It’s a Pity to be Human

I’m holding the door open for the cat. It’s raining out, but the handmixer is running, and she hates the sound of it. Caught between two miserablenesses, she hesitates at the door, her ears laid back. I feel sorry for her and her miserablenesses, so I just stand there with the door open, watching her.

One of my brothers pushes past me, suddenly shoving his hand at her face, as though to scare her off the threshold so the door could be closed. She flattens herself to the ground, but doesn’t move.

“She wants to come in, but hates the sound of the mixer,” I explain, annoyed. I was busy feeling sorry for her, and he has no respect for my pity.

“Oh.”

But the ‘oh’ belies no understanding of the situations, because moments later, he steps past me and my open door, stands behind that cat, and nudges her through the door with his foot. Forced to chose one of the miseries, the cat dashes through the kitchen trying to escape the sound of the motor.

I am like the cat. I try to go outside to avoid the sound of the motors, and the people who are being morning people. It continues to rain, so I have to sit on the porch. Then a morning person comes out to be cheerful at me, and another brother comes out to start another motor (the ice cream maker), and my mom comes out, too, so she can offer helpful motherly advice.

“So much for my plot to escape the sound of motors,” I sigh, as the ice cream maker kicks on.

“Well, you can go someplace else,” my mom informs me. “The mixer isn’t running in the kitchen any more.”

“I know,” I say.

“The screened porch is cleared off now,” she continues to push.

“I know,” I repeat, irritably. I know. I helped clean it. The day I was practically doubled over with abdominal pain. You didn’t help clean it.

I am trying to escape the motors, and the rain. And also, I would like some pity, but these cheerful morning people have none.

***

Last night, my grandma came over, and asked me if I had a glowing halo. I stared at her at first, and then tried to cover my confusion by claiming full body luminescence. She was referring to the fact that I had just been awarded my doctorate degree, a fact so roundly ignored by people in this house that I had almost forgotten about it myself. My dad made a few jokes about it. One brother threatened to call me doctor, but I said he could only call me “doctor” while singing “Put the Lime in the Coconut.” He said it would be worth it to memorize the lyrics, but we both knew he wouldn’t. Mostly, two of my brothers will put in sly jabs wherever they can about how I would have to chose the degree with the most amount of school debt and the lowest salary.

Some of my family came up for graduation, but it mostly made the family dysfunction that much more apparent. A small handful of people, most of whom came along only because there was someone else to come along with, and a vague sense of guilt that they should want to be there. They spent hours upon hours sitting in a car, waiting through boring lists of names of people none of us knew, and cramming themselves back into the car. I got to see their miserable faces for a few moments, and I say miserable not as an adjective of the quality of their faces but of the expressions they were wearing.

Then I went to my friend’s graduation party, and sat quietly in the sunlight, watching her face light up again and again in the presence of her family and her friends. I watched her husband and her sister, dripping with pride and happiness. In the end, I walked myself back to my car a few blocks away, alone in a city that was both familiar and completely impartial to me.

***

This is normal to me. Not easy, but normal. Aside from precious isolated incidents, my memories of school, right from the beginning of my associate’s degree, are largely one bleak swath of loneliness. Of not fitting in with my classmates, and so always being the odd and awkward one in any group. Of my family not understanding why I would do such a thing, and only the more so once I moved a state away. The example set to me has always been, “if you move away, you’re the one making that choice; so you’re only getting the consequences of your decisions if it means you lose connection with people.”

I can’t say I really did any better with my brothers that went away to college. It seems far off, and your own life seems busy, and what do you say, anyway, when you’re a family of introverts who mostly socialize by sitting quietly in the same room? But I can’t say it’s an attitude I want to propagate.

This morning, my second attempt to get photos taken of me for graduation announcements fell through. And all though it hurt, I realized the feeling of a twisting knife wasn’t really about photos, or even about my imagined plans for my own little declaration of completion. It is more the pining to be understood, the pining to be celebrated, the pining to be noticed, the pining to have life go as I think it should rather than the way it predictably does. No, I don’t have a husband glowing with pride and happiness, taking pictures of me at my graduation party. No, taking pictures and sending out announcements is really no substitute at all. But it was something, and I didn’t want to have to fight for that something. Any more than I wanted to fight my family to come up and be miserable while they watched me walk across a stage and shake hands with a stranger.

***

The life we imagine doesn’t have us pausing hunched on the threshold between the rain and the tormenting motor. The life we imagine has a multitude of choices, some more pleasant than others, and always with the tantalizing assumption that if we’re very clever about dashing through the wet drops from the grey skies — well, that we’ll strike upon that golden scenario that is all smiles and no painful wincing. The life we imagine takes all of the best pieces we’ve seen from all the happiest lives, and mashes them together in this strange yet pastoral scene we tell ourselves is actually achievable.

The lives that we do have are pieces of joy and contentment that are beyond words, splintered apart by hurts internal and external, and wrapped up in painful obliviousness to what we are doing to others and even what it is that we ourselves need. And whether we like it or not, our brokenness is our humanness. We cannot escape the brokenness without superseding our mortal forms. Some mornings the pain seems more searing than other mornings, making our breath catch and our eyes unfocus in a lame attempt to ward off tears. But always it is there.

Maybe it’s faulty advice, but it is my advice: Don’t be ashamed of pity. Of giving it to others, of accepting it yourself, or even occasionally allowing the self-pity to wash over all of your raw places and then drip slowly away. You can even pity the cat sometimes. It’s okay.

How much it hurts

I just want to wail, over and over, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home!”

I ran a little experiment and tried to post about what things are like for me right now on my family public blog. I just feel like a lot of my writing over here is of good quality, and I keep thinking I should go back to writing where my family can see it.

But the whole reason I started this one was because so much of what I’m feeling is emotionally complex enough I can’t be blunt and honest about it with my family. And there it is again. I started trying to write the first sentence I started this post with, over there, and I couldn’t do it.

Because it seems too melodramatic, and I find myself trying to tone it down for them. Because it is true, but if I said it to them, it would make people too upset. There’s nothing they can do to help me. So I share, but somehow I can only share so much. Maybe just because I have learned how terribly uncomfortable tears make them feel, and so I find myself trying to spare them of that? Because it’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m homesick. I just don’t want them to know that I’m finding tears rolling down my cheeks nearly every day now.

I can’t do this.

I want to go home.

I can’t do this, but I have to.

I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home. . .

Know Me

It used to be, when someone told me I was sensitive, I was frustrated and, well, hurt. Sensitive seemed like a bad word, an insult, and something that made me immediately defensive. I’m not sensitive — you’re just INsensitive!

I still think it can be hurled like an insult. Almost anything can, if you use right derisive tone of voice and a condescending glance. But after a few years of relative isolation and feeling unknown, I am now finding a new response to “sensitive” — relief.

Oh, good. You know. You understand. You see me. You recognize that this is an area to be careful around, just a a finger that has just been smashed in a door jam is sensitive and needs a little extra protection.

I am home sick. Literally, almost to the point of nauseousness. There are other things contributing, too, but the homesickness is more intense than it’s every been, and the tears hover very near the surface. I keep trying to explain away my problems, rationalize my situation, talk a good stiff upper lip into myself, drag myself through these next several weeks.

“And also, the landscape was more homelike. You are strongly affected by such things.”

Yes.

More than yes. Absolutely, completely dead-on.

My surroundings must take care of me. And if they don’t, I have to change them. I cannot, unfortunately, change the landscape of the biggest mountain range on the continent. And so I feel oppressed. I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I do not just feel uncomfortable, or out of place, or disconcerted. I feel, literally, oppressed.

I am sad. I hide in my room. Even though there is sunshine and fresh air outside. It is not okay. And I can’t fix it. I can only endure.

Oh, you.

I put on my 1950s style little black dress and a pair of sassy red heels, and I went to that wedding.

Not because I hardly even knew my cousin and her soon-to-be husband. Not because I like crowded spaces and loud music.

Because people are important, and important things take work. People take time, and showing up when you don’t feel like it, and making an effort to to be available, and patience to grow relationships and even extending olive branches when you really don’t know someone.

I was so pleased with myself that I know this now. I was so pleased with myself that I am consciously trying to build and strengthen family ties, even when I feel like I don’t really know the other person and that they might not even want to really know me. I was proud that I had put my money where my mouth was, and that I had whole-heartedly shown up, not half-heartedly gone through the motions.

Then I went home and found a sobering blow: my childhood best friend was married on the same day.

Or at least, I always thought we were best friends. I think I always had suspicions that maybe she didn’t think we were best friends. But I thought we were, and I thought we always would be. Because, of course.

You could say our families grew apart. That might be an understatement. You could say we grew apart. That would be trite. Looking back, I think we were pursuing (consciously or otherwise) totally different things for our relationship together. I think we had different ideas of what life was supposed to be like, what friendship was supposed to be like, and how we were supposed to relate to each other. The older we got, the harder I tried – and the harder it seemed to be able to connect with her in any meaningful way. The suspicion that I might not be her best friend grew into the suspicion that she really couldn’t care less, but that she was a nice person and would be nice to me.

That, in turn, grew into shame. Shame of what, I couldn’t quite say. Shame that I was a “needy person” perhaps. Shame that wanted a relationship the other person didn’t want. Shame that the other person seemed to have their life all together and mine was all a part, and that person was in a different class than me. Shame that I kept trying to pursue a friend who didn’t need another friend.

I think it was shame that finally did us in. I quit trying to hang on to the friendship, ashamed I’d tried to keep it going for so long. And I was the only one that was trying to keep it, so away it went. That only intensified my shame.  I should have let the friendship die a long time ago. Clearly, I was the desperate one. Clearly, I was the pathetic one. Clearly, never showing my face again was the best option.

Years later, she “friended” me on Facebook. I was startled. An olive branch? Perhaps I’d over-reacted; maybe I was too emotional — took too personally what was only a busy time in her life. Along with the request was a brief note, trying to catch up. An interest in my life? No; she friended me, but totally hid her wall from me, never followed any of my posts, and never followed up again. A nice person, who holds me no ill will, but no desire for friendship, either.

It made me sad. Actually, it made me more ashamed. Getting my hopes up over a superficial “friend request.” Entertaining the fantasy of returning to childhood friendship. Delusion and desperate as ever. She was the one who friended me, but kept me at arms length. Still, I felt a little guilty seeing pictures of her “tagged” on her wedding day. It felt as though perhaps I shouldn’t know this was happening — that I shouldn’t really be privy to this part of her life. She sent me no invitation; why should she? We hadn’t seen each other in countless years. I’m sure I couldn’t have been further from her mind on her wedding day.

But it took my breath away. I remember us as kids, occasionally mentioning hypothetically some-days when we’d be married, speculating about the future. If you told me that on her wedding day, we wouldn’t even know each other any more, I think you would have broken my heart. Maybe my heart did break, just a little.

I can extend grace to my nearly-unknown cousin from a position of superiority. I don’t know you; I don’t need to know you. But I will grace you with my presence, just so that you know that I am willing to be your family, should you ever want one.

But I find I don’t know how to extend grace to my once-friend, who at one point allowed me nearly the same grace-from-superiority: I don’t need you, but I will pity you, and extend to you some shallow friendship. I’ll friend you on Facebook – a token gesture – but not actually invest in you.

It took the wind out of my sails. Partly, I think I am still mourning a lost friendship — a loss I tried to cram down and ignore, in an attempt to escape the shame, rather than face the loss. Although I must say, it’s only been in the last several years I’ve really learned about loss and grief and mourning. But partly because I realize that while there is a sacrifice to Showing Up when you don’t really feel like it, “grace from a position of superiority” really bites.

This is where I run into my current conundrum. There seems to be no use in pursuing people who are simply not in a place or position or a desire to have a relationship. Yet at the same time, it seems devaluing of human beings not to extend the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship. But is it really an opportunity for a meaningful relationship if it is an offer from a position of superiority — of not needing, but allowing that if the weaker one wants it, to grant it? I think myself so beneficent to have attended my barely-known cousin’s wedding, but how can that really be meaningful to her? So, I showed up. Big whoop. Sure, you have to start someplace. But a real relationship is about a lot more than gestures.

I’m not hurt that my once-friend didn’t invite me to her wedding. I hurt that not all friendships are forever. I don’t hurt that I wasn’t her maid of honor. I hurt that relationships with other human beings are so fleeting and fragile that you can think you’re best friends one year and another year be lifetimes apart. I don’t hurt that I didn’t find out from her about her wedding. I hurt that we aren’t in each others lives at all any more and have no grounds for commonality or friendship. Even if  I saw her today, what what I say? What could we say? There doesn’t seem to be any scant reason for a conversation, except the distant memory that, once, we were friends. And we won’t dishonor that memory. But we can’t resurrect it, either.

It’s hard to reach out to people and to be genuine and honest. But if it’s not genuine and honest, it really stinks. Forced, shallow and polite relationships really stink. Yet real, true, honest relationships needs a lot of work. Period. Good things require time and patience and mindfulness about tending. So how do you know when to let go, and when to keep patiently hoeing out the weeds? How do you know when “showing up” is part of the patient work, and when it is almost a condescension? And why do many chasms, originally there or grown over the years, never come to redemption?

 

Mapless

I met a friend for dinner tonight, and it was a little bittersweet. The last time I saw her was 18 months ago. She was living in her mom’s basement, and her husband was unable to join her for another three months. All she wanted was to get her own house and have a baby.

Now, 18 months later? She has the husband. And the house. And the baby.

Me? Still doing school. My big life update is that I got terribly sick for three months, and now I’m getting better.

And while I was happy for my friend and her appearance of relative calm and contentment, it also left me feeling a little hollow. She knew what she wanted, and she got it. I don’t really know what I want, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it. That part was a little hollow; I guess in some ways, we paint in our minds what it looks like to be “grown up” and when that painting never materializes, it’s hard to feel like we’re making any progress or hitting any milestones.

But it also makes me think of, well, for lack of a better word, what it takes to satisfy people. I have multiple people in my “social circle” who are hitting those milestones of getting married, getting houses, having kids. In fact, this friend and I were recounting how many people in our class were hitting those milestones. Do I want to get married, have kids, get a house? Sure. Lots. But at the same time, I can’t say I really feel jealous of someone else’s life, because each one is doing it differently than I would.

Sometimes I feel frustrated and how simply contented other people appear to be. Don’t get me wrong; they still have health problems; car problems; money problems; broken or damaged relationships; bad days. It’s not like I think their lives are all sunshine and butterflies. But seeing their quintessential little families makes me realize how much that’s not enough for me. Not for lack of wanting that, but also for wanting more.

I thought I didn’t need a college degree. I thought I would lead a simple life, with simple needs, and a simple income and a simple lifestyle, and that I didn’t need to embrace what the world said was important. Tried that for a while. Found it deeply unsatisfying and frustrating. Got a two-year college degree, because I was going to lead a simple life, with simple needs, and a simple income, because I didn’t need to embrace what the world said was important.

Well, then I got a 4-year degree, because guess what? The job I got with the two-year degree wasn’t cutting it. (It was more than that — much more than that — but stick with the thematic story telling, here.) So much for simple. I went whole-hog for for the million-year degree I’m still grinding away at, with dread resolution that, unfortunately, I’m not a simple person with simple needs. I’m a complex person, with nearly insatiable curiosity that gets me in over my head all the time and a burning passion that tends to leave me burnt out and a resilient idealism that withstands the onslaughts of my cynicism.

I would say I “just” want a husband and children and home. But then you just watch. I would be like: Let’s get a dog!. . . Let’s train it to be a therapy dog! . . . Let’s go visit nursing homes! . . .Let’s go visit prisons!. . .wait, prisons? Can you even do that? How do you do that? I know nothing of prison culture. Crud, I’m in way over my head, AGAIN.

I don’t do halfsies. I do all in. I do multiple fires on multiple fronts. Sometimes, I feel like this isn’t true, because I’m an introvert, and when everyone else is off “doing things” I go take long walks by myself. This need for quiet and stillness fools me into thinking I’m the simple (not easy, just not complicated) person I want to be. But the truth is, I’m always antsy with the status quo. Always. I can barely sit still for 24 hours without thinking about what I’d like to change or do differently or improve.

I used to think everyone was like me, despite my family’s insistence I was crazy. Gradually, I’m starting to relent that I might be crazy and maybe most people aren’t like me. I still shirk at people applying grandiose words to me, like “charismatic” or “visionary” or “brilliant.” Don’t be dumb. At the very least, don’t flatter me under false pretenses. But I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe they aren’t false pretenses. Maybe they mean it. I consider it with the same kind of dread that I had when I realized maybe I had to go to graduate school.

I want it to stop being so complicated, darn it. I want things to be simple and to settle down, and for that to be Enough.

I was looking through house and home magazines and blogs the other day, and thinking incredulously, “who has time for this stuff? It’s like their full time job is just homemaking! Oh, wait. . .” It’s not that I have any problems with staying at home and making a home. I just realized in that moment that while doing full time “linen freshening” would amuse me terribly for about a week or two, I would rapidly get impatient. All fine and well, I’m sure, but probably I don’t have to dust or vacuum today or next week or possibly for a good deal longer, and I can go dabble and splash around in other things. Did you know that they make whole books devoted to crafts you can make for charitable causes? Isn’t that cool? Also, I need to get back into photography. If you road a train and camped, how much money would it cost to tour the US of A in a summer? You know, national park to national park? Or not national park. Also, I think my grandmother could really use some help, if only someone would volunteer.

Before you know it, my housemaking would be languishing, and you would just have to take to naming the dust bunnies and signing your name on the furniture tops, because frankly, that’s just too darn boring.

I don’t have anything at all against housemaking. I suspect at times I would pursue it with a terrible fury. I also don’t have anything against raising kids. On the contrary, it would be an honor and a pleasure. It’s just I think it would wind up looking like dirty placemats and a sink full of dishes while I took my kids off to to see something more interesting and exciting, like, oh, I don’t know, a rail-way being laid down. Or running a homemade ice-cream stand. Which is ludicrous. And I want to.

To be the crazy ones, the weird ones, the eccentric ones that everyone wishes a little to emulate but are unwilling to be that straight-up crazy. I will never really be the quintessential, photogenic, neat, little family that pretty knew what they wanted and go it.

The thing is, the fact that I can’t say I want a neat little package and that I’ll always be exploring for more, also makes me wonder if I’ll ever have anything resembling contentment. Maybe what I want is too lofty. Maybe there’s no one crazy enough to want to join me in my being crazy. Maybe I’m too demanding. Maybe it’s a sign of mental illness to be concurrently terrified of my desires to be eccentric and crazy going unfulfilled and simultaneously lamenting the fact that I’ll never be satisfied with a boring (tipping my bias) life.

I just wish I could have some kind of plan. At the very least, so it smarts less when I talk to friends and relatives who seem to have plans and who seem to be making jolly good progress on them. I’m sure they don’t think they’re looking down on me, but it makes one feel inferior, anyhow.

Be Nice or Go (away from) Home

I hate negativity.

I understand that means that I am part of the problem; that is exactly my problem

When I get tired–and it doesn’t take much to make me tired, so it’s hardly any excuse or justification–I lose almost any shred of patience or tolerance for sarcasm, arm-chair judgements and criticisms, bad-mouthings and cutting comments. It’s not that I necessarily think all these things should be tolerated, but I more than willingly accept that the proper way of responding to these things are not shooting back my own sarcastic or cutting criticisms. Yet I do.

It makes me so angry to hear this kind of callousness. And I can say as well as anyone that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” But I’m honestly shocked by how angry I get so quickly. People have no right to be talking to or about other people that way–about me or about others–and certainly not laughing like it’s funny.

I’m not even quite sure what produces this knee-jerk reaction, and I guess it’s something I need to pay more attention to–and deal with the root cause rather than lashing out with my own short-comings. It doesn’t help that it seems the casual observer sees this just as me “enjoying getting her goat gotten.” This isn’t not a teasing kind of joke; it’s mean spirited and inconsiderate and painful.

It’s hard for me to understand what a right reaction should be, because I’m not entirely sure that I do wan to just get better at “tolerating” it. I know that I do tolerate it better when I’m well rested and under no stress, and I know that my fuse does shrink to non-existent when I do get tired. But it’s hard for me to find a meaningful, measured response that adequately expresses that which I do mean, especially when expressing hurt seems only to get me labeled as “too sensitive” and “needing thicker skin.”

It’s funny, after I went away to school, I wondered why I had started this blog instead of working on my other one. I remembered I had wanted to set this one aside for girl talk, for processing things it appears my very manly family can’t comprehend, or won’t respect. But when I’m by myself, I don’t have to struggle with these things nearly so much, and I forget the impetus for stepping away.

I realize this is a double-eged sword. How many times have I heard that marriage makes you examine yourself so much more, revealing all of your faults and weaknesses? Being away from others doesn’t do away with my weaknesses; it just relieves me of the task of facing them. At the same time, I certainly understand the appeal of the philosophy of avoiding conflict. Life can feel so much harder when your demons keep picking fights with everyone else, instead of staying inside and tearing singularly yourself apart. They’re still there, but at least then it doesn’t seem like you’re dragging everyone else through your rubbish.

If it is just my rubbish. Personally, I think we’re both bringing rubbish to this battle. But I also don’t think it’s funny, in any way, and I’m not at all sure I’m ready to cede petty, either.

Who, you?

We were talking about eating disorders today, and I think one of the most insidious things is that it’s not always obvious until it’s “too late.” Some people are just naturally skinnier. Some people do just eat less. It’s not like a big huge red flashing light goes off over a woman’s head saying “EVERYBODY!! I MISSED MY PERIOD BECAUSE I’M NOT EATING ENOUGH!!!!” By the time it is that glaringly obvious, the person has been struggling for a long time–often years–deeply entrenched in their difficulties. Like anything, the sooner it is caught and appropriately addressed, the easier it is to successfully turn away from it. Once they’re emaciated waifs, it will be obvious there’s a problem–and even harder to help them find their way back to three square meals.

But I think that part of the problem is not recognizing there is a problem–not just because it means people won’t be able to get the help and support they need, but also because it’s a habit of callousness–something that just happens to “other people.” No one makes it a goal to “get anorexia” and most people who do fall into that pit remain in denial for quite sometime. “Awareness” is such a cheesy, over-used word nowadays. People are “raising awareness” for everything–so much so that no one pays attention anymore. I asked a classmate why she was wearing an Alzheimer’s awareness shirt, and she honestly couldn’t remember who it was who originally inspired her to do the Memory Walk. I can–deep in my gut, always, I see the word Alzheimer’s and I see my grandfather. People may be more aware now that “Alzheimer’s” exists, and that it’s a “bad thing” that “needs  a cure!”–but do they really understand?

And everyone knows about anorexia. It’s like, not eating and stuff, for girls that, like, worry about the way they look and stuff, and then they crazy girls starve themselves. . .right? And then I tell people, “Your sister was getting caught in this too. I had to explain to her what was going on. She didn’t realize.” And they look at me so surprised, so quizzically. “Huh,” they say. “Huh; I guess I never really paid attention.”

Do you think it’s a “someone else” problem? Only something crazy girls get? I’m telling you, by the time it’s obvious, so much damage has already been done. Girls who don’t care about fashion. Girls who don’t stare at themselves in the mirror. Girls you’d think would “know better”–because it isn’t even about knowing. Girls who seem to be dedicated to healthy lifestyles.  Girls who seem so polite and sensible.

You’re aware of “anorexia,” but are you aware of the girls who have it? The women? You can do all the walks and all the events, but do you know who you’re wearing that shirt for? It isn’t the “what” you need to be aware of. . .it’s the who.

When People are Watching

“Does she ever make you record yourself and listen to what you sound like?”

“No. Why?”

“Well, I don’t see how else you’ll ever get better, if you don’t hear what you sound like.”

“That’s what the piano is for. I’m supposed to match that tune. A lot of times I can hear myself going wrong, and that’s when you hear me stop and correct myself.”

“Well, is all I know is ever since you started taking singing lessons, you’ve been sounding more and more affected and you’re sounding worse and worse! But whatever, I’m not your singing instructor.”

Why, I wonder, do conversations like this make me feel like garbage? I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was coming to complain, that he was disgusted by my practice–the practice that I thought had really gone pretty well. I already hate practicing where everyone can hear me, but there’s no place else to practice. Everyone loathes it. They’re sick of my songs, sick of hearing me work on my range, sick of the fact that when one is singing–really singing–their voice carries. You have to, to let the air out, without holding it back. Any other way, and it damages your vocal cord. That’s how I know when I’m singing wrong–it’s uncomfortable. I know I’m singing right when it seems to float right out of me without any strain at all.

I suspect that’s what my brother was calling “affected”. Because when we talk, conversationally, we’re not speaking on our air. So I kind of know what he’s complaining about, and I know he’s wrong. I made a brief foray into trying to explain the reason behind the “affectedness,” but it was clear he wasn’t interested. He felt the need to tell me I sounded terrible. I apologized he was tormented by listening to me sing.

But I’m still going to sing.

And I’m still going to feel like crap.

I try to rationalize it away. He was just one person. My singing instructor says the opposite. My friends who sing notice great improvement. It feels right within my body. I’m enjoying myself. But I guess I don’t have much inside of me that resists very well that tone of voice.

You know that saying that everyone is plastering everywhere? About dancing like no one is watching and singing like no one hears? The thing that gets me every time about that is that it is being used as a rebuke about self-consciousness. That no one is really listening or watching anyway, and if they were, they could only really appreciate your offering. The truth of the matter is that people do watch, and people do listen. And guess what? They think and say critical, harsh things. They don’t like what you do.

If there’s really any truth in that statement, it has nothing to do with flowery, happy feelings of self-affirmation and coming out of your shell like a beautiful butterfly. No; it’s about setting your face like a flint, and doing what is very hard. It’s about defying every dark voice, voices that really are there. When people talk about “dancing like no one is watching,” I think the picture that often gets imagined is one laughing in the summer twilight and twirling with the autumn leaves. It’s really more like trying to find the spirit to dance in a war-zone. It’s realizing you have every reason to shut up and sit down, and getting up and singing anyway.

Which begs the question: why?

If you really do have every reason to shut up and sit down, why would you even call it “inspiring” to stand up and sing? What if people are just mad at you for singing over the war-ruins? What if everyone thinks you’re doing such a bad job of it, it’s a disgrace to everyone’s pain?

It also begs the question: how?

Even if we could pretend that it was really inspiring to sing badly, inspiring to disgust your listeners, inspiring to publicly fail, repeatedly. . .where are you supposed to find the strength to do that? There’s a reason why people don’t sing when others are listening or dance while others are watching. It’s hard. And it hurts.

Do I have splendid answers? Not really. At the core of it, I just know that if I don’t, I’m allowing myself to be caged and bound. I’ve always wanted. . .but, no, there’s an audience. Locked up inside of fear, not being who I really am.

Who I am is a disaster area. Who I am is a train-wreck. Who I am doesn’t summon butterflies and adoring crowds. Who I am annoys people and disgusts them.

But if I’m not who I am, I might as well be dead. If I’m living, I might as well strive to be alive. I can’t be alive as anyone other than me, even if me is the one who sings affectedly, has calves like a Clydesdale, and bosses people around indiscriminately during house-moving jobs. I might not want to be this person, but it’s my job to be alive. Part of that job description means singing even though people are listening, and don’t like it that I am. I apologize, but I cannot cease–without ceasing. The hard things still have to be done.

Flying high or under the radar?

I’ve had three experiences in rapid succession that have left me not only unsure of what to say, but also unsure of how I feel. I’m left with this strange kind of ache-y hollowness that I don’t really know how to describe.

The first of these was on a really cold morning. I mean, it was really cold, because it was the first really cold day of the season. I have seen much colder than 6F (yes, single digit), but the first time it happens for the year, it kinda takes your breath away. Also, it gives those of us short on small talk some material.

“It’s freezing!” I say. Eloquently.

“I know! It’s really cold out!” she says.

“Yeah! When I. . .went out this morning, it was only 6 degrees!”

That awkward pause? That, I-was-going-to-say-something-but-I-changed-my-mind blip? My brain stopped my mouth before my mouth knew what was going on, and it left me so befuddled I could barely continue the conversation. I was GOING to say, “Yeah, when I went out to take care of the chickens this morning. . .” and then some really bizarre auto-correct kicked in.

You can’t say that.

Why not? Why can’t I say that?

Look at her. Blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin, new clothes, the backpack you secretly covet. . .she’s too sophisticated to talk to about CHICKENS!

Um, really?

Yeah. Seriously. What are you thinking?

I dunno. I’ve helped her some with homework. She seems nice. I don’t think she’d be grossed out by chickens, or anything.

No! Do not tell the peoples about chickens! Stick to safe, acceptable things, like helping with homework! NO CHICKENS!

But I do have chickens! I don’t think it needs to be any kind of sec–

Look, just shut up, okay?

Um, okay.

It was so weird. I’ve made about a million resolutions that THIS time, I actually open up and make friends, and talk about myself, and not try to make my invisible bubble where we’re all friendly but not really friends. I’ve resolved, repeatedly, that its very lonely when no one has any clue who you are and the only way to head it off is actually open your mouth and say stuff about yourself, instead of quietly thinking them in your head.

The encounter was over in seconds. I felt like I stood there befuddled for nearly as long. What had happened? Why did I feel compelled to edit out chickens? I didn’t mean to do that. It went against all my resolutions. I did it so automatically, and I didn’t even know why. What was wrong with me? And what was wrong with chickens? Lots of rural people come to this school. And even if they didn’t–still, what’s wrong with chickens? Why do I feel the need to pretend I’m not me, or obscure random facets of my existence? I have no answers.

***

I was in the other room, and I don’t think he knew I was there. But he was talking, loudly and with disgust, at my inability to stick with an exercise program. I kept letting things like other obligations or visiting friends get in the way. I’d never learned to just let exercise be a bad thing that happened to me, that I had no control over. I would never just stick with it. Never, never, never.

He wasn’t talking to me, so I stayed quiet. Part of me wanted to protest–you aren’t supposed to live a passive life! You aren’t supposed to just let life happen to you! You’re supposed to be in charge and weigh priorities, and make decisions! Exercise is not my religion, and I will not tell all my friends, “Sorry; I know this is the only day all month that would work for both of us, but that time is when I have to exercise.” And I’m not going to go running when my body is breaking down. Some things are more important.

But that was just a quiet, surface voice, and I abandoned even that. Underneath it was a feeling of such a gulf. He would never understand me. He would never respect me. I would always be separated, alone, weak. But I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t agree with his definition of strength.

What words are there for the feeling of when you see how big the space is between you and someone else?

***

This other one, he calls me his baby sister, even though he’s my baby brother. He hates noise. He’s like what-sis-name from lil’ Abner, who wants to go to jail because there are no people there, and no one talks to you never.

But when I practice my singing lessons, there is no reprieve anywhere in the house. The cat disapproves of music of any kind, and flees. Since I am upstairs and he is downstairs, I can’t see what he does. But I’m pretty sure he flees, too.

I told him I was glad that he had patience with me making noise. He told me, very earnestly,

“Oh, no, I think singing is a good thing. Even when you’re bad it, singing is good.”

I wanted to laugh and to cry. I laughed, because you aren’t supposed to cry. He wasn’t even trying to give a backhanded compliment. That was just the truth as he saw it: even though I was making, in his book, an awful racket he could barely stand, he was glad I was singing.

How do you feel when someone tells you that, so earnestly? It’s okay that you’re horrible; I like you anyway. Okay, George. Thanks for the support. I don’t know what to say.

***

I feel asleep thinking about it all. And about my singing lessons, especially. At the beginning of the semester, she told me there would be a concert at the end. She wouldn’t make me do it, because I wasn’t a music major; but her other students would have to do it. I imagined myself singing in that concert. Having learned so much, improved. I would get confidently up there. I would maybe even invite my aunt to come see me, finally singing. I would not hide; I would not hold back. I would victor.

Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road. She had to get the schedule ready. Next time I saw her, I would have to say yes or no. She thought I would be prepared and would do fine, but understood if I didn’t want to. I told her I would think about it. I went home and slept on it, and woke up thinking, “dear God, I’m so glad I don’t have to be part of that concert!”

Why? I’m just tired. I don’t have the emotional strength to fight that battle right now. It’s the same reason I didn’t ask anyone to come to my graduation for my two year degree. I wanted to do it, but I knew everyone would hate to come. I didn’t ask. I mean, I told them when it was and that they could come. But I didn’t specifically say, “This is very meaningful to me; get your butt there.”

I couldn’t. I didn’t even know how I would feel. I just knew I had to go, and I didn’t have the emotional resources to fight that battle with everyone else. Some pictures were taken of me, and my family all said, “wow, she looks so happy in those pictures. huh. I wouldn’t have went to MY graduation, if it was me. I guess she’s weird.” One brother said, “If you’d asked me to come, I would have. I didn’t know it meant that much to you.”

I told him the truth: I didn’t know it was going to mean that much to me. I didn’t tell him the rest, about how sometimes it’s just too hard to swim against the grain. I used up all I had getting me there; I didn’t have anything left to get anyone else there.

It was mostly okay, but then my brother graduated. He had no difficulties inviting the proper grandparents. Plus, he had a much smaller class, and he was valedictorian. And my mom went and my dad, who abhors stepping foot outside of his house–if I remember right, he went too. Then it really wasn’t okay.

I didn’t say anything, because I hadn’t asked my grandmother to come to mine. If I had, she would have come. If she had come, my mom would have come, lest she be shown up by her mother. But I didn’t have the stamina left to do that, so I flew under the radar. I figured out, barely, how to get myself there, and I went through the ceremony with my whole class. Afterwards, my grandma rebuked my mom for not telling her I was graduating. I felt bad, because I should have said something to my grandma instead of hiding. But I felt worse that my mom didn’t have any innate interest in attending my graduation, but had no problem showing up for my brother’s.

I’ve been thinking about that again, I guess, because, Lord willing, I’ll be graduating again this spring. A Bachelor’s degree in science. From an online school. How many jokes do you think there are about graduation ceremonies for online schools? I’d have to travel 3 hours to get to the real ceremony. I am thinking I probably will. I like the feeling of a ceremony closing a door on a chapter of my life.

Is this like the concert? Where I swear now, I will invite everyone? I will talk about chickens? And then in the end, I’m just to tired to fight that battle?

If things go they way I think they’re going to go, in a few more years I will be graduating again, this time with a Doctorate’s degree. What will I do then? Will I ever get up the guts to assert who I am, and that I am important, and that people had better take notice and a little respect of me? Or will I always be this person who flies under the radar because it’s too risky to tell people who I really am?

I don’t know what to feel or what to say.

Jerks are okay, but you sensitive people are ruining things for everyone!

Am I venting? Yes, I’m venting. The thing about sanctuaries is that you normally spend the most time there when you’re hurting.

But I don’t make this stuff up, people, and I don’t write about the same event multiple times. There are just these certain themes that keep coming up, and maybe part of the problem is that I don’t know how to deal with them properly during the event.

Last night, my brother was at it again, in fine form.

“. . .he and I didn’t really get along well, because insecure people don’t like jerks.” Note: my brother is claiming he is a jerk. This might be considered a sign of humility, if he actually thought that was a problem.

“Right,” I say, rolling my eyes and dripping sarcasm. “Insecure people don’t like jerks, whereas everyone else just loves jerks!”

“Well,” he amends. “I guess it would be better to say that sensitive people don’t like jerks.”

Right, because being a jerk is a totally justifiable, acceptable, understandable thing, and being sensitive is, like, totally uncalled for!

I get that we all have our weaknesses; we all act sometimes in ways we know we should not act. I don’t have this horrible problem with someone saying, “Sometimes, I act like a jerk.” Me, too. But I do strongly maintain the opinion that “being a jerk” is a problem, is something you should regret, and is something you should apologize for–not something you should expect other people to adjust to and accommodate!

I am sensitive. Sometimes, I’m overly sensitive. I guess the idea is that–because of my glaring character flaw!–I think that when I’m being overly sensitive, I am the one at fault and should apologize for taking offense were none was meant. Whereas, I suppose, one who is not flawed, and is quite comfortable in their jerk-iness, realizes they have no need to be ashamed for hurting other people, because, you know, they’re just jerks and that’s normal behavior for jerks and people have just to got deal with the way things are.

The idea, I suppose, is that sensitive people aren’t willing to accept jerks the way they are, putting jerks into isolation for no good reason–as the jerks were perfectly willing to get along with everyone who, you know, didn’t have a problem with being treated poorly. And then all those sensitive people had to go and ruin a good thing by not accepting being treated badly, and then–only then!–was there conflict between the jerks and the sensitive people. If the sensitive people had just been more tolerant, jerks and sensitive people could have lived together in harmony.

Um, no. Getting along with people doesn’t mean “everyone admits that I’m right.” It means meeting the other party half-way. Getting along is not where I say, “Sometimes I’m too sensitive,” and you say “Yep, you are.” Getting along is not where you say, “If you were less sensitive, it wouldn’t matter that I was a jerk.” Getting along is where I come half-way–“Sometimes I’m too sensitive,”–and you come half-way–“sometimes, I don’t treat you well”–and we BOTH make an effort to understand the weakness of each other and to ADDRESS the weakness of ourselves. I can try to meet you half-way. . .but I can’t make the whole trip myself. If you’re not willing to travel, we’re not going to get any closer. . .and that’s not my fault!