A Journal of Adventures

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Gratitude and Goals

Last week I went public with my divorce struggles. I didn’t just blog about it; I blogged about it and then I posted the link on Facebook, where it could be read by friends, family members, colleagues, chorus people, former classmates, and just about anyone else with whom I’m even casually acquainted. And the support I have gotten has absolutely blown my mind. People commented. People sent me private messages. People texted me. At chorus rehearsal people came up to me to share their own divorce and break-up stories, to tell me what comforted them, and to tell me they loved me. I was walking down the hall at work and a coworker saw me, came out of her office, and hugged me. It’s sad to admit it, but I had forgotten how loved I am. Many people said I was brave to share what I did, and I do think it’s an act of courage any time anyone speaks about mental health problems, because there is so much stigma surrounding them. But it was also an act of self-compassion to allow myself to receive compassion from others. It’s funny how walling oneself off from others seems like an intuitive form of protection but ends up having the opposite of the intended effect. It was only through allowing myself to be vulnerable and share my story that I was finally able to put some balm on my wounds.

So. Toward the end of my last post I talked about wanting to set some goals for 2015. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past week and I have come up with some goals. A lot of goals, in fact. Maybe too many.

1. Get my financial house in order. I won’t bore you with the details of my financial situation. Suffice it to say that divorce + elderly dog with expensive health problems + depressive impulsivity (“I’ve had a rough year and I deserve this trip to Vegas!”) = financial difficulty. I haven’t wrecked my credit or anything but money is certainly a stressor. Yesterday I logged into my Mint account for the first time in ages and finally faced the financial music. And now I have a plan to move me toward my financial goals.

2. Improve my physical fitness. It’s safe to say that I’m in the worst shape of my life right now. This has been a stressful year in a number of ways and even though regular exercise would have helped with that, it just didn’t make it onto the priority list. I’m thinking that in order to give myself a kick in the butt I will register to walk the Triple Crown of Running and the Derby Festival miniMarathon. I may even try to run the 5k part of the Triple Crown, though running and I have never had a very good relationship. We’ll see. If nothing else training to walk all those races over the winter will get me back into some kind of decent cardiovascular shape.

3. Get my LCSW. This goal is kind of a foregone conclusion. I’m 75% done with my supervision hours, so assuming I don’t just make some radical decision to leave social work completely, this will happen practically on its own. (I will have to study for the exam, but from the sample questions I’ve seen and given my tendency to rock most standardized tests, I’m not too worried.)

4. Spend time with friends. As I detailed in my last post, this has been a year of social struggle. I want to do something social at least once during the week and once over the weekend, every week.

5. Host at least four dinner parties in the next year. I like cooking for people. I have an apartment that’s well-suited to entertaining. There is no reason not to do this.

6. Try at least six new (newly opened or new to me) local restaurants in the next year. I used to be pretty on top of the local restaurant scene. I spent a lot of time on Louisville Hot Bytes and enjoyed keeping up with the latest openings. Not so anymore. I’d like to make a point of trying out a new spot every couple months. I feel like there’s a lot of good food I’m missing out on!

7. Leave the country at least once a year. Obviously, this is a longer term goal. I had the good fortune of going to Spain in 2013 and Germany in 2012, and with those trips still fresh in my mind, my wanderlust has been out of control. The only way this is going to be able to happen from a financial standpoint in 2015 is if I go to Canada. However, I happen to have a delightful Internet friend in Toronto who’s assured me that she’d love a visit, so this seems very doable.

8. Read — and actually finish — at least two books each month. Preferably one novel or entertaining non-fiction and one book for professional development. I have developed a terrible habit of reading multiple books at once and never making it all the way through any of them. I don’t know how that started — maybe because the Kindle makes it so easy to start reading anything I happen to fancy at the moment — but it’s a very unsatisfying way to read. Perhaps I’ll start planning a reading list for the next year.

9. Finally learn to play the damned guitar. I have had a guitar for close to 15 years. I have played it in fits and starts but I always hit a wall in my progress and get frustrated and stop. In 2015 I would like to learn to play at least five songs proficiently. This may involve setting my pride aside and actually asking someone who knows how to play the guitar to help me. There is no shortage of people in my life who could do this, but as we have seen, I suck at asking for help. So this goal includes two, two, two learning experiences in one!

10. Update this blog at least once a week. At least two people, after reading my last post, told me that I should write a book. And writing a book has always been a goal for me, ever since I was a kid. I’ve actually started writing books several times; the last attempt, begun in 2009, is just shy of 30,000 words. (Freudian slip: As I was typing that last sentence I inadvertently typed “just shit.” Probably accurate, actually.) I miss my writing — I feel like I am most myself when I am doing it — but I also have to be realistic about the fact that I’m not at a place in my actual career right now that I can really focus on it. My full-time job requires more than 40 hours a week and I’m still doing freelance writing and editing on top of that. So I think the best I can do as far as writing is concerned is say that I’d like to update this blog on a weekly basis. I have enough things planned for myself over the coming year that I should have no shortage of content!

It feels really good to be in a place in my life that I’m actually able to set goals and have some expectation that I’ll make progress on them. That in itself is a clear sign that things are looking up.

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Irretrievably Broken

The first time I saw that phrase it was on some divorce paperwork that one of my clients had shown me during a session. It was a few years ago, immediately after a rough patch in my own marriage during which the d-word had been mentioned. I remember feeling horrified by the possibility that a marriage — my marriage — could ever get to that point, the point of being irretrievably broken. And I remember, upon seeing evidence of my client’s divorce, feeling a surge of relief that Neil and I had resolved that particular conflict. We had taken a step toward the ledge by even mentioning divorce, experienced that uniquely awful vertigo, but then we had stepped back again. All was well.

All was well until it wasn’t. It was a long time coming, yet it was also incredibly sudden. Last fall we took a wonderful trip to Spain and a month later we were separated. I have, right next to me, a stack of papers I’ll have notarized tomorrow that contain phrases including the dreaded “irretrievably broken” and “no likelihood of reconciliation.” And they are accurate; our marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no likelihood of reconciliation. We’ve been separated for over a year and are both seeing other people. The ship has sailed, the horse is out of the barn, etc. I’d be lying if I said it weren’t still painful, but I am long past that initial, demolishing grief, the period of uncontrollable sobbing and not eating and hiding under furniture and taking Klonopin and Zoloft and feeling no less panicked than I would have if someone had dropped me on a small raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. That phase has, mercifully, passed. I don’t feel particularly sad unless I really start to dwell on it, and despite my penchant for rumination, I usually don’t. Generally, I feel okay about it.

And yet, I can’t escape the feeling that I am irretrievably broken. When you have a marriage you have a life with someone. You have rituals and routine and built-in company. My marriage ended and I realized that I didn’t really have much of a life of my own at all. It immediately became clear that most of the people I considered to be my friends were actually Neil’s friends, had been his friends since before we met, and would continue to be his friends — and his friends only — after our divorce. I suddenly found myself to be deeply, profoundly alone. As an introvert I value my solitude, but I found myself going weeks without talking to anyone outside of work. It wasn’t long before I started feeling painfully isolated and lonely. Much of this is my own fault; I’ve always been a somewhat reserved person, and in the immediate aftermath of the separation I was afraid to show the friends I did have what a mess I’d become. I withdrew. People would ask me how I was doing and I almost always said I was “okay” or “hanging in there.” I stopped interacting with people on Facebook. I stopped attending chorus rehearsal. I told almost no one when I started having thoughts of suicide. I knew I wasn’t going to act on them — and I’d been around the depression block enough times to know that they were bullshit — but I felt deeply ashamed to be having them to begin with. I felt like I, as a mental health professional, should have known better. So I suffered silently until, with the help of meds and therapy, the depression lifted.

I am no longer depressed, but when I think about my life now the image that comes to mind is an area that’s been flattened by a tornado. I have cleared the rubble, but not much progress has been made on the rebuilding. I go to work (and things are going well career-wise) and I go to chorus (and just went to Baltimore to compete with them, which was fun), but there’s not much else. I don’t see friends often. I spent this entire weekend alone (but I’m also recovering from strep throat, so that kind of makes sense). I don’t have activities that I reliably engage in. To be honest, it’s hard not to feel like virtually everyone around me is leading a more interesting and fulfilling life than I am. It’s almost as though I got into the habit of not doing anything while I was depressed and have forgotten how to do anything now that I’m not. I feel ill-equipped to build a life for myself from scratch.

I’m really not much for New Year’s resolutions, but as this year draws to a close it seems it would behoove me to start thinking about what I want my life to look like in 2015. Because I know I don’t want it to keep looking like this. I also know that it won’t; I’m already well aware that the next year holds a number of things for me to look forward to. But I want to be more proactive about it. I want to have a social life again, and get back in touch with my creative side, and take better care of myself, and have more direction. And more joy. Perhaps I’ll start blogging here again as I try to put the pieces back together.

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What I’ve been up to.

I’ve been staycationing this week, and have actually been managing to have some fun, including some of the things I mentioned wanting to do in my last post. Highlights:

I reread The Great Gatsby and ended up watching not only the new movie adaptation, but the one from 1974 as well. I didn’t have fond memories of the 1974 version, having watched it in high school, but I liked it a lot better this time around. I think I like it and the Baz Luhrmann version about equally, for very different reasons. Neither one is really great. Then again, the book itself didn’t resonate with me the way it did when I was a teenager, either. At any rate, it was an interesting experience.

Walking. I’ve been doing a lot of walking! Here’s my little walk tracker thing for the month (there were a couple during the first week of month I forgot to track, too):

photo-jpgA lot of these were just walks around the neighborhood with Otis, but Neil and I also finally walked the Big Four Bridge, which was lovely. And we walked to Eiderdown one night for dinner. And Tuesday’s walk wasn’t a walk at all, but a five-mile hike at Bernheim!

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I caught myself checking my email while sitting next to this creek. What the hell is wrong with me?

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A fine specimen of the North American nature photographer

We encountered this awesome eastern box turtle!

We encountered this awesome eastern box turtle!


I felt like an asshole picking it up, but I couldn’t help myself.

A pair of Ohio Valley goofuses

A pair of Ohio Valley goofuses

And this freaky silo thing in the middle of the forest, which gave me bad feelings.

And this freaky silo thing in the middle of the forest, which gave me bad feelings.

And also this cool little frog!

And also this cool little frog!

It was a great hike, aside from the many, MANY ticks we found on ourselves during and afterwards. Fortunately, none had embedded themselves (that we know of). I had even covered myself in Off! Deep Woods, but that didn’t do a bit of good. Blargh.

In other walking news, Otis and I got caught in the rain this morning. We hadn’t even left the front porch when I heard the first rumble of thunder, but I didn’t want to go back in because Otis gets SO excited about walks, and you can’t really explain to a dog that hey, it turns out this isn’t such a great time to walk, let’s try again in a few hours. So off we went, and it wasn’t long before I was caught in a deluge wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals. Poor Otis really hates being wet, and actually made a half-hearted and completely unrealistic attempt at crawling up in the wheel well of a truck to get out of the rain. We finally made it home and dried off, but I’m not sure he’s going to forgive me.



In delicious food news, Wiltshire Pantry Bakery and Cafe opened today and I stopped there to pick up lunch. The chicken salad was quite good, but the Italian sub – oh my god. Easily one of the very best sandwiches of my entire life. And I am seriously excited about having quality croissants nearby!

Neil and I also celebrated three years of marriage yesterday.

Damn, that was a fun day!

Damn, that was a fun day!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years already, but on the other hand, our wedding anniversary always seems kind of insignificant compared to our dating anniversary; we will have been together nine years this December. I reflect every single day on how lucky I am to share such an amazing partnership with someone. We celebrated by having dinner at Mojito, which was delicious as always.

This has been a great and much-needed bit of time off from work. I’m looking forward to doing more fun stuff over the weekend, too!


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In Which My Work/Life Balance Finally Gets Balanced Again

Picture it: Louisville, 2009. I’ve been working for about a year in a job that I generally like (aside from its ridiculous requirement that we always wear socks or hose, EVEN WITH SANDALS), but then my manager leaves and someone from outside is hired who doesn’t know what he’s doing and then things rapidly go to shit.

Right around the time that I start thinking it’s time to bail, a dear friend hooks me up with an opportunity to work as an independent contractor doing writing and editing. So I quit my full-time job and embark upon the terrifying prospect of freelancing to support myself. About six months into this, I realize that I’m unfulfilled and miss working with people. I also realize that this gig affords me all the flexibility I could possibly need to go back to school and become a social worker, something I have long been dreaming of that didn’t seem possible. So I do.

And then I complete my social work degree and get a wonderful full-time job as a social worker, but I keep going with the writing and editing. I have a bajillion dollars in student loans and decide that I will do at least enough freelancing to cover my loan payment each month. Except that at the same time, the company I’ve been contracting with decides that it’s going to drastically ramp up its productivity. They start sending me loads more work.

At first this is exciting. Money! Lots of money! More money than I’ve ever made! For the first time in several years, we’re not watching our checking account like hawks, worried that the balance won’t stretch until the next payday. We don’t sweat things like new shoes, vet bills, the occasional fancy dinner. It feels awesome!

Except for the part that doesn’t feel awesome, which is me coming home from my full-time job and doing more work. Often until bedtime. And spending a big chunk of my weekend working. The workload is unpredictable, and I often end up canceling plans with people. Eventually I just stop making plans. I miss important events, like my father-in-law’s birthday party. Neil is angry at me. I’m angry at myself for not doing a better job of managing my time, even though I’m doing the best I can. I stop doing almost all the things I need or want to do: cooking, cleaning, exercising, watching the occasional TV show, writing, reading fiction, reading to improve my clinical skills, drinking bourbon… Even when I do carve out time to enjoy myself, there is a constant anxiety, knowing that I still have work to do; even when I’m all caught up, it will only be another day or two before a fresh batch comes in.

Neil and I both know that this situation is not sustainable. We agree that I’ll keep at it until August so that we can save plenty of money for our trip to Spain. But then, something unexpected happens: the first week of April, they don’t send me any work. I don’t know why, and I don’t question it — I just shut up and enjoy it. And I do a few of the things that I used to like to do. I cook dinner. I walk the dog. I watch Breaking Bad. I do some reading. I start to remember what it’s like to actually have a life again. And it’s pretty wonderful.

The following Monday I wake up to a fresh batch of work in my inbox. Due to other commitments, it’s several days before I can get to it, and by then my anxiety is high, because the requested turnaround time is pretty short. And that is when I realize: I am DONE. But that doesn’t even begin to express how done I am. It’s more like:


I just can’t take it anymore. So I talk it over with Neil, freak out a little bit, re-crunch the numbers on our Spain budget and then, with much trepidation, send an email putting an end to all of it. Effective April 30.

The idea of only working 40 hours a week is amazing. The idea of coming home from work and not having to do anything is amazing. It’s true that my full-time job sometimes spills over its 8:30-5:00 boundaries and requires me to take work home, but I can handle that; it’s nothing compared to what I was doing. It feels like I’m about to embark on a vacation — a never-ending vacation.

With only 10 days left before I’m totally freeeeeeee, I’ve been thinking a lot about the leisure activities I want to do in the immediate future. Priorities:

  • Finish reading Trauma and Recovery, a fantastic book that I’ve been reading in bits and pieces for at least the past six months. I’ve already learned so many useful things from it and I’m eager to finish it.
  • Re-read The Great Gatsby before the movie comes out. I’m super excited about this! I loved the book in high school, I love Leo DiCaprio, I love Baz Luhrmann, and the trailer looks amazing:
  • Walk. A lot. I’m taking a week off from work next month and Neil and I have been talking about going hiking. In particular, I want to do the 7.5-mile Sandy Gap trail to the Natural Bridge. I did it once before – in high school – and have been wanting to do it again ever since. But did I mention that I’ve done virtually no physical activity in the past six months? Never in my life have I been this sedentary and out of shape. It sucks, and I am beyond ready to get back into some semblance of reasonable in-shapeness.
  • Read another Haruki Murakami novel. I’m not sure which one yet. Any suggestions? I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year and loved it.
  • Resume work on my novel.
  • Spend some time noodling on the guitar. I’ve had a guitar for over 10 years and I’ve never really learned to play it, mostly because every time I pick it up I get frustrated with my slow progress and then stop playing. Also, I seem to be physiologically incapable of strumming with any kind of rhythm, which makes things difficult. But I’ve been in the mood to pick it back up again.
  • Cook some new things. I don’t know what yet, but I miss culinary creativity. I’m going to be seeking out some new fancy-pants recipes in the near future.
  • Friends. Oh my god, friends! I think I still have some! Hopefully they haven’t forgotten me and will still want to hang out.
  • Blog. This is supposed to be a blog of adventures, but obviously I haven’t been updating it, because I haven’t been having any adventures. But that’s all about to change!

Today’s adventure is cleaning up my disgusting apartment, which has been horribly neglected this week between me working and Neil finishing the end of the semester. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy some aspects of this adventure (like dealing with that pot of used-to-be-chili in the fridge), but I’m eager to have a relaxing, tidy space in which to plot all the fun stuff I’m about to start doing again.

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Adventures in Meat

First things first: I have never actually been a vegetarian. At best, I’ve been a pescetarian, but I’ve usually been more of a flexitarian or “mostly veg.” My reasons for moving toward a more vegetarian diet had everything to do with my environmental and ethical problems with the agricultural-industrial complex, and pretty much nothing to do with an opposition to the idea of eating animals. As such, I never got over meat. I tried to avoid it, but it kept ending up in my mouth. Anyone who’s spent any time around me and food over the past eight years or so has no doubt noticed how conflicted I’ve been about this; or maybe what’s really been noticeable is how not conflicted I’ve been, how I’ve regularly given into meat in spite of my self-styled “mostly veg”-ness.

Finally, about three weeks ago, I said the hell with it and decided to fully embrace meat-eating again. My reasons for doing so are as follows:

1. Although I’ve never been diagnosed with anything related to my blood sugar, I’ve long been aware that I have issues with this, and I have to carefully balance protein and carbs in order to avoid feeling like a dopey, nauseated mess within a couple hours of eating. This is many times easier for me to do when I’m eating meat.

2. I have trouble feeling like some plastic carton of tofu from Kroger is much more environmentally or ethically sound than a chunk of locally-raised animal from the Root Cellar.

3. I have never not loved meat. But since I was “mostly veg,” I very rarely actually made plans to eat it. This led to me eating all kinds of random bullshit meat in moments of weakness.

4. I have a long history of body image issues and eating problems. I’ve made a lot of progress in this area over the past two years and I feel like a logical step in this process is for me to make peace with all foods and eat what I really want.

I’m sure that there are people who don’t feel like these reasons really justify my decision, but I also don’t really feel like this decision needs to be justified. I simply offer this explanation as a prelude to what I really want to talk about, which is all the meat I’ve been cooking.

I started experimenting with vegness about 10 years ago, before I even learned to cook. So, with a few occasional exceptions, I’ve never had much experience with cooking meat. Neil and I decided to start this whole thing by going to the Root Cellar, buying some random meats, and then figuring out to do with them. We’ve done this three weeks in a row now. So far we have had:

And tomorrow we’re having French bistro steaks with provençal butter.

We have also been eating an absolute fuckton of bacon lately, which is odd, because I’ve never liked bacon all that much. In retrospect, I think a large part of my aversion to it must have been that the messy, often painful process of cooking it was never worth it. But then we discovered the Bacon Method, which has kind of changed my life. Now, instead of having grease splattering all over the stove and my arms, I just toss it in the oven, go about making my pancakes or whatever, and then ta-da, it’s bacon!

One thing that has become clear to both of us is that we’re going to have to back off the meat a little bit again simply because that shit is fucking expensive. I think it’s totally worth it to support local agriculture and get a tastier, healthier product in the process (seriously, go get some Stone Cross rib-eyes and tell me they are not totally amazing!), but there are, unfortunately, limits to our food budget. But even if we’re not eating meat at every meal, I’m still excited to have it back in my life in a meaningful, deliberate way. And I’m really, really excited about those bistro steaks.

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Lately I have been thinking – and dreaming – a lot about traveling. Neil and I have enjoyed traveling together since we started dating, and over the years we’ve gone on quite a few trips: New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Asheville, Gulf Shores, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, San Francisco, and the northern CA/southern OR coast. Now that I am finally out of school for good and have a real career with a decent income, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we want to go over the next few years. We’ve decided on a tentative plan to take a big international trip every other year, and several smaller domestic trips in between. Here’s what we’re planning so far:

May – A long weekend at Mammoth Cave. The past two years we have traveled for our wedding anniversary, but since this year it’s on a Wednesday, that’s not going to happen. But we’re going to take this little mini-trip the weekend before. We’ll do a cave tour and maybe some horseback riding and/or hiking and stuff.

August – The reason we’re not taking a big anniversary trip this year is that we’re saving for a really big trip for Neil’s 40th birthday, which is in September. We’re going to Barcelona and Bilbao. I went to Barcelona in high school and it made a big impression on me; it’s definitely the most magical place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been dying to go back ever since. This will be our first trip to Europe together, and I can’t wait.

November – If we have any money and vacation time left after Spain, I would really like to head up to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with my dad’s family. My Nana lives just outside of Philly, which is one of my favorite cities. It would be nice to see the fam and wander South Street.

May – Time for another big anniversary trip! We were so enchanted by New Mexico last year that we want to go back (it is the Land of Enchantment, after all). Next time we want to see more of the state, and some of Arizona, too. We’re thinking that we’ll fly into Albuquerque and spend a few days there, then drive south to Las Cruces, over to Tucson, and then up to the Grand Canyon.

August – A trip back to our beloved Gulf Shores. We haven’t been since 2008, and we both really miss it. I love not having anything to do but laze around on the beach, play minigolf, and eat fried seafood.

And beyond…
Ideas for future domestic destinations include (but are not limited to) New Orleans, NYC (again), Las Vegas, southern California, Portland, Seattle, New England in general and Boston in particular, and the Adirondacks.

Our short list of international destinations includes Germany (preferably around Christmastime), the UK, Paris, and Peru. And then, probably for my 40th birthday, the trip to end all trips… a train ride from London to Beijing.

London to Beijing! On a train! Isn’t that the nuttiest thing you’ve ever heard? Who even knew it was possible?!

I plan to do a lot of travel planning/daydreaming on this blog, so stay tuned for more details about a lot of these trips. I’m already researching destinations that we won’t end up visiting for years. The reality of finally having enough money to start seeing more of the world blows my mind, and I can’t stop fantasizing about all the places I want to go.

Now if I can just deal with this odd fear of flying I seem to have developed…