Mis-connected

Every now and then Postsecret washes up something that has meaning for me. Today just happens to be one of those days.

From weekly Post Secret 25 November 2007

I think maybe life would be easier if it was as OK for “grownups” to be confused or scared as it is for little kids to feel that way. Somewhere along the line we forget as we “master” our world that just because the things that were new and scary when we were three are no longer new and scary doesn’t mean there aren’t other new and scary things out there and that the difference between being three and being “a grownup” is that you keep pushing even when you’re scared. Somewhere along that same line continuing to push evolved into “not OK to be frightened.” There’s something wrong with that.

Jean Paul Sartre’s comic strip

Yep, this pretty much says it all except that I never have the bad hair day part.

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And so we begin again

I can’t say that I’m sorry to see the ass end of 2006: it has been a turbulent and often brutal year for me. Those of us in countries that celebrate the turning of the new year at the end of December often attach great significance to the change. Countless resolutions of varying grades of achievablility will be made today and many of those same resolutions will be broken before the month of January turns.

Despite the significance we attach to the turning of the new year under the Gregorian calendar, January 1st is no better or worse a day to turn a new leaf or to make changes in your life than the fifth of March or the thirteenth of September. Akin to the idea that when the student is ready the teacher will appear is the idea that when you are ready to make change – in your environment, in your way of being or thinking, in your job – is the time to make that change regardless of when we are situated in the year.

All of that said, yes, I have made resolutions, ones which are based on all the lessons I have learned in the past 15 or so months and ones which I hope are achievable and realistic:

Identify and articulate what I want.
If I don’t know what I want I can’t say what I want and if I never say what I want I can never get what I want even if it is only me on whom I am relying to fulfill my wants.

Invest only in the outcomes which truly matter and embrace possibility.
Too often I have found myself invested in a specific outcome only to be disappointed when it did not come to pass. By approaching the bulk of life not invested in any one particular outcome I am embracing the idea that in any given situation there are myriad possible outcomes many of which might actually be enjoyable to me. In this way I open myself up to new, different experiences, decrease the chances that I will be disappointed, and expend my energy only on the outcomes which I truly value.

Take more risks.
Because sometimes not taking the risk is a more wrong move than taking the risk.

Yes, they are big, and yes they are not easily achieved since each one represents a fundamental shift in not just behavior – exercising more, eating better, quitting smoking, etc., etc., ad infinitum – as most resolutions are but more a shift in the way in which I approach the sacred transaction that is my life.

The most important thing that I learned this year I learned in one of those student/teacher moments that comes so unexpectedly that if you’re not paying attention you miss entirely: I learned that I really do want to keep living.

And learning that makes everything else that I experienced this year, both good and not so good, worth it.

Morning

I’m old enough to remember the 1980s, and remember them with a certain amount of clarity. People forget as they mythologize Ronald Reagan that at the end of his first term his approval ratings hit a low of 35%. The Republicans, though, had a strategy, which they unveiled at the 1984 Republican convention in Dallas: highlight the accomplishments of the president’s first term, the booming economy, and ignore anything unpleasant that preceded the convention. They declared it “Morning in America” heralding a new dawn and selling the greatest of all double-edged truths in life: possibility.

I’ve been thinking about morning a lot lately mostly because I’ve been thinking about mourning a lot. I’ve done too much mourning in the past year, raging over my own weaknesses, regretting chances not taken, regretting friendships and relationships lost, having my eyes opened to family myths and human flaws in those that have long loomed large in my world view. It has been, as the famous Chinese curse says, an interesting time.

I am ready for morning, I think, ready to move forward and take the lessons I have learned over the past year into the rest of my life. Life, after all, can only be lived forward, and to continue to mourn things lost, regret actions that can never be changed, to wonder “what if…” and “if only I’d…” is the equivalent of emotional suicide (the heart dies but the body lives on).

Yet…I have no idea how to embrace the new dawning day.

This past year has been all about revealing fallibility, both my own and that of others, and while I’m comfortable with the idea that other people are fallible I have difficulty accepting my own flaws. Mit Moi wrote recently about imperfection, using math as a metaphor no less (clever woman!), saying “Despite it’s[sic] flawless definition, perfection has some serious defects. One of them is that, by its very definition, it does not allow for improvement, or progress. On the other hand, imperfection can do nothing else but spur folk to improve it.”

OK, I can buy this: if I am imperfect I have room to get better. But how, and by whose standards am I judged imperfect? Perfection implies that there is any one choice or modality of being that is, by its own merits, better than another. The reality is that most choices or ways of being, excluding actively hurting people in pursuit of your own happiness (something definitely not to be desired), simply lead to different outcomes or different lives, no better or no worse than any other choice that could have been made or life that could have been lived. So by what criteria do we judge a choice or a life, or a person, to be less than perfect?

I have a friend who lives life by the “All That And A Bag Of Chips” theory. Basically, it goes something like this: I’m All That And A Bag Of Chips and just because I am doesn’t mean that you (generic) can not also be All That And A Bag Of Chips until such a point as your being All That And A Bag Of Chips attempts to tell me that I am Not All That And A Bag Of Chips at which point you (generic) become Completely Full Of Shit.

In this philosophy of life is it possible for someone else to be CFOS and ATAABOC simultaneously on a sliding, X/Y algebraic scale just the same as it is possible for others to be Not All That And A Bag Of Chips but not be CFOS but it is never possible for you yourself to be NATAABOC while you can sometimes, but not often, be CFOS. Oh here,
have a visual.

Workable? I’m not sure. I think I am entirely too aware of my humanity and my flaws, entirely too scared of making a mistake and having people stop loving me because my imperfections are revealed to be able to make the ATAABOC theory of life work for me.

Except…all of the things that I’ve learned in the past year, lessons about taking risks (sometimes a good idea), about trusting people (probably never a good idea; the jury is still out on that one), about asking for help (often a necessity and not as hard as it seems), about taking responsibility appropriately (hint: not every problem is mine to solve; some problems are mine to look at and say “geez, that’s fracked up and someone should fix it” and then walk away from) have been about dealing with my own humanity and imperfection.

So how, then, do I apply these lessons that I’ve learned? How do I learn to treat myself as I would others? To forgive my own imperfections and mistakes?

One thing I do know is that perfection is not attainable. I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to please everyone all the time and the only thing I’ve gotten from it is anxiety attacks and to have very nearly reached middle age with absolutely no clue as to what I want out of life.

Another thing I know is that I’m tired of the dark, of the shadows, of living my life as if every choice I make is vitally important to my future (pepperoni or sausage is, after all, only dinner).

I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, to feel the excitement of possibility, of promise. I want to believe that the future holds both good and bad in equal measures, that the rest of my life is not simply a slog toward the inevitable big sleep and doomed to be nothing but sorrow and regret.

In short, I want to stay flexible for as long as I can. I want to be able to admit the idea that there are things unexpected out there, things that do not fit into my world view and to be able to treat those things as I did previously: not as a threat but as something of interest. Or perhaps I’m just deluding myself and I’ve gotten to the place where I am in life because I was hobbled early and learned the wrong lessons. I don’t know.

I want to think that I still have a chance to be the girl that I think I used to be; the one who was unafraid (or at least appropriately cautious and appeared unafraid anyway); the one who was happy with her own company; the one who was strong enough to believe that she was, in fact, just fine the way she was and any one who didn’t like it could go hang.

I just hope the sun comes up soon.

Random piece of advice

If you use any kind of automatic reminder service for birthdays, anniversaries, or what have you and you’ve had a loved one die within the last year you might want to sit down and seriously consider your options. It might be comforting for you to be routinely reminded of that person’s birthday or it might make you burst into tears.

Three guesses on which one my reminder from American Greetings about my uncle’s birthday did for me this morning, and the first two don’t count.

I know I’m having a bad day when…

…the Thoughts That Come Unbidden Department sends down things like “If I died now there’d be enough money in my bank account to cover my funeral, easy.”

Here is the grand thing about the cycling depression that seems to have gripped my life: when I’m up – and I use the term in the most qualified manner because I don’t think “not completely and utterly hopeless and so miserable it takes 10 minutes to decide which grocery store I want shop at to buy ice cream ’cause I’m afraid I’ll make the wrong choice and they won’t have ice cream and then I’ll get frustrated and cry in public because I’m that inflexible and strung out emotionally, and I’ll come home with no ice cream and someone will yell at me” doesn’t really qualify as “happy” – I resent the Inky Black that spreads rot with a single thought.

I resent it with every fiber of my being because I am fully and completely aware that time is short; a long life is not guarenteed, and who wants to look back at her 40 or 50 years and have a majority of the days in the “Christ that sucked” column?

Pared

I used to know this girl.

She was bright, and clever, and funny. She had her own opinions, figured out what was right for her, and lived her life under a flag that said “This is me. Don’t like it? Leave.” She wasn’t afraid to try new things, things she wasn’t necessarily good at, and, while she didn’t always enjoy not being good at these new things, she usually had a sense of humor about it. We’ve been separated though — like Peter Pan and his shadow — this girl and I.

She is Peter Pan. And me? Mostly I’m just the shadow.

Ramble on

I wish I had something coherent to say. Actually, that’s not true; I have lots of coherent things to say, I just can’t seem to say them lately. I had a really good essay about the nature of emotions and how there really are just the two of them and everything else we think is an emotion is really just a stop on the sliding scale of varying saturation, but it slipped away yesterday in a haze. I’ve got another one floating around somewhere about pornography; that one made it to paper last year during the Summer of the Hellish Commute [insert appropriate orchestral flourishes here].

There’s an essay floating around in here somewhere about what a scam credit card rewards programs are. That will probably reach escape velocity first since it doesn’t really involve me personally but is more of an observation in the Roger Rabbit/cartoon double take mode (as in, “I can’t believe people are buying into this, me included!”).

I’ve been pondering publication and why I write. The Girlfriend asked me an interesting question last night in the middle of a mini-breakdown precipitated by…well, just being me I suppose: did I want people to read my writing and enjoy it or did I want to get paid? I asked her why, in a world where Nora Roberts has a hardcover on the shelves every 10 months or so and the editing process is so bad that this gem of an exchange got through in her last book*:

Quincy held up a hand. “Why aren’t there — if this data is correct — more of her at the school?”

“If this data is correct,” Mira repeated, and seemed to Eve to be holding on to the hope it was flawed…

having someone read and enjoy my writing and getting paid for it were mutually exclusive?

The answer, of course, is because the editing process is so bad. It used to be that in the book biz you were looked down upon as an author if your book went straight to paperback release; now, there’s so much competition (and yet the standards seem so incredibly low <cough> Clive Cussler </cough>) that a straight to paperback release is like a gold ingot. Of course, given that Americans are reading an average of one book per year (someone has to make up for my mother and her 7-10 books per week), even if I did get published in the traditional sense of the word I’m not sure who would read me. So why is it, like Jim, I’m contemplating doing NaNoWriMo again? If I do NaNo this year and finish it would be the third novel I’ve written. Maybe self-publishing and setting up a merchant account at PayPal are the answer, but who has time for all that marketing? The whole point is to write. Or, as a friend of my Mom’s used to say “Writing is hard, lonely, demanding work, but it beats getting up in the morning.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about community and friends, and how the definitions of these things change and how fucking unprepared I am for getting older. Thinkers more highly trained than me in the nuances of group and individual behavior have lamented the fact that America is beyond obsessed with youth, that we prize it above experience and knowledge. It doesn’t take a genius but only someone even marginally observant to realize that the bulk of America’s consumer culture is built on trying to retain youth. The dirty little secret of getting older, though, isn’t that your body starts to break down – that you have sags where you didn’t used to have sags, that losing weight is more difficult, that you take longer to not be hungover the next day – it’s that your support system breaks down. Just why is it that no one told me how hard it would be to make friends after I turned 30? There’s a life-lesson I could have used.

This was going somewhere, it really was. Up there, somewhere in the middle it started to firm up but, typical of late, the thread of reason is gone now, flushed by distractions and a pandemic lack of concentration.

I wish I had something coherent to say.


* Origin In Death by Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Rob, pp. 219-220. August 2005.

Withdrawal isn’t just church-approved birth control

I wish I could say that my depression rolled in like a weather front, black clouds heavy with self-loathing and self-doubt, easy to spot and take precautions against. But it’s not. It’s more insidious than that, moving in on little cat feet in the dead of night when I can’t sleep making me puzzle over some remark I made off hand or something that didn’t go quite right or some perceived unsatisfied “should.”

Withdrawing from contact with other people seems like the most natural reaction; after all, if I can’t stand my own company who else would want to be around me, right? It’s also the worst possible thing I can do: with only my own perceptions as feedback the hole underneath me can do nothing but get deeper and deeper as the cycle turns and I, eventually, find fault with the very fact that I exist. Yet, I have no alternate plan.

Last night we had dinner with one of The Girlfriend’s friends from college and her new girlfriend who were in town unexpectedly. We hadn’t seen this woman in about eight years. The last time we saw her she was in the middle of a long-term relationship with someone else. Inquiring politely, we were told a very long story about S’s method for dealing with her depression: she went to bed for three years.

I kid you not. According to The Friend, S. would get up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. That’s it. End of story. Last night it struck me as sort of a silly way to approach something. Today it’ seems like a not bad idea.

To the lady at the movie theater,

Yes, I admit that I could have been nicer when I asked your daughter’s friend to stop kicking the back of my chair, but given that I know for a fact that I, at 5ft 9inches tall, had to stretch to reach the row in front of me from the exact seat she was sitting in, and given the fact that it’s pretty damn obvious in a “stadium seating” scenario that your feet are level with the back of the head of the person in front of you, and given the fact that she’s 12 and should know better, I don’t see why I should have to be nicer.

Oh, yeah, and before you say it, I’m gonna: it’s not about race, it’s about manners. I know I didn’t help to teach her any today, but what can you expect from someone who had to contend with getting the chair behind the back of her head kicked once every five minutes? Maybe you can do better. Good luck. I wish you well with that.