She’s Imperfect, But She Tries*

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

There are times in life where our strengths become our weaknesses – or, at least, they’re seen as such. If you care too much, try to hard, or are too understanding – people get the impression, for better or worse, that you’re a weak person. That you’re a pushover or a pawn. You’re too nice.

For me, if you’re important to me, I try to be understanding and accommodating. I see that as just being a good, caring person. (Like forgiveness, I see it as an attribute of the strong.) If we haven’t seen each other in a while and your schedule isn’t as flexible as mine, I will bend over backward trying to find time for us to hang out. I will get up early or stay up late. If the plans need to be made last minute, I might not schedule anything for a whole week, in the hopes that we can see each other. Because if you matter to me, I want to make the time. Period. This isn’t a weakness. It’s a choice. I chose to do that, and it’s always a deliberate thing – I’m not lacking in social opportunities.

It occurred to me, today, that some people view this as a negative thing. And it can be, if I let people take advantage of me. I’ve done that. I’ve bent over backward in the past, only to come up with snake eyes and hurt feelings. I’m not one to have outlandish expectations for any relationship, friendship or romantic. But there have been times where I bend too much, without getting anything in return. That’s partly my fault – and partly that the other person is behaving like captain of the asshat parade.

I think it is important to be flexible. I’ve seen what rigidity and an inability to compromise can do to a relationship. It isn’t pretty, darlings. It’s also been said that the person in a relationship who cares the most has the least power. That can also be seen as weakness. Except for me: I’m not after power. I never am. If I wanted power, I’d go into politics. In any kind of relationship, I just want connection. And the truth is that letting people in is damned hard, sometimes. Most of the time. It’s like walking a tightrope during a thunderstorm over the Grand Canyon. But some people never even risk it – never allow themselves the possibility or the thrill that comes with that endeavor. They stick to acquaintances and surface relationships. (There are different levels of friendship – but that’s another story for another day.)

Some people never risk or stop allowing themselves to risk. When we stop really trying and letting people in, that’s when we start losing. Granted, I’m not necessarily a paragon of anything. You can’t get to know me in an hour. And there are secrets I will always keep close to my chest. I’ve been hurt more times that I can count, but I figure if I haven’t, I’ve turned into a hermit and totally stopped living. Risk is a part of life.

There’s one relationship in particular that I gave everything I had to. Every thing I did, it was my choice. I chose to put in the effort and the time. I made a point of being open and flexible. I figure, if I can be flexible – why wouldn’t I? I think that the other person saw that, maybe, as a negative. A character flaw. Maybe a liability. And I wonder, when did we start viewing kindness and compassion as weaknesses? When did we start viewing gestures in a spirit other than how they are extended? I don’t know.

This world can be full of such horrific bullshit that I think kindness is necessary. So many people are awful and selfish. So many people offer disappointment and derision as food and water. So many people only want what they want, never seeing the other side of an argument. It’s a dangerous thing to be able to view another person’s perspective.

Over the summer, someone told me: you are the perfect woman. How are you still single?

I didn’t tell him that I am far from perfect. I’m so flawed that there should be another word for it. I did not tell him that being single is a choice I’ve gladly made for years, because I know exactly what I want – and that’s one thing I won’t bend or compromise on. I’m not perfect, but I’m good. I’m not easy, but I try. I’m not single because I’m somehow less – I’m single, because I won’t settle. I never wanted ordinary, and I won’t accept anything but everything.

There may be people out there giving me side-eye for all the gymnastics, both emotional and accommodational. (Not a word, I know. Shuuush.) But they don’t matter. You can’t let other people, and their opinions, dictate your actions. That isn’t ever a strength.

*title taken from Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine,” which you can listen to below.

vulnerable as a match

October 19, 2014 1 comment

You told me
seeing each other is not
a good idea – echoing
a confession I had once made
to myself, breaking
my weakest moment
like a bomb made of wolves,
all howl and teeth, pacing
and moon, no relief,
just a fear loping
between my ribs.

Maybe we are not
perfect – maybe
we are a circus
made of madness, a bridge
of wishes taken for granted,
kisses consumed like air
until I don’t know
how to breathe without you –
maybe, maybe that’s love.

So many times, I have burned
you out of my life
by accident; so many times,
you have sent me off
in a flood. Each time,
I think maybe it’s my fault,
did I make this burden myself?
The truth is,
I don’t know how to hate you,
and I don’t know how to stop
missing you, and I think
the wolves are hungry –
what should I feed them?
What’s left to give?

Maybe we aren’t
a good idea – maybe
there’s nothing safe
about a body made of earthquakes,
hands like a hurricane, heart
like a four-alarm fire
but vulnerable as a match –
but this is what I offer,
this is love nakedly surrendering,
and yes
I am small
and easily pulled apart,
but I know your mouth
like a poem, I know all the worlds
in your voice, and I know
your hands like wind chimes
moved by an invisible force.

Good may never be
our adjective, and maybe
ashes are all we’ve become –
but I will not disappear
because of what people
might say – I am right here,
I have not changed the locks,
and my luck
is a wolf willingly standing
on the train tracks, defiance
for a spine, unafraid
to face the wreck – the question
then is:
how gone are you?

Categories: poem, Writing Tags: , ,

The Affair: Change in an Ordinary Instant

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

“The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.” Tennessee William, The Glass Menagerie

Anais Nin once said, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” There’s no arguing that point; who we are shapes our worldview, our perspective, and how and what we see. Our experiences and our sense of self color how we see life, shadowing (for better or worse) our recollections. Further still, each person is the hero of his/her own story (the exact quote has been attributed to two different people, so forgive my lack of credit). Each person is the protagonist, the central figure, and that narrative focus determines our remembrances. In the pilot episode of Showtime’s The Affair, this holds remarkably true. Two character (Noah and Alison) recount an affair they had together, separately. Told as a retrospective from the present, they’re being interviewed by a detective regarding a murder of a man whose identity has yet to be revealed.

Given that memory is a shifting and often unreliable narrator, Noah and Alison’s stories are similar, but not exactly the same. Each sees him/herself as the hero of the story, and that is reflected in the memories each relays. Central to both narratives, though, is a sense of personal loss – both a loss of a sense of self and a familial loss. Noah is in his father-in-law’s shadow, who is a famous author; Noah is a first-time novelist and a school teacher. While his marriage to Helen seems relatively solid, there is a palpable strain between them, an odd disconnect. Twice, they try to engage in sexual intimacy, and twice they’re interrupted by their kids. During the second time, Helen starts laughing, and something about that wounds Noah. They’re staying at his father-in-law’s house in Montauk for the summer, much to his dismay and his kids’ dismay. Sullen does not even begin to properly describe his eldest daughter’s attitude. Helen and Noah’s marriage appears relatively solid, but there’s a sense that personal fulfillment is lacking – at least for him. The beginning of the episode has a brief bit of flirtation with a woman, before leaving for vacation. It may bear out that Noah has lost his sense of self, and he no longer knows who he is outside of his relationship to Helen.

Alison has lost a child and is struggling to regain her footing in the wake of that – not to mention her relationship with her husband, Cole, has suffered in the wake of losing their son. There’s a distinct impression that neither Noah nor Alison are succeeding in their lives as they’d hoped – that they’re falling short of personal (and external) expectations. We meet her in Montauk on her dead son’s birthday, and her grief is consuming and raw. She and her husband has sex, but it is a strangely empty intimate act – it’s just sex. She looks heartbroken during its duration, and afterwards, Cole notices that she didn’t orgasm – and she tells him not to bother, to just hold her hand. The argument could be made that holding someone’s hand is an intimate act of comfort. You don’t hold the hand of someone you don’t like. But the fact that she’s not invested in their lovemaking gave me pause. Before he leaves for work, Cole tells her to try and have a good day, and it’s almost accusatory – like he believes she wants to be unhappy. Their initial sex scene is in stark contrast to the one near the end of the episode, after Alison meets Noah on the beach (we’ll get to that later). Alison and Cole argue; she was late to the dinner his mother put together. She thinks he’s cheating on her. They are at odds with each other in a way that feels almost irreparable. However, the sex they engage in at that point is both more intimate and less (she’s facing away from him – and she makes distinct eye contact with Noah, who had just walked her home.). It read like grief sex – comfort sex. Rough and something that fills a need, not something necessarily born of love.

But let’s delve into the start of the affair between Noah and Alison. The basics of the story are consistent: they meet at the diner in Montauk where she is a waitress. His younger daughter nearly chokes to death on a marble. They meet later on the beach, near the world’s least rowdy bonfire. He walks her home, witnesses the fight she has with her husband, and see her have sex with Cole.

From Noah’s perspective, Alison flirts with him. She is the initiator, the instigator, and one might say temptress. After the choking incident (Noah saves his daughter, and Alison picks up the marble that the child had choked on), he runs into her by the bathrooms accidentally, where she is visibly upset – because as she just witnessed a child almost die on her dead son’s birthday, that’s understandable. Later, when they meet on the beach (he wandered from his father-in-law’s house, while his wife is sleeping), she flirts with him heavily. In his version, she is wearing a dress with a distinct lack of underwear. She asks him to walk her home, gets in her outdoor shower, naked, while flirting heavily – and he’s the one who flees before anything happens. He only comes back because of the shouting between her and Cole, and his perception of their argument is interesting. It positions Cole as a bully and possibly an abuser, who possibly forces Alison to have sex. Alison and Noah make eye contact – and he starts to rush toward her to help, but she shakes her head. Noah sees himself as a hero and not the initiator of the affair. It should also be acknowledged that Noah’s father-in-law is kind of an emasculating jerk, who blatantly states his literary success makes him kind of a whore, but that he doesn’t care – because he has a wealth of material possessions. Noah, in contrast, seems stuck in his father-in-law’s considerably shadow, which is punctuated by overt sense of judgment.

From Alison’s perspective, we get a glimpse into her relationship with Cole, which I mentioned a little bit previously. There is a brokenness about her, a sense of abject loss, not just of her son – but of who she is. Her boss at the diner comments about how she was 10 or 15 years ago in a way that implies she hasn’t lived up to her promise. It should be noted that her boss is also a serious creep, who mentions how hot she was and how he slept with her. Apparently, he is unaware that sexual harassment is a thing. In her version, Alison helps save Noah’s daughter from choking to death, when Helen freezes and is unable to move. A grateful Noah follows her to the bathroom, thanks her profusely, and flirts with her heavily. Later, we follow her to the ocean and to the cemetery to visit her son, and she ends up arriving late to the dinner in honor her deceased son’s birthday. The tension between Cole and Alison during dinner is volatile, even though neither really speaks to the other. He’s visibly angry that she was late to dinner, despite the fact that they apologize.

After dinner, they presumably arrive at the aforementioned bonfire together. She sits well apart from the group, and Cole (as far as we know) makes no attempt to join her. She watches him flirt with a blonde woman, who later drops him off at home, and then Noah arrives. In her recollection, he flirts with her. She is wearing shorts and short, which is far more modest that what Noah remembered. And while he does walk her home, she recalls his insistence at doing so (a repayment from saving his child), and it is Noah who insists on seeing the outdoor shower. In a huge disparity between the two narratives, Noah kisses Alison (who pulls away and stops him, though not immediately). Noah’s narrative excludes a kiss and any kind of real physical contact. Because it’s Alison who stops the moment, she continues to see herself as being the hero – as being good. Each character is desperate to see themselves as fundamentally good people, which is how every person wants himself/herself to be seen. (More on that in a moment.)

In Alison’s view, we get the full-view of her argument with her husband. From her perspective, their fight culminates in sex as a coping mechanism, as a method of combating the grief and loss they both feel. While their dialogue is sharp and tense, each almost fed up and disconnected emotionally from the other, I’m not entirely sure the passion is anything more than escapism. Alison makes eye contact with Noah, who was drawn by the shouting, and it is that moment of connection where we see Alison really engage in sex with her husband (her husband cannot see her face). The sex, here, has two values: it contrast the earlier intimacy between Cole and Alison, and it suggests physical intimacy is being used as a Band-Aid for emotional intimacy. However, the moment of connection via voyeurism between Noah and Alison cannot be overlooked. Perhaps it is his presence that spurs her own. The possibility is certainly present.

Each character sees the beginning of the affair as the fault of the other. It’s more common to excuse (or explain away) an illicit relationship, if you lay the burden of its beginning (and possibly continuation) at the feet of the other person. If it just happened, you’re not at fault. If you didn’t pursue or go after the other person, you can still talk your way out of guilt. If you don’t acknowledge your role, you’re less culpable. At least, that’s the theory.

But the truth is that as much as a person may want to divest themselves of blame, no relationship just happens. You have feelings, and then you act of them. It always, always takes two people to tango – especially the naked tango. The reasons for an affair are often varied. Loss can fuel it in so many ways. But there’s always a reason, and it’s almost always not just about sex. It’s the emotional component of an affair that’s most dangerous. Sex is easy. Feelings are most definitely not.

So, who began the affair? Who seduced whom? As of right now, I don’t think that matters. A person may not remember details perfectly, but feelings always remain. I think Noah and Alison both need something – and someone. Neither went looking for it. (If they did, it would be easy to label one a villain or a bad guy and be done with it.) That’s what makes this story so real: it’s not black and white. No one is perfect. Nobody is good or bad. Noah and Alison are like you and me: human, flawed, and fallible. As Joan Didion said, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” For Noah and Alison, that ordinary instant is when they meet.

all or nothing

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to talk myself out of feeling a certain way for a week. The truth is, I don’t wait well at all. I get worried and restless, and I pretty much loathe silence as if it is the Gentlemen from Buffy. I’m a fairly easygoing person, except when I’m not. Everyone has a breaking point, a situation that plays of her fears with terrible skill.

Mine is silence. Maybe it’s the unknown that lurks in the silence. I don’t know. But whenever I have half a picture and a heap of questions, it’s unsettling. I like to know. I like to understand. And when I don’t, it kind of makes me feel like I’m drowning. And yes, that sounds dramatic, but I’m an emotional person – and I kind of can’t turn off the caring or my heart, as much as there are times where I’d like to. I’m sensitive. It’s part of who I am.

Driving this morning, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Marilyn Monroe, “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” That, right there, is me. I’m flawed. I can occasionally fly off the handle in a fit of feelings. But I’m also pretty damn awesome – I never take without giving back, and I often give more than I get. And yeah, sometimes, I am insecure. Sometimes, it’s because there’s no solid ground in a situation, and I have no way of gaining any kind of control.

And earlier today, I caught myself delivering a strange self-pep talk. It was along the lines of, “Calm down. Don’t worry. Don’t freak out.” But I am worried, and I am freaking out – so, trying to shove those feelings back into the dark doesn’t exactly work. It’s not healthy. And I think we do that an awful lot, perhaps because we’re taught to. Don’t rock the boat. Just keep on pushing through. Don’t get me wrong: it’s often easier to ignore these things. Confrontations (feelings, situations, or people) are HARD. Anyone who tells you differently is ten kinds of crazy.

It’s often not seen as cool to worry, to ask for things, or to acknowledge negative feelings. Guess what? I’m not cool. I’m never going to be cool. Sometimes, I’m an idiot. I can be cranky. I can be unruly. I ask for too more or too little. I freak out. I say too much. I have a tendency to babble. I get scared.

The truth is that I’m not good with the idea of losing – specifically, people. I’m a lifetime person. I don’t do shallow or halfway, and if I don’t like you, I don’t put in the time. But I’m really not good with the possibility of loss. Sometimes, this makes me terribly panicked for a minor reason. Sometimes, a week can feel like a lifetime. And maybe it’s only gotten worse since my mom died. Certainly, I’m more inclined to go after everything I want, hesitation and reservation be damned. But losing someone important is like an explosion you never really walk away from. There’s always a bit of shrapnel lodged somewhere. You carry it with you and not in a fun way.

I know what I deserve. I know that I may never get it. But it’s never going to be because I didn’t try or ask. That is also something my mom’s death taught me: you go after what you want, and you don’t settle. Settling is for cowards.

So, I’m not cool. I don’t play it safe. And I know what I’m worth. And maybe there’s a particular person reading this who knows exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s you.

These days, life feels like it’s all or nothing. It’s always a choice. What will you choose?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

this love is a fourth river

October 10, 2014 2 comments

This is what you call
madness: love
so fierce that it forgets
itself, that it forgets why not
and how much hell
it might raise. This is six seeds
from a pomegranate
eaten willingly, this is the soft
beauty of the dark, and risking
the journey and waiting
for the agony of nails.

Three matches
and a wish, then everything
is burning – and hope kept neatly
in a jar, explodes
in the flames –
sometimes, even the good
becomes shrapnel, sometimes
a want is so full of teeth
that it reimagines itself
as a monster, but even
in the mirror, there are no
none here.

This love is a fourth river,
the final crossing
of roads, an intersection
of absolute chaos
and absolute faith –
but love that is not mad
around the edges
is nothing more the infatuated interest,
and I dare to give you flames,
to watch the old things burn,
naked, honest as a clock,
every person
I might’ve ever been
loves every angle of you
(both real and imaginary) –
so, here is everything
we might be,
offered like a bloody fruit
that looks like a fist –
this is how we wage war
together, Hades and Persephone.

Categories: poem, Poetry Tags: , ,

sometimes, we burn

October 9, 2014 2 comments

Our history
sits like a cat on my doorstep,
bringing me clever presents,
leaving and returning
out of instinct, waiting
for me to open the door.
It paces. I pace.
It brings me more hope
like dead birds –
and there’s a moment
where I feel less like a liability.

This is how it always starts,
and I know
every hip-curve of this world, I know
how to break a window
when the doors won’t work,
nobody else
will ever see the mess, anyway,
but it could also be happiness,
these ashes, a new start –
sometimes, we burn
the house down
as an act of disclosure –
this is mine.

I wonder
how many different kinds
of loneliness
lie in between us. How much
empathy is there
in this absence? Our story
should be softer
than the angles of a spine, but I
still want to scream things
until even the wind
sounds like your name –
is there another ending?

Tell me
we aren’t lost again, aren’t
running headlong
into rush hour traffic
wielding excuses
instead of knives, lingering
too long on the edge of can’t
and fear – give me
a forest of solid ground
and passion that is its own promise,
give this a heartbeat
and not just flesh
and bones.

Categories: poem, Poetry, Writing Tags: , ,

Pick a heart. Do a thing.

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Are we always going to be like this? Do we ever really change?

That’s what I was thinking yesterday, as I was driving home. I passed a school bus, and I remembered being small, greeting my bus driver with a hug each morning. I was five, so I don’t remember her name. I want to say it was Josephine, but I’m not sure. She was the first person I ever knew who had more than one earring. She was always awesome. And she always looked out for me. If I was late coming out, she’d beep the horn. On the days where I was sick and couldn’t make it, I’d go out and tell her – and she’d tell me to feel better soon.

But I always hugged her good morning. To me, as a kid, hugging was as essential to breathing. To this day, I am an affectionate person. If you hold still long enough around me, and I care about you, I will hug you. It’s inevitable. That’s who I am.

I show I care. I’m not just words. I’m actions. I’m still that little girl who hugged her bus driver every morning, whose hair was sometimes unruly, and who would rather give then get. I never outgrew her, and I’m grateful for that. Because some people lose that sliver of themselves that allows them to show reckless abandon/reckless affection.

But it got me thinking about certain things, and then I was wondering if we ever really change. Is the core of who we are immutable? Perhaps one has to have a strong personality to hold onto the essentials of our being. Perhaps it’s weaker personalities that shift with time and circumstance. I don’t really know.

I think, honestly, that it takes courage to be true to yourself. That’s not always something easy to come by, that courage. I’m not made of Teflon. I’m scared a lot of the time. But I know what makes me me, and how to stand up when it matters. Honestly, I hate fighting. It terrifies me, and I’ll avoid it whenever something isn’t essential. Picking my battles, as it were. As much as I’m a CareBear, as much as I would much rather go with the flow, there are times where that’s destructive rather than constructive. And although I never do something without examining the possible consequences, I know how to take a (figurative) punch. I don’t always do that without flinching, but I do it without running away.

But back to the question: do we ever really change?

I don’t think so, not entirely. But I do think that we sometimes mistakes losing ourselves for change. Losing touch, as it were, with the center of who we are. To me, there’s nothing sadder than someone who not only has forgotten how to fight for himself/herself, but who even stops blocking the blows.

It’s too easy to forget that we’re worth more than surviving. That we’re worth more than just getting by. We mistake existing for living. And it’s just not. I’m not saying that everyone has to be the person who hugs his/her bus driver. But I think we should allow ourselves to be who we are. Without that, what do we really have?

Life is more than punching a clock. It’s more than just paying the bills. It’s laughing until you can’t breathe, drinking wine at 2 a.m., and loving thoroughly. I’ve never been a person who does, or feels, anything by half. (Shoutout to Jane Austen!) And while that can be somewhat inconvenient at times, it’s one of my best assets. When I’m all in, I’m in. When I do something, I do it. There’s no need for middle ground, because middle ground is too often a fence. Pick a side. Pick a heart. Do a thing.

Are we always going to be like this? Maybe. But maybe we are more than what we’ve allowed ourselves to see.

Categories: Uncategorized

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