the vulnerable truth

October 16, 2019 2 comments

I’ve often been labeled as too much for a variety of reasons. I’m too loud, sometimes. I have too many opinions. But mostly, I feel things right down to the marrow. It’s a blessing and a curse, because feelings are hard. (In truth, though, I think trying to mash feelings down is way harder; there’s a particular exhaustion in denying yourself, essentially. It leaves you constantly on the run.) There have been times where I’ve tried to be quieter, less, small. There have been times where I’ve tried to tamp down, well, everything.

Turns out, tiny hurricanes don’t really fit in a box. Something always gets broken. (It’s often me, but hey, I’m not dead yet.)

I’ve always had my own sense of timing. It’s generally not convenient. To start, I was born over three months early and, you know, almost died. Since then, I’m still incredibly me when it comes to when I do and say things. I’m unconventional, even if I’m weirdly traditional in some respects. As it is, I often hold things in until I absolutely can’t, and it all tumbles out in a heap. It’s never pretty, but the honest things about life rarely are.

Words, I’ve noticed, can be dangerous. Once said, you can’t reel them back in. You can’t unravel them, you can’t undo. If you feel a thing, but don’t say it out loud—it’s a shadow of a thing; it has only a nebulous kind of power. But truth always finds its legs, even when we are trying to run away from it. We’ve all been guilty of that—trying to avoid the truth, like it’s a monster, a villain. Something easily ignored.

But you cannot hide from it forever. You cannot run from your own heart, either. It’s a persistent creature, and if you sit still for a moment, you can always hear it.

I’ve come to the realization, lately, that truth is often dependent on the angle of a story–the person telling it. I’ve been the villain before, the bad guy, the too much–but that’s someone else’s version of me. Is that reflection real? Yes, maybe. We’re never just one thing in this world; no one is flat, one dimensional, uncomplicated.

I know who I am, in all my mess. Few people see it. So many folks are content with bits and pieces, filling in the gaps along the way. And that’s not criticism; it’s human nature. Humans are always difficult, even in the best of circumstances.

I remember having a conversation a couple of years ago, where I told a person that I absolutely hated X. I listed the reasons why, expressed frustration. Five minutes later in the conversation, he said, “You really like X, huh?” And wheeeew, okay. That was really the end of that date. Listening is a deeply important skill. I know what it’s like to be truly listened to, and I won’t accept anything less than intense, open interest. Because listen with every fiber of my being; it’s so important to hear and see people as they are. Without it, you can’t really appreciate someone. See, the trick isn’t to always agree with someone or to conform to a smaller version of yourself. It’s to be exactly who you are and see who runs and stays–moreover, who appreciates you and your truth, even when it clashes with theirs.

Another conversation, a few months prior to that one, maybe even a year–someone who I thought saw me thoroughly and deeply remarked that I would do well in a city. He even went so far as to say I’d flourish. And it stopped me dead in my tracks, leaving me to tilt my head sideways. You see, I love cities. I think they’re amazing and great. NYC is one of my favorite places to visit. Montreal is eight different kinds of magical.

But I hate crowds. I get overwhelmed easily sometimes and just need nature and silence. I like my space. I have been spoiled by distance, throughout the years. So, while I can navigate a city, hail a cab like a champ, and enjoy being able to eat a million different kinds of food–cities aren’t for me.

But he thought they were. It suited the version of me he’d fashioned into his head, cobbled together from pieces of me and pieces of what he needed me to be. But that’s not who I am.

I know what it’s like to be seen and appreciated, just as I am. For all my intelligence, humor, chaotic mess, nervous flailings, and deep beliefs. My truths are often sideways. You’ll never find me using a jar of pasta sauce, but I’ll eat Kraft mac and cheese out of nostalgia. I know what it’s like to be knocked down by loss, and that may make me hold on to things tightly–but only when they matter. I hate fighting, and I never do it without a damn good reason. So, when I decide to fight, it means something. (I loathe conflict, so.)

At the end of the day, I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not even tea. I’m coffee, which is basically rocket fuel–and never decaf, because that’s essentially burnt despair. I’m not really rational in certain instances, but I can fake it when I have to. I’m impulsive, but honest even when it makes me want to die. Or crawl under the dashboard.

I’ve never been very good at staying inside the lines, but life begins outside of our comfort zones. Life flourishes when we are brave.

And at the end of the day, I know I’m not too much–for those who see me as I am.

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Same Goes for Love: Seven Years

August 7, 2019 Leave a comment

 

 

Last week, I was talking to a friend about how the anniversary of my mom’s death is today. And I hate using that word—forever and always—because anniversaries are supposed to be happy. It’s hard to feel happy, when you’re sad. And some years, it’s okay. And some years, it’s just…not. It’s impossible to predict how it’ll go, because grief—although seven years have passed—is a chameleon of a feeling. It changes shape, but never vanishes.

Still, as my friend reminded me, it’s important to celebrate that person. And my mom, for all her faults and the times we didn’t get along (possibly because of my faults), she was a really good person. The kind of person who always went the extra mile, without having to be asked, without expecting anything in return. She just did nice things because that’s who she was. And I’m not sure I understood, growing up, how rare that is. To an extent, I knew how lucky I was. But sometimes, you can only fully grasp something through its absence. Same goes for love, when it vanishes. Like the tide rushing in, there’s a void with its own precise pull. Inherently, it’s neither bad nor good. It’s just there.

Once, my mother secretly flew my best friend across the country to surprise me for my birthday. To the day, it’s the coolest thing anyone has probably ever done for me, and it’s a solid yardstick for grand gesture (on both their parts—my best friend is the actual best, and I am lucky). My BFF walked into the house like something out of a movie, and well, if you want to impress me—I’m not saying you have to fly across the country, but. That kindness, that genuine show of unconditional love, is a big part of who my mother was. If I succeed in being half as kind and half as demonstrative as she was, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever told you the time I dreamed up the desk that I wanted. I had this idea of a grey and black marble table with a black, wrought iron base. I was close to twenty at the time and just muttering about it. My old desk was ancient and a sad little heap of leftover childhood. But my mother? She went out and found the exact desk I’d imagined, and I’m still not convinced it wasn’t witchcraft. I still use it, although I’ve chipped a corner and scratched the surface a bit.

Love isn’t, of course, about things. You can’t measure it in gifts, and I never have. I can measure it in the innumerable times my mother stayed up with my while I had a fever. (I was a sick kid, growing up. Being born over three months premature will do that to a human.) I can measure it the myriad times my mom volunteered at my school, when I was a kid. I can even measure it in the times we argued over what, exactly, was I doing at a particular moment. That always came from a place of love, too, because she just wanted me to be happy.

In the end—that is to say, close to the end—my mom made it clear that she wanted me to be happy. Even if she didn’t understand what made me happy, she supported it. Although, it was a rocky road getting there. In truth, my mom spent her whole life trying to make sure those in her life knew that they were loved. In small ways, in big ways. It was who she is—never leaving room for doubt, never failing to show up.

That is a gift she gave me, too. I’m naturally a CareBear, who hugged her bus driver and learned to walk because her oldest friend was across the room and wanted a hug. Proof that I will always chase after what I want, even if I’ve never done it before. There’s always a first time. But back to the point: I strive to make sure everyone I care about knows it, without question and without strings. Because love isn’t a tally you keep about what you get out of a relationship. It’s about seeing someone’s face light up. It’s about the small gestures that can turn a whole day around. It’s the details that make up a life, and the lengths you go to, to tuck someone into the heart of your life.

Today, I am remembering that unconditional love. That unshakeable, undeniable kindness—the uplifting gestures and moments. I know what love is, and I know what love can do. It’s not always easy, but it adds more good than bad to a life. It’s not always safe, but it makes you feel safe. It’s not always simple, but honestly, if it isn’t a little complicated, I don’t understand it. Love, when it’s real, stands the test of time—regardless of distance or circumstance. And that includes death.

So, if you’re so inclined and feeling brave, go out and be the love you wish to see in the world. Make someone feel cared for, without a single hitch or expectation. Do a random act of kindness. Text a friend and tell them you’re thinking of them. Give someone a sincere, unexpected compliment. Tell a stranger you like their hair.

And, if you’re really brave, kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. Tell them just how wonderful you think they are. And make sure they feel it. Tomorrow isn’t certain. Today isn’t either. What would you do, if you knew today was your last breath? Go be brave, darlings.

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A Messy Love Letter to FLEABAG

May 30, 2019 1 comment

YO. SPOILERS. Don’t read if you haven’t seen Season Two. And if you HAVEN’T, GO DO THAT NOW.

 

At the beginning of season two, Fleabag turns to the camera and quips, “This is a love story.” And, as she usually is during those furtive asides, she’s right. It is a love story, but it’s not just about one kind of love. It’s about love in the wake of grief (the loss of their mum). It’s about the love between sisters (Claire and Fleabag always show up for each other, despite their clashes). It’s about loving yourself, even when you make a mistake (too many examples to list, but Claire’s awful haircut comes to mind). It’s about loving yourself enough to walk away from things that don’t make you happy, not really (Martin, because good god, he’s a proper shit, isn’t he?).

And along with all that, it’s about unexpected, unlooked for, tricky love. Love that makes you question things, upends your whole world. Because it’s not a shallow connection. No, it’s a real and deep one, and holy hell, that is scary. Obviously, I’m talking about the relationship that develops between Fleabag and Hot Priest (Andrew Scott can kiss, because I nearly swallowed my own tongue just sitting there).

As the season progresses, the relationship between them deepens and grows. It starts as an attraction, but then careens off a cliff into something more. Why? There are a few reasons. The character of the Priest is so perfectly flawed. He’s awkward (the bit about not knowing how to talk to babies), sweary as hell (fuuuuck), and purposefully open, even when he’s unnerved by it. And that is quite interesting. Scott portrays him as playful, messy, and deeply aware. I mean, on one hand, he’s a dork who reads, likes extravagant robes, and drinks G&T out of a can. On the other hand, he really sees people. Specifically, Fleabag, who people constantly misinterpret, chastise for being herself, or outride deride (again, Martin).

The awareness of the character is incredibly alluring. It’s that recognition that tips the pulse—Fleabag’s and the audience’s—to race. The Priest isn’t simply hot because he’s forbidden. No, his hotness increases exponentially because he sees Fleabag—and tells her when he does. In a way, he intrudes on her peace just as she intrudes on his. As the show progresses, her deadpans to the camera become less and less, because she no longer needs to disassociate. She doesn’t need to escape or collect herself. Because she’s incredibly, painstakingly present.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge taps into something very real: our desire to be seen and understood as we are, hot mess and all. Not the polished version we present to the world. The Priest disrupts Fleabag’s coping mechanism (retreating), which opens the door for her healing (the grief of her mom, her best friend Boo–up until the Priest, she’s been chased around by her pain and guilt). These two characters challenge each other, meeting in a clash of ideological separateness. He calls her out from her hiding place and on her own actions: “Fuck you, calling me ‘father,’ like it doesn’t turn you on just to say it.” I’ll admit, I had to pause the show for a moment, because, like Fleabag, I was also stunned. The almost casual audacity of his honesty was alarmingly attractive, even when he was struggling with it. There’s an electric rawness to their interactions—something that can’t be articulated, but you know it when you see it.

There’s also an element of inevitability to the relationship. It’s clear that the attraction is there, but the question is: give in or not? Do they, as it were, kneel to it? Eventually, we all do. And even though, superficially, the Priest goes to Fleabag’s to assure her they won’t be physical, you have to wonder who he’s really saying that to—her or himself? And it’s truly the latter. It’s a very real moment of someone trying to convince themselves that what they want won’t happen, right up until the moment where it does.

I found it fascinating that he stops by wearing his priest outfit, as if it’s armor. A way to cause a separation between them, perhaps a way to remind himself of his commitment to God. But he was wearing it in the previous confessional scene, so the choice is fascinating. We’ve seen him out in the world wearing regular clothing—in those moments with Fleabag, when he’s simply not a man of God. But again, he puts himself in the exact situation he wanted to avoid, knowing the upheaval it meant. And that is a brilliant kind of bravery. He could’ve run away. He could’ve spoken to her in full daylight, out somewhere that didn’t have perpetual sex lighting and a bed. But he didn’t, which is a reminder that we often know exactly what we’re doing and why, even when we say we don’t (the therapist said as much).

In the end, Fleabag and the Priest walk, literally, in opposite directions. He’s trailed by a fox, which is arguably a manifestation of his faith. They love each other, and that ached in such a beautiful way. The writing is brilliant, but I have to wonder, when he told her “it’ll pass,” was he speaking to her or himself? And did he truly mean it? Because love isn’t a kidney stone, even if it sometimes hurts like one.

In the closing moments, despite the heartbreak dampening the air like the rain, the audience knows that Fleabag will be okay. She gives us a last look, before turning her back. In that, she’s walking away not only from the Priest, but of the old habits she used to lean on as a crutch before the Priest. She’s changed; their relationship changed her, quite obviously for the better. And that’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? Love that leaves us better than we were before. That’s what unselfish love does. It sees and restores.

The hopeless romantic in me realizes that the Priest is right when he talks about how difficult love is, how much it sometimes hurts, and how much it feels like hope. Love is absolutely, maddeningly terrifying. But it’s also life-changing and healing, often in hideously unexpected ways.

In the first episode of the season, Fleabag walks into a family dinner and meets a man who sees her—in a room full of people who don’t. When she’s at her worst, he doesn’t run. He pries her open and holds up a mirror. It’s a mess, but it’s real. And in the end, it’s a multilayered love story. Sex features in it, but it’s not the focus—although, it’s the culmination of things we already know to be true. In fact, consider that Fleabag outright sent the Lawyer away—the best sex of her life—in favor of real connection with the Priest. In that scene, it’s real intimacy that she’s after. There’s a hunger, too, when she and the Priest kiss; it somehow manages to illustrate that soul-deep intimacy that’s so rare. (And god, when you find it. Whew.)

Yes, the season was a love story. It was Fleabag learning to love herself, through the love of someone else. The Priest held up a mirror that allowed her to transform her own understanding of who she was. Sometimes, we all need reminding that we are worth loving, even when we are difficult. In fact, I’d argue that’s when we most need love.

And yes, the show made me fall in love with a Hot Priest. As someone who was raised Catholic, that made me quite uncomfortable—but it also resonated wonderfully. No one controls who they love, what their heart wants. And often, the only way to honor that is to surrender to the whole mess. Plus, anyone who bonds over Piglet has a place in my heart.

fear is a fork in the road

April 29, 2019 1 comment

What do you do when you’re scared? When adrenaline and worry flood your body, like a river breaking free from its own boundaries? When you’re all instinct, fight or flight? In those moments, you can’t talk your way out of fear. You can’t bargain with it. You can’t reason with it. You may not even be able to quantify it.

 

Sometimes, fear is good, healthy. A warning system, the reason most sane people don’t try to hug snakes. Fear reminds us that heights can be deadly and maybe don’t dangle quite so far over impending doom. Fear is, for all intents and purposes, your inner Hall Monitor. Behave, or else.

 

But being scared, just like being brave, has its dangers. If you always bow your head to fear, then you don’t take any risks. And if you don’t take any risks, you’re closing a lot of doors, each one with a Maybe behind it. And that’s the temptation, isn’t it? The hypnotic draw of an adventure or opportunity.

 

It’s okay to be scared. I was reminded of this last week, when I found myself smack in the middle of something that made my pulse freak out. It made me palms sweat. It made me very careful in that moment. When confronted by fear, it’s not always easy to examine it. The why behind it can come with a lot of baggage, some of it may not even be truly yours.

 

But what if we looked at fear as a choice? What if fear is a fork in the road? The choices aren’t just left or right. It’s stay right there or go either way. Fear means you’re stuck. Fear means not choosing is choosing. And to overcome that fear, maybe you decide to take a step, a single step, nothing more.

 

Sometimes, that single step is enough to shake the panic out of your limbs. If you’re faced with a choice, you get to decide if what you want is greater than what you’re afraid of. The possibility of your dream is right there—do you reach for it, or do you hold yourself back?

 

It’s an oversimplification, perhaps. But when we’re making big choices, when we’re faced with our own insecurities, sometimes boiling it down to the barest components makes it more manageable. It’s easy to take one step, rather than walk a whole road at once. One step is how change happens, how good things manifest.

 

Consider this your reminder that you don’t have to be the bravest person ever. You don’t have to be Ayra Stark. First, you have to learn footwork. Sometimes, the trick is to take a deep breath and begin, not hurl yourself completely into the mess. But take a step. Feel the fear, notice the way your hands shake, but move. You might end up somewhere you don’t expect, but sometimes that’s the best part.

 

I promise, kittens, you’re stronger than you know.

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Unsaid

April 5, 2019 4 comments

Love, but I don’t say it.
There’s too much ache
in the word, too much consequence,
too much, and yet—
it’s still the truest thing,
a weightless thing,
a feeling without strings,
a kiss made of sky,
the whole thing
illuminated by stars.

Come here
with all your troubles,
each imperfect sway,
the swing of worry
in your footsteps,
the grief ripe
in your bones—
pull out all the mess
and need, lay it at my feet,
let me untie your body
from it, gently,
in a riot of salt
and skin.

Sometimes, words are wind-born,
watercolors in the rain,
an echo
of the inexplicable, heartbreak
lost in translation—
give me that, too,
all the sharp things,
unpretty, each heavy heartbeat,
let me hear it—
because love is a touch
that never tarnishes,
a fire that forgives itself
for the way it wants the air—
and here, this is a safe place
for all the things left unsaid.

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Luke Perry: A Relentless Kind of Cool

March 5, 2019 2 comments

I spent all day yesterday trying to figure out how to talk about Luke Perry. Not because I knew him, not because I felt like I did – but because loss sometimes hits you sideways. Unlike most people, the first thing I ever saw him in wasn’t 90210 or Dylan McKay; I came late to that party. No, it was Buffy—it was Pike. And he was, for all intents and purposes, my first serious crush. The character of Pike is probably intermingled in my head with my perception of Luke Perry: easygoing, funny, supportive, and ready to throw down when it counted. (Did you hear the story from the 2008 writer strike? Yup, definitely a standup guy.)

Later, when I watched Perry as McKay, I got it anew—the ineffable quality he brought to every role, a roughness that was edged with softness, a leather jacket and a certain look that simply cut right to your soul. He was incredibly cool, without trying to be. There was, no matter what, a great kindness to Perry—and on that, I’m not simply talking about his acting. From the last friendships he made wherever he went to the extra mile he always seemed to travel without even the slightest push, what I will remember most about Luke Perry is his unshakeable, genuine warmth.

People often referred to him as my generation’s James Dean. And to an extent, that’s spot on. They both shared that soulfulness, a gravity of spirit that went well beyond years. But Luke Perry had an accessibility, an approachable demeanor. He didn’t try to distance himself from his teen heartthrob role as McKay. He seemed to carry that admiration straight to his heart, knowing how much that bad boy with depth meant to hordes of people. Brenda and Dylan, the original ship of so many.

Yesterday, I spent time reading all the loving tributes that people wrote about Luke. Each one seemed more heartfelt than the one that preceded it. Sometimes, when someone dies, the sweet words ring less true. This was the opposite. Every sweet sentiment had a weight to it, a love with an undercurrent of grief, as those who loved him began to mourn his absence. Grief, I’ve learned from my own life, is never predictable. It’s never manageable. You can’t know how you’ll get through it, until you start muddling through.

As a fan, I’m sad. But my heart goes out to every life he’s now absent from, every loved one who has to figure out what to do with the empty space. That sudden, devastating hole. Life isn’t fair. It’s incredibly short. And it’s horribly unpredictable. Even when you see a death coming, you can’t brace for it. But when it’s a blindside, a sucker punch? It’s a different kind of hard.

Luke Perry made his mark on this world, through his talent and his innate, radiating kindness. May we all find ways to be more like him. May his memory be a comfort to those he loved.

Rest easy, sir.

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If you show up with coffee, I’ll probably kiss you.

February 28, 2019 2 comments

The other week, I was having a conversation with a friend about wanting people to give back. This wasn’t about a particular malice. It wasn’t about expecting someone to read our mind. (Look, no one would want to read my mind. It’s a big old bag of weird up there. There’s already too much crazy with an onlooker.) No, it’s about actions over words, substance over show, the little (or big) gestures that carry a meaning that can’t always be put into words. Unquantifiable grace.

One of my biggest flaws is my remarkably relentless ability to get stuck in my own head. I tend to think too much, then then think more about then, and get all stuck in the whirlwind that is my ridiculous brain. Despite appearances, I can be wildly insecure. There’s a small part of me that is convinced that I’m annoying or weird or too much. Probably because through all of middle school, I felt weird, annoying, and too much. Don’t get me started on high school. That was basically the sunken place.

I try not to let the insecurity get louder than a nagging voice. But there are days when it does. There are days where a small slight can turn into proof that I’m clearly the biggest pain in the ass in the WORLD. And the truth is, 99% of the time, whatever that perceived slight is about — it’s not really about me. But, you know, asshole brain.

Anyone who has known me for a length of time probably knows that I’m giving. I give without being asked. I offer without hesitation. And I will, forever and always, fight your enemies — even if they’re nothing more than your demons. Not literal demons, because this isn’t Buffy and no one in their right mind would let me near holy water.

Back to that conversation with my friend: we both came to the same conclusion that someone showing that they care, without having to be asked, matters a lot. That the unasked for gestures tend to makes a person feel important and seen. Being seen by someone, for all our flaws and quibbles, is a hell of thing. It’s a kind of magic, like sunshine and a clear night sky full of bright stars — meaning, beautiful, all of its own. Something remarkable and honest to witness.

I’m often bad about asking for things. I mean, not like, “Pass the pepper” or whatever. But if I ask someone for something that involves their time, it feels like a big ask. Even if it’s really not. But if it is, whew, rest assured I probably sweat that out 30 times before breakfast.

Because I’ve asked for things and been hurt by the aftermath. Or people have offered things but repeatedly just…never followed through. This is not a Poor Me moment. It’s a art of life, that disappointment. It’s part of the humanity of our flaws. None of us are perfect, least of all me.

This life needs more unexpected kindness, unasked for kindness, gestures of love or affection that appear without fanfare. I often remind myself that life does not arrange itself like a grand, bewildering movie. But what if it did? Sometimes, not always. What if we did more surprise gestures and fierce acts of kindness? What if we just showed up with coffee, sent a silly selfie, or cooked a favorite meal? (Look, if you show up with coffee, I’ll probably kiss you. Definitely, I’ll definitely kiss you. Just sayin’.) What if we move the mountains we can move, just to show people we care?

I try to live my life like that, not that I’m always perfect at it. I have my moments and my moods. I occasionally will even hold a grudge. And I’ll never specifically ask anyone to do the same, to take words beyond what’s spoken and delve into action. But it’s always wonderful when someone does, steps up and shows up. It’s made a difference in my life, for sure.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new month. Lets stuff it full of kindness, sincerity, vulnerable grace, unguarded laughter, full-crinkle smiles, and unhindered love. Let’s put some magic back into this world, each day–just because we can. That’s my challenge to you: if you want to, be brave in your affections and attentions. I promise you, I will do the same.

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