Yes, You Can Die of a Broken Heart

The year 2016 has not been kind to actors and musicians. I won’t even start with the long list of those who succumbed to the curse of  2016, but in the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2016, we were all stunned when Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) died one day, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the next. 

Initial news reports pegged the cause of death as a stroke, but today people are gossiping and questioning and whispering about whether she in fact died of a broken heart after the grief of losing her daughter Carrie. I happen to have some personal experience with the idea of dying from a broken heart. Continue reading

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Captain and Crew of My Ship: A Story About Traveling Solo

I used to be obsessed with travelogues written by solo female travelers. I would read wide-eyed about these fearless women who thought nothing of hopping a plane to Uzbekistan or the Chilean Andes or some remote island in the South Pacific, with apparently no concern for their safety and the ability to pack light. I longed to be one of those women, yet didn’t have the gusto or the green to do so.

In my early professional years, when I was broke and scrounging for cash, I managed to travel a heck of a lot more than I do now that my paycheck is almost four times as much. A stress filled job and too much responsibility means no energy left to even plan a trip, yet alone travel. In the early years I went to Ireland, Costa Rica, drove up the PCH 1 from Big Sur to wine country, traveled to Toronto to witness Caribana, crammed into a car to drive all the way across the country to watch my beloved Badgers in the Rose Bowl, almost died during a whitewater rafting trip in Bozeman, Montana, breathlessly hiked mountains in Colorado and Zion National Park, soaked up the sun in Sedona, the Florida Keys, and zig zagged my way across Mexico.

Yet all of these trips happened with travel buddies. Save for the flight in or flight out, I was always with a gal pal or two on these adventures. Fast forward to today, where I find myself a 43 year old single, childless woman, surrounded by 43 year old married with child(s) friends, and I have almost no choice but to become a solo traveler. (No way in hell I am joining those singles trips!)

My first foray into the world of solo traveling was on the tail end of a business trip to DC. I took two nights and one full day to explore DC. In hindsight, this was probably the perfect trip to do so; with so many museums and monuments and activities, you don’t need someone with you to experience these things. Being alone meant time to read the history, spend as long as you wanted in a museum, make that stop at the Botanical Gardens that no one else would have wanted to do; stop by that fountain and soak up the sun for a bit with no one complaining it’s too hot; listen to the band a little longer. Or pop up and leave when you’ve had enough. Not being tied to another person’s wishes, desires, or to do list is liberating.  I quickly learned how to eat at the bar, where hopefully the bartender or another solo traveler is up for conversation. While I like my alone time, by the end of the day the voice in my head gets old, and I’m ripe for conversation.

I quickly learned a few key lessons about traveling solo; you have to curb your drinking when you are out (or save it for the hotel pool), you can’t tell people you are traveling alone (my friend is still back at the conference!), and you have to turn in early each night, which in and of itself is really a blessing, as it means you can be up and at ’em early each morning (while I relish this, as a night owl, I still get a little sad when I have to turn in early).

Another work trip took me a day early to Miami, but the only lesson learned on that trip was don’t drink too much by the pool after an early morning flight. Oh and that people watching in Miami is a ton of fun. After too many cocktails and too much heat, I passed out in my hotel room and never made it to dinner that night.

Then came the official solo trip in the summer of 2015. One of my “Things I Always Say I’m Going to Do But Never Do” items was to take the Lake Express Ferry across Lake Michigan and see the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. And so off I went. I hadn’t originally intended to go solo, but the aforementioned married friends did not have free time in their schedules. The trip was a little bittersweet as well, as I was entering the final days of a long-term relationship, and wasn’t sure what I would come home to. More on that later.

That trip, which I call my Summer Solstice Western Shores of Michigan trip, was one of the most fantastic and beautiful trips I’ve ever had in my life. The freedom of having no one’s schedule but my own to deal with, having my car to give me extra independence, a wallet full of cash and credit cards, and nothing but time….. I felt like I had found the perfect formula for fully experiencing a place. I understood why women (and men) take off alone to see the world. Unencumbered. No ties. No expectations. And the freedom to change course on a dime if the spirit strikes you. I climbed lighthouses, drove a Jeep in the sand dunes, clambered up and slid down the Sleeping Bear Dunes, read about the history of lighthouse keepers, sampled cherry everything, drove through sleepy beach towns, took long walks in quaint neighborhoods, visited a winery, took photos in a historic fishing village, fell asleep on beaches, and had many fantastic meals at the bar while meeting fascinating people. I watched the sunset at 10:30 at night due to the location on the western limit of the eastern time zone. But I always had a hard time returning to my lodging early. That is when the loneliness set in for me. I don’t know if that part I’ll ever shake. But I considered the first official solo trip a grand success. I decided that every year I would travel alone for the Summer Solstice.

This year, after a long string of life-altering events (I ended the fifteen-year relationship as soon as I returned on the ferry. Ten months later my mother unexpectedly passed away at age 68), I realized I had taken time off work but failed to plan anything. After frantically researching places to go and realizing there was no room at the inn, I finally asked my neighbors if I could use their cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was a little leery about it, as the location seemed extremely remote. But they obliged, and since cabin lodging is not inexpensive, and I didn’t have the gusto to go camping, off I went. On a vacation not so much to somewhere as to nowhere!

I can’t say this trip was anywhere near as fun-filled, educational, or fulfilling as last year’s trip, but the lessons were just as valuable. I spent three long days doing a whole lot of nothing. The weather could not have been any more perfect for up north lake living; I spent my days slowly paddling around the three lakes in a kayak, fishing and catching nothing, floating in the middle of the lake on my pink lounger, reading books, and of course spending lonely nights in the cabin. This location was different; there was literally nothing to do here, which is why most people come here to relax. It was quiet, remote, and off the tourist path. There were no restaurants or coffee shops to walk to, no ice cream parlors, no road-side attractions to speak of, no shopping.  But it taught me about my travel style, and what’s important when traveling solo. It taught me that going from being in fifth gear 99% of the time to Park makes a girl restless. It taught me that when I’m flying solo, I need to be flying, not stalled. I need to engage my mind and my spirit and keep flying. Explorers did not discover the world by hanging out in one spot for too long.

I’m learning. I’m getting better at this travel solo thing. I’m practicing for a potential year off. I think I have more to learn before I take the leap, but maybe someday I’ll be writing a travelogue that some young girl will be reading with wide eyes.

The Year of Doing All The Things…a Recap

Happy New Year (Volume 2016)!

I love holidays. I love to have an excuse to dress up in ridiculous outfits. I love to dress up and go to themed parties. And NYE used to be one of my all time favorites. I would spend hours looking for the perfect silver, white, and gold (or all three of the above) outfit and deciding which party would be the perfect one to attend, or making certain I hit all four parties I was invited to because I didn’t want to miss a damn thing. From white parties, to bar parties, to house parties, to hotel parties, to live bands, living room dance parties, NYE day drinking, fireworks, you name it, I’d tried it all.

This year, well this year was a little different. Partially because I’m still reeling from being newly single. But also because I was living in crisis mode due  to being a caretaker over the holidays for a family member. I still went out, and I still drank too much, despite my best intentions. I had plans for a productive and healthy NYE and NY Day that included knocking something off my bucket list, and possibly taking the Polar Bear Plunge again (whereby one goes to the beach on a 20 degree or less Fahrenheit day and takes a nice swim, which supposedly cleanses you free of all of your old habits and bullshit. Or gives you cardiac arrest, whichever comes first).

So NY Day was spent lost in my old habits and bullshit, with a massive hangover. Jennifer Lawrence summed it up perfectly here when she said:

“I’ve never had a good one. Everyone’s chasing a good time and it’s always a disappointment. I plan on doing nothing and then if something lands in my lap…” she continued. “But I always end up drunk and disappointed.”

Amen sister.

But enough about that. I started this blog declaring 2015 the year of doing all of those things I always say I’m going to do but never do, and I think that theme will have to continue into 2015 (because many of those things I’m still saying I’m going to do…..and haven’t yet). But I will add a new theme; one of which I am leaning towards is titled “Find your fucking-self already, damn it”. I’m a huge proponent of setting goals and resolutions. Not as successful at actually achieving them, but it’s the thought that counts.

I used to buy a new journal every year, and make the first entry of the year my resolutions. Now it takes me at least a few weeks into the new year before I sit down to write them. I’ve gotten smart though, and learned to just cut, copy and paste from last year’s resolutions because let’s face it, not too many fall off the list. Though in reality, many of them should stay on the list year after year, such as exercise, eat right, save money, make out with Robert Downey Jr., find yourself……

I am a huge work in process though, especially after freeing myself in 2015 from aforementioned relationship. I am learning, and growing, and stumbling and failing. I realize there is a lot to let go of, and continue to let go of, before I can really start fully moving forward in life again. I think Jen Sincero’s post “Happy Heave-Ho“, about letting go before you create that list, is a great way to start.

But before I do any of that, I want to brag about my 2015 successes. They didn’t occur every month like I had wanted to them, but they occurred, on their own time, in their own way, which is a more important feat for control freak planners like me. In no certain order:

  • Took the Polar Plunge on NY Day after saying I would for at least 19 years and never doing it (I did this alone).
  • Competing in the American Birkebeiner Ski Race, and beating my goal time of 3 hours. I had NEVER ever competed in any sort of organized athletic event (well since high school anyway).  (Also did this alone).
  • Taking a real Spring Break with my sister’s family
  • Learning how to mountain bike. For real. In Sedona. (Thanks to my college roommate who tried to kill us during the lesson).
  • Bought a new tent.And camped in it!
  • Finally taking that trip across Lake Michigan on the ferry, and taking a real solo extended vacation (alone. Solo means alone.)
  • Ending that relationship that just wasn’t working (this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I somberly add this to the list. It’s hard to believe I have not blogged about it. Yet.)
  • Buying a real pair of Old Gringo ass-kicking cowgirl boots. In Austin. From a hot sales cowboy(man).
  • Finally making it back to Devil’s Lake to hike to the top (alone, because my nephew bagged out on me the morning of our hike).
  • Learning how to use a miter saw and air nail gun
  • Finally hanging up my Xmas lights I bought in Mexico
  • Renovating my upper duplex kitchen
  • Many other things I’m sure I forgot about

Did you recognize the pattern of how many things I did alone? I’ve never been one to shy away too much from doing things on my own. In fact, I quite like the solitude. But learning to be alone in those difficult times, well that’s going to have to be a resolution for 2016 for certain. As well as “write more blog posts”.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Illness is Not a Crime

Mental illness is not a crime.

And yet, this country is so ill-equipped to properly treat people with mental illness. We don’t talk about it; we keep it buried in the corner, we hide the behavioral health floor within hospitals and tell loved ones “no one by that name is checked in here”. We send our mentally ill to doctors and therapists who don’t understand the disease; who try to prescribe it out of their office after an hour on the chair. We refer to people who are mentally ill as “crazy’, “nut job”, “looney”, “bat shit crazy”, or any other number of derogatory terms. When we realize what we are doing isn’t working (surprise!), and we can’t deal with our mentally ill anymore, we stop dealing with them all together.We put them in group homes or nursing homes or we altogether forget where we put them and then they end up homeless.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am dealing all too closely with a loved one suffering from mental illness.  Multiple mental illnesses, possibly. And it has been the most soul crushing, eye opening, heart-breaking, infuriating experience I have had in my adult life. One that makes me want to start a national conversation and debate about how f’d up the state of mental health care (or lack thereof) is in this country. And yet so many of us are afflicted by it.

A family member suffers from a host of mostly un-diagnosed mental disorders. I say mostly un-diagnosed since we aren’t allowed to talk to any therapists regarding their mental state thanks to HIPAA. If they don’t show up for her appointments, no one cares, no one calls the family members, and the conditions worsen. If I had to guess, I’d assign them adult ADHD, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, and severe and chronic depression. I would also say that they have lived with these disorders their entire life, but self-medicated with alcohol, which gave rise to an entire other set of issues, as you can imagine.

When I paint this picture of my loved one, the average citizen would sign off on them as “a big loser.” Their own  sometimes did; in fact we even nick-named this person “Crazy So-and-so”, a name they even referred to themselves as. Only in hindsight do I see how horrible that name was to label them with, and maybe even contributed to the downward slide.

But this person is truly a kind and loving soul; giving, caring, compassionate. They never, ever complained, even though the universe gave them much to complain about. They were always taking care of others around them – co-workers, parishioners, random elderly folks they met, the guy they met in the canned goods aisle at the grocery store; we used to joke that they should start a half-way house. Raised Catholic, they always had faith and shared that faith and the kindness with the world. Until…. until something changed in them, or more specifically, in their brain.

There is a saying that God does not give you more than you can handle. I think that’s bullshit. Sometimes, the universe gives someone way more than they can handle, and they actually break. Their spirit breaks. Their soul is crushed. And no amount of medicine, inspirational quotes, therapy, or outside love can fix it.  God dishes out too much and you implode. People really do just break.

My loved one broke. They are broken. I want them back, but I don’t know if they will ever come back. And it kills me to see them this way.

But what kills me almost as much it to have an inside look into the healthcare system in the United States, and how ill-equipped it is to manage the mental health of our citizens, and to get them on a program that truly works and makes a difference in their lives. A program that rekindles the light inside of them.

For starters, the system assumes you will do what you should, and have the strength to not only make your appointments, but show up for them (whether you have transportation options or not), ensure you maintain them, and ensure you take your medicine. This does not happen most of the time. And family members have a hard time gaining access to the system to be allowed to assist with appointments. Mentally ill patients should first and foremost be assigned a case worker who stays with them during their entire course of care, even if it may mean a lifetime. The case worker needs to act as coach and drill sergeant to make sure the most important steps of care – being present to get the care, happen. But social workers are a dying breed; underpaid, overworked, and not given the support they need to succeed.

I can tell you what happens instead; mentally ill patients make some baby steps, then fall into a pattern of self-neglect, then end up in urgent care or the E.R., where the whole cycle starts over. They consistently abuse the system because they wait until their symptoms become so horrible that they are life threatening, and then push the panic button. This is draining on our health care system, our care workers, families, and the patient, who additionally ends up with a bigger financial mess then they started with. And in our situation, the healthcare system “flagged” my family member as a patient they just didn’t want to deal with anymore, and eventually”kicked them out” of the system. Yes, that’s right. They sent a letter stating they should seek services elsewhere if she couldn’t keep  appointments.

Imagine what getting a letter like that does to a person who is already severely depressed and does not know where to go to get care.

Yet even more painful is the inpatient experience for our citizens who seek  or are committed to behavioral health services.  My own first experience with having my family member check themselves in was traumatic; I knew they had been delivered to one hospital to have their heart checked (the original issue they went in for) and that they had then supposedly been transferred to another for behavioral health, but no one at the hospital could or would confirm that. When I phoned the hospital they were supposedly delivered to, the man who answered said “no one by that name is checked in here.” Confused , with panic rising in my chest, I called the E.R. back at the first hospital; after breaking into tears on the phone, it was explained to me that they are not allowed to tell me if a patient is there or not; and that I should just call back and ask for them again and they should take a message. With my anger rising by the minute, I called back, to which the man again insisted he had no one by that name there. I then got very angry, and told him I would call the police and file a missing person’s report since his hospital system had “lost” my family member; he laughed and said “the police won’t do anything; this is law in our state as it relates to mental health”. I almost lost my own mind at that point. After more tears, he finally relented and said ” give me your name and number and if they are here, and if they CHOOSE to, they will call you back”.  Are you F’ing kidding me????? This is how we take care of our mentally ill and the families that are trying to support them?

Thankfully, they called back.

Now imagine if they had not. Imagine the pain, the worry, the fear, the wasted resources, the stress the family would have gone through wondering where they were and if they were safe. This is how mental health care works in our country. And supposedly it’s to “protect those seeking care”. Because you know, being mentally ill is shameful, and we need to be sure we hide it under the covers so no one knows it’s there.

The second stint with inpatient care  (just 60 days later) was equally eye-opening and heart wrenching. My family member checked themselves in after an in-home care worker urged them to do so or be committed. Three days into their admittance, and not one social worker, therapist or doctor had phoned us to let us know of their condition, their treatment, their progress or lack thereof. Going for a visit almost put me over the top.  Entering a locked hospital door with a security guard; having to leave all of my belongings in a locker, and waiting in a “day room” while my family member was summoned. Was I in a prison or a program to treat human beings with an illness in their brain?  It was every bit as horrifying as the movies make it out to be; patients with varying degrees of mental illness, addiction, or brain damage dressed in gowns either pacing the floor, eating their hair, coloring, or starting at a wall. All looking dejected; all looking “thrown out”. And among this was my family member. My kind, loving, compassionate family member. I’ll admit it, the behavioral health ward of a hospital was so depressing, if I were admitted there with depression, I’d probably want to kill myself. There is nothing there to inspire anyone who is broken to want to put their parts back together again. Group therapy twice a day? Coloring books? Three year old magazines and romance novels? Wii bowling? Hospital food?  This is supposed to bring someone back from the depths of the hole they have been living in for months on end? To chase away their demons? What the hell is wrong with this country?

Ironically, I had brought my family member a copy of a book by SARK, the author I wrote about in an earlier post.  The book is Transformation Soup: Healing for the Splendidly Imperfect, and I quickly paged through it before I handed it over. I happened to tag a page that about mid-way town proclaimed:

“We do need a hospital for the brokenhearted. There would be:

  • Daily neck and shoulder massages
  • Movies about self-love and transformation
  • Community to cry with
  • Inner beauty makeovers
  • New clothes and haircuts
  • Growing things
  • Hugs from children
  • Clean sheets and hot meals
  • Radio playing no love songs
  • Library with no happy love stories
  • Stacks of blank journals and art supplies
  • A padded, soundproof room in which to release anger
  • Punching bags
  • Supportive reminders from friends
  • Accelerated healing and time passing faster
  •  New Hope

(clearly this post was focusing on those that are suffering from lost love, but I very much think it applies to people who are broken for any reason).

I wish this for my family member.  I wish there was something that could light the way for them out of the deep, dark despair they are living in. Chronic and severe depression and bi-polar disorder is a diagnosis half-way to hell, if not all the way for some people, and our programs to lead them back from hell are just not working.

This is a long post. It was an exhausting one to write; it took me almost a week; from the time my family member was admitted, to just today, when I had to turn my fountain of support for them off for a bit as it was absolutely draining me, which is a topic for a whole other post.

If you are suffering from mental illness yourself, please reach out. You are not alone; there are so many kind, patient, knowledgeable people out there to help you. They want to help you on the road to recovery. And there IS a road to recovery. Please try to get on it and stay on it.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

http://www.nami.org/

Humans who suffer from mental illness deserve to be treated with the same kindness, caring, compassion, concern, fundraising efforts, and community support as people with cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, MS, or any number of other diseases that affect the body instead of the brain.  Mental illness is not a crime; let’s stop treating those who are suffering from it like criminals.

Resting in the Arms of Wisconsin

I don’t know exactly when in our lifetimes we develop a sense of place. Maybe some people are born with it; others live their lives battling a wanderlust that can never be satisfied, always looking for the next “new” place, never finding “their place”.

I grew up in three very unique parts of Wisconsin.  My childhood was spent in a small town just north of the state capitol, Madison. We grew up surrounded by the lush rolling farmlands of south central Wisconsin; our house was on a dead end street surrounded by tobacco and corn fields, with large islands of oak forest rising up among the crops.  We spent a lot of time near Lake Wisconsin, Baraboo, Sauk City, Devil’s Lake.  We were outside more than we were inside. I grew up with the sound of crickets, the sight of ever changing seasons, and the sensory variety of crisp winter air that made your snot freeze, and warm summer days that made you relish naps. We were only a fifteen minute drive from a metropolitan city center, and a funky and fun one at that, with Madison being a very liberal college town.  The city of Madison was surrounded by the waters of Lakes Monona and Mendota; born a water baby, this would become a constant in my life, the need to be near water.

For reasons I still am unclear of, one year my parents just up and moved us four hour’s north of our home – to a tiny town an hour south of Lake Superior. As a pre-teen, I initially hated my parents for removing me from my hometown, the only place I had never known, and replanting us in such a different environment. It was a a shock to our senses. The nearest city, and a conservative one at that, was an hour’s drive away.  There were no rolling hills, no farmland, no seas of green crops.  (Not to mention, no movie theaters, shopping malls, or Taco Bells). My new place came with towering red pines, curving skies, and a thousand puddles of freshwater lakes. There were more stars here than anywhere else in the world it seemed, and the eternal scent of fresh pine and cool winds brought down from Canada.

I had to leave this place before I could fully appreciate it.  I went back to college in Madison, and for many years when I would head up north for weekends, I couldn’t wait to get back to the city after a weekend in the boondocks.  Yet one year, the tables turned; and I would get a sense of a dread overcoming me as I began to pack my car for the return trip to the city.  I had grown roots; I didn’t want to leave; this had become my place.

Post-college, some questionable choices made out of love led me to move to another large metropolis in Wisconsin, where I’ve now been for almost 18 years.  I was on my way to Denver after college, and let myself latch my destiny to that of a man-child.  That destiny of course ended not long after I moved to my new home, but other factors intervened, such as family relocating near me, and before you know it, eighteen years pass, and you wonder how you came to be rooted in this place. Oftentimes our roots grow due to marriages, children, a good job, good schools.  Or we become rooted out of complacency, laziness, fear, money, job security, a 401k.

I daydream a lot about leaving my current place.  The fact that I’ve been in the same city for 18 years, the same job just as long, the same house for 12, and the same relationship for 15 years, well…. it’s an assault on my Sagittarian values. For many years I kept the notion of moving to Denver in my head, and even went on many extended fact-finding trips to the Denver area to contemplate my move and get a sense of place in the West.  I love the West, I truly do, but more specifically the Southwest.  Mountains make me feel claustrophobic; my sense of place growing up meant that I had grown acclimated to those rolling green hills of South Central and South West Wisconsin, the lakes and rivers of Northern Wisconsin, and the culture and activity of the southeast region.  There are just as many, if not more, natural resources and variety in Wisconsin, and so I learned to ignore the pull of the West and keep myself rooted.

About eight years ago my father passed away.  My father was the Chicago-born Illinois native who fled his state (like so many others) to find solitude in the middle of the farm fields of Wisconsin.  And when he felt encroached upon, he fled further to the forests of the great Northwoods.  I still travel there often, and in fact am looking to buy a vacation home in that area.

As I travel through highways of central Wisconsin, watching the landscape change by the hour, I feel an immense sense of calm; this state is part of me, as if my blood was a mixture of its life giving soil and clear, cool waters.  I drive through miles and miles of patchwork farm fields and gaze upon the white farmhouses nestled up against groves of twisted old oak trees, with lush green hills rising beyond the scene.  I often daydream about pulling my car over, and walking up to one of these houses;  I knock on the door, and enter into a new sense of place, a new life.  I want to lay down in the lush green arms of Wisconsin, and forget about my past mistakes, my questionable choices that have led me to a life of juxtaposition and clashing values; I want to fall asleep on a porch swing with a warm summer breeze lulling me to sleep, and wake up in a new life, and a new sense of place.

This is my new pull.  This my new “West”.

Elsworth, WI.  Photo rights:  gaybumgarner.com

Elsworth, WI. Photo rights: gaybumgarner.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Irish

What is it about the Irish? The other day I caught a very brief part of a program on NPR discussing Irish immigrants in America, and the persecution of the Irish population that occurred, giving rise to “Irish need not apply” signs. I’ve mostly only seen those signs in bars, and interpreted them to mean because the Irish were always so stinkin’ drunk, they shouldn’t even bother applying. Ha!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. The day that half of the American population loses their mind in an alcoholic binge while dressed in every piece of green clothing they own, topped off with deely boppers, flashing glasses, and a green feather boa.  Everyone wants to be Irish or claim to have a single cell of Irish blood in their bodies.  Why is this?

Is it the need for Americans to identify with some sort of ethnicity or heritage beyond our own embarrassing, shameful culture we have created since we first landed on this continent and chose to forget who we were and where we came from?  Or is it because we love bangers and mash and think the Irish brogue is kind of cool?  I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  Yet we all seem to fall victim to this green spell.

I worked part-time in an Irish guest house for nine years, owned by an American with a last name that began with O’.  There were a few genuine natives from Ireland  who worked at the inn, and they were a damn good time, the whole lot of ’em. The customers were just as rabid about laying claim to some piece of Irish lineage as any drunk on St. Patrick’s day.  They signed up in droves for the Irish tours that happened year-round to our sister inn in Athlone, and came home even more rabidly “Irish” after six days on the Emerald Isle drinking pints of Guinness, buying Claddagh rings, peering over the cliffs of Mohr and flirting with the locals.  I even managed to find myself one of these tours, and spent the better part of it exercising my own Irish heritage by remaining extremely drunk, cracking sheep jokes, and rolling in the green green grass with one of the locals.

What is it about the Irish?  Ireland feels very primitive. It is extremely, extremely green.  The landscape is idyllic; the homes painted in an array of bright colors that stand out against the  bleak stone walls, green fields and icy gray rivers.  The locals are extremely friendly and witty; everyone seems to be musically talented or possess a singing voice, and those pub stools are so flippin’ cute  (and so much closer to the floor, should you take a spill and find yourself on it).  It’s as if the Irish know something we don’t know; they possess a pleasantness about them and a sense of calm and whimsy that simply can not be achieved by uptight stressed out Americans. Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it and mistaking my observations for a national permanent buzz.

As it turns out, I can lay claim to being Irish.  My great-great grandmother supposedly emigrated from Ireland to the United States.  Her name was Kate Cullen (more likely Cullough or some variation thereof).  I know almost nothing about her except that she had a son named Richard Spear, who married a German woman named Isabelle Kiesow, who gave birth to a daughter named Ellen Spear, who married my Welsh grandfather Howard Jones, who then gave birth to my father Tom Jones, who sired me. My grandmother would tell me stories about her grandmother Kate, and her Aunts, the Irish nuns, but there were no real paper trails, no cookie crumbs, no ability to trace this woman back to Ireland.  I don’t even know who her husband was.  I only know that she hailed from County Cork, and she gave birth to a long-line of alcoholics. I hate to be cliche, but that’s one part of my lineage that remains strong to this day.

My grandmother passed away a few months ago, and I miss her dearly.  She was really the only grandmother I ever knew, and the keeper of the stories. She wasn’t much of a drinker, being addicted to valium and all as she was, but she certainly had an Irish wit and vim and vinegar about her. At her funeral, I finally met Great Great Grandma Cullen for the first time.  She looks like someone I could get into a bit of trouble with.  Slainte!

My great great grandmother Kate Cullen.

My great great grandmother Kate Cullen.

The Year of Doing All The Things I Always Say I’m Going to Do But Never Do……

My blog.  My first blog (well, technically, my second since I blogged about my Dad dying here).  My first blog entry.

It’s the year 2015, and in addition to having a therapist, ten different social media accounts, and a few pair of skinny jeans, one must certainly be blogging.

I used to write. I used to write a lot. For no one in particular, actually, other than myself and an online pen pal.  I have historically kept journals about my life, since the days of being ten years old, back when journals were known as “diaries”.  I kept it up in high school due to an English class requirement from Mrs. Greschner, and elected Creative Composition in college over business writing; a class filled with brilliant writers and a T.A. who used to bring us wine even though we were underage.  I like getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper.  At one point I may have even been one of those romantics who dreamed about a career as a writer; a journalist, a travel writer, a novelist….  It’s probably best I didn’t choose that career path, since most of those writers have joined the ranks of the unemployed and are now trying to make a living by blogging and freelancing by writing digital headlines that begin with “A Mom picked up her kids from school and you won’t believe what happens next!”  The extent of my own writing career now involves board meeting minutes and lengthy Christmas letters.

Back in 1998, I was obsessed with an inspirational writer named Sark, and spent many nights and days procrastinating at work, whiling away my time reading message boards, chatting with creative women across the globe, and mailing out postcard fairies.  It all seems so cheesy now, many years later, but back then I was 25, full of hope and dreams and had not yet had my soul eaten by the sad reality of middle aged life and the realization that maybe this is as good as it gets, it wasn’t cheesy. It was inspirational. It kept me alive with hope.

It was on that message board that I met Windy City Wendy, a digital pen-pal who would become a real life friend that I would see live and in the flesh every five years or so.  Wendy was an inspiration, and remains so to this day.  Wendy was one of those people who gave life to the cliche “do what you love and the money will follow”; or how about “find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”.  Wendy wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  And she followed her passion.  And eventually her persistence and love of writing led to a career in words. You can follow her in her latest adventures at Dear Wendy.  Me on the other hand, I kept writing in my journals, a new one for each year of my life, and honing my craft at drafting corporate minutes.

But there remains in me a desire to write to a broader audience.  To “blog”, even though I despise that word. To release my thoughts to the universe, aka the internet.  I don’t really know what I expect to gain from this process, other than a therapeutic way to purge my brain of the constant thoughts that are swirling in my head.  I am not even certain what I will write about in the days that come; I only know that I have a need to write.  Not necessarily a passion or a desire or a longing; just a need.

And so it is that in the year 2015, which happens to be the year of my 43rd trip around the sun, I begin this blog.  I have officially declared this the year of doing all the things I always say I’m going to do but never do.  Each month a minimum of one thing on that list; hopefully more. March was to be the month I finally learned to downhill ski. Only it’s Wisconsin and currently 68 degrees, so that goal will have to wait until the next Polar Vortex.  Instead, I am word-pressing (what an elegant term, which only now gained real meaning to me as I used it as a verb.  Nicely done Word Press!), using the domain name that I have been paying for at least two years now. Without a single blog entry made.

So welcome to Me & Ms. Jones.

I have no idea what I will write about, but this is America, so I may wax poetic about politics, complain about my job, rag endlessly about stupid people and how they annoy me, lambaste celebrities, post videos of cats….. (no, I definitely will not be posting videos about cats). Mostly I hope to purge the fear, despair and loathing that has come with finding oneself middle aged with no direction, no children, no spouse, and no clue as to what happens next, other than turning 50.  That sounds depressing, actually.  I probably wouldn’t read a blog like that.

So I’ll try to write about more exciting things. I promise.  Like the things I always said I would do and finally did in January and February of this year, and what’s next on the list.

The end, for now.