Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

With less than 7 days until D(ivorce)-Day, it's probably no surprise that I'm in the mood to reflect. I was reminded today of just how generous and kind people can be to a relative stranger, and how meaningful the little things can be to someone who feels like she's drowning in bigger things.

As part of the terms of my divorce, I'm keeping my house but have to refinance in order to get the mortgage into my name only. I met with my mortgage broker (who helped my ex and I when we purchased the house 3 years ago) last month to start the process, explaining the circumstances so that she'd understand how the divorce timeline would impact the closing date. I expected the typical niceties - "I'm so sorry to hear that", etc. - but instead what I got was the most surprising show of support from a relative stranger that I've seen yet. Her exact words were, "I've been there. It gets better." It was nothing I hadn't heard before, but that it came from someone I barely knew - someone who went out of her way to share a little of herself and say something comforting when she really didn't need to - meant so much. It still brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

She surprised me again when we met to discuss my loan options. She knew the divorce lawyer and refinance fees left me financially strapped (she had all my financial information at her fingertips, after all), and gave me a discount on her commission. Again, I was surprised and, of course, appreciative. And then today she sent me an email to let me know that she sat on hold with the bank for an hour to get my rate down another 0.125%, even though it meant she would take a hit on her commission. This woman had spent another hour of her time trying to help me even though it was going to cost her money in the end. I was genuinely touched. For some reason I still can't quite put my finger on, it reassured me that everything was going to work out just fine.

Throughout the whole process of my separation and divorce, one of the things I've feared most was being judged for my choices. It terrifies me that people will look at me and think that I'm a quitter, or cold-hearted, or worst, a failure. My fears aren't unfounded; I'm sure there are plenty of people who have judged me along the way. But I also learned two things that are much more valuable. First, that there are at least as many people who will set judgment aside and exhibit more kindness and generosity that I could ever hope for. And even more importantly, it really does get better.

The last thing I want is for this post to read as a shameless plug for my mortgage broker. However, I really can't say enough good things about her. She's professional, competent, and I think you can probably see that she'll go well beyond what's required of her to help out her customers. Anyone in the Austin, Texas, area who would like her name, please feel free to leave me a comment with your email address here, or DM me on twitter (@erinmcclelland), and I'll be happy to send it to you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Life of Endless Possibility

Anyone who knows me fairly well (or really, who has ridden in a car with me) knows that I'm a pretty big fan of NPR. I listen to it during my daily commute, and aside from "The Daily Show," it's really my main source of news. This afternoon's episode of "All Things Considered" featured an interview with a woman who spent several years working for professional gamblers and bookies. I'm pretty risk-averse, and gambling really doesn't hold much appeal for me. (My high school graduation party featured a "casino" where we could gamble with "chips" given to us. I abstained from playing rather than lose my literally worthless chips. Yeah, I know.) I'm definitely not someone who would ever wind up in a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. But the book's author, Beth Raymer, surprised me when she characterized these people's addiction in a way I'd never considered. She described them as having an "addiction to living a life of endless possibility."

On hearing this, my first thought was, "How can an addiction like that be a bad thing?" Of course, I realize that Raymer is referring to a gambler's belief that the next roll of the dice/hand he's dealt/day at the races really could be "the big one." He never believes he has no chance at winning big - he steadfastly believes that the possibility is always there, tomorrow, next week, and next year, even. 

Obviously, this sort of blind faith is what leads many gamblers down a slippery slope. But is this stubborn belief in possibilities necessarily a bad thing? To spend your life imagining possibilities and pursuing your dreams sounds so ideal to me. I imagine waking up and truly believing that I could do or be anything that day. I could learn to throw pottery and start my own business, or take up the guitar and discover I have real talent, or sell all my possessions and travel around the world for two years. It seems like believing that every day offers the possibility of being and experiencing anything would be so freeing.

And yet, if the possibilities are endless, even when you do attain something do you feel like you have anything at all? Or does it become a never-ending chase, where you reach one goal only to be reminded of the innumerable other things as yet undone? Is the belief freeing, or is it a straitjacket? 

I guess what I'm really asking is, how do you balance the need to see possibilities and seek out new experiences with the equally important need to recognize when you've finally found "enough"?

I worry that this sort of thinking is part of what undid my marriage. My ex is a good man who will be an excellent husband to an equally wonderful woman one day. But when we were together, the more I thought about our relationship, the more I fixated on the other possibilities that might be out there for me. Could I be happier/more satisfied/more excited? The potential options seemed so real and offered so much hope, I couldn't imagine that what I already had was quite enough.

Logically, I know that our marriage failed because we weren't the right fit. But I still have a nagging worry in the back of my mind: Will I ever know "enough" when I see it? What will it look like? What will it be that finally tells me that, yes, there are still possibilities out there, but that what I have is precious enough not to be lured away? Or am I actually just like one of those gamblers Beth Raymer writes about, someone who's addicted to endless possibility of a slightly different kind?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day, Dad

I wanted to write some sort of deeply moving post about my dad for Father's Day, but everything I drafted felt cheesy and forced. So instead, I'll just tell a story.

When my ex and I finally decided to separate, it was an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved. He signed a lease on a Saturday, and I immediately called home to talk to my mom, who'd been a constant source of support through everything. The only problem: I'd forgotten that my mom was out of town with her friends for the weekend. I remembered instantly when my dad answered the phone (something he only does if 1) my mom isn't home, and 2) he isn't too busy watching an auto race on TV). 

I was a little scared to tell my dad that the separation had officially arrived. I had assumed my mom told him that my ex and I were talking about separating, but I had never actually talked to my dad about the possibility, or any of the problems in my marriage, for that matter. My dad is a pretty black-and-white thinker, and I was worried that he'd tell me that I had to stick things out at all costs, that I'd said "I do" and there was no going back on that. 

I started to cry as I told him that my ex was moving out, bracing myself for his response. I waited and listened, and then found myself surprised. His voice softened as he sympathized with me, calling me "sweetie" and letting me know that whatever my decision, he and my mom would support me in it. I was relieved. I don't think he realized what a gift he had given me just then: the freedom to make the decision that was best for me and know that my parents would be there, no matter what.

In retrospect, I should have expected him to react this way. He's always supported me in my major life decisions. My fear was irrational, based more on my own judgments of myself than anything else. 

Nevertheless, on this Father's Day, I want to stop and say "thank you." Thanks, Dad, for surprising me and reminding me why Robin and I really are two of the luckiest daughters around.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You...

Looking over my last post, I realized that the ten questions I posed to my awardees revealed as much about myself as they were intended to reveal about them. And since you and I are still in the early stages of a blogger-blog reader relationship, I thought it would be interesting to answer those questions myself. 

1) Would you rather have a hook for a hand or a peg leg? Why? "Neither" is not an option. 
Now, I really struggled with this question. What style hook would it be? Like Captain Hook's? Or could it be like an Inspector Gadget arm that telescoped and extended as necessary? And that peg leg - what material are we talking about? Wood? That would be susceptible to termites and water damage. Ooooh, what about marble? That might be nice. Ultimately, I'm going to go with the peg leg. I think it would interfere less with my everyday life, and there seem to be more options for kick-ass styling.

2) What song can you absolutely not resist dancing or singing along to when you hear it?
I have a lot of songs I can't resist dancing to, especially in the car. But the one that always, always gets me is Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual." In high school, I had a slight obsession with Sir Tom, and especially this song. It's a total feel-good song. Listen to it, and just try to tell me it doesn't make you wanna dance. Go on, I'm waiting.


Oh, you liar! I saw you dancing!

3) Goats or raccoons: which are more evil and why? 
This one is easy: goats, hands down. I hate goats. It doesn't surprise me at all that they're associated with the devil. This loathing extends back to when I was about four years old and my mom took me to the Happy Hollow petting zoo. I turned my back on a goat for just a few seconds, and before I knew it he was trying to eat me! Hairy goat lips nipping at my back as he tore chunks from my shirt. I was terrified! And scarred for life. Then, 24 years later, the goats were at it again. I got married at a venue that had horses, donkeys, and... goats. And before the ceremony, two of the goats got loose on the dance floor, apparently trying to ruin my wedding. Maybe they even wanted some of my tasty wedding dress, I don't know. What I do know is that goats are evil, and I'm staying the hell away from them. You should too.

4) If you could travel to any place you wanted, in any time period you wanted, when and where would you go?
Well, I definitely wouldn't want to go too far back in the past. I've worn a corset (don't ask), which makes me intimately familiar with the oppression of women, and I want no more of that, thankyouverymuch. I'm thinking 1920s Paris might be interesting. Or tagging along on an archaeological dig in Egypt in the early 1930s, experiencing all the excitement of uncovering an ancient pharaoh's tomb for the first time. Right now I'd even take a present-day beach in Hawaii or the Caribbean somewhere. I think I just need a vacation.

5) If you could resurrect one canceled television show, which one would you choose and why?
My first instinct was to say Firefly, but I feel like that show's loose ends got tied up okay in the movie Serenity. So I'm going to say The Cleaner, which A&E canceled after just two seasons. The acting was moving, the writing was superb, and I cried during nearly every episode. It was just an excellent show and it's a shame more people didn't watch it.

6) What is your favorite curse or insult to hurl at someone?
Normally, my answer would be "douche-canoe." But lately, thanks to @BPGlobalPR, I've discovered a new fondness for "pickledick." Both are solid insults, but right now, I'm going to have to go with "pickledick." Also, if you aren't familiar with @BPGlobalPR, read it. It's a hilarious send-up of BP's dumbass handling of the oil spill in the Gulf.

7) What flavor ice cream would you be and why? Bonus: Would you be tempted to eat yourself? 
First off, there would have to be some chocolate involved. I love chocolate. But maybe not as the base. I'm thinking a sweet cream base, a swirl of coffee or espresso syrup, and some toasted hazelnuts and big chunks of really good quality dark chocolate mixed in. It's not a flavor for everyone, but it's damn good and plenty of people would like it. Much like me. Oh, and yes, I'd totally eat myself, no question about it.

8) What is the most valuable lesson you've learned so far in life?
It sounds simple, but it's really not: don't worry about things that don't matter. What matters to you is going to be very different from what matters to me. And it's hard work figuring out what really matters. For me, having an immaculate house matters less than spending quality time with good friends. Arguing a point with a stranger out of principle (because dammit, I'm right!) matters a heck of a lot less than behaving in a way that doesn't make me turn red when I look in the mirror. And being liked matters much, much less than being true to myself. Do I always live up to these standards? Nope, not at all. But at least I have a sense of what matters to me, and I'm trying to live it.

9) Whom do you prefer, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.... in bed?
Who came up with this question? Jon Stewart, duh. I love funny Jews.

10) If you could change your first name to anything you wanted, what would you choose for yourself and why? 
I wouldn't. I used to want something girlier, or more exotic and intriguing, or even a more interesting spelling, but the truth is, I'm an Erin. It suits me. Short and sweet and to-the-point, no-nonsense, not overly feminine, but still a pretty name (or I think so, anyway). It's just me.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's a Major Award!

My blog, just one post in, has already won an award! It's gotta be some kind of record. I'm pretty sure it's because I'm good friends with the woman doing the awarding, Allison over at Not-a-Fortune, but still - I'm a winner!

Frah-gee-lay. It must be Italian!

The award does come with some strings attached - namely, that I have to answer 10 questions of Allison's choosing and then "pay it forward" (in other words, embarrass myself publicly and then embarrass other people publicly). Lucky for everyone, I excel at both these things.  So, without further adieu...

Allison's Ten Questions
1. Would you rather give up wine or cheese for the rest of your life?
Seriously? Are you a sadist? This is just wrong... Cheese, I guess. But really, this question is all kinds of f'ed up.

2. Do you believe in soulmates? Why or why not?
Meh, sorta. I believe that everyone has multiple soulmates, and that they aren't necessarily romantic. And I think different people can be soulmates for different parts of your soul. For example, Allison is my sarcasm soulmate. My mother is my making-up-any-excuse-to-eat-good-food soulmate. ("Carrot cake counts as a serving of vegetables, right?" "Of course! And the raisins are fruit!")

3. Where is your favorite place?
Again, I have different favorite places for doing different things. There is one park in the hills of West Austin that I absolutely love - it has dense trees and water running over a dam and it's a little bit different every time I go there, so it always feels like a mini-adventure.
See? Gorgeous. 

4. Recommend one book for me (and my readers). Tell us why we should read it.
Oh geez. Just one? How about The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Great exploration of modern food production and consumption practices, and informative without being preachy. Changed the way I want to eat (though I can't really afford to actually change it completely).

5. If you had to choose one singer/band to listen to for the rest of your life, who would it be?
I'm kind of addicted to Joe Purdy right now. He's an amazing singer-songwriter, and he's even better live. Plus, he puts out a new album every year and a half or so, so there would be new material forthcoming on a pretty regular basis.

6. What is your favorite walk?
The zombie shuffle from the "Thriller" video, duh. I love it so much I (kind of) learned it myself. You can too. Bonus: it's a great workout.

Skip to about 8:25 if you're impatient. But really, the whole video is worth the 13:42 of your life that it takes up. Really.

7. Describe your favorite smell.
The smell of anything my mother cooks. Seriously - french toast, her amazing greek lamb with orzo, apple crisp, even her plain old roast chicken. As a kid I had a friend who would come over and always comment that our house smelled amazing, and it was my mom's cooking that made her say it. Always delicious. Except for that hamburger stroganoff she made one time. That was nasty. Remember that, Mom?

8. Name your five favorite TV shows.
Since Allison didn't specify current or off-the-air, I'm going to go ahead and create two lists. Allison, this is what you get for not being specific.
1) The Closer - Hands-down, Kyra Sedgwick plays the strongest and best-written female lead on television.
2) Parenthood -  Somehow, this show manages to be poignant, funny, and about as realistic feeling as a scripted television show can be, all at the same time. The cast is amazing, and it doesn't hurt that the creators pull together a great soundtrack too. Oh, and I love me some Dax Shepard and Peter Krause.
3) In Plain Sight -  Another one with a strong female lead, this show is also great if you love sarcasm. Mary McCormack's character is acerbic and flawed, yet likable at the same time. Something about her humanity draws me in.

4) Supernatural - The story of two brothers who travel around the country fighting supernatural bad guys and accidentally bring on the apocalypse while they're at it. No, really. If you liked the monster-of-the-week episodes of The X-Files, you'll like this show. And it's funny, and it's got great music. And the boys are hot. What's not to like?
5) Burn Notice - I struggled with this last choice, because there are a lot of other shows I really love too. But this show just had its season premiere last night, and I remembered why I love it so much. It's got action, drama, and humor all rolled into one. It's got Bruce Campbell, even. You can't argue with that. 

1) Six Feet Under - Quite simply, an amazing show. Over the five seasons it was on the air, the characters went through incredible metamorphoses. While the plot was often far-fetched, the human-ness of the characters made you happily ignore the implausibilities.
2) The X-Files - I'll probably catch some heat for this one, but I don't care. The first four or five seasons were pure gold.
3) The West Wing - I don't care what your politics are, this show was wonderfully written and acted. 
4) The Cleaner - Or, as I like to call it, "the show that died too soon." It made it through two seasons before being canceled. Based on the life of an actual person who helped addicts get clean by any means necessary, Benjamin Bratt did a terrific job on this show.
5) Firefly - I'm not a die-hard Joss Whedon fan - I never watched Buffy or Angel - but Firefly was awesome. Part sci-fi, part western, all awesome, it's another one with a great plot that blended humor and drama seamlessly.

9. Word association: When I say "fortune cookie," what comes to mind?
Allison and her bad-ass blog. She takes no cookie inserts prisoner - all are subject to her critiques for not being fortune-y enough.

10. Cat or dog?
Cat. Specifically, Juliette, the fuzzy gray love of my life.

All right, here comes the pay-it-forward part. I get to select some blog winners of my own and pose my own hard-hitting questions to them. Prepare for the Barbara Walters treatment!

First up is Pretty Bird Press. I'm going to preface this by saying that this blog's author, Sarah, hasn't had the chance to write much lately and so she may not respond (although I hope she does). When she does find the time to put together a post, it often includes the most adorable craft projects, gorgeous photographs, and inspirational quotes. I love her, and you will too. 

Next we have The Bloggess. All I can say is that this lady is seriously funny. And she wears wigs and red dresses and writes a sex column and doles out some awesome advice. If you don't already read her blog, you should stop whatever you're doing - even if it's performing open heart surgery - and subscribe now. Seriously. Get to it.

If you enjoy craftiness, especially of the hand-sewn variety, then you simply must get to know Wendy over at I Love Baby Quilts! She sews, entirely by hand, the most gorgeous quilts, toys and even clothes for herself and others. Plus, she includes tons of pictures of her amazingly cute kids.

This last award goes to I Was Killed in Vietnam in 1962... Max doesn't post his writings often, but what he does post is engaging, surprising, and well written. Add it to your feed and you'll find that his sporadic posts brighten your days.

All right award winners, now you've got to pay it forward by posting your own awardees on your blog and your own ten questions for them, along with your own answers to the following questions:

1) Would you rather have a hook for a hand or a peg leg? Why? "Neither" is not an option. (Allison, that one was for you)

2) What song can you absolutely not resist dancing or singing along to when you hear it?

3) Goats or raccoons: which are more evil and why?

4) If you could travel to any place you wanted, in any time period you wanted, when and where would you go? 

5) If you could resurrect one canceled television show, which one would you choose and why?

6) What is your favorite curse or insult to hurl at someone?

7) What flavor ice cream would you be and why? Bonus: Would you be tempted to eat yourself?

8) What is the most valuable lesson you've learned so far in life?

9) Whom do you prefer, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.... in bed?

10) If you could change your first name to anything you wanted, what would you choose for yourself and why?

Okay bloggers, you have your awards and your questions, now get to work!