Things that can’t be taken away

“Not only had my brother disappeared, but–and bear with me here–a part of my very being had gone with him. Stories about us could, from them on, be told from only one perspective. Memories could be told but not shared.”

It seems like so long ago now, and still it seems like just yesterday that the charismatic and charming Riley V Whitehead graced this world. He committed suicide on March 22, 2011. Riley was my cousin, but the closeness we shared was more akin to siblings. On the day I found out it had seemed impossible, unthinkable, that the world did not grind to a halt at the moment of his death. More than anything I wanted to stop, wait, go back, do something to stop it. Yet the world spun obstinately on – oblivious to the anguished cries of disbelief from myself, my family, and Riley’s incredibly numerous friends. Everyone who knew Riley knew he was special. He was bright, easy to laugh, brilliant, fun, fearless, one of those people that effortlessly became the center of attention. And you’d better believe he knew it.

I think that was part of why we all felt like we had failed him. Riley was always there when you reached out to him, and for whatever reason didn’t feel like he could reach out to any of us.

Over 800 people came to his funeral. It was one of the most mind-boggling and touching things I’d ever experienced. Everyone laughed and cried and shared memories, and from all their stories I learned about dozens of facets of Riley’s life that I’d never known about.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for quite some time now, and I think it’s about time I just put it out there.

I don’t quite know how to wrap it up though. Thinking about it now over three years later I remember bits and pieces and mostly memories that make me smile. I remember how Riley got a bag of dog food for a childhood birthday — an inside joke amongst family because Ri would eat his dog Max’s food. He said “If it’s good enough for Max, it’s good enough for me.” I remember playing tag and swimming in the pool at his house. I remember family reunions and his ridiculousness. I remember how attached he was to his car and his satchel (though some of us teased him about it being a man-purse). I remember making crowns with vines that were growing on the fence by my garage. I remember Riley telling me that he would be the coolest uncle ever once my daughter arrived. He promised to teach her the most creative curses and the best ways to annoy me.

Leonard Cohen sang “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

That’s how I have chosen deal difficult life situations. One of the most important (and hardest) life lessons you can learn comes on the heels of death and tragedy. You can live without money, you can get by with next to nothing and still manage to wake up every morning happy. People can be resilient. You can be beaten down again and again, and still manage to get up at the end of the day.

It doesn’t matter what you go through, who or what you lose as life goes on. The world spins on, refusing to stop and let you get your bearings back. Use it to make you stronger. There are things that can’t be taken away from you. Memories. Hold them for a while, then index them and pull them out for a dusting now and again. Just don’t spend all your time with them. You have to move on and create more.

Don’t put all your time and effort into making more money, acquiring more things, or being more successful. All that effort is better spent on creating new experiences, cultivating the relationships that are important to you, and doing things that make you happy. None of us gets to know how much time we have, so let’s just make the best of what we have while we have it. The only things you end up truly regretting are the things you didn’t do.

Snow and me: It’s complicated

When I peeked out of my bedroom a week ago I discovered something terrible. It had snowed overnight, leaving a thin blanket of brrrrrr everywhere. How disappointing.

Now I do recognize that I live in a state where snow is a thing every year. There are loads of cool things to do with snow. You can build snowmen; My childhood winters consisted mostly of trying to emulate a lot of Calvin’s famous snow creations. You can build igloos (theoretically, of course. I’ve tried, and apparently I can’t.) You can go sledding, you can have snowball fights, you can build forts, you can do all kinds of things. Winter is a magical time.

So when I awoke to snow what I saw wasn’t a myriad of possibilities. I saw instead; People will be driving stupidly; I will pass several vehicular accidents (actual count: 4 that day); It’s bleedin’ cold out there. I wasn’t wrong.

It hasn’t really gotten better. I’m not very excited about this season.

I have hope, though.

I’m a romantic. Everyone who knows me know this. I try to find joy in the simplest things, I try to always have a positive outlook no matter the situation. Sometimes I fall back into that hole of despair but getting back out has become more like simply picking myself up off the ground – where it used to be like trying to climb out of a mudslide with bloodied hands. Point is, I always smile. I always laugh. I always try to help others up. I always try to be honest with myself and others.

Here is my secret hope I won’t admit aloud: I hope with all my heart that one day soon I look out my window and I see a sparkling, bright, fresh, thick blanket of snow on everything and it pulls out my inner child from wherever she’s been hiding, and it makes me want to go sledding, and make snow angels, and throw snowballs. I hope that when she comes out she’s loud and obnoxious, energetic and blindly cheerful beyond any reasonable quantity. I hope that winter doesn’t get me down.

On Journals

Ah, the journal. Alternately a savior and the embarrassing bane of my existence.

I’ll admit right here and now that I’ve never been good at journaling. I’ve given it a go, numerous times, and basically what happens goes along the same formula:

The journal is acquired in one of two ways:

1) It is gifted to me by someone who knows my love of writing.

2) I decide (on a whim) that I should start journaling again, and purchase a really pretty, ohmigosh, isn’t it just beautiful?? one.

Very rarely do I ever find myself picking up a years-old journal and opening it back up to the next empty page. I must always have a shiny new one. Why? Neurosis? I don’t know. Let’s go with that.

Sometimes, I even get a shiny new pen. Yeah, I love a good pen.

I will proceed to write in the new, beautiful journal for days, sometimes weeks, and on the rare occasion, multiple months. 

Not every day, of course. Not necessarily every week either, but for sure some progress is made over time. I will write about my joys and sorrows, I will write about random things that pop into my head, I will remember how much I love putting a real pen to real paper. How satisfying is the sound of the pen, gently scratching against the grain of the paper? How fulfilling is it to watch blank pages fill up with the record of my life?

Sometimes, I think about the person who might find my journal, 100 years from now. I try to mind that imaginary person as I write, I attempt to sound more educated, more pensieve, more interesting than I actually am. If I’m honest, it probably just makes me sound pretentious.

I’ve given up on writing exclusively for me, which is what “they” say you should do, as a writer. I’ve done this because I am my harshest critic. Literally nothing I write is good enough for my own reading pleasure. I know all the stuff that I’m going to do in writing. I’m not going to give myself a shock with a plot twist or anything, lets just face it. 

Which makes it hard for me to keep up interest in a journal. If I’m not writing it for me, who am I writing it for? I certainly don’t want anyone in my personal life reading through my journal, even though its not like I’ve got anything to hide. Its just that my writing in there isn’t polished enough for you to see, Jeeze. It’ll sound better in 100 years, I’m pretty sure of it.

But then of course I lose interest, or forget, or decide that I sound like a whiney/giddy/insert annoying verb here little girl, who is overly-concerned with unimportant things. There’s a bigger picture, self, and you’re just not seeing it. Quit the narcissistic rambling.

So in all honesty, I guess I’m a phase journaler. I chronicle my life in short bursts, with years of nothing between.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not an optimist about it. I still believe I can be a good journaler, even after multiple failed attempts.

I’m a glass half full kinda gal.

Speaking of which, I got a journal last Christmas, and I stopped writing in it back in March, I think.

You know what? I’m going to pick that baby up and write in it, tonight, or maybe this weekend some time. Maybe it’ll break the cycle. Or maybe it won’t.

I think the point, though, is that I try.