It's hard being spoiled. I suppose if I was in the "real" 1% I'd be used to it by now and not feeling guilty over having potentially large reactions to tiny problems. Usually I manage to keep quiet, you know, because I have perspective, and I know how awesomely lucky and spoiled I truly am.
But then sometimes... I mean, for instance, I couldn't get the printer to work this morning, and I really wanted to print out this one cartoon for my door at work, where, you know, I have my own office.
With a DOOR.
And then I have to get a cavity filled at 3:30, all covered by my excellent health insurance of course, and that means I can't go to the gym at work unless I schlep all the way back there, the whole 10 miles, in my new economy car, the one my husband filled with gas for me yesterday.
And I have all these yucky things to deal with today, because I've been out sick the last two days, paid leave of course. I have to call the doctor to arrange for this procedure to make sure I'm healthy enough to get this other procedure. It's "routine" preventative health stuff, all covered by insurance, but gosh, I have to use a phone and speak to people. Then I have to order the medicine I need to thin my blood so I don't have another stroke. The medicine that can cost some people over $400/month, and costs me $20.
Speaking of insurance, I have to deal with all these people on Facebook complaining about the ACA, and the huge First World problems our government seems to be having making web sites and governments run. We are all suffering! And then when I log onto Facebook, I have to endure the whining from people who used to have to sit alone with their personality disorders but can now share freely with their 500 "friends" while we sit and think, ah well, best be nice, because when my turn comes, well, I'll need some comfort too. It's not always easy having 500 friends.
Well, even if these are problems, I guess I really have very few. Even the stuff that's really real, the painful stuff, it's not like some giant storm came and killed off my city, my loved ones, my house, my water supply... Well, you know. I think maybe I can afford to click this link
and send a little more of my hard-but-not-that-hard-earned money to people with real problems, and maybe once I've made all those phone calls, I'll go post to this group I'm in on Facebook that's all about gratitude. Because damn do I have a lot to be grateful for.
I know you're expecting that whole blog about why-success-doesn't-equal-money thing.
I feel pretty solidly sure that most people can figure out how they define success by now, especially anyone who went through any kind of job interview in the '90s. It's rote.
This next phase of growing up for me isn't about defining success, but about handling it, I think...
For me, I figure success starts with the act of trying. I'm terrible at that. Somehow my head just fills up with my heartbeat, and nerves tell me to sit back down and shut up. Thankfully (for me anyway), I'm terrible at shutting up, too.
When I do try stuff, things work out pretty well though. I mean, I think my disaster to not-that-bad ratio is above average. So why don't I try more, why not dare more greatly?
First, I'm trying... I mean, I'm working on trying. Really, it's a process, you know, a journey.
Second, it's not that I'm afraid of failure. Seriously. Failure happens, it's necessary. It's how we learn stuff. And I've learned a LOT. So no, I'm not afraid to fall on my face. What I'm terrified of is success. I watch how easily friends of mine can handle temporary star status - things as simple as a birthday celebration with (yech) tiaras and stuff. I'm in awe of their ability to stand up, stand out, raise their arms up and say TA DA! They shine like they're meant to shine, in the full knowledge that they deserve to shine. Glorious.
But I'm not that girl
. (Yes, bonus points if you can name the show or sing a few bars.) With me, as soon as praise happens, I'm trying to figure out a way to crawl under the table. The crowd claps, and I run off stage, perhaps never to return. It's a crazy flirtation with the glory of recognition and the near certainty that the mountain is about to collapse and crush me under its weight. It's the sense that I'll lose myself, my humility, my humanity if for just a few seconds I allow myself to feel truly special. Look, I'm smart. I know I'm special (and you and you and you). But that's just book learnin'.
So along with trying, success for me is going to have to mean, scary as it is to face, that I will feel that moment of greatness when it comes, revel in it, smile, leap up and yell TA DA! Except, I'm not gonna yell TA DA. That's just over the top...
This is utterly not at all like our bedroom!
It all started because of the socks. For the last couple of years we've had this whole laundry basket just full of socks. The kids just walk into our room and fight through the pile to find what they need, and the pile never gets any smaller. It's just one of the many mystifying things about socks, you know?
So I'd recently bought one kid a huge bag of black socks, and he was tearing through the basket looking for his socks, which weren't there, and he was grabbing anything black while griping about our "system" which is obviously not a system at all, and is honestly a pretty big fail. He was upset with me because he thought the socks were mostly mine, but I said all the colored socks were his sister's, and he suggested I just throw those all out. I think he was kidding... But well, she hasn't lived with us for 8 months, and has likely grown out of those socks anyway, and I knew he had a point. Then I thought, why, I'll just fix this whole mess today. I'll pair up all the pairs, discard all the non-pairs, and maybe even have a separate holder for black vs white socks. They could live above the washer/dryer and not on our bedroom floor. I was inspired!
Then I realized that the socks were only one of three major problem areas in our room, which is far too large for people like us. We aren't the type to build a lovely lounge area in all that space. We are hoarders of the worst kind because we don't actually want the stuff that gathers all around us in boxes and laundry baskets. We just can't seem to get it out of the house or stop it from coming in!
So then I thought, why, I'll also sort all the books we have stored in these giant boxes today, and decide what goes and what stays, and life will be pretty and organized, and the shelves won't overflow because I'll fix that too. And I looked at the two large boxes of books on the floor and realized that we needed a serious donation area set up so we could handle this all efficiently.
I got to thinking how great life was about to be for us! We'd have all this space, and maybe I'd rearrange and make us an actual loungy area. Ah, but the next big project is supposed to be finishing the kegerator that's waiting patiently in the garage for a proper tapping system. See, we've been making beer and kegging it, but the system is what John calls "college" at this point, and I have a plan to add real taps and stuff, and then we can entertain and share our quite fabulous beer. But the garage... Well, the garage was disgusting. It was the kind of project that's hard to start because you can't even imagine it as a finished thing. There was furniture for the dump and charity, and cobwebs and leaves, and spiders, and so much junk, even though we made sure we had room for one car, since we have four cars actively using our driveway now.
It was a big job, the one that I've put off doing for well over a year, and the one that John's been waiting for someone to help with. So I went and sat at the computer for a minute or twenty to think on it, and this same sock-hunting kid came into my office and reminded me that I'd sat idle the entire day Saturday, and I should get up and make him delicious pancakes. Of course I said no, because seriously? But I did manage to get up, and an hour later I was dressed for mess and tackling the garage single-handedly. I filled the front lawn and driveway with things. So many things. Things like a dog crate for a 100+ pound dog, which I think weighed close to that itself. And a dog crate for a 70 pound dog. And half of a coffee table. And a frighteningly large amount of rope that I don't think we've ever used for anything. That last one makes me nervous now that I see it in writing...
In between piling things everywhere that wasn't the garage, I upset the mama spiders by mercilessly sweeping all the corners, up and down, and even sideways. Over near the hot water heater I found a dead bird, which was upsetting on so many levels. I'm pretty sure it didn't have its head, which just made for more questions I didn't want to ask or answer. For hours and hours I cleaned, heaved, slung, and nearly wept. Then John got home from work, and I could see the panic in his eyes. I'd taken on a huge job, and he had no clue what I wanted or expected him to do about it.
After a little bit of yelling (yeah, that was me, I was a little, um, into this job), the guys fixed a few heavy trouble spots for me, and I got back to work alone. Okay, alone except for when I started screaming like a maniac every time I saw a large bug (okay, I know, I know, but they were water roaches, and they were THIS BIG, seriously, and they were malicious!) and being rescued unceremoniously by the other kid, who finally went to get shoes since there were a good number of bugs to catch. He ended up helping on and off as I spent a few more hours cleaning and putting things back together. In the end, it was pretty awesome really.
There is now a space for the kegerator, some stereo stuff in a nice entertainment center thing, and a dart bard. There is a cozy spot on the old carpet for the weight bench to actually be used for weights instead of paint cans, lawn stuff all in one area, tools in another, a neat pile of stuff to donate, and a pile for the dump. The dead bird is waiting for burial outside. It was the least we could do really. The garbage is overflowing, and things still need cleaning, but this was an amazing transformation for a single day's work.
Finally I stumbled upstairs to shower, and when I got up there I looked around at the untouched basket of socks, the untouched boxes of books covered in t-shirts that don't even belong to us, and all the other assorted stuff that was taking away from my lovely future-dream lounge area. I may have said a curse word. Then I took more Aleve than I'm supposed to, showered in hot hot water, realized that moving any part of me in any direction hurt like mad, went downstairs for beer and football and passed out early. Today I can't move without hurting, and I'll have to tell the PT guy I'm seeing for my recently diagnosed rotator cuff tendinitis problem that really, it's all so much worse now because of the socks. I'm sure he'll understand.
A few times now, I've been instructed to think about what this me, old me, would say to young me, teen me, to encourage or show love, acknowledgement, etc. Picture it, they say. What would you say?
It's a hard thing to do on two levels. For one thing, I mean, it's just weird, and you get all self-conscious just thinking about you meeting you, and all the while you're thinking about it, you know that someone else is watching while you try to process this, and you picture your high school photos and try to see what you might have looked like because you really can't remember clearly, and well, it is weird, right?
But that's the cop-out reason. The real thing is, it's hard because I can't just fix things with one hug, or a few well-placed words, and I can't warn her (me - see, weird) about the horrible things coming, and I can't change anything for her (me) and I can't even pretend that the gap between who I was then and who I am now is traversable. The real thing is, it hurts too much. I was a girl who had no idea how smart I was, how capable, how pretty, how worthwhile in any way. I was outgoing, sure, and I had friends. I loved life, really, in some ways. I was capable of giving great support, but not very capable of receiving it. I didn't get practice growing up. I don't even really know what it looks like. I tried to do it better with my kids and even myself, but I guess some things will take generations to fix.
So how can I look across the void at that girl who just wants to be accepted and acknowledged and give her that? How can I give her the hug she needs? How can I warn her that her neediness is a weakness, how she will be used and hurt and lost? How can I tell her not to walk into that house, into those relationships, into so many goddamned spider webs spun by people just looking for targets like her? And how can I tell her to keep singing, because she has a gift and a joy that she will too easily let die, a gift that will tarnish and never shine the same way again? How can I tell her she is enough, more than enough, just the way she is? I mean, I can see it now about her (me?) but I can't see it or even say it to myself here, today.
Self-worth isn't easy for so many of us. Where we should see beauty and grace, we see nothing at all, or worse. It's easy to blame our parents, and yes, they played a part. I'm a parent now, and I take this blame too. Sometimes doing the best you can isn't really good enough. So while I want to tell teen me she's amazing, and she really is, I also want her to tell me it's okay that I've made mistakes, because I've never stopped trying, and I never meant harm. I guess in order for her to forgive me, I have to learn to forgive my own parents. They did better than theirs did, I know that's true. It all just keeps coming down the line. And I guess I need to learn to forgive myself, which I've worked on but never really mastered.
But I do think teen me would forgive this me, and I think she'd do better with the whole weird thing too. She was pretty open-minded. I think she'd tell me that kindness is worth some pain (she was naive about how much though). I think she'd tell me it's not too late to start singing again. And I think she'd give me that hug right back.
9/11/01 Manhattan from space.
I think a lot of us, most of us even, can get to feeling all alone in the world, misunderstood, lost, disconnected. The new DSM-5
is chock-full of conditions that echo themes of dissociation.
I don't just mean loneliness, although that may have its own label by now too. It's that sense that you exist in a void, un-touching and untouched. And some of it is real, I mean, nobody can read your mind, and you do exist within yourself as someone nobody else can truly know fully. Yes, you sigh in relief. Who wants to be that exposed? I know.
In the journey to be daring and put "myself" out there more, there's still a line that won't be crossed.
Life is funny. So many of us bounce from existence to existence, school, work, socially, making friends, making connections however small they may seem. But we bounce on, and often forget that we've touched lives, and they've touched us. We can rewrite the story pretty easily, and a hero becomes a goat or vice versa. We all paint the world in our own colors, and sometimes those colors bleed all over the past. A relationship gone bad can turn into a relationship you never remember as being anything but bad. No wonder we feel so Other so often.
Today, the anniversary of a horrible attack on our psyche and our people, it strikes me that we're all lost and alone together. We are more and more ruled by fear and advertising, put in our place and stuck trying to buy our way out, into something we know we're missing. I think what we're missing is one another. I guess in that way we're all victims. And I think it's worth the effort to reach out, take a chance, trust someone carefully, and trust and forgive ourselves.
I've been a geek for a long time. I played D&D in high school, read countless books and comics, liked computers before they were mainstream, you get the idea. I've met with lots of weird looks along the way, what, a GIRL? This happens to lots of us. And right now, the war around gender and geek fandom is being waged. Women are taking a stand
and I love it! The real men are standing with them and behind them, and I love that too. I’m still shocked that a simple thing like girls liking video games can be considered weird in this day and age. But I was raised to ignore that crap. A lot of parents have put a lot energy into teaching their daughters that they can like what they want to like, be who they want to be, and don’t have to accept limits. Now a lot of us are grown up, and we’re being who we are, and it’s freaking some people out. And some people just plain haven't noticed us at all yet.
My friend Kate runs a family-friendly fantasy football league. We have men, women, and children competing pretty darn equally, and smack talk is rampant. Last year I won the season (cash!), and an 11 year old came in second (he got cash too!). I can’t tell you why I like football. I mean, it doesn't go with most of my loves in life. It’s not peaceful or deep, but I like it. I watch the games, follow the plays, yell at the refs on TV, keep up on the changing rules at least a little, pay attention to the players, injuries, coaches, etc. An awful lot of my female friends are the same way. An awful lot.
So why is it when I went to look up player stats for this year’s fantasy draft, every single site assaulted me with visions of barely legal boob jobs vaguely attached to women who were leaning in and utterly inviting me and everyone else to play a different kind of fantasy game? Why were there NO pictures of women fans or fantasy players anywhere? Why are we invisible??
Look, I know there’s some kind of crazy stuff going on, and there’s people using rape threats to silence women who have found their voices. I get that football may be considered one of the last “holy” grounds for the man’s man. I get that there are men who think women are nothing but playthings. But are they the majority of football fans? Hint: the answer is no. I've pretended for years that this crap doesn't bother me, because I want to be “cool” around my male friends I guess. But I’m about sick and tired of being put in “my place” by all this BS. How the hell can we raise our kids to be anything they want to be when the message is clearly not true in “certain” areas like geeks and sports, and related fandoms? And why do I have to pretend to not be offended by the objectification of women in geek stuff and sports in order to be “cool” enough to participate? Time out... I’m ready for some rule changes of my own.
As a child I stood in front of the mirror and I wanted it to swallow me up, like Alice. And sometimes I’d dream that my real family had been kidnapped and replaced by a secret government agency that was trying to just string me along for some reason. It all made so much sense in the middle of the night.
Mostly though, I lived in my own world, or really the children’s world of the 1970s – that era you see described in memes as no helmets, no seat belts, no Internet, drinking from the hose and look how fine we turned out. It’s funny though, that we like to say this stuff to today’s kids as if we ourselves had nothing to do with the crazy world they live in now.
In my world back then, parents were just… I dunno. I mean, they fed us and that was about it. Mom read me bedtime stories. They didn't completely sound like the adults on Charlie Brown specials, but it really wasn't that far off. They sort of just… didn't matter much. We found our own adventures, made our own rules, ripped holes in the knees of our jeans from climbing trees and riding bikes, and I don’t remember once thinking these were things I needed to explain to my parents, or to blame them for.
I would love that freedom now. But kids these days know that world hasn't existed for a long time. Maybe they don't even believe our silly stories. Who really knows what all happened… TV news brought fear, fear brought locks and more TV, and somehow social media is how everything is done now. Kids don’t rip so many pairs of jeans. They ride bikes under our watchful eyes, and we tend to tell them not to do most anything we would have back in the day. I hear way too many parents fuss at their kids for even a spot of dirt. Gasp. Anyway, I can’t undo this, can’t manage to find the magical mix of nurturing and lackadaisy that brought me up at least knowing I could own my own problems. True, I owned too many, but I’m beginning to see that as a gift too, now that I can let go more.
My parents didn't make my mistakes for me, and I don’t remember ever thinking they were responsible. As a parent in this new world, it seems like that’s all we've done sometimes. I spent countless hours trying to make sure my kids were “enriched” with experiences. And when anything went wrong, and oh did things go wrong, I took all the blame laid out for me by myself, other parents, and the kids themselves. But seriously, I think at some point we each have to own our own mess, tend our own wounds, and get on with the business of being ourselves. I don’t think I did a good job preparing my kids for that, in spite of tremendously good intentions. I do have full faith that they will figure it out sooner or later, and know what to do to be their best true selves. I think that I’m now in a first do no harm kind of place, and that will have to do until the mirror swallows me, or them, and we figure out this was all just a dream.
Sometimes I look up writing contests, thinking about entering something just to try it. And while reading the descriptions, I wonder, does it have to be something new? Because the feelings they’re after were a few years back, and I don’t know if I can capture all the anger anymore. I hear that’s what it’s like to be an actor, too. You have to rely on feelings you felt once upon a time, or feelings as you imagine them to be.
Writing without feelings is just a dictionary trying to tell a story. And I know that attempting to find inner peace is risking that the feelings will turn their backs on me, that I’ll only remember parts of the dream. Happiness is boring I hear. Conflict drives us, from the squirrel annoying the once-sleeping dogs to the back-stabbing friend who used you to get ahead in life.
There’s plenty of conflict in this life I live, plenty of things I could, even should, stand up and shout about. So now there’s a new struggle, a conflict if you will, between trying to stay calm and let the bad things flow through me away out into the earth, and raising my voice and arms in protest and screaming into the world. I’m trying to let things go, for my health. But in letting things go, will I run out of words? Is this struggle the reason so many writers die young and drunk?
Excuse me, soul, I see you sitting there, trying to heal, and you’re doing very well by the way. But see, I need to have something to say, because it’s who I have to be, so I’m going to have to just poke you a little, maybe just a little scratch.
The truth is my soul is only beginning to heal, and the scabs are delicate. I don’t want to disturb them. I want peace with the past, and I want to always look forward, to move forward into life. I want to let the insanity roll off my back. Someday even, I want to pretend I didn't even notice it in the first place. But timey-wimey things are tricky, and the past isn't just a place you visit sometimes. It’s something you carry around as part of your own personal turtle shell. It’s part of your home, present and future. It’s your foundation and your obstacle, and you can’t really pretend you don’t notice, because it creates you. You carry it, and you get used to the burden, and your muscles shape themselves around it.
Making peace with the past means making peace with yourself, your mistakes and triumphs. It means letting the pain back in because you want to remember the joy. It also means not allowing yourself to drown in memories, because you need to breathe. I’m learning to take the past in small sips. The best cocktails blend bitter and sweet, because too much of either offends the tongue. I tell myself the old stories in third person, and I try to forgive myself, even though I know the mistakes by heart and want to shout NO, not that! But in the end, I think the story comes out okay. In the end, I am forgivable, and I deserve fresh air and sunshine and love.
I think the contests will have to wait for another day.
I'm not trying to be cute with the title... This is a real short story. It's under 800 words, so I guess the technical term is flash fiction. It's also kind of sad. Sorry about that. It can be uplifting if you let it...Peace One Day is coming up in a few short months. I've been thinking a lot about what brings us together and tears us apart. They ask the question "who will you make peace with?" and my personal answer is "myself." Oh, wish me luck with that one.
It figures that now, at the end of my life, you'd show up and try to tell me you love me somehow. And with these tubes in my throat, you know I can’t ask you the hard questions. Where were you? Love me? You walked away with only your contempt to keep you warm and brave against your better judgment. And you've been together ever since. Where they hell were you?
They’re going to burn my body soon. I’ll be ashes in the wind. I've asked my family to throw a party, and throw me to the dolphins and sharks. It means nothing to me of course, I’ll be long gone. But I've told them it’s what I want because it’s what they want, and it’s what they need to hear.
I don’t think they will invite you, but I hope they do. They all want to know where you've been. They credit you with the breaking of my heart so long ago. I am dying to tell you so many things. You didn't break it all, my heart. You tried so hard, and that’s what kept me from going over the edge. You tried so hard to ruin me, I felt the passion and love that struggled still, inside the contempt, inside you. You don’t have to tell me you love me. I've always known.
And then I discovered my own true heart. A place nobody can break, not even me. And I lived! Oh, the things I want to tell you. The amazing things I've seen and felt and done. The person is dusty and brittle, yes, but the memories, the slices of life I dished up, those will outlive us both. I've loved more truly since you left than I ever knew possible. The broken pieces of my heart were already weak before they shattered, and without them the best of me grew stronger. I came just a bit more alive with every month gone by. I’m sure you’ll hear some stories that will surprise you. That gives me comfort too. I want you to know I'm happy. I've been happy.
Oh where were you? I made art, and friends, and some damn hilarious jokes. I told you in all those notes I sent every month for years that I will never stop loving you. Yes, of course I love you still. And I forgave you, mostly, while you were still packing your things. I forgave the rest a little later, out of simple joy. There was no room left in me for the anger. I learned to live and thrive without you. I learned that pity isn't healthy, and self-pity is a terrible drug addiction. I cured myself quickly. You were one hell of a shot in the arm.
And here I am, with questions that will never leave my lips, and with answers that you deserve to hear but never will. I can only look at you as you stand over me. You look old around the eyes now, but still so young inside, still unsure how to let the contempt slip away and leave you in the peace you so deeply need. I’d have been a better choice. I’m glad I can’t tell you that. It’s not what you need to hear. And so I’m glad for the notebook I left you. You’ll get it from my lawyers in a month or two, when the ashes have finally turned to soggy clumps and landed at the bottom, where sunshine is just a legend, and any food is good food. The notebook contains so many memories, some of us together, things you don’t even know you've forgotten. And many of my own memories of the years since you left. And it contains the forgiveness you may be ready to believe in. I know it will give you something to cling to, and I know sooner or later you will cry, and that will be the cry you need.
So I struggle to ask the one question that drives me to cling to life just a little bit longer. Just to hear your answer. I squeeze the words out and can tell as you lean toward me frowning that you haven’t heard me at all. I gather all I have left, and these will be my last words. I will live long enough for your answer, and then I will let go. With you leaning forward, I push the words through my lips, and I know they are good and solid, and you hear them, and you will answer.
“How are you?” I close my eyes a moment, and listen for your story. I hope it’s a good one.
Last night was an unplanned experiment. For the first time in ages, I came home, glanced at my oh-so-smarter-than-I-am phone to check on the time, and, here's the weird part, didn't touch another WiFi-enabled device for the rest of the evening.
The realization came slowly. I hadn't missed it. I mean, I usually come home from work and go right to the iPad, checking everything, round-robin style for hours. Sure, I stop to eat, or even cook sometimes. I have conversations with my family, and pet my dogs. But the iPad is always nearby, on my lap, or (dangerously) far away on the coffee table. I sense it there, waiting for me with its Words With Friends and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest, and that confounded Candy Crush crap I swore I wouldn't play (I'm on level 80).
The iPad calls to me, and I'm not just being metaphorical. The damn thing beeps, rings, pings, and cajoles me pretty much constantly. But I hadn't even noticed it was missing until my husband pointed it out sometime well after dinner, and he seemed as surprised and happy as I was. Then he stuck his iPhone in the charger and left it there, and made us some delicious strawberry mojitos.
I couldn't really figure out how or why this thing happened. Yesterday morning seemed normal, but I just left it upstairs where it sleeps beside me, plugged in and recharging for another fine evening of the same thing. I thought about it for a few seconds, looked over at it, almost walked over, but thought, nah. I didn't need it. I work on a computer all day, and sometimes I write at night, and I'm surrounded by technology. But lately I see more clearly that I'm also surrounded by living things (yes, including my family). I've been spending more time on the deck, or in the garden, or feeding the birds. And I don't take the iPad out there if I can help it. The outdoors has this effect of helping me just be still. I think it may just be leaking into the rest of life too.
So last night passed quietly, much the same as usual, but I was actually there, present in my own life, not pulled in all those directions and feeling obligated to select Like, or play a word, or come up with something clever in 140 words or less. And, it turns out my life is nice, very nice! A very good place to visit. In fact, I think I'd like to live there.