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I’ve pretty much decided that the person I most need to ‘hug it out’ with … is me. (For the uninitiated, ‘hugging it out’ is to end an argument or dispute with a hug showing that the ill will is over). The person I am the cruelest to … is me. The person I am most frequently at odds with…is me. The person I am the hardest on…is me.

Not a real comfortable thought. Pretty crappity, actually.

And how did I come to this bit of wisdom?? By getting slapped upside the back of my head with it via the Universe. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I choose to pay attention – and when some issue comes up for me in separate instances in quick succession, I figure that it’s being brought front-and-center for a reason. I choose to believe the reason is because it’s something I must be ready to look at or deal with.

On Monday, in two separate instances, I was forced to confront the fact that I have an absolutely impossible time saying anything good about myself in a true and real way. And I don’t mean that I can’t admit that I do things well – but that’s surface stuff. I can’t say nice things about who I am as a being. And that sucks.

The first slap? During our art journaling group, where the page topic was “I am beautiful and sacred because…” People, I had nothing. I looked around at my friends who were busily listing out the ways they knew they were beautiful and sacred, and I sat there frozen like a deer caught in headlights. I actually felt my brain do that open-mouthed, fish gasping, um-um-um, thing. I finally picked some stuff that I felt like I could convince myself was true and put it on my list. And somewhere in the back of my mind, the justifications started, “That was just hard because you weren’t focusing. It’s nothing. You know all this stuff. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

And I went about my day. That night (as I wrote about in my last blog), I attended a ‘floating salon’ where we were talking about our womanness and what it is to be a woman, etc. One of the things that we were encouraged to do as a part of embracing our juicy selves was to brag. About ourselves. Again, the deer-in-headlights, fish gaping reaction. My brain panicked and just kind of stuttered.

As you all know, I am verbose. Loquacious, even. When asked to come up with even one brag, I had nothing. And as much as I’d like to say it’s because I am some paragon of modesty, up for sainthood or something, I can’t because I’m not.

What I am is a product of my upbringing – the child of Midwestern parents whose genealogy includes a whole lot of stoic folks. Talking about yourself is pretty much a no-no. When you’re asked how you are, the proper response is “Fine. And you?” And then they say, “Fine.” And then you talk about the weather. Bragging? That’s anathema.

I can admit that’s a convenient ‘out’ for me – when you become an adult and make your way in the world on your own, it’s on you to iron out the wrinkles that are inherent in any upbringing (different upbringing = different garment = different wrinkles – but no matter what, we’ve all got wrinkles). Once you’re out there on your own, I figure you don’t get to point at your mommy and daddy and say that’s why this or that is screwy with you. What you get to do is sit with your wrinkle and figure out why you’re still hanging onto something that obviously doesn’t work for you anymore. And replace it with something a bit healthier, or with a better fit for you.

And the reason I’m clear on the fact that I can’t simply point to my Midwestern upbringing, shrug my shoulders and let it go is because this was the second time today that I needed to be able to say something good and positive about myself, and it was the second time I was utterly stymied by that simple task.

What’s one good thing I can say about myself? Well, it’s another ‘easy’ one because it’s about something I do, not something I am. I am an awesome cheerleader for people – I am awesome at telling other people how awesome they are. It’s absolutely effortless for me to see their good stuff and tell them about it.

Why in the hell can’t I do that for myself? I am okay at telling myself the things I am good at – I can at least acknowledge it. I am utter crap at telling myself the things I am. You know, I don’t even know if I am clear on what I am. What I embody. What I shine forth.

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days now, and I think it has to start with stopping something. I have to stop telling myself all the ways I fail. I have to stop pointing at all the missteps and small mistakes and flogging myself with them. I have to stop telling myself perpetually that there is something wrong with me.

A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends posted a video on her blog. And I found myself going back to watch it again and again. It was called “There is nothing wrong with you.” I watched it, and I cried. Because no matter how much self work I’ve done, no matter how much excavating I’ve done inwardly, no matter how many books I’ve read or classes I’ve attended, I still believe that I am something to be fixed. To be improved. To be healed. To be amended, appended, adjusted. That I need to improve, remove. That I need to tweak and pull and twist myself continually in the aim of finally achieving…what?

And you know what? It’s not true. I am not broken. I am not faulty. I am not sick. I am not damaged. I am not a screw up. I am not a failure. I am not something to be fixed.

There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you, either, by the way, though you think there is.

I think that somewhere along the way, I stopped focusing on what the path of mastery is supposed to be about and started getting stuck in fixing all my foibles. That is not the path of mastery. The path of mastery is noticing. It is attending. It is being present. It is noticing who you are and what you do, and how it makes you feel – and then knowing that the path continues beyond that point of notice, offering you opportunity after opportunity to make new choices. Nowhere in that is there any inherent judgment. I slapped the judgment in there all by myself.

It’s reflective of that distinction that good parents make when correcting a child – to make sure to say that it was a bad choice, or a naughty thing to do, but to never tell the child that they are bad or naughty. Somewhere along the line, I stopped making that distinction for myself, and started telling myself that I was wrong, that I was broken, that I was bad. And I forgot that it was the things I did – which can always be changed, and new choices made – which could be judged, if judging is even necessary.

I’m sharing the video on here again, because I need to watch it again. There is nothing wrong with me. I cannot hear that enough times, and maybe neither can you.

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Tonight has been one of the worst, yuckiest, most craptastical nights I have, perhaps, ever had. The kind of night that made me want to pull down the curtains of my soul, and numb out everything around me. The kind of night, where it feels like all I can do to keep my breathing low and controlled, and to keep looking right in front of me, and to not look too far off, because I would lose it.

Tonight, this is my prayer. Tonight, this is the note I want to end on. No matter how awful something is, there is a spark of hope within me, always, that it is truly not as awful as it seems.

 

 

Am I seeing it as a sign, because I want a sign and am looking for a sign? Or do I see it as a sign because it is a sign? I’ve always done this circular kind of questioning, this ‘which came first – chicken or egg?’ kind of wondering. Sometimes, though, I just allow a sign to be itself, and accept it, because it’s so fortuitous and timely and unquestionable that questioning feels like sacrilege.

When I first went to part time at my ‘regular’ job, in order to embark on the dream of being a Reiki Master Teacher offering her services at the shop, I went through a period of intense doubt (as do most people when they’ve made a change that feels huge). That day, standing outside of the office with my aunt, I watched a Strange Angel come to me with a sign.

I stood there, dumbfounded, as a woman popped out of a shiny black SUV and announced that she was the Mustard Girl. She told me how she’d left behind a life of certainty in order to start a new life as the purveyor of homemade and heritage mustards. How she’d doubted it could even really happen, but that now, she’s got accounts throughout the Midwest and a committed customer base, and it all happened because she’d been brave enough to ask an old man how to make mustard, and to follow where that passion led.

She glowed. She was so happy, so utterly in the moment, that she glowed. She handed each of us a few bottles of complimentary mustard, popped back into the shiny SUV, and went on her way. It was a ‘holy sh&#’ kind of experience. And it snapped me out of the miasma I’d sunk into – it stopped the little voice in my head. The one who dirges all day long, “Who are you to think you could do this?” A new thought replaced it – “If the Mustard Girl can do it, so can I!” A strange battle cry, to be sure, but it worked.

Seven months have passed since that fated sidewalk meeting with the Mustard Girl. Since then, a million things have happened, all of which led to me leaving my ‘regular’ job in order to take a chance on…. me, essentially. So, I gave notice, and I made plans, and I talked about it to everyone. And in the past month, it seems like each person that comes my way needs me to tell them what I need to hear most – that it is possible, that they can do it (whatever ‘it’ happens to be). They need me to be their Mustard Girl, and so I am.

This week is my first week away from that ‘regular’ job, and I am grateful for the way that it’s playing out – even though I wasn’t at first. I’d intended to revel in the freedom from that old routine and simply bask in the empty space left behind and let my creativity and juiciness bubble on up. Instead, I’ve spent the week minding the shop for Dani as she gets to revel in creativity, and homecoming, and a different kind of freedom. And I’m grateful to the Universe for setting it up this way, because it was good to give me something to do while I got used to the idea of having all that space and time and emptiness waiting to be filled with the longings of my heart.

I’ve spent some time second-guessing myself this week – hovering over or behind Wittler as he attempted to blow off steam in virtual pursuits (he’s a devoted World of Warcraft player). I mostly got non-committal grunts of assent or disagreement over the background noise of virtual people virtually exploding virtual targets. Even our most devoted cheerleaders get tired of the same routine when they’ve done it a few hundred times.

So, I left Wittler alone, and I made the bed each morning, and did the dishes and went to the shop. And I took care of business. And I mulled. And I pondered. Some of it was jubilant, if disbelieving – as though I were a dog that’d finally slipped its chain and didn’t know quite how to go about achieving all the things it had dreamed of doing. Some of it came from that crummy voice that mutters the nasty stuff, “I can’t believe that you thought you could make this work. You don’t even know the first thing about what you’re doing. You’re going to fail. You’re impractical. What made you think that you deserved this?”

Somewhere in between all of that, I came to the shop today and got down to business as normal. And then, it all slipped sideways. Dani always says, “Is it odd, or is it God?”

Was he a prophet, a soothsayer, a convenient pedestrian, a madman, a holy man, a sage, a way-shower? All those things? None of them? I don’t know. I looked up from what I was doing to see a brilliantly sunshine yellow shirt, and a key lanyard that said, “God is awesome” dangling in front of my eyes. He introduced himself as Artemus, and proceeded to tell me all about all of the ventures that he had going for himself – from advertising on the sides of dogs to helping others live their dreams to scouting out new talent. I kept waiting for the pitch.

He asked me what my dreams were. I told him, that ironically, I’d started to live them this week. I told him that I’d decided to leave the known behind and to do all of my “someday, I’ll’s” today. That I was going to build my Reiki practice, and that I intended to try really writing, instead of just playing at it. I wasn’t sure why I was telling all of this to a complete and total (and rather odd) stranger.

He turned to me and said, “Your time has come. The world will meet you.” And then he told me that he was looking for all sorts of things, one of which was love, and said, “I’m a revolutionary.” Then he thanked me, gathered up his dog advertising board and binder and left the way he came. And I stood there, bemused.

And I had that choke-y feeling at the back of my throat that I get when I listen to live music (which calls emotions from me with vibrancy and insistence). I felt like crying – in the good way, the grateful way. I let myself think about it a bit more – the yellow shirt made me think of the solar plexus chakra, our power center. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, the female warrior, the protectress of women. “God is Awesome.” Indeed. Odd, all the way around.

Maybe I see signs where others see a slightly odd man, or a condiment peddler. Maybe I see just what I’m meant to see, when I’m meant to see it.

Whatever the reality or the truth of the situation may be, what I know and feel to be true is that when I stand there, mewling about my fears and getting bogged down in that feeling of undeservingness, I am sent a sign that is unmistakable and cannot be ignored.

Thanks Artemus. Thanks Mustard Girl. Thanks to all my Strange Angels.

 

 

One Alice chose to leap from the solid ground and follow the white rabbit, that’s when things got interesting. All the hesitating at the edge of the cliff? Everyone does that. It’s the leap that makes waves, makes changes, makes things happen. Creates the resounding ripple through the universe.

The past two weeks, I’ve felt the urge to mutter, “curiouser and curiouser,” hourly. Things have been really intense, and I retreated inward. I had a lot to process – about the decisions I’ve made –  emotionally, that I’d already processed mentally. Mental processing? Psssht! A snap. Emotional processing? Another matter, altogether.

It’s like I am finally able to sit back and see all the threads woven together now. Things that were coming to an end are buttoning themselves up, and resolution is everywhere. And all of that is GOOD. All of that is also accordingly intense.

I’ve been snappish like an old dog on a hot August day – testy, nasty, and plain-old no fun to be around. I’ve craved silence and solitude. I’ve longed for a hermitage somewhere, where I could go and let the wind blow through my hair, and the sun beam on my head, and let all of this stuff just assimilate itself into who I am today, now, in this moment.

The past two weeks, God (in infinite wisdom, I am sure) has taken the opportunity to make the things that are coming to an end SO uncomfortable that I am battered. And that’s okay. I know that the reason I need the battering is because I am so damn stubborn. I am learning, in no uncertain terms and in a way that I will actually remember later when I’m doubtful, why leaving this job is a good idea. Why it is an absolutely fabulously wonderful plan to go out on my own. Why it is so important, so necessary, to stop all my procrastination and dithering and just embrace the me I was always destined to be. Why it’s so damn important to just get on with it already.

The past two weeks have been bruising and horrid so that there was no way I could ever look back at this and fashion for myself some story of martyrdom – so that I’d always remember the honest gut-wrenchingness of it, and know that I made the right decision. So, I’m grateful. I’m applying salve to my wounds, but I’m grateful for the wounds.

The past two weeks have been liberally peppered with all sorts of affirmation, too – for every instance of negative reinforcement, for every single “Ouch! Quit it!” in the old situation, I’ve been given a balm that grows out of the new situation. People have come forward to tell me how wonderful it is that I am doing this (not what I was going for, but thanks all the same – it’s helped). People have affirmed my abilities. The universe has supported my plans with reinforcement from all angles. And I’m grateful.

I was not in this appreciative and magnanimous mood last night. Last night, I was a terror. I was annoyed, and short, and nasty to be around. I was mean to Jeremy, who did not deserve it, and mean to the cat, who never deserves it. I was not fit for polite company, and I was getting sick of myself and the mood in which I’d enveloped myself. So, I did something smart. I walked out the door, determined to return in a better frame of mind.

I walked out across the streets. It was dark, and cool and breezy. It helped to blow off the head of steam I’d built all day. It was quiet. I wandered down the alley behind the shop. I crossed “Love Bridge” behind the place where the farmers’ market is held, and I went to the river. I went to the water. I sat there, in the calm dark and I just listened to the river rushing past.

I brought my journal, thinking I’d purge some of this bleck out of me. The universe is wily and doesn’t pull any punches – as soon as I started recounting my day and bemoaning my state (whine, whine, cry, cry, poor me), my freaking pen died. I am like the best Girl Scout ever created – always prepared, except today. No extra pen. I had to laugh. I did laugh, out loud. Just me and the river and the biggest spiders I’d ever seen in my life.

So I walked around, and let the peace of it seep into my soul. I checked out the abundant and abnormally-sized arachnid population. I watched them at work. I watched them skittering back and forth, weaving patiently through the night, hoping that somehow (having faith) they’d benefit once all these strings had been drawn together. (If you knew me, you’d know that watching spiders usually gives me the heebie-jeebies. But these were outside spiders. That’s their house, and in their house, I’m fascinated by them. In my house, I’m terrified. Illogical, I know.)

I came home with a measure of peace. I hadn’t found a cure-all, but I’d soaked up some measure of solace. I could be nice. Mission accomplished. I could even laugh at myself.

And tonight, I started thinking about where I got all of the ideas for how life should go, and why – for me – certain things scream of “settling,” and why there’s something within me that just won’t abide it. Why I couldn’t just accept my lot, and be content with what I’d had. Why I’d so often felt like a square peg shaving away at its corners to try to squash itself into a round hole. And I remembered. Thoreau.

Thoreau’s writing has always really hit me where I lived. I couldn’t dismiss it the way I could other messages. It was always like he’d written it all, just for me. So I pulled it out, and I reread it – you know the one – THE passage that got to you. Everybody’s got one – if not Thoreau, someone else.

Here’s mine (bear with it, and remember, that the chaff cradles the good stuff):

To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and to keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. (Thoreau, “What I Lived For,” Walden)

Thanks, Henry David Thoreau, for daring to be thought a nutter by everyone you knew. Thanks for writing it all down – all the discovery and the struggle and the enlightenment you found. Thanks for fanning that spark within me – that carpe-diem, seize-the-day, life-is-short, burn-brightly spark within me.

I’d rather be speeding down the rabbit hole into the unknown than standing on the edge, looking down and wondering ‘what if.’ I’d rather be hurtling into life, fully present and engulfed by the living of it than seeping away slowly. I’d rather be doing this than what ‘I ought to be doing.’

And every single time I doubt that, I am going to open that book and read that passage. Seize the day people – take chances, dance in public, go after what you want, wring out the pleasure from each moment. Be a brilliant flame. Light the way for others. Don’t look back. Grab your resolve, wry grin in place, and rush, headlong, deep into the moment.

 

 

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze

than it should be stifled by dry rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor,

every atom of me in a magnificent glow,

than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.

(Jack London)

 

Ever since I was a little girl, there was a quiet knowing, a small urging deep inside me that whispered, “You’re going to be something special. You’re going to do big things.” I think everyone has that little voice inside them, that inner certainty of specialness.

And that little voice, that inner urging, doesn’t let me rest. More accurately: I refuse to stifle it (for long).

When I was younger, my absolutely all-time favorite movie was Dead Poets Society. I think, honestly, that movie is one of the reasons that I taught high school – everyone cringed when I told them that was the age group I wanted to teach. Why do you want them when they’re already so screwed up? There’s no chance to change them.  They’re past molding. They don’t listen. Etc., etc., etc.

I wanted that age group because they were on the cusp – they stood at a great precipice in their own lives and had to make choices, had to make that leap. All that potential for greatness – it inspired me. I didn’t see damaged kids who were already set in stone – I saw kids who had been through the fire, and who would be heading out into the world, ready to start some fires of their own, to heal the burns of others, to mark it in their way. I saw potential.

What I failed to grasp then, was that I’d come to that precipice again and again in my own life. That I’d face that leaping off point more than once – that we all do.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. (Andre Gide)

Well, I’m standing on that cliff once more, facing the unknown. Knowing that the discomfort of staying on solid ground had finally outweighed my fear of taking that leap. I’m tired of listening to that other voice inside me that says I’ll fail, that I can’t-won’t-shouldn’t. I’m tired of allowing fear to make all my important decisions for me.

All of those “Someday, I’ll….” statements? Well, I’m doing them, now. Someday kept moving farther and farther away. And I had to get real with myself and decide – was I ever going to reach out and grab any of this? When?

Today.

I quit my “regular” job yesterday. I gave 30 days notice. I stood on the cliff, looked out, and leapt. I have no idea what will come of this – but something will! I will have tried – really tried! – and not only invested half of me, while the other part clings to some illusion of safety.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a great adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. (Helen Keller)

I’ve had to look hard at myself, at my life, at what I believe. I’ve had to point fingers at what wasn’t working. And I had to ask myself, if when I lay down to die, would I be at peace with this? Would I feel that I had come and done all that I wanted to do, all that I’d longed to do?

Yesterday, as I girded myself to make that change, I wrote this in my journal:

God, please go with me as I enter the unknown. I trust You to guide me; I trust You to give me strength against the challenges to come. In trust and faith, I place my well-being in Your hands.  Amen

“Someday” is today.

 

The other day, Jeremy (my fiancé) and I had an argument, and I gave lack of confidence as a reason (excuse) for my behavior in the situation. He, incredulous, turned to me and said, “I ran 400 miles away from my family, my hometown, and my past. You stayed here with all these same people, took it on the chin, and kept going. Don’t tell me you’re not confident! You’re one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.”

Where do I begin? My first thought was, “That’s a lie. I’m not confident. That’s bravado and stubbornness disguised as confidence.” My second thought was, “He really thinks that about me?” And my third thought was, “I never really had a choice.” In many ways, I see what he did as brave – venturing off to try his fortunes all on his own – and what I did as “cowardly,” I guess.

I suppose that one of the main reasons I “stayed here and took it on the chin” was that, in my family, there is no running away. They will come get you – if not physically, then emotionally. I was too well trained to the family expectations to go haring off to Ireland as I longed to do. When my life crumbled around me, I heaved a sigh (well, a few hundred sighs, actually), squared my shoulders and kept marching.

At the time, I’d thought that I’d changed dramatically – and I had. Everything I believed about myself, about others, about the nature of life and love and relationship, about reality, about success and failure, about individuality, about “good” and “bad” had changed. Everything had changed. I had changed.

I just hadn’t changed as much as I thought.

The moment we try to please another and abandon our own truth for theirs, we essentially hand our power to them, violate our own integrity, cut ourselves off from our inner wisdom, and – at least for a while – disconnect from our ability to love and nurture ourselves. (Betty Ford)

I was the Good Daughter. I did my duty. I tried not to disappoint my parents – I followed the code of behavior they laid out (both written and unwritten). I was very good at covering up misbehavior and lying “for their own good.” (Honestly, there are some things that parents don’t want to know their children are doing, that the majority of kids end up doing).

I exceeded expectations. I developed a strong perfectionistic streak. I attended all functions, I said the right things to the right people. I worked a LOT – too much (important in our family – being jobless for any reason is “shameful” – along with a lot of other things). Wherever they stated an expectation, or where one was unspoken, I not only tried to meet it – I tried to do it perfectly, so that I would be “beyond reproach.”

When being a “good girl” or a “good boy” becomes a way of life, we can be sure that exhaustion will accumulate, resentments will build, desperation and neediness will increase, and we’ll travel deeper into the land of victim consciousness. (Betty Ford)

So, when my life fell apart, when living by all those codes and rules didn’t automatically guarantee success, security and safety, I questioned everything. I suppose I went through a sort of “second adolescence.” I rebelled against expectations, figuring that if it was impossible to meet their standards, I’d do whatever I damn well pleased and pretty much courted displeasure as much as I courted their pleasure before.

And then the pendulum swung again. And I realized that in courting their displeasure, I was destroying my relationships with my family. I had to find the “happy medium.” At first, I thought that I’d just swung too far the other way (from people-pleaser to people-displeaser), but it’s really not that simple. All that I’d really changed were the externals. The circumstances, the situations, the conditions. Deep down, I was still aiming to eventually shine in my parents’ eyes, and in everyone’s eyes.

And now, I think I’m finally starting to “get it.” I didn’t take things far enough. I changed my course of action, but I never really changed my reasons for acting or my rationale. I never went deep enough. I hadn’t touched what Dani calls “my core foundational beliefs.” And I realize that until I do that, nothing will really change. 

Now, I’m working to try to rewrite that story. Recast myself. Discover what it’s like to do something just because it’s what you want to do – and not because you know that action will get you the pat on the head. I’m trying to imagine my way towards what it means to be me – without the people-pleasing.

 

 

Perfectionism is slow death. (Hugh Prather)

I separate all of my M&Ms by color, and then I eat each color in groups of three. I wish I were kidding. For the longest time, I really thought that this, among many other things, was simply quirky. I’m not so sure anymore.

There is a proper way to fold everything: large and medium bathroom towels get folded one way, hand towels another way, washcloths another way. I have another method for folding the towels and washcloths for the kitchen. There is a proper way to fold sheets, jeans, to tuck socks together. And all of these right ways are set up in a little system of rules in my head. Part of me argues the point that I’ve just figured out the neatest way to fold everything so that it fits into the space we have for it, and another part of me realizes that the preciseness with which I accomplish these tasks is a bit neurotic.

The other day at the shop, I was cutting apart my printed blog posts and securing them into my journal. I saw nothing odd about this. I cut them into pieces, then glue stick the pieces into place, and then cut tiny little strips of tape to secure the corners and kind of ensure (more) that they won’t fall out (someday).

Dani was standing next to me, watching: “What are you doing?” I told her. “But why are you taping them in? They’re already in.” I explained. She watched for a few moments more, and then just burst, “I can’t even watch this! It’s like, sick! It’s driving me crazy!” And off she went. I could kind of tell that it was getting to her – like nails on a chalkboard – but I kept going out of perverseness, I suppose.

My logic? No one but me really understands it. It’s another little code, another little set of rules. The title of this blog? Dreamphemera, alluding to the inescapable brevity of the human experience. Me including my (by nature ephemeral) blogs into my (less ephemeral) journals? That, I suppose, is me railing against that – me shouting into the darkness, saying that I, somehow, will circumvent the end we all come to and leave a legacy of some sort. That I will find a way to control that, too.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I’ve been thinking a LOT about all these little rules and codes, and unspoken taboos lately – these quirky little habits are like the visible tip of an insidious iceberg. Beneath the surface lurk all sorts of other little rules and codes for behavior, tasks, food, conversation, relationships, etc. AAARGH.

I’m frustrated. It’s frustrating. The more I think about all of it, the more I realize that it really is all about control, and the urge to feel safe. If I control the outcome and all the players, then it will be known, and therefore, safe. What utter hooey.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. (Anna Quindlen)

I am a total perfectionist. While Dani watched me cutting those strips of tape for my blogs, she saw me as doing each one uniformly, with uniform motion – all that I could see was that this strip was too big, that one too small, this one inserted crookedly.

This is something that’s been coming up for me consistently the past few weeks – first with the small things, the little routines, the subtle habits. And then, I started thinking about it on a deeper level – and I could see that it was like a fungus that had spread throughout the entire block of cheese, unseen. The only things I’d noticed were the quirky things that people commented on – all of the deeper stuff? I got real good at blaming it on something else (all excuses).

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. (George Fisher)

Then Wittler and I had a conversation last night – issues resulting from one of the subtler and more damaging ways I “seek perfection” needed discussing. It was an awkward conversation. I had a hard time being honest. I wasn’t totally honest. And it didn’t feel good. Afterward, I lay in bed, studying the ceiling in the dark, and dwelling on it.

And came up with a few things:
Perfectionism is about control, not about seeking excellence.

Perfectionism kills creativity.

Perfectionism kills relationships.

Control is about avoiding fear and pain.

Controlling outcomes is an effort to feel secure.

Control is an illusion.

Security is an illusion.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

On this path, fumbling towards mastery, out here where everyone can watch, I’ve encountered challenges, I’ve changed mindsets and behaviors, I’ve worked on me, and all the stuff surrounding me. This is a tough one.

I couldn’t be honest in our conversation last night, because I felt like Linus. As though someone had asked me to set down my blankie, and walk the rest of my days without it, naked.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. (Anne Lamott)

If I don’t get honest about this with myself, I won’t be able to be honest with Wittler. And if I’m going to be honest, giving up this way, this control, terrifies me. Even though I can intellectually know that control is an illusion, giving that up just scares me to death. What do I put in place of it? And how can I ever hope to truly thrive, to truly grow, if I am so busy making sure that everything is in its appointed place, and done in the approved way?

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

 Maybe it’s time to start relaxing into the fumbles.

  

 

For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)