Jobs of Value

Prior to spring of 2020, if someone had told you that society would be treating grocery store employees with the same reverence as first responders, you probably would have thought they were nuts.

But in the early days of the pandemic, when everything was shut down except medical facilities and grocery stores, we suddenly came to realize just how important a seemingly “easy” or “entry level” job was.

While it was great to see people thanking cashiers, delivery drivers, and shelf stockers and treating them with reverent respect, it also made me think. These people weren’t doing anything differently than they had been before COVID-19 changed our daily lives. Before the pandemic, most customers probably treated grocery store employees as indifferently as the inanimate shopping cart they pushed through the aisles. Shoppers with high-paying salaries or a number of degrees under their belt may have even scoffed at these people, wondering why anyone would want to work in a grocery store. Now all of a sudden society was seeing these people in a new light — a light that perhaps should have been there all along.

For ages, there have always been invisible lines drawn designating some jobs as more valuable than others — EMTs, nurses, police officers, and teachers are always held in high regard. While I’m not trying to take anything away from those professionals, it’s interesting to think about how the exceptional value of these positions can actually cause us to look down on other jobs inadvertently.

In my last post, I talked about my husband not necessarily feeling valued at his job. To make matters worse, he’s under some delusion that all the work he does around the house isn’t anything of value either. While he’s not a professional, he’s probably as close as one can get without having any formal training or experience.

Within the first few days of us moving into the new house, he installed a water pressure regulator and replaced the wonky toilet, shower doors, and shower head in the main bathroom. He’s slowly replacing all outlets and light switches in each room. Along with his friend, he spent fourteen hours refinishing the hardwood floors before we moved in. He ripped up the ugly tile in the dining room and replaced it with solid, modern flooring. He’s painted, put up curtains and shades. He took our kitchen down to the bare bones and rebuilt it piece by piece. He did the same thing with our basement bathroom. He’s hand-dug holes and set fence posts, wired up chain link and constructed gates so our dogs could have a safe yard to run freely in. He’s replaced locks and fixed leaks, installed a dishwasher and a water line for our refrigerator. While he was working on the fence one day, a random guy driving past slowed down to ask him if he was in the fencing business. Even after J explained that he was a DIY-er, the guy pretty much offered him a job at his contracting company.

The last time J went to see his PCP, he was telling his doctor about how he’d hurt his thumb working on the fence. The doctor replied with, “You’re building a fence? I thought you remodeled your kitchen.”

“I did that too,” J replied. “And the bathroom.”

This doctor, a man who had attended medical school for an absurd number of years, furrowed his brown and said, “Isn’t that stuff hard?”

There he was, talking to a man who was automatically placed on a pedestal because of his occupation, yet that doctor was beyond impressed with the projects J had tackled as a DIY-er.

Now, my husband had said multiple times how much he likes and respects his PCP, and in a world where doctors tend to rush patients out the door and throw pills in their faces for every ailment, J’s PCP is probably one in a million. But as cool and helpful and educated as this man is, he was obviously stymied by home improvement projects that J tackles on a regular basis.

For someone who in all likelihood has endless office hours, J’s knowledge and ability to fix a leak, change a faulty plug, or remodel a bathroom is probably invaluable. Yet it is no secret that society tends to treat laborers with less respect than people who hold degrees.

The same can be said when it comes to celebrities and athletes. When an NFL player suffered a terrifying cardiac event in the middle of a game a few weeks ago, the world seemed to stop while millions hoped and prayed for his recovery. That same day, a police officer from Pittsburgh was killed in the line of duty, and I saw several posts on social media about how that officer’s sacrifice should not have been overshadowed by a football player.

But it’s not a competition. There is no one counting the amount of posts, ‘likes,’ or prayers sent into the universe about the NFL player or the fallen officer. The fact of the matter is that all people deserve care, respect, and recognition for what they do — no matter how difficult or “easy” their jobs may be, no matter how much they get paid or how much or how little the public knows about them.

Before I worked in the auto-adjacent industry, I could have cared less about tow truck drivers. But over the years I’ve learned just how much these people do on a daily basis and how dangerous and difficult their jobs are. They climb under 4000 lb. vehicles to hook up a tow chain or change a flat tire. They risk their lives every time they climb out of their truck on a busy highway. They maneuver cars without brakes or cars missing tires. They keep your car safe if you’re transported from an accident by ambulance. They work in every kind of weather, crawling on the wet, muddy ground, fishing their hands into places where they could slice open their skin. They’re out there in the heat, the snow, and the rain. They answer emergency calls at 3am are often the first to arrive at the scene of accidents.

Nearly every job out there holds some type of hardship or difficulty that outsiders know nothing about. Yet we place value on positions and people because of our limited knowledge of what they represent.

The school bus driver who kept kids safe and calm after an accident — the same guy who doesn’t make much more than minimum wage and doesn’t have benefits.

The customer service rep who answered the phone when my devastated husband called to make our dog’s appointment to cross the rainbow bridge and soothed him through his sobs.

The Z Trip driver who helped an elderly man carry five heavy bags of personal belongings from his wrecked car.

The custodian who grasped my hand while I was sobbing in the hallway during my mom’s most recent hospital stay.

The animal rescue worker who stopped her car on the side of a four-lane highway to save an emaciated dog darting in and out of traffic.

The administrative assistant who came into work on her day off to help her boss find an expensive, critical piece of equipment that went missing.

The Hallmark employee who took money out of her own wallet so a ninety-year-old man could buy his wife a birthday card.

Employees are people. Their work is valuable, no matter what it is or what it pays.

Let’s Talk About Guilt

When I started EMDR therapy several years ago, I was shocked to find out just how much guilt I’ve carried around with me for years over things that were completely out of my control. For the most part, I didn’t even realize that those guilty feelings were part of why I had so many anxious thoughts or negative beliefs.

As I worked through those beliefs with my therapist, I slowly began to understand how I associated certain memories with guilt and finally learned how to stop beating myself up for not only things that weren’t my fault, but for my emotional reaction to events and circumstances. One of the other benefits of confronting those beliefs was that I discovered how to finally pursue aspects of life that were priorities to me and not other people.

It took a lot of practice, and standing up for myself, my time, and my mental and physical health certainly raised a few eyebrows for people who were used to treating me like a doormat. But for the most part I’ve been able to adapt to a life where I prioritize my self above anything or anyone else — and since our society has conditioned us to believe that putting yourself first is selfish, I’ve also learned that doing so allows me to be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, and employee.

So where do those negative beliefs come from? Past experiences and how we grow up definitely plays into it, but it’s only been over the last few years that society as a whole has begun to recognize how harshly we judge those who put themselves first and don’t always cater to others or even to their jobs or side hustles.

This first became evident in the early days of COVID-19. So many social media outlets were touting memes and videos of how to be productive, stay in shape, and tackle projects during quarantine that those people who may have been using the time for a long-needed rest were accused of being unmotivated, undedicated, or even lazy.

It wasn’t until quarantine bled from weeks to months to years that we started to realize how much we truly need to take care of our mental health and our own priorities before worrying about other peoples’ opinions or all the projects on our “to do” lists.

COVID has certainly made peoples thoughts and opinions on such things complicated — there are those who believe we should just get back to living life with no precautions, those who who feel like we should go back on lockdown, and everything in between. I wrestle with finding a happy medium between these two views almost every time I do something outside of work or home. And yes, guilt, on multiple levels, plays into those decisions too.

Though guilt does not burden me as heavily as it once did, I still find it interesting how much it is an accepted or even normal part of our daily lives.

For example, last weekend my husband and I were working in the backyard. We had a few small landscaping projects we wanted to tackle before autumn in our ongoing efforts to ready our house for sale . . . at some point in the future.
After we’d spread some mulch around our air conditioner and filled in the narrow trench left by the workers who’d installed our new solar panels and underground lines, my husband went into the garage to grab a bag of grass seed. I took the opportunity to go grab a sip of water from my bottle on the porch.
But before I could get there, I rolled my ankle on the uneven ground where grass meets sidewalk and I tumbled in an ungraceful heap to the ground. My ankle and foot began throbbing before I even rolled over to assess the damage, and I managed to scrape my knee on the concrete in the process.
Once my husband emerged from the garage to help me up, I limped into the house to clean myself up and apply some ice to my ankle. Even after concluding that I hadn’t broken anything, I still didn’t feel up to helping J finish the outdoor projects. Instead I sat on the couch with a frozen bag of peas on my foot, wallowing in guilt that my husband was out there in the heat finishing the work we should have been doing together.

Even though I was able to put some weight on my ankle and foot, it swelled up rather badly the next two days. I bought an ice pack, elevated my leg at work, and did my best to stay off of it as much as possible. This meant making quick dinners, not taking any walks, and not going to the pool.

At first I didn’t feel guilty about this. My doctor had said to rest my ankle, so rest I did. And for awhile it worked out that I was essentially chair-bound because mandatory overtime at work came into play, and I spent lots of extra hours at a desk that week.

The following weekend I planned on getting more done around the house. Before 11am on Saturday I’d done the dishes, started laundry, vacuumed, worked on a magazine pitch, and prepped the back porch for painting the following day.
But by noon my allergies were raging. My nose wouldn’t stop running, my chest was tight, I had a headache, and felt foggy-headed. I took some pills and laid down for a nap, hoping that an hour’s rest would rectify the situation. I had so much to do!
Unfortunately when I woke up I didn’t feel any better. I literally could not go more than five minutes without blowing my nose, and it didn’t take long for it to get all red and irritated. Suddenly I was forced to slow down and confine myself to the couch and my bed again — and immediately the guilt started rolling in.

I’d wanted to go to a community day even that my cousin and realtor was holding. I wanted to support her business and contribute to the local animal shelter fundraiser they were having. I needed to go to the library to return a book that was due. I wanted to head back to the pool. I wanted to paint the back porch and finish laundry and polish that magazine pitch.

Instead it was back to wallowing. In between blowing my nose and rubbing my red, itchy eyes, I wondered if I had somehow I had contracted COVID again. I thought about how I was letting my husband down by delaying our house projects for another weekend in a row. And even though my last post was about how it’s okay for writers to not write everyday, I started beating myself up for not finishing my magazine pitch. Like an anxiety attack spiraling out of control, so did my guilt.
I felt guilty for not taking my heartworm-positive dog to the park recently, about wanting to sell our starter home. I felt guilty for not helping my sister enough with her upcoming art show, for not taking advantage of the beautiful day.

Although these guilty feelings do not carry the same weight as traumas do, it made me realize just how prevalent guilt still is in our daily lives.

By Sunday I was feeling better — not 100%, but better. I pushed myself to finish laundry and write a bit, and even did an hour of overtime for work. But for the most part I laid low and took it easy. Another weekend would eventually arrive, and with it, hopefully the time and opportunity to make up for the last crappy two.

And as I sat on the couch, folding socks and sipping ginger ale, watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model on Hulu, I reminded myself again that exactly what I was doing at that moment was perfectly okay.

On Bad Advice

“I want to be a writer,” I’d say — to my friends, my family, guidance counselors, coworkers. Between the ages of eleven and twenty or so, this is what I’d tell people when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, what my favorite classes were in high school, and what I wanted to go to college for.

And after the muddled confusion and disappointment cleared from their face, they would give me a small smile and reply, “Oh. So you’re probably going to be an Englisher teacher? Or maybe a reporter?”

“No,” I insisted. “A writer.”

At eighteen, I was absolutely terrified over the prospect of graduating high school and facing the intimidating monster that was college. To make matters worse, no one seemed to be able to tell me what to do with my desire to pursue writing. Somehow, even though I’d wanted to be a writer since sixth grade, even though I excelled at English, Literature, and Writing classes, even though people told me, adamantly, admiringly, you should be a writer, no one could tell me how to make this happen.

And the summer that I graduated was such a time of emotional trauma that I didn’t have the drive or confidence to find out for myself.

Fast forward nearly twenty (GASP) years, and part of me wishes that I could tell that eighteen-year-old girl to pursue creative writing. Grant writing. Professional writing. Literature. Communication. I wish I would have told her that the choice of a major didn’t mean she’d be destined for one particular path, but rather that investigating any of these subjects would have opened the doors to several paths — editing, copy writing, technical writing, business writing, journalism. And that yes, even these more “logical” paths might have even helped her craft novels.

You see, up until the last several years, I thought that if you weren’t making money with your writing, or if you didn’t do it eight hours a day, that you weren’t a writer.

When I decided to get back into writing back in 2015/2016, I still called myself an “aspiring” writer instead of just a writer. And it took some time before I felt confident enough to acknowledge that I was truly a writer, despite the fact that it wasn’t my profession and I hadn’t made a single dime spinning these tales.

While this is probably the single most important realization I’ve had over the years, and I’ve inevitably stumbled upon heaps and heaps of advice about writing, the next most important thing I’ve learned is to find what works for you.

If you’re a new writer, or getting back into writing after a hiatus (like me), one of the first things you’ll realize when you start perusing writer websites, newsletters, and Facebook groups is that everyone is full of advice. From Stephen King to Internet trolls whose only purpose is to bash others for having different opinions or priorities, everyone seems to think they know what’s best for everyone else.

And though I’m about to dish out my own amateur, naïve advice, I’d like to think that mine has some merit, if only for the fact that I believe in finding out what works for you.

Naturally, and to the horror of diehard academics, pompous literary geniuses, old-fashioned professors, and ubiquitous Internet demons who lurk on message boards, what works for some people does not work for others.

This is true when it comes to exercise, learning a new skill, dating, paying bills, traveling, raising kids. A routine or method that someone else swears by may not work for their neighbor or best friend or sister. So why would it work for writing?

There are writers who insist that in order to be a “real” writer, one must write every day. Ideally, that would be great, especially if you’re already getting paid for your craft and your livelihood depends on your production.
But what about the young man working two jobs in attempt to pay off his school loans? What about the new mom struggling to put 200 words a day together while catering to a newborn? What about the middle-aged hopeful taking care of their dad with Alzheimer’s? What about the twenty-something coping with PTSD?
Even if you aren’t a writer whose life is currently effected by extreme circumstances, no one’s life or schedule is cookie-cutter perfect.
Even when my mental health is pretty well in check, I still have days that do not allow me to write — when I go to the pool right after work and want to spend a few precious hours with my husband before bed. When family is in from out of town and they want to have dinner. When a friend is having a crisis and they just need to spend a few hours with me venting and eating ice cream. When I bring my dog home from a day-long procedure at the vet and I cuddle up around her in bed, holding her as she trembles through the pain of heartworm treatment.
As far as I’m concerned, attending to other parts of my life does not make me any less of a writer or a “bad” writer by any means.

I am far more disciplined that I was several years ago. I’ve learned to recognize when I need a break from writing, when an emergency or special event takes precedence, and when I’m just being lazy and really need to buckle down and sit at the keyboard.
I still have things to learn and goals I want to pursue. I’m still working on landing that first paid writing job and hopefully an agent or full manuscript request. I’d love to take a class on effective blogging, marketing, and social media presence. I can’t wait until in person conferences are permissible again.
But at the same time I am damn proud of each and every one of my published works. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve managed to write two entire novels in as many years.
Yes, I get frustrated, and yes I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years putting my writing on the back burner. But I no longer beat myself up for having a life outside of writing — and I definitely don’t put too much stock in not adhering to advice that simply doesn’t work for me.

Any time I peruse Facebook or Twitter, I see plenty of people, young, old, and middle aged, begging others for help with their writing. Most of them have full-time jobs outside of the craft or personal obligations like kids or aging parents that make it difficult to stick to a routine or to “WRITE EVERYDAY.” Because of this, they feel like failures — and there is no shortage of people who comment insisting that if these people don’t do things exactly the way that they do them that they are destined to fail.

Well, I vehemently disagree. As I mentioned earlier, just because yoga works to keep your best friend in shape doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Just because some people I went to high school with had kids at twenty-one and twenty-four doesn’t mean I should have. Just because my husband and I own a house doesn’t mean that someone living in an apartment is wrong, or irresponsible or poor.

If writing every day works for you — great. If you can’t start your day without writing 2000 words at the ass crack of dawn — great. If instead you string together 10,000 words every Sunday and don’t write any other day of the week — great. If you stay awake til 1am every Friday evening crafting the perfect opening chapter — great. If you hole yourself up inside the library or local coffee shop, ignoring your cell phone and hunching over a laptop for hours on end — great.

If you, like me, write by the advice of one of my favorite groups, 10 Minute Novelists, and write as much as you can whenever you get a chance — great.

Everyone is fundamentally different — in how they think, how they feel, how they write, how they work. To assume that someone’s lack of success is because they aren’t doing things exactly how you do it is, at the very least, pure ignorance.

As someone who spent an entire decade thinking I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t pursue a specific major, hold a certain job, or have endless hours of writing time everyday, I would never, ever want anyone else to feel like I did — that I wasn’t worthy of this craft.

Because I am. And so are you.

Beta Readers ??

When I first got back into writing back in 2016, every Facebook group and newsletter kept talking about something I’d never heard of — beta readers. What the crap? All I could picture was my mother-in-law’s poor, lonely beta fish (sadly named Fish), floating around all alone in his little glass vase with a pair of glasses perched on his nonexistent nose.

After a quick Google search, I familiarized myself with the term and was simultaneously intrigued and confused. What a great idea to get someone (preferably strangers/potential readers) to read your book before you send it to publishers or agents. That way you get unbiased feedback from people who may be your prospective readers.

But of course there were questions — do you pay these beta readers? Who makes a good beta reader? What if they steal your idea? Who qualifies as a beta reader? And most importantly, where on earth do you find them???

I managed to get a handful of betas for The Month of May, and while I had two that gave me helpful, positive feedback, the other two or three were all over the place — their opinions and suggestions clashed with everyone else’s, and that made it more difficult and confusing for me to know what to change and how to change it. This, of course, is the down side to beta readers. That and the fact that it took me the better part of a year to get four or five people to read my manuscript.

Now that I’ve finished Ocracoke’s Daughter, I sent it to one beta who absolutely raved about it, top to bottom. Of course this made me feel awesome, but if I was being fair and realistic, I had to seek out one or two more. One woman offered to read two chapters, which I didn’t really think was enough for her to make accurate comments, but hey beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Her comments were . . . bland? for lack of a better word? She offered to read a few more chapters, and I replied back asking what she thought she could handle time-wise, and never responded.

I’m starting to realize issues like this are par for the course with betas. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole idea. I understand the theory and can see the potential value in it, but personally it’s been a rather confusing and frustrating process.

That being said, this post is not actually to just complain about the beta reading process. I figured that if almost 200 people follow my blog, some of you quite regularly, then that means you like me and my writing style, so I thought it was worth a shot to search for a beta on Word Press.

TRIGGER WARNINGS — divorce, miscarriages, death, anxiety/depression

So without further ado . . . my pitch —

Ocracoke’s Daughter is a contemporary fiction novel with historical fiction elements, running around 105,000 words.
Adopted at birth and raised by conservative, religious parents, Sarah Sullivan thought she knew her fate – to marry her childhood sweetheart and spend her life raising babies. But after a decade of miscarriages broke her spirit and exposed the flaws in her marriage to an apathetic husband, Sarah finds herself at the end of a messy divorce with no idea what to do with her newfound freedom.
With her adoptive parents recently deceased and her house on the market, Sarah journeys to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to search for her birth parents. She combs the barrier island chain searching for clues about who she really is – why she has an inexplicable desire to be near the water, why her birth parents placed her for adoption, and if there’s any meaning at all behind the strange red birthmark on her shoulder blade.
On the whimsical island, Sarah rediscovers her true self and opens her heart to people and ideas she never imagined — her ruggedly handsome neighbor is friendly and flirtatious but has his own painful past, an eccentric shop owner stirs up long-buried artistic ambitions, and she even stumbles upon evidence that she may be a descendant of Blackbeard the pirate.
Ocracoke’s Daughter is the tale of one woman’s journey to discover the truth about her past and her seemingly endless journey to find independence.

If you’re interested in reading, please let me know in the comments. You can also send me an email at StacyAldermanWriter@gmail.com.

Right now I’m just looking for general feedback — like tone, flow, and the all important “does it catch your interest enough to want to keep reading?” I’m particularly interested in thoughts on the first chapter and first sentence. Usually that first sentence is really easy for me but I struggled with this one for some reason.

Fingers crossed, and thanks in advance!

Please Continue to Hold


I know, I know — I’ve been a bad writer.

I’ve been inconsistent. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Lazy even. Instead of tearing myself away from Netflix or reading to focus on writing for even half an hour a day, I’ve allowed myself to be lax. Or maybe relax?

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I’ve posted a blog. Sometimes it feels like it’s been a year. And while I haven’t been doing nearly as much writing as I did during the height of COVID (round 1?) in 2020, I’ve still been puttering about here and there.

Short projects have kind of been at a stand still, but I did work up the nerve to send my latest manuscript, Ocracoke’s Daughter, to its first beta reader, and the feedback was both helpful and incredibly positive. I’m up to four rejections from agents on The Month of May, but two of them included personal messages which were quite encouraging.

I have a few ideas floating around in my mind, but I’m finding it hard to form complete storylines and my attention span has recently become similar to that of a 12 week old puppy. At first I was beating myself up, thinking about all those writer message boards and Facebook groups where it talked about what a terrible person/writer you are if you go twelve hours without writing 5000 words — namely, that you’re clearly not devoted enough to your craft.

But enough with that bull shit. While I completely understand the mindset behind discipline and dedication, I also understand that those of us who are not full time writers yet — and even those of us who are — need to make concessions for ourselves. We are only recently learning the effects of “burn out culture,” and in addition to acknowledging the need to rest and reset, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that the world is (still) experiencing unprecedented circumstances right now. It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling on different levels.

A year and a half into the pandemic, everything is still uncertain. How much longer will this last? Are we wearing masks or not? Do we send our children to school or maintain virtual learning? Is it okay to require vaccines or ask if one is vaccinated? What are my chances of contracting the Delta variant if I’ve been vaccinated? Is it okay to hug people? Shake hands? Is it okay that I traveled out of state in June? Will I ever get to visit my friends in Holland? Is COVID going to haunt me for the rest of my life?

Among all of these internal struggles, we can’t escape the very real controversies that each of these questions evoke online, on social media, in person, and on the news. It is exhausting to say the least, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to be absolutely, 100% OVER IT on every level.

I was talking to my therapist about this a few weeks ago — I’m so completely tired of waiting for things to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’m so tired of waiting for it to be okay to travel, to have a party, to not panic every time I have a scratchy throat. I’m tired of the judgement, the arguments, the insults, the uncertainty. I’m tired of how this is effecting people, our hospitals, our economy, employment, our government. I’m tired of not going anywhere further than work and my own backyard. I’m tired of dreaming about “some day.”

Yet I cannot summon the energy to do much of anything. I get short bursts of inspiration to write, and that burst may last a few days, but it putters out as quickly as it came on. J and I have started half a dozen projects in an effort to ready our house for sale . . . at some point . . . but most of them are half finished. We can’t even take our dogs to the park or on day trips right now because Kitty was diagnosed with heart worm back in May and excessive exercise is absolutely no bueno. (She’s doing well so far, and I’m grateful that Heart Guard is paying for her treatment considering she’s been on their preventative the entire time we’ve had her, but I’m nervous about her wellbeing all the time and I am not looking forward to the second round of injections she has to endure at the end of August. Positive vibes for us and our sweet girl are greatly appreciated).

J and I talk about moving all the time. We desperately need a change and more space. We are beyond annoyed with our irresponsible, inconsiderate neighbors and we’re on the same page when it comes to wanting to sell. But the market is so unstable and unpredictable right now. Some days we want to take advantage of the seller’s market and get as much as we possibly can for our current house while there’s this much equity in it. But on the other hand, we don’t want to pay too much for any new house, regardless of how perfect it may be. And I can’t help but worry that the housing market bubble is going to burst at some point like it did back in 2009.

So here we are. Still waiting. Still holding. Still unsure. Itching to make a move, to feel safe, to feel confident, to feel normal . . . and still waiting.

I’m going to try to be more disciplined about my writing, including blogging. There are a few things on my mind that I’ve got to get out, even if it’s just to the handful of readers on Word Press. And since it doesn’t seem like in person conferences or writing events are going to return any time soon, it might be the best option for connecting with other writers. At the very least, I suppose it’s a place where I can unload my thoughts and worries.

When I started this post, I was hoping to have some sort of revelation about my mindset and the state of things in our world, but instead I’m just pausing every few sentences, picking at my cuticles and stare out the window at the hazy, humid day. Out of the corner of my eye I spot my empty curio cabinet, the one now void of Wizard of Oz treasures that I sold in an effort to clear out clutter in preparation for moving. Across the room is a cluster of plants I just watered this morning — an aloe plant sprawling from its yellow pot, situated peacefully behind an unidentified vine that has succeeded in crawling all the way across the floor to the other side of the dining room. There are two tiny succulent plants next to a tall, spindly tree whose leaves shadow a mason jar decorated in colorful letters. The thick glass shelters a dozen or so multi-colored notecards, each one folded to hide the word scrawled across it — Alaska, Chicago, Toronto, Ireland, San Francisco, Maine, — places J & and I want to see someday.

Someday.

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Resilience

As you may know, J & I are proud fur parents of Miss Kitty & Ghost, as well as the dearly departed Comet.

All of our dogs have been rescues, and while I’m no stranger to the love and comfort they offer, or the lessons they can teach, I continue to be amazed at how these four-legged creatures have repeatedly, unknowingly, offered me insights on life.

The other day, I took Ghost to a vet appointment for some redness that suddenly appeared around his left eye. When it didn’t go away with Benadryl, I took him to get checked out. I also asked if the vet could take a look at his other eye because J & I had noticed that something about his vision wasn’t quite right. During obedience classes, when using hand signals, we had to move rather close to his right eye before he’d react. And sometimes when the light caught the eye in a certain way, we’d see an unusual fogginess.

The vet prescribed us some ointment for the redness around his left eye, and then addressed our concerns with the right one. He wasn’t blind, and all of his neurological functions were intact, but he did have a scar on both his cornea and his lens. These were almost certainly caused by some type of penetrating injury from when he was quite young. By the time we adopted him, the injury was healed, but he does still have limited vision in that eye. Still, the vet isn’t concerned. He doesn’t squint or compensate for the lack of vision, and it certainly doesn’t slow him down. Ghost has learned to live with his injury in his young life, and although I feel horribly about whatever must have happened to our “little due,” I now look at him with a new perspective.

When Ghost first came to us, he was only nervous for a couple of minutes. He seemed to instantly make himself at home and wasted no time in harassing his older sister. His behavior has been frustratingly challenging at times, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I have a new respect for what he must have gone through with this eye injury. Since he was only about 8-10 months old when we adopted him, and anything but shy, we figured he’d had a pretty cushy start in life. But the new information about his eye tells us that he’s overcome his own struggles and pain, whether the injury was from an accident or abusive human.

Suddenly Ghost’s resilient and sometimes defiant behavior makes a little more sense. He’s had to adapt to his eye injury in order to keep thriving, and perhaps he tends to be defiant because someone didn’t treat him properly when he was a puppy. Maybe that person was cruel when trying to train him, and instead of cowering like most dogs with trauma, Ghost copes with it by running away and not obeying orders.

So while his personality is nearly the polar opposite of Miss Kitty’s, my eyes have recently been opened to how dogs deal with trauma differently — just like people. While Kitty was (and still is) wary and cautious, she’s learning to trust more and more each day. Ghost’s outgoing personality is bringing her out of her shell, and we hope that Kitty’s relatively good behavior will eventually rub off on Ghost.

But the most important thing I learned that night at the vet’s office was that we all have our traumas, our scars, our struggles. We all deal with them in different ways. And sometimes we don’t want to share those stories with others, or like animals, we can’t do it in a verbal way. Still, if we’re lucky, we find people (or pets) who are patient and kind and help us work through and overcome these obstacles that tried to hurt us or hold us back. And while ideally everyone would like to crush each hurdle easily like taking a hammer to an egg, sometimes we simply have to live with the scars life has given us.

Even if we never fully recover from a negative experience, injury, or trauma, there’s hope that we can adapt to it and work through it as best we know how. We may never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we’re unlovable or incapable of living our lives and pursuing our dreams. Sometimes the reality of things is completely different from how you imagined it or how you wanted it. But that’s okay too.

My fur babies — Ghost is the little one and Miss Kitty is the bigger one with the black ear