because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Letter to My 12th Grade Son, 3 Months Before He Graduates High School

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Dear TechSupport:

You used to shout at your friends before playing Capture The Flag.

“No burying the flag.”

“No jailbreaks.”

“My house. My rules.”

My son, you love rules.

But over the last few years, you’ve had to accept that man-made laws are not perfect.

Because people are imperfect.

Each night, you watch the news and shake your head.

Now you understand people create laws that can lead to atrocities of human suffering.

Know the question to ask yourself is always: “Would I want this to happen to me or someone I love?” Know also that the answer to this question connects you to the deepest place in your heart as well as all of humanity.

I remember you, slim and long, holding a saber in your hand. Moving with a sense of purpose, you lunged and parried and reposted. This sport – a maddening game of mental chess — requires patience, athleticism, chivalry and grace.

Know that you possess all of these qualities.

That you are able-bodied and strong.

Even if you never fence again.

Know the question to ask yourself is always: “How can I use my strength to help others?”

I’ve always known you’re wicked smart. I’m not bragging. I’m just quoting from the comments that your teachers have made over the years.

Student is a critical thinker.

Student asks important questions.

Student is a leader.

Though I’m forever encouraging you to go with your gut, you’re a scientist, analyzing situations from every viewpoint and trying to make the best, most rational decision you can.

Dude, I don’t understand how you got 100% on the Integrated Algebra Regents.

I mean, I know that you did it.

But you know how I feel about numbers.

To me, numbers are the enemy of words.

But you see magic in numbers.

You love the number 8 because it’s even.

Because it is divisible by 2 and 4, both of which are even numbers.

Because the number is made of two circles. And circles have no sides.

And infinite sides.

If you tip over the number 8, it becomes a pair of glasses.

And the symbol for infinity.

You love how infinity goes on forever.

Like Pi.

Believe me, I’m over the moon that you’ve made friends with numbers.

Please, just don’t become obsessed with 100.

Know that greatness is not about always having the right answer or pleasing others. That greatness is about asking important questions and doing what is right and good, even if you have to stand alone.

{That said, it’s okay to let other people hide the flag in a non-obvious location during Capture the Flag. Seriously, Bubba. It’s a game. Not the time to take a stand. Pick your battles.}

At the end of this academic year, you’ll be heading off to summer camp.

And then to college.

I’m already grieving losing you.

I’ve hardly had time to make sense of it.

I think it started the day I realized you are taller than I am.

Of course, I’m here for you.

But you’ve gotten quieter, less interested in sharing your words with me.

You hand me a Rubik’s cube and tell me to mess it up.

Your fingers touch mine for a nanosecond before you pull away.

I get it.

You’re expending your energy elsewhere these days.

These days you’re probably thinking about that girl and how she uses a green headband to keep her hair off her neck.

Stuff like that.

How did we get here?

Wasn’t I just cleaning up spilled Goldfish crackers and taking care of ouchies.

Explain to me how we got here, my number loving son.

And tell me that I did a good enough job.

That all the formulas worked.

You’ve been on this earth for 6430 days.

I’m paying close attention because I get it now.

This time won’t last forever.

I want you to know that you, my son, have been my greatest teacher.

But can I tell you just one thing?

People don’t ring the doorbell asking you to hang out because they want to see me. They don’t cheer your name when you walk into a room because they like the shirt you’re wearing. They do these things because you are that guy: the one who builds people up and makes them feel accepted and loved. You make weird card games fun.

You win with humility and lose with grace.

Except when it comes to Capture The Flag.

Dude, that game is your undoing. Cut people some slack. Seriously.

I know that’s more than one thing.

Do me a favor and cut me some slack, too.

Love,

Mom

The Hairiest Snizz

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NOTE: This post is part of the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VI! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 11th.

In 4th grade, I liked a boy named Johnny. I brought him fresh tangerines and chased him around the playground at recess. One night, I penned him a handwritten note asking if we could maybe go roller-skating together sometime.

The next morning I stuck the note in his cubby right before we stood to recite The Pledge of Allegiance. That afternoon, Johnny stood among the other boys in our grade and motioned for me to come over. My heart thumping in my chest, I trotted to his side.

At one point, he crouched down to retie the laces on his sneakers, and I was surprised when he touched my ankle. Standing up, he inched closer to me. I was certain he was going to kiss me right then and there, in front of everyone.

It was going to be awesome.

“You’re hairy,“ Johnny announced. “I don’t like hairy girls.”

When I got home from school that afternoon, I found my father’s razor and used it to shave my legs.

And my arms.

And my armpits.

I didn’t even have peach fuzz under my arms, you know, because I was nine years old.

Still, I shaved there all the same.

Just in case.

The threat of spending my life alone and unloved sounded worse than a death sentence.

• • •

Years later, someone I loved told me that he wanted a woman who didn’t burp, fart, sweat or have any hair on her body, except on her head. I laughed and told him that wasn’t a woman; that was a doll.

When he expressed a preference for women who were “smooth down there,” I decided it was time for laser hair removal.

I remember the technician’s rose-colored safety goggles, her gloved hand squeezing my inner thigh.

“I hope you’re not doing this for a man,” she said to my crotch.

At the time, I believed I was doing it for myself.

But it was a lie.

• • •

A few years ago, my friend Eric invited a few people to his parents’ cottage to celebrate his birthday. It was warm, and everyone was lounging around in some state of undress. At some point, Eric’s girlfriend – let’s call her Jenn — announced she was going in the water and stepped out of her long skirt.

Jenn had a lot going on down there.

Dark hair came out of both sides of her bikini bottom.

I’d never seen that much hair on a woman, especially coming from parts I’d been taught were private.

“Gross,” my husband hissed in my ear. “That’s just gross.”

• • •

After my divorce, I took a lover. I was terrified the first time we were intimate. I kept waiting for him to criticize something about my physical appearance. But he didn’t. He made happy sounds when we kissed. He twirled my curls around his fingers, bit my thighs, and told me my body was beautiful.

At first, I didn’t believe him.

But, over time, I realized he was telling the truth, and I wept for all my years of not-knowing.

• • •

As a young girl growing up during the 1970s and 80s, I watched enough episodes of Charlie’s Angels to know that Jill, Kelly and Kate had pretty faces and slim figures. When they wore their tiny bathing suits, they did not have any superfluous body hair.

As a result, I’ve spent a large portion of my life tweezing and plucking and waxing and sugaring, believing that female body hair is unsightly and disgusting.

I see now how all of us, men and women alike, are impacted by this culture’s unrealistic portrayal of women. Women are not hairless; neither are we all long and lean.

I‘ve done many things to attract a lover.

I’ve primped and preened. I’ve told jokes and laughed at their bad ones. I’ve pretended to be interested when, in reality, I was bored. I’ve put myself on a diet, done things that I didn’t really want to do.

When you strip away all the layers, the truth is that I’ve been worrying about everyone else’s opinion of me since I was in elementary school.

• • •

Sometimes, I wish I had a chance to go back to my 4th grade self, to that day Johnny teased me in front of the boys. Instead of internalizing his criticism, I imagine myself moving closer to him, rubbing one of my hairy legs against his.

I would laugh at him and tell him that his ideas about shaving are ludicrous, remind him that human beings are mammals and that mammals have hair on their bodies.

That the messages in the movies, and TV, from friends and family and strangers, are nonsense.

That I don’t exist for his fulfillment.

I would wish him well, hope one day he might meet a woman who loves herself so much that his opinion about body hair might change, that in her arms he might have the chance to know a boundless and intoxicating love.

Afterwards, I would make my way home.

There, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I’d inspect my arms and my legs and deicide I’m good enough ‘as is’.

Instead of seeing myself as defective, I’d be resilient enough to know that one person’s opinion didn’t have to become my truth.

And instead of running for a razor, I’d walk into the kitchen and eat one of the many tangerines I’d been wasting on boys like Johnny.

What do you think about superfluous hair? Gross? Sexy? No big whoop? Feel free to share your funny stories here. I won’t tell anyone. Probably.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Why I Won’t Be Invited To That Party Again: The Day I Called Someone Out for a Racist Joke

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I’m at a party when, suddenly, the affluent host makes a horrendous racist joke.

Sitting just outside the group, I watch the men laugh uproariously while their women exchange pained looks and then look down at their hands.

I’m excruciatingly aware of how no one is willing to confront our host about his behavior, how silence provides the perfect climate and culture for toxic behavior to thrive.

I think to myself:

This is one of those moments. They don’t want to upset the wagon cart, make a fuss, be dramatic. They don’t want to find themselves on the outside of the social group. 

(You know, like me.)

So here I am at this party, realizing that I don’t really like any of these people. 

So I just say it out loud.

“I’m super uncomfortable by that joke you just made,” I say, trying to look at the host squarely in the eye, but doing a rotten job of it. “It’s racist,” I say to the ground.

I look up at him, hoping he’ll apologize.

Instead, he laughs, pats me on the head, and walks away.

It takes a moment for me to realize that I don’t have to stay, and all I have to figure out is how to make my departure. 

Had I been at this party in my former life — as half of a couple — my ex-husband would have told me to ‘calm down’ or tried to convince me that our host is intoxicated, that he didn’t mean what he said. He would have told me to forget the man’s words and ‘just enjoy the party.’

In other words, ignore the slight. 

Guess what? 

I’m done with that.

Ignoring racism exemplifies everything that’s wrong in this world, and I’ve decided to challenge people when they’re cruel, insensitive or disrespectful. 

But dealing with racist humor is weird.

People seem to be enjoying themselves; they’re laughing.

But we all know making fun of people is not the right thing to do, either.

It’s not how we should act as humans on this planet.

It’s not how people with thinking brains and working hearts behave.

If you’re someone who truly values the diversity that we claim to hold dear in this society, put your money where your mouth is.

Practice having these difficult conversations with other adults.

Question people about their thinking.

Get curious about why they think the way they do.

Challenge them on their misinformation.

Encourage them to get outside their cultural bubbles and interact with new people.

And, for goodness sake, until you see some personal growth on their part, show some integrity and stop attending their parties.

What do you do when someone you know makes an inappropriate comment about race/class/gender/sex?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Changing The Things I Cannot Accept: Time To Fight For Feminism, Ladies

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Feminism in Buffalo, New York, circa 1992. I am, of course, the one in the hat.  

In 1991, I landed my first job, teaching 3rd grade English as a Second Language. Kathy, the teacher with whom I worked, was smart, generous, kind, and warmhearted. She treated every child equally. She arranged the desks in neighborhoods and talked about community responsibilities. She bedazzled her bulletin boards and spent a lot of time doing little things she believed mattered to her students.

In the spring of 1992, as the debate over Roe v. Wade heated up, an event was planned in front of Buffalo’s GYN/Women Services. My friends and I agreed it was our obligation to ensure that women were able to make their appointments free from harassment from the notorious rabble-rousers who were coming to town. After all, GYN/Women Services provided prenatal care and regular obstetrics appointments for its many patients. It was not a killing field. It was a medical office that mainly provided routine office procedures like breast exams and pap smears in addition to providing legal abortions.

I attended the rally with two friends.

People screamed at each other from both sides of the street, on both sides of the issue. I didn’t like the things the Pro-Choice people were chanting: things like “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and offensive rhymes which dragged religion into the issue. My friends and I didn’t have a problem with anyone’s religious practices, and we didn’t want to be associated with all that noise.

So we walked across the street to CVS and bought electrical tape, and we taped our mouths shut.

Reporters and photographers were busy looking for that one cool angle, that one interesting image.

Their camera lenses landed on us.

When our picture was published in LIFE magazine, I brought a copy to school to show Kathy, my teacher-friend. I wanted to talk to her about the caption, which read “Women tape their mouths shut to represent the Silent Majority who favor safe, legal abortion” — and explain how that didn’t quite capture the whole story. I wanted to tell her how — at the end of the day — when the news vans with their giant satellite dishes had driven away, I felt used, like a pawn in someone else’s chess game. How it had occurred to me everyone had an agenda and we, women, had been pitted one against the other by religious leaders and politicians, by media spokespeople who encouraged participants from both sides of the street to shout louder when their cameras were rolling.

Kathy squinted at me coolly.

“We were on different sides of the street that day,” she said.

Kathy and I worked side by side for the rest of the year, but our interactions were different. I learned so much from her: how to treat children with dignity, how to walk the fine line between friend and disciplinarian, how to integrate non-native speakers of English into the larger class: so many things. I wanted to make things right.

I tried to talk to her about her feelings regarding reproductive rights — I believed we could find some middle ground — but Kathy held up her hand.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” she said, shutting down my attempts at dialogue.

I never realized an issue could be so divisive that it could destroy a friendship.

Lately, when I watch the news I feel like I’m back in the 1990’s.

Issues and rights I thought long settled are being challenged again.

But this time around, it’s not only reproductive rights that are being challenged.

This time, the rhetoric is more ominous as basic human rights are being challenged.

As a feminist, I believe in reproductive freedom, and I will never accept federal, state or local rollbacks/cuts or restrictions to our access to quality healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.

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I may be older, but my core values remain the same in 2017. 

I believe all women are free and able to care for and nurture themselves and their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments. I believe women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free from all forms of violence against our bodies.

I believe it is our obligation to protect the rights of all people, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender or gender non-conforming brothers and sisters.

I believe in an economy governed by transparency, accountability, security and equity; that all workers must be paid equitably with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, healthy work environments, and paid family leave. I believe civil rights are our birthrights. This includes voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation, harassment, freedom of speech for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability.

I believe every person and every community has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. I believe our climate must be protected, that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for gain or greed, especially at the risk of public safety and health.

Twenty-five years ago, people kept their politics pretty quiet. But, with the advent of social media, people have become much more open about their political leanings.

I’ve taken the electrical tape off my mouth.

Now is not the time to be silent, friends.

Decades of polite silence has created a divided country.

We have to start having these uncomfortable conversations if we ever hope to move forward as a country.

I’m fortunate to have nurturing relationships with women of every race, class, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, and religious practice. My life is enriched daily by the interactions that I have with these women. We laugh and cry together. We share food and we share stories. We celebrate each other’s successes and hold each up during dark times.

Why wouldn’t I want everyone to have the same inalienable rights that I enjoy?

Who would have thought that twenty-five years later the personal would be so political… again?

Have your relationships changed as a result of political differences? If not, how have you managed to make it through the election season without any shift in friendships?

tweet me @rasjacobson

3 Things the Universe Wants Me to Do

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I’m wicked competitive.

No matter what I do, I want to be the best at it.

I don’t mean the best that I can be.

I mean the best as compared to all the people.

As a gymnast, I was taught it was necessary and possible to be as close to perfect as possible.

As a teacher, I strove to create perfect lessons.

As a wife, I tried to make a perfect home, tidy and warm and well decorated.

I aimed for perfection as a mother, too.

(Sorry TechSupport.)

I’m not saying this perfection thing is a good thing.

I’m just saying, I tend to go for blood be outcome-oriented.

My son works differently.

(You guys remember TechSupport, right?)

He’s process-oriented.

When he was younger, we had plenty of conversations where I’d ask him about how he felt about his performance in some athletic endeavor or something.

“I learned a lot,” he’d say and shrug, as if to add, No big deal, mom.

Anyway, because I’m feeling pretty dang good, energetic and cognitively clear, and because I’m coming back to life and feel invested in living again, I’m aware that one of my less pleasant character traits has reared its ugly head.

fullsizerender-2Yup, my competitive nature flared today.

I found myself thinking that I need to be better.

That I need to take more art classes and sell more products, get my work into more boutiques, be bigger-er and more famous-er, that I need to be the best artist in the whole world.

But how does a person “win” at art?

It’s ridiculous.

When I paint or draw or create something, I’m 100% in the moment – much the way I am when I look at a field of sunflowers, enjoy a coconut ice cream cone, take a dip in the ocean, or feel a lover’s mouth against my own.

Embarrassed by my own thinking, I decided to meditate on it and, after a while, I realized that I’ve been holding onto a misperception.

I was taught to believe that one’s work is only as valuable as the money one receives for doing that work.

I think a lot of us grew up with that ethos.

It’s an old belief.

And old beliefs die hard.

These days, I operate under a completely different set of beliefs.

  1. The Universe has a plan for me.
  2. The Universe wants me to do what I love.
  3. When I do what I love, the money follows.
  4. The Universe can change its plans for you at any time.

Apparently, the Universe wants me to do 3 things: paint, write, and help people who are coming off psychiatric medications.

(they need to know the body really does know how to heal.)

So that’s what I’m doing.

It’s enough.

Tonight I’m shrugging my shoulders and laughing.

And realizing I need to dial back my intensity a bit.

It’s all coming together.

I don’t have to have it all figured out today.

(thank goodness, because i soooo don’t.)

I know the Universe has big plans for us all in the new year.

Can’t wait for 2017 to begin.

What ONE thing do you believe the Universe wants you to accomplish in 2017?

Soul Soothings & a #Giveaway

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Something that you may not know about me is that I don’t metabolize heavy metals properly. This summer, I had my levels checked, and I am off the charts for mercury and lead. As a result, my doctor recommended that I avoid all fish and shellfish, and she suggested that I replace my store-bought creams and lotions with organic counterparts.

I know that deoderant has all kinds of not-so-hot ingredients in it, specifically aluminum and parabens and propelyne glycol and lots of other worrisome stuff. Anyhoo, a friend of mine told me I could get an organic deoderant in a cute, little boutique in Manlius, New York, so the other day, I happened to bop in — where the store owner, Kathy Ozzard Chism, treated me to a delicious cup of tea and whole lot of interesting conversation.

Somehow, I ended up telling her that I am an artist, and suddenly, we were discussing retail opportunities. Y’all, I ended up leaving about 80% of my inventory in her store. So, yes, Syracuse friends, you heard it here. You can get my coasters and greeting cards at Soul Soothings located at 131 West Seneca Street, Suite 1 in the Village of Manlius.

It’s hard for me to believe how much my life has changed over the last 3.5 years. Being in benzodiazepine withdrawal for as long as I was, has been a life changer…and yet I seem to be coming out of.

While I’m no longer teaching English, I’m grateful to be able to teach art classes and create art these days.

Seeing as I’m feeling so much more hopeful about the future, I’d like to offer something. First, if you place an order of $50 or more before tonight at midnight, I’m offering free shipping & handling to anywhere within the continental United States, a $10 value.

And…

I haven’t done a giveaway in a long time, but I’d like to do one now.

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IVY BEATS THE BLUES (c) 2016

If you’d like to receive a FREE 11×17 print of the painting above, leave me a comment about an invisible obstacle that you’ve have to deal with during your time on this planet. Tweet this post, and you’ll receive an extra chance of winning. I’ll announce the winner on January 1, 2017.

tweet me at @rasjacobson

 

A Positive Review & a #Giveaway

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For years, people have asked me if I have a website where they could buy my art, and I kept telling them that it was “in the works.”

Honestly, I thought folks were just being nice.

When I finally decided to gift myself a website, I figured my initial sales would be slow.

People told me not to expect too much, that it takes months for a new business to gain momentum, that many businesses fail.

Needless to say, I was amazed when I received such a positive response.

I’d ordered coasters — 10 of each design — a handful of magnets, a bunch of greeting cards, a couple of ornaments, pendants, and trivet tiles.

Just enough so people could see my inventory.

And then things started happening fast.

In addition to my online store, I also share a little gallery space at The Hungerford Building, a local warehouse that has been converted into lofts for artists and small business owners. With Thanksgiving just a few days after my website launch, I had to quickly learn how to send invoices via PayPal and how to wrap and ship orders.

A longtime subscriber to my blog, bfhenke wrote this:

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Somehow, I seem to be finding my way.

So, dear readers, you’ve watched me move through the seasons. I don’t have much to offer, but I’d like to offer something. First, if you place an order of $50 or more from my website before December 10th, I’m offering free shipping & handling to anywhere within the continental United States, a $10 value.

And…

I haven’t done a giveaway in a long time, but I’d like to do one now.

ivy-beats-the-blues
IVY BEATS THE BLUES (c) 2016

If you’d like to receive a FREE 11×17 print of the painting above, leave a short, fake review of my artwork or any kind of product/service. Tweet this post for a second chance to win. I’ll announce the winner on January 1, 2017.

tweet me at @rasjacobson

A New Bikini & Art #Giveaway

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Back in July, I decided I needed a new bikini, so I went to Target.

While in the changing area, I met a woman who was also trying on bathing suits. We discussed how short the swimsuit season is here in Upstate, New York and commiserated over our perceived physical imperfections. You know, all the things that make women feel uncomfortable about wearing bikinis.

Somehow, we got to talking about what we each did for a living.

“I’m not just a professional bikini model,” I joked. “I’m also a teacher. And an artist.”

“I’m a graphic designer,” she said. “And my husband is a web designer.”

Standing in next to nothing, Katie Hunt and I exchanged phone numbers, and a friendship was forged.

For the next three months, I worked with Katie and her husband David of Bleu Bird Studio, here in Rochester, New York. We had many conversations about my artistic vision. We discussed what the pages would look like, and how each page would function. As you can imagine, I was terrified that all my blog content would be lost, but Dave was confident that there wouldn’t be any issues, and — of course — he was completely right. Everything exported to the new site seamlessly.

Dave spent over 30 hours working on my site, and Katie helped me to retool my new logo – which is simple, yet stylized. The two offer free technical support for the first year that my website is up and running, and Dave seems to enjoy reporting on my analytics.

I encourage anyone who has been considering creating a website to contact the folks at Bleu Bird.

Meanwhile, if you would like to check out my website and offer any kind of feedback, I would be grateful. I really want the online shopping experience to be an easy one for buyers. What do you like about my website? What do you not like? Any comments of suggestions?

I don’t have much to offer, but I’d like to offer something. First, if you place an order of $50 or more before December 10th, I’m offering free shipping & handling to anywhere within the continental United States, a $10 value.

And…

I haven’t done a giveaway in a long time, but I’d like to do one now.

ivy-beats-the-blues
IZZY BEATS THE BLUES (c) 2016

If you’d like to receive a FREE 11×17 print of the painting above, leave me a comment about an invisible obstacle that you’ve have to deal with during your time on this planet. Tweet this post and receive an extra chance of winning. I’ll announce the winner on January 1, 2017.

tweet me at @rasjacobson

Finding Humility at the NY State Fair

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My family went to the New York State Fair every summer. We visited The Dairy Building to check out the enormous butter sculpture and, afterwards, waited in a ridiculously long line to get a free baked potato, topped with butter and sour cream. We admired the plants and flowers, the oversized fruits and vegetables, the goats and cows and swine. I looked forward to sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade out of a chubby yellow straw.

The last time I attended the State Fair was August 29, 2012.

My son and I and met my parents there. We stopped at the US Army exhibit where officers encouraged passers-by the try a pull-up challenge. When no one was participating, they demonstrated how “easy” it was to do ten pull-ups with pronated hands.

I’ve always admired that kind of raw strength.

I watched a few people struggle to do even one, and I remember thinking, “Wow, these people are really weak.” (Not so nice, I know. but that’s where I was.) And it was with great swelling pleasure, I stepped up to the bar and showed the world how a 45-year old woman could do 7 pull-ups.

No problem.

Just a few weeks later, I got sick.

Very sick.

I couldn’t go to the gym for over 2 years, and my muscles wasted away.

Now that I’m back to taking care of my body, I’ve been lifting weights again, trying to regain all that I lost.

When I was going thru benzodiazepine withdrawal, I never thought I’d ever be able to leave the house again. The symptoms lasted for months and years, and I didn’t know a single person who could tell me that my symptoms – though horrifying – were temporary. There were no support groups. Doctors told me that my illness was evidence that I needed to stay on the medication. I just keep holding on, white-knuckled.

Going to the Fair was a goal I set for myself this year.

I never thought I’d ever be able to do it, but there I was doing it.

I parked my car, figured out how to get in, walked to The Antique Tractor display…all by myself. I met some people and, together, we walked to the Iroquois Indian Village, watched men and women dance in slow circles as elders beat a drum and chanted. We walked around the midway,  saw the cows and goats and horses.

It was as if nothing had changed, not one moment had passed.

I remembered how I’d once easily completed those pull-ups, how my father had commented on my strength, how the men and women in uniform had praised me and joked that I could have a career in the military, so when I saw the familiar US Army exhibition, I was curious to see if I could still do it, three years later. Tossing my purse on the ground, I stepped right up. The bar was higher than I remembered, but I grabbed it.

There was no turning back.

I’ve always prided myself on my physicality. I was a dancer, a gymnast and a cheerleader. I was graceful and strong. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d helped my father use a chainsaw to take down some thick branches.

Using all my strength, I found – to my horror – I couldn’t complete a single pull-up.

Not. One.

IMG_0045-1
The Agony of Defeat.

So there I was.

And here I am.

Feeling humble.

Realizing I’m not be as strong as I once was.

That it is unlikely I’ll ever be that strong again.

And yet feeling strangely grateful.

I mean, at least I have arms.

I can embrace people that I care about fully.

I can touch and hold and offer.

And I’m laughing.

Because it’s important to remember to laugh at ourselves.

(Y’all, I looked like a doofus.)

And I’m realizing that despite my lack of physical strength, well… I can celebrate the fact that I’m growing my inner strength, how all this adversity has proved that I am a survivor.

(Even if I never make it on the TV show.)

It feels good, this coming back to life.

I’m a baby phoenix.

This time, with each failure, I realize I’m learning to fly.

When is the last time you embarrassed yourself in public?

tweet me @rasjacobson

The Truth About Identity Theft: A Cautionary Tale

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If I had been paying attention, I would have seen that Universe was making plans to kick my ass.

After three years of being too sick to travel, I was excited to go somewhere new and connect with other creative souls.

I’d imagined sitting poolside in the hot sun. I’d planned it for months.

images-1Instead, I arrived in a monsoon.

The airport was shut down due to flooding, and somehow, one of my bags was misplaced. Losing ones belongings is stressful enough, but I was attending Art Unraveled, an art conference, and the missing bag held all of my specialized supplies: my paint and brushes, the papers, beads and baubles that I’d been collecting for months.

The airline representative with whom I spoke smiled broadly and assured me that they have an amazing track record when it comes to recovering lost bags. “We’ll call you the moment we locate your suitcase,” he promised.

Once at the hotel, I went to the bar to eat a light, late supper. Exhausted, but craving company, I wanted someone to listen to my tale of woe and tell me that everything was going to work out. That night, one other woman sat at the bar. Beverly wanted to know all my details: what was my name, where I’d come from, and how long I’d be in Arizona. She asked if I was attending Art Unraveled, and which classes I’d signed up for. She finished one pear martini and ordered another. I thought Beverly was funny, and I appreciated how she helped me forget my lost bag.

Setting my cell phone on top of the bar, just off to my right, I’d only taken one or two bites of my salad when Beverly, gesturing broadly, knocked over her drink with her elbow, submerging my phone. Surveying the damage, I burst into tears.

“I want to check on you tomorrow,” Beverly said, touching my hand. “What room are you in?”

I gave her my room number and excused myself for the night.

Once in my room, I realized my phone was worse off than I expected, and there was little left to do except brush my teeth and go to sleep. The phone would have to wait.

Just after 5 AM, I awoke to the sound of an unfamiliar phone ringing. It was the hotel landline, its red light flashing furiously. A man on the other side of the line identified himself as the hotel night manager. “I’m sorry to call so early in the morning, but there seems to be a problem.”

He told me my credit card had been rejected and that it was hotel policy that every guest had to have a valid card on file. When I asked if I could come down in a few hours to handle things in person, he was polite but firm. “I’d prefer to handle things now,” he said.

Over the next few minutes, I sleepily proceeded to give all my most private information to the kind night manager who kept apologizing for the trouble. In addition to supplying my name, address and phone number, I offered my email address, my credit card number, the 3-digit code off the back, my birthday, and my mother’s maiden name.

And then I rattled off my social security number.

In its entirety.

All the digits.

“I think I have everything I need, “ he said, thanking me for my patience.

The next day, after a full day of workshops in day-old clothes, I finally made my way to my cell phone provider. My new phone beeped and buzzed indicating missed email messages, phone calls, and texts.

Right away, I saw that my credit card company had communicated with me via voicemail as well as email.

Something to the effect that my account may have been compromised.

Still, I’d received notifications like that before, and they’d always turned out to be nothing.

So I went out to dinner with an old friend from high school and on my way back, I stopped at the front desk to confirm that my credit card was now working.“You know, because I received that early morning wake up call,” I laughed.

The clerk at the desk tilted her head. “We would never call a patron in the middle of the night,” she said. “Ever.”

The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

The very first call I made from my new cell phone went to the fraud department at my credit card company. From there, I learned that numerous charges had been made to my account: $950 to 1-800-FLOWERS, alone.

My credit card was canceled. I was instructed to call the police, to call the Federal Trade Commission, to notify Social Security, every one of my financial institutions, as well as the consumer credit card bureau. I put an extended freeze on inquiries into my credit, and I doubled up the security on my most vulnerable accounts.

The police officer who took my report told me that it was likely the nice woman at the bar was involved in what turned out to be an elaborate vishing scheme.

“You established yourself as an easy mark by giving out a lot of personal information,” the officer said. “I’m guessing you won’t do that again.”

(Thanks for the shame, Officer Lutz.)

Over the last week, I’ve spent dozens of hours on the phone, trying to figure out how long it may take to recover from this breach in security. The unpleasant reality is that it will likely take years, and I will probably always need the services of Lifelock, as my information is already floating around out there.

I’m sharing my humiliation in hopes that I can prevent someone else from falling prey to a scheme like I did.

I’m guessing most of you have heard this before, but it bears repeating.

Outside of your employer, never, under any circumstances, give anyone your full social security number.

Not your spouse.

Not your doctor.

They don’t need it.

It’s yours.

You get one, and it’s a huge hassle to try to rebuild after it has been compromised.

Additionally, don’t share personal information with people you don’t know.

I tend to operate under the assumption that there are more honest people in the world than dishonest ones. While in Arizona, I learned that con artists walk amongst us, that there are people who get a thrill out of hurting other people, just because they can. I learned that people lie, cheat, and manipulate to get what they want. And I learned that I made myself vulnerable to this type of attack because I have been protected and cared for most of my adult life.

I left Phoenix in a dust storm. The airport was shut down as a cloud of brown rolled over us, the air smelling of sulphur and dirt.

And yet.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that during my darkest hours, wonderful people showed up for me: strangers offering food and clothes and kindness; an art teacher who allowed me to use all of her materials; an old friend who brought me money and clothes and flowers; another friend who offered hugs and emotional support; my parents, offering their love over the phone.

I’m focusing on this last part of the story because the gratitude piece is crucial.

I could focus on being victimized, but I’m choosing to focus on the other stuff.

The good stuff.

The wonderful people I met, the old connections that were restored.

Because that has truly been the story of my life. No matter how lost and alone we might feel that we are, we are never truly alone.

And by the way, the Art Unraveled conference was amazing.

If you can believe it, I plan to attend again next year.

I’ll just stay in a different hotel.

Probably.

Ever had your identity compromised? What was your takeaway from the experience?

tweet me @rasjacobson