Own Alone

For the past 8 years, I was a Valentine’s Day zombie.  Devouring hearts, aimlessly wandering greeting card aisles and drooling over a bunch of crap.  What can I say?  I’d been bitten.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with love and the expression of it on Valentine’s Day.  If that’s what you’ve got going on, own it!  But for me, right now, I’m putting the own back in alone.  Maybe you are, too.

I used to hate the word “alone”.  Being alone?  Gross!  Why?  Now, I revel in it.  What changed?  I’m finally learning to love myself.  I know, your eyes are burning from the cliché of it all, but it’s true!  Self-love may be the slippery unicorn of life, but it’s attainable.  Take it from a recovered hater.

I didn’t just wake up one day and think “Gee whiz! Being alone is the greatest!”  Nope.  In fact, after my husband took off I was all but surgically attached to my mother.  I could barely function on my own because I had been part of a unit for so many years.  I didn’t know how to be Tiff anymore.  I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, and I had amnesia.  I had forgotten that I was capable of taking care of myself and, most importantly, that I could thrive.

The learning curve was steep, but it was incredible.  Soon after my separation, I rekindled a friendship with a buddy who was also going through a divorce.  She stayed over one night and had to leave early in the morning, but not before she left me a note.  The note had instructions for self-care.  Things that had worked for her.  I wasn’t quite ready at the time to implement her great ideas, but it was the first time I started to see a light.  I have spent a lot of time with my buddy in recent months, and each time I learn something new from her about the beauty of alone.  She’s still learning, too.

It’s tough to be alone because there is silence.  Sometimes the silence is deafening.  That’s when the growing happens.  If you pop all of your thought bubbles, you will never watch them float effortlessly on the wind.  You have to observe them sometimes.  Other times, you need to just get up and dance, take a walk or watch your favorite show.  No matter how you do alone, remind yourself that there is healing in it.

I don’t say any of this to be preachy, or to lead the Valentine’s Day counterculture.  I say it because it’s possible that you are bumming hard today because you don’t have someone to remind you that you are loved.  Ah-ha, but you do!  You have you.


The Power of an Instead Life

A year ago today, I was out like a light.  That’s what happens when a doctor puts Propofol into your vein.  When I woke up from my procedure, my husband was there grasping my hand and saying “you did so great, baby.  I’m proud of you.”  It was all a lie, but I didn’t know it then. Exactly three weeks later, I grasped my beloved dad’s hand and watched him take his last breath.

I was committed to an idea of what my life would look like.  I squeezed that idea close to me, never letting it breathe.  But, if you hold on to your dreams too tightly, they will squirm out of your arms. Dreams want their freedom to grow and shift and change, like a child. Let them. They may mature into something greater than you could have ever imagined. I’m not saying that I was wrong to have dreams.  What would life be if we didn’t have any?  I’m saying that my dreams had four walls, and the walls were made of steel.

I learned my lesson the hard way.  Is any good lesson learned any other way?  Anxiety feeds on rigidity.  It savors it like a juicy filet and a nice glass of red. The tighter I grasped my dreams, the more anxious I felt.  The more trapped I became inside the steel walls.  It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized the walls were actually made of clouds on a windy day, ever shifting and changing.

My dad had big dreams, too.  He was planning to retire and devote the rest of his life to helping people.  Instead, he died.  My dream was to build a life, a family, with my husband.  Instead, he left.  Life is full of instead, and when you finally embrace the instead rather than fight it, you realize the secret: an “instead life” can be the greatest gift.

I’ve been living my instead life for many months now.  It’s tough sometimes because it feels like I’m living between two worlds.  The life I used to have—the one where I relied on my dad and my husband to be there, and my instead life—the one where I rely on myself to be there.  My instead life has been empowering.  Let me save you $20.00 on a self-help book: when you are walking through hell, grab your fire extinguisher and stop to smell the charred roses.  When you are feeling out of control about your life, the state of the country, or anything else that makes your heart pound and your stomach knot, try to embrace that feeling and know that you will learn something from it.  Let it empower you to do something, teach someone or change something.  Don’t let it immobilize you.  You might need tools to help you, like medication or meditation, but the more you embrace your instead life the more alive you will feel.

I have bad days where I want to kick my instead life in the face.  When I have those days, my wisest friends tell me something along the lines of “this too shall pass.”  It’s hard to believe that adage when you are in it.  But, it always does.  Sometimes I feel great and dance around my place to my favorite music, and sometimes I curl into a ball and cry.  But, at the end, I always embrace my instead life and face the things about it that make me most uncomfortable.  I hate traveling, but I just returned from a week-long work trip to New York.  I had an incredible time and I also got food poisoning.  While I was donating the contents of my stomach to the New York sewer system, I was also feeling extremely present in the moment.  That’s what my instead life has taught me.  There is a brilliant duality about life.  You have to ride the waves (of nausea sometimes) until the waters calm.

Maybe you haven’t glimpsed your instead life yet.  You will.  We all do at some point.  We lose someone we love, or get sick.  We change careers or we fall in love.  Your instead life will find you, like it or not.  Instead of pushing it away, grasp it by the hand and jump.

One More Time With Feeling

I moved to Chicago after I graduated from law school, nearly ten years ago. I had a nice little place in River North with a view of a tiny slice of the Chicago River and the Sears Tower (it was still called the Sears Tower back then—times were simpler).  I got new furniture for my living room, a sensible bed that had drawers and a shelf built in, and an awesome Buddha piece from Pier One Imports for my bedroom.  I was on my way.

Although I had lived in the Chicago area my entire life, save the 7 years I spent at Indiana University for undergrad and law school, living in Chicago proper was new for me. Most of my closest friends were in other states.  I was, not surprisingly, anxious about my social life in the big city.  So, I did what any *smart person would do.  I responded to a sign that said River North Singles.

*No smart person would do this.

I called the number (hey, remember when people used their phones to call numbers?) I made an appointment to meet with someone.  I walked over to the John Hancock building after work at my brand new job—my first job out of law school.  I rode the elevator up, up, up….to one of the weirdest conversations I would ever have.

It was a small office composed entirely of well-dressed women. I’m going to be honest, this is not what I expected when I called the number.  I didn’t expect to have a meeting to discuss my status as a “River North single.”  I kind of figured there would be a website I could visit, or a group I could join to meet other people.  Nope, there was an office.

This was a long time ago, so the details are fuzzy, but I do remember sitting in a small room with a woman who explained that they were, basically, a dating service. Suddenly, I felt completely trapped.  Like I was accidently in the closing room at a car dealership.  The woman chatted me up a bit about what I was looking for in a partner (I mentioned that I was Jewish). Then she handed me a binder full of men containing plastic coated pages of pictures and profiles, like I was a casting director.  Then, she left the room and asked me to look through them.

There were a bunch of Jewish men in the binder, several of whom I had already gone out with. Was this really happening?  Was Rod Serling going to pop out from behind the wall, cigarette in hand and say “in this tiny, poorly lit room, sits Tiffany gazing through a binder of potential suitors.  In a minute, Tiffany is about to have a terribly offensive conversation with a pushy woman and go home feeling more dejected than ever because she has now entered the Twilight Zone.”

A few minutes after I started flipping through the book, a different, better dressed woman entered the room. She was, clearly “the closer.”  She asked if I liked anything I saw.  I told her—in the nicest way a people pleaser can say it— no.  Then she said the following.  I will always remember it.  “Tiffany, you just moved to Chicago, right?  So, you bought a new couch, right?  Don’t you want someone to sit on that couch with?”  You guys, that really hurt. A lot.  And I almost took the bait. But it was also insanely hilarious at the same time.  In that moment, I decided I would find someone to sit on my couch with, but I was going to do it without the help of a closer.

I did end up meeting someone and getting married and, in subsequent years, we constantly complained about how our couch was way too small for the two of us.

Am I thrilled to be out there again? Fuck no.  I keep thinking about the late Carrie Fisher and my personal favorite roll she played, Marie in When Harry Met Sally.  In once classic scene, she turns to her partner, Jess, as they are lying in bed and says “tell me I’ll never have to be out there again.” I said those same words to my husband, but life is not always predictable.  Scratch that, it’s never predictable.

So, I’m out there and, oh boy, is it the wild west. When I was on the market, 8 years ago, I was on Jdate.  It was pretty simple.  Write a profile, connect with a guy, go on a date.  Now, it’s all about the dating apps.  I wonder how many calories you can burn swiping left and right.  Today I got a push notification from Hinge, a dating app, that said “we like Boomer for you.” Boomer! I’ve seen too many shirtless dudes, guys holding babies and then proclaiming in their profiles “not my baby!” and everything in between.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Loss and pain are incredible teachers.  If we are willing to do the work, they can teach us how to be better versions of ourselves.  So, although I’m still feeling my way through these changes, I can say that I am a lot more comfortable in my skin and know what I want.  It’s just a matter of finding it.  I’m confident I will because it turns out I’m pretty rad.

On my 25th birthday, during my last year of law school, my dear friend sat me down and shoved a piece of paper and a pen in front of me.  “I’m tired of hearing you complain.  I want you to sit here and write all of the things you are looking for in a guy!”  I obeyed.  I’m an entirely different person now.  So, I think it’s time for a new list.

I bet you’re wondering whatever became of that couch, aren’t you? The couch of doom.  The couch that a well dressed woman once told me I needed to share with someone.  I’m actually sitting on that couch as I write this, only I’ve pulled out the bed beneath it and thrown a memory foam mattress topper on it.  It’s glorious and it’s all mine.  It’s where I do my writing now, under a blanket that looks like a leopard.  That’s the thing I’ve learned about being single again.  Things that once felt small feel large again.  Like my life.




Fuck You, 2016. Thank You, 2016.

In many ways, 2016 was a dumpster fire started by a flaming arrow from hell.  The weird thing about this year is I’ve been saying “fuck 2016” since March.  Now, everyone I know has caught up to me.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but misery loves company.

So, how can I possibly look back on this year and thank it?  Because lessons.  That’s why.

I started 2016 as a science experiment.  At some point, I’m sure I’ll say more about that but, for now, that’s all I’m ready to share.  In March, exactly three weeks after Science Fair day, my dad died.  Because I was going through a tough time, my dad didn’t want me to know he had cancer.  Although his cancer progressed very quickly, he didn’t want the stress of knowing he was sick to hurt me.  He thought he would come through surgery, have a round of chemo and tell me about it later.  He didn’t. I found out he had cancer on February 29th (I’m glad Leap Day only comes once every four years) and he died on March 4th.

I wish I could say that I spent the rest of the year with a cup of tea, a blanket, and a deep dive into my grief, but I didn’t have the chance to do that. Shortly after my dad’s death, I was too busy processing a health scare with my mom (she’s just fine, thankfully), more science experiments and my life being uprooted by the person I thought I could trust the most in the world (and let’s not forget the trip to Disney that is divorce).  Then, towards the end of the year, my wonderful boss retired and my colleague, whom I see as more of a sister than a co-worker, moved back home to Texas.

Still, somehow, through all that muck in the drain, I was able to pull out the sapphire (remind me to tell you the story of the time I dropped a sapphire earring down the sink drain on the day of my Bat Mitzvah- because I’m a klutz, that’s why).

It took me some time to learn my lessons this year, and I’m still learning them as I count down to 2017.  In fact, my mom is almost entirely responsible for helping to build me back up after losing my dad and marriage.  I don’t want to write about my marriage through this blog, because that’s not something for public consumption and, frankly, that’s not the purpose of this blog. I will say this—for a while, I lost sight of who I was and the awesome stuff I was capable of. As the end of the year approaches in just a few days I can say, with complete honesty, that I am closer to restoration of my factory settings.

A couple things happened shortly after my husband left that helped to rebuild my character and replenish my humor.

Over Labor Day weekend, I was at my place trying to get things back in order and I, no joke, dropped my keys right down the elevator shaft in my building. I know!  Just like a fucking character in a romantic comedy (and I hate romantic comedies), I just listened to them clank, clank, clank as they fell to the basement floor.  They were the only set I had with a key to my mailbox and a key fob to the elevator.  One guess as to who had the other set.  I couldn’t believe it was happening, and then I thought “oh yeah!  It’s 2016.  Of course this is happening!”  I think the Otis man was really uncomfortable when I hugged him a few days later after he retrieved my keys.

A few weeks later, I wanted to sell my car.  I got a quote from Carmax and drove it home.  Then, when I was cleaning it out, I accidentally left the passenger door open.  The already mostly-dead battery fully died.  I couldn’t jump it either.  I just blinked, blinked, cried and then laughed and said “oh, 2016, you evil dungeon master!”  Sometimes, you just have to blink a few times and then laugh. It all ended up working itself out.

Did you hear that?  I’ll repeat it.  It all ended up working itself out.

That’s been the theme of 2016.  Horror.  Blink.  Keep moving forward.

The truth is, towards the end of the year things have really begun to take shape for me because I’ve learned to let the light in a little bit. I’ve reconnected with some incredible friends and made some really interesting new ones. I went to a trampoline park and jumped my heart out.  I stayed up past midnight a few times.  I know, right?!  I threw away a bunch of stuff and, most importantly, I started writing again. It’s still really tough sometimes. I’m not going to pretend it’s not.  But it’s been pretty awesome to savor the good stuff.

I know 2016 was tough for you, too, because 2016 was tough for literally everyone.  Maybe you lost someone who meant something to you.  Maybe it was David Bowie, or your favorite uncle, or your dog.  Maybe you lost your job.  Maybe you’re a freak of nature and this year was awesome for you. Good for you.

If 2016 was tough for you, walk yourself over to the mirror, blink twice, tell yourself it’s going to be all right and keep moving forward.

See you all in 2017.

Eat Wild Prey, Love

Is it weird that sometimes I feel pressure to do something with my grief?  To eat? To pray? To love?  To hike?

Eat? I haven’t really eaten a healthy meal since March- I’m still trying to kick the wicked dark chocolate Ensure addiction that I developed when my dad was in the hospital.  It was the only thing I could stomach.  Pray? I recall about half of the words to any Jewish prayer at any given time.  Baruch At…ah crap, I forgot the words again.  Love?  I’m not sure I even understand the meaning of that word anymore.  Hike?  Tempting, but there is a high likelihood that I would be eaten by something large and furry.  I confess that I’ve never actually read Eat, Pray, Love or Wild (I am reading Tiny Beautiful Things so get off my back!), but I do like the concept of journeying big to find meaning.  It’s just not my style.  Anxious people don’t really journey big.  They take staycations.  My grief is like a staycation.  It mostly sucks, but it has its moments.

It’s true when they say that the stages of grief aren’t linear.  Why the fuck not?  Because that would be too easy.  Oh!  Done with sadness, let’s check that off the ‘ole “to do” list.  Denial?  I’m the Queen of Denial!  Nope!  You cycle through the stages.  It’s as if you’re riding a merry-go-round.  You’re bobbing up and down on your pretty, painted, pony in a forward motion and, suddenly, someone plucks you up flips you around and makes you ride it backwards.  Two steps forward, two steps back.  You didn’t know it at the time, but Paula Abdul was a goddamn grief counselor.

Here is the secret- grief itself is the journey.  It’s tangible. It’s a trail guide.  It’s a time machine and a time thief.  It’s an angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.  It’s an impossible labyrinth that is somehow conquerable.  Trust me.  You can’t lose a parent and go through a divorce in one year and not learn a thing or two about the internal journey of grief.

Here is another secret- grief is that teacher you hated as a kid but look back on now and secretly thank for giving you chops.  I had a teacher like that in 5th grade.  She smelled my fear and called on me when I didn’t raise my hand and, instead, tried to slink down in my chair. Because I knew she was coming for me, I studied every night and, eventually, I raised my hand and sat tall in my chair. Action, the enemy of anxiety.  Acceptance, the enemy of grief.  I hear it’s the last stage, too.  The end of the line.  Maybe.

I’ve almost reached the acceptance stage a few times and then circled back to anger and sadness, because I like to go back and double check my work.  I’m getting there though.  I feel mostly okay on a lot more days.  I laugh a lot more and answer honestly when people ask how I’m doing.  “I’m okay.”

I know a lot of you understand loss and some of you don’t yet.  You will at some point, in some way or another.  When you do, you’ll clutch the pole of your painted pony and realize your hands are slipping.  It’s okay.  Know that you’ll be okay.  Own your journey, whatever that journey looks like to you.


Will the Real Rebecca Bunch Please Stand Up?

When a billboard popped up in my Chicago neighborhood for the show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, I produced an eye roll so epic that I almost needed emergency surgery.  I turned to my husband and said “I would never watch that show!  How sexist! Way to propagate the stereotype that women are crazy!” Then, we walked home, hand-in-hand, made dinner and settled in to a nice night of cuddling and T.V. watching on the couch.

Fast forward a year.

A couple of months ago, I had brunch with two of my girlfriends to catch them up on the absolutely hellish year I was having. I explained that in March, I lost my incredible dad to bladder cancer.  By the time he was diagnosed, it was basically too late. When he died, a part of me died, too.  Less than 5 months later, while I was still grieving the loss of my dad, hard, my husband walked out on me.  I was absolutely shocked.  I didn’t see it coming—we were actively planning for a family.  I was in the middle of ugly crying through my updates when my friend turned to me and said “have you seen the show crazy ex girlfriend?” I paused, looked at her and thought, Really?  Really!?  That’s your suggestion right now? To watch some sexist tv show? Then, she told me a little about the show and simply said “trust me.”

So, I went home that day, pulled up season one on Netflix and was immediately hooked.

The protagonist of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is Rebecca Bunch, who leaves her stressful lawyer life in New York and moves to West Covina, California after she runs into her high school boyfriend.  However, as the theme song of the show teaches us, “it’s a lot more nuanced than that.”

Rebecca starts out as a Xanax popping workaholic who is clearly not happy with any aspect of her life.  Episode one begins with a flashback to a summer camp she attended in high school where she meets Josh Chan, her true love—well, according to her.  When Josh’s parents come to pick him up at the end of the summer, Rebecca, the romantic that she is, wrongly assumes that their love will transcend all time and space.  Instead, Josh tells her that she is weird and dramatic.  She doesn’t see Josh again until ten years later when she bumps into him on the street, minutes after having a panic attack about the trajectory of her career and life.  Josh is getting ready to move from New York back home to West Covina, California.  He tells her how happy California makes him and how New York just isn’t for him.  As he walks away, the word “happy” resonates in Rebecca’s mind and, the next thing we know, she’s moving to West Covina, too. There’s a song about it! There are a lot of other songs throughout season one of the show, and they are all delightful and poignant (and on the CW website).

About 20 minutes into the first episode, all I could think was will the real Rebecca Bunch please stand up? During the first season, we learn Rebecca is a lawyer- guilty, so am I.  She sings- do re me, too.  She’s Jewish– oy, I am as well.  She’s got anxiety- pass the Xanax!  And she has heavy boobs—in college I had to hug myself when I ran on the treadmill.  In short, I’m standing up.

Throughout the season, Rebecca learns a lot of valuable lessons.  But, she doesn’t learn them in a saccharin Full House sort of way.  She learns them by wading through a lot of crap (in one episode she literally climbs into a sewer).  It felt like I was watching my own therapy.  With every hurdle Rebecca overcame, I too felt like I had the courage to overcome the absolute shit storm that was my life.

The first few weeks after my husband left were terrifying for me.  I had spent nearly every day with him for seven and a half years and I didn’t know how to start over.  I could barely eat, I could barely sleep.  I felt my dad’s absence more intensely.  But, little by little, I started to come back.  I remember the first time I heard Rebecca’s West Covina bestie, Paula, sing about facing your fears. It just woke me up, and cracked me up, and suddenly I was like, yes, Paula!  I will face my fears! There was nothing that could possibly be as terrifying as losing my beloved dad and my husband within 5 months of each other.  Nothing.  And I survived both of those things. That realization pushed me forward. When you reach rock bottom there is no other option but to face your fears.

The episode that opened my eyes the most was “Josh Has No Idea Where I am.”  In this one, Rebecca realizes that she never learned to put the things that made her happiest first.  In the case of this episode, it was her love of performing.  Instead, she always let herself get distracted by terrible men or the need to please everyone around her.  She was never good at simply “doing Rebecca.”  That episode straight up inspired me. For months I had cried about my dad and about my marriage.  Frankly, it had been years since I explored or indulged any of the things that made me happiest- like writing and performing.  So, I started writing again and it made me feel empowered.  I started cracking jokes again and it felt good to make people laugh.

I’ve been looking at my life through a new lens since I discovered the show.  The thing I love the most about Rebecca is that she’s not perfect and she’s certainly not crazy.  She’s human.  Sure, she’s a bit dramatic, but what’s wrong with that?

Is it scary to start over?  Hell yes.  But, Rebecca did it and so can I.


“A” For Effort

The first time I had a Xanax, it took 20 minutes.  I don’t mean that it took 20 minutes to kick in, I mean that it took me 20 minutes to swallow it.  It balanced in my palm for 20 minutes while I deliberated about whether or not I should take it.  For those in the audience who have never heard of Xanax, it’s a medication for people who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety.  It’s meant to alleviate anxiety, not cause it.  Anxiety is funny like that though.  Before it sat in my palm for 20 minutes, the Xanax sat on my shelf for over a year so, by the time I took it, it was expired.

I burst forth into this world with anxiety.  Doesn’t everyone?  Isn’t crying the first act of our humanity?  We’re not crying because of the deeply spiritual experience of being born, we’re crying because it’s fucking terrifying to be a thing in this world, and it’s instinct to cry. Anxiety has followed me throughout my life.  I think of it as the Cheshire Cat, just hovering over me with an asshole grin.  Have you ever gone to the Disney Store to buy a stuffed Cheshire Cat to remind yourself that it’s the physical embodiment of your anxiety? I have.

Until recently, I thought of my anxiety like a scarlet letter.  I think a lot of us feel this way about our anxiety, that it’s something to be ashamed of.  Instead, I’ve started thinking of it like Superman’s iconic “S”.  I’ve heard a lot of people talk about their anxiety like it’s a superpower and I think that’s accurate.  Anxiety allows you to think extremely quickly, and process all potential realities.  But, with great power comes great exhaustion.

In March, I lost my dad to cancer.  It was quick and, for a week, the Cheshire Cat was there over my shoulder, grinning like an asshole.  But I learned that the nemesis of Anxiety is The Moment.  Living in the moment (some call it mindfulness) keeps the flies from buzzing around you.  On the day my dad died, I watched his chest for hours.  I’ve never been so aware of anything in my life.  I’ve never been so in the moment.

My dad was the master of living in the moment.  He meditated twice a day for most of his life and he helped people all over the world to learn how to heal, process and let go through his energy work.  I was always proud of him, but I never understood how he was able to be still and centered.  I’ve come to realize he was that way because he practiced it consciously.  It doesn’t come easily to anyone and, if they tell you it does, they are lying.

My dad accepted the fact that he was going to die with grace and beauty.  He died with a smile on his face that seemed to get wider after he passed away.  It wasn’t a frantic, Cheshire Cat smile.  It was a smile that said “I died as I lived- in peace.”

This blog is a tribute to my dad.  It’s my way of being in the moment, if only for a little while.  It’s my way of understanding my anxiety and walking through it.  I started it over a year ago and, much like the Xanax, it sat on the shelf for a while.  But now, I’m dusting it off, taking a big gulp and moving forward.

Thanks for reading.