Great Minds Discuss Ideas

It’s been said that “small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events and great minds discuss ideas” (though apparently there’s some dispute about who actually said it and which exact words they used, though it’s most often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt).

I’m not a great mind, I’m fascinated by people and super inspired by their stories, whether they’re stories of success or stories of failure. Recovering from a narcissistic relationship is weird. Some of the personal work I have to do is examining my own mindset and discovering ways that I allow my “light to be dimmed” by trying to live up to the expectations of other people, or my own self-talk.  It’s really weird.  Because in order to be in a relationship like that you have to detach; it doesn’t matter what you think or how you feel about anything, it only matters how you’re perceived in light of the abuser’s insecurities.  If that sounds a bit like trying to balance a wobbly gyroscope by firing at it with a slingshot full of broken rubber bands, then you’re understanding the situation really well.  It’s as hopeless as it sounds.

In 2011, when I returned from speaking at the first Life Rocks Unschooling conference in North Conway, New Hampshire, I had learned something huge about myself, namely that I was a stranger in my own life.  At that point, my main social contacts were friends of my (then) husband.  Friends I had chosen for myself were always looked on with suspicion. I was literally “not allowed” to be friends with one of my favorite people in the world, and was feeling lonely, awkward and out of place, on a deep cellular level, during every waking and sleeping moment. I was the living definition of discontent. I knew life had more to offer and the stress in my life was keeping me from experiencing it all. For the first time ever, I had taken this trip alone. I knew I needed time away to think and was really looking forward to that. I knew I’d be surrounded by like-minds, in the educational/ parenting sense and that, without my children there, I’d have time to chat with other parents who were raising their children in this alternative way, and possibly sharing some of the same struggles and joys that my life held.  When we share our troubles they are divided; when we share our joys they are multiplied.

Instead, it became glaringly obvious to me that something was ridiculously wrong in my life.  The words I’ll never forget were delivered by the photographer, who might as well have thrown a brick at me when he said “So you’re committed to providing your children with a life of freedom and opportunity but you’re not allowed to enjoy that too?”  Maybe a brick is an understatement, but a ton of bricks is a cliche, so let’s just say that in that moment and I suddenly felt that I had been seen. I’ve heard good photographers can do that sometimes.

No photos were taken of that moment, except in my mind. Six years later, I still revisit that moment. The edges haven’t curled, the paper hasn’t yellowed and the bricks have landed into a little pile of rubble. There’s always possibilities in rubble.

As if personal revelations aren’t heavy enough, unschooling conferences are always packed with amazing families who are living and loving life in ways that speak to my heart. In my mind, families are the base of exploration of the world and it was always my intention to facilitate my kids’ childhoods by surrounding them with the tools they need to develop into the best versions of themselves. When I’m around people who are doing that, I am energized and excited about life. That year, there was the family who lived in their RV and traveled the world with a little trailer where they ran a mobile dental mold company, exploring the landscape, supporting their financial needs and learning more than any classroom could provide.  There was also the woman who borrowed the personal effects of Thomas Edison and Christopher Columbus from the Smithsonian to compile a beautiful book called Lost in Learning. She gave an amazing talk about the childhoods of some of the most influential minds in history and apparently, as children, they were quite a handful and didn’t thrive in the classroom.  There was also the gal who saw past my passive/evasive language into the truth of my marriage and gave me a dog-eared copy of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, which she’d previously shared with several other women who went on to escape the prisons of their marriage and become independent.  I sat in my hotel room that night answering “yes” to way too many of the quiz questions in the book until it became undeniable that my situation was out of hand.  Damn, even 5 years later, I still find myself using detached language to describe this.  “It became undeniable that I was the victim of verbal and emotional abuse.”  Thats still passive. “I finally admitted to myself that I was a victim.” A stronger part of me wants to use words like gaslighting and emotional torture, but I can’t bring myself to say it. I just want to continue moving on.  I fucked up.  But I got out.

I have to clarify that because right now, even so many years later, if I focus on where I failed it makes it harder to move forward. The one thing I was passionate about- teaching my kids to be actively engaged with the outcome of their life by contributing to society, embracing opportunities, making the world a better place and harvesting peaceful relationships was a bust for too many years. And look… even in my “recovery” the guilt is difficult to escape from. But I got out. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyway…. after the conference, as I was writing out my recap and setting new intentions for my life I wrote in my personal journal that “I need to be surrounded by people who are thinking about bigger things. I need stable people around me who aren’t inventing personal dramas to distract themselves away from being effective in the world and creating a better future.”  So much of my life had been spent reeling in emotional turmoil from one stressful drama to the next.  I couldn’t continue “being me” when so much of my attention was spent wondering “what did I do wrong now?”  And my kids were living in so much fear as well. What would they get in trouble for next?  Will there be enough food tomorrow? If you’ve never lived in poverty with someone whose anger dominates the home then you really have no idea what it’s like to never feel alone with your thoughts, to fear that every word that comes out of your mouth may be twisted around into some imagined offense and that the events from today might feel OK, but you could be called into question a month later for something that felt benign at the time.  It’s exhausting and I suspected that life could be so much simpler.  That’s not to say that I wasn’t able to develop as a person. My #1 commitment, since the day my kids were born, was to my kids. But the uncertainty of life with a narcissist and addict had the effect of skewing my perspective so that I was able to look at life and say “This is good” because my kids were overall happy and thriving. I’d slave away on my laptop generating a paltry income so that our power wouldn’t be disconnected and comfort myself with the knowledge that there are third world countries where nobody had electricity. I had myself convinced that life was OK when the reality was that our entire life experience was limited simply because I allowed the force of absolute evil to penetrate our lives so deeply.  Detaching the reality about how horrible life was became the only tool I had that kept me striving each day to put on a happy face, read bedtime stories and fix the lego bridge. You know, the things that mattered.

There’s so much talk about the importance of working hard to stay married, but for me it was a life-and-death fight to stay detached enough that I could pretend I wasn’t living in a horror film during the moments that mattered. I’d walk into the house after being shouted at and cursed at because there were no pickles left and pause at the back door. I’d wipe my tears away, take a deep breath and walk into where the kids were playing as if nothing had happened. “Hi sweetie, wanna go for a walk? We need to get pickles for daddy.” My personal persecution was turned into a walk with the girls and from their perspective, probably felt like something nice we were doing for their dad.   Marriage was REALLY hard work.  I’d rather work for something more important.  My failure to thrive in an abusive marriage has a much smaller effect on the world than raising 6 daughters who perpetuate the cycle of abuse simply because they’ve had ME as an example.

And now I have the opportunity to reinvent myself, but there’s always a shadow of doubt. I’m constantly second-guessing my instincts and decisions.  Each day I wrestle with the fear that he was right about me being a good-for-nothing-loser. But each day I look around at the happy home we have, feeling the peace and tranquility,  my aching bones and muscles from kicking ass at work, my throbbing eyes from staring at spreadsheets and computer screens, the dishwasher full of dishes where my kids ate food that I didn’t purchase by scraping all the change out of the couch cushions or recycling aluminum cans and I know that the fight I’m fighting now, the one in my head, will end one day. Instead of surrounding myself with people who direct their dramatic bullshit upon me, I’m surrounded by people who are supportive, energetic, principled and loving.

This past weekend I went to Carmel-by-the-Sea for the 10th annual EG conference.  Like an unschooling conference, the speakers were inspiring. But this is very different from the conferences I usually attend.  Since it wasn’t family-focused, there were very few children present.  They didn’t state a focus, and the EG in the event’s title, I later learned, stands for “Entertainment Gathering” which speaks to the world-class violinists, pianists, magicians and comics in attendance, but it was so much more than that.  Or maybe the shallowness of that statement is due to the fact that my own life experience has been so limited by poverty and the social aspects of deprivation that my personal definition of entertainment tends to exclude intellectual pursuits.  Which is odd because I’m the girl that’s always found nonfiction more entertaining than fiction. I enjoy some fiction, the Game of Thrones is one of my favorites and is completely fiction, but my fascination with the fiction I engage in is always a behind-the-scenes nature. “What kind of camera did they use for that?” or “Imagine how long it took to make that costume” and most often “I wish I was a fly on the wall when the writers came up with that line.”  So I’ve always allowed myself to be stimulated by ideas of the future and progress in worldwide efforts to reduce environmental toxins, historical accounts of important events from different perspectives and of course research in the worlds of psychology, child development and education.  The only reality I’m not the slightest bit able to stomach is human-on-human violence.  The world isn’t a better place for anyone when my heart is broken. Game of Thrones is fake. War is real. World politics is a dangerous abstraction I can’t wrap my head around.

After my divorce I sought to surround myself with new mentors, I befriended people who weren’t bound by the constraints of poverty and hoped that I’d learn something more about how to be successful in life.  As I mentioned before, I really AM kicking ass at work.  I still don’t entirely understand corporate hierarchies and I still struggle to meet my family’s needs every damned day but we’ll never be as broke as we were when we had no hope.  And the EG conference represented hope on almost every level.

I loved how the conference was organized.  Unlike other events I’ve attended, there were no overlapping sessions. It’s possible to “not miss a thing.”  On the first day of the conference, new attendees were warned to “pace yourself.”  Honestly, I have no idea how to do that. Pacing myself isn’t my superpower.  I learned what it probably doesn’t mean, which is sitting in on every single session (2-3 hours of back-to-back beyond-TED-talk-caliber speakers) for three consecutive days.  My mind works slowly at times and I’m still processing some of what I’ve seen. Getting up to stretch late in the second day was super helpful. Yes, I missed a little bit, but no more than I missed when I fell asleep in my seat after sitting. for. so. long.  I don’t sit still easily, I need to stretch. My mind works better when I’m periodically contorting myself. I’m learning.

Only here I am, having just celebrated by 4 year divorceaversary, feeling no closer to figuring out who I am than I was on that day that I discovered I didn’t know.  The only thing I really know about myself, the only part of me that I haven’t lost, is that my kids are #1. So my first mission is to make sure I’m not raising my kids in such a way that their passions and futures are dimmed by complete lack of opportunity, basic resources and healthy relationships.  No matter where you go in life and what you do it’s all for nothing if your relationships suck.  I guess I know one more thing about myself, and that’s that I have absolutely no tolerance for imperfect relationships. Life is too short and I’ve wasted too much of it already. My kids are my inner circle, and that’s just fine for now.
I feel slightly obligated, at this point, to talk about some of the amazing speakers, but honestly my mind is still blown.  And beyond the speakers themselves the other guests were unbelievably amazing people with colorful histories, notable accomplishments and passionate lives they devote to making important changes in the world.  THAT is what I want for my kids, and for myself.

It was interesting to be among 650+ people whose life experiences were so different from mine.  For one thing, the cost of attendance is pretty steep.  I happen to be the luckiest person in the world, and was, therefore, not among those who paid full price. Left to my own devices, I would have used that amount of money to make sure my car insurance was paid, utilities were caught up and that we had groceries. With anything left over, I’d have had the kids’ computers repaired, signed them up for some kind of educational experience or ordered pizza for dinner.  But the rest of the attendees don’t have the same challenges I have in life and if I don’t occasionally peek over the fence into what life is like when you’re not stressed about keeping the lights on, my world will be darker anyway.

It’s hard not to be bitter when 20 something tech geeks are standing 4 feet away from you talking about their recent vacation in Peru and not even excited about having climbed Machu Pichu. Some of these people are changing the world with their inventions and discoveries while others are oblivious to the magic around them and attending the event simply because they want to network with the wealthy folks who might fund their tech startup.  One of the speakers said it best; “The world doesn’t need another app.” Which reminded me of another often-misattributed quote:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” (David Orr)

So I’m home now… writing this when I should be writing to pay the power bill, imagining all the ways I can keep this inspired feeling, live a more effective life and most importantly, keep my kids engaged in their own lives long enough that they’re able to grow into adults who never feel lost, never forget who they are and never allow themselves to participate in relationships that limit their happiness. I have a few ideas about my future, and that’s part of the problem.  My goal is simply to remain inspired long enough to settle on a path that meets the requirement of 1- generating enough income for us to live without fear 2- provides enough freedom for me to actively engage with my kids’ exploration of their passions and interests and 3- make the world a better place.

There are good people and idiots at every socioeconomic level.  Money doesn’t keep anyone from destroying relationships or living in destructive ways.  In the past, I might have been content to trade the likeliness of future happiness for financial success but today, with ever-looming financial disaster, a peaceful home full of happy and healthy kids, a wish list that’s as long as it ever was and some hope in my heart that the good things in the future world are fully funded by bright minds and innovative thinkers, I think my perspective is different.

And now… If you want to relive some of the mind-blowing presentations at the EG Conference I attended, pull up the comfiest seat in the house (and grab a box of tissues because there are tear-jerking moments) and witness only the 10 hours, 25 minutes and 34 seconds that were recorded on the live stream.

And.. for archival purposes, here are some pictures from the conference, without context or additional information…

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Four Books Available in Print Right Now

OK, so the illustration process for my children’s books is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. Originally, my goal was to be finished by the time my oldest daughter’s wedding rolled around and that’s in 12 days, so that might not actually happen. But in the meantime, I have published a few other, less labor-intensive books. The experiences I’ve had working with the publishing platform have been important and the income from these will definitely help my life situation, but they’re not children’s books, they’re more like children’s book diversions. Either way… enjoy :)

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Divorce Journal for Women

This book is a personal writing journal, it has empowering divorce-positive quotes on the left-side pages and lined paper interspersed throughout, for personal journaling.  My divorce was a very positive thing in my life and I got sick of seeing so many references to divorce being a bad thing, I just wanted to create a resource for women who were determined to see it as a stepping stone toward a life of freedom and positive personal growth. I have a lot more of these inspirational-quote-driven journals that I’ll be publishing via the Luckiest Girl Publishing website, so you might want to head over there and check it out.  I’ve been sending out 7 free printable journal pages every Saturday, so please subscribe :)
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Ditch the “Unified Front” Please

raisechildrenThe experiences a child has with their parents become the building blocks for all future relationships. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it’s not. One of my favorite quotes is by Pam Leo and it states “Let’s raise children who don’t have to recover from their childhoods.”

 

Anyway, here’s the deal.  We’ve recently become entangled with a family who has the most delightful 17 yr old son.  Like many 17 yr olds he’s craving some independence.  He’s the only child of a divorced couple. Mom has remarried, so the three adults work together to be his parent.  Only, he’s growing up now and the “techniques” they used in the past aren’t “working” and they’re super stressed about it.
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I blame this headache on Amanda Palmer, and THANK YOU

I recently read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I’d seen her Ted Talk video a few years ago and downloaded the book onto my Kindle and didn’t bother to read it until recently, mainly because the beginning of the book is so much like the video that I didn’t think it had much more to offer.  And truthfully, the video gets the point across pretty well.  After reading the book however, I laid in bed and couldn’t think of anything I wanted.  The things I could think of weren’t things anyone could give me.  More time with my kids? Less need for sleep? Neverending peace and tranquility? Better dental insurance? The ability to eat a croissant without getting sick? A universal parking pass for all Seattle city street parking spaces?  Do any of these things even exist?
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So I published a real official book last week

You can read the complicated version of the story here on my Write for Income website: Right on Schedule…

Or you can just buy it (free for a limited time with Kindle Unlimited) and once the print place replaces my manuscript with the one that has no links in it (because duh… people with books in their hand can’t really click on things, can they – also why didn’t I think of that before?)

After that happens it will also be available to hold in your hand. if that’s a thing for you.

It seems like it should be a big deal but it’s not.  It’s just one. Plenty of people my age have written and published many many more. Plus the entire thing took less than a day from start to finish. Anyway it’s done and it keeps me on schedule for the many many many more books I plan to publish this year.  Also, incidentally, I launched a new website to go with the book (because launching websites is what I do when I’m not doing actual writing) You’ll find that at http://GlutenFreePregnancy.com
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I’m so lucky to be your mama

There are so many ways to say “I love you” and sometimes with little kids, they’re hard to hear.  Like when a child crawls into your lap sobbing, they’re often saying “I love you; you make me feel better and right now I need to feel better.” Whether I have sick kids, tired kids, angry kids or sad kids… they all find nontraditional ways to reach out and remind me that they love me. The thing is, they’re not saying it because they think I need to hear it, they’re saying it because they feel it.

When I was married, we went to a pre-marriage counseling session where we were told that no matter what happens, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we really do love one another. For a while, I started saying “I love you” when I really felt other things, mostly to remind myself that in spite of the fact that I was feeling angry at the moment, underneath it all was love.  I still do that with my girls sometimes. If one of them are being a big jerk, I tell them that I love them, sort of to remind myself that even though this moment is difficult, I love them and I know the moment will pass.
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Home.

I’ve lived in several places but there are very few that ever “felt like home.”  I always had some kind of inner angst to to travel and roam, never feeling particularly attached to any specific place or structure.  I still have the wanderlust, but it’s lessened and maybe I’m getting older or something but there’s really no place like home.

When I was married, I often HATED our home.  I think the only one I liked was the one we bought and remodeled ourselves.  I loved it in spite of the fact that I got a finishing nail stuck in my eyeball when I was removing the wood paneling.  I loved it until the very walls themselves began to remind me of how unhappy of a place it was.  There were the basement bedrooms where my ex locked my (then 4 yr old) daughter in her room for a few days while I was away.  There was the staircase my (then 9) yr old daughter ran down while my ex shouted after her that she was “a cunt” for not wanting to change the baby’s diaper. There was the storage area in the garage where he & his friends smoked pot for hours and hours and hours at a time. There was the bathtub where I did our laundry (including cloth diapers) for several months until we could afford to replace the washer. There was the dishwasher that my (then 1 yr old) liked to climb into.  There was the canal that ran past the house where my kids crashed his helicopter (insert nasty fight there too).  I was sad when that house was foreclosed but eager to get away from the building made of horrible memories.  So we moved again and built new horrible memories.  Every place we have ever lived as a couple had its share of  pain and suffering.
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Life is still good

Every year since 2011 my kids and I have attended the Life is Good conference in Vancouver, Washington.  As a stay-home mom conference was a refreshing time when my ex and I could theoretically “share” parenting responsibilities, which meant I’d have time to socialize with the women.  This year, however, since I’ve been working full time, I’m mostly looking forward to just hanging out with my kids.  Sure, I’ll get some mom-time with the ladies, but most of our itinerary involves funshops and games and a field trip to OMSI, exploring Portland and Vancouver and other fun times.  My mom is out of town this week for a family reunion so I cut down my work schedule a bit and I’ve been spending more time at home. Preparing for conference (without spending a fortune) means cooking.  We’ve laid out an entire week’s worth of meals and snacks and I’ve been kitchening like crazy, packaging up everything we’re going to need in order to keep from starving to death or eating out in desperation.  Eating out is NOT IN THE BUDGET. It’s just not.
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Seattle Staycation For Spring Break

With 2 “grown” kids and 4 younger ones still in the house, life is busy. I brought my mom out to live with us a few months ago and she’s been an enormous help, giving me the time I need to be a good employee (Still can’t believe I’m working for someone else these days). In fact, after less than 3 months with the company, I was promoted to store manager. I could NOT have done that without knowing my mom was here to help with the girls.

But Mom needed a break and went on a trip over Spring Break, so I brought my oldest out to visit for a few days and changed my work schedule a little bit so that we could have somewhat of a Spring Break. We had a blast. Here’s a sampling of our adventures over our Spring Break Staycation:
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Such a fine line…

I’ve been working at an adorable little independent boutique grocer in Seattle. It has the high quality grocery items you’d expect to find in an upscale store, with the vibe of an old country general store.  I’m surrounded by fun people who are working hard to create something awesome for the neighborhood. I’m inspired by the owner and her story as well as by the determination, skills and personalities of my coworkers. It’s been great.conesteiner

My main goal when seeking employment was to be able to move to Seattle, to meet new people, to interact with other adults in real life on a regular basis, and to be part of something cool and fun.  I’ve met all of those objectives. Life is good. So many people idealize the experience of being self-employed and working from home.  Yes, it was fun and awesome and I definitely could make my own hours and work in my pajamas but that really got old after a few years and I needed more social interaction.

 

We’re in Pioneer Square, a neighborhood that’s undergoing a major identity explosion lately, a new residential building has nearly doubled the amount of people who call this place home and several new restaurants and shops have turned it into more of a destination. Two years ago, hardly any of these places were in business, the building construction had just begun.  They’re building another in an adjacent lot now, right in front of the stadium.

 

seattle homelessBeing surrounded by the area’s homeless is often an adventure. I know each one of them has their own story about how they came to live on the streets and I don’t envy a single one of them.  Still, when a young man (under 25 I’d say) popped into the store ten minutes before closing, ranting about the laws of the Universe and banging his head on the counter, I was a little freaked out. His tone was more positive than negative, which was comforting, but still, the content was awkward because the nature of it was woowoo spirituality and the sentences never really ended: “I know times are tough right now but I have faith, I mean, I know things come around and…” Usually an ellipse stands for missing words that trail off but these sentences just ended and another one started right up. “You wouldn’t believe some of the hard times I’ve had, it’s just… And I don’t even know sometimes how things work out they just…  All you gotta do is smile and know that this moment will pass because no matter… Are those peanuts?”

While my coworker was chatting with the guy, I slipped into the back to dial up the building security guard.  I didn’t feel like I was in danger, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the situation turned quickly.

Plus, I had recently had a serious talk with myself about personal safety.  After getting off my morning bus one day last week, I accidentally intervened in a police situation with an angry homeless man threatening to slice a cop’s throat with razorblades and I PROMISED my friend I’d never try to be a badass again.  (Intervening consisted of offering the guy a cigarette and verbally sympathizing with him, encouraging him to walk away.  Not superhero stuff but still, kind of dumb)

When the security officer arrived, he began to talk about the cycles of the moon and how “for some reason because of the way the planets are aligned,  the craziness of people hasn’t died down.”  Apparently it goes in cycles and “everything will be peaceful until all hell breaks loose and then they calm down again for a while until next time.”  Normally. But this particular current planetary alignment is affecting that process, so “God only knows when this will end.”

As I offered him a drink and thanked him for coming so quickly, I had to weigh whether or not it was fair to have the uniformed person in a similar mental state as the homeless guy. Also, I wondered which of these two people I’d rather be alone in a room with.  Who was dangerous? Who was safe?  It was weird. I think I’m more curious about the homeless man’s life story than I am about the security guard’s philosophy of human nature.  I need to read up on ways to casually engage in conversations with people on the edge without endangering myself.  Has anyone written a book called “How to talk to homeless people?”

 

 

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