Saving My Tears

The other morning, as I drove home, I heard the song “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd on the radio. I had taken myself to my favorite neighborhood cafe for some outdoor reading and writing time. 

“Save Your Tears” is a song I’ve heard a fair amount of times. Usually it’s a song I listen to, a song I enjoy. But this time, it actually brought me to tears. 

I parked the car and sat inside for a bit. I didn’t want to run the risk of seeing any of my neighbors, I didn’t want to have to try and explain why I was crying, because I wasn’t quite sure. 

I don’t think it was any one thing.

Actually, there were a number of reasons I could have been crying. 

For over two weeks now, I’ve been dealing with a pinched nerve, which at its worst led to tingling down my arm, into my right hand and fingers. It has created pain and tightness in my neck/shoulder area. It has made everyday things like brushing my teeth and washing my face harder to do. But that wasn’t why I was crying.

Since my son’s high school hosted Open House, about a month ago, I have had extreme pain in both my knees. It’s difficult to bend and pick up something that I dropped. It’s too painful to squat and pull weeds out of my garden. So I plop down onto the sidewalk and weed my garden and then have to figure out a way to get back up. But that wasn’t why I was crying either.

I think it was the lyrics, the simple repetition of “Save your tears for another day.” 

Because I do that, all the time. I save my tears for another day or another part of the day. I stop myself from crying in the Ralphs parking lot, as I load our bags of groceries into the car. I don’t cry as I unlock our front door, but wait until I get inside where no one can see me or hear me. 

And that is the bottom line — where no one can see me or hear me. Because it’s been my experience that me crying — out of pain, or fear, or frustration, or weariness — makes those around me uncomfortable. Which means on top of me trying to take care of myself and let the tears out, I’m left trying to soothe and reassure my family while downplaying my tears and whatever it was that caused me to cry in the first place.


Except the other day during my virtual therapy session. I cried. I cried multiple-Kleenex, nose-running, red-blotchy-eyes kind of crying. Because I generally keep everything in. I am so good at biting my tongue. At keeping my stoic game face on. At not letting on how hurt I really am. How much pain I really feel. And how much help I need.

I wouldn’t say I felt “better” after my crying session. But I definitely didn’t feel worse, either.

The Healing Journal

I recently finished working my way through Emily Suñez’s beautiful book The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts and Inspiration for Life with Illness.

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you might remember that twice before my blog posts were inspired by prompts in this lovely book. (You can read “I Am Alive With Creativity” by clicking here, and “My Illness Does Not Define Me” by clicking here.)

I finished reading the book and answering the writing prompts, but I haven’t finished healing. And that’s part of what makes life with a chronic illness so complicated. You never really completely heal from a chronic illness. 

There is no finish line. No specific treatment plan in place, that once you work through all the steps you’re “better.” It doesn’t work that way for me. It doesn’t work that way for a lot of people. There is no ideal world of “fully healed” to strive for. 

What I have found in the more than-a-decade that I have lived with my autoimmune disease, is that healing is a continuous process. Just as my symptoms go through periods of flares and remission, my feelings about my invisible disability ebb and flow as well.

My illness, and my healing, will forever be a part of me.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies

Sometimes you come across a book that you didn’t realize you needed to read until you’re in the middle of reading it, and you notice you’re running low on sticky notes because so many pages need to be marked.

That was my experience reading Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life From Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster.

Ms. Schuster’s book is another wonderful example of how writing the specific actually makes it universal. Ms. Schuster and I had extremely different childhoods. Our adult life experiences are quite different as well. I’m older than she is, married, and the mother of a fifteen-year-old son. Yet, I found so much to love in this book. So much that spoke to me. So much that said, “Wendy try this. Wendy, you need to do this. Wendy, pay attention to this part.” 

Here are just some of the passages that I found to be deserving of sticky notes:

“What you are about to read is a guide to healing your traumas, big and small, in the pursuit of creating a life you will adore and be proud of. You don’t need to have had a mess-wreck-disaster childhood like mine for these tools to work for you. These lessons in self-care will be useful even if you had super-stellar parents who nurtured the shit out of you. This book is for anyone who simply needs to take better care of themselves — anyone who wants to lead a life they choose, embrace, and fucking love.”

But I decided it was time to stop comparing my pain to others’, time to quit telling myself that I shouldn’t feel this way, and time to start focusing on how I actually did feel, because that was real.” 

“Buy the fucking lilies. You are worth seven-dollar lilies. You are worth the thing that instantly makes your life better. I’ve heard people talk about their favorite exercise class this way. I’ve heard people talk about an order of guacamole with their tacos this way. I’ve heard people talk about the ten-dollar, ten-minute massage at the nail salon this way. That small, pleasurable thing that makes you feel like you are treating yourself — do not deprive yourself of this. Buy the fucking lilies, take the class, order the guac, get the massage.”

“Above all else: You are worth the lilies. The small, attainable luxury of lilies is not something to stress about, it is not something to deny yourself, it is something to make plans for and embrace. Small things that make you happy ARE a part of taking care of yourself. If you can’t put your money where your mouth is and say, ‘I am worth the lilies,’ or ‘I am worth six-dollar beef jerky’ or ‘I am worth the almond butter that makes me actually look forward to the morning,’ then why are you working so hard at your job anyway? Seven-dollar lilies won’t ruin you and they won’t make you poor; they will make you stronger. You are stronger when you treat yourself well. What are your lilies? Please go buy them today. If you feel weird about it at all, just blame me and then enjoy the fuck out of your flowers.” 

“What feeds your well? What’s the thing you love to do that makes your heart glad? Is it flower arranging? Is it people-watching at a café? Is it reading a book in a park without knowing what time it is? Is it going back to that dance class you used to love but for some reason stopped taking? What makes you so happy that it gives you rest and ease and feels so damn good that it sets your soul on fire with inspiration? These things that inspire us are often the easiest to lose sight of. We give them up because there is just so much ‘to do’ in a day. We are ‘very busy,’ after all. But you do not gain strength from denying yourself pleasure and being so serious about your life. Instead, keep your well full, and be astonished at the power, the motivation, the brilliance that you will inevitably find in the rest of your life.”

“What I have learned is that you are stronger when you give yourself incredible kindness.” 

Many more pages are marked with a peach-colored sticky note. In fact, Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies inspired one of my April blog posts. (In case you missed it, you can read it by clicking here.)

There is just so much goodness in this book. Reading this book feels very much like having a super close friend right next to you, helping you to see your own wonderful-ness. A super close friend who wants you to see the sparkly brilliance within yourself. To which I say, “Thank you, Ms. Schuster. I’m working on it.” 

One additional note, Ms. Schuster has written a second book titled, Glow in the F*cking Dark: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul From Someone Who Learned the Hard Way. You can bet it’s on my wish list!

Teacher: One Who Loves

“The simple definition of teacher is one who teaches. But the reality of what it means to be a teacher is so much more. There was never one typical school day, because what I did or didn’t do in that classroom wasn’t entirely up to me. It involved my students — their participation, their preparation, their personalities. Each student brought a different set of previous experiences, a different set of learning styles, and a different set of challenges.” 

The paragraph above is an excerpt from my personal essay, “Teacher: One Who Loves,” and I’m so pleased to share that my essay was recently published on HerStry as part of their Women at Work series. You can click here to read the essay in its entirety.

And just a friendly reminder — Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12, 2023! It’s a great time to get in touch with a former teacher (yours or your child’s) and thank them!

One Step At a Time, One Book At a Time

This past weekend, I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Festival of Books is a huge, two-day, annual event held on the campus of USC (University of Southern California). 

Years ago, before my son was born, I went to the Festival every year. Back then it was held on the campus of UCLA (University of California Los Angeles.) 

I attended the Festival last year for the first time in many years. There was a certain thrill and energy that came with being surrounded by all things book-related, at attending an event that is a true celebration of books and authors. 

This year, though, I really wasn’t sure if I should go or not. Because I haven’t been feeling well lately. Because my pain level has been high and my energy level has been low. 

That’s the hard part for me — deciding when to push myself and when to hold back and admit that my body needs rest.

The truth was, I really wanted to go. I didn’t want to stay home because I was worried about my pain or the heat. I wanted to prove that I’m still capable of being out in the world, doing things I feel passionately about, not letting my illness completely dictate my life. 

I tried to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for myself by not attending any panel discussions or book signings. I didn’t want to have to worry about being in a particular place at a particular time. 

I simply strolled around the Festival, wearing my mask and sunhat, and doing my best to be present and enjoy the experience.  

I admit — I did start to daydream about what it would be like to be an author with my own exhibition area, selling copies of my memoir. Immediately I thought of giving out small, wrapped candies to those who stopped at my table. (Starburst and Hershey’s Kisses came to mind, though the Kisses might melt in the heat. Jolly Ranchers could be another possibility.)

I walked around, I took pictures, I picked up books, chatted with some authors, and bought three books, even though I have more than a dozen books at home, just waiting for me to read them. 

I loved being there. But, (you knew there was a but coming) it was incredibly hard on my body. It took me about 15 minutes to walk from the parking structure to the exhibition area. Plus, I had parked on level 5 which meant I would ordinarily take the elevator down to the ground level. However, eager attendees were crowding onto the elevator each time it stopped at 5, and I will not ride in a super-crowded elevator. (During my teaching years, I once was stuck in the school elevator for 55 minutes one morning.) So I walked down five flights of stairs. (Thankfully when it was time for me to leave, no one else was waiting for the elevator so I rode it up to parking level 5.)

When I felt my speed decreasing, when I found myself searching for a place to sit and rest in the shade, I knew it was time to go. That’s when the mask comes in handy. No one can see me talking to myself as I retraced my steps back to the parking area. One step at a time. Okay, you can do this. 

Am I glad I went? Yes. 

But I’m also sad. Because I miss the old days, the years I could just go out and do something without weighing all the possible risks. When I didn’t have to worry about having a pain-hangover the day (or days) after a particularly strenuous activity. 

I Am Alive With Creativity

I have slowly been making my way through The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts and Inspiration for Life with Illness by Emily Suñez.

This is a book that you don’t read all at once. You “savor the flavor,” as we say in our family. You pay attention to each beautiful illustration and each writing prompt. (I last wrote about The Healing Journal in a December blog post. You can click here to read it.)

The book is much too pretty for me to write in. Instead, I use the statements in the book as prompts for my daily five-minute writing exercise. 

If you’re not familiar with it, my five-minute writing time is exactly what it sounds like. You set a timer and you write for five minutes. That’s it. Sometimes I am surprised by what I write during those five minutes. Something comes out on the paper that astonishes me, delights me, saddens me. 

Sometimes I know those five-minutes were just the beginning of something more to come. I feel as if there is more to explore and so I do. Several of my published personal essays were born from my five-minute writing exercises. But sometimes, the five-minutes were just that. Five minutes that are done and over with, that produced writing I won’t ever return to.

Last week, it was a case of me wanting to further explore what I began in my son’s partially-used composition book from last year that I now use for my five minute exercises. It was this statement:

“I am alive with creativity.”

I am alive with creativity. I write — in some way, shape, or form — each day. Sometimes it’s a blog post, sometimes it’s an article for, sometimes it’s just my five-minute writing exercise. 

What I realized as my timer counted backwards was that my definition of creativity has changed over time. It has broadened and expanded in ways I didn’t realize, until I answered this prompt.

I surprised myself by listing all the ways I am creative, all the ways I demonstrate my creativity. My garden. The way I display the books on my bookcase. The way I use stickers to decorate the envelopes for the letters I mail to my pen pal. The flowers on my dining table and the candles in my writing room. The earrings and necklace I select to wear each day. 

Many days, lately in particular, it’s easy to think of the glass-half-empty parts of my life — the unsatisfying physical therapy appointments, the prescription medications, the pain that leaves me crying when I step out of the shower. 

But my life is more than that. I am more than that. 

Dear Readers, I’d love to know about your creativity. Tell me about it in the comments! 

Describe Yourself — Easier Said than Done, At Least for Me

The other night at dinner, I asked my fifteen-year-old son a question.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

I was inspired to ask, because I’m reading Tara Schuster’s book Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, From Someone Who’s Been There and earlier that day had read the chapter titled “If You Can Play Nice with Others, Play Nice with Yourself: Do One King Thing for Yourself on the Daily.” (By the way, I’m loving this book; more to come on this book in a future blog post or two.)

In the first paragraph of that chapter, Ms. Schuster tests her readers:

How nice are you to yourself? Don’t know? Let’s try a test. Right now, write down ten things you like about yourself. Go ahead and use the margins of the book.” 

I didn’t write in the margins of the book, though plenty of pages are marked with sticky notes and yellow highlighter. But I did pause in my reading and try to mentally list ten things I like about myself. It’s a hard thing to do.

So at dinner that night, I decided to try out an easier version on my son. 

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Of course, he first wanted to know why I was asking, and I told him I was just curious, based on something I had read in my book.

My high school-freshman-son took a few seconds before replying.

“Creative. Unique. Likable.” 

It was quick and easy for him. And I love the three adjectives he chose! It just made me feel like that was one of those moments when my husband and I each earned a little pat on the back, an acknowledgement from the universe that we’re doing a good job as parents. 

I’ve been trying to think of my three adjectives. It’s definitely harder for me to do, than it was for my son. 

So far I’ve got, “neat, kind, punctual.” 

Another time I came up with, “passionate, friendly, literary.”

How about you, dear readers? Feel free to share your three adjectives in the comments.

No Rest for the Weary

I stood in my hallway the other afternoon, leaning against the wall, doing my physical therapy homework.

And I started crying. 

Not because of pain. Not because the stretch was overly difficult. 

I started crying because sometimes I’m just so tired of it all.

I’m tired of the bottles of prescription medication and supplements.

I’m tired of the doctors’ appointments written on our family calendar hanging in the kitchen.

I’m tired of watching a basketball game on television with a heating pad on my left leg.

I’m tired of waking up each morning and having my first footsteps feel and sound more like shuffles — heavy and slow and laborious.

I’m tired of lifting up my pant leg, trying to see if my leg looks different. Or swollen. Or bruised. 

It all feels like so much work. 

Living with a chronic disability is — a lot. Life-changing. Expensive. Anxiety-provoking. Wearing. Uncertain. Scary. 

My son is on his spring break this week. A week off from early morning alarms, five-minute passing periods, morning announcements, dismissal bells, crowded hallways, and nightly homework. 

But when you live with a chronic disability there is never time off.

Walk the Talk, part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a passage from Claire Cook’s book Walk the Talk that really resonated with me. (If you missed it, you can read it by clicking here.)

Since that post, I have finished the book and have a few more passages I’d like to share with you.

While pages 146-147 concerned a mother of two young children and her own landscape design business, I could completely understand the situation she was describing and the emotions involved:

“ ‘I put everybody else’s wants about my actual professional need to focus on my landscape designs. And if I don’t put their needs first, there’s this unevolved ruffly apron-wearing part of me that feels like I’m a bad mother.’
“ ‘We often do things ourselves because it’s faster and more efficient,’ I said. ‘But there’s a learning curve to everything. And that means doing things imperfectly is a part of the process, an experience your kids, and even your husband, actually need to have in order to learn how to do something well. And the reality is that every time you step in, you’re not just taking away their opportunity for growth, you’re also literally stealing time from yourself.’

And while I definitely don’t always hit 10,000 steps each day, I did love this:

“In a way, walking had become my North Star. Whatever was or wasn’t happening in my life, if I set my sights on those 10,000 steps and just kept putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I’d work it out. Because it can take a long time to find the courage to say no to the stupid stuff and take steps toward the things that will make your life soar. And more and more I was realizing that courage doesn’t mean you lose the fear. It means you keep walking anyway.”

Then there’s this hopeful bit near the end:

“I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. And I started thinking that life might really be like that cinematic box of chocolates — you know, full of surprises and you can’t predict which one you’ll get next.
“But a relationship — romance, friendship, partnership, walkingship or a hybrid of some or all of them — is more like an iris rhizome, with roots spread out in random directions, often chaotic, sometimes dramatic, occasionally crazy, but always still connected by the sheer beauty and complexity of this lumpy bumpy thing that holds you together and keeps growing if you water it.”

Have you read any of Claire Cook’s books? Do you have a favorite?

Before and After the Book Deal

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum is one of those books you don’t necessarily read from start to finish. It’s a book that has been on my bedside table for a while now. I pick it up and read a few pages, mark meaningful paragraphs with a yellow highlighter and sticky notes, and then put the book down again until the next time.

Ms. Maum has crafted a well-written and, at-times, humorous book. It is an incredibly valuable resource for writers who are looking to “finish, publish, promote and survive” their first book. Which I am.

Yet, even if you’re not a writer, if you create in a different medium, there are useful tidbits for all artists and creators. Here are just a few:

“Narrative voice is your literary aura, your essence, the thing that allows writers the world over to write about the same topics in thrillingly different ways. Even though it’s yours, your voice can take a long, long time to find.”

“Get excited by your rejections. They are road maps toward the kind of work that you were born to write.”  (It’s a good reminder. Although they are a part of the writing process, some rejections sting more than others.)

In addition to writer-specific advice, I love these reminders about the power of expressing gratitude:

“Set some money aside for thank-you tokens for your editorial team and agents at pub time. (A heartfelt, handwritten card is thoughtful, but some authors also send on gifts, flowers, alcohol [when appropriate], or something handmade.)”

“At some point after the book contract is finalized, if you live close enough to your publishing house to make this happy event possible, you will meet the people who are going to publish your first book.
“Within twenty-four hours, send a group email to everyone you met expressing how great it was to meet them, how lucky you are to be working with them, and why [enter name of publisher] is simply the best house for your book. Then send a handwritten note to your editor, reiterating the same.” 

Dear readers-who-are-also-writers, have you read this book? Do you have paragraphs or pages you have marked with your own sticky notes?