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Posts Tagged ‘love’

I’m sitting here typing this on the longest night of the year. After this, the nights will be a few minutes shorter, and then a few minutes shorter again. At some point in the not-so-distant future, it won’t be dark at 4:15 in the afternoon. The sun will make it till 4:30 and then even 5:00.

I can’t give you words of comfort about the state of the world because I don’t have any right now. What I can give you is comfort on a more personal level.

Every year I make a photobook of highlights from the year that’s just gone by and give it to myself for Christmas. This year I didn’t want to make one. I put it off, and then I put it off some more. I thought it would be depressing. 2016 was such a challenging and difficult year for me personally, what photos would I even have to choose from? But finally I forced myself to sit down and start the job by telling myself I could always just make a whole book of cute Nala pictures. No one else might enjoy looking at a book like that, but I would like it.

What I found, though, as I started putting photos onto pages, was that there was still plenty to be happy about in 2016. My book wasn’t a lot shorter than usual, and it wasn’t a lot sadder than usual. There was still joy and love and silliness to record on its pages. There was still hope.

And I realize, when I think back on the year, how much of my joy derives from the people I care about. It’s been easier than usual to forget this year because there was a lot going on, and much of that was disappointing or ugly or just plain tough. But when I think about the year, I don’t just think about all the hard times. I also think of all the people who were there through the hard times.

I think of friends in the Bay Area who took me out, who danced with me, who listened to me without judgment, who fed me sushi and waffles and peanut butter pie. I think of those friends who supported me moving to Seattle one hundred percent even though they were personally sad I was leaving. And I think of the phone calls and messages since I moved, and how those friendships haven’t gone anywhere.

I think of my friends at Rainforest who helped me figure some stuff out. I think of my friends in LA who I hadn’t seen in years who welcomed me back into their lives with open arms. I think of my high school friends with whom I shared a special reunion. I think of my friends at Worldcon in Kansas City who looked out for me since my health wasn’t good.

I think of my friends in Seattle and how humbled I have been by their kindness and generosity. I had only been living here ONE MONTH when my life completely fell apart, and you all stepped up to the challenge, even though many of you barely knew me. I can’t think about it without crying. Your willingness to show up and be there for me and help me means everything to me. And there were many people supporting me from a distance as well. You showed me how good people can be and how little it sometimes takes to make a huge difference in someone else’s life. You have forever changed my experience of the world.

I think of my close friends, my inner circle. The ones who know me best, who know my faults as well as my strengths and love me anyway. The ones who walk beside me as we share what we think and how we feel. The ones who understand the less obvious things about me, the ones who validate my feelings, the ones who I trust. I feel so lucky to have met you.

And I think of Nala, of course, who is loyal and sweet and mischievous and empathetic. And who was so scared of being left when we’d moved to a new state that she learned how to grab onto my legs with her front paws while standing on her back paws. There is no one more concerned about my welfare than that little dog, and she brightens my life every single day just by being herself.

When we go through hard times we learn a lot, both about ourselves and about the people who are around us. What I learned this year is that even when everything is going to hell, some people will be kind and they will be true. And there are an awful lot of people out there who love and care about me, and who I love and care about back.

On the longest night of the year, I think about all of you, and then it doesn’t seem so very dark.

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Seven Years of Nala

As I type this, Nala is lying in her bed and I am sitting in my easy chair where I always write, and we can see each other. She is drowsing, half sleeping and then cracking open her eyes to look at me. I am making silly noises at her and calling her nicknames.

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We have lived with each other for seven years. Today is our adoption anniversary.

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I have lived longer with Nala than I have lived with anyone aside from my nuclear family.

I feel like you can’t know me well without being aware of Nala’s existence in my life. I share photos of her all the time because they make me happy and I want to share that happiness with all of you. She is an essential component to the rhythm of my days. She loves it when I have friends over because she is so curious about people. Oh, and also she’s fond of getting more belly rubs.

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We’re moving out of state in less than two weeks. My days are filled with logistics and scheduling and making big decisions and packing and saying goodbye. Meanwhile, awful things are happening out in the world, and when I think about it (and how can I not think about it?) I feel like crying. Sometimes I do cry. And then I have to focus instead on whether I should pay to move my Billy bookcases or whether I should give them away, and what health insurance plan should I sign up for, and why hasn’t the welcome letter from my new complex come yet. And I have several friends who are having a difficult time right now, and I’m worried about them, and I don’t want to be dealing with moving, I want to be next to them giving them support. But I can’t because I have to be here. It’s a weird time.

In the middle of so much turmoil and change, I am especially appreciative of the things I can depend upon. I am afraid. I try not to problem compare, but I think of all the people who have so much more to be afraid of than myself right now, and this complicates my feelings even further. Even so, this is my reality. I am afraid. I think of being all alone in a new city in an empty apartment (because who knows how long it will take my stuff to arrive) and I am afraid.

And then I think of Nala. “Nala will be there,” I tell myself. And that fact, the fact of Nala, makes the fear navigable. She will roll around on the carpet and make funny snorting sounds. We can sit together on the floor in the dark. She will lick my arm. We can discuss her sentience or lack thereof, and she will be there when I cry and then realize I forgot to pack any Kleenex and end up draping toilet paper around the apartment like ghostly tear trails.

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The ones we love can’t take away the fear or the pain or the struggle. What they can do is make it easier to sit with these things.

What they can do is make us feel like we aren’t alone.

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I am so grateful to have Nala in my life.
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She gives me something to emulate. I hope my words can make a few of you feel a little bit less alone too.

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I will be single on Valentine’s Day this year.

Actually, I did some quick math, and I’ve been single for about 70% of all the Valentine’s Days in my life, so this is actually nothing new or unusual.

In general I’ve always been fairly sanguine about Valentine’s Day. A few years ago I spent the evening with a friend of mine who was having trouble with their relationship; we talked about it a fair amount over sushi, and I felt kind of relieved I was single rather than being in a relationship that made me unhappy. Then we watched a silly action flick and all in all, it was one of my favorite Valentine’s Days. I mean, I wish my friend had been happier. But personally, I had a nice time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also not anti-Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s a weird holiday. If someone were proposing it as a new holiday, I don’t know that I’d be in favor. But since it exists, I am not opposed to putting aside a bit of time to feel happy and appreciate a significant other. Plus sometimes I get big bouquets of red roses for Valentine’s Day, and I like roses, so that can work out pretty well.

This year I might get myself flowers, but maybe not roses. I wonder if tulips are in season? I’ve been wanting some tulips ever since I saw this beautiful display of them at Pike Market, but I couldn’t get them then because I was staying in a hotel. And that was almost four years ago, so I’ve been waiting four years for tulips.

Whatever, they’ll totally be worth the wait.

Anyway, a lot of my Valentine’s Days blur together, and since it doesn’t have the strong foundation of tradition that, say, Christmas does for me, it’s hard to get too worked up over it. But I do remember both my best Valentine’s Day and my worst Valentine’s Day.

Worst one first, shall we? I was in college; it was in the first year after my mom died, and she always got me an adorable card for Valentine’s Day, and sometimes also a stuffed animal or sugary treat. Our last Valentine’s Day together, she’d given me a stuffed tiger I’d named Marmalade. So this Valentine’s Day wasn’t going to be good no matter what.

Also this guy and I had started showing a mutual interest in each other (actual concrete dating at Santa Cruz was not super common, at least in my experience), and I liked him a lot, and it wasn’t out of the question that we would spend Valentine’s Day together, but then it turned out he was having some issues with his ex-girlfriend that made it sound like she might not remain his ex-girlfriend. So no Valentine’s Day for us, which was disappointing.

And then on Valentine’s Day itself I got an email from my dad announcing that his girlfriend had moved in with him. This news came in spite of the fact that six weeks before I had told him I wanted to come home for the summer and asked him if he could hold off moving in with her until the following fall, and he had agreed. But now magically it was as if that conversation never happened. (I later found out on my graduation trip that she had actually moved in with him maybe a week or two after we’d had that talk, which made for an interesting graduation trip.) When I called up my best friend, I sounded so stricken he thought someone else had died.

Definitely my worst Valentine’s Day.

Now to cleanse our palates with my best Valentine’s Day. I’d taken the day off work to go look at an apartment in San Francisco. It was a great apartment with a bay window and a lot of character, and if I craned my neck enough, I could just barely see the ocean from the bedroom window. Two weeks later I moved in. And after the interview, I drove down to see the guy I was dating at the time. My memory is a little fuzzy on this point, but I’m pretty sure I beat him home, and he’d left all these Valentine’s Day presents for me to find: flowers, candy, a stuffed animal. And I was surprised and thought it was amazing. It wasn’t super elaborate or anything, but it meant the world to me, and really, that’s all that matters.

This year on Valentine’s Day I’m going to be thinking of my friends, and how grateful I am for you all. You shine, you really do. It’s not that I don’t want or value romantic love, because I do, but I find my friendships matter to me more than I ever would have guessed.

So then that’s what I wish for everyone on this Valentine’s Day. May you be loved by some great people. May you be appreciated. May you feel cherished.

I was going to post a photo with human friends, but then I didn't want to leave anybody out, so here is me with my best dog friend instead.

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I know a lot of people who don’t have much self-esteem.

I used to be one of them, in fact.

Having low self-esteem can be a self-perpetuating cycle. You feel bad about yourself, and so you look outside of yourself to feel better. You look for validation from other people. You care a lot about what other people think. You are more easily suggestible. You worry that people don’t like you, and of course you’re worried because you haven’t learned to like yourself! In extreme cases, you let someone new in your life (a significant other, a boss, a close friend), and your identity changes radically because of that relationship.

(Note: I’m not talking about small changes and compromises. Those are normal. New people encourage us to try new things, to learn new things, to think about things differently, and that’s great. But have you ever known someone who got into a new relationship and then it was almost like they were a different person? That’s what I’m talking about.)

The problem is, getting external validation from other people is never enough. It never lasts. It’s like putting a band-aid over a large gaping wound that needs stitches. Maybe it stops the blood flow, maybe it keeps you from dying, but it’s not going to heal right. It’s probably not going to heal at all. And so then you just always have this inflamed wound, causing you constant pain, ripping open again at the most inconvenient times.

But it’s not so obvious with self-esteem. I’ve seen people who want more money, more advancement in their career, more friends, more compliments, more awards. And it’s not that wanting any of these things is inherently bad. The problem occurs because all of these things, if you achieve them, do make you feel really good for a short period of time. So it feels like they work, and you stay caught in the cycle.

Meanwhile, if you don’t achieve these things that you want, if you fail (because failure is, after all, a part of most successes) or even if it simply takes you a bit longer than planned, it can damage your already vulnerable self-esteem even more. Which also keeps you caught in the cycle.

Plus the genuine way OUT of the cycle feels…well, it feels corny. Corny and fake and maybe even a little bit embarrassing. It’s not something our culture teaches us is important. It’s something that’s easy to pay lip service to but a lot more difficult to internalize.

So what is the way out? It is in cultivating a relationship with yourself. A loving, kind, respectful relationship. A relationship in which you get to know who you are, and you take a look at all those wounds, and you learn how to love yourself anyway, in spite of whatever flaws you find, in spite of whatever has happened in the past, in spite of failure or disappointments or trauma or mistakes. Maybe even BECAUSE of those things, if you’re feeling especially ambitious.

Myself with myself!

Myself with myself!

This can be a difficult thing to do. Your jerkbrain has been getting a lot of practice saying mean things about you. So you have to institute habits to get practice saying loving things instead. You have to practice listening to yourself and learning who you are. You have to practice looking at your shortcomings and then being gentle about them. Meditation, affirmations, mindfulness practice, journaling, stopping and thinking before making decisions, catching negative self-talk and re-casting it, giving kind pep talks, taking care of yourself so you feel better: all these things can help.

And eventually the idea that it doesn’t matter what other people think is not just a thing you know you’re supposed to think. You actually believe it. Not that other people aren’t important, that’s not it, but that you are also important, and you are, after all, the main character of your own life, so you are perfectly entitled to be in the driver’s seat. Other people’s opinions still matter, and listening to the people you are close to is still important, but ultimately you will make up your own mind.

Your feeling of self-worth is no longer strongly tied to anything or anyone but yourself. It is yours and yours alone.

And just as you would do for a relationship with your significant other or a close friend, you keep working on your relationship with yourself. You keep giving it attention and love. Sometimes you might slip a bit, you might get busy and caught up in other things, but then you’ll come back and you’ll remember and you’ll do the relationship maintenance that will keep it strong and growing.

Self-esteem comes from yourself (hence the word SELF-esteem). No one else can give it to you. And in times of hardship, you will reach for that relationship, that core of who you are, and instead of bringing you down further, it will give you solace and strength.

My relationship with myself is the most important relationship I’ve ever had.

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Six Years With Nala

Today Nala and I are celebrating our sixth anniversary of living together and being best friends.

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Doubtless everyone who reads this blog already knows how much I love this little dog. And how much she loves me.

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Someone asked me this year, “Amy, what would you be doing with your life right now if you didn’t have Nala?”

My answer was, I’d be traveling. I’d be nomadic. I’d put all my stuff in storage, and I’d go around the world with my laptop, writing as I went.

And then I said, “And after several months I’d be incredibly lonely.”

As romantic as it sounds, I’m glad that’s not what I’m doing with my life right now. And I’m grateful to Nala for providing me with the grounding that has encouraged me to stay in one place and learn to make the connections with my friends and communities that are so important to me.

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Nala and I share so many little moments of joy. Our daily walk. The twice-a-day celebration of her receiving her dog food. The wagging inspired by homecoming. The leap into the lap when I am feeling sad or stressed or otherwise upset. The careless flop onto the back, revealing the belly. The ridiculous way she runs up the stairs for absolutely no reason.

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I think of the list of things about my life that make me happy: my friends, writing, singing, dancing, reading, my apartment, delicious foods, travel, learning new things. It’s a great list. And Nala is at the very top of it.

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For me, Nala is home.

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It has been a grim few weeks.

This morning I painted my nails purple and sparkly to commemorate a little girl who died of cancer on her sixth birthday and to support my close friend who is grieving her loss.

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When I first thought of painting my nails, I almost decided not to do it. I thought, do I really want to think of something so sad whenever I look down at my hands? As if the last week and a half hasn’t been hard enough?

And then I thought, of course I want to do it. This is what it is to love, and this is what it is to be human.

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I first met Jay Lake when he’d already been fighting cancer for some time. I’d heard tons of stories about him, and I’d passed him in convention hallways. I put off reading his blog because I knew it was all about cancer, and my mom died of cancer, so I thought it might be too much for me.

But then I finally got the chance to spend some real time with him at my first ConFusion. And I began reading his blog. And we became friends. And at the time I thought, do I really want to open myself up to becoming friends with someone who is this sick? Do I really want to allow the possibility of the pain of losing someone I’ve come to care about?

And then I thought, of course I want to do it. It is worth it to me to have the chance to know this incredible person.

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I’ve been falling down a lot lately. Part of that is because I’m still learning, and part of it is because I’m practicing and practicing requires a fair amount of failure. Part of it is simple fatigue.

And part of it is because this is what happens when I don’t wall myself off from the rest of the world. This is part of what it means to care. So I fall down, and then I get up, and then I fall down, and I get up again. And then I fall down, and I fall down again before I’ve had a chance to get up in between, which is a special brand of awful.

And then I get up.

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There is a part of me that thinks the best thing ever would be if everything about my life was just easier. That this should be my supreme goal for my life. That if everything were easier, then I’d be very happy and I could stop trying all that hard and enjoy a nice coast through the next decade or two.

I think I want everything to be easy.

But when I look at the choices I make, it is obvious that this isn’t actually what I want at all. I don’t pick the easy choices. I’ve never made a habit of picking the easy choices. I majored in music, I moved to another country, I started my own business, I started writing seriously, I’ve changed huge swathes of my life.

I became friends with Jay Lake. And I painted my fingernails purple for a little girl I never got to meet.

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This is what it is to create meaning. This is what it is to be human.

This is what it is to love.

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Thirteen years ago today, my mom died.

Yes, I still keep track.

My mom was fifty years old when she died. I was nineteen. She died of breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen. She was in remission for a while, and then developed a different kind of breast cancer (the nastiest kind) in the same breast. She died about a year and a half after that second diagnosis.

I don’t talk about my mom very much, except to my husband, who never met her. But I think about her. Sometimes I think about her a lot, sometimes less. This year I’ve been thinking about her more than usual.

My mom and I

I thought about her when my husband and I made our first lemon meringue pie. I used to help her make the same kind of pie. I thought of her when I saw the large doll house at the Smithsonian because she loved  doll houses and miniatures. I thought of her when I made my first story sale because when no one else believed in me, she did, and I know it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to her. I think of her when I teach the song “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, which I sang at her memorial service and was one of her favorites.

When we have an important relationship with someone, it doesn’t end when they die. Just as we create stories about our lives, we create stories about our relationships, and when the other person dies, we become the only one who can affect that story. But it still continues, and as I get older, I gain new insights into my mom. I wonder how she felt about various aspects of her life. I see things we have in common that I never noticed before.

In many ways, my mom was a very troubled woman. This is the aspect of her that the family has often dwelled upon…when they bring her up at all. But she was also a truly great woman, and this is how I remember her best. She was brave and possessed an infinite well of compassion. She was the best listener I have ever met, and she gave the best hugs. She tried to change herself, and if she didn’t necessarily succeed, she taught me that it is worth the effort. She always had time to read aloud to me, and she took me to the library twice a month without fail. She loved Christmas and little dogs, waterfalls and the ocean, children and long hot showers. She also had horrible fashion sense and an inexplicable love for bad made-for-TV movies. And she loved me with all her heart.

I have a lot I want to say, about death and grief, about society’s sometimes dysfunctional attitude towards these things, about not knowing what to say. Some of these things really need to be said, even if they’re uncomfortable or inconvenient or painful. But today is for my mom. I really miss her. I think I’ll always miss her. And you know, I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I love her as much as she loved me. And we were lucky enough that we both knew that about each other before she died.

Happy April 26th, Mom. I’m still thinking of you.

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