Defense

Calling my mother is like playing Plinko on the Price Is Right.  A contestant places a wooden disk at the top of the board and watches it fall in a random pattern, bouncing haphazardly between the Love/Support and Batshit Crazy slots.  There is a whole manner of additional available prizes, but they generally fall in between those two categories.  The player’s heart leaps when the piece looks to be headed toward Maternal Warmth only to sink in dismay when it makes a last second detour to Sicilian Guilt.  The outcome waits to reveal itself even to the final moments, as she answers the phone the same way, no matter her mood.

Mother’s Day was no exception.

“HELLO?!” she accused into the phone, leaving me to guess at the direction our chat would take.   To judge by her tone, anyone would think that she couldn’t possibly be more annoyed, that even correcting the grammatical errors of the entire population of Facebook would be preferable to taking my call.  That’s not really the case…it’s just how she rolls.

Knowing her tone is no indication of her mood, I chirped a cheerful Happy Mother’s Day  (!!) into the receiver and was rewarded with a couple of cold responses.  Under normal circumstances (and to save my own sanity) I will beat feet to the end of the conversation when I see it headed in this direction.  If I don’t, screaming matches occur; it’s better to live to fight another day than engage, logic has no place when her voice takes on a certain edge.  But, it WAS Mother’s Day, and as such (I felt), required a bit of extra effort on my part.

After some prying and coaxing (“Seriously, what’s the matter? Why do you sound so hateful today?”) I was rewarded with a solid dose of the truth.

Now, here I pause to tell you something else about my mother.  I’ve shared some shitty things about her on this blog.  Told a couple of horror stories.  Mostly because this seems to be where I work some crap out.  But, beyond those stories, it should also be known that she’s a woman dealing with her own shit.  A really smart fucking woman, dealing with her own shit.  I forget sometimes that she’s spent a considerably longer amount of time trying to figure herself out and get back to even than I have, and as such, has the benefit of experience.  Every once in a while, she pops out with something that sounds completely ridiculous, but turns out to be exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment.  It’s those times that I know I’m just as Batshit as she is and that there will never be anyone out there who understands quite like she does.  This fact absolutely has TNT written all over it, but sometimes when it manifests, it’s the only thing in the world that helps me know I’m not alone.

This was one of those times.

“I’m not a goddamned business, Jennifer.”

Now, the layperson will read that line and wonder:  “What the fuck does that even mean?!”  But I’m no novice when it comes to my Mom.  I knew exactly what she was talking about.  I’d just spent the previous five-or-so minutes in a state of calm detachment, trying to figure out why she was upset.  My voice had been soft and clear, friendly even, but there was no warmth behind it.  I’d been giving her the fake customer service treatment, and she called me out.  I was instantly fighting back tears.  She knew, goddamn it.  She knew and saw right through.

I use my call center voice when I’m in danger of feeling something.  I use it when I’m perilously close to submitting to weakness.  When I’m so lonely for the touch of the person I’m speaking to that going another moment without it might drive me to desperation; the emptier my soul, the more cordial my voice.  Without that failsafe, that tone modulation, the outside world is in danger of falling victim to the dam breaking.  I’d just been using it on her and she failed to play along, instead, forcing me to recognize something about myself that had (has) become my entire world lately.

There I was, face-to-face with the truth of my coping mechanisms.

These days, I am detachment embodied.  I have shut myself down to only the bare minimum.  Essential systems only.  Reserve power.  Low lighting.  Martial law.  I have declared a  moratorium on the expression of, well, anything.  I live so teeteringly close to a breakdown that I must maintain a state of hyper-vigilance lest this wound opens only to bleed and bleed and bleed.

I have become so careful about how I express myself that I don’t express myself at all.  My closest relationships have withered off of once healthy vines.  My need and drive to write has dried up because in its honesty, it would be admitting to the lies I’ve been telling those around me.  I have no shortage of hands reaching toward me, but I’m afraid they have no idea what they’re offering; that once I give in and let go, allow myself to be comforted by those hands, that they’ll realize the extremity of my need and retreat, sorry at once that they’d offered any contact at all.

In truth, my inner world is a blustering chaos.  I don’t jest when I say that out loud.  It’s more than just a warning or humorous hyperbole.  As my skin screams out for contact, tenderness, soft words, I breathe those desires back inside.  Their ferocity isn’t to be meddled with, and I don’t trust the outstretched and open palms to know what they’re offering.  With certainty I know that once I open that door, that cut, there will be no stanching the flow.  And while I fully expect and understand that those offering aid will retract it once they see the truth in the outpouring, I also know that that abandonment is something I can never recover from.

So I keep to the inside and play my grand role.  With abiding grace, I am thankful for the kindness of the people that reach out.  I am quietly awed by their intentions and charity.  But I must, at all costs, maintain this distance; a break in the ranks could mean a break in my tanks, the reserves, what’s left of this crumbling edifice.  It’s not enough to know that she sees me, my Mother.  Not enough to just be revealed.  All I am at that point is revealed, uncovered.  There is no protection in the open, and in the end, just being found out is not the same as being understood.

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My Secret Annihilator

You got me you know.  And well.

At first, I saw your efforts as just a lark; chalked you up to a fool with nothing better to do.  I got angry, and then brushed you off, a twisted, sorry nobody with nothing better to do—a nameless face behind an unknown and distant screen.

But oh, how mistaken…how woefully misguided I was.

Because your attacks got worse.  Eight progressively more scurrilous comments that could have been the voice in my head itself.  The aplomb with which you’ve dispatched your ill-will has a horrid grace unmatched.  Your voice, on screen, rings like a bell in my head, clear and low, a thrumming kettledrum echo of everything I try not to admit to myself.

How pure and distinct your understanding of my mental state and peculiarities.

Brava, stranger, and well done.  Expertly you’ve flayed me, and here I sit, a pulpy mass.  Was it tears you were after?  Because you earned them, each runnel on my cheek an arrow to the mark.  A battered spirit?  Because you found one, only steps away before your arrival.  You have cut to the core of the things I keep inside, and done the work I thought only myself–my innerself–capable of.  Your words have found their way from my inbox to my heart and hammered down the last of what little fortitude I had.

And so I ask, humbly, quietly, and nigh on meekly:

Please stop.

As brash as my words and the jut of my chin may seem, I am not that; am, in fact, much less.  I am held together with glue and string, a heavy rain away from washing to nothing, dissolving into a puddle of paste and lint.  You needn’t have written, for I do a well-enough job of cutting myself down without your added efforts.  Any unease you wished me, I can assure you was there before you came and will remain long after you’ve tired of your campaign.

There is nothing you accuse me of that my conscience doesn’t remind me of daily.  No weakness you can point out that I haven’t already stared in the face and come to know intimately.  You may come in close, but I am still my own worst enemy, and daily fight the battle you seem to have taken as your own.

You got me, and well, and I’m asking for a reprieve.

Requiem In Sulpher

I was a firecracker,

way back when,

in the days before I knew what kind of stretch I was looking at.

I used to talk to cab drivers

and smile for no reason

and count my friends in pecks and bushels and bunches.

I tempted fate

and danced all night

and made the first move with my eyes.

I was all

flying tissue streamers

and

“Catch-Me-If-You-Can”

and

“Yeah?-You-Wanna-Bet?”

But there are things you should know

about firecrackers, right?

like,

they only have one fuze

and,

they’re impatient,

and,

in the end,

what you’re left with,

after waiting out the dusk with a lit match,

Is a pile of tissue streamer ash

and the smell of burning.

i fall apart when no one’s watching

In a store, I discover,

a hole in my ear

And everything is leaking out onto the floor.

(?!)

My inside thoughts are seeping their way outside in a slowlavaooze  and I’m staring down in alarm and this liquiddark stain is spreading like molasses in a snuff film.

It doesn’t hurt and world, in a muffle, dances on down a loooong foreshortened hallway past my hollow numb sockets.

I’m staring at this stain,

and at my ear,

and at this stain,

and one is growing and the other is shrinking and I just kind of rest my hands at my sides palms outward.

suspended in solution,

slow-motion leak,

deadened head underwater.

Rasping air pressing past a pressure narrowed pathway,

and on and on, that viscous trickle,

spilling

because the seam gave way.

If Only It Were That Simple….

 

Author Dan Andrews wrote a prompt for the Trust 30 challenge that I don’t find to be much of a prompt at all.  It was kind of a self help book boiled down to a couple of paragraphs.  Regardless, I signed on, and certainly don’t want to cop out.  As such, I took a portion of The Prompt and realized I already had something in the archives that I wanted to say about it.

 

In regards to the kind of person I want to be, I have the following to say:

I want quiet–quiet in my head;

a hush when I close my eyes.

I want to lay my head down and drop to sleep without the agony of the day’s playback on repeat.

I want to feel effortlessly kind, and less a fraud.

I want buoyancy in place of the lead weight in my chest which I think must be my heart.

I want to sigh in contentment at this day’s end, and, instead of rancid ennui, look to the next with optimism and genuine curiosity.

I want pleasing things to feel pleasing, and I want to look at my world with real and unclouded joy.

Things To Avoid When You’re Socially Inept

Oh why??  Why did I do it?  What was I thinking?!  How could I have forgotten and ignored the basic traits in myself that will surely make this endeavor a total disaster?  What if the people suck?  Or are weird?  Or figure out that I’m strange?

Well, I’ve gone and done it.  I’ve dug myself a hole from which there’s no escape.  In my scramble to find ways to enjoy my time here in this Mexican bordertown, I inadvertently and heedlessly hurled myself into a puddle of stress, anxiety and self-doubt.

Upon moving here, I immediately checked MeetUp.com for groups involving things that I enjoy: Hiking, yoga, exercise, trail running, knitting, writing, reading, drinking.  There was NOTHING.  I looked again with different keywords: backpacking, pilates, fitness, jogging, crocheting, books.  Still nothing.

With the summer rapidly approaching, I kept going over and over and over the same lament: I wish I had friends here.  I wished for D to go hiking with.  I wished for Blondie to clean with.  I wished for M to have beers with.  I wished for K to people-watch with.  It started to form into a bona fide funk, and I needed to do something about it.

So I planned a hike.

But I didn’t stop there.  Oh no.  I kept going.

There have to be other hikers here right?  Out of the tens of thousands of people in these three “cities”, there has got to be one or two that are funny and sarcastic and awesome like D, right?  RIGHT?!

And so, on a whim, I paid $36 and started my own MeetUp group called Hiking For Dummies.  I described my goals for hiking this summer and posted the first trip to Palouse Falls that day.  (Which was, incidentally, Friday, the day before the hike itself….I wasn’t lying, I got a wild burr up my ass and three minutes later, I was the organizer and founding member of this group now open to anyone to join.)

I don’t really know why I did it.  I wanted a hiking buddy, for sure; the Old Man humors me and goes when he has no other choice, but deep down, he really doesn’t like it.  It’d be nice to have someone who likes it like I do.  I wanted to meet other people.  Find things to do here.  Discover ways of forming relationships that doesn’t include the bar–which, I fear, I’m rapidly outgrowing.

For a few hours, it felt good.  I was proactive.  The pipedreams of what COULD be kept playing on repeat.  My summer previewed and it was packed with trips and pictures and summits and waterfalls and fields of wildflowers.

And then came the sugar crash.

Mostly, if you met me, you’d never believe me if I told you that I’m generally uncomfortable in new situations and around new people.  But I’m a fake-it-till-you-make-it kinda girl.  I do my best with small talk and smiles and silently pray for a reprieve from someone else.  Until I get comfortable, I’m happiest standing in the back, checking shit out, letting someone else take the lead.  (After that, look out, I’ll charge to the front, but that’s a whole other post on a whole other personality!)

Expectedly, people started signing up.  I had actual MEMBERS who were excited that FINALLY there was a group like this.  I had the type of people that, on paper, were exactly the type of people I was looking for.  Varied hiking experience, varied ages, varied backgrounds.  And it was all of a sudden, REAL.

End honeymoon phase.

It wasn’t long before I realized that it was me who was the organizer of this group.  Me who was going to have to do all the greeting and introducing.  Me that was going to have to take the lead.  Me that was going to have to make the small talk until everyone started picking up on their own.  Me that was going to have to diffuse the awkward moments (the MOST scary because I am usually the CAUSE of the awkward pause…).

And here I sit.  ready for battle once again with my own, probably very mild, case of social anxiety.  Joining a group like this would mean that I could attend when I wanted and bow out if I didn’t.  I could choose who I talked to and who I pursued a relationship with.  As the organizer, it must be equal opportunity to all who join.  Because that’s the type of environment I want to foster.  On the one hand, I’ve taken steps to create a situation that I’ve been searching for.  On the other, I never meant to sign up for the responsibility that goes with it.

My next MeetUp is this Saturday.  I just posted it, and there’s already one person who’s RSVP’d.  Here’s hoping she’s not a serial killer or close talker…..

Defining Moment

The Prompt:

Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year. (Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

OH!  I so wanted to rail at this prompt.  I wanted to throw a wordtrum and slam my laptop shut to prove my point.  I was, in fact, just about to, when a few things danced through my brain, wondering: “what about us?”

1.  It’s a challenge.  Of course it’s going to stretch my limits and patience, else, what is the point?  I’ve accepted, and to back out now, well, it’s just not in my nature.  (This does NOT stop me from TOTALLY agreeing with Stereo.   I had really been hoping for some firecrackers to close this challenge out with.)

2.  The folks at Reverb10 have worked hard to put this together.  As I understand, this is only the second year.  Can I not forgive growing pains?  Further, I remember actually reading something saying that part of the point WAS GOING TO BE to see if we recognized recurrent themes in our answers.  Perhaps it’s not the questions that are so much the same, but the way we filter them through our own life lenses.

3.  (As a direct result of taking a breath and holding in said tantrum): Wow, I actually DO have an answer to this that is different than anything I’ve said previously.

Haters gon’ hate.  Today, I’ll keep my Haterade to myself.   Besides, I told you, I have an answer!

I’m having a series of defining moments right now.  And it’s kind of exciting.

The Other: I’m beginning to think that I could, maybe, perhaps, possibly, be a writer.  *gasp*

My inner monologue: You were an English major, of course you can string a few words together to answer a question.  You’ve also read thousands of books, so of course, those strung together words will sound marginally coherent…you’ve had good teachers.  But you know and I know you’re faking it at best.  All you need to do is go and read the words of some of the people you’ve been introduced to through this challenge to know that you’re in no way good enough.

The Other: But I think I am…I mean, look at…

My Inner Monologue: Look at what?  Huh?  There’s no way.  What would you write about?  Where would you begin?  What do you have to say?  What’s your perspective?  Who’s to say that perspective is even interesting?  Who’ll want to read?  What does that even mean, WRITER??  You can’t lie to save your life.  So fiction is out.  Are you really talking about articles for papers and magazines?  Please.  There’s no way.  nu-uh.   (repeat.)

The Other: But there is something.  There IS something, SOMETHING telling me that I’ve got something to say.  It’s there.  At the bottom.  In the back.  Under all that other stuff….

______________________________________________________

Me: When it comes to writing, I’ve never really given a second thought.  In school, I’d accept an assignment, sit down, write it, hand it in.  My journalling was the same way.  At the end of a day, I’d take 15 or 20 minutes, vomit all over the page, and  go to sleep.

When I started Reverb10, I was hoping for a way to synthesize and absorb my year.  I was looking for something that would take the episode of Hoarders my brain had become, and help me tidy it up and stash it away so that I could move on.  Like my school assignments, I just sat down each day and wrote the prompts, absolutely blithe to have something intellectual and absorbing to occupy my time.  With the exception of one or two, it was easy, and I was mostly done and free to read everyone else after an hour or so.

Over the course of the month, I’ve received a fair number of messages and responses to my writing.  Some from old friends, some from new, many from the Reverb community; but all saying something kind about my voice.  I shrugged it all off.

Inner Monolgue: Nothing that comes that easy really matters.  If you haven’t tried, have you really done anything?  Of course people are commenting.  They’re your friends.  And those Reverbers?  They just want you to read their stuff too.

Me: But yesterday, yesterday something changed.  Clicked.  Snapped.  I sat down to answer the prompt with what I meant to be just a little love letter to my husband.  When I was finished, I re-read and then published.  I didn’t feel as if I’d been particularly brilliant.  As with almost every other time, I was content with what I’d come up with.  It said exactly what I was feeling, it painted exactly the images I was seeing and it left nothing out.  It was simply, what I wanted to say, period.

(that might strike you as terribly blase, but it’s the truth.  I always say what I mean to say, I just never feel as if any of it is terribly profound.)

Fast forward to tens of minutes after I’d posted, and the comments began pouring in.  Something I’d written struck a chord, twanged a string with the people who read it.  That had been happening throughout the month, but yesterday was different.

Yesterday, I started to believe what people were saying, and here is why:  because the majority of the people who commented are people who I’ve been reading throughout this challenge.  They are people with enormous amounts of talent, whom I respect, whom I feel, wouldn’t waste their time blowing smoke up my ass.  (You wouldn’t, would you?!  Because if you would, you’re sitting there right now laughing at my silly, silly idea….) After all, who am I?  What could that possibly gain?

What started as a modest, honest, little love letter, has become a seed.

If this stuff comes easily to me (mostly), and I harvest an unquantifiable amount of joy from it, and people are responsive TO it,

Could I be

Should I be

Might I be…

A writer?

This I shall be exploring in 2011.

Beautifully Different

The Prompt:

Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up.  Reflect on all the things that make you different.  You’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.  (Author:  Karen Walrond)

(I find that there is something more than a bit cosmically humorous about the fact that I spent yesterday’s prompt saying things about myself that can be considered less than complimentary and today, I’m called upon to do the opposite.  Instead of calling attention to my flaws, I’ve got to sing my own praises.  I’d like to meet the person that pulls this off with ease.  He or she holds the key to something, I’m sure.)

Look, I don’t know what about me lights people up.  You’d have to ask them.  I’m terrible at accepting compliments, and that has a lot to do with the fact that I never fully believe in the nice thing being said.  I don’t labor under any delusions.  I am not exceptionally pretty.  I’m not an athlete or an artist.   I don’t sing or dance or play an instrument and I can’t really think of anything I do with any special aplomb.  Truth be told, I’m more than slightly odd and awkward and look at it as rather a miracle that I’ve made it this far with friends in tow.

What I can tell you, is that I am a hostess at heart and feel a genuine responsibility for everyone else’s good time.  My friends have in me a girl that will go to extreme lengths to make them laugh.  We all spend enough time (at least I do), alone and miserable with our thoughts, and it is for sure a lovely thing to be able to sit quietly with a friend not talking about anything at all; but to me, there’s nothing as beautiful as a moment lost in frenetic, face-screwed-up, doubled-over, can’t-breathe, god-my-cheeks-hurt, laughter with friends.

Taking this further; to trick a smile out of someone who has accepted me without judging, to get a chortle or even a rueful grin from the mouth of someone I love who’s having a hard time is the currency I’m paid in.  I count any day as a win that I’ve been able to get someone to laugh by doing or saying something outrageous that completely disregards my innate need to blend in in order not to call attention to my strangeness.

An Anecdote:

It was a random evening in Seattle, neither warm nor cold, but at least it wasn’t raining.  My friend D and I had massacred a fortune’s worth of veal shank to make the worst saltimbocca I’d ever tasted.  Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps the champagne, but the result really matter because we’d had a fantastic time laughing in the kitchen while the boys sat in the living room watching some important game of sportsball.  After barely choking down what should have been a delicious and high-end meal (but assuredly WASN’T) we put on our heels and hoofed it to the bar.     As is the case with sparkly, friend-filled nights, we did any number of shots and found ourselves in a rather shabby state.

I was in the middle of a sentence on the way home when D ducked behind a tree (one of those urban trees planted in the dead center of a square of concrete) and ejected the contents of her stomach.  She stood upright at the end, and looked at me with tears standing in her eyes:  “I’m so embarrassed!” she wailed: “We were having such a good time and now EVERYONE saw me puke!”  I looked around and pointed out to her that we were the only ones on the street, that if anyone saw, it was only an old lady peering out the window of her high-rise and who cares about that old bitch anyway?  It didn’t matter.  D was crushed, inconsolable.  I gave her a little chuckle, and shaking my head, asked:  “Would it help if I puked too?”  She looked at me in amazement, and nodded her head, squeaking out a tiny “yes”.  So I did it.  I tottered over to her pile of chunky, half-used stomach contents and I third-knuckled it, leaving an almost identical mass of sewage next to hers.  “Solidarity sister!” I said, and took the crook of her arm in mine and stumble-lead us both back to her townhouse.

I’ve puked for friends and worn fairy wings, dressed up for no apparent reason and arranged for impromptu 30th birthday lap dances.  I’ve convinced a drunk barfly that my father wrote the song “More than Words” and paid for my college tuition with the royalties.  I’ve had a hand in stealing life-sized, plastic Star-Trek characters from displays in grocery stores and agreed to double dates.  I’ve flung myself to the ground to make snow angels and have developed an almost choreographed montage of old 80s dances that I’ll pull out during a lull in conversation (Shopping Cart anyone?).  Making people snort with laughter is something that I CAN do.  It’s at least one thing that I can give.  It’s a small way that I pay it forward to the world around me.

Community

Prompt:

Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise in 2010?  (author: Cali Harris)

This prompt stirred in me quite a rueful feeling.  Community, itself, is quite a beautiful idea; groups of people, bound together by common goals or ideas, hobbies or interests, jobs or social backgrounds.  It evokes a feeling of fellowship and belonging; a smaller network of support in an otherwise unforgiving whole.  It is commeraderie and help—both joys in terms of my rather Marxist ideals.

As I pieced together my personal definition of community, it became more and more clear to me that though I’d previously contributed to any number of groups that fit this bill, I’d only very few times felt as if I actually BELONGED to any of them.  From the time I was a little girl, I’d always felt my “otherness”; a nagging idea that no matter how hard I tried, I would always be JUST THAT MUCH different than everyone else participating.  Different than social anxiety or paranoia and their ilk, this feeling was more just a knowing that while everyone may be smiling to my face, behind those smiles, they just found me ODD; too odd to fit in, too odd to accept completely, to odd to continue inviting without the buffer of the person who’d originally introduced me.

Over the years I would develop ways to cope with this, and I’ve found that I’ve come full circle.  As a child in elementary and grade school, I’d just let the odd out, not quite understanding that the jeers I was receiving were the result of my own actions and words.  I was only just learning that in order to be a part of my school community, I’d have to hide the different way that I looked at and related to the world.  In high school, I’d learned that lesson, and went the road of assimilation, hiding those things TOO well, denying MYSELF in favor of the most popular friends and parties.  In college, I changed again and was struck with a hellish cognitive dissonance, trying desperately to find a middle ground between the two.

It’s only recently, in adulthood, that I’ve reverted back to letting my crazy out of the closet.  Being someone else for so many years took its toll on me, and all the old coping mechanisms began to fall apart.  As a result, I said “To hell with it” and decided that a true self is the best self.  Do not mistake me; this choice did not lead me down a road of blissful social ease.  The only difference now is that instead of children, they are adults who look at me askance, trying to no avail to understand my processes and the jerky way I fail to blend into my surroundings.  “She’s nice enough, and fun” they say, “but sometimes, I just don’t know…she’s just, strange.”

Though used to the sidelong glances and the constant feeling that I’m being judged for my peculiarity, I’ve never become completely accustomed to the feeling of loneliness that it breeds.  I stick up for myself, and I speak my mind in my own queer way.  I embrace my oddity and prefer to define my personality as distinctive, but there is still the longing that overwhelms me sometimes to fit my square peg in everyone else’s round hole.  This conflict is part and parcel of living in my skin.

I’ve encountered many communities in 2010 (not the least of which is Reverb10).  All of them have lent something fulfilling and given me scores of knowledge and new understanding.  From the knitters at my local craft store who helped me with my first “not a scarf” project to a couple on whose porch I sat a couple times this summer enjoying glasses of wine and countless cigarettes, I’ve injected myself into different scenes hoping for a fit; for a place to be entirely myself without needing someone to ‘explain’ that “That’s just how she is.”  The fact remains, however, that I have yet to encounter a community in which I belong completely–sans judgemental smirks and curious looks, or even just the niggling feeling that “there is something strange about that girl….”

So I envy you out there belonging to your gay community, your writers’ community, your young, city-living community and your new parents’ community.  I envy the ease at which you all participate together and support each other and present a united front towards those not-in-the-know.  It looks warm on the inside and cozy, and maybe someday, I’ll feel comfortable past the front vestibule.  For now though, I’m my own…a community of one.