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Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | Author:

Over the next few months I’ll be working on a small e-book project about the things no one talks about when they talk about grief. Obviously, I write about grief a lot, and I wish when I was first experiencing grief that I could’ve found some pretty brutally honest, but maybe slightly funny book about the different aspects about the grief journey. I didn’t find such a book. So I decided to have a go at trying to write it. It’ll be pretty short, because I, at least, when I’m in grief, don’t have a lot of energy to consume or process outside information.

That being said, this is the intro chapter to the book project…

THINGS NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT GRIEF:

You May Vomit

What I remember most about the car ride to the hospital where my sister, Julie, would die is that I wanted to puke. Want is the wrong word, I guess. I needed to puke.

We’d just left the Carl’s Jr. in Grass Valley, California, and we had to make our way to a hospital a couple of hours away. My mom had gotten the call that changed our lives on her cell phone. My brother-in-law’s name, Chris, came across the screen of the cell phone that still had an antennae she had to pull up before answering.

I saw her face as I watched her through the glass doors that she had exited to take the call in a quieter place. Something about her face told me and my body that grief was on its way. That’s the moment — the moment my stomach dropped and started tying in knots, telling me it didn’t want anything in it anymore.

I poured out my drink and held my empty cup in my hands as we drove, sure that I would need it at any moment.

When we arrived at the hospital a couple hours later, my mom asked me how I was doing. “I feel like I need to throw up,” I said blankly.

“That’s ok if you do. That’s a normal reaction,” I remember her saying.

It wasn’t normal to me, though.

 

I was 14, and I’d experienced one death prior. A girl a year older than I, who had cerebral palsy, had died a few years before. I’d always had a soft spot for her and been kind to her. She couldn’t say any words, and her mouth was permanently open with drool streaming out, but man. I could make her laugh. Cackle, actually. Her name was Julie, also. I’d known her my whole life. She died on a summer day, and I was swimming at my best friend’s house when my sister showed up, walked down the path to the pool at the end of the yard and told us the news.

I was sad, really sad, but not nauseous.

Julie (my sister) played piano at the other Julie’s funeral. It was the first time I’d heard the church song “Better is one day.” The chorus says, “better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house, better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.”

I watched my sister play and sing this beautiful song about a promise of hope and newness, and I thought of this younger Julie, who had never been able to walk or run or play, who had never been able to speak, or argue, or do anything except laugh or cry, and I saw her in those courts, in that house, being free and running and talking and I was glad for her.

But a few years later, as I walked into the hospital where my siblings and I were all born, and where Julie would soon die, I wanted to throw up. The thoughts of the courts and house of God being better than a thousand days here had no consolation. I wanted to puke all over that hopeful song.

I didn’t though. I went to the bathroom several times thinking I would. At one point I shoved a finger down my throat because the nausea was so painful. Still nothing.

I didn’t realize that this was not just an isolated incident, but rather how my body handles the blows of grief until nine years later when I found myself in my apartment, alone, collapsed and dry-heaving in the hallway in another instance of knowing my life would never be the same.

Literal dry heaves. The only time I’d experienced that before was when I had an ugly, ugly bout with the norovirus (the very violent and contagious cruise ship stomach flu) and I’d thought I really might die, because I was so weak and so violently ill. I’ll spare you more details.

After I got to a point where I could get up from the floor and get to the bathroom, I remember thinking, “I guess this is what I do when life breaks. I want to throw up and I can’t.” I showered and laid in bed, my body reeling in a way that doesn’t make sense from an emotional blow.

I was nauseous for the next 3 weeks that time.

And every instance of forceful grief since, I find myself jealous of those of you who do actually vomit with grief. Which is a very odd and petty thing to be jealous about. But that’s what this project is — admitting the odd, petty, and other things that no one talks about when they talk about grief.

So just know, you may vomit. Or, you may not. And that’s OK.


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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 | Author:

I’d just told my uncle that I wanted to move.

I was living in an area that I’d only moved to for two reasons.

The first was that I wanted to move out of my hometown. I’d spent enough time there as an adult, and enough time there after some major life changes to feel ready to leave without feeling like I was running away. I felt released from the place that I had once loved, and I was looking for a new place to begin the long rebuilding process.

The second reason I’d moved to this small suburban city was that I was offered a job there, one which I happily took.

“I know you might know this, but I want to iterate that you haven’t really been here that long,” my uncle began. He has a good way with words, and it’s always been clear to me that he cares for my best interest.

“You know, we moved around a lot when the kids were younger, and what we found was that it takes at least a year to really assimilate into a new town. And you’ve only been here a little longer than that.”

He was right. I knew that I could probably assimilate more there if I stayed longer. But that’s not what I wanted.

“I know,” I said, “It’s just that I don’t know that this is the place that I want to settle into.”

“OK,” he said, relenting, “that’s fair.”

What I’d started to see in the people around me there — at work, at my apartment complex, and at the church I was attending — was that a lot of people end up somewhere forever just because they never had any instigating event that made them move. (And not because they had lack of resources or potential opportunity.) As I started to be aware of it, I realized that for a lot, if not most people, the same was true for many of their relationships, their careers, their family culture, and ultimately their whole life.

And I saw that I was on that path. It would be easy to let that happen in my life as well. My uncle was probably right — the longer I stayed there, the more involved and connected I would’ve become. The more complacent I would’ve been with my life. And truly, I think for many people, that’s how their lives play out and they are really content with it. Which is great.

But I knew, for my own happiness, I needed more than that.  And I had the means and the will to make it happen.

I didn’t want to end up in Rocklin, California 30 years from now simply because I never happened to move. If I was to stay there, I wanted it to be because I wanted to be there. But that was the thing — I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t not want to be there either. Which is why I stayed as long as I did. I was traveling. Wandering. Looking for somewhere else I wanted to be. Lingering while figuring out that this was not where I wanted my forever home to be.

And when I was still not sure of where I wanted to live, I had finally come to know that that suburban city was not it. Which meant, for me, that while it would be comfortable and easy to stay, it was time to do the hard work and the leap of faith of moving forward, elsewhere.

I’m not sure why place has always been such a big deal to me, but I’ve always felt very strongly about where I decide to live. I feel like I could live anywhere for a time. But to make any sort of commitment to living somewhere — I have to choose it.

If it hadn’t of been for this conviction in me about places, I don’t know that I would’ve moved on when I did. I may never have. It’s easy to stay where you’ve got your life set up. It’s easy to stay where it’s comfortable and safe. Where it’s familiar. Even if it’s not really somewhere you’ve ever really chosen to be — just somewhere you’ve ended up.

Since that conversation, and that decision to move, I’ve made it a commitment in my life to make choices. To choose my own happiness and situations over what’s familiar and safe. To choose contentment over complacency.

I’ve spent a lot of my life envying the people who never move, who marry their high school sweethearts, who have 2.5 children and a dog and a cat, and who stay at the same job their whole lives. Not because that’s what I’ve really wanted, but because it seemed easier. And it seemed like they were happy enough.

A lot of them, I’m sure, are truly happy.

But I didn’t have a high school sweetheart. I’ve moved a lot. I don’t have any kids yet. And I’ve already switched careers once since college. And in all of those start-overs that take so much energy, I think I’ve learned that when in my desires to settle down, I’m no longer willing to settle. I learned that I have the capacity to happen to life. I don’t have to just let life happen to me.

I’m willing to give up what probably would’ve been good enough in exchange for what’s specifically great for me.

End Note: I know y’all are sick of reading about Wichita. But I’m really glad that I moved and found a town that’s great for me. I’m proud to call it home.

Disclaimer: I realize that it is a privilege to be able to choose some things like these about one’s life. The observations mentioned in this post were not of those who truly have no options for change of their place, career, or sometimes even relationships, which I know is a reality for many. The piece is about my own personal convictions about how I have been able to and have chosen to live my life here forward.


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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 08th, 2015 | Author:

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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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Author:

I don’t see very many writers who even try to write about the hard things, so the fact that I do it at all seems to set me apart somewhat. The writers that do, do it incredibly, and I learn from them regularly.

But that’s something I often hear as feedback: You write so raw, your words are vulnerable. Some people ask, even, “How do you write so candidly?”

The answer is that I stopped writing for you.

I put the words out there for you, but I write them for myself to read. There are whole folders of word documents and journals (literally, journals – plural and full) that will never reach your eyes. They don’t need to. I was the only one who needed to read them.

Almost exactly three years ago now, I was out of college and had been for a year. School was starting up again as we made our way into fall, and I was nostalgic for that “I’m about to learn new things” time right at the beginning when classes are fresh and assignments are only on syllabi not in your calendar yet.

I bought a book of memoir writing prompts called “Old Friend From Far Away,” and I resolved to work my way diligently through the book to keep me writing — a year out of college had gotten me out of practice.

I bought a new journal and pen, and started in on the book’s prompts, working for the suggested “write on _____ for 10 minutes,” and good stuff was starting to come forth on the first couple prompts.

Then, about two weeks later I was at the eleventh prompt, and some of the prompts, like that one, have a chapter that goes with it to help you learn and become a better writer as well.

The prompt was to write about what you don’t remember. I read the chapter and knew that I had many dark parts of life that I’d rather not remember, so I wrote about all of them except the big one, the darkest one, the secret one that I thought I’d carry to my grave.

I wrote things like “I don’t remember Julie before she was tired and angry. I don’t remember the smell of the hospital or the way the doctor looked… I don’t remember the day after the day after the worst day… I don’t remember what —— looked like the last day I saw her. It was the day of high school graduation and she had a black eye from her dad, and her mom wanted her to move in with her boyfriend…”

I was just grasping for straws that sounded true and vulnerable while I danced around the real thing I didn’t want to remember.

I swallowed my own B.S. for one day and went on to the next prompt and wrote about it. But when I went back the day after that, I couldn’t swallow it anymore. The chapter on “I don’t remember” said this:

“Worry later about your fears — what your mother, brother, partner, co-workers, father, priest, even your angel will think. For now get it out on the page. Discover what you are so fiercely hiding and not remembering or blanking out on…

If what you write is frightening to you, tear it up, burn it, after you are done.

Then write it again. Destroy it.

Then write it again. And chew it up and swallow.

Build a tolerance for what you cannot bear.

This is the beginning: to let out what you have held hidden. Otherwise you will always be writing around your secrets, like the elephant no one notices in the living room. Get it out and down on the page. If you don’t, you’ll keep tripping over it.”

Those words haunted me and I knew they were right. One day of pretending they weren’t was too much. But I also felt like the risk was too great. I couldn’t write it even if I burned it. And if I didn’t write it, I’d keep tripping over it.

So that was the day I stopped writing.

It was four months later that my secret was exposed. In the midst of the shock and trauma, in a quiet moment, the thought came to me like a fatal silver lining — “Well, I guess I can write again, because now I can write about it.

I didn’t write about it publicly for a year. Even then it was in very vague terms so that people who knew would know what I was talking about, and people who didn’t know my story could just know that I’d gone through severe life altering events and knew the struggle of starting over.

It was over two years when I started to tell that story for real this spring. But in the meantime, I’ve been writing about it for myself with the candor that my previous life never afforded me. And as I’ve practiced being honest with myself, I find myself sometimes reading a piece I’ve written and thinking, this might have value to share with the world. They can have this one.

That’s how I write so candidly about the ugly, hard stuff of life. I’m not writing for you. I’m practicing being honest with myself, and sometimes I let the world peak in.

There’s a Hemingway quote I found last year that I hold close to my chest and my desk: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

If it hurts, I write hard and clear. Sometimes I still have to burn it. Then I write it again. I’m practicing putting my pain on the page. For me, and sometimes for you, too.

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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 | Author:

I’m not dating anyone right now. But I can guarantee you one thing: if I were, about 50% or more of the people in my life, upon me saying I was dating someone, would ask two questions:

  1. What’s his name?
  2. Does he love Jesus?/Is he following the Lord?/ Is he a christian?

storyofjo dating, Jesus, Church, Satire

Growing up in the church, it was clear to me that a potential partner (i.e. anyone I’d date, because why, for the love of pete, would you date anyone that you weren’t “probably going to marry”? —I have thoughts on that for another day) needed to go to church and be a Christian. Which, by the way, is the real question lurking behind the guise of the trite question “does he love Jesus” for at least 50% of those 50+% that ask.

Being a christian (read: church culture participation) was the most important thing. So much so that the people who know a guy or gal marginally enough to ask whether the person they’re dating loves Jesus often stop asking about the person after that question is answered.

My parents have been delicate in this with me, which I appreciate, but I didn’t know exactly what I thought about it until a couple years ago when I started to date someone who didn’t know how he felt about God and was not involved in the church. “American Christian/agnostic” was probably a good description of where he was at.

While we’re weren’t in a relationship, just going on dates getting to know one another, I found myself one afternoon in a car with my mom when she brought it up. I could tell she’d been thinking about it a while. It wasn’t her first or second question about him. But it still came to that question, or rather that concern (which, for the record, I think is fine. Parents, I hope you hope for what you believe to be best for your children. Christ, christian culture, church, whatever included.)

“I am a little concerned about the whole belief in God thing, Jo,” she said sensitively. I knew she brought it up because she cared.

My response, though it did not feel defensive, felt heavy, and my words surprised me and educated me on how I felt as they left my lips.

“He treats me well. He’s kind to me. He respects me as a human being. I’m sorry mom, but those are things that are more important to me right now than him believing in God. I’ve been hurt and disrespected by men who believe in God before. I’d rather date a kind, respectful man who doesn’t know what he believes, or knows that he doesn’t believe in God, than the opposite.”

I still stand by that. Because when it comes down to it, loving Jesus is a matter of the heart, and it changes you. I have known, and known of, far too many “christian men” who act in ways toward others I would never desire. I will choose a man with a loving, kind heart like Jesus’ heart (whether he thinks Jesus is a falsity or not) first and foremost, every time.

Ideally, I think life is often easier when couple’s belief systems line up. Ideally, I’d like that for my own life in the long run. Heck, ideally, I’d like to figure out what my belief system is for myself at some point. But when it comes down to it, when I’m dating someone, I will have far more questions that are more important to me than what his name is, and does he “love Jesus.”

Here are some good questions that should be answered about the man/woman you date or those you care deeply for are dating:

  1. What is his name?
  2. What do you like about him?
  3. Does he have a history of violent crime? (Yes, it’s still a crime if he wasn’t caught.)
  4. Does he batter women? (Yes, you count in that. Yes, every other woman counts in that.)
  5. Does he deal drugs?  (This can endanger you. Have you seen breaking bad?)
  6. Has he ever made you feel less valuable? (Chances are you are not “crazy” even if he says you are.)
  7. Does he participate in illegal dog fights? (Please tell me you’re not dating Michael Vick.)
  8. How does he treat the waiter when you’re at a restaurant? (Waiters are people too.)
  9. How does he treat poorer people? (Poorer people are people too.)
  10. Does he care about the earth? (We all should, but at least make sure you’re compatible.)
  11. Does he cheat on you constantly? (No, I’m not going to define “cheat” for you.)
  12. Does he cheat on you occasionally? (No, I’m not going to define “occasionally” for you.)
  13. Will you have to compromise your dreams, ambitions, or personality traits to be with him? (that’s right, sh*t just got real.)
  14. Is he part of the CIA and thus might have to lie a lot and probably get your house shot up at least once? (I know you loved the show Alias, but I’ve heard rumors that real life might be different than TV.)
  15. Is his main form of income acting in pornos? (Again, if you’re OK with this, fine, if not, it maaayyy be a red flag.)
  16. Is he racist, homophobic, or otherwise scared or hateful toward any people group? (No jokes here. 100% Legitimate question.)
  17. Does he ask you to have sex with others in exchange for money? (Unless you realize he is your pimp and you are ok with this. If that is not the case, this is not love, honey.)
  18. Does he require you to perform degrading acts in the bedroom that you do not consent to? (You have a woman-born right to get the hell out of that relationship.)
  19. Does he stone you for not wearing your burka? (Probably not a great guy.)
  20. Does he drown kittens for fun? (I mean, as long as he loves Jesus this one is probably ok.)
  21. Does he love to burn things to the ground and ask you to wait at home? (This is called arson and could leave you lonely while he is in prison.)
  22. Does he ask you to drive getaway cars when he robs banks? (This is participation in a felony — Orange probably isn’t really the new black. Just food for thought.)

But hey, pretty much all of these are fine if he goes to church. You know that, right? You didn’t? Oh, good, now you guys are set.

 

*Note. This is satire. If you didn’t catch that. Just wanted to be sure.


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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 | Author:

It’s a weekend afternoon and I’m sitting out in the front yard, looking at my slack line slung between two trees while I write this.

I was just on it a moment ago. And again several moments before that. And again several moments before that. That’s how slack lining goes for me. I do several attempts to cross its length: Sometimes I make it, sometimes I fall after a step or four or ten. After several rounds of this my balance starts to suffer as my muscles and focus fatigue, so I go sit down and take a short break, and then I go back to it, and so on.

That’s the thing that slack lining has taught me. I put it on my birthday goals list this year to try slack lining before I turned 26. In between writing it down as “try slack lining” and getting the opportunity to try it at my neighbor’s in Denver several months later, I misremembered my goal as “learn how to slack line.”

Before I had ever tried the activity, I thought of those as being pretty much the same goal. Then I thought, like many things, it may just come easily and naturally to me. When I was young we didn’t have much money and I had friends who did gymnastics. I always wanted to do it, too, but we couldn’t afford it. So my dad made a “balance beam” for us kids to do our own gymnastics on. It was a 1×4 board nailed to a base. I learned how to balance really well by the time I ever got to visit the gymnastics gym for a birthday party and walk across their real balance beam. Turns out if you learn to balance on a 1” wide board, you can balance on the 5” balance beam without problems.

But fast forward 20 years and I stepped onto the 1” wide slack line and everything on my body, and the line itself began to shake uncontrollably. I fell off as soon as I let go before I could even take one step. But in my mis-remembrance of my goal, I committed to learning how to do this.

The biggest lesson was learning how to fall. The only time I got slightly injured while slack lining was near the beginning of my learning time, and it was because when I started to fall, I tried to prevent the fall by taking another step. My second foot caught on the wobbling line and I fell body first to the ground, no feet free to land with. I hit hard hurting my tail bone and my hip.

To fall well while slacklining, you have to be aware of yourself. Aware of your balance. Aware of your core muscles and your hands lifted high for balance. You have to be able to assess if you could try to salvage your balance or, if it’s time, to just give in to the fall.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a few months, I’m still not good at slack lining, but I’m great at falling. Each fall is an act of acceptance. Falling is part of it. I step into it now, feeling the fall starting, I just step down into a walking landing. I use my momentum of those exiting steps to direct me back to the end of the line, so that I can hop up and start trying again.

When I first started trying to learn, I would thud down heavy with each fall. Sometimes it would hurt my feet. Sometimes I’d try to stay on the line longer while I fell, not ready to accept defeat for that try. It is with the acceptance of loss, the acceptance of failure that I’ve begun to make headway and begun to spend more time on the line than off of it.

It’s a dance. On the line, falling, salvage it, falling again, I accept it, I take the step off while walking to the beginning and then I’m up, at it again.

It’s become clear to me that success at this activity, and in life, has less to do with how often you fail and fall, and more to do with whether you fall well and continue to head right back to try again.

I’m 25, and after knowing the gut-wrenching ache of loss of the big things in life, I’ve begun to notice that when littler things go wrong, I hold everything very loosely. As my muscles get stronger and I get more focus, I can sometimes salvage the fall, I can sometimes correct in time to stay on the line, I can also see when it’s worth it to just give in to the fall and use the momentum to keep moving forward to try again.

I thought I was learning the art of slack lining, but I’ve learned that failing and falling and persistence are the art.

Success and slack lining are what come as a result of doing the other three well.


 

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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 | Author:

storyofjo san diego friends

I convinced her to do the hike with me.

It’s called the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  Some of the reviews and bloggers were surprisingly dramatic about how hard of a hike it is and how much water you need to bring with you. (One blogger suggested something like 5 gallons per person. Which I still stand by the fact that that’s ridiculous.)

Reading a bit further on the matter, though, I found plenty of people who had said the hike itself is easy-moderate, it’s just hot and unshaded. Perfect, I thought. Work on my San Diego tan while we hike. Win win.

I asked Lizz if she was down for it, and she expressed concerns about having heard similarly scary reports of how hard it was. But I told her what I’ve just told you and she agreed to try it.

You hike three miles downhill in desert areas outside of San Diego, get to the Devil’s Punchbowl, hangout in the shade and/or water, then you go three miles back uphill in the sun. In the summer it averages around 115 degrees. But in March, when we were going, it was only 85 or 90. Totally doable.

We laughed and made jokes about the huge signs at the trailhead that say in big, capital block letters: “CAUTION. HEAT STROKE KILLS!”

“Hey Lizz, I don’t know if you’re heard, but you should really be cautious. There’s this thing called heat stroke, and it’ll kill ya dead.” We have a very dry, sarcastic humor with one another. For some reason we find it hilarious to just repeat obvious things in dumb voices. At least we entertain each other.

We hiked down with ease, though Lizz was starting to get really hot. Which probably should’ve been a tip-off. We were trying to conserve our water, though, so she drank little on the way down. When we got to the water, we stayed for a good 30 or 40 minutes, just trying to get her back to feeling OK. We still made jokes about how she was dying from heat stroke. But of course, she didn’t have heat stroke, she was just hot from hiking in the hot sun. She was fine. It did take her a long time to feel like she got her temp back down though.

When she finally did, we began the hike back up. About 2/3 of the way she was really struggling and started to talk about feeling light headed, nauseas and having a throbbing headache. Having worked at summer camps for many years, I know that means dehydrated, so we made steady slow effort up the trail and I kept having her drink more. More. More.

Here, drink my second water bottle. Here drink the rest of my last water bottle. With no cell service I was starting to get concerned, but near the end she said she was feeling a little better, so I went on ahead to get to the trail head and get myself some water, and bring some back for her if she had to stop.

But I didn’t have to go back for her, she was close enough behind me. She got to the trailhead, drank an entire liter of water, and then went and laid in the shade until she cooled off.

Sorry I almost killed you with heat stroke I apologized, still snarky.

She cooled down, we got in the car and headed for our next item for the day. On the drive I got cell service back and received a text message my mom had sent earlier that morning: “Hi Jo. Give me a call when you have a chance.”

As I was driving and Lizz was all heat-strokey, I decided I would call her once we arrived somewhere. I had a feeling in my gut that she was going to tell me my childhood cat had died. He was old, I knew he’d been potentially nearing the end for a while now, but if it was that, I didn’t want to know just yet.

We got into the next town and were almost to our destination when Lizz said, Pull over. Pull over right now I’m gonna throw up.

I pulled into a parking lot and she couldn’t get the door quite all the way open before she puked in the most projectile way of “projectile vomit” I’ve ever seen. Some of it hit part of the door, splashing back on her, and the rest drenched the hot asphalt.

All of the water I’d made her drink shot out like a water cannon. It was really quite impressive if it weren’t so sad.

After she seemed to have finished, she sat up, I handed her a napkin, she wiped her mouth and the door, and said I think I just need to sit here for a bit.

I decided I might as well call my mom and face the sad news if thats what it was while I waited.

Hi Jo, she started. It’s about your cat. 

My tear ducts got ready.

Is he dead? I asked.

He went missing yesterday, and Dad went out to look for him today because we hadn’t seen him, and I’m sorry Jo but he found him in the pool. He drowned.

Tears. Falling. Throat. Catching.

He drowned??? I balked.

I’m so sorry Jo…

I cut her off. I felt the grief assaulting me. Ok, I’m sorry. I have to go. Bye.

I hit the “end call” button with a messy punch of my thumb before my hand just dropped the phone and I cried ugly, loud sobs while strangling the steering wheel. And then I wailed. The sounds guttural. Moans of distraught youth. Cries of old, old life officially gone.

Because he hadn’t died of old age he had drowned.

Because he’s the only pet* that’s ever been mine.

Because we only got him because me and my now dead older sister begged for him on our knees on the sidewalk outside of the froze yogurt place when we saw the lady with the box of free kittens. And while Julie would typically be far too proud to do anything like that, she’d done it with me.

Because he was just like me — he was independent and feisty and wanted to be loved, but only on his terms. He didn’t want you to hold him all night, he just wanted to touch base and come and go as he pleased. Unless you didn’t want him near you, then he’d work his way into your lap and your heart.

Because he had been a constant when everything else in life seemed to change. Not just once, but twice.

Because it was still with a child’s heart that I loved him.

After my loud cries and then silent sobs subsided, Lizz projected more vomit out the door while I blew my nose and wiped my eyes. She wiped her mouth again and we looked at each other.

Well, we’re a sad pair, she said.

And we laughed.

I’m really sorry about your cat, she said.

I’m really sorry I made you hike and throw up, I said.

And we laughed again.

That’s officially the ugliest crying session of mine that anyone has ever witnessed. And again I reiterate that I’ve never seen such quintessential “projectile vomit” ever before in real life.

But we didn’t judge each other. We laughed at ourselves. And we were there. In the ugliest parts of life, that’s the most I could ever ask for in a friend, I think. No judgement, some laughter, and just being there. That’s the majority of what true friendship is. Not grand gestures and bff bracelets, but being someone who can sit in the ugliness of life and call it what it is.
Also, be cautious, heat stroke kills.

storyofjo san diego friends *I had a desert tortoise when I was young that my dad had found as a kid, and his mom had kept after he was grown, and she had given the tortoise to me when I was a kid, but then Pickles ran away one day. So one, Pickles was not just mine. And two, she ran away. And three, she was a tortoise, and it’s hard to connect with a tortoise. Just saying.

 


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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Author:

Dear Denver,

I came to you 8 months ago with my life packed into my Toyota Camry.

It was a long drive. 18 hours of leaving my past behind. My own tears surprised me as I drove away from my family standing on the porch of my parent’s house, waving as they watched me go. That’s become our tradition. And I’m always the one on the leaving end.

I was ready for you, for this new, temporary chapter of life. I was excited to leave the past.

But while it was a new town, I wasn’t a new me. I quickly realized that by changing states I was not changing stories. My past was mine to own. My story was mine to tell. My life was mine to live.

So I came to you, and I told you who I am and where I have been. I told it to church members in diners. I told it to distant family members in the mountains. I told it to dates in bars. I told it to neighbors in hot tubs and living rooms. I told my story to you, and you didn’t grimace. You didn’t run away. You listened and you welcomed me.

You let me play on your trails, exploring your mountain peaks and your forests and your waters. You let me make friends in fun restaurants and pubs and venues. You let me sit in peace, overlooking a lake with the mountains beyond, and the setting sun beyond that.

You have given me the space and time to become more myself. And while I’ve always known you would be a temporary dwelling place, you’ve been a good one. Most importantly, you’ve given me an atmosphere to learn how to be at home within myself.

Aside from your horrible drivers, you’ve been nothing but lovely to me. Thank you for being such a big playground for life. Thank you for housing me while I felt at home here. I’ll come back to visit.

-Jo

(I’ll be on the go for the Story Project for all of May and then moving to Wichita, KS Beginning of June)

Favorite Denver/CO things:

– Hiking

  • Mt. Bierstadt
  • Mt. Quandary
  • Colorado Trail
  • Hanging Lake Trail
  • All of the trails during fall
  • Paddle boarding on our lake and slack lining in our “yard”
  • Food/Drink
  • The fries and cocktails at Williams & Graham
  • The atmosphere at Linger
  • The atmosphere at Crema cafe
  • The chocolate at Dietrichs
  • The eggs benedict and the beignets at Lucilles Creole cafe
  • Blackeye coffee
  • Pie and cocktails at the Green Russell
  • Cheap movies at the Century Aurora 16 Theater
  • Eggs benedict and sweet potato pancakes at Snooze Eatery
  • Burgers & Brews deals during MNF at Stoney’s bar & grill
  • Atmosphere & coffee at Roostercat
  • The view from outside the dome on the Capitol building
  • Being at Redrocks/ the view from Redrocks
  • The river in golden
  • Stranahan’s whiskey (both the product and the free tour & tasting)
  • The Denver German Christmas Market on 16th St. mall
  • Even though it’s not just a Denver thing, I discovered & fell in love with it here: Waffle House

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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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 07th, 2015 | Author:

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I met him once, briefly.

“Sit, with the opportunity to listen to one of the ‘saints in the land’ speak… this morning,” were the chaplain’s closing remarks of introduction before Brennan took the stage.

“In the words of Francis of Assisi as he met brother Dominique on the road to Umbria: ‘Hi,'” he began in a slow, measured voice with a grin.

The crowd exhaled in full laughter, their air having been held in their lungs a little too seriously during the astounding and gracious introduction about him was given.

Brennan Manning, christian author and speaker, was in his 70’s and his light blue eyes had already gone blind. His friend and traveling companion had to lead him up the carpeted stairs of the stage to the podium from which he would address our sleepy-eyed college-student selves. It was a Wednesday in early January, 2010.

It was the first chapel session that I had attended at my christian college since being back from my year studying abroad. I didn’t know that Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and grace-touter extraordinaire was to be the speaker.

But he was. As soon as our Chaplain began introducing him, my heart and ears opened.

I’d first encountered Brennan’s name and face when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

I was at the Christian book store with my mom, and a book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, caught my eye as it stared up at me from a “15% off” table in the center aisle. I picked up the book, and flipped it over to find a picture of Brennan looking back at me. He had wrinkled skin and white hair, and the short bio said that he lived in New Orleans.

I was impressed that a straight-laced looking, older Christian author lived in a place I only knew of for it’s debauchery on Mardi Gras.

When I first heard the news of Hurricane Katrina hitting the city in August 2005, I immediately thought of him and prayed for him and any family he may have there. I had not thought of him or his book at all since seeing that copy of the book several years before, but somehow, the information had stuck: There was a ragamuffin christian who lived in New Orleans. May God have mercy.

When I was in my early college years, I had been fully entrapped in the cycle of abuse and lies that my story unfortunately holds. Dying on the inside, feeling like I was never, never good enough to get out of the cycle, I found Brennan’s Ragamuffin Gospel again, and read it. Consumed it. I didn’t understand grace all of the way yet, but I knew, I knew I needed it.

And as I sat in the auditorium of my christian college, and as Brennan began to speak his famous message of grace, I was ready. I was familiar with grace now. I had realized that the grace of God on the hurting, the dirty, the trapped, the grieving, the sinning, the I-want-to-be-different-than-I’m-able-to-be’s was the only thing keeping me afloat. And Brennan’s words drenched me that morning.

I went up to him afterward, tears streaming down my face and urgency in my shaking voice as I spoke to him.

I don’t even know what I said to him, aside from “thank you, thank you so much for your message of grace today and in life.”

But I do remember that as he faced me, he took both of my arms, and clasped them right about at the elbow, holding our forearms parallel to one another’s as we spoke. He looked me in the eyes, though he could not see and his blue eyes were cloudy. They began to fill with tears in our short interaction. He thanked me, I thanked him, and we parted ways.

I didn’t think of Brennan the person (though I did use his books often) much for the next few years, until almost exactly 3 years later, when my life imploded, and the shrapnel of shame and pain went flying, lodging into anyone nearby.

About a week into the aftermath of that time in my life, in hours of searching through the book store for something to distract or help, I found it: Brennan’s memoir. It hadn’t been finished yet at the point I had met him, but I knew, this would be the book of the season.

The book is titled: All is Grace.

The reason Brennan knew grace so intimately is that he was such a “ragamuffin” (of his own naming). Ragamuffin meaning, one whose only prayer could be “God grant mercy on my soul, a sinner.”

In the beginning of the book, he writes this: “Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a reason, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check.”

In his ruthless honesty about pain, about grief, about short-comings and sins, and shameful things, Brennan walked me through his life, and I found light in the broken places.

In a poem by  Leonard Cohen, it’s written: “There is a crack in everything. // That’s how the light gets in.” That’s what I found in those pages — a testament that God loved my cracked self, and that he could pour light and grace into me, and hopefully, maybe one day, out of me as well.

Brennan’s honesty of his story was a tiny shimmer of light in a very dark season.  I took my time over several months to read through the book. But I was finally finishing it on my way back from a trip to Israel in April 2013 when I heard the news — Brennan had passed away. I sat on the plane and cried a few silent tears. Tears for a man who was broken, who failed often, and who God used in huge ways to tell the world about the message of grace and love.

To this day, Brennan is one of the few Christian leaders who I would wholeheartedly recommend because of his ruthless honesty about who he has been, who God is, and that when you match those two up, the only conclusion is this: All is Grace.

——- ——— ——-

There’s a movie that’s about to be made about Brennan and his life which I’m really excited to recommend. It’s called “Brennan.” You can keep your eyes out for it to watch it, but more than that, there’s the unique opportunity to help it get created.

The movie is being made by the same folks that created the film “Ragamuffin” a couple years ago about Rich Mullins’ life (which was, obviously, one of the lives touched by Brennan Manning’s message of grace for the outcasts of the world). If you know me, you know I sort of despise christian movies, but I’m really, really, really looking forward to this one. They will execute it well, and it’s a story well-worth telling and knowing.

 ——- ——— ——-

Lastly, this is Brennan’s “A Word Before” note at the beginning of his memoir:

All Is Grace was written in a certain frame of mind — that of a ragamuffin.

Therefore,

This book is by the one who thought he’d

be farther along by now, but he’s not.

It is by the inmate who promised the parole

board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.

It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path

to others but kept losing his way.

It is by the wet-brained who believed if a

little wine is good for the stomach,

then a lot is great.

It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise

known as the priest, speaker, and author.

It is by the disciple whose cheese slid

off his cracker so many times

he said “to hell with cheese ’n’ crackers.”

It is by the young at heart but old

of bone who is led these

days in a way he’d rather not go.

But,

This book is also for the gentle ones

who’ve lived among wolves.

It is for those who’ve broken free of collar

to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce.

It is for those who mourn, who’ve been

 mourning most of their lives,

yet they hang on to shall be comforted.

It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels

but found instead a few friends of great price.

It is for the younger and elder prodigals

who’ve come to their senses

again, and again, and again, and again.

It is for those who strain at pious piffle

because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself.

This book is for myself and those who have been around

the block enough times that we dare to whisper

the ragamuffin’s rumor —

all is grace.


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 storyofjoblog@gmail.com 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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com