I don’t believe in coincidences. There’s too much that goes into a moment—too many factors—to pretend that something means nothing. It’s not random. It’s not happenstance. There are a handful of things, at the very least, that aligned, which results in a Thing Happening.
Yesterday, on my way home from work, I drove past—literally—someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, someone I have been thinking about. Someone who I miss, for a million reasons. The person was in the lane next to me, and there was this shock of recognition, as I leaned forward, “Is that…? It is.” But then, I drove through the intersection, and that was that.
This person isn’t someone I ordinarily run across. But things like this have happened in the past, in instances where it should’ve been impossible. Or, at the very least, highly unlikely. And yet. And still.
That happened. This small moment, literally at a crossroads. And it really got me thinking, more so than usual. Because so much has happened lately, and some of it isn’t mine to tell, but they’re the blindsiding moments that take your breath away. Sucker punches to the soul, the kind of things that make you stop, force you to stop and think about your life.
Are you doing what you want? Are you doing what you love? Are you with the person you love? Are you allowing yourself to be loved? Are you open to it? Are you open, period? (If the answer to any of these is “no,” then that’s something to think about.)
There are no guarantees. There is right now. And right now, whether or not we know or acknowledge it, we’re all at a crossroads. Every moment is a choice point. Every second is an opportunity. Seize it.
Because everyone has that person, right? That person you can’t stop thinking about. Maybe your reminders are less literal, less in-your-face than mine. But when it’s quiet, when the world stops demanding things of you, when it’s just you and your thoughts: what’s occupying them? Who’s occupying them? That thing your heart and your head on settle on?
Make the choice to bring it into your life. Because there’s just this moment, there’s only right now.
There are times where we unable to recognize something for what it is. Not what it was or what it could be, but it’s current state. For whatever reason (and there are plenty of possible reasons), our vision is obscured just enough to make that impossible. It’s not good or bad. It just is what it is. (For the record, I dislike that phrase. It is whatever you make it, damn it. Don’t like something? Change it. Period. But that’s another rant for another day.)
Have you ever seen the movie We Bought a Zoo? I did. And I took it to heart. At the time, my mother was dying of cancer. And she loved the movie, because something about it gave her faith and hope. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a family who buys a zoo shortly after the wife/mother passed away. It sounds ridiculous, I suppose – except it’s based on a true story. Truth is always stranger than fiction, no?
There’s a scene where Matt Damon’s character tells his son the importance of having “twenty seconds of insane courage.” It’s a beautiful moment. For me, that solidified the idea that it’s always better to try, reach out, do, speak, love, dance, ask, tell, and a thousand other action words. To exist may be safer and easier, but to live is the marrow of life.
Two years ago this December, I did a crazy thing. I quoted from that movie and said a truth out loud. It was my truth. It was the right thing. Not the easy thing, but the insane, honest thing. I’m not sorry about it in the least, although it led to a serious of difficult moments and a few instances of disappointment. That’s life.
You have to say things out loud. Don’t assume people automatically know how you feel, what you want, or what you’re hoping. Take a deep breath, and leap. Use those twenty seconds to be brave with every ounce of your being.
Since that December day, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole in a lot of ways. Things have happened, some amazing and some utterly heartbreaking. Maybe they all, in a way, sprang out of that one moment. It’s resulted in some of the best moments in my life and some of the most painful.
Do I regret it? No. Not even for a half an instant. Let me repeat this: I do not regret it. In fact, even knowing everything I know now, I’d do it again. I’d do the same exact thing if given the choice right now. No questions, not hesitations. This may, in some people’s eyes, make me certifiable. Fuck ’em. My life, my rules.
But here’s another thing I realized: it takes a lot of courage to really change your life. It’s easy to sit back, detached from a situation, and judge it. To label it stupid or easy to solve. Or something we can slide quietly into a box. Reality reveals how untrue that really is – and how it’s never easy to be brave.
There are also times where we make something more complicated than it is – maybe because we’re scared. And, guys, it’s okay to be scared. If you’re never scared, you’re probably not venturing outside of your comfort zone. But you know what’s outside your comfort zone? Possibilities. All of them. I learned a long time ago not to be the reason something didn’t happen or work out. What I mean isn’t that I’m flawless and some kind of shining paragon of awesome. I’m not. But what I am is a person who does and says things.
Even when my hands shake, and I feel like I might die. Even when I can’t get out the words in something more eloquent than a rapid-fire breathy mess. Even when I have to take a deep breath and hit send before I lose whatever nerved I’ve cobbled up. Even when the thing I’m trying to do seems ten kinds of crazy.
Thinking about that December day, it doesn’t wreck me like it used to. Because I was my best self, even if that self is a little sideways. There are no regrets for all the times I’ve leapt into something or all the times I’ve spoken up.
Right now, darlings, this is your moment. Do the thing you’re dreaming about, and reach for the thing that excites and terrifies you. It might be a long December in a lot of ways (Counting Crows, ftw), but this new year – hell, this next moment – is an opportunity.
You’ve got twenty seconds of insane courage in you. Use it. Day ain’t over yet, darlings – let’s see what you do with it.
The morning was wrapped in fog. There was something beautiful about it, perhaps because the air was so warm. Perhaps it was the mystery that comes without being able to see very far ahead. Anything could be around the corner. And, if you look it just right, the possibilities aren’t finite – they’re endless.
That’s what I loved about the weather this morning. Sometimes, when we don’t know exactly what’s going on, we panic. We worry. We start to dredge up every boogeyman possible. Because if you don’t know, and you can’t see, there’s something almost inherently unsettling about that limitation. We’re often terrified by what we don’t know, or (more accurately) what we have no control over.
A thick fog, obscuring the world after ten yards, might unnerving. But for me, I remembered that there are infinite things possible. Just because I can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. You can call that faith or even hope. In either case, it’s not a blindness. It’s optimism.
For me, I’ve often failed spectacularly at being comfortable with stretches of silence. I am a worrier, so when things are uncertain, my fears start tap-dancing on my more rational self. Yesterday, I found myself reflecting on the idea of empty space – of sitting still and not doing, if only to see what happens. What fills the empty space? In relationships, what happens when you stop doing, stop being the active person? I’m a doer. I am an active participant in all relationships. But recently, I’ve dialed back my efforts in certain instances. It’s a lot like being surrounded by fog. I don’t know what will come out of it. I can’t see a damn thing. But I’m willing to find out what’s on the other side, once the sun comes out and the chaos is lifted. It requires, like most good things, a measure of patience.
But darlings, remember that it’s not always monsters lurking in the fog. Sometimes, there’s magic. Sometimes, there’s everything you ever dared to dream of. You’ve got to let the fog obscure the world for a while – to appreciate the sun.
Sometimes, something happens that makes you question everything. This is not inherently good or bad. It’s like turning on a light. Maybe you accidentally get a little shock or maybe you don’t. But the light’s on, and you see what’s in the room in front of you. It could be filled with things you never wanted to confront, see, or acknowledge. Or maybe it’s everything you ever wanted – everything you ever dared to hope for.
But you don’t know until you reach up to flip that switch. You don’t know until you risk the possibility of shock/pain. You don’t know – until you do. (Literally and figuratively.) The choice is either you stay in the dark (where you convince yourself you’re safe – because, hey, what you can’t see can’t hurt you, right? …Sure. If you’re five, and you still believe your blanket will protect you from monsters.) or you turn on the light. The light means your reality will change, no matter what you find. The light means being brave. Looking at what’s around you and ahead of you is always scary, even if the outcome is pleasant.
There’s something, though, in that moment of illumination. A kind of courageous trust – trust in yourself, that you’re strong enough for whatever you happen to find. That kind of self-confidence can be hard to come by, depending on how badly your past has scarred you, how badly you maybe are mistreated (in myriad ways), and how badly you undervalue yourself.
Somehow, there are times in which we convince ourselves that our own happiness is unworthy of attention and pursuit. We stay in the dark for reasons that are really just excuses, masquerading as noble sacrifices. This displaces blame and responsibility, leaving us almost content to stay stuck right where we find our feet. Never mind that in the dark things are crawling across your feet. Never mind that those things may be snakes or spiders. Could be kittens. You don’t know. Because facing the truth is terrifying. But if we don’t face it in service of some pretty ideal, then it’s okay, right? HAHAHA – NO!
Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves a life that helps them flourish, that doesn’t feel like a constant battleground. When a person stops striving to be happy, it sends out the wrong message and the wrong lesson to those around them. It prizes settling above actual joy. And that’s all kinds of wrong.
But back to what started this: questioning everything. With a shift in perspective, that’s bound to happen. Lately, for weeks now, I’ve found myself reexamining things from every angle, interrogating every sentence, and every possible action. It’s all too easy to be oneself over the head with hindsight – except, that’s not really kind or constructive. So, what do you do when you find yourself at sea with questions, looking at a situation with the lights on? You allow yourself to really see it, to see what it means. And here is what I know, after I’ve turned the lights on.
- You fight for what and who you love. If you don’t, you send the message that it’s not worth it – and perhaps that you don’t see yourself as worth it. You also run the risk, if it’s about a person, of making a person feel unloved.
- Only you can change your life. You flip the switch, or you stay in the dark. Oh, it might hurt to actually see what the hell is going on, but running away from it (even by staying still and sightless) will hurt you far more in the long run.
- Turning on the light can mean speaking your truth. Words are illuminating. You love someone? Tell them. Tell them now, before you don’t have the change. And don’t just tell them that you do – tell them exactly why. Do you miss someone? Does that person know you do? Tell them. Small truths change the world.
- Do not run away. Never do this. Not even when things are difficult, especially then. I have been in situations where the other person just…vanishes. It is, among other things, horribly gutting and confusing. For me, that’s the absolute WORST thing you can do to me. Tell me you hate me. Tell me you don’t love me. Tell me you don’t want to be my friend anymore. But don’t leave me in the dark. That’s really the quickest way to make another person feel unimportant, worthless, and all-around awful. What you do, and do not do, matters. So, don’t run. Don’t vanish.
- Actions matter. Words are wonderful creatures, but what you do shows someone who you are, what you value, and how much you value something/someone. Do your feelings match up with what you do? Are you brave enough for that?
- You cannot live your life for other people. It doesn’t matter if the reason look pretty on paper. If you sacrifice YOU for someone/something else, you are killing yourself slowly. Do not do that.
- Responsibilities are a necessary part of life, but every now and then, play hooky from everything. Even if it’s just for a day. Give yourself a break from the world and just breathe. You won’t regret it. The dishes will still be in the sink. The emails will still be waiting to be answered. But if you don’t actually live, what’s the point? Merely existing is a disservice. Rocks exist. Are you a rock? NO. Stop sitting there as if you are.
- Going after what you want will always be difficult. If it wasn’t, would you want it? If everyone just miraculously got what they wanted and gained their ideal thing, would it still matter just the same as if it had to be fought for? No. Because the low-hanging fruit is still fruit, but there’s something delightfully satisfying about having to make that climb.
- Give for what and who you love. If you don’t, if you don’t show something or someone that it/they are worth it, how will it ever be known?
- Forget your parents. Forget your family. Forget your responsibilities for a moment. Where does your heart go? Where do you want to be? GO THERE. DO THAT.
- You are not the mistakes you made in the past. You are not the mistakes your parents made in the past. You are not the sum total of the bad things you may have done. You choose what you do next.
- Fighting sucks. Fighting is hard. And sometimes, you have to go to war. There’s no single battle and it’s done. Sometimes, it’s your own WWIII. But no one can fight your fights but you. And goddamn it, it’s a battle worth winning. Always.
- Unconditional, honest, real, and true love is rare. If you find someone who makes you laugh, even when you feel like dying, do not let them go. That’s the brass ring, darlings. Grab that fucker.
- Surround yourself with people who really see you – and who celebrate you. Don’t stay where you’re not loved to the very depths of your marrow. Life is too fucking short.
- And, lastly, there’s no substitute for passion. For bottomless interest. For love. For friendship. For someone who fights your fights with you, even when you don’t ask. That person who will gladly move heaven, hell, and all things in between – for you? They’re irreplaceable. If you find someone like that, appreciate them.
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.
So, something happened yesterday, and I need to talk about it. It was actually the last straw in a series of unacceptable behaviors, in which I ended up blocking someone from all forms of online contact. This person happens to be associated and responsible for a fairly well-known magazine. And while I have no intention of naming names, I feel like the experience might be more universal than I’d like.
This was someone I ‘met’ on Twitter. He had several friends of mine in common. He seemed nice and even sent me some merchandise for his magazine. We started talking on Gchat, which was fine at first. Except over a short period of time, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. If I was unavailable to DM on Twitter on the weekends, there were guilt trips (I’d declined giving him my cell number, thankfully). If I couldn’t Gchat throughout the entire day (because of work), there were guilt trips. The whole relationship started to exhibit hallmarks of a controlling boyfriend…except we weren’t dating. He is married, and I am not available. When it become clear that he was unhappy with my lack of time to chat, I explained myself multiple times (work taking priority). Each time, I came away from the conversation feeling as though nothing I said got through to him. I’d still, in his mind, let him down.
At one point, when we were still Gchatting, he mentioned a cat. I said that he should tweet a photo. Because, guys, I love animals. I’d happily coo over a photo of a hedgehog or whatever any day. Instead of doing that (safe and public, yes?), he emailed me a photo of the cat…and himself. Now, it wasn’t a dirty photo. But it still made me uncomfortable. Admittedly, toward the beginning of our correspondence, he repeatedly asked ME for a photo, and I did cave – I emailed one of me with my book. Because BOOK. The fact that he told me I looked ‘coy’ ensured that I would never send him another one again. Because I wasn’t coy. I was proud of my book.
Except, given that this IS the internet, he started replying to the photos I posted on Twitter. These were statements that made me feel increasingly uncomfortable, given the increasingly uncomfortable situation. Privately (multiple times) via Gchat, I explained that I was uncomfortable, especially in light of two instances where he tried to pressure me to attend writing conferences. (For the record, his response was basically the classic, “Oh, I don’t mean it that way.”) One instance, I flat out told him that I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate me blowing him off for a weekend to attend a conference. The attempts to get me to go to the conferences weren’t simply, “Hey! This is cool. I’m going. You should go.” His behavior was coercive and almost…bullying. Some of this took place on Twitter, but there was much more behind the scenes. Eventually, a godsend of a friend told me that you can block someone from chat on Gchat, which I did.
That helped for a while. Except, since he wasn’t getting the response he wanted from me (and he gave me crap about not being available to chat), his behavior only got worse. At one point, I stopped posting photos on Twitter. Even now, I post less of them. The photos I share are just me being goofy, but I felt so uncomfortable and creeped out. They weren’t fun anymore.
So, why didn’t I immediately cut all ties? First, I worried that I was overreacting. I know at least four people (who are all LOVELY human beings) who know him. Given that, I worried that maybe I was just being sensitive. Maybe I was misreading the situation. But all these events kept piling up, until one giant red flag. In response to me mentioning a mutual friend, who I didn’t realize he knew, he said something like: Well, I know EVERYONE in this business.
Okay, I know a threat (veiled or not) when I see/hear it. That is clear cut intimidation. I’m a writer. I’d submitted to his magazine. Would there be repercussions if I cut all ties? I wondered. I worried. I hemmed and I hawed. Then, after mentioning this situation to a wise friend, she advised me to flee. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just block and run. So, I unfriended him on Facebook and unfollowed him on Twitter. I did not block him on Twitter until this week, because I thought that he’d realize I’d done those things and then…go away.
I was wrong. In response to a tweet of mine, he replied in a passive aggressive manner – letting me know that he was a) still reading my tweets and b) pissed that I’d broken ties. His tweet was full of venom, and I didn’t need it.
This morning, it occurred to me that, maybe, this has happened to other people. Specifically, it made me want to approach our common friends and ask if they’d had similar experiences. Because there’s something terribly isolating in not talking about it and keeping it to myself. There’s something this person said, in passing conversation, that made think that at least one other person may feel the way I do – and may have experienced something similar to me. And yet, I can’t quite seem to ask the question. Why?
Then, I realized: I’m afraid. I’m afraid to ask the question and not be believed. Isn’t that why we keep quiet about things we maybe shouldn’t? Fear is a funny thing. Not talking about something gives a situation too much power. And I’m not a fan of cowering to bullies. Which, I suppose, is why I’m writing this post.
Here’s the thing that needs to be said: if you tell someone he/she’s made you uncomfortable (once or habitually) and that person doesn’t immediately respond with an “I’m sorry” AND a change in behavior, run. Apologies are easy. They’re just words. But actions reveal things that words can keep hidden or, at least, shadowed. You don’t owe such a person ANYTHING – not even an explanation.
Between convention harassment and the whole Fake Geek Girls bullshit, being a female writer can be hard. So, I’ll make you an offer. If someone harasses you, or makes you feel uneasy, talk to me. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care how famous or in what position of authority that person resides. If you need someone to listen, I’ll listen. If you need help, I’ll help you. Because, after talking to another friend of mine this morning, I felt less alone. Moreover, I realized that I did the right thing.
I may not have much clout to do anything other than listen or make a little noise. I’m certainly not Neil Gaiman. But I can make sure that you are heard and do not feel alone. Because chances are, it’s not just you – and it’s not just me. Chances are this is a habit, not a fluke. It’s not a bad day; it’s a pattern.
- Every waking moment, like all the oxygen’s been taken out of the room. When you do not wake, you dream. When you dream, you see his/her face.
- In every song you hear. The lyrics remind you of everything you want and need.
- Between I love you and the silence that follows.
- When the car crashes and your heart aches – but does not break.
- Quietly, like a pulling tide. Insistent.
- When lightning strikes the sand and turns it to glass. You wish you were the lightning. Then you wish you were the sand.
- Standing on the edge of a cliff. You want to jump. You want to be pushed. Sometimes, the fall kills you. Sometimes, you fly. (Apologies to Neil Gaiman.)
- Madly. Without reservation. As if the top of your head has come off. Suddenly, you can hold nothing in, and so much of you pours out.
- Silently, with your back turned and your hands clenched. Because ignoring the feelings make them go away. Only, it doesn’t. Only, it makes it worse.
- When you can no longer look at yourself in the mirror, without seeing his/her face. Without conjuring – involuntarily, in a fit of abject longing – the feeling of teeth, lips, and hands.
- Stuck in the middle of the moment when you realize that this is a disaster. That you cannot be apart. That you do not know how to say it or how to ask.
- In the dark, before you fall asleep, when the house is quiet and there’s nothing to distract you.
- When all your fears are screaming at you, but you just smile at them. They are nothing in the face of what you feel. What you feel is everything.