My kids didn’t know about this website until last night, and I don’t know how that’s possible!?!
My oldest kid said, “This will sound goofy, but I didn’t know blogs were on websites.”
My youngest said, “I thought websites were like these fancy, hard-to-get things.”
I had to explain that websites aren’t super hard to get, and that yes a blog is usually on a website, and that I’ve had this one for five years now and like how did you not know???
They explained that I don’t often explain the ins and outs of writing and publishing except to let them know when I submit a story about them (we read it and I ask if they feel comfortable with it or not, and if they don’t I don’t) and to tell them when an essay goes live and occasionally they see me a bit bummed when I get a rejection. My oldest will ask me how my day was and nod approvingly when I mention that I got a lot of words down, or did revisions, or handled submissions, or found a new literary magazine to submit to, or went mildly viral on Twitter for something mildly embarrassing. But they didn’t know this website here existed.
We Googled pictures of ourselves. They don’t have any online easily attached to their names yet (no social media accounts so far) so it’s funny to see their alternate lives as a cross-country runner from Minnesota or model and photographer in Paris. When I look up “Kristin Wagner” there are sooooooooooo many women who are not me. Gynecologists and real estate brokers and what not. I didn’t think about how common my married name was until the last couple of years. I shifted the name of this site to kristindemarcowagner.com and when I look up “Kristin DeMarco Wagner” it’s all undoubtedly me. Most of the pictures are from here or Twitter or Instagram. Showing the boys that Google search led to their realization that I have a website, and my astonishment that they were clueless about it.
The Google image search led me to an article I had assumed hadn’t happened because I missed when it did come out. Editors from The Kitchn had asked fans of Samin Nosrat’s book Salt Fat Acid Heat to share what they loved about the book. I jumped at the chance to fangirl over it a bit, because I absolutely adore the cookbook and the Netflix series and have prints of the illustrations for it in my kitchen. And the Google image search last night led me to 8 Cooks on Why Salt Fat Acid Heat is Such a Special, Unlikely Hit and I am in there as one of the cooks! A home cook, absolutely. A home cook who made Rachel Ray Sloppy Joes and tater tots last night. A home cook who has two kids who, when I exclaimed “Oh, I love when I get to do even a little food writing!”, said to me confused “You don’t do food writing”. I told them that maybe they don’t know everything I write while they’re at school for 6 and a half hours a day, since they didn’t even know I had a website for my blog posts. And then I defrosted another gluten-free bun in the microwave so that my youngest could have seconds and we talked about school.
And perhaps that’s what I love about Salt Fat Acid Heat so much is that it is a cookbook that is detailed and specific and techy, but also incredibly accessible. It lives and breathes with people who are just working on making everyday meals with people we love more enjoyable as much as it resonates with really accomplished and finessed world class chefs. So last night was neat. The link to the article is embedded in the title of the article above.
Talk to you all later!
P.S. A quick note about the sloppy joes-I added seasoning to the meat at a different time because of Samin. I added a splash more vinegar because of Samin. I cooked the meat and vegetables differently because of Samin. Every simple meal is just tweaked a little bit for the better, even on a really ordinary night.
It’s been a bit, huh? Well, hi! Hope you’ve been doing well in the interim.
Way back at the beginning of 2019 I finally had a completed manuscript for my book. An essay collection about chronic illness, and being neurodivergent, and about being a disabled mom, and about disability advocacy and representation. I had arranged parts by theme or topic and my reasoning for doing so was that illness/disability is ongoing and chronic and there was no diagnosis-treatment-cure narrative arc for my life. When I began writing about all of this that was the case-I was collecting more symptoms with no end in sight and had basically felt that people didn’t really understand what my parallel existence looked like-so I would show them.
Except…halfway through writing the essay-chapters I did get a diagnosis (Lyme and Babesia) and did undergo treatment that helped. So I was complicating things unnecessarily by intentionally NOT putting the book in chronological order. A huge overhaul was underway-rearranging, adding chapters to fill in details, revising what was there to make more sense, splitting up the appendix of medical conditions. With this version fairly well in hand I queried and well…
I got back really useful feedback that rang true as soon as I heard it.
It was too much. Too scattered across ideas and styles and conditions. Too scattered in themes and tone and too much detail. This isn’t verbatim at all, so we’re clear. The way the stories came out of my experience and my brain wasn’t the way it was the most easily or most enjoyably understood by a reader. There was a disconnect between what I thought I could give and what was most appreciated in a gift.
It rang true, but I didn’t want it to because I wasn’t sure I could tell a story straight. Each time I have tried to revise something in the past that was too much into something that was more digestible and normal I have not been able to. I lose something, and my new revised version isn’t quite right. It’s a B or B+ at best, when there are other people nearby doing consistent A work. Fear of another revision was the fear I’ve had so much of my life that when I try to do what neurotypical people do, I only do it-at best- 80% as well as they can. Which is not quite enough. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is often close without being right-and that can hurt more than a straight up swing and a miss.
So I thought about it. A lot. A lot, a lot. I went back and forth so many times trying to figure out what to do. One the things I did was to consider the Chihuly museum-somewhere we visited right after I got this feedback. His glasswork is vibrant and riotous and often odd, and I was saturated with the texture of one piece, the inner shine of another, the contrast of colors on another. There was so much to look at, to take in, to notice. This is what the inside of my brain often feels like; it was like an external representation of what I loved and celebrated and wanted to share. As I began to feel overwhelmed by it all I noticed something that was, in retrospect, so obvious I feel silly. Each art installation had boundaries.
It may be that all the pieces in a chandelier are the same color.
It might be a room of vases in a similar shape but all different colors.
It might be a room that is a fantastical representation of a real life setting.
It might be boats literally holding and containing variations on a theme.
Those boats have been a visual guide for revising my book yet again. The one on the left has so many beautiful individual pieces-that are all spheres. The right has so many beautiful individual pieces-that are all botanical. The boundaries are what keep all of the thousands of pieces from being a jumbled overwhelming overstimulating experience. This art wasn’t straightforward portraiture, or sculpture. It was whimsical and weird, but impactful because of a few well-formed conventions. I felt like maybe I could do it. My essays could be contained in different boats. The simple idea that I could have more than one boat was a revelation! I didn’t think that would ever be allowed! Maybe I thought everything had to be thrown into the world at once because I wouldn’t live long enough to have time to do so-or maybe that I wouldn’t be given enough opportunities if I messed up the first one. Better to cram everything in at once, I think I thought. But this was showing me I didn’t have to.
I’d like to say I decided right then and there that I knew it was right to revise, but I didn’t. I was still scared and didn’t know if I had the skills to shape the whole thing again-limiting the narrative scope and turning brief bits of stories into an arc. Someone else (the fabulous Captain Awkward) gave me many tools to help decide what was right-one of them was assigning music to different chapters and see how they sounded together. Were they discordant? Was the tone smoothly shaped along the way or were styles jarring against each other? Was the mood of the music what I had hoped to accomplish? And in doing this exercise I realized both that no, my book wasn’t yet a playlist that made sense, and that yes, I do have some sense of what is conventionally “correct” and even maybe beautiful. The revision felt both like something that could be done successfully and that I could do successfully.
So August, September and October were spent revising, taking thirty thousand words out of an eighty thousand word manuscript and making them the basis for something new. I am proud of it, whatever else may come. I am proud of learning what I’ve learned about myself and my craft from doing this. The learning never, ever ends. But I haven’t had much time to write much else-not here. My submissions for individual essays have slowed down. I haven’t been published this calendar year, which is kind of painful in the way that jealousy stabs your heart and the industry wants to make sure you have a public presence as much as possible before they bet on you. But I haven’t stopped writing. And a lot of it, I think, turned out good. I’m happy.
By the side of the pool while the kids had swim lessons. If we got there ten minutes early and it took five minutes to slather on the sunscreen and five to stake out a spot in the shade and fire up the lap top I could usually get 40 minutes of writing in a go. 40 minutes a day, for two weeks straight, Monday through Friday.
In the lobby of the rec center, both before it was refurnished and it had a sickly green glow and after when it had attractive splashes of green on the walls. The boys are learning how to play chess once a week in the deepest darkest parts of winter.
At a local Buona Beef where I holed up in the covered patio section that is too cold in winter and not as well-ventilated in summer and so fewer people mind if I take up a table for an hour. I try not to drip ketchup on my notes or phone or laptop but keep eating fries as I type, licking salt off my fingers as I pause to think.
At soccer practice where I can only take my laptop out on days that are so overcast there isn’t a glare on the screen but it also isn’t so cold that I need gloves. There are no trees for shade, just an open windswept field.
In the school parking lot. I would on the coldest days or the rainiest get to the lot before it was closed to busses, a half-hour to forty-five minutes early. I would push the front seat all the way back, put a sweatshirt on my lap to raise the computer up and type until the last bell was three minutes away, hit save quickly and rest it on the passenger side seat.
At the pond, while the boys fished with Greg and I found a shady spot. The grass tickled my bare legs and I would stop only when an ant traipsed across my thigh, or a neighbor passed by or a bluegill was caught.
In the hallway at basketball practice where my youngest and I would escape the squeak and frenetic pace of the team doing passes and jump shots and layups. We would make a nest of coats to support our backs.
In the backyard when I needed to keep an eye on water fights.
On the couch with one eye on the TV as the boys shared their favorite Wild Kratts episodes with me.
In bed, a feverish kid napping next to me, reaching out a hand every so often in his sleep to reassure himself that I hadn’t gone anywhere.
At the doctor’s waiting room, a fifteen minute stretch ahead of an appointment.
In the notes app of my phone in the sauna at the gym.
At a baker’s rack converted into a desk set in the corner of our living room.
At a card table next to our Christmas tree.
On the other side of the tempered glass between the gymnastics equipment and the rows of chairs where the parents could watch. One class, instead of writing I had a conversation about writing. A ninety-year-old great grandmother who was visiting with family for a day asked if I was a writer, because she was too. Her attention fell away from her preschool-aged great granddaughter and to me as she glowingly told me about her career as a journalist and later a producer. And how she had never received a single rejection, not once, not ever, until this very year.
At a library table on the quiet floor, situated between architecture books and books written in Japanese.
At my own desk, in my own home office, during school hours.
In a notebook, sitting on the curb in a park, a stroller with a napping newborn to my left and a preschooler playing hide and seek with his uncle in the playground to my right.
At my own desk, in my own home office, during summer vacation. The boys are old enough to occupy themselves happily for at least an hour, probably more. But the youngest does come up to announce that he can’t find the remote control truck’s remote control, but not to worry myself because it isn’t that important he just wanted to let me know.
I took a little writing break for about a month to take care of…lots of things. I know I haven’t written here for a bit. It’s taken me until today to change the header for this website from winter to spring! Which, to be fair, keeps bouncing back and forth. The week before Easter we had six inches of snow. On Easter it was 70 degrees out. My birthday this last Thursday was gorgeous and sunny, and then five inches of snow on Saturday collapsed our outdoor canopy. Bolts sheared off, metal twisted. It is a pile a scrap metal now. The weather is erratic and doesn’t help anyone feel more stable, that’s for sure.
Anyhow…Since I wrote here last I have been writing a bunch. It’s just in forms I can’t share yet. I 100% finished the manuscript for my essay collection in January/February. Then I completely restructured its order and added in a few essays that I had planned to include in the book from the very beginning, but somehow had forgotten to write. At the same time I was polishing pitches for #PitMad and #DVpit on Twitter, drafting query letters, finishing a full book proposal, and researching agents. By mid-March I paused on writing to catch up on every other non-writing thing that needed to happen.
In that month my dad had an unexpected hospital stay and surgery, my youngest turned ten, my oldest won a basketball tournament, I turned forty, my husband got to be home for a full week without traveling for the first time this calendar year. We started soccer and finished band and had a spring break and hosted a birthday party and went downtown in a snowstorm and caught my husband up on Avengers so that we can see Endgame next week. There was a science fair and field trip in there, too. There was Babesia treatment that I postponed too long and I started to feel bad again.
A lot can happen in a month. A random goofy tweet went mildly viral, and a more serious thread about disbelieving pain patients got noticed. I printed up pictures for our family albums, but didn’t get them into albums. Downloaded pictures off my phone, but didn’t get the phone replaced yet. Cleaned my office, but didn’t donate the box of donations that sits behind my desk chair. Meant to exercise more, but couldn’t. Watched Beyonce’s Homecoming. Read the Amulet graphic novel series with my kids. Cooked more than I had been, but only 1/10th of what I wanted to.
Life is busy and full and chaotic and I thought, somehow, that by doing a bit less in one area, that would be enough to patch up all the holes in all the other areas of life.
It is not.
A month of doing a little less in one area didn’t leave me refreshed, and it didn’t magically give me time and energy to figure out how to manage everything better. It just made me realize that I have been running at full speed for so long that I accepted it as normal and what should be happening. It also made me realize that writing was one of the few things that gave me an emotional and creative outlet and a place to process my thoughts-it isn’t enough, but without it living my life is harder. So, kind of like exercise, it takes times and energy that seems to be in short supply but I have to factor it back into a regular routine.
So back to it. Back to writing (some here, some elsewhere) and back to exercise.
I’m gonna post this, eat, exercise, stare into space trying to remember the to-do list I keep forgetting and try to keep moving.
I want to start with a brief apology. I haven’t been here on my website blogging in a real way for a while. It’s become a place where I shoot off a brief update every one or two months, and maybe you’re curious about what’s going on with me, but this isn’t maybe what you signed up for. I honestly am hoping that with the new year I’ll have a bit more time for the sorts of posts I want to do: mini-essays. I’m not there quite yet. Let me quickly explain why.
My essay collection/memoir about living with chronic illnesses is nearly complete! I have a few more chapters that need to be begun from scratch, and about ten that need minor revisions, and one that needs a complete overhaul. But, I will most likely be 100% complete (just a touch over 80,000 words) before Christmas. The next step in the new year will be sending it to beta readers (people who aren’t close to the manuscript who give you notes), querying agents (an agent is really important for traditional publishing) and completing a book proposal (some agents request book proposals-something you usually write before you write a non-fiction book outlining what it will be about). My daily writing time will be mostly spreadsheets and paperwork at that point, as you set your hook and see if you get a bite. Writing is a long process, and from what I understand of it, publishing is a long process.
This weekend I used some of Greg’s hotel points to stay in a room in town for 24 hours, writing as much as I could in that time-frame. In all I wrote 3,112 new words (over four new essays), revised seven essay/chapters successfully and revised one unsuccessfully. Not bad. I did have to take quite a few breaks before I felt sick. Luckily the lobby was nice and had excellent people watching.
There were two galas happening at the hotel (which was fancier than I expected). One was a black tie/sequined evening gown/fur coat affair. The other was for Gigi’s Playhouse, a support organization for children and adults with Down’s Syndrome. I met teachers who work for the org in jeans and t-shirts in the elevator, wine glasses in hand, heading up to their rooms to change into the dresses they bought for the night. The teachers were my people-a lot less pretentious than the tuxedos and a lot more fun. There was also some sort of pyramid scheme sounding seminar happening that weekend-and I steered clear of that altogether.
And with all the normal bric-a-brac of life-like colds and lessons and clubs and groceries-it is of course the holidays again. Otherwise known as the time of year I fall in love with food writing again. I devoured the latest Bon Appetit and want so much to spend all day tracking down recipes and watching Food Network and writing about food traditions and finding a fun new recipe to try out. Last year it was the NY Times cranberry curd tart (which a good friend of mine had made, unbeknownst to me, as well) which was lovely, but time-consuming, and the hazelnut crust made my allergies flare. We host Thanksgiving (I think I mention that every year-I swear one day when I can’t host I won’t know what to do with myself late November) and this year we’re hosting Greg’s family for Christmas day. There is shopping and cooking and concerts and a whole bunch of other stuff to accomplish.
Then there is my health. So much steadier than other years, however I still am having to tweak medications every week. The ENTIRE time I was writing last weekend, I had a skull-crushing headache. My med dosages were off. Anxiety about not being “productive enough” seemed to have knotted my back, and kept me awake too late and then the next morning too early. It was lovely to have the means to do this (the first overnight trip away from the kids in five years) and to have uninterrupted time-but I was still sick the entire time I was trying to yank a ton of emotional work out of my body. I am sick less often and in more manageable ways than I have been in eight years, but I am still not “healthy”. I have to remind myself of that when I beat myself up over, say, not getting good blog posts out in a while.
But here is an update. I haven’t fallen off the edge of the world, I still exist (though the social media algorithms have abandoned me for not posting as regularly as I used to) and I am keeping busy with things that I hopefully will get to share with you. And I hope to get back to my mini-essays that don’t fit neatly into a book about illness, on whatever I feel like writing about!
Every summer I vow that this summer will be more structured and balanced. I won’t forget to exercise. I will take all recommended supplements. We will go to the farmer’s market every Friday (so far we are one for eight on that). New hobbies will become habit. Writing will happen. But life doesn’t like it when I try to wrangle it into an organized march. Every week has been a different rhythm what with camps and vacation and lessons. So it goes with blog posts, too. I did not intend to write one today but noticed it had been a long while so here we are.
Here is some summer stuff that I haven’t gotten to properly process/reminisce about/think through and will run out of summer time before it happens:
I have nearly 200 pages of my book written. That is bananas. I still have about 20,000 more words to go. Even more bananas
The boys have done a chess camp and a stop-motion animation camp, swim lessons and have an archaeology-ish camp coming up next week.
We had my mom’s side of the family reunion in Kentucky and I got to be 100% myself for a full week because I was around A) people who know and love me in all my overly enthusiastic goofiness and B) locals who I may never see again. No masking required.
I survived a NASCAR race and a day a Six Flags in a heatwave.
I need to up my Lyme treatment again because while my heart rate was great on vacation, the stress of real life means my body isn’t coping as well as I’d like. I don’t really want to up my supplements because it means I lose some of my day.
We’ve taken the boys off of dyes and preservatives with good results. We’ve taken me off of gluten with the result that I feel a bunch better, but I complain a lot more about what I can’t have.
Our new house has so many flowering plants that I didn’t realize. Every week something new is exploding and while I’ve tried to keep track I am finding it impossible.
The outside of the house renovations are FINALLY DONE!!! Thank goodness.
We saw Incredibles 2.
We just went to an outdoor concert where the band Classical Blast played The Cranberries’s Zombie as a symphony would, and I just about died from 90’s nostalgia happiness.
We have plans to make some pineapple sage lemonade this weekend.
I have an adorable Modcloth dress that I need to wear out somewhere, but we haven’t had a chance to go out.
We don’t know, still, which school the boys will attend in the fall. We might not know until the week before school. That is not helping my (or the kids’) anxiety levels.
I got to hear Len’s Steal My Sunshine.
I realized that I have a lot of symptoms of both Autism and ADHD that overlap-and that ADHD strategies are helping me figure out how to make my life work.
There is a ton I could unpack about any of these-really! I can think of a mini-essay for all of these, but alas time is fleeting and I need to go make lunch, add 500 words to a chapter about How to Train Your Dragon and disability rep, get some groceries, remember to put our bin of batteries by the door so I remember to take them to recycling, learn how to write a book proposal, submit a story, learn about how people with ADHD have very little concept of how much time tasks take, sew a pillow with Christopher, try not to obsess over how young I looked on the day of the 2016 election and how I’ve aged ten years in the last 18 months…the usual.
Just checking in, hopefully I can get something more coherent to you soon!
I haven’t blogged in a long time. It isn’t for lack of trying-I tried to post something just a couple of weeks ago and a glitch erased it all, pictures, image descriptions, the whole text. Which is probably a good thing as it was kind of pitiful, as in, I was feeling a lot of self-pity. It felt like the universe correcting me, telling me to try again with a little less blah.
Here I am. I started this blog in 2014 as a creative outlet for myself, a place where I could get short essays down and into the world and feel more connected to it. To have a space that was mine to shape and polish and decorate as I wanted, away from the needs of my two kids and the needs of my errant (and in a nod to Roxane Gay, “unruly”) body. I haven’t been able to use this that way for a bit. Oh, there has been self-promotion here and there, but a little essay every other week? Not so much. And that has started to bum me out.
Sure, there are somewhat good reasons for it.
I got warned by ambitious freelancers to never post a piece to your blog for free until you try to sell it. You know, realizing that writing is work and should be appropriately compensated. A great idea in theory-in practice I am absolutely wretched at pitching, and waiting forever to see if a submission has been accepted or if a pitch has landed is bad for my mental health. It was unsustainable for me. And I have discovered that I am really bad at coming up with timely think-pieces that have enough foothold for a broad audience.
Another factor was that I didn’t want to take what little time I had away from actually completing the book I am working on. It’s a work-in-progress, a collection of essays, a memoir about being chronically ill, that is going incredibly slowly at the moment. Part of the problem is that my illnesses, the subject of the book, keep shifting and changing requiring rewrites and reimagining and review. Time is eaten away quickly.
A third factor has been managing my health. I was diagnosed in January with Lyme disease, and I have most likely had it since I was six. The infection just took over when my immune system was under so much stress from two pregnancies and two C-sections and a recession about eight years ago, and I couldn’t cope anymore. So many mysterious and seemingly unrelated systemic problems came from that. Treatment is hard, many hours of the day it feels as if even my individual cells need deep breathes and stillness. Most of the day is spent letting my body rest. I never let it rest before-because I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia which has no known cause and no known cure I had opted to play through the pain, pushing through because my life was going to stagnate if I didn’t. I had social media schedules where I planned on Sunday night what Facebook posts I was going to post that week. I tweeted. I participated in every group I could get into. I got a blog post done every two weeks. I submitted and submitted and submitted. Then I got tired. And more tired. And more tired. And finally had to stop. Because I just couldn’t go anymore. I submitted, finally, to my body’s needs.
In the midst of this I asked myself what was it I wanted out of writing and getting published. I really thought it through because moving the goalposts was wearing me out. With the election of 2016 I wondered if what I wanted most was to be a voice for change, an activist. I asked myself if what I wanted was to be famous, like David Sedaris, or Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), having fabulous fun book tours and interviews and the like. Did I want respect, to have the approval of the upper echelon in the literary world? Did I want to have a followers who can’t wait to see what I say next?
Then it hit me. All those things are wonderful. Any of those goals fulfilled would be rewarding. When those goals are achieved by other people I feel envious and there is a tendril in my heart of longing-especially on days when illness and treatment make those goals dance further and further away from my grasp. My real goal? I will do anything in my power to keep being allowed to tell what the world looks like from my point of view.
To achieve this goal, there are barely any gatekeepers. I can do that here, any time I want. I don’t have to wait for editors or agents or the Submittable queue. I don’t need to have an MFA to be allowed to do this. Nor do I need to wait the six months after I enter a contest to find out if the judges enjoyed my work. I don’t have to start my own literary magazine. What I want to be able to do, I already can do. It’s rare that that is true, especially in my body. What I really want to do is what I already am capable of doing.
This is my digital home. If I want to write about what Vanellope Von Schweetz means to me I don’t have to wait until I find just the right quirky paying home for that essay. If I want to talk about my son’s broken ankle and how people think he is perpetually miserable about it when he isn’t, I can do that without fighting for a spot in the Washington Post Talent Network, pitching the idea and hoping it doesn’t end up with a misleading title.
I want a place to show the peonies in my garden, and a little girl refusing to play Duck, Duck, Goose just to give the appearance of friendliness. I have that place. I just forget that I already do.
The other day at Ulta I found myself looking at every shade of lipstick, drawn again and again to the reds, which is unusual for me. I almost shelled out 35 bucks for a lip liner and lipstick. Then I realized that although I hadn’t used it since a gala fundraiser in 2015, I had an almost identical red at home. Here’s to using the clothes and the makeup and the utensils and the tools we already have before going out and buying more. Here’s to remembering that if what I want to do is be allowed to tell my stories, I already have a way to do that.
Here’s to putting up siding, painting the hallways and redecorating my digital home.
A couple weeks since I wrote up our Christmas letter, which we still haven’t sent out?
A New Year’s post January 4th?
New Year’s Resolutions (at least for me) have generally been equal measures guilt/self-flagellation for not being better AND an expression of a commitment to more things that make me happy. For the first year since I can remember making resolutions I haven’t felt the guilt of not being enough at a deep fundamental level.
Normally I would have set up a new strict schedule for myself to maybe blog each week with a fully formed essay, go back to my regimented social media blitzes, finish four essays a month, exercise every day, wash my face and dry my hair, finish my book by March, read all the books I have bought but haven’t finished, suddenly be perfect. I had convinced myself that as long as I had a concrete plan I would finally be able to be “successful”. I am awesome at making plans that will be abandoned almost as soon as they are committed to paper. I also would get down on paper fun things that I had denied myself that I would finally get around to doing. I had a little higher success rate with those goals, though they we still based on me being “bad” at being happy.
I didn’t this year, and I didn’t abandon my old models as a conscious decision. I just didn’t. Going back and writing what I might have done other years is making me feel anxious again, like I am late for an appointment-but it’s an appointment where I just yell at myself for all the things I could do better.
I have always thought of myself as someone who does things half-assed. Never doing things totally right, never finishing important things, dropping one good habit as soon as I pick up another needed one. But you know what? I have done a lot of amazing things one ass cheek at a time. I read something this year that turned a particular idea on its head. A man was cursed, it would seem, with only being average at everything he tired. Someone else posited that being average at EVERYTHING one tried is still amazing-the average mountain climber on Everest still climbs the mountain, you audition for a Broadway show and you aren’t the brightest star on the stage but the average Broadway performer is amazing, you try your hand at being a teacher and you still help students even if you aren’t a Golden Apple recipient. We disparage accomplishments and good done in the world in the quest to be the best, we feel like we need to go all in for everything or we fail. It isn’t true. Half an ass is still more than no ass. An absolute ton of good is done a cheek at a time because that is what we can do. I was angry at myself for so long not finishing my book “on time”…ignoring the nearly 50,000 words I did write already. That’s a hell of a lot more than zero.
I feel generally good about myself-I still have bouts of guilt when I really could have or should have done more and didn’t, but I’m finally recognizing that for most of my life I really have done my best-I have put intense effort in to so many parts of life. I’m finally honoring those efforts instead of disparaging them. We tell kids that we just want their best effort, that if they try we will be pleased. Either I’ve been lying to children or I need to really believe, at my core, that that is true. I think long and hard before lying to children for any reason (mysterious holiday gift-bringers cause me a lot of stress) so I need to reconcile this one way or another.
So this is a bit of a half-assed post, but it is still a post. It exists. I took time to articulate something that felt important to record. I am going to recognize that this is the best I can do at this exact moment in time, and I did it, and am happy I did.
A lot of my life I haven’t known if feelings I feel, or thoughts I have, are common. I’ll ask myself, “Do other people get as upset about X, Y, or Z as I do?” or “Did no one else like this thing I liked?” or “Did anyone else see what I just saw?” So I am going to throw this question I had of myself this morning out to the world…
Do other people have a love-hate relationship with routine, or is it just me?
Depending on what stage of life you met me, you probably would have met someone who looks like she is laid back, a go-with-the-flow sort of character who appreciates almost everything and will gladly breeze along through life letting other people, or the needs and whims of the day, set the agenda. This version of me seems easy-going and often I can enter into the flow of what is happening around me like entering a gentle stream, letting myself be carried peacefully here or there.
And the rest of the time I am decidedly NOT nearly as amendable. I’ve yelled at my husband because he hasn’t given me his proposed agenda for the weekend. I have stuck stringently to toddlers’ nap and bedtime schedules for fear they would detonate. When medical issues are involved I arrive to appointments early, plan out every bite, make five year (ok five month) plans for exercise in excruciating detail. I once decided I would be the sort of person who kept her kitchen spotless and for a few days I became a compulsive monster-and I don’t use either the word compulsive or monster lightly. It was as if a switch was flipped and I suddenly absolutely COULD NOT handle having my life controlled by someone flighty and easy-going, like the idea of order and routine was suddenly EVERYTHING. I would think that perhaps this is my reaction to stress, that making order out of chaos is a somewhat natural reaction. Except that the version of me who is a slave to routine is decidedly more stressed out on a continuous basis than the relaxed version of myself.
I’ve been thinking about this dichotomy in myself for a while now, every time I feel ashamed that I’ve lost a paper a kid needed for school I vow to do better. Every time I set up a new routine that I have trouble violating I feel ashamed that I have lost my ability to be flexible. It isn’t that I’m fastidious with work but loosey goosey with the kids, or that I’m lax with housework but strict with homework-it isn’t broken down by category consistently that way. The arenas of life I am strict about are, ironically, quite variable. Sometimes I could double as a flower child following Phish, and sometimes I am Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory insistent that we eat pancakes only on Tuesday and that I have a spot.
Right now, I have a spot.
I’ve been coming to our library every day after I drop the boys off at school to write. I go to the downstairs bathroom. I come upstairs and stake out my spot, which sits between the books about the Hoover Dam on my left and a Japanese-language version of The Hunger Games on my right. I will stay up until any time before 11:00 AM, but never past 11:00 AM then leave for lunch. I had only done this for four workdays before it became a necessity.
I tried to mix it up.
My illnesses are quite variable, and with a recent heatwave my blood sugar has been dipping too often. This morning I stopped at Panera to get an egg white sandwich before writing (protein is good for keeping blood sugar steady, unlike the candy I would rather be chugging). I brought my laptop in with me, thinking that I could get to work there for a change of pace. I ate and sat and opened up Facebook and Twitter and all my social media and could not get myself to open that damn laptop. After ten minutes I gave up, and left for “the office” cursing myself for wasting time because now I would be late for “work”.
I literally could not violate my new routine without it causing me psychological distress. And it is distressing. Once I latch onto a compulsion or a way of doing things and have to change it, it is absolutely distressing. I am pissed that my oldest has two clubs that, for completely understandable reasons, have different dates than what I already wrote down in my planner. I do not like it that when my husband drives our car he parks in a different area of the parking lot than I would have. I feel strange not seeing a trailer or reading an article for a movie before I go see it. Sometimes I can be very rigid.
But, I also adored my high school students when they would come up with an unusual idea I had never thought of in class. I love when strangers sing unexpectedly in public. I love new restaurants and dishes and seeing where a conversation might meander. Sometimes I can be very flexible.
I wonder if my feelings about routines stem from the idea that I may not be neurotypical. Last April, I began to realize I might be on the Autism Spectrum. I “came out” to friends on Facebook this way-
“I’m running high on some post-workout endorphins, so I’m going to post this right now before I chicken out. My vague-post from last week, where I was happy? I finally realized/accepted something about myself and I felt immediately less alone and a lot freer.
I am not neurotypical.
I never have been.
In fact, the more I read and understand, I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum, possibly with Aspergers.
While working on an essay, I remembered just how much over my life I closely studied human behavior and behavioral patterns and mimicked what I figured out was “normal” for other people. From a very young age, I studied everyone and everything and hid.
Places where I felt comfortable, I let myself be “weird” and sometimes it worked out okay, sometimes it didn’t.
(And … I just started listing everything I just figured out about myself. You don’t need to know all that, so I just deleted it.)
Anyhow. I feel good.
I feel new respect for myself, realizing how tough I had to be. I was in the deep end of a pool, treading water for years, not knowing that a lot of other people looked calm on the surface because their feet actually reached the bottom.
I feel relief from the pressure to hide the weird parts of myself so often. Or trying too hard to push myself to actually *not* be weird. It’s never going to happen. I will always be weird. There won’t be a magic time when I suddenly won’t be different. I’ll still work on being socially appropriate, better at relationships, etc. But I recognize that for me it takes more work.
I feel less alone. The more I read the more I see myself in the narratives of other adult women who are not neurotypical. There are people out there that know what this feels like.
I have a new batch of coping skills for the parts of life that are hard. I struggle with things like anxiety, procedural compulsions, intense sudden special interests, inattention to things that don’t interest me, some rigidity, meltdowns and the inability to not notice a million details-that other people have found workarounds for.
So yeah. That’s what’s up.
And I feel a lot more free than I have in a long time.
For a lot of autistic people, routine is vitally important. But rigidity in sticking to a routine when it inconveniences other people very much goes against what it means to be a woman in terms of agreeableness. Knowing that I would be expected to either violate my routines or let them be violated, or be thought of as unfriendly and unhelpful, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I wonder if I studiously cultivated a life that was almost free from routine so I wouldn’t feel the distress of violating it, and would not feel the distress of violating what it means to be “feminine”. I think that perhaps I took enormous effort and discipline to be agreeable and easy when my mind wanted me to be rigid and uncompromising. Which is fairly counter-intuitive.
Routines, and the way I handle them, can feel like ensnarement. But, they can also be useful tools. Maybe, if I am aware of my tendency to get rigid with routines, I can harness some routines without them taking over my life and causing me distress. I’m not sure I can, and past evidence hasn’t given me the idea that it is something that comes easily to me. I want to be responsible and orderly when it helps me and my family, but still be loose and open to change when that is needed. I don’t want to ignore the part of me that thrives in routines anymore, but I don’t want to lose the person I am when I am able to let it go.
Maybe I need the framework to be orderly, but what I do within it to be open. Like right now-I am writing in my spot and I am rushing to finish this blog post as it is 10:51 and I have to be done by 11:00. But…I was supposed to be working on my book when the compulsion to sort this out became stronger than my compulsion to finish the chapter. So some routine, but freedom within the routine.
Like this blog. I had, in the past, expectations for myself that I would post something each week, or every other week, but the content was completely open to my whims and compulsions. Structure and fluidity.
I guess my take away question, as it is now 11:00…
Anyone elsehave the same kind of love-hate relationship with routine?
Ha! So…if you know me you know I am often an over-enthusiastic puppy dog with no chill. The things I am excited about I am all in for. Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter soon? I’ve got my Hufflepuff themed pedicure and I am getting myself either McGonagal or Luna’s wands. Battlebots coming back on TV? The DVR can’t be set yet, but I have reminders already in my planner.
I have been grinning all afternoon. Two separate guest editors at Beyond Your Blog selected my essay Finding Shelter , which was published at The Rumpus on Memorial Day, as a double honoree in the categories of Personal Essay and Editor’s Choice. Which hasn’t happened before, apparently!
This is what they posted today
“Finding Shelter” by Kristin Wagner on The Rumpus
Congratulations on being the first ever to be selected in a category AND as the Editor’s Choice.
Guest editor in the Editor’s Choice category, Rudri Bhatt Patel, shared this feedback: “A well-written essay seeks to make the personal a universal. Wagner weaves a complicated narrative through the lens of an impending hurricane. The anticipation of what might happen should this hurricane land pushes Wagner to contemplate self and her vulnerability. She creates a defined arc, integrates powerful imagery, and wields her truth through her prose. There were several lyrical lines which resonated. My favorite – “Maybe the only thing that lets anyone survive is the ability to stay joyful. It’s the only thing to make the end of the world not feel like the end of the world.”
Guest editor in the Personal Essay category, Lauren B. Stevens, shared this feedback: “There are so many layers to Kristin’s piece, that I’ve now read it a total of three times! Kristin conveys the complicated, and beautiful, nature of student-teacher relationships (I had my own “Dierdre” when I taught), explores the dichotomous nature of our class system in stark detail, and writes about prepping and evacuating during Hurricane Rita with detail so vivid it had me sweating! Absolutely beautiful.”