Waiting for death and other stuff…

I’m no stranger to death. Sadly. But since 2010, I’ve become a lot better acquainted than I ever wanted to be. First there was my aunt, then my uncle. Then last year I lost my beautiful friend James. By the end of 2015, I lost both a step-sibling and my mother.

The new year saw the death of several key idols in my life. When I was a latchkey kid, music was my babysitter, my teacher, my preacher, my lover and my friend. Losing the trifecta of David Bowie, Glenn Frey and, the most painful of all, Prince, leveled me emotionally.

I don’t expect that to make sense to people who didn’t have to rely on imaginary people and faraway idols to find their way out of personal darkness. But for me… knowing those lights have now gone out… I feel the loss acutely. Especially when real life losses have already shattered me.

And now, within the span of several days, Steven’s grandmother, and my grandmother by choice, is preparing to shuffle off her mortal coil.

We saw her on Mother’s Day. I took her my new book, Glitter on the Web. Grandma is my biggest fan. Every time she saw me she wanted a new book to read. There were some passages she understandably had to skip, but she loved them all regardless. I was proud to share Glitter with her. Though she had suffered a broken pelvis, and had relocated to a new Board & Care, she was in good spirits, with that same indomitable spirit and tireless smile. She was definitely a hugs and kisses kind of grandma. She could get stern if she needed to, but she’d rather laugh. She took me in. She took my boys in. When Jer’s girlfriend Brittany moved to California to live with us, Grandma took her in as well, announcing the very day they met that she approved.

She has always been full of life and full of love as long as I’ve known her. When the doctors had brought up hospice to my mother-in-law weeks ago, she was adamant. As long as Grandma wanted to hold on, we would hold on.

Then last Saturday came, along with a raging fever. My mother-in-law, Mom2, took her vitals and thought she heard some abnormalities with the heart. They went to the hospital. Turns out Grandma had a heart attack without even knowing it. When we got to the hospital ICU to see her, she was smiling big and had love and hugs to greet us, telling everyone that I write wonderful books. She’d already finished Glitter and she wanted another one, as per usual. I promised her one, as per usual.

What wasn’t usual was how exhausted she was. Steven and I didn’t want to tire her out, so we kept our visit brief. She seemed to understand. “I’m so tired,” she said.

It felt important.

As it turned out there were two heart attacks, with evidence of an older heart attack as well. The doctor called Mom2, to discuss the options. He could perform an angioplasty, but neither Mom2 or her brother liked the sound of that. Grandma is 93 with a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate.) No one wanted to put her through that when the doctor couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t prevent another heart attack.

They opted for medicine only.

When Mom2 let us know they were sending Grandma back to the B&C, Steven and I were like, “Well, that’s Grandma rebounding like she always does.” She’s strong. A real trooper. Stubborn and unlikely to give up if she has her mind set on something.

This was different. She was tired. And she’d already made her decision. Enough was enough.

By Tuesday she was non-responsive, heavily medicated on morphine for the pain, to keep her “comfortable”. We went to see her. Almost everyone was there, taking turns with her, holding her hand, telling her how much they loved her. Steven spent some time alone with her. It destroyed him, which in turn devastated me. He keeps telling me I don’t have to be the “strong one,” because she’s my grandma too. Well my grandma would want me to take care of her Stevie, and that’s what I’m going to do.

My kids went, including Brit. They all were able to give her kisses, touch her hand, tell her they loved her. I kind of fell apart, as I’m known to do. I am a highly emotional empath after all, and this is a big deal. I’m losing the only grandma I’ve ever known. And while I know this is what she wanted, making the decision when she was lucid enough to make it, tired of doctors, hospitals, pain and limitations, the thought of losing her is too much to bear. For all of us I think. She’s always been the glue that held us together, the rock star of every family function. It’s almost fitting that her last days coincide with a holiday. They always did holidays right in Steven’s family.

By Wednesday, she was more alert and aware, in between dozing on the medication. It moved on my heart at work that afternoon that I wanted to do something special for her. I had to. I couldn’t be there for my mom, which was even more devastating. With the sands falling for yet another woman I love, I knew I couldn’t just sit around, waiting for death. Several years back I took several of her stories and printed them in a book for her. These were stories like she used to tell Steven and his sister, Erica. After their father abruptly left the marriage, and Mom2 returned home to her parents to navigate being a single mom in the 1970s, Grandma was their bonus parent. And she’d use her wildly imaginative brain to tell fabulous stories to get them to eat the foods they didn’t want to eat.

In one of the forwards, Erica tells how she faked disliking peas just so Grandma would tell her the Pea story.

I decided that I would take these stories she told, not just at bedtime but all the time, and release her into eternal sleep with them. Only Jer and Brit joined me for our visit. At first I couldn’t muster the strength to read. I sat there beside her, holding her hand, listening to old gospel songs that they were playing next to her bed. It reminded me of my childhood, and my own parents who have now gone on.

It only made me cry harder. Hurt more. I know that these hymns bring peace to some, but they only remind me of countless funerals and endless loss.

Finally I mustered the strength to read. I read Steven’s forward, which reduced Brit to tears. She’d never read or heard these stories before. Then I got to Erica’s. When I mentioned the pea story, Grandma laughed suddenly. We all shared a shocked expression. We glanced back at Grandma, who hadn’t fully awakened, but there was now a big smile on her face.

I read her The Hummingbird Story, one she had written for Erica and her husband, Matt. When I mentioned the bird’s name (Twitter,) or their cat’s name, (Twitchy,) or even their dog’s name (Ella Mae,) Grandma would chuckle or laugh or smile. When she’d wake up, she’d glance around us, smile and wave, so happy to see us there.

Before we left, she had a moment of lucidity, stating how much she loved her family for always being so good to her. She stated, “I have a daughter. And I have a son. I have a son,” she declared, again and again, before drifting off with, “I think.”

And with that she drifted back into her non-responsive state, where she has remained since. They medicated her for pain the following morning. When Brit and I went to read more stories to her Thursday night, she didn’t stir, laugh or smile. She’d cough randomly, and make random little cries, like she was dreaming.

I read her story to her, about her life, and Grandpa. When she didn’t respond, I knew she had drifted to a place we’d probably never reach her again. At least until we cross over to the other side.

As I stood over her bed, I took in all the changes that precede death. It broke my heart. Again. Just days ago she was smiling and happy, full of love, joy and kisses, despite being in a sterile ICU.

Death. How quickly it comes. How cruelly it lingers.

I took today off of work because my heart just couldn’t handle it. They were more than understanding. When I went into work Wednesday morning, and burst into tears, hugging my boss and my coworkers, they all told me to go be with her. This is our business after all. Ironically, I started work at a hospice mere months after I lost my mother. I’ve been dealing with and working through that grief every single day since, and the wonderful folks I work with help me do that on a daily basis, whether they know it or not.

It also gave me some insight into what I was seeing happen with Grandma.

Oddly it doesn’t make it any easier. I just convince myself it does. I’ve always been the kind of person who just wants to KNOW. I don’t want any surprises. After my dad had his sudden stroke in 1980, when I was barely 11, I made up my mind then and there I’d always rather know exactly who was ready to pull the rug out from under me.

Every death since then has proven to me that it doesn’t matter. I may think knowledge is control, but really… I know nothing. We humans know maybe a sliver of all there is to know, and pat ourselves on the back for how enlightened we are.

Truly enlightened people are the ones who know that they don’t know, and that life will be the thing that teaches the all the way up till the end.

In the last six years, I’ve known death was coming for my loved ones. Days, hours or minutes, it was inevitable. Almost merciful. As I hang tangled in suspended grief, I can’t say for sure that knowing what’s coming is any better than that gut-punch of losing someone so suddenly it takes weeks to emerge from the shock. This is more like a sneeze that won’t ever fully come, even when you’ve prepared for it.

So I fill up time waiting for “the call.” Grandma hasn’t had any food or water since Monday, so we know it will probably come sooner rather than later. Steven’s distracting himself. That’s what he does. Mom2 and Erica are by her side taking care of her, that’s what they do. The kids are holding me up while I grieve, cry and juggle my emotions to support everyone else… because that’s what we do.

And we wait for death, because – whether we know it or not – that’s what we all do.

And we make the moments count in between… because that’s all that matters anyway.

And we love. Because we don’t know when or where or how. We don’t know how long have with each other. Every moment counts, even the little ones we’re convinced don’t.

We love as hard as we can, as complete as we can, with this hope that it is the one thing we carry with us as we transition.

In the end it’s the only thing that matters.

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Waiting for death and other stuff…

Slip slidin’ away…

I was first diagnosed with depression in 1999, after my second serious suicide scare. It wasn’t the first time I had wrestled with it, though. Not by a long shot. I’d say the monster reared its ugly head first in 1980, after my father died and I ended up skipping school for a week straight.

At the time, I would rather get lost in the world of Luke and Laura than deal with my reality: a life without my father. I loved my dad more than I loved the moon or the stars, or even God himself. Daddy was all that to me. He filled my world with positive, uplifting thoughts that insulated me against a cold, cruel world. I never felt safer, more valued or more loved.

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Honestly I didn’t know how to handle this loss. And I shouldn’t have known how to handle it. I was eleven. I was just a kid. A scared, lonely, grieving little kid.

Much later, when I was a parent of a couple of scared, lonely, grieving little kids, I knew by experience what not to do. The early 1980s didn’t offer that same guidance to me. My mother was the breadwinner, out of the house much more than she was in it. She was taking care of practical matters. As a child of the 1930s, there was no hand-holding to be had. There was doing what needed to be done. Life sucks. Bad things happen. Just muscle through and trust God.

But I couldn’t trust God. God had taken away the only person in the world that I felt gave a damn about me. This was the second major betrayal as I far as I was concerned. If anything, the only thing I could trust God to do was throw more shit at some innocent kid like I deserved it.

Getting lost in fictional worlds that were forced to make sense … well, made sense.

So I skipped a week solid. It started with one day. I knew I couldn’t handle life, and I needed a break. People who don’t understand depression, who see it as just a case of the blahs, one you can easily brush off if you just try hard enough, will shade this emotion as laziness. What they don’t understand is that being forced to “human” – for lack of a better word – when you are in the clutches of depression is painful. Physically painful. When I called in sick, I wasn’t lying. I didn’t feel like going to school. Everything hurt. I felt that ambiguous unwellness that made me question if I WAS coming down with anything.

In actuality, I WAS coming down with something. I WAS unwell. And it was an illness that would lace its nasty little fingers throughout my entire life.

That day turned into two, which turned into three. Once you’re pointed down, it’s easy to keep slipping further and further, until everything spins out of control. I racked up so many days that the school had to phone my mother at work to intervene, which she did with punishment because she too didn’t understand that I was sick. School officials didn’t get it either. I was shamed in front of my whole class by our PE teacher, who decided, in his infinite wisdom, to grill me in front of everyone about my excess absences.

Again, as an eleven-year-old, I had no idea how to handle it. No one knew how to teach me to manage life with this beastie on my back.

People get too caught up in the “mental” part of mental illness. Because it stems from the mind, people who are blissfully unaffected by these ailments of the brain think you can simply “decide” to be better. Mind over matter! You can do it!

I couldn’t.

Still can’t.

Thirty-five years later and I’ve done the therapy thing. I’ve done the anti-depressant thing. I’ve battled suicidal thoughts and I’ve won. I’ve done meditation. I’ve done more holistic healing with natural supplements. For decades I’ve studied about depression, learning to recognize the warning signs so I go into battle prepared.

I’m self-aware as fuck.

That hasn’t made it any easier. In fact, it’s terrifying to realize that I’m one negative thought away from sliding down that slippery slope to a place I really don’t know if I’ll be able to return.

Thirty-five years later and I can recognize the symptoms. Every ache, every pain, every sleepless night and every long nap during the day, so I don’t have to “people,” every urge to do something destructive, every battle to do something helpful… I see the little beasties in the corner as they lie in wait to pounce the minute I turn my back. Seeing them, knowing that they’re there doesn’t make them any easier to fight. It still demands the same steely-eyed focus and determination to get in the ring with these bastards and face them off, no matter how broken or bloody I might feel in the moment.

2015 left me pretty bloody and broken. This loss of my mother, and the depression its courting, is – in a word – overwhelming. All the same patterns are emerging. I’m not sleeping at night, which is typical. This screws up my days, making me feel unproductive, lazy and all the other stereotypical BS I’ve had to field my whole life as a night owl. This fuels the beastie, whose taunting whispers grow a little bit louder the very second I’m by myself with no outside chatter to quiet them, which is another reason staying up all night by myself is a bad, bad idea if I can’t find a way to be productive.

I’ve decided to handle this mourning period a little differently than all the other times before. I’m not inexperienced when it comes to grief. I lost my dad in 1980. Three years later I lost my Uncle Tom (his brother,) and a year after that we lost my two-year-old niece to Reye’s Syndrome. Brandon died in 1995. Daniel died in 2003. Auntie Babe in 2010, and now… in the four years since I’ve moved to California, I’ve lost my Uncle Mac and my Mom.

This doesn’t even count my Aunt Gertrude, who helped fill the void for the McCandless family after my Dad died, or any of his other brothers and sisters that all disappeared off of my family canvas over the years, one by one. Even in the Voight family, we’ve lost Steven’s grandpa.

I’ve even lost a good friend and coworker I never expected to lose, one who died of heart failure when she was only 26.

It may seem like my perspective is warped – that I’m focusing on the bad stuff instead of the good stuff.

No. My life is just that unbalanced.

In my life I’ve been to seven funerals. The only wedding I’ve been to has been my own.

So… yeah. Things get a little hard to manage sometimes.

I’ve dealt with it all the way I was taught to deal with it. Do what needs to be done. Life sucks. Bad things happen. Just muscle through and trust God.

One thing that has always been my focus after a death is taking care of the living. It is my one and fervent desire to make life easier for survivors, to shoulder the burden and responsibility so that they never feel as alone and bereft as I did when I was a grieving eleven-year-old.

When my two-year-old niece died, it devastated my mother. Like I told you in my previous blog, she loved her grandbabies something fierce, and this loss – which added to all the other losses my poor mother suffered (both her parents, both her sisters, her husband, etc.,) – finally brought her to her knees.

It was up to me to help hold her up again. I steeled my spine and marched forward the only way I knew how.

Get through it.

Do whatever you need to do, but get through it.

So I stuffed down the grief to take care of her. When Brandon died years later, I did the same thing for my sons and my husband, Dan. I stood ramrod straight with all the strength I could muster. Strength for other people. Strength to take care of them, to make it easier for them.

The beasties could have me if they wanted, and they often did. But I was determined not to let them have anyone else I loved if I could help it.

This time around, there’s nothing to do but feel. I couldn’t go to Texas for the funeral. I wasn’t part of the planning process, which included pre-made arrangements. I’m the one who feels the loss the strongest in my current household. My sons are men now, who have been raised to have a much healthier view on loss and mourning than I ever did – thanks mostly to my determination to make it okay for them – so now the people around me are the ones holding ME up. This means there’s nothing else to do but fall apart.

I get to feel the grief this time around, with nothing left to distract me.

I’m hanging on with a death grip, because I know I have to do whatever is possible so that I don’t slide down this hill again.

Of course I know from experience that I’ll get through it, even though moments of hopelessness will rear their ugly heads. This is nothing I haven’t navigated before, and a lot less prepared than where I am now. I know some moments will suck, and some will feel normal. I know that nothing eases the pain but time, and sometimes not even then. I know that this is yet another tear in the fabric of my soul that will heal in yet another scar. A battle wound, if you will.

Being human is not for the fainthearted.

Right now it’s just me and the beasties, and what rotten little beasties they are. They tell me to indulge the pain – to feel it, because I deserve it. They are the ones that whisper all my sins in my ear, taunting me with regret. They’re the ones that, dare I laugh or smile, condemn me for being heartless and inhuman.

In the exercise, which I finally found a way to manage and even enjoy, I feel guilt that I’m happy. I can be happy eating a cookie or ten, that’s okay for the beasties, because they know that gives them plenty of room in the future to beat me down for being weak.

But doing anything productive to save myself? CLEARLY I must be stopped.

I’m doing that a little differently too. I won’t be stopped. I’m going to shake free the shackles and do everything I know I need to do to protect the only person there is left to protect…

Myself.

Inside is that same sad, scared eleven-year-old, and thirteen-year-old, and fourteen-year-old… that same bereft mother who had to bury her child… that same seventeen-year-old romantic that had to bury her hero.

Over the years she’s done a lot to make it better for everyone around her.

Now she gets to focus on making it better for herself… to nurse old wounds and new, with all the same steely-eyed determination that has kept her mostly upright no matter how many rounds she’s gone with the beasties.

I won’t give an inch. I can’t. The cliff I walk has always been narrow and crumbling. Each battle I fight is life or death, because if I lose my footing I’m afraid I’ll plummet down to my own premature demise.

In the words of my beautiful #10 – I don’t want to go.

In my life many people have said how strong I was to endure the pain I have. I always shrug it off. I don’t see that as strong. Life sucked. I kept moving forward until it didn’t. One step in front of the other. That’s all I’ve ever done.

You want strength? This admission of weakness is strength. This is me saying I don’t feel strong right now. I feel scared. I feel sad. I feel hopeless. The beasties have surrounded me and I’m terrified to face them again, especially after they nearly won their battle this year.

But I will face them. And I will keep going. This time I get to be the time-traveling doctor who reaches back in time to soothe and comfort a grieving child who has now been orphaned.

It’s my turn to say, “I’ve got you. We’re going to be okay.”

It isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. And it’s scary to admit these weaknesses. It’ll be even scarier when I finally find a new therapist to help walk me through all these beastly little mental landmines I’ve been navigating mostly on my own, the same clueless kid I’ve always been.

But if I want to actualize the life of my dreams, manifesting it out of sheer will and determination, I can’t keep pretending everything is okay when it isn’t.

I’m the good girl no longer. I’m imperfect. Flawed. Unwell. Scared to human.

And you know what?

That’s okay.

I’m not made worse by this condition. I’m not weak or crazy because I struggle with depression. It’s an illness. And just like any other illness, confronting it and dealing with it early is key to managing it.

That’s all there is left to do.

I’m going to get out of my own head, which is filled with negative, lying voices that want me to destroy myself, that tell me it’s pointless to try and improve anything when nothing in my life indicates that I can conquer my demons for real. They want to shame me as weak because I have all these complications to manage. They want to make me feel like I’m alone, that no one understands, and that it’ll never get better.

This has been my battle for 35 years. I’ve managed it poorly over the years, chasing those temporary fixes that make me feel good for the moment, like overeating, or playing hooky from school, or getting blissfully wasted on whatever intoxicant looks appealing at the time, whether it’s booze, sex or shopping.

Today… I’m going to do something different.

I don’t just want to feel “good” anymore.

I want to feel “well.”

This is my Monday motivation.

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Slip slidin’ away…

The Story of My Mother – Patsy Ruth McCandless

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Patsy at 16, taken approximately 1953 in Southern California. This was her favorite photo of herself.

Patsy McCandless was born Patsy Ruth McNamara in Tipton, Oklahoma on February 28, 1937. She was the youngest of four children to be born to George and Beatrice McNamara; eldest brother Houston (Mac,) and her two sisters, Anita and LaRue.

Though her life began in Oklahoma, hard times, including her parents’ divorce and the untimely death of her sister LaRue from kidney failure, sent Patsy westward to California to live with her brother and her father. After George’s death just a couple of years later, she came of age living with her older brother, Mac, and his new wife, Eleanor, who was quite a bit older than the two of them, so she took on a more maternal role for Patsy. Eleanor’s devout Christian beliefs helped shape young Patsy’s spiritual ideals, which led to her being baptized in the Salton Sea in Southern California, where she rather notoriously lost her shoe.

She went to high school in Inglewood, California, and had an active social life with several good friends, one of whom ultimately married Eleanor’s son, Buddy. Later Patsy herself would marry before returning to Oklahoma at age twenty-one, where she gave birth to her first child, Michelle, in Norman. When it became necessary to start a new life elsewhere, again, she finally found her way to Amarillo, Texas, where she met her second husband, Joel McCandless, who was a bus driver.

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Joel Watson McCandless – 1960s, Amarillo, Texas

Their courtship flourished as she rode the bus every day to work. They married in Amarillo, before later moving to Lubbock, where they were active members of their local church.

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Patsy and Joel McCandless, 1968.

She found her calling in the service industry, particularly sales and retail, thanks to her outgoing personality and her proficiency with math.

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Patsy hard at work, 1961

In 1969, the McCandlesses relocated to the area of West Texas known as the Big Country, where Patsy gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Ginger, at Abilene’s Hendrick Medical Center in November of that year.

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Patsy and Ginger McCandless, Christmas 1969, Abilene, Texas

By the 1970s, Patsy was one of the friendly faces Abilenians saw when they went shopping at Furr’s grocery store, when it was in business at its Grape Street location. Her family soon learned that Patsy never met a stranger, literally. Every single time they went anywhere, she’d find someone she knew, a phenomenon that would occur even if decades had passed between their seeing each other. She made a lasting impression, thanks to a friendly smile or joke to greet all types of friends, even the ones she hadn’t met yet.

Patsy was active in her churches, a faithful member who showed up weekly without fail. She was the kind of wife and mother who took pride in her family and in her home, as well as her job outside the home. She was creative both in the kitchen and in front of a sewing machine, often making her own clothes and clothes for her kids from scratch.

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Joel, Patsy and Ginger McCandless in their Easter best, 1974, Abilene, Texas

Also in the 1970s, she became a grandmother for the first time when her first grandchild, Isaiah (Patrick) Pursley, was born. Barely 40, Patsy was overjoyed to be a young grandmother, and would brag about her grandbabies to whoever would listen.

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Patsy and her grandkids, Patrick and Joni, 1978, Abilene, Texas

She cherished the three other grandchildren who joined her eldest daughter’s family: Joni, Dwayne and Melissa (Missy.)

After Furr’s, she went on to work at the Abilene State School. Because her husband Joe was disabled and retired, she took on the primary caretaker role, taking whatever job necessary to provide for her family while he stayed at home as the caregiver, which was pretty progressive for the 1970s. They relocated more than once, going back to Amarillo by September of 1980, where she went to work for the Levi-Strauss company.

Patsy was widowed by December of that same year, where she took on the unenviable task of single-parenthood right when her youngest hit pre-adolescence.

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Patsy and Ginger McCandless, 1982, Amarillo, Texas.

Always a hard worker, Patsy attacked this noble job with gusto and determination, finding a way to support her small family along while single-handedly parenting her young daughter, without ever taking a dime of charity to do it. She worked for a time in insurance, before relocating back to the Big Country, where she managed at convenience stores in the Abilene area throughout the 1980s.

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Patsy in 1986, Abilene, Texas.

It was while working at a convenience store in Amarillo in 1987 that Patsy met a man named Daniel Rutherford, who would go on to be her son-in-law. She would say years later she knew that he would be a good pick because of how well he treated her in those early days, when he would walk her to her car when it was icy or snowy, or come down to the store regularly to check up on her and make sure she was okay.

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Daniel Rutherford and Patsy McCandless, Rose Park, Abilene Texas, 1988

By the 1990s, she returned to California, where both of her children had relocated. Ginger gave birth to three more of Patsy’s grandsons, Timothy, Jeremiah and Brandon Rutherford, which filled in Patsy’s family tree.

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Patsy and her two grandsons, Timothy and Jeremiah Rutherford, 2001, Las Vegas, Nevada.
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Patsy proudly poses with grandson Tim Rutherford after his graduation in 2009.

Indeed it was family that meant the most to Patsy. Whenever she was needed, she moved heaven and earth to make sure she could come through for people she loved the most. They meant as much to her as her Christian faith. They are also the ones who will feel her absence the most. Even to the end, her sense of humor endeared her to her caretakers at Coronado Nursing Center, where she spent her final days.

On December 6, 2015, Patsy McCandless was finally called home, where she joins those who have gone before her, including her parents, her siblings, two grandchildren and her beloved son-in-law, Daniel Rutherford.

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Dan and Patsy, Hawthorne, California, 2002

Surviving Patsy are her two daughters, Michelle Pursley of Texas and Ginger Voight of California; her grandchildren, Isaiah, Dwayne, Joni, Timothy and Jeremiah, as well as several great-grandchildren.

Patsy’s funeral will be held Wednesday, December 9th, at Girdner Funeral Home, 141 Elm St in Abilene, Texas, after which she will be interred at Hawley Cemetery.

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All of that is the technical obituary stuff, the stuff you could print in a newspaper if you wanted. This is the official one, but it only skims the surface of what she managed to do in 78 years.

It tells you some of her story, offering just a little bit more than a dash between dates… but not much.

Let me tell you about her life, from a daughter’s perspective.

My mother was one of the strongest women I had ever met. She had to be. Her life was not an easy one. Not only did LaRue die in her arms, but my mother had to sit with the body, because that’s what people did in those days, particularly in towns where milk was still delivered by horse and buggy.

She would go on to lose her sister Anita to brain cancer at the tender age of 32, and her mother in 1978. Uncle Mac was all that remained of her family, and she loved him deeply. They remained close despite the miles between them. In 2010, she’d return to Southern California to be with Mac and Eleanor in Eleanor’s final days.

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Mac and Eleanor McNamara, Hawthorne, California, 2010

As a child who came along at the end of the Depression era, my mother knew the value of money. She believed in getting a good deal, and making sure things lasted. She was incredibly self-sufficient, doing as much as she could for herself for as long as she could do it. I wasn’t kidding about the homemade clothes. I was 11 years old before I got my first pair of jeans, and only because she got a job working at the Levi plant in Amarillo.

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Me, November 21, 1980, my eleventh birthday.

After my dad died December 19th of 1980, it was my mom and me against the world. She couldn’t afford for me to have any kind of babysitter, so I began to babysit myself. I was alone from the time I got home from school till the time I went to bed, where I’d go to sleep on the hide-a-bed in the living room just because I was too wigged out to sleep in my room after my dad died.

She’d come home, wake me up, and I’d go on to bed.

I was safe the minute my mom got home, and I knew it.

She was learning how to be a single parent around the time I was learning how to be a latchkey kid. Some days we got it right. Some days we got it wrong. But I can never fault my mother for the things she did. She simply did the best that she could with what she had to work with, and that’s all we can ever do.

I remember those early days together, as we kinda got to know each other in new ways, playing Hearts or Rummy whenever she had some free time. Game time is when I loved being with my mom best. She wasn’t my “mom” anymore, the one tasked with telling me to sit up straight and keep my elbows off the table. She could let her hair down and have a good time – and that’s when we connected, that was when I felt like we were family, of the same tribe. One of the best Christmases we ever had was in 1978, when she bought me a game called Mr. Mouth, and we played it, my warring family and me, late into Christmas night, having the time of our lives.

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My mom, my sister, my nephew and me, Christmas 1978, Abilene Texas. (She’s wearing her Furr’s uniform here.)

She also passed playing dominoes down to me, something she’d learned from her own father, who would enjoy a game of dominoes and a beer every Sunday. My mother was a complete teetotaler. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t drink. She didn’t curse. She really didn’t know how to have a good time like a lot of folks, simply because of the way she was raised. Her mother shunned fun things, like biking or playing or swimming or camping, to keep my mom’s nose pressed firmly in a book. As a result, my mom didn’t know how to ride a bike, or swim, had never been camping, didn’t go to theme parks, didn’t act silly or play with me as a kid.

My mom was taught to work hard, to be an adult, to take responsibility, to do what she could for others.

Despite all that, my mom also loved fun.

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Mom and the Easter Bunny, Abilene Texas 1984

She loved to joke and to laugh, though there wasn’t always the opportunity for fun and games over the years, when she’d work 50-60 hour days running convenience stores. There were times when I would go to the store with her, where I was stocking food and pricing merchandise from the grand ol’ age of thirteen.

Even still, I’d make damned sure that my sodas were paid for. My mother was the disciplinarian of the household, and I remember quite the spanking I got when I had lifted some gum from the local grocery store when I was four years old. That was when they had those stick pieces of gum that tasted like milkshakes, in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I wanted some, but couldn’t decide which flavor to pick, since Mom said I could only have one.

One was all she paid for, but I took the other two flavors anyway. When we got to the car, I pulled them out of my pocket to show her that I had gotten them, and she proceeded to drag me back into the store to make me return my ill-gotten goods with an apology.

Then I went home and Mom asked for my dad’s belt.

It was one of the few instances she used corporal punishment with me, reserved only for those times when the lesson couldn’t risk being repeated – like me stealing from a store, or disappearing from her one day at the local Kmart when I was three, or playing hooky for a week when I first flirted with depression after the death of my dad.

Granted, that probably wasn’t the most effective punishment for a grieving kid – but it was also the 1970s/dawn of the 1980s, in the middle of Texas no less.

That was just how it was done.

I knew she always had my best interest at heart. No one had my back like my mom, all the way up until Daniel. Mom was willing to go without just so I could have whatever I wanted. Some called me spoiled, and perhaps maybe I was. It was difficult for her to connect with me any other way – she wasn’t raised by a warm and fuzzy mom so she wasn’t a warm and fuzzy mom. (By no surprise, I’m not really a warm and fuzzy mom either.)

This was simply the language we spoke. Whenever I got my first job when I was 18, I’d buy her plants (because she LOVED plants and had a wonderful green thumb.) I paid rent – not because she asked, but because I wanted to. That year I was able to afford her favorite perfume, Wind Song, all on my own, and it made me happy to give her the kinds of surprises she’d never buy for herself.

I didn’t have to bring in a paycheck to do nice things for her. Whenever I wasn’t working, I was cleaning or doing errands or trying to make her life easier and better, even if I had to go against what she had taught me to do it.

When I got into a health class in junior high, which tried in vain to reverse my bad habits before I spiraled helplessly into obesity, one of the things they taught me was that I had to stop needlessly adding additives to my food.

I grew up on the house wine of the south – sweet tea. We always had it around. Sodas were forbidden up until Mom started working in convenience stores, mostly because a doctor told her when I was very young that I might have a weight problem later. So we stuck to what we knew. As Hal might call it, “Brown Kool-Aid.”

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Me washing dishes in Lubbock, Texas, I think, 1974ish, ever-present sweet tea in the pitcher on the counter.

(You’ll also notice the whipped toping lid in the dish drainer… yes, that was how we stored food. No Tupperware in our house, just whatever could be recycled and used more than once for the money.)

Also because we were good southerners, we ate salt on things that didn’t need salt – namely watermelon and cantaloupe. My mother had always put salt on both of these, as well as a lot of other food she ate, so I had learned to do likewise.

When I first tried these fruits WITHOUT salt, I was amazed at the difference in the flavor. After that, I went on a no-salt mission with my mom, whose high blood pressure was cause for caution. She, however, was not quite as keen on the idea of giving up her favorite seasoning. I remember having to hide the salt shaker from her so she wouldn’t use it.

Eventually, she bid it adieu.

In fact, my mother adapted to me in a lot of unexpected ways. I even turned her onto rock music when I fell crazy in love with Steve Perry when I was 13 years old. That year I handed her a list of possible Christmas gifts with almost nothing but Barbies and music (albums preferably,) and she and my Aunt Gertrude, possibly her best friend in the early 80s, had to figure out what an “Air Supply” was.

Later, she would develop her own tastes. This was one of her favorites:

That song reminds me so much of the 80s, when it was just me and her against the world. My sister had her own family to worry about and raise, so most of the time it was just me and Mom. And of course as a self-absorbed kid, I never saw the hard work she put into being a parent. She made it all look so effortless as she struggled to pay Dad’s medical bills, and keep us afloat, without all the cool stuff that everyone else had. No cable, no MTV. No Atari system like my friends. She wouldn’t have even had a microwave back in the day had it not been for my Aunt Eleanor, who had gotten one from her son, but one that she wasn’t eager to use since she had seen a man electrocuted when she was much younger and had a weird sort of phobia about electricity as a result.

So if I was spoiled, it was because she made me believe I could have everything I wanted – and made it look to the world as though I did. I guess I was spoiled, because I know I’ll never get a love like that again. No one will ever love you like your mother will. It took me 46 years to figure out exactly what that means.

When I told her I wanted to marry Steve Perry, she didn’t even blink an eye. She let me dream big. When I wrote, she was my first real PR person, turning in my sixth grade poem to her insurance newsletter, where she alone was responsible for anyone seeing my name in print for the first time.

When I told her I wanted to write books, she never tried to rein me in, to suggest that maybe I should choose a more solid or guaranteed career. She was proud of every poem I wrote, every story, and every book – even if she couldn’t or didn’t read them all.

It was in those books I worked some stuff out, and got to know my mother on an adult level. My story Comic Squad ended up hitting very close to home, with a young girl who lost her beloved father, who was being raised by a mother she barely knew, and frankly resented, unaware of all the ways that her own mother was attempting to be her superhero and she didn’t even know it.

For a long, long time I didn’t know that Patsy McCandless was my superhero.

For a long, long time I took it for granted.

So I’m going to correct that error the only way I know how. I’m going to  tell you her story. I’m going to tell you that her favorite color was yellow, and her favorite flowers were tulips. I’m going to tell you how much she loved Jim Reeves and Jimmy Stewart, or how we laughed forever when she’d mimic Mr. Tudball talking to “Mrs. A’Wiggins” from the Carol Burnett Show, or how she’d dance like the gopher in Caddyshack just to make my friends and I laugh, or repeat Foghorn Leghorn because it always tickled her when he’d say, “I say-say.”

She loved Laurel & Hardy and jigsaw puzzles. She read Mary Higgins Clark books as she rode the bus to downtown LA for years, working for a stock brokerage company. She bet on horses and lived by the Game Show Network in her later years, when her body had failed her and she couldn’t live the life she wanted to anymore.

Instead she wrote letters to her dear friends she’d met over the years, in the same perfect penmanship she had always had my entire life. Where my handwriting looks like some cracked out doctor high on his own prescription medication, my mother’s handwriting could have been taken off of those posters hanging around school rooms, showing you how to write in perfect cursive.

It was elegant and beautiful almost all the way up to the end.

She knew my best friend was gay way before I did. I thought for sure she’d tell me to stop seeing him, because of the staunch Christian faith she’d raised me under, and I was ready to go to the mat for my bestie. Instead she just said, “Oh, I already knew,” and that was that. She never said one bad word about it, or him.

Mom wasn’t perfect, so she gave people a lot of leeway to be imperfect as well. I told you that I became a latchkey kid raising myself, and sometimes that had disastrous results. Every time I screwed up, she was right there to help me back out of the mess, even when it had to test her faith and her resolve. How many times did she feel hopeless, afraid, alone, with no one there to help her shoulder the burden?

She never said one bad word about that either.

She never judged me, though I screwed up plenty. She would have given anything for both of her daughters, and often did, even if we didn’t “deserve” it. As if one can ever “deserve” a mother’s love. As a mother myself, I know that it’s just there, no matter how much it tests you. She always had my back and I knew it. There was always someone I could call, who would tell me it was going to be okay, that she would figure out what to do.

She was my mom every day of my life, even if she couldn’t always remember.

I hope she remembered the good times.

I know I do.

And now… maybe you will too.

I love you, Mama. May you rest finally in the blissful peace you earned a hundred times over in this world. Until we meet again, look after Dan and Brandon for me. I carry you all with me always.

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Me and my mom, November 2004

“Every Day”
By Ginger Voight
©2015

Every day we write our stories, one single breath at a time.
Every day we aim for immortality, an impossible hill to climb.
Every day we whisper into the void, don’t forget me when I’m gone.
Every day we leave a fingerprint, though we know it won’t linger very long.
Every day we sign our names in books we will never read.
Every day you taught me lessons, lovingly planting every seed.
It took some time to see it, a little distance, some time away
But if you ask me if I loved you, I will answer, “Every day.”

For every day you strove to give me everything I needed.
You loved me even when I made mistakes, your wise advice unheeded.
Every day I hear your echo in the voice inside my head.
It is this echo that assures me that no one is every really dead.
For every day you’re remembered, your story continues to write on.
Every day you are loved by someone, you’re immortalized in their song.
Every day there will be a moment when it’s your name my heart will say.
And when it asks if I miss you… I will whisper, “Every day.”

The Story of My Mother – Patsy Ruth McCandless

Never underestimate the power of words.

Last November, when I declared 2015 was the Year of Transformation, I forgot one thing. Words have power, and I was begging the universe with my careless use of the word “transformation” to drag me right through the fire.

And so it happened.

2015 will go down in history as one of the toughest on record yet. My income was slashed by a whopping 75%, which was devastating enough. All year long we flirted with homelessness as we came to litter our walls with three-day notices galore. Our credit went down the tubes as bills piled up, unable to be paid on time, sometimes at all.

We lost one of our cars, but managed to keep everything else by the skin of our teeth. But the uncertainty lingers.

It was a rough way to get hit, one that sent me into an emotional tailspin as I wrestled even more than usual with self-doubt and insecurity. It set off some serious emotional triggers in ways I haven’t had to manage in a long, long time. This led to the realization that I’ve been suffering with PTSD since that event that happened when I was four.

I had time to figure this out when I had my emotional breakdown around May, when I came as close to suicide as I’ve been since 1999.

Needless to say, my aspirations to get healthy and prolong my life went right down the toilet when I could barely find any reason to battle through another second. I was off program way more than I was on it, though given all the complications I faced, I ended up staying fairly consistent with the exercise. I think I only had one or two spells that lasted maybe six weeks at the longest, but I always managed to get back on the bike. I’m less than 100 miles away from topping 1000 miles ridden for the year, which means my exercise bike may hold clothes every now and then, but it hasn’t gathered dust.

Because of this, I lost twenty-five pounds over the year. I will consider this a personal victory, given that I didn’t go completely off the wagon and gain back  even more, which is my typical pattern.

Also on tap for the year, three deaths of friends and family that sent me reeling. The first, back towards the beginning of the year, was an old friend I had reconnected with years ago courtesy of Facebook, whose sudden and unexpected death took everyone by surprise. This one hurt because he was so young and did so much good, spreading awareness, helping those who were in the battle of their lives with addiction.

It was truly a loss.

The second was my half-sister on my Dad’s side, also whom I had reconnected with on Facebook. Despite how differently we saw the world sometimes, she was always very sweet and accepting of me. We had never really gotten to know each other, thanks mostly to the fact my father was about 30 years older than my mother, and all his kids were grown with families of their own by the time I showed up.

Yet family was why we reconnected and why we stayed connected, until her death.

The third and most devastating loss was much, much closer to me. I lost my mother on December 6, 2015, 35 years to the day when my dad went into the hospital for a stroke, which would keep him hospitalized until his death thirteen days later (his birthday.)

This one was even harder than the others, not just because she was my mother but because I had no idea where she had been these last several years. I was contacted in late October, to let me know that she was in hospice so that I could sign insurance papers to release money to a funeral home to pay for her final expenses at the time of her death, which looked like it would be imminent.

I did get to speak to her one last time before her health failed her. I feel very good about the things we were able to say to each other, even though technically it wasn’t a ‘goodbye.’ My mother had been suffering dementia, so there were moments when I knew she struggled to remember certain things, but she knew who I was and I could tell it made her happy to hear from me.

I also knew she wouldn’t remember anything I told her when that call ended, or even if I called at all.

After that, neither my best friend nor I could reach her. According to her nurse, she went downhill quickly, unwilling or unable to eat.

There are other complications I won’t get into here but I choose to look at the positive of the situation; that I was able to reconnect with her one last time. That is a priceless gift to me, no matter what. My worst fear was that she’d die thinking I didn’t love her, which couldn’t be further than the truth.

Now I know for sure that she knew I loved her, if only for a fifteen-minute phone call.

And it reminded me how much she loved me all my life. It hurts my heart to go forward without her, though I find peace knowing that she’s been set free from an ailing body and a cloudy mind.

So this year has transformed me, no doubt about it. Just like the caterpillar, I’ve died to an old way of living, only to reemerge as something else – something even better than I’ve ever dreamed.

Oh sure. You can’t see my wings now. But they’re growing. And this cocoon is shrinking. 2016 is nearly here, and my year of transformation is blooming into a year of actualization.

I’m calling something different to my life this year. As a writer, I’ve always known how powerful words are, especially when you put them in the right combinations. Of all the lessons my mother taught me, the two biggest – faith and tenacity – will carry me forward into this new year. I’m calling success and achievement… the triumph, not just the trial.

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I’ve decided to declare it boldly going into things, stepping out of the boat on faith that I’m going to be able to run across the water.

And if I can’t run… I’ll fly.

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I’m going to get there.

Stay tuned…

Never underestimate the power of words.

So they tell me it’s bikini season.

So it’s now June and from what I understand, I need to double my efforts to get that smoking hot bikini bod ready for the beach. In fact, the issue even popped up on Fox News, where Andrea Tantaros had something to say about it.

“At this time of year, anyone with a functioning brain asks themselves that question, ‘Are you beach body ready?’” Tantaros insisted. “In fact, I ask myself that question every single day. And I bet you people who have a problem with this ad going into summer time are not beach body ready.”

Well, you got me there, Andrea. I am not beach body ready, per your bikini standards. I never have been.

I can honestly say that I have never worried whether or not I have a bikini body. That could be because I was raised in a very conservative Southern Baptist household, where such displays would be frowned upon for their inherent lack of modesty. It could be because I’ve never really been that much of a water lover. I didn’t even get the opportunity to learn to swim until I was 14, where a friend of mine promptly left me in the deep end to thrash and panic and almost drown because she thought I was “kidding” when I said I couldn’t swim. That traumatic experience made me phobic of pools and lakes and oceans, or any place where I’d be at the mercy of large amounts of water. I’m one of those weird people who is more afraid of the water than I’ll ever be of wearing a swimsuit in public. I have taken swimming lessons at the YMCA, *wearing* a size-24 bathing suit. The water? Much, MUCH more terrifying. To prove that point, here’s me in the bathing suit on a public beach in Cancun, circa 2005.

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There’s not one damn photo of me in the water.

My reticence to wear a bikini could also be because even though I was raised in the 70s/80s, laying out and getting a tan never worked for me. I’m 100% Irish. I have two shades:

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(If you think I’m speaking in hyperbole, take another look at that beach photo. If you look really close, you can even see my sunburn.)

Of course, much of it could be because I was sexually assaulted as a four-year-old, and as such I’ve never felt the burning need to show off any more nakedness than necessary to a beach full of potentially dangerous strangers. I need more than just a few inches of skimpy fabric covering a few patches of vulnerable flesh.

This body was no accident. Subconscious armor, but armor nonetheless.

Either way, I’ve never really cared to have a bikini bod. It doesn’t even make my backup list of priorities. Not even a little bit. And my brain functions just fine. (Last check, my IQ was in the 130s, and that was testing while I was high.)

What this boils down to, really, is a simple marketing issue. In order for me to fulfill my primary function as a woman (attracting a man,) I need to focus on being as sexually attractive as I can. If I don’t, there’s something inherently wrong with me and I must be shamed as a result.

Believe it or not, I have more value than what I look like three months out of the year. And that value doesn’t go up or down based on what small-minded, superficial people dismiss or discard just because I dare to show up on the sand in regular clothing.

(You can do that, by the way.)

Bikinis can and do show off a sculpted body brought about by hard work and exercise, but those who have a sculpted body usually care about their physique every month of the year, not just during “bikini” season. So the target for this kind of shaming are those who usually do not focus their attention on being as attractive as they can be, and what better time than to single them out and remind them? If you want to pin me down to a religious philosophy, it’s this: help people where you can, and if you can’t help, just don’t hurt. Shaming people helps NOBODY. It only, needlessly, hurts those who may have needed the help most of all. (A kind word goes a long way, s’all I’m saying.)

Shame is a punishment, one that callously disregards a woman’s value based upon nothing more than how she looks. This punishment, by no coincidence, that can be remedied thanks to several multi-billion dollar industries (which fund the media with their advertising dollar, perpetuating the mindset.) These industries have no problem bartering your self-esteem for their bottom line. If you felt perfect as is, they would cease to exist.

Notice I singled out “women.” For men, the newest fad – if you hadn’t heard – is the Dad Bod.

(Note all the proud Daddies showing off their bods, shirtless, out and about in public, without one ounce of shame.)

And if you match their advertisers by comparison, to see what products are being marketed when men are the primary demographic, you’d find the weight loss and “anti-aging” commercials replaced with … yes… ads for beer and pizza. Voila! Instant Dad Bod.

Guess it’s a good thing chicks dig it.

If you’re an innie instead of an outie, the whole Bikini Bod thing is just another excuse to oppress, suggesting that there are different classes of women for no other reason than simple aesthetics. Apparently this is some important work. It’s as if these yahoos think there simply isn’t ENOUGH body-shaming stuff going on every single day (bikini season or no) for those of us who really don’t prioritize making ourselves a walking, talking billboard of sexual attractiveness.

And what better way to keep us prioritized from the things that really matter?

Granted, I like to feel attractive. I like to be in relationships where I can be romanced and wooed and seduced, as an object of desire for someone I likewise desire.

I’ve never worn a bikini in. my. life… and yet, somehow I’ve managed to make that happen, simply by flexing all those other muscles that make me, me.

Shocker, I know. According to the brainiacs at Fox News listed above, I’m a freaking anomaly. Why I’m not on the cover of Vanity Fair is mind-blowing.

Oh wait, no it’s not… turns out that even if you’re a brand new woman, attractiveness is still the #1 priority for making a magazine cover. (If you don’t count tabloids.)

Personally I am OK with the idea that I’m not an object of desire for just anybody. I rather like it. The guys who gravitate to me tend to be a little deeper than those shallow pools who think that I have nothing better to think about or worry about than how I look near buckass naked on a public beach every summer.

More good news for me, according to a recent radio interview, comedian Hal Sparks talked about the missed sexual opportunities for very hot women…

Sorry, ladies, that sounds like a real bummer.

So not only do I get the more enlightened, respectful men, whose concern for the world around them goes way beyond the surface, but I also get more time to teach my lovers a thing or two, from the conscientious lovers who taught me a thing or two.

Per any ugly guy I’ve ever met, fat girls give the best head, which I guess justified their debasing themselves to sleep with them.

Mama’s got skillz, and I don’t waste them on just anybody, particularly those guys who are looking for just a streamlined lady parts’ delivery service.

“So what do you do?”

“I fight injustice where I find it, I bring joy to those who don’t have it, I fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and I try to use my voice to enlighten the masses on new ideas on how we connect to each other and how that impacts our society.”

“But do you look good naked?”

#NEXT

I’ve always found myself drawn to those who are more intellectual, more empathetic, more – oh, I dunno – human… who allow me to be a human too. They make better boyfriends, husbands and lovers all the way down the line. The men who I find desirable care more about the things going on in the world than what someone looks like three months out of the year. Their functioning brain is actually in their head, rather than their pecker.

The way I see it, you get what you advertise for. If you need to starve yourself all spring so that you can drop five or ten critical pounds in order strip down to nothing, putting yourself on display as a sex object in order to attract a guy, you can’t really blame him for treating you like a brainless collection of body parts, one he can replace by a newer, younger, thinner model whenever you cross the inevitable portal into female invisibility.

(You can run from fat. Age catches us all.)

If that’s what I lose out on by NOT working a bikini bod, I don’t really consider that a loss.

And that’s not to hate on bikini-wearers, by the way. If you want to wear one, knock yourself out. No judgment, all love. You do you. Just don’t call me stupid because I don’t find the need to do likewise, because that’s – well – stupid.

People look at me and make a lot of assumptions about me, based on the fact that I don’t have a bikini bod. The first, obviously, is that they think I’m stupid… that without their shaming me for my ignorance, I simply wouldn’t know I needed to fix anything. I’ve lived in this body for 45 years, but, without the kindness *cough* of strangers, I simply wouldn’t know my weight is a critical concern. They somehow think that what they’ve said to me I haven’t heard before, by others, or even myself. Parents, children, siblings, bosses, teachers, doctors, friends, spouses or lovers… no one EVER in my life has EVER pointed out that hey… I may not have that bikini bod and I might want to do something about it.

“Well, Ginger. You obviously didn’t listen to anyone else, so I have to say something.”

Actually, no you don’t. The possibility exists that I don’t consider being overweight the fatal flaw you do. And I don’t really have anything to prove to a total stranger who is in and out of my life within minutes, who has forgotten me long before I have forgotten you.

In 1994, I used to bike to work. A car full of guys screamed, “Go on a diet!” at me while they drove past, laughing heartily at the funny fat broad on the bicycle. I was the joke, you see, and just like the drunk assholes who heckle comedians, they thought their two cents were needed to make the joke even funnier. They probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup today… but I have never forgotten their words. And guess what? I’m still fat. It didn’t help one iota… in fact, I *gained* weight. So fuck off with any “concern” trolling. It’s just an excuse to be cruel.

You may want to shame me for not trying to attract you… but maybe… JUST MAYBE… I consider repelling cruel, superficial jerks a mark in the “win” category.

However, since being sexually attractive is part of my job as a woman, many think I need to be prodded back on track as painfully as possible, even if I’ve heard it before. Year after year. Media outlet after media outlet.

It’s the only way I’ll learn, right?

The second assumption is that I’m lazy. Because *obviously* I don’t do the CLEARLY easy work of fixing my problem, it boils down to a lack of will.

And sure. You could look at it that way… if you want to be stupid or lazy. Just because I can’t step out in a size-2 bikini doesn’t mean that I’m not actively working to make my body fitter, or making conscious choices about my health.

The fact is I know more about weight loss and healthy eating than your average bear. Three decades of trying every diet you can think of will do that to you. I’m conscious about what I eat, even when I eat the bad stuff. I know what impacts the body, in regards to sleep, stress, good foods vs. not so good foods. I can do everything right and still see a weight gain or no loss at all, and I’ve had to figure all that out, divorcing my feelings of self-worth from the “failure” of staying fat. I’m the research queen when it comes to causes I care about. Did you know that some researchers believe it is more dangerous to continually yo-yo diet every year, indulging in winter, then losing weight for summer, than it is to remain a steady constant weight with a proper diet and exercise? Losing weight is always recommended, but constant dieting, especially drastic calorie restrictive diets, ultimately do more harm than good. When I spent the first four months of 2015 exercising and eating right, barely losing 10 pounds, I could pinpoint the culprit as the stress I was living under, which was fucking with my body so much more than simple ignorance or laziness.

You can see, then, how those assumptions would be so offensive.

So no one gets to shame me when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about – which is pretty much EVERYONE making stupid and lazy assumptions about my size just because I’m big/fat/obese – whatever adjective you prefer.

The fact of the matter is that I already HAVE a beach body, because I have a body healthy enough to go to, and enjoy, the beach. It may come as a huge surprise to those in the media, but I’ve been to the beach many times. There’s no bouncer in the parking lot sending you home if you don’t fit into a bikini. People of all shapes and sizes go there and have a good time, and the world keeps on spinnin’ around.

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As for me, I still won’t be wearing a bikini anytime too soon, but that would never be my biggest concern even if I had a body people wanted to see naked on a beach.

(In doing all the emotional, intellectual dirty work to get to the root of my emotional overeating, one thing it keeps coming back to is the fear of being attractive to anyone who might do me harm. If the day ever comes I DO get a bikini bod, believe me, the people who have the most to say about it would never even see it. I’ll wait till I’m 80 and then just do it because I’m an eccentric old lady no one can tell what she can or can’t do.)

Moral of the story: don’t let anyone shame you. If you want to wear a bikini to the beach, wear a bikini to the beach. And if you want to work out, do it to make your body stronger, to be healthier and more able, to live a long life where you can annoy these pinheads as long as possible. Never, ever do it so others will love and accept you.

If they need you to be skinny to do either of those things, then they do neither of those things.

So they tell me it’s bikini season.

Learning to embrace the “During.”

If there’s one thing that 2015 has taught me in these many months, it’s the fleeting nature of existence. Every season we experience, and we will experience them all, is ultimately temporary, whether good or bad. That’s good news for the bad stuff, promising us that light at the end of the tunnel so we don’t ever give up. It’s not such great news for the good stuff, which we hope lasts forever, but is over way before we’re ready.

There’s a line in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, where two people find love right before a meteor destroys the earth. The heroine laments to her new love that she wished they could have met when they were younger, that they didn’t have enough time.

“It never would have been,” he tells her.

It’s such a poignant moment because no truer words have ever been spoken. Good stuff, bad stuff… whatever it is, it is just a season to endure or to enjoy. Yet it’s our human nature to seek out the victories, to celebrate them as if we’ve crossed some imaginary finish line. The good stuff means we’ve weathered the bad, we’ve endured the battle… we’ve survived and have emerged victorious.

And granted, we have done all of that, but crossing over that finish line inevitably puts us at the starting line of yet another race. We’re never really “done.” Nothing is ever really permanent. As such, our victories, hard-won though they might be, aren’t really the full story. They’re little bookmarks on eras of our life where we proved our mettle every single time we managed to rise after being knocked back down.

Getting back up again – THAT is the true victory.

Without getting back up again, winning is impossible. So why are we so fixated on those fleeting glimpses of success defining the story, to the point that there is no story worth telling without it?

I’ve been giving this some thought since Hal Sparks posted the following tweet:

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Of course, as someone who has struggled with my weight and with weight loss for roughly four decades, I had something to say about that. I’m quite resentful that the arduous process of weight loss is often downplayed by the importance given to its conclusion, as if the baby steps we take towards health and wellness don’t count until we fit into some two-piece bikini on the cover of People Magazine. For those of us with a lot to lose, this gray area of invisibility lingers long, and it’s hard enough to keep motivated without bartering our value to simply be *seen* in the process.

We set up unrealistic expectations when we simply show the Before and After pics, because it’s the During part where the hard work is done. That During part could last months or years, with ups and downs and triumphs and failures, but all we see is the resolution of the “problem,” which is the most time anyone in our fast-paced world can spend on a weight-loss story anyway. The only thing that matters when you’re fat is what you do to change it, and even then many only care when it’s all said and done because – more often than not – no one cares enough about you to be in those trenches by your side.

Judging is easy. Investment demands much more than these folks are willing to give.

So why exactly is it my job to impress them?

You can see where I am in the battle when you look at me. I can’t hide it. I can’t run from it. It’s right there. But this visual cue only tells half the story. It tells you how I got there, but it doesn’t say one damn thing about what I’m doing (or not) to change anything. Oddly the judgment always defaults to “not”. Whenever I step outside my front door, you have the before picture, which comes with this hidden disclaimer that I must somehow suck as a human because I have *so much* to change. Without an “after” photo to validate my journey, there’s no real visual proof how totally kickass I can be or how valuable I am… outside of being a fellow human being.

That should be enough but far too often it’s not. And it never will be. My goals for my journey may not include fitting into a Size 0, or having six-pack abs. Maybe my After includes running a mile without stopping, or losing enough weight I no longer qualify as “obese” on my medical chart. These are worthy goals, even if they’re not what others have determined for me. Even with an After photo, you never really cross someone else’s finish line.

It’s baffling to see anyone say these things to a fit woman, but that’s usually where we fat folks live. The message we continuously hear from the world around us is that we can unlock the secret code to social acceptance, a bonus round, if you will, with a glorious “After” photo. That’s why everyone wants it. It’s our golden ticket to join the world around us.

To prove to you exactly how important that photo is to the conversation of weight loss, I have tried in years past to get endorsements for weight loss blogs where I – with all my weight to lose – offered myself up as a guinea pig to highlight the journey in painful detail, with all the ups and downs, triumphs and trials, to encourage all those other folks out there on the same rocky path as I am.

I even approached Oprah’s magazine. I got shot down. Hum. Wonder why?

Oprah-Weight-Loss-before-and-after

Truth be told, nobody gives a shit about the “During” part. They just want the awful, ugly, frowning “Before” shot and the victorious, glamorous, smiling “After” shot. Even those who have the best of intentions err on the side of After.

I, of course, expressed this discontent to Hal, and he, of course, reminded me that the “During,” is, in fact, important. It’s were we all live.

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See, that’s the dirty little secret no one tells you. There are no “Before” or “After” photos. There are only “During” photos. Every physical state that we’re in, whether we love it or whether we hate it, is temporary. This is life. And life is messy. There is no point where you break through the ribbon at the finish line, or reach the top of the highest mountain. There is always, always, more to go, things to accomplish and battles to win.

You don’t believe me? Check out this blog from a gal who, by the standards of our fine (*cough*) society has crossed her finish line, but boldly asserts the idea There is No After. Putting a “thin” shot next to her “heavy” shot didn’t instantly fulfill her or fix all her troubles, and as such proved to her how much left was to do AFTER the After.

There. Is. No. After.

There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of weight loss because the rainbow has no end.

There is today. There is now. There is during. There is life.

I uncovered myself one pound at a time; now, I must REcover myself…I must DIScover myself. And that…that is the new goal. Not numbers. Not sizes. Not inches.

Me. I am the goal. Finding. Loving. Being.

Can anybody hear me?

I hear you. And I get you. One hundred percent.

The last four months have been a bitch and a half. I decided to spend this year focused on my weight, my health, my journey – only to have the universe slam me with crisis after crisis. There have been times I wanted to abandon the One Year project, convinced that this is just not the time to do it. There are simply too many chainsaws up in the air. Each new tightrope I walked had no wiggle room aside from the very next step I took, which was precarious at best. I wasn’t thinking my end-of-year “After” moment. There were no triumphant laps around the pool just to prove that I hadn’t become a statistic of my ambitious body change project. I was thinking only of my next breath as I struggled (struggle) to keep my head above water, often nearly drowning in the process.

In this year alone Steven has been yanked around with three different employers, which put a huge drain on our monthly income thanks to bounced paychecks, and less than honorable management that would strip the hourly wage to nothing after a couple of days of low sales. This occurred right when we needed the money the most, which resulted in one of our cars being repossessed. Tim’s cat, Simba, managed to break *both* hips at once. Thanks to all the stress, I’ve been sicker in the last four months than in the last four years.

To tell you the unique juxtaposition I’ve experienced this year between absolute highs and fuck-it-all lows, my first traditionally published book released the same week that we got served eviction papers. The irony of it was painful. The book I wrote while homeless finally publishes the very month I flirt, once again, with homelessness.

This has been my 2015.

Because of all this, I’ve been fighting off the dogs of depression with varying degrees of success. On the good days, I can manage my wavering moods with exercise or herbal remedies. On the bad days, and there have been more than a few, I’ve danced with some really dark thoughts that all circled back to one very unsettling idea:

Was this my After?

It sure as hell felt permanent, yet another hole to dig myself out of, with only a teaspoon to do it. There was nothing more depressing than After the After. The current (temporary) situation as it is feels it will never get any better, so why bother? It’s been rough, made rougher still by this idea that I can’t share this part of my journey because it’s not sparkling, shiny and successful. I’m still mired in the During, and I know in my gut far too many people won’t even hear me until I emerge on the other side of After… if I ever do. Needless to say I have not been running at full capacity. There were some days the victory was simply getting out of bed. All the other stuff slid right off the priority list.

And yet, I couldn’t give up entirely. On the one hand, I’m frustrated that the one year I put aside to really get serious is the one year that Life decides to throw everything at me at once. How inconvenient, right? But on the other hand, the universe isn’t out to get me. It’s happening this way for a reason. There are lessons to be learned here. It’s my job, in the During, to figure out what that is.

It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe – the During is it, no matter how imperfect and haphazard it may appear.

I’m swimming like hell for the shore, best I know how. My immediate need is my income, so that was where I diverted all of my focus and energy. In the midst of all that, I’ve completed two books and tweaked a script, doing everything I can think of to get any lifeboat coming my way so I can get back to where I was a year ago, while finding the energy to change who I’m going to be in the future, dropping nearly 30 pounds and a couple of dress sizes in the process. There have been victories in the During, even though, llike some demented cosmic board game, it seemed like every step I had taken towards my “After,” I was sent back five steps.

Nothing was harder to confront than this idea that my success, forty years in the making, was so limited – and now over in the space of six months. (Not a ringing endorsement for any OTHER goal, lemme tell ya.)

But it wasn’t over. It was only temporary, just like this new state is. I wasn’t any better, stronger or wiser… I was just luckier. It’s my turn to deal with the crap, and I’ll get through it because I AM strong, even if I don’t measure up to someone else’s backwards metric to measure it.

We fixate so much in this life about the After as some place to rest and languish after the hard work is done. And of course in our (*cough*) culture, the truest measures of Happily Ever After success to the outside world are wealth and attractiveness. (For women, this means our inherent fuckability, but that’s another blog altogether.)

If you have neither of these things, just pack it up and go home. Stay silent. Stay invisible. Nobody gives a shit about the struggle. Those of us fighting our way through the During simply cease to count until we reach After, and many, MANY times after the After.

But there is no After. There is only During. And During is messy. It is fraught with complications and failures and missteps and excuses and depression and elation and determination and tenacity.

After doesn’t show you who you are. *During* is where you figure out who you are and what you’re worth. My wise best friend told me that I don’t need to apologize for my During.

He’s completely right. The During is everything. It’s life, not some fucking race to be won. The race will never be won, because life is a journey with no finish line except at the bitter end. If your value depends upon your “After,” you’ll never truly know your value until you draw your last breath.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that

So we’re going to stop waiting around for the “After,” myself included. Like everyone else, I have been hinging my own value on who I become *after* this year. But who I am now counts. I started this journey with the idea it’s not about weight loss. It’s about conditioning, and that’s where the During lives.

So yeah. I’m going to post pics and run the risk that some Internet asshole will find something negative to say about it, even with the work I’m putting into myself to change. They’re going to do that even AFTER the “After,” no matter who you are.

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As you can see, people don’t give much of a shit about the After, either. Not really. Even they know that every state is temporary, and what they see can be altered, changed to fit their ideas of physical perfection, even if one can do this:

This is my race to run. No one else gets to tell me where the finish line is, or move it based on what some total stranger thinks I need to be doing. From now on I’m going to abandon this idea of “After,” because it robs me of all the joy, the triumph and the lessons of my “During.” And nothing – NOTHING – is ever going to prove my worth more.

You want before and after photos?

This was me before I was sexually abused at age four:

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This was me before my dad died when I was eleven years old:

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This is before I was homeless, living out of a car at the age of 19:

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This was me before eight years of living with someone with bipolar disorder, and the emotional and physical abuse that followed:

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Before my nine-day-old son died in 1995:

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This is me AFTER I managed to crawl out from under menial jobs and finally provide for my family:

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And this is me AFTER finding love again:

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This is me AFTER losing 70lbs in a year:

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This is me AFTER making my dreams come true as a working writer:

08_2013

In essence, every single photo taken represents a Before, During and After. In essence every photo is a starting point and a finish line. And I’m me, in every single one. Every good thing. Every bad thing. Everything.

And that’s okay because I am okay. I’m strong enough to fight through the battle – and that strength is the source of my inherent beauty as a human being, not how I’ll look in a smaller size.

Every single photo we take is a “not there yet but working on it” photo, and deserves to taken, documented, seen and appreciated.

So if you’re waiting for an After pic to give me the respect, consideration or admiration I’ve already earned, that’s your issue not mine. Every single one of us is in the During, which means it ain’t over for any of us. In the pursuit of self-excellence, it never will be… and never should be.

Welcome to my During. I can’t promise you that pics of triumph and victory won’t outnumber those of trials and stumbles, but I can promise you every single photo will be 100% me. For those who would love me, that’ll be enough. For those that won’t, it never will be.

Here’s the only After photo that counts: It’s me after I realize that it’s not my job to make your world prettier by disappearing.

I’m here. And I count. Right now, in the During.

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Learning to embrace the “During.”

The Fight to Love One’s Self

A thought has been returning to me lately, picking at my brain with this kernel of an idea, some deeper, hidden mystery I have yet to crack. Those are the best kind, really, since I’m one who likes to dig and probe and get past the bullshit to the underlying issue, especially when it comes to outdated ideas that make no logical sense to me. I like to challenge the status quo, especially when I see it does more harm than good. Because self-esteem is a huge obstacle I constantly find myself battling, this one simple question has continued to flummox me:

Why are we discouraged from loving ourselves?

We’re told in one breath we’re beautiful, awesome, unique, important… an original who has never been before nor will ever been again. But God forbid we actually *embrace* any of that without someone else’s permission. For some reason, if *we* are the ones saying how awesome we are, we immediately invalidate our innate awesomeness. That one little thing, believing that you’re beautiful, awesome, unique and important, owning it and expressing it, tips the scales from polite humility to outrageous vanity simply if it comes from within rather from an outside source.

I had this inked onto my brain from childhood. I was brought up in a devout Christian household where true virtue rejected any hint of vanity. Sure, I was good enough for Jesus to die for my sins, but I wasn’t allowed to simply state how amazing God had created me to be. Instead I was taught that I was lucky Jesus was so awesome and had decided, out of the pure goodness of his heart, to save me because I’d be a complete and total wreck on my own.

I don’t think people understand what this kind of doublespeak does to children. Let me be perfectly clear here: it ain’t good.

I grew up thinking that I wasn’t allowed to own ANY of my value. In the space of graduating from Sunday school to Big Church, I went from a beloved, albeit weak, child in “Jesus Loves Me” to complete wretch in “Amazing Grace.” (Actually, given the lyrics of “Jesus Loves Me,” I guess the transition shouldn’t have been THAT much of a shock. It never says that Jesus loved me because I was created to be amazing, simply because “the Bible told me so.” If we’re so sinful and so weak and so wretched, why does God love us so much, I wonder? And what would happen to humanity if ever loved ourselves just as much?)

Since I already had lived through the trauma and shame that follows a sexual assault, it wasn’t hard for me to believe that I was undeserving of any love that followed. I suspected I was inherently unlovable because I went from being virtuous to being corrupted, dirty… cursed. And yes, that’s what I thought of myself, because being “virtuous” was so lauded in my home. I had that decision taken away from me, but I was no less tainted. Every time the preacher spoke about sin, I knew I had already stacked up my share. I got “saved” when I was eight years old. And again when I was 12. And again when I was 15. And again when I was 25… it just never felt like the love I was searching for was enough to wash it all away. And you know what? It never will be. Because the source has to come from within. I keep expecting everyone else to fill my cup, rather than just embrace I have everything I need to fill it myself.

This has been the root of my problem since I was four years old.

Though I was encouraged to keep mindful of all my many faults in order to avoid “getting a big head,” there was always this thought tapping at my brain suggesting that I wasn’t unlovable at all… that I was truly special, truly unique, truly – well – gifted with something amazing. In sixth grade, when I found the gift of writing, I latched onto that with the hope that nagging thought was right. It exalted me, where everything in my “normal” life constantly sought to put me in my place. I always had things I had to improve to be truly accepted. I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough, “virtuous” or disciplined enough to accomplish anything great. It was foolish of me to own anything about myself that didn’t fit into that humble viewpoint. How could I be so special when there was so much wrong with me?

It made me believe, for decades, that I could never truly be special until I fixed all that was wrong. I kept putting off all the stuff I was doing, the stuff that gave me that sense of value, that sense of being wonderfully different and wholly original, till the Great Until. I never believed anyone else could love me because I wasn’t truly allowed to love myself, at least until I changed and adapted myself to the standards of others. Self-acceptance was kept out on a stick in front of me, to keep me in line, to get me to “do the right thing,” or suffer the consequences.

Would I have known that being overweight was a deal-breaker had others not told me so? In a word: NO. When my dad was alive, he made me believe I was perfect just the way I was. I knew I was fat, but it never occurred to me that this was some huge flaw. Only after his voice was silenced did I hear the negative words of others, often disguised as “helpful advice” to help me change more into what they thought I needed to be.

To put it in perspective, THIS was what I looked like when the negative voices began to infiltrate and shape my own feelings of self-worth:

gin1982

Imagine what would have happened if that girl had been allowed to *love* herself rather than start picking herself apart at the tender age of 12?

Not sure if this is solely a gender issue, but it seems to me that women in particular are burdened by this warped logic. Not too long ago I read an article regarding a woman who started agreeing to any compliments sent by anonymous men on the Internet as a way to “break the ice” with her. And her comments weren’t bitchy, necessarily; at least I didn’t read them that way. But regardless of how she responded, just including that ownership of her attractiveness usually brought out negative, even abusive responses in the men who felt it incumbent upon themselves to take her down a peg or two.

It went something like this:

Guy: Hey, you’re hot!

Girl: Thanks, I know! You’re cute too!

Guy: You’re not all that, bitch!

So here’s a woman who is obviously physically attractive enough to get these compliments, but dare she agree with something that is fairly obvious, immediately she is vain and “full of herself.”

Here’s my radical thought: Why shouldn’t she be full of herself? If someone is conventionally attractive, odds are they know it. Why do we force them to lie and feign modesty so that they can be more socially acceptable?

Why is dishonesty/duplicity any more virtuous a trait than “conceit”? (I used to have a male friend whose go-to saying was, “I’m not conceited. I’m convinced.” Apparently this is something you can say as a dude.)

Let’s face it. When we feel like we look good, we stand a little taller, smile a little easier and walk with a lil bit of a strut. You think that hot girl on the Internet, whose photo was chosen because she thinks she looks pretty hot in it, is *surprised* when you tell her she’s beautiful? Do you really think some drive-by praise by someone she doesn’t know, which echoes dozens of other guys who aren’t original enough to come up with something different to say than default to her looks, is supposed to make her feel more special or more valuable than she is allowed to feel about herself? “Well, I’m gonna make her day and tell her how beautiful she is because hot gals worth having really don’t know for a fact how hot they really are.”

Is she supposed to be grateful you pointed out the obvious?

Seems to me that women bear the responsibility of humility a lot more than men. Is there ONE song on the radio where a woman croons affirmations to her lover, who wouldn’t believe he was attractive and desirable otherwise if she didn’t tell him?

But I bet you can name five songs by men who do that very thing.

The rules of humility don’t necessarily translate to men, who are expected to be confident go-getters in order to be successful.

If a guy is full of himself, who believes in who he is and what he can do, we call that “swagger.” Some women are even fairly turned on by it, as evidenced by the popularity of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise. My hand to God, there’s a passage in the book where Ana asks Christian what she will get out of signing The Contract to submit herself to him. His answer? “You get me.”

Panties fell off all over the place because we as women are socially conditioned to accept that as the ideal. He’s in control and we’re lucky to have him. He’s the alpha, dontchaknow, and alphas by their very definition don’t need you to tell them who they are. They’re the ones telling us, and we generally agree. That’s why alpha males are exceedingly attractive to a lot of women.

An alpha male demonstrates his superiority, whether hard-won or not, and oozes self-confidence that serves him well both in his career and relationships. He knows how to get what he wants and – the clincher – he knows he deserves to get it. He’s not waiting for permission. He’s issuing a demand.

If a man does that, it’s hawt. If a woman does it, it’s unseemly and impolite.

In many ways, winning the attention/love or even lust of an alpha male elevates the female to that virtuous status she’s not allowed to claim for herself. He says how beautiful, special, unique and amazing she is, just by choosing her. And, since we already know he’s Da Shit (mostly because he believes it to be so,) this pathway to awesomeness is one of the more socially acceptable ones.

But what of the alpha female? What of the woman who knows who SHE is and what SHE has to offer all on her very own? If you take the traits of an alpha male and apply them to women, how accepted would she be? How exalted would she be? Or would she be vilified as a vain bitch who needs to be put in her place?

But why?

If a woman has a banging body that demands hours at the gym and rigorous training, and you tell her that she looks amazing, why can’t she say, “Thanks, my body is pretty freaking incredible.” She put in the work every bit as much as some musclehead dude who posts endless shirtless selfies on the Internet to delight and amaze hordes of screaming groupies.

Why does her owning her hard-won awesomeness have to take anything away from anyone else?

Why can’t she celebrate her appearance every bit as much as she’d “brag” about getting a promotion at the job, raising decent kids or, say, just for argument’s sake, writing a popular book?

“Well, Ginger… the problem is saying ‘I know,’ when she just should have said thank you.”

What’s the difference between the two? Isn’t the acceptance of a compliment virtually an agreement anyway? Many folks can’t even TAKE a compliment because of this. They’ll quickly reject it, shake their head, even argue if they don’t/can’t believe it. Women in particular are conditioned to do this as part of being “virtuous.” (*For the record, I can’t even type/think that word without an involuntary gag reflex.)

We’ve been sold this bill of goods that humility denies that which makes us special, because simply owning it would make us vain.

Here’s the literal definition to “humility”:

a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

On the other end of that spectrum is “vanity”:

excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.

This makes humility – having a “low” view of one’s worth – the polar opposite of vanity, which shows “excessive” pride. But it’s still an extreme. Honestly, I really don’t see how it’s any better or any more “virtuous.” (GAK.)

I don’t like to brag. There is no ‘but’ there. I really don’t like to brag. At all. It was beaten out of me by the church. This might be fine if I was trying to be a know-it-all jerk, which, truth be told, I can often be. For everything else I have to do, it’s a pretty big roadblock because – thanks to the extremes of “humility” and “vanity,” – I honestly don’t know where the line of acceptability is. This sucks, because it often diminishes the amazing things I do, shading it with this fucked up idea that it really couldn’t be THAT amazing simply because *I* did it. Remember? Low view of one’s worth? That’s the sin of humility… it makes the incredible unremarkable unless a third party acknowledges it. (And even then you can’t simply say, “I know.”)

(Embarrassing confession alert: I was so browbeaten by this humility vs. vanity bullshit that I truly believed from an early age bragging about things would result in the loss of those things. In other words, if I say I have pretty eyes, if I believe I have pretty eyes, eventually God will tire of my uppity attitude and take them away. Scary shit when you’re eight years old, lemme tell ya, and that fear is deep-seated. When I hit some success last year with the books, I was petrified to acknowledge it for fear it would go away. I considered it “luck,” something fleeting and unpredictable… and – truth be told – I still do. This is how far the neurosis goes. Hence why I’m here now, sorting it all out, untangling it and taking a good, hard look at it so that I don’t keep tripping over it.)

I was telling a friend of mine, one I respect a great deal, that I have a hard time tooting my own horn when it comes to the things I’ve done. He said that it’s not vanity to own one’s own accomplishments. If I worked hard for it, I have earned the right to take pride in it.

Instead I was waiting all this time for ever increasing degrees of validation in order to prove what I had done was, indeed, pretty remarkable. I felt it, mind you. I wanted to own it. But I didn’t feel as though I should. I needed permission first. I was searching, in vain as it turns out, for that sweet, vague line of acceptability.

The other day I was on the phone with my incredible/amazing/supportive/encouraging manager. Just having someone with her experience in my corner should be validation enough, but I still struggle to make everything as perfect as I know how to make it, just so I can impress the mighty folks she has in her back pocket to read my work. And I always, always, ALWAYS feel like every new thing I do will be the one thing that proves, without a doubt, how big of a “fraud” I really am. Remember that carrot on the stick? How can I be a great writing success when there’s still so many things wrong with me?

In fact I had toiled over a project that was *quite* the emotional drain on me, certain that it was going to miss the mark in a hundred different ways. It was outside my genre (sort of,) and it wasn’t my story, so I often had to fight my instincts to go to dark places I wouldn’t have willingly gone to on my own. I was in completely new territory and unsure of what she might say when she read it. Much to my amazement, she instantly loved it within the first few pages. When she called me, because an email wouldn’t do, she told me how great of a writer I was. I dissolved into tears because it ultimately gave me permission to believe that I *do* have what it takes to make this my career.

Believe it or not, even after 21 books released, and inching up into the coveted 20% of writers who can make any money at all doing this, I still worry that I’m a big fat fraud who is deluding herself. I haven’t yet hit those markers that determine my greatest worth in what I do, markers, oddly, that keep moving up the ladder as I take incremental steps towards where I want to be. “I’ll believe it when I make money on what I write.” Okay, you’ve made money on what you write. “Well, maybe I’ll believe it when I have a popular book.” Okay, you’ve got a popular book. “Okay, okay. FINE. I’ll believe it when the success lasts more than a release day event.” Okay, you’ve had the success last more than a release day event. “Okay but what about…?”

The carrot always stays three steps ahead. Always, always, always.

I can’t blame this entirely on the fact I was not trained to love myself or appreciate my own special contributions to the world… I think a lot of writers struggle with this fear of inadequacy and failure. All artists do. All people do.

But I can’t help but wonder how much further we’d all get if we’d just allow ourselves the liberty of loving who we are and being in awe of what we can do. Obviously we believe we have something special. It takes a lot of gumption to produce a hefty novel and present it to the world, certain that what you have said deserves to be heard… especially if you’re charging for it.

But to believe we’re “great” – or even “good” – takes some chutzpah most of us lack. Hell, it’s hard to get a writer to even admit he or she is a writer, because they’re waiting on that day someone ELSE tells them so. (Usually in the form of success, however they’ve chosen to define it.)

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say I’m a great writer. Just writing it there flies in the face of all I’ve been taught over my entire life. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I’d like to say it is only because I have extraordinarily high standards for my work and hit my own objectives more often than not. Truth be told, though, I’m still relying on everyone else to validate that core belief. Some days are better than other days, usually depending on my daily income. I fluctuate between a healthy self-esteem, one that recognizes the progress I’ve made and the things I’ve accomplished, and a bottomed-out self-esteem, where I think I’ll never reach that next rung on the ladder because I sucksucksucketysuck.

Again, it may have more to do with the artist mentality… but I really feel I need to find a way to reconcile these two conflicting beliefs. Humility vs. vanity represents two extremes, and neither one of them truly represents the reality of where we are in our lives. It’s all skewed perception. The only real difference is that one is socially accepted and the other is not.

Social acceptance, however, is bollocks. We should never outsource our self-worth to other people. Who else could be as qualified as we are ourselves in determining our own personal value? And it’s vitally important that we do value ourselves. Our success and our relationships depend on it. If you low-ball yourself, if you make it a habit of “marking yourself down” so that other people feel comfortable with you, then you’re not truly loving yourself. You can’t love yourself if you diminish yourself.

You’re also cheating everyone else because you’re not being fully honest. I’ve often said I’d rather deal with an honest asshole than a sweet-as-pie liar.

So today, I think we all need to come back to center and remind ourselves that we are beautiful, awesome, unique and important. (And yeah… the fat chick put the word beautiful out there. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I get to behold myself whichever way I want to, thank you VERY much.)

Actually that last little bit was a total bluff. I don’t believe I’m beautiful – yet – but I’m working on it. And by “working on it” I don’t mean trying to lose weight. I could pick my appearance apart from the top of my head to my Flintstone feet and still find a dozen other flaws. I could lose all the weight in the world and still be “unattractive” by society’s standards. (To which I say… fuck society.)

We women do this all the time, constantly berating ourselves for all those little imperfections that negatively affect how we view ourselves. If that wasn’t bad enough, we’re encouraged to keep doing it by this bullshit mentality that loving oneself is the mark of vanity – which, aside from being a slut maybe – is about the worst thing a woman can be. Not great news for all us fat slutty bitches who think suspect we’re pretty damned awesome when you get right down to it.

No, I’m claiming my beauty BECAUSE of my imperfections. My battle scars are my beauty marks because they show how fucking strong I’ve been to overcome the things I’ve been through. It is because of that long, painful, broken road that I get to decide whether I’m worthwhile for myself rather than allowing every Tom, Dick or Harry (whether they are qualified to judge me or not,) having the final say on something so inherently subjective anyway.

If you truly believe it, who is anyone else to tell you differently?

Toward that end, I’m going to start a new project called “DURING.” I’m not where I want to be yet, and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m one of those annoying people who always wants to reach that next level, who obsesses over the next hurdle to jump, rather than celebrating the progress I’ve already made. (A product, I think, of this whole humility vs. vanity bullshit.) Instead I keep waiting to cross that ever-changing finish line to declare those victories, feeling in some way that’s how I’ve earn the right to love myself. I’m waiting for that “AFTER” photo that justifies the “BEFORE” photo, which totally undervalues everything I’m trying to do with this transformational year. I say it’s not about weight loss, but it feels like a lie when I stop just short of taking photos, or publicizing anything but the “wins.”

Step One to truly loving myself means I have to recognize I have value now. I have importance now. And from now on, I need to act like it regardless of what others may think.

(That includes posting this blog, which I have been sitting on and tweaking and fiddling with for five whole days to get the courage to post it. This truly is a work in progress.)

It’s time to claim our own worth, regardless what polite society has to say about it. That line of acceptability? I think I finally figured out where it is.

It is where WE decide to put it.

The Fight to Love One’s Self