I’m proud of this essay I wrote for a Junot Diaz website.
Check it out: http://thecheatersguide.net/2012/11/13/the-cheaters-guide-to-loneliness/
I’m proud of this essay I wrote for a Junot Diaz website.
Check it out: http://thecheatersguide.net/2012/11/13/the-cheaters-guide-to-loneliness/
This week, I’m thinking a lot about energy and how it can be used and redirected, and I’m thinking that maybe I need to learn the martial art Aikido. The premise of Aikido is that your attacker’s energy can be taken in and redirected so as to protect both you and the attacker. If every human interaction is an exchange of energy, and human energy needs to be safely and productively handled (particularly in the work place) then Aikido is the ultimate physical manifestation of understanding how to make the best and kindest use of personal energy. (I’m sure there are many other physical practices and schools of thought and faith that address the issue, but I like the idea of Aikido very much right now, as an embodiment of the best human values. )
I’m aware of Aikido because my mother’s friend Agnes studied it when she was a young mother and showed me a couple techniques in her doorway, on a fall or spring day, when I was about eight. She kept asking me to “attack” her and I kept running at her and she would very gently but firmly take my arm and twist like a bullfighter out of the way and I would find myself on the other side of her body and the door, on the outside. It seemed very magical. At the time I was learning Judo and I was more attracted to the possibility of hurting an attacker (appropriate for an eight year old).
I’m currently fascinated by how knowledge, history and life themes can converge in surprising ways. It’s surprising how my child self and my adult self are meeting through this memory of Aikido and my current preoccupation with the fruitful and kind harvesting of energy. In turn, this makes me think of my mother, one of the first people to talk to me about energy, and how while I knew she was right–there definitely was energy–for most of my life I felt uncomfortable talking and thinking about it openly. The concept was just a bit too groovy.
My mom is on my mental scene in a second way. Here’s one of her oft repeated nuggets: No learning is pointless or useless. All knowledge acquired will be used again, eventually. This came up repeatedly between us during my teen years and twenties, whenever I complained that I was being forced to master skills I considered uninteresting or too specific. And here I am, middle aged, putting pieces of my decades of learning together like a jigsaw puzzle. Maybe this is what wisdom looks like, becoming more than the sum total of your experiences.
So one of the more surprising side effects of my current lifestyle is my need for a very specific brand of physical comfort: softness. As much as possible, I want to be encased in fuzziness. I have never so craved warm, pliable, downy, generous fabrics–and so find me here at 10:30 on a Saturday night, in polka dot heaven. Needless to say, lovely boyfriend isn’t totally thrilled with this new fad of mine, but at the end of daylight’s wanderings, if fabric makes the difference between peace of mind as I try to sleep and a harsh spirit as I go into dreams, I think it’s all right to give myself permission to embrace my fuchsia longing and go the distance in black polka dot apparel of exceptional softness. Tactile satisfaction. The fabric way. Yes this is me, in early middle age, in jammies. Amen.
(Recently, a fashion derelict of the highest order–my other crimes include fuzzy plush purple socks, assorted large wool wraps and velour jogging pants–if this is the worst manifestation of my needs, everything is going to be all right. )
Now that my time is parsed, sectioned, subdivided, and carefully annotated to account for every one of my multiple (and seemingly endless) obligations–I have to confront the obvious, which I love to pretend doesn’t apply to me: I’m human.
If I can reconcile myself with what might seem like an obvious proposition, then, what does being human require of me? What are my human obligations, rights and responsibilities?
And importantly, why do I shy away from being human?
Also, if I think I’m not human. What Do I think I am?
1) Requirements (inherited in silence, sometimes found in science or faith): Humor, Love, Passion, a dose of patience, a notion of hope, a heaping ladle of curiosity, a kind center, a practical turn, a Glass (neither full nor empty- realism tempered with thoughtful optimism).
2) Rights/Responsibilities: ecstatic moments; a longing for intimacy-sometimes beautifully fulfilled by forest, friends or lovers; the quiet solitude of pain; the quiet peace of reflection; knowing moments of perfect sun or rain. Long dimness in fogs-bodily, intellectual, heart generated, or atmospheric.
3) The shying away–I shy away because the weight and wonder are troubling to encompass.
4) What do I think I am? I do not know, but I enjoy it.
Human–a term I sometimes equate with great failure, and yet a term that trembles with generous potential.
I don’t feel sufficient for my humanity.
As another human helped me see: So it goes.
Final question: is this a poem?
I’ve been trying to get better at tuning in and connecting in some small way with every person I exchange words with today. It’s a fun project-makes me feel very vaguely like the Dalai Lama’s neighbor–like after a lifetime of watching someone else be gracious and wise, it’s my turn. It’s also interesting how ambivalent I feel about extending care outward–after all, aren’t these my private goodwill reserves? How strong is my emotional muscle? Will I run out of charm? Will I permanently exhaust the supply, leaving me a bitter-pinched-dour wreck for the next few decades?
Is love a renewable personal resource? I mean, we’re told to be brave and fearless in loving others–religion, mentors, family: all espouse the notion–but how many living examples are left to model this practice? I mean: Mother Theresa is dead. Loving may have been her superpower, but she remained mortal.
Well, for today at least, I’m going to keep going until I fry my battery. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Someone once said to me that it takes about 10 years of therapy to realize what a total stranger can figure out about you in about three minutes (which sometimes makes me want to go bounding about asking strangers what they see.)
I take myself too seriously. I love to laugh, but I think my fundamental state is a bit wistful, maybe yearning. My grandmother tells me I was a melancholy child–she liked that about me. Tonight, a friend told me in all seriousness that I need to get more playful about my various obligations. I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching others to embrace fun, but it never occurred to me that I should be giving myself that exact speech. Typical.
Oh the awesome shortsightedness of being.
I used to think a lot about Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
Using his metaphor–I wanted to be a light person, but I knew that I was heavy. I can sometimes make people think I’m a light–but it’s a trick–that’s not me.
So how do I become more light in my ponderous being?
In not-so-light fashion I have added “FUN” at the top of my to-do list. (no comments needed.)
When I was in my twenties, someone said to me that I would never truly be done examining any issue in my life, that it may lie dormant for a part of my journey but that it would reappear in other guises at different times, and take me off guard. The metaphor at hand was that I was climbing a spiral staircase. One simple way to picture this is to think of myself ascending the staircase very slowly, and as I turn and rise, I am next to a different part of the staircase wall at each step, on the north side of the staircase might be my family experiences, on the south side, my romantic relationships, on the east side my career, and on the west side my evolving attitudes towards and beliefs about the world. The point was that I would keep encountering the same themes and issues at different points in my journey. I might think that I have put away my resentment towards my parents forever, but no, it’s just a step away, as I climb my life’s staircase.
I try to be honest with myself about my shortcomings and character flaws–though my various weaknesses make me feel badly about myself. So today I went on a self-empathy project and dug around for a while for the right metaphor to put my weaknesses in perspective and be more patient with my own slow evolution as a sentient being of conscience. I’m visiting my grandparents in Florida and I am spending time with my mother who is here also. It’s actually a good time for me to be reminded of my family context, and how much what I am evolved against the pressures these related creatures placed on me. I am thinking about my personality and I am thinking about the people in my family and their personalities. Honestly, we’re a very peculiar bunch: maddening, impatient, enthusiastic, funny, intelligent, curious, particular, changeable, demanding, stubborn and desiring of recognition and affection. I understand this largely puts us in the human category. At any rate, it’s good to see my anxious energy manifest in my oddly angled forefathers and mothers. It’s a straight line from them to me. If I can find the goodwill to extend compassion to them, I can extend some compassion toward myself.
For example. My grandpa. He is punctilious to a fault. I wish he had never gone into the navy (or worked in a hospital) because he’s been annoyingly tedious and persistent with his love for being on time all my life. This exactitude about clocks extends to anyone who is standing within a mile of him–we must all be on time. Not on our time, but on his time. My boyfriend and I are battling colds, so we’re even slower to wake and move than usual. My grandfather called me four times over an hour to ask when we would be ready to be picked up. A classic bit of dialogue goes like this:
The phone rings (again).
Grandpa: Are your clothes on?
Me: Yes, but boyfriend is still in the shower.
Grandpa: I don’t understand. It’s been twenty minutes. When will you be ready?
Me: Yes it has. We’re moving slowly. We have colds.
Grandpa: I’m getting in the car in five minutes.
Me: I’m going to need you to calm down.
Grandpa: Can you please call when your clothes are on?
Me: Yes. Thank you.
10 minutes later: The phone rings again.
I started laughing after my grandfather’s third phone call. He’s just impossible. I’ll skip the incident where he got furious with me for asking him if he has regular coffee.
By then I had come up with my grand metaphor. My family is like a bunch of unruly St. Bernard puppies. I am one too. I like us all a lot more now that I know what we are.
Seems like everything in Chicago is made of meat or cheese or some of both (when it’s not beer). In this case: bacon fat popcorn with bacon (of course) and shaved Parmesan and fried Sage. There’s something oddly earthy about this whole place – grounded and sensible – close to the earth. Despite the many appeals and beauties of this large urban space, I get anxious when I’m landlocked, even when I’m close to a big body of water.
I’m leaving West Philadelphia for Northern Liberties. I’ve lived on the western shore of this city for almost twelve years – its the longest time span I’ve ever spent in a single neighborhood.
I used to fantasize about which Philadelphia neighborhood I would leave for, and then the idea of leaving became totally absurd.
I love the crunchy artistic punk environmentalist, bicyclist, young kid established family grad student african immigrant vibe of the place. There were at least seven distinct ethic or specialty eateries within two blocks of my home–during Baltimore Dollar Days, the crowds wantonly bypassed the Subway offerings for locally sourced ice cream or samosas. We did not dance in the streets when the Phillies won the World Series, but we did when Obama became President.
I love the architecture, the gardens and trees, the devoted neighbors who organize block parties–it’s part transient, part lifers. It grows and organizes itself in a dance. The firehouse at 50th and Baltimore that used to be a market now holds Dock Street Brewery–Philly Car Share offices became sliding-scale Community Acupuncture. There’s plenty of DYI and community art events.
I’m leaving for Philadelphia’s eastern shore – five miles and a river away.
It’s a new life, with other communities full of artists and urban innovators. I’m leaving for love, which is the only pull strong enough to take me away from the place where I finally started taking my writing work more seriously.
It’s a joyful new beginning and a weird time for me. The seven years I spent on Cedar Avenue are the longest consecutive stretch of time I’ve spent under the same roof in my entire life.
I’m already familiar with the outlines of my new home, but I will have to dig deeper to find my communities and spaces, the places where I stop by and waste time browsing or conversing. I will have to learn who I am becoming against this new urban mirror.
My American grandma frequently says something to the effect of: “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” which is paired with my grandfather’s trademark comment, “life is hard.” I didn’t find either of these particularly compelling or comforting when I was younger, and as I get older I confront the truth and limitations of these words.
The last few years have brought an assortment of minor, persistent physical discomforts which are typically paired with emotional ebbs and psychic scabs. It’s a new era in my sense of my body in the world. Living in my body used to be so uncomplicated. I hate to say this (because i hate the “pain as a teacher” school) but I think my new understating of mortality-dimly perceived-is making me more compassionate.
Life is hard and not having full use of my body definitely narrows my scope of available experiences – but neither of these realities is solely subtractive. Boundaries, even the ones I don’t wish for, provide insight and teach me (some) patience, and sometimes there’s even a measure of grace.
Tonight I finally opened one of my two mystery “old file” boxes I’ve been lugging around from apartment to apartment since the mid 90s. Boy, I was organized back in the 90s. I found traces of my old New York life, one of my many partially discarded and partially digested selves. I uncovered my original birth certificate in a plastic sleeve surrendered to me by my mother many moons ago. It’s got that great 1970s type and is printed on a green piece of paper.
I always joke that I own nothing other than my own body.
Several boxes of books say different. Also, I had no idea I had so many knickknacks until I started the classifying process. Belongings: books, clothes, bathroom, kitchen, entertainment, appliances, files. a few odd bits of furniture. And a surprising number of borderline useability objects–they’re totally well intentioned, but kinda cluttery and worthless. I’m also surprised at how well sorted my random piles of papers are. A light notion of a sketch of sense emerges gradually as I handle them again. I can tell I was really trying hard during prior organizational drives. Tonight’s drive will be more authoritative, I congratulate myself assertively.
Sorting is part delight, one third confusion, a smidgen of embarrassment and of course, there’s the back pain. I have to be really strategic in how I utilize my compromised muscular resources.
There’s also the dawning reality: my belongings are a sharp mirror: time, money, friends come and gone. Old address books. Former employers and former health plan details. I’m finding long letters sent by college friends. All sorts of unsorted pictures. I’m trying to classify the modes, moods and feelings of my existence so they can be boxed up. It’s weird boxing your being up. You want to act all detached. These are things. I don’t believe in things.
I am sinking in things. At the same time, I’m emerging clearer as my self, oddly. I can’t fully explain the paradox, but rediscovering my long journey as I clear out from my longest lived home ever, ultimately fills me with pride in who I’m becoming (not that I’m puffed up about it, I’m just cozy glad).
I haven’t written in months. My head is starting to feel like the cork in a champagne bottle. The pressure of unexpressed things is building steadily. First it manifests as a nagging need unmet–the perennial itch I can’t scratch, or at least won’t scratch yet. Then it becomes an annoying flood of ideas. Half-baked images, random notions, elusive dust of stories sometimes floating sometimes ramming into my mind; then the dust becomes a snowball, and gathers momentum: story potentials nag me, they poke at my consciousness, they try to get my attention. I tend to wait for this pressure to become near unbearable. If there is other stuff in my life, like an impending move, distracting me from my writing, the pressure becomes volcanic, painful to my psyche, and then in a moment of torment, I finally surrender.
Today, I am writing something new again. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.
It’s been a full week since I beat down my first year of grad school into submission. I remember last Thursday like a distant dream: the other me and her journey, now complete. It feels like a million years ago. It feels like another reality. My priorities have quickly been rewritten. I’m now in the full throes of planning a household integration project with Lovely Boyfriend. The endless question presents itself: to live or to write? I can’t do both. If i don’t live i have nothing to write about. If i don’t write, life loses a full dimension of flavor. It’s the serpent eating its tail. Oh serpent: You’re everywhere.
In better news, I just got published in Forge Journal. That eases the discomfort of the perpetual existential crisis about my artistic identity.
My grandfather plunked me into the sea before I was six months old. It’s one of my oldest and most gratifying relationships. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life, when I step into the ocean, I’m a newborn again. I’m free. I’m safe. I’m floating. I’m happy.
Some people have churches, some people have lakes or mountains. My memory is full of sand and cottony towels, and the stickiness of sunscreen, and the taste of salty fries after a long day, and the feel of blackberries, hot from the sun, exploding in my mouth. I remember night swims, and day swims, and the feel of the waves, and the feeling of being submerged and being rocked by the water’s currents. It’s a place of sensations, the stinging flies, and the sand in my toes, the drying sand in the sunscreen on my legs, the hot sand burning the thin soles of my feet, the feel of shells in the sand underfoot, and sometimes in the water, when I set foot for a moment on the sand-bed, stepping on a crab going about its business. There’s the odd corset-like feeling of a wet bathing suit drying. The pleasures of a seafood dinner after a beach day. The endlessness of the long sleepy ride home from the beach.
There are always small surprises when I get home: the splotches of red skin when I look in the bathroom mirror and notice I missed applying sunscreen to my neck. There’s the return of the summer freckles on my face. Finding sand at the bottom of my beach bags. The way the New Yorker crumples up and dries stiff after its pages get wet.
Teen year kisses on the beach. Long walks with grandma looking for shells at low tide.
It’s all there. Past, present, future, intermingling in the brine. Some say our blood has the salinity of the sea.
It’s nearly time to write again. By Thursday this week, I will run out of my officially sanctioned excuse, “I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy with my grad coursework.” The big question is what happens when I get two months of free evenings.
Whenever I stop writing for a period of time, a mysterious pressure chamber appears within me. The pressure keeps building in my “you should be writing” space, until I feel a nearly explosive tension in my ribs. I’m a talented procrastinator, so I am able to ignore a great deal of internal pressure and pretend everything is all right. But when I have the leisure to stop and think about it, I am afraid.
Here I am, on the cusp of free time. It’s a huge opportunity and of course opportunity is a burden of sorts. I desperately want to write, but I don’t know that I will. I’m feeling un-practiced and anxious and I have a zillion fragments of ideas, but no big concepts I want to pursue. Of course, there’s always the option to edit and polish existing pieces. Editing is important, but I would like to write something new. There’s also submitting, and I’ve realized that submitting is hugely important, and I enjoy the process and the volumes of rejection and the occasional sliver of encouragement. I could turn my attention in that direction. However, the insecure part of me wants to know that I can still create from nothing–that I can make a fragment of a new world in my head.
My idealized version of myself would set aside time every day to write or revise. My actual self is an anxious little pony. The page is blank. The page is waiting. The threat of the blank page trumps any passing feeling of accomplishment about wrapping up my first year in my grad program. (Why are feelings of accomplishment always so fleeting? I guess the answer is fear and pressure. They have their uses. They either immobilize me or they push me forward.) Onward with the battle!
Now that I’m more diligent about sending pieces out, I’m getting volumes of rejections–several a week in fact. Most don’t say much, but a few say things like, “We enjoyed reading and discussing your work; in fact, it made it to the final tier of the editorial process. Although we are going to have to pass this time around, please don’t let that discourage you.”
Relative to the typical rejection letter, this note is great. But what’s missing is the information I need as a writer. What did my story do or fail to do? How can I make it better? (Okay, I’ll concede that making my work better is my job, but still, I thought I had it worked out or I wouldn’t have sent it–obviously, outside help is needed!)
In fact, I’m getting so many rejections that my tape-rejections-to-the-wall project had to be discontinued because the sheer weight of the paper was making the pile crumble down the wall onto my printer.
I’m full of hope though. I still haven’t heard from 40% of the places I sent the piece–this means my story still has a shot. I’m also learning, again and again, that the editorial review process needs must occur at geological speeds. I’m hearing in late June about stories I sent out in early January. Imagine how many life changes I could make in six to ten months! I could have mastered a new hobby, like knitting, by the time the last rejection for my January submission gets to me.
I remain, yours, undiscouraged. (Furthermore, nine days from now my summer classes will have ended and I will finally take up writing again.)
Even Achilles had a problem heel. My dilemma is my lower back. My back is a cruel and whimsical component of my anatomy. It makes a mockery of my plans.
This week’s plan was to go swimming in a pool.
Instead, find me beached on my bed, lying down because sitting isn’t working out right now. My back pain literally makes me sweat. When I’m in one of my “episodes” my bent over stance and shuffling gait are so tortured that people on the street (including young and old ladies) will stop and ask me if I’m okay. Grandmas stride past me looking spry by comparison while I stop and hyperventilate from the pain every few feet. I try to avoid outings in this condition because I just can’t digest the pity and puzzlement aimed in my direction. Some outings, however, are necessary. On the way to the acupuncturist yesterday I ended up sitting on the sidewalk while waiting for the trolley because I couldn’t stand standing. Last night, I gave up on standing altogether and crawled on my hands and knees from my living-room to my bed (about 7 feet).
Pain does not bring out the best in me: my patience and tolerance for any additional discomfort vanish. I find small wrongs, like rudeness, unbearable. Also, pain makes me try new things–I’m clutching at any and all solutions looking for vain hope. My applied and planned remedies include: stretches, alternating heating pads and ice packs, western medicine, medication, acupuncture, a visit to the chiropractor, complaining via social media, and physical therapy. I get points for being thorough.
The medication makes me feel a bit surreal–not exactly out-of-body, but not exactly in-body either. It also makes my thoughts a bit disjointed. My best coping mechanism is the same it has always been: copious napping.
Time for my next icing. Let’s hope my next post will be about my miraculous recovery.
I have finally killed procrastination for good. Allow me to qualify this statement by adding some specificity.
I have finally mastered a student’s enemy: schoolwork-related procrastination. I’m still quite the procrastinator when it comes to several other important life arenas (cleaning, you know who you are and i curse you), but I feel that as a student, I’m making rapid headway.
Here’s my trick. I love being done with assignments ahead of schedule and not having to worry anymore far more than I love goofing off until the last possible second. I rather be calm. I rather feel a bit smug and have a cool summery beverage. I rather watch TV with lovely boyfriend in state of relaxed joy and indulgence.
It’s kind of amazing how different I am as an adult student compared to how I was as an undergrad. I think this is due to several factors. The most important factor being: I know exactly what I’m giving up in order to pursue my studies: All that time with friends and family. All that time at the movies. All those Center City Sips outings I’m not going on. All those story slams I can’t participate in. All the Free Library author events I can’t attend. They have a price. So I’m going to be as responsible to myself as I can be, and I’m going to try to reduce the stress on myself and all those I love as best I can by getting ahead whenever I can. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Yes, I also happen to be a total nerd.
After years of hemming and hawing, of feeling inadequate, ambivalent, worried, anxious and excited about the notion of being published, I finally this year, in my 40s, have gotten my act together enough to submit some of my long-lingering work for publication. Since the beginning of the year, I have submitted three stories, and I have gotten two stories accepted for publication. This makes me feel quite optimistic.
Here are some (fairly obvious) “secrets”:
1. Guaranteed: You will Never get published if you don’t send your material out into the world. (My first 30 some years of writing related behavior prove this.)
2. Good Likelihood: The more venues to which you submit your stories, the more likely your stories will eventually be accepted for publication. This doesn’t mean be indiscriminate, but as I’ve learned from Writer’s Relief, you should send every story out to at least 25 appropriate publications.
3. Inevitably: The editorial review and response process takes time–I’m just hearing in June about stories I submitted in January. For the first time in my life, I had one story accepted in two different publications, a slightly painful but exciting turn of events.
4. Definitely. If an editor sends you encouraging feedback, follow up! Try to build dialogue, invite additional feedback, figure out if something else in your portfolio might be more suitable. That’s how I got Rosamonde Wakes published.
In short, send out your stories! The pieces that make you shake with excitement will provide enjoyment to others as well. Do your best at writing, then take a deep breath and submit!
It’s been an action packed week. It feels like I should have learned something. I don’t think I learned anything new, but I did reconnect with ye olde life lessons (nothing earth shattering but always humbling in constructive ways.)