Winter of My (Dis)Content

Now is the winter of my discontent. Well, now. And yesterday. And the day before. And last month. And last spring. And okay all the way back to high school and college, if you want to get technical.

It’s also the season of Lent, which in the Episcopal Church is a time of reflection. Many people adopt a Lenten discipline, either taking on a practice (meditation, prayer, journaling, fasting) or giving up something perceived as a vice (chocolate, drinking, swearing, etc.).

I thought briefly about giving up or taking on something this Lent. And then I had a good laugh, because, really, I think I’ve taken on and given up quite enough in the last six months, thank you very much.

Given up a 17-year marriage. Given up the appearance that I have it all together. Taken on the stress of being a working single mother. Taken on the emotional task of learning to co-parent.

A friend of mine said my Lenten discipline should be to make a little mischief every day. I honestly don’t have the energy. Right now, all I can commit to is waking up every morning and doing the very best I can to make it through the day without running out of kindness and patience and without dropping the f-bomb in front of my children.

Some days I’m more successful at this than on others.

I did subscribe to a daily email series recommended by my church. It’s called “It’s time to…Stop, Pray, Work, Play and Love.” Like most non-essential activities in my life right now, it’s not gotten a lot of attention. The emails come daily to my inbox and sit there … unopened … mocking me.

One, however, caught my eye a few days ago. The subject line was, “Contentment – Brother, Give Us a Word.” I could see the first few lines of the message without opening the email. It read, “Are you content right now?”

What does it even mean to be content? I can’t remember a time I’ve achieved contentment. Especially not with the snow and ice and work and kids and laundry and errands and the smelly old dog who lives in my house and poops and pees everywhere … all the time.

I read on:

“One of the ancient words in the monastic vocabulary is contentment, which is incredibly counter-cultural. Contentment: from the Latin contentus, which means enough, it means sufficient. It’s the opposite of a kind of appetite of acquisition. But it’s rather saying: now is what is most important, not what is new but what is now. One of the downsides of this capacity we have to be virtually present all over the globe is distraction actually pulling us away from where we really are now. But the Psalm says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And the Psalm says, “My boundaries enclose a pleasant land.” Contentment is about staying where you are, looking at it more deeply and realizing with deep gratitude that this is enough, and for this I am thankful.”        – Br. Curtis Almquist

All my life, I’ve tried to embrace living in the moment. I’ve given a lot of lip service to appreciating the “now,” but I’ve always had that appetite of acquisition. I lived life as a series of “when, thens.” When I have a certain job title and make enough money, then I’ll be content. When my daughter no longer has seizures, then I’ll be content. When my husband’s business is successful, then we’ll be content. When I move back to my hometown, then I’ll be content. When I can repair my broken relationships, then I’ll be content. When I get the hang of being a single working mother, then I’ll be content.

No wonder I experienced so much discontent. Contentment is not anything I can actually achieve. It’s something I just have to accept … and be.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room full of women on top of Petit Jean Mountain. We spent the day in community, working on our own writing projects, mostly in silence, drawing strength and inspiration from being together.

On our way home, my traveling companions and I stopped at Camp Mitchell, the camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. I grew up at Camp Mitchell. My heart still leaps and my blood pressure still drops when I enter its gates. My muscles relax and tension oozes from my body. That day was no exception.

My sole reason for the visit was to sit and be still in the Chapel of the Transfiguration. The chapel looks like this:

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And the view looks like this:

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I sat on a bench, looking out over the cliffs. I watched the birds catch the wind and soar. I breathed peace in and exhaled anger out. I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face for the first time in weeks. I sang hymns in my head, and I marveled at how lucky I was to be able to share this moment with my friends who were with me.

It’s easy to be content in the beautiful moments. In the real world, it’s harder to stay where I am and look at it more deeply. And to recognize with gratitude that right now is enough.

Here’s where I am right this moment.

I’m sitting in yoga pants and a sweatshirt in front of my laptop in my warm house. I have a view of snow-covered roofs and trees filled with robins puffing themselves up against the cold. The only sound is my washing machine, churning through its cycles in a valiant effort to remove ground-in dirt from baseball clothes. My sweet smelly old dog – the poop machine – is curled up on a towel at my feet. If I listen more closely, I can hear birds chirping and my daughter laughing with her friends as they play in the snow. My fridge has food in it, despite the fact that I missed the window to shop for bread, milk, Velveeta and Rotel before the snow started falling. I’m alternating between writing this post, studying everything I can get my hands on about strategic planning and fundraising, and texting with two friends who make me a better person.

There’s no when, then. There is only now. I am content. And for this I am thankful.

Ten Gallons 

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
— The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot

Two good friends had their hearts broken recently and are hurting. Someone I really admire just had a cancer scare. I just heard of another friend’s marriage ending.

As Diana sings in A Chorus Line, “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul … but I felt nothing.” To paraphrase yet another song, I’ve come to suspect that my give a damn’s busted.

Or it could be all the snow days. Just sayin’.

But my recent lack of immediate empathy has dredged up some unresolved concerns about my capacity for love.  Does every person in the world have the same capacity or do some have deeper wells than others?

I consulted the interwebs. Seriously. I Googled “different capacities for love.”

Again, there have been too many snow days.

Here’s what Oprah and Bishop TD Jakes have to say about it.

Here’s what I have to say about it: the concept of being a 10-Gallon person or a pint-sized person makes so much sense to me. During the last year of my marriage, my husband and I had many conversations about the ways we’d failed each other. In one particularly painful moment, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’ve ever loved me as much as I’ve loved you.”

I didn’t respond. Instead, I discussed it in therapy. I wrote about it in my short-lived journal. I got lost in thought while driving and ended up in the wrong place. More than once. It happens to the best of us.

Eventually, I began to try to form words around the part of that sentence I knew to be true and the part that I believed wasn’t. I tried to explain to him that I really did love him as much as he loved me, but that it was entirely possible he simply had the capacity to love me more.

In his heart and mind, he’d given me everything he had – 10-gallons worth of love. In my heart and mind, I was offering him my full-to-the-brim Mason jar and saying proudly, “Look! I love you! See?!” But it didn’t fill him up. He needed – and in many ways deserved – more than I could give in the way of love and affection.

My friend – one of the people I’ve been trying so hard to support despite feeling like I have so little to give – also wears a 10-gallon hat. Her ex is more like me. In an effort to explain the 10-Gallon Theory of Love, I told her that being friends with her is kind of like drinking from a fire hydrant.

From the confused look on her face, I’m not sure it landed the way I intended.  Let me ‘splain.

There are people in the world who always have an endless supply of love, support and care to give to their friends, family and loved ones. For those of us who have a less-than-endless supply, it can feel like an onslaught. It can make us feel like we’re not worthy of that much love. Like we can’t figure out where it’s all coming from for the love of Pete! Like we’re being smothered with all the LOVE!

But that’s not her fault. It’s not my ex-husband’s fault. And it’s not my fault. It just is what it is.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be a 10-gallon person.  I know right now, I don’t even have an extra pint to give. To mix my self-help metaphors, I’m drinking from an empty cup without my oxygen mask.

I’m more like Prufrock, measuring out my life with coffee spoons. Each small spoonful of love is being offered to my children first, myself second and my family and friends third. That’s the best I can do right now. It’s enough. I’m enough.

Maybe in a few weeks I can graduate to tablespoons.

Here We Go

journalSit down. I need to tell you my story. It may take a while.

For most of my career, writing has been a critical part of my day-to-day work. It started with press releases, white papers and op eds. Over the years, I added storytelling to the mix, and that’s really what I prefer.

Over the years, I’ve written nonfiction stories about highly successful schools in Alabama. I’ve written profiles of moms and dads for magazine cover stories, stories about children with special needs and profiles of the men and women who work tirelessly to promote philanthropy in my community. Today, my professional writing revolves around stories of sick children who are getting better thanks to the generous support of donors all over the state.

So, yes. I’m a writer. My career has given me a platform to write other people’s stories. And I have to say, I do it pretty well. But I’ve never had the guts to write my own.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve tried. I had a blog when I was the editor of Little Rock Family. I told cute little stories about my family, our travels, my favorite things to do, wear, see, and read.

But dear LORD that blog was boring because the voice wasn’t ME. Instead, it was the perfect public version of me. The “me” who went on TV and radio every week to tell parents exactly what to do to entertain their children. The “me” who had all the answers for planning the perfect birthday party. The “me” who smiled and laughed and wrote what I thought everyone wanted to read.

I felt like a sham.

I played around with a more “real” version of me on my personal blog. I documented my grief when my children’s school closed and my world was turned upside down. I shared my concerns when my child had a tough season in baseball. I delved into my love of music with a little project called 30 Days on Shuffle. And I hinted at what was really going on behind the scenes of my life in a post called “Bright, Shiny, New.”

When I sent that post to a trusted friend to read, he responded by saying something to the effect of, “You stopped writing just when it got interesting. What’s really going on here? I want to know WHY this town is no longer bright, shiny and new for you.”

Aw, hell. My friend was urging me to be authentic. But I couldn’t do it. The truth was too painful. Too raw. Too imperfect. Too scary.  So I stopped writing for myself. That was almost four years ago.

Last summer, my marriage was ending after years of struggle on both sides. Searching for wisdom, stability, change, sustenance, I found Brene Brown, a shame researcher and story teller. I did a book study on “Daring Greatly” and just came undone (in a good way!). As I read about vulnerability, numbing, armor, living above the line, minding the gap … something inside me shifted dramatically.

At the same time I was reading “Daring Greatly,” I found Momastery.com. Like so many others, I devoured every post, drawing strength from this new-found realization that I wasn’t alone in my shaming and blaming and numbing and armor-wearing.

I started taking off the armor of perfection, choosing to speak my truth and sharing my thoughts and feelings about my journey with some close friends. I didn’t shy away from admitting my mistakes. One by one, these women I would look and me and whisper, “I feel that, too. I worry about that, too. Yes. Me, too.”

I started to realize that I can own my story – every ugly chapter, every beautiful chapter — because so many other people have similar stories. It’s not just me. I don’t have to hide anymore.

In the first chapter of “Carry on Warrior,” Glennon Melton writes, “If, anywhere in your soul, you feel the desire to write, please write. Write as a gift to yourself and others. Everyone has a story to tell. Writing is not about creating tidy paragraphs that sound lovely or choosing the ‘right’ words. It’s just about noticing who you are and noticing life and sharing what you notice. When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less along.”

When I read those lines, I got tears in my eyes. And I thought, “Well, okay. Let’s do it.”

So here I am. I’m ready to tell my own story. I’m ready to be seen. Hence the name of this blog.

My best friend when I was a freshman in high school was a senior named Mary Melissa Cobb. Everyone called her “M” for short. She coined the phrase, “MCobbNeatO.”

It basically meant “in disguise as someone super cool and fun.”  She’d pick me up for an adventure and we’d put on our white-framed sunglasses, smile broadly and shout, “Shhhh! We’re MCobbNeatO!” Then we’d head off to make mischief of some sort.

I hadn’t thought about MCobbNeatO in a long time. Then one night the story popped in my head as I was brainstorming names for this blog. I wanted the name it to reflect me and my desire to be seen. I’m ready to be authentic, dammit. Unfiltered. Unwritten. Unhinged. (All those blog names were taken, btw)

And it struck me: I could go jenncobbnito. JennCobb was my nickname in high school and college. I still have friends who call me that. It felt right.

I have to confess, I went a little Jerry McGuire. I decided this would be a manifesto! Instead of going undercover, I’d come out into the open! Instead of going incognito, I’d go jenncobbnito!

It’s not perfect, but neither am I.

So, this is where we start … with me stepping into the light. With me taking off the armor of perfection and resisting the urge to run away when things get messy and painful. With me writing about who I’ve been, who I am, and the kind of person I hope to be. With me sharing with you what I notice about life.

I’m going to piss some people off. But for the first time in forever, I know it’s not my job to make everyone comfortable anymore.

Most of my truth these days isn’t pretty. But more and more, it’s becoming so. Parts of it are pretty damn funny. Lots of it is still unwritten – and that’s exciting.

Here we go.