excerpts from my journal | 08 (quarantine edition)

Posted: March 30, 2020 by Rachel

Only four days in to our state-wide quarantine and I feel as though I’m walking in circles. What a strange time we live in.

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I didn’t watch the news yesterday. I didn’t talk about the virus, really. And it was better. I need to limit what I read and listen. to. It’s the only way I’ll stay sane through al this. And walks… more outdoor walks.

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I finished a book today and had that feeling I only get after a truly incredible book–the desire to be able to wipe your memory clean just so that you can read it all over again for the first time. The book was Writers & Lovers.

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I think there has to be something to look forward to every day, whether it’s a martini after dinner or a board game as a family, or a walk by myself. Something to propel me through the day.

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I am fine with a quiet, slow life. I don’t need noise and excitement and crowds. These are not the things that fill my tank. I do not need to be busy, nor is that what I want.

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DJ is seven today. He ran into the bedroom at 6:10 this morning, “What did you do to my doorway?!” I had hung streamers from the ceiling to the floor so he’d have to walk through them, zigzagged police tape across the doorway. “I love it!” he shrieked.

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For now: Enjoy the little moments, no matter how small. And please: get outside and move your body, Rachel.

the whole whole truth

Posted: March 1, 2020 by Rachel

It’s been two weeks since I last opened my laptop. It sat on the floor of my bedroom, next to my bedside table, untouched. The battery had gone dead when I opened it this morning. I could say I haven’t felt much like writing lately, but that would be a half-truth.

The whole truth is that I actively made the decision to stop writing. 

The whole whole truth is that somewhere along the line I tried to turn a hobby into something it wasn’t meant to be. I love to read and knit, and scrapbook; but I’m not about to try and make a career out of those things. I took something I’ve loved to do since I first learned to compile a proper sentence and tried to force it into something it was never meant to be. And in doing so I essentially ruined it.

When I sat down to write—or even thought about it—I immediately felt an intense pressure settle on my shoulders. I was frozen in place before I’d even written a single word. 

In my journal most mornings I’d write that I felt like a fraud. How could I call myself a writer when I was producing little to nothing. When I had nothing to share with the world. 

I was tired of being upset. Of the pressure I was putting on myself. So I stopped writing. 

It turns out I was right about the pressure I was putting on myself to produce. Since I put my laptop away I’ve been sleeping better and have had more energy. I started knitting again, I’ve read some incredible books, I’ve played more tennis and taken more walks.

I gave myself permission to write only for myself, only when it feels right. And if I never share a word with another person, I’m okay with that. This hobby is mine and mine only. 

Ten Years of Knowing You

Posted: January 28, 2020 by Rachel

On the first day of 2010 I wrote the following in my diary: It’s a safe bet to say that the large majority of 2009 was spent in misery, and I just can’t do that to myself again. I refuse to waste another year being unhappy. I want to explore more. Be more. But most of all, I want a partner in crime. Someone who will go along on the ride with me.

I had seen two of my closest friends marry in the last two years as I stumbled dazed and confused through some semblance of a dating life. I met some really great guys, went on some lovely dates, but I had yet to meet someone I could truly see myself with. I hadn’t met my person.

In late January of the same year I found myself at an awful ‘party’ just outside my hometown in Ontario, Canada that involved smelly, dirty boys and video games in a dank basement apartment. I kept sneaking off to the restroom, fighting off tears, wondering if this could possibly be the pool from which I had to find a husband. If this were the case, I’d surely be single forever.

Yet just four days later, on January 28th, 2010, an email came through on my Blackberry at 3am. To this day I can still quote it verbatim, but to keep a long story short, the email (from my boss at the time) was an introduction to someone named Dominic living in Las Vegas.

I was hesitant at first, as one might have expected me to be. I had a vastly incomplete image of Las Vegas in my mind, pieced together from what I’d seen and heard in movies. Still, I’d come to know and trust my boss over the three years we’d been working together and felt there had to have been a good reason for him to send that email.

Not wanting to be the first to respond to the introduction, I sat back and waited, went about with my day. 

Dominic wrote me that same morning.

***

It’s been said that one of the foundations of marriage is good communication. There is no doubt in my mind that Dom and I’s early emails and phone calls and cross-country visits are what set us on a strong path right from the beginning. When we married, two months after my move to Las Vegas and only fourteen months after having been introduced, I was fairly confident that I’d found my person. But now, as we celebrate ten years since our introduction and approach our ninth wedding anniversary, I know—whole heartedly—that he is my someone. He is my person. He and the son we share, are everything. I have everything I have ever wanted. 

I am the living proof that life can change in the blink of an eye.

a (short) conversation about marriage

Posted: January 24, 2020 by Rachel

When she asked if I wanted to talk I’m not sure she expected a conversation about marriage. We’d been grappling with some complex feelings brought on by the confession of a mutual acquaintance and I sensed her real reason for reaching out might be that she herself wanted to talk. I wasn’t ready to talk about the confession, so I talked about marriage.

“It’s kind of sad,” I said,  “but I’ve been thinking a lot about how, among all the other things my mom is going to miss, she won’t see how happy I am with Dom. How well I chose.”

“She knew you chose ‘a good one’ and articulated it often,” she said.

“It feel like every direction I turn I’m running into troubled marriages. It has definitely reminded me of how good I have it.”

“Cherish it. Most men are dogs and truly don’t respect the commitment they make when marrying.” She chuckled, and I resisted the urge to ask if this was why she wasn’t married. “I realize that’s a bit harsh but it’s how I feel.”

Truth was, I was beginning to see her point—not that all men are dogs, but that we do seem to be circling around a troublesome belief as of late: that marriage doesn’t require work. That it shouldn’t require work. 

If you believe this, your marriage probably isn’t as strong as you might think it is.

A blogger I follow religiously (almost embarrassingly so) recently said something that had me nodding like an insane person. She said, “There are a lot of seasons in life when relationships are just not working. And then there are those sweet seasons when they are. We’ve worked through a lot of them—the good and the bad. But I want to acknowledge the one we’re in now, the one where I am just so damn happy that we picked each other. The mutual respect and interest and love we have for each other that seems to so beautifully pervade all the other facets of life. No doubt we’ll find ourselves in another season again, but the reminder that so often it’s just that—a season—is such a blessing that comes with a lot of years spent together.” 

When I saw Bridget’s post, I immediately screencaped it and sent it to Dom. “This woman just so perfectly put into words how I feel with us.”

The past year was tough. This time last year, we had just found out my mom was sick. We didn’t yet know what it was or how bad it was. Or how bad it was going to get, and fast. After losing my mom in April, I shut down in a lot of ways that I can only really recognize now, nine months later: I pulled away from friends and family, I launched myself even further into my career as a distraction, I stopped exercising, stopped caring what I ate. I drank more. I said no to my son when I should have been saying yes. I would get angry at Dom for not ever talking about my mom, but when he did I couldn’t stop crying. I was hurt and surprised by the people who never reached out, and often shocked by those who did. I wanted people to know when I needed space and when I needed company without having to tell them. I simply couldn’t trust my emotions or my thoughts. They were in constant contradiction of one another.

But somehow, through all that and other family issues, Dom and I came out on the other end closer than ever. More in love than ever. Like Bridget, I find myself in a season where I’m so damn happy that Dom and I chose one another. But equally as important, I’m happy to have chosen someone who understands that marriage takes work, that it’s often about compromise, mutual respect, and thinking of someone else more than you think of yourself. 

Dom often asks me, “If you had to do it all again, would you still marry me?” and my answer is always yes.

January 17

Posted: January 17, 2020 by Rachel

Life seems to moving at lightning speed these days. I keep telling myself to be better at writing it all down before I forget. Looking back, last year comes to me in one big blur of long work hours, grieving and maneuvering my way through the minefield that is parenting my six-year-old son (Seriously, it’s supposed to get easier at some point, isn’t it?). I don’t want 2020 to befall the same fate. So, here I am, attempting to redeem myself. 

We’re a little over halfway through January. How I feel about that is neither here nor there, I’m just happy to be done with 2019. I’ve spent these seventeen days rebuilding my daily writing habit, reading books of essays that are definitely having a positive effect on my writing, and attempting to cut down on my coffee consumption, which is harder than I imagined. All in all, I’m finally doing well, which is a roundabout way of saying that I’d been struggling for a while but I’m in a better place now. 

I shut myself off to a lot last year but now my eyes are wide open. My ears even more so. I’d forgotten that there are stories everywhere. In this coffee shop alone, I imagine the man in a backwards hat and shorts at the table next to me who has barely looked up from his laptop to be working on a fitness and meal plan for a new client who, after years of being jerked around by her mean, charismatic husband, finally had the guts to demand a divorce. The young girl behind the counter with the perpetual frown is angry with herself for still being a barista after so long. She was supposed to be supporting herself with her writing by now. I keep my eyes and ears open and the words come.

I’m also trying to read each night after I tuck my son in. I had been reading How To Fall In Love With Anyone but then my library hold on Followers came in and all bets were off. For the record, the book is truly as addictive as everyone is saying. I actively think about it while I’m working, counting down the hours until I crack it open again. I love when a book does that.

I swear; simple pleasures are everything.

Oof. Guys, can I just say that last year was tough on marriage. Off the top of my head I can count one, two, three, four marriages that ended, and almost as many that have turned sticky and complicated. I catch myself staring at Dom a lot these days, my thoughts hovering somewhere along the lines of: That won’t happen to us, and Please don’t let that happen to us. The other day a friend and her husband invited us out to grab a bite to eat after school pickup. We met them at a little Cuban place we’d never been to before and the food was beyond delicious. I must have pressed my hand flat to Dom’s wrist and said “This is why we need to be better about trying new things” three times throughout the meal. We are creatures of comfort and therefore tend to be pretty predictable. Trying something new and stepping out of our comfort zones feels more necessary than ever these days. I do know one thing though, and that’s that I love Dom at least five times more today than I did on the day I married him, so we must be doing something right.

Like I said, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open this year. And also: being more honest with myself and everyone else, which it turns out, people really respect. A close friend recently thanked me for the inspiration to take herself out of a situation she wasn’t comfortable in. To that I say: life is too short not to stand up for yourself and what you think is important. 

To conclude this meandering post, I will say this: Thank you for being here with me. For reading and listening and sending me lovely DM’s. I hope you are all feeling as inspired and hopeful in 2020 as I am. Cheers to Friday!

My 2020 TBR list

Posted: January 2, 2020 by Rachel

Rachel Del 2020 TBR List

Beyond tracking the release date of a few books I’ve been obsessing over, I’ve never been one to give much forethought to the books I read each year. If an interesting books comes across my radar, I take an interest, but I’ve never really planned what I read.

As the end of 2019 quickly approached, I saw more and more “best of” book lists, and after seeing Bud Smith’s, I had the thought that perhaps I should change things up a bit this year, because—hey! A lot happened in 2019 and I’m all about doing things differently in 2020. Making better choices. Not wasting time on people or things that do not serve me well—and that includes reading. There are far too many incredible books to be read to waste my time on words I’m not in love with.

So. I’m noodling around with the idea of creating a 2020 TBR list: a curated list of books I’d like to read this year. This is not to say that I have to stick to this list—because I already know I won’t—but I’m a planner and I like the idea of a jumping off point.

On my list so far:

  • Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption — Daniel Jones
  • Followers — Megan Angelo
  • Grand Union — Zadie Smith
  • The Nightingale — Kristin Hannah
  • Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies — Tara Schuster
  • Such A Fun Age — Penny Reid
  • Regretting You — Colleen Hoover
  • Dear Edward — Ann Napolitano

Now I have to ask:

What books are you looking forward to reading this year?

It’s not.

Posted: November 26, 2019 by Rachel

I had my father, the new sender of daily selfies, on the phone yesterday. “How’s your writing going?” he asked. He asks often now. It still makes me smile. The answer to his question has the opposite effect.

“It’s not.”

“You haven’t been able to shake anything loose yet, huh?”

I shake my head but he’s on the phone and he can’t see me. The kettle boils, I pour water over the tea bag in my favorite red mug. “Not yet,” I say eventually.

Later, I write in my journal about how guilty I feel that I’m not writing. I watch a show about a young doe-eyed woman who has just lost her husband. I look over at the laptop sitting closed on the floor next to the bedside table, and then I read a book about a Jewish man who’s in trouble.

easing in

Posted: October 14, 2019 by Rachel

I am writing these words seated in the corner of a new-to-me coffee shop on a weekday evening. I had this planned, this writing break, this get out of the house break. Whatever the name; I needed it. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends this year (these past few months especially) and needed to set a date and time to get out of the house and be alone. I’d driven past this cafe a few times and always seemed to make the point of telling my husband I’d have to try it out sometime. Much to my disappointment it’s nothing special. I already know I won’t return. But for now it will do.

A friend of mine recently wrote about how she came up the idea for her second novel. I had no story. I had no characters, no hooks, no settings. So I put Sullivan in a wagon and I literally went out to find a story to write, she wrote. 

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head, and not just because I’m secretly obsessed with how writers get their ideas. Suzy’s words gave voice to the struggle I’ve been going through this year: My desire to write grows with every passing day, yet I’m missing a story.

The truth is I haven’t been listening. I’ve been working extra long hours and helping my kid with his homework and trying to keep a clean house and semi-nutritious food on the table and dealing with family health issues and grieving my mother—there has been no time for much else, no mental capacity for anything else. So I stopped listening. And now, as I try my best to ease back in to writing, I hear only silence. Crickets. 

Without a story, I focus on other things. I write about my mom and my dad. I exercise my writing muscle that hasn’t been used regularly for months in hopes that when a story does appear I will know what to do with it. 

I ease in, because that’s all I know to do right now. That’s all that can be done.

the status of things, part two

Posted: October 10, 2019 by Rachel

Last week, my father started reading my blog.

A friend of his, after asking after me one day, had looked me up and come across my website. “How long have you had your blog?” my father asked me one night over the phone. It had come out of the blue and caught me off guard. I told him I’ve had a website, in one form or another, since the eighth grade. He didn’t say much else at the time, and I was too nervous to push for more.

The next time we spoke on the phone, he told me he’d been reading more. As usual, when the topic of my writing is brought up in conversation, I shied away from asking any questions. 

“Your thoughts on your mother are beautiful,” he said. I swallowed hard, tried not to get emotional. The little I’d been writing in the last few months had mostly been about her. Writing has always been how I process my emotions, and lately, there are a lot of them.

“Thank you,” I said. We moved on to other topics. 

My father has taken to texting me photos of the coffee shops he visits. Today’s coffee shop road tour. Eco Cafe in St. Jacobs, he writes. Back at Blackwing Cafe in old Galt again. Owned by the Smile Tiger Roasters people. He tells me what he loves about the decor, and what he tends to order. More often than not, he tells me when he last visited the same shop with my mother. Sometimes he can remember what she last ordered. 

Lately, his texts include a selfie, an addition that gives me an immense thrill. We are 3,500 miles away from one another and have yet to figure out why we can’t connect through FaceTime so these selfies are the only glimpse I get of my father’s face. I save them all to my phone, look at them when I’m feeling homesick, which didn’t happen much until this year. 

Despite being a daddy’s girl, my father and I didn’t really talk about my writing once I left Canada. It wasn’t that he lacked interest, it’s that my mother tended to dominate our conversations. I would dial their number, and if my father answered the phone I was lucky to get two minutes alone with him before my mom came on the line. My father was usually relegated to the background, catching what he could of our conversations, tossing in a single word of input when he could. If I wanted to speak to my father I needed to catch him home alone, which didn’t happen often.

Now, free to speak as much or as little as he pleases, he asks what I’m working on.

“Nothing. Nothing since April,” I tell him. We fall into a now common silence—we are thinking of her, my mother. This much I know is true. “It’s too hard.”

It’s too hard to focus, to let my mind go to that place again. I was writing for her, and now every sentence I write serves only to remind me of her absence. As time goes on one thing has become abundantly clear: that it is only with time and patience and grace that I will move past this, that I will learn to live with the discomfort, or, better yet, let that discomfort fuel me to create something my mother would have been proud of.

Something my father can be proud of. Something we can talk about together as much or as little as we wish.

the status of things, part one

Posted: October 5, 2019 by Rachel

This morning I waited until the boys left, until I heard the car start up and pull away, and then I lit my favorite candle and made a second cup of coffee. My laptop sat open and ready on the kitchen table, the first time I’d even looked at it in weeks. The house was blissfully silent.

I’d prepared myself for this, written in my journal just yesterday that this morning would afford me the perfect block of free time to finally sit down and work my way through everything the only way I really know how: by writing it out. 

There were tears in my eyes the moment I sat down to write. This, too, I had expected, was prepared for. Thinking about my mother in any real, solid way always begins like this, and opening myself to the intense reality that she is no longer here—and hasn’t been for nearly six months of my life—is like opening a fresh wound every time. I have learned that to be functional—that is to work, to be a good mother and wife and friend—I have to compartmentalize my grief. Though it doesn’t always work out,  I urge my body to dispel my sadness when it is less harmful for me: in the shower, when alone in the car, layered on top of some other emotional outburst.

But then there are times when my grief rushes through me and all I can do is hold on, wait for it to pass. 

Almost a few years ago now, I wrote two novels and two novellas, and stand by the belief that they needed to be written solely to expel the blah from my body. I needed to get those books out of me so that what came next could be something good and real and special.

Good and real and special came in January in the form of a new novel that I tentatively named Avery & Lark. It poured out of me in those early weeks as though desperate to see the light. I spoke little of what I was writing out loud, not wanting to spook my creativity, and as time went on and my word count climbed rapidly, I began to feel that this was it. The book. 

I was so excited that I didn’t tell my mother. I was going to keep it secret until it was done, until I had something fully formed to show her. I experienced a small thrill each time I spoke with her on the phone and failed to mention the book. She was going to be so surprised, so proud, so in awe.

And then we found out she was sick.

My words slowed to a trickle as I sat, day after day, thousands of miles away in another country, waiting to hear about her latest test results, our phone conversations growing shorter and shorter as her confusion and exhaustion grew. Eventually, the distance being too much, I flew back to Canada to see her, wholly unprepared for what I was walking into. One week later, she was gone. 

For weeks afterward, I sat down dutifully at my computer and tried to keep writing Avery & Lark, but nothing came. I felt lost. I hadn’t realized until my mother was gone just how desperately I had been seeking her approval and praise. And that it was no longer an option nearly broke me in half. This novel—it was for her. I had been writing it for her. That she would never be able to read it simply hurt too much. 

I put the novel aside, told my therapist and myself that perhaps it was best to take a break until the pain subsided even a little. I had little doubt that I would find my way back to writing at some point—when my heart was ready. 

But days turned into weeks turned into months and here I am, now in October, having written nothing in six months. To lose my mother and subsequently my words has been too much to bear at times. Writing was always something I could turn to no matter what. Now, I have only one underlying thought: My mother will never read another word I write. The woman who taught me to love reading, who read my childhood short stories and poetry with rapt attention, who told everyone she knew when I wrote and self-published my first novel, will never have the chance to see what I am truly capable of.

It has been hard to shake this thought. There are more days than not that I question what the point is of ever writing another word when there’s no one else whose approval and praise I sought the way I did hers. The magic, as I see it, is gone, and I’m left feeling numb.

But, I don’t want to feel numb. I don’t want to spend another six months feeling lost and out of place because the thing that most grounded me, that most excited me and made me feel like me is still too difficult, too painful. I want, more than anything, to find a way to write through the pain.

Just as there is no getting over loss, only getting through it, I need to have faith that this numbness will eventually subside and I will emerge on the other side, open and ready to write once again. 

I’m thinking that it’s okay if I continue to write for my mother as though she were still alive to read it. In the same way I often look at my son and worry over how much my mother is missing, writing, for the foreseeable future anyway, may still give me pause. But the moment I see my next book in print, my mother’s name under the dedication, I will know how proud she is of me, even though she isn’t here to tell me herself.