39 Years Later…

I had a birthday last week. Thirty nine. I didn’t see it coming. I knew it’d come eventually, the way you know your parents are old or your grandparents will eventually die… everyone ages, so I will too, but not like them, right? I’ll be different, I’ll get older but I won’t age. 

I used to think the point of being a kid was to long to grow up, but while I was longing to stay up past my bed time or eat ice cream for dinner, I didn’t realize that along with adulthood not only came responsibility, but aging. Back aches, chin hairs, lines that start forming across my face like a road map. I wish I had more of an understanding of aging, not so much as a kid, but I would have liked to have been let in on the process much earlier than late thirties. 

Much like the first round of puberty and getting thrown to the wolves to figure it all out, the adult puberty of aging has been an uncomfortable and confusing process. Many have gone before me, many will come after, and so here are some things I wish I had known from my late teens to my early twenties, and how I maybe would have approached life a little differently with these insights.

  1. Your grandma will not always be around. It’s something you know in your head, but it will be hard to wrap your head around the reality of it until she’s gone. Spend time with her, as much as you can. Ask her about her life, her mom, her stories. She’s not just some old woman or even your mom’s mom, she’s a person who’s had multiple lives well before you were even a thought. While it may be your time to shine in your youth, don’t let your grandma’s light dim just because she’s old. She’ll grow into even older old woman, so regardless of what your relationship may have been like before, there is still room to love and grow and start completely over with a woman who survived multiple world wars, an abusive husband, a lost love and who’s heart has been softened by age. Let you grandma be a lesson to never treat someone as if they will always be who they used to be. The woman who you thought was a little too tough on you as a kid will be one of the most joyful older women you will ever meet. 

1a. Love the elderly. They matter, they matter, they matter. You will be surrounded by people who advocate for kids, which is great, but you’ll find few voices advocating for the elderly. Be one of those voices, they need it.

My Mommom.

2. You won’t always be cool. It’s not that you were ever one of the popular kids, you made your way around with friends fine enough, but being young gives you a mindset that compared to little kids and adults, you’re currently in the cool group. You’ll feel this way up until mid-twenties, when those little kids start becoming high schoolers. It will get worse as you get older, climbing your way into your thirties and kids you used to babysit are now making fun of you the way you used to make fun of your parents and their friends. Just when you start to realize that old people aren’t really that old (remember you thought 30 was old in high school), kids start calling you ma’am and new technology will come out that you don’t know how to navigate. You’re no longer the teacher of the latest technology, you’re the student, and you hate it. 

My advice, be kind to little kids, they’re the ones who are going to grow up and out-cool you. Be even kinder to your parents and their friends— you aren’t going backwards in age, you’re heading in their direction, so respect that they’ve already been where you are— just because they come from a different generation doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like to be a human trying to grow up in a world that “doesn’t understand the youth of today.” Every generation says that about their youth, you’re not special because you have technology, you’re more prone to awkward social interactions, so maybe appreciate the fact that your parents are trying to keep you human in a world that’s only going to get harder to live in. 

3. Believe in yourself. Even when you’re the runt in the group, the newcomer, the scrawny one, the less intelligent, the underdeveloped, the easily forgotten… believe that you are capable of more than you or anyone else knows. Believe that most people don’t even know what they’re doing or how to do it. Everyone on this earth is transitioning through life trying to figure out how each new season and decade works and no one has mastered all of it, and the ones who’ve have are dead, because only then is there nothing left to learn. 

Don’t act dead before you get there. Show up, try, be brave, cry, try again, believe in yourself, and do not give up on yourself. That meaning will change over the course of your life, sometimes to not give up will mean to keep going even when it’s hard. Other times to not give up means to learn to rest when necessary. It’s okay to say “no,” and even more so, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to know it all, except that you are worthy. Know that to your core. People will tell you you aren’t worthy… stand firm, respond kindly when you can, and know their words are about their own insecurities. Kindness first, followed by what is necessary to guard your own mental health. 

Figuring it out in a public space.

4. You will hear the things your mother says come out of your mouth. I don’t have much advice for this other than learn to laugh at yourself and think fondly of your mother. Perhaps maybe figure out if what is coming out actually rings true to you or if you’re simply repeating it because it’s been engrained. Cling to the puns and your mother’s sense of humor, you don’t know it yet, but it will serve you well in the future. 

My Momma.

5. There are no guarantees in life… including your parents’ marriage. This one’s gonna wreck you, probably longer than you feel like it should. Don’t “should” on yourself. Let yourself be sad  over something worth being sad about. Everyone will come out okay, but you’ll still have moments, even 10 years later, where you feel the sting of losing what you thought everything was supposed to be like. Your relationship with both of your parents will change, but will grow into something even deeper with the reality of life piercing the surface level of everything being “fine.” 

I love these people. With or without the matching shirts.

6. Speaking of marriage, it’s possible for it to be above and beyond anything you could imagine. It’s possible to be loved for you, all of your quirks and even your insecurities. You don’t need to morph and change ten times over in hopes that the current guy you have a crush on will notice you “just happened” to like the same things. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you deserve to be liked, loved, or even responded to… you are already enough, already loved, already worth it. Sometimes it’s not just the guy, but the timing. We all grow up at different times, don’t stunt your growth because a guy you like wasn’t ready to grow. Keep growing and trust the process. 

7. It’s okay to leave the church to get closer to God. Having grown up in the church and worked for the church, you’ll think you owe it everything. You don’t. The church is not God, nor is God the church. God is love, above all else. The church was never meant to show off the best of Christianity, the church was meant to love, help, and heal the broken-hearted. And just like we all mean well as humans, we all fall short. The church will too, after all, it’s made up of people. It will let you down, leave you out, forget about you, praise you, change its mind, and at the end of the day just when you need it the most, it will call itself a business and ask you not to take it personally. 

If there’s one thing the church should be, it’s personal. It’s okay to give up on what you thought the church was supposed to be. Go find God in nature, in creative endeavors, in your elderly neighbor. Don’t give up on God, or humanity, just reset your own expectations, knocking the church off it’s pedestal, realizing maybe it’s you who had the church ranked too high, for it will always be filled with lost people in need of a savior, which if they’re honest, is why they’re there. Forgive the church and take as long as you need to restore your connection to God, never again to confuse the two (God and Church) as the same, but not giving up on the people inside the church walls who may need more help than even they realize. 

This was on the chalk board of a youth group I showed up to work at.
Right then I knew there was a lot of work ahead.

8. Sometimes no matter how much success you have, it will never feel like enough. That’s just life and the human condition. It is essential to know in your core you are already and always will be enough. No accolade or sold out show will truly or permanently fill the void you’ll feel from time to time. The void, I think, is part of existing in a world humanity wasn’t truly meant for. Learn to live in the tension of functioning on this side of eternity. Rest in your restlessness for something more, trust you have all you need, and enjoy the moment, it’s all we really have.  

9. Not everyone will like you, ever, and that is okay. You’ll never win everybody over, so it’s best to just be yourself and let those who love who you for who you really are find you. You will want recognition for all your hard work, but don’t sell yourself out or buy more followers to get it. Maintain your sanity by recognizing that all the greats were misunderstood and under appreciated while they were alive. Unfortunately, most people have to die to be truly appreciated and for their work to be viewed as rare genius. As a result, some even opt out of life early by choice. But trust me, it’s not worth giving up on life, that’s not taking control, that’s giving other people power. 

People’s recognition of greatness is not what makes someone great, unfortunately social media will make you think otherwise. Don’t fall for it— the likes, the followers, the millions of views everyone else has. In all honesty, who cares!? They’re just as, if not more so, empty, some of them aware, some not, all still struggling to keep going viral or come up with the next hit. Keep your head down, work hard, look up, breath, and take in the joy of all your creations regardless of how other people view them.

In addition, be open to constructive criticism. Not to be confused with the online attacks from trolls trying to belittle people to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, those people will always be out there, finding something to pick on you for, no matter how good, kind or neutral your material is. Give them what they deserve which is absolutely none of your time or mental space. Erase their comments if need be and erase them from your memory. 

Constructive criticism will come from safe people, who care about you, or at the very least care about how you’re coming across.

No one ever got better without the hard work of growth and coaching where they needed it. 

From wanting to be an olympic synchronized swimmer to stand up comedian! You’ve come a long way!

10. Hang in there. Don’t spend too much time waiting for life to get easier, the truth is, it won’t. The easiest day of your life will the the birthday you showed up into the world, by 39 more you’ll realize that while life is beautiful and fun, it can be really hard, and even more hard, sometimes, to care about it. Sometimes you won’t know why life is so hard, you probably won’t ever understand the meaning of it, and occasionally you’ll just want it to be over already. You aren’t alone. Where you fall short to care, know there’s plenty of other people out there who feel the same, and could use someone like you to show up and offer comfort without answers and company without agenda… just because, people are people and desire to be loved and seen just as much as you do.

I’m sure there’s more, and by 58 maybe you’ll add more, erase some or re-do the whole list all together. That’s the beauty of life, we learn as we go. The internet makes the process a little more dangerous because the world is not as forgiving as our past mistakes when they find them on online. BUT! Nothing will block your drive to live well, or your creative process to keep flowing, more than the fear of others and the fear of making mistakes. Somewhere along the way you’ll hear someone say “the mark of a true disciple is joy and bravery.” First try to remember who said it and write it down (you’ll learn more and more people want their credit). But mostly, cling to that… joy and bravery. May you have both, be both and spread both. 

Good luck!

💜 jj

Growing up 90s

“I wish I grew up in the 90s,” my niece said to me as she laid across my bed, staring up at the ceiling. I laughed and agreed that it was the best time to grow up; technology had not yet taken over, so much of it was still just an exciting experiment that we got to tinker with after coming in from playing outside.

“I heard there was only one phone for everyone in the house,” she said with a mix of amazement and curiosity. Mailey is 12 and going through an “obsession with the 90s” phase, the way I went through an “obsession with the 70s” phase at her age. I would ask my parents about folk music and what they did before video games. I am now my parents to my niece, giving her fascinating information about a time before her time.

My niece, Mailey, is visiting me in Tennessee this week, along with my nephew, Jackson, and my dad. Three generations in my house and I’m in the middle, no longer the kid at family gatherings. Wow, time flies.

“Yes!” I said, “there was only one phone, and only one person could be on it at a time. Your mom and I used to fight over that because we both wanted to talk to our boyfriends, but they would get a busy signal if they tried to call and the phone was already being used.”

“What does a busy signal sound like?” She asked. It felt very surreal, to be the grown up in the situation, explaining something that was as normal as peanut butter and jelly now be a non-existent thing of the past. “A busy signal? Yea, I guess you’ve never had to hear one… it’s like a contestant beep. It’s the most annoying sound in the world when you are trying to call your friends.”

“Weird,” she said, “so you just had to wait until someone else got off the phone?”

“Yea, OR…” I said, “we would do this thing called an emergency break through. You had to call the operator, say you wanted to do an emergency break through to a busy number. The operator would interrupt their phone call and say “hello, I have an emergency breakthrough from….” whatever name you wanted to give them. Oh man we used to do those all the time.” I laughed as I thought about the ways we tried to get ahold of our friends and boyfriends in the 90s.

“And the phone was plugged into the wall right?” Mailey asked, “one day I want to have a phone like that.” I laughed at the thought– kids now wanting a landline when all we wanted growing up was a cellphone. Whether landlines are cool now because they’re vintage or it’s simply a longing for a simpler time, I get it.

I continued to explain that someone couldn’t be on the computer and the telephone at the same time. The internet used the same phone line as the telephone, so you could only be on one or the other. “And,” I said, “if someone picked up the phone while you were trying to get online, it would kick you off, you had to start all over.” I watched Mailey absorb all the information I was telling her. “It sounds so much easier,” she said.

Technology was meant to make everything easier for us, and here was this 12 year old, laying at the end of my bed, aware of just how difficult and complex technology had made everything. Don’t get me wrong, technology has also done a lot of good for us, I’m not against it, I’m just aware of how destructive it can be if it takes over. “Yea, in a lot of ways, it was easier, we didn’t know what was going on with everyone else all the time. We couldn’t really compare ourselves to the girl in Holland making her own almond milk.”

Mailey’s trance broke, “what?” she asked. “Oh” I said, “just someone I follow on Instagram.” We both laughed and she agreed as she rolled her eyes at the notion of social media, “it’s weird because on the one hand I like it, and on the other hand, I hate it. And I hate seeing what everyone else is doing.”

I can’t imagine being 12 and having to grow up with social media, comparing yourself to the 12 year old who dresses like she’s 16. Where are her parents? And how am I now old enough to even care bout that question!? Her parents? What am I, someone’s mom?

I also can’t believe I’m at the age where everything I grew up with is considered a relic. I’m in this weird middle ground of thinking things like “kids these days, ridiculous!” and yet excessively buying Lisa Frank products on eBay because I want some of my own childhood back.

Mailey and I talked for a while longer, well past the time I stay up at my current age. As I noticed it nearing 1am I almost told her it was time for bed, and then I realized, she was on vacation, and she’d otherwise just be sitting on her phone, scrolling through content until her brain wore out and she’d finally fall asleep.

When people say “age is just a number, just keep doing things with gusto!” I think it should be less about cliff jumping and doing something “risky” for your age. I think it should be more about being willing to keep connecting with people, even when the easiest thing to do is call it a night, or scroll through your phone.

Mailey and I laughed and talked until 2am. I could barely keep my eyes open. I was hurting the next morning, but when I overheard Mailey re-telling the story, that she and Aunt JJ stayed up until 2am laughing, “my stomach still hurts,” she said, it was well worth every sleepless ache in my body.

Who needs cliff jumping when it’s just as intimidating and even more rewarding to figure out how to engage a 12 year old, in person, in the year 2022!?!

Bonding over the 90s: one remembering, one wondering- we make a great pair!

The Gift of Art!

Hey Friends, just a quick update to say…

I’m doing an art giveaway for the month of June… 4 winners, one each week! The first winner was picked last Friday and won one of my original paintings, and winner #2 was picked last Friday and won their choice of one of my original tee shirt designs.

Sooooooo, we’ve got two more winners to go! 

Spoiler alert, the next drawing is Friday, June 24th… AND the bigger winner (in my opinion) for this weekend will be one of my custom crowns!

If you’re a part of my email list, then you already got to see this gem of a photo…

Me as Chewbacca… because I can’t wait to CHEWS a winner! 

Sooooo…. how do you enter? Simply sign up for my email list on my website at jjbarrows.com… that’s it!

WHY EMAIL? I shared this with my June Newsletter, so forgive me if you’re reading again (but thank you for already being a part of my group!). I’m trying to grow my email list because email offers more of a personal connection, and I feel less overwhelmed sharing information and exciting news with people who choose to hear it (another reason I’m glad you’re here!). 

My job is very public, but I am very introverted, and I’ll admit, sensitive to the trolls that come hunting every time you put something good out into the world. So my “why” is a two-fold, to better connect with people, and because I’m scared of people . 😂😂

I promise not to spam your inbox! I send out a monthly newsletter, letting you know when and where I’m performing, as well as discounts for merch and art. It’s kinda fun in my biased opinion.! 🙌🎉💜

To give you an idea of what I send out in my emails, here’s my June video with my latest update, as well as some next steps that would be so helpful as I pursue another daunting industry, the publishing industry (I really don’t know which is worse, publishing or comedy). 😂

If you’re already on my email list and you know a friend or family member who may enjoy my content over at jjbarrows.com and they sign up, I’ll enter you both! 

You can also find me on Instagram and simply comment on any one of my posts, something along the lines of “I’M ON YOUR EMAIL LIST ” and I’ll enter your name! 

The next drawing is tomorrow, June 24th, so sign on up to get your name entered in my fancy Wheel of Fortune!

Thank you so much to those of you who’ve been a friend, supporter, encourager, reader, watcher, and sharer of my work, comedy and art. It goes a long way and means more than you know.

Happy June!

💜jj

I Will Always Love You

My younger sister, Betsy, just left to head back to Washington, DC. She came to visit me in Chattanooga for the weekend to celebrate her 37th birthday. It’s crazy when your younger sibling turns 37. Not only do I keep thinking I’m 37, I feel more like 27. Funny how the mind needs to be convinced that the body is not what it once was. I wake up with cricks in my neck, not from a night out of dancing, but from sitting on the couch in a slightly different manner than my usual lounge posture.

With my husband out of town for the week and a freezer full of pre-made dinners, I had plenty of time on my hands to prepare for her arrival. She’s been living alone since the beginning of the pandemic, and while she is the strong one in the family, I know it’s been really hard on her, if for no other reason than she often feels like she has to be the strong one. Being that I’m the middle child, I often had no problem flailing my emotions about, making it very clear I needed attention. I have since grown out of it, for the most part, but I still have my moments.

I was 28 years old before I realized that being a MIDDLE child meant I had a YOUNGER sister… meaning I wasn’t just a middle child, I was a big sister, with some one to look after other than myself. It was groundbreaking. We’ve been close ever since.

I set my intentions ahead of time, I had recently read the Art of Gathering and I learned that a good gathering isn’t just about the decor or the food, but about the intention you have for the gathering and how well you carry it out. My intention for her time at my house was to create a space for her to feel celebrated, but more so, loved and special; knowing this helped me think through what might make Betsy feel that way.

Since she lives a busy life in DC, she doesn’t often have time to do the things she’d like to do: cook, decorate, take a bath. Living alone means she’d probably even more so like to be on the receiving end of someone cooking for her, someone decorating her space, and… well, the bath she can do on her own.

I spent the week preparing for her arrival, from making the decorations and hanging them, to making the cake and the cake topper…

Though Josh and I have been living in Chattanooga since November, we have to yet to find a kitchen table we like… partly because Josh keeps saying he is going to make one, but we’re going on month four of that not happening, so I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I went down to Wal-Mart and grabbed a cheap folding table to cover up.

Betsy and I used the table once the whole weekend  and spent the rest of the time eating at the kitchen counter or on the couch. I guess it’s true that decor is a mere addition, take it or leave it, compared to the over all purpose of the gathering and being together.

The day she flew in she had already spent an extra three hours in the DC airport due to delayed flights. She was getting in much later than planned and I knew she’d be tired, not just from the flight, but the work week she had just come off of. I wouldn’t be able to fix her energy levels, but I could certainly make her feel welcome, and hopefully get her laughing after a long day.

I dressed for the occasion and awkwardly waited for her to come down the escalator in the Chattanooga Airport…

After waiting a while, enduring stares and little girls saying “Mommy, look” while pointing at me, Betsy finally started to come down the escalator. As soon as I saw her I began playing the Sisters song from White Christmas, you know how it goes…

And in no time, though tired from travel, delayed flights and a DC work week, she laughed out loud as I continued to sing and act out the song until she reached me.

“Welcome to your birthday weekend!” I yelled, and proceeded to keep playing and singing the song until we reached the car. I may have overdone it a little, but I’m still a middle child, sometimes I can’t help myself.

When she got in the car I had snacks and an itinerary for the weekend, letting her know she didn’t have to think about or plan a thing, it was all taken care of, all she had to do was enjoy it.

I’m not sharing all this to say “look at all I did!” (Maaaaybe the middle child part is saying that), I’m sharing it to say, it took me 38 years to do something like this for someone who’s been a part of my life all 38 years. It was long overdue and I’m grateful I was allowed the space in time to make it happen for her. I’m sharing it to say, I realized it’s never too late to make someone feel loved and special.

I played Hanson when we walked in the door, our childhood obsession. With the house decorated at each corner, she’d let out a little scream as she’d see something new. I had snacks at the ready while I finished making dinner.

After dinner she took a bath, an often daily ritual for her until pipes in her apartment burst and she hadn’t been able to take a bath for weeks. We joked about how anxious she must be since she’s only been able to take a shower, “yea,” she laughed, “sometimes I take two baths a day!” I suppose that’s what happens when you live and work in Washington, DC… you take two baths a day, not just to relax but to wash all the politics off!

She thanked me for everything and turned in early. I knew she was tired, but there almost seemed to be a sadness about her, not a heavy sadness, just a sense I had that she couldn’t fully express excitement. Times before I may have asked what was wrong, but this time I had a feeling she just needed to be where she was at, and I didn’t need to take any of it personally, wondering if she expected more or if I got the right kind of cheese. It wasn’t about me and so I let her go to bed, telling her I’d have homemade cinnamon rolls ready by 9am.

On the day of Betsy’s birthday I woke up early to prepare breakfast. Hot yoga was scheduled for 10am so I figured she’d be up much earlier to have time to drink coffee and eat. At 9:20am I still didn’t hear any stirring upstairs so I started to text her. Just before I hit send I heard her bedroom door open and her slowly walking toward the stairs, “ow, ow, ow,” she said, “I think I need help.” I ran over to the stairs, “what the heck happened?” She was slowly trying to maneuver her way down and began laughing when she couldn’t make it.

“It might be from sitting all day, but just before I went to bed last night, I felt a pinched nerve and I couldn’t go to sleep, I just laid there in the happy baby position.” We both started laughing. “What do you need?” I asked, “want to get back in bed and I’ll bring you coffee?”

“I think just water,” she said, “I’m going to take a bath and see if that helps.” I was pretty sure her taking a bath meant we were going to miss yoga, but she managed to make it in-and-out in time for us to go, stretching her hamstrings out before getting in the car, “ow, ow, ow.”

“Welcome to your late thirties!” I said.

After yoga we went and got smoothies, returned home and Betsy decided to take another bath. We both laid down for a nap, her having been up late with a pinched nerve and me having been up early making cinnamon rolls. Wow, I thought to myself, baths and nap time, we really are getting older.

I took her to get a pedicure at 1:30, during which she fell asleep and upon returning home again she took nap number two, after which she took bath number three. I guess that’s how she celebrates her birthday, I thought, lots of baths! To each their own.

After all the baths and naps, we got dressed up and went out to dinner downtown. We talked about previous birthdays, what our family looks like now and if she had an ideal man, what would he be like. “I don’t really have a type,” she said, “I’ve dated a South African, an Israeli, and a 50 year old. I’m open to any type of person, I only have two requirements: that he be emotionally intelligent AND available, and that we share the same spiritual beliefs. I’ve loved people who haven’t shared my beliefs, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s just too hard on the relationship to differ on your core beliefs.”

We were home by 9:30 pm and dressed for bed shortly there after. I had her blow out her birthday candles, being too tired and full, she passed on having a piece of cake. She opened the present I made her, a corgi birthday crown in honor of our family corgi (who she is obsessed with), Benny Boy.

After she went up to bed I sat on the couch with my own piece of cake and small glass of champagne. Josh called to say goodnight and we talked for a while. I told him I knew Betsy was glad to be here, I knew she was enjoying it, but it didn’t feel like she was. I wasn’t getting this excited reaction I would assume one would get when they’ve done everything I did.

Josh reminded me that sometimes people just need a safe place to be themselves no matter how they are feeling. “She might not be able to express it right now,” Josh said, “but you know she loves being there.” “I know,” I said, “I guess in some selfish way, I just want to feel it!” I knew doing things for her wasn’t about getting a specific reaction from her, and that if it were, I’d end up transferring my disappointment onto her, creating an uncomfortable environment to be in, all because I wanted more recognition. “Let her be where she is at and keep loving her there,” Josh said, “you’re so good at that.”

The next morning I had a Dollywood mug with her name on it and a Dolly Parton card sitting by the coffee maker. I wanted to set the tone for the day that this was it… the day we go to Dollywood!

Now that I live in Tennessee, Dollywood is my happy place. I’ve been three times since moving here four months ago- that’s about how many times I went to Hollywood living in Southern California for eight years! The week before Betsy’s visit, I went to Dollywood for Passholder’s day (Yes, getting a season pass was one of the first things I did as a Tennessean), and unbeknownst to everyone, DOLLY PARTON WAS ACTUALLY THERE! She waved at me when she saw one of my homemade Dolly crowns and I momentarily forgot to keep breathing.

Before coming, Betsy had said the one thing she for sure wanted to do was go to Dollywood. Piece of cake.

I was laying in bed drinking my coffee when I heard a knock on my door. Betsy popped her head in, “I LOVE MY MUG!” she said and she scurried over to sit on the end of my bed. We sat there talking for hours, there she is, I thought to myself, not because she expressed something I wanted to hear, but because she was finally expressing herself, talking, asking questions, laughing, the Betsy I know when she’s not weighted down by work, family drama, or living alone.

Had I made a comment like “oh you finally decided to show up,” or “nice to see you finally being expressive,” I think it would have killed the moment. A comment like that would have shamed her for simply being tired or worn out from life, making her feel unsafe to feel however she feels. Unnecessary commentary is what I am learning to discern, and I knew making a comment about her suddenly seeming lively would have made her feel bad about the days prior; something she didn’t need to feel bad about because there was nothing wrong with the days prior.

We drove two hours to Dollywood and spent the rest of the day there feeling like kids all over again. We both wore our crowns that donned our favorite things, hers, a corgi and mine, Dolly.

We drove the two hours back to Chattanooga listening to Dolly Parton’s America Podcast the whole way. Betsy had not only officially caught the Dolly bug, but she had finally felt rested and able to enjoy herself. “Next time I’m gonna take a vacation before my vacation so I don’t feel so tired on the vacation,” she said. We laughed and I was relieved I never made an issue of what I perceived to be her lack of enthusiasm. We had another day and a half together, relaxed and fully enjoying each other’s company.

By the time I took her to the airport she started crying, “I had such a good time,” she said, “I don’t really want to leave.” I made some stupid comment I read off of Pinterest in response, “Oh, don’t cry cause it’s over, smile cause it happened.” It kinda makes me gag now, especially when she responded while still crying, “well, I can do both.”

I laughed, “yes, you can.” She was right. And that’s what makes her the strong one, not an avoidance of emotion, but realizing she can be sad and grateful at the same time. She can be tired and lonely and worn out AND still enjoy herself and every opportunity she is given. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that life is a mix; a mix of emotions, not always compartmentalized by seasons, but often times experienced simultaneously.

Perhaps Betsy wanted her birthday to happen at a different time, when she felt more rested and had more time to enjoy it, but life just happens, without asking if we are ready, rested, or prepared. She turned 37 when she did, and I could either meet her there and love her, or I could complain that she wasn’t acting as happy as I’d like her to be.

When I returned home she left a note on her bed, thanking me for the whole weekend, for every thought and detail that didn’t go unnoticed. “I will never forget this weekend,” she said, “you made ME feel loved and special

I will always love you!”

The Work of Forgiveness

So there’s this passage in the Bible…

Okay, wait, before I go there, let me first say… I am no Biblical scholar nor even an aggressive reader of Scripture, but having grown up in the church, spending time both loving and hating it, I have a few cliff notes that have stuck with me along the way. (There’s a pun in there somewhere because my grandad’s name was Cliff and he certainly served us earfuls of Bible verses, but until I can figure it out, onward!)

Without googling the verse so I can give you exacts and impress someone without much scripture I can recall by google, I’m just gonna go with go with what I can recall by memory and see how well that goes (or even how well some of it has stuck over the years). I don’t know chapters and numbers, but I know there are a lot stories in which Jesus and his disciples are hanging out and going over the basics of being a good human. The disciples are his closest friends and they commit their lives to doing whatever it takes for Jesus and His message of Love to be known by all (they don’t always do the best job of standing by His side, but, you know, He’s Jesus, so he gets it and He still loves them).

In this one particular story, the boys are talking about some of Jesus’ teachings, which, really, if you look at them, are radical, not just for back then, but for now… LOVE YOUR ENEMY? FORGIVE PEOPLE WHO’VE WRONGED YOU!? Naturally, one of the disciples wants Jesus to expound on some stuff, “soooo… about this forgiveness thing” (I’m paraphrasing, incase that needed to be stated), “like how many times are we supposed to forgive someone, maybe seven times?”

Jesus answered his question with a math equation “not just seven times, seventy times seven,” and seeing as math was never my strong suit, I always dismissed His answer. Some large number is what I chalked it up to. When I got a little older and would again hear this passage, I decided to figure it out. I pulled out my TI-83 calculator… 490. Okay, maybe He meant for us to forgive so many times that it’s too hard to keep track. Throw in different translations of scripture, some of which Jesus says to forgive 77 times, and I never got a clear understanding, only that I was suppose to forgive a lot!

You can find plenty of blogs (as can I, so please don’t feel the need to send them to me) with Bible scholars breaking down this scripture and helping us understand the symbolic meaning of these numbers (somehow they represent God’s eternal forgiveness extended to us). As someone who has had scripture thrown at her as pad answers and bandaids with no real meaning for how they were helpful to her personally, I’m not here to break down scripture to be used as a blanket formula for all.

These days, I tread lightly when it comes to referencing the Bible, mostly because I’ve seen the ways people use it to back up they own views (most of which are political), and while I claim the same God as the Christian Faith, the God I know is very different from the one seen on Fox News and CNN. God is in both and neither camp at the same time, and way less political than everyone thinks (also less religious but that’s for another day).

So this is a “personal understanding” story more so than a dissecting of what the Bible means. It’s my coming of age to understanding just one of the many passages I’ve read or heard since childhood, and 38 years later finally saying “ohhhhh, I think I get it.”

While I don’t know much, I know that holding onto anger hurts me way more than the person I’m angry at. I’ve let anger eat me alive before, stuffing it deep down and reaching for anything else to distract me from the pain caused by someone else. In more recent years I’ve felt the healthiest I’ve ever been, having let go of past hurts and choosing to forgive both myself and others for things done wrong.

There’s this one situation that often revisits my mind, I feel anger start to bubble up as soon as I think about it. I feel how it felt all over again to be hurt by this one person, almost annoyed that I forgave them because it feels so good (in the moment) to be angry at them. I can see why we hang onto anger, it’s so much easier, it feels a lot better to feel justified in our anger than to “let go,” “move on,” or “forgive.” Laaaaame. Where’s my pitchfork!?

I’ve forgiven this person so many times, in my head, in my heart, in my journal. I’ve “let go and let God,” I’ve “chosen Joy,” I’ve forgiven at least 76 times, perhaps having only one time left in me. I was talking to my mom about it who has become quite a place of refuge for me in our later years of life… this was not always the case when I was growing up. I relayed that I felt something must be wrong with me if I can’t seem to forgive them, “it still comes up,” I told her, “and when it does, I still feel angry! Do I not mean it when I say I’ve forgiven them? Why won’t the feeling go away?”

As my mother started to reference this 70×7 passage, I could feel my eyes rolling in the back of my head, here we go, I thought, and I interrupted her… “but I’ve done that! As much as I understand forgiveness, I’ve forgiven them! And yet I randomly still think about it, and I still get mad, and I feel like I have to start all over and forgive them again!”

“That’s the beautiful and hard thing about it,” my mom said, “70×7 means you keep making the choice to forgive, no matter how many times it comes back up. It’s not that you didn’t forgive them before, it’s that you have to remind yourself, again and again, that you already chose to forgive them.” My eye roll settled a little and I noticed my heart react as she kept talking, “life is too hard for us to go undisturbed by things that have hurt us. Feeling the hurt doesn’t make you weak in emotion or in faith, it makes you human.”

Perhaps you’ve been well aware of this for a long time, which is awesome if you have, I’m sure it does wonders for mental health, but it was the first time I realized that forgiveness isn’t a one-time job. The harm may have been done once, but the damage it can cause can last a long time, if not a lifetime. The work is not to get to a place of no longer feeling it, the work is the constant choosing to forgive no matter how many times it comes up and I feel it.

I’ll admit, this both freed me and depressed me. I want the easy one-and-done “I no longer feel it” kind of experience. The trouble is, you’ll wait your whole life for it to feel done, for the pain to no longer be an issue. While I do think you can absolutely be less affected by the pain, and live a beautiful healthy life, I think life will always catch us off guard. You never know what might trigger the memory of a past hurt, no matter how long it’s been.

So it’s depressing to me, or maybe exhausting, to think I may have to keep forgiving for a long time. But it’s freeing to realize something isn’t wrong with me just because a past hurt rears its head and still affects me.

When that trigger happens, I don’t have to add to it by assuming I must not being doing as well as I thought, or I didn’t really let it go or forgive… I can acknowledge it for what it is- a trigger, a reminder, a reaction, and I can do what I need to remind myself I am currently okay; and I can once again chose to forgive, to not let it dictate how I live my life or treat other people.

I realized I’ve been doing the work this whole time, forgiving time and time again, or at least reminding myself that that’s what I’ve chosen… forgiveness. Sometimes I need to remind myself I’ve chosen to forgive myself, and sometimes it’s someone else. Maybe one day I won’t need to, maybe one day I won’t even think about it… maybe, maybe not. All I know is, evidence of a healthy life is not one that is undisturbed by past or present hurts. Evidence of a healthy life is feeling all that life has to offer, even when it disturbs us, finding the balance between neither avoiding the pain nor being consumed by it.

I’ll admit, sometimes I still need to hide under the covers and not be so “on,” and sometimes I need to just suck it up and get a move on. There’s no blanket formulas, every day is different, and I’m learning more and more to choose to show up in that day… just as I am… forgiven and able to forgive.

Mother May I?

I’ve waited for most of my life for permission. For what? Everything. As a child it was permission to stay up late, permission to go outside and play, permission to order a coke instead of water.

As a high schooler it was permission to stay out late, permission to quit piano lessons, permission to drive my parents’ car.

In college there was more freedom, which always creates a little chaos in the beginning; trying to figure out your newfound freedom, finally liberated from the rules of home! But there was still permission needed: permission to take a course not in my major of choice and still get credit, permission to turn in an assignment late, permission to be let into the secret sorority of sisterhood that was going to define my college experience.

I got into the sorority, granted full access to lifelong sisterhood and camaraderie! But my junior year of college when I couldn’t keep up with the payments, I no longer had permission to stay in the sorority, shortening the length of “lifelong” to the end of the month when the next payment was due.

Post college, freedom abounds. Sure, there’s things like rent and groceries you’ll have to figure out how to pay for, which may limit some of your choices, but you’re young and optimistic and “there’s always a way!” Until you move back home, back under their house, their rules. Don’t worry, it’s only a matter of time before you’re back on your own again!

The second time I moved out of my parents house, I found a nice little place… in rehab. Rehab made my parents house seem like Woodstock (or Coachella, depending on your age); it was day in and day out need for permission. Permission to use the phone, permission to walk on the treadmill when you didn’t have permission to walk outside, permission to go to the bathroom. I healed a lot in rehab, but I also absorbed more of the mindset that other people knew better than me. I mean, really, can I trust the fact that my bladder is telling me to go, or should I wait for someone to let me know it’s okay?

Aside from the rules of growing up, secret societies and rehab facilities, the greatest permission I’ve felt I needed since first popping onto the scene of life, probably sounds the silliest, but runs the deepest: the permission to exist.

I’m not exactly sure who it is I’ve always felt I needed permission from to just be myself, but the suspicion that I couldn’t has been around for as long as I’ve been shaving my arms, which is the 6th grade when the other kids started calling me Tween Wolf.

Post college and rehab and Portland, Oregon where I did a small stint as a flight attendant before getting fired, I finally gave myself permission to stop trying to find the right career and finally do what I always loved: art.

Though I had given myself permission, when I started working as an artist I felt like I still needed permission to even be a part of the art scene, to even call myself an artist. Permission from myself seemed liberating, but certainly not legitimate, especially because there was this confusing thing to figure out that most artists don’t think about when they deicide to paint for a living: business.

I needed to sell art, but I also needed to struggle as all the great artists do. I needed to make money to be taken seriously by clients and consumers, but I needed to be poor to be taken seriously by artists. The best thing an artist can have when first starting out is friends, who support them and encourage them and remind them that they matter when the world tells them they don’t. The worst thing an artist can have when first starting out is friends, because what friends want is a deal.

While I sell my art sometimes, I get requests for my art all the time, and more often than not, if it’s a friend or a relative, or a friend of a relative, they ask for the “friends and family discount.” If they don’t ask, they simply don’t respond once I give them an honest price point for what my work costs. Prior to getting married I didn’t date enough to get ghosted by men and understand how it really felt, but once I became an artist, I grew to know the feeling all too well.

While the art scene was hard to feel a part of, it was a doggie daycare compared to the comedy scene. Who would have thought that of all the professions in all the world, comedy would be one of the most difficult to be a part of? There’s not really a school for it or a degree for it, you either “got it” or you don’t. On top of which, if you got it, you better be willing to play small for the sake of respecting seniority and knowing you need to stay on the bottom for a while before the powers that be (which is more often than not, a middle aged white man) even considers letting you near the top.

Much like with art, there is a dance with comedy; you have to be funny enough to win the crowd, but not too funny so as to rub the other comics the wrong way, especially the ones who can book you for more shows, those are the guys whose egos you have to look out for. As a woman you have to be grateful for every opportunity, all the time, making sure you credit the men for being the ones who gave you a shot. Every time you rightfully earn a bigger opportunity than a man, you have to accept the fact that it’s only because you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry that is trying to diversify, and certainly not because you are actually funny enough to hang out with, let alone surpass, the big guys.

And whether it’s been surfing or writing or trying to be taken seriously in fantasy football (which honestly didn’t go so well and I can accept my weaknesses in that area), so many feelings have revolved around permission and feeling like I just don’t have it.

To be clear, no one said I don’t have permission, I’m not blaming a specific industry or group or sex, necessarily, I’m admitting my own mental strongholds. In therapy it’s called processing, unfortunately in a blog it’s just called complaining. But I’m not here to complain, despite what it may sound like. I’m simply strapped for cash on the therapy front and just need to sort through some thoughts so they don’t stay stuck in my head and dictate how I live my life.

I didn’t have some huge breakthrough today, other than realizing when I visualize permission, I do often visualize it coming from a man. I don’t know why. From early childhood we’re taught to play “Mother May I?” not “Father Can I?,” so where does this need for a man’s permission stem from? Maybe I’ll save that one for someone who’s at least licensed in therapy. And it doesn’t mean “down with men,” it might mean that just maybe I have some blindspots around the notion of permission, and the person who’s been holding me back the most isn’t actually a man, but me.

And mixed in with my false sense of permission and lack of feeling like I can belong, I’m also aware of my privilege. I know that’s a buzz word these days, “privilege,” but not for no reason.

I have to admit, for someone who still feels like they are flailing in life, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to call myself privileged, I find myself wanting to be defensive. But maybe if I were a little more willing to check what the defensiveness was about instead of just function out of it, I might find clarity, or perhaps a peace that passes understanding all of it. 

When I step back and look from a wider lens, I can see how in some ways, if not many ways, yes, I am privileged. The thing about privilege is that it’s not an all-in-one package deal. Privilege in some areas doesn’t mean you come fully equipped with self confidence, and the ability to walk through any door you please; it doesn’t even come with the feeling of belonging.

Privilege is interesting because while it’s supposed to, it actually doesn’t guarantee success or status or that people will even like you. Privilege has helped many people do a lot of things, and it has also not helped at all, clumping you in its category with all the others, “Privileged.” And after all those years of trying to say something, trying to matter, trying to be accepted, by who? Who knows, who even cares! You realize, especially now, no one wants to listen to someone who’s been afforded privilege. 

And so what else can you do, but make fun of yourself so it stings less when someone else does.

I realized a while back that in order for me to believe that other people’s voices matter, I have to also believe that mine does; it seems counter-intuitive to the service over self mindset, applicable in many situations, but not all. How you treat people externally is a direct response from how you feel internally. When I have seasons of hard work and confidence in my own craft, I am not threatened or jealous by another friend, or even frenemy’s, success… I celebrate it. I want that to be my norm, a celebration of people for who they are and how far they’ve come.

I want to own my privilege and my struggle, dismissing neither, using the former for good and the ladder to raise awareness. While it’s easy to say things like “you are only as stuck as you choose to be,” a great pin for a Pinterest board, and I don’t disagree, sometimes choosing isn’t all that simple. Sometimes there are factors beyond our control and our choosing, like mental illness, disease, poverty and addiction.

The other day I heard a woman say, “my dog chose me” when asked where she found her furry friend. Other than being slightly annoying, it was a beautiful sentiment, but I wondered if we treat people with the same sort of grandiose cuteness in regards to mental health, “I didn’t choose my illness, it chose me.” Would we believe them? This coming from someone who is happiest when she’s sad and confused when she’s happy, not sure if she has permission to be happy when she’s been diagnosed depressed.

These days I genuinely have more good days than bad, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I’ve mastered no life hacks, but I’m working on giving myself permission to be myself, regardless of the day or degree of its goodness.

I booked my first comedy show in my new city for this weekend and while I am excited to perform, the panic has officially set in. I’ve missed performing during the pandemic, but I did not miss the anxiety coupled with it, especially as someone who has no trouble finding something to be anxious about. The tendency to self-sabotage is strong with this one.

I’ll spend the next couple of days convincing myself that I’m good enough, smart enough and doggoneit, people like me!

And then hopefully by Saturday I will have annoyed my own reflection so much with my daily affirmations that I’ll have to get out of the house and verbally process somewhere else… like the stage I’ve been given permission to take. In this case, I would be the only one stopping me from doing so.

I’ll let you know if I get in my own way or if I kindly give myself permission to show up… the verdict’s still out.


Elderly Love Part 2

 (Continued from previous post)

Aunt Jackie did a double take in the middle of her generic hello when she clearly realized it was my mom, “WELL HEY! Oh my goodness, it’s so good to see you!” My mom pointed to herself, “it’s Lydia,” she said. “I know it’s you,” Aunt Jackie quipped like how dare you think I don’t know.

“And this is JJ!” My mom pointed to me and I pulled my face mask down for her to see. “JJ!” She yelled, “JJ! WHOOO look at you, JJ! Great Scott!” I remember Aunt Jackie saying “Great Scott!” long before I ever heard Doc Brown say it on Back To The Future. She repeated back to us what we said to her, so we still weren’t entirely sure if she fully knew who she was talking to, after all, it had been three years since we’d last seen her, and things were getting more “fuzzy” back then.

The three of us sat silently for a moment all looking at each other, the Golden Girls still playing in the background. Aunt Jackie put her hand on my mom’s knee, “Pawleys Island,” she said with her slow Southern draw. My mom and I looked at each other as if to say she knows! We both got emotional. Our hometown of Pawleys Island was Aunt Jackie’s favorite place to visit. She loved the ocean and made annual trips with her own group of golden girls to soak up the sun and salt water. “That’s right,” Mom said, trying not to cry. “You lucky birds,” Aunt Jackie said.

I told her we had just come from Pawleys Island, “don’t say it too loud,” she said, “people might get jealous.” Already she was off to making us laugh. “Did you get in the water?” she asked. “Yes, JJ did, she went surfing,” Mom said. “She went to what?”

“Surfing, she went surfing,” Mom said, and I added, “in the ocean.” Aunt Jackie sat back in her wheelchair, raised her eyebrows as if she finally processed what we had just said, “that’s an ugggly thing for you to saaaay in front of me!” We both laughed and she asked if the water was cold, “it was freezing,” I said. “Oh!” Aunt Jackie took a sip of her coffee, “then I won’t feel so bad, ah ha haha!”

Aunt Jackie’s laugh is just as classic as her Southern accent, a much more sophisticated Phyllis Diller type laugh (and more enjoyable to listen to, in my biased opinion, but it has tones of the Diller cackle in it). As an old school Southern woman of devout faith, Aunt Jackie would die if she knew I compared anything about her to Phyllis Diller.

“So what have you been up to?” Mom asked. “What have I been up to?” Aunt Jackie repeated back as if it was obvious, “this!” she said, “this is what I’ve been up to… sometimes I move over there, or over there” and she pointed to different spots in the sitting area, “but mostly I just sit here and they roll me around wherever I need to go.” We laughed at her sense of humor about it, but also knew it must be hard to live confined within the walls of a place you can’t leave.

“It’s okay though,” she said, “most people just sit around here until the end, but not me, I’m busting out of here soon.” She nodded her head as if to say you know what I mean? and took a sip of her coffee. We laughed at the thought of Aunt Jackie busting out of assisted living. “Well if anyone can do it, you can,” I said.

“Yea,” she agreed as she nodded, “there’s a two-way highway right out front of this building. The only problem is, once I get there, I can’t figure out which way to go!” Mom and I were rolling in laughter. “Well tell me about the children,” Aunt Jackie said, “there’s one of the children right there,” and she pointed to me. Mom told her all about the kids being grown up, some married, some dating, one with a dog. The dog is what most excited Aunt Jackie, “Ohhhh, tell me about the dog! Now, what kind of poochy!?” We told her all about my brother’s corgi and she responded with “ooooh how cute” to each detail. She told us she had a dog but could’t remember her name. “Claudette,” mom said. “Who?” Aunt Jackie asked. “Claudette, that was the name of your dog.” It didn’t seem to ring a bell, Aunt Jackie shrugged, “well if you say so!”

I later found out the dog’s name was Tallulah, so both Mom and Aunt Jackie had a little memory slip there, but at least Aunt Jackie remembered what her dog’s name wasn’t. She told us about her horse, Solomon, who died 20 years ago but she seemed to think it just happened. “I think they did something to him,” she said, convinced that someone had prematurely put her horse down. This was where her memory was “fuzzy,” she clearly remembered things, but the order of events was disoriented. “I remember Solomon,” I said, “we used to ride him with you.” She looked surprised so I pulled up an old picture I had saved on my phone of my sister and I riding Solomon, Aunt Jackie standing beside us. Aunt Jackie gasped, “Oh! there he is,” and she began to mimic kissing the picture, “mwah mwah mwah, oh I love him so much.”

“I think they did something to him, you know?” and she sat silently for a moment as she thought about it. We weren’t sure who she meant by “they,” but it was clear that though the memory was fuzzy, it left an impression. After talking about Solomon for a while she asked about the children again. Mom went through and told her about each of us again, a little less detail than the time before, but included the part about the dog. “Ohhh, tell me about the poochy, what kind of dog!?”

The longer we stayed the more obvious her lack of memory became. She was sharp in that she could remember stories from her childhood, stories from our childhood, and pretty much anything we would remind her of, but where her memory failed was by the time we finished talking about a topic, she’d have forgotten we talked about it.

Aunt Jackie pretty much helped raise my dad, who’s own parents were always traveling as music evangelists with Billy Graham, America’s Preacher back in the day. Generations now don’t really know him, but any generation my mom’s age or older tend to have an idea of who he is. He prayed with every America president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, my grandad always at his side.

Aunt Jackie started as my Granddad’s secretary, but quickly became a caregiver to the five children who grew up with a dad the whole world knew, who’s own children barely knew him. That’s another topic in and of itself, and there’s been peace and resolve made about that. I only bring it up to say, Aunt Jackie was just as a vital role to the family as a parent or grandparent to all of us. With all my grandparents now passed, she’s the closest thing I have left to a grandmother. She’d never accept the title grandmother though, “it sounds too old,” she’d say, so much like my dad called her when he was growing up, we’ve always called her Aunt Jackie (despite her being the same age as my grandmother).

I showed her all the pictures from when she worked with my granddad and Billy Graham, she remembered all of them and gasped with delight at each picture. I got to a picture of Billy Graham kissing me on the cheek, “this was at Nana’s funeral,” I said. “Who’s funeral?” she asked. “My Nana, Bille Barrows.” She sat back with a look of shock, clearly remembering who but not quite remembering that she passed. “Where was I?” she asked. “You were there,” mom said. “I was?” She asked with a sigh of relief, “okay good.”

It didn’t dawn on me that with the order of events being fuzzy, it might overwhelm her to know who of her friend group wasn’t around anymore. Aunt Jackie is one of the last ones left from the generation of friends who poured into our family over the years, having long outlived her husband, but she didn’t seem to notice. Probably a blessing and a curse, to not remember, there’s a sadness in the sweet memories not being there, yet a gratitude to not relive the pain all over again.

“Well what else can you tell me?” Aunt Jackie would ask, trying to think if there was any news she hadn’t heard yet. “Well what do you want to tell us?” Mom asked. “What do I want to tell you?” Aunt Jackie asked, “about what?” “About life,” Mom said, “if there’s something you’ve learned about life that you’d want us to know, what would it be?”

Aunt Jackie paused, “now I’m thinking, which is dangerous, but I gotta think.” She looked around the room and then looked at my mom and I, “don’t take life too seriously. Everything doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Just enjoy it,” she said. We agreed that life should be enjoyed more, which was humbling coming from a woman in a wheelchair at an assisted living facility.

“Do you want to tell her about your comedy?” Mom asked me. I proceeded to tell her I was a Stand Up Comedian, “Oh I love it!” She said. I explained to her that my sets included stories about her, “I always tell people about Aunt Jackie!” She laughed, “Ohh, don’t tell them everything!” I proceeded to show her my clip from Dry Bar Comedy where I tell everyone about my great Aunt Jackie. She needed me to repeat the punchline, “what’d she say?” when she heard the audience laugh. I retold her what she had said to me so long ago about how to be an artist when I grew up, “just get married and then you can doodle all day long!” She laughed hard at her own advice, “you can,” she said.

I recorded most of our time with her, and my mom recorded me showing her my Stand Up clip. It’s footage I’ll treasure for a long time.

Before we left she made one last declaration, “As for me and my house,” I was certain she was getting ready to quote scripture, “I’mma blow this pad first thing, you know!” We all laughed and she looked at my mom, “ain’t that right?”

I don’t have resolve for this post. We left on a happy, high note. I was so glad we had decided to make the trip. But it’s never as simple as leaving the facility and moving on with your life, well, it is and it isn’t. I still think about her being in there, alone in the sense of not with family or friends anymore. She had a whole life that looked so different than where she is now, all of it changed merely by the aging process.

I think about my own parents and what the aging process will look like for all of us one day. I even think about my own 98 year old self, wondering where I’ll be and if I’ll even make it that long. I hope to remember my husband, and yet I can’t imagine living without him should I surpass him. He knows, however, that if I die before him, he’s getting in the casket. “You coming with me,” I joke.

I over processed the whole visit on our drive home. I’ve thought about it for days after. Yesterday I re-watched the footage while laying on the couch and I heard Aunt Jackie say again, “don’t take life so seriously, just enjoy it.”

I sat my phone down, got up and put on my shoes to leave. “Where are you going?” My husband asked as I headed for the door. “I’ve been sitting around long enough, I’mma blow this pad!”

I went for a walk in the cold air, warmed by the sun, and I simply enjoyed it.

Elderly Love Part 1

A few years back I got to film my first comedy special in Provo, Utah with Dry Bar Comedy. It was a unique situation for me given Dry Bar’s religious affiliation. They don’t promote anything religious, in fact, you wouldn’t even know they were (except for maybe the name “Dry Bar,” meaning no alcohol- even at the bar), but I suppose that is the beauty of a company who can hold their own values without forcing them on someone else. I appreciate Dry Bar’s approach… they don’t ask other people to be religious, they just ask that everyone be respectful of what they value if you are going to perform on their stage. Fair enough.

It was unique because given certain religious values, you had to not only work clean, but their version of clean, which is a little cleaner than church clean. I work clean, so I wasn’t technically worried, but their version of clean knocked out at least three of my favorite bits, none of which are dirty, but perhaps a little suggestive and leave room for you to imagine what I may be talking about. There was no room for imagination with Dry Bar, there was only pure, unadulterated fun… along with no alcohol.

I had to do some rearranging, which really wasn’t too difficult, in part because of who would end up taking center stage of my material given the omission of at least three big bits. The new focus of my material would be less about awkward dating situations in my 30s, and more about my slightly senile 98 year-old Aunt Jackie. I hear a lot of comedians do jokes about their kids, and while I’m sure children produce golden material for parents, I don’t have any kids, so I can’t count on a kid saying the darnedest thing to put in my act. In recent years, after spending time with my Aunt Jackie, I realized I didn’t need kids to make good comedy, because it’s not just kids who say the darnedest things… so do the elderly.

I’ve always loved the elderly, had more of a heart for them than kids, which is funny to me because part of what I love is how childlike they can be at such an old age. For some reason childlike at an old age is more endearing. Childlike at a child’s age is just normal, sometimes annoying.

For as sweet as it can be, I know there can also be really difficult things about the elderly reverting to a childlike state, losing their memory, forgetting who people are, or even who they are… it’s hard.

In processing aging parents and memory loss with an older cousin of mine, she shared that her mom (a different aunt) had put a tide pod into her Keurig machine. Thankfully, she was caught before she drank it. While my cousin tried to keep her mother in her own home for as long as possible, it was getting too dangerous for her mom to be alone at all. Fretting over whether or not she was doing the right by putting her mother in a memory care unit of assisted living, her mom kept showing sign after sign that she couldn’t be alone, like walking the dog with an electrical cord.

They had pictures up all over the house, her mom constantly asking who these people were, “these people” being her kids and grandkids. Physically, her mom was in great shape, which perhaps made it even more dangerous as she’d wander off outside and walk down the street until she got lost, not knowing where to return home to.

“She stopped living after my dad died,” my cousin said, “she stopped engaging, stopped going to activities or meeting up with friends, it’s the isolation that I think took her memory.” The day they took her to assisted living she protested, “you can’t leave me here with all these old people!”

We laughed and we also felt sad. “You laugh or cry,” my cousin said, “so sometimes you just gotta laugh for it to all feel okay.” I realized I didn’t want to make fun of the elderly, but I wanted to make light of a hard situation, especially for the families going through the aging process with their elderly loved ones. Sometimes you just need to laugh, not to avoid what’s hard, but to be able to endure it.

When I shared my material about Aunt Jackie in my Dry Bar set people loved it. “We want more Aunt Jackie,” people would comment, along with things like “women are not funny.” But amongst the trolls and their insecure criticisms of other people were compliments and love for essence of Aunt Jackie.

My special came out in fall of 2019, which meant a few short months later the world would shut down due to COVID. The last time I saw Aunt Jackie was the time I shared about in my comedy special, just a few months prior to the performance. She was also living in a memory care unit of assisted living, diagnosed with dementia. Aunt Jackie had no idea she was a hit, and two years later, she may have had no idea who I was at all.

This last Monday my mom and I made a trip to finally go see her. Between COVID, COVID restrictions, and long distance there always seemed to be some reason for why we couldn’t quite make it. Knowing her time was limited if for no other reason than age alone, we made the trip.

We were warned before going to see her that she may not remember us at all. We prepared ourselves mentally but held out hope that she would be the same sharp and witty Aunt Jackie we’d always known, loved, and quoted over the years.

Once we were in the facility, we walked down a long hall passing door after door, most of which were wide open, revealing elderly men and women, some of whom were asleep with their mouths open, some of them reading or watching T.V. As we passed a door where a woman was reading a magazine I heard her yell out, “Dolly Parton is 75 years old!” She wasn’t talking to anyone so much as just remarking out loud. I love Dolly Parton, so naturally I lingered to see what the old woman was going to say, she did not disappoint… “What the hell am I doing in here?”

When we got to Aunt Jackie’s room, her door was slightly open. She had a roommate who’s bed sat next to the door and Aunt Jackie was nowhere in sight. “Hi,” my mom said, “we’re here to see Jackie Wallace.” Her roommate pointed towards the bathroom, “she’s in the tub.” By herself? we both thought, is that allowed? “She knew she had company coming,” her roommate said, “so she wanted to wash up.” Well that seemed like a good sign, at least she knew someone was coming.

My mom and I waited in a sitting area just down the hall from their room. After about five minutes we heard all the nurses making a fuss, some even arguing about a lost patient, probably a frequent argument in a memory care center. My mom and I gave each other that look you give someone when something awkward happens but you can’t say anything- it’s all in the raised eyebrows.

After another five minutes or so my mom whispered, “I hope she’s okay.” I said I’d go check again. I walked back to her room and peeked in when a nurse noticed me and asked if she could help me. “Yea, we have an appointment to see Jackie Wallace and her roommate said she was in bathtub so I wasn’t sure how to go about checking to see when she’d finish.” The nurse had an A-HA look on her face, “Oh my God, that’s where she is.” She rolled her eyes as if to say “duh,” and said they had been looking for her. “Why no one checked the bathroom is beyond me,” the nurse said, “I’m sorry, we’re usually a little more put together than this.” Apparently Aunt Jackie was the missing patient the nurses were trying to locate, she remembered she had guests coming, but didn’t remember she’s not supposed to bathe alone.

The nurse had someone go in and help her finish while we waited in the sitting area. The Golden Girls were on the big screen T.V. and it felt like too perfect of a setting. Rose was making omelets for the girls without the yolks, “so we don’t get too much cholesterol,” she told Sophia, but she hated to throw all the yolks out, so she decided to bag them up to give to the homeless. “Your heart’s in the right place,” Sophia said, “but I don’t know where the hell your brain is.”

There couldn’t have been a better quote to sum up a memory care center.

“And here she is!” A nurse said as he rolled Aunt Jackie into the room. She started to say a generic hello, one that every southern woman knows; you act pleased to see someone even if you aren’t sure how you know them.

Would she actually remember us, or possibly pretend like she did? “HEY!” my mom and I yelled, and we pulled down our face masks just to see if our faces would ring a bell.

To be continued…

Hometown Thoughts

Here we are, another new year and a lot of the same ole stuff… well, at least some of the same ole stuff.

Today I found myself walking in my hometown of Pawleys Island, SC, grateful to be home, but also restless as to how to spend my time here. Tonight we are celebrating my mom’s 72nd birthday and I can’t quite wrap my head around watching my parents age. As a kid you imagine your parents to remain forever in the state you know them. Of course they’re old because they’re your parents, but they’re not old old. I remember thinking our 32 year old babysitter was ancient, and now at 38 I realize that 32 year old woman was still just a child wrestling with how to be an adult.

I’m not sure how my parents did anything with four young kids constantly at their feet. I hang out with my nieces and nephews for longer than two hours and I feel like I’m about to have a nervous break down, my only solace being their return to their own home. Bless their hearts. I love them, and I’m okay with kids in general, but I love quiet time and a clean kitchen and not constantly having to figure out answers to “why?”

I’m restless because at this age I figured if I didn’t have kids by now it would certainly be because of a career. But when Covid took care of that, I found myself waiting for the next two years for the country to open back up so I could get back out there. As I look back I realize, I spent so much time waiting, I’m no further than I was two years ago, having put my life on hold, now not knowing where to start.

I’ve decided to write again. Since I can’t control live performances and venue spaces and communities of people not wanting to crowd into a building to see a comedian they’ve never heard of, I’m letting go, not so much of the idea of performing, but of the waiting for it to happen. I’m going to get busy with what I can control, which in this case is writing, and honestly my first love well before performing came into the picture.

I started in on my second book a while back and am nearing what I consider to be the end. I’ll soon begin the process of organization and editing, followed by the grueling process of figuring out publication. I self published my first book, it’s called a spade, and while I enjoy maintaining the rights to my stories, I admit it’s hard to get the stories out there relying solely on my often neglected social media platforms; to live life or to “share” life, that is the question!

So, I hope to be back here more often, sharing this process with you, if anyone is still out there. In the meantime I still post videos from time to time over on YouTube. I’ll share my 2021 in review here to give a glimpse into what the last year looked like. I admit, I can’t complain. Perhaps that’s where the frustration comes in; much like Loki of Asguard (God of Mischief in the Marvel Series), I have a very good life, all while feeling burdened with glorious purpose.

Here’s to a beautiful 2022, whatever that word may mean to those who use it. I know it’s not the most quotable thing to say, and you certainly won’t see it on a Pinterest board, but I honestly hope to work more this year. That, to me, would be a beautiful thing. I hope to work so much that I eventually start saying things like “work less, play more!” But for now, it’s hard to enjoy the play when there’s no work to take a break from.

Forgive my whining, I think I’m done… for now.

Until next time,

JJ

Socially Distant Surf Contest!

“Everyone wants to know the story behind the stories.” -Kramer

For any of my friends and pals who follow along on my Instagram…. Here’s a little bit behind why my previous (and more to come) onslaught of stories include asking people to help me win a surfboard via Instagram! And why this might be the only surf contest I could ever come close to winning 😂🤣.

It’s socially distanced by default cause it’s all on social media! Head here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK… to check out @mamalasurf on IG to like my photo…

Costa Rica Clouds! (Like this Photo on @mamalasurf’s Instagram profile to help me win!)

and anyone else’s surf photos… honestly who ever wins is gonna be stoked out of their mind and it’s kinda cool that gets to happen to someone!

The contest ends August 20th… Two days after my birthday, YIPPPPEEEE!!

Mental Health matters, and the ocean is my potion (OMG, did I just make that up!?!).

I don’t surf to be the best, I surf to feel alive!

I surf because I love it and for my own mental health, and I’m pretty sure all these rad women feel the same way too! Good luck, ladies!

And also please like my photo 😂 https://www.instagram.com/p/CQyKkN7HK…

(Contest takes place on Instagram… Directions included in video for my older generation friends!)