The Catch-Me-If-You-Can Workout by Chester!

From the moment I brought him home, Chester was a great companion for Beautiful White Princess. They were fast friends and their temperaments complemented each other well. One time I even saw them curled up on the bed together!

I bonded with Princess by brushing her perfect long hair and telling her stories of her beauty—of how it was legendary far and wide. She tucked me in every night by lying on top of me, her face inches from mine, and letting me scratch her cheeks and head while she purred and kneaded my chest and licked the sheets beneath my chin.

I bonded with Chester by chasing him through the hallways of my apartment building—a game he invented for us. I lived in a front second-floor unit of a small three-story building with basement. One night Chester was pawing at the door asking to go out. Being the sucker I am, I let him out to explore the hallway. (Princess had done this in my previous apartment building but she never went more than about 25 feet.) Instead, he disappeared into the front stairwell and was gone—like totally and completely gone in an instant. Like Harry Potter disapparating kind of gone.

Screenshot-2018-4-5 59 Ogden St Denver, CO 80218

This is what the hallways look like now (since being renovated).

I laughed and guessed he’d gone up a floor, so up I ran. No cat. Hmm. Down a floor. No cat. Down another floor. Ha! There he was, sitting in the middle of the hallway staring boredly as if he’d been waiting for hours. As I ran toward him laughing, he turned and sprinted into the back stairwell. This time I saw that he’d gone up. As I was more than halfway to the back stairwell, I increased speed and followed him up. But did he go one or two levels? A quick stop on two revealed no cat. I ran up to three and there he was in the middle of the hallway again, bored and watching me. By this point I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe–his nonchalance was killing me! As you can imagine, as I started to approach him he turned tail and sprinted into the front stairwell again. How the EFF was I going to catch this cat?!

I don’t remember how the game finally concluded (any of the times we played it). I might have had to shut front and back stairwell doors strategically to be able to trap him. Or maybe he finally just let me catch up to him. That game cracked me up—every time—and we played it almost nightly. I had already known he was magical at understanding what I was saying to him and now I knew he was faster than the speed of light. He was a trickster with a dry mischievousness.

We played that game for many months until I came home to a note on my door from the apartment manager. She said she’d received complaints from a neighbor who was deathly allergic to cats that my cat had been spotted in the hallway on numerous occasions. So as not to kill this neighbor, I was expected to keep my cat in my apartment at all times.

Dumb.

whatever-smiley

I would need to think of a way to give Chester more opportunities to run and play and change altitudes within my apartment…

Eventually I would land upon the brilliant idea of building him a cat tower.

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How I Became Chester’s (cont.)

Did I leave you hanging with that last post? Yes. Yes I did.

Lemme guess: You’re thinking, “Okay, so you have a healthy cat at home (in your one-bedroom apartment) and a (potentially chronically) sick cat in your car. What’s the plan now?”

pickle

Indeed I was in a pickle. I had rescued this guy by hook and by crook, but I hadn’t expected he would be ill.

We headed first to a veterinary clinic. (I’m starting to think I adopted him on a Monday because I remember taking him straight to the vet and most vets are closed on Sundays. Perhaps the security guard backdated the adoption paperwork?)

According to my records I took him to Washington Park Veterinary Clinic, a place I’d never been. (I would have sworn I took him to Firehouse Animal Hospital—this is starting to freak me out. Why can’t I remember my own life?!) The staff was incredibly understanding and didn’t even charge me for the exam. They drew blood to test him for FIV and leukemia and sent me to the lobby to wait for the results.

While waiting, my mind was flooded with worry about what I’d do if he was found to have a chronic communicable disease. The Ragdoll had tested positive so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that he might also.

When the tech came out and told me that he was absolutely fine except for a terrible case of kennel cough, I remember trying to choke back tears of relief (which I’m fairly certain I failed at). The amount of emotion I felt was overwhelming and caught me completely off guard. What sway this cat had over me already!

I was given a liquid antibiotic for his kennel cough and I was told he’d be okay to be around other cats in 7 to 10 days.

With tears streaming down my face I explained to him in the car that he was going to be just fine once we cleared him of his nasty cold.

But…now what?

next move

I couldn’t take him home for risk of exposing Princess to kennel cough. I couldn’t take him to Rebecca’s because of her two cats. Who did I know who didn’t have any animals and might love me enough to care for my sick cat?

Katie!

Despite her cat allergy, Katie readily agreed to take him in and care for him for the 7 to 10 days it would take him to recover. So off we drove to her tiny one-bedroom apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

What a strange experience for this cat! To be adopted by one person but then taken to stay with someone else for the first week. I told him about Princess and about how excited she would be to meet him… “But I can’t risk you getting her sick the way some other animal in the shelter got you sick. So we’re going to Katie’s house. She’s my best friend and you will love her; everyone loves her—she’s delightful. But maybe don’t love her too much, okay? I’ll be over to visit as often as I can. Your only job is to rest and to heal. We’re going to have a great life together—you, Princess, and me. You’re going to start feeling better really soon. Katie is going to give you a medicine that will help you be able to breathe easier and open your eyes wider and not be such a sneezy-head.”

And so it went. This sweet man started to be called Chester and he recuperated in Katie’s apartment. She subsisted on Benadryl while sharing her bed with this cuddly, swollen-faced cat who sneezed a lot. She will forever have my undying gratitude. ♥

043007 messy table

Chester many years later with Miranda, who clearly adored him (as did all the ladies).

How I Became Chester’s

At the age of 26 I had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment with my four-year-old cat, Beautiful White Princess. I had a new job and was spending time with my girlfriend, Rebecca, so Princess was often alone…and seemed lonely.

BWP2

Beautiful White Princess in Repose

I decided she would be happier if she had a friend, so Rebecca and I went to the Adams County Animal Control Center to find her a cat. For the life of me I cannot recall why it was so specifically THAT place…but given that it was a long drive to get there, I know it was intentional.

To get to the cats, we first had to walk down THE LONGEST CORRIDOR EVER of dogs. Behind the chain-link fencing of their cage fronts they barked, jumped, smiled, or danced—so excited to see people who might take them home. This was traumatic for both of us because we knew we couldn’t help any of them, so we averted our eyes (with only moderate success) and walked like speed racers.

Three of the cat room’s four walls were comprised of perfect rows and columns of individual metal cages, each with a tiny litter box and a bowl of water. There were little cat faces surrounding us from low to high like a feline version of The Hollywood Squares.

cat cage walls

My mom had gravely and adamantly warned me away from selecting a male cat because of…reasons I can’t quite recall (but likely pertained to the possibility of spraying). Whatever she’d said, likely multiple times, had influenced me enough that I was only open to adopting a female.

The first one to capture my attention was a tiny Ragdoll who clearly was not well—her eyes and nose were runny and she seemed to feel puny. She was sweet as could be, pure fluff with only the tiniest body hidden under so much long fur. Perhaps because her need seemed the most dire, I decided uncharacteristically swiftly that she would be my new cat.

Also of note was an orange tabby who was putting on a huge show by meowing and purring, rubbing his face all over the front of the cage, and sticking his little paws out in an effort to grab us. He was so freaking cute…but unfortunately male.

I told the staff member I wanted the Ragdoll and was told that because she was ill, she would need to be tested before they could release her. I left empty handed, waiting impatiently for the phone call that would tell me she was okay.

When it finally came later that evening, the news was devastating: She had tested positive for either FIV or feline leukemia (or both) and would be euthanized per shelter procedure. I grieved a cat who had been mine only in my imagination—such a beautiful sweet tiny creature!

And still I needed a cat for my cat.

The next day was Sunday and my only chance to return to the shelter until the next weekend—and I didn’t want to wait that long. Rebecca couldn’t go with me but also didn’t need to: “If he’s still there, get the orange tabby—the guy who was rubbing his face all over the cage and reaching his paws out. He’s been on my mind since we left the shelter. No matter what else I might be thinking about, his face pops into my mind. He’s the one.”

“But he’s a boy!” I protested.

“I know, but apparently he wants to be your boy.”

I didn’t question Rebecca’s intuition; I had taken her with me for a reason and I trusted that if she felt so strongly about one of the cats, I couldn’t go wrong to follow her guidance. She had two gorgeous sister tuxedo cats, Miranda and Alexa, and I greatly respected her knowledge of and connection to felines.

I made the long drive back to the shelter, marched to the front door with my cat carrier, and was confused when the door wouldn’t open. I peered through to a darkened lobby and noticed a Closed sign hanging on the door.

Closed

“Wait, what? How could it be closed?! There are animals in there who need homes!” I was swept up in emotion, mostly frustration and mild panic. What if my cat gets adopted before I can come back? What if he isn’t even here now?

Right then a security guard unlocked and opened the door. It’s possible I was crying, or at the very least looked incredibly pathetic, because he asked if I was okay. I explained that I’d tried to rescue a Ragdoll the day before but that she’d been found to be ill and had to be euthanized so I was here to get the orange tabby (sniffle sniffle wipe tears sniffle). “I drove a long way and this is my only day off this week and I’m just here to pick up the orange tabby.”

He was incredibly sweet and obviously cared about animals because he said, “Well, I don’t work directly for the shelter but I’ve been around here long enough to know the process. Come on in, I think we can get you your cat.”

The guard walked me down the long dog corridor and hollered for someone once we got to the end. It was a different experience this time because all the lights were dimmed—like during a power outage when only the emergency lights are functioning. A young man with Down Syndrome appeared and walked me to where the cats were.

Although a room different from before, I beelined directly to the orange tabby who was, as before, meowing and rubbing his face all over the bars of the cage and reaching out with his paws.

And then he sneezed.

F#@k!

And then he sneezed again.

Noooooo!!!!

The shelter worker didn’t seem to notice or care about the sneezing as he opened the cage, grabbed the cat, and transferred him to my hard-sided carrier. Then he left the room to continue with his normal duties.

I leaned over and looked intently into the cat’s eyes, which were only tiny slits because his face was so puffy. I said slowly and clearly, “Rebecca delivered your message to me, so I’m here to take you home. Here’s the deal, though: They are not supposed to let me have you if you’re sick. And obviously you are sick. I need you to do everything you can to NOT SNEEZE in front of the security guard.”

During the entire walk along the dog corridor I spoke insistently and repetitively above the barking: “There’s only one thing I need you to do: You cannot sneeze in front of the man. You must be totally quiet. I’ll get us out of here as fast as possible. Your only job is to be silent.”

I must have told him 50 different ways that silence was imperative in front of the nice man.

When we got back to the lobby, the guard was waiting with a clipboard of paperwork for me. I set the carrier on a bench near the door—as far away as I could without drawing suspicion—and then stood at the counter writing as fast as I could on form after form. I paid $8.00, made sure all was good with the guard, thanked him profusely, and then exited as quickly as I could without breaking into a run.

Upon reaching my car I placed the carrier on the passenger seat, shut my door, and:

SNEEZE!

SNEEZE! SNEEZE!

SNEEZE! SNEEZE! SNEEZE!

For the next five minutes he sneezed nonstop.

Clearly this guy was something special.

ChesteronBed

Dirt in a Glass: The Beginning of a Meaningful Love Story

In my last post about not moving to Salida, I left out a fairly critical thing—quite intentionally. I chose not to mention that a couple weeks before I hit the snag with my loan, I’d met a woman.

She’s breathtakingly gorgeous, vibrant, smart, hilarious, athletic, sweet, and playful (among 80 other things I could say about her). Basically, she’s dreamy. And we’re courting—like, legit old-school courting. She’s masterful at it…and I’m smitten. At this point we’ve been dating for about 6 weeks and I’m just now to the point of ALMOST being able to concentrate on a task for 30 seconds without thinking about her and swooning.

swoon

When I was in the throes of making the to-Salida-or-not-to-Salida choice, she was insistent that I NOT be influenced by her sudden presence in my life. As far as she was concerned, it was all good either way and I should make the best choice for me. While I can’t quantify how successful I was at honoring her wish, I did my best—and that’s why I didn’t mention her in my previous post.

Another reason I didn’t mention her was because, while I’m not generally superstitious, somewhere in my brain there’s a gem of a thought that says, “Don’t write about her!! If you do, it’ll all be over!”

Looking at this in the light of day, I recognize it to be a totally ridiculous thought. And as a thought chaser, I’m intrigued. Where does this come from?

First of all, there’s the obvious: If I pour my heart out about her and then it all goes to hell, I’ll feel like an ass and there will forever be a commemoration of my adoration of her on my blog. Meh, I can live with that. There are worse things than being smitten with a phenomenal woman (such as, for example, being smitten with an a-hole woman, which has also happened).

Beyond the fear of making an ass of myself (a fear which I’m happy to report is falling more and more by the wayside as I near the big 4-0), I realize that it’s simply more vulnerable to write in the present tense because I.don’t.know.the.ending. How can I wrap meaning around circumstance to form cute little giftable bundles of story if I have no idea what’s going to happen?! It’s much easier to look back on situations and read into the signs and circumstances whatever meaning I can glean/craft in hindsight. (I think I was unduly influenced by shows like The Wonder Years and Doogie Howser, M.D.)

For example, if I HAD moved to Salida, the signs would have meant that I was called there—and that would have been true and made for a great story. If things had worked out with the woman I was dating in Salida, it would have been so much fun to tell everyone about the time when we were first dating and both had a katydid (an insect that looks like a green leaf) on our front doors on the same day (and neither of us had seen a katydid in years until that day)! Of course that would have meant that we were meant to be!

sign

I’m mocking myself and the joy I find in making meaning of things to underscore the point of discomfort I’ve achieved by realizing that nothing necessarily means anything. My current woman (I’ll call her Goddess) and I have the START of a beautiful love story—which is SUCH a fun place to be: with the flirting, the verbal banter, the playfulness, the competence of Goddess to return ANYTHING I volley into her court. And with all that, there’s the simultaneous awareness that all I can do to give this the best shot at success—whatever that will come to be—is to be present.

I am being called to be present. I am being called not to make anything mean anything.

The check returning my earnest money on the house in Salida was written with my last name as the combination of mine and Goddess’s. As it turns out, our last names are only one letter off from each other’s. The check writer obviously wasn’t sure which was correct, so she wrote the check to accommodate both our last names. The one letter of divergence was written as a W (mine) overwritten with an R. Or perhaps it was an R overwritten with a W. It was both hers and mine—almost as if to have invented a new letter altogether. And do I want to make that mean all kinds of things about our future together? Hells YES! Will doing that be helpful? Hells NO! Doing that will project me both into the future and into romantic delusion—neither of which is ideal.

I am being called to be present. I am being called not to make anything mean anything. I am being called to sit in the discomfort that being in romantic relationship can create and to allow it and to be aware of it and to use it as a chance to release that which no longer serves me.

Being single is easy. I’ve mastered being single. I’ve mastered doing what I want, when I want, with whom I want. Though I’ve grown a lot in my singlehood—which those friends know who witnessed me in the years just after my nine-plus-year relationship ended six years ago—it’s now time for new growth.

I attended a training this weekend in which one of the leaders likened being in relationship to water filling a glass that has dirt at the bottom of it. As the water pours in, the dirt is disturbed and starts to churn and rise up in the glass. If enough water is poured into the glass, the water will eventually run clear—but first the dirt needs to churn and rise.

I’m in the thick of the rising, churning dirt storm. And it’s okay.

Dirty water

Every insecurity I have is being churned up. And it’s okay.

If I can see myself through to clear water, with the help of lots of love from all around pouring into the glass, I will be that much more present and that much clearer to share all of me. And then, regardless of what happens in the plot line of this love story, love will have won. And I’ll be right there to assign it all meaning…from the future…in hindsight.

The Move I Almost Made

I’m pretty sure my lot in life is to learn the most obvious things in the most difficult ways. And of course by “most difficult” I mean “really not that difficult, but because I have a blog and I LOVE to exaggerate, I’ll make it sound difficult.”

While you might assume this post to be about dating, it’s actually about the move I almost made to Salida, Colorado.

Salida is a rural town located two-and-a-half hours southwest of Denver. It’s a small Mayberryish town filled with incredibly interesting people. The landscape is stunning; the town is situated on the Arkansas River in a bowl that’s surrounded by mountains.

downtown-salida-colorado

Here’s what the Colorful Colorado website has to say about Salida (these photos are from their site as well):

Salida is the county seat of Chaffee County and its largest city, with a population of approximately 5,300. The city is the service, supply, and tourism center for the Upper Arkansas Valley. Salida is a REAL Colorado mountain town. Beautifully nestled between the Sangre de Cristo and Sawatch Mountain ranges, this central Colorado Historic downtown at 7,000 feet elevation boasts a liveliness driven by artistic minds and outdoor enthusiasts.

People here wear smiles, the sun shines almost all the time, and you can bike, raft, hike, fish, climb, chill, whenever you want, any time of year. The townspeople are diverse so you don’t get just mountain bikers, skiers, and kayakers, you also experience Colorado ranchers and old miners, artists, and farmers, so just about everyone fits into this Colorado lifestyle.

salida-colorado-aerial

I’ll point out that the Spanish word salida translates to “exit” in English…and that certainly was an element of what I hoped to achieve by moving there. Certainly I was looking forward to escaping the cockroachy invasion of 100,000 people each year to the Denver metro area (and that might be a low estimate). Annoyingly, I really like all the recent transplants I’ve met, which melts my bitter native stance a bit. (I’ve learned to have audio books and/or podcasts in my car at all times and to work odd hours in order to avoid the worst of the traffic.)

More than running from anything, however, I was running toward something. I was excited about the lifestyle I would have in Salida: the dog walks up S Mountain (not its real name, but what locals call it), the clean air to breathe, all that room for my spirit to expand and roam free.

My soul-family friend and muse/spirit animal, Jenn, was going to sell me her house. I love this house. It might be considered small by most people’s standards but it seemed HUGE to me (being someone who dwells in a less-than-500-square-foot place now). What I could do with another 300 square feet and a back yard! I had plans to make raised beds so I could grow some of my own food; I would create a nook where I would start every day by sipping my homemade latte and writing; I had a vague idea of colors to add to the walls, and I imagined all my books nestled into the built-in bookshelves. I was fairly sure I would add a pedestal sink to the bathroom along with some wainscoting. I would check for hardwoods under the carpet. Having spent many nights in the house, I knew exactly what it would be like to wake up in the morning and lumber to the bathroom and then to the kitchen to let the dogs out.

Here’s the sketch I made of the house to help me figure out how to arrange furniture (clearly, I was not messing around):

IMG_2389

I imagined what it would be like to work from home. I imagined the few friends I have in Salida popping over unannounced just to say hi. I knew it would take time for my nervous system to adjust to the slower pace. I loved that I’d be able to walk everywhere. I loved that I would prepare most of my own meals, rather than being tempted to drive thru any of the 80,000 fast-food places I pass on my way to and from work every day now. I imagined the inspiration I would get from the landscape. For months I had been living parallel lives: my current life here (in my body) and my future life in Salida (in my mind).

There were many months from when I was under contract to buy the house until the time I knew I could occupy it. This large amount of time was a tricky thing for my mind. It gave me lots of time to worry about whether my choice was a smart one. On the macro level: “Will I miss everyone in Denver and find myself living in Salida but wishing I were in Denver?” “Despite the home being an amazing long-term investment, will buying it make me house poor and how will I feel about that?” “Will my 18-year-old car hold out for all the trips I’ll be making to and from Denver (for work and to see people)?” “If for some reason I needed to find a new job, could I find anything in Salida that would pay what I require to make ends meet?” “Am I committing relationship suicide by moving there?” (I had dated the one lesbian I knew in the area and that hadn’t worked…so who else might there be to date? What were the odds of importing someone?)

I found the doubts creeping in. My enthusiasm for the idea slowly and very subtly started to wane. I could hear it in the way I was or wasn’t telling people that I was planning to move soon. By then I was committed, though. I was under contract, I’d had the house inspected, my boss had given me permission to work remotely, I’d mentioned to my landlord that I might be leaving, I had my mom on board to put me and the dogs up whenever I was in Denver…

And then about 60 days from close, as I was in the process of locking my loan rate, the process hit a glitch. Not a totally insurmountable glitch, but one that could pose danger to my friend’s ability to buy her next place if I couldn’t overcome it. And the most telling thing for me—the information I most required from my own soul—was the full-body sense of relief I got when I heard I might not get the loan. It was the weight of the world lifting off my shoulders. It’s exactly the feeling I got when my ex and I finally decided to call it quits on our relationship. It’s a feeling that unmistakably means this is the right thing.

And this is where the hard part came in: letting that feeling of relief be all I needed to know. My mind felt left out! It chimed in very loudly about many things—mostly with worry about how to tell Jenn that I’d changed my mind. On the positive side, I knew that she’d make way more on the house by putting it on the market than by selling it to me, and I knew that telling her right away would give her plenty of time to find a new buyer. I also knew that telling her would be the end of the dream—one that she and I had co-created together.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. She took the news like a champ, because a) she never ceases to amaze me, and b) she’s an Aquarius and can roll with literally anything life throws at her. I mean, she runs a circus for a living!

It took a couple weeks to stop waking up every morning in Salida and to stop walking my dogs up S Mountain on my lunch break. I had to let my future life in Salida slowly recede from my mind.

Here’s what my heart had to say about the choice NOT to move there:

You can draw on the energy of Salida any time; it is a supportive energy for you… Change is good and moving is not necessarily required. You could do a major purge of your apartment, a deep clean, maybe get a new desk to write at… Your apartment is a blessing until the next EASY thing comes along. That which you imagined creating for yourself in Salida you can do from where you are. Cooking your meals, maybe doing yoga, long walks with the dogs, writing…

Ahhh, so here was the obvious-not-obvious wisdom in all this: I can be NOW everything I projected into the future Salida Erin. I can be Salida Erin in Denver. I can create a space and a ritual in my daily life for writing. I can draw on the inspiration of the energy of Salida at any moment I choose. I can merge the parallel lives (current Denver Erin and future Salida Erin) back into Erin-Being-Present-in-Her-Life Erin.

And the other huge lesson: I came to be even more grateful for what I currently have in my life. I have an apartment where I’m allowed to have my animals. I have an apartment I can afford. It’s near one of the most beautiful parks in Denver. I have a job working with great people I’ll still get to see every work day. I’ll still get to have weekly date nights with my bestie Michelle to watch crap television. I’ll still be near my other bestie, Katie, whose existence in my life has shaped my life more than I’ll ever truly know (and who I dislike the idea of being far from).

And most importantly, I still have Salida. I can go there whenever I desire. And when I’m there, I’ll get to spend time with my muse/spirit animal, Jenn, soaking in everything about her that inspires me and helps me live a more authentically creative life.

So thank you, Project Move Erin to Salida, for being everything I needed you to be.

It’s Okay to Loosen Your Grip

In my mid-twenties I worked for a brief six-month stint on the graveyard shift at the local blood center. Two things remain with me from that time.

First of all, I still cringe when I stumble across Public Radio International’s The World on Colorado Public Radio. I was awakened for every shift by its theme song:

This music inspires within me a wave of adrenaline and a wave of dread—simultaneously. It wasn’t my favorite job and the overnight shift took some getting used to. Waking up at 10:00 pm to go to work? Ugh!

But there was this one night…

The back doorbell buzzed, indicating a delivery. It was common for couriers to deliver body parts at all hours of the night in little coolers (usually eyeballs, as I recall). One night while I was signing in a cooler, the courier observed, “Wow! You hold your pen really tightly when you write. It looks like you’re actually cutting off circulation to your fingers.” I said, “Oh…yeah, I do have a tight grip. That’s just how I learned to write, I guess.”

Before

Before

This launched us into a conversation about graphology and I learned that this sweet white-haired man was trained in handwriting analysis. He didn’t need to analyze my handwriting, though, because he knew everything he needed to know about me from watching me hold the pen. He left me with [something approximating] these words: “I promise that your life will change when you learn to hold the pen more loosely.”

When he said this, I had that thing happen that happens when I’m hearing deep truth. It’s a split second of time standing still with a bit of fuzzy eye focus and lightheadedness. This means, “Erin, pay attention!”

I heard him. I heard his gentle implication that my tight grip on the pen was a manifestation of my mistrust of life. (That liberal arts degree pays off when attempting to discern subtle implications!)

I didn’t yet know that I don’t have to be in control of everything—that I CAN’T be in control of everything.

I won’t lie. It took me a long time to re-learn to hold a pen after almost twenty years of using a death grip.

After

After

My handwriting suffered greatly for years but has finally found its way back to being legible. I still resort to the old way if I’m holding a crappy pen that won’t write, though I’m quick to notice it. I’m also now a pen snob and eschew any pen that’s not gel. I assume that as I grow more eccentric, I’ll one day be using an ink bottle and quill.

So why am I sharing this? Because during a recent coffee and coloring date with friends I realized I was using my old strangle-hold technique. My friends were holding their colored pencils oh so gently as we chatted, their arms and hands and shoulders relaxed…while I was overexerting and muscling and bullying. (Coloring loses a bit of its therapeutic effect when doing it the way I was doing it.) I became aware that I‘ve worked to write differently but not to color differently, which lit my mind up with questions.

In what areas of my life am I exerting too much control?

In what areas of my life am I in total allowance, trusting that I am fully supported?

Which areas of my life are in color? Which are in black and white?

What am I holding onto too tightly that I need to release (literally or figuratively)?

And, in case you’re wondering, the courier driver/graphologist was correct. There has been a pretty significant shift in my life since learning to lighten up my grip. It has lightened me up in other ways and it allows a greater flow of goodness into my life. I’ve been blessed with numerous situations in which letting go and trusting allowed just the right job/person/animal to enter my life…exactly on time.

And now for a quick coloring break…to practice lightening up.

A Lesson in Shame…from Bugs

Since delving deeply into the work of Brené Brown—a brilliant and delightful academic who studies shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and courage—I now have a greater understanding of what’s happening when something or someone pushes my shame button(s).

Here’s the TED talk she gave on shame, which currently has over 6 million views. Watch it when you have 20 minutes because this is an uncomfortable subject that is of extreme importance.

Brené defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

I can identify a shame attack by its accompanying physiological symptoms: my heart races, my eyesight blanks out for a second, time stands still, tears fill my eyes, and my pits sweat like crazy. I often can’t speak for a few seconds because of the lump in my throat. And then my mind alights on the belief or old story that has been triggered, almost always related to unworthiness and unloveability.

So, looking through this lens of shame, I’ll tell you a little story that happened a few months back.

One night I was tidying my apartment, specifically the table beside the front door on which I feed the cat (so the dogs can’t eat his food) and compile towering mounds of junk mail, random paper, and books.

On this table was also a beautiful hand-woven basket from Central or South America given to me by my friend Katie. It is small, shallow, oval-shaped, dark brown, and pliable, with a handle running along its length. I love this basket and have moved it from place to place for well over 15 years. It has been where I store spare keys, pens, paper clips, buttons, and whatever else I have no other place for.

Now we all know how it is to do mindless straightening, right? My thoughts were wandering and I was chill and relaxed, heading to bed soon, just decluttering as part of my nightly wind down. I was discarding junk mail, reducing and reforming piles of paper, and wiping down the table. Whereas I typically slide the basket to clean under it, on this particular night I chose to LIFT it.

What I discovered beneath the basket caused me to simultaneously squeak (or scream, who can remember?), vomit in my mouth (or at least feel the need to), and possibly do the “Oh my god that’s disgusting!!!” full-body vibratory shake.

For there, underneath the beloved and sacred basket, was a NEST of baby cockroaches. Forty or fifty of them were crawling all over each other in panic. AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! So. Effing. Disgusting.

(This is where I would insert a picture…but that would be gross. I’ll let you imagine.)

Fortunately my “calm in times of emergency” mode kicked in and I very slowly (despite the screaming in my head) lowered the basket back onto the table and ran into my bedroom to fetch my handheld vacuum—the one with the wand.

OreckI turned it on and sucked up all those baby cockroaches—every.single.one—even though they were running for their lives in every direction possible.

Knowing that these are quite possibly the most resilient creatures on the planet, I knew I couldn’t just turn off the vacuum and think everything would be fine. Sucking their little bodies into the vacuum bag wouldn’t kill them—and I couldn’t handle the vision of an angry mob of baby roaches emerging from the vacuum tube to hunt me down in my sleep—so I kept the machine running while I grabbed packing tape. (The advantage of a tiny apartment is that everything is only a few steps away.)

As quickly as I could, I stopped the vacuum, opened it up, and slammed some tape over the opening of the tiny bag before removing the bag entirely from the vacuum. Unfortunately the tape was clear, so I could see the panicked roaches crawling all over themselves in an attempt to escape. I swallowed a bit of bile and asked forgiveness for what I was doing. Then I ran the bag out of my apartment and threw it in the trash receptacle behind my building.

I took a deep breath, physically shook off my disgust, and then headed back inside for Roach Murder Part II: Momma Roach. I knew that everyone I’d sucked up with the wand was a baby (“please forgive me, please forgive me”), so I knew Momma was likely IN THE BASKET. (I have heebie-jeebies even retelling this story—full-body goosebumps.)

I picked up the basket gingerly by the handle, made sure my iPhone was in my pocket, and headed out into the frigid black night (it was probably around 10pm when this waking nightmare went down). I headed straight for the alley, where I commenced to set the basket on the pavement and illuminate its contents with the flashlight feature of my phone. All I could see was my stuff. So item by item, very slowly and deliberately—and as though a coiled snake might attack my hand at any moment from the shadows within —I emptied the basket. Once the last item had been removed, I flashed the light all around the inside of the basket and saw panicked Momma running in circles around the inside walls like a tiny NASCAR driver.

Feeling like my actions were already damning me to hell, I dumped her out and crushed her under the sole of my shoe. No more Momma. Again I pleaded for forgiveness (I don’t take killing lightly) and did the shakeoff dance of disgust. (I also threw away the basket, which I now regret and which Katie understands is not a reflection of any lack of love for her.)

Once my adrenaline rush subsided, the shame attack began. I felt all the aforementioned physical symptoms of shame and then I became aware of the thought that was front and center in my mind: “I am a slob. I am a horrifically disgusting excuse for a human being to have cockroaches in my apartment.”

To give context for this thought I’ll explain that I live in Colorado, where roaches aren’t super common (or so I thought). Sure, maybe in restaurants, maybe downtown, maybe wherever—but NOT IN PEOPLE’S HOMES!! I’d heard of some of the older apartment buildings in Capitol Hill becoming overrun with roaches, but to my knowledge Denver isn’t a roachy kind of place (except for the marijuana kind)—unless people are absolutely filthy. Meaning that I must be a filthy slob and roaches are clear evidence of that. I mean, I do leave the dishes unwashed sometimes for a couple days too many and my tiny place gets cluttered easily…

As Brené says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” She talks about how if you were to put shame in a Petri dish with secrecy, silence, and judgment, it would grow into every crevice and crack of your life and influence every thought you have and every choice you make.

So what was my initial reaction to the roach situation? Secrecy: “I can’t tell anyone!!” Silence: (see secrecy). Judgment: “People [in Colorado] with roaches in their homes are slobs and I have roaches in my home.”

Brené again: “Shame depends on [you] buying into the belief that [you are] alone.” I bought into being alone—hook, line, and sinker. I immediately googled “how to eliminate cockroaches” and settled into my usual pattern of solo problem-solving (using the collective wisdom found on the interwebs).

Do you know the antidote to shame? As Brené has learned from her research, “The antidote to shame is empathy.” Put shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy and it will have zero chance of survival. (I’m loosely quoting Brené there.)

I ended up telling my friend Michelle about the incident (a few days later?). She responded with empathy and indeed my shame diminished. (Brené knows what she’s talking about!)

One weekday morning a couple weeks later I was gifted what I consider to be a miracle (I allow them to come in all shapes and sizes). As I was leaving for work I noticed a van parked on the street. The picture on the side of the van? It was a cockroach lying on its back, dead. My adjoining neighbor’s door was open and I could hear men talking, so I hollered into the apartment, “Hey! What are you here for?” The main guy rushed out of the apartment and said in a lowered voice, “Why do you ask? Have you had any roach problems?”

Hallelujah!! The proverbial light went on and I realized how immensely self-absorbed and ridiculous I had been to assume that the roaches proved something horrible about me. Turns out this exterminator had treated two of the five units in my building not once but TWICE for roaches—and the first time he used the method of making them scatter. He said that because I shared a wall with the neighbor he assumed was the originator of the problem, it was likely that I would get some, too.

So I laughed at myself for my shame attack, I laughed at myself for my self-absorption, and I laughed at myself for NOT ONCE thinking that having roaches in my apartment was a reason to call the landlord.

(By the way, no more roaches have been spotted in my place…)

So much gratitude to Brené Brown. Check out her website HERE. She’s given TED talks, she’s written books, she teaches online courses, and (in my humble opinion) her work should be taught as part of the public school curriculum. The class could be called, “How To Be a Better Human” or “A Big Chunk of the Operating Manual for Life That Nobody Ever Shared with You.”