On Honesty

I’m back to my usual this week, with another post from a prompt born out of 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

That’s what the prompt is, “on honesty.” It’s one of those prompts that can be intimidating because you don’t know where to start, but it can also be exciting because it’s a writer’s blank canvas.

So here I humbly present my musings on honesty. Let me know what you agree and disagree with in the comments.

Image of broken blue ceramic plate
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Honesty is one of those things that get more difficult as we grow up. Not because it’s harder to be honest as we grow up, or because we find more ways to be dishonest as time passes, but because honesty loses its simplicity over time.

When we are kids, we are told to tell the truth when a vase breaks while we play with a ball inside the house or how our faces got smeared with chocolate when our t-shirts are covered in crumbs. When we begin getting crushes, we can’t be honest with them and tell them how we feel because we don’t know what would happen if we do. We can’t tell that one girl we don’t want to be friends with her anymore because we don’t like how she talks to us in front of other girls because we’ll be the weird person who sits alone at lunch.

When we’re adults, we can’t always be honest with our partners about a choice they make for worry that it’ll make us sound selfish and hurt their feelings or make the choice more difficult. That silence is dangerously close to lying, and a lack of honesty here snowballs into resentment over there.

Honesty, it would seem, grows with us. It gets more complex as we get more complex, as our desires, goals and fears evolve and have layers on top of each other and interconnected branches and roots. Even with this complexity, we’re always expected to know when “honesty is the best policy” and deal with the consequences of our choices either way. What if we don’t know if or when honesty is the way to go, or if we don’t know what the consequences will be either way?

Perhaps the hardest kind of honesty is being honest with ourselves. It’s not impossible to lie to ourselves, to pretend we know better than to stop or start a behavior or thought pattern – until we dig ourselves into a hole and honesty just gets more complicated. There’s less accountability, more bending around the consequences. So how can we ensure that we’re always honest with ourselves?

So maybe honesty doesn’t need to be complicated, but being honest can sometimes be complex.

Dogs in Bed

It’s International Women’s Day! 

This post is my contribution to the day: empowerment in a relationship. This topic is too often played out, but it’s still an important one. Empowerment does not always have to be about proving the other person wrong, spreading one’s wings and flying away from a toxic relationship into one’s version of happiness. There can also be wisdom and empowerment in choosing to keep moving forward and working on something important to you while it’s sustainable and healthy.

This week’s piece was a bit experimental… I tried dictation for the first time.

I’ve never been the writer who needs to stop on the side of the road to jot down an idea lest it escapes, but I just had to use the Voice Memos app this time to record something that came to me. It also came to while I was listening to The Moth Podcast, which made me want to try something that sounded like it was spoken out loud.

Happy reading! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Image of two penguins kissing at daytime
Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash

A few years ago, I had a divorce scare. It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare, but even scarier in your late 30s.

My husband and I have been married for 5 years and have been together for 8. We met on a dating app over a weekend and did the whole dance of how we were going to make this work. I should mention at this point that he lived in New Orleans and I lived in Boston, and we met while I was swiping to avoid going home alone at the end of the night when vacationing with girlfriends. I also wanted to sleep somewhere else that wasn’t loud with “Whoos!” and “Dirty 30! Dirty 30!” chants at 4 in the morning.

What followed were a couple of years of back and forth, missed FaceTime calls and double-meaning text messages that graduated to disappointing conversations about one of us moving to the other or meeting in the middle. All the practicalities of long-distance relationships and long-term relationships that happen to be long-distance.

He eventually moved here and we got married. We moved into our own place and we were happy. 

He’s perfect: he’s handsome; he’s tall; he is an amazing professional. I am so proud of him and to be with him, and I count myself lucky to go home with him at the end of the night. The only thing that made him imperfect was his reluctance to letting me get a dog. At first. One day, he finally gave in and let me get a dog. The big, floppy-eared and shaggy German Shepherd I’ve always wanted. Something that feared me and loved me in equal measure.

We are a childless couple by choice. This dog, Adonis, in addition to our two cats, Kelsey and Rico (who he did want from the beginning, by the way), consumed my everyday life. I didn’t know how to have a dog or how to raise a dog, but I did know I wanted him to be the best German Shepherd in the world: I wanted him to protect me and play with my husband; I wanted him to cuddle with me and play with the cats like in those cute “unlikely friendship” videos on Instagram.

Adonis would sleep on the bed with me when my husband was away or would stay out late. Every time without fail. When my husband was home, Adonis wouldn’t even come into the bedroom. My perfect German Shepherd would respect my perfect husband as the man of the house, almost like saying, “You’re here with her. I’ll be in my bed.”

One day, my dog slept with me longer than usual, and my husband got home in the middle of the night, but, like always, Adonis knew his place and got up off the bed and left. I quickly fell back asleep, making a mental note to talk to my husband about coming home at 4 a.m. on a Friday.

The next day, my husband tells me, “You and Adonis looked so peaceful, cuddly and adorable in bed last night. I loved the way you looked so much.” Me, not the dog, because he has a stepdad-stepson relationship with the dog. “I finally realized that I don’t want to leave you.”

I looked at my husband then, waiting for the punchline. Because there has to be a punchline when your husband of 5 years tells you, in no uncertain words, “I’ve been wanting to leave you. I just haven’t done it yet.”

It’s kind of like a pregnancy scare in that it still brings out the immediate reaction of, “That was scary. What would we have done if that had happened?” Except with a divorce scare it’s about, “How do we move past this? I thought we were very happy, and that I was showing how grateful I was that you were patient while I devoted my life to training a dog you didn’t even want in our home to begin with.”

How do we keep going?

I suggested we try couple’s therapy, which, of course, he was reluctant to try.

“Whatever happens between us or is wrong with us can be fixed just between us.”

Obviously not. 

“You just said you wanted to divorce me. Or leave me, which is worse than a divorce, really.”

He didn’t get that one, how leaving me would be worse than saying he wants a divorce. To me, the image of one spouse leaving the other is getting home and finding them on the couch with their bags packed next to the front door. Maybe it’s the preamble to a divorce, the first painful step to the process that sets the stage for how divorce proceedings will go. Will the wife who got left be pleasant during the process to get it done or will she hold a special collectible hostage until the leaving husband agrees to 20 percent more alimony? 

I wasn’t going to be either wife, because I wasn’t going to get left. And not because he changed his mind.

I told him that if he could change his mind about leaving me, he could change his mind about therapy.

Yes, I was that wife.

So me being the person that I am, we weren’t sitting on the doctor’s couch for 5 minutes when I asked the question that had been on my mind since that first morning after snuggling with Adonis: is it someone else?

My husband said no, and while I was relieved, I was angry at him because I felt relieved. Like, thank you very much for doing the bare minimum in our marriage and being faithful.

That was at the beginning of our journey, and I’m happy to say that was the last time I was enraged at couple’s therapy. After that day, I was just sad. Then, of course, all the usual feelings of guilt, inadequacy and concern followed, but it turns out that my husband was just building up years of homesickness.

He had conflicts and guilt of his own with missing home but feeling like he should have been happy that we were finally in the same place. Turns out that he even had some self-hatred going on – yes, he’s okay with my sharing that – when he thought he wasn’t happy when he should be and wanted to be home.

So him being the noble guy that he is, he wanted to leave me because he thought it would be better for me.

I know. I understand how he made that leap, but I don’t understand how he made that leap.

We’re okay now. We’ve gotten to the point where home is where we are with our three furry babies, and I no longer feel the anxiety of coming home to find him with his bags packed – or not home at all. On days like that, when I worry and feel sad again, Adonis hops right into bed with me, and he will not get off until my husband gets in and pulls me into a tight hug and says, “I’m not going anywhere, babe.” I don’t know how I trained him to do that, but I think my husband might be behind that one.

So, thank you, Adonis, for keeping your parents together.

Down By the Lake

This week’s post was a last-minute change. Same prompt, but completely different product.

Although this piece reads more like the background story of a larger work, it’s a good place to start a new work-in-progress. Like my novel, Xander’s story has also been with me for a few years, and I’ve scribbled parts of it in my iPhone notes, on scraps of paper, journals, etc. I may or may not be starting a new project altogether, and I’m grateful to this blog for giving me the push to come out with it, and because I finally seem to be getting back into the writing mindset – this week’s piece came as naturally as last week’s post. I looked up and had something I was more or less happy with that didn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Happy reading! Stay tuned for more snippets of my works-in-progress, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Trigger warning: Suicide, gun violence, self-blame.

Image of grey canoe on calm body of water near tall trees at daytime
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Her dad was her secret obsession.

The kind of obsession that comes from realizing you didn’t know someone as well as you thought you did. When everything you thought you knew about someone is flipped on its head and you question even the smallest detail of the most inconsequential memory of the most mundane day. A yes suddenly means no, or maybe or nothing at all.

The obsession then breeds questioning, the endless quest of answerless circles to arrive at the why, or at the very least at the moment where the front was up. The only available answer is that you’re the one to blame, for not picking up on the discrepancies sooner. You’re the one to blame for trusting them in the first place, for being blind to the red flags.

Her dad was her biggest blind spot, or maybe the smallest – maybe that’s how he slipped past her. It was cliché to describe him as the man she’d known and loved the longest in her life, but it was true. They weren’t the same person, but they complimented each other because they weren’t, and yet they could have the nastiest arguments that lasted weeks. Her mom would say that he’d married her only so she could give him the true love of his life.

And he was the love of her life. The man that was so frustrating and impossible to deal with at times, and the one she could still not forgive for naming her Xander and not have it be short for Alexandra. The man was so impossible that, with a name like Henry with a wife called Nancy, he chose to name his only daughter Xander. He was impossible, and yet he was the man she was utterly unprepared to live without. So when he died, her world came down.

Xander hadn’t had any special name for him other than Dad or Father when she was upset at him not giving into her way immediately. She also didn’t call him before making a decision, big or small, college choice or different coffee order. But she did ask him once why boys didn’t seem to take her seriously, why she got stood up by yet another guy.

“Maybe I’m the problem,” she’d said.

“You’re not the problem, Xander,” he’d answered. “You’re the solution.”

So what was his problem? Why had he taken his own life at the lake? The same lake they’d gone to together since she was a child? The same lake where she’d asked him what college she should go to and where she’d talked him out of filing for divorce. Hadn’t she been his solution too?

Xander knew her dad inside out, and she’d prided herself in that even when her mom pulled rank. She could get through to him when her mom or others couldn’t. She knew how he hated when the hem of his dress pants came loose or how he’d indulge in a coke Slurpee from 7/11 when he had a hard day. The easiest way to get him fired up was to give him a wet willy, but the easiest way to put him out was to give him a white chocolate Kit Kat.

Why the lake? Obviously it wasn’t as special to him as it had been to her. It wasn’t just that he polluted their special place with his last thoughts and the squeeze of the trigger, but he’d forced others onto their hallowed spot. After that day, the paramedics, police, firefighters and coroner were privy to the place where they shared their deepest secrets and earnest conversations.

But he obviously hadn’t shared all his secrets. 

Worst of all, her mom had gone to their spot too, and that was the worst betrayal of all. After she had stopped going to their camping and fishing trips, Xander had put it in no unclear terms that she didn’t want her mom there, that it was Xander and Dad’s spot. Even when it stopped being wholesome and started being annoying, her mom knew it wasn’t her moments to share. So why would Dad make a choice that he knew would ruin Xander’s favorite place for the rest of her life?

Obsessed with answerless circles, Xander decided to leave behind her favorite place in the whole world in favor of a chance at some answers. She did have one though: it was her fault for not knowing soon enough to talk him out of it.

What I Hate About My Novel

Another exercise from my undergrad days (last week’s post was also a writing exercise from one of my first writing professors). Back then, I was working on my undergrad thesis piece, also about motherhood, and I found it incredibly frustrating at times, mainly because I felt whatever progress I made was useless and not good enough for a variety of reasons. So my thesis adviser told me to write about the writing. By free-writing everything I hated about the work, even asking questions or brainstorming about the plot as I went, the hopes were that I would get some direction.

I eventually finished my thesis. Maybe I’ll find and post a draft of it some day providing it survived the great motherboard disaster of 2015. Hopefully one day I’ll finish this novel?

Image of yellow crumpled papers in and outside a gray wire wastebasket
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I hate how long I’ve been working on it.

I hate that I picked a topic that I can’t relate to and won’t ever relate to, and now I have to actively research and doubt myself at every step of the way for fear that what I write is inaccurate. I hate that I don’t know my character inside and out like I was advised to, like I would want to, which makes writing her incredibly difficult.

I hate that I have to travel back in time to a place I don’t know very well to write about a topic I know nothing about. I hate that I have to get to know my main character, her sister, the relationship she has with her mother and the relationship she has with herself before I can start writing. I hate how this story is keeping me from another one I actually want to write about, one I can actually relate to. 

I hate that I can’t picture my character or the story when I sit down to write, when the blank page is staring at me or when yesterday’s word count fluctuates 100 words out as I type and delete, type and delete, type and delete… I hate how I can’t organize my thoughts around the plot, how every attempt at structure feels wrong.

But mostly, I hate how this story is so hard to write now. Where I once had direction, purpose and drive, now I have a blinking cursor and white space. Besides a woman who wants to carry and love the two babies growing inside her, who is she? Is she a vegetarian? Does she have an aversion to seafood? Does she hate the smell of cinnamon but craves pumpkin spiced lattes when she’s pregnant? Does she love bagels and lox but can’t stand the smell of dairy during her second trimester? I need to know this person as well as I know myself, so that narration comes as easy as writing a diary entry, and description becomes clear, concise and impactful.

The story now feels empty, kind of like my main character. Empty of importance, of reader appeal, of substance. She’s just an empty shell until I get to know her. Writing this story doesn’t feel like a shout into the void necessarily, but mostly like there’s no point in writing the story because it’s not important. I don’t doubt my writing (not on good days, anyway), and I don’t doubt that it won’t be one of the first stories told on the topic, but I have doubts about whether it will turn out successful. I’m so desperate to finish it, that I’m afraid once it’s finally done it won’t even be good. Kind of like when you’re in a crowded bar, desperately waiting for a drink, and when the busy bartender finally makes it to you, your beer is warm, flat and the bartender clocks out.

The story feels empty of not only substance and importance, but of appeal. If for me, the writer, the story doesn’t have that initial attraction, the attraction that made me want and need to write it in the first place, will it have any appeal for the reader? It is my job to create that appeal, but I hate that it’s such a hard story to write now that I don’t know how to keep going.

Two Lies and a Truth

For today’s writing doodle, I tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing with pen and paper. Writing with pen and paper, not worrying about red squiggly lines under misspelled words or editing as I write, allowed for a true flow of thought. Whether it led anywhere or not (or if it even made sense), it really allowed me to let my thoughts flow and create a true writing doodle.

I have to confess, however, that I was a bit loopy on nighttime cold medication when I wrote this… so the flow of thought may be very disjointed, loose and, well, flowy. I did enjoy writing this entry, despite the haze of cold medicine, but I’m slightly worried I didn’t make a point by the end of the doodle, or if it’s even a good one.

But, in the spirit of sticking to my purpose of sharing my writing, I’m choosing to look beyond perfection and just keep writing. Maybe nothing will come off of this doodle, but maybe the next doodle will be better.

This entry is a response to the following prompt, taken from 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writers’ Grotto“There are often three reasons for something: the reason we tell others, the reason we tell ourselves and the real reason. Write about the war among the three.”

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of these thoughts in the comments.

Writing on white lined pages.
What this entry looks like in my journal. Can you spot the horrendous typo?

The war among the three. The war is really about courage, courage to know the difference between the three reasons, and the implications of each one.

The war among the three is about empathy, how the different reasons, that are really a game of two lies and a truth, would affect others and our relationship with them.

Even for the most mundane of circumstances, every circumstance that requires an explanation, the implications vary. It could be as simple as why you changed your coffee order one day: “I was in the mood for a change” versus “I really wanted to try a different drink today” versus “I feel like my life has lost excitement and is getting out of my control, so this new coffee order will provide a change of pace that will inspire a bigger, more fulfilling and profound change in my life.”

What about the less pedestrian circumstances that require an explanation?

Why don’t you get the same sense of relief and happiness when you see your partner walk through the door of the home you share at the end of the day? “I saw them just this morning before we both went to work” versus “I didn’t miss them today” versus “I’m feeling suffocated and unfulfilled, and I don’t know how long I’ve been feeling like this, but  I don’t know why I don’t miss them when I don’t see them anymore.”

Especially when it comes to change, no matter how seemingly insignificant or infinitesimal, there is never harmony among the three reasons (the two lies and one truth) behind the change. Each reason then requires its own examination into their own two lies and one truth, and once we get to the inevitable center of the spiral, the real reason, the real truth behind a particular change, we can finally arrive at harmony. The truce of the war among the three.

This examination, of course, takes courage. Courage to not only ask the questions in the first place, but courage to answer each one truthfully within ourselves. Is there wisdom in knowing the difference? Is there wisdom in getting to the center of the spiral?

Would it be a cop-out, a cowardly dodge to the courage that it would otherwise take, to have the three reasons, the two lies and one truth, be concentric circles instead? They do, after all, exist within one another, for two have to always be lies for the one to be the truth.

This assumption then begs the question, which reason could be the truth? What degree of courage would it take to recognize we’re lying to ourselves? Which lie would be easier to tell?

So, as long as there’s change, there will always be a war among the three, because one of the three will not be like the others, and only with courage will we be able to, honestly, point to the real reason.

Am I Patient Enough to be a Nurse?

This first “Writing About Me” prompt is also taken from the 642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco’s Writing Grotto (although they also have a 642 Things to Write About Me workbook that’s sitting blank on my shelf…). I’ve always thought James Lipton’s version of the Proust Questionnaire is a good conversation starter (and a good first date ice breaker), and while many of my answers to the questions have changed over the years, the consistent one has been what profession other than my own I would like to attempt.

So here I’ve attempted what I think a day as a nurse would have looked like for me. This entry has been inspired by Adam Kay’s books.

At the beginning of my career, I preferred nights, thinking I’d found a way around getting up early. What I didn’t know was that getting out of bed and going to work would never get easier no matter what time I set my alarm for. 

When my phone goes off at 6:30 p.m. on a January evening, it might as well be morning time that I still struggle to get out of bed. After a shower and a cup of tea, I’m out the door and on the road. With my days and nights fully reversed, nothing feels weird about having an egg sandwich and hash browns at my desk at 8:15 p.m. before seeing my first patient. 

Scanning my emails shows nothing that can’t wait until the end of my shift in 12 hours’ time, so I pop some gum in and go see my first patient. A 19-year-old female on an IV drip after alcohol poisoning.

“Home for winter break?” I ask her. The sooner I get her talking, the sooner I can empty the bed for the next person. Her notes show she’s been here since the morning, with BAC of 0.21, responsiveness sporadic. 

“Yes. I met with my friends from high school before I go back this weekend,” she says quietly. She’s rubbing her head, and I see goosebumps on her arms.

“I see. Well, let me get you another blanket while you wait for someone to pick you up.”

“My dad went home to get me some clothes and said he’d be back.”

“That’s fine. But please, take better care when you get back to school,” I say. I know full well this advice has a 50% success rate.

I make my way to the next room. 8-year-old male with a likely broken wrist. Waiting for results of X-rays, given kids’ Tylenol for pain half an hour earlier. Mom is sitting with him on the bed playing on an iPad when I poke my head in. 

“Hi, my name is Vanessa and I’m taking over for Nurse Ryan. Anything I can get for you guys while you wait?” I never understood nurses who insist of being addressed a certain way. We all got our certification (we wouldn’t be seeing patients without it) and letters besides RN are meaningless for people outside the profession. They only care about doctors versus nurses.

“Do you know how long the results will take?” Mom asks.

“Says here he went in an hour ago, and they’re not too busy back there so it shouldn’t take much longer.” I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not as I haven’t been back to Radiology yet, but what Mom doesn’t know…

“I’m hungry,” the patient says.

“I’ll get you some crackers, or a sandwich since you probably haven’t had dinner.”

His face lights up just as Mom says, “Nothing with gluten, if it’s possible.” Of course.

With a smile and a nod, I go to the next room. 20-year-old female with abdominal pain. Pregnancy test negative, waiting to go for a PET scan for appendicitis. And so I’ve found my favorite for the night.

“Hi there. How are you feeling?” She’s alone, shivering and with tear streaks down her face. 

“I’m just waiting.”

“Let’s get you a blanket. Are you here with anyone?”

“No. I’m from out of state,” she says and sniffs.

“I just started my shift, so please ring that button when you need anything or have any questions, okay?” I made a decision early on in my training that I wouldn’t use pet names for patients. No one takes a twenty-something nurse seriously when she addresses patients by “honey” or “sweetie.”

The triage nurse brings in a brand new patient into an empty room, so my introductions have to stop while I assess him. The man is walking with a limp and there’s some blood trickling down the bad leg. I make a point to mention to triage to at least offer wheelchairs. His face is ashen and his hands are trembling, and a young girl follows behind him carrying a coat. I introduce myself but he looks at the girl instead of at me and doesn’t respond.

“My dad doesn’t speak English,” she says. 

She interprets as I go about asking what happened and checking his chart. The girl keeps an even tone as she rattles off in English then what sounds like Farsi, but the patient sounds agitated and grimaces in between sentences. Once I confirm there aren’t any allergies, I hook up an IV and run to get a bag and painkillers. I leave them to wait for the doctor, hanging his chart in its place next to the door, and grab a few blankets, a sandwich and drink. I could have checked our gluten-free fridge on a slower day, but Broken Wrist’s chart didn’t show any allergies that Mom stated when they came in.

I already lose track of how long I’ve been away from the first set of patients when I give Broken Wrist his sandwich and the doctor is with him. He’s a little teary-eyed as the doctor examines his wrist gingerly, and I know she’s looking to set it in place when she glances at me with the food – she’s had people throw up on her before when she resets broken bones.

“Give this to him when I’m bandaging him up after the doctor is done,” I whisper in Mom’s ear. “To distract him.” She’s so focused on her little boy that she doesn’t notice the sandwich is full of gluten and the drink is an off-brand soda.

I drop off the spare blankets, making a point to make a loud noise as I walk into Alcohol Poisoning’s room. She perks up and whimpers as I drape the blanket on top of her. When I go see Potential Appendicitis, she has her arms around her stomach and is sniffling and grimacing.

When I make my way back to check on Bloody Limp, he’s calmed down a bit and the daughter is on her phone. I make a mental note to go to Radiology to see how far away Appendicitis is from being seen, then get to work on cleaning up the cut on this patient’s leg before the doctor comes in. 

I’m barely an hour and a half in, but I wish I could tell my younger self that there is visibly no difference between a day and a night shift as far as getting out of bed goes. Or as far as looking forward to the weekend, except my “weekend” is Tuesday to Thursday this week. Now where did my pen go…