A new season

Written by hootenannie on October 3rd, 2017

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where the leaves are the color of sweet potatoes, the color of pumpkins. After a long, brutal summer, it’s as if all of nature is conspiring to remind me that it’s time for a new season.

Madeline L’Engle says, “Until I can mourn the loss of a dream, I cannot be comforted enough to have vision for a fresh one,” and she’s right. When life drops out from beneath your feet, there is no getting back to business as usual. The past several months have been saturated with emptiness, and for a while there, I was passing my days like a ghost. People have asked, “So what do you think you’ll do next?” but there has been no way to answer. Mourning the loss of a dream can be all consuming — and for one who historically has been relatively strong, I’ll be honest: the experience came as a shock.

But like C.S. Lewis says, “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”

As I lay my options on the table, I realize that I am lucky to have so many. I am rich in opportunities, possibilities, and most of all, relationships; if I’ve learned anything through what happened, it’s that my people are fierce, loyal, and will show up and show out on my behalf. While I still don’t have a clear vision for my future, I am starting to remember what it feels like to be me — which is to say that I am loved. What more could I ask for, really?

When dashed against the rocks and cast adrift from all that once seemed so solid, it’s tempting to want to cling to pieces of the life I had before. I’m like Jack from Lost, yelling after Kate, “We have to go back!” but there is no going back. There is no resuscitation of what once was. The only hope for a way forward is resurrection — and unfortunately, the obvious prerequisite for resurrection is… death.

I recently read Jonathan Martin’s How to Survive a Shipwreck, and perhaps not-so-ironically, it was a life raft for my stunned and battered heart. This passage jumped off the page and grabbed me:

“Coming to the end of anything — the end of an era, the end of a relationship, the end of ourselves — is so horribly frightening when you are on the front side of resurrection… But I would encourage you, softly and gently, to consider carefully anything in your life that is half-dead — existing on a ventilator. And to at least be open to the possibility that it could be time to unplug the ventilator. Not as an act of cowardice or an act of resignation, but as an act of bold, courageous faith — putting all your weight down on the hope of resurrection. What looks like resignation may be the ultimate act of faith, the supreme expression of trust. And what you are keeping on life support may be exactly the thing that is keeping you from the wonder and terror of new life.”

I have been opting for resuscitation over resurrection, but there is no life for me there anymore. A new season is waiting — and I’m feeling just audacious enough to believe it.

The blaze of autumn leaves will soon be dead on the ground. But in their falling, space is being made for new life. It’s the most achingly beautiful thing I can think of.

No grit, no pearl

Written by hootenannie on September 6th, 2017

Several years ago, I took to writing the word “grit” on my wrist. Any time I was faced with a challenge, emotional or physical, I would take a Sharpie and give myself a visible reminder to hang tough.

Because that’s what grit is: courage in the face of anything. Strength of character. Steely-eyed endurance. Firmness of mind. An indomitable spirit. Pluck. I like these descriptions; they’re traits I’d like to embody, words of fortitude, resilience, and backbone. “Grit” was on my wrist when I climbed a host of Colorado mountains by myself, when I went into difficult meetings at work, and when I ran my first marathon earlier this year. Associating myself with the concept of grit, no matter how contrived, makes me feel strong and capable and — if I’m honest — like a badass. I like this version of grit.

But there’s a more literal, concrete definition: grit can simply refer to rough, loose particles of stone or sand. The other day, I was walking Foxy on a dirt trail in flip-flops, and felt the sharpness of dust and gravel slide in against my feet. Grit can be abrasive. Grit can be painful.

Anyone who has gone through major loss knows that there are moments in which survival feels impossible. Sharp sadness invades uninvited and rubs so raw it feels as if your heart cannot go on beating, that the open wound of gritty grief might actually kill you. This has been true for me in the aftermath of my recent unraveling. On the worst days, my heart has felt so exposed, so sore, that I have been tempted to react desperately and defensively. I’m ready to build a shield to protect myself from ever hurting this way again.

But then I remember, that is not how the pearl gets made.

Like our hearts, oysters are soft and tender, relying on their hard shells to keep them safe. But occasionally, a grain of sand will sneak in, and this coarse foreign object — this grit — can cause pain, rock against flesh. One might think that the oyster would react protectively, forming a leathery callous to protect itself, but it doesn’t. The oyster remains soft, yielding to the suffering, and slowly, over time, begins to wrap the grain of sand in translucent layers of beauty.

The pearl is the oyster’s response to the pain.

I wish it didn’t hurt so badly. I wish the pain could be erased. But as my friend Becky recently said to me, “God isn’t an eraser, he’s a redeemer.” There is no changing what has happened, no denial of what’s been done — but there is hope for redemption, for something beautiful and new. God brings beauty from ashes and pearls from dirt.

So I will keep my heart soft, giving myself over to the pain in the trust that it will be transformed. I will keep my back strong, summoning the courage and resolve to keep going. And I will keep my wrist inked — now permanently — with grit.

Grief, forgiveness, and love

Written by hootenannie on August 28th, 2017

A few months ago, my life was completely upended when a man I deeply loved betrayed my trust and broke my heart. While the details matter to me, all I’ll say is this: I was planning to move to Nashville so we could be together, but it didn’t happen. The relationship was serious enough to warrant me selling my house and putting a down payment on another — but when a man tells you there’s someone else, you do not follow through with a move across the country to be with him.

I have hesitated to write about this, because in doing so, I can only share my own experience. This person is living a now separate narrative, and despite the pain that his choices have put me through, I am not out to demonize or villainize anyone involved. He meant more to me than that. I’m just sad.

I want to be honest about what I’ve gone through, what I’m still going through. I am not writing from a place of resolution or remedy; the heartache is still very much in process for me because I lost so much. I lost a man who had become my best person. I lost a relationship I had been led to believe was “it.” I lost a dream of a future that had made so much sense — even felt confirmed and ordained by God, to be honest. I lost not one, but two houses. I lost any sense of direction or home. I lost the ability to trust. I lost 15 lbs and a whole lot of money. I lost everything we had been building toward. Cruelest of all, in some moments, I lost all hope.

:::::

How do you hold the conflicting emotions of heartbreak, anger, and the remnants of love all at the same time? It’s an unbearable tension. But here is what I’m learning.

GRIEF
To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.

But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfort. Beauty. Dancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.

FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is not primarily for the one you are forgiving. It’s for you. Choosing to forgive sets you free from the bondage of what was done to you, the pain that was inflicted upon you. It doesn’t change it, it certainly doesn’t excuse any of it — but it loosens your chains and allows you to move forward, inch by inch, breath by breath, day by day. When you release the grip on your right to harm the other person, you get your hands back. You get your life back. Slowly.

It doesn’t happen all at once. I’m finding it’s something I have to do over and over in the hopes that one day my heart will match the choice. It stings like a death; a grave is involved, the burying of a perfectly good hatchet.

Nothing about it feels fair. Nothing about it feels justified. But isn’t that the point?

LOVE
You cannot love without risk. There is no such thing. The pain I’m in comes from the love I felt, because I was brave enough to show up as my fullest, truest self and enter a relationship that mattered. And when you truly love someone, you don’t get to be in control. To force, to clutch, to cling, to do whatever it takes to get your way — that is not a picture of love. That is a picture of fear. Fear is a liar, and the opposite of love.

This may have ended in disaster for me, but I will never regret opening my heart to hope and allowing myself to be known by another. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and a testament to strength, not weakness.

:::::

I am not “recovered.” This experience has altered my insides in ways I struggle to articulate. I was left heartbroken and homeless, and some days I’m still so sad, when I walk around I swear you can hear my heart rattle in my chest. Time truly is the only healer for something so brutal, and unfortunately, there’s no way to fast-forward. But I’ve made it through these first few months; here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may be wondering where I am. I obviously had to move out of my Minneapolis house in July, gutted and reeling, suddenly with nowhere to go. But thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’ve found places to go. Foxy is with me, of course. We’re being taken care of.

I have missed sharing my life in a virtual way. It didn’t feel right for me to carry on posting like nothing had happened, because racking up likes and comments is a false balm. The pain of this betrayal has been potent, and it’s been important for me to honor it by bearing the full weight of what I’ve lost. But I’m still here.

The path I took to get here has washed out behind me. The way forward isn’t yet clear. But I’m gathering the broken pieces in hopes of building something new. It’s not the future that I wanted, but it’s the future that I’m going to get. And somehow, I want to live it well.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon, grief and forgiveness and love intermingled, moving forward and holding on to hope for dear life.

Huge thanks to my amazing sister-in-law Ashley Parsons for capturing this image. You’ve helped remind me that I’m strong in a season when I’ve felt anything but.

On the move… again

Written by hootenannie on June 23rd, 2017

This little dream house… I can’t believe it, but I’ll be handing the keys over to someone else in July. My two years in Minneapolis have been abundantly sweet, rich, and healing — and now it’s time to go.

I will miss the amazing friends I’ve made, my perfect fence, and the cheese curds. I will grieve the loss of my trails every single day (although the projected Southwest light rail was going to ruin them eventually anyway, ugh). I CANNOT BELIEVE I’ll miss the chance to rent this house through Airbnb for Super Bowl LII. But I will always, always be grateful that I had the chance to live here. Minneapolis was never on my radar until I started flying here for work in 2012, and I fell in love with it. Everyone should be so lucky to get a chance to live here — not just despite the winter, but even because of it. It makes you tough, it’s pretty darn beautiful, and even if you hate it, the summer makes up for it all.

As for where I’m headed, well… see you soon, Nashville!

Grace, grit, and the Whole30

Written by hootenannie on June 12th, 2017

In my most cliché move yet, I’m now on the Whole30.

If you aren’t familiar, the Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet that cuts out everything that makes me who I am: sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol (also legumes and soy, although those mean less to me). It’s popular with girls on Instagram and your boss’s wife.

The Whole30 is reserved for the wealthy, since my first week’s grocery run ran me nearly five times my normal food budget. Granted, I have been known to subsist on Wheat Thins, popcorn, and cheese, which means that I typically budget $30/week for food (don’t judge, I hate myself enough for this already), but still. Look at me — I’m so rich, I can cut out entire food groups!

See you never, ice cream.

Here is what one can eat while on the Whole30: vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit, eggs, and healthy fats. The only processed food allowed is, say, a sweet potato that’s been shredded through the food processor. If it’s convenient or comes in a package, chances are very good that it’s very bad. Thou shalt make thine own condiments. And don’t even glance at that perfectly chilled glass of summer rosé — eyes up here, buddy.

Does it sound awful? It sort of does to me, which is why it’s taken me so long to try it. But I finally decided it was time. Here’s why.

ANNIE GOES TO THE HOSPITAL
Twelve days before I ran the Fargo Marathon, I landed myself in the ER.

During my training, I had basically become a human garbage dumpster, eating anything and everything in sight. It wasn’t really a problem from a caloric standpoint since I was burning it off, but it led to me feeling free to do things like order the pizza AND the tacos AND the potstickers — a United-Junk-Food-Nations. Nutrition mattered not; I was a human Hoover.

Until one night in May when I was hit with the worst crippling abdominal pain of my entire life. The pain was so severe that the adrenaline was causing my limbs to convulse; I honestly thought I was having a seizure. My next-door neighbor rushed me to the hospital, where I was given fluids for dehydration and a lecture for being bottomed out on nutrients.

Dumb? Avoidable? Probably. I would start a GoFundMe for the yet-to-be-received bill, except knowing me I would just ask for payment in wine. Which brings me to my next point.

ANNIE THE WINE-O
Here are the occasions in which I have been known to justify a glass of wine:

  • When I’m happy (hooray!)
  • When I’m sad (wallow wallow)
  • When I’m with friends (celebrate fun times!)
  • When I’m alone (I call this “vice-olation”)
  • When I have a great meal (wouldn’t be complete without it)
  • When I have a lame meal (you know what would make this sad popcorn taste better…?)
  • When I cook at all (Cabernet while I chop)
  • When I’m bored (a nice way to pass an evening)
  • When I’m stressed (gotta relax and unwiiiind)
  • When I go on a trip (special occasion)
  • When I get back from a trip (good to be home!)
  • When life just feels like a little too much (take that edge off, then sleep like crap and wake up thirsty)

Now, don’t fret — this has not been happening on a daily basis. But I was just starting to find that it was happening more often than it should. I have allowed alcohol to play a stronger role than it needs to in my life, and the collective effect has been me waking up with low-level shame. Gross.

Alcohol has often been the path of least resistance for me, but it doesn’t need to be. I don’t need to numb out, because life has already shown me that I can do hard things. Which leads me to…

GRACE AND GRIT
In my 20s, I was a real hard-ass, especially when it came to myself. I set huge goals and accomplished them. I got the jobs I applied for, and even ones that I didn’t. I restricted calories to be skinny. I boldly moved across the country multiple times. I manipulated to make myself look good on the Internet. I did impressive things so I could impress people and therefore be an impressive person.

But in my 30s, there was a shift. I got tired and my heart broke in two and I couldn’t keep up so I just decided to give myself grace.

I slowed down. I stopped striving. I bought clothes a size bigger. I sought contentment with the way things are instead of struggling toward the way I wished they would be. I stopped caring so much about what other people think, and decided instead to just be happy.

This all sounds great — and a lot of it is — but there’s been a shadow side.

All of those big goals I used to have? I started letting them slide. I would commit to something and then, in the name of grace, drop out. I would dream up something major, then abandon it before even starting because “You should go easy on yourself, Annie.” I let myself off the hook, over and over again — and before I knew it, it had been years since I’d accomplished much of anything.

And for a girl who at a very core level loves to knock it out of the park, that started to feel like a bummer.

So I ran a marathon. And now I’m doing the Whole30. Because grace and grit are not mutually exclusive, and I’m due for some good old-fashioned Annie-in-her-20s EMOTIONAL VICTORY.

:::::

Don’t worry, I will not ceaselessly post my meals to Instagram. But if I see you and you’re eating Cheetos, you’re dead to me.

Fargo Forever

Written by hootenannie on May 25th, 2017

Over the course of the last four and a half months, I ran 434 miles. Last Saturday, all of that training culminated in me running — and I do mean running — the Fargo Marathon. I did it! I ran the entire thing! I never stopped, except this one time (we’ll get to that).

First things first, I will never do it again. I will never run another full marathon. My body just isn’t meant for it, you know? In the last few days of recovery, I’ve felt like an old Volvo whose frame was just sprung in an accident. Everything was rattled and pounded and jarred and thrashed. I’m back to walking, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to squat down to unload groceries into the refrigerator ever again. My knees are talking to me, telling me the deep secrets of their souls. My left glute is permanently crimped. I descend the stairs backward like a toddler, using my hands for balance, butt in the air. Nay, I say to thee: I will live the rest of my days in a safe, padded cocoon, treasure my cartilage, and protect my joints like the precious gifts they are.

But am I sorry I did it? Not a chance.

My sister Sarah drove up from Kansas City – 9 hours! – to be race support

The morning of, standing in the chute waiting for the race to start, even before they starting playing “Eye of the Tiger,” I was already tearing up. I couldn’t believe it was finally here, all of the hard work come to fruition. It’s true what they say: the training is the real achievement, and the race is just the victory lap.

A reeeeealllly long victory lap.

The first 20 miles went better than I could have ever dreamed. When I did my 20-mile training run, it took me 3 hours 40 minutes; when I hit the 20-mile mark on race day, the time was 3 hours 15 minutes. I was flying! (You know, for me.) Up until that point, I was running 9:55 minute miles, and having a great time.

Still feeling good with 7 miles to go — I was so young and innocent and had no idea what was coming

But then I passed mile 20. And you know what’s past mile 20? Hell. Except hell is made of a billion tiny knives stabbing you simultaneously. And then those monkeys from The Wizard of Oz fly in and rip you limb from limb. And then what’s left of you is set on fire and left to burn in a dumpster.

I’m trying to find a strong enough word for the pain. Agony? Excruciation? I could feel every cell in my body individually dying — probably because they literally were.

Somewhere between mile 22 and 23, I reached downtown Fargo. This is the iconic stretch of Broadway where you run past the Fargo Theater, and tons of people are out to cheer. Earlier in the morning I had had visions of reaching this point, and how surely it would result in a euphoria that would carry me to the end.

But do you know what happened on Broadway?

I stopped, put my hands on my knees, crumpled to the ground, and curled up in a ball. I curled up in a ball in the middle of the road! There were no thoughts going through my head except one long “Noooooooooooo.” No to running. No to pain. No to life. I heard footsteps around me as runners passed, and figured it was only a matter of time before someone yelled for a medic.

I was down for about 10 seconds before I felt hands under my arms and I was hoisted up — but it wasn’t a medic. It was a fellow runner. He was wearing a National Guard shirt and looked like a real BAMF, you know? He stood me up, steadied me on my feet, looked me in the eye, and then shook his finger in my face and yelled, “YOU GOT THIS!” Then he high-fived me so hard my hand hurt, and took off.

And you know what? It worked. I started to run again. I ran through the pain all the way to the end, because, in the words of modern day wise men Rascal Flatts, “When push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of.” And it turns out I’m made of grit. Who knew?

Our sage prophets

When I crossed the finish line, I immediately burst into tears. There was my sister Sarah, and my dad and Nicole, and our friends Scott and Stephanie, and I didn’t have to run anymore, and it was over, and I had done it. I had done it! The thing I had never been sure I could do. But I did it anyway.

I earned those ugly tears

I finished in 4:27:14, faster than even my secret stretch goal. And I will love Fargo for the rest of my life.

Marathoner!

In advance of the Fargo Marathon

Written by hootenannie on April 25th, 2017

In less than a month, I’ll be running the Fargo Marathon.

Now before you go trash-talking Fargo, let me tell you something. I drove through last September, and was immediately smitten by the small town feel. The tallest building downtown was… not tall. Several stories, maybe? I found shops and boutiques and restaurants, a brewery, a bike shop, and an Amtrak station. My experience was brief, but I found Fargo to be a sweet community, with affordable real estate, a growing economy, and a great arts scene. It just felt so live-able. I have a crush on it.

Plus, dontcha know their marathon is flat as a pancake? And since this is my first 26.2, that sounded great to me.

Being nearly 17 weeks into a 20-week training plan, I’ve reached the point where I’m just sort of over it. This Friday, I’m slated to run 20 miles — the longest distance so far — and lest you think I’m a confident runner these days, know that I will spend every moment between now and then in utter anxiety. These long runs are brutal, because while I know I have all of the physical and mental stamina necessary to finish the race, I didn’t anticipate that it would be so painful.

It just hurts. Oh my →SWEAR WORDS← goodness.

But no matter how my 20-mile run goes, and no matter how the full marathon goes, I will always be proud of myself for deciding to do this and then just doing it. I haven’t had a training partner or a running club; every single run has been by myself. Whether running 18 miles on a deadline (rushing before picking someone up at the airport) or 3 miles in the pouring rain the morning after a delicious yet irresponsible night of Scotch (whoops!), I’ve just kept getting out there, with no one motivating me but me.

I’m not a good runner. I don’t love it. I’m not fast. I’m not leggy and lithe (if you want to know how much weight I’ve lost, the answer is +7 lbs). But I was ready for a challenge, and chose my challenge, and have followed through on the challenge. What more can one ask of oneself?

I’ve been largely absent online these days — quieter than usual on social media, and nearly non-existent on this blog. I’m under no delusion that people notice, because the Internet is a loud, loud place where anyone’s absence is immediately filled by a hundred other voices. But since hootenannie.com is my party and I’ll talk if I want to, I’ll say this: the past four quiet months have been so good and so necessary for me. They’ve been fertile soil, and good things are growing. The 362 miles I’ve run so far have been a big part of that, and I never want to forget it.

Anyway, I’ll letcha go (just practicing my Fargoan). But just as a poll, do you know what hotdish is? I had never heard of hotdish before I moved to Minnesota — but you guys, it’s a casserole topped in TATER TOTS. What the heck. It’s either a nightmare or a dream-come-true. You decide.

Self-employment

Written by hootenannie on April 6th, 2017

Things I’ve done to procrastinate today:
Take the dog on a walk
Listen to a podcast
Eat a snack
[Go to a meeting]
Read blogs
Make some tea
Eat early lunch
Run to the grocery store (just real fast)
Search Craigslist for various cars and pieces of furniture
Eat an apple
Search Zillow in five different cities (just in case)
[Respond to one work email]
Read Twitter
Read CNN
Read neighborhood newsletter
Order replacement CrockPot piece
Balance checkbook
Think about everything I’ve done wrong in life
Research skin care brands
Learn all the words to JT’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”
Realize I now have four hours until deadline
Write list of everything I’ve done to procrastinate today
GET TO WORK
NOW.

Gun-Shy

Written by hootenannie on April 4th, 2017

I used to dream of being a professional songwriter. I didn’t want to be famous (still don’t) because I didn’t love to perform (still don’t) — but to be the mind and heart behind the music? That appealed to me so much.

Life has taken me in a different direction than music, at least in any sort of “professional” sense. I don’t dream of making songwriting my bread and butter anymore, mostly because (full disclosure) I don’t think I’m all that good. But every now and then, I follow an idea on a chase and wind up with a little something.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about writing songs: it’s my favorite thing, regardless of whether anything happens with those songs. I like the challenge of it — figuring out how to tell a story, turning words this way and that, and hopefully making someone feel something. That’s all. That’s my only aim in writing songs these days — to make someone feel something — even if the someone is just me. Which is easy because, as you know, I am all feelings, all the time. Cheap date.

All that to say, here’s a new song, recorded with my friend Jeff Harper in Nashville, TN. It’s called “Gun-Shy” because LOOK WHAT LOVE HAS DONE TO ME.

Thanks for listening!

Twirl

Written by hootenannie on February 23rd, 2017

I used to be a dancer. I can hardly believe it myself, as these days any dancing is generally an alcohol-fueled error of judgment — but it’s true. All the way through high school, I was a (thick-limbed) ballerina.

One of the fundamentals in ballet is spotting, a technique used to execute turns without losing balance. By holding the head in place and focusing the eyes on a set mark, spotting allows for steady rotation of the body while delaying movement of the head until the last minute. When the turn reaches the point at which the dancer can’t physically keep the focus forward anymore, the head quickly spins and the eyes immediately reorient on the spot on which they’d been fixed before.

Like this:

Life can toss us around like a tumbleweed, can’t it? I recently told a friend, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!” and by the end of our conversation I found myself saying, “Actually, I think I’m the saddest I’ve ever been.” And both were true, at the same time, in the same set of circumstances. Maybe this means I’m like Anne of Green Gables, vacillating between “the wings of enchantment” and “the depths of despair.” Maybe it means I need more meds.

Or maybe it just means that being human can be a very disorienting experience. There are highs and there are lows, and there are winds that knock us off our feet and whip us around for a bit, and it can be difficult to remember which end is up.*

These days, I’m spinning like a trailer park in a tornado. Junk is flying around, and sometimes it feels scary — because this is dangerous, man. Someone could get hurt. I could get hurt.

But as I reel, I remember that the only way to keep from falling is to keep a steady gaze on what is true and will not change.

“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.”
–Isaiah 26:3

Stay steady. Stay true. Whatever you’re going through, whatever tempest has swept you up in its path, keep your eyes straight ahead. It’s the only thing that can turn a whirl into a twirl.

*I once heard that if you’re ever caught in an avalanche and get buried by the snow, you might not know which way to dig in order to reach the surface. Here’s what you do: spit. Gravity will drag that dribble toward the ground, and then you know to claw like hell in the opposite direction. Good luck and you’re welcome.