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 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.

Want

I want to throw my heart in the wash. Hot/Cold, Heavy Duty Cycle and see if these feelings will come out.

I want to know why I hold on to people and things that don’t hold on to me.

I want to shake my head so hard the facts fall out, because I don’t want to see this as what it’s become.

I want to have already done the work I see before me.

I want to know why they’re dead and if they all have to die and I have to stay here, why does it have to feel this way every time?

And why can’t I stop myself from loving them all so much? Why doesn’t my heart ever run out? Even when it seems impossible that I could ever love again, even when I hope I won’t; there I go.

I want to pull a dark, heavy sky over our heads so we can talk without being overheard by God.

Friday Randoms

I’ll be honest. I was working toward bolstering my courage, but I didn’t really think I’d feel much different after declaring myself a writer. I was wrong.

Am I terrible at routine? Or do I just have no interest in it?

Sometimes, I think I’m having an identity crisis, but when the dust clears, it always turns out I’m just getting better at being who I’ve always been.

Here I stand, at the edge of this ocean inside, staring down at words that curl and rush–reaching for my bare toes. I’ve hesitated long enough; I’m going in.

I said too much. Because if I’d said nothing at all, I would’ve never felt like I didn’t say enough.

My heart is open, spilled like warm, flat soda in the parking lot. It will evaporate eventually. The rain will come and wash the rest away. And no one will know it was here.

He begged me to put my faith in him-all that was left were shattered remains of a tattered hope. I handed them over and watched them so slowly turn to doves in his palm . . . do you know how many years? . . . how much energy and patience? . . . it takes to turn pain into doves?

I may slow down here and there, but I’m never turning back.

Farewell, Kismet–A Tribute to my Dying Laptop

When you first came to me, I had such lofty goals and I was so excited to begin. How quickly all my poorly laid plans went awry! But you’ve stuck with me as I stumbled through so many failures and into several successes figuring out more about myself and this writing thing. How many late nights and early mornings have we spent tackling a new idea, capturing a fleeting feeling, or wandering through my words until we’re good and lost or sometimes found?

Over the past seven years, my misty droplet dreams have coalesced into something of substance. Together, we’ve taken the wisdom that Abigail and I slogged through wrong turns on dark and unhappy trails to earn, and used it to light our way onto a path that feels right and good.

But you’ve grown tired, Kismet, and I can see that you’re ready to rest now. I just couldn’t let you go without expressing my gratitude. Without you, I would never have written my way into my purpose and greatest dreams for my life. Thank you, old friend, you will be missed, but your service is not in vain. I will carry forward from where we are leaving off–the acknowledgement and acceptance of my mostly lovely fate, to the work of actually living it.

Farewell, Kismet.

The Lipstick Letters Revival

My husband bought me fifteen shades of lipstick for Christmas. FIFTEEN SHADES. Just opening the box gave me such a rush of happiness and inspiration!

Some of you may remember an old blog series I started and let languish almost ten years ago. It was about beauty and confidence and the things we think about ourselves that we come to realize aren’t true. It was based on how badly I wanted to be a woman who could wear red lipstick. I’d tried a few different shades but it always looked terrible and I was sure it was because my lips were too small or the wrong shape or that I just didn’t have the personality to carry it off.

Thankfully, I mentioned it to my best friend from high school who also happened to be a brilliant make-up artist for M.A.C. A few weeks later, I went to visit her and she surprised me with an amazing bagful of lipstick, gloss, and liner in every shade you can imagine! But, best of all, she took the time to teach me how to apply it. This is a photo I took on my birthday that same year:

Turns out, I was always a woman who could wear red lipstick. And I love this photo because you can literally see my newfound confidence shining in my expression.

Anyway, that was then and this is now and these fifteen shades of opportunity are calling me to do something fun. Over the past five years I’ve struggled with so much loss, grief, and depression on top of new babies and a pandemic, its been a challenge finding the time and energy to work through the losses and all the shifts in my identity. I initially intended to revive the Lipstick Letters as they were and write about body image as a mother of three, but nothing sounded right so I held off.

Then, I had an enlightening moment while scrolling through Instagram, where several of my incredibly talented friends were doing their thing and sharing the results. There were home-cooked meals with food they grew themselves, woven rugs, quilts in progress, redecorated rooms, you name it! And as I scrolled, a feeling of envy grew and grew until I realized it, set my phone down, and asked myself what that was all about. After a short moment of reflection, I had to laugh; I wasn’t jealous of WHAT these lovely humans were doing, I was jealous THAT they were doing at all! Successfully devoting a portion of their time and resources to things that are important to them.

My jealousy evaporated in an instant and, in it’s place, I found new curiosity and determination. Aside from being a mama and a wife, what am I doing? It’s been several dark and busy years since I felt it last, but I still recognize this particular kind of restlessness–it’s boredom. God love my beautiful, amazing children who are so fun and satisfying to raise; they absolutely do not challenge and fulfill every element of my being. Nor should they.

So I’m setting only one rule for this reboot: I can’t write about my kids here. This series is about me taking an intentional step outside my beloved role as mama to delve into other much-loved and missed parts of who I am. We’re going further than skin deep where it’s less about the lipstick on my lips (though there will still be plenty of that) and more about what puts lipstick on my soul. Many thanks to Scarlet for that perfect turn of phrase.

Going forward, each new post will feature a different shade, but for this first one, here I am in my messy living room with no make up at all. Just me, feeling hopeful about life, and excited to drag all of you along with me while I figure out what to do with myself.