Monday, May 16, 2011

The Waiting Really Is The Hardest Part

About a month ago, when I was going through a particularly dark stage of depression after my weight loss surgery, I was sitting on my therapist’s sofa informing him that I no longer trusted my own decision making (since seemingly every decision I make to try to make my life better, usually ends of making it far worse). Of course he said something in an attempt to assuage my fears like, “You’re a smart woman, you make good decisions, they just don’t always turn out the way you plan.” Something to that effect… Something, that sadly, doesn’t really comfort me because it doesn’t “heal” me.

Afterwards he read to me a passage from a book he’d lent me called Anatomy of the Psyche, by Edward F. Edinger, and today it’s buzzing rather loudly in my head (having felt a bit of a psychic punch in the gut on a couple of fronts this afternoon). When I’d originally taken it home, it was so textural that I couldn’t get into it. I guess I need a “story” to get involved. Probably why I liked History in school and retained it better than say, Math. In any case, he read this passage to me and I think it’s worth sharing to anyone who undertakes a journey of major change (presumably for the good) in their life. It reads:

“Anyone who gives themselves up to this search must therefore expect to meet with much vexation of spirit. He will frequently have to change his course in consequence of new discoveries he makes… The devil will do his utmost to frustrate your search by one or the other of three stumbling blocks, namely haste, despair or deception. He who is in a hurry will complete his work neither in a month; nor yet in a year… and in this Art it will always be true that the man who is in a hurry will never be without matter of complaint. If the enemy does not prevail against you by hurry, he will assault you with despondency, and will be constantly putting into your mind discouraging thoughts. How those that seek this Art are many, while they are few that find it and how those who fail are often wiser than yourself. He will then ask you what hope there can be of your attaining the [deep secret of life]; moreover he will vex you with doubts of whether your [therapist] is himself possessed of the secret which he professes to impart to you; or whether or not he is concealing the best part of that which he knows. The third enemy against whom you must guard is deceit, and this is perhaps more dangerous than the other two. The servants whom you must employ to feed your furnaces are frequently most untrustworthy. Some are careless and go to sleep when they should be attending the fire. Others are depraved and do all the harm they can. Others, again, are either stupid or conceited and over-confident and disobey instructions or are drunken, negligent or absent-minded. Be on your guard for all of these if you wish to be spared a great loss.”

Heaven knows, there have been many times in my life when there have been those close to me who insisted they were there to tend the fire, and resembled the third enemy described above. Luckily for me, I have been on this search long enough to know the difference between someone who hurts me unintentionally, through intent of kindness, love, loyalty or friendship and one who does so out of any other intent (or lack thereof). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t easily get derailed. I spent most of my life with people who wanted nothing more than to derail me because it was first fun, then force of will, and finally habit.

The passage goes on to read:

“… Therefore if any man desire to reach the great and unspeakable mystery, he must remember that it is attained not only by the might of man, but by the grace of [your Higher Power].” (Thomas Norton's "The Ordinal of Alchemy")

What this all suggests is that you must “self-oriented” instead of “ego-oriented” if you are to succeed in a quest to heal yourself. But right now, I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know the difference between my ego and my self because one sits so heavily upon the other they appear as one.

I want to be loved when I love and desired when I desire, trusted when I’m trustworthy and befriended when I’m friendly and in all good things, reciprocal. But apparently, it’s my lot to wait for parts of my life to happen that come more readily to others and have caused me to see myself as a failure at living. To have gone as long as I’ve gone without true, deep, trusting intimacy is more painful than I have words to tell and I'm rarely without words. It makes me hurry. That search also causes me to inspire repulsion and fear in those I don't wish to inspire anything of the sort. I suppose I can understand how I must seem in the their eyes. Being nice to me shouldn't be so hard. So right now, the best thing I can do to put myself in the right place, is figure out which part of me is pulling the strings… my “self” or my “ego” and get them in working order. Hopefully when that happens, all the things I yearn for will unfold easily and I’ll laugh at how fervently I tried to yank them into place when all I had to do was wait… just a little bit more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ready, set... GOAL!

Well here I am, 42 and for all intents and purposes, giant steps backward from where I was ten years ago. Sure, I give myself some credit for having followed my dream of working for the company I wanted to work for. I do my best to celebrate the fact that I accomplished a goal that was twenty five years in the making. But now what?

Assuming something amazing is going to fall into my lap hasn’t worked out. To that point, it has less than worked out. At this moment I am making roughly the same amount I was making a decade ago, so my quality of living is ridiculously diminished in a time when I was more than ever to be comfy. Why? Because I don’t have a college education? Okay fine. Never mind that I’m smarter and have more common sense than at least 80% of the people I’ve worked with that have a degree(that mostly excludes all my beloved tech dudes - I don‘t kid myself!). Doesn’t matter. In the current economic climate, companies can afford to be elitist, requiring a slip of paper that says, “This person wasn’t as poor as another and afforded themselves the luxury of a higher education” and they most certainly are taking that advantage.

Before I go on, let me clarify something. I know that there’s a lot of people out there who work like dogs to put themselves through school and I’m not, by any stretch, insinuating they are brainless, lazy or spoiled. It just happens to have been my experience for at least the last decade, that I end up training (or regularly saving the ass off) people who are getting paid a shitload more money than me. If that doesn’t seem fair, that’s because it’s not.

Here’s the thing… to some degree I have to realize that part of my problem stems from knowing I don’t really belong in a corporate atmosphere; not any more. The only reason I take corporate jobs is because of the pay and benefits and I know I’m not alone. If I had a dollar for everyone I know that would be better suited working in a bookstore or vintage boutique, I wouldn’t be here complaining about how little money I have.

Still, lets get serious with one another, shall we? I openly admit that I am not, at all, following my bliss. Honestly, I have no firm grasp on what that bliss really is. I just hadn’t thought this far into my future. Of course I have some ideas. I get focused on them for a while, then doubt sets in, fear that I won’t be able to make a living at that thing sets it, fear that I won’t be able to give myself a “better” life overwhelms me, and I move on to another idea. Even when I see perfectly fine examples of other people successful in whatever realm I’m interested in, there’s something in the back of my mind that insists, “That’s them. You’re different. It wouldn’t work for you.” I’ve been hearing that broken record skipping in my head since I was a toddler. It’s time to change the tune.

I know, intellectually, that I’m perfectly capable of succeeding in whatever I undertake. The question is, where to I laser-beam my intent? How long do I give myself to succeed before I give in? I’m pretty hard on myself most of the time, so I know that time frame’s gotta change too. So, as I sit in this chilly Starbucks in Pasadena, with an angry pit in my gut (knowing I’m soon to return to a job where I’m overworked, underpaid, under-respected, have been railroaded, lied to and ultimately threatened with dismissal if I attempt to stand up for myself one more time, and yet another young girl waiting to assert her new managerial claws by taming the old broad under her), I know one thing is for certain… it’s time to make a plan. Right… NOW!

So I’m setting down a five year plan. By that, I mean that I’m giving myself five years to either accomplish these goals or let got of whatever fantasy they represent forever and move on to new ones. My hope is that it doesn’t take me the full five years to accomplish any of them (I’m not exactly known for being patient with myself). But all things take time and if you told me five years ago that some of the things I’ve experienced would transpire, I’d have thought you nuts. So I’m getting that seeds have to be planted. First and most importantly, order.

I’m going to try to put these goals in some semblance of logical order (knowing full well that Life will most likely smack me on the ass with a hearty chuckle and shake his head in humorous disbelief that I am still so naïve as to believe I’m the one in control, but whatever… humor me, Life)!

Goal 1. Choose a career path. Right now, I’m still convinced that should be a food related career. Again, I have no idea what. Cooking is an easy guess, but there’s a lot more to food than just preparing it.

Goal 2. Figure out where best to be to carry out goal number one, move there, and decide to be content to stay at least until I‘ve finished the reason I went there (if I have to move at all). Let’s face it, Los Angeles is chockablock with resources and educational opportunities innumerous. But can I afford to live here while I pursue whatever it is that I’m planning to pursue? Its not feeling super likely at the moment.

Goal 3. Acquire the necessary education, knowledge, mentoring, funds, etc., to be a credible candidate in my chosen career.

Goal 4. (Partnered with goal 2) Travel to states and countries of interest in order to discover where I want to plant roots and build a home I’m happy to be in (maybe build a family, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!). That includes a vegetable and herb garden. GodDAMN, I want a vegetable and herb garden!

Goal 5. Find a charity to devote time and energy to. Girl Scouts burned me out and soured me on charitable work. There… I said it. Just the thought of participating in such things often fills me with disgust and rage that has virtually nothing to do with being charitable and more to do with having felt like I was forced into volunteerism. If I don’t feel genuinely concerned, I don’t participate. But I do feel I need to get over rote resentments and give some back to this world. Most likely animal related. Let’s not start talking about how I feel about most people these days and how much I‘ve poured into the empty chasms where their souls should be.

*Sigh* noooooo, not you (unless you share my last name and your first name isn’t Kyle), and noooooo not everyone. I don’t want to get concerned emails over that statement. I’m 42 and a have been through a lot. Cut me a little slack, m’kay?

Goal 6. Finish my book and screenplay and stop being afraid of what those things will bring.

Goal 7. Not the least of my goals: Live every single day with awareness and gratitude that each day is a gift, no matter how lonely, frustrating, devastating or tumultuous they can get.

Starting today, it begins. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, whilst bobbing contentedly in a warm lap-pool at the Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Corona (thanks to the fine planning of my friend “Darkness”), I quietly rang in my 42nd birthday. The next day, I slept through the whole day (something of a feat, since my surgery). Days later, I want to believe that sleep-a-thon was born out of relaxation or at worse, sleep deprivation. The truth is, I slept because I am depressed.

By all accounts I shouldn’t have that much to be depressed about. Although I am, at the moment, very worried about a much beloved mom to two of my longest and dearest friends, I know she’s in good hands and that she’ll be okay. Her illness did mean not having someone at the festivities that has been there for the last ten years, but that wasn’t enough to get all twisted up over. She was missed, but not “sleep all day” missed.

The night before my birthday, I enjoyed a delicious dinner, saw Super: The movie, and basked in the fine company of two of my best friend acquisitions since moving to LA. It was a perfectly delightful night! The fact that I didn’t have to come up with the plan for my actual birthday was a gift in and of itself, as well. There were slatherings of slick moisturizers, gooey mud and luxurious oils that left my skin feeling years younger and a much needed massage that soothed the aches I cannot soothe myself. Not one of those things is something to scoff at! So what could possibly have been my problem?

Right away, lets start with the fact that I’m still horribly ill virtually every time I consume anything that passes for food, since the surgery. I’m grateful for the surgery and the chance to lose the weight more “effortlessly”. But imagine feeling like you have the worst stomach flu conceivable for two months, then ask yourself what kind of mood you would be in (no matter what cheeriness was tossed your way). By the time I start feeling physically okay, its time to eat, and then shortly after I’m back on the express train to Barfytown. I’m not exactly feeling motivated to eat. The less I eat, the weaker I get. The weaker I get, the more I freak out and so it goes. So now I’m basically forcefeeding myself and that’s not as fun as it sounds.

But you know, I’ll get over feeling barfy soon enough, slip into clothing sizes I haven’t fit since High School (while maniacal laughter peals inside my head, mind you) and all will be forgiven. Most likely, that blessed event will take place well before I’m officially staring down the barrel of 43, so I’m somewhat discounting this temporary state of discomfort as being the derivation of my distress. Instead, I lay my inability to party down at the feet of the one thing that I fear will still be filling my guts with apprehension and despair next April… my being single and alone. I simply cannot bear the notion that I will spend another year fervently and forlornly trying to uncover the reason that the closest thing to an intimate relationship with a man that I generally achieve, is one where he fantasizes about me sexually and gives his love, care and self to someone else (someone, I hasten to add, he’s usually complaining about).

Rationally speaking, not knowing what makes me so unlovable to men who want to lay me but not love me shouldn’t cause me so much duress; much less should it ruin a perfectly good birthday. After all, if they’ve shut themselves off from the mere idea of loving me, that very detail makes them inherently wrong for me. I get that… intellectually, of course. I am, after all, a reasonably mature, somewhat sane woman. But there is still a part of me that sees their half rejection as a part challenge, part gut-wrenching mystery. I cannot seem to silence the “why, why, why” that plays endlessly in my head and causes my heart to ache all day, every day.

The thing is, I don’t think I’d care so much if it were only a smattering of men who behaved as though there’s some readily recognizable quality about me that shrieks, “Don’t love this one, you’ll regret it. But she is hot stuff so if you‘re horny, just keep manipulating her into thinking you care about her until she succumbs. In fact, don‘t even bother with that and just expect her to be cool with that. And be sure to get good and pissed off when she stands up for herself and says she deserves more. What the hell does she know, right?” If that were the case, I’m certain I would shrug them off as creeps who are probably incapable of genuine love or deeply fearful of true intimacy, and continue waiting mostly patiently for Mr. Right. Unfortunately, they aren’t small in number. They are, in fact, virtually every man I’ve ever dated, chatted with in effort to see if he was someone worth dating, and ultimately every man I’ve ever loved but one and therein lies the rub.

The two males who were charged with the unlikely responsibility of setting the tone for all my relationships with males to come, were just as greedy and selfish as the men who chase my tail. My “brother” is a preening, pouting Diva who knew all his carefree childhood days came off the sweat of my back and despite two decades of professing love for his sister, then stomped his angry feet until both our parents officially ceased to give a shit about me. Then there’s my “dad”. Until recently, I believed my dad to be as much a hapless victim of the wicked harpies that ruled our roost. He still considers his dismissal from the family home and hearth as retribution for having once stuck up for me to the screeching she-devil I called “grandma.” Way to assert male dominance, Dad! Good job protecting me from the beatings (verbal, physical and psychic). During the last conversation I had with him, just before he caused me my first full-blown, “Holy shit I think I’m going to die” anxiety attack, he was loudly asserting his completely misguided mantra “I TAKE CARE OF MY FAMILY!”

If by taking care of his family he means, “I will make you beg for anything you ask of me, and make you motherfucking miserable in the process by shouting incessantly, spouting inconceivable lies about you as if irrefutable fact,” then yes… he did a bang up job. When I was in grade school, my mother made me call him and ask him for money for school clothes (because, heaven forbid she do it herself). I was lucky to get $100 a year. Most of the time, I had to babysit or hope for some hand-me-downs from my mom’s best friend in order to be clothed because my mom used my weight as an excuse to spend all her money on my brother. “He needs nice clothes. YOU don’t. You’re too fat for nice clothes.” Before he was voted off Selfish Asshole Island, he used to show me their bank account balance, and tell me how much of that money was slated for my college education. Naturally my mom took all the money when she kicked him out and I never saw a dime. He occasionally offered a $20 when we saw one another, more out of not knowing what else to do, but I never got phone calls asking how I was, asking after my grades, or my health, or any other thing about my life. Instead, I hunted him down in order to spend time with him, which would be horribly uncomfortable, and like the men I now deal with, most our time together was spent with my listening to how much he loved and hated the woman he loved (never mind that his daughter was sitting right in front of him, wanting to pour her love and care into him).

Is it any wonder that I draw such men to me now? No. How they see it, smell it, sense it… I am still baffled. Surely some of it is subconscious connectivity… their bullshit links to my special bullshit and off we go. Still, I wonder, “Is there a certain facial expression I hold that bespeaks rejection and disappointment in the male gender? Is it something in my eyes? Something in my manner of speaking? Was it there all along, and therefore the reason my familial males denied me their honor and tenderness?“ My mind literally spins and spins until exhaustion. Every day I ask myself, “What is so unlovable about me?” I want nothing more in this world than to either stop caring or find the answer so I can change whatever despicable trait emanates out of me and causes this unfathomable chasm of loneliness. I fear I’ve been branded and fated to go on being unloved and unable to count on anyone, much less a man. I resent the fact that when I had someone who loved me for me, unconditionally, that I was so screwed up that I fled from him (because the feeling was wholly so unfamiliar)! Staring down the long, dark tunnel of another year feeling that way… well, it’s enough to make me crawl into bed and sleep until I forget, for a few sacred moments, the pain that drove me there.

This time next year, I want to be in a place in my life where none of these thoughts darken my mind. I want to blow out the candle on my complimentary dessert, at the celebratory restaurant of my choosing, and wish for World Peace or a hot new pair of shoes instead of the same wish I’ve had every year for as long back as I can remember: “Please, please, please… bring me someone to love that will love me back.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Remember the Secret

There was a time, about two years ago it seems, when you couldn't swing a crystal on a hemp rope without hitting someone who wanted to tell you about the Secret. My God, that was fucking annoying; particularly since I believe strongly in what the Secret is trying to convey and horrified that the message got lost in a rapacious fad that made the whole thing seem ridiculous. After a while, because of that, I felt a little ashamed to admit that I was still trying to follow the model for personal success and happiness. I feel even shittier that I lost track of something that was making me feel like I was heading in a good direction. Now, I need that positivity more than ever, and am finding it hard to call it forth.


I started a job last October that should have been, well… a piece of cake. With a mind toward getting myself back into school, I took a position that sounded as though stress would never be a factor, with a 10k pay cut (which would presumably help in terms of getting financial aid) and all for the expressed purpose of knowing that would be the foundation I needed to get through school at the ripe age of 40. Since that time, my job has been re-orged twice, and my responsibilities and duties have changed three times. My stress levels went from a pebble to a mountain in a snap, my work hours became ridiculous (and overlooked), I had no training and was expected to get up to speed immediately… most of which I did. In all that time I have been screamed at for the most miniscule reasons imaginable in front of more than just my department, scapegoated to an absurd degree, given a reputation I didn't deserve and then supposedly given a chance to prove I didn't deserve the reputation, while secretly, my new managers were having my dishonorable co-worker report on every mistake I made.


Not one to want to dwell in the negative, I have tried to look at all of this as a challenge, something to overcome and hoped that it would be enough reward to have the pride of knowing I did so. But it has become clear that any advances I make are being disregarded in favor of exploiting my mistakes. And in knowing that, I find myself accidentally and seemingly pathologically making mistakes that will only fuel their fire. At this moment, I fear that after this week, I will once again be unemployed because if it. Which brings me to think that if I hadn't lost my positive thinking, my focus on what I want and what is important, that perhaps this wouldn't be happening now.


Admittedly, nine months of torturous unemployment, losing my last remaining Aunt and my mother and taking a very unwanted trip to the hospital shortly before starting this job, helped me to lose a grip on my positive thinking and even if I don't lose my job this week, I know I have to start looking elsewhere. This position is clearly not right for me and not right for what I need to get back into school and take care of my future. There are still so many painful distractions that continue to pull my focus and I'm having a hard time getting back on track. But I'm trying. I'm trying to remember who I am and that I am not as miserable as this job is making me; that I have more to offer than purchase orders and being the target of blame-storming.


In that spirit, I am sending this out to the Universe… I want to find work that makes me feel happy and fulfilled, respected and well-paid. I want to work with people whose main concern is a job well-done, who are honorable, respectful, responsible and professional. I want to end my work day with plenty of energy to finish getting a degree, and start a new and rewarding career. If I must work while I do this, I want to work in a place that supports my efforts and elevates me.


I hope that if this cannot be immediate, that I have at least planted the seeds for some positive changes to come soon. In the meantime, my friends, send me any positive vibes you can spare. Help me to not let my foes kill my focus and my spirit.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Turning Corners

Just when I think that things can't get any weirder, oddly enough, they almost always do. So, I won't say the last six months has been any more challenging, funky, bizarre, stressful, cathartic, silly or fun than any other year before it. I will, however, say that no matter how accustomed I am to having strange things go down in my life, I'm not completely prepared for everything that comes down the pike. That's where I am today.

This time last year I was starting what would turn out to be the funnest temp job ever, and was falling in love with the absolute worst choice of partners (I didn't know he was the worst choice at the time, of course). I was still reeling from the most abominably painful issues with the EDD, having lost my home of seven years to their inadequacy, their apathy, and ultimately their bureaucratic bullshit; and I was just about to lose my Aunt Julia and my mother within two months of one another (I won't bother you by delving into the insurmountable disappointment, disgust and pain that I endured at the disastrous sham that was my mother's funeral). All of which would be punctuated by re-entering the job market (as well as the company I moved here to work for) at 10k less than I was making four years ago. Just recounting all of that makes me feel exhausted.

There was a time in my life when I would have considered it a genuine miracle that I would still be standing after all of that. But honestly, I don't feel that way now. I look at how I have dealt with some of the shittiest life has to offer, realize that I am still reasonably intact, and know that is cause for celebration.

Of course, there are plenty of times when I feel despair over where I am in my career, that I haven't found a suitable partner yet, that I am still dangerously overweight, that I haven't accomplished all the goals I set out for myself, etc. However, I feel unfathomably grateful that the most overwhelming feeling I have on most days now, is happiness. Even in the darkest hours, my biggest accomplishment to date continues to be a source of pride, entertainment, support, sanctuary and love; that is to say that my having chosen my friends well continues to be one of my greatest successes.

Now, with the advent of Facebook (certainly more so than MySpace ever was), I am reconnecting with people from all over the timeline of my life. I now have the opportunity to talk with some people I always wished I'd had a better rapport with, and some people I lost touch with that I'd always regretting having misplaced. Just as important, I have gotten a chance to heal old wounds with estranged friends and acquaintances I believed to have lostchances to heal long ago. I had one of those moments that I want to share here.

This past weekend, one of my most longstanding wounds from my 20s was finally treated with some tenderness and I can feel it healing nicely. Out of the blue, I was contacted by someone I had always wanted to be friends with, but for reasons that are now obvious (but not so at the time); it had never clicked between us. Like a lot of people one adds to internet social networking, this person isn't exactly someone I could call up and ask to a movie, but someone for whom I have respect, admiration, shared memories / experiences and care. Consequently, it wasn't so much the content of the conversation that was of interest (even though it was certainly very interesting), as my finally fulfilling a dusty old wish, and the added pleasure of being able to look back at the girl I had been the last time I attempted to connect and feel relieved that I had the good sense to grow from that version of myself. All of which reminded me of something one of my most beloved teachers (Lee Tecang –my drawing instructor) taught me in college and how profoundly that lesson changed the course of my life.

It was the end of my first quarter of drawing class, and I was looking over my portfolio of drawings in amazement of how "ugly" the first ones were compared to the end of the quarter, and was pulling out the early stuff to throw it out. He stopped me at the trash can and said, "What do you think you're doing?!" I explained that I didn't want reminders of how bad I was before. He laughed and said to me, "If you don't keep these, then the ones you keep now will be the ugly ones you want to toss next quarter." He went on to add, "You have to respect where you have been to truly appreciate where you are." While I applied that to a lot of aspects of my life, it's taken me until very recently to apply that philosophy where it would do the most good.

As I was truly communicating with this person, for the first time in 22 years of acquaintance, I got this mental picture of a night 19 years ago, where we were sitting together, talking and neither of us seeming to understand a word the other said. I remembered how frustrated and upset I was (with myself) at that time with vivid accuracy; how much I wanted this person to like me, to want to know me, to understand me, and feeling desperately inadequate in my ability to connect. Throughout the conversation this weekend, I must have had the most ridiculous grin on my face. Finally, I could talk with this person the way I'd always wanted and for once, doing so was a genuinely pleasurable experience. It is a thrilling relief to not be that insecure version of myself any more, but more than anything, I am ecstatic at not feeling compelled to resent myself for having been so in the first place. To be able to feel love for past versions of myself (that I'd blamed for everything I'd wanted and never got) is, to me, a miracle and a major turning of corners.

So there is a lot to rejoice, these days, in spite of all the things I could tick off that are well worth complaining about. These joys may not seen big, like winning the lotto or getting engaged or the usual stuff that everyone gets excited about. But for me, they are huge. And I hope that as I begin to settle into my 40s, that this kind of growth and healing continues to trend high. Now, if I could just get my work life and love life to follow suit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thanks be to Sense-Memory!

You don’t have to be an actor to understand the concept of sense-memory. Thanks to Inside the Actors’ Studio, there’s been enough mention of it and what it means, that most folks are pretty aware of the phrase and method. If you’re one of the ten people who have never seen the show, don’t know an actor, or just have never listened intently to the ramblings of either, sense-memory is where you use an external trigger to recall an emotion, state of being, period of time, etc. Usually this is evoked for the sake of being able to easily bring about a necessary element of a character or performance.

In my case, I’ve been experiencing sense-memory long before I was ever aware of what it was or why one would use it. In fact, I can remember the first time I felt the déjà vu-like sensation overtake me. It was springtime when I was in 5th grade, walking through the back field of my elementary school during lunch recess. My friends and I were blowing bubbles from the bottles we had gotten at a birthday party over the weekend and something about the air smelled sharply familiar, like it was charged with electricity, and suddenly I was transported to a Spring that I had lived before. It hit me so hard, I couldn’t move. Even now, as I write about that day, I can feel being 9 years old, I can smell the air, the humidity rising off the thick blades of green grass that had been heated by a blazing Spring sun. I can almost feel the breeze on my face and it makes my heart race a little. It’s incredible.

One reason that particular memory is so clear is because I vividly recall asking my classmates if they “smelled” it too. It was frustrating not to have the capacity of thought to convey what I was experiencing, which was a slightly fearful but equally exhilarating occurrence; scary in that I was the only one that seemed to know what I was talking about. That moment, in that day, stuck in my mind forever. I think of it every time the sweet scent of newly blossomed honeysuckle wafts through the air and mingles with warm grass.

The only thing that transports me more easily than obscure combinations of scents and energy in the air, is a song. Not every song has a memory connected to it. Not every song evokes a specific time or place or emotion. I am, however, aware of how easily such a thing can be imprinted onto a beloved song, so when I am going through something really lousy, I’m usually very cautious of listening to anything dear to my heart. For instance, I listened to Travis’s 12 Memories exclusively when I was going through some of the worst of my breakup with my ex-fiance’. It took a long time before I could listen to Love Will Come Through or Happy To Hang Around without immediately experiencing an aching pang in my chest, a pit in my stomach, and an expectation that the weather should be rainy and grey (as it was when I bought the album and as it was when I spent hours of time driving back and forth to Santa Monica to seek solace from KS).

Luckily, the same can hold true for happy, silly, sensual memories. When I hear “I’m Only You” by Robyn Hitchcock, I am instantly transported into my 1976 Toyota Corolla Liftback, cruising down San Carlos Blvd in San Jose, with LFS in the passenger seat, chattering about how anxious we were for the Cactus Club to open. The song "So Good" by Destiny's Child calls to mind driving through Pacheco Pass in the middle of the night in a rented SUV, couriering my worldly belongings to storage locker in Los Angeles, just before finally leaving home. And every time I stumble upon They Might Be Giants's “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head”, I’m 19 years old, standing at the copier at the legal offices of AAA, the unnatural taste of Cremora glacky in my mouth, thinking of how much I wanted to be just about anywhere else and repeating the lyrics in my head, “Quit… my… job down at the car wash didn’t have to write no-one a good bye note. They said the check’s in the mail and I’ll see you in church and don’tcha ever change.” (From the files of “Sunny knows the Secret works”: They laid me off a month later. Focus enough on leaving, leaving’s gonna happen!)

This is on my mind today as a result of my picking random songs on my iPod, trying to remember that there are bands other than Kaiser Chiefs, Keane and People in Planes to listen to. I landed on “After Dark” by Tito and Tarantula (off the “From Dusk Til Dawn” soundtrack). MAN, the sensations that song evokes! Not every time, mind you, but when I’m susceptible to the self-hypnotic suggestion, it’s like a sledge hammer to my psyche. Instantly, I am right in the place where I am filled with the force of longing for sensual connection in my life (at the time I first heard the song) and not knowing how to release the stranglehold of repression that had built up over time; the discomfort of beginning to transition out of my 20s and realizing that the irresponsible lifestyle I was holding onto no longer fit me and what I wanted, but didn’t know what I was heading for or how to get there. Yet, even though a good deal of what After Dark evokes in me is remembered struggle, longing and awkwardness, I don’t mind that it brings me back to that place. And even though I know that the lyrics hold a different context than the ones I apply to them (as lyrics often do for the listener), the final lyrics of the song nail home exactly how I felt about wanting to get to the next plane in my life, wanting to know who I really am and scared of letting her see the light of day:

In my heart
A deep and dark and lonely part
Wants her
And waits for After Dark

Here I am today, feeling more true to myself than I have in years and realizing that while I face my share of struggles now, I passed through one that I didn't see an end to and can feel a sense of relief (and not the smallest sense of achievement) wash over my like a cool mist on a sweltering day. And since I sucked at keeping a diary or a journal to document these things, I’m grateful for the natural tool that is sense-memory to allow me to travel in time. Sometimes you really need to acutely remember where you were and what that place was like, in order to recognize your journey and how better of a place you are in now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Lovely Distraction

Once upon a time and not that long ago when I think about it, I was a girl who loved to indulge in fantasy. Since my imagination is vivid and rich, they started out being incredibly fun, but I didn’t know when I come back to reality and would inevitably end up deeply hurting myself. It never occurred to me that being adopted by The Captain and Tenile was pretty ludicrous (although it was only a few years later I learned I had already been adopted so perhaps not as far fetched as it may seem). Nor did it occur to me to realize that I really couldn’t change the weather just by willing it to do so. I also considered it to be a perfectly valid question when I asked my mother if she’d let me go on tour with Journey as their backup singer.

During my formative years, I was heavily influenced by a woman who had a cursory grip on reality at best. She lived much of her life in a perpetual state of fantasy, most of which was unpleasant. Say what you will about my mom, she had quite the imagination on her. She would simply decide something was real and no longer be able to discern the truth from her fiction. That scared me about her and caused ungodly amounts of confusion and pain when I got out into the world. So much of what she had taught me was based on a seriously dark and twisted perception of life. I was constantly bitch-slapped by reality like so much Crystal Carrington on the receiving end of a Joan Collins special, and I stopped letting myself fantasize… about virtually anything. Consequently, as many children do, the things I found most unsettling about my mother are the things I took to the extreme opposite. Fantasizing was one of the first to go.

True, I prefer reality (even when it sucks the high holy one). Unlike most folks, I would rather eschew the disappointment of being blindsided by reality, than indulge in even a moment’s pleasure of entertaining the seemingly (or legitimately) impossible. I say “unlike most folks” because it has been my observation that a staggering number of people I have met, chatted with, read about, seen on television interviews or heard stories of all lack the ability to accept a fantasy as being nothing more and refuse to take responsibility for their own disappointment. Nevertheless, I get that it is not exactly something we are all taught to take responsibility for. By and large, the general populous tends not to do much of anything unless taught to do so. We are virtually programmed not to take that kind of initiative and that is not by mistake, I guarantee it.

Still, I have to say that it is nice when a pleasantly humming fantasy slips its way into my thoughts like a gentle breeze on a Spring afternoon and lets me take a little time off from all my self-enforced certainty. Today it is a man and that is one place I nearly never allow myself to go (because it feels almost exactly the same as rejection when my fantasy never comes to fruition). This is a man I cannot have and don’t need to have and I’m okay with that (for a change). Once in a while, we have moments that make me blissfully fluffy and floaty and I cannot seem to find anything wrong with it because unlike my past experiences with fantasy, I know when to stop and go back to reality.

Today, I found my mind drifting off to a place where I was wrapping my arms around his lean, broad shoulders, resting my face against his chest, and listening to him talk. When I realized what I was doing, I noticed I was quietly smiling to myself; calm and relaxed. When I snapped out of it, that feeling went with me for the rest of the day and for the first time in a really long time I had a fully good day.

It is a tremendous feeling to loosen the death grip I’ve had on my imagination and feel like I have grown enough to know how to protect myself. The trick is knowing when to let go and pull back; knowing how far you should let yourself indulge and not place icky expectations of where your daydreams will end up. But more than anything, it makes me happy to know that I have finally found a place in my life where I am not afraid of reality (no matter how bad it can be), and believe me… that sure makes it easy to come back from fantasyland.