Q: Kelly, What if I think I’m a total piece of shit? A: — found in: An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter 1.

———-

Note:

I have long been the person my friends turn to when they are seeking advice. Friends I haven’t heard from in some time will suddenly show up in my text string, saying, ‘Girl – can you help me?’ And I never, ever, ever resent it. I straight up LOVE IT. I love giving advice. I’m good at it! I often hear these real jewels and gems just slide out of my mouth while I’m talking to them, and I’m like WTF HOW DID I KNOW TO SAY THAT — AM I SERIOUSLY THAT SMART — AND HOW HAVE I NOT CAPITALIZED ON THIS????????

But I have. Of course. Because I am a friend that friends turn to when they need advice. And I do have a couple people I turn to, too. But sometimes I don’t want to be desperate in someone’s text string. I don’t want to dial their number, whilst crying. So I am going to give a go at writing my own damn advice letters to myself. I need one today. Here goes.


Dear Kelly,

What if I think I’m a total piece of shit?

I mean – I can shed more light on the why. For one — just because. Because I have never had great hair (it’s so thin you can see my scalp from like a mile away) and because I’m so anxious I jump when things fall to the ground and because my temper is a boiling pot of water that is always threatening to boil over. But also because I’m turning 39 and I still, still, STILL have not found a way to make a living off of the actual talents that I know I possess. Did you know that I am really funny? People have told me I should do stand-up! Did you know that I sing fairly well? But the sound of my voice coming out of my body makes me feel vulnerable, so I hide it unless I am feeling very, very, very safe — which is a state I don’t find myself in often. Did you know that I write? I’m sure you did. But I don’t send my writing to any of the places I want to. Because the places I want to are considered ‘good’ and who would I have to think myself to send them there? I would have to think of myself as good. And though I toy with the label sometimes, what I really think, deep down in the pit of my person, is that I am a piece of shit. And this belief is stopping me from my labors of love more than any other thing.

I’ve just moved to a new city for the 75th time in my life (*small exaggeration, but feels spot on) and I am once again, scrolling Craigslist and Indeed.com for jobs that feel like empty vessels of void. Administrative Assistant, Kennel Cleaner, Cashier. The ones that feel most right pay just around $9 an hour, but I have this child now, and a partner in life, and a dog and all of us have to eat like 3 FUCKING TIMES PER DAY, and those wages aren’t cutting it. Never mind that the real work I want to do is paid like $0 per hour. I want to rescue dogs. From horrible situations and comb their matted fur and sing to them and kiss them more than they have ever been kissed and find them safe, warm homes. I want to travel around, rescuing ALL OF THEM because the only proof of God on the Earth I have yet to find is each of their sets of four paws. I also enjoyed some freelance writing for money last year, but every time I think of something I want to write, I think of how unqualified I am to write it — or how silly and empty and trite my stance is.

I’m in pain. I can’t seem to get up off the floor and figure out how to make my life as beautiful and full as I want it to be. Can you help me?

Grateful,

Kelly


 

Dear Kelly,

I can’t. Really. I mean, I kind of can, but I can’t —  but you can. Here. Listen.

I can remind you of the things you have done and just URGE YOU — BEG YOU — to find the person within you that did them. Get back to her again. She is not a piece of shit. She is bold, and brave. Do you remember that you once ran A FUCKING HALF MARATHON? You. In fact — that it was the first organized run you ever ran? You were sitting on your couch one day and you were like, ‘That has to be an amazing feeling…’  — to run THIRTEEN POINT ONE MILES — and you were like ‘I want to feel that!’

And then you picked a beautiful place to do it in. You called up your friends in San Francisco and you said, ‘Should we?’ and they said ‘No way.’ and you said ‘But we should.

So you trained and even when you had shin splints so bad you could barely walk, you went to the gym and watched One Tree Hill (what a bore) on a treadmill (bc lower impact than the street) and you walked/ran for two hours at a time to get yourself ready. Every Sunday.

And then you ran the damn thing — even though you walked a couple times and thought you were at 8 miles when you ran into a sign that said you were at 3 (worst moment of the whole run and you made a vow to not look at ANY MORE MILE MARKERS NO MATTER WHAT UNTIL YOU WERE AT THE FUCKING END.) And when you were at the end…you were on the heels of other runners, and someone on the sidelines yelled, “GOOD JOB, RUNNER…!” and you looked around to see whom they were yelling at and it — honest-to-God- took you like a full 180 seconds to realize THEY WERE YELLING AT YOU.

YOU WERE THE RUNNER. YOU HAD BECOME SOMETHING YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE YOURSELF TO BE.

Also – you flew to a country after college where you DIDN’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE and you took dance classes in that language, when you could ONLY UNDERSTAND THE NUMBERS BECAUSE THEY CORRESPONDED TO THE BEATS — and you also walked into THE OFFICES OF VOGUE ITALIA wearing a FUCKING BOWTIE and told them they should hire you, because you had your finger on the pulse of fashion and a pair of balls that would aide you.

Maybe they didn’t see you like you saw yourself that day — maybe they suggested instead that you babysit their daughter — but GIRL, REMEMBER HOW YOU SAW YOURSELF THAT DAY. 

 

EH.

I don’t know.

Did those work?

I hope so. Because you are capable of what you dream. But you might have to TRAIN. You also might have to convince both yourself AND other people. And it won’t be fun. And I don’t know how to draw the line for you of what your path will even look like.

But beyond that, I need to tell you this.

Even if you end up never doing stand-up and never singing, and never writing a thing that anyone loves or gives you money for — and you work a couple hours in an office and a couple hours at a coffee shop and a couple hours cleaning dog kennels and you piece together a shitty wage and you keep using your credit cards to buy groceries —

Acknowledge that your life is still beautiful — right now. I think I know you know that. But be diligent in your acknowledgement.

Béla’s chin hairs. Ollie’s amazing little feet. The way Nic makes you laugh every second you are around him. The tiny ass apartment you guys just moved to. Yeah, it’s too small. But it’s warm. Warmth is a gift.

Also, get some therapy. It’s really bad to think oneself a piece of shit. I know it seems super natural and has been a self-identifier for a long time and sometimes doesn’t even feel totally true when you’re having a great day — but it’s bad to call yourself and think yourself a piece of shit. SOME PEOPLE DON’T EVER DO THAT. There are literally SOME PEOPLE THAT DO NOT BELIEVE THEY ARE PIECES OF SHIT.

Those people don’t let their jacked sense of self-worth get in the way of finding work, or curating passion. They just LIVE.

So do all of those things I told you to.

And for what it’s worth — I think you’re amazing.

Kelly

 

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The Ever-changing Shape of Home

When I was eighteen, I walked into a tattoo parlor with a friend. We were going to get matching tattoos on our wrists. Tiny little black birds – an outline, merely – of wings – this was what we sought. I didn’t believe in tattoos – I have never believed in anything so permanent. But if permanence, then this. An exhibition of our ability to take flight. An exhibition of the impermanence of our presence.

I had my wrist splayed open for him, when I looked up and saw the back of her head. She was walking out of the front door. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t do something that permanent. I stood up, shocked. This was all her idea, at least in my head. I apologized. I left.

**

That was twenty years ago. The tattoo hasn’t haunted me, but impermanence has. I keep flying in, sticking a landing, collecting things – and then, almost silently, lifting my wings back up again. I have moved twenty times in those twenty years. My wings are so tired.

**

I started watching HGTV when I got to Iowa, four years ago, with a fervor previously reserved for food. I stayed up late watching renovation shows and first-time-home buying shows and tiny home shows. You know what I never watched? Vacation home shows. I wasn’t interested in the temporary nests. Much to my own shock, I was interested in the stuff that lives were made out of.

I told the man I met that I wouldn’t be staying here. Staying was not what I did. I was prepping to fly again. I wanted him to know.

But I was falling in love. I was rooting down when I couldn’t even see it. I folded my wings and started planting my feet. Iowa became my friend. Iowa was the place that grew him – this man I had met. He, in turn, grew me. Into a different person. And then we grew a little one. Our baby.

**

Home can mean a million things. Our mothers. Our fathers. A nook in the world that knows us well. A city. A food.  A structure with walls. An idea.

Home is now split in my mind into two things. Nic. And Iowa. Can a place that changed you by way of love ever not be home?

**

It came to me in a flash. I saw it, there, on my wrist, in a vision. It surprised me, but it was mine.

The wrist that had waited for a bird to land so many years ago, now outlined with the shape of a state. A state of grace. Of understanding. Of the welcoming of love. The outline is rectangular in shape, and permanent in my heart. The shape of Iowa.

Pendulum.

 

Last night, I was surrounded by a bunch of Nic’s family in a hand-built, antique-filled, aluminum and wood-outfitted gorgeous house in the middle of open fields and wide skies and there was so much love and laughter and generosity of spirit. Deep into the evening, I looked over and saw the matriarch of the family, the one whose four sons and their kin had exploded all over the room in red and green — shaking. Her hands were shaking as she was bringing them to her face and then I noticed her dabbing her eyes and her cheeks and I realized the shaking was that borne of a cry. I should have gone to her straightway, but like a coward, I passed the task to someone else, fearful I could not due it justice, not being her blood relative. I asked Nic to go immediately to the table, to see if she was alright. He sat across the table from her and began to speak.

Moments after sending him, I had to make my lack of action right. I pulled up a chair next to her and placed my hand across her back. I rubbed her back like I had the power and the right to calm her nerves, ease her pain, erase her fear. She looked into my eyes and explained her state. “I just don’t know how much longer I’ll get to see all of this. I don’t know how much more time I’ll get to be with all of these amazing people in this room.” She shook her head back and forth, in joy and wonder of her beautiful, giant family.

“But — You made them all. You’ll be in this room for all of time. Because you literally created the entire room,” I said.

She looked into my eyes, pride beaming from hers. “You’re right,” she replied, and then she squeezed my hand and thanked me for reminding her.

**

I can feel Oliver’s body extending itself right past mine. When I transfer him from our bed at night to his, his feet keep hitting lower on my legs. He’s elongating. He’s making full sentences and becoming too cognizant — this morning he found a piece of candy from last year’s stocking at the bottom of it and almost convinced me he hadn’t found a thing, by way of his genius body language alone. When he opened a present this morning, he bellowed, “Ta-da…!” before stacking it up on the floor. He is two parts unbelievably annoying and three parts wonder and joy. He has made me feel like I’m suffocating and swimming with ease at the same time. I know a period is coming when I won’t feel this way anymore. He and I will distance ourselves from each other, per the natural course of time.

**

I thought Bev was crying last night because of loss. She has lost her husband fairly recently, and she has lost the home she was in for so many years, and she has lost going to sleep in a house where all four of her boys were sleeping at the same time, too.

But she wasn’t crying over loss. She was crying over privilege. She was overwhelmed at the privilege of sitting at a table surrounded by the beauty of her family. She was insanely proud and insanely honored and so happy to be present that her body shook from it all.

**

Of course, she is scared, too. The same way I’m scared. Loss and privilege are two sides of the same coin. They are the left and the right side of the pendulum. They replace each other — keeping time — over and over and over again.

Non é finto.

 

We have two plastic candy canes on our Christmas tree. We have to keep telling Oliver they are fake. “Finto,” I say — in Italian. They are fake. I know they look real and shiny and glossy and good, but they are fake. Don’t eat them. Don’t crush them. Just let your eyes gloss over when they fall upon them. They are nothing more than a mirage.

**

I thought images of families in living rooms laughing were mirages. Until I became one of those people, there on the soft floor, giggling like someone just said the funniest thing in the whole world. Someone did. It was: Look. You’re happy.

**

I share images from my life compulsively. Impulsively. Round the clock. Joyfully. And though I share them with you — I’m really saving them for me. So that when I am walking down the street alone, or sitting on the couch, and I’m tired or sad or angry or confused, that I can look down and see Vivid. Proof. That I am not alone, or sad or angry or confused — well — not really. Momentarily, yes. But not really.

But I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable nearly every day, that I play happy. That I play mommy. That I play family. I am constantly uncomfortable in this happy, happy life. Because I thought this was a mirage until I infiltrated it. My old eyes don’t like being fooled and my new eyes seek their old way of seeing, sometimes.

**

This morning, I posted a picture of Oliver. And then another. And I shared an Instagram story, and I watched other people’s images and stories and I reveled in all the **ddamn love. And then I felt a fool — like it’s been going on too long and I should shut it down or shut something out or just stop inviting everyone in — to my mirage.

I disabled my account.

**

Iowa is the place where I first started believing families on soft floors laughed and really meant to. That they wanted to be on those floors to begin with. That not everyone who refurnished their hardwood and reproduced and drove roundish vehicles hated their lives. Some people are genuinely happy in little square-like numbers like four. 

**

When Oliver and Nic are out on the highway, I wait for texts that say they made it safe and that they both love me, and that they’ll be home soon, and that I’ll get to keep this happy picture we have painted.

But I also wait for a phone call. A notice that I don’t get to keep it. This bounty. This feast. This lovely image we created.

If they were both to leave me, I could light this life of mine on fire and finally dance around the flame, again. I could really thrive, high on loss and pain. Wouldn’t that be comfortable. 

**

We are moving in three weeks and I am scared. Can I leave this land and remain who I’ve become? Can I walk across a state line and stay this person?

Who am I? Was it fake? Was Iowa a mirage? Do I get to be happy? Do I get to keep them?

the magic of children

I remember when my niece was born, that I used to catch my dad holding her on the couch, tears seeping out of the tops of his cheeks. No one could hear him; he didn’t produce sound. He just silently wept, overcome with what he was holding.

**

My friend had a baby and she let me kiss it when it was six days old and I couldn’t believe the privilege. I kept telling everyone. I texted my sister. I texted Nic. “I kissed a fresh new baby,” I told them. I got to get close to something that precious. I held her on my chest for a moment and the sheer rhythm of her breathing calmed my entire body down.

**

Yesterday, we took a walk in the woods. It was late in the afternoon, with a warm winter sun. When we came across our first bridge, I told Oliver that he should look for the trolls that live underneath of them. He grabbed a stick and began hunting, his intensity honestly a little surprising. He was angry at those non-existent trolls, and he was going to get them.

We passed many people while we were out. The weather was mild and people were enjoying the day. In order to downplay his angry stick-wielding, we divulged his task. “He’s hunting trolls,” we told them. “Don’t worry; we’re on this. The trolls won’t be bothering you today.”

Closing a roundabout, we came upon a family we had already seen at the onset. Two children and their parents. I watched the children dart ahead, after they saw us come though a clearing. And then, I heard them. “DON’T YOU DARE STEP ON OUR BRIDGE, CHILD!” They yelled. “GET OFF OF OUR BRIIIIIIDGE!” Oliver ran towards the bridge, desperate to take out his trolls. Then – I saw their arms reach out to grab him. They were fully committed to their act. They did not back down. Oliver ran screaming, back towards us. Their parents called them off task.

I could not believe it. 

I still can’t.

A child’s commitment to a child. A child’s commitment to another child’s fantastic vision.

**

I bought a hardboiled egg-with-eggplant (what?, I know) sandwich today and as I was picking it up, I watched a woman with dark skin and tired, wise, dark, crinkled eyes swipe her hand across the head of a blonde-haired child that wasn’t her child, and wasn’t her grandchild – but was most certainly hers. She didn’t even swipe it fast, for fear that the mother would see. She almost held it there, above his head, crowning his head with her palm, mid-air.

I felt a rush of air on my face, like an angel was swatting me in the face gently. I had to look away fast as I blinked, blurring the tears in my eyes.

**

These damn kids. These damn magic kids. My life feels insanely small now. And insanely big. I am sobbing — trying to understand what happened, and how to make sure none of it ever comes undone.

We are – at our root – every bit as beautiful as all those people crying and swiping heads know us to be. Our children are magic. We were once magic. Go back with me.

 

The Tornados That Brought Us to Hickory Hill

We are in our new house now. Our new house. La nuova casa, I keep telling Oliver, because I almost exclusively speak Italian to Oliver. We left ‘la vecchia casa’ and now we’re in ‘la nuova casa’, I tell him, over and over and over again.

Our new house is not a stand-alone house, and Nic is somewhat bothered by that. People love stand-alone homes — they love property and privacy and their names on things. But I love the division of property. And I privacy only some of the time. I revel in the gain you gain from sharing homes and lives and time with others. I learned this because I kept running from my own home when I was young, so I learned it as a result of some kind of lack, but all it did was GIVE BACK AND GIVE BACK.

A tornado dropped us here. It started in the cells of a man across the street from us — a neighbor that honestly lost his mind — due to drug use, perhaps combined with some other issues. As his behavior spiraled, our lives became intertwined in only the worst of ways. Fear became the most common feeling I had at home. So we started thinking. Maybe we should move? Then we started looking. We talked about Iowa City. How much we would love to live in the same city as Hickory Hill.

When I first moved to Iowa, it was to Iowa City, and it was almost 4 years ago exactly.

I came here to stay with a friend — and much to my surprise, I immediately felt a sense that I was home. (I was only supposed to be here for a couple months; I had plans to head off to another big city and to “figure out how to become a writer.”)

I was staying in Emily and John’s house with their two little boys. Emily was a friend from college. I was living amongst her family — and I kept staring at it, wide-eyed, like a little girl. Here are happy people. In a stand-alone house. With CHILDREN. How weird. I had been apartment-jumping and love-avoiding and I felt as far away from their state of being as I could have. Yet: I liked seeing it. It stirred something up within me. A tiny tornado of curiosity.

Emily lived right near a park that was essentially tons of semi-manicured woods: Hickory Hill.

I started walking every day in Hickory Hill. I filled me in ways I hadn’t been filled since I was a girl. I came from the woods. They have always been where I have found the most peace. Amongst the trees, amongst the green.

Then Nic and I fell in love there.

And I think we all know how that story went. Nic and I GOT MARRIED (in Hickory Hill) AND BOUGHT A HOUSE (forty-five minutes from Iowa City/Hickory Hill) AND HAD A CHILD.

And just like that: my plan to leave Iowa, my plan to stay single and childless — my life plans were obliterated.

(and that’s okay.)

**

Life kept spinning.

That child we had needed a doctor, and Emily had a sister who was a doctor (and a friend), and so we took our little baby to her after he came into the world. She measured him time and again, and calmed my fears when I had them.

And we kept living in Marion,  but visiting Emily and her sister in Iowa City, and taking occasional walks with Oliver and Béla in Hickory Hill.

Then our neighbor erupted and we started thinking it was time to leave our home, and maybe if we were lucky, we could get closer to that park…maybe we could figure out someplace nearby. A twenty-minute drive would be nicer than a forty-five.

Then the sister bought a house. With a mother-in-law apartment in the bottom of it. A home, underneath a home, with a separate entrance and a separate outdoor space, yet tied together with walls. Our ceilings are quite literally their floors. She has two children, too, and so, all together, we have three — Oliver has two brother figures built into the foundation.

And — well, the location could not be better.

Because.

THE BACKYARD IS HICKORY HILL. 

**

We moved in last weekend, and boxes are strewn about still. It looks wild in here.

But this is merely the calm after the storm. This is the calm after all of the storms.


 

if you want to page back through my blog, you can read the blog post I wrote when I first moved here — Iowa 75% Vowels, 100% Awesome  — and the one I wrote when I finally admitted I was in love with Nic — Fuck It; I’m In Love. I have no idea how to link them here bc I am not technologically advanced enough to even link my own blog to my own blog wtf

 

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The Non-Subtlety of God

I am supposed to be busy right doing some very important things. Things like “de-personalizing” the home [for sale purposes], walking Béla (but it’s hot as shit, she doesn’t want to, right?) and editing a piece I wrote that I really need to resuscitate.

But something happened this morning while I was working at Starbucks and I’m just sitting here, thinking about it.

I was leaning out of the drive-thru window, talking to woman in the driver’s seat, when she raised her head to the back, listening to her children speak. The windows were tinted, so I couldn’t see their faces. But her face. All of the sudden, her face sort of tilted to the right and she drew a tiny, hiccuped breath in and, looking shocked, revealed what they had wanted.

“They want to know…   [she paused] ….. if [short pause again] …you know God.”

My chest was leaning against the metal shelf that provides the bridge between the in- and out- of doors, and had my weight not been so properly anchored, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have slipped. It felt like the floor dropped from beneath me. My ears rang with the blatancy and directness of their question.

Do you know God? 

**

I met God when I met Béla and I met him again when I met Nic and again when I met Ollie. I meet him on the street twenty times a day, in the face of every dog I see. I meet him in the eyes of people on the sidewalk, in line at the grocery store. I meet him when my friends bring me into their homes and feed me and love me, like two dear ones did this week alone. I have talked to God a thousand times before bed, and in the middle of the day sometimes, and the night years ago that I asked him to give me a motherfucking sign if I was seriously in danger of dying ((and he did — and I was. I got to the hospital when a good portion of my left lung was already dead and both lungs were filled with blood clots)) So, yeah, I know God. He’s been a total homie and my saving grace and I have found him in the stars and the grass and bugs and flowers and trees.

And those little kids? They knew I knew him. They were just reminding me.

We all do it. We ask people if they know someone when we have a hunch they do.

You know — when you’re like — “Oh, hey — do you know Macy? She lives three streets up and has brown hair and a little beige dog and…”

We’re looking for confirmation, to know that our hunch is right and true.

I’m not looking for confirmation that I know God anymore. I’m done. This life has all been too sweet and too good.

So to the little angels in the backseat today — yes, I know God. Of course I do. He’s right in front of me. He is every last one of you.