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Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything
Nov 16th, 2010 by Christina

Several of you have complained that I haven’t blogged in a while and you’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry! (How’s this for a lame excuse: I’ve been busy.) But I’m thrilled that any of you actually notice and care. That is hugely gratifying and encouraging, so don’t go anywhere. I actually have a lot of post ideas brewing and very soon I expect to unleash a torrent of fascinating, fully-formed posts.

In the meantime, how about helping me get my writerly juices flowing? Ask me something Living in Splitsville-related and I’ll put together a fun little blogger/reader Q&A.

Go ahead, ask!

Oh, and here’s a cartoon from this week’s New Yorker that seems appropriate. Enjoy.

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Hoping to Score
Sep 19th, 2010 by Christina

Tell me you didn’t see this coming: I have a life coach–or, well, I spoke with one once for 90 minutes. I know, I know–such a midlife-makeover-ish thing to do, right? And I’m really too cynical and eye-rolley to participate in something as amorphous as life coachery—but then it’s amazing what a sudden, unexplained bout of poverty and singleness can drive one to (see: self-help books and online dating sites). Honestly, I’ve been a little restless ever since I landed a job. (For which I am grateful, btw. I’m almost starting to believe in god.) And a sweet, cute boyfriend. (No, really, god, I was kidding. Of course I believe in you.) And figured out how to get groceries delivered right to my door (possibly the ultimate accomplishment of the three, thanks to my good pal god).

Now it’s time to sort out my creative self, something I’ve been trying to do since I was 21, with intermittent success. I didn’t make my original deadline of writing something important, critically-acclaimed and noteworthy by age 30. Or 40. And now 50 is uncomfortably near (um, no thank you, god). Fifty. Fif.Tee.

So now what? In a way, I don’t care as much as I used to about achieving something significant in my lifetime. So what if I would rather watch Mad Men and read other people’s books than write one myself? Does the world really need another book? We’re all going to die anyway—agents, editors, writers, critics, even the PR and marketing people. So in the end, perhaps just having fun and blogging is an acceptable way to pass one’s free time. Right? Am I capable of not putting such pressure on myself? Can I once and for all dismiss my gnawing, constant sense of disappointment in me?

Apparently not, because I wrestle with these thoughts, oh, 500 times a day. Recently, I inflicted my inner conflict on my super-creative and much-younger new friend Laura, who instantly fixed me up with her life coach, Marcia. My expectations were high. Prior to speaking with Marcia, I felt an untrustworthy sense of well-being—as if simply contacting her was accomplishment enough and she would take it from there. I didn’t want her to help me be creative as much as I wanted her to be creative for me, maybe even to produce something on my behalf–more like a surrogate than a coach.

Our introductory chat was good, like a combination of therapy and school. She helped me think about what has worked/not worked for me in the past as far as unlocking my creative self. I shared my struggle over how much to reveal and whose feelings to protect or not in this blog or in any future, larger tell-all endeavors. But she kept bringing up this notion of  a “goal,” which I found unsettling–because if  I had a goal, would I need a coach (or simply a trophy)?

We’re scheduled to speak again in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to that. Until then, I’m supposed to read a few inspiring texts that Marcia recommended, plus I’m going to write down some of the blog thoughts that I’m reluctant to publish and see where that leads me.

I’ll keep you (goal) posted.

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The Honeymoon (From Hell) is Over. Now What?
Jun 24th, 2010 by Christina

It’s been almost exactly two years since R moved out. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long–even though we middle-aged folks are constantly bemoaning the brisk passage of time. My goodness, wasn’t I just writing the post about surviving the first year? Where has the time gone?

Many of the (many) books I’ve turned to for guidance during this difficult period mention the two-year mark as a milestone. Apparently, if you’re the me in the scenario, by then you are officially back on your feet, successfully re-routed toward your glorious post-divorce future. I remember reading about it while still in my raw, skinless state and thinking I could not possibly survive two whole years. I hoped someone would hit the fast-forward button so I didn’t have to be awake for the duration. Or hit me with a bus.

And now suddenly I’m here, 24 months later. I am, in fact, re-routed and less raw, just like the books promised. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also feeling a little sentimental about that hellish phase, if only because it gave me an automatic excuse for being unable to cope with anything. Just like when you have a baby and chalk up the extra weight, the slovenly attire, the exhaustion, to the fact that, well, you just had a baby–until one day you wake up and notice that your kids are in elementary school and you can’t fall back on that anymore.

When I couldn’t handle certain household tasks (and I couldn’t), I forgave myself because, after all, I was a recently-separated, marginally-employed, suddenly-single mom. If my temper was too short with the girls (and it was) or I cried in the bathroom (and I did), well, wasn’t I off the hook, given that I was going through an awfully hard time? If I needed a reason to turn a man down for a second date (which I did), I played the confused newbie: “I’m sorry. I’m so new at this. I’m not ready. I think I started dating too soon. Maybe in a few months…”

Abigail Trafford aptly describes those years as Crazy Time in her book by the same name: “It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You can’t believe…how terrible you feel, how overwhelming daily tasks become, how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity.”

Now I’m so jaded that when I read other women’s divorce sagas, I think, “Oh, boo hoo, honey. Pick yourself up off the floor and get on with it. Pump the gas, kill the mice, fix the toilet, change the occasional light bulb, join the dating site. Because–guess what–you have no choice.”

But, as crappy as I felt during that stage, it also came with the thrill of the new and unknown. I had my work cut out for me, a fierce sense of purpose. Every day felt like a challenge, an occasion that required rising to, an endless loop of first-days-of-the-rest-of-my-life. It was often agonizing and exhausting, but there was so much intensity and drama, so much adrenalin. It was an adventure.

And now things have leveled off. I have a job; a guy. Much still remains unknown, unhealed and unclear–but Crazy Time has officially ended. It’s not exactly a let-down, it’s just so weirdly calm and orderly all of a sudden that I’m a little disoriented. I wonder what will be the source of my next adventure and what will provide meaning. Or maybe I should just embrace the stillness for a while.

(Note to the universe: I said adventure, not heartache. Meaning, not misery. Got that?)

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All That Glitters
Jun 8th, 2010 by Christina

This is not mine, btw.

This past weekend I decided to wear a bracelet that I haven’t worn in years. No big deal, really, except that the bracelet was from R, and for a long time I boycotted most of the jewelry he gave me in a misplaced, don’t-mention-the-war type attempt to protect myself from sentiment. (Plus, the books say that removing physical reminders of the spouse is necessary to heal and rebuild.)

The downside of my jewelry boycott (mancott?), though, is that I have been wearing the same wimpy handful of non-R-associated necklaces and earrings for two years now and I’m getting bored.  About 80 percent of my jewelry collection was given to me by R, and,whatever one may or may not think about the man’s other facets (tee hee—get it, facets?), one can’t deny that he had excellent taste in baubles. In fact, it instilled in other females the kind of awe and envy that is usually reserved for that lone remarkable dad pushing his kid on a swing at the playground on a weekday morning.

My friends routinely expressed amazement. “R got you that? He picked it out himself? All by himself?” Then would come the sad stories of having to return–or, worse, keep–ill-chosen husbandly gifts of jewelry, or of having to actually accompany one’s husband to the store so as to avoid faking an “Oh, honey, I love it!” moment.

I never understood this stereotypical cluelessness among men, because it seems that if someone truly knows you, he also gets your style and sensibility. Right? It’s so simple.  (The truth is that toward the end of our marriage, R’s jewelry prowess began to falter, and I ended up returning a pair of whimsical, but not wearable, antler-shaped earrings. Something was clearly amiss.)

At one point during those stormy pre-separation months, I weepily gathered every last bit of jewelry that R had ever given me into a tangly mass and chucked it into the wastepaper basket next to his dresser. Fortunately, a sliver of my rational brain was still functioning and knew I would regret that move. I dug it out and tossed it into a drawer instead.

And now that I’ve lifted the ban, it’s like I have all this new jewelry! There are a few key pieces that give me a pang, but it’s amazing how time has diluted most of the voodoo.

Once I found the bracelet, I started sifting through the other stuff. I even reluctantly opened the gray suede box that now serves as a tiny coffin for my wedding and engagement rings. I put the engagement ring—one of my favorite pieces of jewelry (and yes, R chose it all by himself)—on the ring finger of my right hand. Then I put it back in the box because that one’s still a little fraught, plus it seems wrong to wear a symbol of a marriage-to-be when the marriage is now a has-been. But IS there any real reason not to wear it, now that it’s not so much my engagement ring as just a pretty ring that happens to have been given to me during a prior engagement?

What do you think?

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The Designer Divorce
May 17th, 2010 by Christina

Anytime you become a member of one of life’s many clubs, you’re introduced to new terminology. When you’re planning a wedding, you start tossing around terms like registry and flatware. Parenthood brings forth birth plan and lactation consultant. In the divorce zone, the lingo includes custody, mediator, and spousal support (that last one sounds like an uncomfortable device you might have to learn to live with after an operation, doesn’t it?)

Well, I was thinking recently about some of these terms and how one might want to customize them to suit one’s particular needs. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Joint Custody of Unpleasant Things. It’s easy enough to divvy up the days of the week and alternate important holidays with your spouse-turned-co-parent, but doing it that way is so random and risky. Either one of you could end up unwillingly accompanying one of your children to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, or amusing them on a snow day, based solely on whose day it happens to be. Instead, I like the idea of a more personalized approach to custody. For example: I take the kids when they have fevers or respiratory ailments, but R gets anything involving a malfunctioning digestive system. R would probably prefer not to be on-duty for either girl’s first period—so, fine, I’ll take that along with bra shopping if he agrees to field any questions about the male reproductive system. You get the idea.
  • Mediator/Couple’s Therapist Who Admits She Likes You Better. Recently, a few of my pals who’ve done couple’s therapy shared a few tales. One guy said he probably would have stayed in his marriage if their therapist had just admitted that his wife was, indeed, wrong about one specific thing. We all totally got that. While the attempted neutrality of marital professionals is admirable, who are they kidding? They’re human, after all. In any triangle situation, someone’s the odd man or woman out even if he or she doesn’t know it. I, for one, could tell early on that our therapist knew which one of us was right about absolutely everything, and it’s so clear that our mediator feels the same way. Thank goodness I know how to interpret those subtle winks and facial gestures.

I wanted to come up with a third thing in this vein, but I couldn’t. So it’s your turn. What’s your personal fantasy twist on the customs of separation and divorce?

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Officially on the Road to Old
Apr 9th, 2010 by Christina

Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware that I am not young anymore. It’s not just the obvious, cliche stuff like the chronic back pain, the chronic need for reading glasses, the chronic need for the word chronic, and the conviction that plastic surgery isn’t all that crazy. It’s other, subtler things that catch me off guard and force me to acknowledge my advancing age.

Such as:

I now shop at Lord & Taylor. For years, I’ve teased my mother, who has been loyal to L&T since the days of well-made pencil skirts and Kelly Girls. Now I happen to work a few blocks away from the grand old department store. After a frustrating experience on Zappos.com last week, I decided to take a twirl through L&T’s shoe department. Well, no sooner did I enter the second floor “shoe salon” when a pleasant young woman asked me if she could help me. And then, by god, she helped me! She was totally there for me, graciously bringing every shoe I asked for in two sizes, just in case the shoe in question ran small or large. I just can’t get over it. I ended up buying a pair of flats and a pair of sparkly sandals. Soon I plan to return to the store for foundation garments.

Sometimes I stare at my cell phone in pure wonderment—at how tiny it is–so small and shiny and lozenge-like that I could swallow it without much effort. Why, when I was a child, you had to hold a clunky barbell of a receiver in order to chat on the phone. And it was attached by a curly cord to an even clunkier base unit (did that have a name?) You couldn’t even leave the room, let alone wander into a cafe and obliviously order a tall Sumatran blend while blabbing. In those days, too, the phones rang–with a real, mechanical ring, not one of 500 freaking ADD-inducing ringtones. In fact, there was no such thing as a ringtone. Don’t even get me started on my iPod Shuffle; When I was a girl, the Sony Walkman was beyond cool and sleek.

I’m attracted to men in their 50s. When R and I first separated, a friend of mine tried to sell me on her belief that 51-year-old men were the sexiest of all. I tried to be polite about it, but I was secretly thinking Ew. Gross. Can you say “grandpa?” But I have totally come around on that one. Among the men who manage to emerge from their 40s without having gone to seed, there are quite a few who are–to use a juvenile term–hot. (George Clooney, anyone? Ed Harris? Liam Neeson?  Jeff Bridges, despite the beard?)  Men in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s look weird, babyish and unformed to me now. What’s with the unlined faces, the lack of gray hair and all that? I obviously have no future as a cougar. I like my men slightly craggy and weathered.

I’ve said the following to my kids: “Can you see in that light?” “You’re not leaving the house wearing that.” and “One day you’ll appreciate me.”

When the Land’s End swim suit catalogue arrives, I keep it, rather than chuck it immediately into recycling. What’s worse, I flip right to the bathing suits with skirts. This year, I’m hoping to find one with OLD LADY printed across the butt.

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We are Family (kind of).
Mar 8th, 2010 by Christina

Last Thursday was my younger daughter’s birthday, so the four of us went out for dinner to celebrate.

The four of us means R was there.

We’ve done this before, of course–re-enacted scenes from our former life as an intact family. We’ve done it on Christmas morning (twice) and on the girls’ birthdays.

I realize it’s good that we can pull off the amicable thing. I sense how happy it makes the girls to have both of their parents in the same room. According to Constance Ahrons’ rubric in The Good Divorce, R& I are “Cooperative Colleagues.” She defines five types of divorcing couples, ranging from “Perfect Pals” (i.e. such good buddies that they should just stay together) to “Dissolved Duos” (think icky, mean Hollywood-style splits). Says Ahrons: “Cooperative Colleagues don’t consider each other close friends, but for the most part cooperate quite well around issues that concern the children … They spend occasional time together–usually special occasions, such as birthdays, school plays, or parent-teacher conferences.”

As sad and second rate as it is, I take pride in the fact that we effortlessly deceive restaurant staff into thinking we’re just another intact family, one where the parents don’t regularly meet in a mediator’s office. We leave the restaurant and walk together down the street, with the youngest daughter up on Daddy’s shoulders. We totally pass.

I find these times of temporary togetherness both grounding and unsettling. On the one hand, I’ve so adapted to my single-mom role with the girls that when R joins us I feel vaguely intruded upon–like, who is this guy who thinks he knows my kids so well that he can tell them what to do as if he’s their parent or something? But it’s also such a gift, one that I took for granted during all those years when the-four-of-us was a given. Another parent? Seriously? Someone who understands these two children–their dynamics, their strengths and weaknesses, their histories, their everything–exactly as I do? Someone around whom I can let down my guard a bit, as if I’m not the only one in charge? It almost sounds too good to be true.

When R showed up at the restaurant the other day, part of me wanted to say: “What are you doing here?” while another part wanted to shout: “Well, it’s about time you showed up! Where the @#$%^&* have you been for the past 20 months?”

But, being that we’re so amicable, and that it was our daughter’s birthday, I simply said “Hi.” Then we ordered sushi.

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Random Musings of a Blocked Blogger
Mar 3rd, 2010 by Christina

This week I am officially blog blocked (blogcked?). It’s never that easy to come up with ideas for posts, but usually something strikes me in time for my Monday deadline.

And here it is, Wednesday already, and I’m still sadly sans inspiration.

Here’s why I think I’m having a harder-than-usual time forming a post this week:

  • My whole life has been re-arranged since I started my full-time job two weeks ago and I’m a little discombobulated. In one way, it has made everything more orderly and calm. I have clear, defined, manageable responsibilities for which I receive a bi-monthly paycheck. I spend a prescribed number of hours in a relatively pleasant cubicle working amongst a nice group of people. Plus, there is an H&M across the street, where I go almost every day during lunch and giddily buy cheap clothing.
  • On the other hand, I am now officially a single working mother who happens to live in a slightly 1950s-ish world (which makes no sense, given that I reside in the hippest, Heather-has-two-mommies part of Brooklyn, NY). It’s hard not to feel like a caricature of a divorcee when you’re the only female on the block out there shoveling her own snow.
  • I just finished reading Mary Karr’s new memoir, Lit. She is such a gifted writer that it feels pointless to crank out another sentence.
  • The main problem, though, is that I’m a little confused about which way to go with this blog, having gotten mixed messages from my readers lately. Some tell me that the honesty and openness in my posts is disarming and brave. (One person said reading my blog made him “more than a little uncomfortable, in a good way,” which made me more than a little uncomfortable in a not-so-good way.) Others tell me I skim the surface and should dig deeper. I struggle enormously with this myself. I want to reveal more about certain aspects of my life and separation, but then, just as I’m on the verge of oversharing, I am paralyzed by the thought of certain people reading certain things. It’s vexing.

Thanks for letting me ramble (not that you had a choice). I’d love some thoughtful feedback on that last dilemma. If you write about personal stuff, how do you decide where to draw the line?

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To Sleep, Perchance to…Sleep?
Feb 23rd, 2010 by Christina

I had occasionally experienced the nightmare of insomnia prior to that upsetting, unsettling Fall of 2007 (when the gods of marriage decided to wreak havoc), but that was child’s play compared to what lay ahead.

In fact, what marked the decade prior to our separation was just the opposite–that is, my inability to stay awake. There were our baby girls, whose mission in life was to alternately delight us with their adorableness and kill us with their sleeplessness (how, how, how could both of them–so different in so many ways–insist on being identical in their aggressive nap-aversion??) Even when they finally slept through the night, the little darlings were exhausting–yes, just as young children are supposed to be, but still…

Maybe I was catching up from all that sleep deprivation–or maybe there just wasn’t enough can’t-miss TV to keep me conscious, but there was a stretch of time when I simply could not keep my eyes open much later than 9:20 pm–and that was after taking a little nap from 8:15-9:00 pm while lying with one of the girls as she went to sleep (R was even more prone to those than I, btw.)

Anyway, back to the fateful Fall of 2007, when I won a gold medal in insomnia. (Sorry, I can’t resist the corny Olympic allusion.) As life as I’d known it began to unravel, I craved sleep more than anything, desperate for relief from my  incessant ruminating over why this happened, how it happened, how it might be reversed, undone, what would become of us, of me, of our kids, who was to blame, what would we do on holidays, how could we tell our families, why, how, when, when, how, why, why, when, how?

One night I called one of my friends–a chronic insomniac–and asked her for some sleeping pills. I went to her house at around 11 pm to score one precious Lunesta, her next-to-last one. I split it in half so I’d have some for the following night, but the next evening, I couldn’t find the little shard of snooze and things got ugly. I rifled through my drawers and my bedside table like a junkie, then crawled around on the floor, on the verge of taking a crow bar to the floorboards in order to locate that fraction of a pill. I didn’t find it and spent the night tossing and ruminating next to my snoring soon-to-be-ex. The next morning I had my doctor write me a prescription for Ambien.

Once R finally moved out, I weaned myself off of Ambien and learned to sleep unaided once again. Since starting my job last week, I’ve developed a new sleep-related neurosis: I so hate the rude awakening of my alarm clock that I’ve started waking up at 3, 4, 5 am just so I can make sure to turn it off before it rings.

Come on, that scrap of Lunesta has to be somewhere.

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Bend It Like Bikram
Jan 13th, 2010 by Christina

Right after we separated, people were all over me with optimism and advice. This was an opportunity! A chance to turn misfortune into something positive! A new lease on life! A gift! R himself assured me that I was going to thrive once he left.

I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I take a class, get re-acquainted with a long-forgotten hobby, find a new hobby, learn a language, or do volunteer work with people who were really suffering so as to get perspective (actually, that one was my idea). What I can tell you is how many copies of The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, were handed to me in those first few months: Three.

I have not yet read the book (and I doubt I will ever read all three copies, since I assume they say pretty much the same thing) nor have I taken a class or found a hobby or done volunteer work or even started composting. I’m not proud of my inertia in these areas. Instead of becoming all life-transforming and hobby-oriented, I was in a daze there for a while, focusing on little achievements like trying to cry every other day instead of every single day. And there were several hobbies I had to take up against my will, like mouse-icide, coping with my car’s mental illness, and online dating.

Then, a few months ago, my friend across the street tried to sell me on Bikram yoga–the one where you spend 90 minutes locked in a 105-degree room. She insisted that it would change my life, which got me vaguely interested. When she promised it would change my body too, turning me into a toned, lithe, uber-babe, I got onboard.

The first class was hell, mostly because I was terrified. People warned me that I would feel nauseous, dizzy and faint, but that it was worth it. So, even though I am not prone to any of those things, I spent the entire class fearing I was going to experience some kind of catastrophic physical event.

In fact, the only dramatic thing that happened was that I saw my shins sweat for the first time ever; it was miserably hot and humid in that room (think about it–have you ever seen your shins sweat?) Oh, and when I got home, I fell asleep for two hours.

Two days ago, I took my fourth class and I can see how it might become addictive. I’m not sure that Bikram will change my life, but I’ve started to groove on seeing those toxins spilling from my shins.

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