The Holiday Struggle

Have you heard? The holiday struggle has begun. It sounds like a new dance. Recently I was asked, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Oh no. October has ended; the Halloween hysteria has dissipated. November and December are now arm-wrestling each other for first place. It’s typical chit chat between people now that “the season” is upon us. I’d just forgotten that I had to have an answer ready. Caught off guard, my reply;

“Well, I’m not sure yet.” I shrug, look away, hope for an interruption of some kind. No one wants to hear that kind of answer––they might have to try to fix your situation for you.

Troubled clouds of concern cross my friends’ faces. “Oh no,” they may be thinking, “she might be…alone.” I brace for the inevitable inquiries, silently berating myself for not having an uncomplicated answer like, “I’m going to my daughter’s…you?” So much easier, even if it’s a lie.

“Not going to Sam’s? How about your brother? Your sister?” In the seconds of pause that I have, these thoughts rush through my mind:

My daughter Sam and her wife Kim provided a wonderful Thanksgiving spread last year. It was also Sam’s birthday, so it was a bonus day. My mother, uncle, sister, and Kim’s mother (up from MD) were all there. We had a wonderful day of delicious food, drink, relaxation and laughter. The pictures from that day show a rare side of my mother, laughing and even goofing around with my daughter. It was unusual for her to be in a good mood, being as sick as she was at the time. I am grateful for those images, grateful for my daughter to have them.

Since then, my mother has died. My father had died only months before. Our family dynamic has shifted. The next few months are now loaded with uncertainties; where are “we” going and what are “we” doing? My brother and his family live in VT. One of my nieces lives in NC. My sister and I are not close. My uncle prays for some kind of miraculous reconciliation between me and my sister. I’ve told him that I’m doing the best I can, and I am: I am finally caring more about my own mental health than everyone else’s.

There are equal parts pall and relief this year and it is okay. I don’t want to decide anything this year. The last three to four years have been tainted by illness and stress. Each holiday was deemed “the last,” each get together meant to be *extra special*, just in case. This season is emptier, but not unwelcome. At least not right now. For me, a break is needed from the exertions of caretaker and decision maker. It is too difficult to create the cheeriness one must possess to keep others happy and at bay. I can’t fake it, not this year. Although there is some happiness, this time of year produces an array of emotions; warm memories from the past, anguish over the loss of loved ones, financial stress, loneliness, melancholy. It is a mixed bag each year.

I know that I am not alone in wishing for simpler times; a time when Thanksgiving and Christmas were holidays to be enjoyed, a time when everyone you loved was still alive. There was no struggle. When I was a kid, my family would dress up and go to my Nanny Kyrouz’s house for a feast. The dining room table would be set with all of the “good” dishware and cloth napkins. The fragrance from the kitchen was amazing, and little extras that only made an appearance at winter meals (like cranberry sauce and squash pie) graced the table. I loved the green celery sticks perfectly sliced, lying in a pretty glass dish. We would smoosh stuffing into the creases then drizzle them with gravy. The saltiness and crunch, the moist tastiness of the stuffing––heaven. All the kids had the locally made “Twin Lights” gingerale in fancy glasses and there were seconds, (even thirds!), of everything on the table. So much abundance, in so many ways.

The television was tuned to the Macy’s Day Parade or football. Some of us would make it to the local high school game and come back chilled and ravenous. The storm door and windows of the house would be steamed up from all the cooking going on in my grandmother’s small kitchen. I would tiptoe in, eager to sample a piece of skin off of the turkey. Grampy would be slicing though it with an antiquated serrated electric knife that he only used once or twice a year. I had to pretend that I was just looking around, uninterested in the big fat bird, glistening with crunchy, browned, buttery skin. Grampy used to slip me a little slice when Nanny wasn’t looking. Other family members would be doing the same thing, circling like vultures, until Nanny shooed us out of there.

I miss my grandparents so much.

Today, many folks lament that we “can’t wait for the holidays to be over.” What a disappointing sentiment. Though I’m not ready to dive in this year, I don’t hate the season. It’s just tricky when there’s been great change. I have no idea what to do next. I think as a society there is still too much pressure for our lives to be filled with goodwill, cheer, and perfection from November 1st through the New Year. Oh gosh, forgot about that one. The message being sent is, “Please go into the frigid fields of denial and don’t come back until January.”

So, stand back––Christmas is straining Thanksgiving’s arm in the match, forcing the next round of questioning. I must get my replies in line. The New Year will be banging on the door like a neglected toddler; “Me, me, me! My turn!” I’m not sure what I’ll do about that day, either…it’s the final limb in the trifecta that is “the holidays.”

The struggle, my friends, is real. Good health to you all xx

 

Welcome ;-)

Thanks for stopping by and reading a bit of my work. I’ve spent my entire life as a singer/songwriter and performer. As I try and branch out into nonfiction, I’ll be posting occasional bits and pieces of my writing here. My goal is to begin by securing a publisher for my first book about a homeless dog that I adopted in the 1990’s. The working title is Eddie: One Dog’s Journey from Hobo to a Home. Hay House Publishing is going to be reviewing it in the fall of this year and even if they don’t pick it up, one way or another I will find a way to have this unique story published.

This is a section from the actual preface from my book. Enjoy.

From Eddie: One Dog’s Journey from Hobo to a Home
by Stacey Dexter
2018

…Dogs have always been a part of my life and I love them, no matter the breed. I cannot say the same for humans. My Grammie Dexter had 3-4 dogs, all different types. There was Bourbon the lab mix, Governor, the basset hound, Missy, the beagle mix, and Canis, the yellow lab. A huge St. Bernard named Chief lived across the street from my grandmother’s house and he and Bourbon would go at it like mortal enemies. Grammie would come out of the house, grab the garden house and blast them with it to get them to stop killing each other. Thrilling! In my immediate family, we didn’t have a dog until I was around fourteen, but they were everywhere in my neighborhood, and our friends usually had them, too.

    Whenever I am out and see a dog approaching, I speak to them as if I’ve known them all my life. “Hiiiii there, angel! (or cutie or handsome or luv-bug), How are you doing today?”
I briefly nod and say a quick hello to the human with them, my focus squarely on the dog. I love them, even if we are strangers. My love affair with dogs has been going on my entire life and I don’t see that changing.

    Today, we often give our pets people names and a voice, so we can relate to them on our level. In my case, that voice sometimes comes with an accent. One of my dogs had originated from Florida, so her “voice” had a sweet, Southern twang. I enjoy playing ventriloquist for my dogs, letting canine-challenged humans who can’t “speak dog” know their food preferences, favorite resting spot, enemies, and neuroses.

    Eddie’s voice became one of a tough biker dude, with a soft center. His sentences were clipped and pointed. No screwing around. He was a dog of few words. After years of having various types of dogs from mutts to greyhounds, writing Eddie’s story was the most striking and one that had to be told. From his humble hobo beginnings to his quirky adventures, Eddie was one for the books.

I miss you, Ed. Xo           

EDDIE1                                                     

 

Reading…A Love Story

I have been an insatiable reader since I was very young. In the 7th grade, I tested at a 10th grade reading level. What a bragger! However, this glorious moment only last long enough to take the sting out of my 5th grade level math score. Ahem. I once announced to a math teacher that my sole reason for requiring mathematics was to be able to count to four; 1-2-3-4!­­­­­­––the count in for a musical number. I informed him that I would be using an accountant to manage the millions that I would be making as a singer, therefore not needing math. (Ah, well…) He was not amused. Math remains an adversary but reading and writing fills me with confidence and joy.

Today, I read 4 to 5 books a month. I cannot sleep unless I read first, engrossing myself in some other world. A journey without a book tucked into my carry-on? Unbearable. I was so invested in The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, that it was jammed into a suitcase bound for the BVI. This was before e-readers. It weighed a ton, (over a thousand pages), but I had started it a week before my trip. I could not bear to leave it behind.

Books are like an elixir; they soothe and transport, teach and inspire. They connect me to others––trading book suggestions with another person is addictive. A stranger can morph into an instant friend, (at least in the moment), linking us like kindred spirits, bubbling over about this book or that writer. The local library is one of my most cherished places on Earth. The unique atmosphere, the fragrance of the books, the energy and quiet that envelops me–– it’s like a dream.

Over the past ten years, I began to pay closer attention to the author of the books that I’m enjoying. A strong story line has often placed me into a trance, oblivious to the person who had written it. I recall the first time I was duped by a story that had such a strong female voice. It was only after finishing the last page, warm and stunned by the story, that I discovered it had been written by bestselling male author, Wally Lamb.

 She’s Come Undone is a riveting tale of a woman’s tumultuous life and mental health difficulties, woven into a story that holds you hostage, well past any reasonable bedtime. I couldn’t believe that a man had written it. Lamb nailed the female narrative. I was so impressed. I stared at his picture on the back page, looking for an explanation. I had experienced the skillful abilities of a talented, accomplished writer. As a nonfiction writer who dabbles in fiction, I am often blown away by the creative imaginations of such writers. A frequent pronouncement? “Now how did they come up with that?”

My Dad and I became book buddies when he entered into his 60’s. For most of his life, he was a workaholic who viewed reading for enjoyment as a luxury. By the time he indulged in the extravagance of reading, he had developed rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. Holding a book while turning pages became difficult. The invention of the Kindle was akin to a miracle. Books now weighed the same and were the same size! Though he preferred vast, detailed biographies, Dad took many of my suggestions. Most were Oprah book club picks, (always amazing books), but I didn’t tell him this until afterwards. He assumed that any Oprah pick would be for women, so I kept this bit of information to myself until much later.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, House of Sand and Fog, We Were the Mulvaney’s– all pieces that he may not have read had he not given them a chance. We would talk about the stories, the characters. We both delighted in books about dogs, stories with a comedic flair. Books opened up a dialogue between me and my Dad that we hadn’t had in the past. Those conversations will always be a treasured memory. Books bonded us and I am grateful.

My songwriting and nonfiction writings are stronger because I can read and choose to read. Reading opens up my world to others’ points of view; essential in remaining both empathetic and compassionate in our rapidly changing– and unpredictable– world. Reading helps me to cope with the depression and anxiety that challenges my life, giving my sensitive brain a much needed break. Books have often saved me from myself.

Hasn’t a book touched you, changed your mind, or made you feel blessed after reading it? Haven’t you heard a song that takes you back to a bittersweet time, or a painting that says so much without uttering a word? Have a think…and thanks for reading this piece today.

Let’s talk about Friendship…

When you’re a child, friendships are a rite of passage into normalcy and socialization. Your parents encourage them and if you’re lucky, model them for you with friendships of their own. Sometimes, I think it is solely to release them from being our only form of entertainment, but eventually it’s also so that they can see us venture out into the world and fit in. A great emphasis is placed on connecting with others. Having friends is equal to being successful. There’s pressure to have not just A friend, but lots of friends. You’re judged on your popularity. “Oh, my Jenny has loads of friends!” You don’t hear parents boasting about Johnny having just one friend. Fitting in is the ultimate goal, but finding your people is your soul’s deepest wish.

I have cycled through many forms of friendships. My longest friendship has lasted over 34 years. My briefest friendship only months. I have friends that I have known since childhood. Some were situational friendships through employment that were solid at the time, but after leaving the job, only lasted a few years before drifting apart. Some were friendships with women whose husbands were friends with mine but once we became uncoupled, those friendships uncoupled over time, too. I feel fortunate to have friends of all ages, our conversations each offering a unique layer of experience; like we’re trading baseball cards that instead of giving player stats, offer the secrets to surviving life.

In the last 10 years, I went through a tremendous amount of change. I had let some new people into my life under the guise of friendship. I have always been an open, loving person who trusted that people were who they said they were, resulting in some very painful lessons. Unfortunately, I am a slow learner, and I made some devastatingly poor choices that rippled for quite some time before being expunged many, many years later, after lots of therapy and support. I learned the hard way what friendship is not.

Some friendships didn’t last when I changed or they changed. This was painful to experience, wondering why certain friends wouldn’t continue to love me when I made changes like not drinking as much, or eating better, or not hanging around with people I felt were destructive, or just expecting better treatment from them overall. There are some friends that I truly miss and there are some that I do not. The best friendships have boundaries. I was never taught this and I really had no idea what this even meant. I used to think that if I put any kind of restrictions on my friendships that this somehow made me a “bad” friend. *Sigh*

The wonderful and painful part about getting older is the development of your rear view mirror. I can now look back on my catalog of friendships and see my mistakes and successes. Today, I have an abundance of healthy, supportive friends. We have our struggles and flaws, but I can honestly say that we love each other unconditionally. They know all of my tricky parts and I know all of theirs, yet we accept each other and do not bail when the going gets tough. We are able to tell it like it is, say it straight, and be the type of friend that is there through the thick and the thin, the messy and the pristine. Call me at 3am, I will answer… and so will they.

I recently had a chat with an old/new friend of mine, reconnecting after so many decades. I confessed that I have been fearful of people in the last few years, my circle of friends dwindling to a tight, trusted few. I eluded that I had been through an awful lot of painful mess, and that most people scared me, that many had hurt me. I was a bit hesitate to say even that much, not wanting to appear weak. (I have a thing about weakness, apparently.) My friend had no idea how vulnerable I was feeling in that moment, yet with great compassion and tremendous feeling in his eyes, he told me that he knew exactly how I felt and that he too, didn’t let a lot of people in.
I knew then that our friendship would endure.

Who knew that when we met at 12 or 13 years old that this friendship was one that I could believe in? It is in those moments that I feel the dark weight lift. I need those moments. My wish is that everyone has at least one friend that you can count on. You only truly need one. This post is dedicated to all of my dearest friends. They know who they are! XO

Have you ever…?

Have you ever felt this way?

I feel light-headed with anger. Anger that is heavy and dark, yet I feel light-headed.
It doesn’t make sense. I don’t see red, as some claim. I see a blinding white-hot anger, overflowing and running towards me like lava. I feel the need to escape it, to flee, to cover myself in camouflage, to fold into myself, cover my ears and hum like mad.

I don’t always feel this way. I’m not a walking hot ball of flames. Typically, I’m more sad than angry; sad and lifeless and low. But, sometimes I’m hovering just below seething. Just like sometimes, you are. Sometimes it’s about other people or politics or the planet or some injustice or it’s about me and something wrong with my life, how I’ve handled things, how I wish I could go back in time…

I feel this need to sob, which makes me even angrier, which makes me feel desperate and horrible and weak. I am confused and furious that my mind and feelings are so chaotic. Why am I so overwhelmed? I’m writing to see if this will assuage the madness in my head. Take a shower. Take a walk. Call a friend. Go for a ride. I feel helpless in all these ways that I’m trying to help myself.

It’s like pushing buttons on an enormous panel of buttons and nothing is working. No one is understanding me, no one can understand me. I can’t seem to communicate anything that I’m feeling and this rambling mess of a paragraph may seem to some like it’s in a foreign language. But, there are many who will be nodding and getting it, even in the silence. And that’s okay. I know what it’s like to stay silent.

My parents are dead. My head pounds in the hole that they have left, the void, the hurt, the abandonment that I feel, but it’s not the only reason why. My heart aches to be free. I am so angry, it’s affecting my mind, my limbs. I sometimes wish for numbness.

The lava pushes against the door, its massive weight and power punishing my skin from the inside. How will I ever release all this lava and then once I do, where will it go? Who will it hit next? What will happen?

         I am in a trance of blinding nothingness, of anger, of emotion, of pain. I don’t know how to end it so I’m writing it all down. And I keep wondering; why can’t I be kinder to myself? Why am I so angry…at myself? And what has made me so afraid?

Have you ever felt this way?

The Dirt

“The Dirt”
By Stacey Dexter

Burrowing deep with-in, the mole kisses the Earth
He cherishes the closeness of the deep, rich soil
The dirt envelops him, sweetens him
Tricks him into believing, that the dirt is his savior

Burrowed deep with-in, the mice create a life
The world swirls by, the soil, a pesky hindrance
The dirt envelopes them, burdens them
A nuisance on their shoulders
The dirt and its limitations

I want to burrow, deep with-in, swap my dirt, give it away
Take my soil, maybe warm it, bring it to life
My heart keeps digging, tilling the fresh Earth
Tricking me into believing
That the future is my savior

 

The Moss

 

Stacey Dexter
(C) April 2016

The Moss                                    

I lay on my back across the warm, settled moss, prickly and stiff on the enormous boulder. The rocks’ pointy edges dig into my spine, yet I am comfortable, soaking up the October sunshine, my chest filling and simmering with heat.

My head is even with the ground, my hair becoming damp from the dew.
Black-brown leaves, long past their prime, are sprinkled by a pushy wind, upon the crevices of the plentiful stones. Leaves like scattered sunbathers, spread out over the rubble with mere inches between them, like Good Harbor Beach on a hot August Saturday.

They remind me of my mistakes; too numerous, too many to collect. They are everywhere. The moss tumbles and tucks itself into each crack and slit, some parts stashed away in the dark. I struggle to find a secret slit to hide my mistakes in a special slot, into some black hole, that has no memory.

The color of green that lives here are the ones that only Mother Nature and the Earth could create. I’d like my life to be the color of being alive and new. Around all this life lie ancient rocks so much older than I, yet I feel older, not younger. The green hangs a residue in the breeze; the smell of fresh air, clean and unscathed.

The moss is silent. It multiplies with time, spreading its’ resilient, lush linen upon the forest floor. It muffles the ground, stifling any sounds from underneath. The thud from a falling pine cone, barely reaches my ears. I am quiet here, lying on top of, and next to, the moss. My lips sealed with Chapstick, my breath weaves through my nose. No need to speak or explain. I am here in the stillness, in this moment, without fear.

The invasive moss and the jagged rocks are comforting. Nothing here is spotless, perfect, or flawless. Me and my broken parts mix well with the orphaned leaves and the busted sticks, the uneven shades of dirt and the peeling branches. I want this life, peaceful and consistent. An inherent, deep rooted life. A neighborhood where I fit in.

Over time, the mosses have been trodden upon by gleeful dogs, meditative hikers; beaten upon by bruising rainfall and left to suffocate under unforgiving layers of snow. Yet, it thrives and is revived with the seasons. It lives on in spite of…

My hyde too, has been trodden upon by freelancing mutts, beaten upon by bruising torrents of tears, suffocating under layers of unforgiving human harshness.
But in the spring, the moss and I both thrive once more—welcoming the new leaves, the stoic boulders, the singing birds and the April sun.

I volunteer to accept the next steps. Decade after decade, I keep trying. This nurturing place provides a space for me. A safe space to breath, a familiar rebirth with my trusted and reliable Sister, the moss.