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A few years before I moved out of my mother’s house, hummingbirds started nesting in the roof. One, above the front door. Another in the backyard just above the kitchen window. I don’t have a single memory of what they looked like. I didn’t stop to really look. But my mother loved them, and she regularly called us over to peek. “Oh, look! The babies have hatched!” she’d say. “Come look at the baby hummingbirds!”

When my mother was dying, I kept thinking: I want a tattoo. I want a tattoo to remind me of you. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted until I thought of this memory, my mother leaning toward her window, trying to share a small moment of joy with us.

One day, in the care facility, I told her I was thinking about getting a tattoo. A hummingbird. I didn’t tell her why. She paused a second before saying, “A small one.”

It’s not a small one. But I do think she’d like it. I can hear her in my head, saying it. “Oh Colleen,” she’d say. “It’s beautiful.” As, to her, so many small things were.

Joy and movement

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Today I did a cartwheel.

A bad one, sure. I don’t think I’ve done a cartwheel since I was in grade school. They used to be my favorite, and at least in my head, I thought I was pretty good at them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy and how to access it. I don’t feel like joy is a thing I feel, but I have some memory of it. Having a good time and being so caught up in the moment that I’m not thinking about the moment. I am spontaneous and unfiltered. I’m not thinking, “This is good, how do I keep this going?” I’m not thinking, “This is good, don’t mess it up.”

Sometimes I feel this electricity in my body vibrating with all of the things I could do. I could travel. I could hike. I could run. I could do yoga. I could reach out and hug someone and jump up and down. I could dance. I could do a cartwheel. I could do a handstand. I think and think and think. I could I could I could. But what if someone’s watching? What if I fail? What if someone thinks I’m weird? What if it’s inappropriate? What if it’s too much?

I’ve been thinking about cartwheels and handstands and joy. I want to do be able to do a handstand. I want to be able to do a cartwheel. I want to find more reasons to do them. I want to stop feeding the idea that the electricity of joy is too loud, too attention-seeking, too much. Joy is vulnerable. I have to get past that. It’s the only way to get my feet up in the air.

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We were water babies. Me, born in a bath tub. You two, near-drowned in my presence. We lived on the beach in bathing suits, our skin burnt and hair filled with sand. Dad draws faces in the shoreline, we run in the waves. We walk until the water is up to our chins. We jump with the waves. 

We sit on the sea wall and point out the people, the pretty, the strange. We turn around to watch the surfers, their short-lived rides. We don’t know how tired our bodies are. We are happy for the shade of the palms. We lay on the grass on blankets and sleep deeply. We can still feel them, the approaching waves, the cool salt water, the roller coaster of the tide. We feel at home in the open. The ocean exhales and inhales. We are certain of this ebb and flow. We are certain that life began in the water. We do not know where it ends.

We have watched documentaries on tsunamis, the shore pulled back so far it looks like it may leave forever, come crashing down with force. We think this is the pattern of nature, a constant return. We know nothing of droughts or dry sea beds. So when the tide recedes slowly to the horizon line, we will hold our breath forever waiting for it, a wave to fill an empty sea.

I was a preteen fan girl

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Me at 10 / Me today.

When I was 6 or 7, I discovered Sailor Moon. It was my first and only ever real fandom affliction. I rushed home from school to watch episodes re-air on Cartoon Network, I had dreams about turning out to be a Sailor Soldier, I dressed up as Sailor Moon for Halloween, I sketched out picture after picture of Princess Serenity, I knew the Sailor Soldier’s blood types and food preferences and birthdays. They were more my friends than anyone I knew.

It was probably the only time in my life where it was easy to buy me a gift, because my entire family knew: anything Sailor Moon. I had manga and anime, musical lockets and brooches and Moon Healing wands and Crystal Scepters, both movies, a handful of books that were written copies of the dubbed series. I went into every Hot Topic hoping they’d stocked something new from the show on their shelves, I dug through Comic Book stores hoping for any kind of paraphernalia.

And then I got the internet, and I discovered FanFiction.net. 

So many stories about fanfiction revolve around budding sexuality and exploring boundaries, and I think that’s really imporant. But for me it was damn near pure innocence. I probably threw in a few Japanese curse words. For me, it was a place to put down all the Sailor Moon story fantasies I was making up in my head anyway. And it made me write. Who would I be now without that?

Don’t get me wrong, I was a terror. I haggled for comments. I threatened not to write if I didn’t hit a certain quota of responses. And it’s not like I deserved them: My shitty 90s computer barely had dial up, let alone a word processor with spell check. Somehow people still managed to slog through my glaring typos and spelling errors. At some point, a kind user offered to help me with my grammar and I would send her my stories before posting. There were kind suggestions in the comments – “could you maybe make each chapter longer?” Slowly my writing improved, I started moving beyond dialogue to descriptive near-paragraphs. I racked up 20,000+ words on my profile.

But here’s the thing about fandom: it is lonely. Online I was getting near-constant feedback encouraging me to write and to stay engaged, but offline, and with people who weren’t Sailor Moon fans, I got weird looks and discouraging comments. “Why don’t you write a real story?” I didn’t realize they were fake. And once I believed they weren’t real, I stopped. 

What brought all this up was an amazing tattoo that got posted on Reddit a few weeks ago. It’s a full-sleeve Sailor Moon mock up. I saw it and everything I loved about the show came rushing back. My coworkers joined in and told me they’d loved the show, or had seen it, and I thought – where were you guys when I was alone in loving it? I came home and watched the rebooted Sailor Moon Crystal on Hulu. I pitched and published a Sailor Moon quotes article at my company.

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Today when I got home I got a surprise package from one of my coworkers. She bought me a Sailor Moon sweater. At first I thought: Oh! I mean! I used to love this, but I’m not – you know – I’m into cool things now.

And I realized just how much enthusiasm is shamed. I loved that show with all my heart. It was my friend when I was lonely, it taught me lessons when I was afraid, it made me write. Who would I be without that?

So this is a reminder to love what you love and embrace it. It might make you who you are.

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Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

You might not know the name Brené Brown, but you are probably familiar with her TED talk on vulnerability and shame. Brown is a researcher. If you are like any number of the people I have mentioned that talk to, you probably remember it well. It may have even changed the way you see the world. I know there are all kinds of criticisms of TED talks, but if you have to give one a pass… it’s probably this one.

Brown’s premise of that TED talk, and of this book, is that many of us live our lives trying to find ways to avoid shame by shutting down vulnerability. And we do this in a lot of ways, many which she talks about, but the story that resonated with me most deeply was avoiding vulnerability by chasing perfection. This is something I recognized in myself but not on those terms. I caught myself thinking, If I do this perfectly, and it fails, well at least you can’t blame me.

It has also shut down almost every creative aspect of my life and I didn’t realize it. Why don’t you write? Because writing makes me vulnerable, and what if someone says something, and I know that it wasn’t perfect, so it’s my fault that they criticized it, and then I have to face knowing that I didn’t do it well enough?

I was so caught up in doing what I was Supposed to Do (in order to avoid being blamed for not coming through in any aspect of my life) that I couldn’t even hear myself over the loudness of don’t forget to do this, you’ll regret it if you don’t do that, you’ll let everyone down if…

So to make a long, mostly puzzled story short, this book taught me four things that I am trying to work into my consciousness:

1) Life is not as good when you spend it with your guard up

2) Doing things perfectly will not save you from shame

3) Fear is the enemy of creativity. It won’t let you write. It won’t let you push boundaries. It won’t let you innovate. 

4) Everyone else you care about probably feels almost exactly as bad as you do.

Critic

criticism is not the truth

it will not make you invulnerable

or perfect

it will not make you reach higher

and rising to each demand

will not make you whole

it is okay to just be

to be there and alive and struggling

imagine if inside your head

each time you hear not good enough

instead your heard silence

what if instead of do better you heard

you are okay

it will all be okay

Grieving, in-process

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My mom died on January 10th.

I guess you could say that means I’m in the process of grieving.

Grieving looks different from how I imagined it. I am not immobile in my bed. I am not bursting into tears at inopportune times. 

My eyes well up when I talk about my mom. I don’t like telling people my mother is dead. I don’t like the idea in their head: Dead mother. Dead mother girl. Her mom is dead.

My mom was alive for so long, for my whole life. It means infinitely more to me than her death. My mother is not my dead mother. She is my mother.

I am not hiding secret pieces of her clothing. I am wearing her pants. They were her pants but they were not her pants. They were her sick pants. Stretchy sweat pants from Target, $12. Her belly was swollen and painful and she couldn’t stand the waistband hugging her abdomen.

I don’t understand it, they hug mine. I am fatter than my mother. For the most of my life, that wasn’t true. But then the cancer shrunk her appetite and she said, I guess my metabolism is finally working and she lost weight and told me I finally fit into a size 12.

When she started getting thin, too thin, I told her I would fatten her up. I can’t have my mom being thinner than me, I joked. At her first surgery, she told the doctor, Can you give me a tummy tuck while you’re in there?

I am wearing her pants and they don’t make me think of her, except when they do. They are comfortable pants. They look casual chic, so I feel less frumpy around the house. I don’t think: these were my dead mother’s pants. 

Her orange shirt, the one she wore in all the photos from our last trip together, is sitting on my dresser. I don’t know what to do with it. It is not my shirt, unlike these pants, which are now my pants. I would not wear that shirt. It isn’t my color. It reminds me of her. I see it and I see her in it. Where do you put a dead person’s shirt? What about your dead mother’s?

My grief, if that’s what you want to call it, comes in waves. They are tiny, I think, like the ripples you see on the open ocean. They don’t come when someone talks about their own mom or when I read about cancer or when someone says, How are you doing? 

They come when I think of her, in all her specificity. The way she would congratulate us when we said something funny, That was a good one or appreciate a delicious meal or the manic way (the manic way that I have always thought was mine) she would solve a problem, talking it through and through and through again. And how I can no longer tell her about these things and the way they have shaped me. How I wish I could say thank you, and can’t. 

There is a quote for which I cannot find the author: “My mother taught me everything, except how to live without her.”

I find it to be completely untrue. My mother taught me everything, especially how to live without her. I want you to always stay, but I haven’t done my job if you want to.

Thank you thank you thank you.