“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent… develop a thick hide.” —Harper Lee

Well, I am totally screwed.

I’m the first to admit to having a thin skin. It’s not something I’m proud of. Some days are better than others, but there have been times – especially when I was younger and less self-aware – when I felt as though I was walking around with a permanent first-degree burn that stung like hell whenever I received any type of negative feedback.

Also? I’m introverted and feel a little socially inept in most situations. It is still hard for me to take a compliment without feeling like a fraud. My usual response to a polite expression of praise is, “No, I think you have the wrong person”.

If I didn’t have four very outgoing children who, since they are children, need some sort of outside stimulation anyway, it’s possible that I might become a hermit and a cat lady for sure. I don’t think that I would become an agoraphobic because I do enjoy the occasional outing to eat lunch or dinner, or see a movie with the kids. I also love visits to Costco, Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby, but I like to go early in the morning when there’s no one there. In spite of my introverted-ness, I really do love people. I love to talk to them and watch them. I know it’s hard to comprehend.

I don’t get it, either.

Amelie

“Amelie”

Funny thing about Harper Lee – after To Kill a Mockingbird was published and she was awarded just about every accolade possible (including a Pulitzer), she reportedly withdrew from public life because she couldn’t tolerate the pressures of fame. She was awarded a number of honorary degrees, but always declined to give commencement speeches, because, in her words, “…it’s better to be silent than to be a fool” (to which I say, “Amen, Sister”). With the exception of a few essays and letters, she never published again.

Is it because she is introverted and sensitive, too? How does one go about growing a “thick hide”?

I’m not sure if it’s possible.

I don’t give advice. I’m not an advice-giver, but I will tell you about some things that help me to roll with it a little better. Who knows? If you have the skin of an over-ripe tomato, these little nuggets might help you, too.

1. I know who my real friends are. Having an objective point of view that you know you can trust is valuable. My family and the few – but very precious – friends who really know me well have offered loads of support and encouragement when I needed it. They have also slapped me around and told me to just get over stuff that didn’t matter. Because of those who are close to me, I know I’m not alone and that others struggle with some of the same crap. It’s reassuring to know that we are all playing this poker game together.

2. Love. Love is…it’s…well…it’s hard to explain, but I know that it feels good. Here are some things that make me feel “love-y”:

  • Family and friends.
  • The cat.
  • This writing hobby.
  • Star Wars.
  • Star Wars and Cats.
  • Sleep.
  • Vacations, chocolate, and wine – not necessarily in that order.
  • Definitely NOT Facebook or Pinterest. They are evil and make me feel hate-y.
  • Facebook and Pinterest

3. Perspective. The world is a big place with lots of small stuff on it that looks big even though it’s not. I guess it’s easy to say something contrived, like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, but sometimes, the small stuff seems insurmountable, doesn’t it? It is hard to see situations as they really are through a veil of anger or sadness or emotion. I’ve been mad/sad/emotional about something once or twice in my life, and when someone told me to count to ten, I wanted to blow them up. However, it works. It’s hard as hell to do, and I am not a pro at this by any means, but it is helpful to just stop and think for a minute. Trust me. I learned this trick from watching “Blue’s Clues”.

I also try to get outside of my own head, because it has come to my attention that the world does not revolve around me. I have to think of other people and their feelings. Once I’ve had some time to think, I usually see things very differently and realize that perhaps the problem is but a small scab on the knee of life.

This works pretty good unless you’re in jail for life or something.

4. I try to keep busy so that I am not sitting around ruminating about what others think. Not that I spend a lot of time doing that, but sometimes, I say something idiotic that I end up regretting, and I stew about it longer than is really necessary.

Although I’m introverted, get me talking and I won’t shut up until I’ve said something really dumb and bad, or I realize that I’ve changed the subject about a thousand times and I have no idea what my point was, or I realize that the adrenaline has gotten out of hand and I’m visibly quivering with excitement because I’m actually having a conversation – although likely one-sided – with a live adult human being who appears interested in what I have to say. Basically, I turn into Chatty Cathy on meth. This paragraph-y thing here comes pretty close, I think.

Example: At a recent social gathering, someone asked me about homeschooling.

That is a hard subject to talk about on the spot because it raises so many additional questions that are not always easy for me to answer articulately. Our reasons are not exactly black and white.

I feel good about schooling my kids at home, but some folks feel like it’s just the worst possible thing a parent could do, and apparently this person I was speaking to felt that way but didn’t let on until I had already made an ass out of myself.

Afterward, I felt really foolish and I thought about the exchange for a couple of days. I felt like I had ruined any chance of cultivating a new friendship with this person (who was actually quite delightful) and I was just sick about it. I was mad at myself, then I was sad, then I was mad at this person for being narrow-minded (which was just petulant on my part), but then decided that I needed to let it go because I would maybe only see this person once a year at this particular gathering anyway. If he thinks that I’m a loser, then I guess that’s the way it has to be. We are all allowed to feel the way we do about anything, right?

Still, it’s hard not to relive situations like that over and over and wonder how I could have handled things differently, especially when I’m lying in bed trying to get to sleep. Once the lights are off, and there is no sound except for the prominent buzzing of my foolish brain, it’s hard to relax because the thing just won’t turn off. It thinks and thinks and thinks about the most bizarre things that don’t really matter, or it will make stuff up that will never, ever happen. Probably.

*Note: Consequently, bedtime is when I employ AIR the most. I breathe in slowly, and then I breathe out more slowly. Deep breathing sounds hokey, but it really works. Although, if I run into Darth Vader in a back alley or get sucked into a Sharknado, I think I’m out of luck. Deep breathing probably won’t help in those cases.

5. Flossing. Flossing is undoubtedly one of the greatest things you can do for yourself in my honest opinion. It’s right up there with a good night’s sleep and eating nourishing food. Flossing makes me feel right. When I floss, it’s a reminder that self-care is a priority. I’m a priority, you know? So, remember to floss and do all of that other stuff that constitutes “self-care”, like nail clipping, showering and going to the bathroom when you need to. You are a priority.

6. Getting older has helped A LOT. Bring on the aging and wisdom. I’m not one of those people who dislikes birthdays, and in spite of the additional aches and pains associated with getting older, I welcome my birthday every year because it means that – hopefully – I’ve learned more about how to navigate my own anxiety. There is also a weird, increased sense of self-respect. I almost feel entitled just for living this long.

There are moments when I imagine myself as Ouiser Boudreaux from “Steel Magnolias”.

11-Steel-Magnolias-quotes

Well, maybe not. Take away the southern accent and the pearls, then add a cocktail, a pack of smokes and ten cats and I swear that’s my mother right there.

7. I try to feel good about myself. Yeah, it’s tricky. Sometimes possible, sometimes impossible. There are days when I feel a surge of self-confidence and a comfort with myself as I am. Those days are precious and few, because I wasn’t exactly raised in an environment that imbued me with those virtues, nor did I try to cultivate them in myself when I was older. I never explored their value until I’d made a lot of mistakes. I mean, A LOT.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t truly understand what respect was until I was well into adulthood. It was just never something I thought about. Can you imagine? I remember admiring certain people, but it was usually for the wrong reasons. I refer to that time as The Clueless Empty Shell Years. And it was a lot of years.

I didn’t get the importance of self-respect until much later.

Things are certainly different now. Funny how time and life events shape a person. I suppose that, sometimes, positive change and the self-awareness stuff comes later.

What I’m trying to say is this: When I feel good on the inside, the bothersome outside stuff doesn’t trouble me as much.

I think that’s the “thick hide” Ms. Lee was talking about.

* * * * * * * *

I hope that the sensitive folk out there find some value in the things I’ve mentioned. If not, I hope that at the very least, you enjoyed that Steel Magnolias meme. I think it’s a hoot.

Oh, and one more thing?

8. LAUGH.

* * * * * * * *

Written to the tunes of:

The “Amelie” Soundtrack

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Me Julie. Me Like Animals.

by Julie on September 18, 2014

I have always been an animal lover. My favorite is the cat, but I love them all.

I’m an animal lover who likes to eat certain animals. I love steak and chicken, and I make some really tasty pulled pork. I also love bacon. There’s even the occasional lamb and a very rare taste of venison.

That said, I think cows, chickens, pigs, lambs and deer are all really cute – and in some cases, majestic – animals. I have a great deal of respect for the animals who’ve died so that I can cook them up for my family to eat. Still, it doesn’t help that those critters are so innocent and precious, not to mention the numerous animal characters that I couldn’t even imagine eating: The Chik-Fil-A cows telling me to eat more Foghorn Leghorn, Lamb Chop the puppet, Wilber the Pig and Bambi to name a few. I wouldn’t eat Rocky the Squirrel, but when I see one of those numerous corpses in the road, I get a little weepy.

A couple years ago we went to the state fair, and when I saw a mother pig nursing her young’uns, I immediately wanted to have another kid.

piglets

That mother pig is in ecstasy. Some might think it’s gross, but I totally get it.

Then I had a hankering for sausage on a stick. What’s up with that?

Fish are no exception. It’s hard for me to eat a piece of fish without thinking about little Nemo being gutted and served up with fries, but I enjoy a well-prepared piece of salmon or halibut or some fish tacos.

I can’t help it, and I can’t explain it, but I enjoy the taste of animal meat. Even the Wild Kratts can’t make me feel more at ease about being part of the food chain. According to the Kratt brothers, I’m human, and I have teeth that convey a hint that I’m probably a carnivorous being, and isn’t that just so cool?

I mean, I get it. From the dawn of time, humans have been killing animals for food, but I will always be perplexed about how I can swoon over a cute mother pig and then eat one of her relatives.

* * * * * * * *

One of my favorite memories from youth is of walking through the door of the grocery store on the corner near my grandmother’s neighborhood – Hutch’s Food Mart. Before the population of our little town exploded and the major grocery chains took over, Hutch’s was where we shopped most of the time. It was a small store, owned by a Mr. Leonard Hutchison. It was cozy and warm and the people who worked there knew me and my grandmother by name. According to The Brother (who also has fond memories of the store), Mr. Hutchison was not entirely fond of kids, and if you picked up a piece of fruit or even touched it, he would admonish you for it.

After she took me to church on Sundays, my grandmother and I would go to Hutch’s to gather lunch supplies. The moment we walked inside, I could smell the chickens that had been cooked on the rotisserie. Mr. Hutchison was always there, standing very tall and crotchety behind the counter where those succulent, cooked chickens were still warming under the lights. I remember seeing more golden brown chickens twirling behind him, and the smell of barbeque, which he was known for.  I was very young, but the sights and smells! I will never forget them.

We would browse the store with our tiny grocery cart (Mr. Hutchison would laugh at the size of grocery carts today). Grandmother would buy me some Neapolitan ice cream, and we would collect some sort of meat from Mr. H’s meat case, fresh green beans (my favorite), corn on the cob, and warm bread or muffins. Sometimes, she would buy a large roast or a turkey for those occasions when the extended family would come to visit. For major holidays, she would carefully prepare an elaborate dinner at her house and we would sit at the elegantly dressed dining room table with the pretty dishes and linens and real silver that I enthusiastically polished for her before company arrived.

Grandmother’s house was not huge by any means, but I loved it. It was a very modest three-bedroom with a carport and a large oak tree in front. There were irises planted alongside the carport where, some mornings, Grandmother and I would lounge and have breakfast. I would have half of a grapefruit with sugar sprinkled on it. There was also bacon and eggs or waffles – she made whatever I wanted when I spent weekends with her.

I loved the smells of her cooking. She made yummy roasts and soups, but what I remember most were her desserts. They weren’t anything particularly fancy. In fact, they were probably what most families ate for dessert in those days, but I am still pining for her Watergate Salad; not because I can’t make it for myself, but because I miss making it with her.

My mom had her own lovely meal repertoire. After a long day at work, she would come home and fry up some chicken or salmon croquettes, and on her days off, she’d make something more complex, like pepper steak or Beef Burgundy or a spaghetti sauce that cooked all day. I have fond memories of coming home from school to the distinctive aromas of her cooking, and hearing the music she loved listening to while she prepared dinner – usually Simon & Garfunkel, Carly Simon, or The Carpenters.

Of course, we had our share of TV dinners when I was young, but those were fine by me. My favorite was the meat loaf that came with mashed potatoes and green beans, and there was a strange dessert that I couldn’t identify (the box said it was “cobbler”), but it was sweet and gooey, so I gobbled it up. Back then, there wasn’t a McDonald’s on every corner or a Boston Market.  Not that we couldn’t hit the local Jack-In-the-Box or whatever was around, we just didn’t need or want to.

Funny how some of my best memories of childhood revolve around food.

But there are some other memories, too.

* * * * * * * *

When I was seven years old, my mom brought home a box of chicks and declared that we would now be raising chickens in the back yard of our rented suburban house so we could have fresh eggs. There were two Dominiques, (also known as Plymouth Rocks), a couple of lovely brown Rhode Island hens, a Rhode Island Rooster, and then about 6-8 additional white hens.

dominique

We named the Dominickers “Dom” and “Nicker”, the Rhode Island hens were “Henna” and “Penny”. The white hens were named various things that I don’t remember, and the rooster was named “Dominick”, according to The Brother. The chicks were adorable, and my brother and I helped care for them to adulthood, although my brother did most of the work. We had to keep them warm in those first weeks before we moved them out to the coop that The Brother and Mother had built in our backyard, so we had a warming lamp that hung over them in a cardboard box that was just big enough for them to fit.

baby-chicks,1366x768,51655

The coop was constructed from chicken wire and plywood. I loved going out to feed the chickens and commune with them. However, I got pecked at a lot, and eventually I stopped going into the coop, resigning myself to poking a finger or two through the chicken wire, hoping I wouldn’t get seriously injured by the rooster. Dominick was quite protective of the ladies.

The Brother, who was fourteen or so at the time, was responsible for fetching eggs and feeding and watering the chickens. I do recall that one day, The Mother (who was a nurse) came home early and went out to check for eggs, and since she had not taken a basket with her to put them in, placed an egg in the back pocket of her work scrubs because her hands were full. She came inside and as we were chatting about our day, she sat down, forgetting about the egg in her pants, and it was crushed against her backside. Kind of messy, but we laughed about it anyway.

There was a chain-link fence between our back yard and the neighbor’s. They had a dog – a gorgeous, extremely large, white German Shepherd named “Ski” – who would wake us up daily at 5am with his incessant barking, alongside the crow of the stupid rooster. I remember my mom expressing her displeasure at the barking and crowing, sometimes going so far as to open her bedroom window to yell, “Shut the hell up, Ski!!”, but she had to get up early for work during the week, so the dog and chicken wakeup chorus was helpful, I guess.

Some time during our chicken adventure, Ski ate a couple of our white-feathered hens after they had escaped from the coop and decided to go over the fence into his welcoming and drooling maw. I remember going out into the back yard one afternoon and finding a pair of wings on the ground. The white dog’s fur was now pink – stained with the blood of one of my pet hens.

My mom came outside because she heard me screaming at Ski. She shooed me back into the house, I guess in order to protect me from the carnage, although I had already seen the wings lying in the grass.

(I guess Ski wasn’t a wing man. Personally, I love chicken wings. He really missed out.)

There is no telling how long that dog pined for a taste of fresh chicken. That day was surely the luckiest day of his life. The Fantastic Mr. Ski lived next door, but he didn’t have to go to any lengths to capture his meal that day. It was basically presented to him over a silver-colored chain-link fence, and it was a foreshadowing –  and maybe a bit of a preparation –  for what was to come next.

* * * * * * * *

One Saturday, my mom had a few too many cocktails and decided that she was going to kill a few of our chickens for future dinners.  There was an announcement but little talk of it. My brother and I were horrified.

At the tender age of seven, I had given very little thought to where our food came from (or anything else for that matter), so it was a bit of a shock to find out that those sweet chickens in the back yard were the same type of animal that was used to make my mother’s delicious fried chicken. There were no documentaries about how our chickens ended up on the dinner table, and I never questioned where my fried chicken came from. I just knew that it was good.

After dinner and a few scotch and waters, Mother invited one of her friends over (who was equally toasted), and together, they beheaded a good number of our flock. Although we did not witness the slaughter, I was aghast, as was my brother. We loved those chickens. Even though they pecked the crap out of me and smelled bad, I loved them as much as I loved my cat.

Upset by this mini-chickencide, my brother and I took out our frustrations by setting up shop on the coffee table with lots of paper and pencils and crayons so that we could draw pictures of our evil mother and her axe-wielding friend killing our precious poultry. We cringed every time we heard the axe hit concrete, and we would press our pencil or crayon onto the paper even harder in protest.

After that? I don’t know. I suppose I’ve either blocked it out or just lost interest and went to bed, because I have no recollection of the remainder of that evening.

As far as I know, I slept. I can’t remember anything after my brother and I created our art gallery of “Fowl Play”. I woke up the next morning feeling rested, but then I remembered the previous night’s events, and I felt a little off. However, my uneasiness was made better because I knew that “The Bionic Woman” would be on that night, so I focused on that and poured myself a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. After I had eaten my breakfast, I went to throw the empty cereal box into the trash, and when I opened the pantry door, laying on top of an already full trash can rested a disembodied chicken head.

From that day forward (at least for a good number of chicken dinners), my brother and I refused to eat any chicken that was served to us by our mother.

* * * * * * * *

Thankfully, memories fade, and even though I still can recall the Great Poultricide of 1974, the days and years afterward have helped me to laugh about it. If I had to live off of the land and I was starving to death and found a chicken?

I’d probably kill it, but I would not feel too good about it.

* * * * * * * *

Written to the tunes of:

Elton John “Greatest Hits”

Simon and Garfunkel

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The Story of My Cat Meow-soleum.

September 1, 2014

I almost became a cat lady. I was this close, and then my Mister showed up all romantical & stuff, so instead of a cat collection, I now have a kid collection. I had already accumulated a couple of cats, and after The Mister and I met and he moved in with me, I coerced […]

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Well I Wasn’t Expecting THAT.

August 28, 2014

Back in June of 2003, I was in graduate school. It was a Master of Science program with a major in nursing and designation as a nurse practitioner once I’d completed the course of study and passed a certification exam. My specialty was Women’s Health. Source Unknown, which is unfortunate. Great graphic. Let me know […]

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The Story Of Me And Him.

August 25, 2014

It’s August, which means that the idiotic heat of summer will hopefully come to an end soon. It also means that it’s time, once again, to reminisce about that time I met the Mister. I call it our “Meetiversary”. It’s hokey, but hey, it’s ME!   * * * * * * * * August […]

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I’ll Miss You When I’m Not Around.

August 21, 2014

No, I’m not leaving the blog again. I am not going to croak anytime soon, either. I know you’re all very relieved to hear this news. I think I’ve decided to distance myself from Facebook a little more. Our relationship, in FB terms might be, “It’s Complicated”. Me and The FB have not been getting […]

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An Exercise In Monotony.

August 12, 2014

Before the kids wake up: After the kids have been up for a couple of hours: It’s like being at Disneyland. Actually, it’s like Disneyland vomited all over the place and there are less cool rides and no gift shops. And it’s in the slums of Detroit. Before we go to bed: Just call me […]

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Good Stuff #3 – Water.

August 4, 2014

WATER. So cleansing. And watery. I place a tall glass of it on my nightstand every night before I get in bed. Water makes up around 71% of the earth’s surface, as well as up to 78% of our body’s composition (depending on size). Kind of interesting, right? It also makes up a large percentage […]

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A Tale of A Tail.

July 31, 2014

When I think back on my youth, I sometimes feel that it is contrary to the established laws of nature that I have survived this long. My reasoning skills have always been a little wonky, but definitely worse when I was younger. I could look at something – a situation, for example – and assume something […]

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Good Stuff #2 – The Brown Paper Bag

July 28, 2014

Have you met the Brown Paper Bag? It has been around forever. There’s even a Wikipedia page about it, and although the information there is sparse, the venerable paper bag’s legacy is quite significant. So cheap. So ordinary. So brown. So USEFUL! I guess they are mostly known for holding sack lunches, but they can […]

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