Happy Bday, Dad: A Legacy of Breath Mints

I have long wanted to write a thoughtful blog post about my dad, but I never seem to have the time that I think it will take to make the post what I really want it to be. And now, tomorrow– June 23– is his birthday, and I am still fumbling over whether to just say, “HBD, Dad!” or to write some eloquent tribute.

Maybe it will just be a little in-between thing.

How about a story? About breath mints and a legacy.

certsThe story actually starts with my Uncle Bob. To this day, I’ve never met someone with so much joy and mischief and love in his eyes, and I doubt I ever will. Uncle Bob, my dad’s older brother, was an incredible backbone of the Sommers family– hilarious, kind, joyful, talented, one of those special souls that, if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you will never be the same, and you will always seek out that spark for the rest of your life. Uncle Bob has been gone for many years now, and one of the things I remember so well about him was that he always had Certs in his pocket.

The Certs (to me, at least) were a part of his identity.

Later, my dad picked up this habit.

tic tacsIt started with Certs and eventually morphed into Tic Tacs. My dad always made sure to have them with him on Sunday mornings, and all the church kids knew it. One, when she was very, very young, started calling him “Tic Tac Tom,” and for Christmas, Dad brought this little girl her very own packet of Tic Tacs. Then he took another out of his pocket. Then another out of his other pocket, always acting like he was surprised to find yet another one. I remember her, her little hands not even able to hold all 10 or 12 packs at once, looking so overwhelmed but also happy.

My dad is something else. So special. The king of both quiet generosity and of vociferous attention. A man everyone wants to be around. He has been, for me and for many, a bridge to solid ground and the solid ground. Smart and funny, joyful and the life of the party, he’s a storyteller, which he passed onto his daughter. Like Uncle Bob, my dad also has incredible eyes; dad’s tell of happiness, hard work, and hope. He has unique passions– the Indy 500, Disney World, Secretariat, his card collection– and he loves them with such a diehard enthusiasm that I can’t help but love them too. Dad draws people into his world, and everyone wants to stay. And, of course, the Tic Tacs.

When my dear friend started having children of her own and my heart fell so desperately, hopelessly in love with them … I started buying Tic Tacs. It is one of the first things they ask me whenever they see me; they dig around in my purse for them. I have grown accustomed to the sound of clacking as my purse bounces on my hip. My kiddos and I explore new flavors (big, big fans of Strawberry Fields and cherry cola; less so of spearmint). I had no idea that there would come a time in my life when I would go to different stores based off of which color and flavor of Tic Tacs they kept in stock, but … there you have it.

It’s a weird legacy, right? But it’s mine.

I miss you, Uncle Bob. Happy birthday, Dad. You are the best men I know.

3 Things I Want to Say to My College Self

  1. Quit being so damn proud and ask for help.
  2. There is more gray than you would imagine– and it’s a good thing.
  3. Give more grace. 

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Ask for Help

Look, I know that all your life you have prided yourself on your intelligence– how you can figure things out on your own, how your mind is such a steel trap you don’t need to use a planner, how you don’t take shortcuts in anything (except maybe gym, ha!). But things are gonna get harder and harder and harder, girl, and the sooner you learn how to suck it up, ask for help, and accept that help, the better it will go for you. In fact, you will feel even smarter— which makes sense, since it’s wise people who collect resources and use them. Quit trying to get to the Everest summit without oxygen. Utilize your mentors, the counseling office at your college, the weekend extension given on that writing assignment. One day, you will be so happy to have tools and to use them. One day, you will see that it was always smarter to humble yourself and ask for help. The sooner you learn this, the happier you will be.

Gray isn’t the Enemy

The truth is that you have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder– OCD– which is making you so incredibly uncomfortable with anything that isn’t black or white. And if something is gray, the uncertainty of it makes you wild with panic, enough that you will think yourself in circles until you are able to move that gray along the spectrum, one way other other, to black or to white, so that you can breathe again. But the truth is that the sooner you learn how to sit with the gray, to let it be, to learn how to breathe even in the midst of uncertainty– that is where you will find relief and freedom.

Grace

First of all, you’re a bit of a self-righteous jerk right now, aren’t you, Sommers? Because you don’t accept help from others, and because you force everything in your world to be either black or white, and because you have scrupulosity (sit tight, you’ll learn more about this in a few years), you sometimes act like you have cornered the market on Being a Good Girl. Please stop. It is in your weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. It’s in your humility and vulnerability that you draw others and help them open up. The mask of perfection that you wear feels so necessary right now, but it’s when you take that off that you will start experiencing deeper friendships. It’s when you show the darkness of your heart and find that you are still beloved that you will taste that richest flavor of being known. Give grace– to yourself and to others. This is the better way.

Warm Thoughts about the End of the World

I’m re-reading through the New Testament and today I read from Matthew 24– wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, famine, earthquakes– and it’s kind of felt familiar for a while, hasn’t it? And yet these are the beginning of birth pains.

What struck me was verse 12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, God, don’t let my love grow cold.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by the best friends in the world, friends whose love is scorching in the best way, friends on fire for love and justice and mercy and grace and faithfulness, no matter the cost.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for keeping me from letting my love grow cold.

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I Will Say This

I read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur today in one shot. I adored it. It was raw and empowering.

Online dating is still happening. My squad of new friends is incredibly eclectic, and honestly, they are making me love the internet. I adore my new friend J, who rocks awesome wheels; my friend S from Kashmir; my friend J2, two weeks sober. Where else can you talk to some guy online and then see him in your local Chipotle a few days later? I have met a BDSM master, a Universalist, a man whose parents were rebel fighters against Fidel Castro, and the funniest single dad, who also understands my anxiety.

I’ve also met a ton of creeps. (Click here ONLY if you are willing to see men become feminist mince-meat.)

I’ve read a handful of great books– reviews to come soon.

Novel revisions: I needed a new approach, especially in the past week, when I was basically smacking my head against a wall over and over and over … and then feeling guilty about it. I decided to not write on weeknights and to tackle revisions on the weekends, at least for this precise season.

In fact, that is what I am off to do now! Send creative energy and good thoughts my way!!

xoxo Jackie

 

Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

Dear Diary

run-overGood grief, 2017 is running me over like a Mack truck.

Then again, I’m still standing. I’m still moving forward. I can smile. I can (mostly) think straight. I’m doing really well with my creative goals. I know we’re only three weeks into the new year, but I’ve read a book a week, have blogged every week, am learning something new almost every day (though I need to be more intentional about writing things down), and feel really good about getting back to work on Salt Novel.

I had a great conversation with my editor on Wednesday, and I feel like we are on the same page (or pretty close!), and that is such a relief. Now I’m doing a little brainstorming this weekend and then BACK TO WORK on the story next week. I’m excited. I haven’t worked on it in nearly three months (!!!). It was a much needed break, but I’m ready to go again.

And my 35th birthday was wonderful! I felt very loved, and a handful of people even donated to help with the refugee crisis. I’m so honored and so in love with my crew.

So, you’re probably thinking: just what has been so hard about 2017 then, Jackie?

lot of panic and anxiety. Realizing I have old wounds that never healed properly. I’ve taken about 10 Ativan pills in the course of two weeks. That’s probably more than I took in the whole six months preceding it. It’s okay. My friends and coworkers have been so exceptionally kind and thoughtful and supportive.

That said, God’s got me. My friends and family do too. And Northwestern. And I am learning so much about myself– honestly, so much. Some are things I really like.

How cool is that: to like myself again.

Maybe 2017 will be good after all.

 

It’s my party and I’ll solicit donations if I want to …

I turn 35 today. What a wild, lovely, desperate, lonely (at times), redeemed 35 years it has been.

In the past year, my heart has been increasingly burdened on behalf of the refugee crisis. I’ve seen photos that haunt me, heard stories that shake me to the core, stories that challenge my courage.

If my blog has meant something to you, would you consider donating five bucks to one of these organizations for my birthday? Whether you’ve been along for the ride since this blog began in 2011 or whether you’re a brand-new follower, you are welcome here, no strings attached. I just thought my birthday might be an appropriate platform to solicit your help.

Here are the two organizations I’m promoting. I hope you’ll watch one or both videos to get a feel for them.

Preemptive Love Coalition (donate here!) | I love their core values: Love anyway.* Show up. Get out of the way.

 

Whitney Gerdes with International Association for Refugees (donate here; choose “Gerdes” from drop-down menu!) | This dear friend and former coworker is the woman who opened my eyes to … so much. I can’t begin to explain just how much Whitney has made me a better person just by knowing her, listening to her, letting her wisdom seep into my heart. She is a powerful, humble, FUN, and incredible person. And she followed her calling over to Europe to do trauma-based education with refugees. Would you be willing to give five dollars to her work?

 

* Love anyway. 

love-anyway

This is PLC’s heart. This is Whitney’s heart.

This is what I want for my birthday. Will you let me know if you give? It would give me a birthday thrill.

Operation: Adulting

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I turn 35 in January. I need to get my crap together.

I’m developing a plan.

So far:

1. I created a budget. I used mint.com. It’s free and quite brilliant actually. It takes a little bit to set things up, but once you’ve linked up all your accounts, it’s smooth like butter. I was pretty darn thorough– and I was also pretty reasonable with myself, knowing my spending habits.

2. I subscribed to nearly ALL of my recurring expenses. If you use target.com, you 1) get free shipping, 2) get 5% off, 3) set how often you want your items to ship, and 4) avoid the store. For me, avoiding the store is a three-way win: I hate stores, I don’t give myself the opportunity to impulse buy, and I save time, which is honestly a more precious commodity to me than even the money.

I created a fancy little spreadsheet, figured out all the costs, and for all of 2017, I will spend only $895.36 on contact solution, toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo (for the win!!), toilet paper, feminine products, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, makeup remover, deodorant [all from Target] plus three different vitamins [via The Vitamin Shoppe] plus two just-for-fun subscriptions. FOR A YEAR. (This is good for me– maybe some of you are laughing at me right now! I honestly don’t know what is a “normal” cost because I’m soooo bad with my spending.) Oh, and I get my razors through Dollar Shave Club (Interested? Sign up AT THIS LINK and I get credits!)

By the way, this hasn’t been an all-at-once thing for me. I’ve been moving into the world of online subscriptions for a few years now. It’s incredible.

3. I’m TRYING to take the time to cook … and to think ahead so that I have a plan for WHAT to cook … and get the appropriate groceries for it (which– shocker– I also order online).

4. I’m figuring out how often I need to go to the chiropractor and therapist in order to stay healthy.

5. I’m developing plans for reading, writing, and exercise.

6. For the first time in my adult life, even books are included in my budget.

7. I think I need a mentor.

8. Online dating. (For now just online window shopping.)

9. More to come.

Did you like how this list when from ULTRA-DETAILED to totally vague?

IT’LL COME.

Tomorrow is December 1st, which gives me one month till the new year starts.

My roommate always gives each new year a name– The Year of the Lady, The Year of Saying Yes, The Year of Living Simply.

What should I name 2017 for me? Ideas?

 

 

A Better Question

Did I ever share this article with you guys? It’s important.

Instead of asking, “What do I want?” ask, “What is worth struggling for?”

I hope you’ll read this and share your thoughts.

It begins:

Everybody wants what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when you walk into the room.

Everyone would like that—it’s easy to like that.

If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything.

A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

Click here to read the rest.

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Perfectionism & Writing [& OCD Too]

messyYou’d think being a perfectionist would be beneficial for an artist, but I really don’t think that’s true.

(Neither, apparently, does Google: search “artists are perfectionists” and you’ll get the following:

 

For me, being a perfectionist means that writing a book can be a slow form of torture. You see, it takes a long time for a book to even begin to resemble perfection. You have to spend months, even years, sitting uncomfortably in the middle of a mess, working through sloppy drafts and chasing rabbit trails into very disorganized forests.

Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, it’s a continual lesson in learning to enjoy the process and not just the product. If I only enjoy the product, I will get to be happy about 24 hours out of every three years. This is a journey of embracing uncertainty, letting myself wait in the cold water till I begin to adjust.

And that’s the story of my life with OCD too. Heck, the story of my life, period.

I– a perfectionist, an OCD survivor– want pretty things in pretty boxes with pretty bows on top. I– an artist, an OCD survivor– know that’s not what life looks like. Life is full of doubt and wrong directions, wasted time and imperfect choices. Life is full of discomfort and years and years and years of tolerating discomfort … with the hope there is a pretty thing in a pretty box with a pretty bow at the end. But it is not guaranteed.

So, is art in general– or writing specifically– a difficult career choice for a perfectionist? Heck yes. But it’s fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful work– and it is helping me appreciate this fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful world.