Archive for the ‘Dark Phase’ Category

IMG_4100A clear night

But street lights outshine the stars up there.

And who knew Venus has phases

Just like the moon?

The boy asleep on the backseat,

I close the car door quietly.

We’re coming home without you.

The work week

And trash night,

I think about all the fights

We’ve ever had-

“Who’s in charge here, me or you?”

But for once we just might agree

It’s not your or me.

Not when we’re coming home without you.

What a mess we must look like

From the outside.

You show up larger than life

And me, always trying to hide.

But I could bring you to your knees

And you wouldn’t resist,

Or so I’d like to believe.

That’s when it feels dangerous.

Makes me think I should leave.

But I’m never sure when to run.

And tonight there’s no one here to run from.

A clear night

But street lights outshine the stars up there.

And who knew Venus has phases

Just like the moon?

We do

Because we’ve been through

So many phases

Still I never thought I’d be

Coming home without you

~Paula Sutor, 2005

There’s a stereotype that us creative-types have monstrous egos that can crumble to dust if the right pebble hits a certain spot of weakness. This may be true. I confess that a large part of my 20’s and 30’s were spent learning the lesson of humility over and over again. Every time I would manage to climb atop the slightest elevation, proclaiming myself King of the Mountain, the Universe would thwack me on the head, point to a higher peak and yell, “The mountain’s over there, dummy!” before gingerly pushing me aside, causing me to tumble the scant few feet I had scaled.   Back to the drawing board.

I often take pleasure in recounting my failures –but the latest is a bit more painful.   Several months ago I stumbled across someone with a great deal of talent who was not attached to an active situation.  My current project had a sturdy framework, but we needed something to dress it up.   This person seemed to be a perfect fit.  I reached out to her and she was interested in working with us. At the first meeting I still very much loved what she could do, but I felt uneasy with the personal interaction. Still, I’m the first to admit my lack of social skills and decided to shrug it off. My partner seemed taken with her.

We pressed on.   In just a few more sessions I  got a sense that she did not see me as an equal. She was the talent, I was the support – and this was actually the case for our intended audience, but I found myself having a hard time working within the dynamic. I saw myself as an integral part of the equation, why couldn’t she see it?   I subconsciously began looking for chinks in her armor. Certainly she had deficits – rather glaring deficits that began to give my partner pause, particularly when we brought them to her attention in a kind manner, and she claimed no knowledge of what she had or had not done.   The saving grace of the situation remained that when everything aligned it was amazing – mostly because of her.

After we achieved something of a milestone, I began to spiral off into a cycle of extreme jealousy followed by extreme guilt. Was I really so insecure? I had successfully worked with other talented people, but in all of those situations the hierarchy had been clear – it was their project and I was the support person. Additionally, they repeatedly expressed gratitude for my contribution, no matter how slight. It did not occur to me that it wasn’t her job to make me feel appreciated in my own project.  The one expressing gratitude for the hard work should have been me. I’m not sure that would have made the balance of power manageable, but it’s what should have happened. My partner had already made this move and she was treating him with a great deal of respect. The one thing she was not doing was addressing the problems she was having – problems we wanted to work with her to solve.

I moved into a full-blown obsession. I talked about it to everyone and anyone who would listen – my husband, my friends, my partner, my therapist.   I examined and re-examined my motives: my jealousy, my need for control, my need to feel acknowledged. I hated my needs. I began to actively hate her as well. After every meeting I would play back our interactions in my head and re-interpret all her words to mean only the worst. In truth, some of the things she said did have questionable intent. I told myself I was wasting too much energy on this and I would try to quiet myself. Then it was time for another meeting and it would all start up again.

My partner and I continued having difficulty getting her to work on the areas we felt were weak. We would tag team each other with our grievances. At times there seemed to be dissent from all parties. The process of working together was exhausting. The joy was draining out of us.

I hit bottom after we reached another milestone. I just wanted out. “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” I reminded myself with a ridiculous amount of self-pity and melodrama. I told my partner I was bowing out – not just from this project but any and all work of this nature. Enough of the Universe thwacking me on the head and yelling “The mountain’s over there, dummy!”   My revelation did not seem so obvious to my partner. He begged me to reconsider. He suggested we either cut her lose or have a serious talk with her.

I fantasized about texting the break up:

Dear You,

You are the perfect dress that only comes in the wrong size. I wish you well and far away.

~Me

At that point I had to recognize my needs and my limits. I really wanted to be a bigger person with a smaller ego. I wanted to be okay with being in a situation where I felt bad all the time. I’ve often mistaken denying my emotional needs as a sign of strength, but in truth it’s detrimental.  Constantly depriving yourself of the very thing that sustains you will only stunt your growth – creatively, emotionally. There was no way I was ever going to fit into that perfect dress, which made it – not perfect.

We had our talk. It was illuminating and honest. She thought we wanted to work with her to showcase her talent – and so she wanted every aspect of the project to showcase her talent. In her mind it only made sense. She’s good. Why would we want her to do things that didn’t feature her at her best? We explained that we were also part of the project – our talent and work needed to be honored as well. We wanted it to show the group effort involved, not just what she could do.

Why had we not had this conversation sooner?

In the end we agreed to take a break from each other, not totally closing off the possibility of working together somewhere down the line now that we knew where everyone was coming from. I felt relieved, but also sad. If only we’d had better communication perhaps together we could have made it closer to that mountain … wearing the perfect dress.

the-adventures-of-priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-climb2

Mother

Posted: November 20, 2014 in Dark Phase, Dreams, motherhood
Tags: , , , ,

mom-and-meMother

Mad woman rattling pots and pans in the kitchen at midnight

Hanging wash in the basement at 3 AM

Conversing loudly with the dead

An anxious litany

“You know what they’ll do? Do you know what they’ll do? They’ll come take the house.”

With Daddy gone

The only thing left to lose

“Don’t run the water like that”

“Close the door”

“Don’t you touch the thermostat”

“Do you know what they’ll do if I can’t pay the bills? Do you know what they’ll do?”

“They’ll come take the house.”

That fear

That fear seeped out of the foundation like rain water

Bubbled up from the basement drain with the raw sewage

Forced you to put a lock on the cellar door

But the lock never contained it

That fear sat with me at the kitchen table

Eating boiled meats, mashed potatoes and canned peas

While you stood with your back to us

Eating over the sink

That fear hid in the corner of the living room

Behind Daddy’s empty chair

When we stayed up late watching horror movies

“Spooky,” you said. “Time for bed”

And that fear trailed me all the way down the hall

Lurked, creaking the floor boards just beyond the night light’s glow

While you muttered obscenities in the bathroom.

I left as soon as I could.

You remained vigilant.

I came home years later

To find you asleep in your chair

Amidst bags of dirty dishes

And stacks of magazine

“She needs better care,” the doctor said.

And we shuffled you on

Your belongings falling away

Your life made smaller and smaller

To accommodate each new convalescing room.

 

I sold the house.

 

To pay your way

To keep you with me

Just a little while longer.

 

In my dreams

We are together in the house.

You, me and that fear

“I can’t stay” you tell me

“It’s not safe.”

The locks gone from the doors

The furniture sits in the yard

They have come

To take the house

Even then I cannot contain

The guilt, the shame and

The small victory

That “they”

Would be me

After all.

I have never been good at counting my blessings; I’m far too negative for that. Those chipper, upbeat people on my Facebook feed (how did I even get these friends?) are constantly posting positive, life-affirming sayings, and it takes a great deal of will power on my part to not refute each and every one as oversimplifying, sugar coating or self-aggrandizing the true nature of our existence. Luckily I was taught not to say anything if I have nothing nice to say and so I remain, to most people, very quiet.

However, I sometimes feel the need to take a life inventory of sorts, just to remind myself how none of this makes any sense, but here I am and no matter what, it could always be worse.

Here then, in my most positively pessimistic perspective, is my list of miseries and how it could be worse:

1.) I make music that absolutely no one wants to hear. It’s my passion, my heart and soul, but apparently my heart and soul is lacking, boring, potentially dated and out of tune (do not tell me it’s because I’m a downer , not while The Cure and Morrissey are still touring).

It could be worse. I could be loaded with talent and still just as obscure and nowhere, like many of my truly gifted friends.

2.) My house is an absolute pig-sty having just spent the last week and a half enjoying a visit from a friend and her children and making little effort to contain the chaos.

It could be worse. I could have high expectations of my housekeeping abilities and spend the next week stressed out while working towards a presentable home. Instead I will take this opportunity to continue to enjoy the summer and host many more social engagements, knowing I won’t have to clean up much afterwards to maintain status quo. All the while I will not worry that my friends are secretly judging my messy home and deciding my best efforts are not good enough; I made no effort. Perfect!

There is the added bonus of boosting my friends’ confidence in their own housekeeping standards. Once they leave my place they will have a bright new perspective on how nice their homes truly are. I am a good friend!

3.) I’m turning 46 in a few weeks. How did that even happen? I was 27 just a minute ago and now here I am starting the 4 year countdown to 50. What have I even done with my life? Do I really need to go any further with the physical aging process? Because I know how it ends and I don’t like it. And . . .and . . .reading glasses!

 It could be worse. I could still be living with the youthful optimism that it will all work out without any effort on my part. That was a big lesson I learned only in the past 6 or 7 years: if there is such a thing as fate, you have to get her number and harass her regularly to get her to work for you. Or you can just do the work yourself (easier).

 Also gone is the underlying anxiety of where my life might take me because I finally know:  it’s taken me right here, a messy home with a couple of kids who, I hope, are enjoying summer break with their mom, a woman who isn’t stressing over things that don’t matter that much.

 Without being too optimistic, I’d like to say I am okay with where I am right now (although being at Comic Con this weekend would be good too).  There’s still some road ahead with potential twists and turns, but I think I’m better at navigating it than I was in my youth. Or not.

I certainly don’t see myself embracing the bright side of things anytime soon, so I’ll stick with counting my miseries and my life long philosophy. . .Could have been worse

I’ve been meaning to write.

I’ve been meaning to write about pain and loss and grief and the importance of finding small joys.  I’ve been meaning to write about uncertainty and inevitability, the uncomfortable position of navigating a friend’s mourning process in hopes of offering solace and support, and the even more difficult conversations you have with people for whom hope is not an option, but neither is defeat.

I’ve been meaning to write about my own anxiety and the endless one-note symphony of my creative failure.   I’ve been meaning to write about the hard, dull thud in one’s soul when, just for a moment, you catch of glimpse of your place in the universe.   I’ve been meaning to write about fear – fear of having traveled the wrong path for too long, the fear of aging and the unspoken powers of youth.    I’ve been meaning to write about the inequities of physical beauty, and raw, tangible talent versus much-practiced, lesser abilities.

But when I sit down to arrange any of this in a reasonable, logical fashion I get stuck on how unreasonable and illogical it all is.  And I feel helpless.  I cannot give myself the attributes I do not possess and I cannot change the circumstances of those I see around me.   And really, they aren’t in the same realm are they?  Absolute loss and misguided expectations are two different aspects of the hard parts of life.

And so I haven’t written at all because I don’t know what to say.

I tell myself to keep seeking out the small joys – dancing in the living room with my kids, singing in the car, enjoying that first cup of coffee in the morning.  I tell myself that as long as I’m alive and healthy with a roof over my head I can still work out the feelings of inadequacy and failure.  I tell myself that the time to save face and hold back is over.  There’s nothing to save; let people look and laugh or look and admire or ignore it all.  But there really is nothing to be saved for later.

Give it all now.  Give it all you’ve got.

small joys

Letting Go

Posted: September 6, 2013 in Dark Phase, images, motherhood
Tags: , ,

I am teaching my children time travel.  It works like this:

Wherever you are right now – pay attention.  Close your eyes.   Notice how your feet feel on the floor; move them around a little to get the full texture.  Listen to the sound your feet are making as they move.  What other parts of your body are touching your surroundings?  Move ever so slightly to take in the sensation.

Listen. What do you hear?  The whoosh of cars going by?  Dishes clinked together while being washed?  Someone typing on a computer?  Music playing on the stereo?

Now take a deep breath.  The air doesn’t just carry the scent of your surroundings; it has a quality to it. It might be heavy with humidity, or thin and cold. But also pay attention to the smell.  Scents are evocative; they can be powerful triggers of memory.

Finally look around and look closely.  See the whole area from the large objects to one or two tiny details you may have never noticed.  And really look at those details.  If you look long enough it will be like seeing something for the first time because perhaps it is.

When you’ve captured your surroundings like this, in a mindful way, tell yourself you’re saving this for later.  I can’t guarantee that everything you save will still be there, but you will find some of it again years from now.  And when you find it, for a second you will be back in that space.   And maybe, depending on how much time has elapsed between the initial imprint and the playback, that place won’t really exist anywhere but in your memory.  And it will feel like time travel.

I tell this to my children but I’m not sure they fully understand.  When you’re a child it can feel like your world is a rock, solid and unmovable.  But as an adult you come to realize how quickly things can change.  Something that seemed certain on one day is already gone the next  and then you need to learn to let go of it.  But if you weren’t really paying attention in the first place  you can get all messed up.  You start making substitutions for what it is you thought you had.  You imagine it bigger or smaller or more or less important than it actually was.  You start having feelings for it that you didn’t have at the time.

And so it’s good to take a moment, wherever you are, to really look around to see what is it you have right now.  Later, when it’s gone, you can visit with it as it really was, or at least as close to what you perceived it to be,  and you can be there again just for a moment before you let it go.

memory board

Disappointment (who perhaps looks a little like Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island)

One of the hardest things to do is to sit with your own disappointment; sit quietly with it in a room, no running or reaching for the phone to call for help, no opening a bottle of something to drown it. Disappointment can be huge, and yet still drowns neatly in a small bottle of the right stuff. Funny how that works. The challenge is to just sit with it, look it in its colorless eyes and wait until it gets bored. Eventually it shrugs and says “what did you expect?” before it finally lopes off to some other non-event.

But I can’t do it. I can’t wait out disappointment like that. If it looks like disappointment is on the way, anyone’s disappointment, I will be the first to cast an anxious eye to the horizon and scream, “Distract, distract, distract!” And  it must have been that time when I could not distract myself from looming disappointment, that I discovered the power of failure.

Failure can be a beautiful thing. It builds no expectations, and with no expectations there can be no disappointment. The twisted twin of: “Do or do not. There is no try,” there is only “try” in my power of failure. And I try everything – film making, sword fighting, singing in front of an audience, creative writing groups, so many endeavors that make others pause and worry, “What if I’m no good?” I simply mutter my negative affirmation “I’m going to suck. Oh well,” and barrel onward.
Sometimes I do stop and ask, “Where has this gotten me?” Because obviously approaching everything with the understanding that you will fail doesn’t leave much room to strive towards improvement. I suppose the answer is nowhere, but it’s an interesting nowhere. And I’m rarely if ever defeated, which makes me something of an alpha loser.

Sadly though, any expectation, even an expectation of failure, will lead you back to disappointment. Witness the moment a peer in one of my activities turned to me and said, “You know, you’re not as bad as you think you are.” It was intended as encouragement, but it meant that I had failed at failing.  And what do I do with that?