Skip to main content

A Lightbulb Moment

All the lights are on! This weekend, my dad finished installing our kitchen cabinets as well as three pendant lights that hang above them. Hallelujah, let there be light! Now we can finally see what we're doing, giving us a boost of productivity by providing both visual access and a more pleasant work environment--which will soon become a warm, welcoming place to cook and eat and converse!

This bright, warm light is a great metaphor for something else I've realized over the course my month-long home renovation staycation--which, though hard and busy, has been a clean break from my nonprofit work, my novel-writing creative work, and most of my social life too. I had an "aha" moment about illuminating the kitchen that my family has designed and built ourselves with a set of clear, warm lights that my husband and I chose together, as well as the fact that we are no longer living in other people's stuff.

We're approaching 40 now, and we've finally been able to take on major home renovations to make our home both functional and pleasing for us to live in, according to our own lifestyles and tastes. At the same time, we've come a long way in detaching ourselves from inter-generational trauma cycles and the hazards of dysfunctional people who exploit our good qualities--our generosity, our compassion, our helpful talents, our willingness to make room for other people's influences at the expense of our own expressions and preferences. It has been a long road learning how to put up strong enough boundaries to keep our lights shining without fear that they will attract predators or petty jealousies. 

This is isn't just important for our own sake, which would be good enough. We're somebody's parents now, and our daughter is our ambassador of hope for the future of humanity. 

We have a responsibility to care for her by modeling self-compassion and initiative to build (sometimes quite literally) the life we want to live in as well as behaving with kindness toward others. It isn't healthy to think oneself more important than others, and it's equally unhealthy to believe oneself less important than others. The most useful compassion is whole and balanced and steady, rooted in both self-love and emotional empathy for other beings. What good is it to raise a kitten to be sweet, cuddly, and trusting if you're just going to let a dog eat it? 

The sad truth is that there are people out there who lack emotional empathy (the kind that causes people to care about others' feelings rather than merely understand how they tick), and they can lie and cheat and steal and manipulate and torment their victims without a drop of remorse. Temporarily, certain mental illnesses and drug addictions can cause people to become real monsters. My husband and I both grew up in close proximity to some very sick, sad, dangerous people and were raised by loving parents who nevertheless didn't have strong or wise skills at setting appropriate boundaries. We had to find our own ways out of that wilderness.

One of my favorite things about being me, which has been used against me many times, is my love of a good story. I relish a dramatic narrative of every type--funny, happy, sad, scary, complex--as long as it isn't hopeless. I crave a seed of redemption or at least rebellious subversion, and if I don't get it I'll keep looking or try to make it happen. I love to consume and to create good stories, fictional and non-fictional. This quality of mine has allowed me to enjoy films from all over the world and thousands of great works of literature. It's helped me to write my own juicy novels. It allows me to stay curious and interested in all aspects of life and human experience across cultures and beliefs. And, and, and, it has been a liability when people with bright, shiny, moving stories have taken me for a dangerous ride--to get me to do something for them or to shrink myself out of their way or just to let them sadistically hurt me.

But I know better now. I haven't developed any superpower to suss out individual people's motives or read their minds, and I know better than to try. Instead, I've developed a better sense of when another person's drama isn't about me or for me and I need to avoid it rather than try to engage and get tricked into enabling yet another round of pointless dramatics. Sometimes even listening to the manipulative stories or hateful opinions of a self-obsessed or cruel person can drain us of joy.

Last week, my parents adopted two tiny kittens from the same animal shelter where my family adopted our cat when she was a tiny kitten. At this shelter, cats are kept in such a way that they are physically inaccessible to the dogs so they won't be trampled or mauled, but the facility doesn't have the capacity to keep the kittens insulated from the dogs' incessant barking. We have sayings in English that minimize the idea that harm can be caused by a voice as well as by a physical assault. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me," goes an old fake-it-till-you-make-it, whistling-in-the-dark mantra. People say of bullies, "Their bark is worse than their bite." Meaning, in many contexts, that the bark is a sort of empty bluffing that shouldn't be taken seriously and can't hurt if you choose not to fear it. While that may be true to a certain degree, the bark itself can do some amount of unavoidable, physical harm. The kittens at the shelter often come standard with a heart murmur, which is commonly caused by the intense stress of living--even for a short time--in the presence of loud barking. To the kittens, it doesn't matter that they are kept in sturdy cages that dogs cannot bite through. It does not matter whether all of the doggos are perfectly good puppers filled with unconditional love and loyalty and eagerness to spread joy. The kittens simply cannot meditate away the stress caused by that terrorizing noise, regardless of the intentions behind it or whether there is a real, inherent threat of a bite. It all sounds and hurts the same.

People have the advantage of being able to know when a threat is baseless versus credible, but that knowledge only provides partial comfort and safety. We can decrease, but not eliminate, the harm others can cause us with their "bark." In addition to developing skills to cope with that barking when we must inevitably encounter it in life, we must also create enough bark-free space and time in our lives that our hearts can continue to function. We need self-love and positive, healthy relationships. And vulnerable, authentic, tender, focused love can only thrive within strong, protective boundaries. That means blocking, eliminating, or minimizing contact and involvement with those who are malicious, prone to uncontrollable rage, or lacking in emotional empathy. It is not our job, nor is it possible, to "fix" anyone else psychologically who doesn't want to be fixed or who is unable to understand what they must do to get better. It is our job to take care of ourselves and others who are able to truly benefit from and make use of our care and goodwill. Protecting ourselves and our loved ones from abuse is not unkindness, and identifying a lost cause is not a failure on our part, though a manipulator will often try to convince us otherwise, as a way to trick us into opening up again. "I'll huff, and I'll puff..." In fact, enabling abusive behavior is a very bad thing to do--for the sick person as well as for ourselves. It only perpetuates harm in all directions. Sometimes love is tough, and compassion is always courageous. People-pleasing and niceness can feel like an easy way out, but they are workarounds, not solutions. The best they can do is buy us time to build up our strength and wisdom. The worst they can do is enable more harm.

So I pledge to keep my happy lights on whenever I want them on, in my professional life, creative life, and social life--and to protect them within strongly built walls and locking doors and windows. All are not welcome here. My house, my party. I can't share my light and warmth and fresh-baked cookies with those who can benefit from them if I let in forces that only wish to destroy them. We can't have nice things if we don't keep out the flying monkeys. We can't get any healing or loving or enjoying of life accomplished if we allow ourselves to be distracted by help-resistant complainers, liars, thieves, and bloodsucking whiners (I'm referring to mosquitoes, of course).

In addition to helping my parents prepare for kitten adoption and take care of the kittens, I have been brushing up on my Spanish so that I can be more helpful to Spanish speakers who come to my workplace looking for English language lessons.

To make it fun and therefore more effective for me, I quit taking dry online grammar lessons and started watching Spanish-language films and listening to my vintage rock en Español CDs in the car. I've revisited the sun-soaked longings and tender desires brightly vocalized in d.d. y ponle play by Jumbo, recalling for me the intense, sometimes silly, firefly-pulsing, driving, bouncing, giddy melancholy of adolescence. I've delved into the searing, sizzling drama of the Amores perros ("Dog Loves") soundtrack, snapping my jaws and growling along with Julieta Venagas:

Tus amores perros me van a matar
Sin haberme dado siquiera un poco de felicidad

I've crooned with Saúl Hernández on Jaguares' sensitively sensual album Cuando la sangre galopa, especially the song "Como tú," a warning cry about toxic love and emotional sadism:

Y es tan fácil que te hagan daño
que ni en el último suspiro te dejas querer

Amor ro-o-to-o-o-o!

These songs remind me of my youth, my history of sad-sack-and-rescuer relationships that I've had to learn how to recognize and escape and avoid one year at a time, and of how far I've come in understanding myself and human life in general. 

I am proud of that, and also reminded of the soft spots I'd rather keep and protect than destroy and crust over. A vulnerability can be a strength, with the right boundaries around it. Wisdom is a gift to accept with gratitude and honor with growth. I never want to stop refining the art of living in the world as myself.

What good is shining a light if there are no eyes to see it? I have one more metaphor to throw on this blog post pile: During my staycation, I also started wearing soft contact lenses for the first time in my life. I wore hard contacts from age 13 through most of my adulthood, which were supposed to slow the progression of my astigmatism. Maybe they helped, but even so, my prescription quickly slid beyond the reach of vision correction surgery or soft contact lenses. It stabilized by my late 20s, and now, a decade later, my vision has improved due to the aging process causing the tissues in my eyes to firm up and contract. My vision has improved so much, in fact, that I am now able to wear disposable soft contact lenses, which give me better than 20/20 vision with total comfort and uninterrupted peripheral vision and the ability to focus clearly on objects both near and far, something I haven't experienced since preschool. It's a trip!

I can see in the pool and in the lake and in the shower! I can wear regular sunglasses! I can be amazed by the sharpness of a blade of grass and the faraway leaves on a tree! I never have to worry again about a contact lens getting shattered or lost!

As a teen and young adult, I had recurring nightmares about getting ready for the day and finding my drawer full of variously sized and colored contact lenses and not knowing which were the "right" ones. At that time in my life, I felt that I was being "gaslit" quite a lot. (I hate that buzzword, but you know what I mean.) I knew that people had lied to me, or passed along others' lies that they sincerely believed, and I knew that I was confused, but I didn't know what the truth was or how to find it--which lenses to use to seek it.

When I started using my new soft lenses this summer, I wondered if those dreams would return.

They have not. I'm wise enough to trust my own vision now, and I'm healed enough to raise a daughter who doesn't have to grope her way through the same wilderness of confusion and anxiety that I did growing up. What a comfort, a relief, and a proud victory.

It is a gift to have earned this sight, both metaphorical and literal. I'm grateful for it. I'm celebrating it. I'm delighted to choose my own light fixtures in my kitchen that serves as a lovely metaphor for claiming and honoring my own place in the world and my ability to nourish, serve, and enjoy the company of my loved ones as well as myself.

How good it is to have beautiful lighting and the clear sight to enjoy it! And to share this pleasure with my family, including a cat who is very happy that the big, scary construction zone is turning into a kitchen again and that the loud, hard work of rebuilding is almost finished.


  1. I found your blog on Google and read a few of your other posts too, it is very informative and also influencing me to read more of yours. You have done an exceptional job by adding your hardwork and dedication to it. I am a big fan of art and craft. I just added you to my bookmarks and recommending your blog to my social profiles too. Just like the other budding bloggers i have started my blog, You can support me by visiting my site for more paper airplane related information and knowledge, Keep up the great work Look forward to reading more from you in the future. Thanks in anticipation. how to make a paper airplane


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

Happy Daylight Spending Time!

Happy Daylight Spending Time! It's finally our chance to enjoy the quality of life offered by Real Time. Now we can sleep until almost dawn, commute to work and school in the actual morning instead of during the night, savor the golden hour of the evening with active quality time outdoors without pushing into what should be winding-down time, and then relax into the beauty of a backyard bonfire or a candlelit dinner or a holiday light viewing stroll before the hour required of most human beings to go to bed in order to receive a healthy amount of sleep. Ah, what a relief from the unsustainable grind of Daylight Saving Time! It is fashionable to hate on the end of Daylight Saving Time, but I will not be fooled into participating in that griping. I believe that most of the whiners are conflating the onset of Standard Time with the time of year when the overall amount of actual daylight decreases naturally in the northern realms of the Earth, which is a fact of life outside the contr

Have a Vaxxed, Relaxed Holiday Season!

You deserve it. You've survived almost two years of a global pandemic and done everything in your power to take good care of yourself and your family and your larger community, all during a surge in stress, meanness, white supremacist violence, basic Karen-ing, economic hardship, unnecessary bad vibes, and rants about the government infecting people with magic octopi. Good onya, champion! You made it this far! Last year's holiday season was sketchy and filled with family drama (or isolation from family), but this year's doesn't have to be. This year, everyone ages 12 and up (without medical conditions that preclude them from gaining immunity via a vaccine) has had a chance to get fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. And everyone ages 5 and up (without those medical exceptions) has a chance to get fully vaccinated by Christmas. Pregnant and breastfeeding parents who get vaccinated can even confer immunity to their little ones in the womb or via breastmilk. How

Pocket of Joy: Starting a Shiny New Project

Oh, the buoyant thrill of a sparkly new idea! Ooh, the giddy joy of starting in on it--like planting the first footprint on a blanket of new-fallen snow, or drawing the first line on a clean sheet of paper, or sweeping the first brushstroke of slick, wet paint across a wall! Of course, it takes follow-through to manifest a dream through the sweaty, dirty, messy middle of any big project. But when you know you can do it, you can hold onto that shiny new feeling to sustain you all the way to the finish. Here I am chiseling away at the remains of my old kitchen back in the spring, when my new kitchen lived only in my imagination. My husband and I have been working on our kitchen (with my parents' help early on) for four months now. Our summer has been a marathon of hard, sweaty, dirty work littered with setbacks, frustrations, and frequent changes of plans--including the decision to redo our main bathroom at the same time, while we're at it! Anyone who has repaired or remodeled a

Shots All Around!

My daughter got her first Covid vaccine shot over the weekend! Lots of her friends have also received theirs or have appointments coming up soon, and most of her older relatives have been boosted. We are all so happy and relieved that we can look forward to celebrating winter holidays and birthdays indoors with friends and family this year. We've waited so long for this! And it was free! And, according to her, it didn't even hurt! She felt a little bit of soreness at the injection site for a little while, and she was very sleepy all weekend, which I understand is a good sign that her immune system is working hard to gear up in response to the vaccine. We are very pleased, and our extended family is feeling major relief and hope for a more relaxed, pleasant winter. Michigan is having a particularly rough go with the Covid at this moment in time, with outbreaks driven by Michigan's preteens and teens, and in these dire circumstances, it is so good to have a real reason to hop

Pocket of Joy: Wearing Purple

Being human is crazy, full stop. It's a blessing to be able to transcend the drama, rise above trends, and get to a place where you can just start wearing purple. My daughter is a pretty normal kid who had a pretty normal childhood up until the pandemic, compared to how her parents grew up. We are beyond proud and happy that her first decade of life has contained far less drama and trauma than either of ours did. And yet, there is no escaping the broad insanity that is human life, for everyone, everywhere, in every generation. Fortunately, our daughter has somehow inherited our creativity and wicked sense of humor without being forced to develop those traits as coping mechanisms. What fun! She loves campy horror and the cheesy occult. Her style is a little edgy without any true angst behind it. At the moment, her favorite colors are black and purple. And I feel like, somehow, some way, all of this has helped her to take the pandemic in stride. She has a firm grasp on fantasy versus

Treat Yourself to a Good Old-Fashioned Novel

'Tis the season for reading! Many people have done their holiday shopping early this year or simplified or opted out of a lot of the usual hustling and bustling of this time. Here in Michigan, we're still in a high risk pandemic situation, and now there's a new variant circulating in the world that might render our exciting new booster shots less effective than we had hoped they would be. We are all in need of safe comforts at this time, and what could be safer or more snuggly than an immersive adventure tale full of purely fictional drama and peril that has nothing to do with the real storms outside of our windows right now?  It doesn't matter much whether you cuddle into bed with a luscious, thick hardcover object of beauty or a sleek ebook reader. The benefits of reading anything that engages your mind, but especially fiction and most especially literary fiction, are vast and well-documented. You can read all about it in  Harper's Bazaar , BBC Culture , and Healt

Pocket of Joy: The Indiana Jones Door Slide

I find that sometimes when the gods close a door, you can run and slide through the crack at the very last second. And even reach back to grab your hat, if you're quick! Indiana Jones Door Close GIF from Indiana Jones GIFs   This feels like the vibe for all of my home and auto repairs over the past year as well as how I released my novel, and it feels like how I'll need to finish my 2021 Christmas shopping. Over the summer, my family went through a harrowing adventure in major home repairs and maintenance that suddenly seemed financially possible due to those stimulus payments and that free student loan forbearance. My husband and I, with the help of my parents, spent the summer and early fall doing most of the work ourselves to demolish and rebuild our kitchen and main bathroom, which had seemed to fall to pieces all at once, just like our furnace and vintage pickup truck did the moment we finished renovations. Thank goodness for emergency savings and credit cards! In the Tim

LEIRAH AND THE WILD MAN Now Available in Ebook Formats

It's my last 30-something birthday today! And in celebration of what I hope will be my last birthday that requires me to work creatively around plague conditions, I have released Leirah and the Wild Man in affordable ebook formats!  Are you bummed out about travel difficulties and shipping delays as we enter yet another Covid-complicated holiday season? Relief is here! Enjoy this cheap, instant-gratification ticket to a wild and exciting adventure full of 100% imaginary peril, which you can enjoy snug within the comfort of your own bed, pillow-and-blanket-heaped couch by the fire, or bubble bath if you have the right kind of protection on your reading device. Read a free excerpt of the Kindle version at Read a free excerpt of the Nook version at Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World is a historical thriller set in the 11th century. Leirah dreams of stealing a Viking longship, hunting pirates,

Pocket of Joy: Supply-Unchained Gift Giving

Happy Hannukah, St. Nicholas, Solstice, Christmas, Three Kings, Kwanzaa, birthday, or other winter celebration that involves gift-giving! This is a great year to try out some buy-nothing-new gift ideas that don't fit in a box or that can be wrapped creatively, using found-around-the-house materials like old scarves or tea towels, craft materials, holiday catalogs from your junk mail, or painted-over shoeboxes. There are many ways to get festive and express generosity toward loved ones without spending a lot of money or worrying about shipping and delivery, such as... delivering homemade baked goods or casseroles giving handmade crafts hosting a game night, in-person among the vaccinated or virtual to include parents of young children, the immunocompromised, and others too vulnerable to gather safely indoors regifting new stuff you don't want or need regifting your own used books scouring thrift stores for funny/ugly holiday sweaters getting vaccinated, then offering childcare,