What You Wish For

These grand thoughts seem to happen fairly regularly in the shower…  Seriously, before the invention of the shower, where did people go to have their grand thoughts?  It is entirely foofy, but I want to believe water is some superconductor between a body and the Universe.  I was standing there in the dark and I realized that I am the thing I wanted to be when I grew up.

It doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like.  At sixteen, I saw myself standing on a cliff in a black skirt on a walk with four dogs after a long day writing and teaching.  It doesn’t look like that.  There aren’t many cliffs in DC and I don’t wear black Stevie Nicks skirts to work most days.  My teaching duties are more “other duties as assigned” than they are classroom with chalk.

But I am a writer.  I write books, though that doesn’t pay me nearly enough to survive on.  I write reports – I’m currently up to my eyes in Ebloa, which I will wax eloquently about later.  And I only have one dog.  It isn’t the way I thought it would be – these things never are, but it *is* what I wished for.  After a fashion.  I’m incredibly lucky…  loads of people are still looking for where they belong, or making intolerable compromises.  There are things I don’t like about my work – I don’t like it when the experts come in and muck up the flow and rhythm of my paragraphs.  There is nothing about technical or scientific writing that says it can’t have a flow or that every sentence must start with “the.”  And I get frustrated when I can’t fix it because the expert on Ebola trumps the (more-or-less) expert on words.

So no, it isn’t perfect.  But perfect would be boring – we all need something to squawk about.  Still, it’s kinda sorta what I wished for…

What You Wish For

The Photographic Evidence

The haunting has me going through my photo archives.  It’s just too easy to keep every digital photograph.  It isn’t like you have to lug them around (though, to be fair, I have every negative and I lug those around) and what does the storage really cost?  Four GB here or there doesn’t make much difference.  The trouble, however, with the hoarder’s mentality (it might come in handy at some point later on) is that when you’ve got photographs in the tens of thousands, they lose their meaning.  You just can’t get far enough into any one batch of photos to have it count for something.

The rational response is to cull.  Which I’m doing.

Unfortunately, the territory is littered with little memory-bombs.  There’s a photo from my sister’s wedding.  The official photographer was trying to get the entire family lined up, and someone took a picture from the side.  Whoever it was happened to be on the end of the family arrangement where my ex husband and I were standing, and captured the photographic evidence.

He really loved me.

We were married.  This shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but it does.  I also have photographs of the envelope he used to send me the signed divorce papers going up in flames.  At a certain point, it just isn’t healthy to focus on the good stuff.  No one wants to spend the rest of their lives pining over what might have been.  Pushing ten years since he moved out, frankly I don’t think about him much at all.  My niece was saying that she doesn’t even remember what he looked like, so I decided it would be a good idea to see if I could find a photo.  I came across his linkedin photo and was demonically gleeful that he’s chubbed up considerably and I’m *finally* hotter than he is.  I used to fear running into him on the street in some freak accident.  Not anymore.

The end of Tropic Thunder also helped.  You know the part where Tom Cruise dances around like a doofus?  My ex danced exactly like that.  I’m not much of a dancer (a statement that is a legitimate contender for understatement of the year) so the fact that he could find the rhythm and stick with it impressed me unduly.

Aside from that wicked and unkind smugness over the reversal of physical fortunes, I honestly don’t think about him at all.  Might as well have happened to someone else.  The house we owned is now theoretical.  What I remember most, even from when we were married, are the times I was alone.  Fair enough, I was alone a lot.

So it comes as a surprise to find evidence that we were happy.  He genuinely loved me.  I genuinely loved him.  And from that angle, it is a complete mystery to me how we ended up at a place where I have to work to remember why it was that he once felt as necessary as oxygen to my existence.  An effort that produces nothing concrete.  I truly thought there would be a him-shaped hole in me forever.  And now there’s this picture of him kissing the back of my head while I smile at the antics of various and assorted related children and it’s pretty much a bafflement.

He really loved me.  Isn’t that odd.

The Photographic Evidence

Somebody Else

A hazard of being the product of millennia of progenitors who were good at fitting into the social construct is the degree to which the idea of what I’m *supposed to be* refuses to budge.  This would be one of those things I keep to myself, except that I hear it from my friends as well.  They confront relationship challenges (not just the romantic ones) with this idea that they are *supposed* to have a reaction or approach that isn’t natural.  Who calls, how long before you respond to a text, what is okay to give for a birthday present.  You don’t want to give too much, but you also don’t want to be outdone by the other guy.  No one wants to show up at the birthday party with a homemade card when everyone else is boasting Hallmark.  Or whatever.

But here’s the deal with success or failure in your social endeavors (to include romantic relationships): win or lose, wouldn’t you rather it be for who you are, not for some role you’re playing?

Say you go down in flames.  If you crash and burn spectacularly because you were playing games or trying to be someone you aren’t, don’t you then end up living with the regret?  I’d wonder what might have happened if I’d just been myself, gone with my gut, followed what I was sure of, set my fears aside, stopped listening to the voice that told me there was something I was supposed to be, or the relationship was supposed to be, and just embraced what I was, what the relationship was, and what made me happy.  What if I’d just said what I feel, what I want, and let the cards fall where they might?

Come to think of it, I do live with that…  I can think of three relationships that crashed and burned because of the supposed to’s:  my first love in college – that never got off the ground because the difference between what it was and what it was supposed to be was insurmountable.  Part of the failure of my marriage can be blamed on me not being able to move past the gap between what it was and what I thought it was supposed to be.  I’ll not try to characterize the third relationship here.  Suffice it to say that we all struggle with the gap between reality and “supposed to.”

Moving on.  What if you succeed on the merits of being someone else…  Have you thought through the part where you’re going to have to sustain that charade.  Indefinitely?

I’m certainly not trying to claim that authenticity is easy.  It takes a lot of bravery to say “fuck it, this is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what makes me happy, this is what I want.”  It’s even harder to say all of that with complete ownership over yourself and no expectation that the world is going to bow to your will and deliver what it is that you want.  Consider the alternatives, though.  You can fake it and feel safe because you’re hiding behind the mask you think other people want to see, but succeed or fail, the long-term consequences are pretty difficult.

Between regret or sustaining the lie and the risk associated with just going with the best I can do with my authentic self, I think I’m aspiring to the risk.  If I’m going to go down, I can live with going down on the truth.  It’s easier to live with than losing something over an ephemeral “supposed to.”

The only possible caveat here is if your authentic self is a creep or an asshole.  In that case, become a nice person and then be your authentic self.

Somebody Else

* The Meta-feeling Charlie Foxtrot

Most of us are carrying around two parallel sets of reactions.  There is the original, genuine feeling and then the feeling about the feeling.

I’ve discovered that a good portion of my problem is in the feeling about the feeling.

Something unhappy happened a few months back and my body immediately told me I was scared.  The feeling was the feeling.  In the same breath, however, I began piling on additional feelings.  I was afraid of the anxiety that had taken up residence in my stomach.  I judged that anxiety.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  I argued with it.  I fought it tooth and nail.  Every time I wanted to cry, I judged that too.  I tried to tell myself why the need to cry was stupid.  I started looking for someone else to tell me things were going to be okay.  I floundered.  I kicked and screamed.  I railed.  I lost all sense of my own knowing because I was working so damn hard to distance myself from the original feeling.

Guess what.  It didn’t work.  The further I tried to get from my scared, the worse it got.  The harder I fought it, the stronger its grip.

The annoying thing is that I know better.  What do I tell myself all the time?  Surrender.  Go under.  What you resist persists.

Apparently, this is a lesson I need to learn six ways from Sunday, because it took me nearly three months to admit that all of my denial wasn’t getting me anywhere and to ask the question “what if I just let myself be afraid?”

Three months of waking up with my stomach twisted with anxiety.  Three months of being afraid to brush my teeth because I just knew I was going to gag on having something in my mouth.  And with two weeks of letting the terror be what it is and not judging it…  I’m not blissful, don’t get me wrong.  But I have re-directed myself back into the pool and I’m being a little more constructive than I was two months ago.

How useless is it to feel the fear twice?  I’m scared.  Okay.  Now I’m going to be scared of being scared?  Really?

So here’s my reminder to myself: feel what you feel.  Absolutely.  But don’t add layers of feelings about the feeling to the mix.

I’ve been contemplating a trip back to the tattoo shop.  I had all of these brilliant ideas, but I am thinking that what I really need is to put “surrender” right on my wrist.  Maybe with a little white flag.

* The Meta-feeling Charlie Foxtrot

Binge Reading

For various and assorted reasons, I’ve needed to access the basics – things I already know but that tend to get obscured by habit, daily life, and managing all of the above.  I’m not exactly dating at the moment, but one of the books that I picked up was the Tao of Dating, the version for the girls.  The book itself is unusually helpful.  For that matter, so is the Author, who responded to my note quickly and helpfully.  To put that in context, I rarely write an author to thank them for the book, but this was an exception.  He reminded me of some things I was in serious danger of forgetting – things I know but that tend to get lost in the cacophony of voices that have nothing to gain from me maintaining my balance.

I’ve looked at a number of the sites that purport to tell women how to catch and keep a man.  In fact, I think one of them is catchandkeep.com  Seriously.  In some ways, this author is working from much the same platform.  You can download the book in e-format, or you can get it from Amazon where it is (I suspect) self-published and twice as expensive as most other paperbacks for sale.  It is unfortunate, in a way, that the author runs the risk of being tainted by the competition.  All of that aside, I highly recommend the book.  There are a number of take-aways, first and foremost is don’t lose yourself in the process – you are the buyer, not the commodity being bought.  Second, and equally important: it is all in how you frame the situation.

Totally worth the asking price and this one comes with the advantage of being able to buy it in hard copy to write all over (which I did).  It isn’t just for dating, it could also be called The Tao of Retaining Yourself All Day and Every Day.  Worth the $40.  Every penny.  If you don’t have the money, remember this:

Hang on to yourself.  Or go with my Oma’s advice: Love many, trust few, always paddle your own canoe.

Binge Reading