Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Easter That Wasn’t Easter

This was a weird Easter. I didn’t do all of the normal things I do each Easter. Instead, my daughter returned late last night from a three-day school trip to New York. She saw three plays and did a tour of the city. It was the first time she has been away from us other than staying with friends and family. She’s been talking about all of her adventures, excited and happy about her trip and proud of herself for navigating it without her parents.

I wasn’t as nervous about it as I thought I’d be. Yes, she was being chaperoned. But it was more than that. I had faith in her. I knew that she’d take care of herself. Her father and I have tried to instill independence in her. However, she is innately self-reliant.  Even when she was a toddler, if she fell or hurt herself, she generally wouldn’t cry. She just wanted to get back to what she was doing. She learned to put her own seatbelt on in the car seat and would get angry if I tried to do more than check it at the end. As soon as she could walk she wanted to push the stroller rather than ride in it. Her mantra was “I do, I do, I do!”

It gives me a pang to think about her leaving home. The next few years are going to be a transition to preparing to eventually turn over the reins of her life to her. I’m learning to be ok with that. But I’m glad that it isn’t happening tomorrow because I’m not quite ready yet. But I’m working on it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos

A few weeks ago, I had an epic meltdown. Let me back up a moment. I’m not one given to drama. I don’t do Diva. I don’t do personal meltdowns. I handle life as it comes. I weather through. Usually quietly. Often confidently. Pushing ahead and never looking back, I take one day at a time as it comes and plow through the tasks ahead of me. Yet, there, on a quiet Saturday afternoon and into evening, I found myself in the middle of the perfect storm of gargantuan meltdowndom. Ugly cry, sobbing meltdown. To be fair, I was at the point of exhaustion. I had a big test coming up in two days and felt ill-prepared. I hadn’t finished judging all my RITA books. I had a to-do list that stretched across my desk--the biggest of which was to pull together my tax information in order to do taxes. Heck, that would stress anyone out, right? This was so unlike me. I had no clue what was going on. But as I sat there doing the ugly hiccup sob, I finally came to the realization that I felt totally alone in the world. I was lonely. While I had a million things to do and I was alone in my house, a meltdown held me captive because I was ALONE.

What? Yeah, the realization slapped me up alongside the head, too. For years, all I’ve wanted was to be alone. To find one moment to myself. Away from the chaos of being a working mother and a wife and a writer. And now that I find myself with time to call my own, I’m struggling with the idea of a lonely road stretching out ahead of me. The path is not an easy one for me to contemplate.

As I’ve talked in previous posts, I’m in transition. My nest is emptying. The second of my three sons leaves for college in August. So my house has gotten quieter and quieter. My sons need me less. Or less in the way that they’ve always needed me. They’re more self-sufficient. They make their own meals. Get themselves to practice and school. Do their own laundry. Have their own social lives. I know, I’ve raised good, self-sufficient modern men, right? Yes. Perfect. Good job, mom. So why does this leave me feeling empty? It could be because I also find myself alone a lot more than I’ve ever been. And when you’ve been used to chaos and busyness for the past twenty years, it’s hard to downshift to a slower pace of home life and not feel it in your gut like a sucker punch.

And, really, it’s not like the pace of my work life has slowed down at all. I basically work three jobs besides my job as mother. I am busy. Yet, my axis has shifted. My world no longer revolves primarily around my kids and their well-being and activities. While they are still a huge part of my life, and thus in the same orbit, they’re no longer the big focal point. Everything does not revolve around them. So what do you do with that, when suddenly your time is your own and you find yourself alone? Not only alone, but lonely?

In that moment, that night, all I could do was cry. When I’d cried all I could, I took a hot bath, had a stiff drink, then crawled into bed and flipped on the television. One of my favorite new shows, Lucifer, was airing. So while I lay in bed, trying to catch my breath and breathe, I also crawled out of my own head--stopped navel-gazing--and submersed myself in someone else’s story. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. Yes, by shortly after nine o’clock on a Saturday night, I was fast asleep. By one-thirty in the morning I woke up and felt so much better. Like myself.

I took four important lessons away from my meltdown. This may not be a roadmap to peace for everyone, but it was a roadmap to my peace that night, and you might be able to use it as well.

One, during my meltdown, my girlfriends texted me. Kismet? Serendipity? God? Call it what you will. But in the middle of one of my darkest moments to-date, my friends who were getting together without me that night, reached out to me. They tried to cajole me to come join them, but I couldn’t. I was a puddle. A hot mess. Unfit for company. But what I did gain from that interaction was assurance that I was loved. Truly loved. I have great friends. Friends who often tell me they care for me and love me and who back it up with actions. So while my emotions told me I was physically all alone at that moment, I was reassured that while miles and miles away, my friends loved me, were thinking of me, and were connecting with me.

Two, you need to take care of yourself. Part of that self-care came in the form of soaking in a hot, lavender-scented bath while sipping bourbon. For some it might be eating ice cream. When we crave comfort, we need to find something that comforts us. Not something that works for someone else. But in a tiny way feed a need to be taken care of and treated to something special that we enjoy. Two of my favorite things are hot baths and bourbon. So, voila. Instant comfort.

Three, when you’re exhausted emotionally, spiritually, and physically, sometimes, the best thing you can do is go to sleep. Take a nap or go to bed early. Crawling into bed that early on a Saturday night is unheard of for me--I’m a night owl--however, it was the most helpful thing I could do for myself at that moment. Proven by the fact that after four solid hours of sleep, I felt like a brand new me. Yeah, can we say exhaustion takes an emotional toll?

Four, sometimes you just need to get out of your own head. Escape all the swirling thoughts. Read a good book. Watch a favorite movie or television show. Pull out your manuscript and work on your work-in-progress. Submerge your brain in someone else’s problems, in someone else’s story. When you come back to your reality, eventually, you’ll have given your brain a much-needed rest so that it can problem solve and find solutions for all those pesky, persistent issues that still nag at you.

I have no doubt that my days of meltdown are not totally behind me. I’ve got a long way to go in this transition phase as I face the emptying nest with milestones over the next five months and into the next two years. I’m working hard to keep myself healthy and strong, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. However, some days the perfect storm will hit. When it does next time, I believe I have a contingency plan. A way to find level ground and see my way free. I can’t promise I won’t go through it again, but, I can be confident that I’ll see my way though the chaos to a place of peace again because I’ve done it at least once before. Serenity hovers in my future, even if I am flailing in chaos because I've found my way through the chaos in the past and peace did return.

So tell me how you find peace in the midst of chaos when your life feels like it’s swirling out of control? I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, March 7, 2016

In Which Keely Fangirls over Kit Rocha and the Magic of Series in Romance

Like all avid readers, I'm always on the lookout for new-to-me authors, preferably ones with a backlist of titles that I can tear through like a hot knife through butter.

Even better are the authors who deliver consistent high-quality reads within a series. Whether it's continuing characters from book to book (like our own Nic's Jamie and Barrett or J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas and Roarke) or something else that holds the series together - a threat to society, a small town community, a family saga - there is something addictive about returning to the a specific world to get your fix.

The peeps over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books send out an email on Fridays with a round up of romances that are sale (if you don't already subscribe, I totally recommend you do!). A couple of weeks ago, they recommended the first in a series by Kit Rocha called Beyond Shame. It sounded intriguing enough to give it a try...and at the time it was free (and as of today, it looks like it's still free). Nothing to lose but a little time if I didn't like it, right?

Nothing to lose but every single free minute from the last two weeks.

I read book 1. I devoured book 2. I bought the series bundles (there are three) and pre-ordered book 7. Today, I'm mourning the fact that book 8 doesn't come out until idon'tknowwhenboohoohoo.

Hot knife through butter.

So what caught me? Well, interestingly, it wasn't the sex. Which is plentiful (as befits an erotica) and h-o-t (ditto).

No, it was the community. Rocha builds a society of misfits who come together in adversity to build a family that isn't beholden to doing anything "the old way." Unlike in the ubiquitous motorcycle club titles on the market or some of the BDSM-leaning romance I've read, the protagonists in Rocha's books are fighting to make their world a level playing field for men and women. These stories aren't about humiliation, or playing by some set of hard and fast rules, or even equality.

Ultimately, for me, Rocha's world is about human dignity.

That sounds pretty heavy and I promise, it's not. If you simply want to read about a group of hard drinking booze smugglers who like to fight and have a lot of filthy, fun sex, you're in luck. You can have exactly that read. If you're interested in something a little more, a bit richer, well, damn, you've got a twofer going here, because it's not hard to glean Rocha's message of positive gender politics while enjoying a series of well written, whip-smart romance.

Have you read Rocha? Are there other series or authors you've sucked down in big greedy gulps?