Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Everything

On Sunday I discovered something interesting in my family: one of my cousins is married to the daughter of a person who was at one time a TV star.  It’s a familiar enough name that a good number of people would still recognize it.  (I’m not going to say who, because it feels like exploiting a connection I have no personal right to exploit.  It’s beside the point here anyway.)

It completely tickles my fancy, to think that someone I played with now and then when we were kids is now the son-in-law of someone I watched on TV when I was a kid.  It doesn’t matter in any practical or objective way, it doesn’t change my life at all — except in reminding me that the world is bigger and a little bit more magical than I usually give it credit for.  It’s the kind of fact that grins and nudges me in the ribs, saying “everything is possible, sport.  Absolutely everything.”

A corner of the world

There’s a man talking to a lady at the table catty-cornered to mine across the aisle.  His voice catches my attention because it’s southern; that drawl didn’t originate in this area.  A glance shows he has a pleasant face, and he speaks with quiet ease.  His companion’s voice is more quiet, I can’t distinguish her as well.  She’s wearing a salt-and-pepper tweedy sweater, though, and a bright pink scarf.

I wonder what brings a man with a southern voice here today, to a mid-Atlantic city in the Appalacian foothills to chat with a lady wearing a pink scarf.  I wonder what the story is that brings them together, and here; I wonder what their two stories are, which cross in this place and time, where I can overhear.

So many stories, in the air, in the sounds around me, in the solidity of this corner of the world where I sit.  The seats of this booth are upholstered in a complex, strongly geometric pattern, colors of cinnamon and gold and café au lait.  Someone chose this fabric; someone wove these patterns.  Someone built the bench and the table, someone bolted them to this floor, which someone also had to pour in concrete and soften with carpet tiles.

Another lady paces up the aisle, slowly.  She wears a pink sweater, but a different pink than the scarf.  She walks as far as my table, slowly, but then turns and goes back the other way.  Some whim of thought sends her away, and I don’t know what it is.  I can’t see her story from here.

There are people standing in line and people behind the counter, people who are making food and people who have come to eat it.  Intersections of and wants and offers, carried around by these body-mind-spirits who cross each other’s presence with words, with bits of cash or plastic, with plates and silverware, with food.  Time was when people almost never ate alone, unless they really were alone in the world; time was when people ate commonly with the people closest to them, the people they shared lives and stories with as a daily matter of course.  Time was when the fuel and material of our bodies was nearly always made by someone we knew intmately, or when we made and provided it for the people we knew closely.  Eating with a stranger was to make them family.  It was a matter of extended trust and welcome.

In my place and time, it’s common to be fed by someone you don’t know.  I’m having tea made by people I’ve never met.  I ate a cookie baked by someone’s hands that I haven’t touched.  Is it a more trusting world, or a more blind one?

I’m sitting far indoors, and all I can see of the outside is a corner of window and a clipping of gray sky.  Many peoples through time and across the world have worshipped the sky as God, as the great eye that sees everywhere.  By my choice of seat, I have reduced the sky-God to a tiny gray corner of window.  Can it still see me here?  I suppose if it wants to, it can.  If the sky looked through the window of this cafe, it could find a corner of my face, my eye, my hair to study and perhaps ponder.

The lady in the pink sweater is back, she sits in the next booth down the row.  She chooses the table across the aisle from the man with the southern voice and the lady with the pink scarf, and we make a triangle, her and them and me, alone with my keyboard and my tiny computer and my notebook and pen, writing us all into a tiny story, a tiny corner of the world and time, full of questions and ideas and everyday wonders.  Cookies and tea, voices and ears, eyes and faces, and the privilege of experiencing them.

The un-faceable thing

Anger is such a useful emotion sometimes. I can be anxious over something for a long time, but if ever I get angry about it instead, then things start to move.

Yesterday I got ambushed by anxiety again. Most unexpectedly, because the last few weeks have been so full of good work and change. But a friend wrote something that restarted all my anxiety over not having a job, and not knowing what to do about it.

That’s a lie. I know full well what to do about it: go find a damn job. I’ve known that forever. I haven’t done it, and I tell myself I don’t know what to do. Because I couldn’t face what was really standing in the way of “go get a job.”

Sometimes fear is so big you can’t even see it. You can’t let yourself see it, because of how massive and overwhelming it is. You’ll use any kind of dodge to get away from it, and the best kinds are the ones where you never even catch a glimpse of the thing you’re running from. The kinds that involve a type of doublethink, where you forget something, and then forget that you ever had something to forget.

That’s the sort of fear that feeds constant anxiety. Because you can’t ever really forget. You can’t totally lie to yourself about the mountainous, cavernous fear. It finds ways to leak through.

I’ve double-thunk my way out of facing it for a year. For a few days now, I’ve started to get the feeling that I have been tricking myself, that there’s something I’m deliberately not looking at, and it’s feeding the contradictory situations that make me anxious: not having an income, not “knowing how” to find an income. Today anxiety finally slid into anger. I’m sick to death of this being a constant thread in my life. If I am putting off getting a stupid job because I’m afraid of something, I bloody well want to know what it is.

Finally, finally I set my best tools to unearthing it: my notebook and a pen. I scribbled out all the old, tired excuses I’ve rehearsed to myself, about everything wrong with office jobs. Impatient, scrawling letters dashing across the pages, not getting to the real thing, but chipping away at my self-imposed blindness. At the part where I threw the pen across the room and screamed, I finally had it.

Alone. Alone. For eleven years, going to work and feeling utterly, horribly alone. Isolated. Excluded. Different. Misunderstood. Alone. Alone alone alone.

I started that job as a scared, thoroughly unbelieving-in-myself kid who didn’t know how to make friends, and the weird partial segregation of open-plan offices meant I always heard conversations and connections between other people but was never confident enough to break in and join them. I never learned how to belong. I never really felt like I did belong. Even when I got to know some people (far too few people, for a decade of working at the same place), I never knew how to feel like I was part of something. That hurt me every single day for 11 years. Feeling alone. Desperately, desolately alone.

I can’t face that again. I can’t make myself do it. I can’t face another stupid office job, where every day I go and sit only feet away from people, people I can’t not hear, like it or not, and still always feel alone. That’s the silent looming thing that’s sabotaged all my half-hearted efforts to find new work this year. It was all looking for something I didn’t want to find, couldn’t bear to find — more of the same pain that I escaped from a year ago, and never want to experience again.

Alone. The scariest, worst thing. I finally know the fear-monster’s name. Alone.

Year of

In late 2009, I made a realization and a declaration. I was still fairly new to working with fiber, especially spinning, and late in the year I noticed that I was developing a bad tendency to buy tools faster than I was learning how to use them. Spindles, spinning wheels, hand cards, more spindles. I was getting sucked into the pattern of buying something to get the cheap rush of something new, rather than engaging in the work that leads to deeper kinds of satisfaction: learning skills well, making quality pieces and enjoying them.

So I declared that 2010 was going to be the Year of Making Stuff. I commited to not buying any new fiber equipment for the entire year — no new tools. Instead I would use or learn to use what I already had, and see if I enjoyed it, and work on getting better at it.

It was a successful experiment. By actually using tools instead of just buying new ones, I got a much better idea of what I actually enjoy doing. I haven’t been nearly as tempted since by the lure of new shiny tools, because I have a handful of good tools I really enjoy using. I don’t need more tools to be happy.

When the Year of Making Stuff ended and 2011 crept in, it seemed like it ought to be a new Year of something. I didn’t know what to make it, because I didn’t feel a similar need to change or reject something as I had with fiber tools. I finally declared it the Year of Kindness, after a little bit (but not a lot) of thought, with the idea that I know I’m not always kind to myself, and I wanted to change that.

I won’t unequivocally say that 2011 wasn’t kind, but it was a drill-sargeant’s kindness, the sort that makes you strong by beating the weakness out of you, like it or not. I’m not sorry for the lessons of 2011, but they hurt. It wasn’t the sort of kindness I had in mind, even though I am stronger for them. Maybe with a little distance I’ll feel more gratitude; right now, gratitude for those things is an exercise of the will more than an easy expression of the heart.

Now we have a new year. In the late days of 2011 I thought about my previous declarations, not sure if I wanted to continue and not sure if I dared. Especially not after 2011 took my declaration for it in such a different direction than I had intended. I’m not totally sure I could face such a turn again; maybe there’s one in my near future, but I can’t bear to think about it, and I really don’t want to tempt it in. Even if it is good for me, I just can’t.

It took a few days of pondering, but I found my new declaration in the end. 2012 is the Year of Love. It is a dubious-sounding name, but a fiercely-intended one.

Last week I wrote about a hard depressive turn, where I couldn’t connect with any feeling of being loved and cared about. I wrote about finding a video from a researcher/storyteller who speaks about the need to believe that one is worthy of love in order to experience being loved. I get in my own way here, by not loving myself and not believing that I am worthy of love from other people too. That’s just wrong, and it’s a crappy way to live. I’m tired of it. I’m done with it.

If there is any way to change this belief, I will change it. I am choosing to love myself and learn how to love myself, actively and practically. I will invest love and care in me, regardless of any sense of worthiness or doubt, because the deepest love isn’t about loving the worthy. It’s about loving, period. Choosing to love, regardless. That’s what I want to offer myself, and once I can give it to myself, to offer other people too. That’s love with teeth: transformative love, the kind of love that really changes things.

I want to change things. I want to change me, and the world I live in. I need this kind of love in my life, and every other person alive does too. So I’m going to learn how, and I’m starting at the root. I’m starting with myself. Until I know how to offer love to myself, regardless, I won’t ever be able to offer it to anyone else.