Anxious Days

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Some days, trees are not trees

and I am not me.

I am a misplaced thing-

a small pile of sand on the second shelf of the china cabinet

next to a stack of teacups;

a single goosebump upon the arm of a woman sunbathing;

a nit on a bald man’s head.

I am contrary to the order of things-

a vortex running counter to its designated direction-

and everything pulled into my universe becomes contrary too.

Mothers tell bedtime stories about the souls’ of the damned.

The whispering breeze becomes the discordant notes of the organ master.

Day becomes night

and trees become demons.

*

On anxious days

everything stands in defiance of God

and fear prevails.

 

 

 

 

Finding Freedom in Writing Fiction

This morning, like most mornings, I awoke short of breath, with a tight chest, a sick feeling in my stomach and the unsettling sensation that something wasn’t quite right.  If you also suffer from anxiety, you know exactly what I’m talking about-that inexplicable feeling that something is wrong, yet you just can’t figure out what-aside from the terrible, sickening nervous feeling that has risen from the pit of your gut and up towards your chest-it is. To combat my anxiety, and in lieu of Zoloft, I have taken to walking, and, surprisingly, it has worked.  The terrain around my home is very hilly, and, as I begin to pump up my first hill of the morning, I actually feel the anxiety begin to dissipate.  My breathing becomes deep and steady, my thoughts settle and I find a bit of peace.  Up until quite recently, this forty-five minute morning ritual has relaxed me enough so that I can get through my days without any major anxiety.  But, a few weeks ago, things changed.  Ginger, my four-legged walking companion, was attacked by a German Shepard who busted through his electric fence.  A week later she was bit again on the neck by another savage mongrel, who was left to wander loose on his front lawn because, according to his owner, their electric fence wasn’t working properly. On each of these occasions, both Ginger and I were fortunate enough that the owners, once they heard my screams, scurried out of their homes and to our rescue. Unfortunately, my walks no longer have the calming effect they once did; rather, they have become angst inducing. 

What I want is rather simple.  I want to be able to take a walk without dodging, and rerouting and worrying about being attacked by neighborhood dogs.   I want the freedom to just pick a direction and go.  This walk situation has me feeling rather fenced in, literally and figuratively speaking.  So often we are deterred and forced to shift directions because of outside forces and influences.  So often we are told we can’t.  So often we are told we can only go so far.  I look at my own life and am appalled by how often I am blocked, not only by outside influences, situations and people, but also by myself.  I have plans and dreams and ideas, but I allow fear and the nagging voices of others as well as myself to stop me from following through with what I truly want to do.  I want to travel, but I don’t because I am afraid to fly.  I want to contribute to conversations, but sometimes I don’t because I am afraid that others will disagree.  I want to move away to a place with more land and fewer people, but I am afraid to break the hearts of those family members who would be left behind.   Actually, I want the freedom to make lots of decisions and head in lots of metaphorical directions without feeling fenced in or forced to revise my original plans. 

I started to think, “How can a writer have so many inhibitions?”  As a primarily non-fiction writer, so much of what I have to say is drawn from personal experience, yet, because I don’t want to hurt or offend or steal the history of others by weaving their experiences into my greater narrative, my stories never get told. I am not at a loss for words or ideas;  I just don’t feel free to say what it is I want to say.  And I think that for this reason, I have begun to find fiction writing so liberating. I am in no way implying that fiction writing is merely “fictionalizing” real people and events by changing names, dates and settings to present true stories as a creative works.  No.  Fiction writers use their accute awareness of the human condition to craft artistic works. The beauty of ficton writing is that  writers can face their fears of flying and dogs by having their characters confront that which frightens them (the writers).  Fiction writers can, through their characters, confront pompous asses, narcissists and psychotics who loosely resemble the pompous asses, narcissists and psychotics we must contend with in the real world.  Fiction writing allows the writer to face worse case scenarios and realize the possibility that for every situation there are options and alternate solutions.  Even better, fiction writers can create characters that speak the words, do the things and travel to the places we are too afraid to go.  In fiction we can find freedom.

Happiness: My Gift to Myself for My Fortieth Birthday

40th Bday Blog

This past Saturday I turned forty.  I woke up in the morning and asked myself, “How the hell did this happen?” I have always had a Peter Pan complex. As a child, when other little girls my age said they wanted to be mothers or brides or teachers, I thought they were insane. Why in God’s name would anyone actually want to do any of that?  Being an adult didn’t look like any fun.  I just wanted to remain a kid..forever. For years, I wished that I would remain young. Of course that was one wish that would never be fulfilled unless I was going to sell my soul to the devil in return for semi-eternal youth. I had to remove that option from the table, however, because someday that  pointy tailed, pitchfork carrying psychopath would come to collect my soul as payment for all the wrinkle free years I was granted, and, frankly, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am really, really, really afraid of the devil. I also considered, but later determined that it was also highly improbable, that I would find an artist to paint a portrait of myself as a youth which would age for me.  Of course, I would hide it in my attic so no one would discover my secret, but, as we know, the whole aging portrait in an attic thing didn’t work out very well for poor debauched Dorian Gray.  Occam’s razor my friends, Occam’s razor.  The simplest choice is usually the right choice.  Portraits and artists and deals with the devil are just too complicated. 

So I grew up and aged. I don’t look as grizzled as I expected to when I turned forty, but age I did.  And this brings us to the day of my fortieth birthday.   Giorgio had to work all day and it snowed..a lot.  The kids, Ginger and I were snowed in on my birthday, with no hope of going anywhere or doing anything special. Despite the fact that we weren’t going anywhere, I put on my new faux leather leggings (they just make me feel good) and the kids and I made gingerbread houses. And at some point during the day I had a startling revelation…I was happy!  Not just happy in the moment (being with my kids has always filled me with joy; I just adore them) but happy in life, happy with myself, just plain old happy. 

The funny thing is that I haven’t really been happy since I was ten years old.  Over the past thirty years I  experienced supremely joyful moments, the greatest moments in my life in fact, as in the birth of my children, but pure complete happiness had eluded me. Over the years I, along with stress, neurosis, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, and fear, sucked the joy out of my own life.  My children and my husband became my happiness, but if I was alone, with just myself and my thoughts, I was a fearful, anxious wreck of a woman.

So how did I recover my happiness? Here it is. But first, let me assure you that there is no need to worry. I am not going to parlay this blog into a tool to kickstart my new career as a self-help guru. I still have a lot of work to do. Also, I am a late bloomer. Most forty year old adults figured this stuff out long ago. So, please, take it for what it’s worth. Now, back to how I became happy.

I discovered that most people are inherently good.  No.  I am not naive.  Of course there are wicked people who do evil things, who choose to do evil things, but, the vast majority of people in this world are good, or try to be good, or, at the very least, fancy themselves to be good. I deeply believe that insecurity is the primary reason why people act like assholes.  Insecurity, not pure wickedness, explains why people are jealous, why people malign others, why people hurt others at school and in the workplace.  And it is so much easier to forgive or at least understand someone whose actions are driven by insecurity rather than by nefarious intent.  Once I decided that people are good, despite the fact that they act badly, the world became a happier place.

To the best of my ability, I try to live each day so that I would be proud of it if it were my last.  This is not the same as living each day as if I knew it was going to be my last.  That’s ridiculous.  In that scenario, I’d likely attempt to numb my pain and quell my fear with martinis and denial. When I reflect upon my day, I want to feel proud that I tried to do the best for my children and family.  I want to feel proud that I tried my best to be kind and patient and unselfish.  I want to feel proud that I worked to my fullest potential.  I don’t need perfection.  Perfection is a myth. Striving for it will destroy you.

I went to a shrink. That’s right, I went to a shrink, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family.  Just a few years back, I became crippled by fear, anxiety and OCD (something I did not realize I had as a youth, but, in retrospect, of course I did).  While I don’t want to get into the gory details at the moment, I will say that when mommy is unhappy, when mommy spends much too much time crying and worrying, the family becomes unhappy.  When you have everything, and by everything I mean healthy children, a loving spouse and enough money to pay the bills and your still not happy, for Christ’s sake, it’s time for mommy to take care of her shit.  So I did. As a parent, it’s our duty to take care of ourselves, to take care of both our physical and mental health. 

I discovered who I am and I actually like myself.  I just took some time to figure out what I really like, who I really like to be with, and what ideas and opinions are authentically mine.

There it is…how I became happy.  Oh, in case you’re interested, what did I learn about myself?   In a nutshell, I’m a faux leather, sparkle eye shadow, stiletto wearing, zany chic who unapologetically admits to  living  for her kids and loves her husband.  I like quirky people with wild stories, dancing, club music, old episodes of Columbo, Cheetos and martinis. I love ballet…and B movies. I like earnestness and absurdity. I like to laugh. Mostly, I love to be with my children.  I still dream.  I still choreograph dances in my head when I hear great music.  I am happy. Finally, at forty years old, I am happy.

Hold Up. Did I Just Call the Dog My Daughter’s Name???

Yes Heather. Yes you did. And lately, you have been calling the dog Allegra way too often. You have also been forgetting what you’re saying midsentence, walking upstairs to do things and then forgetting what those things are and calling Allegra, Ginger and Ginger, Allegra and Jack, Giorgio and Giorgio, Jack. You, my friend, have been doing all of that…a lot. You, Heather Nanni, are overwhelmed and need to do something about it.

Okay, I never claimed that this was a self-help blog. There are times, many, many, many times, that I am an absolute mess. I like to share these as a way of connecting with those of you out there who more often than not feel the same way I do. And I hope it’s helpful because I myself read blogs for either inspiration or company. I like to hear the ideas of those who have once upon a time felt like myself and have some insight or from those who are currently feeling the way I do now. This blogging thing becomes a way of commiserating.

So, back to the wacky Heather behavior. You may ask, what is it that has you feeling so overwhelmed? What is it that has you forgetting what you’re doing and saying and where you’re going and why you’re going there? The answer–nothing much, life. This past week I felt like life knocked me on my ass. As I have mentioned on one of my pages, I have a child with some special needs, and while these needs are nothing dramatic, they do make parenting a bit of a crapshoot. There are times, this week being the perfect example, when I am plagued by indecision, self-doubt and anxiety over whether or not I have made or am about to make a poor decision regarding my child. Also, after taking last year off, I have returned to teaching two college courses this semester. Last count I have approximately fifty papers and fifty quizzes to grade before my next class. While I truly love what I do, I don’t know how I will manage to do it at this point in my life. Also, my parents are not well, my husband has his own separate cache of worries which he shares with me and then of course, the universal worry–finances. Basically, life. Oh yeah, did I mention that I am disorganized? Nothing can tie my stomach in a knot like a couple of piles of papers on my kitchen counter. Whereas some people see a pile of stuff and know exactly what to do with it, I do not. Now to add to the usual clutter of junk mail and crap, I have a couple of new piles of student papers. I sense impending disaster, like my dog before a storm hits.

Here’s the irony. Last night I lectured my students on the ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed by college life and coursework, and (ready for this?) how to deal with the stress of life in general. I called upon all of my students to address something in their lives that they have been avoiding or something that causes them angst and to take a small step to improve their situation.

Acknowledging the absurdity of previous night’s lecture given my present state of mind, this evening I called upon myself to take a small step to improve my situation. As old Prufrock waxes, there will be, “…time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions.”* There will be, in fact there is, a lifetime for hundreds, upon hundreds of decisions and indecisions and revisions, so tonight I chose to have candlelight dinner with my kids. I lit the tapers, turned down the lights, turned on Miles and had dinner….in our messy kitchen, just the kids, Ginger and I. I didn’t think about problems or bad decisions or anything other than us, in that moment, and I, we, felt much better. * Eliot, T.S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. 1920