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between the lines

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

*title taken from Sara Bareilles’ “Between the Lines”

            I’m horribly bad with remembering dates. I live in total fear of forgetting someone’s birthday. Or anniversary. So far, I’ve avoided such a calamity, but you know…day ain’t over yet, so to speak. I’m very reliant on the calendar app on my phone. Before that, it was a paper calendar, back in the stone age, before things like cellphones. When I was your age, we…*coughs* Sorry.

Where were you this time, last year? What were you doing? Who were you with? Can you remember? Chances are, if it was important to you – if you were with someone you really love(d), you remember down to the last detail.

I have a good memory. Freakishly so. I may not always remember dates, but words and details? Almost to the letter. This can, occasionally, be unsettling. It is nearly impossible to lie to me, because of it. So, if you do lie, and I don’t say anything or call bullshit? That’s not an accident. It’s choice. But I digress.

This time last year, I know exactly where I was. I can conjure up the memory like a magic trick – the feelings, too. It was an important day for me, because someone I care very deeply about did something so small, but so wonderful. It wasn’t a grand gesture in terms of flowers or public singing. We can’t all be Patrick Verona in 10 things I hate about you. But sometimes, you don’t need that.

You just need someone to show up – to keep a promise. To be unexpectedly present, when it is absolutely inconvenient to do so. There’s a magic in that. I remember that morning being totally blown away by what happened. Not because it wasn’t a genuine or sweet thing. Not because it wasn’t, in a lot of ways, the right thing. I was awestruck, because of what it meant to me – and how it contrasted with the behavior of the past.

The point is, it was really important to me. Because it was a symbol of just how much someone cared. It was, in a way, tangible evidence culled from an intangible thing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it meant the world to me. It gave me hope and it made me feel loved.

A thousand things have happened since that day. A thousand things will happen from today forward. But there are some moments, some gestures, that measure more than others. For me, that is one of them. And, thinking about it, it reminds me of what’s possible when we dare. Perhaps, too, when we put another person first. There’s really nothing that we can’t do, if we do it with love. If we consider someone before ourselves – it’s a beautiful thing, in our fast-food, me-centric society.

I’m grateful for that day, one year ago. I’m grateful for the fact that my memory is what it is. And, if I’m honest, I’m grateful for that person still. My heart doesn’t change, darlings. Some things are as constant as the ocean. I am one of those things.

What memory do you hold like this? What moment can you keep close, when the world’s uncertain and dark? Where does your heart travel when we sit still? It means something, dear hearts. Remember that.

Now, go find some mistletoe and kiss the person that your heart is asking for. I dare you. I double-dog dare you.

halves, hearts, and questions

December 11, 2014 Leave a comment

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” ~Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sometimes we forget how fragile people are. How every person is carrying around at least one thing he wishes he wasn’t. How, sometimes, we can’t get rid of the pain or the fear – and so, we try to run. Or push people away. Or just hide.

There’s something to be said for emotional evolution – recognizing a problem or pattern, knowing when to stay and when to go (and why). Knowing when to reach out and when not to. In some cases, it’s a constant dance –something constantly weighed and measured.

Yesterday, someone asked me a question about why I do something. And it was one of those head-tilt moments where the world stops and everything narrows as you think. It was a simple, small, ordinary question. The answer was deceptively simple: I care. Isn’t that the motivation for most things? I’d like to think so.

But let’s face it: we live in a cynical, stupid, often heartbreaking world. We live in a place where things happen that shouldn’t. Everybody’s always got an angle, right? Everybody wants something. It’s so easy to get jaded and wary. Because hearts break the way ice cracks: small, almost unseen – until it spreads. And we’re never quite the same after that. You can’t be. I can’t be. You live through something, anything, and it changes you. For better or worse.

So, yesterday, when I was asked the question of why, the answer was simple. But it was like a domino effect. I started to wonder why I care. Because I’m a person who jumps in, reaches out, asks the questions, make the first move, and whatever. I, as a general rule, like people – until proven otherwise. I don’t know how not to. It’s part of who I am. But it never really occurred to me that it might be odd – that there was the possibility someone might be taken aback by it.

For this, I think, you can blame my mother. Like her, I’d rather give something than get something. I’d rather run the risk of looking like a fool than play it safe as kittens. She spent a lifetime – her lifetime – caring about other people. Looking after them. And let’s face it: if you cross my path, physically or on the world wide web, I’m probably going to try and take care of you at some point. I’m going to ask if you’re having a bad day. I’m going to check on you.

Because I care. Because the world can be a dark place, so why not make it brighter? That is how I want to spend my time: lighting up days, singing in the grocery store, and stopping to hug basically every animal I see.

I can’t see the point of holding back. Or saving face. Or not trying, even in unusual circumstances. To hell with how it looks or how it might seem. To hell with playing it safe. Play it safe when you’re 98 and you have to – not while there’s a chance something good or magical might happen. Not while there’s a glimmer of adventure. Not while there’s potential. Don’t waste it. Don’t let it sit and rot, darlings.

To be honest, I felt a little sad after being asked that question. It could’ve innocuous, I can’t really say. Thinking about it, I felt a little embarrassed for a second. Like, maybe, I’d done something asinine. Like maybe it was bizarre and I too big of a clod to realize it. But, no. That’s just insecurity rearing its big ol’ dragon head.

What kills us, darlings, isn’t embarrassment. It’s not trying and failing – it’s not even getting back up. No, it’s holding things in and living too neatly, conveniently. It’s giving a damn and not showing it – or not showing it enough. It’s always doing things with expectation, not for the sake of the act itself.

Do yourself a favor, okay? Step up. Step into the room. Step into the unknown. Step outside of your comfort zone. And don’t look back.

It might be scary. It might be hard. But all the good things are, loves.

Feeding the Absence: Moving Forward

April 15, 2014 2 comments

         

  Almost every day, I drive past a man who is a crossing guard for a school. He isn’t the kind of man who makes eye contact with drivers, but I’ve seen him chatting up pedestrians on the regular. Last week, it was actually sunny and warm out – something that I thought would never happen again, forever, given the atrocious winter that bespoke the White Queen from Narnia. To be fair, I did have a rather large amount of chocolate over the winter, which might make me Edmund. Damn it. I hate this analogy. Let’s get back to the point: it was sunny. As I was driving past the school, I came to a full stop. You see, the crossing guard had the stop sign in his hand raised up. I didn’t see any incoming pedestrians, but I deferred to the guard’s authority. It turned out that there weren’t any pedestrians; he was just blocking the sun, thus confusing the hell out of me, and I imagine everyone else.

            Again, he didn’t make eye contact, even though I tried to catch his attention. That’s not relevant to the story. It’s just a pet peeve. So, that little escapade stuck with me. It made me think about we do one thing with a particular intention, but it often has unintended side effects. And we may not mean for our actions to be perceived a certain way, but they are taken at the obvious, face value – not the less easy to assess way we might’ve intended.

            Last week, although later in the week, a friend said something to me in an almost offhand manner. It was smack in the middle of a smattering of other things, and to be honest, it didn’t really strike me until later – much like the crossing guard’s unintended/intended meaning. The statement my friend made wasn’t intended to be harsh. It was something, I suppose, borne out of concern. And yet, it pointed to a gaping hole in the middle of my heart, a circumstance and a fear that I have absolutely no sway over. It’s the kind of thing that happened at the right time – that is to say, a vulnerable time. No matter how much I’ve attempted to shove it out, I cannot evict that bastard of a sentence with any kind of crowbar. In truth, it has collided with a perfect storm of unease and a few staggering realizations. The past weeks have felt like there are battles on every side and my foxhole isn’t quite deep enough. Dramatic? Maybe. But it isn’t untrue.

            So, I’ve just been sitting with it – that one, remarkably ordinary sentence that wormed its clever way into my insecurities. I mean, yesterday, I was searching for a quote online, and I found one completely unrelated to the kind I was looking for. But there it was, all gloriously honest and gutting. It was about feeling alone after losing a parent – because you’re going into every fight without feeling like you have that backup that you used to have. I’ll be honest: that hurt like hell. There’s something painfully isolating about losing your mother. Or, perhaps, about losing my particular mother. My mom and I did often argue. We didn’t always see eye to eye. But no matter what was going on, she had my back. No questions. No debating. Even if she thought I was wrong. Maybe especially then. I guess I’ve been feeling that absence keenly lately.

            And the thing that my friend casually said? Well, it fed into that absence, that unbelievably tender spot. It’s not the kind of thing that heals, I’ve realized. It just hurts differently. Now, my friend was just trying to help me see a situation clearly. My best interest was the motivation. But like that crossing guard who simply intended on blocking out the sun, but ended up stopping traffic instead – the actual impact is far deeper and much different than the original meaning.

            Sometimes, how we mean something and its actual impact are vastly disparate. Sometimes, we say one thing and mean/do another. We are strange, inconsistent creatures at heart. But I often find myself puzzling at how we see ourselves in those moments, when our actions have unintended consequences. Make no mistake – we’re all guilty of it. We all try and block the sun, only to end up blocking traffic. Figuratively in most cases.

            I suppose that the lesson here is this: when you’re stopped, you cannot rely on someone else to shove you forward. You are the one who decides where you go from this moment. You are the one in control. Because, yes, someone did something to you – and it had an influence, an impact. But you’re the one in the driver’s seat. You’re the one who decides. Don’t let a momentary snag – a momentary hurt – keep you from going where you intend to go. Don’t let someone else’s foolishness keep you from what you want, from what you love, and from what you deserve.

            Don’t settle. Don’t wallow. And darlings? Don’t hold back.

the beginning of always

August 28, 2013 2 comments

            It was familiar, almost intimate, like the echo of an old habit. The air was just shy of being warm, but still barely on this side of chilly. The pink in yellow roses reached back toward summer, but summer began to fade as the moon had.

            Some smell grab your hand and pull your backward, conjuring up a moment or moments. Resurrecting people long-dead or absent. Some scents are ghosts, howling or whispering promises in your ears. All ghosts need remembering, all the secrets need tending. Ghosts like this, they are a reminding sort.

            I was the only one around, this morning. I was the only one around, this morning. Yet carrying on the faint breeze, nothing more than a gossamer movement, was the smell of cigarette smoke. I’ve never smoked a day in my life. None of my immediately family does. The neighbours were all either still tucked in their beds or long-since at work.

            On the way to work, I smelled it again. The window was rolled partially down. I was alone on an empty street. There were no houses, no pedestrians. Just me, and that scent.

            I remembered my great uncle’s basement. The bar and the covered pool in the backyard. I remembered being picked up and swung around by my second cousin. I remembered not being able to see through the room. I remember not being able to see over the railing, looking with a child’s eyes.

            I also remembered hiding cigarettes. I remember trying to protect someone from himself, even though I didn’t really know how. Even though it wasn’t quite my place. That didn’t matter to me. If I have to get in between you and yourself, for your own good, I will. This was another lifetime ago, when I was half a different person – too afraid of everything. And yet, brave enough.

            I remembered chasing a friend down the stairs, full-speed, in an attempt to steal her cigarettes. I remembered people who quit and those who started again. I remembered a promise broken by my grandmother – one I’ve never quite been able to forgive her for.

            To me, cigarettes mean loss. They mean death. They are a thing you need protection from. I’ve loved people who’ve smoked. Some of them, I’ve lost. Lost for good, the permanent kind of missing that leaves you without the possibility of getting back. You make your peace with that kind of ghost. It still slips through the doors and windows, sometimes. But you look it in the eye. You acknowledge it. And then you move on.

            There are few things worse than not having that moment – than not being able to look a situation or a person in the eye. The waiting, the wondering, the cloying smoke that’s dancing in the air. Turn the corner, and there’s a reminder. Turn on the radio, and it’s there. Walk out your door, and the world stops.

            This month is a hard one. It has been for a long time. So many things gone or going. So much absence and so many questions. They settle in like a lump in the throat. You can’t swallow it away. All you can do is just get through.

            Get through it. In whatever way you can.

“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” ~Vladimir Nabokov

leap of faith

July 26, 2013 2 comments

The past few days have been unseasonably cool, beautiful in their lack of humidity, breeze clinging like fall. It’s like a moment taken out of time, dropped here, where it seems impossible, yet it is solid – as distinct as a kiss. This is a preview of fall, a time not yet arrived, although it is my favorite season – despite knowing that winter is just out of sight.

 It is a strange thing, this out-of-place reprieve. This disjointed moment of what will be, down the line. It reminded me, oddly, of my lack of patience. My desire to make things different now, instead of planning. Instead of waiting. Instead of letting it all be and watching, quietly, as the world unfolds as it must.

 The other day, a friend reminded me of a quote from Doctor Who, “Demons run when a good man goes to war.” It made me think that, perhaps, waiting is another kind of war – a thing we fight with, and in, ourselves. A conflict that can only be resolved through time itself, and nothing short of a TARDIS changes that. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is nothing. I’ve been learning that recently, and I’ve been trying to be patient. Because, generally, brute force and keening solve absolutely nothing. Yet, like this out-of-place weather, doing nothing seems strange, foreign. So unlike me. I’m a doer. A fixer. A changer. A person who loves action and words. Even still, I am reminded that even the disjointed, uncomfortable feelings have a purpose.

 Lately, I think it’s all too easy to forget that waiting can be wise. In today’s world of instant everything (communication, video-on-demand, information, etc.), we are trained (or have been retrained) to expect everything to be fast and immediate. When it doesn’t happen, when there’s a gap and a grace period, there’s a panic that rises – or even an irritation in some people. There’s a feeling of wrongness, because our howling NOW attitude demands to be sated, like some kind of emotional Audrey II. This is Me First, for the digital age. (If you never read that story, I think it’s in free to be you and me.)

 The truth is that, sometimes, you have to trust in the unknown. You do, and have done, everything that you can. (Whatever it is. This applies to everything.) Then what’s required is the scary, terrifying leap of faith. Find beauty in the moment, and see what happens. Fix your eyes on the horizon, and trust the current to take you there. Sometimes, letting go of control is the perfect way to get to your destination. Because not everything in life can be planned for, not really. And the important things almost never are scheduled. They just happen. Maybe it’s the right place, right time. Maybe you stopped to tie your shoe. Maybe you sent out a tweet. Maybe this. Maybe that. Life is, often, made of maybe. And there are days where that’s terrifying. Where we crave certainty and solidity like air. There are days where we yearn for proof to act as a talisman against doubt and fear – a tangible cross to ward off the intangible monsters that pace back and forth in our heads. But, perhaps, when we do that we are trying to place our faith in the wrong things. A talisman, essentially, is just an object. A thing. It has power, because we will it to, because we believe it does.

 Earlier today, I came across a Margaret Atwood quote that reaffirmed the fact that I’d like to be her when I grow up. However, since I never really plan on growing up, I’d settle for writing a line as perfectly as she does.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” ― The Penelopiad

Sometimes, we have to remember that we’re water. That going through an obstacle, or a moment, isn’t possible. Going around it, instead, is the wisest course of action. Water is a thing that gives life. It can also drown. Everything in life is like that: half one thing and half another, determined by circumstances and perspective. A marriage can feel like freedom or a cage. Love can feel like magic or a winding sheet. A job can feel like an opportunity or an obligation. There’s a duality to nearly everything.

 I have been, for weeks now, trying to be water. Trying to get where I need to go, trying to be where I am, and trying to get around the boulders that seem like mountains. Being like water means trusting in things to take their course, trusting in sanctity of patience. It’s turning off the light to really get to know the dark. It’s chasing the sun. There are a thousand ways to be brave, but only one way to be a coward – that is, to give up. To quit. To nestle in to whatever hell or doldrums you find yourself and accept stagnation.

 Water flows. Water is patient. Water does. Remember this. Remember that everything, even a cool day during summer, is a possibility that wasn’t there before. And sometimes, you have to gather yourself before you can get anything done.

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beautifully broken things

June 18, 2013 4 comments

 

There are moments that are just…right. There are days where you wake up and you know. There are times where everything is a song, and the lyrics are at once beautiful and indecipherable. In those moments, the beauty is enough to sustain you. You don’t need to understand. You can let go and just be. Because everything is right. Because sideways or not, things feel perfect and hopeful. Because you have a reason that’s wordless and wild, like a heartbeat that’s thrumming its way through your body.

Some things are what they are. Some moments are born of a different skin. Some mornings, you wake up — and you just smile. Because love is love. Because things grow out of ashes. Because there’s no reason to look down when things are looking up. 

A sprinkler went off this morning. It wasn’t something I knew was going to happen. One of the sprinkler heads was broken, so it shot up like a geyser. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have even seen it — because the others ran too close to the ground. But it was the broken one that brought my attention to the moment. It was the broken one that said this is happening. That, my dear hearts and darlings, is the best metaphor I have for pretty much everything.

Despite the surprises, despite what might seem like insanity or chaos, things are right. Things are good. And this is everything that’s beautiful about life. *raises coffee mug* Here’s to today, my dears. May yours be as full of beautifully broken things — and odd moments full of such strange chaos and grace.