The words sit in my stomach like stones, slick and without edges. Because of this, all my notebooks are filled with silences. They are blank with emotion. The pen – my favorite one – has gone dry. I try not think about, or overthink, its significance.
My patience is a shadow that dances, Pan’s fierce counterpart. It is the promise of trouble, ignored. A lie I tell myself in order to forget what I want. This is me, trying to give you what you need. I have swallowed everything, and it was not by accident. Nothing is without purpose, even though these careful transitions ache.
I smile so that no one notices.
It is my best trick. It is my last defense. I wait.
*shamelessly pilfered from Neruda
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
Things are hard.
There. I said it. So, why does it feel like I’m admitting something I shouldn’t? I don’t know. I think I’ve always had trouble acknowledging a weakness, no matter how valid it may be. Yes, admitting things are hard feels like weakness to me. Because I cry at animal movies (Old Yeller), but in everyday life, I try to avoid such things like the plague. See minute six in Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
But ignoring something doesn’t make it less true. Sweeping it under the rug doesn’t make it go away, either. So, yes: things are hard. There’s no point is dressing that up in flowers and lipstick. It’s a fact, and it should be written down. The things we write down are the things that we face. Like Poe, who wrote about his fear of being buried alive (thus, the Cask of Amontillado was born).
I need more patience, more clarity, more understanding. I need a minute to breathe (shout-out to the fictional Olivia Pope, for the symbolism and importance of one minute). A part of me wants to avoid things, a part of me wants to say, can’t someone else step in? That part of me is a effin’ coward, which I am not. That part of me is a shadow, a nagging voice, a hushed whisper of temptation. Yes, things are hard. My mom needs more help than she did a month ago. I have forgotten what it’s like to sleep through the night. I am beginning to suspect that my cats are minions of the devil, sent to disrupt my life whenever it stops spinning. But they are cute, so it’s forgivable.
Things are hard. I know that I am not alone, but I am responsible. That is part of life. That is part of this. Sometimes, the kind of comfort we most crave is the one kept at a distance. Sometimes, for a multitude of reasons, this must be accepted. Occasionally, I rail at that thought, but I always come back to ground. I always come back to center. The instinct to want what we want NOW is that of an impatient, unruly child. Sometimes, the heart is Veruca Salt on steroids and caffeine. Sometimes, the heart rages, wanting to be soothed. That is okay, as long as that want doesn’t steer your life. Or mine.
But that is a digression. The truth is this: I am kind. I am doing everything I can. I worry that it’s not enough. I worry that I should be doing it better. That is really rather stupid. Intellectually, I know that. Intellectually, I understand that we’re all just muddling through, doing the best we can. But having an ill parent is a strange thing. Not only for the grief that goes with it (there is that), but also the revelations it offers.
I learned a lesson, which is one we see on Hallmark cards. It’s one that frequents internet memes. It is a constant, and I think we hear it so often that we do not actually hear it. It’s carpe diem. It’s the importance of telling people exactly how you feel. It’s telling someone you love them or miss them, without reservation or hesitation. It doesn’t matter if that person says it back, because things like that? They should be said when they are felt. Because otherwise, what’s the point? What’s the point in feeling something, but holding it in? I think that’s just another form of insanity. Or it will lead to insanity, if left to stifle and fester inside your skin.
What is it that YOU want? What do you need, desire, and dream of? Stop putting it off. Stop shoving it to the side. It doesn’t matter if it’s scary. All the important things are. Love, art, risks, promises, hope — these are the things you should cling to. Spend more time laughing and loving, and less time worrying about vacuuming or who ran into whom at the grocery store.
Get it done, whatever it is for you. Because tomorrow’s going to be here before you can draw a breath. Do not wait for the right moment. There really isn’t one. You have to make it the right moment, by seizing it.
Yes, things are hard. But they are not without lessons or merit. All things, after all, are copy. (Thank you, Nora Ephron.)
So, I recorded an audio for this, cringing every time I came across the word asked. Because I pronounce it strangely. My parents are from NY. I blame them. At least I don’t say idears, instead of ideas. Or yous guys. Trust me, it could be MUCH worse.
Anyway, the audio is here: together. And the text is below.
This silence belongs to us, hanging
in between our bodies, convenient
if only for the sake of purpose –
I wait without prompting
or precedence; I wait
without having to be asked,
because you were trying
to spare me, not understanding
that I am like a crow
in the morning, that I am a song
that never gets old, that I am a poet
and you are the poem. Sometimes,
we switch roles. Sometimes,
I want you to write my rhymes,
draw your dreams across my body,
kiss me until all my consonants
are laid bare, enjambed
over and over again
until we are one long run-on sentence,
grammar (and consequences) be damned.
That is how I feel:
a pause before a promise,
a hesitation before recklessness,
a love note written on a post-it square:
I miss you,
which really means
I love you
(I am sorry that I didn’t say it out loud.)
So, this silence
is something we own, something we made,
something we are offering each other
out of necessity, out of desire,
out of love. I asked you
what do you need
and this is it: patience.
And this is it: silence.
And this is it: time.
And I said okay,
when what I really meant was
you can have everything,
when what I meant was
I will wait for you,
when what I meant was
we’ll figure this out
Sometimes, knowing the answer to a question is a kind of magic. There’s a tremendous power in understanding, even if what we are told isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes, knowing makes it easier to be patient. For me, that’s usually the case. If I understand a situation, I can make peace with it. If there’s too much doubt, I turned into a spastic, frenetic bull in a china shop. In short, I panic. I don’t think I quite realized that until recently. When I cannot grasp what’s going on, it affects me like an electric shock, one that curls up on the inside of my skin with nowhere to go and nothing to ground it. Emotional lightning, if you will.
Lately, I’ve been trying to ask questions, even if they are difficult. Perhaps especially then. I am, honestly, not a natural at that kind of thing. Sometimes, I’d much rather shove my head in the dirt and ignore the world. But I am not an ostrich, and that just won’t do.
This morning, though, I’ve been thinking about the questions we don’t ask. The ones that we think we don’t have the right to say aloud, or the ones we are afraid of because we either know the answer (and do not like it) or we have no idea what the answer will be (and thus, are terrified of the unknown).
The other day, I made a promise. I made it without hesitation and without having to be asked. To me, it wasn’t even a question that was up for grabs. It wasn’t a thing that needed considering. That, in itself, is a kind of declaration. Because I don’t make promises lightly. I don’t venture into the fray blindly and without reason. As to the specific reason itself, well…that is a thing that reveals itself with time.
Even though I am not a patient person, I will wait for something worth waiting for. All things are possible. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice the immediate for the sake of the future. That’s not always easy, but by my experience, it’s always worth it. Particularly in today’s society of microwaveable EVERYTHING, text messages, and instant video rentals. We are being reconditioned, it seems, to think that all things should be instantaneously and immediate. But there’s something to be said for delaying that gratification, for building up that anticipation, and for taking your time. Hell, every time my phone bings, I react like Pavolv’s dog and paw at it. Instant interaction. Instant connection. But there’s much more to be said for a phone call or a conversation over coffee. (Don’t get me wrong, I will NOT stop emailing, texting, or tweeting. I value all forms of communication.)
So (*raises coffee mug*), here’s to waiting — words, I assure you, I never thought I’d say.
The other week, I smashed my phone on a tile floor. The screen cracked but didn’t shatter. It still works, so I’m dealing with it. But the strange thing is this: after that happened, communication with a handful of people started to take a nosedive. It was as if we were speaking two completely different languages, underwater, with our eyes closed. For a while, I ignored it, tried to work around it, and then it hit me: the cracked cell phone felt like a symbol for all silent, misconstrued, or misplaced words. It wasn’t a comforting fact, because I am a talker. I ask questions. I want honesty. Sometimes, conversations are hard, but I’d rather have them than not.
But you can imagine my displeasure, last night, when I finally admitted that I’d developed an eye infection. This has happened before. I know the signs. It’s been bothering me for a week, but it was nothing more than slightly pink. I blamed allergies. I blamed the heat. I blamed the fact that my animals shed more than should be possible — and fur ALWAYS ends up in my eye. I wanted it to be something else, so I refused to believe that I’d gotten an eye infection. The joke, of course, is on me — since I’m now wearing my glasses and waiting (not-so-patiently) to make an appointment.
If you’re keeping up, first I couldn’t speak well or hear others — and now I’m blind. Well, blindish. I’m 2/3 of the see, speak, and hear no evil monkeys. I don’t think this is a good thing, but this morning, I’m thinking about what these things mean. Let’s pretend that it’s not just a cracked phone or an irritating red splotch in my eye. Let’s say that it’s representative of two major problems: clarity in communication and seeing things as they are.
Lately, it seems like life is full of difficult moments and conversations. Things that I wish were one way, but they are not. Don’t get me wrong — I love the truth. Even if it’s not pleasant, I need it. I can’t stand lies or not knowing. But at the end of the day, what I want and need is sometimes at odds with what is. All efforts to reconcile that fall short of my own two hands. Situations, lately, have forced me to be patient and mindful, to ask the tough questions, and to listen to what’s being said.
The truth is that I’m not as brave as people think. There are days where I just want to curl up and be hugged, forget everything and escape for a little while. Right now, I am wanting six impossible things before breakfast. I want things that either I can’t ask for or I have no right to expect. But I want them anyway.
I’m not sure where that leaves me. I’m not sure what happens next. But I know that I’m stronger than I look, and stronger than I feel on days like this. I’m looking for a spark, a sign, a promise. Something beyond a cracked phone and blurry eye.
Sometimes, I know exactly what I want. Without a doubt. Without a hint of are you sure? This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the feeling doesn’t waver or dissipate.
There are some people who don’t know how to handle that. Or, honestly, me. I’m not a game-player. I’m nothing if not entirely sincere. I am a unicorn in a world of horses. That’s not me touting myself as Made of Awesome. It’s me, explaining why I can be confusing. I’m just me, no frills. No fuss, no muss. I say what I mean, what I want, and when I care – that’s it. I care.
I am not a naturally brave person. I don’t know that anyone truly is. However, it is my feelings that make me brave. I think that most people are like that, where the heart is concerned. Someone who is a complete coward falls in love – and suddenly, he/she walks through fire without blinking. Our hearts make us who we are. It is not our pasts or our frailties. It’s not our doubts or our despairs. It is our hearts. That is the most reliable measure of a person, the most precise calibration.
I am not a perfect person. I believe that perfection is a myth. We’re flawed, afraid, and forgetful creatures. But I think that we often do a disservice to ourselves and our lives when we don’t jump in with both feet, when we don’t pursue something or someone because of complications or doubts. Granted, jumping in like that? It’s scary as hell. It’s looking down at a hungry lion in a pit and saying, “Well, I *think* I can outrun it. Maybe.” Deep breath, dive in.
Sometimes, that lion is just a figment of our imaginations. Other times, the lion is real. It is representative of problems, difficulties, change, and a thousand different things that often hold us back. Because yes, change is scary. Change can hurt. But you know what hurts more? Staying still. Staying in a place and a situation that is slowly killing you. Not doing anything to better yourself. Not following your heart. Staying put, running in circles, getting nowhere.
I’ve seen people stagnant in their lives, stewing in fake smiles and rationalizations. Look closely enough at a person, and it’s right there in their eyes. The slope of their shoulders. It’s in the shadow of that false smile. It breaks my heart every single time. That is no way to live. It is, to quote Thoreau, a life of quiet desperation. You and I? We deserve more than that.
Here’s the thing about me: I don’t give up. I don’t give in. And I’m the person who believes (with all the tenacity of an unflappable child) that she can do anything. By extension, I also believe that you can do anything. I believe in you. If that sounds cheesy, so be it. It’s the truth.
If you tell me I can’t do something, that it’s impossible, my response is always: watch me. To me, that’s a dare. It’s a challenge. It’s a limit I’m going to smash. I don’t believe in them. So, when someone says no, or it’s too hard, or it can’t happen, or I can’t – prove he/she wrong. Because to do anything less is to live in the shadows, to hide in the dark, to settle for the bleak satisfaction of a routine life. Life should never be routine. It should never be rote. The best things in life are the ones not easily obtained. Anyone who’s ever been in love can tell you that. And I’m telling you right now: stop stagnating.
Sometimes, I am completely frustrating by waiting. Sometimes, I am half-crazy with desire. Sometimes, I know exactly what I want – and I forget that not everyone does. I forget that not everyone knows how to handle that kind of decisive confidence. I forget to be patient, because I am already so sure.
If I were to advise you, here is what I’d say.
Think about what you want. Not what’s easy. Not what’s expected. Think about what you want. Think about happiness. Think about smiling. Think about where you want to go and be. Think about who is on your side. Think about what you need. Consider who might help you get what you’re going after. Do not let yourself settle. Do not give in to fears. Fall. Run. Jump. Do something. It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to worry. It is okay to admit these things. Everyone is scared, sometimes. Everyone has doubts. They don’t make you less. Whatever your passion is, go after it. Whatever will make you happy, seize it. Live and love to the fullest, because this is the only life you get.
In case you need to hear it again: I believe in you.
“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” —Ted Hughes, in a letter to his son, Nicholas
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination.” ~John Keats