Using Your Authentic Voice

Feeling like something is standing in your way is extremely frustrating. Realizing that that something is you is even better.

I’ve been cycling through an ongoing list of excuses in an attempt to justify (to myself) my lack of writing for the past few months. Somewhere along the way, I psyched myself out. I began to worry about needing to adhere to “best blogging practices” that I read about in other posts by large scale bloggers and found myself in a holding pattern I could not escape.

Pick a theme, know you brand, and stick to it. Tailor your words to a specific audience. At this point in my life, I can’t even decide which apple I like best. Is it gala? Honey crisp? Caramel? Cinnamon? My preferences shift by the hour. I have been so caught up with trying to decide on a platform and have repeatedly found myself staring at the screen with hands locked motionless over the keyboard. Opportunities to write have transformed into mental and emotional wrestling matches. What should or shouldn’t I write? In return I have been left with a stockpile of incomplete posts about topics including mental health issues, parenting struggles, design and decor / DIY overload, travel, rockhounding, birding, and other extremely cool un-nerdy subjects.

Write on a regular schedule and with high frequency. Again with the self-inflicted pressure. I’ve always believed that I work well in a high stress environment, and (on a clearly unrelated note) often find myself writing about my struggles with OCD, depression, and feeling overwhelmed by it all. Beating yourself up about failing to write only serves to fatten up the stress monster while simultaneously adding to writer’s block. Write when you can. Don’t when you can’t. End of story.

When you write, ask yourself, “How would a publisher view this?” Given some of the others works I have seen on the literal and figurative shelves, I would say that the view depends on the publisher. Clean up your writing so it will reflect quality, but don’t remove your voice in the process. If you are constantly choosing your words for someone else, you lose that authentic element that does make you truly unique. People are always searching for something different and something new. Stop aiming to run with the herd. Unless there are lions. In that case, ALWAYS PICK THE HERD.

Make your posts visually appealing. In a comical twist of photographic irony, I have been seriously hyper-focused on the severe lack of focus I have been experiencing with my pre-Jurassic camera. If I was to classify the quality of photos I have been generating, I feel like the term “janky” would be most accurate. Or maybe crapola. Regardless I have been extremely annoyed with my perceived lack of usable photos and again have been at a productive stalemate with my mind on this issue. As I have finally purchase a new camera, I am hopeful that this will leave my mental excuses list.

Ultimately I’ve realized that I should write about whatever speaks to me at that time. This site may be all over the place, and it may diverge from the standard. That’s okay by me. It’s my style of writing as well as my style of living. I do plan on cross-posting some of the entries on alternate topic specific blogs, and those sites will be tagged whenever that occurs. If someone needs a tailored site, perhaps that will work better for them. But I will not lose me or my voice in the process.  I can’t feed into the concerns of an electronic audience, a mercurial publisher, or any number of apples.

Move with honesty within your life, and seek success through your inner truth. Speak with your own voice, and be authentic. Always.

🙂  Joanna

Authentic

A Prolific Bird and Mirror of Self

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The hummingbird migration is in full swing in Texas, but in our own yard, it is more akin to an invasion. They race from flower to flower and feeder to feeder throughout the day as they weave in and out of the trees like water rushing through stones. Their high pitch squabbles can be heard from every direction of the yard. We catch them hovering in front of our windows and look for their return whenever they dart away leaving only a hint of their frenetic magic in their wake.

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The migration goes by in a flash, and I can’t resist taking a short break in the evening to photograph these breath-taking beauties from my bedroom window. To my endless amusement, the birds seem equally intrigued with me. They readily park themselves inches away from the glass and observe me in return as they pose happily for the camera. Maybe they sense our shared delirious approach to life, or perhaps they, too, just want to quiet the noise for a few brief moments. It is also highly likely that they are contemplating pulling a Hitchcock move with me if I continue to refuse to buy more feeders. I may never know, but I prefer the idea of their finding an affinity with a kindred wild spirit.

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Even if these little birds don’t recognize our similarities, the parallels are striking to me. Racing madly from task to task only to realize that the activity list never appears to get any shorter. Getting my feathers ruffled unnecessarily by those around me who happen to invade my space. Perpetually finding myself in search of more sugar. Clearly these birds and I have been taking notes from the same Questionable Life Choices manual.

Although I see much of myself mirrored in these avian maniacs, we do appear to have a few notable differences. For example I am doubtful that they frequently catch themselves working until 2, 3 or 4 in the morning to get the job done. I, on the other hand, have been in that position multiple times this week alone. With that said it only feels fair for me to disclose that I have yet to use my arms to fly hundreds of miles across country on multiple occasions throughout this year, so the birds appear to have bested me in the extreme modes of travel category. We also diverge in the whole “bird” / “human” distinction, but clearly the working hours and arm flap vs. plane mode of travel are the key disparities.

But differences aside, I still see so much of myself mirrored in their madness. Their uniqueness. Their ferocity. I can’t help but smile when I see them in action, but there is also something indescribably calming about watching them at rest. It’s just so unexpected and their beauty truly shines when they reflect that momentary stillness.

Sitting for a moment. Taking a few breaths. Finding the calm inside the chaos. And when it’s time again, diving into the hustle of life again.

Perhaps that’s the real lesson they are sharing and that’s the moment I should seek to mirror. I imagine that we could all use a little more of that in our lives.

Take a moment and take a breath. Find the quiet in the noise. And when you are truly ready, spread those wings once more.

Love and light always. Joanna

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*All written and photographic works are the sole property of yours truly and written permission must be obtained for their use. Please respect copyright laws, and more importantly, please respect the laws of not behaving like a bonehead.

Prolific

Since I Couldn’t Find the Right Hallmark Card for Valentine’s Day…

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I tried to find a card. Not that he likes getting cards anyway because he feels like they are a complete waste of paper. Are you swept up in the romance yet? We go through this card dance annually. The closest thing I could find was a “Happy Valentine’s Day Co-worker!” card.  I’m not even making that up. It was so bad that it almost made it back to good. Almost. I sincerely apologize for not taking a picture of it – an inexcusable blogging error.

Valentine’s Day just isn’t our bag baby. Never has been. Never will be. But he got me a card. I know this because I saw it hanging out on the counter in the kitchen… just lurking there… waiting for me to open it. He bought that card because he recognizes that I appreciate a display of effort. I wanted to return said display and thus tried to find a card for him. However I wanted one that conveyed how I honestly felt. A real card. A card that captured the essence of our relationship. A card that he would know could only be from me.

And the picture above is the end result. I even created that lovely magical heart-barfing emoji. Yes, once again, I have proven that I am a true artist. As a bonus. I am going to print it on used paper that already has been used on the other side or maybe a piece of old mail. That’s right folks. I am an artist AND an environmentalist in action as evidenced by my overt display of my commitment to his weird anti-paper wasting card platform. Best. Wife. Ever. Yeah baby!

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If it’s your gig, happy V Day. If not, please know that a little part of that heart-barfing emoji is meant for you, too.

Love always – Jo

***This dose of reality is dedicated to Cayce –  a quick-witted gem of a mama and fellow anti-V Day activist, K-Skillet – my momming partner in crime who will be luxuriating in a swanky romantic spa day strictly because she booked the damn thing herself, and my dear friend Laura – hopefully your man didn’t buy you a frickin’ bag of salt again (Not aromatherapy salt. Not bath salt to soothe her exhausted muscles and nerves. Salt.). You ladies help me to laugh more, cry less, and smile always. I love you darlings! To the moon and back.  😉

Turning Your Problems into Your Purpose

lovelyWe all have stories. Painful memories. Hurtful parts of our lives that we don’t share.

So often we feel like we are alone in these experiences. We deem ourselves broken beyond repair and remain silent to avoid judgement and further distress. The idea of highlighting these events is unthinkable. We just want to forget them and find a way to wipe the slate clean.

But what if the part of your life that seemed to knock you off track was actually the very thing that set you on your path? What if the toughest of times were designed to shape us rather than to shatter us?

If we can hold on through the roughest of times, we will be able to see the light in the darkness. You will find that the madness has meaning and that we are never alone in our journey. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and every sliver of this grand design has a purpose.

This past summer I unexpectedly found myself discussing severe depression, crippling anxiety, and the struggles that go hand in hand with them. I hadn’t planned on covering those topics. Many people who have known me for years would never have a clue about that part of my life, and while I don’t even begin to pretend that I live in perpetual joy free of worry, it has been years since I struggled deeply with the absolute terror and debilitating effects of those disorders. However I write about them now because I have realized that most people who are in that place are too embarrassed or ashamed to share it. I did not realize how rampant the problem was until I wrote a personal post about my experience with depression as a child. I was stunned by the number of calls and messages I received in response. Happy confident problem-free people all around me whom I had known for years were drowning in their pain and isolation.

Mental health is a taboo subject. It doesn’t make for great table conversation at parties or PTA meetings. People don’t tell you their name and then add their diagnosis, nor do they discuss when their children are battling these problems. This deafening silence has led countless people believe that they are the only ones struggling. They lose hope, and too often, they give up before they are able to see the light once more.

Don’t ever let fear and hopelessness defeat you. The darkness will dissipate, life will get better, and you will be most certainly stronger for it. There is a purpose in all of our lives. We are called to be so much more than we think we can be, and we impact innumerable people around us.

What is your purpose? What events in your journey have broken you? Or maybe the real question is what events have forged you into the person you are divinely designed to be? Can you make it past being a victim of your disorder / circumstances / life experiences and become a survivor? If you can survive, can you go even further and move into thriving? And if you can thrive, can you help others who have walked a similar path to do the same?

Yes. Without question. You absolutely can.

You are not your past. You are not the mistakes of other, their false judgements, the misunderstandings, or the unkind words they have been spoken to you. You are not your diagnosis. But you can take all of these and use them to help you become something bigger and better and spectacular beyond measure.

You don’t have to be perfect to change the lives of others in amazing ways. You simply have to be open to this world of endless possibilities, be willing to conjur up a little faith, and be strong enough to find a way to be brave in the face of your fears.

Own your problems, find your purpose, and always always always be brave.

Love and light to you – Jo

Conjure

Stifle the Judgement and Recognize Childhood Anxiety

When you believe that you are the reigning panic attack champion of your familial crew, you are faced with a tough reality when you recognize that your child also struggles with extreme anxiety challenges. My concern has been growing as I have watched my child stumble through her schooling with increasing regularity over the past few months. Her grades have slipped, and while she still does fairly well on average, she just seems disconnected.

I do not believe that the mass education system is an ideal fit for a large portion of the children in today’s classrooms, and for a great many, it’s more about surviving than thriving. This is not a new problem. Nevertheless I maintain a strong commitment to the belief that people will match your expectations of them. I push my children to lose the excuses and work hard. I am not looking for perfection, but I won’t accept sloth or apathy either.

So when I received an email letting me know that my daughter had achieved a seriously underwhelming 45 (out of 100) on a grade, I was significantly less than thrilled. I quickly moved from confused into angry. By the time I picked her up from school and could ask her about the grade, I had made it all the way to furious.

me – “How in the world did you make a 45? Aren’t your grades important to you?”

her – Silence. Eyes glazed over while staring blankly out of the car window.

me (fuming and in total disbelief at her indifference) – “Look at me when I am speaking to you! Don’t you understand how one grade like this will affect your average? Doesn’t this bother you at all?”

her (facing me and responding in a sad quiet tone) – “I do care, but the teacher said that it’s too late to turn my paper in now.”

me (steam coming out of my ears and as I frothed at the mouth) – “You didn’t turn it in!?!?  You actually know that you didn’t do the assignment at all? So really you should have received a zero and that 45 was a gift? Did you forget to do the work or did you just blow it off?”

her – “No, Mom. I wrote a paper about some rocks we collected, but I couldn’t find the last page when I was supposed to turn it in. I told her that I was missing the page when she asked everyone for their papers, and she said that she didn’t know what to tell me.”

me (about to get a serious parenting wake up call) – “So what did you do with the rest of the paper that you still had?”

She looked away again and gave a little shrug of her shoulders.

me (instantly realizing what had really happened and feeling like I was on the receiving end of a well-earned gut punch) “You threw the entire paper away because you were missing that one paper.”

She nodded.

And in that moment, I felt my heart twist and break. I finally saw her and understood what had occurred. Her problem had not been one of indifference but rather her inability to see past the panic. She had been so distraught about missing one page in a report that she couldn’t think about potential solutions like asking for partial credit or requesting the opportunity to rewrite that individual page. Her mind chose the path of least resistance – shut this problem down by discarding it.

Her challenge was her extreme anxiety. Mine was my complete inability to recognize her struggle before applying my own assumptions and misjudgements. She had needed support, but I had gone on the attack instead.

I face anxiety struggles constantly, yet I still forget how debilitating the most innocuous of moments can become when panic attacks hit. You couldn’t pay me all of the money in the world to convince me to spend one year of my life as a kid in school again, but I watch my children head there every day and think nothing of it.

All children face challenges, but those who deal with anxiety disorders experience them at an exponential level. Some wear their emotions on their sleeves as they cry, rage, or have panic attacks. Others appear entirely indifferent and unaffected despite the turmoil within. There are always clues to be found, but these hints are quickly obscured when misunderstandings and snap judgements enter the scene. When that happens, the hurt grows and opportunities to learn and heal vanish.

We push our children because we worry about them. We become angry when they stumble because we want them to succeed. In our efforts to help them to avoid various hardships, we create others to take their place. We seek to train them on the intricacies of life, yet we miss the most basic of lessons that they constantly offer us. We have to ask more questions, dig deeper into their stories, and stifle the judgements if we truly want to understand what is happening in their worlds. As parents, we believe that we are our children’s greatest teachers, but the real truth is that they are ours.

Love and light always – Jo

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stifle/”>Stifle</a&gt;

No Reservation About Having an OCD Overreaction

OCD and a standard human reaction do not always show up in the same scenario – at least not in my house. While I maintain a fierce disdain for dishonesty, I often find that my tolerance for true honesty can be much much lower.

In all fairness to me, it’s not the candor that gets under my skin. Rather it’s the absolute blunt format of said perspective. This is doubly ironic (and some might add seriously hypocritical) given that I am nothing if not utterly and hopelessly unfiltered in 99.9999% of my own responses.

I don’t want to be angry with He Who Shall Not Be Named (a.k.a. He Who Will Be Sleeping On The Sofa If He Keeps Giving Unfiltered Opinions), but I’m fairly irritated at the moment. We just moved into this home a few weeks ago and have been up to our eyeballs with the glories of life a la moving boxes. OCD and decorating are great when you have endless time and money falling out of your a-haul. But if they aren’t, arranging and designing your home become more stressors on the OCD hyper-focus list.

So when I finally extricated all things Christmas from my shelves and living room this evening, I decided to take a first run at the fireplace mantle. This is a major focal point in my unschooled designer brain, and I always make several attempts at this before I get settled. It’s never perfect on round one nor is it there by round ten.

However that doesn’t mean that I’m ever going to respond lightly to a casual spousal comment that uses an excited tone combined with the words, “Wow! That really jumps out at you. Those sticks look like a big scary tree!”

Shut. Yo. Face.

Did he talk smack about my mama? No. Did he mention how nice it would be if I could still wear the same pants I wore when we first met (or even two years ago…)? The local news would be covering my reaction to that one if he had, but no. Never that. He just made a doofy comment about the stupid sticks on the mantle. And he wasn’t wrong.

But was this his first day with me? Nope. Hadn’t he learned from the other ten zillion overreactions that I had displayed in response to countless other uncensored observations that that kind of sh@! wouldn’t be missing any of the surrounding fans if he spoke the words aloud rather than retaining them in his noggin where they belonged? Apparently not.

Incredibly (to me) he was thoroughly annoyed that he couldn’t just “make a comment” without sending me into a redesign overhaul frenzy. I spent another hour + fixing sticks in a jar. Yes. Frickin sticks. And frankly I’m still completely dissatisfied with them. Forget the mismatched candles or the hearth accents that aren’t at all what I want. It’s the damn sticks. I need them for height. They keep a natural feel while providing a visual balance to the other accents on the shelves flanking the mantle. Except this one isn’t the right size and that one is too dark and this one is a smidge too tall and and and…

This kind of stuff – my frenzied reactions – irritate him, but his annoyance doesn’t compare to how truly maddening my responses are to me. And this is where I step back to observe the whole scenario via the “Rational Person Watching the OCD Behavior from the Outside” mirror.

It really is unnerving. Although his comment could have been delivered in a smoother way, he wasn’t speaking with unkindness. Bad judgement call on his part? Yes. Mean intentions? Not in the slightest. And there were too many sticks, and they were too tall. I could see that, too.

Why did his innocuous comment send me into redesign overdrive? Why does my mind have zero reservations about responding this way whenever my feelings get slightly ruffled? I’m not bothered that he made the comment. At that moment, he was wearing a white undershirt, ratty shorts, grandpa slippers, and tall dark socks – clearly this level of fashion underscores his unwavering commitment to design and style in his own life so his decor critique must be without question as well. I’m just frustrated that I internalized and, maybe more accurately, externalized it in such an irrational way.

I struggle deeply with futile attempts to rein in these responses. My grandiose and inexplicable attempts to dispel inordinate levels of frustration are by no means limited to reactions to my husband’s comments. He just happens to be the primary owner of the never ending season pass to the MoJo Show, and that buys him a front row seat to the madness. For the vast majority of the rest of the world, the bulk of my idiosyncratic backlash typically stays hidden behind the scenes.  But it’s still there regardless just waiting to flip into action.

Thankfully for me, my husband seems to have accepted it all with relative indifference coupled with a head shake and an eyeroll, and thankfully for him, he has stopped giving design feedback for the evening. The candles, hearth, and shelves still await further modifications, but I would wager that I will receive no further commentary based on the Great Stick Mania of 2018. I would feel sorry for him, but seriously man – choose your words and then speak them. After almost twenty years, you should know how this dance is going to go.

At the end of the day, we all have some fault in our character that we would love to wash away – an imperfection in our facade, a peccadillo in our personality – but the people who matter will recognize that the rough moments pale in comparison to the true beauty within you. Relationships aren’t meant to be perfect, and we have to accept that they will have their ups and downs. The same is true for our own mental and emotional states – no perfection or endless smooth sailing to be found there either.

But my sticks are perfect dammit. So at least we have that.

Happy new year to all of you! May your year be full of joy and blessings. May you always find the humor in yourself and in those around you. And above all, may you find the right sized sticks should you decide to attempt to arrange them on your mantle.

Much love to you. ❤️  Jo

Reservation

Christmas Flu By

I can’t remember a Christmas when I haven’t felt a bittersweet sadness at the end of the day. Whenever this time has rolled around, I have always found myself feeling a little blue that the presents have been opened, the family events have come to a close, and the lovely decorations celebrating the reason for it all have worn out their welcome and will soon find themselves on the fast track to attic central.

However this year has officially allowed me to confirm that having 100% of your family of five simultaneously sporting a nasty flu infection for the big celebration weekend will move you right past bittersweet sentiments and straight into exhausted relief. I have also confirmed that this flu virus was the worst family gift. Ever.

Bleh and yuck.

I heard the words ‘Choose Joy’ countless times over my radio throughout this holiday season, and every single time, I wanted to throw a reindeer at the announcer. If I could find joy, wouldn’t I have opted for that right out of the gate??? Clearly it wasn’t that easy. I tried. I just couldn’t find it. And having a houseful of extremely sick humans didn’t exactly check any boxes off of my Christmas weekend wish list either.

But the strangest thing has happened. Right now in these last few minutes of Christmas, despite all of the disappointment of the past few days, I am surprised and truly grateful to feel my natural fondness for Christmas returning home to my heart where it belongs. It is familiar, and as always, is a love that easily surpasses my affection for any other time of the year. I am writing this by the fire in my living room as my family members are asleep in their beds. In this moment, there is a beautiful peacefulness. A stillness. The holiness of this day is palpable, and I can understand with perfect clarity how truly blessed we are.

There are joys to be found even in the heaviest times of our lives. We shouldn’t berate ourselves when we can’t find the light in the darkness, but we should celebrate every moment of it whenever we have clarity.

We have so much to be thankful for, but we become infected by so many things – illness, loneliness, hurt, worry, fear. They drag us down, and we feel so lost. Nevertheless we are stronger than we could ever imagine, and we never walk the path alone.

Christmas transcends the presents, the get togethers, the decorations, and most certainly the flu. It’s not about the day or the month or the season. It is about light, it is about hope, and it is about love. Those are the true gifts, and they are very, very real.

I pray that you feel the light, hope, and love that surround you always, and I pray that you cherish the true beauty of all around you and all within you.

Merry Christmas and blessings to you.  Jo

Cherish

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