Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

crown

There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Advertisements

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

Today is a new day.

dancerainHi. I’m back. Negative Nelly took over my blog yesterday, apparently, and had a field day. She does that sometimes. I think it has something to do with letting off some steam, so I allow her the space to do that, mostly in my personal journal, but sometimes here, as well.

She wants me to tell you that she’s okay, and feeling much better after releasing all that pent up tension in my blog yesterday. She still feels a little scared about her future plans and how they’ll pan out, and she still worries about whether she’s wasting her time. But she also knows that the best way out of sorrow is to first, tell the truth (which she did here), and second, to surround herself with good friends, which she did last night. She learned that she wasn’t alone in these feelings of stress and dread, that others were feeling this, too. She was reminded about how hard this past year has been, especially the past several months with the wildfires, tons of terrible current events, the season of political tension across the board we’re in, the stressful school semester she experienced, and writing a book at a time when she had so little of herself left. She realized she was drained, so no wonder she wasn’t feeling very positive.

Nelly has decided to have grace with herself, to be gentle and stop making rules to live by. She’s decided it’s best to live one day at a time, particularly while she’s on winter break. She plans to attempt to sleep in more, and maybe offset some of these negative feelings through eating nourishing foods and exercising more. But she also won’t beat herself up if she has something sweet or lays on the couch for the day.

In the meantime, I plan to let Nelly rest so I can finish editing Hope for the Broken Girl. My editor’s notes have been sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to have time to make the corrections and get this final book of the Hope series ready for publication on Feb. 5.

That is all. Thanks for all the love you’ve sent Negative Nelly!

Meeting my baby niece

adeline2This past weekend, I was able to meet my new niece, Adeline, for the very first time. She’s already 8 weeks old, but because she lives in Southern California and I’m in Northern California, I haven’t been able to meet her until now. She’s still little, which means many of our conversations consisted of me telling her about the world, and she pooping in my arms.

Adeline is now the 3rd baby in my family, but there are 15 years between her and my youngest kid. I had my kids young. I was 20 when my daughter was born (she’s now 18), and 23 when my son was born (he’s now 15). Back then, I had no idea what I was doing. I had parenting books that contradicted each other. But that didn’t matter because I just read them and did what I wanted, anyway. We made so many mistakes back in those days. But we also did what was right for our family. We must have done okay, because the kids are still alive. 🙂

My sister, Melissa, and I are in completely different worlds right now. She and her husband are adjusting to a sleep-deprived schedule of feedings, diaper changes, and tip-toeing around the house while the baby is sleeping. Everything revolves around their new daughter, and 5 minutes of personal time is now a luxury.

I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I went through the sleep-deprived and kid-centric schedule while my peers were making questionable choices in their college years. But it all paid off. While my peers (and sister!) are having babies now, I’m preparing for the empty nest, and experiencing tons of free time. Well, sort of. I’m busy, but it’s with my own stuff instead of a crazy kid-filled schedule. I did my time in the mommy groups, as a school helper, on the sidelines of the soccer games, in the audience of the dance recitals, cheering on the baseball teams, and struggling through homework I no longer understand.

Now, my kids are leaving the dependent stage and becoming more like friends. They choose to hang out with me, instead of tagging along by obligation. My daughter, who works at Whole Foods, now takes ME shopping (organic food at an employee discount!). My son asks to go out to coffee with me, even offering to pay just so he can have some mom-time (and probably because that’s a sure way for me to insist on paying). They negotiate with me instead of just going along with whatever I say. And while I am sometimes frustrated that it’s not “my way or the highway,” I think I prefer it this way.

They also have their own lives, spending a lot of time with friends and away from the house. I’m starting to get a feel of what it will be like when they’re on their own and my husband and I get to enjoy a quiet house. It will be both wonderful and a bit too quiet. I know I’ll miss laughing at my son’s everyday inappropriate jokes, or letting off steam through a venting session with my daughter. But I also know we’ll all survive this next stage of life, just like we’ve survived all the previous ones.

One thing’s for certain – I am so glad to be done with the baby stage! Being around Adeline, I was reminded about how much work caring for a baby really is. Every second of every day was devoted to her needs. During my stay, I did my best to help my sister with a few household chores, loads and loads of laundry, sorting baby clothes, and taking turns rocking Adeline when she was fussy. But I think the one thing my sister appreciated the most was when she got to spend an hour coloring her hair and taking a long, hot shower while I took care of the baby. She may not get this chance again for awhile. But no worries. In 18 years she’ll have her time back again. 🙂

Meanwhile, I need to figure out when I can see this sweet little girl again. Her baby years are going to pass by in the blink of an eye! After all, I blinked and now my baby is going to college.

 

A story about a girl who let fear keep her from blogging.

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a girl who grew so afraid of what people might think of her, she became paralyzed in that fear.

It starts with a back story.

This girl was born to be a storyteller, stemming from an early love of reading. It began with stories read to her in her mother’s lap, graduated to recognized words on the milk carton, and finally came to fruition when she read the book, Jack and the Beanstalk, to her preschool teacher. At just 4 years old, this girl was a reader! And two years later, upon learning to write, she realized she could create stories, as well. At night when she went to bed, she entertained her sister in their shared bedroom with made-up bedtime stories using a flashlight and shadow puppets. At birthdays and holidays, her gifts of stories were always highly anticipated. And she swore that one day when she was grown, her career would encompass her love of words and storytelling.

Fast forward a dozen or so years, and life continued to happen. But the path this girl was on twisted and turned in directions she hadn’t anticipated. Never being one to make risky moves, she allowed this path to take her from her dreams. It ended up being the riskiest move of all. While her goal had been to remain in her comfort zone, her path, instead, brought her into unfamiliar places and moments of danger and despair. It came time for her to decide – refrain from making a change and lose herself in the process, or make an uncomfortable bold move and try to find the person she lost.

She chose the latter, leaving her to raise two young kids on her own when she left a suffocating, abusive marriage.

It would take a year before this girl was able to drag herself off the couch. It took a few more for her to feel even remotely human. And eventually, with the love and support of her family, she was back out in the world on her own, caring for her kids the best way she could, and surviving life as a single mother, flaws and all.

It was during this time that this girl rediscovered her writing voice. It started with just writing. Then it was telling personal tales to amuse her friends. Eventually it migrated into a blog she called Wine Country Mom. The title was a little tongue-in-cheek, as she was definitely a mom in the heart of the Wine Country, but she was hardly living the Wine County lifestyle. There were some weeks she wasn’t sure the food in her household would last to the end of the week. And if it weren’t for her generous parents’ endless supply of TP, bathroom time would be plenty awkward. But there were many good times in this poor season of life, and countless moments of laughter, as well. This girl wrote about all of that – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through her writing, she made friends with people who could relate to her triumphs and sorrows.

This new community of readers weren’t the only people who noticed. The local newspaper, where this girl now worked in the ad department, caught wind of this girl’s blog. And because they loved it, they offered this girl an even larger platform to share her stories. Naturally, this girl said yes.

In the following years, this girl continued to share her stories, now with a larger audience. She wrote about life as a single mother, parenting tips she’d learned along the way, her budding romance with a new man (who would one day be her husband), and the transition her life took from single parenthood into blended family. She remained perfectly candid, a virtue that drew her audience in as she admitted imperfections, as well as the beautiful parts of her family despite their many flaws. She remained real, vulnerable, completely raw. There were times she’d hesitate before pushing that publish button, then hold her breath when she inevitably did. It was a terrifying and exhilarating feeling to bare so much of her soul. And much of the feedback she received was from people who were certain they were the only ones who’d ever experienced what she had written about, and found a soul sister in this girl through the truth she’d unveiled.

But not everyone loved this girl’s brave sharing.

Ever hear of trolls? These are little creatures with wrinkled souls who hide under the bridges of blogs as they wait for their next victim. Their main objective is to ensure no one feels too good about themselves. They plant the seed of hate, then entice people to water it through conversation. Their biggest tool is to write things so hateful, it’s almost impossible to ignore. But once you respond to a troll, you lose power. And the troll? They only grow stronger.

When your platform consists of the same people who read the newspaper, the trolls are aplenty (and if you’ve ever read the comments on any article on any newspaper, you know what I mean).

Among the lovely people who offered lovely words to any of this girl’s blog articles, there were also ugly-souled people who attacked her choice to leave her abusive husband and become a single mother, her blossoming romance with a new man while she was supposed to be caring for her kids, and anything else they could find fault with in the words she chose to share about her personal life. This girl remained strong, though all of these words stung. It was like the trolls had discovered all of her inner thoughts and fears, and were now laying them out in the comments of her blogs for the world to digest. Each comment inflicted pain, but she strengthened her armor and kept going. However, when the trolls turned their comments toward this girl’s children, she pulled the plug to her blog. The girl removed her blog from the newspaper and said goodbye to the audience she had built. Then she began blogging in a much more private arena. No one knew her. No one commented. No one said mean things, nice things…anything.

But this was just fine with the girl. It allowed her that perfect break to come back to center and figure out what exactly she wanted to share with the world. With her kids now in their teen years, it was no longer appropriate to write about them on a family blog. It seemed Wine Country Mom had run its course.

Meanwhile, this girl had tackled a new arena of writing – the almighty novel. She set up a website as she put forth her new novel, complete with a brand new blog. But with this blog, the girl found herself in unfamiliar territory. What the heck did she write about? She’d spent so long writing about her life as a mother, that writing about her life as a writer felt foreign and strange. She had no audience, no one who was familiar with her work, no one to talk to at all through this blog. She began writing about her book, but that got old fast. She felt uninteresting. So she began writing about writing itself, specifically in terms of books. But she felt like a fraud because she was still figuring this stuff out, herself.

The blog soon felt like an albatross. She was reading so many tips on keeping an author blog that she started to feel like everything she wrote in her blog was all wrong. Soon, she lost her reason for even wanting to keep a blog at all. It wasn’t about baring pieces of her soul anymore, it was about how to get attention. It all felt fake and contrived. It felt like work. And when January of this year hit, this girl stopped writing in her blog altogether.

Me and my Mr. Wonderful.
Me and my Mr. Wonderful. I think we both had mouthfuls of food when this picture was taken.
This girl, of course, being ME.
So here I am, having ignored this blog because I’m afraid I have nothing to say, or that I’m boring people with the bits and pieces of my life, or that I might give you the wrong idea if I have an opinion on anything, or that I might get too personal, or I might not be personal enough. I’m afraid someone I know will read this blog and wonder who the heck I think I am trying to fool. I’m afraid someone I don’t know will read this and wonder how someone who thinks the way I think or writes the way I write or likes the things I like ever thought she could actually write a book and sell it. I’m afraid I’ll break some cardinal rule of author blogs by oversharing or undersharing or writing against my genre or being too opinionated or wishy-washy or attracting the wrong people or not being witty enough….

Omg. It’s just too much! I’m done with being paralyzed. I’m done with thinking there’s someone I’m supposed to be or something specific I’m supposed to write about. I’m done with thinking I need to be writing to a certain group of people or write a certain way when all I can do is be myself and write the way I write.

The end!

So from this day forward, I declare this a themeless blog. If I want to write about books, I’ll write about books. If I was to write about faith, I will write about faith. If I want to write about life, especially the messy parts, you’re damn straight I’ll be writing about life. If I want to write about love, family, my dog, how much I hate cleaning, what I had for dinner, my favorite TV obsession, an author I’m crushing on (Hi Colleen Hoover!), or anything else, I’m just going to throw it up here on the pages.

You all right with that? Doesn’t matter. 😉

Let’s just be real, k?