet every dog.

You believe in dragons.

(So do I.)

You are happiest at home, playing by yourself.

You prefer to be by yourself.

And I try to understand.

Even at school (which you merely tolerate on the best days), you gravitate towards the solitary activities. Painting, drawing, wandering outside, chasing bubbles, listening to music. (Always, the music.)

You rarely speak to the other children.

You seldom acknowledge them.

You give your attention begrudgingly, and not without a fight.

Yet, when they see you, your classmates still squeal with delight. Still grip my hand and look up at me with eyes full of hope, “Is she here today? Is she? Is she?”

A part of me doesn’t understand why your poor, neglected friends love you so much.

A much bigger part of me will always understand.

You are attracted to small spaces. To cubbies, and tents, and forts, and corners.

Yet, you always invite Daddy to hide with you, giggling, under the table.

You are unafraid of the large machines Papaw drives, and look directly at the roaring engines and rapidly spinning propellers, even as they lurch towards you.

But you still cry when he tries to take you for a ride.

You love exploring the outdoors, and always want to walk faster, farther. I push you in your stroller, and hear you cry, “Adventure, mommy! Go, go! Adventure!”

You make me go farther than I think I can. For you.

You don’t need me.

Until you do.

And I will stop the Earth’s spinning if it means I can be there with you. For you.

Because when you do finally run up to me. When you do finally stretch your strong, strong arms as high as they can go, reaching for me, for one who loves you even while she’s struggling to understand the mystery that is you, I have no choice.

I will always reach back.

I have to.

Because I, too, can’t stop trying to define those moss-brown-green eyes.

I, too, crave that elusive, puckish smile.

(The things I have done just to win that smile. Oh, I pity, pity the fools who will love you. Because I am one of them.)

I, too, want to tame you.

And, when you finally snuggle your head down in the deepest crook of my shoulder? When you let your arms dangle down my back, or lazily play with my hair or earrings? When you command me, without saying a word, to sit with you for hours, or for minutes, or just a flash—a precious millisecond of sweetness and light—and I am grateful for gift of your still, powerful touch? That’s when I know that I will never tame you.

You can never be tamed.

Instead, you will tame the world.

You will.

And I know it.

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Happy third birthday, my Maddie.

My Madilicious.

My Madster.

My Moonlight Princess.

My Rocker.

My Madeline.

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Recently, a dear friend of ours, Alice, passed away. Though, really, Alice left us seven years ago, after being hit by a truck while riding her bicycle. She slipped into a non-responsive coma, and had been progressing deeper and deeper into vegetation before her body finally gave up and released her spirit on July 28, 2016. Her death (but, more importantly, her life) has been inspirational for me today, as I prepare to attend her final service and say my goodbyes.

Whenever someone young passes (especially someone as remarkable, as talented, as intelligent, as giving as Alice), there is a tendency for many well-intentioned individuals to grieve for the “tragedy” of lost or failed “potential.” To mourn the person who could have been. The life that was never lived. The plans never brought to fruition. Though these sentiments come from genuine places, and are a natural reaction to such a shocking and early loss, they often (unintentionally, I think) draw attention away from all of the wonderful accomplishments the individual did in fact achieve in their lives. All of the things our loved one completed, pursued, attempted, created, and adored in their short lives. All of the passion that drove and guided the person throughout their lives.

Alice’s life was short, but it was not one of failures or tragedies. Hers was a life full of potential, it’s true. And she lived that potential every day. She saw it through.

I know that no one asked me, but I’m going to share with you now what I believe is life’s purpose. What I believe makes life meaningful, and full, and ensures a life well lived. Ensures a life without regrets. And, like most things that I believe are True, it’s very simple.

Leave something behind.

Music. A family. A beautiful garden. Long, rambling journal entries. Well-fed, lazy cats. A business. Meticulous research. Fantastic friendships. A fat bank account. An advanced degree. Any degree. A vintage motorcycle that you rebuilt by hand in your garage. The long, lingering memory of your gentle touch when you volunteered at the nursing home. A library. A W3C approved website. A painting. A dream. Joy.

Something. Anything.

Something that bears the indelible, unerasable, unmistakable imprint of you.

Do you want your life to be worthwhile? Find your something. (That’s the hard part.) Then, work as hard as you can to create your something. (That’s the harder part.) At least try. Finishing isn’t part of the equation. It really isn’t. I think that’s where the confusion sets in. We have a tendency to measure success and accomplishment only in that which has been completed, that which is done. A life becomes more easily quantifiable when looking at projects that are finished and goals that have been achieved. But life is not about check marks tallied in some cosmic To Do list.

It’s about passion.

It’s about love.

In whatever—whatever—form that love takes.

Alice was a brilliant individual. But, beyond that, she was a passionate individual. She was a community organizer, and a supporter of the Arts. Because she wanted to make sure that everyone had a home. A place of belonging. A space where they could feel accepted and appreciated. Virginia Woolf once dreamed of a “Society of Outsiders” where artists, misfits, and outcasts could collect together without judgment, without fear, and without censorship. Alice created that. Alice accomplished that. Not because of her job (which she loved), or because of the festivals she helped organize (which she did), but because of her. Because of her optimism. Because of her glowing acceptance of everyone. Because of her genuine smile and sparkling eyes that searched your face as you spoke, never blinking away, even as you confessed (as you always would. Alice inspired confession in everyone) your most fearful, precious dreams and silly hopes to her. Because of the excitement that rippled through her whole body as she encouraged you to pursue even your craziest, most ill-advised desires and wishes. Alice lived her passion. She lived her potential. She was a home for so many people, and gathered a community around her, joined together by her acceptance. Her delight. Her joy. Hers is not a story of lost opportunities. But fully realized passion. Fully realized personhood. Fully Alice.

I’m anticipating walking into a packed church later today, filled to the brim with family, friends, classmates, well-wishers, hospital staff, artists, professors. I’m anticipating an enormous room full of dozens of different stories. Dozens of passions. Dozens of loves. Dozens of wistful smiles, inspired by the  remembrance their own, unique “Alice” story. Dozens of individuals, brought together because of one small, remarkable woman.

We will be the misfits.

The weirdos.

The outcasts.

The outsiders.

And we will be there together. We will belong. We will mourn. As a community. As a family.

United by what Alice has left behind.

Her joy.

Her passion.

It will be our home today.

Look at all you have done. Look at all you did. Smile that incredible, dimple-filled smile, and know that you lived as we all hope to live. (As I hope to one day live)

You are a loss, but never a failure. Never a tragedy.

Rest easy, dear friend.

Dear, dear Alice.

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We all could use some levity this week. And I’m on my period! So, let’s talk about all the little ways that time of the month totally fucks you up.

Food. Last year, I had some severe inflammation in my right ear, and everything sounded like I was in a pool for a month. My doctor prescribed me some Prednisone (read: steroids) for a week to get it under control. For that week, food was a euphoric paradise. Everything tasted amazing. Everything. I remember standing in my kitchen, staring at a single Nacho Cheese Dorito, and marveling at the complex science that went in to making what was surely the snack food of the Gods. Was that chemically-produced artificial cheese dust coating my fingertips, or LSD-laced fairy dust from a Day-Glo sprite? It didn’t matter. It was divine.

Being on your period is kind of like that. For one whole week, food is the cause of and answer to all of your problems. And you Never. Get. Full. This last week, I ate so many Tostitos I actually created a sore on the roof of my mouth from the salt. Then, I ate a bag of Gardettos. Because salt, motherfuckers. 

Yesterday, my husband texted me, “I just got a notice for a free Bloomin’ Onion from Outback! Want to go?” My immediate response was, “I’d eat your face right now if they deep-fried it and served it with that Bloomin’ Onion sauce.”

“So… Yes?”

Clothing. “Why do you have so many pairs of jeans?? Who could possibly need all of these jeans??”

Women can fluctuate 5-10 pounds while they’re on their periods. This means some shit won’t fit. It won’t. And, yet, walking around naked with just a tampon string hanging out continues to be frowned upon. So we need to make sure we have other shit that will fit on hand. Which means we have to have a lot of shit. In various sizes. It’s a neccessity. Back on off me. And bring me another bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips.

Dogs. Every single dog that I come into contact with (which is quite a few, as we have a very family-friendly neighborhood, and I have two children who are dog magnets) immediately shoves his/her nose directly up my crotch. And they keep it there.

They never covered that in sex ed.

And I get it. Dogs have incredibly olfactory senses, so they probably freak the hell out, thinking they smell a goddamn t-bone in there. It must be exciting.

But here’s what the nose-all-up-in-my-hootenanny seems to say to me: HEY! HEY, OWNER PERSON! GUESS WHAT? I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING IN THIS LADY’S COIN PURSE! YEAH. YEAH, THINGS ARE *INSANE* UP IN THERE. OH, GOD, IT’S ALL OVER THE PLACE! HOLD ON. I’LL TAKE ANOTHER GOOD SNIFF JUST TO CHECK ON HER! OH, GOD, SHE MIGHT BE DYING! HEY, LADY, ARE YOU DYING? HEY! DON’T PUSH ME AWAY. I’M JUST TRYING TO HELP! OWNER PERSON, I’M WORRIED THAT SHE MIGHT BE GETTING LIGHT HEADED FROM THE BLOOD LOSS. I’D BETTER SHOVE MY NOSE FURTHER UP HER COOTCH TO HELP PROP HER UP! I’M HELPING!

Smell. Dogs aside, I will say for the record that I’ve never actually smelled another woman on her period. At least, not consciously. But my close girlfriends and I have all confessed to one another that we have all noticed a distinct change in our personal aromas around that time of the month. This period side-effect has me feeling a little ambivalent, actually. I’m more fascinated and intrigued than disgusted by my own personal egg-dropping bouquet. My bathroom trashcan smells like plague-riddled death, but me? Is that a hint of musk I detect? Fascinating choice this month, hormones. I’m like a little science experiment! Yay for me!

Horniness. I know some women who get crazy horny during their periods. Which is fine. We’re all adults, with small children, and we have to take sexy time whenever we can get it, so period sex is not really as gross as we all feared it would be back in high school. It’s the horniness factor that I can’t seem to control. My period puts me on two different settings: Mother Theresa, or Samantha from Sex in the City. I will either melt your clothes off you with the passionate heat of a thousand horny suns. Or I’ll turn on Parks and Rec and remind you to bring up a glass of milk to go with the bag of Oreos I’ve stashed in my sock drawer. 

It’s called balance.

No. No, it’s not. It’s called imbalance. Schizophrenia. Uncertainty. Annoyance. 

Period.

Well, dear friends, I did it. Yesterday, I saw a Nurse Practitioner to discuss my recent GI troubles.

Because you all scared me enough to finally do it.

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I explained everything to her. The changes in stools, the bloating, the cramping, the fears that I had about long term damage (I have just enough knowledge about the large intestine to be terrified by what had been happening to me), and she began her exam.

“Deep breaths now, Rachel,” she said as she held a stethoscope to my back.

That was when I realized just how nervous I was. I tried to breathe deeply, only to find the air wouldn’t fill me. I couldn’t push it down into my stomach, couldn’t quite fill my lungs. She was very quiet. Very gentle.

“Are you nervous?”

I tried to laugh, but I nodded. “I’ve watched my husband struggle with Ulcerative Colitis for ten years now. It’s so awful. I’m going to be so pissed if I’m the one who ends up having to use a colostomy bag!”

It was supposed to be funny. But suddenly, sitting naked in that oversized gown on a sheet of paper, it didn’t feel funny at all.

She had me lay down, and she listened to my gut. Immediately, she brightened. “I can tell you right now, with quite a bit of certainty, that you do not have any obstructions or obvious growths in your colon. I can hear all of your gut noises, and they sound great. There’s clearly nothing blocking your system.”

I felt the relief immediately. No obvious signs of cancer. That was one major worry immediately taken off my list. Then, she began pressing on my belly.

“Oooh! Ow!” I physically winced as she pushed just underneath my right rib.

She stopped. “That was tender?”

“Yeah, really tender. What was that?”

“Your stomach,” she thought for awhile. “Here, let me know if any of this hurts.” She began pushing and kneading my left side. My colon made a funny groan from the pressure, and we both chuckled, but there was no pain.

“Anything?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

She helped me sit back up. “Well, here’s what I think,” she looked straight at me and smiled. “You’re very healthy. I want to send you to the lab and get some bloodwork done. I do want to check for anemia, since you’ve been so tired, and I’ll run a bunch of other tests–thyroid, liver, kidneys, inflammation levels–just to be sure. But if I had to guess right now, you know what I think it is?” She looked almost excited at the prospect. “You caught a bug. Perhaps salmonella.”

Salmonella?

She nodded. “If it was diverticulitis, you would have a fever and pain on your side. If it was e. coli, you’d probably be vomiting too. I’m actually very interested to see what your bloodwork reveals, because right now salmonella is my best guess. I’ll call in a prescription for an antibiotic for you. If your bloodwork shows that it’s not a bug, then at least it won’t do you any harm, but if it does, you’ll feel better almost right away.”

I could have cried. I almost did cry. “And running? When do you think I could run again?”

She grinned, “Finish out the ten day cycle of antibiotics, just to see how you respond to them. Then, I’d say you can start right back up!”

Suddenly, I could breathe again. I (very likely) had a bug. It was treatable. I could run again. I wouldn’t feel this way forever. This wasn’t a new normal I had to learn how to adapt to. I was okay. I was going to run that race in November after all!

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I’m still waiting to hear back about my lab tests. But I just took my first day’s antibiotics. I’m taking deep breaths, trying to let my body recover, resting it and feeding it well, and just hoping. Just waiting. Just happy that soon–very, very soon–I could lace up my shoes, take a deep breath,

And run.

I need help, dear friends.

You see, for the past two months I’ve been.

Well. Huh.

I guess I’ve been sick. But it’s been the strangest kind of illness I’ve ever experienced in my life.

You see, I’ve been experiencing what I’d call “mild diarrhea” every day for almost two months. Not “Sprinting to the Bathroom and Moaning” diarrhea. More like “Can’t Quite Trust that Fart” diarrhea. It’s been uncomfortable.

I’m sore. Raw.

I’ve had cramping and gut pain that at times left me hunched over on the couch, desperately trying to stretch, crunch, bend, or fold in any way that would relieve the pain running down my side.

I’ve been so bloated, even my yoga pants started rolling down the hard ball that had become my stomach.

The constant bathroom breaks mean that I’ve felt dehydrated for an entire season.

And, yet, I haven’t even been able to enjoy the “advantage” of stomach flu-induced weight loss.

I’ve actually put on weight.

And.

I have stopped running.

That’s perhaps the worst of it all.

I’ve gone from running about 20 miles a week while I was training for my half-marathon, to now running . . . well, nothing.

Last week, I managed about 2.5 miles before I had to stop, focus, and penguin-walk the last mile back to my house.

I have called my doctor, and I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist in August. I’ll likely get to (in the words of my husband) “meet the Silver Stallion.” But I’m okay with that. I hate that I have to wait until August, but I’m willing to go through testing and procedures to figure out what is wrong. Or if anything at all is wrong. Because I need to get back to running. I need to.

BUT, the good news is that this week, I’ve started feeling much better.

I’ve had whole days where I don’t have that “Gotta go NOW” feeling.

And my yoga pants are fitting once more.

I’ve even been able to feel hydrated again.

But, though my more obvious symptoms have abated, I now have other problems to contend with: namely exhaustion and motivation.

I’m so, so tired, you guys.

Today, I fell asleep while watching my kids. Twice. Completely on accident. Once after lunch. Once after dinner.

This morning, I woke up with my alarm at 6am. I got up, used the bathroom, and looked at my tired face in the mirror.

The next thing I knew, my daughter was crying in the next room. I rolled over to look at my clock: 7:44am.

I don’t even remember going back to bed.

My husband suspects I’m likely anemic from the last two months of what must have been some serious intestinal inflammation. And I suspect he’s likely right.

And I just don’t know what to do.

I want to run again. In a weird way, I know that I’d improve both physically and mentally if I could just get back into my running, my training. But I’m feeling stymied right now. I have a hard time finding motivation for early morning runs in heat and humidity, even when in perfect health (I’m a Northern Michigan girl. I vastly prefer cold winter mornings to the heavy, cream-of-chicken-soup summer air of Southern Indiana). Now, I’m frightened at the thought of being trapped, two miles away from my home, and suddenly having to dig a hole.

Also, I just don’t know how to get my energy back.

But, more than that, I’m frightened that I’m starting from zero again. That I’m not a runner anymore. That the second I start trying to run again will be the second I realize I never had any business trying it in the first place. That I am and always have been a fraud.

So, please, friends. Motivate me. Inspire me. Help me.

Shower me with advice. With tips. With life hacks. I’ll take them all. (Though if you start spouting off about toxins or essential oils, I reserve the right to privately mock you, even if I publically thank you. You’ve been warned.)

Because from now to August, I can’t just keep dragging along like this. I can’t undo all that I worked for, all the strength and endurance. All the hours. I can’t watch them disappear under a fog of exhaustion. I have a race coming up in November. I refuse to give that up. I have to get past this.

I have to run again.

So, please, help to show me how.

I ran the Hoosier Half-Marathon on Saturday, April 9th. It was hard. It was wonderful. Here’s what I learned from that experience. (Pictures at the end!)

  1. Runners are walkers too. I had it in my head that “runners” run. Period. That anybody who could claim the distinguished title of “runner” didn’t waste their time with pedestrian pursuits such as walking. Or chatting. Or full-out stopping. And I was determined to run my first half-marathon. Run The whole thing. Every single inch. Somehow I had convinced myself that only ceaseless, constant, unalterable running would qualify me as a runner. At least, that’s what I thought while I ran alone. Then, I started running with other runners. Runners who stopped to adjust their shoes or braces. Runners who paused to thank the volunteers handing out Powerade. Runners who waved goodbye to their friends as they stopped to visit the porta-potties along the route. Runners who walked. People who I never once doubted were “real” runners. People who were much faster than me. Much more prepared. Wearing much nicer gear than I was. And there they were, not running. Seeing these runners take their time, recognize when they needed to recover, stop when their bodies were telling them to, it finally lifted the terrifying weight of my own expectations off of my shoulders. At mile 4, I stopped on the side of the road to tighten the straps on my knee brace. At mile 9, I walked up a difficult hill. I walked about half of mile 12, saving my strength for the hard push to the finish line. I’m still a little embarrassed to admit all of the times I had to rest—and for my next race, I’m going to try to work on my endurance—but I finally see that I can still think of myself as a runner. Even when I’m walking.
  2. If the race officials say the course is “challenging” they mean it! Bloomington’s Hoosier Half is a hilly course. It is 13.1 miles of hills. And not tiny hills, either. Now, honestly, the hills weren’t all bad. I actually rather enjoy running on hills, and prefer them to flat terrain. I like how rolling hills slingshot me along in my runs, and I even find myself gleefully chanting “challenge” on the uphills and “recover” on the downhills as I pop along my usual running routes. But I do wish I would have focused specifically on the hills more. I’ve had multiple friends make comments about how strong my thighs have become throughout my training, and I always credit my hilly runs. But the course turned out to be more challenging and hillier than I anticipated. So, next time, I’ll have to talk myself into tempo and hill workouts more often than I talk myself out of them!
  3. I will never have trained “enough.” Runners are typically self-motivated perfectionists, and overly critical. Though, as a first-time racer, I was technically only training for and working towards a distance goal (“Just finish, just finish, just finish”), I couldn’t help harboring secret pace goals as well (“I can certainly manage a sub-2:30 half. But maybe a sub-2:15? Oh! What if I could do a two-hour half?? That would be amazing!”). As I trained, my absolute fastest and best times had me fantasizing about a 2:11 half-marathon. 131 minutes. A solid ten-minute/mile pace. Middle of the pack. Respectable. The day of the race, I started out just behind the pacer holding the “2:15” sign. “You’re mine,” I thought to myself. “I’m staying on you.” I even entertained visions of pacing with her, then blasting past in the last mile. I kept up with her for the first five miles. Then, she slowly pulled away. I tried to push my legs to move faster. But eventually she turned a corner, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. I could feel myself slowing in the last three miles. I kept pushing, terrified that the “2:30” pacer was just behind me, ready to overtake me and ruin even my outside, “safety” goal. I finished in 2:18. I’m happy with that time. I really am. But I also can’t help thinking that if I had trained just a little bit harder, I could have run a sub-2:15 half. Or even a 2:11. If I had added just a few more cross training sessions. Or a few more hill workouts. Or not slept in on those particularly cold, dark winter mornings. . . But I also know that there will always be a faster time, a longer distance. I did it. And in a good time. That should be enough for now. Right? Besides, there’s always next time.
  4. I’m already thinking about next time. Do I want to wait a whole year to do it all again? Or should I try to train for one of the fall races? Maybe I should focus on a shorter distance to work on my pacing and speed? I definitely don’t have any desire to try a full marathon right now (with two small children, I barely had the time to fit in my long runs for the half!). But I’m sure I could do better next time. There’s another race coming up in November. That’s right near my birthday! Maybe . . . ?
  5. Never, ever, ever wear perfume while running a long race. Seriously, are you trying to kill us all?? Notice how everyone kept trying to pass you? It’s because we were trying to get out of the downwind! You stink. Stop it.
  6. Once you get out of the pack, you find your people. Dear Hispanic Lady in the Purple Jacket: You were awesome. I lost you in mile 10 after Heartbreak Hill (you recovered much faster than I did), but you made that run so worthwhile. We were unofficial running buddies for the first ¾ of the race. We exchanged knowing eye-rolls whenever we had to deal with the “perfume twins” in front of us. We both thanked all of the police officers who controlled traffic so we could safely pass through Bloomington’s busy streets (and nodded every time we noticed that the perfume twins didn’t. Kids, right?). You were funny. And we gasped, panted, swore, and muttered small words of encouragement that were half to ourselves, half to each other. You got me through it. You really did. I’ll never forget you. Even if I only ever saw the right side of your face. Much love, Rachel.
  7. The feeling immediately after is similar to a hangover. It’s all such a blur. And I really have to poop. Also, why am I so sore in these unexpected places (my core felt like I had just done about 100 sit ups. For no apparent reason). Oh, god, my head. I really should drink water. Like, a lot of water. But I’m pretty certain that a beer would make me feel even better. I kind of have to puke. But I also kind of really want a fried egg. What did I just do? Did I just do that? Seriously, how did I even get home after that?
  8. Showers are magical. My husband is lucky that our hot water heater is broken, because if that shower had lasted any longer, I would have left him for it.
  9. Imodium, Poise Pads, Ibuprofen, Water Proof Band-Aids. But the greatest of these is Imodium.
  10. I ran 13.1 miles just for the final 11 seconds. Because in the last 11 seconds, I saw them. My husband. My oldest daughter. My friend and her daughter. They were holding signs. They were cheering. They were standing outside in 28° wind chill. And they were saying my name. I crossed that finish line. Someone handed me a medal. Someone else handed me a bottle of water. I turned around to see my daughter, bundled up in “Big Puffy,” her purple winter coat, and I burst into tears. I wept. I cried on my husband’s leather jacket as he hugged me and left a wet streak across his chest. I immediately hung my medal around my daughter’s neck. I looked down at her and said, “You know, I did this for you. All while I was running, I just kept thinking, I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. Sophie and Maddie are waiting for me. I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. You’re the reason I did this.”

A while back, a friend of mine asked me if I was running this race “for” my girls. It’s a hard question to answer, and I stumbled over my response at the time. Because, as a mother, as a woman, as someone with ambitions and dreams and hopes, just about everything that I do is some combination of mine and theirs. I needed to be away from my girls while I trained for this race. I needed to rely on family, friends, and my community to help me while I left them, to be by myself, and work on something that was just for me. I left my girls with friends, and literally ran away from them. But my hope has always been that they don’t just see my back getting smaller as I run away. I hope that they see what I’m trying to run towards. Health. Fitness. Self-confidence. Courage. Strength. Motivation. Satisfaction. Sacrifice. Reward.

My mother grew up in a pre-Title IX America. She was always interested in dance and gymnastics, but her public high school discouraged her participation in the more challenging aspects of their physical education courses. She never felt welcomed in the sports, so she never participated. When she eventually had two daughters of her own, she became one of the most supportive and active “dance moms” around. She sewed countless ribbons onto ballet shoes. Pinned skirts to leotards. Bought extra nights at the studio. Drove us five hours to dance competitions every weekend. When I was sixteen and cried to her in frustration that I was living in my sister’s shadow, my mother looked over at me and said, “Rachel, you can quit. That’s your choice. But I think you’re going to regret it. I think it’s a mistake. You want people to notice you, you have to work harder.”

“But I do work hard!”

She just looked at me. “Work harder.”

I kept going. Hearing her use the word “quit” scared me. I’d never heard her say it before. I worked. Then I worked harder. (Eventually, I was placed in a higher level dance class, though I feel no shame at all in saying that I was never anywhere near my sister in both technique and beauty. Enthusiasm was my saving grace. Not natural ability.)

My sister went on to become a professional dancer in Chicago. I was a ballet minor in college, and played softball (very badly!) in high school. My big brother plays ultimate frisbee. None of us are involved in what could be considered traditional sports, but we all have found our niches.

After the race on Saturday, I called my mom. I told her about seeing Sophie at the finish line, and only looking at her as I crossed.

Mom got excited, “Oh, wouldn’t it just be something if this inspired your girls to run? I mean, you could really get them into running! You could get them started right now! Really early!”

She was giggling, she was so happy.

It’s true, my daughters already tell me that they need space in order to do their “exercises.” They practice their ballet. They do jumping jacks, and run in place, and stretch their arms and legs out as far as they can.

And I guess that’s why I did this.

So I could see my girls, smiling and giggling, as they stretch themselves out as far, and wide, and big as they can.

Because they saw mommy do it first.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

 

Before the race foolin'.

Before the race foolin’.

 

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I'm waving a bending down towards my daughter.

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I’m waving a bending down towards my daughter.

 

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

 

There are no words.

There are no words.

 

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

 

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Oh, and I’m already planning on running the Indianapolis Monumental (Half) Marathon the first week of November. Anybody want to be training buddies?

My Dearest Husband:

How do you do it?

I don’t mean this vindictively, or snidely, or with anything other than amazement. I’m genuinely asking. I’m truly seeking answers.

How do you do it? How do you maintain the commas?

Because, for me? It’s all become hyphens. Mom-blogger, mom-helper, mom-cook, mom-runner. Even (good lord help us) mom-lover (“Okay, be in the moment, Rachel. Be in the moment. Was that a footstep? Oh, god, she’s awake. I knew that there was no way she’d go down so easily tonight! Not after all that ice cream before bed. You know, I really have to start making dinner earlier. At least for the girls. But, then, what, I’d have to have dinner ready by 5? Baths by 6? Jesus, how does anyone who works ever see their children? Well, I guess they don’t really. I mean, look at my hus– Oh! Dammit! Stay in the moment, Rachel!”)

Nothing can be separated out, you see? It’s all a big, tangled mess. But for you? You still have commas in your life.

Husband, lover, musician, engineer, mechanic. Fatherhood is just another facet. Another neat slice of your life pie-chart, contributing its portion to keep you complete. To bring you to fullness. To get you to 100%. It’s all still separate for you. Separate, but whole.

The other day, we talked about prioritizing. I complained that my running, my learning piano, my book clubs, my once-monthly girls’ nights felt inexcusably selfish. Unforgivably me-focused. But, at the same time, I couldn’t keep placing “me” at the bottom of my priority list. Especially since I so often feel as though I’m at the bottom of everyone else’s list too. That’s when I looked at you, and asked you about your priorities. Where was I? Where were the girls? Where were you? Your eyes flicked down and a small crease appeared between your eyebrows, and before you even answered, I knew.

You’ve never had to prioritize. You’ve never even thought about it.

Because you go to work, and you are a small business owner. A mechanic. A problem-solver. Then, you come home, and you can do some fun Dad stuff before Mommy declares that we need to brush our teeth and go to bed. And, sure, maybe you sit on the couch for a few minutes after the girls head upstairs, leaving Mom to take care of teeth, potty time, pull ups, and PJs all by herself, but, hey, you’ve worked hard today. You deserve a little break. (You do. You really do.) Afterwards, you snuggle in a king-sized bed with your wife, and rub your fingers along her thigh while you two watch House of Cards. Once again, though, she’s not in the mood. She just wants to sleep. But, overall, a day well spent.

Everything is still, remarkably, compartmentalized for you. Work, home, band practice, the occasional date night. It’s still hard. Very hard. We have a family business. You work 7 days a week. At least 70 hours. You wish you had more time for me. More time for the girls. More money for everything. I know that you worry that you’re missing out on your daughters’ childhood. It’s painful for all four of us when you say goodbye on Sunday mornings, especially when we know you won’t be back until after dinnertime. But, we’re trying to grow our business. That slice of the pie is just bigger right now. Soon, we’ll be able to cut some of it off, slivers at a time, until everything looks more balanced once again. Growth is hard. But we’ll get through it.

But me? I don’t have a pie in front of me. I have a plate of spaghetti. A jumbled, disorganized, hopelessly tangled mess. I have a mental inventory of every single item in our house stored away in the annals of my brain. I know where our four-year-old’s polka dot socks are, as well as your cordless drill. I know the exact placement of every single bouncy ball and crayon in our house, and if I was placed blindfolded in front of your closet, I would be able to put my hand within 3 inches of your favorite tie. I know what the thermostat is set to. I know how many ant traps we have out right now, as well as how old they are. I could tell you, with surprising accuracy, exactly how many chicken nuggets are in my refrigerator. I know that we have a play date scheduled in two hours, followed by naps, then perhaps a visit to Nana’s. I know that the insurance is due this week, and well-check appointments are next Thursday. I know that all of this information changes constantly because of the two small girls that I watch, protect, love, and occasionally resent every single day. I know that I missed recycling pick-up last week, so now I have to decide if we can make due for another week, or if I need to drag the girls to the recycling center and drop off our plastics in the meantime. I know that I need to start cooking more at home, because our credit card statement reads like a list of fast fooderies, and the workers at the local Chick-fil-A know my girls’ names now. But I know that cooking is the first thing to get thrown off my list at the end of a long day, and I know that it’s easy to call you and just ask for some fries instead.

I know that I’m so, so tired.

I know that you are too.

But you can at least find the small slice of “Bobbie” in your pie. It’s tiny, but it’s there. It plays music on Thursday nights. It builds guitars and spends I-don’t-know-how-many sleepless hours researching pickup combinations and guitar pedal wiring diagrams (you seriously have the most boring Google search history ever). It loves woodworking and landscaping, two places where it can show off its artistic side.

For me? It’s getting harder and harder to find that one “Rachel” noddle on my plate. Sure, I can go to book club, but I can only stay for an hour or so. My husband has to leave early for a meeting in the morning, so we’ll all get an early start tomorrow. I get to weave and create textiles on my loom, but I have kept only one or two pieces for myself. All the rest are gifts. I host play dates and drink buckets of coffee with my girlfriends. But we end up talking about the kids, being interrupted by the kids, cooking for the kids, kissing booboos on the kids. Once again, “we” are placed beneath (and outnumbered by) “them.” Even running, my one reprieve, is still tinged by my unrelentless momness. Running used to be my way to think. I would escape all of my worries, think about books, plot out the arguments for my dissertation, compose syllabuses and class plans. I never used to even listen to music while I ran. Now, I run to banish all of my thoughts. I run so I don’t have to think. I crank up the southern rock, and try to escape, well, me. I try to forget that I need to finish these five miles in under an hour, or else you’ll be late leaving for work. I try to forget that I’ve had to ask my mother-in-law to watch the girls–again–so that I can get in a run (and try to forget how much you hate that I have to lean on her so much). I try to forget that we’re almost out of milk. I try to forget the bills. The loneliness. The way that even this thing that I do, this completely solitary activity, is burdened by all of the other people and things in my life. The way that I carry my daughters, my mother-in-law, my friends, even your cordless drill around with me as I run.

Maybe your ability to compartmentalize is just another product of your male privilege. As a man, you’re not expected to be a “dad-entrepreneur.” You’re allowed to be a dad, and a businessman. In many ways, I am not afforded that same privilege.

But it often feels more sinister than that. My hyphenated state feels strongly self-imposed. A result of an overzealous rewrite of my own life, where I edited out all of my commas, one at a time. It felt inevitable at the time. It felt like it was the right thing to do after I became a mother. I should be able to delete the hyphens, organize the spaghetti, weave the noodles into a single tapestry (sort out my muddled analogies). I should be able to re-punctuate my life. But I still just don’t know how.

So, do you have any suggestions, dear husband? Can you help me? Or is your pie-chart, comma existence not really as great as it seems to me? Maybe you’re jealous of me? Maybe we both need to be our own messy, eternally divided selves in order for this to work? A part of me hopes that’s the case. The part that is tired. The part that just doesn’t want to keep searching for the unhyphenated, noodle “me.” But it wouldn’t be fair to you to stop looking for me. I cherish the small slice of “you” I get to taste every now and then. You deserve “me,” as well. Me in the moment. Me without the burdens. Me completely unattached to anything else.

Maybe together we can figure this out. You. And me.

Love always,

Rachel

It’s March 9th. On April 9th, I will run my very first half marathon. That is, I hope I will run my very first half marathon. I know that (Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise) I will cross the Start Line, and I know I will cross the Finish Line. What happens in between is anyone’s guess.

It’s been two months since I began training for this race. In that time, I’ve learned many things, and I’m struggling with many more. At this critical juncture, I think it’s time to record a few of those lessons here.

  1. The Stats Don’t Really Matter. In many ways, training for this half marathon has reminded me of writing my dissertation for my PhD. One of the things you learn pretty quickly, is that the end result is not actually as critical as the process itself. My committee barely glanced at my finished dissertation (and I certainly never gave it a second thought once it was completed). They didn’t judge my readiness for my PhD through the finished 264 pages. They determined my abilities based on the four years prior. The conferences I attended. The countless drafts I submitted. The many (many!) rabbit holes I pursued to no real avail. I’m slowly coming to understand that this half marathon will be the same way. How fast I’m able to finish. Whether or not I’ll have to walk a few miles. Where I place in the pack. How well I’m able to pace myself. Only other runners will be interested in those details. I will be interested in those details. Everybody else will just care that I finish. My dissertation is not worthy of publication. But that doesn’t matter. I have my PhD. That’s the accomplishment. Everything else is just statistics. (You think anyone cared when this guy finished the Boston Marathon dead last, and in 20 hours? Hell no! He finished the Boston Marathon. End of story.)
  2. I’m Constantly Disappointing Myself. Running is an almost entirely self-motivated sport. There’s no team. No coach. No fans in the bleachers. It’s you. It’s your head. Your thoughts. Maybe some music. A road. The air. Therefore, it’s not surprising that runners are considered something of a psychological mystery. Because of the release of endorphins that comes with any physical activity, running eventually feels good, but the good feelings—the high—are very temporary and only last a short time. Getting your brain to release that dopamine is a long process. And a painful one. And it’s all on you. The runner has to be willing to undergo hours of self-inflicted torture for twenty minutes of satisfaction. And research has shown that runners often self-identify as intelligent, motivated, excited by challenges and risks, and highly critical (Who has two thumbs and fits all those personality traits to a T? This girl!). The majority of my training these last few months, therefore, has involved me analyzing, assessing, and finding fault with every aspect of my running. I slept in and missed my cross training session. I had to walk after that last hill. I couldn’t make the distance I wanted to. I didn’t eat right before a run, and was stymied by horrible cramps. My running is all on me, so when something goes wrong (and it frequently does) I have no one else to blame. So I blame me. A lot.
  3. I’m Constantly Impressed with Myself. All that being said, my training is truly paying off. I’m improving. Quite a lot. Every day when I go out for a run, I can feel how much stronger I’ve become in just two months. How my stride has changed. How my breathing has slowed. How my pace has increased. That’s perhaps the best and most surprising part of this process: the improvement in my pace. I didn’t even care about pace when I began training. I wanted the distance. I wanted to be able to say that I can run—run!!—13 whole miles. I never thought I would get faster in the meantime, but I have. When I first started back into running after a nearly 4-year hiatus, I was thrilled when I completed my first outside mile in 11:57, three seconds faster than I could run on the treadmill. Today, a 12-minute mile would feel like crawling for me. The last three times I’ve run my routine “maintenance” miles, I’ve completed them in an average of 9:30 per mile (some splits faster, some slower, but pretty consistent for a newbie). I regularly can now look down at my watch, and amaze myself with a PR that I never seem to be anticipating. I realized just last week that I’ll likely run this race as a “middle of the pack” runner. That makes me proud. I’m only 4’11”. I have 25” inseam. I’m pear shaped. But I’m moving. I’m not breaking any records, but I’m taking a body that falls solidly on the left side of the bell curve and pushing its capabilities right into the center. That’s kind of awesome. Kind of really awesome.
  4. I’m Not Doing this Alone. Running is solitary. Being a runner isn’t. Being a runner who is also a stay-at-home-parent of two small children with a spouse who works 70 hours a week requires a community. Though I try to get my runs finished in the mornings before my husband leaves for work, often, that plan fails. Training through all of January and February, there were plenty of mornings where roads were slick, sidewalks weren’t cleared off, visibility was minimal. For me, safety always comes first. Even if that means sacrificing a run. If conditions are bad, or in any way dangerous I just won’t go out. (I hate running in the dark. Even though I live in a quiet neighborhood, I am required to run on several streets without sidewalks, and I don’t want to be running on the same street as a sleepy sanitation worker who might be reaching for his coffee instead of looking for short moms in reflective tights.) Plans don’t always work out. So I’ve needed other people. A lot. On the weekends, my husband goes into work an hour and a half late, so I can get in a long run after sunrise. During the week, my mother-in-law watches my girls for a few hours so I can slip out to the YMCA (when the weather is cold) or down to my favorite trail, and still have time for a shower. My neighbor and I exchange babysitting. I’ll watch her boys when she has a doctor’s appointment, and she gets my girls when I need to wait until the afternoon for a run. Friends have emailed me, texted me, and told me that I’m doing a great job. I’ve asked for (and received!) Facebook messages of encouragement from both runners and non-runners. People have actually walked up to me, and told me that following my updates on my running has inspired them to try running. To try walking. To try Zumba. To try. I’ve even had neighbors roll down their windows and wave and cheer as they drive past me. All of this has made my training possible. I couldn’t have made the progress I’ve made without all of you. My community.
  5. I’m Still Totally, Completely, Unbelievably, Shaking-Down-to-My-Boots Terrified. I mean, seriously. 13.1 miles?? What the hell was I thinking? What am I thinking? And it hurts. (I’m starting to have IT pain in my left knee. That shit is uncomfortable as hell!) And it’s hard. Really hard. Why am I doing this thing that’s really, really, really, ridiculously hard? For a medal? For the bragging rights? I mean, really, Rachel, why?

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m doing this. It all just seems like an extended experiment in pain tolerance most of the time. But I do know what my mantra has been (what it’s been ever since I started my PhD, actually). John F. Kennedy, when he announced to the world that America would send a man to the Moon within a decade, gave one of the most inspiring speeches in the history of American politics. And I think about that speech every time I run. Every time I realize that it’s hard. Every time I want to quit. JFK talked about the whys too. Why go to the Moon? Why explore beyond our atmosphere? Why spend the money, and risk the lives, and tap the brain power? His response:

 “We . . . do . . . [these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Because they are hard.

I want to do hard things. (That’s what she said.) I’d rather fail doing something difficult, something challenging, something impossible, then float along on a cloud of a million easy successes. I want to reach, and stretch, and pull all less-than-five-feet of me to the farthest distances I can, both figurative and literal. I want to do this.

And right now, at this moment, I think that I can.

It’s a Friday night, and my husband and I have just decided on pizza for dinner. I’m elbow-deep in a blow-out diaper and wrangling a screaming, unwilling toddler who is attempting to throw herself off the changing table. While I hold her thrashing legs down with my forearms and contort my wrists to wipe the poop out of her tiny vagina, I manage to grunt, “Better get a lemonade for the girls to share, too.”

My husband nods. “Yeah, good idea.”

He’s holding his phone in his hands, but he doesn’t attempt to make the call. And I don’t expect him to. Instead, I finish with the diaper, make a feeble attempt at redressing my daughter (Fuck it. It’s Friday night. Nobody should have to wear pants.), wash my hands, then I call the pizza place. They recognize my phone number, pull up my account, and we get our usual delivered to our door. When the doorbell rings, again, my husband doesn’t move. I get up (naked toddler running behind me), pay, give the guy a good tip, tell him to “Keep warm out there!” and hand the girls their lemonade.

I’ve been with my husband for 12 years.

He’s never called the pizza place.

Or the Indian place.

Or the Mexican place.

Or spoken to a salesperson.

Or given anything more than an awkward smile when a stranger in the grocery store tells him that he has “Such adorable girls!” (My favorite response? “Thanks! I made them myself.”)

Such is life with an introvert.

I don’t expect him to call the pizza place, or chat with the friendly stranger. I know that’s my job. It is as solidly written into our marital contract as that whole “love, honor, and respect” thing.  I know that he needs to quietly unwind after work, and he knows that I need to tell him every mundane detail of the previous ten hours. We compromise. I ramble on, and I let him play puzzle games on his phone, knowing that he’s only about 1/8 engaged with what I’m saying. But it’s okay. It’s what we both need.

See, introverts? I get it. I am your extrovert ally. I’ll get the waiter’s attention after he gives you a regular burger instead of a black bean burger. I’ll ask your Aunt Meredith all about her genealogy research, and I’ll crack as many raucous, inappropriate jokes as I can when it’s your turn to host book club.

I’ve got your back, introverts.

All I ask is that you do me a favor in return.

Shut the fuck up.

Ironic, right? The half of the population known for verbally freezing in groups of 3 or more, and I’m asking you to stop.

But, seriously, just stop.

Recently, I’ve noticed a rash of online articles, memes, and posts from self-proclaimed “introverts,” all of which beg the rest of us to “care for” or “understand” or “be gentle with” introverts. To appreciate the incredible, gentle flower petal/snowflake/tiny miracle of God that is an introvert. Mostly, these things plead with the rest of us (those insensitive assholes, extroverts) to recognize that introverts are misunderstood, creative artists, whose inner machinations are more complex and sensitive than anyone truly appreciates. That they are the proverbial glacier: only a small portion of their true selves is visible above the surface, while 90% floats, unseen, in the waters beneath.

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Excuse me while I vomit.

Let me preface this by coming out. As an extrovert. As the extrovertiest of the extroverts. I feel recharged, inspired, energized, excited by social interactions, by long talks and laughs over coffee, by dancing with a stranger at a concert so loud your ears ring for days, by telling the lone woman in the grocery store that I like her coat. As a writer, as an English PhD, I’m constantly looking for other people’s stories, for narratives. I thrive on that. I live for that.

And guess what?

Social interaction makes me anxious too.

It freaks me out to think about silence (You remember that Alanis Morrisette song where she asks, “Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this?” Then she cuts out the sound? It raises my damn blood pressure every time. Seriously). It stresses me to think about a lull in the conversation. When I’m heading to a social gathering, no matter the size, I always use the drive there to think about potential topics of conversation, to keep subject matter fresh in my mind. “Okay, so Dan’s a professor. I can ask him about syllabus construction, first-generation college students, how well his institution treats adjuncts. I can tell the story of my dissertation defense.” “Veronica’s a stay-at-home mom, so, obviously, kids are going to be a big topic. Also, local schools, freezer meals, that crazy anti-vaxxer lady who came to the last craft night. I can ask her opinion about Maddie’s latest ENT appointment.” Often, I don’t need to go through my prepared list—I can usually just let the conversation flow—but my anxiety about being likable, being interesting, being a good friend, being funny overtakes me every time. I can’t turn it off. I don’t know how.

And if there does happen to be a lull in the conversation? I just don’t know how to react. I go into panic mode. Even if no other person in the room notices or cares, my brain starts whirring. Silence! Silence! Silence is death! We’re all gonna DIE!!

The other day, I had two friends over. One is a friend who was just becoming one of my closest friends before she and her family moved away last year. Just one town over, but far enough that I don’t see her as regularly as I had been. I still desperately want to claim this woman as my friend. I want to prove that I am worthy of her friendship. I consider ours to be a new relationship, so my fear of boring her (and therefore, losing her) is high.

While we were eating lunch, I started talking about my latest eye exam. I laughed, “The optometrist kept saying, ‘Wow, you have such interesting eyes.’ You know that’s never a good thing to hear!” I was going to then talk about how nerve wracking it was for me to order eyeglasses online for the first time, but we all started discussing our crazy vision issues instead.

Then, later, there was a lull in the conversation. It got so bad, that my other good friend took out her phone to check Facebook (Death! Silence is death! She’s going to hate me and leave me and never want to come visit ever again!). I wanted to revisit the topic of ordering glasses, but I started by saying, “So, the other day, the optometrist just kept saying, ‘Wow, you have such interesting eyes!’”

Oh. My. God.

I heard it. I just repeated myself. Word for word. My conversation is redundant! I’m not a friend worthy of keeping! I panicked. I rambled for awhile, then just trailed off. (And never talked about ordering my new glasses, by the way.)

That was two weeks ago. I’m still worried about it. I still think about it. I still haven’t asked her back, because, honestly, why would she come back to such a boring household as mine? I couldn’t even keep her entertained for an hour and a half! Why on earth would she want me as a friend?

See? We’re all neurotic. It’s a universal human condition. In fact, I’d argue that, the older we get, the more mature we become, the more we all start to understand just how important, how significant social interactions are. So we are doomed to become even more neurotic as the weight of interpersonal relationships starts pushing us down.

You’re not all that special, introverts. But neither am I. And I’m okay with that.

Also, I want you to stop posting those god-awful memes (usually, featuring a stock image of someone standing at the end of a pier, looking thoughtfully over a misty lake) that describe how you just need to be alone. You just need to recharge. No offense, world. I just need to take some time for me. Because I’m an introvert. And, like this misty lake, my still waters run deep. I’m special.

No, you’re not.

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Want to know what my favorite pastimes are? Running, reading books, weaving, writing, playing piano. Not exactly social activities. I love long, hot baths. I love my big, comfy red chair that is pressed against my wall-to-wall bookshelves, facing my favorite Georgia O’Keefe print. I love hot cups of mint tea.

I love to be alone.

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Again, it’s a universal condition, a product of just being an adult, that sometimes there’s too much noise. Too much touching (As a mother, I get “over-touched” pretty regularly. My three-year-old is particularly cuddly, which is wonderful. Until it’s not). Too much talking. With so many things to think about. So many things to do. So many other people to consider. So few moments for the self, for the individual, for creativity it becomes easy to feel overwhelmed. If you need alone time, odds are good that you’re not a tortured artist. You’re an adult. Because when you become an adult, you realize the necessity of putting yourself farther down on your list. Childhood is the time of selfishness. The time of the Id. And it should be. Adulthood happens when you intentionally, fearfully, sometimes resentfully push that selfishness aside and try to put other people first. It’s exhausting. And it should be. So guess what? We all need to take a break. We all need to chill. All of us.

Finally, introverts, please stop complaining about how nobody understands you. About how there’s so much more to you than what people see on the surface. About how too many of your interactions are just so scripted. So much useless small talk. Why can’t we all just get to the real issues? Life, love, sex, gravitational waves?

Let me be the first, Holden Caulfield, to express my sympathy for all of the phonies you’ve had to deal with in your life.

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If you are reading this blog, then odds are good that you believe that you know me. And you do, in a way. You know details. You know chronology. You know a lot of facts about me. But don’t think for a minute that I am ever under the illusion that my autobiographical writing translates to me being known. There’s a big difference between the persona I create through narrative, and me. Just as there’s a difference between fact and truth. I try very hard to blend the two in my writing. But no form of communication is ever perfect. There’s always more.

Here’s the thing: If “nobody” understands you, then the common denominator in that equation is you. You are the one who is responsible for your own message. For your own narrative. If you don’t tell us, then we can’t be blamed for trying to read into your silence. And, yes, that often means that we get things wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I got into an argument with a close friend. Someone I’ve known my whole life. It was a silly argument, based on misinterpreted texts and Facebook comments. I had insulted her—completely by accident, though that is irrelevant, as she felt the slight anyway—and she responded privately that she wasn’t going to even engage in a response to my callous remarks. I immediately blew up, “Then how the hell are we ever going to solve this?? How am I supposed to know what I did wrong if you won’t tell me what I did wrong? I can’t read your mind!” She let me know, in so many words, that she was saddened by how little I truly knew her.

And she was right. I want to know her. So badly. But I don’t. I haven’t figured out how to crack her code. How to get her to feel comfortable enough around me to open up, to move beyond the raucous jokes at book club, and superficial conversations about favorite movies. I made an assumption about her sense of self based on the little scraps and bits that I had managed to scrape off the surface. And I was wrong.

(That’s my burden as much as it is hers. Part of being an extrovert is dealing with just how uncomfortable I can make introverts. I feel terrible when I see introverts shy away from me, overwhelmed by my advances and questions. Especially being so open about my own life, most introverts I know fear that I will suddenly start telling their stories for them. I don’t. I truly don’t. Narrative is sacred to me. Your stories are not mine to tell. They never have been and never will be. I understand why you’re nervous, but please trust me. I’m a narcissist. I only tell my stories.)

What I’m trying to say, introverts, is that you need to realize that we’re all just trying to understand each other. All of us. And we’re all a huge pile of neuroses about it. We are all in control of our own, personal narrative. That’s a frightening, enormous power to possess. And if you find yourself constantly at loggerheads with people, frustrated that your message is getting lost, then it might be time to rethink how you are presenting that message. None of us are mind readers, after all. Trust me, we extroverts are just as frustrated that we are repeatedly, regularly missing the mark with you. We want to know you. I want to know you.

I know that the thought makes you nervous. I know that it’s terrifying. I know that you just want to hope and pray that someone will just get it, without you having to explain it.

Well, I’m not sure that can happen.

But if you do want to talk about it, I’ll be here.

And I’ll even order the pizza for you.