Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crazy Train

My subconscious has the neat little trick of narrating my life with lyrics. I rarely notice when it starts, but in the middle of Something my mouth is humming or singing a song which mirrors my mood or circumstances. If my mood is good or sarcastic, I smirk appreciatively at my clever brain; if I'm pissy or sad or really upset, the perfect song in my head seems mocking or cruel.

When I get up today, the accompaniment is Ozzy's "Crazy Train." It plays at top volume as I fly around the kitchen after not finding the bag of chocolate chips in its hiding spot. I fling open cupboard after cupboard. SOMEONE WILL PAY. The guitar solo shrieks with clarity. I find the bag in a different spot, clutch it in a death grip, walk much too slowly and calmly to my chair. Crazy, but that's how it goes...

After a night of wild, vivid dreams, I expect my waking brain to need some time. My biochemistry is off. I'm used to my patterns. So the logical side of me watches and listens as the raving part of me gobbles chocolate chips and clicks on links to terrible news stories about kidnappings, brutal beatings and death. And reads the comments. And hates the people leaving the comments. And then hates the news outlets for the way they report the stories. The media sells it and you live the role...

Then I go to Facebook and read inspiring things from inspiring people who usually inspire me to inspire myself and others. And I feel like a troll. An ugly troll who has no right being friends with these people. An ugly troll who has plucked too many chin hairs and now has trouble keeping up. An ugly troll feeling her prickly chin who doesn't want to read Good Things. An ugly troll with a prickly chin and too many scars from the scabs she repeatedly rips off her skin. An ugly troll with a prickly chin who is now ripping a scab off her arm and rolling it between her fingers because that's what she does. While she stuffs her face with an entire bag of chocolate chips. I know that things are going wrong for me...

Sounds are too loud. Zippers tear my ears apart, the phone rings inside my head, doors slam against my skull. I'm going off the rails...

I check the theater listings because what I really want is to go sit in the dark and watch a chaotic movie involving lots of weapons, jump through the screen and arm myself with a sword, multiple knives and torches and fight off beasts more horrible than myself. Go nuts and be covered in dirt, blood, and sweat, and stand alone at the end of the movie on a smoky hill with battle sounds ringing in my ears. Mental wounds still screaming...

I let myself read the Sister Wives Blog and make snarky noises about how they've messed up their family, gotten caught in the fame and money trap. I let myself look in the mirror and list my faults, count my white hairs, eat half a brick of cheese, refuse to brush my teeth, and berate myself for not being a real writer, because real writers write instead of watching episodes of Hoarders, World's Dumbest Criminals and Lifetime movies. Who and what's to blame...   

The logical side of me is like a parent. A parent watching someone else's kid freak out. A parent smiling and riding out the storm, knowing the kid will be going home soon for a nap and a sippy cup full of milk and Prozac. It will turn out okay. It always does.

Maybe it's not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate...

And a little later the crazy part of me runs out of steam, because she wasn't bottled up. She didn't try to act happy and normal. She didn't make herself feel bad for feeling bad. She also didn't leave the house during the Crazy, stuff it down and pretend she wanted to go for a walk or buy something pretty or visit one of The Happy People. Which never works. She rode it out. All aboard! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa...

And I'm okay. I am breathing deeply, giving my family a genuine smile or two. Being more kind to myself. Understanding that I needed to be a little crazy, in private, in order to get here. Understanding that we are all a little crazy, but that's how it goes...

I turn up the volume on my internal song and it's different now. It's Bob Marley. "Three Little Birds."

"This is my message to you...don't worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right."

Gotta go. I'm gonna work on my novel.

You gotta listen to my words.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not Standing Alone Anymore

Bullies suck. 

Creative people often say things like, "I was picked on as a kid, but it made me who I am! I went more inside myself, but that turned out to be a blessing, because now I'm a writer." And there's a benefit to looking on the 'bright side,' I guess...but I don't think any bully makes us who we are. Being bullied is not a blessing in disguise. It pisses me off, actually, when people say stuff like that. I know it's an attempt to find meaning in the senseless way we were treated. But we have to talk about how it SUCKED, how bad it hurt- we have to admit that we watch movies where a kid is beaten down, wrung out, shunned and made to feel like a nobody and we CRY, we ache, we go right back to that mental space where we, too, felt like a nobody. We have to sit with it. We can't just stuff it under the couch cushion and sit on it and hit the fast forward button.

I love to think of the kids who bullied me as ugly, twisted, unhappy people. Their lives are a mess. They have no friends. They think about the way they treated weaker kids, and they weep in remorse- but it's too late for them. They will die alone.

Dramatic? Yes. It was also dramatic being shoved against lockers, having things thrown at me when the teacher wasn't looking, being threatened with physical harm, being told I was so ugly no one would ever want to date me. It was dramatic having my stuff snatched and passed around in a mean game of keep-away so the girls could laugh at my flailing limbs and pleas to stop. It was dramatic when one of the popular girls took a photo of small-breasted me in my bra in the locker room, and everyone laughed, and she said she couldn't wait to develop the film. It was dramatic being chosen last for teams, on purpose, while girls rolled their eyes and made disgusted noises and stepped pointedly away from me as I joined them. It was dramatic when one of the boys sat next to me behind the high-backed seat on the bus, put his arm around me and told me how beautiful I was, how he wanted to ask me out, while all his friends leaned over the seats and watched and laughed at me. It was dramatic how my face burned, how the tears streamed down no matter how hard I tried to keep them in. I was a crybaby, a loser, a nobody.

So I indulge in imagining them all as crybabies, losers, nobodies. Sometimes.

Sometimes I also imagine them reaching a state of enlightenment, feeling sorry for what they did, trying to make up for it in the way they treat others now. If only they had my contact information, they'd apologize and ask for forgiveness.

The truth of their lives is somewhere in the middle. Some of them are surely struggling- but some are great successes. Some are unhappy, some are very happy. Some of them may have moments of regret...maybe they have kids who are on the receiving end of serious unkindness. But...

Who they are is not defined by how they treated me.

Who I am is not defined by how they treated me.

What I hope for is moments in their lives and moments in mine where we come to an understanding. We all do things we're not proud of. We all look back and wish some things were different. We can't change the past- but we should not bury it, sugarcoat it, or try to make it inevitable. They did not need to bully to become powerful. We did not need to be bullied in order to become the creative people we are today.

Being bullied DID make me hyper-aware of any injustice in this world, no matter how small. Loving myself and having the support of my friends has empowered me to stand up and defend and protect those who need it. I became my powerful, creative self through the growth of my own soul, and I use my vivid memories of being bullied to fuel my compassion and action. Being bullied did make me acutely aware of what it feels like to be alone. I try to make sure that no one I know, and no one I encounter, feels alone. It's the worst feeling in the world.

In my creative writing, one of my goals- the biggest one- is to help kids feel less alone. To be a voice that joins theirs and admits the hurts, all the ugly stuff, and cries with them. And then takes them by the hand as they stand up and move forward. In truth and trust.

And never alone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Feeding and Dreaming, Dreaming and Feeding

At the nursing home dinner table sit three senior ladies. Two of them are Darla and Louise. The third is Mary Ann, and her son and daughter-in-law are helping her eat.

"I'm confused!" yells Darla, smiling. "Do they serve meals in here?"

"Yes," says the daughter-in-law, very patient. "Every night. Your dinner's coming soon."

Darla smiles and nods. The son gives his mother a sip of gingerale from the cup adapted so she won't choke.

"I like your braid," the daughter-in-law tells Louise. "I had a braid that long when I was a girl."

Louise smiles. "Thank you."

"Hey!" calls Darla. "I'm going to SNEEZE." She smiles, but doesn't sneeze.

The daughter-in-law arranges chicken nuggets on the mother's plate so she can grab them more easily. She wipes the crumbs from lips and chin. A Bobby Darin song plays on the radio. She moves from side to side a little.

Louise stares. "You got ants in your pants?"

"Yes, lots of them," the daughter-in-law says, exchanging an amused look with the son.

The mother says something. It's too soft-spoken. They can't understand her.

"What's that, Mom?" the son asks, bending as close as he can. She tries again. Her voice is too quiet these days; it's hard to make her needs known, when she can identify them. Sometimes she sees things others can't see. Sometimes she's half-asleep and dreaming. She sleeps a lot more. She's in her wheelchair all the time, a new one with even more support, because she's having great difficulty sitting up straight.

"Do they serve meals in here EVERY night?" asks Darla. The son nods. Darla smiles.

The daughter-in-law feeds the mother some corn. Four spoonfuls. Then some sherbet. She still loves any kind of ice cream or sherbet. The daughter-in-law rubs her back to awaken her more before each spoonful.

"I'm gonna SNEEZE!"announces Darla. She burps. Several times. She laughs and everyone joins in except the mother.

The nursing assistant feeds Louise and Darla. The mother says she's done, and her hand remains on the table, fingers grasping, grasping at nothing. Her arm muscles, and many other muscles, twitch often now and contract. Her limbs are stiff.

The son and daughter-in-law make eye contact many times, to say these things: I love you. I'm sorry. This is hard. I love you.

The mother is able to make eye contact when they are leaving. "We love you," they say. "We'll see you soon."

"Okay," she says. "Okay." 

She has always been a deep sleeper, and they know that soon she'll be in bed, hopefully dreaming of good times, good places, good people. Night is when they feel peaceful about her, because she's tucked in with her head on a soft pillow and her mind and body are at rest.

"Goodbye!" calls Darla. "Goodbye, goodbye!"

And Darla smiles another huge smile. That's what they miss most: the mother's smile. It's tucked somewhere deep inside.

Maybe she smiles in her dreams.

Don't we all?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Trees

I'm looking out the window at trees. Just trees. It's perfect.

We moved up here to a house way up on a hill, in the woods, a year ago. We're not isolated; this is a neighborhood, but houses here are more spread out than in the city. Back there, I could count twenty-two houses around us from my yard. Here, I can see five through the trees from my front yard and only one, or none, from my backyard. It's perfect.

Our desire to live outside the city was not an anti-social one. For me, it was about choosing my social encounters and face-to-face interaction instead of living among so many people and so much noise all the time that "alone" felt rare.

I need a lot of alone time, because when I'm with others, I use up so much energy- physical, mental, emotional. I am fully present. My soul's tank is on empty almost every time I pull into my driveway. I need to feel a LOT of space around me for a good long time to process and re-charge. Living surrounded by nature, by more trees than people, does the trick. 

For others, "alone" might mean closing the bedroom door and reading for an hour, or staying home all day. It might mean heading out to the woods for a long solitary walk, or being alone in a crowd, enjoying the sounds of people without the pressure to have a conversation. (For parents of very young children, it's probably taking a pee BY YOURSELF. A shower is out of the question.)

I'm super sensitive to many things, and too much noise is a huge trigger for my anxiety. Especially too much people noise. I can't even hear two voices at the same time without feeling completely overwhelmed. In the city, the outside noise was becoming more and more invasive. People yelling in their yards, people screaming at their kids, kids yelling to each other, multiple dogs barking, the neighbor's cockatiels shrieking, car horns, car alarms, and more frequently, police sirens. Closed doors and windows didn't always help.

Alone- the kind that worked- seemed more and more elusive.

Driving felt even worse. In our old neighborhood, and in the city in general, there are too many stimuli. People driving carelessly or recklessly, people pulling out of driveways everywhere, people walking in groups in the street, people running into the street or crossing while texting, bikes swerving into the road, horns, tires squealing. It was a dangerous obstacle course every time. When I got where I was going, my heart was pounding, and I wondered if I could make it home.

Now, I drive most of the way to my destinations on country roads. And I feel alone in the best possible way. There's not much traffic- sometimes, none. I don't mind watching out for deer, turkeys, foxes. I drive slowly, smiling. It's a relief.

The relief comes from less stimuli, but also from knowing that any animals I see are also striving for alone time, for quiet, for uncomplicated encounters with their environment. I feel that energy. It's my energy, too.

In the city, people are everywhere with their messy minds, their flawed decision-making, their intentions and impulses flying around in their heads and hands as they operate vehicles, machinery, and equipment around other people. Often way too close to other people.

I feel so blessed, now, to mostly CHOOSE when to navigate this obstacle course.

Far from making me anti-social, though, moving to the country has enhanced my ability to focus on the social life I want. I have enough alone time to de-stress, to re-charge, to feel fully energized for meetings with friends and for work. And for those times when I have to breathe deeply and be one of the crowd.

I'm in another room now, and I'm looking out the window at trees. Just trees. It's perfect.

In a little while I'll take those back roads into the city to bring my son's friend home and go to work, and I'll be okay. Because after that, I come home to my trees again.

They're the beautiful bookends to the stories of my days.