facing old ideals

In my high school drama class, we had an assignment to create a unique character and then present a 5 minute sketch that would introduce the character to the audience.

One friend wrote the character of a gay man who just found out that he had HIV. The sketch ended with his dazzling high school performance of One Song Glory. After high school, he finally came out of the closet.

Another friend wrote a character of a teenage girl who was popular and pretty but embarrassed about her good grades. In her sketch, she wrote in her diary about her secret love of science class. After high school, she went on to become a veterinarian.

It was a surprisingly honest and revealing project for many of us. Most kids wrote stories of the people they wanted to be, the true selves that were brave enough to do the things they feared.

The character I wrote was a 30 year old cardiovascular surgeon. She was brilliant and beautiful and cold. She didn’t need friends or family. She stayed up all night reading the complete works of Shakespeare and then went to work dazzling people with her skills. (note: no interest in actually saving people’s lives.)  After high school, I went on to do none of these things.

I see now how odd it is that my ideal adult was one who was brave enough to stop trying to eat, sleep or love. In my perfect future, I would have finally succeeded in cutting my dependence on basic human needs. I saw my high school self as flawed because she was hungry (from having no food), she was flawed because she felt lonely (from having no parental affection). She needed to be needed so badly that only someone’s life hanging in the balance, dependent on her as a star surgeon, could fill the void.

These days, in my yoga class the teacher will ask us to set an intention for ourselves. My intention is always “To be free.”. I think it’s always been my intention, I just had a screwed up way of thinking I would achieve that freedom.

In my young brain, my ideal self didn’t eat, love or sleep. I basically thought that I should grow up to be dead.

Today, my ideal self is brave enough to fully embrace the need for food, sleep and love. I want to be free to be human. Free to be alive.

Kermit on a bike

Dragonflies

They say that dragonflies have magic. They just appear when you need a friend.

I met a friend on my Women of Courage canoe trip who said that dragonflies were her spirit animal.  And true to her story, dragonflies did seem to appear around her.

I’ve been thinking about this friend a lot lately. We’ve been sharing on facebook and she just moved across the country into the city I live in. I even call her by her trail name, Dragonfly.

I’m actually not sure why but since I heard that she moved back to the city, I’ve been finding myself looking for her on the street. (I must note that this is not my typical behavior towards people.) I’ve lived in this city my whole life. I don’t like running into people that I know. I try to avoid the old neighborhoods, and maybe I keep my head down.

I can’t emphasize enough the utter strangeness of the phenomenon that happened last week.

I was walking my typical route home from the subway station after work. I happened to be thinking about my friend, Dragonfly, and wishing I could overcome my social planning anxiety to see her. And then…

…wait for it… this is crazy… I’m walking down the relatively quiet side street that I live on and I see her. I see my friend, Dragonfly, backing up her delivery van. On my street!

Probably I’m crazy. Of course. Only a crazy person (ahem) would think that someone they would love to see will magically appear on their street. But it really happened.

My friend, Dragonfly, appeared yesterday, virtually at my doorstep. bizarre. So lovely and so bizarre. I am so happy that I could see my friend without having to face the anxiety of making formal plans. But at the same time, I was a bit uneasy that something so magical happened.

Then… there’s more. The very next day, I was working from home and walked out of my house around noon. As if waiting for me, there was a very old lady standing on the sidewalk in front of my house. She was wearing a housecoat and slippers and looking very very lost.

With not a lick of common language, except for the name of a nearby restaurant, we walked together the three (very slow) blocks from my house to that restaurant. We walked with her arm in mine and my hand holding hers. Every few minutes she would stop to look me in the eye and make sure we were going to the restaurant. (I assumed, correctly, that her son owned the restaurant and lived nearby.) After I left her with him, I noticed that I had a bruise on my arm from where she was holding me.

They say that dragonflies represent the opening of one’s eyes and the defeat of self-created illusions. These dragonflies that appeared on my lawn reminded me to break the illusion that I am truly separate from anyone else in this world. I felt such emotional reactions with both of these women. These short interactions, deep with connection and vulnerability were powerful.

My mother-in-law says that things happen in threes. So if she receives two bad surprises, she breaks something so that she can decide what the third bad thing will be. I used to laugh at her when she would throw a glass coffee mug into the sink.

But now I understand. Sometimes magical things happen. I feel precariously on edge- a bit on guard. I’m not sure what is coming next. But I’m not breaking a coffee mug. I have a feeling that the third shoe is going to push me further into connections with others around me.

I feel pretty silly talking about magical things. I’m actually giving myself a raised eyebrow… but then again, dragonflies have started appearing in my front yard. dragonfly-tattoo

Quiet the mind

At some point before I completely stopped talking to my mother, I realized that I needed to stop listening to her. I mean that I had to completely ignore every word that came out of her mouth.

She just didn’t make any sense. She didn’t keep her word. She was manipulative. Her reactions were too intense and too urgent. And she always changed her mind anyway. There was just no point listening to her words.

Lately, I’ve started feeling the same way about my own thoughts. They are always coming and going, with varying intensity. They change and then they change again. What seemed so right one moment, is clearly so wrong the next. It seems there’s just no point in giving my own thoughts any consideration.

They say, “Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” But I don’t want to hear my soul either. I can’t trust anything I tell myself. Hmmm… I have a new goal to take “quiet your mind” to a whole new level. If I sense a new idea coming, I’ll try to snuff it out before it peaks my interest. (Oh shit. Not listening to ideas is really just another idea that I’ll probably render useless tomorrow, if not by the time I finish writing this.)

I’ll stop writing quickly (idea) lest I change my mind (idea) about not having ideas. This really isn’t working. I guess I can’t actually ignore all those words in my head. I’m doomed to dance with them forever. Breathe in. Breathe out.

flower heads

If a tree falls…

If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?

I’m noticing that I have a lot of trouble when I’m alone lately. (not alone in a room, alone in a house.) I struggle to eat, sleep or do things that feel good. It’s like I go into hibernation mode where I don’t have the same basic needs.

It’s like who I am when people are around goes on hold. I go into suspended animation.

This is possibly related to that little girl alone that I mentioned but I’m still not sure that I’m ready to go there…

But I have to dig this up so that I can move on. It’s like a big rotting root stuck in the ground where I’m trying to grow new grass.

Once upon a time, there was an 11 year old girl. Her mom had to go to work in the city during the summer so she stayed home alone at the cottage all day. 3 days a week for 3 weeks.

She ran wild in the neighborhood, playing with friends all day, watching too much TV and eating the dessert her mom left her before eating the lunch that was in the fridge.

It was a glorious time… But, that’s not my story. In my story, the girl didn’t play with any friends (she was scared to go outside), she didn’t watch any tv (there wasn’t one), and there was no lunch in the fridge for her.

She just wandered around the empty living room. She listened to a Sarah Mclachlan cd (Solace). She tweezed hair off her legs. She looked out the window and thought about sitting outside by the lake.  She ate an Oreo and then brushed her teeth. She tried to read a book. She alphabetized the bookshelf. Sometimes she made herself ‘Kraft dinner’ and ate the whole box. Sometimes she’d leave a frozen bagel on the window sill to defrost in the sun and then eat it with cheeze whiz. She played card games like ‘war’ and ‘go fish’ against herself. Sometimes she had a good cry.

At night, her mom would come home and the girl would jump up like a puppy excited to see her. They would swim and play card games with each other and eat a warm dinner. It was wonderful.

But one night her mom had a late meeting in the city so mom planned to spend the night in the city. The girl’s teenage sister was told to be home from her work by 10pm so that the (11 year old) girl wouldn’t be alone all night.  That night, dinner was actually arranged for the girl. She was to go to grandma’s for dinner. And then grandma would take her home to be alone and hope sister returned.

It was 11pm, sister wasn’t home yet. The girl couldn’t sleep. She was scared. Alone. She couldn’t relax to let sleep come. So she dragged her blanket to the couch and sat there trying to be brave. Trying to stay awake. Stay on guard.

Then, a noise. The screen door opened and someone was fidgeting with the door knob. Terrified, the girl tiptoes to the door and stretches up to peak through the peep hole. Relieved to see grandma’s nightgown, she opens the door.  Grandma says she was worried about her on her own (finally) and decided to sleepover. The girl feels loved (?) and safe and goes to sleep.

A bit later, sister comes home and the girl wakes up. Sister was 17 and had been out with her friends. She is angry that Grandma is there and mad at the girl for getting her into trouble for being late.

They’d both been set up to fail that night.

22 years later, I’ve been through so much. I’ve purged so much of that garbage… Why do I still find myself keeping a late night vigil until an adult comes home and gives me peace to stop fighting sleep?

That summer wasn’t the only time I was home alone for too long. It happened that way for a few summers (with a new CD each year). And then, once I was 16 and my parents bought a year-round cottage, they would go up alone on weekends and I was home alone in the winters, in a big house with an empty fridge. I had a tv this time- but it was much more than 8 hours alone.

Those endless days and nights alone… like an unwilling hermit… those days were quiet. I learned to turn off and wait for someone to come home and reanimate me. I try not to think about that time as real. I’ll write about that another time.

At least I had a boyfriend so that I didn’t have to sleep alone on Saturday nights. #thankgodforbirthcontrol

I’m done writing about this for now.

The purpose of this digging of shit I don’t want to look at was to try to figure out why I seem to have so much trouble doing things that are healthy (eating, sleeping) when I’m alone?

It begs the question, “If I eat a meal and no one sees, does it really count?” and maybe the deeper question, “If I sleep and no one is there, do I disappear?

girl in window dali

addendum:
I realize that sometimes parents have to work and there are no childcare options and they do what they have to do. This was not the case. Here are several other options that could have been arranged instead of me staying alone at the cottage all day:
1. My grandparents’ cottage was three blocks away. They were there all day.
2. My sister was riding her bike to work at a day camp nearby. I could have joined her there.
3. We had several friends who were around during the day. I could have gone there.
4. I could have driven into the city with her and been dropped at any of my friends’ houses for the day.
5. My aunt was around either in the city or at my grandparents’ cottage with her baby. If she’d known I was alone, I probably could have been with her.
Maybe I’m grappling for other options here but I suppose 1 or 2 should have been sufficient.

*Questions: Have you had a similar experience? Was this common? Am I just being overly sensitive? Tell me.