The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning two years ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

The Lipstick Letters

it has something to do with how my thoughts go from
pouring to spilling
when I’ve had too much wine–
spreading across the page
and leaving a stain
no matter how I try to clean them up later.

It’s about the tangle of worries in my head
thorns that grab at my arms and legs
painfully holding me back
slowing me down . . .

It’s about realizing the tangles are all just me
the thorns are my own thoughts
so why can’t I just free myself?

It’s about how nothing helpful ever follows the phrase
“why can’t you just?”

It has something to do with wearing these words on my lips
and glossing over their lack in my life

My life is lacking something
I’m going to go get
as soon as I figure out what it is . . .

It’s about having to start here
among the thorns
when I thought I’d already have made it
to the mountaintop.



Gimme a Break

I wrote this post yesterday morning while Carl was getting ready for work and the kids were enjoying their couch-toast/movie time. I ended up choosing both the longest shower ever AND a nap. And don’t worry, I threw some fresh fruit at the kids along with all the other stuff I fed them. I didn’t take the time to edit so I didn’t post it yesterday and now I’m glad I didn’t because I can tell you how it all came out at the very end . . .

I’ve been fighting it since Saturday. I should have known better. So many little things going wrong: kids all fussy and waking up several times a night, getting up for the day around 4:30am every day. I’ve been spilling my coffee even more often than usual, tripping over random stuff, not finding time to shower, always missing at least two ingredients for what I’d planned to cook, and the list goes on.

Today has been no different. Kids all up far earlier than normal, another morning spent without a single minute to myself, I forgot to comb my Sunshine’s hair before school, I forgot I put my coffee on the bookshelf and it got cold, and I can feel myself wobbling on that razor’s edge between sanity and insanity . . .

So, for today, I’ve decided to just let it all go. More specifically, lunch is going to be hot dogs and then I’m going to shamelessly follow hot dogs with a dinner of frozen pizzas. I’m not going to write a to-do list. I’ve just put Moana on for the boys to watch while I write and I’m letting them eat toast on the couch. Instead of cooking and cleaning while they nap, I’m going to take the longest shower ever or maybe just sleep or write some more–whatever I feel like when we get there.

I won’t play Sisyphus today–rolling the boulder that is trying to keep house with three kids under six, only to have to start again at the bottom of the hill the next day and the next. And, here’s the very best, most important part of all;

I’m not going to feel bad about any of it.

Not even a little bit. Not even at all. I’m running on fumes. I need a break. I want my kids to see me take one and internalize that breaks are important and necessary. Everyone in my life wins along with me in the end if I take one. Whoever you are reading this? The same is true for you.

After a long shower AND a nap, waking up with no worries about dinner or anything else, I fed my boys a snack and put the pizzas in so they’d be coming out just before my Sunshine got home on the bus. We all ate pizzas then I was feeling so good and the kids had so much energy, I put on my headlamp and we took a long play-walk through the field in the pitch dark. We got to listen to a pack of coyotes run past in the woods nearby, play on a giant, mossy boulder and in our frozen leaf pile that the kids just aren’t ready to give up, and everyone went to bed worn out and happy.

My last act of self-care yesterday was to ask my man to take care of the horses’ water so I could go to bed at 8pm. And I woke up today feeling like a completely different person in the loveliest of ways. So I repeat, if you’re maxed out, see about giving yourself a break, even something small like not worrying about preparing a healthy meal or letting some cleaning go for a day so you can rest a little. The smallest amount can make all the difference.

The Short Version

I had been getting up at 5am to write, but ever since daylight savings time, my children have been getting up around 5am, so today I got up at 4am because I am a glutton for punishment, but also because I love writing and if this is the only way, so be it.

I’ve overhauled my plans for The Lipstick Letters and I’m sooooooooo excited about it! Instead of posting one blog for each shade, I plan to post a collection of thoughts, poems, and whatever else strikes my fancy over the course of a month for each word. When I’m done, I plan to pull it all together, add to it a bit, and edit the full body of work into a book.

The best uncle and cousin in the world (if you know me at all, you know who I’m talking about) bought me a beautiful briefcase for my birthday which I keep packed with my notebooks, pens, laptop, etc so whenever there is a moment to write, everything is in one place, ready to go.

Writing time has also been scarce because someone in my family has been sick every week since my sweet Sunshine started kindergarten. I was warned it would be this way and all those warnings have come to pass.

Momming at the level I want and writing at the level I want are currently mutually exclusive. This is frustrating, but also simple. Momming comes first and writing will simply have to fit in the cracks for now.

Lastly, we finally got our first snow of the season and it just happened to be on the day we got our Christmas tree . . .

It all crashed in
too heavy to handle
so I stepped outside to
walk my dog and
the dead leaves at my feet said
“Shush, shush, shush, shush”
And my mind quieted down.
The fallen log over the trail said
“Slow down.”
and I did.
The mossy boulder I shushed past said
“Give it time.”
and I felt better about all I hadn’t done yet.
The rock wall said
“Great things have been accomplished using only what’s at hand.”
and I remembered I didn’t need to wait for this or that or anything.
The hawk above me was quiet
but extraordinary–wings stretched wide, swooping and gliding overhead.
My dog said “Isn’t all of this incredible?”
And it was.
So I went home
empty coffee mug in hand
poem in my heart
time forgotten
and ready to do life again.



Bardo (or state of the soul between death and rebirth)

I want to wander Bardo
ambling down misty paths lined with
thick, dark trees
that hang over your head
not to hold you in
but to hold time out.

I want to wander Bardo
alone
though Death is often there
and so is Life
I’ll walk quietly and
hope not to see either.

I just want to wander Bardo
following words
not feelings
you cannot feel in Bardo
because you must leave your body behind at the gate
and cannot get it back till you leave.

Keep Going

It hit yesterday. I’ve been waiting because it always does, I just never know when. It started when I woke up and went to write. I’ve been getting up around 5am to write in the mornings because it’s the only quiet time I have until after the kids are in bed for the night. And, by then, my brain might as well be scrambled eggs.

I was sitting on the couch trying to get a thought out just the way I wanted it and I was really struggling. I kept thinking no one is going to like this and I’m doing such a poor job getting it down that they probably won’t even understand it. Then these words whispered through my brain,

“Just quit. You can’t do it.”

Sounds cliche but its the absolute truth. I ignored that voice and kept going. Posted what I’d written even though I didn’t like it very much because my dislikes can’t be trusted when that voice is in my head.

It reminded me of my life before kids when I accepted a director level position with the county. It was the biggest and toughest job I’d ever taken on and while I had incredible support from my bosses and an amazing staff, lots of doubts and fears were expressed from all sides, especially in my first six months. One particularly tough day after work I was telling my husband about it and he said,

“Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job.”

Such a short and simple phrase but it was earth-shaking for me. He got right to the heart of it in just 11 words. I had the knowledge and experience to do what needed to be done, but when others around me got scared or upset I’d begin to question every little thing, put off decisions I knew were right, and generally freeze up in fear.

I wrote those words on a post it note and stuck it to the bottom of my computer monitor where I could see them every day and recite them in my mind like a mantra whenever I needed them.

I’ve started to take my own writing seriously then quit almost immediately more times than I can count over the past decade. But yesterday, when those doubts and fears rose up in my mind, I did exactly what I promised myself I would do this time–I kept going.

Just like that director job, this one is going to be tough some days. I’ll have doubts, I’ll make mistakes, not everything I put out there is going to be well-received, and my worst critic is always going to be that part of myself that just isn’t sure. So, I rewrote my husband’s words on a new note to keep handy, pressed onward, and made it through my first day of almost, but not quite, crippling self-doubt.

Whatever it is you truly want to do or be in this life, odds are good you’re going to run into obstacles along the way, odds are even better that the biggest, most challenging obstacle to overcome is going to be yourself. Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job. And if you can’t quit worrying about what other people think, do your job anyway. There’s only one way to get where you want to be: keep going.

Everyone is worth it.
(whatever “it” is)
Though that doesn’t mean that just anyone has it to give you.
But they’re out there–
People and animals who will give you just the thing you need
to move toward what feels good and right at different points in your life.
You will have to do all the moving.
And sometimes you’ll miss it
and stay stuck awhile longer.
But you’re worth it.
(whatever “it” is)
Let no one tell you otherwise.

Shifted–Body Image

This is a story about a shift in my perspective on something I thought I understood better than I did–body image.

Several months back I was showing my four year old daughter a stack of new clothes I’d ordered–mostly jeans but a few shirts as well. I was excited. They were the first new, non-maternity clothes I’d bought since I’d been pregnant with her and half of them actually fit me perfectly. I know I don’t need to tell anyone how exciting it is to find jeans that fit perfectly, so I’ll just move along to the real topic here.

I held up my favorite pair and said, “What do you think about mama’s new pants?” She’d caught on to my excitement so she jumped up and down and said, “I love them, Mama! They’re SO BIG!”

I laughed and opened my mouth to say, “Hey! Who you callin’ big?!” but by some miracle, those words got stuck on the way, maybe in my throat, maybe in my heart. It was one of those moments in life when your whole world tilts and suddenly everything that was familiar seems foreign. And I realized something so sad and so important.

All my life I’d thought girls and women grew up to hate their bodies because of society, because of bullies, because of impossible beauty standards in movies and magazines. But in that moment, it was crystal clear that it doesn’t start with society at all.

It’s mamas trying on clothes in their kitchens while their beautiful daughters and sons watch. Mamas who say things like “Who you callin’ big?” making it clear that “big” is bad, an insult, something you shouldn’t say and it isn’t good to be. When to a four year old, “big” is just a word you use when you notice that your mom’s pants are bigger than your pants. It starts with the faces we make when we look at ourselves in the mirror and we think they aren’t watching. It starts with the words we use to describe ourselves when we think they aren’t listening or won’t understand. And all those words we sling so carelessly build our babies into adults. Adults who know before they ever enter into society what to value based on what they learned at home from people who love them but may not have learned to love themselves.

I stared a beat at her sweet face, eyes still lit with happiness at my happiness, and instead of saying those dangerous, poisonous words, I said, “Heck yeah they’re big! I need room for my big, mama buns!” and we laughed and when I tried on the last outfit, she said, “You look beautiful, Mama.” and I felt that in my soul. So I thanked her and said, “I feel beautiful, baby.”