Second weddings are strange. From debating on if you can wear white, obviously, the virginal jig is up when you’re walking down the aisle with three kids. To who gets an invite, it’s a no on your ex folks. It can be overwhelming. Factor in the immense anxiety that accompanies remarriage and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in a sea of bullshit instead of a comfortable bottle of wine.
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
We love our holidays and celebrate them with wild abandon. Each has traditions that have been tweaked and fine tuned over the years. New Year’s Eve is no exception. On New Year’s Eve, as part of our annual countdown to midnight, we do end of the year interviews. For the past six years, I’ve pulled out a list of questions and placed each of the Bringers of Mayhem in front of our Christmas tree. It is one of our traditions I look forward to the most each year. As they have developed as individuals their answers have morphed from simple words into eloquent thoughts. Watching this change happen every year has been immensely enjoyable. In accordance with my “if I want you to do it I’ll do it too” parenting style I would also position myself in front of the camera. I didn’t put much emphasis on the way my answers changed. This past New Year’s Eve my sister had a request that The Bearded One and I answer some couples questions. While this may seem like an adorable request to make of a newlywed couple he and I weren’t feeling the newlywed love vibes.
Our first holiday season as married partners attempting to blend our two worlds was a series of train wrecks. Factor in holiday financial stressors and we weren’t feeling anything but frustration. My sister knew this. My sister is one of my closest friends and my rock. She also firmly believes that 90% of relationship problems can be solved when you remember why you’re building your life with that person. The other 10%? Well that’s what divorce lawyers are for. I won’t say she’s right, because she already knows she is.
So on New Year’s Eve, The Bearded One and I sat next to each other, engulfed in our strife, and answered questions while my sister live streamed it on Facebook. By the end, we were laughing and she was asserting we are a strange couple. We are. But sis, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wandering around the woods at night as long as you’re prepared! Did the Q&A solve all our problems? Absolutely not. That’s what therapists are for. But, working on your shit should be fun sometimes and answering random questions about our life together was fun. Later that evening a few friends shared they would love to see us answer questions again. We figured why not, but the questions would have to come from others. The decision on when it happened was tossed into my court to figure out. After some thought, and seeing how busy our life is, I settled on twice a year. May and December. Yeah, next month. Surprise!
Here’s how this will work, on May 10th at 9pm we’ll go live on the Malice in Wonderland Facebook page. Questions are due by noon on the 10th. Either comment them below, send them through a Facebook message, or text me if we’re cool like that. We’ll hang out for about fifteen minutes on Facebook. If we make it through the questions sent in then we may take some during the live feed but do NOT bank on this. If there is something you want to know, and there is literally no limit to what you are allowed to ask, then send it in by NOON on the 10th!
I’ll post the aftermath either on here or YouTube or both. Who knows. Like with my life, I’m making this shit up as I go and calling it a plan when it all comes together.
If you got questions, get to asking!
Copyright(c)2019 Rayven Holmes
I was going to start this by saying it’s been a while but apparently, it’s only been about a month since my last post. Congrats to me for slowly creeping toward my goal of posting once a week again. So, what brings me to this junction of thoughts and virtual paper today? A theory. Yup a theory. Not a scientific one. This one is about work-life balance and a stove. I was introduced to the four-burner theory during a small business support group. For those who are unaware of this theory, like I was, pull up a seat and let me give you a quick crash course on it. This theory approaches our lives as if they are small four-burner stoves. Oh, you thought you were one of those grand stoves with six or eight burners? Me too. But apparently, in this theory, we’re not. We’re all tiny stoves that are slightly broken because in order to be “successful” you must cut off burners. So, if your existence was a meal, for this meal to be tasty you can only cook two items at a time.
Now each burner is an item. You have your family, your friends, your health, and your work. No hobbies. No spiritual or personal growth. Just your family, friends, health, and essentially wealth. When this theory is brought up in the work/life balance discussion success is usually meant in terms of one’s career and not overall enjoyment of one’s life. Since being introduced to this way of dissecting our lives, I’ve bounced around in my head what success means to me. I don’t see my life as a simple stove where only two burners can work efficiently at the same time. I know I can’t have ten burners going full blast at once. That’s a level of anarchy that I’ve been there and got the t-shirt for and have no desire to ever recreate. I get the general gist of this theory and the notion that we do have to occasionally put some things on the “back burner” so to speak in order to focus more on other areas. I hate the way this theory breaks elements of our life down into burners instead of realizing those are the meals we’re creating for the feast that is our life, though. My life is more than four burners. And I don’t gauge my success in this life by how well the work/wealth burner is doing. I gauge my comfort, as well as my family’s, by how well what I’m cooking on that burner is doing. But it isn’t the meter I use to determine if I’m winning at life.
There’s more to a successful life, for me, than having a winning career. There are moments with my kids, laughter with friends, self-discovery, and new experiences. Because of those things I’d rather tweak this theory to be a more accurate representation of the richness of our lives. Yes, there is give and take, but it doesn’t mean a burner has to be shut off. Simmer is a perfectly legitimate setting to use in cooking whether literally or figuratively. True to form, I crafted my own life theory and I shall call it the Feast of Life.
How does it work? First, let’s throw out that crappy four burner stove and upgrade ourselves to one of those commercial grade six burner stoves with a griddle and not one but two ovens. With this we can really do some cooking, but before we start throwing down in the kitchen, we must first know what courses we want to make and what ingredients we need to ensure a delicious meal. Every quality chef has a plan before they bust out the hardware. I’ve spent the greater part of last year breaking down the ingredients I need in my life and exploring the configurations of those elements that would yield a feast I can be proud of.
While the four-burner theory is a quick and easy way to dissect our lives, it doesn’t challenge us to dig deep into what we need to truly be happy in this one life we have. Sure, career success is great but is that truly what will bring you fulfillment in life? If so, awesome. If not, then what would? Now’s your time to sit and marinate on that. What areas of your life do you want to be remembered for? Break the notion that a successful life is one that can have a price tag put on it. Instead, look at what ignites that spark in you and run with it. That’s your main course. We all have one, it’s the area of our life that sustains us and breathes life into our existence. It’s the guiding hand as we're moving through this world making vital and even benign decisions.
For me, my main course is family. According to the four burners theory I need to put that on the front and crank that burner up to high. Easy. Except not really because nothing worth having in life is as simple as tossing a pot on high and calling it a day. To be able to call my life a success I had to take it a step further and look at what makes up the meal that is family. My kids are a given. As well as my spouse. But there’s more there. The Ex is family too, for better or worse we’re in the business of co-parenting the bringers of mayhem until we take our last breaths. Then there are the relationships with my parents, siblings, friends who became family, and various extended branches on my family tree that are important to me in one way or another. Each connection is an ingredient, family is a complicated dish in more ways than one; which means it gets three burners and part of the griddle. And half the bottle of cooking wine, but that’s a post for another day.
It’s up to you to determine how best to tackle your main course. What needs to simmer or be a rolling boil and when those things need to happen. The relationship with my boys is always on high, but once they are grown and living their own lives? It’ll get turned down. Life is fluid and our cooking should be as well.
Alright, we’ve got our main course bubbling away, what’s next? Our soup of course. Not a soup person? Well for the sake of this metaphor pretend that you are. A soup only needs one burner set to a nice steady simmer so the flavors can blend together nicely. You stir it every so often, check the flavor, and add a bit more kick as needed.
For me, I call that dish friendship. It’s dependable and brings comfort all year long. Especially in those moments when life seems bleakest. It’s complex, but not in the same way my family relationships are. It’s a meal I can survive on, and Thor knows I have, but I need both it and my main course in order to thrive in this life. What you set in your soup pot is the element of your life that won’t implode if you look away for five or ten minutes to tend to another dish but is still vital in creating a memorable feast.
We’ve got our main course and our soup dish. That still leaves us with two burners, two ovens, and the rest of the griddle. For me, the remaining burners and griddle space belong to my side dishes: health, career, and personal growth. The number of side dishes you have will be determined by how much of the griddle and how many burners you need to cook your main dish. Your side(s) are those things that compliment your main course without overshadowing it. My health, career, and personal growth are important elements because they aid in creating a well-rounded life by providing the tools I need to maintain the parts of my life that matter the most to me. What are the elements of your life that compliment your main course without demanding to be the star of your feast?
At this point, we’re breaking a sweat and the kitchen smells amazing, but we still have two piping hot ovens ready. What are those for? They are the bread and dessert courses. Also known as the filler and icing on the cake. These are the things that one could do without in their life but having them brings great joy and ensures a fulfilling life feast. For me, those are hobbies and bucket list items. These are items that aren’t tied to personal growth but instead add to the overall joy in my life. Things like tattoos, running a race, or celebrating New Years in Sydney aren’t vital to my satisfaction with life, but accomplishing these things did and would add that extra something to my feast that would ensure I went out of this life stuffed and victorious by my own standards.
Everyone’s feast is different. Everyone is fulfilled in life in their own way. For some their main course is work and their baked goods are their relationships with family and friends. Only we can decide how our feast will be constructed. It is our job as the head chefs of our lives to take the time to sit down and look at what success and life fulfillment truly means for us and then set to work cooking a feast that will be enjoyed long after we’re gone.
Our lives aren’t easy bake ovens or simple four-burner stoves where we can turn two off and keep on trucking. It’s time we turned the work-life balance narrative on its head and realize it’s all part of the same life. Balance is a lie. We’re all in search of fulfillment. Balance is just the hustle they sell you to keep you slaving over a small stove. Get a bigger stove and cook up the life that brings you the most joy. You’ll be glad you did.
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
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?
It all started with a halfhearted promise. “I’ll make things better,” he said while kneeling in the muddy field. He loved me I told myself. He got a ring, he promised things would be better once we were married, so surely he loved me. Over the next eight months I inquired about wedding details, “I don’t care about that stuff” he would mumble before rushing off the phone. On my 18th birthday, I moved in with him. This was the beginning of the rest of my life I told myself. A life full of fantastic adventures with my best friend, or so I believed.
Our first attempt to get married a few days later was deterred by the incorrect birth certificate on my part, because there is a big difference in a certificate of live birth and a birth certificate, apparently. I slunk home depressed in my pretty floral spring dress. He looked relieved and eager to get out of the khakis I had requested he wear because “It’s our wedding day we should look nice”. “It's a waste of time”, the words lingered in the knots of my hair I had spent an hour fighting with. He thought it looked a mess. But, I knew he loved me, so I simply needed to try harder next time.
When the proper certificate arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later I was thrilled, he was annoyed. “When do you want to go get married”, the words danced from my heart and oozed through my lips. “I don’t know”, he replied. I shook off his indifference. Another couple of weeks passed before we had a discussion about expectations. I had no desire to shack up for an undisclosed period of time and needed to know if he really wanted the same thing I did. Blame my Catholic conservative Christian upbringing. Blame personal standards. But after a month, you’re either buying the cow or getting your milk elsewhere because I refuse to play house. After some grumbling, he lamented that he did want to get married and we agreed on a Friday afternoon. He didn’t want to wear anything nice or take pictures. I granted his wish with the hope that we’d have a nice wedding one day. I spent that Friday on edge. My heart and stomach jumped, jived, and wailed with each tick of the clock. I had to remind myself to breath as the hours turned into minutes and those minutes into the moments that would define the rest of my life.
The judge who married us was buried in a sea of child support filings and petty crimes when we walked in. The defeat of his day shone on his face as I slid the marriage certificate onto his desk. Immediately, he became animated and leaped from his seat with the joy that only the creation of marriage and new life can illicit in humanity. He retrieved his crisp black robes from the nearby closet and announced our impending nuptials to the collection of depressed bodies that were waiting their turn to plead their various cases. Then the judge reached for his phone and attempted to contact a buddy of his who worked at the local paper. He had no luck. My groom squirmed in his seat at the thought of having someone from the newspaper present at our nuptials. Even a small wedding announcement had been out of the question. After hanging up the phone the judge asked if he could read a bible passage during our ceremony. Still being some version of Christian I had no problem with this but, I turned to my groom to ensure it was ok. He nodded in that dismissive way only someone who is indifferent can and the judge smiled as he opened his bible. Clearing his throat he asked us to rise, I jumped from my seat attempting to catch my heart as it leaped with excitement and turned to my groom. He was still seated.
My mind always slows this moment down. I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in my mind, it becomes an eternity. An eternity of chances to run. An eternity to dance through the reel of what actually became a 12-year marriage plagued with abuse, infidelity, and loneliness. An eternity to live again.
An eternity to see every player clearly. The judge with his confused and apprehensive glare. The groom’s parents exchange of knowing looks for they kept his secrets better than he did. The groom’s disdain as he willed himself from the seat and my wide-eyed naiveté. As the reel plays in my mind, I always freeze this moment and stare at the child giving away her youth to someone who didn’t want to stand next to her. I look through the eyes of a woman at the life of a girl who simply wanted to know she was loved, and I know she never was. The woman knows that which the girl can not. She knows of the lonely nights ahead of the girl, whose tears will stain every pillow she would ever own. She knows the pain of her husband’s hands pressing against her pregnant belly. She knows the way his words will hang heavy in her heart for a lifetime. She knows the way laughter sounds when she’s in pain. The woman can never save the girl.
No matter how many times I play this reel over in my mind, no matter how many times I reach for that young girl, no matter how many empty bottles I attempt to watch it through; I can never save the girl. She always stands there eagerly awaiting her groom. She always takes his hand. She always says her vows with sincerity and passion as her brown eyes bore into his hollow blue eyes seeking confirmation that his heart beats as fiercely for her and her’s does for him. She always signs her name. She always stays after he pushes in her stomach and gleefully declares that hopefully he killed their unborn child. She always runs interference and handles everything as to not upset him. She always fixes the holes and stops asking about the stories that don’t mesh up. She always makes sure the children believe they're loved by their father. She always makes excuses for his noninvolvement, for her tears, for the sadness that hides behind her brown eyes. She always stays. Until she becomes the woman who doesn’t. The woman with the movie reel in her mind and scars upon her heart.
Divorce is easy. You pay someone to file paperwork and fight with your spouse’s paid henchman/woman on your behalf. You sign some papers. Then a judge, worn and weary from a life dedicated to law, declares you free from the shackles wrapped tightly around your left finger.
Healing. Now, that’s the hard part. Accepting your part in the chapter that was your marriage is hard. Acknowledging your ex-partner for who they were and always will be is hard. Stitching the holes in your heart with the rusty needle you find in the pile of your belongings is hard. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Smiling when you want to cry is hard. Living in spite of the pain is hard. Fighting your demons by yourself and realizing there are far worse things than being alone is excruciatingly fucking painful. The healing is hard and the tunnel to the light is long. But, there is beauty in the struggle. Even if we can’t always see it right away.
Since it's a new year, for shits and giggles, I'm going to take some time to share 10 simple truths about myself. So buckle up, readers!
1. I love the word fuck. I use it every fucking chance I get. It’s a beautiful word. It’s linguistic magic.
Even my Facebook statuses reflect this love:
Yes… fucking and people were my top two words in 2015…
2. Fucking people annoy me. The results of this annoyance are either well-crafted blog posts or rants on my personal Facebook page *hence those being my most used words*. If you are hip to that whole Myers-Briggs thing, then it makes sense based on my personality. I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the level of stupidity in the world than my actual personality but, hey it’s kind of fun to know which Doctor Who character you are.
3. Of all the fucking people that annoy me, I annoy myself the most.
4. My inner circle is full of people whose mere existence brings me so much joy that I don’t even care they’re humans.
5. A debate over Prop 8 is what finally knocked me off my fence of doubt and into the field of godlessness. Even though I’ve been an out and proud heathen for 7 years I still listen to K-Love on occasion. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song Brother was one of my favorite songs from 2015. Seriously, Google it! It’s fucking fantastic! Better yet, enjoy:
6. I was offered a scholarship to Mars Hill College to study Youth Leadership (youth ministry). I had lofty ideas about what young people should learn about love and acceptance. I still have those ideas, minus the Christianity.
7. Losing my religion was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Losing the top spot to a 2009 pregnancy lose and the ending of my marriage last year.
8. I never planned to homeschool my kids. We’ve been at it, officially, for eight years.
9. When it comes to parenting I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
10. I’m fairly certain my children are aware of this fact.
What are some of your truths? Do you have the adulting parenting thing figured out or faking it until you make it? Are you still dancing in tube socks to Bruce Springsteen? Tell me more, tell me more, right down there in the comments.
Cognitive Dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
“We have a term for that, it’s called cognitive dissonance”, the words excitedly leaped from my therapist's mouth. Some days, I believe people who work in mental health get more joy from being able to label a behavior, than those of us they are labeling get from finally having a term for our mental state. I sat there, digging my nails into the delicate Styrofoam cup rim, leaving evenly spaced indentations of anxiety behind. Cognitive dissonance. The words swirled in my mind as she went on. I’m familiar with the term, I’ve used it to explain unyielding and illogical religious beliefs. Surely, I'm immune from such a label, I thought. But I’m not. In at least one way, or another, we all fall victim to cognitive dissonance. For me, it’s been my marriage and the repeated belief that if I waited long enough, and loved hard enough, the man I married could and would change the hurtful behaviors he exhibited. In the process, I ignored my own harmful mental gymnastics.
When it came to religion, I could easily examine the inconsistencies and toss the breaks in logic into the wastebasket where they belonged. Eventually, leaving nothing but godlessness and unabashed skepticism. With love, oh love, it hasn’t been that easy. If there was a disconnect between words and actions, then I clearly wasn’t seeing it correctly. A belief supported by my spouse. I simply needed to look at everything differently. To be patient. To hold on. Give him time and trust. Always more time and trust. I could do this. To give superficial change, that quickly faded, more weight than years of peer-reviewed data. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” We rarely do, though. Why do we do this? Why do we allow our hearts to cloud our logic? How can we observe years of behavior, and at the mere notion of change, throw all our chips in and declare this time around it will be better?
This isn’t a post with answers. Because, frankly, I don't have any damn answers. So, if you’re waiting for that you’re going to be shit out of luck. I’m still tracing the rim of a Styrofoam cup attempting to make sense of this one life we’re given and fighting with the cognitive dissonance emotional attachments create.
I’ve spent months dissecting why I allow myself to distort things until they are easy to swallow. Instead of, accepting them for what they are and cutting the cord.
He says he’s never hit me. So, despite everything else, I should be happy. True, he’s never hit me. But, when did that become an acceptable bar to reach instead of an universally unacceptable behavior? And why is physical abuse the only recognized form of domestic violence? Do the words and actions that don’t leave physical scars not count? And if they don’t count, why do I have to do mental gymnastics to reason them away? If this is a person I can feel safe with and trust, why does simply typing this fill me with soul-crushing fear? I’m doing wrong by sharing the truth. Is love when the truth is an act of rebellion?
The emotional part of my mind says yes. It also wants to say people change. It wants to believe the fantasy.
You’re not seeing it clearly, Rayven. His words. Or are they mine? It’s hard to determine whose words they are. I can only determine that they suffocate me. They whisper in my mind, “you’re not perfect, how can you expect so much”, “calm down, you don’t see things how they really are”, “no, you’re just crazy”, “it’s not control, it’s concern”, “I love you”, “so much of this is your fault”, “you’ve brought this on yourself”, “just fix you, try more, bend more, give more, you don't do enough" "learn to take a joke", "I'm only kidding", "stop complaining this is the best you'll ever get”, "no one would want you anyways", "it's not settling, it's being smart", "don't be selfish", “don’t you see how it’s all your fault”. The words work to choke out the discrepancies. The discrepancies exist because of me, I deduce. This notion makes my mind an Olympic performer in mental gymnastics. Always in search of a reason for the unreasonable.
Therapy works to give the discrepancies the oxygen they need to breathe, so I can acknowledge them and move forward. But still, I sit rubbing the anxiety indentations in my cup, waiting for the oxygen to reach my lungs so I can finally breathe, too.
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