Today, I remembered something important. The truth, something I had captured some months ago, had escaped me. I did not even realize it was gone until, like a bird, I found it perched right in front of me. It was startling to discover that I had forgotten what I had so recently obtained. Because wisdom always seems to speak out of grief, hurling itself from the strange circles of thought we often find ourselves in following a loss. Something good should come out of such pain. Something useful. Something positive. Something that changes our lives, even as we wake up to find them changed.
Shortly after my mother died, I promised myself two things. One is that I would appreciate what I have when I have it. The other was never to give up when something/someone is worth fighting for. The first one I have stumbled with, occasionally missing a dance step or two – but that’s a vow that will always be a work-in-progress. The second is a bit more difficult, because it is an idea that must constantly be renewed.
I never fight without a reason. From experience, I realize that sometimes you simply take a stand so that someone doesn’t bowl you over without opposition. Sometimes, you speak in order to say the things that must be said – knowing full well that you cannot change someone’s mind. That isn’t always the aim. The same thing can be said for art of any kind: the only way you truly fail is when you do not try. That is giving up, sticking to the safer, easier shadows. But who is ever truly happy with safe or easy?
Sometimes, I back off of things, because of circumstances. Sometimes, I just stop. I am wondering if perhaps that is the easy choice, a coward’s way, a decision born not of wisdom but of fear. I wonder if that is letting someone else dictate a choice that is mine to make. I wonder if it is a reflex structured to avoid possible pain. If I do this, I might… or If I am vulnerable, I could… or If I do this, it will be hard…
If. If. If. How often do we allow ourselves, and our lives, to be dictated by if? If is word made of fear, not strength. If closes the door, walls up it up, and locks us away from the rest of the world. From even ourselves and the possibilities we desire/need.
Life is hard. Love is hard. Art is hard. You make a choice, and it’s scary. You fall in love, and it’s terrifying. You make art, and other people will see it (and possibility dislike it). We are all afraid. We are all scared. We are all one choice away from change.
Sometimes, we don’t do or say things, because we are afraid of being or sounding stupid. Of another person reacting badly or not at all. I am guilty of this, sometimes. Even recently. I held something back, because I was afraid of how the other person would react. Not because what I had to say was unimportant or untrue. Not because I didn’t feel it. But because I was scared.
That, my darlings, is no way to live. Fear shouldn’t pull our puppet strings. Fear shouldn’t keep us from ourselves. Fear shouldn’t strangle our wants and needs. In order to get what we want, we have to be brave. And I say that as a writer – because a writer has to be brave. We have to write a story, or a novel, or a poem – and shove into the world, hitting SEND and feeling sick to our souls. Because oh my god, someone is going to judge this thing we made. Someone is going to see it and maybe find it lacking. Someone is going to read this thing that we created – this bit of words that we tore out of our hearts.
If that isn’t scary, if that doesn’t feel sick or panicked, then I don’t know how what will. If I can send a story out for submission, I can speak the truth. I can fight for things that I want. I can certainly handle these mothereffin’ re-writes that are eating pieces of my soul like candy. (Mmm, ventricular muscle, they seem to say. In my head, all my writing fears are like Gollum. But that is a post for another day, my preciousssss. *ahem*)
There is nothing worse than silence. There is nothing worse than failing to try. In life, there are moments where we let fear seep into bones, and it overwhelms our other feelings. I have been that person. I have been mad with my own misunderstanding. I have been a girl who swallowed her own heart, because her heart is a bastard. But today, I remembered the framework of who I am. Today, I remembered the promises I made to myself.
I am not a perfect person. I don’t believe in perfection. I don’t believe in walking away. I don’t believe in giving up. I do not believe that things are impossible. Like Alice, I believe in at least seven impossible things before breakfast.
Maybe this makes me an idiot. I don’t care if it does. I think that life is so much more than black or white, good or bad, sin or virtue – and that our choices should never be forged by fear. We too often hide from what we want, finding reasons to keep ourselves away. But that is not living. It is lying. All greatness arises out of moments of foolishness, of stripped pride and raging doubts.
I believe that everything I want is within my reach. I wonder how many are brave enough to believe that, too.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Always do what you are afraid to do.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am sitting in my best friend’s kitchen, clinging to a post-party cup of coffee. I am the only one awake. Yesterday reminded me of how much I love being around people and how much I love Halloween. I would probably attend a costume party every month, if such things existed in the adult world. We all need more whimsy, more silliness, more smiles, and more reasons to live — not just get by.
Right now, I find myself more reflective than usual. I’m beginning to think there’s something about my BFF’s kitchen floor that makes me introspective. The last time I stayed here, my mind was full of unexpected thoughts. Perhaps it is the quiet. Perhaps it is simply my restless mind. Perhaps it is my muddled heart.
Or maybe it’s this coming storm that I’ve been hearing so much about. I can’t help but feel like it’s the perfect metaphor for so many things, right now.
It is a force of nature. There is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is close our eyes and hope for the best. Destruction, unfortunately, is inevitable. Chaos has a wandering hand. And our lives may look a little different, when the rain stops, when the winds calm, when the debris is cleared.
Today, I feel like counting all the hours in it. I can feel the minutes tick by in my bones, a reminder of everything I want and everything I cannot control. We are so often just people in the middle of a storm, unable to see beyond the rain. Sometimes, we forget the beauty in it, the wonder of change. The possibilities on the wind. Sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to run from the things we can’t, or shouldn’t, that we lose something: potential, a chance, a piece of ourselves. That last one pains me the most, especially if I watch it happen to someone else, but I am powerless to stop it — just like I’m powerless in the face of this storm.
But there is also the moment when we find that we are the storm. That we are wrecking and rending and derailing so many things, perhaps without thinking, without proper consideration. Just blindly doing, without a pause given, without contemplating the outcome or consequence. Destruction without an endgame, without redemption, without a promise or a purpose. All chaos has its place, whether or not its easy to look at. All changes have a meaning. Sometimes, we lose ourselves to love, forgetting reason. Sometimes, we wear our reason like armor, not noticing that it’s rusted through, or that we cannot move, or that we do not really understand what we are fighting or who we are fighting for. That is a windmill moment, when the imagined monster is ourselves.
With all terrible storms, with all impending or happened changed, there is a sense of loss. It can rip through a heart fine as a razor, without hesitation or mercy. It is then that whole lives change, where people discover themselves. It is then that we either bury or unearth our courage. Only a madman would stand in the middle of a hurricane. Only a madwoman would sing her songs into that wind.
The most painful moments in our lives are often the choices we make. They are often the love we dare. No storm is a safe, tame thing. But as the bright leaves fall from the tress this morning, I remember that all things must change in order to grow. Just because the world looks different doesn’t mean things won’t be okay.
Today, I count the hours. I know each one by heart. I always remember, even when I cannot say a word.
Some storms are of our choosing. Others are not. You can try to brace for both kinds, but at some point, there is nothing to be done. There is simply waiting for the storm to pass.
Sometimes, there are situations where we cannot do anything. Moments where we just have to sit on our hands, wait, and hope for the best. As something of a doer, with shades of control freak, I hate those situations. Those moments. Because even when we do everything, or everything we can, certain things are not up to us.
I was sitting in Starbucks, attempting to quell my thoughts with coffee. That worked about as well as giving candy to a toddler. Basically, I’ve amplified my already overactive, overthinking brain. Not wise. But I am not always a paragon of smarts. (Those of you who deal with me on a daily basis will guffaw at that statement. I know. I KNOW.)
Few things are more frustrating than wanting to fix something, but realizing that it’s out of your hands. You’re trying. You’re doing your best. You’re working on things. But ultimately, you have to wait. Ultimately, other people are making the final decision. This goes for work, pursuing writing, and hell – all relationships.
You should do everything you can. Not leave anything to chance. But in the end, we are not always the deciding factor. We are not always where the buck stops. We are not always in control. Today, I found myself feeling like my sixteen year old self, wishing that someone could just fix something and make it better. I literally had that thought: I just want someone to FIX it.
And, hi, I’m THIRTY. So, not sixteen. And I’m glad that I’m not sixteen, because I was a scared, unconfident (if that’s not a word, it SHOULD be) person at that age. Being scared meant running. Being scared meant not speaking up. Being scared meant letting other people dictate my life.
Now? Being scared means standing my ground. It means knowing what I want, despite the inherent difficulties. Being scared means being brave – sometimes, it means being brave enough for someone else. It means that there is something worth fighting for. Our greatest weakness can be our greatest strength, just like an inferiority complex can hold a person back OR propel them to move forward and be better. Prove everybody wrong.
It is always wise, though, when pursuing what you want, to have faith. To believe. It’s such a simple, fragile thing. It’s so important, though. We never get anywhere, unless we believe. Even if it SEEMS crazy or impossible. Perhaps especially then.
Do you best. Leave the rest. T’will all come right, some day or night. (Yeah, I just quoted from Black Beauty. I think that’s where the quote is from. Anyone? Bueller?) Do your best. Put your cards on the table. Chase something. Love full and well. Laugh at yourself. And, when necessary, have faith.
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” — Kerouac
When I was in second grade, I told a couple of friends a joke I’d heard. It had a curse word in it. It was a BIG deal in my world. I wasn’t going to tell them, since I’d only known that gaggle of girls a short while, but I did. They asked again and again. So, I caved in, and I trusted them. I told the joke (which, by the way, I still remember).
One of the girls, whose name is etched upon my mind, promptly went and told the teacher. Mrs. Disapproving Face sauntered over, gave me the Look of Shame – and told me if I told another joke like that, she’d tell my parents. I nodded. She left. Looking at Judas, I felt an odd mixture of anger and grief. Here was a girl I *thought* I could trust, and she shat all over my fine judgment. Or, as it turned out, not so fine. Needless to say, I did not trust her again, because once broken in so deft a way, it is hard to put your faith BACK into a person.
Learning who to trust, who to trust partially, and who not to trust at all – it is a lifelong pursuit, shaded by mistakes and unfortunate instances where hindsight is twenty-twenty. There are times where I still trust the wrong people, but the instances are rarer than when I was seven or eight – and I thought the world was made of rainbows, goodness, and CareBear hugs.
I’ll be honest: I love that moment in a relationship (any relationship) where you suddenly realize, “Holy shit, that other person really trusts me. And I trust them. And…this is so good.” Because there is something heartwarming and wonderful about realizing that, about knowing it down to your marrow. In a world where we are constantly reminded that people can be shitty just for the hell of it, really trusting someone – and being trusted in return – is a kind of everyday magic. It’s the kind of thing that makes me happy, that makes me smile and sing.
Trust is a kind of love. It’s a leap of faith. It’s a small bit of brilliance, unasked for. Trust, of course, is earned. Most of the time, it happens slowly. You don’t meet someone for the first time, shake their hand, and say, “Hey! Want to hear about the time I [insert deep, dark secret here]?” Because…no. That’d be crazier than a barrel full of rabid monkeys wearing tutus and sword fighting with bananas.
People trust at different speeds, with varying degrees, based on a indiscernible combination of personal fears and worthiness. You don’t trust the mail person with your feelings, just like you don’t offer a man named Buffalo Bill a bottle of lotion and a basket: it wouldn’t make sense. And it could end poorly.
Every day, I strive to be the most trustworthy person I can be. Then once I know I’ve earned your trust, I work very hard to keep it. It’s not like a prize you stick on the shelf and forget about. It’s something you cherish and respect. It’s nothing short of an honor. Because once someone trusts you, they have faith in who you are as a person – that they will listen without judgment and protect the things you tell them. I can count, on one hand, the number of people I trust, completely. The people I call up when I am sad, having a bad day, or I have absolutely good news that I cannot wait to share. The people who I know will love me, even if I’m being a total idiot – or maybe BECAUSE I’m being a total idiot. The people who can listen to my thoughts, feelings, and mistakes…and it doesn’t alter how they see me.
No one is perfect. No one. I’m not. You’re not. Perfection is a myth that someone stitched out of stars and bullshit. I don’t want to be judged by my bad days or my mistakes. I don’t want to be weighed only by those painfully squicky moments – so, why would I judge anyone else by them? (Rhetorical question, folks.) If we go into any relationship with the moon in our eyes, assuming that no one leaves the seat up, farts, says the occasionally stupid thing, or wears sweatpants around the house (not heels and pearls!) – then reality has fled, and things are based on impossible fantasy. Personally, in any relationship, I do not want perfection. I want the messy moments. I want the arguments, the bad days, the confessions, the confidences, the unvarnished truths, and the comfort in secret-sharing. It is easy to handle the good days, because they’re GOOD. But it’s how you handle the uncomfortable moments, the difficult times, and the ugly truths that matter the most.
I remember the first time I realized that I completely trusted my best friend. In a moment of total panic, I confessed something to her and asked her advice. It was the kind of thing that you don’t TELL anyone. And I told her. Not only did she still love me anyway (unless these 15 years have all been a LIE. Hehe), but she gave me advice. She still does She sees me face-deep in Kleenx, wearing bleached out yoga pants, hair wild and twelve feet high – and she loves me anyway. I ask her for the MOST AWKWARD favor EVER, and she doesn’t hesitate. The reverse is also true. She has my back. I have her back. End of story.
But, again: I love that feeling when you realize someone totally trusts you, and you trust them. It makes me want to hug unicorns. It makes me want to burst into song. (I do that a lot. I’m a human Disney character. Not kidding. “There goes the baker with his tray like always…”) People reveal themselves to be trustworthy, and the best way to be trusted is to show trust yourself. It is a thing of courage. It is something that makes the world a little better, a little brighter. And a brighter world is a wonderful place of possibility. J.M. Barrie once wrote, “All you need is trust and a little bit of pixie dust.” And I couldn’t agree more. This is the ordinary magic of life that leads to extraordinary things.
“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.”― E.E. Cummings
“It is not true that women cannot keep secrets. Where they love, they can be trusted to death and beyond, against all sense and reason.” – Mary Stewart, The Hollow Hills
The other day, I was having a conversation with my BFF, discussing wants, needs, and love. Sometimes people confuse these things with each other, and it’s often hard to parse them apart. Now, you can want something/someone without needing them. (But, Daddy! I WANT an Oompa Loompa! Veruca, may WANT an Oompa Loompa, but she doesn’t NEED one.) You can want someone and not love them. (I’m pretty sure Veruca wasn’t looking to elope with one of Willy Wonka’s orange-faced minions.) But can you ever NEED someone you don’t love?
To me, if I don’t love you, I don’t need you. Any kind of love, mind you – friendly or romantic. However, since the conversation, I’ve been thinking about needing someone, and I’m kind of stumped. You can need a lot of things: comfort, company, someone to talk to etc. But to NEED a person? There’s much more to it than just filling some sort of niche.
Needing someone is a funny thing. The people that we need are the ones who matter most to us. The ones who, perhaps, in some way complete us or make us better. I stumbled across a quote yesterday that I really loved, “Love is needing someone. Love is putting up with someone’s bad qualities because they somehow complete you” (Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby). To me, that sums up love and need perfectly. They are not the same thing, but they do go hand-in-hand.
Back to my original question: can you ever need someone without loving them? I don’t think so, but I want to know what you think. Can you need without loving? And, the reverse: can you love without needing?
The other day, I hung out with my BFF. At one point, she had some errands to run, and I went with her. We stopped at the pet food store and the liquor store (because CLEARLY those two errands go together). The liquor store in question was bigger than a mall. If you wandered down the wrong aisle, I’m quite certain one would lead to Narnia. Or the Goblin City. In which case: JAREEEEEEETH. *ahem* Moving on…
We found what she was looking for, laughing about some seriously ridiculous products. Alcoholic whipped cream? No, that’s totally NOT a sign you have a problem there, buddy. Not at all. Forget Marshmallow vodka – that’s just wrong. And you should’ve seen her face when I explained what a tequila worm is. “But WHY?” was a popular question.
Annnnyway, we went in search of a checkout line, only to find that there was no one around. The place looked like prime Zombie Apocalypse territory, until we found two random employees chatting. We stood there, waiting for a gap in the conversation. The continued chatting about their lives, while we stood there, pointedly starting at them. Finally, after Godot wandered by and Superman reversed the earth’s axial spinning, the woman turns and asks, “Can I help you?” Let it be known that her tone indicated she didn’t actually want to help, and she was annoyed that her chitchat was being interrupted by her actual JOB.
Me: We’re looking to check out.
Woman: What? What do you want?
Me: (holding up items, speaking louder) We are looking to pay for these.
Woman: Oh. There’s someone in aisle three.
Ladies and gentleman, there WAS indeed someone in aisle three, but she was blocked by a giant cardboard cutout of Captain freakin’ Morgan.
When we got out to the parking lot, I looked at my BFF, and we started to laugh. I may as well have shouted WE WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE THESE ITEMS at the top of my lungs. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why my BFF and I can go anywhere and amuse ourselves. Aside from the fact that I accidentally yelled BALLS! in the middle of the pet store. Oh, Victoria Dahl would be PROUD. I know.
Life lesson number #47: you really shouldn’t take me out in public, unless you are prepared for shenanigans and the silliness. Lucky for me, my BFF wouldn’t have it any other way.
I wonder what would’ve happened if Twitter had been around during JFK’s administration. Would there be twitpics of JFK in his underwear, illicitly (and accidentally) tweeting them to Marilyn where the whole world could see it? Would there be grainy photos of Marilyn and John meeting at a hotel? (Probably not. Because no one messed with Frank Sinatra or his friends. But still.) If tabloid journalism was so rampant and ruthless when Hepburn met Tracey, what would’ve become of them and their relationship? Would the constant media attention have broken them apart? Would one of them have broken underneath the scrutiny? Hepburn and Tracey were an iconic couple, certainly. But Tracey never left his wife, and Hepburn avoided his funeral out of respect for his family. Imagine the tractive headlines. Would they have called Hepburn a slut? A homewrecker? A whore? (She, being progressive and strong, probably wouldn’t have cared.)
These days, anything and everything seems up for grabs; a person’s worst day is fodder for a story. The end goal, it seems, isn’t to tell a story worth telling. It’s to move copies, while trading on sensationalism and heartbreak.
Yesterday, I read a headline that Kristen Stewart cheated on her longtime boyfriend and costar, Robert Pattinson, with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman. Rupert Sanders is, unfortunately, married. This all came out in a hail of hastily snapped photos, finger-pointing, and shame. US Weekly ran the story first, and shortly thereafter, KStew issued an apology – and Sanders filed suit. Everything about that was difficult to read, because that is someone’s worst moment. That is someone’s worst day. That is the sound of the world crashing, swallowing up so many things.
Which is why I say: leave the worst moments in shadow.
People screw up. People fall in love. People fall in lust. Slips and shit happen. Pretending otherwise doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It doesn’t make you more moral or well-positioned upon the throne of judgment. It doesn’t automatically give you a white hat, while handing someone a black one.
These are people. And no one is perfect. Certainly not celebrities who live their lives under a microscope. When something bad comes to light, in a layperson’s life, the world does not point fingers or gasp. The world doesn’t even really notice. Some people immediately involved might. There will, inevitably, be rumors and gossip. But chances are, our follies won’t end up in a newspaper. They won’t end up online or on tv. We get to live out our mistakes in relative private.
In the pursuit of selling a product (like a magazine), humanity is often forgotten. There’s no integrity is dragging out someone’s secret, just to sell something. There’s no honor in it. There’s only greed. (Hello there, Gordon Gekko.)
The reaction that I’ve seen to the Stewart-Sanders debacle is almost as obnoxious as the magazine that broke the story. People are judging, finger-pointing, and generally reaching for the smelling salts. Because CLEARLY this is the first time someone’s had a fling with their director/costar/makeup artist – WHATEVER. Clearly, this is the first time in history a person has had a moment of weakness that ended up a walk of shame. Clearly, this is the first time someone’s ever slept with someone else’s spouse. Surely we are above all that, us good little puritans (who, btw, had a rather liberal view on sex).
(Yes, that I unadulterated sarcasm.)
Imagine your very worst day. Recall that time you sent naked photos to an ex or a stranger. Remember cheating on a test, on a boyfriend, on your bar exam. Remember getting high, getting a bad tattoo, saying terrible and untrue things to a good person. Remember lying. Remember doing nothing when someone got hurt right in front of you. Remember the underside of your humanity: your flaws.
We are, every one of us, flawed. The difference is that when you and I do something wrong? It doesn’t end up all over People magazine. It isn’t enough to sell copies. Yes, it’s a business, but a business isn’t without integrity. It’s not without honor. It’s not without compassion. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
Do I, personally, give a damn about Kristen Stewart? Not exactly, no. I don’t know her. She never hangs out at my house. And neither of us has braided the other’s hair. But I can look through the persona and see the person. I can feel for her, because she did something bad – and there’s a big garish spotlight on it. The spotlight doesn’t just hurt her; it hurts everyone involved, even those indirectly involved – like Sanders’s family. Like Pattinson. Shouldn’t they be able to tackle this – a personal issue – out of the public eye? God, yes. This has no bearing on their art. It has nothing to do with making movies. And yet, we care. And yet, it’s everywhere.
Leave the worst moments in shadow.
(Nota bene: yes, there’s irony here, because I’m WRITING about the issue. Let me acknowledge that. But instead of writing about Sanders being an asshole or Stewart being some kind of bitch – I’m not commenting on them as PEOPLE. I’m not sensationalizing their pain.)
Anaïs Nin once wrote, “We do not see things are they are. We see things as we are.” And she’s right. Our experiences, point of view, and opinions color our perspective. It is the difference between denotative (the dictionary definition) and connotative (the emotional definition) of a word. A college professor once gave the example of a forest. He said that you talk about a forest, and most people picture green trees and a pleasant place. And that is true. But for him, the connotative meaning evoked an emotional response, because it made him think of a kid who he grew up with, a boy who hung himself from a tree in the woods. For him, that forest was never just a forest. It had ghosts, shadows, and a sense of foreboding.
There is, according to Jameson, no neutral word (blanking on his first name; I have to dig out my Norton lit theory book to reconfirm). And that is also true. Everything means something. But if we perceive the world as we are, I wonder how that changes our relationship to words. By most standards, an effective piece of writing usually makes us feel something. It evokes an emotional response. For instance, if I read a story about foxes, I think of Ted Hughes. Then I think of Sylvia Plath. From there, my thoughts harken back to their relationship, both romantically and in regard to their writing. I am a heap of my graduate school research sessions, soul-deep in philosophies, and most likely quoting from Birthday Letters. Most people would simply see the story itself, enjoy it as it is, and that is the end of it. (Note: my association between foxes and Ted Hughes means absolutely nothing in terms of story interpretation. Just wanted to make that clear.)
I think that one our greatest attributes is our ability to remember. Even, sometimes, in the instances that we’d most like to forget. Because remembering is a way of maintaining the act of being a witness. It’s holding something – a memory, an emotion, a piece of our past – and saying yes, that happened. There is power in that. And by seeing things as we are, by summoning up the words we used or heard, it is like holding on to a heartbeat. It is like taking a hand that is no longer there, feeling the fingers anyway.
We are all the words we’ve ever said, not the ones we’ve kept to ourselves. We are the dodgy moments, the cherished exhibitions, and all the things we’ve ever done for love. Nothing about any one of us is neutral, even when are actions are thus. Sometimes, it is a matter of biding our time. Sometimes, it is a matter of being still. Sometimes, it is a matter of holding on.
For me, the simplest things get me through the hard days: coffee, chocolate, music, good friends and family, and books. When all else fails, though, there is something to be said for recounting a conversation. It’s a few words and scattered sentences, snatches of emotions felt and evoked trailing after the memory. This act of playing through memories, almost like remembering the lines of a play, is a strange, unexpected comfort. Not simply for the memories themselves, but for what they mean to me. There’s nothing neutral about them. They are full Technicolor. It is, I think, a lot like the act of writing a poem, where meaning is found beneath the surface of things and where one thing often means another.
I suppose the point is that everything means something. We owe it to ourselves to try and to pay attention.Nothing about us, or life, is neutral. Perhaps that is a daunting idea: a reality so rife with meaning that it overwhelms. Instead, I’d like to think of it as rife with possibilities. Potential. Sure, that can also come in the form of challenges, but what’s easy is rarely what is desired. Otherwise, we’d all have perfect (possibly boring) lives. Waiting can be the answer to a question we’ve only started to ask. An answer can fall from the sky like a star. A promise can be given without prompting or pretense. Time yields all truths, whether or not we deign to see them. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is out of reach – if we dare to believe.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ― Anaïs Nin
“I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” ― Anaïs Nin
“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.”
― Pablo Neruda
I am not good at needing people. In fact, the truth is that I’ve allowed myself to need very few people in my life. I’ve always occupied the role of the person people lean on. I’d rather listen than talk, and I talk to very few people. Not just idle chatter, but the important or embarrassing bits. I keep them mostly locked up, tied tightly together, precisely and without air.
At the end of the day, there are only a small handful of people that I trust with my secrets, those that remain unpolished and dull. Brilliant if only for their raw, unrefined nature. It is, I suspect, the same reason that I let so few people see me without a stitch of makeup on. (Not that I’m running around with three feet of pancake makeup slathered up like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But I almost always put on a light bit of mineral makeup, because my skin tone’s uneven. And I’m neurotic.) I’m better at hiding things than I am at offering them up.
I can count on one hand the number of people I’d call up in tears. For me, that is enough. I would never want to be one of those people who blather on endlessly to everyone and anyone. My best friend has picked up the phone to incoherent sobbing or me talking as fast as possible, like a verbal band-aid ripping. If I can spit it all out at once, then I can breathe. Then I can be. It’s an imperfect, working theory.
But back to the point: I’m really very unfamiliar with needing people. I sat, the other day, with my phone in my hand, debating on whether or not to make a phone call. It was after a particularly tough day, and while I was no longer a complete wreck, I wasn’t exactly 5 by 5. Still, the urge to just talk things out, to share a bit of drama, was there. I deliberated whether or not to press SEND (shout-out to Patty Blount and her forthcoming book of the same name). In the end, I did nothing. In the end, I sat there wondering what was more important: the immediate or the future. I choose the future. I choose to be a grownup, knowing how much that sucks, sometimes.
And yet. And still. I wonder if that was a lie. I wonder if I was lying to myself. Because I have this tendency to push what I need, or want, to the side – in favor of what someone else might need. But I am also, apparently, terrible at needing people. I suppose if the circumstances were different, and I was less vulnerable, and things weren’t quite so complicated – I’d be better at it.
I sat there with the phone in unfamiliar territory. I figured out all the reasons why not and clung to them like some sort of righteous howler monkey. Maybe it’s just to say look, I can be an adult, when really what I want is to NOT be an adult for an hour. Or an afternoon. Or a whole day. And then I find that way of thinking to be weak, which I dislike. It’s the same reason that I loathe crying.
I am in an impossible situation that is possible, because it is. This willfully annoying paradox stitched together by wayward circumstances? It is temporary. I keep reminding myself of that. That things will smooth out, that they’ll get easier. If I’m just a little bit patient. If I remember to breathe. If I’m more, instead of less.
Perhaps if the need overwhelms me, two days from now, perhaps I will feel differently. Perhaps I will let myself fall in upon myself, without any eye toward the horizon. Perhaps I will allow myself a bad decision. But the truth is, even with everything a bit of a disaster, I’m doing my damnedest to be stronger than I think I can be.
And the only reason for that, darlings, is…
“I was born with an enormous need for affection, and a terrible need to give it.”
― Audrey Hepburn
Yesterday, I found myself feeling curious about someone. I am a very curious person by nature. When I’m not being inquisitive, you should worry. I’m either ill, or I’ve stopped caring about something or someone. Anyway, I did what anyone does in this age: I Googled that person. (Cue Amanda Palmer’s I Google You). It’s amazing how much you might discover, especially if that person is a public figure or has an online presence. Or both.
I shouldn’t have done that, because it kind of broke my heart.
Pictures are little semi-false snapshots, memories and myths, held together by technology. I love pictures. I love taking them. I love editing them. I occasionally love being in them. They are, sometimes, posed and packed with false, forced emotions. To me, there’s nothing sadder than a painfully choreographed moment. Or one of those family photos where everyone matches, and it looks like someone’s in pain or just smelled a really appalling smell.
I like candid, real photos. I love shots that are full of emotion, depth, and truth. For a photograph to move me, it has to capture something. (My friend Bekka Bjoke is so very good at that. Her work is so stunning that I can’t believe in. If you live in California, you want to hire her. She’s awesome, smart, and incredibly hot.)
But back to my point: there is something infinitely melancholy about a person who smiles, but whose smile is hollow. The kind of expression that avoids the eyes. It’s a betraying expression, because there’s nothing to it, nothing behind it. It’s like words, without action behind them.
That kind of unhappiness that keeps a smile from being real? It’s a pervasive, stifling, smothering feeling. When you’re just smiling for the cameras, because you HAVE to? God, that is a peculiar ache. And, honestly, I don’t know how people do it. Sure, life can be craptacular and tough. Life is quick to make us jaded. Sometimes, it’s an environmental/circumstantial/geography dependent affliction. Because, let’s face it: some people can be happy mostly anywhere, but there are some places invariably eat your soul for lunch. With fava beans. *Hannibal Lector noise*
Anyway, sometimes curiosity gets the better of us. Sometimes, we just have to know something. If I was Eve, I’d have bitten the apple, without remorse, and not saved any for Adam. I would’ve picked two. If I was in Salem, I would’ve been burned at the stake. I’m the cat killed by curiosity, satisfied as the world goes dark. So, I ask the questions. I want to understand people. It can be exhausting, but it is who I am. No regrets there.
But the thing about the photos. They ache, even though I owe this person nothing. Even though it’s not my problem. And maybe it’s odd to be so struck by a relative stranger, but damn, I am nothing is not overly empathetic. Yet, I wonder if it’s perhaps a photo capturing a truth. Perhaps that is the thing that we glance away from, too often. Maybe smiling all the time is kind of crazy. For me, a smile is my best defense mechanism. Never let them see you sweat or cry. I’m vulnerable with very few people, and it sometimes takes a lot to make it through my façade. Despite what you may think, I’m not an open book, but I am a basket case, Bareilles.
What, I wonder, does a photo really tell us? Is it an artifact or a lie? Can it be both?
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
― Susan Sontag
“And I’ll dance with you in Vienna,
I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise.
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder
my mouth on the dew of your thighs.
And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
with the photographs there and the moss.
And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty,
my cheap violin and my cross.”
― Leonard Cohen, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs