quietly in a room

Standard

“All human miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” –Sepharad, Antonio Muñoz Molina

I have never been one to make grand declarations about my plans or hopes (at least not since reaching the trials of adulthood, watching hopes and plans be beaten like a piñata – what you end up with in life is some of the candies and tchotchkes that fall from the piñata. Pieces of your hopes and moments of sweetness in unexpected flavors that you’ve scrambled to pick up before someone else does), knowing that change will come regardless of what I do. I might be able to guide the changes that occur, making decisions and taking actions that will influence outcomes. But claiming – ‘everything changes and is different from today’ is a dangerous and foolhardy path. And yet, without sometimes taking leaps, if not always the grandest or furthest, palpable change isn’t possible. Sometimes to agitate movement, you have to force things through. Sometimes you have to do things that are uncomfortable or that hurt.

And this week I’ve had to do something that I long ago should have done – something that does hurt, but the longer-term effects of not taking this course of action will hurt much more. The last three years have been a long process of slow change, acceptance and finding contentment. Now, the trick is to move forward with longer, faster strides – and this is not possible with lingering elements grabbing at my ankles and trying to trip me up.

I can and do sit, happily, quietly, in a room alone. I can no longer invite those who cannot into my room with me.

The other day I was thinking about the creation of “victim selfhood”. I know a lot of people who create their own miseries (in a host of different ways). I think and write a lot about this, but reflect also on the fact that it’s not as though I am immune. We can all see our own actions and behaviors through a prism that relieves us of blame or absolves us of responsibility. I try exceptionally hard not to do this now – possibly even to the point of being annoying to the people around me who would rather that I not analyze my own actions and motivations in such detail.

Looking at youth (and this could be anything between childhood and one’s early 20s), in particular, we can, in our naivete and inexperience, really believe we were in the right and not reflect on all the things that we did wrong, excusing them, if acknowledging them at all, with mild self-exculpations: “I was a child. I didn’t know what I was doing.” I’ve written my side of many stories involving my long-ago friends, examining my own feelings and reactions – but not necessarily divining all the details of things I did to set things in motion. Yes, for example, I was competitive with others for the attentions of the one friend we all wanted to love us best; yes, I was messed up and trying to escape in my own way, leading me to slip in and undermine a close friend in a situation neither one of us should have been in at all, and then, to my own detriment, took that situation further, creating a reality that was not real, doing all kinds of things that, while they seemed innocuous to me at the time, still surface and haunt me and make me want to apologize to people 30 years after the fact. (In fact I already have – years ago, even if there is some part of me that realizes as a 40-something woman that children cannot be held accountable for emotional repercussions that they do not have the maturity and experience to understand.)

But on some level, of course we know what we are doing. But being young and inexperienced, I didn’t comprehend the seriousness of the things I did – not just in the moment, how some of my actions could lead to perilous consequences, but also further-reaching repercussions – toying with the psyches of fragile, damaged, middle-aged men (for example), but in truth, despite living with one of the most troubled, damaged people I have ever known and seeing other evidence of it all around me, I somehow didn’t really believe that adults could be that fragile – and felt that the silly games of a bored 13-year-old girl couldn’t possibly wound anyone so very deeply that it would matter and would in fact harm the trust they were able to place in all the future relationships they tried to build. It is almost as though the life I led, that all people led, before adulthood, wasn’t even real life. So much of life during that time felt surreal and out of my hands and control, that the things I could control – as destructive as they might be – were seized, eagerly, giving me a (false) sense of maturity and power.

It’s rather stream of consciousness, this whole thing. I am just coming to terms with finding strength in considering these flaws and mistakes of youth – borne as they were of youthful insecurity (wanting to be liked?), fear and fragility. It’s a strange dawning – daunting, even – to recognize how fragile people are. And how willing they are to put their fragility on display.

“How could she allow herself to break down like that, in front of everybody? Jane had never understood this willingness on the part of these from-aways to peel up the scabs of their emotions and let everyone see their festering sores. They were like children that way. They had no shame and even less self-control.” –Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman

Even the strongest ones. But the strongest ones have ways to cope and get through; they have people they can turn to. The weakest, well, they don’t have reserves to deplete. And some of them, like parasites, move on to deplete others of their reserves. Once depleted, though, there is just nothing left. Each experience leaves us empty, feeling as though we will never feel again. Sure, we will feel. We will make long strides. We will sprout a joystick. We will feel enthusiasm and excitement and stirring.

But to get there, we (I) must (know how to) walk away, whatever it costs. And sit alone, quietly, in a room.

“It sucks to be reliable”

Standard

“It sucks to be reliable”: This is the dubious title of the 200+ page document where I make copious, obsessive notes about everything. It is here that I collect my thoughts, quotations from books I read and various other stuff. It’s odd to go back to things I collected but never used from the past, even from something as recently as a year ago. It never feels, as time creeps along, as though things are really changing. But in the drip-drip-drip of the slow-brewing days, change has happened silently in the background. But what never changes? That it often sucks to be reliable. To be the person who must always be stable, who is never allowed to fall apart or seek solace outside oneself. It may suck, but one can also not do otherwise because it is just the nature of who s/he is.

These thoughts have clearly stuck with me for a long time, but I never gave them much bulk or created cohesive resistance until recently – mostly because of a few conversations on the topic. Oddly because I told someone else that I felt relief with him because I didn’t feel like he was always going to crumble in my hands, before my eyes, that he was “emotionally stable”. Because he is so like me in so many ways, it should not have surprised me that he replied with something like, “I have not had any choice but to be stable.” I felt like I was paying him a compliment, and maybe at any other time or on another day, he would have taken it that way. But on the vulnerable edge we may slide along, it is sometimes irksome to hear such things, as though someone else is dumping their own emotional baggage on you, expecting you to carry it. I know this feeling because, well, I titled this document “It sucks to be reliable” a year ago – one of the many times I have superficially and informally given voice to this sad truth: being stable and secure can itself be a kind of baggage one cannot shed, even if s/he wanted to (and it tends to accumulate and get heavier as you go along).

Despite the resentment it might create, I mostly feel I would not want this to be otherwise (making the resentment little more than an immature tantrum). After all, when have I ever not wanted to be in control… and doesn’t that extend to being in control when other people’s stuff spirals out of control? This is not to say that it is always a burden to be reliable. Sometimes I am grateful for it – both that I myself am unsinkable and that I am strong enough to help keep others afloat. But there are those tired, empty moments when it would feel freeing to let go of that, even if, like a magnet, I would be drawn back in without necessarily realizing.

subtle change

Standard

I may finally have emerged from a grey-food period. I was eating mostly the same mundane meal daily because it was easy, healthy and almost instant. But I’ve finally decided I should put in a bit of upfront effort and prepare some variation and make a few meals for a few days in advance.

My latest go-to, at the very least, is very colorful, although not necessarily pretty. With a base of a grain mix of quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth, I throw in some beans (kidney or black usually), red and/or yellow peppers, red onions, asparagus, baby spinach, tomatoes and who knows what else? And then sometimes add a bit of salmon or a few prawns, if I am in that kind of mood (prefer mostly vegan eating but sometimes seem to need a change).

I think my laziest thing is that I don’t want to bother cooking, so if I do it all at once and make a bunch of well-measured out bowls and cook enough of this grain stuff to many such bowls, I don’t have to think about it every single day. I know people have been saying that to me forever – just take the one ‘hit’ in terms of time, prep, patience, and you will thank yourself. But even that, until recently, I could not force myself to do. But I suppose alongside all the rest of the changes this year, thinking ahead and preparing even for the most boring thing I can think of (eating) is something I can ken.

Now the question remains: will I ever bake again?

Contextual past and eventual becoming

Standard

“I am writing for the person I used to be. Perhaps the person I once left behind persists, standing there, still and grim, in some attic of time – on a bend, on a crossroads – and in some mysterious way she is able to read the lines I am setting out here, without seeing them.” –A General Theory of Oblivion, José Eduardo Agualusa

In If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino hints gently at context, and by envisioning parallel, fictional realities, we may be ripping some gem from its intended context and stuffing it into another to serve another purpose, to enhance another context. These are not even close to his words, and in fact, in my own paraphrasing I have moved his original words (in translation no less) quite far from their origin and intended context to justify my own. It is the intent, perhaps, that a reader should interpret and ‘steal’ concepts (I know that in one of the multitudes of books I have read this week, there was a passage somewhere about stealing and refashioning good ideas – but I don’t know if I saved the quote. A shame).

But this is my pattern. I read aggressively, voraciously, feverishly highlighting meaningful passages (stopping briefly to wonder if I might highlight different passages and quotes if I were in another frame of mind, or context). And later I find some application – or context – for those passages that meant most to me in some way.

Behavior eventually shows its hand and establishes a pattern if you wait long enough. I can change these patterns to change behaviors, but the underlying drive comes out the same. I shifted from television addiction to a reading addiction, which I would argue is the better of the two addictions. But both are addictive and almost compulsive behaviors. To compensate, I seek and find some balance, and my constant underlying drive is not just the search for balance but the search for change. And for me, change is always about the future and ensuring some otherness or difference from the now and the past. It is not about dragging vestiges of the past with me into new scenery; it is likewise not about erasing that past or its experience. It does not mean cast off the you who was, but does mean give careful consideration to the you who will be.

“This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it: though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure, enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events provokes a rain of new events, which complicate the situation worse than before and which I will then, in their turn, have to try to erase. Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication.” If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

While many recognize and complain about their patterns, they do nothing to alter them. Change, after all, is what we most avoid. Because of this aversion to change, at least some kinds of change, the complaints are idle and the angst projected about them contrived. But we all have our blind spots, especially when it comes to other, unpredictable, people.

“…but at that moment it was as if an undigested bit of the past had come back up his throat.” –The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano

Yes, people. Unpredictable people who jump around in the timeline of our lives. Almost dead within our archives, yet somehow we live on, almost as living, breathing people in the daily existences, of which we are (almost) no longer a part. I can control my books or tv viewing or the lengths of walks in the rain (though I cannot yet control the rain). I can control how much I sleep and how deeply involved I become in my mad dreams (how I love these). But people… and how much the past wears on and continues to affect (and infect) people.

Someone told me recently that “the past is a foreign country”, which sounds, not unlike my allusions and references to Calvino, like something lifted from a literary source (with which I am not familiar). This is poetic, but Calvino himself manages to describe the pernicious nature of the past with a far more apt simile:

“The past is like a tapeworm, constantly growing, which I carry curled up inside me”.

The past, and the people who populate it, has a voracious appetite and will eat away at one from the inside, if one lets it.

The interesting part is that the phantoms, those living in the past as though it were yesterday: they are often the most honest ones. Maybe not about how the past was (they can in fact be quite blind and/or deluded), but they aren’t hiding their intentions or papering over their defects. And the people laboring along in the firm belief that they are living in the present and looking toward the future? The veneer of calm does not hide the high-strung individual underneath, paddling away from reminders of the past like poor swimmers with no instinct for floating – there is no actual serenity in those who so desperately seek it. Maybe, like Daniel Hall writes in “Love Letter Burning”: “The past will shed some light/but never keep us warm”.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion

Dual contracts

Standard

“The weariness of being loved, of being truly loved! The weariness of being the object of other people’s burdensome emotions! Of seeing yourself – when what you wanted was to remain forever free” -Fernando Pessoa

Do you feel at the edge of something life-changing? Or maybe that everything has already changed, slowly, almost imperceptibly – to bring you to where you are?

Sometimes I feel close to that edge – like something that will alter or maybe even has altered everything is within my grasp. Other times, like tonight, back home again, as others celebrate Midsommar, I find myself alone watching the sky get dark around midnight, working even though this is still technically my vacation. And I think, sitting in encroaching darkness, “Nothing has really changed at all.”

Some things do change, though, in surprising ways. I think frequently these days about how, as kids, as adolescents, our parents want to know everything we do, going so far as to snoop and spy on our secretive young selves. And yet, as an adult, it’s like they just don’t want to know. And don’t ask. Much of my life, how I feel about things, is in a public-facing blog, but my mom has read maybe only two entries in her life. Not that it matters if she does, but it’s funny that it does not interest her at all now, but in youth… what parents would not have killed for that kind of unfiltered access to their teenager’s mysterious thoughts?

Sometimes I feel like I embody the duality of both the furtive, cagey adolescent, hiding away my real thoughts, feelings and life’s events, and the concerned parent, questioning my own thoughts, motives and feelings.

 

the whole cake

Standard

It strikes me every time I read something from several years ago how many repeated patterns there are in the lives of all the characters involved, including myself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise – I am a certain type of person, and despite changing my surroundings, approaches, and putting up solid boundaries when needed, it does not change the fact that I am the same person at my core, and the feelings with which I respond are essentially the same. It also does not change the kinds of people I encounter in my life, or the preferences my heart (or mind) seems to have. None of this is a value judgment – just observations about how fundamental, deep change is not easy or quick. If it happens at all, it happens like soil erosion – it is happening but isn’t visible to the naked eye or even perceptible for many years.

Autumn 2011 (?) – excerpts from an email

A weekend of major baking (1200 cookies for a PR event at work). I invited a young German assistant to come and help me.

Latest drama: Mal is convinced he is going to die, like a total hypochondriac, despite not actually having real symptoms of anything. All I could do was roll my eyes, even if I wanted to be sympathetic, because 1. what a total overreaction, 2. go to the fucking doctor if you are so scared, 3. he was sooooooo unsympathetic when I had my own much more realistic health scare not long ago and has not been sympathetic or understanding when I have told him about the actual health problems I faced. Eventually he saw a doctor who told him that his symptoms were imagined/psychosomatic. Being the dramatic manipulator he is, he uses even fake health crises to milk what benefit he can get from them. He told me he feels he has had a “near-death experience” now. Oh my god. Seriously. Until they are cutting your balls off and shooting radiation into some part of your body, don’t even talk to me about near-death. He apparently told a mutual acquaintance that if he had been diagnosed with something terminal, he would immediately pack up and move here, as if he had been invited to die at my house. At some point he told me the same thing, imagining I would be flattered that he would choose me as nurse and caretaker for his final days?! Me, being the cynic always believing the worst in people like him, I said, “Oh why… better free medical care in Sweden?” He got offended and said, “No! To spend my last days somewhere beautiful with someone who really cares about me.” I guess that is a nicer sentiment, but note that it is always about who cares about him, what he can get out of it and not about for whom he cares or some kind of mutual care or respect.

Of course I am not supposed to be talking to him at all since my deadline for getting rid of him was September 30. It really had become such a chore and difficulty that I literally had to give myself a deadline. It is beyond difficult to just cut someone off, even someone so destructive and selfish. I have put a lot of distance between us, causing him to call me a “frosty fucker” the other day (haha). I enjoyed being called a frosty fucker so much that I just had to repeat it. It has grown easier, though, because I’ve been working and dashing constantly from place to place – Oslo, Trondheim, New York, Seattle, Stockholm, and will be right up until the end of the year, meaning there is no time to mess around with his nonsense, inconsistency, excuses and bullshit. I sometimes find myself in the position of sort of missing him when we are out of touch for a while, but as soon as I talk to him again, listening to his stupid excuses and bullshit-filled banter, I am back to wanting to forget that this summer happened at all…

Actually being around R (the dentist), I was just struck again, hard, by the realization that it is just so easy to get worn down into a pattern with some people (ML) where you accept and think something, some pathetic behavior, is okay or even normal, which it totally is not. R is open, funny, generous, warm … he barely knows me but he invited me to stay in his house during this extensive dental treatment. We had some great conversations and even greater laughs… and you know, he did not have to do any of that – I was not his friend, but his sister’s, but he still did. I like to think I am a lot like that most of the time. I am not a taker, so when I am taking (like from R this past week), I am extremely grateful and gracious, offer to help in any way I can, offer whatever I have (in this case, I brought a shitload of cookies to him). I just don’t understand people who can take and take and barely register that it might require a thank you.

I was telling R about this situation with Mal, and he laughed and said, “It sounds like an indie movie… full of unknown actors.” It made me think… maybe I should write a screenplay or something out of this ridiculous summer. Then I would at least feel like I walked away with something.

These days, after this stupid summer entanglement and its idleness, I am oddly contemplative/reflective on what it is I really want to do in life… ever since Steve Jobs died the other day and I re-watched his Stanford commencement speech about death (or threat of it) being the best catalyst for taking action in life. Do I want to write product sheets about the Android OS for the rest of my life? No. The last thing I want is a routine life.

…And then on compatibility, with your husband and with people in general. I understand what you are saying about choosing the “right qualities” when you decided to be with him… his stability and some of the more fundamental things. Yes, you might have liked to have been with someone who wants long, deep conversations and shared literary interests, but it is rare (if possible at all) to get a whole package. Isn’t it a matter of what is most important – and how you can get by and relate in the day to day? And I guess, as we may have discussed before, you can get some of the more in-depth conversational needs taken care of with close friends, even if it is still not quite the same thing.

And if love is important – or what makes you feel loved, rather – I just talked to my German assistant about this. She is young, so inexperienced. She asked whether she should wait around for someone if she is in love with them and they just don’t respond to her in kind. I assumed she was talking about Mal (and if she wasn’t, that means she has gotten herself into yet another unhealthy situation with someone else), and it made me so intensely sad for her to know that she KNOWS it is not going to change. She is just an accessory and a “safety/back up” for him. It is not that he does not care at all about her, but that he cares more about himself. Obviously. He is always going to give her a few crumbs to keep her hanging on but will never give her the whole cake, so to speak. To which I almost screamed, “Don’t settle for stale crumbs. Wait for – and accept – only the whole cake.”

underthings and underlings: shedding layers part five

Standard

The latest to go are the invisible (to most)… socks, undergarments and the like.

It’s strange throwing some things away, trying to remember exactly when they were acquired. Realizing it was more than a decade ago, when you could have sworn it was just three or so years back. No wonder these things need replacing. Time just flies by and clothes (under or over) are not my top-of-mind thought.