Archive for the Category » Memoir & Essays «

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 | Author:

One of my family’s favorite stories to tell at Christmas time is about my 3-year-old self’s guide to gift giving:

No Gift? No Worries! 3-year-old Jo’s guide to gift giving

  1. Who do you need to give the gift to? (Specifically, you need to know their name for this to work.)
  2. Go out into your back yard and search around. If you don’t have a back yard, go to a park with trees.
  3. Look for and find a good piece of bark. Now, this step is crucial. Your bark needs to be breakable into a smallish size (about the size of the really big iPhones). And it needs to be thick enough that you can carve into the face of it without it breaking apart.
  4. Hand the bark to your older siblings, tell them to carve your person’s name into the bark with their super cool swiss army pocket knives.
  5. Once they are finished, inspect their work.
  6. Wrap present.
  7. Sign it with you name and your siblings name.
  8. Be cute enough that you get most of the credit for the gift.
  9. Try not to suggest this gift giving method to the recipient of your gift before they’ve opened your gift. It may ruin their surprise.


I’m not sure how successful you’ll be with this method as grown adults, but it was very effective as a toddler. My mom still has her piece of bark that says “MOm” on it sitting on her dresser 23 Christmases later. So, obviously, it works sometimes.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 | Author:

He was the first one to buy my work.

Two years ago, I started to make art pieces. It happen kind of overnight. I got the idea for one piece — an Audrey Hepburn portrait on book pages — made it, and then I just kept creating. Two weeks later I’d already made 10 fine art pieces, and then one saturday morning, when I was thinking about Saturday morning cartoons, I decided to replicate a Calvin and Hobbes sketch I’d seen recently.

It says “True friends are hard to come by,” and after I posted a picture of it on instagram, two of my close friends asked me to make them copies as well. And then this guy that I didn’t know, Kevin, messaged me. He’d seen the instagram post because of the #CalvinAndHobbes hash tag I’d used. He wanted me to make him a copy of the art piece as well.

More accurately — he wanted to buy a copy. This was the first time I ever realized that maybe my art was good enough that people might want to buy it. Maybe I was an artist.

I made the piece for him and it was my first art sale. He posted a picture of it on instagram when it arrived, and tagged me in it. I was officially an artist, and he was so excited to get the piece to decorate his home. “Thanks,” he wrote, “and congrats on being a great artist.” I have been selling my art ever since this encouraging interaction. Kevin helped me see myself as an artist and embrace it.

Two years went by, and one day recently, I got an email from a woman out of the blue.

“You are the one who made the attached drawing for my brother, Kevin (I’m assuming since he tagged you in it). I’m not sure if you knew him as a friend, too. If you did, then you probably already know that he passed away in February 2014.

Your photo was one of his last posts, he was really excited to get it.

He died a couple weeks after he received the artwork. He was 30.

This news hit me like a slap in the face. I had referred to Kevin as “some guy in Boston” semi-frequently when people ask me about my art work. I tell them that he sought me out and that that sale helped me realize that I really could do the artist thing. He was a significant part of my story without fully knowing it, and because of the time of his death, I was a part of his story, too.

It is a reminder to me that you never know how your interactions with someone could be parts of their story, and could even be some of the last interactions that they have.

Thank you, Kevin, for being a part of mine. Rest in Peace.



Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Category: Memoir & Essays  | One Comment
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 | Author:

When I was born, I was in a hurry. As my mom’s third child, she’d gone through the ordeal before. She’s one of those women that actually loved being pregnant. She felt beautiful and vibrant. She worked out and was healthy. It was a good deal for her.

But only 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, they told her it was time to push. “What? I just got here!” was her thought. (That’s what she says when she retells the story, at least.)

They had her in the delivery room when her water broke (or maybe they broke it… I technically wasn’t there yet to know for sure). But what they saw was dark, cloudy water — the technical term is “Meconium in the fluid”, the reality is that baby me shat myself before I was born.

And while there are jokes to be made about that now, it’s actually a fairly common, but potentially dangerous predicament. When this happens, if a newborn breathes it in, and gets it into his or her lungs, it can block their airways.

I don’t know how many doctors and nurses were already in the room at this point, but when they discovered this, they started to call out the door to other doctors and nurses around. Apparently, at that point in the wee hours of the morning, there wasn’t much going on on the floor, aside from the woman delivering super fast, and her baby with bathroom problems.

When she delivered me, my mom says she looked up and there were doctors and nurses lining the walls, looking on. She said she felt like that phrase in Hebrews 12:1 about being “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” had been brought to life in the delivery room. That’s how I was brought into this world.

I suppose I’ve been in front of an audience for most of the rest of it, too.

Excelling in school always made me known to the teachers, and parents of other kids who excelled. They let me stand at a podium and address the sizable crowd at the stadium when I graduated high school.

A month later, I stood in a conference center, and shortly addressed 10,000 teenagers to talk about my recent trip to Malawi, Africa.

In college I felt like I blended in a lot more than ever before in life, only making it onto a public stage a couple of brief times to address a crowd.

But that’s just it. I feel like in every instance since being born, I’ve been in front of crowds. Not witnesses.

Witnesses witness something real — the good and the bad. They’re not a captive audience, they’re choosing to be onlookers. They’re seeing the realness of everyday life happen, not contrived speeches or scripted talks. Not awards ceremonies or graduations. They’re not seeing public-presentation you, they’re seeing you.

When it was announced in front of my home church that I’d been involved in “an inappropriate relationship” with a pastor for many years, since my teens, it was the first time since being born where I wasn’t in front of the crowd. I sat among them as an apology statement was read. And I sat among them in the coming months as I wept through every church service I attended in that building.

I was among a few of them as they welcomed me into their life group. It was a group made up mostly of couples in their 50s and 60s, and they told me they wanted me there.

I was among them as a few invited me over to dinner. To lunch. To decorate cookies with their children.

I was with one, my therapist, as I sat in her office each week, struggling, defensive, broken, reeling, seeking, questioning, accepting.

I was with some in cafes. I was with some in their homes abroad as they welcomed me in after years apart.

And because of the internet, as I’ve started to write again, as I’ve started to present myself publicly again, I again have people who are not just in close proximity of everyday life who are looking on. But this time, I am trying (and I think — hopefully — succeeding) to do it different. I’m trying to give the public venues (my blog) my real, raw self. I’m trying to invite people to be onlookers, not an audience. To be friends, not a readership.

And what I’ve found is an incredible result. I feel like, in the ways I push myself to write what’s raw and in-process and unresolved in me and my journey, that I have again found myself with a great cloud of witnesses.

People who are there on the sidelines of my journey watching, rooting me on. I am not on big stages talking to lots of people about grand things I’m doing in the world. I’m alone, at home, pouring myself out in words about the ways I struggle or the things I’m discovering. And I feel more loved and supported in this chapter of life than I ever have before.

Because I have this great cloud of witnesses, I press on, toward the goal of living the best life possible, being the best me I can be in and to the world. And I believe that that’s what I’ve been called to. It’s not easy. It feels like (and certainly is) a never-ending journey.

But you, my people who love and support me, who tell me you want to see me happy and successful, you who are glad for me as I struggle and do find my way — I am so, so thankful for you. You help me know that I am not alone as I journey on, even if the journey is a solo venture sometimes.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, November 03rd, 2015 | Author:

There are cute signs at Target, World Market, even Ikea that say things like “What I like best about my home is who I share it with,” or “Home is wherever I’m with you.”

But I live alone. It’s recent this time. I’ve had roommates for the past year and a half or so now, but before that I lived alone for about 3 years.

When I graduated college, I moved back to my hometown and as an exchange for working for the church for free, they provided me with a free apartment. I wanted a roommate at first. I tried to convince a couple different friends to move in with me, but it wasn’t the right timing or situation, so I ended up living alone.

I’d come home every evening and look through all of my closets and rooms, making sure no intruder was waiting until the doors were locked to come out and reenact every horror movie nightmare I’ve ever had.

I didn’t spend a lot of time there alone at first. If my friends were over, I’d happily hang out there, but it took me several months before I actually started to spend days off or free nights willingly alone in my apartment. By then, I started to embrace the world of living alone. After all, I had traveled alone. I had adventured alone. Why couldn’t I also live alone? I stopped the lazy search for a roommate and accepted my aloneness. And I liked it.

I really liked it. I got to decorate how I wanted. I got to have people over as I wanted. I got to say to friends who wanted to come visit for a week, “Yes! No problem!”.  And, the most surprising thing to me — I actually liked being alone there.

I liked it, that is, until the darkness came.

In the wake of my old life breaking, the immense grief of losing so many people, so many comforts of the life I knew, I felt the most alone I ever had. My “living alone” stopped referring only to my housing situation and was truly indicative of my life situation.

Some people saw me in the first months of my broken, ragged “new life” beginnings and they asked me, “What have you been doing with your time?”

“I don’t know,” I’d reply honestly. “I sit alone at home. Or I sit alone at the river. Or I run alone at the lake. Um, yeah. I don’t know. I guess just that.”

Though I grew, and healed, and life gradually picked up a more normal pace, I continued to live alone. I continued to feel alone. But in the feeling alone in the darkness, I was left with myself.

I used to say I thought everyone should live alone for a time. Which, if they have the opportunity, I still stand by. Kind of like Julie Roberts in Runaway Bride when she has to figure out how she likes her eggs, living alone affords you the opportunity to figure out how you really like to do things. Which is great. It’s great to be forced to get to know yourself like that.

But, while it was so hard, and so dark, I’m realizing now what an ugly, beneficial thing it was for me to live alone during the hardest season of my life.

When I lived alone before, I learned that I liked having a clutter free living area, but I didn’t mind if my bedroom was a little messy. I learned that I liked having the sink empty. I learned that I was pretty fearful of being alone at first. I learned that I liked entertaining. I learned that I liked cooking for myself.

But in the dark season of aloneness, I learned that hope is not something I have the ability to decide to have — that sometimes you have to wait for it to appear. I learned that my grief reflex is extreme nausea. I learned that I really, deeply care for people — especially when I’ve hurt them — even if they’ve tried to hurt me. I learned that if I don’t manage my time I stay up too late and wake up too late when my heart and my world are hurting. I learned to look into the ugly pieces of my heart and not look away. I learned how to dig into myself to look at what’s honestly there. And I learned to accept the things that are there that I cannot change.

In the happy, good season of living alone, I learned how to live by myself.

In the dark, broken season of living alone, I learned how to live with myself.

I went on to have roommates again in California, Colorado, and Kansas. Roommates that I enjoyed and loved living with. I came to life again during those seasons of roommates. Because I really do love living with other people.

But now, in my new house, at least for the time being, I live alone again. And it’s ok. Because whether I live alone or with people, I am at home with myself. That’s the gift that living alone gave me, and it carries through.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | Author:

People playing the race card is like me playing the grief card.

For a full year after my sister died, I played what I would term the “grief card.”  Like the “get you out of jail free” card in Monopoly, the grief card will also get you out of things for free.

And some of them are undeniably completely legitimate. Like, when my friend’s mom was driving us to the hospital at 80 mph in a 65 zone so that we could get there before she died — we got pulled over. After some (intense) communicating with the Highway Patrol officer the situation we were in, he let us go. My friend’s mom continued to speed us the rest of the way. We got out of it because the emergency-about-to-become-grief card.

She died on a Sunday, and on Monday, my brother and I didn’t go to school. Our family friends took he and I and their kids on a long, all-day hike instead. “They don’t need to be in school today,” our family friends had told our parents. They were right, we didn’t need to be in school. Our sister had just died. We needed to be with people who loved us and loved her, out in the quietness of nature to process and breathe and get a second away from heart-crushing grief.

That’s what the grief card is for. To get you out of the current circumstances and to get you away, even just slightly, even just for a moment, from heart-crushing grief.

Every year on the anniversary of her death, a friend of mine and I would ditch school (with our parents full knowledge and consent) to do whatever we wanted. Go to the movies. Go on a hike. Get our nails done. Whatever we wanted. Some people start to say this is an abuse of the grief card. I don’t.

But soon into the first year after her death, I realized I could abuse the grief card. I learned which teachers I could go up to and say the magic words: “I just can’t do this today. I’m dealing with too much,” and they’d say “ok,” mark me as having been in class that day, and then let me walk out the door, no questions asked.

Similarly, the school security guard, when he’d find my childhood best friend and I in the back of who knows whose pickup truck in the school parking lot, blatantly ditching, he’d see it was me, and I wouldn’t even have to play my card — he’d play it for me. “How are you girls doing today?” he’d ask.

“Well, you know, not great,” we’d say. And then he’d nod, and say, “Be safe.”

And then he’d continue on his rounds.

I saw quickly that I could get away with anything. At the time I felt like I was taking advantage of the grief system. Like I knew I shouldn’t be preying on people’s sympathies to get what I wanted. But my words were always true: “My sister died.”

As I look back it’s clear to me that this rebellion. This “I can get away with anything” endeavor was clearly an acting out on the pain of my grief. I’d never been one to “take advantage” of situations like that before. But in my grief, in my pain, in my floundering, it was a diversion that let me take a brief break from the heart-crushing truth of the grief card: I was in a sea of loss, and I was drowning in my pain.

Later, as I dealt with my grief in healthy ways and started to push into it, and through it — as I began to heal and emerge not from grief, but with it as an accepted part of my life, I hurt less. I played the grief card less.

But the fact remains. My sister died. And sometimes that still brings great pain to the surface. Sometimes, I still play the grief card. Because the reality is, it’s a card I never wanted to be dealt, it’s a card I wish I never had the opportunity to use. But I do. And instead of monopoly, this is my real life.

I had this realization this week when I read an article about racist things people say on facebook without meaning to be racist. One of them was a critique of people who “always play the race card.”

When life hands you a card that is so hard to hold, it seems like at least a silver lining to get something out of it.

But taking advantage of that card doesn’t lessen the fact that you have been dealt it. Using it and abusing it is actually a sign of you acting out because you were dealt it in the first place. I really believe this.

What is different though is that nobody wants to be handed the grief card.

But being of a non-caucasian race should NOT be a bad card to be dealt.

All peoples and colors should be celebrated and valued.

Unfortunately, because of history and because of present culture and prejudices, the race card, like the grief card, is still too hard to bare sometimes.

And that is a damn shame. People should never have to lament the color they were born. Or the gender they were born. Or the sexual orientation they were born with.

But because our world and country are the way they are, those cards are often still very, very, hard to bare when they are dealt. And if those people play those cards, let it be a sign that our world has still made it a hard card to play.

If you feel like their abusing “the race card” or any other card, you probably don’t get it yet. And when we don’t understand, it’s best to seek understanding, and/or keep your mouth shut.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Wednesday, October 07th, 2015 | Author:
photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

The dress is white, sleeveless, summery. The fabric is decorated with large, orangish flowers — daisies maybe — flowers painted in a way to give the dress more a sense of womanhood than girlhood.  It falls just below my knees, or at least it did the last time I wore it. I was 14, and I wore it to my sister’s funeral.

It was one of my favorite dresses in a time when 1) I hated dresses still and 2) I was expected to wear dresses still to church every sunday. This one felt like me, where all other dresses failed to. It was beautiful but not too cliche “girly.” I was a hardcore tomboy at the time, and struggling to find ways to express my femininity in my style. This simple, beautiful dress had colors that were bold, but not pink, had a short length (for the time), but was still allowed in my conservative household, and was lightweight, feeling like summer.

When I was preparing for the funeral, I couldn’t figure out what to wear. The only black dress I owned was a little more formal, more of a “Little Black Dress,” and I’d only worn it to ceremonies and celebrations like my 8th grade graduation. That felt all wrong.

I could wear pants, my mom said. It didn’t have to be a dress. That felt wrong, too, though.

So I looked at my clothes and I saw the dress with bright flowers that felt like me, and I thought, I wonder if this is OK. It was bright like me. It was fiery like Julie. And I was comfortable in it during a week that I desperately needed comfort. My mom said that would be fine.

I wore the dress as I stood at the pulpit on the lower stage of the church, looking out over a sea of black clothes and sad eyes and I read a poem I had written for her.

And I went home and took off the dress and replaced them with my tomboy clothes, which would shortly thereafter be replaced in life by clothes I’d inherited from my sister, which wouldn’t be replaced with my own clothes and my own struggling style for many years.

That day, the dress got put away in the closet, and stayed there. I have purged my life innumerable times by now. Every time I move, or every time I get sick of digging through my closet, I get rid of things. But I’ve always kept that dress. Because years later I still looked at it and saw something of me in it.

“I could still wear that again,” I told myself when I left for college and took the dress with all my other clothes down to San Diego. I’ve told myself that same thing with every move since then.

But yesterday, a donation truck was coming by our house here in Wichita and I was getting things ready for it the night before, and I saw the dress. The dress that I have never worn again. And I put it in the pile.

I think that dress was proof that I knew who I was then. I knew myself at 14. And I lost myself in the tumultuousness of grief and life change and influential people and more grief and more life change and through all of that I’ve been trying to emerge as someone who knows myself and lets others get to know me.

And while it’s taken 12 years, I think I’m there. Not in an “arrived” sense. But even in the little things. Like the fact that I often will post something on pinterest and one of my friends will see it, not realizing I’m the one who posted it, and send it back to me. It shows how well they know me.

Having been sure I’d found myself again, I was able to let go of the dress that had served as a lamp post, a guiding light all these years.

“I’ll never wear it again,” I finally admitted to myself, “it’s the funeral dress. Let’s be real.”

But that wasn’t the point all these years — the point was I was trying to find the girl who’d worn it the last time. The girl who, in a sea of black, wore white and orange. The girl who wrote about grief, and shared it. The girl who was herself in the face of the storm.

I found her. It’s taken over a decade, but she’s back. I’m back. I’m back.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 | Author:

I was walking by the river with my little puppy the other day, like I do almost days. We were approaching the first bridge that the path crosses under, but were still a ways off when I started to hear their whistles and hollers. I couldn’t distinguish their words, or if they were yelling particular words, or just the inarticulate calls that make them feel powerful. They were yelling and whistling at me.

Three young men stood on the over pass, stalled at the end nearest to my side of the river, looking at me approach in the distance, and their yells rung out over the muddy river. The sounds washed over the old man with his cane and his dog in front of me, carrying a lace of threat with them.

I looked up to see who they were, and instinct made me grab for my phone nonchalantly. I continued down the path, toward the bridge where I would pass under them and temporarily out of their sight, and I held my phone in my hand, pretending to be texting, busy. In reality, I had it in my hand as a threat back to them. I can call someone. I can take your picture. These were the messages I was urging my ignoring body-language to convey.

But maybe it doesn’t convey that. Or maybe they don’t care. Because as I got closer, one of them started to walk toward the end of the bridge, toward the arm of the path that would lead them down to me. I slowed my pace, now not only annoyed, but vigilantly aware of what was happening. Not scared yet, but on guard. Torn between what would be more effective: flipping him off and yelling, “F*** off” while taking their photo, or simply avoiding them.

I’ve taken both tactics, and a few others before, usually relying on my gut about which one to choose that time. This time I looked at my dog, pretending to be unaware or unconcerned, as I still watched him and the others in my peripheral vision.

When the other two men turned and walked toward the third, in my direction, I stopped, still a way away (considering this my head start if it came to that) and pulled my puppy off the path onto the grass, telling her to go potty. Pretending like this wasn’t a stall move.

And it worked, the two called to the third, and they all continued back on their way across the bridge, away from me, continuing their loud whistling and lewd calls loudly at me the entire time until I finally disappeared under the overpass.

I stayed there for a few minutes, trying to make sure that they had crossed the bridge and left before I turned around and headed back toward home.

But they had waited for me. They had gone silent as soon as I’d gone under the bridge. But as soon as I emerged, they stood in the same place they’d been before, and the yells, more angry and relentless this time rung out against my back and bouncing off the river water to the banks.

Stand tall. Don’t look back. Walk with confidence. I recited to myself the mantra that I’ve taught to other young girls their first time we go into a third world city like Port Au Prince, Haiti, where rape-culture is a way of life still, not a topic for internet forums.

When I was far enough away, and when a couple and their young children came into view, sauntering my way, toward the bridge, the rude trio finally stopped and walked away, across the bridge, and out of view.

I continued walking, smiled at the friendly family as I passed them, and breathed a sigh as I let my guard down a little again. It was then that I realized: most men, if they don’t do this kind of catcalling, may not even know what it’s like to be subjected to it.

Now, I’ve never really identified as a feminist before, though I probably am one, and I have come to accept catcalling as a regular part of life. I often don’t mind it, even, because often, it’s done without anything that makes me feel threatened.

An idiot teenager hollering out of his car to me as he passes me on the street makes me roll my eyes and smirk as I flip him off, giving him the response he wanted, leaving me only slightly annoyed.

A guy on the street of Seattle recently was getting into his car  while I got into mine in front of him when I heard him laugh, astonished, and then say, in a totally unthreatening way, “Wow. Your ass is amazing. Have a great day,” and then he got into his car and left.

That still would be categorized as cat-calling I think, and probably isn’t appropriate, but that’s the grey area for me, kind of like the Italian men calling out “Ciao Bella” to every woman that passes by.

The thing is though, for every 5 interactions I have on the street with men, 3 are “Ciao Bella” types and 2 make me feel like a spy — casing my surroundings, figuring out what the closest escape route is, reading their body language, gauging how fast and far I can run in those particular shoes or what I have on my person or around me that I could use as a weapon. And I never agreed to be a part of a battle like that. My gender drafted me unwillingly.

I have never had to run away. (Some women have.) I have never had to fight a man. (Some have.) But the fact alone that their words and actions make me feel like I might have to, is not OK. And I am not alone. Recently there have been the videos of the women walking the streets of New York showing the catcalls. Those have sparked conversation — a necessary conversation. But the thing is, it doesn’t just happen in New York.

This happens to women everywhere, everyday.

Not just in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Not even just in NYC. In Wichita. In Sacramento. In the nice parts of San Diego. In the suburbs of Rocklin. In small rural towns. Everywhere. If not daily, at least semi-weekly.

And this is not a diatribe on how it shouldn’t occur. (For the record, it shouldn’t occur.) I doubt those men read my blog. But it is to try to educate the good men around us, just because it occurred to me that you probably don’t really know. It never happens to me when I have anyone of the male world around me. So how would you know?

So men, when your women folk get skittish, when we get a little antsy walking to the car alone at night, or when we want to lock the doors and sleep with the porch light on, most times it’s unnecessary, of course. But this, I think this is why we feel like maybe, just maybe we need to.

I just wanted to give you a glimpse into one of the unspoken, unseen aspects of our daily female lives. No matter where we live. I’m not bitter. I just want to start talking about this stuff more openly.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 | Author:

I like to have roots. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it, looking at the past eight years of my life. In those eight years I have moved 16 times. Sometimes as small of moves as moving into a new dorm room across the hall. Sometimes as large a move as moving to another continent. But every move required the packing-up of things.

And when you have to physically move everything you own, it forces you to do either a conscious or unconscious inventory of everything you have.  Inevitably with each move I have left some things in storage in my parents basement. Things I didn’t need at that point in life.

When I lived in San Diego, I left behind my snow clothes and ski gear. When I lived in Switzerland, I left behind almost everything because I only got to take two suitcases.

And currently, I’ve gotten rid of almost all of my things except what could fit into my Toyota Camry, and the few boxes and things that are left are stacked neatly in two shelves in storage unit in California.

With each move, I often get rid of some of the things I own simply because I want to downsize and I’ve determined that I don’t really need them anymore. Even above and beyond that, usually I’ll end up storing something somewhere, forgetting about it, doing life without missing it at all for a while. And then when I stumble upon it again, I realize that while I didn’t think I could get rid of it when I had put it in storage, I in fact don’t need it or even want it as much as I once thought I did.

Now I’m preparing to move into a more permanent space here in Wichita soon, and it has me thinking about the things I’ve lost along the way, though.

There are some possessions that we lose in life that we didn’t want to get rid of. We’re either forced to let them go, or they simply get misplaced or lost along the way.

When I was little, I didn’t have the typical “blankey,” teddy bear, or baby doll that I toddled around with – I had my “little pillow.” It was a faded blue-purple patchwork from what I can remember.  It was soft and semi-dingy. And like it’s name indicates, it was small. I don’t know how it is that I got attached to this little pillow, but it was the thing I took with me everywhere I went.  Then when I was still really little, maybe three or four years old, I lost it.

I must’ve left it somewhere, but we could never figure out where. I was phasing out of it anyway, but I remember still being really sad over it’s loss. Soon I was given another “little pillow,” but it was all wrong – yellow in color, silky in texture instead of the soft cotton, and it was a rectangle instead of a square.  I think that yellow replacement pillow is still in the basement somewhere, but it’s only important because it symbolizes what was lost.  I didn’t really ever care about the replacement, and I soon transitioned into not having any “thing” that I carried around. I just played with whatever.

I had a lot of fun as a kid and never had a hard time being inventive or enjoying playing, but that little pillow was the only thing I was ever really attached to. And the fact that I’m still talking about it two decades later reminds me that while I accepted the loss and moved on, and would have no place in my life for it now anyway except the basement, it was still sad to lose it before it’s time.

The transitions in my life have taught me that – have shown me that sometimes I need to downsize. To strip away the excess. To get rid of things I like but don’t need. And they’ve taught me that moving on, and moving forward require moving.

Sometimes, though, in the moving process I lose things that I really didn’t want to lose. I can accept the loss, I can move forward. But these transitions have taught me that accepting a loss doesn’t have to mean denying that I wish things were different. I’ve learned that it’s still ok to be sad about them. Loss is a sad thing. Even when it’s just a little pillow.

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 08th, 2015 | Author:


Selfies are not new. They just do something new.

For centuries, probably millennia, people have been creating self portraits.

The camera is a unique medium to create self portraiture with though, because while it is still an art form, it’s a mode of capturing as opposed to creating.

That’s the thing. Self-portraits used to be a mode of creating one’s self outside of one’s self. A way to let the world see how you see yourself.

What the camera did was allow us to see ourselves the way the world sees us.

I was born in 1989 and Jane Fonda doing aerobics in spandex didn’t put pressure on my body image as a young child. The first pressure about my body I remember feeling was that I wanted to look like Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. Mary Kate specifically because she and I were both a bit more on the tomboy side of life and I liked that.

My parents have a toddler picture of me hanging on the wall in their front entryway. I’m about two years old and I resemble Michelle from Full House. I’d heard people say that since I was young, so the comparison of myself to the twins as we aged was natural, and not a negative thing.

That is, until the twins, a few years older than I, got into their middle school years and their skirts got higher showing their thinned legs, and their shirts got tighter to show their developed, larger breasts. Meanwhile, my friends and I were watching Britney Spears music videos and I, a too-tall, small-breasted, wavy-haired, leggy-but-for-my-age-thick-legged 10-year-old started to understand that the way I looked didn’t look like our new ideal.

I’m amazed and grateful I made it to 10 before the media got to me. Quickly the media started to show me what all pretty girls apparently looked like. Images left and right in my daily life portrayed women who had straight, straight hair, and thin, thin legs with no hips to speak off, and the bigger the boobs the better. I was failing on all accounts and I wasn’t even a teen yet (though my teen years wouldn’t help me in those departments).

Then photoshop came along and exacerbated the already brewing problem. It was the time when photos went from capturing to creating again, except no one told us they weren’t just showing what was real anymore. We believed our real selves should look like that.

You have now, not just one, but multiple generations who have been shaped throughout their formative years by everything the media images have told them to be, and selfies are not to show the world how we perceive ourselves anymore.

Sometimes they’re to show ourselves how the world sees us. We have a false sense of what we look like because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to those images (now not just those of the rich and famous, but of our friends and that random girl who is only famous because of Instagram). An objective camera shows us what we really look like. Sometimes when I take pictures of myself I’m forced to admit that I’m prettier or more slim or what-have-you than I tend to think of myself being.

We then put that objective photo out there to ask the world for confirmation — “Um, hey world, hey friends, I took this photo, and it makes me think I’m maybe prettier than I thought. Can you confirm or deny that?” And they do. Our friends and sometimes strangers (depending on how much skin you show and what hashtags you use) comment letting us know that the camera and our assessment of it’s feedback is correct.

After almost two decades of Olsen Twins and Britney Spears and all the others that followed (and Kylie Jenner who I looked up on Instagram just last night to see what all the fuss was about and now I see that she, too, is oh-so-much hotter than I am), that feedback is a little gift to our ego that’s been battered for so long — and maybe it even helps our self-esteem. Maybe.

Then there’s the other reason for selfies. We create and share selfies to show the world not how we see ourselves, but how they should see us. It’s the creation game again and still.

We pose ourselves. We use props — a book on the lap, glasses for the #nerdygirl hashtag. If we have a more adult account, we position our backsides to look plump but to hide that bit of cellulite over there. We use filters — change the lighting to cover blemishes, change the contrast to make our features pop, change the saturation to make our eyes and lips look vibrant.

We share it not saying “Hey world, this is the objective picture my camera showed me and I think I look kinda pretty, do you think so?”. No, we say “Hey world. This is an objective image. I’m hot. You know it. Please like my photo so I know you believe it and then maybe I’ll start believing I look like this for real, and maybe I’ll feel better about myself over all. Maybe.”

After all these thousands of years, our culture is trying desperately to get back to the place where we know how we see ourselves. We’d like that perception to stop being self-loathing.

That’s not an unworthy pursuit. Behind our airbrushed role models and our iPhone filters applied to our own faces we lost site of what we look like in the world, and we’re trying to find it again. Though if we looked up from our screens, we might have a better chance. Please bear with us. #TheStruggleIsReal.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 01st, 2015 | Author:

It is monday night and I’m currently sitting in a sonic drive-in parking spot, not ordering or eating delicious ice cream creations, but instead waiting for my car to cool off. My hood is up because it started to overheat and turning the heater on as soon as I saw the smoke rising up did diddly squat so I pulled in here and parked. (I have since learned that turning the A/C on so the fans go is more efficient). I was heading to the coffee shop to write the blog post for tomorrow and some other writing work.

But instead, I’ve been here for about 45 minutes now. The whole ordeal has reminded me about one of my shortcomings that I’m grateful life forces me to practice bettering: accepting help.

Sometimes I’m bad about accepting help, and but I’m always bad about asking for it.

I’ve always been this way. I mean, I’ll ask for help if it’s convenient and there’s someone right there and it’s truly easier. The problem is, often someone is not right there and it actually requires asking for something from someone. A sacrifice. Or, in my mind, a debt. And I have a bookie heart and a bookie mind and I want to make sure that I always have a positive balance in the debt scale.

I’m like Switzerland in that way. When I studied abroad there at a small international school, someone said something about that Swiss way once.

They said each country could be summed up in one word. And if Switzerland had one most important word, it would be security (or self-sufficiency). They help other countries out, sure, but they don’t depend on anyone but themselves. They’re neutral, and if everything goes to crap, they’ll be unaffected because they have no stake for their survival on anyone else’s claims.

I heard that and I thought: That’s me. I’m Switzerland. I loan people money but don’t often borrow. I love helping people out and offer my help freely, but when it comes to my own tasks I do them alone or at least figure them out myself.

I’m capable in lots of ways, and the ways I’m ignorant have now been limited even further by my having a computer in my pocket at all times allowing me to google things like “My car is overheating, what should I do?” Which is what I was about to do after I’d opened the hood, seen something leaking from underneath my car, and then checked my oil levels (because those are about the only things I know how to do under the hood of a car).

But right then as I was finishing checking my oil and thus concluding the steps I knew to take, a car pulled up next to me and this sweet couple my parent’s age asked if I needed help. I told them what I knew of what was happening and the man says, “do you mind if I take a look?”

Do I mind? Do I mind if you help me? 

His phrasing made it seem like I was the one being asked of, not him. I immediately accepted his offer to help because I was in a realm where really either my phone or a person would need to tell me what else to do, and it might as well be the person with knowledge standing there right with me in the steam of my hot hot car.

I grew up spending a lot of time on the sides of roads with broken down cars waiting for someone who might stop and then go call a tow truck for us because cell phones weren’t big yet. Then luckily came the days when cell phones became more popular — we didn’t have any yet, but some people did, and we’d just have to wait for one of those people to stop and call for us. Then came the days where my mom did get a cell phone, and we just had to wait for the tow truck to get there.

Slowly our time spent waiting for help got less and less, and then eventually my parents bought newer cars that didn’t break down every week which was really a wonderful change of pace.

But what I learned on the sides of those roads was that sometimes, (especially with cars breaking down), it’s not only that you HAVE to ask for help… it’s that you don’t even really get to ask most times. You’re at the mercy of those around you who see your implicit need for help and stop to assist.

Now, with cell phones, a lot less people stop to help, because we assume we can all help ourselves. If you’re not calling your own tow truck, you’re looking up “my car is overheating what do I do?” on your smart phone. Our phones have increased our Swissness.

Luckily I live in the midwest now, and the Swiss self-sufficiency mentality hasn’t saturated the place yet, so I was still lucky enough to have people stop to help and force me to get out of my Swiss comfort zone in a good way.

Usually when I am in a bind, I take care of it alone and quietly. I usually won’t even mention it to people later, I just figure it out and move on. Take it in stride, as they say. But, while I’m not glad my car is overheating, it’s good for me to practice being dependent on the help of others sometimes. And there’s nothing like a hood popped up on a car at a Sonic Drive-In at night in Kansas with a young woman behind the wheel to say to the world around me “Hey, hey guys. I might be in a bind. I might need a little help.”

Now if only I’d practice that at other times, too, I might be on to something.

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon