800 Words

There are signs, and then there are Signs….

The day I wrote about losing confidence in my writing, I discovered a television series called “800 Words.”

“It’s a sign!” I thought.  The show is on the Acorn channel (British-y programming). It’s about an Australian columnist, a widower with two kids, whose column always comes in at exactly 800 words.

That’s a game I love to play, too. He even uses the same trick of hyphenating-things-to-count-as-one-word.

It’s more about grief and the stupid impulsive decisions (often stupid financial decisions) you make when coping with loss.

Sound familiar?

I watched the first episode of the first season and was hooked.

And then I discovered I had to pay a subscription fee to watch the rest of it.

Curses! I coughed up my Roku account and subscribed.

More money spent that I shouldn’t be spending, without a day job.

That sent me into another spiral of anxiety and doubt.

How could it be a sign? Yes, I like to write blog posts of exactly 800 words –  but my book is 60,000 words.

The protagonist on the show actually had a job as a newspaper columnist, left it, and was coaxed back.

I’ve lost or had to leave jobs I wanted and was never, ever “coaxed” or asked back. It was more like “don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Buh-bye.”

My recent job search experiences make me feel like I couldn’t buy a job – if I had any money to spend – which makes me more anxious about getting a job.

I’ve got an idea for a business, bought the domain, and I’m hoping to get a website designed and the business going by September.

But the numbers for this blog (over 5,300 views and 2,300 visitors, but only 162 followers) indicate I suck at social media self-promotion.

I’m going to have to force myself to return to Facebook to build pages for this blog again and for my new business. AAAAAK!!

I’d rather curl up in a little fetal ball and pull the covers over my head, but as I lie there whimpering, I’d be picturing myself wearing a name tag, saying things like, “would you like fries with that?” or “have you tried our new spicy shrimp?” or “can I get you that dress in another size?”

Between the morning workouts and the yard work and the house work and grocery shopping and the meal preparation and the caring for and helping Angelic Daughter, I can’t seem to find the time to write more than one or two blog posts a week, and no time at all to search for other places to submit writing for a chance to get paid.

Much less apply for that glorious future name tag job.

All the job search engines I’ve got going keep sending me jobs that have nothing to do with me.

LinkedIn seems to think I’m a nurse or other health-care worker, just because I’m looking for jobs in non-profits, and there’s a big non-profit hospital near me.

Glassdoor keeps sending me technical writing jobs that I probably could do but I’m sure I’d never get hired for, and the idea of making a mistake writing technical manuals or pharmaceutical label information sends me into paroxysms of anxiety.

All the NPO’s want fundraisers (“development” people) but asking people for money makes me squirm, and researching how much money people might have to give makes me feel like a creepy voyeur.

I indulge in silly rescue fantasies, typically involving younger men who know how to do things, and who are willing to do them for me, for free.

And who then move in and pay for things.

While also making wild, passionate love to me.

Hey, I said it was a fantasy.

I’ve figured out what’s wrong with me, and what went wrong in my career, but I can’t fix the past and the past follows me everywhere I go.

I try to focus on the now – on the incredible, cool air we have today, on the squash blossoms growing in the former chicken run, on the green beans starting to come in.

But I spend more time feeling frustrated by the dozens of bean seeds I planted that haven’t sprouted at all.

I’m a whiny, self-doubting mess.

The ancestresses are getting restless – I hear them telling me to get my ass outside and weed something. Not self-improvement, but yard-improvement, at least.

Perhaps other improvements will follow.

And as for signs?

Just as I was editing that line about anxiety and doubt, a monarch butterfly fluttered down and landed on the beans.

The ones that are growing.

Thanks for the Sign, Mike – of love and understanding – and the reminder to enjoy this beautiful day and stop taking myself so seriously.

Because what matters is now.

About-to-get-sweaty-and-dirty-and-feel-virtuous-about-it, I remain,

Your calming-down,

Ridiculouswomann

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

A Hose, Two Fans and a Thunderstorm

I grew up in a brick house with no air conditioning.  We used box fans in the windows and a sprinkler in the back yard (usually surrounded by neighborhood kids in bathing suits, waiting their turn to “run through.”)

For the past twenty years I’ve lived in another house without air conditioning. It has thick plaster walls, two layers of siding (some past owner just slapped vinyl over wood, and we left it alone) and a floor plan similar to that childhood home, where my brothers and I could run or ride a tricycle in circles around the ground floor while Dad played “Sweet Georgia Brown” on the piano. We called that “the running song,” and thought it was fun to zip past Dad, through the hall and kitchen, dodge the dining room table, scream and laugh our way through the front hall and then back past Dad in the living room.  After I became a parent myself, I realized Dad played “the running song” to tire us out so we’d go to bed. He was a genius at stuff like that.

When Angelic Daughter was a toddler, I bought her a Red Flyer trike, so she could do  circles in this current house – past the living room fireplace, through the kitchen, left through the library/dining room, across the front hall and then around again.

We’ve just come through three days 94-98 degrees (F) and very high humidity. No joke and very dangerous if you live an a brick-oven building in the city without air conditioning.

But we’ve got a yard, a garden hose and two fans – one box fan:

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and one newer one, that stands on the floor and rotates.

Upstairs, there are three smaller ones, each with two fans that can be switched from “intake” to “exhaust.”

Friday night, the “exhaust” setting just couldn’t keep up with the heat.

So I set up the cot downstairs –  the cot I bought for Mike to use, if the heat became too much during that last summer. But he couldn’t lie down flat without excruciating pain, so he tried to use another “lounger” I bought, a cheap bench sort of thing, that could sit up like a pool chaise. But he couldn’t get comfortable on that either, no matter how we adjusted the pillows. It was rock hard.

The visiting hospice nurse took one look at him on that thing and said, “this is not under control. I’ll send an ambulance and get you into the hospital.”

So Mike got two days of blessed relief in air conditioning, adjusted pain meds, and a good break from the stress of being home and needing my help all the time.

That damn rock hard lounger was one of the first things to go. But I kept the cot, in case  a brother or a guest might need to stay over one night.

Last night, that cot gave Angelic Daughter respite from the upstairs bedroom heat. I slept on the couch, where I slept while taking care of Mike, in the front room where we had set up his hospital bed when he came home after his brief stay, so he could watch TV and eat dinner with us.

Around 2 or 3 in the morning, still sweaty and not sleeping, I stepped outside on the deck and noticed that the breeze had picked up.

It’s coming, I thought – relief.

It cooled off enough for me to open the ground floor windows (and still feel secure, since I was right there) and use the fans to draw in some fresh, slightly cooler air.  The forecast said it would be 85 by 7 am, so I shut them again and closed the drapes by 6:45, when the temperature began to climb.

Smoothies for breakfast: frozen yogurt, berries and cream in the blender. Voila.

Salad bar in the air conditioned grocery for lunch.

And the garden hose after 3, in the shade from the cedars outside my desk area window. Blessed lake water still icy cold in July. Squished around in a wet bathing suit for half an hour, and then the storms hit – torrential rain, thunder and lightning – and a temperature drop of 20 degrees within an hour.

Windows back open, despite the downpour, to take in that delicious, rain-cooled air.

Memories and moments like these free me from obsessive worry; they help me remember Mike (inventor of all our strategies for keeping cool in this house through the hottest heat waves) with love and gratitude, instead of pain, grief and regret.

For now, the heat is gone, the storms have blown over, the birds are singing and the yard is green.

May you stay cool and find your calm after whatever storms blow over you.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman

Fan image by Katie White from Pixabay

Hose image by Renee Gaudet from Pixabay)

 

Twenty-nine Years

The snow will melt tomorrow. But my heart melted tonight.

“April is in my mistress’ face,
And July in her eyes hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December…”

madrigal by Thomas Morely, 1594

Mike and I met twenty-nine years ago today, on a warm April evening.

I was wearing a pink spring dress, no jacket necessary.

Twenty-nine years later, here I sit, under a winter storm warning, wearing a flannel shirt and Mike’s winter scarf.

Ironically, we met at a meeting of a ski club, held at a then quite new, but now very well established, brewpub. The event purportedly was to showcase the next season’s planned trips, but it was actually a thinly-disguised singles thing.

Mike didn’t ski. Neither did his buddy, who dragged him along as his wingman.

I didn’t know that then.

The girl pal I dragged along didn’t ski, either. Bad back.

Turned out I was the only one of the four of us who had a legitimate excuse to be there.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone skiing. It’s on my bucket list, if my knees can take it. Maybe next year.

As for today, I can feel my ritualizing of anniversaries fading. This is the third without him, and he never made much of them anyway.

So today I’m thinking more about whether my just-emerging snow peas will live up to their name.

I’m not sure the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets I planted two weeks ago, in a burst of April-faced gardening enthusiasm (“this year, I’ll finally get them in the ground early enough!!”) will make it.

When the snow started, I ran out and cut several small bunches of hyacinth and daffodils and brought them in the house to enjoy.

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But I left that snow-shrouded bunch pictured up there, and a few of the daffodils, to fend for themselves. I think they’ll make it.

As for the spring flowering trees, and the trees in general, this snowstorm brings a whole new meaning to “nip it in the bud.”

From the height of them, though, most of the trees around my house have been there for much longer than I’ve been here. On this planet, I mean.  Definitely “old growth” trees.

They might lose a branch or two in this heavy, wet, spring snow, but clearly, if they’ve been here that long, they’ve been through this before. They can get through this now.

It’s all supposed to melt tomorrow, anyway.

Annually, I remind people I meet in grocery or garden stores, people who couldn’t resist wearing shorts and flip-flops on the very first warm day in March, that it always snows again in April.

How sweet of me.

Cold December heart.

Obviously, I called the last storm too early this year.

I should have known better. Like the trees, I’ve been through this before. I have a distinct memory of myself on a June afternoon, sitting on the screen porch my father built, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt (hey, I was fat, but I was 5), coloring, when a sudden whoosh of wind swept the warmth away in a nanosecond and blew snow flurries through the screens.

And I should have known better than to think that Mike wouldn’t send some kind of  recognition of this anniversary to me in this world, from his timeless place in the next, as a little rejoinder to that remark about him not making much of anniversaries.

Because, just now, as I am writing this, an ad came on the radio.

For the brewpub where we met.

The snow hasn’t melted yet, but the December in my heart just did.

Missing Mike and grateful for a good, carthartic cry, I remain,

Your broken-open-hearted,

Ridiculouswoman

Blue and Happy, Empty and Full

I do my “forest bathing” on the prairie or the savannah.

The prairie has the empty spaces I find soothing.  The savannah has the trees. Both have birds, flowers, grasses and ponds or streams. For the past few weeks, the spring peepers have been singing near those ponds, very loudly, rarely stopping even when the paths I walk come close.

Blue sky, yesterday and today.

That bench, or one just like it, had a small engraved memorial plaque on it that, in addition to the names of the persons it commemorates and the family members who commemorated them, has the phrase, “carpe diem.”

Around here in April, if you see the sun and the sky, you better damn carpe that diem.

Yesterday, a walk through the savannah on my own, marveling at how abundantly life returns in spring. Even with the grasses still winter-flattened into brown, dry straw, the “controlled burn” areas still blackened, the birds are everywhere and the roaring chorus of spring peepers is occasionally augmented by the deep croak of a bigger frog. The ice on the ponds is finally completely gone.

Today, I got her to come with me, for a walk on the wide open prairie. She has a habit of stopping to sit at any bench we come near, but that helps me take a moment to really take it in, and read the information on the poster-stands, strategically placed to help visitors appreciate the rarity and fragility of what they’re seeing. A good long walk, under a blue sky with clouds my Grammie called “horse tails” and “lambs.”

I remembered what a pill I was, when Grammie or Mom would point things like that out to me: bored and unappreciative.

But now, it’s me exclaiming, “Oh! See the hawk! See the ducks, in pairs, the Mom and the Dad! See the chickadees!” And there were tiny finch-like birds, as small as hummingbirds but fatter, curious and unafraid, not creepers, just flitting from branch to branch, close enough to see a little yellow above the eye and wing.

She hurries forward, almost out of view, trying to get it over with, but I don’t care. I got her outside, at least.

Somewhere along there she’ll wonder why Mom stops to take pictures like this:

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or this:

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Someday when she looks at these photos she may remember the spring day we walked together here, the happiness of a blue Midwestern sky and the slope beneath it bursting with crocuses. She may remember Mom smiling as the birds flitted and sang over and around us, on the open prairie, shoots of green among the straw.

Tomorrow’s forecast includes rain, snow, wind and thunder.

April.

Back in the car she says, “we had a great morning, Mom.”

Today, blue means happy.

And empty means full.

Wishing you a soothing forest (or prairie or savannah) bath, I remain,

Your I-told-you-it-always-snows-one-more-time-in-April-but-I-planted-my-cold-weather-crops-yesterday anyway,

Ridiculouswoman

“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

It’s not a problem, it’s a gift.

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman

Passion vs. Practicality; or, Is That A Burning Heart, or Just Heartburn?

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – creating spaces for an imaginary life.

(Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched all four seasons of “Mozart in the Jungle.”)

They play “with the blood.”

They drink, do drugs, and jump into bed with each other spontaneously, joyfully, seamlessly.

No fumbling around with condoms, no awkward conversations about past sexual and health history, no qualms, no jealousy, no regrets. Coitus with no consequences.

Artistic lives. Hollywood sex.

Passion unfettered with practical concerns.

Oh, except the first violinist/concert master with three daughters in college who tried to run an insurance scam by faking the theft of his priceless instrument.

By now, you will have figured out that I have been binge-watching “Mozart in the Jungle,” and getting a vicarious thrill out of the character’s lives in classical music. Who knew these longhairs (that’s what classical musicians were called when the cool kids were sporting crew cuts – before beatniks, before hippies, before I was born) were so lusty, so wanton, so drunk, so high?

They live with no boundaries, other than the demands of their art. Their hearts burn for music, for love. They play “with the blood.”

I finished season four last night.

Only then did I discover that the series has been cancelled.

Mozart disappeared. Rodrigo got fired and doesn’t know what’s next. Hai-lai (Hayley) seems to have taken over the symphony, based on Rodrigo’s faith in her, plus an unrealistically small amount of training and practice as a conductor and a second place finish in a major competition.

We’ll never know what happens next.

Bwaaaah! Curse you, Amazon! Why?

Back to the real world, where I impulsively signed up to go to the Midwest Writer’s Conference “agent fest” in early May (go for it, Annie! pursue your passion for writing! maybe you’ll meet someone! burn for love!) while worrying about spending the money on it (did I say money? I meant credit) and about how I’m going to manage care for my daughter for the one night I’ll be away.

What’s that pain in my chest?

The musicians in the show travel internationally on someone else’s dime and never seem to worry about who is taking care of the kids, if they have any.

Meanwhile back in heartburn land I watch my funds dwindle and frantically apply for jobs. Had two interviews, both went well, but I’m not hopeful. Even if I’m offered the weekend job I don’t think I can take it – two hour commute each way, on the weekends, when the trains and buses run slower and less frequently. The other is temp and part time, but it’s close to home and would bring in some funds, for a little while, anyway.

My redecorating has taken on an aura of set design – I seem to be creating spaces for an imaginary life.  I set up my “boudoir:” the little fantasy I created in my bedroom, which should have had that very expensive art-deco-y mauve chaise, but instead has an oddly oversized, mid-century style, eggplant-colored fake velvet chair, and a weird little round Moroccan leather footstool that’s just a bit too low and a bit too blue, purchased from a warehouse full of unsold, unwanted items crammed in long dark aisles under a crumbling, water-stained ceiling.  Together they cost a tenth of what the chaise alone would have cost.

Across from the chair is the TV with the Roku stick, connected to a network that has, oddly, gotten slower and weaker after the fraught installation of a new router, even with the signal booster.

There’s a chrome and glass bar cart, optimistically (who am I kidding, more like ludicrously) supplied with two champagne glasses, two cordial glasses, two cocktail glasses.  I sit alone in the cheap purple fake velvet chair, next to the cheap (but really cute) glass and chrome side table, watching stories on the cheap TV of people who live brave, passionate, unfettered lives, with hearts aflame, mysteriously available funds and few regrets.

Passion! Music! Bubbly! Wealthy patrons! La vie en rose!

In between job applications and query letters, I’ll keep writing, imagining that before I die I will add the words “author of….” after my name on Linkedin (in lieu of “non-profit/higher education administrator” and “certified forklift/electric pallet jack operator.”)

I’ll go to that “agent fest” I can’t really afford, pitch my book and dream of a deal, but happily settle for some good advice.

As the money dwindles, I’ll wear a name tag and clean toilets if I have to.

But I’m damned if I’ll drive a forklift again.

Pinballing between dreams and reality, with heart occasionally aflame but mostly just with heartburn, I remain,

Your occasionally optimistic, frequently floating in fantasy,  but mostly moored in the mundane,

Ridiculouswoman

And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman