Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

The Erosion of Self 

I bobbed clumsily through life, barely afloat on an ocean of beer in 2016. But you'd never know it unless I told you. Is three bottles of beer an evening too much? I don't know. I'm genuinely asking but probably won't put much stock in your answer because I've answered the question every which way each time I ask it of myself, which is uncomfortably often.

The truth is it helps me relax in the evening after a day full of corporateness/meetings/managering and soul-destroying office jargon that, via notifications on my iPhone, trails me through my life like a determined stalker I can't shake no matter how fast I run, how well I hide. Notifications harassing me even as I wait for my kids at the bus stop, make dinner, put them to bed. Ping/email! Ping/email! Ping/text! Ping!Ping!Ping! The beer dulls the unrelenting torture just enough that I can get a little shut eye before the dance begins anew at 5:30 the next morning.

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

I am straddling 40-years-old. I have been scrabbling like a motherfucker to figure out the kind of woman I want to be. Legacy. Because of my children, I think a lot about legacy. My legacy. It's only up to me, you know. It isn't as though there are folks who would expound on my alleged greatness upon my untimely departure from planet Earth, I don't think. I have to leave a legacy for my children in the way that I conduct myself on a daily basis and, much of the time, I don't think I'm doing that good of a job. I don't feel as if I've ever been truly known by anyone. Someone's daughter for 40 years, married for a decade, someone's mother for eight years and yet... I don't feel known. I feel misunderstood.

I am aware of the hole in my soul. I am a person who formed a personality around a gaping, nearly fatal wound. No one taught me integrity or how to be a good person. I was left to fend for myself. My life is a balancing act of pretending to be sweet and empathetic or revealing the black hole that swallows everything. Emotional black hole. I often wonder what it's like to experience life as someone else. Someone calm and assured, someone with great parents who instilled a sense of purpose and self worth within me. I'll never know. I can only view the world from this brain I was born with. And I am smart enough to know I am tortured. Is my brain too much... Or too little?

You with the lovely still-married parents who support you know matter what... Are you stronger than me or weaker than me? I can't figure it out.

This is heaven and we are god

It's taken me decades, but I am finally making peace with death. Oh, I still wake up at 3am in a panic; stomach churning, throat constricting, horrified by the idea of ceasing to exist. But that notion makes NOW so much more important.

Thing is, when I believed in the religious (Mormon) fairytale of an afterlife, ruling my own planet forever surrounded by family and friends, I was living half asleep. I didn't appreciate life like I do now. With the specter of death constantly looming, I feel more alive than I've ever felt. If death is the end, I find myself trying to find the beauty in each moment, every interaction with another human being takes on special meaning. I think harder about how my behavior affects others and I want to uplift, not cause anyone to feel badly.

THIS IS IT, motherfuckers. Right here, right now. This ain't a drill, this ain't a test you need to pass to get to the better thing. Who you are now is crucial. I'm not talking college degrees and jobs and money and status, I'm talking kindness and compassion and empathy and love. All the bullshit you've likely been taught about what makes a successful person that fires your ambition means nothing if it doesn't contribute to kindness, love and lifting up your fellow man, or worse, if it compromises kindness, love and your fellow man.

THIS IS HEAVEN AND WE ARE GOD. Think big thoughts and enjoy every sandwich, man.

When things get really bad in my life, when I feel rage and anger and hopelessness, I look around me and take it all in and my mind is blown every, single time. The sky, stars, trees, people, animals, kindness, love... It's magic. I get so choked up by the quiet mystery of the universe, the beautiful humanity; all of us living here together trying to raise our collective consciousness.

I email back and forth with my brother-in-law about this stuff and he wrote this:

"How very fast we would move forward/together on all fronts solving food and disease and war and energy and communication, travel throughout the universe, transportation and farming and even things like time... The most enormous, most pressing questions and problems that have vexed mankind for centuries would fall away like dominoes right down the line.

WE are god. Always have been. One soul.

One day something like pre & post enlightenment time marker will be recognized. And our lifetimes (and all that came before us) will be viewed as the dark age that it truly was/is. A slog of war and separatism and hate and money and inequality and slavery and ego all building and evolving (super slowly) towards an inevitable enlightenment, a togetherness of purpose... SCIENCE. Unlocking the whole motherfucker.

The goal is to slowly peel back the social frameworks imposed on us from birth and figure out who you are without all the shit that was forced on you and you passively accepted as true or right. Being raised an American is like being raised in a religion. Think beyond. Strip away all the labels that make you you and other people them.

WE are god. Always have been. One soul.

The only real, true things are love, relationships, nature, science and art.

Some of us recognize this more than others and it's our duty to lift up the lowest among us. If you see someone is struggling - they're easy to spot with the ignorant, narrow-minded and hateful rhetoric - it is your job to uplift and inspire, if only by passive example, because we are only as good as our weakest link. Humanity. THAT should be your religion.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

A postscript to my friend on this day: Thank you for being you. Your gentle, easy attitude combined with your critically-thinking beautiful brain and your generosity of spirit is a daily inspiration to better myself. You know who you are.


The Beat Goes On

This should be interesting…

A photo posted by Monica (@monicabielanko) on

The thing I'm discovering about divorce with children is that not only is it one of the most miserable experiences you will navigate in your life, the experience has no expiration date. What I mean is, awful situations and realizations sneak up on you on a regular basis; things you hadn't even contemplated dealing with are suddenly sliding into bed with you in the middle of the night. Three years later and it still happens all. the. damn. time.

You can get several months of solid, positive relations under your belt and BOOM. One small thing knocks you on your ass. I've spiraled into divorce rage and/or sadness more times than I can count. Days and days where I cannot fathom coparenting positively with my ex-husband for ten minutes at the bus stop let alone the next two decades. I mean, shit. We divorced for a reason, didn't we? And it's not like divorce is the big fix for what went wrong in our relationship. All that shit is still there, waiting to eat our new, hard-fought post-marriage relationship alive if we allow it. The only thing divorce has done is make us less dependent on each other emotionally and affords us a lot of breathing room from each other. When we upset each other now we can retreat to our respective homes and I don't have to ask him what he wants for dinner. His business is no longer my business unless it involves our children and vice versa. Breathing room is nice. It works wonders at getting over most arguments.

But divorce didn't take away all of our mutual responsibilities surrounding our children. And when the handling of life's responsibilities played a role in the disintegration of your marriage, it can be a real motherfucker to handle them while divorced. Because your ex no longer shares a home and experiences with you, they may have become even more entrenched in the ways that slowly destroyed your marriage, yet you have to conduct the business of parenting, just like any married couple does. Finances, bills, where to live, holidays, birthday parties, school, childcare, child issues, the list goes on and on. Pretty similar to marriage, no?

I've put a lot of pressure on myself to maintain a positive divorce, perhaps because I'm a child of a really awful divorce, so when things become rocky I slump into despair. I obsessively contemplate all the usual divorce scenarios I've yet to deal with - stepmom entering the picture, changing custody schedules that accommodate the kids as they age - and I just feel depressed and overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating successfully through it all. I realized something recently, though, in the middle of a divorce rage depression and I thought I'd share it with you for some perspective when your divorce relations get tough...

I remember being married. It was a rollercoaster. Some years were better than others. Some months great, others awful. One week might be wonderful, the next is filled with arguments and anger and contemplation that perhaps you married the wrong person and maybe even your marriage is over. But you forge ahead and make it work because that's all you can do. And it gets better again, things eventually settle into okay and sometimes you even find yourself falling in love with your spouse again... What I realized is that I have been viewing divorce as the antidote to a diseased relationship, the end of feeling numb and terrible as a result of unhealthy interactions with this person. And it was that in a lot of ways, but in many other ways, my divorced relationship with my ex is no different than our married relationship. We're still going to have those good months and we're still going to experience the bad ones. We can still press each other's buttons in all the ways that led to the end of our marriage and all we can do is breathe, try to get perspective, and forge onward. What's the alternative? Hateful, childish assholes who talk shit about each other to our kids and make them uncomfortable when we're in the same room together? Not an option. This man is the father of my beautiful children, a member of my family. Families have disagreements and sometimes fight viciously. There has to be an acceptance of the notion that we are still family in conjunction with acknowledgment that we will always piss each other off, as people in complicated relationships do, and it's not the end of the world. It's fucking hard. But, the mind-blowing realization is that it's not any harder than being married, it's just hard for different reasons.

The notion that the divorce difficulties I'm dealing with now and the ones I'm facing down the road are no more complicated or challenging than the low moments of marriage is comforting, for some reason.

Because guess what? What divorce DOES do with time is make you less reliant on that person for your well-being. If you do divorce right and take some time for you, you learn to turn to yourself for strength and discover who you really are and what's important to you. And, in the process, you fall in love with yourself.

I LOVE MYSELF. The most ruthless battle cry there ever was.

As time goes on the little stuff doesn't faze you anymore and then the big stuff stops affecting you so much. You learn to let go of the things about your ex that upset you because you CAN walk away. You can hold your tongue, smile, say goodbye and go home, sit on your couch and turn on your Netflix and watch whatever the fuck you want while eating Doritos in your underwear with nobody there to judge you. And that, my friends, is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

A photo posted by Monica (@monicabielanko) on


Hall of Infamy

Like a recovering alcoholic making amends, I'd like to be cool with everyone in my life. No animosity, anger or flashes of rage at the thought of someone who once starred, or even guest-starred in just a few episodes, in the HBO series that is my life.

It's a nice notion, isn't it? Equanimity at the thought of anyone and everyone you've ever interacted with. Positive resolution for every not-so-great encounter or soured relationship you've experienced. Think how much mental energy that would free up! All the fucked up thoughts and feelings and rage and anger and regret and sadness and despair and martyrdom I impose on myself as a result of interactions and relationships that went bad somehow... GONE. Hell, half the people taking up real estate in that swampy acreage of my brain don't even know it, they're just out there trying to live their own lives, completely unaware I'm expending valuable mental energy on them.

There's this fucked up hall of fame up in my head where I've thumb-tacked 8X10 glossies of Those Who Have Wronged Monica. Here we have my dad, there we have a failed friendship from childhood that languished into adulthood when it probably should've ended in junior high. Oh look! Another "friend" from high school who began messaging my ex during our divorce. This guy over here is the ex-boyfriend from college who is a dick to me 20 years later; I obviously occupy valuable real estate in his Hall of Infamy. There's the guy who convinced me to fall in love with him then bounced in the unkindest of ways. There's the alleged "lifer" friend who wasn't around when I needed him most. That pretty girl over there is a potential friend who ended up being more interested in my ex-husband than me. There's that one guy at work, the secret sabotager...

I wonder what the size of my Hall of Infamy says about me or do we all have a sizable one just by the very nature of living life and having families and friends and relationships?

Regardless of size, we all have a Hall of Infamy. Even if you aren't one to hold a grudge, there are people who, when they occur to you, inspire a prickling of unwelcome emotions including but certainly not limited to anger, sadness, confusion. You feel like shit when you think about them not only because they hurt you in some way, but you're mad at yourself for not being able to move on. Sometimes you have a bad vibe with someone and may not even know why anymore. Most of the time, though, you know exactly why and your righteous indignation at feeling wronged has them locked in a position of honor in your Hall of Infamy.

Relationships are a perplexing tangle of beautiful Christmas lights: knots everywhere, but take the time and care to untangle them and plug them in and many lights will shine brightly, others are slowly dimming and several have gone dark. Yet the overall effect is still pleasing... Until more and more lights stop working. Can you replace the lights? Or is it time to toss the whole strand because too many have died?

Sometimes you pile on years without a member of your Hall of Infamy popping up and tangling your mind. Something inevitably happens, though, and you find yourself pacing contemplatively in front of their photo. Maybe you have a dream about them, perhaps a mutual acquaintance mentions them offhandedly or you inadvertently see them on social media and end up worm-holing their page for an hour and you come away unsettled, unsure how to feel.

I used to dwell on interactions I have with people a lot more than I do now. Shit, who am I kidding? In my quest to understand my relationships with people I analyze and obsess until my exhausted brain can't land on any kind of insightful perspective and begins haphazardly sifting thoughts like some kind of plastic beach toy draining sand through tiny holes. I'm infinitely better at recognizing my propensity for stewing but I still have to work hard to let it all go. Stewing only hurts me, of course. I know that but intellectual awareness can't heal a bruised heart. It's easier to let go when a person is someone from the past you have no cause to see; current and local Hall of Infamy-ers are another thing, entirely. I vacillate on the best way to deal: Pretend to myself that they don't exist and I don't care even though I know I do or confront them in a productive manner? Hey! That thing you did! It is still bumming me out and I'm having trouble moving past it. Can we talk about it? Can you explain your perspective of that situation? Direct confrontation with a positive outcome in mind is usually the fastest way to dissipate bad feelings and remove a photo from your Hall of Infamy, but not always. Sometimes you realize the other person just doesn't care to hear about how you feel or they're so lost in their perspective they can't find yours. You have to allow time to work its magic. People change, perspectives change and mutual understanding occurs. Or it doesn't but what went down doesn't seem as important anymore and the situation somehow gets resolved.

Lately I've been strolling through my Hall of Infamy, scrutinizing members, recalling situations and events that landed them there and revisiting my feelings for each person to see if time has afforded me a new perspective. The goal is to close up shop; no more Hall of Infamy. Who needs a Hall of Infamy taking up mental real estate? I wonder if it's even a possibility to get to a point where you've resolved all your relationships and interactions from the past? Where no one inspires a negative reaction within you?
Some people you can easily make amends with. You come together and realize you don't even remember exactly what went down and why bad feelings exist. With others you know exactly why they're in your Hall of Infamy but time has done it's thing and you can come together and explain your perspectives, apologize if needs be, laugh and move on. Other situations are much trickier, though. With some people the notion of ever reaching any kind of satisfying place feels impossible. You contemplate their photo, assess your emotions and realize you aren't ready...

As the year draws to a close and I analyze the people in my Hall of Infamy I realize I'm not ready in a lot of cases and I wonder if I'm not trying hard enough to move on; I wonder if I enjoy the martyrdom of feeling wronged; I wonder if some relationships just aren't worth it or if I should keep trying until my Hall of Infamy no longer exists and then I wonder if that's a realistic notion... But it occurs to me that maybe the ultimate point of being alive is to dismantle our Halls of Infamy.

Forever Within Numbered Days

I miss childhood when life stretched before me with vast, limitless possibility. It's not just the possibilities hiding around the corners of living that I crave, though. I miss the infinity of time that life seemed to present to me then. 40 was ancient and holy shit, 80-years old? Unfathomable! Even just one summer stretched for several lifetimes as you contemplated it from the end of a school year. Years were very sensibly divided by school grades, too. I distinctly remember what went down in third grade or seventh grade or eleventh grade. But, like riding a bike downhill, as you go along you pick up speed and the scenery eventually blurs. Adulthood becomes a busy haze and you start to mark the years of life with great and terrible events. That's the year Violet was born, that's the year I got a divorce... Your memory of what happened that year radiates out from around the event.

I turn forty in a few months. Like a lot of people approaching a definitive age, I feel reflective. It's awfully tempting to assess my current life circumstances from a failed viewpoint. I'm divorced with three children; finances forced me to downsize into a small duplex I would've laughed at a few years earlier; I live paycheck to paycheck. And this year: Jesus H. It kicked off with yet another failed attempt to make my relationship with Serge work. The untimely death of my dog that coincided with my car getting repossessed. My power was shut off. I made the surprising realization that I no longer care to write professionally, at least right now and, as a result, could no longer afford to live where I lived. Moving to aforementioned duplex in a town I never imagined living in. Learning to be honest with myself and realizing the uncomfortable actuality of certain relationships that have seen me through decades of life... Not to mention the state of America and the recent (ahem) election. It's been a real fucking slog, this 2016 bitch. Worse than the year I got a divorce, without question. We can all list those years in our lives that stand out as real motherfuckers. For me, that would be 2016. Nearly every, single day has felt like a teeth-gritting, grinding climb, no end in sight.

I wouldn't change where I am right now for anything, though. If life came easily I wouldn't receive the opportunity to learn these lessons and get close to understanding the truth of what it means to live. You have a choice when the bad stuff hits: You can feel sorry for yourself (I've spent a lot of time in that place) and then continue playing life's victim for the rest of your days and everything bad that happens after that is justification of your poor-me cause OR you can dive into the shit and fucking LIVE the blues. Feel them hard and recognize the lessons that only tough times can teach. You study them and learn from them and allow them to shape your responses to hard times. You feel empowered with understanding which builds the kind of character that will always see you through whatever happens and assist you in helping others going through the bad stuff. When your worst fears happen and you make it through... You can do anything - even write through your embarrassment, enhanced by a childhood on food stamps, about being broke.

My mind feels good, real good. When the length of your life feels considerably shortened, when you sometimes wake up at three in the morning with mortality hunkered heavily on your chest, as happens naturally with aging, (and divorce!) you are able to let go of the bullshit. Or you at least recognize bullshit when you encounter it so it has less of an impact on your daily life. You learn how to strategically react to the crazy, hard, sad shit life throws at you. Overreactions became infrequent. You learn to appreciate what's important, especially when your power gets turned off. It's stunning how quickly sitting in your cold, dark house can hammer home what really matters. Maslow and his needs heirarchy are correct: food, water and warmth are a pretty big deal and we mostly take them for granted, even when we're the ones who pay the bills to keep them flowing. When you don't have them it can make the excesses of others and even your own "needs" seem extravagent. Coloring my hair feels ridiculous in the wake of struggling with an electric bill, you know? Helllooo gray.

Anyway, I'm fine. We're fine. Because another beautiful lesson you learn when you're lower than low is who your real people are. You can quickly identify the good ones. There are so many people who came through for me this year in very real and meaningful ways; it brought me to tears every, single time and often, they were unaware of how intensely their gesture was needed. So many people; huge gestures and small ones. It meant everything.

That's what life is about. Like Maslow said: Physiological needs are a necessity and after that it's all about relationships and showing up for people. All the other bullshit falls away. At the top of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs is self-actualization: creativity, acceptance of facts. I am realizing that self-actualization, for me, as I decide what I want to model for my children, doesn't involve much in the way of materialism. I mean, yeah, I envision a non-duplex home somewhere here - near where their dad lives. A place they can run wild, have animals and roam freely between my place and their dad's house. And I look forward to experiences: Road trips to New York City and anywhere else we can get to within a day's drive. I see forever summers in between their school years filled with visits to the lake, hiking and camping. But that's it. I don't want a busy life filled with extra-curricular activities and rushing around and mindlessly scrolling social media in spare moments, no chance to really look at each other and understand who we are. I want to live mindfully and fully experience it all as much as possible because in a blink it'll be over for me. They'll be growing their own children using the seeds of what I am now learning and teaching them about life.