When Mother's Day hurts

Pinkn blossoms_feistyharriet_April 2016

Mother’s Day can be one of the cruelest holidays for women who are unable to easily or naturally conceive a child, for women who have made a choice not to become mothers (yet feel continually judged for said choice), for women who have a turbulent relationship with their own mother, and for women who fulfill a sometimes impossible and lonely role of stepmother.

I am all four of those things.

I hate Mother’s Day.

I do not hate you, my friend who is also a Mom. And I don’t hate your Mom either. I hate all the glowing, fluffy, emotional, social-network-y hubbub surrounding Mother’s Day. I really hate all the pointed advertising and sponsored content for weeks and weeks before to remind us about Mother’s Day, to remind us to celebrate, and appreciate, and buy stuff to let mothers know that they are Important and Appreciated and Valued. The Facebook posts and comments about the joys of motherhood hurt, the rapturous monologues about mothers who are your best friend and role models hurt. All of it hurts.

To be clear, if you post about Mother’s Day I’m not deleting you from my feed reader, nor will I harbor some kind of resentment on your happiness in being a Mom, or having an awesome Mom. I like to think we are better friends than that. Please understand what I’m trying to say. I know that I am on the VERY FAR END of the Mother’s Day Tolerance Spectrum: I’m an outlier. I get it. Hell, even the Olympic Mom commercials don’t get to me, I cannot relate to a lifetime of support and encouragement from my Mom. I am not allowed to fully support and encourage my stepkids because their “Real Mom” is threatened, she thinks I’m intruding and makes it clear that I am unwanted and unnecessary. Years of not relating and being pushed/shoved to the side has made me bitter and probably jealous. I’m not proud of that, but it is the truth. When it comes to mothers I feel like I’m over here in the Untouchable section all by myself. Part of me wants to just skip the internet for the rest of the week, open my feed reader on Monday morning only to immediately mark everything as “read” and then move on with it. The other part of me knows that there are probably women like me, and we should stick together, and even if we don’t know what to say we should at least throw up a white flag we can all flock to, birds of a feather, and all that.

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Pretending Gives me Anxiety

Prickly pear_feistyharriet_april 2016

Some days it is almost all I can do to just be myself. I feel like I don’t fit in my skin, my brain and my heart are not on the same page, and sometimes panic attacks that come out of nowhere send me spiraling down to the fetal position where I hug my knees and try and remember how to breathe.

Real talk, ya’ll. Sometimes being Harriet is just hard.

I am thirty-three, and it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve realized something: it’s actually much easier to be myself than to try and be anyone else. The general discomfort and lack of self-confidence most often come when I am trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not. Did you catch that? Pretending to be someone else ultimately increases my anxiety: pretending builds a beautiful but completely unstable house of cards, impressive, but ready to crash at any moment.

I don’t get far trying to pretend that I’m cool; I’m not. I can talk to someone for hours, but I very much prefer conversations about things that matter over Small Talk. Small Talk is boring. I am a nerd. I get excited about volcanoes and elephant psychology and North Korean history/politics. I will always love reading dense-ish non-fiction over watching some fluffy Netflix crap or devouring the latest YA series. I don’t like most popular TV shows because I get irritated at the messages that are being sent about how we should probably live our lives, I don’t like the social commentary that most often uses minorities or those who are somehow “other” as a jokey subplot linked with the laugh track. I think, more often than not, it sustains or increases prejudice against already marginalized groups instead of generating critical thought or inciting social change.

I don’t get (or even really care (anymore)) about what makes someone popular in the real world or online. I was sooo not popular in school, or in my 20’s, and doubt I ever will be. I do try to be kind, but sometimes when people are assholes basic kindness is impossible, and I don’t feel that badly about treating assholes with a hefty dose of their own snarky medicine.

Clearly, I am a barrel of laughs. I often have to force myself to not be so serious, to lighten up, to not pick apart every little thing. But, the truth is, I am serious-minded, and all the fluffy unicorn memes in the world can’t undo that part of my personality.

A few months ago I read, and mostly disagreed with, Marie Kondo’s Tidying-Up Magic. However, thinking about her ideas in the context of my online presence and blog (and not the physical objects in my home), perhaps she was on to something. What are the pieces of Harriet that truly bring me joy? It’s not a bright and shiny, well-lit and well-curated “lifestyle” social media feed. It’s not a styled online presence at all, actually. Every time I think I should post about X, Y, or Z to attract more traffic or get a few likes or a few shares, I feel like I stumble and fall flat on my face. I’m not a lifestyle blogger, and probably never will be. And…that’s okay. At this point (and I do give myself permission to change my mind), I don’t want to employ SEO tactics to increase traffic, I don’t feel any need to link up with sponsors to get my foot in the door (the door to what?) or to gain better visibility to brands or campaigns. Am I jealous of the fancy big blogs that bring in a livable wage? Sure. But I’m not a lifestyle blogger, I’m a writer. Or at least trying to be. I’m trying to figure out how to write down the stuff in my head.

I am feisty, I am a feminist, I will talk your ear off about social injustice for minority groups or whatever geeky book I’ve read lately. I cannot pretend that world events don’t affect me; they do. I critique advertising much more than I follow it’s not-at-all subtle nudges towards consumption-based buying behavior, and will quickly make mental notes of the pieces that feel disingenuous. I don’t care about being popular, but I do care about fostering individual relationships–meaningful relationships–with people both IRL and online. I do not have time for disingenuous, give me your real self, your authentic self, even just a small part of it. I don’t know what to do with the shiny and the pretend, but give me something ragged around the edges, I’ll take extra care with it. Give me something a little broken and I’ll bust out my Scotch Tape and a cup of tea and something to snuggle with and if I can’t fix it I’ll just employ gentle hair pats and the occassional one-liner to break the tension or make you smile.

And maybe, ultimately, that is more what I am than who I am. Perhaps I am the rough edges, the broken one, the lonely one, held together with non-decorative Scotch Tape and a hope for compassion. Maybe I’m just trying to fit in, knowing for damn sure that I’ll never make it as a Styled, Curated, Shiny Harriet because Harriet The Feisty Nerd will always get in the way, say something candid and honest and decidedly not “on brand” or “campaign approved.”

Remember how I said that it’s much easier to be yourself than to pretend to be someone or something you are not? Yeah. This is me. Messy and feisty, opinionated and sometimes jealous, unfiltered and sometimes a little sweary or ranty and almost always ready to fight for the underdog. Sometimes I’m selfish and sometimes I’m kind. Sometimes I’m forgiving and sometimes I guard that grudge to somehow protect my own hurt feelings, and sometimes I keep it just out of spite. Sometime I have my shit together and sometimes I eat raw cookie dough right out of it’s store-bought plastic-wrapped tube–not vegan, not gluten free, not free-range, not responsibly sourced. Just a tube of sugary trans fats.

I am a work in progress, and it’s easier to admit that than it is to pretend that things are great and everything is fine. Is it scary? Yes. Is doing something scary easier than sustaining something fake? For me? A million times easier, there is no house of cards that I must build and/or maintain, no illusions to feed, no shareholders to please.

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write, edit, rewrite, delete, write, rewrite, delete, write, edit, rewrite, delete.

San Francisco2_feistyharriet

[write, write, write] there! a post about anxiety.

….hm….nope, too vulnerable, can’t do it. [delete, delete, delete.]

…..[think…think…think…] !!!!!

[write, write, write!] there! a post about not feeling so alone!

…. except…no. not working. at all. [delete, delete, delete.]

….. [think…think] a ha! a new idea!

…. [writey-write-write-tappity-tap-tap…. delete, delete, delete.] all my ideas are terrible.

……hmmmm….what if….?

[writewriteEDITwrite!!] ok! a post about doing it for the process! perfect!

[review]…..meh….no….nope, nope, nope.

[delete, delete, delete, delete, DELETE!]

…..[think…… think….. THINK DAMMIT! THINK!….]

….nope. no thoughts.

sigh. why is this sometimes so easy, and sometimes so ridiculously hard?!

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Harriet: Age 33

Happy thirty-three to me!

[Insert birthday party here!]

I’ve not ever really been one to freak out about getting older, it happens to everyone and I do not somehow pedestalize youth–mine or anyone else’s. I’m thirty-three. Yesterday I was thirty-two. Not that big of a deal. (Although, I will say, that today I have cake and birthday candles, and yesterday there were no candles. So, it’s pretty clear which day I prefer.)

How will you spend your birthday?
This morning will be spent with bookish friends at the largest used book sale in the western United States, conveniently happening in Phoenix on my birthday weekend. I’m so glad they scheduled it that way for me. The rest of the birthday weekend will involve hanging out with said friends, with Blue Eyes, and generally enjoying a house full of people and birthday cake. This may go down as the best birthday ever.

Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Happier-ish; thinner; richer (but still not rich. Powerball loser, right here.). I feel it important to note that correlation is not causation.

What did you do last year that you’ve never done before?
I was interviewed on the radio for my job; moved to a new state.

What was your favorite discovery last year?
Mary Wollstonecraft!!! Oh man, she was a pre-French Revolution major feminist. She was despised for her writing in her time, but she is such a power house!

What do you hope to learn this coming year?
Spanish. I received Rosetta Stone for Christmas and downloaded the DuoLingo app as well, I’m slowly remembering those 2 years of high school Spanish and improving my skills.

What would you like to have this year that you didn’t have last year?
New roots. I just yanked my Salt Lake roots out and still feel like I’m dangling a little, hopefully I can replant those here in Arizona and begin to feel like–at least for now–this is home.

What was your biggest achievement of this year?
I had a couple of solid wins at work this year. I single-handedly organized an enormous conference in September (793 attendees) that was a smash success; in November the program I manage for my state went off with tremendous success and media coverage, from all counts it was the best yet.

What was your biggest failure?
Probably a consistent tug of war on my attitude towards moving to Arizona. I kind of wish I had been better about that, although, I do miss home every day, so, there’s that.

Where did you travel this year?
I tried to fit in as much adventuring this year as possible, and I feel I succeeded in that. Some were documented here, others were not. I visited Arizona almost a dozen times in 2015, which kind of sounds crazy, mostly because it is crazy. I also went to Chicago twice to see my sister; visited a few parks and monuments in Utah; went on a delightful road trip through Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming; laughed my way through a weekend in Northern California with my best friend; drove to Montana for a week with Family Blue Eyes; hiked the tallest peak in Nevada; spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina followed by a 4 days of humid hell in Orlando, Florida (ugh!); and wrapped up the year with a couple of days in San Antonio, Texas before I spent every spare moment packing, moving to Arizona, and then unpacking…followed immediately by a trip back to Salt Lake for Christmas. Yowza, lots of traveling this year!

Do you have a destination in mind for next year?
I’d really love to spend a week or so alone with Blue Eyes, somewhere relaxing and quiet where we can sleep in and go adventuring and just be together. Schedules and available PTO and time with his kids means this probably won’t happen, but a girl can dream. However, the beach in Mexico is also only about 4 hours away, so that is definitely on my list, as is a long weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What did you get really excited about?
Russian history and Russian literature, art museums, home improvements (yes, really), and feminism (some more).

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Quality time with Blue Eyes…now that we don’t live 700 miles apart that should be easier to accomplish.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. Not that I really have any true control over my anxiety, but man, I wish it wasn’t so prevalent in my life.

What was the best book you read?
I cannot actually narrow this down to a single book out of over 100. I did manage to narrow it down to 11 books, here, and that should be celebrated. That being said, the books that have probably stayed with me the most are Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, followed closely by Romantic Outlaws, by Charlotte Gordon.

What did you want and get?
Adventure! A dishwasher! A laundry room! To live with Mr. Blue Eyes!

What did you want and not get?
A lime tree and a pomegranate tree. Don’t worry, the yard is almost ready for them!

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Being able to afford a professional moving company to pack up the apartment in Salt Lake, load all the boxes and furniture on a truck, drive it south, and unload and unpack. Ugh. I hate packing.

What kept you sane?
Friends, reading, painting (canvas, not walls), nature. Not necessarily in that order, but probably pretty close.

What political issue stirred you the most?
I am still baffled that Trump exists as a viable “political figure”, let alone a candidate for President. I also think that fear over refugees, religious differences, and generally of anyhting “other” is at a freaking insane fever pitch. Stop, just stop.

Also, last year’s answer could easily be copy-pasted into this year’s post. In fact, I think I’mma do that: I am so annoyed and irritated by the lack of true gender equality in all its forms. I can get riled up about feminism and why more people should care more about it in about 2 seconds flat. I want more people to understand the actual definitions of patriarchy, benevolent sexism, and feminism. Hint: “feminism” does not mean “man hating.” It is really just the radical notion that women are people too and deserve the same full range of rights and benefits as their male counterparts. If you think feminism = man-hating you really need to educate yourself and examine why you think that, i.e. what person or institution is trying to convince you that championing the rights of women is somehow a negative thing.

I’d like to add that flippant ignorant comments by the General Population about how women are somehow less than, should be degraded, should accept their subservient lot in life, etc. Ugh. People are the worst.

Did you fall in love?
Yes, with Salt Lake (again) and with Blue Eyes (again).

Who did you miss?
My people in Salt Lake, my nieces and nephews, siblings, and the glorious rocky mountains.

Did you learn a valuable life lesson this year?
I’m not sure if I truly learned this or not, but Dory has been in my head a lot lately:

Just keep swimming.

It’s pretty easy for me to shut down completely when I feel overwhelmed, but–shocker–that does nothing to dissipate the overwhelmed-ness. Even when I really didn’t want to, I tried to continue to put one foot in front of the other, break big projects down into smaller pieces, and just tackle what I could, as I could.

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Previous birthday posts here: Age 32

Best of 2015

I think by all accounts, 2014 was one of the worst years on record for me. By comparison, 2015 has been a dream, even with the bumps, bruises, and emotional roller-coasters that are the norm for making our way through Life. In some ways, 2015 has been a holding pattern and a waiting game, but in most respects I tried to pack as much as possible into 52 weeks, spending my time exploring, hanging out with friends, and soaking up every minute I had with Mr. Blue Eyes. While I’m excited for the coming year and all the challenges and triumphs, I am also a little sad to see 2015 close. So, I decided to come up with a “best of” list of some of my favorite things from the last twelve months.

Muir Woods National Monument_feistyharriet_July 2015 (5)Muir Woods, California, July 2015

Best Experiences of 2015:

Geez, I really don’t know how to narrow this down. However, I can say with confidence that the best times of my year have everything to do with spending time with the people I love.

  • Adventures afar and nights at home in jammies with Blue Eyes.
  • A 6-state Midwest road trip with a girlfriend.
  • Spending a whole week as the full-time caregiver for my stepkids, it’s more time than I’ve ever spent with them, and a few hiccups aside, it went smashingly!
  • A long weekend laughing with my best friend and her family in California.
  • Book club, always and forever.
  • Designing and costuming a competitive (and award-winning) Shakespeare team comprised of 50 teenagers with one of my oldest, best friends, for our 10th year running.
  • Planning and executing back-to-back smash success events for work; one a giant professional development conference, the other a state-wide event for 20,000 high school students.
  • Spending the evening with my four siblings, the first time we have been together in YEARS.
  • Crashing with dear, dear friends for a couple weeks between moving all my things to Arizona and moving my actual self.
  • The homemade welcome party that awaited me when I finally arrived here in Arizona.

Best Books of 2015:

Goodreads tells me that I read 111 books this year (!!), a total of 36,000 pages (for reference, my 2014 totals were 38 books and 13,000 pages). My shortest book was the Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley, the longest was the behemoth War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. My most frequently-read categories this year were Russian literature and history (especially of the Romanov family), feminism, and slavery and racism. I also read a number of books about North Korea, Darwin and evolution, elephant psychology, Joan of Arc, neuroscience and psychology, the Iranian Revolution, and China prior to/during Mao’s cultural revolution. Yes, I have eclectic taste. No, I won’t ever apologize for it.


  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Tolstoy is a master, and in my opinion, this is his best.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
    More than any other slave narrative, this one rips my heart out. Harriet’s anguish and turmoil over leaving her children behind, of rescuing her children, of keeping her family together, this will change you in all the right ways.
  • The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
    Refugees, war-torn middle-east, historical context for the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and a lot of “Humans of New York” type stories and sharing from in-depth interviews on both sides. Absolutely recommended.
  • The Martian, by Andy Weir
    Hilarious, scientific-nerdy, perfection.
  • The Master and Margarita, by Mikhaul Bulgakov
    Magical realism and political satire in communist Russia? Gimme!
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
    This is why people like 19th century English literature.
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
    This book is very much an acquired taste, but I loved it. Yes, even the 600 plus pages about the history of whaling, the anatomy of whales, the economy of whales, the works. Loved it.
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    So dark and moody! So delicious! I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before.
  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon
    Dual-biography of early feminist icons from the 18th and 19th century? Yes, please!
  • The She-Pope: a Quest for the Truth Behind the Mystery of Pope Joan, by Peter Stanford
    Did you know a woman became Pope in the 11th century!? This story and the research to piece this story together are so fascinating!
  • Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
    At times I am baffled that slavery existed in the United States, that humans were perfectly fine owning other humans. This book details some of the most monstrous atrocities and a few gentle kindnesses from white freemen to their black slaves.

Of these books, which should you read? Well, world events being what they are, I think you should read The Lemon Tree as soon as possible. It shows both sides of Arab and Jewish tension and the history behind it. Honestly, it made me much more sympathetic to both sides and the war-torn refugee people who are caught in the middle. If that isn’t your cup of tea, I’d definitely read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a rare first-person slave narrative from a woman’s point of view.

Best Vacation of 2015:

MidWestRoadTrip_Carhenge Nebraska_feistyhaarriet_June 2015 (18)

This is probably a toss-up between an awesome road-trip across the Midwest with a girlfriend, and a delightfully low-key weekend in San Antonio with my sweetheart. Last January I had high hopes for a warm, international getaway, but more practical things like bills and buying a house and maintaining two households for 14 months took precedence. Hopefully 2016 will see a little passport action.

Best Photos of 2015:

I have had the chance to travel around to a number of different places this year, hauling my camera with me. Of the thousands and thousands of photos I snapped this year, these are probably my favorites, along with the others in this post.

Capitol Reef Fruit Orchard_feistyharriet_March 2015 (6)Capitol Reef National Park, Apricot Orchard, March 2015

Grand Canyon North Rim_feistyharriet_October 2015 (4)Grand Canyon North Rim, October 2015

IMG_0039Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina, September 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (9)Bryce Canyon National Park, Thor’s Hammer in the fog, October 2015

Agave teeth_feistyharriet_San Antonio Botanical GardensSan Antonio Botanical Gardens, agave teeth, November 2015

Best thing I learned:

You will never truly feel better about something until you do the work to actually change it. I’m sure some philosopher has said this much more eloquently and concisely, but I learned (or, re-learned, rather) that buckling down and getting my hands dirty and elbows greasy brings me an incredible amount of satisfaction. Granted, there are some things that we cannot change and must simply learn to work around or live with; I get that. What I’m saying is that we as humans are capable of an incredible amount of forward progression if we put our minds to it, pool resources, and reach out to friends and loved ones. Here’s to 2016, more forward and more progress.

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