Grief doesn’t always come from death. More often than not grief creeps in during the everyday comings and goings of our existence.
I've said countless times that I loved the interpretation of the sadness in the movie Inside Out. I felt like it was an accurate, kid-friendly way to break down the stages of grief, the depression that ensues and the light at the end of the tunnel when it's acknowledged and handled.
I loved that it wasn’t a death that caused her grief, but instead a move, or a typical life change, that threw her into grief. Because we often ignore the way change shifts our lives and sends us into those familiar stages.
Those stages don’t always proceed in a nice neat order. Sometimes they bounce around, sometimes we live longer in one stage than in another, sometimes we skip stages. For instance, I tend to skip shock or denial. Whatever happened, happened. I usually breathe deep, go numb, and move on to whatever needs to be down in relation to the change. I prefer to move on to the whole burying my pain, swimming in the anger, and depending on the situation either dipping my toe in depression or diving into the deep end. The anger and depression pools swirl in and out of each other. They're toxic, but they feel like home, so I always linger.
Grief and I, like depression, are old friends so I can always tell when I’m shifting and make the necessary choices, be they good or bad, to deal with it. Self-awareness is a useful bitch to have in your corner. It doesn't mean you'll do better every time, but it will help you see yourself clearly and accept who you are. As I circle the drain of anger, I never bargain because I don’t negotiate with terrorist, I’ve found that a mixture of age and intolerance has made the list of shit libel to set me off varied and long.
Rayven Holmes (c) 2018
"There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely, winding road at twilight —"
People often ask if I’m scared of death, since Atheist don’t believe in an afterlife, and my answer has always been some version of no. After I divorced the idea of eternal damnation, I was quite alright with the idea of death. It was a certainty, and while I didn’t (and still don’t) want it to happen anytime soon to me or those I love, its presence created an odd purpose to my existence. Life has meant everything and nothing at the same time. It is whatever I deem it to be, the legacy I leave behind is my eternal life, and I’ve always labored on the notion that I had plenty of time to carve it.
I was comfortable with the notion that I had time to chip away at my legacy. And then I found that notion teetering on the edge of a bed whose owner looks a whole lot like me and who only made it to 53 before life and death decided to engage in a game of chicken with her existence.
Death never lets us forget that it knows where we are.
We don’t get to collect invisibility cloaks, resurrection stones, or Elder wands. There are no hallows to help us conquer death. There are no disks in our necks or elixirs we can ingest. We can barely conquer life, how grand are our egos that we believe we could ever conquer death?
It will come for us all, with no hesitation. So what do we do until then? What do we do with this one short life? I have asked myself that question time and time again, and even more fervently this past week. Death always lays the groundwork for sadness, fear, and despair when it knocks, even if it’s just opening the door and not taking a soul, but it is us who decides how we tend the soil and reap the harvest that it leaves behind.
It’s up to us to decide if we’ll reap the despair or use the harvest as a catalyst for greatness and allow it to nurture those things we thought we could put off until everything was just right.
So, as the winter melts away and gives way to the new beginnings and challenges of spring, what my friends will you do with this one short life?
Copyright(c)2018 Rayven Holmes
Sixteen years ago I saw my biological mother for what I thought would be the last time. It was a conscious decision I made, and one I've frequently had to defend from “well-meaning” outsiders who didn’t know or even remotely understand the complexities of the relationship between us. Despite the barrage of opinions, I had made peace with the reality that the next time I saw her it would be in an overpriced pine box and I refused to abnegate that peace.
Now I sit the dark corner of a hospital room, as machines beep and tubes dot the landscape that is my mother’s body, and I find myself swimming in the gray matter that is our relationship and the conflict that my previous peace has now brought me to.
I had always assumed, foolishly, that her life would pass unnoticed by me and my children. I’ve worked hard to maintain and build relationships with people who exhibit the qualities I expect in parents and grandparents. Today, though, my children met the woman responsible for my existence. They looked upon the nearly lifeless vessel that housed me for nine months and said “hi” for the first time.
I can justify my decision to live my life as if she didn’t exist. I know exactly why I can’t bring myself to say “hi mom” and take her hand like my grandmother has asked me to do. And while I can, and have, climbed that decision mountain and offered myself up as a sacrifice to the unyielding pain that burns in my chest to prove that I fully support that decision. I can no longer say for certain that it was a good decision.
Yes, it was the right one for me. It is one I would make again. The possibility of what my life would have been if I had made a different choice fills me with more dread than the numbness from nearly two decades of estrangement.
Was my decision a good one? Is any decision ever good or bad? And by whose standards do we judge that?
People are always quick to pass judgment on the merit of our choices these judgments are usually based an individual's happiness in relation to the choice that was made.
What if our choices are neither good nor bad, but a pile of possible feelings that we reach into when it suits our needs?
There are at least half a dozen people who feel strongly that I made a bad choice. Be it my decision to keep the demon that is this relationship caged or to drive here and stare at the void between the two of us. On the flipside, there are at least half a dozen people who believe I’ve made a good choice either way.
Then there’s me. No longer the brash teenager, I'm now a bullheaded adult contemplating my own mortality and what it takes for any of us to be redeemed.
I don’t regret my decision. I don’t even know if I’m sad that my children met her under these circumstances. I’m living in the reality that decisions are neither good nor bad, but instead, they are life’s little purgatories where we wait for the shoe to drop.
And if we're lucky, we don't walk out of those purgatories with regret.
Rayven Holmes Copyright(c) 2018
“You’ll get your moment.”
“A moment? Moments are short. I won’t get any time at all.”
“Time is subjective, a moment is however long you deem it to be because a moment is a segment of time.”
That exchange between my middle son and I took place a few days ago, but it got me thinking about moments. Last year, fed up with never keeping my goal to take a certain number of pictures a day and looking for an easy way to grow the content on my Instagram page I started #Project365.
I wanted to give myself a tangible goal while getting the opportunity to explore a platform I was skeptical of using from a personal and professional standpoint.
I gained so much from the experience, though. I got to tell the story of my year with just the words spoken through the images. Looking back, each one of the photos was a moment in time. Moments of joy and pain. Moments of exhaustion where I’m surprised that I managed to take a picture at all. But taking a photo a day became a habit, this little invisible task on my daily checklist that carried great weight for me. This gave me insight into how I operate and hold myself accountable. Which has been an invaluable lesson as I work to create or destroy personal habits and ways of thinking.
There were also days when I pulled shit out of my ass, a meme shouldn’t count as taking a photo, but I gave myself some wiggle room with screenshots. Which meant I learned to give myself wiggle room without also giving myself excuses. I learned how to turn the camera on myself and love it, even the "not pretty" images. I learned to see beauty in my changing body and appreciate it. I learned to see me and my life and love it for all the things it is and never will be.
I told myself, when I started this journey last year, that I would do 365 photos and then I would be good. As I sit here, 365 plus moments later I don’t want to stop. No, I want to expand. I want to dig deeper and do a bit of experimenting.
For those who have been reading my ramblings since 2009, you’ll know that I don’t write publicly as much as I use to. I’ve beat myself up about it a lot over the last two years as I’ve fought to find the strength to make the words I write scream louder than the noise in my life.
While I would love to say that I’ll do a post a week or even a post a month, I won't make that kind of commitment this year. I won't continue to beat myself up over not doing the things I once did either. My life changed, and so did my commitments, and that's ok.
I can make a commitment to give more life to our moments, though. Allowing my Instagram account to turn into a microblog of shenanigans and new beginnings.
And I promise when the moments in time require more than the 2,200 characters Instagram allows, I’ll write them here.
Until then, this is where you can find us, our shenanigans, and my personal insights: @ravradsolutions
For the newbies and those who like to reminiscence, I will be moving more of my old posts over to this website throughout 2018. So there will be plenty to read and see over the next 365 days if one is so inclined.
or leave your questions and comments below.
But remember, the troll in the dungeon eats all the snide remarks.
Copyright(c)2018 Rayven Holmes
As we move through life, we all collect scars. Some more than others, but scars nonetheless. We all bleed our failures and taste the salty tears of regret. Our flesh burns with unfilled dreams, hopes, and desires. We’re all painted from a palette of brokenness, with shades uniquely our own.
But are these beautiful scars all that gets to define us? Or are we defined by the human the scars left? The strong, resilient, determined, and self-loving human under it all.
Standing in my bathroom, running my hands over the skin that greets this world, I can’t help but see the scars the world can’t see. To me, they are as clear as the blemishes that dot my face. I use to believe that my scars, these beautiful badges of torment, defined me. I believed they were all that got to tell my story. I know now that they don’t. Instead, they are just one piece of a larger puzzle.
An incomplete puzzle that for years has been kept hidden for fear that the scars would distort the image that the world would inevitably consume. But scars are no reason to hide the puzzle, especially when it’s far easier to build it in the light of day. Sitting in the sun to build my puzzle doesn’t mean I have to give the world the power to determine the final image.
No, that power rest with me. The power to define who we are lies with all of us.
We are not defined by gods, religions, nor mankind. No matter how hard society works to teach us otherwise. We define ourselves and always should. As we embrace this new season and the change it brings, I challenge you all to define who you are by your own standards and no one else’s.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”~ Harvey Fierstein
Copyright(c)2017 Rayven Holmes
"If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair." - Shirley Chisholm
We’re taught from a young age to seek a seat at the table. The table of men. The table of white. The table of bullshit. We’re told a space should be reserved for us and that if we aren’t given a chair we should bring one or even take one. I’ve spent years of my life fighting for a seat at the table. Years of my life spent working to outlast and outperform in my youth and well into the chaos that is adulthood. The whole time toting my folding chair and trying to make myself fit at someone else’s table. And I’ve had it.
What is the point of forcing a seat at the table when it doesn’t come with respect for my humanity? We’ve bought into this lie that reaching the table will somehow validate our existence but, if the people sitting at the table never saw value in your existence before you took a seat they still won’t after you sit down. We’re chasing a lie wrapped in a thin veil of acceptance and inclusion. Neither, acceptance nor inclusion, actually exist in this lie. They can’t because, when your invite to the table is based on checking boxes instead of seeing the worth in your existence true acceptance can’t happen. You’re forced to pretend at that point. Pretend you’re not one of “those” undesirables that can’t have a seat at the table. One of those people who are unapologetically themselves. Unapologetically black, brown, queer, trans, disabled, and/or female. Unapologetically human.
We pretend so we can have a seat with people who don’t really want us next to them and who we really don’t want to be next to either. What insanity! No table, no meal, and no chair are worth sacrificing our humanity, dignity, and self-respect for.
Screw getting a seat at their table. I’d rather build my own damn table. I’m done lugging around a folding chair when there’s a glorious throne at the end of my mahogany table. Why should we play the game when it’s rigged against us? Why lean in when we can build our own empires and stand up straight? Why degrade ourselves for faux respect when we can respect ourselves, tell them to keep their below Ikea grade table and chairs, and craft our own beautiful legacies?
Stop worrying about respectability. Stop fretting over leaning in or leaning out. Stop playing the game and have a seat at your own table. Then ask yourself, “who’s worthy enough to dine next to me?”
Don’t settle for the scraps and folding chairs.
Build your own table and establish a seating chart based on the traits you value. Build your own legacy and say fuck it to filling a seat at someone else’s bullshit table.
I still read my bible. Nowhere near as much as I use to but, every now and then my fingers long for the bible paper and the smell of 14 years of religious exploration. It’s nestled between old college textbooks and, ironically, a copy of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. It’s nowhere near my Dawkins and Hitchen’s books because, while I’m with those men on a number of points I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t find value in that worn book on my bookshelf. Beyond the bronze age mythology, there is poetry and wisdom. I linger over 1 Corinthians and Proverbs the most. Striving to do everything in love, even if it’s tough love, and to be mindful of the character that the company I keep exhibits.
That last one, the character of my associates, has weighed heavily on me this year. At the beginning of the year, I took a cold hard look in the mirror and asked myself, who I am? What do I stand for? Who do I stand with? And, who shouldn’t I stand with? From there I started backing away from the people and groups that didn’t fit within the values I want to uphold. It hasn’t been easy because ultimately it means judging people who in a generalized way might be "OK" folks. And while that can be difficult to do, I set the example for my children and must always choose our values over what’s easy.
What I teach my children will follow them the rest of their lives in some form or fashion. So I constantly have to ask myself, what am I teaching them when I let things slide? What am I teaching them when I excuse behavior that doesn’t align with our values on love, integrity, acceptance, respect, equality, and inclusion? Even if they don’t see it and hear it first hand, I know I’ve excused the behavior. I’ve taken a sledgehammer to the foundation of virtues and values I strive to build my family on. My heart knows when I’m not doing the work of upholding our values and it reflects outwards. Repeatedly ignoring one's beliefs ultimately leads to a change in beliefs, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything, right?
So bridges have to be burnt, or the house crumbles on its weak foundation.
But, do I need to be mindful of the associations of my associates as well? Or can I ignore the company my company keeps and focus solely on the character they present to me? Most, I believe, would argue for the latter but, I’m not so sure that’s the right approach because often times the character presented to us is a lie. With time, what lies in a person’s heart will reveal itself. But you can’t get back the time you’ve invested once that happens. So do we wait and see or burn the bridge before we’ve given someone the chance to show their heart instead of their face?
While I love the feel of bible pages, I dropped a deity in favor of something I could see, humanity. My faith in the desire of humans to be the best version of themselves nudges me to wait and see. To explore the hearts of those I encounter because I know we all put on a face depending on the situation we’re in. But my cynic, the part of me that’s stared into the black hole of disappointment that is often humanity, thinks waiting is wasteful. Why wait for the inevitable when you can move forward now while the bridge is still easy to burn?
I’ve yet to figure out the answer, and maybe there isn't one. Maybe this is a gray issue. An issue that's handled on a case by case basis as information about associations is received throughout the course of knowing someone. And the nature of your relationship is taken into account, too. Because you can’t hold someone you work with to the same standards as someone you routinely break bread with, or can you? In addition to information and relationship, we also have to account for ourselves. What are our limits? What are the lines that we don’t allow people to cross if they are to be associated with us? Because at the end of the day we are the company we keep and the company we keep says a lot about who we are.
So, what is the company you keep saying about you?
2016 caught a bad rep. From dead celebrities to backward politics, 2016 just couldn’t get right in the minds and eyes of a lot of people. My 2016 was no cake walk either.
I dismantled the life my children and I had known for over a decade.
I took up hobbies I never dreamed of enjoying.
And I broke myself to my the lowest point in hopes of rebuilding myself in the I image I wanted free from the meddling of others.
It has been a long, painful, winding road with no indication of straightening anytime soon. I find myself clinging to the moments of joy, the times that reaffirm my choices and my life, because I know moments of sorrow, unexplained and from the far reaches of my soul will creep up to remind me I’m still not whole yet. And will I ever be? Well, only time will be able to answer that.
But being broken doesn't have to be hopeless. While I’ll admit, there are moments or even whole days where I feel like a prisoner in my life I know those feelings are a symptom of a larger issue that’s treatable through self-care, self-awareness, and time. Time. The double edge sword. It's all we got but, we don't get the pleasure of knowing how much time we got. So what are we to do with the time we have? However much that may be? I don’t know about you, but I want to spend mine continuously becoming the best version of myself by setting goals, fighting my demon, and having the courage and strength to get back up when I enviably fail.
Once I knew what I wanted, I had to figure out how I would do it. That's where the conglomerate known as my friends' list comes into play. An interesting collective of freaks, geeks, tree huggers, Menorah lighters, Bible Thumpers, Sagan quoters, and Johnson voters all carry the label of my friend. Their thoughts, opinions, and ideas dot my Facebook life. Ideas come and go, some with more frequency than others. One idea that has seen its share of traction is a vision board. I always thought it was a lovely idea but never lovely enough to make the time to create one, until it danced across my feed again during #snowpocalyspe.
Having nothing but time, nowhere to go, and a house stocked with necessary #snowpocalypse french toast making supplies I decided in that moment I would make the time to finally put that lovely idea into action. I made it a family affair, with the boys each making one, theirs turned into a reflection of where they are developmentally more than a life-altering embodiment of where they want to go over the course of 2017. Mine, on the other hand, became a poster board full of the work I still need to do to become whole. All of which I carefully affixed with homemade glitter glue.
When I first sat down to create my vision board I had my goals in mind. I thought to myself, “I'll seek out the words and images that convey what it is I want to achieve this year”. I began with lofty ideas of what I wanted to gain in 2017, practical dreams that didn't actually lead to personal growth. As I flipped through our massive collection of old magazines I failed to find what I was looking for, what I thought I needed to focus on in 2017.
So, I stopped and switched my focus. Instead of looking for what I thought I needed I decided to only pick what spoke to me. Looking at only the words and images that truly meant something to me and my journey through this life. I poured through the magazines and walked away with more items than I could fit on both sides of the board. I had to eliminate some and leave only the ones that I thought would keep me focused on my growth through 2017. I told myself, “The agents of growth I chose would have to touch me to my core”. They would need to be the best words and images to help me mold myself consciously and subconsciously through 2017. As I carefully placed it one I felt the weight of each affirmation the piece of papers contained.
As I stared at the completed board, I realized that the vision I have for 2017 isn't about the new car I long for or the take-home salary that would bring us above the poverty level. Yes, I want those, I need those, but I know they can’t be my main focus. I'll achieve those things, I already know that. What I have to focus on is deeper than those things. I am striving to be happy, healthy, and healed. That has to be my focus. To care for myself so I can care for my children. To realize my own potential and live it. The other stuff, that will come with time, patience, and continued hustling. But the Rayven hiding behind the self-doubt, that's what I fear never finding unless I make myself aware and do the painful work to meet myself on the other side. That’s my vision for 2017. To take on the wall of self-doubt, self-hate, and fear; and finally, free the woman trapped behind it.
What’s your vision for 2017?
I stood in the kitchen glancing at the tiny 4x6. The Ex and his girlfriend. I expected to feel a knot in my stomach, and I did, but not for the reason the world would expect. As I glanced at her body, much larger than my own, I found myself struggling to fight the noise inside my head. His words. Years of them that berated me when I struggled with my weight. Moments later we stood out in the cold and the words fell from my mouth, “You know I find it funny 15 years of insults and you...” but I couldn’t finish what I needed to say. He glanced at me and made an excuse, “I only said those things because of the stuff you did”. All I could do was shake my head and tell him there’s no excuse to treat someone that way as I walked away.
What do 15 years of emotional and verbal abuse do to someone?
How do 15 years of comments about what’s on your plate, how long it’s taking you to “bounce back” from another full-term pregnancy, how your clothes fit, how your breast hang, and how your ass isn’t quite bootylicious impact a person? One, it makes writing this hard as hell because you have to stop every few minutes to cry, hyperventilate, and fight the urge to vomit. And two, it creates a voice in your head. The voice questions everything you do. It pushes you to do that extra 20 minutes of cardio after an evening run. It chastises you when you consume Halloween candy and encourages you to skip every meal but dinner to make up for it. And don’t you dare eat more than a half cup size portion and salad when you do get that one meal. It screams at you when you look in the mirror. Every lump, every squishy bit is a reminder of how you’re still not good enough no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.
I can’t count the meals I’ve missed in 15 years. The number of times I’ve pushed my body to be smaller and tighter. And the number of times I've crumbled into myself are a fog. Years of lying curled up in the fetal position crying myself to sleep because the man next to me was disgusted with my body all come flooding to the top. One picture and I’m reminded of how broken I am.
Last year, I tattooed the words “Love Yourself” into my flesh. I’ve spent the last year and a half since then doing the best I could to stitch up the wounds the relationship with The Ex created. I figured I could live with the scars as long as I could close the wounds. I would be OK as long as they closed is what I kept telling myself. Then I could rejoice because I got through it. In reality, while the tattoo healed, some wounds can never be closed. Some cut so deep into the fabric of who we are that they stay there, open and oozing into every aspect of our lives. They make us question the intentions of everyone we meet and even ourselves. The open wounds keep us from being OK. Loving The Ex broke me, like the bookcase he smashed, I’m in pieces on the figurative floor. I’m doing the best I can to pick them up, to love each one and hoping that self-love is the glue needed to create a whole person that is willing and able to let others in.
Some days I feel like I’m almost there. Some days I believe all the shit I say about loving myself unconditionally lumps, bumps, fuck ups, and all. Some days there is a light at the end of the tunnel of self-hate and loneliness. And then the wounds ooze and I know I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting to fit the pieces of myself into a person that is brave enough to love and live every day without the voice beating her down. The Ex and I exchanged text messages an hour later, he was in search of forgiveness that I couldn't give.
Maybe one day, when I’ve figured out how to quiet the voice and put all my broken pieces together, forgiveness will come. For now, all I can do is dry my eyes, stare at the words etched in my flesh, and hope the wounds he left don’t burn as long this time.
“You have three kids?!” The question falls out of the mouth of an acquaintance and rings out across the table of a crowded bar. “How do you have time to hang out?!” It’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with. Even when I was “happily” married, people often inquired about how I managed to do anything with three kids. Since my divorce came with sole custody of my children, the question comes more frequently.
I respond now, as I did pre-divorce, with a simple shrug and a joke or two about never sleeping. The reality is that I don’t do it all. My life happens, just as it always had, because I prioritize what’s important to me versus what I or my family wants or needs. How do I have time to run? How do I have time to see friends? Teach my kids? Work? Brush my teeth? Sleep? Get laid? I prioritize what I can do, accept that which I can’t do, and buy stock in Energizer.
Truth be told, we can’t do it all. None of us. “Doing it all” is a lie sold to us to keep us too busy to enjoy this one little life we have. We’re inundated with planners, Pinterest organization ideas, and books about creating a 25th hour in our day. While some of it can be useful, and I utilize a number of tips and tricks to make the most of my time, at the end of my day I still only had 24 hours to use. Those 24 hours are precious. They are little lives inside our minuscule existence. So, what do I do with my 24 hours to give the illusion of “doing it all”?
I trade doing the dishes for a pizza and beer with friends. Sure, I could put having an immaculate house over my friends but, when I’m on my deathbed those dishes won’t mean shit to me. The relationships I have and maintain will, though. Why should I put dishes before connecting with friends in person?
I swap teaching time for meetings and arrange meetings around appointments. School can happen at any time of the day, it’s one of the perks of homeschooling, most businesses operate during traditional business hours. I acknowledge that and adjust our schedule accordingly when needed.
My grass hasn’t been cut in two weeks. It’s not a priority and eventually the autumn leaves will overtake my yard and after the boys and I have shared a fun day of rolling in the piles I’ll care because who the hell wants to bag all that shit up?
I plan weekly runs and refuse to do anything else during that time that isn’t crucial to the health and well-being of my family because my health and well-being are important too.
I delegate chores to my children. I can’t afford to have someone come in and clean my home, cut my grass, or run my errands. But I have three healthy kids who can pick up after themselves, make meals, scrub a toilet, and put the groceries away when I get home from the store. It builds character, plus my pee goes in the toilet bowl so why should I scrub that crude on the bottom?
I’m constantly negotiating with Me, Myself, and I. We’re always having discussions about what’s important and why. There are plenty of people who would, and do, tell me I don’t prioritize properly. In their opinion, the clothes should be folded, my car should be clean, and every single deadline I have should be met ahead of schedule before I plop my ass on the couch and binge watch Netflix while plowing through my kids’ Halloween candy. I wager there are plenty of people in your life who will have something to say about the way you prioritize your 24 hours.
To those people, I say Fuck You!
Yes, a big giant fuck you. Why? Because our 24 hours belong to us and we are free to make of them what we wish. Ask yourself, are my kids fed and cared for to the best of my ability? Are my bills paid? Do I still have a job? If the answer is yes, who the hell cares if you put the dishes off one more night? No, your house won’t be picture perfect, you won’t always get to say yes to that night out with friends, or that second bedtime story but, you’ll be sane and connected to yourself and those who matter most which is far more fucking important than a spotless kitchen.
As someone who has danced with the depression devil her whole life, I’m far more interested in doing what I need to feel human over “doing it all” to appear superhuman to people whose opinions don’t matter in the long run. “All” is an unrealistic goal that no one human can reach on their own. And who of us has the funds for the team of people needed to do it all and do it well? No damn body I know. So say fuck it, prioritize your life based on what you and your family need and in the immortal words of Elsa when it comes to everything else “Let it go”.
Let that shit go.
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