Friday, May 31, 2013

Be kind

via Pinterest

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dating lately

by 23236076@N06 via Flickr
Tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall

I've been working on a jigsaw puzzle for the last few months and I find myself having some deep thinks as I shuffle through the pieces, trying to arrange them into their full, predestined picture (which is fitting considering that's what I'm trying to do with my life in general). On my more sullen days, as I turn the pieces this way and that, I tend to think about how lonely I am and how my dad is probably worrying about me being taken care of, but how I can't really imagine being in a relationship right now. At the same time, I find myself to be a little dissatisfied with the lack of depth I have with the two guys I've been seeing casually lately. Which brings me back to feeling lonely. In my really morose moments, those thoughts devolve into how I kind of want kids (clock is ticking after all), but how can I justify bringing someone into this world to only have them deal with the pain I'm dealing with right now when I die?

In the end, my dad always just wanted me to be happy. If I started talking about doing something that he couldn't quickly see would lead to my happiness or betterment, he would ask me why I was even bothering. Now that he's not here to check me on that, I've got to do it myself. 

I know that it's nearly pointless to question why I want to get married or have kids in the wake of my dad's passing. My knee jerk reaction is clearly tainted by my recent over sensitivity to mortality. I know it's senseless to think about denying myself the full range of the human experience because I'm afraid of going down this path again and wondering how the hell I could ever withstand this much pain again. But that still hasn't stopped me from thinking about how awful it would be to have a husband and to have children and then die, forcing them in my current position. It just seems so selfish. But, I mean, I already have friends and my other family members who are still alive that would have to go through that if I were to die right now, so, since I can't spare everyone, why even bother trying to spare anyone? At this point, my thoughts tend to spiral into nonsense. I think it just goes back to the happiness question. Would I be happier starting a family and setting them up for devastation or would I be happier abstaining from the whole thing?

Ultimately, I know myself well enough to know that I don't think I could remain single for that long even if I tried. I couple easily and naturally, so I don't really stand a chance dying as an old maid.

Also, I know I can take care of myself. I'm far too independent and stubborn to melt into complete worthlessness. My dad, ultimately, knew/knows that as well. But as a dad, he always worried about me. He constantly wanted reassurance that I was doing okay, that my plane didn't crash, that my boyfriend was treating me well, that work was treating me well, that I arrived at my destination. Every time I've been in an airport since his death, it takes all the strength I can muster to resist the urge to text him to update him on my travel plans. He didn't say it, but I'm sure he worried about me finding a good man to take care of me in the event that I couldn't take care of myself. 

I think it's natural, given the circumstances, that my feelings have been oscillating wildly between "I want to be alone forever" and "I want to marry the next guy who looks at me." Once I start acting on either one of those thoughts it will be time to worry about my state of mind. I've been going on dates and enjoying myself as much as I can, which is a good sign. I am incredibly wary of meeting someone entirely new and starting to date though. I think it has something to do with the fact that I feel as though something fundamental in me has changed and I haven't completely been able to wrap my head around that change yet. I think it's kind of dishonest to date without really knowing who you are and what you bring to the table, so I'm backing away from clean starts for right now. Also, I'm kind of damaged goods right now and I don't think it's fair to burden someone with all of that from the start.

While I recognize that the people who care about me the most won't view this as being burdened, I know that it's hard for my friends right now because there's really nothing that anyone can say or do to make me feel better or to make the situation better. Hardly any of my friends have had to deal with losing a parent yet, so that makes it doubly hard because barely anyone knows what this feels like. I don't know if it's insecurity or humility or insanity, but I hate to be a burden on anyone for any reason (I think the real root of this has to do with my mom and how she's treated me, as a burden, for the majority of my life). It's not that I've been keeping everything in or hidden, but I've definitely been careful not to completely unload on anyone. I think it's partially because I don't want anyone to feel this kind of pain that I've been feeling, but the awful thing is that almost everyone will at some point. I guess I'm just trying to save everyone from a sneak peek of their future. Granted, if they're lucky, they won't have to do this for at least another 20-30 years (which is insane to me and just underscores how fucking unfair this all is).

The most marked change I've noticed in how I relate to guys is that I'm only comfortable with certain kinds of vulnerability. While I usually love to cuddle and be cuddled, I've been putting up walls when it comes to signs of affection. I feel as though I will completely break down if I allow myself to be comforted in that way and I don't want to break down like that in general, but especially not around guys who aren't going to be around for a long time. I don't want to give up that part of myself easily. I don't really know what I'm afraid of. I just know that right now the thought of a man loving me and caring for me in that way is incredibly painful and uncomfortable.

The super negative side of me is telling me that I will never get over this and that I will die alone because of how deeply this will scar me. The super positive side of me is telling me that there's a man out there who will understand completely and will want me to be as happy as my dad wanted me to be, who will cry when I cry about the fact that my dad isn't there to share in our happiness. The realistic side of me is telling me that the immediate future will continue to be really hard, but that I will get through this one way or another, the pieces will fit together naturally one at a time, and that I'll be lucky to find a guy who is half the man that I'm dreaming of.

In sum, everything is a complete mess and I'm struggling to find a balance, but no matter how lonely I feel, I know I am not alone. I have far too many great people in my life for me to be neglected for too long.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The 2000 Things challenge: part 1

In the beginning of April, I interviewed TC from the blog, The 2000 Things. She has a yearly goal to purge 2000 things from her home. I was inspired by her quest and figured, despite my strides to live a simplified life, I could probably find a good number of things to get rid of too. Since I live by myself and just moved into a small one bedroom apartment (and got rid of a number of things before I moved), I doubt I can reach 2000 things, but that won't stop me from seeing how many things I can find.

Since my dad passed away in April, I've just kind of been throwing my mail and a random assortment of papers on top of my bookshelf to deal with later. This is how it looked before I cleaned it off:


I figured this was the perfect place to start my 2000 things challenge. I had been putting off going through these papers because there were a lot of sympathy cards and paperwork related to my father's passing mixed in and I just didn't want to pick at that healing wound. My dislike for clutter won out though and I hunkered down to sort it all out.

I have a general problem controlling paper clutter, so unfortunately, my bookshelf starts to resemble a more toned down version of this pretty often. I need to find a better system to deal with paper in the near future and am open to suggestions.

After I finished going through the items on top of my bookshelf, I went through some of the cubbies in my bookshelf, another little stand I have in my living room, and a pile of things I had gotten from the conference I went to recently. Since this was my first time doing this challenge and I didn't want to spend all day at it, I wasn't looking for much beyond what I could easily throw away or recycle. The next time I pass through my living room, I'll be more focused on items I can donate or sell. Despite my focus on toss-ables, I did manage to find a few items to donate, most of which came from my car before I sold it and which are pictured here:

I highly doubt I'll need an ice scraper in the Bay Area, don't you agree?

I also found some colored pencils I no longer use and plan to give them to a friend or coworker's kids. 

So, how did I do? Here's the pile of junk I decided to throw away or recycle (plus those colored pencils):

Not too shabby for only about 2 hours of work

As part of the challenge, TC tallies up her efforts, so I did the same and came up with, drumroll please:


189 items! 

Can't wait to continue the challenge to see how many more things I can find to get rid of.

Have you ever kept track of how many things you intentionally get rid of to declutter and simplify your home?

Friday, May 24, 2013


via Pinterest? I forget

"Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Things that I love: bouquets

by doug88888 via Flickr
Not one, but two sweet people gave me bouquets of flowers for my birthday this week. You can't help but smile when you look at flowers and I needed all the smiles I could get to help find the positive in celebrating a birthday when half the reason why you're alive is no longer here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Boston in a nutshell

I jetted off to Boston for a conference in the beginning of this month. While I spent the majority of my time inside the conference center attending meetings and sessions, I did manage to explore the city a little bit. The last time I was in Boston was in 2005 for a day trip with my best friend, so I was well overdue for another visit.

I found a phenomenal place to stay through Airbnb that was only a few blocks away from the convention center. My room was on the third floor of an historic row home and had a rooftop deck that had a great view of the city skyline. The woman who owned the house was such a sweet and interesting person. I wish I had more time to sit and chat with her while I was there. I really cannot recommend Airbnb enough to anyone who's looking for affordable and alternative places to stay while traveling.

Here were some highlights from my short visit to Boston (which, sadly, did not include a baseball game at Fenway):

I crashed a vendor party that was thrown at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Being served hors d'oeuvres and champagne while circling an indoor garden and listening to a harpist is quite an experience. This woman's eclectic collection and home reminded me very much of the European museums, castles, and estates that I've visited in my time.

I dedicated the morning of my last full day in Boston to walking around the Back Bay area of the city. I saw Northeastern's campus (artsy), the marathon memorial in Copley Square (a tearjerker), Boston Public Garden (in full bloom and especially goregous), and Boston Common (playing second fiddle to the garden). By some stroke of luck, I was in the public garden for the annual tradition of returning the swans to the lake for the summer. The parade and marching band were a great surprise to witness.

I ate very well while I was in Beantown. The top restaurant I went to was Stephanie's on Newbury. I had the very rich and very delicious lobster pot pie.

I found myself very comfortable in Boston. It seemed like a really good sized city with a lot to offer. I hope to visit again soon.

What are some of your favorite Boston haunts?

Friday, May 17, 2013


via Pinterest

"Life has many ways of testing a person's will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once." -Paulo Coelho

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From the archives: Dad's coffee mug

by drawcity via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager. This entry, written in 2004, made me break down in tears. My dad's coffee mug is currently sitting in my living room, watching over me.

Did you ever take a second to look at something that is so familiar to you, something you've seen practically everyday since you can remember, and really look at it? For the first time, you actually see its details and realize that maybe things wouldn't be the same if that object were never there to begin with.

My dad has always sipped his coffee from the same set of mugs since I was a wee tot. The set consisted of either 4 or 6 mugs that my grandma (my mom's mom) gave to my parents in the late '70s sometime when they were married, but now only one remains (just think crash, bang, boom). It's kind of odd that over all the years I've seen this mug and my dad drink from it, I never really looked at it much, nor consciously acknowledged its details. I looked at it tonight when I was finishing my dinner. It's white and stained. Inside there's dark brown coffee stains that fill in the enamel cracks that have formed over the years. Some of the stains appear in rings with scratch marks from stirring spoons through them, revealing the mug's true color. Outside there's mostly unidentifiable spots; some paint smears, some coffee drips and age is a thin film along the creases of the handle and the rims of the mug. The design is perhaps one of the least masculine there is and some may think it strange that I would associate its image with my father. The only remaining mug has hand-drawn red plums on the front and handwriting on the back. I always see the plum side because my dad is left-handed, therefore the most appealing side is facing away from him. The plums are on a branch with plum blossoms in bloom. The handwriting is in cursive and looks as though a woman wrote it. I've never read what it says, but I know that it's about those depicted red plums. One day I should read it when the mug is lying unused on the counter, next to the coffee machine.

Along with my dad's paintings, drawings, and other various artwork, I want that mug to remain when he passes on. I hope to place it on a shelf somewhere, perhaps on a bookcase, and leave it stained and spotted, exactly how it looks today. The one thing that pops into my mind when I think of my father is not paint or abstract art, but that coffee mug. I will probably cry if it is ever broken because it is the one thing that conjures up memories of my father over the whole span of my life, from when I was three up until an hour ago. It's like the timeless object ever-present in my memories of my father. 

One day, I should seek out those other mugs that were broken sometime along the way and give them as a gift to my father. I think he would enjoy that.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reader questions

From time to time, a reader will reach out to me via email to share their story and ask me for some advice. I think that sharing my response on the blog while maintaining the reader's anonymity could benefit other readers and perhaps even spark some further advice in the comments. I received the following email from a reader about what to do about her brother who is currently living in the hoard (some details have been omitted):

Dear Sarah,

I am also the daughter of a hoarder. I have been on my own for many years now, but my mom's life choices still seem to come to mind every holiday time, especially when finals are here (I'm sure you can relate). Tonight I felt compelled to stop ignoring the situation and do something. I googled hoarding. It feels strange now, realizing that I've never actually done it. All these years..and I'm just finally trying to find some support, to maybe connect with people that have been there. I came across the COH website, and your self interview. 

What has me really thinking was lately realizing all my discarded hobbies and passions, that I've always known stemmed from my childhood. And this gets me thinking about my brothers; my full concern is my 14 year old brother. He lives there with my mom and her husband (along with 3 or 4 cats). The house last I peeped was worse than ever. All I could think about tonight is what he must be going through alone in that house, and how guilty I feel for not trying to do something for him. I know how hopeless I felt at that age. The beginning to the end of your childhood, there is so much pressure to perform and become this amazing individual. Yet being the child of a hoarder, that potential is buried somewhere among the clutter. This is how I see it. 

I am terrified of him feeling like I did for those last years. I am terrified of him not living to his fullest potential because of his current environment. It seems like such a waste of a young brilliant kid. I see him struggling when I get a chance to go visit. I see him shutting off and I know he has so much in him but I'm afraid of her killing him (in not such a literal sense). I just need to reach out and find an outlet to help me, to help my family...Hopefully make something change, even just for the sake of this awesome kid. 

I really don't know where to begin, or even how to proceed in this situation. I am really just looking for anything, something to start turning things around. 

Here was my response:

I'm honored that you felt comfortable enough to share your situation with me, so thank you for reaching out. I understand so very much of what you feel and think about your life and your situation.

Knowing how hard it was for me as a teenage child of a hoarder, my heart simply breaks for your younger brother. I personally do not know a teenager currently living in a hoard, but I have some ideas based on my personal experiences that might help both you and your brother.

I think that it's incredibly important to talk to your brother about the situation, so my suggestion for getting started would be to start a conversation with him. Make sure that he knows that it is absolutely not his fault that the house is in the condition that it's in. Talk to him about how you felt living there and what you did to cope with the situation. It's very important that he does not feel like he is alone and that he knows that someone else has been there. He may not talk much, but I think having him hear what you have to say would be helpful. Let him know that you're there to listen and that he should not be afraid to ask for help. 

I would highly encourage him to pursue his hobbies and interests, especially the ones that take him outside of the house. If he can redirect his attention and passion to something constructive and fun, it will make life more bearable for him. Also, it may help build a future for him down the road outside of the home (if he likes basketball, he could work hard at it and get a basketball scholarship to a university so he can leave home, etc.). Having a part-time job would also get him out of the house and start some skill building. 

I'm not sure how close you live to your mom's house and, as a working student, I know that you're busy, but if at all possible, it might be good to set a date once a week/month/whatever that can be reserved just for the two of you to spend time together outside of your mom's house. Maybe he could even stay a night or a weekend at your place so he can see that you were able to get past living in a hoard and have a normal life and also so that he can experience being in a normal home. I know I felt like I was in paradise when I got to spend the weekend at my dad's house since it made me feel more normal. 

I would highly encourage counseling for anyone. It wasn't until I spiraled downward rapidly that I finally spoke to someone. It truly made all the difference.

I hope my suggestions have at least helped a little bit. I wish the best for your family.

Do any readers have further advice to offer?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Strong at the broken places

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." -Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Somday is Today: passions and happiness

One thing that's been bothering me the most about my dad's untimely death is the fact that he died before he was able to do everything that he wanted to do. Now I know that the chances of anyone being able to live long enough and have the opportunities to be able to accomplish everything they want to accomplish are very slim, but knowing that my dad relied heavily on my often talked about someday thinking makes me incredibly sad.

He talked so much about wanting to retire as soon as he could so he could paint and pursue his myriad of hobbies all day. He hated his day job even though he was very good at it and watched the clock the entire time he was there. He talked about having a house at the beach or a house in his beloved West Virginia mountains. He thought that someday he would be happily retired. Clearly, that someday never came for him. He didn't get to fully enjoy the fruits of his labor. He didn't get to pursue his real passion, art, at his own pacing and timing. He made me promise that I would tie his paintbrush to his hand if he became too frail to hold it himself, often citing other artists who had their family members do the same. He never got to see me fulfill that promise for him.

Seemingly everyday, I've been learning new lessons about living from my father's death. This particular lesson is like a punch in the gut for me. I keep asking myself if I am really living my life in a way that allows me to pursue my true passions for an adequate amount of time. How many hours have I piddled away doing asinine things instead of writing or traveling or pursuing a hobby or doing something that makes me genuinely happy? Is my job really making me happy or does it just feel like a waste of my time? Is the stress I feel from my job and the relationships I have worth it? If I died today, what would I have to show for my time on earth?

Sure, I have to pay the bills somehow. Sitting at home and reading books wouldn't be sustainable. My dad pursued the career he did because it provided a decent living. But wouldn't it be worth it to make my passions more of a priority and to even attempt to make money while doing so? Even if I failed, I would know that I tried and that I spent more time doing what I loved in the process.

At my dad's memorial service, a priest who volunteered to help officiate asked my brother and me two questions so that he could know a little bit more about my dad: what was the best thing about my dad and what was one of the best things he ever did for me? I started crying when he asked us these questions because, really, how the hell does a child answer those about their father? The best thing about him was that he was my dad and that he quite literally gave me life. I was flooded with thoughts and memories and I had to excuse myself instead of give him answers. I've thought about these questions since and I have to say, I think one of the best things he ever did for me was to show me how important it was to pursue the things in life that give you the most happiness. Above all else and no matter what, my dad was an artist. He sketched and painted and breathed art. My dad's creativity lives on in me through writing. I can't not write even if I wanted to stop. I need to write and read and breathe the written word in order to be the happiest and the most fulfilled. There's no sense denying myself and allowing feelings of regret to rob me of the best parts of life.

Monday, May 6, 2013

From the archives: 17

by mendhak via Flickr
Sometimes, especially when I feel down, I like to go back and read things I wrote when I was a teenager, like the following entry.

i am a girl, i am controlled by my emotions. as a writer, i am a slave to them. excuse me as i live my life the only way i know how, floating towards happiness and drifting away from loneliness and cold. logic and reason are absent, no where to be found in the recesses of my little mind. i will fight the good fight and abstain from the bad. i am tiny and i am meek, a lone person among the masses. my mind and soul are mine to keep, to cultivate, to mature, and to harvest. my heart, haha, my heart has no leash, has no chain, can not be bound, tied up, or restrained. never once have i contained it, constrained it, burried it deep beneath the residue that life has so cunningly left, thick and grimy, on my inner most of beings. i am but a child, a wee 17 year old. and yet i have seen too much of this world already; maimed, blinded, and deafened by all that society has offered me. the only thing left to do is scream, shout, yell; they can not take my voice, my thoughts, my dreams. only i can halt those, silence them, repress them. but that would equal death, and am i but 17.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Below is the eulogy that I gave at my dad's memorial service (with names removed). I wrote it at 3am the morning of the service with a migraine (I got four migraines over the course of the week following my dad's death which I think gives an accurate indication of what kind of stress I've been under). I somehow managed to deliver it without breaking down or crying a single tear.

Thank you all for attending today. The support we’ve received has been immense and overwhelming. For those of you who have never met me until today, I’m Sarah, [...]’s daughter. But even though you may have never met me previously, I have no doubt that you’ve heard many things about me, as well as my brother [...], because Dad had a tendency to talk to anything with ears about his children.

A quote that has been repeating in my mind this week that has given me comfort is the following from Longfellow: “Dead he is not, but departed, for the artist never dies.”

For me, it is nearly impossible to separate my dad, the man, from my dad, the artist. Almost every memory and association I have of him involves art in some way.

Growing up, on evenings when he wasn’t nestled on the couch with us watching Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show, more likely than not, he could be found in his studio on the third floor of our house. Many nights, I would follow him up there so that I could paint and draw too, alongside my daddy. I would climb the steep staircase, seeing light seeping out from the cracks around the studio door. About halfway up, I could hear oldies music playing from his stereo. On the landing outside of the door, I could smell the mixture of menthol cigarettes and oil paint. Pushing the door open and peeping my head in always produced a smile and an invitation to join him.

While in college, I took a creative writing class. One of our writing prompts involved writing a list poem about a childhood memory. I quickly jotted down the following poem about my father’s studio. I think it communicates my feelings and memories in a pithy way that would be difficult to recreate.
The third story window whose view made my favorite climbing tree appear small and obscure.
The slanted ceiling that threatened a bumped head.
The faded and torn psychedelic poster left over from his college days.
The baskets and tins full of crimped and crumpled paint tubes.
The canvases finished, half finished, turned to the wall.
The stained, cluttered drafting table, always too high.
The corner where I joined him in artistic discovery.
The cigarette smoke, oldies station, and heavy scent of oil paint floating, mingling through the room.
The closet with a child size door, opening to past failures and successes.
The paint brushes stained, bristles soaking, handles chipped.
The drawer full of his most treasured works: finger paintings and crayon sketches from his two children.
The piles of art books, engineering books, antique books.
The palate layered, rainbow swirls.
The framed masterpiece I pasted together in third grade.
The mutual pride and affection for father and daughter.

Being in Dad’s studio again with my brother this week has produced more laughter than tears as we shared our joint memories about the objects we rediscovered. Regardless of the fact that the room was a different one than the one from my childhood, it still smelled exactly the same and is undeniably my father’s space.

If you’ve spoken with my dad for any length of time, you quickly realize that he often used the same couple of quirky phrases and sayings. “It’s all happening at the zoo” was one that I thought for the longest time was just something he had made up. I discovered embarrassingly recently that it is, in fact, a Simon and Garfunkel song. “You’re a pain, but not a window” was directed at my brother and me a lot when we were young and blocked his view of the television while we were playing.

One of the top sayings etched into my memory, however, was one he used exclusively with me and was in the form of a question. He constantly asked me, “Do you know you’re my favorite daughter?” My typical response was a sigh and the comeback, “Dad, I’m your only daughter.” He was always quick to shoot right back, “Yeah, but you’re still my favorite.” As I got a little older, I matched wit for wit and responded instead with, “Well, good, because you’re my favorite dad.”

Now that my brother and sister-in-law have a son, [...], do you know what I find myself saying to him when I play with him and help put him down for naps? “[...], do you know you’re my favorite nephew?”

Thank you for being with us today and sharing your memories with us.

The turn out for the service was amazing. The room was packed. All of my closest friends came from near and far to pay their respects. I have some great people in my life, not least of which is my brother (who literally carried me when I was breaking down), and I am eternally grateful for each and every one of them.