Superheroes and Rockstars – Jennifer Montgomery-Lay
As I talked about in my post, I’m working on some new content for the blog to give it a bit more depth, fun, and personality. It’s been scary as shit, putting more of me into it, as it opens the door to all kinds of criticism and judgement (what if they don’t like me??). But ultimately, I think it’s worth it.
Superheroes and Rockstars is one of the new bits of content that I’m most excited about. A couple of years ago I had a conversation with my kids’ dad about my dream job, which was something similar to Humans of New York, except instead of just a brief story, it would be a more in-depth look at the person…who they are, what they’ve been through, and how they view the world around them as a result.
I’ve always been curious about people and what makes them the way they are. As I hear people’s stories, I can easily put myself in their shoes. Imagine what they’ve felt as they’ve faced different challenges and victories. It makes my world so much bigger. So I thought, how better to build on the content I already have than to offer you some insight in these peoples’ worlds?
As the title indicates, I won’t be featuring just anybody. I want to focus on those who live life on their own terms, who see and interact with the world differently than the average Joe. People who understand that we only get one shot at this life and are really, truly living.
Which leads me to my first Superhero and Rockstar, Jennifer Montgomery-Lay, author of Life all Over the Map. I had a phenomenal time, sitting down with Jen this past week and getting to know her better, hearing about her life’s ups and downs over the last 10+ years.
Not only is she fun and outgoing and funny as shit, she also overflows with kindness, compassion, and understanding for the people in her life, often putting her own wants and needs on the back burner to make sure the people she loves are taken care of.
What struck me the most about Jen is that while she’s not a huge fan of meeting new people (we consider each other new as we’ve been just acquaintances up until this point), she’s very open and real, not interested in putting on a front for me or anyone else. She’s well aware of both her strengths and weaknesses and is beautifully unapologetic about either. What a breath of fresh air, especially considering some of the nightmares she’s faced.
Jen’s daughter Logan was diagnosed 10 years ago with a disseminated pilocytic astrocytoma, which is supposed to be a pretty low grade brain tumor. It turned out to be far more aggressive, requiring countless doses of chemotherapy, full brain and spine radiation and several brain surgeries. As a parent, I can’t even begin to fathom the terror and agony one would face in this situation. And yet despite the endless trials and challenges of the last 10 years, Jen has managed to not only not let bitterness and anger rule, but to use these experiences to find incredible richness and depth in her life and relationships.
Me: Okay, so how do you define success?
JML: I think that if you would have asked me this question five years ago, I would have defined it very differently than I do now. I think that success is defined by happiness. I think that happiness is something that is really difficult to achieve, and something that you have to be very focused on. I think that there is a big difference between joy and pleasure, and I think a lot of times how we measure success is by pleasure. The things that bring us outside pleasure – finding that and keeping that inside – is really when you know that you’re successful. I think that when you’re successful, you’re going to attract more of that. 5 years ago, I would have said paying my mortgage off by the time I was 40. Being able to afford some Botox. It would have been a very different conversation, but, now, I really believe that how I measure success is being happy which sounds very cliche, but it’s very true.
Me: I mean, it’s cliche for a reason. Okay, we talked a little bit about this earlier: your positive attitude. I mean, you could be crying in your wine glass every single day with all the shit you have to deal with…
JML: I think, to be honest with you, I have this kind of theory that I think is really important. I definitely am not positive all the time. But I feel like it’s kind of like driving down the highway, and there’s the two white lines. You’ve got to keep in between the two white lines. I think if you’re too happy and too positive all the time, you’re fucked. And I think if you’re too sad and you’re too upset, you’re fucked. But the reality is, it is what it is. I think part of my positive attitude, especially in the situation that I’m in, is that I spend a lot of time around kids and young adults that are facing their own death. I can look at our situation and think it’s shitty, and we have a lot on our plate. But when I think about Log, and what she has to face and what these kids have to face, I think I don’t get the right to be negative about it. Although, at times I am, and I think that’s just part of it. I think, in order to be positive, you have to really face all of the emotions that come with it. And there’s lots of times where I’m angry and I’m whatever. But, for the most part, I think you have to wake up every day and be like, Okay, that was yesterday; that ruined my day, but it’s not going to ruin my life. I think making a lot of plans and just trying to make the most of the days, instead of sort of plotting out what the end game looks like. It’s really how that helps keep me positive.
Me: Yea, there has to be balance. So, what’s number one on your bucket list?
JML: Number one on my bucket list is probably having a hand in helping find some better treatment options for kids with cancer, which sounds almost stupid to say. It’s like everybody would say something like that.
Me: World peace!
JML: And a cure for cancer! Who wouldn’t? I’m bloody Mother Teresa over here. But, no, I think that even more so than find a cure and stuff is just sort of having a hand in showing people that there’s options to living a better quality of life while they’re going through it. I feel like a bucket list is kind of one of those things that I don’t know if I’m completely on board with. I think it’s more of a living list. And I like to cross things off as we go. I mean, I always seem to have another thing on the calendar. Like we’re going to Thailand and Cambodia. That’s totally been on our list for a long time. Now that we’re doing it, I’m shitting my pants. I’m like, holy crap! I don’t even know if we have enough room for all the medication. But I think that those things that you think you can’t do are something that you should do or try to do. Travel is always at the top of my bucket list, and it just seems to lead to the next thing that I want to do.
Me: A living list, I like that much better. What is the most important thing for you to teach your kids?
JML: The most important thing from me to teach my kids is to have compassion for others. I think that’s the most fundamental thing that we’re lacking as human beings is just simple compassion. Compassion for the earth. Compassion for each other. Compassion for people who are sick, people who are struggling. I think compassion is powerful attribute to have. I think that too often we judge everything, and, yet, we’re so eager to have our own opinions be right that we never stop to realize what it must be like for somebody else. I know, for myself, it’s probably a big lesson that I had to learn in my life, so I want my kids to understand. And not that having compassion doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna do the wrong thing or that you’re not going to make difficult choices. But having compassion for understanding why those choices are being made I think is really important. I’m sure my kids would say that I’ve done a lot of things they’re not happy about, but that would be when the lesson would come in handy.
Me: Right, having that tolerance and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. So what does a typical day look like for you?
JML: It’s all over the place. A typical day is sort of starts with how things are going with Logan, and how she’s feeling. I mean, she’ll get into stints where things are really crappy for long periods of time. Then, there’s not really any typical day because then its, “How’s she doing? What’s going on?” Mostly a typical day is get up, manage meds, clean the house, every day clean the house. Drive the kids, pick the kids up. A lot of my day, to be honest, is helping and dealing with Log. We’re working towards trying to help her be more independent and get through school, but we’re in the process right now of having her designated as somebody with a disability. And until we do, she doesn’t have anybody there to support her. So a lot of day is really doing whatever we need to do for Log: entertaining her, counselling her, taking her to programs. She has a lot of different programs at the hospital. So that sort of thing. So a typical day is not my own.
Me: Hence the blog and all that, right?
Me: Would wine be your guilty pleasure, your ultimate destresser?
JML: Yes, I love red wine. I feel like red wine is like a cozy, warm blanket. And when you get a great bottle of red wine… I mean this is how bad it is: I had to have white wine last night, and I felt like shooting myself in the face. I had such a crazy day yesterday, and I was on this tangent. This week is MRI week. MRI week is like I’m totally by myself. Sort of like standing on the edge of a cliff and wondering whether or not the forecast is for wind. It’s just like you’d look at the scans, and there’s this big tumor there. And you’re just like, “Shit!” And the doctor’s are like, “It doesn’t look like it’s changed. Everything looks good.” And we carry on. But the week leading up to the MRI, I’m like, “I think she’s feeling worse.” “I don’t know, her hand looks shaky.” Or, “Why’s she sleeping so much? She had three headaches yesterday.” So I start cleaning about two weeks before the MRI, and, by the time the MRI comes, I’ve literally purged everything. Yesterday, I took five bags to the Salvation Army of utensils. I have no idea how I have stuff to still give away. It’s because I’m like a hoarder. Afterwards, I have to fill up again. So, yesterday, I was cleaning like a maniac to the point where I went to Home Depot, rented a carpet shampooer, did all the carpets. I was so tired, and my back was so sore. I almost can physically exhaust myself because my mind doesn’t shut up. Then, I was like, “Oh, my god. I’m just going to uncork a glass of wine and watch Scandal.” And I only had white wine. And it was cold! I was so mad. So, yes. Wine I love. Wine I feel like is my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I drink too much of it. It’s just the way it is.
Me: No judgement here, I’m totally with you. What frustrates you the most about people in the world?
JML: I find what frustrates me the most about people is just the need to be right all the time. The need to be heard, the need to be right at any cost or expense. I think that people are willing to sell out so much of themselves in order to be right. Not that I have it all figured out by any means, but I think it’s so amazing when you take a step back. I guess I’m around so many people that are so vulnerable and are reevaluating everything. And, then, go back into the real world and listen to people complain about stupid things and think they’re so right in their opinions. It was a really hard time going through the election because people are arguing about things, and they really are believing they’re right. But nobody likes to stop and listen to anybody else explain their opinion. I think that’s something that really frustrates me in life is that whether it’s politics, whether it’s the environment, whether it’s this or it’s that. And we can’t work together. And we can’t all have thoughts and ideas: somebody has to be right and somebody has to be wrong. There’s no collaboration. So I find that very frustrating. I find that people’s need to be right and need to be heard outweigh any sort of ability to coexist, sometimes.
Me: For sure, everything has to be black and white. So, how do you handle difficult or negative people?
JML: Well, to be honest with you, this is probably not the best answer, but I’ve probably just cut out most of them. And I have to do better because, honestly, that’s not necessarily always working for me, either. It’s just like, “No, you’re done!” But I think, you only have so much energy and you can’t give that energy away to places that are negative. Some of them you can’t avoid. But, in some cases which haven’t been easy to do, I’ve really had to take a step back. And I don’t think that necessarily that’s forever, but it’s for right now. I think that a really weird thing that happens when you’re on the path of evolution because something traumatic happens, and you have to take a look at your life. What I realized is that I spent a lot of time in my life creating relationships and taking care of people that weren’t gonna be there for me when I needed them. And they really weren’t okay with me needing them because they were so used to me giving to them. So, I look like I’m totally fucked up because people are dropping like flies out of my life. But then there’s times where you certainly can’t avoid negative people, and I think that really taking a step back and realizing that it’s not personal. I mean there’s times and there’s situations. There’s doctors. There’s things I have to deal with that I can’t really stand . But I find that the more the I focus on that, the more that I attract those people into my life. I find, a lot of times, taking a step back and just saying “That’s interesting, help me understand.” And not take anything personally. I take things very personally, and it’s not about me. That’s what I do.
Me: What’s your dream job?
JML: My dream job would be to be a travel blogger if I could figure out how to use WordPress!
Me: Perfect! You’ll get there. You will totally get there. I mean I remember reading your blog on Caringbridge, and I remember seeing all the comments like, “You need to write professionally. You need to do a blog.” And that was years ago. I think you’re on the right path. Do you read a lot?
JML: I do, actually.
Me: And do you have a favourite book?
JML: Yes, I do. I have multiple favourite books. Kinda funny, actually, because for a long period of time, I felt like I was reading a bunch of deep books. And, now, I’m just totally reading smut. So, I’m like, “I guess I shouldn’t say Sandra Brown.” Yeah, I loved The Red Tent. I love The Glass Castle. A friend of mine just wrote a book, and it’s called I’ll Shave My Head Too. It’s probably one of my favourite books because I lived that story alongside of them. I love all kinds of books. To be honest with you, I loved 50 Shades of Grey. And it was so poorly written. I sort of feel like reading is a bit like travelling. And if you can’t get away, then you can kind of take off and visit your friends. I would probably say The Glass Castle, The Red Tent: two of my favorite books. I Shave My Head Too. You should read that book. It’s such a good book. He did a really great job. He’s actually an interesting guy.
Me: I’ll add those to my list, for sure! Thanks so much for hanging out with me and letting me ask all these questions, and good luck with your blog, I can’t wait to read it.