Fanning Flames, and Soothing Burns

“Anger is like ice in a high ball glass. It’s a good place to start, but it’s not going to do much for you until you start filling in the spaces with something more substantial.”

-me, pretending like I’m some sort of person who drinks from a high ball glass.

Thanks to the current state of politics in this country, I encounter a lot of anger these days. Not so much from the conservative right, since I mostly avoid those people, and not so much from the centrist pacifiers who are mainly super privileged folks who can afford to check out when they’re feeling all kumbaya and shit. I get exposed to the bulk of other people’s anger coming from leftists, radical progressives, and the marginalized. Their anger is righteous, explosive, and burns about 100,000 times hotter than any Karen-who-wants-to-speak-to-the-manager. It’s pretty glorious to witness in certain situations – exploding like Vesuvius over decrepit old opinions in favor of the status quo. Or bearing down like a freight train on “devil’s advocates” or the willfully ignorant. Or standing like a mountain before an onslaught of anti-social hate speech. Anger fuels the resistance, and it is out-fucking-standing.

So here’s a funny little thing about that last metaphor, though. Does a car with only a gas tank run? I mean, fuel is essential, but it’s not the only thing, right? There’s also an engine, full of cooperative working parts. There are wheels – those are important to make it go, and usually a driver or navigator of some sort. There’s a whole system that in addition to anger, drives the vehicle of change. And let’s not overlook the other significant aspect of some fuels, which is that they can blow up in your goddamn face when deployed in unsafe situations.

It’s not for me to define what an unsafe situation is, nor how much fuel any one particular person (or movement) needs. And I definitely don’t remark on the justification for anger, or any other emotion for that matter. Feel what you feel, that’s everyone’s right. But I’ve been reflecting on the effectiveness of that anger for change as I watch friends and allies both get singed by the authentic and intense heat of justice-driven anger, and wondering where my personal line is.

To illustrate, I’m going to use a recent quote from the actor and outspoken advocate for progressive social policies, Chris Evans: “The hardest thing to reconcile is that just because you have good intentions, doesn’t mean it’s your time to have a voice.” I’ll be honest that my first reaction was along the lines of, “Congratulations, sir, for finally figuring out that your voice is not the most important one in the room. Here’s a cookie to celebrate – please choke on it.” Because I’m angry, dammit, that after 40-plus years of being talked over, ignored, condescended to and just generally disrespected as a woman, this is a “revelation” to some. Now extrapolate that feeling outward to people of color and their lived experience, to non-binary folx, to the disabled, to anyone whose life doesn’t fit into our highly restrictive society. That collective anger is justified – by which I mean having that anger may be the only justice some of us will ever see.

But how effective is using that anger to frame my reaction to Mr. Evans’s statement? Dude has a twitter following of almost 9 million. That quote was in the New York Times, which reaches over nine million readers. Even assuming that crossover is nearly 1:1, that’s nine million people who were exposed to a successful, admired celebrity saying that sometimes it’s best to shut up and listen. Not everyone will take his advice to heart, but I’ve also learned that when it comes to changing minds, a “spray and pray” approach to getting the message out is just as necessary as targeting strategy. So while my reaction to his statement is initially born of anger (even if the expression is more like eye-rolling annoyance), what’s the alternative? That he never say anything? That he just be born knowing how to dismantle the cis-heteronormative, racist, ableist, profit-driven and acquisitive society that gave him that platform? Or that he stay silent in his knowledge? In modern parlance, the guy is becoming woke – and I know from experience what a painful, awkward process that is in private, let alone when it happens in front of millions of people. What does denigrating his process accomplish?

Which isn’t to say that his process needs to be celebrated. It’s not a binary system, that if you’re not criticizing, you’re lavishing praise. But there are so many things to be angry about – why waste fuel on a car that’s already powering itself down the road?

I’ve been attacked and criticized for this point of view. I’ve been told that I’m giving the undeserving a pass, or that I’m engaged in some sort of convenience-morality whereby I cherry pick my causes. And you know what? There’s some truth to that. Because at this stage in my life, I’m aware that I don’t have an unlimited supply of energetic anger and that I’ve greatly benefited from being given an undeserved pass – both things informed my journey to where I am and probably continue to do so. Another aspect that informs my journey is my privilege, of which I have an outsized serving. As a white, cis-het woman who can pay her bills every month, the only way for my invisible knapsack to get any bigger would be if I was a gender-conforming male. I am not often the vulnerable target, and I think my non-negotiable moral duty is to communicate effectively on behalf of the vulnerable. Sometimes that means curbing my knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes I AM the vulnerable target, and I need others to communicate effectively for me. “Others” like rich white straight dudes with a massive platform.

My social circle includes a lot of activists who are angry a lot of the time. Mostly they’re a lot younger than me, which I think probably has its own post worth of material which I won’t get into here. The horrendous emotional and physical toll our country’s direction is having on them is heartbreaking to watch. Their anger bubbles over often and sometimes I make the judgement that it’s inappropriate. That’s dumb. The anger is theirs to have regardless of my arbitrary internal scale of acceptability. But it’s also true that other people I care about, allies not so far along in their process or genuinely kind-but-clueless friends and family are getting torched in the fire of righteousness. Some will come out stronger and smarter (most, probably, because that’s just the sort of person I associate with), but relationships will be hurt, too. The relationships that we’re all going to increasingly need as the fight for equality, access, and visibility lengthens and worsens. I’m not here to call anyone out – my observations of this phenomenon simply inspires me to share my perspective. And tomorrow I may post why sensitivity is misplaced when social justice is literally life or death.

For today, though, I want to be kind where I can.

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Joys of Snack Size

A year ago, I wrote about the Dissolution of Snacks and its somewhat surprising mark on my journey through grief and the loss of my marriage. Today I want to talk about the joys of snack size.

I moved, you see. Downsized from 2400 square feet to 900 square feet, with all the attendant miniaturization of appliances one would expect. My plates don’t fit in the surprisingly tiny cupboards so the door never completely closes. It’s annoying. Peek-a-boo, I see you snarky little reminder of a once bigger life. I keep giving it side eye, like the cupboard is suddenly going to feel shame and quietly swallow the back of my plates so the door can shut completely. (If that happens, the nature of this blog is going to change drastically.)

The refrigerator is tiny. I can see the top without standing on tip-toe and it lacks a meat drawer. I thought I’d feel bad about that, because I’ve spent so long filling up a family-sized fridge that even after the family was downsized, I was still trying to fill it up. Like the refrigerator itself was making my shopping list based on its capacity. But here’s the thing – I don’t feel bad at all. Right now apartment-fridge holds a bag of pre-chopped salad, a 6 pack of flavored water, a bottle of wine and the smallest size sour cream you can buy. I honestly didn’t know they made sour cream containers that small. It’s adorable. It’s me-sized. It won’t get gobbled up by my housemate because somehow I raised a person who doesn’t care for sour cream. It is mine all mine. This is notable because two years ago I would open up the fridge to use a spoonful of sour cream out of the GIANT ASS TUB I bought three days prior only to find it gone, sacrificed to the lunch nachos my ex-husband was so fond of. I would buy industrial sized vats of sour cream and there would NEVER BE ANY when I wanted some.

Today, I had sour cream. A small amount, out of a tiny cup that I bought four days ago and that nobody has touched in the interim. I felt like the star of a commercial that plays during Gray’s Anatomy – some ideal of a single adult woman who delicately spoons out a condiment and never once wonders where it could disappear to if she’s not guarding it.

Likewise I find myself hanging pictures in my bedroom without regard for how they’ll be accepted by my bedmate – a sixty pound mutt of dubious artistic taste and even less preference. Pens go where they are most convenient for me, as do batteries and wash cloths. A brief survey of the other members of this household revealed that they don’t particularly care where I put my shoes, so long as three of them can stick their snouts in the really stinky ones and the fourth need not trip over them. I share my closet with no living thing, and even better, no ghosts.

After years of anxiously verifying my choices with another person (especially when that person had opinions but only reticently shared them – preferring the more quixotic option of silent resentment when I couldn’t read minds), the peacefulness of feathering my own nest can’t be overstated. The delight in single serving anything will never be taken for granted by me again. It’s mine all mine, and ghosts don’t eat sour cream.

On letting go

When something awful happens, particularly emotional trauma, it feels like the world suddenly wants to give you advice on how to handle it. If it’s not typewriter text overlaid on a seascape with a vintage filter, it’s platitudes from well-meaning friends, or the ever-not-helpful Facebook parables. The common thread is that you’ll feel better once you do it, and everyone wants to see you do it (if for no other reason than you’ve been a giant downer for the last 18 months and for god’s sake, can’t you just please wash your hair??), but the actual process is more of a mystery. Bookstores have devoted entire shelving units to “self-help” titles, and a quick search on Amazon for same brings back over 650 thousand returns (which should in itself tell you that nobody has this shit figured out, but hope springs eternal). Letting go: it’s all “good”.

I’m here to tell you it’s not. It sucks dirty canal water off of hairy donkey balls.

Listen, first of all, letting go does not happen on a schedule. You can’t time it according to the 7 stages of grief, you can’t force it by following someone else’s plan. It’s an ongoing process with hills and valleys. No, scratch that. It’s an ongoing process with spikes and pits. And the pits have spikes. There are days when you’re balanced precariously on a spike looking down and days when you’re impaled on a spike staring at the sky above. And it’s raining. Grief, pain – these happen in their own time and they will just take what you don’t give them, so you might as well put your life on hold while they shake you like a terrier with a rat. That is an accurate description of how much dignity you’ll have in the process, by the way: limp and covered with dog spit.

Secondly, the prevailing opinion is that letting go leads to some serene, blissed out state where the lotus position comes naturally and the grocery store being out of your favorite ice cream during PMS no longer makes you want to go on a rampage. Also false. There is no reason, ever, for the store to be out of Ben&Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch at any time. But more importantly, letting go doesn’t leave you happy, it leaves you empty. Hollow. Drained. Here’s the thing about grief: it was once happiness. Of course it was, or you wouldn’t feel so awful. You don’t start at base zero and go down. Grief pulls you down off your happy little platform into a giant, steaming pile of shit. You can’t just watch your pain blow away in whatever F5 tornado tore through your life and expect the happiness to be there waiting when the dust settles. It’s all gone. Everything. Now you’re at base zero.

Oh, and here’s a little addendum to that second point: anger. Hoo boy. Anger is the carpetbagger who rides into town right after the tornado and is all, “We will rebuild!” but just goes around kicking your stuff while you’re trying to pick it up. Not that it can’t be helpful. In my case, anger led to some productive changes, like shutting down toxic relationships and to stop apologizing for being myself. So, to continue the metaphor, carpetbagging anger kicked over some dry rot and let the bugs out. But being forced to watch that, to participate in taking down the rotted, crumbling foundation of my former happiness? Gross. So gross.

Okay, so far, letting go happens on its own (often inconvenient) schedule, and it leaves you empty (after pissing you off). What’s the appeal again??

Could be simply the relief from the agony of grief. Emptiness is way better than constant anxiety, stomach problems, endless fatigue and a full set of luggage under each eye. Could be the promise of new beginnings – the idea that something better is waiting to be discovered. Both of these are valid, but they don’t really describe my experience.

For me, the end result of letting go is that I never have to do it again. Not for that particular pain. I’ve let it run its course and chase through every chamber of my metaphorical heart, and it will never come back as anything but a memory. Sometimes the memory smarts a bit, maybe it nips at my feels with sharp little teeth, but it will never, ever strangle and suffocate me again. I’ll never be sucked into that tornado, never be subjected to that storm, never have to rebuild that house. The emptiness is a relief, and the hope of a new happiness is a possibility, but the lesson of never going back is my greatest reward. I will never make those same mistakes, I will never be vulnerable in that same way again.

Letting go makes me stronger, but I couldn’t have told you that, let alone imagined it a year and a half ago. The process is a mystery, a non-linear jumble of fucked up parts that kicks over your foundations and impales you and shakes the life out of you. And if you survive it, you’ve lost an integral part to your former happiness. Letting go is not “all good”. No wonder so many people never get around to it.  I should probably close this out by saying something optimistic like, “But it’s worth it!” The truth is messier than that. I don’t know yet if it’s worth it. It’s been a helluva process. Maybe being stronger will have its own consequences that I can’t see yet. Emotions are weirdly entangled like that.

I’d be happy with a popular message that gives a truer picture of what letting go is actually like. On letting go

 

 

Goals

What’s a New Year’s Day without the obligatory goals post? Of course, we’re all so busy sharing our goals that we’re not looking at anyone else’s, but that’s okay. It’s a vast internet and this is going to be more a reference point, anyway.

School starts in 16 days. I am unemployed. There are numerous appointments this month I must keep. (Remind me to update the calendar in my phone.) I have to get serious about tying all my social media together so I can start to diversify my revenue streams and make myself available to alternate sources of income. This blog will likely take on a new look, as I no longer have the luxury of paying for space to ramble. I’ll keep my domain, but in addition to my personal posts, there will be pages and/or posts devoted to my creative work, as well. Exciting stuff, but also intimidating.

I had my first paying photography gig last week, and it went really well. Portrait photography isn’t something I have a lot of experience with yet, but I may have found my niche among people who aren’t typically well served in this part of the country. Same with my embroidery art – I love to dot a fabric canvas with flowers, but add some socially conscious imagery or verbiage and suddenly I become a subversive crafter. Which probably doesn’t mean much in places like my hometown in northern California, but here in southwestern Missouri? Yeah, it creates a stir. Looking forward to capitalizing on that, if I can.

If 2016 was the home of my darkest moments, then 2017 promises to be the impetus of my forward momentum. I’ve never found the changing of the calendar year to be particularly significant, but even I have to admit that the symbolic shedding of last year’s misery is affecting. Being forced to wait during long, slow, tortuous lulls in my journey effected me in ways I’m still identifying. But all of the things I had to wait for are coming at me now – not so fast that I’ll miss them, but quickly enough to keep me eagle-eyed and limber over home plate, waiting to catch whatever comes next. Thanks for watching this game with me. It’s about to get exciting!

…and hardly ever what we dream.

I’ve been lax keeping up this blog. Life – it keeps happening all around me, and I haven’t had time to stop and reflect on it much. Even more so in the coming months.

Election news dominates. Yes, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. I’ll probably vote a straight blue ticket, since the GOP is now reaping 25 years worth of sown ignorance and bigotry. Jim Wright said it best here. I’m tired, I’m moderately nervous that the necrotic pustule masquerading as a human in a stolen orange flesh suit will leave a rancid stain that will never, ever wash out of our country. I’m deeply disappointed in many of my fellow humans.

But on a personal level, things are continuing to look up. My plan proceeds apace, with just as much uncertainty as ever. Dark days are now just dark, not the all-consuming nothingness that plagued me a year ago. Reminders are popping up on my social media – “Memories!” I could turn that feature off, but I need to see it. I need to see that I am alive, and whole. If, as Emily Dickinson claimed, hope is the thing with feathers, they are finally smoothed. And my storm was sore, indeed. There is an ugly bruise on a part of me, but if I can manage not to poke it then most days I can pretend it’s not there.

Staying in one spot to live my grief has been the greatest challenge of my life so far. Sometimes the memory of the grief is worse than the cause. Drowning, suffocating are such apt descriptions. Conversely, breathing has become newly precious to me.

I am grateful beyond words for the people who showed themselves to be my personal heroes. People whose support has been unflagging and unconditional. At the same time, it’s been healthy to redefine the boundaries with those whose erratic orbits are… unequal to the task. And that’s okay. Not everyone is cut out to handle me at my worst. As it turns out, other people have boundaries of their own (or should). I am unbelievably lucky to have connected with people whose boundaries mesh with mine so seamlessly that their support became integral to my coping mechanisms. Their beautiful humanity carried me when I had little of my own. I have a Tribe. I need them.

I’ve never been this person before, but at the same time, I feel more “me” than I ever have. It’s terribly liberating, wonderfully frightening. It’s like being 18 again, only knowing everything I know at 40. Youth isn’t wasted on the young, it’s previewed. And now, ladies and gentleman, our main feature begins.

The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch’s door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

Annual

Life is improving. Slowly. Marginally. It’s all very undramatic and anticlimactic. Boring. But boring is good after the shock and awe campaign of the last 12 months.

Shit. Has it been that long since my life blew up? Yes, yes it has. They say that after a major life event, don’t make any other drastic changes for a year. I’ve never taken that advice before, but it was forced on me this time.

It sucks.

It’s also revealing. Revolutionary. Wretched. Weird.

I’m cautiously making plans. I have a future, and it looks encouraging. School. Independence. City life. Friends. I’m 40, not 18, I promise. But it does feel like new beginnings and next phases. I’m tentatively approaching anticipation. Skirting the edge of excitement.

Lost things are retreating. Bridges are appearing. None of it is certain, but for the first time in a year it’s not completely shrouded in a depressing, gray fog. Pain is abandoning the siege. The fortress is damaged, but not downed. Ravaged, but not ruined.

Anyway, the pace is plodding. Still the better part of a year to go before the future manifests. Plenty of time for lists, plans, revisions, and surprises. Happy birthday, my destruction. Time to rebuild.

White Rabbits Are Assholes.

I was never a fan of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being literally dropped into a world where you can’t count on even the basic rules of physics terrifies me. Up is down, flowers talk and a homicidal queen can lop off your head with impunity? No, thank you.

It’s unsurprising, then, that when my world goes topsy-turvy, I’d very much like to wake up from the Wonderland-esque nightmare. Up is down and I don’t like it one bit.

That’s what intense self-reflection does, or at least what it does for me. It flips scripts that have been playing in my head for years – a confounding and dizzying process that un-moors me from my truths.

Attempting to mitigate this upsetting development includes such behavior as limiting my social media interactions, withdrawing from my familial and social circles, stomping my feet, crying, and generally throwing temper tantrums, as well as clinging to those old scripts like crazy-eyed Norma Desmond.

Which is not to say that I’m finished doing any of those things, but I would like to acknowledge that at least I know precisely what it is I’m doing. Points for watching the road, if not mapping the best course, yes?

The impetus behind this period of intense self-reflection is, of course, divorce, while the realization that scripts were in need of flipping is due mostly to therapy. Shout-out to my  competent therapist who recently resorted to calling my bluff and inspiring above mentioned temper tantrum. *ahem*

Also newly realized is the fact that people can go their entire lives without once turning any sort of reflection inward, without questioning the existence of scripts, let alone the need to up-end them. I always sort of considered people who refused self-examination petulant, immature cowards who knew what was up but refused to admit it. I don’t surround myself with those types, so it was honestly a revelation to know that the people who live like a pinball, constantly pinging from one reaction to another, are sincerely incapable of making any sort of decision to control their own destiny.

I need to be clear on this point: I didn’t just think that type of person was willfully obtuse, I was certain they did not exist. That’s how unthinkable this method of living is to me. My reality had no place in it for people who do not engage in self-reflection of any sort.

I suppose I have my ex-husband to thank for opening up my reality, as well as my therapist.

Being angry at the willfully obtuse is easy, but once you make room for incapable it leaves an emptiness that I don’t quite know what to do with. It’s a little like solving a math problem: once you figure out the solution, you can’t believe it wasn’t always so obvious. There’s sadness there – a heartbreak over the kind of bleak and powerless life that must represent. Disgust at myself for being complicit and, I desperately hope, a forgiveness of myself for laboring under a falsehood for so long. Mostly sadness, though. I’m trying hard not to let it veer over into pity, but it’s a struggle.

I don’t know where I’m going to come out on the other side of this. I’ve stopped panicking at the uncertainty. I’ve set new goals. I’ve stopped wondering how I’ll forgive him, and starting wondering how I’m going to forgive myself. I’m looking for my way out of Wonderland.