As you read this story, I want you to know it has a happy ending. These photos are all from this summer.
It defies belief that just 18 months ago our family sat in a gray hospital room, quiet except for the steady whir and beeping of machines, keeping vigil over our beautiful Carrie Ann as she lay in a coma.
It was December 2012, and I thought it was going to be my first Christmas in California. Instead, when my sister Dawn called unable to speak the news the doctor had relayed, the kids and I dropped everything and hopped a flight to Oklahoma that day. Six-year-old Carrie Ann - my sister’s youngest of four - was strapped to machines that kept her breathing. We spent a week that way, Dawn and I taking turns sleeping in chairs and ordering all of our holiday gifts from our phones.
A friend brought lunch, others came to pray, and each time I met the visitors in the lobby, I had to blink hard into the sunlight. A childhood friend was a nurse on another floor of the Oklahoma City hospital, and one of my best friends who is a surgeon made the late night drive just to speak to the local doctors and put the information to us plainly. We saw it then and know it now, that even in this very scary time we were personally well taken care of.
If you get the Secret Posts, you know that my husband The Gorilla and I are purposefully choosing presence this summer. Our lifestyle is anything but routine, including frequent travel for both of us and chaotic daily schedules. In the past two months, we've made a very deliberate choice to take a break from that.
We've had some of the most meaningful conversations, often in the car. Like this one, about facing public criticism, something The Gorilla knows a lot about. Pardon the colorful language.
Hollywood Housewife: How do handle the criticism?
Gorilla: Who gives a shit about the criticism?
HH: But they're criticizing your art.
Gorilla: But who cares?
HH: Did you not care because you knew your product was good or because you just don't care what people think?
HH: So you've never once been hurt by criticism of your stuff? What about if it was a family member or friend?
Gorilla: Well that's different.
HH: Has that ever happened to you?
HH: Did you feel more invested in [your latest movie] BG than the others?
HH: Do you think you'll feel more sensitive with your first fully scripted project The Dirt?
Well, maybe with The Dirt and BG I'm being pushed more out of my comfort zone. So maybe I'm more sensitive.
But haters gonna hate. You can't do anything about that.
HH: So what's your secret to not caring?
Gorilla: Thick skin.
HH: But how'd you get thick skin?
Gorilla: I got teased all the time when I was little.
HH: You did not. By who?
Gorilla: My brother.
HH: So you credit childhood teasing to building up your confidence?
HH: That seems hard to believe. Do you think that's true for everyone?
Gorilla: *shrugs* No, I'm probably just naturally insensitive.
HH: But it doesn't seem like the other [movie] guys ever cared about the criticism either. How does that happen?
Gorilla: Cause we liked what we were doing.
We were making ourselves laugh. That's all that mattered. When you like what you're doing, who gives a shit about anyone else?
There you have it, folks.
The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is one of my favorite store events of the year. I'm not anywhere close to a Nordstrom right now, so I've been browsing online some of the deals.
Here are some of my favorites:
If you really want to splurge on some winter basics:
And these deals were just too good to pass up:
Nordstrom leather front top (a great price for this!) // Vince silk shift dress (I have this and it is such a good staple.) // Nordstrom lace detail shirt with 3/4 length sleeves
PS - My favorite Hanky Panky underwear are also part of the sale.
*affiliate links are included in this post. This means if you click through and make any purchase, it supports this site at no additional cost to you. I use affiliates from all over the web, and they never determine my opinions or content.
I've been happily reading all summer. And some of those things I can't wait to tell you about (like Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, holy self-revelation), but there are so many things in my reading queue that I thought I'd share in case you need some summer reading inspiration.
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Okay, now look. I'm not giving up my Dr. Pepper habit any time soon, but I'm finally acquiescing to the fact that I need to know more about what I'm putting into my body. I've experimented just a teensy bit lately, and, wonder of wonders, I feel better when I eat better. So. I'm starting the reading part of that here.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. So many people have recommended this book to me, and I keep hearing it referenced in all sorts of conversations. I've owned it for awhile, but now it's time to read it.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I bought this book from Book Soup in LA a couple of years ago, but have always been distracted by shiny things, so this classic has been sitting on my bedside for awhile.
The UnTethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. Okay, work with me here. I saw Singer interviewed with Oprah and I got curious. Then Whoorl mentioned it as one of her favorites and so I bought. I'm being open minded.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. First of all, I liked the cover. Then I saw Mom Advice saying she really liked it. I was in need of novels earlier in the summer after I realized how many non-fictions I had waiting, so I added this one.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. On the FB thread where I asked for novel suggestions, several people recommended Margaret Atwood books. I mentioned that I had started The Robber Bride a few times and couldn't get into it, and almost all of the Atwood fans said I should start with The Blind Assassin instead. I took their advice and downloaded it, because I really want to see what all the fans are raving about.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Not everyone agreed with me, but I loved The Dinner. So when I saw Koch's newest on sale for the kindle I snatched it up. I'm looking forward to it, because I like the way he writes a thriller without making me scared to sleep at night.
Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. This writer/blogger/chef is a friend of a friend of a friend and she's from Oklahoma. I liked her first book A Homemade Life and the premise of Delancey was even more appealing. I've heard nothing but good things already.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. My friend Nora recommended this book to me a few years ago, and I trust her taste. I sort of forgot about it until I saw it on the shelf at Costco. (Anyone else book shop at Costco? It makes me sort of giddy to find something good to read amidst stacks of meat and 1,000 count crackers.) It seems like a fun summer read and I'll probably choose it for the week we're at the beach.
Y'all, this isn't even the end of my list but I'm forcing myself to stop. As I was typing, I also remembered that it was this time last summer that I read Loving Frank. I still think about that book often, it was so interesting.
Tell me in the comments what you're reading or what you plan to read next. Clearly I need more suggestions.
It started when I got married. Not that I hadn’t been ambitious before, but in my 20’s as I worked my way up the television production ladder, my goals for success seemed reasonable. Natural. Attainable at the pace I was working.
When The Gorilla and I decided to hitch ourselves to one another for life, I was really burned out at the type of reality tv work I was doing, and we were both tired of a relationship with two people working frantically, with lengthy, inflexible travel. Neither of us felt anchored, and we wanted to start a family. The show I worked on right up until our wedding was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and we decided that I would take a break from tv for awhile to travel with him and handle some major things that were slipping through the cracks as a result of two of us putting in 12-14 workdays.
That first year went by in a flash. There was a lot to do to get our lives where we wanted it, and we also had a blast traveling when I tagged along while he worked. Then I had a difficult pregnancy with our daughter, then we were new parents. In that time, I helped him out on a few low-budget projects (hey, I was free labor!), but mostly I took the lead on all things home-and-baby-related while he was able to drive forward a career that was already flourishing.
Even though I wasn’t then earning an income, I never felt comfortable calling myself a stay-at-home anything. I’ve been open that I have help with our kids and our family enjoys many luxuries that made it ridiculous for me to claim such a title. But I was embarrassed that I didn’t work in an office and that I didn’t exactly stay at home. No matter that The Gorilla and I (the only people who mattered here) were comfortable with our decision, no matter the valid justifications for why I was no longer working, I couldn’t stand it.
So I started this blog. Writing has been the only thing I could ever truly see myself doing all day, and blogging as a medium fits my personality. I have poured myself into this space for 4 years now. If that were the end of this story, it would be a nice one. But it’s not.
In the absence of a cubicle I have filled every corner of our life with something: two months worth of houseguests every summer, and almost as many in the winter, incessant travel for work and play, book club, writing group, hosting 20 people for a fantasy football draft then a different 20 for a blog retreat. Years in a row. We’ve renovated two and a half houses and while The Gorilla has kept making movies I’ve been pushing myself every day to do everything better. I thought all this “busy” was honorable. I thought keeping our lives full was meaningful and a good steward of our resources.
Trying desperately to seize the day, in seven years I’ve almost never said No. To almost every opportunity presented and favor asked, I’ve accepted. I could never find a reason not to. Saying Yes, when I was in a position to do so, seemed like the right thing to do. But it wasn’t out of the goodness of my heart. I’m not so altruistic. I’ve been chasing achievement.
Lacking a measure of my worth in salary, I’ve run myself ragged trying to do more, more, more. I’ve crinkled my nose at messages that women should be more and do less. I beam at people saying “You guys have so much going on” the same way someone with an eating disorder craves praise for their skinny. When your mind is twisted about it, you don’t notice that the phrases are said too slowly, and with the tilted head of concern. Life is about the doing and I’ve preached it for years. And it has just about broken me.
Because there is no end to the achievement chasing. It’s all relative. What is financial success? If you make $100,000? $1,000,000? $10,000,000? Depends on who you ask. What is creative success? If your art is good enough to sell on etsy? Or at Barney’s? Again, depends on who you ask. What defines SuperMom? Magazine-worthy home and parties? Or well-behaved kids? Yes and no, neither and both. And, in terms of blogging, what defines you "making it?" If you earn a few bucks? If your traffic levels are huge? If you get a book deal? Yes, to all of that and to none of it. There is no legitimate outside barometer for anything when it comes to achievement, success, and, most of all, happiness.
I’m learning slowly and painfully that there is nothing on earth that you can physically do to make people like you, to make others believe you have it together, to make your spouse love you more or to control anyone else’s respect. Trying to do more than you can handle will make you and your family miserable. Trying to do more than you can handle for the wrong reasons could ruin your beautiful life.
If I type it enough times, I wonder if either of us will believe it? If there’s no way to prove that I’m doing a good job, what is my worth? It’s scary to accept finally that self-worth isn’t something visible on the outside, it’s not a finish line you can cross, or a box you can check. I don’t feel like my mantra of Do the Work is incorrect, but I’ve applied it across the whole spectrum of my life instead of just a few priorities, and that has been my mistake. I’ve chased achievement and applause right into the ground.
I didn’t want to post this, because it sounds like a big humble brag. Like when people pretend to apologize for being a perfectionist. But I’ve made myself miserable by chasing achievement and I wish I had heard from someone else in a similar position who would have told me to take it all down a notch. Actually, I did hear other women say that but I didn’t believe them (or I thought they were lazy), so now I’m saying it, hoping that you’ll believe me and not think I’m lazy. If you’re judging your own value by how much you’re doing, and how well you’re doing it, take a step back. You may be on your way to soul suicide.
There was a time in my life when I could see myself with a prestigious job with lots of power and an enviable paycheck. Instead, I became a housewife who writes. And my reality is so much better than what I used to picture. I just have to stop fighting against myself to see it.
photo by silvision via flickr
Last week, most of The Gorilla's family gathered for our annual summer week together. It felt really good to be together. Incomplete, but better together than apart.
As usual, we ate a lot. We applied sunscreen a lot. We read quite a bit. Watched the World Cup. And, of course, went out on the boat.
I usually take advantage of the holiday sales, but I wasn't online much so I missed those last weekend. But clicking around looking for some curtains (I fell in love with these on sale, and these and these that weren't), I realized that an extra 20% off sale items at Anthropologie makes some of these accessories a really great price.
But the only thing I actually ended up buying was from the C. Wonder summer sale:
It's been awhile since we've had Friday Links, so dig right in with alllll the stuff I've bookmarked lately.
For your weekend reading pleasure:
"Apparently people are being too perfect and it's stressing everyone else out.....My main issue with the articles like this is the harsh light cast on people taking pictures instead of suggesting a healthier way for Instagram users to process the experience. Some Instagrammers are ridiculous, yes. But is it not equally ridiculous to get emotional over a mobile phone image?....You do you, girlfriend. We are all that person sometimes."
While I've been spending less and less time in the digital world, I will always keep up first and best with my Secret Post subscribers. If you sign up to get my blog posts via email, you'll automatically get my Secret Posts. If you just want the Secret Posts, they come once or twice a month at the most.
We were at our lake house in June 2011 when our friend Ryan died. We heard in the early morning, while still sipping coffee and staring out over the water. Our daughter was in the high chair. I was achy and pregnant. The minutes that followed the news, the phone call of confirmation, I’ll never forget that morning as long as I breathe.
Ryan’s death was a shock, a tragedy, and his public persona made it open for mass commentary. The following weeks were harried. There were multiple memorials and a re-shuffling of things and that permanent sadness was tinged with a little bit of panic.
It was the first really big loss for The Gorilla and for me as adults. Ryan was more than a friend, he was like family, part of a bigger group that made up our identity. His sudden loss changed everything and it took us a long time to get our footing back.
Also that summer we had a loved one in the hospital, the stress of that weighing everything else. Then in August, Dave’s diagnosis.
When my husband and I talk about 2011, we agree that the birth of Pirate was one of the only redeeming parts of that year. We were hurt and scared, and couldn’t quite catch up to any of it.
And now our family has suffered another loss. This one is different, of course. Deeper. Slower. Closer. Harder. Again, we’ve fled to the lake to heal. Our family was all together last week, sixteen people in one house, twelve next door, and it felt like the exact right place to be. But I still don’t know anything about grief.
Everyone mourns differently, and to see it play out on the porch, in the kitchen, openly and behind closed doors, it’s hard. We tip toe around one another and frequently embrace. This lake house was built new when we bought it, but in such a short five years the walls have seen an excess of joy and sadness.
This summer, and last summer, and two summers before that, have made us want to reshape. We fantasize about quitting everything and stripping down to the simplest possible life. We decide to follow dreams and seize the day and live big and chase it all. Both lifestyles feel like options in the space of a single hour. Neither seem right.
Late Sunday after all the houseguests had departed, I did load after load of laundry and we ate a smorgasbord of leftovers and watched The Discovery Channel on a messy couch. It’s been strange to have endless days together, just our little family, without work or much obligation. It’s not our normal rhythm, and it’s a gift. It’s also a reminder of the interruption. And then the grief is fresh again.
Yesterday was one of those Stay Off the Internet days. The outrage and disdain spread throughout all of my social media channels, sarcastic memes about Christianity and indignant lack of discussion on both sides. Before I could even catch up on the actual news of the Supreme Court’s latest decision, I was inundated with how every acquaintance I know feels about it.
Correction: How every angry individual I’m connected with on a computer screen felt about it. Those supporting the ruling were generally silent. Those who needed to hear exactly what it was we were lighting our torches over definitely stayed quiet, because by the time the details were sorted out, it would have been nothing short of dangerous to post about it one way or another.
I have opinions. My moral convictions have shifted some in the last decade, which, mind you, still makes them moral convictions. My (mostly) libertarian beliefs have thoughts on what are and are not “rights” in this country. And though I grew up in a politically bantering family, am educated and opinionated and genetically a smart person, I’m still scared stiff to wade into the crowd online, no matter the issue, no matter the side.
People are mean online. If you don’t know every nuance of every issue, you’re dismissed, often in a condescending and demeaning way. Crazy people attack strangers on twitter and their family members on facebook. Most rational people are somewhat gun shy (pardon the pun) about expressing their controversial opinion online, and now even that respectful hesitation is judged.
A narrative I keep hearing in the blogging world is that we need to SAY MORE! SPEAK UP! and that we're not using our platforms as well as we should. I bristle at that.*
What the internet needs is not more empty outrage. I’m not one to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I don’t think love is always the answer. But the laziest activism I’ve ever seen has gone down on twitter. And it changes with the wind, so what does that even mean, really? Are we changing hearts with 140 characters or less? We are not.
The conundrum here is that it feels good and right to claim your identity by expressing online. By participating in the cyber celebration or protest, we’re saying “This is who I am and what I believe! Take me or leave me!” It’s better than a t-shirt. More effective than a bumper sticker. But it’s really mostly nothing.
No matter what issue you feel deeply about, it takes actually DOing something. Feet to the ground, time and money invested, DOing. This world screams for more “real people” and less professional politicians but the most depressing part of the Sarah Palin debacle was how ridiculed she became for being “just a soccer mom.” By now we all know how that story turned out, but I think the public torching for her missteps discouraged every other capable soccer mom in America who could handily run their city/state/country. What a shame.
We want real people but we don’t want real real people. We have a need to express our opinions online, but we don’t want to listen to anyone else’s. Everyone is screeching or, like me, listening to the screeching with fingers hovered over the keyboard. The only wise one of us closes the laptops and pulls on work gloves.
Which is not what I did yesterday or what I do most days. So excuse me if I fall silent on an issue that you deem important. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about it or that I don’t have an opinion on it. It just means that the computer is rarely a worthy battleground. I'd rather us all Do The Work.
Fight on, friends. Whatever that means to you.
(Annnnnnnd related: Don't Tell Me How To Use Facebook.)
*This post originally contained a reference to a speech at a conference that called for bloggers to be more outspoken. Although I meant for it to be a general point, it was actually hurtful to the blogger, the online community itself, and the important work being done in this country on the subject of race. As I never aim to cause pain with my words, I've re-worked that paragraph and apologize to anyone who was offended.
photo by torbakhopper via flickr
Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther. Elizabeth Esther is a fellow blogger and I knew enough about her story that I wanted to read this book before it even released. Her childhood in a fundamentalist Christian sect with her grandfather at the helm was just as fascinating as I thought it would be.
At a dinner party I attended several years ago, Elizabeth Esther was telling us about what it feels like to grow up thinking the world was going to end every day. The panic that threads through a life with that belief. We were talking about it in terms of the pressure to SEIZE EVERY MOMENT, but her thoughts on the subject stayed with me.
I flew through this faith memoir, could hardly believe Elizabeth's family lived not too far from Los Angeles, and her reflections at the end (after she has her own family, and has severed ties to that church) gave me a lot to think about.
The Last Anniversary and also The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty. Ever since I absorbed What Alice Forgot last summer, Liane Moriarty has become one of my favorite beach-read novelists. Not that I've actually read a single one of her books on the beach, but you know what I mean. Entertaining, light-but-not-too-light, easy on the eyes but still good sentence structure.
I liked The Hypnotist's Love Story much better than The Last Anniversary, although the latter had a really interesting premise. The Hypnotist's Love Story followed the mind and actions of a stalker, and it was sort of a different take on the circumstances that put us where we are. The Last Anniversary has more of a family dynamic, and now that I think back on it, maybe I enjoyed it more than I remember.
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren. A friend mentioned this memoir to me when I confessed my Weezer fandom (author Jillian Lauren is married to Weezer bassist Scott Shriner) and I downloaded it immediately. This is the story of how a Jersey teenager ends up in a harem in Brunei. On the surface this seems so shocking, but reading it somehow you're relating to the author's absolutely unique situation. That's the mark of a good story, right?
I wish I'd read Some Girls for book club or with a friend, because it's one I want to discuss for hours.
We Were Liars by e. lockhart. This is one of the books I purchased after asking the HH facebook page which novels I should add to my memoir-heavy reading list. I bought it for my kindle without reading much about it (my preferred way to do things) but it might have helped if I'd known it was young adult. I don't mind reading YA - and in the best books it doesn't matter - but I think I might have felt differently about the plot if I'd known the target audience.
Translation: I figured out the twist pretty early on. So then I spent the rest of the story waiting for the reveal. Besides that, I liked We Were Liars. It was a quick read, maybe a little more sad than I was anticipating.
An Altar In The World by Barbara Brown Taylor. I bought this after I read (and loved, and haven't stopped thinking about) Leaving Church. (I wrote about it here.) Brown Taylor is easily one of my favorite voices in the faith community and I can't get enough of her simple prose and her wise perspective. I'll be picking up her latest called Learning To Walk in the Dark to read in the next few months, because her influence on me is deep.
Soon I'll be posting what's on my bedside to read the rest of the summer. What have you been reading lately?