Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ain't That Swell?

I've been thinking a lot lately about trouble.  Maybe that's because I'm so good at finding it. I've become something of an expert at it. It's not just simple, run-of-the-mill trouble, either. I have perfected the art of perverse catastrophes. I had a friend once tell me, "I'd never believe all the crazy stuff that happens to you if I weren't with you when it happens."  I'm not even sure how to take that!

It's not the random insanity that gets to me. I can roll with my driver's license getting stuck in the pneumatic tube at the bank, lingering forever somewhere under the drive-through lanes. I can shake off, literally, the twenty gallons of milk falling out of a cooler and bursting on me in front of every person in town at Kroger. I can even handle the time my skirt fell off in the daycare parking lot. I mean, those atypical things are so typical for me.

What gets to me are the big things: being out of work for over a year, feeling like a failure in my professional and personal life, struggling to grow in my faith the way I feel I should, feeling torn between this urgency I feel to try something new and terrifying while trying to learn to let go of my familiar safety nets.  These are the storms that rock me.

I find comfort in small things. Usually it's the tiny things in life that speak the loudest to me, when I take the time to listen.

The last time I was visiting friends near Savannah, I headed down to Tybee Island alone for some quiet time before leaving. I walked along the beach, relaxed in a lounge chair, gathered shells. As perfect as it was, I still felt unsettled. Peace was hard to come by.

As I was strolling along, looking out at the waves and the horizon and contemplating the ways of the world, I noticed the gulls along the surf.  I watched them all scurry when the big waves came in. They'd waddle down to the shoreline and scatter the moment the waves broke on the sand.

All except one.

Riding the momentum of the next gigantic swell, he was picked up off the sand and dragged backwards into the sea. I watched, fascinated and a little worried over this crazy bird, as he was tossed and rocked by the water that covered him time and again. Why didn't he fly away? Why didn't he fight the current? What was he thinking? In my mind, this dumb bird automatically assumed a maleness. Yes, yes, I know. I'm a horrible person, but what's the use in lying in my own blog? I was positive this whacked-out sea gull was a boy.

At any rate, I kept watching; just when I was sure he would drown, he rode the tide out past the surf to the place where the sea calms. A little embarrassed by my anxiety, I saw him gently bob further out into the ocean, perfectly content with his circumstances. Maybe this bird was a girl, after all? The gentle swells pulled him along to whereever he was headed. I wasn't sure if he even knew where that was, but it certainly didn't seem to matter. He was fine with it all.

In that moment, I knew I needed to be that bird. Like the seagull had waited out the waves of trouble crashing over him, I needed to wait out my own troubles. Too often when we see things headed our way, we scramble. Just like those waves, our fear and perspective make difficult times appear worse than they really are, and we can wind up making a mess of things. Even if we manage to avoid some really bad choices, we wreck what we're working on in our hurry to get out of the way before we're swamped.

Sometimes, we just need to ride it out. I needed the faith and trust of that bird. Sit in the trouble; let it crash over me; and, after it passes, I'll float out on the swells to the open sea, where I can look at my situation clearly without all the brouhaha of the breaking surf.

So, if you ever look at me and think to yourself, "What's that dumb girl doing? She's going to drown.", just remember -- I'm working on becoming a seagull.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Want My Number?

I am...

a horrible dater.

There, I said it. Confessing ineptitude in dating is unheard of, in most cases. That's sort of like saying I'm a bad driver (equally true), or I don't like chocolate (complete fabrication). I don't know if I could shock people more if I were to utter, "I'm a bed wetter."

I started dating my ex when I was 15. We divorced when I was 30. Now, at 32, I have come to the full realization I have the growth-retarded dating skills of an ungainly adolescent.

One of the first post-divorce dates I ventured out on, after the poor guy had thrown hints for six months, was a disaster. I think this is mainly because I sabotaged it with the viciousness of an assassin. I was a ninja.  It wasn't somewhere I wanted to be -- in his vicinity, not the restaurant. This attitude was wholly unfair to the poor man. He is, overall, a nice guy. He just wasn't my type. The 15 year old  inside me, who could probably count the number of dates she'd had on one hand before tripping and falling into a relationship, had no idea how to graciously decline. I had several ideas: tell him I was in the Witness Protection Program, suddenly and fortuitously develop amnesia....Do I know you???, explain I'd pay for dinner with the proceeds of my latest bank heist, or maybe tell him I'd decided to elope with the mailman.

So, in the style of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Dates", I set out to murder his interest with a cold-blooded calculation. All through dinner, as he was bragging about his work at the meat-processing plant (How could I not see myself with him forever?!? Mr. and Mrs. Slaughter House) and giving me the most detailed description of the process since Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle", I talked about my best male friend incessantly. I believe, in retrospect, this would've been much more effective had he not joined in with an unforseen enthusiasm to discuss his best female friend in the whole world. Just to show how understanding and empathetic I can be, I began to ask why in the world they weren't dating. She sounds like a swell gal! I'll bet she loves deer meat. Lo and behold, she's even considering moving in with him. This, I thought to myself, will be over before dessert. I was a GENIUS of untold proportions.

The fried green tomatoes & pasta came and went. Still, there he sat, beaming at me and listing every known use for venison. When the server asked if we wanted dessert, I considered all the ways I could murder her with my straw.

In the theater, sitting in the back row, two fetuses on a date of their own were chatting it up and showing off their plumage to one another throughout the previews. Awwwww. And there he sat, loudly proclaiming how RUDE it was to talk during the movie. I decided my best course of action, while regrouping from my failure to cause any dinnertime fall-out, was to keep my mouth full of popcorn at all times and nod vaguely while appearing riveted by every movie trailer and subliminal message to buy Raisinettes that appeared on the screen.

The movie came on and all I could think was, "Thank God! This will be the one bright spot of the night!! It's 3-D, too, so maybe it'll catch his marmoset monkey attention." I was exhausted from being obnoxious; I was looking forward to a break.

Five minutes in, he began to critique every bit of this film as though he were Siskel AND Ebert all wrapped up in one paragon of evaluative skills. He did this in a voice that could've projected the length of a football field, unaided by a megaphone. All the while, he continued to intersperse his monologue with righteous indignation over how rude the teens in front of us were to talk during a movie when he'd paid good money to see it. I'd have paid good money to see it, if only I could get him to hush. So ... I did the unthinkable.

I turned to him with the look I normally reserve for rowdy six year olds in class -- that steady, unnerving teacher glare that lets you know you're busted...

and I shushed him. Twice.

Surely, now, aghast at my own behavior, I believed he would tell me this was not what he'd had in mind -- dinner and detention. Nope. He just kept on chatting. It made me seriously reconsider my classroom management techniques.

After the movie, when he dropped me off on the stoop of my building (we were absolutely NOT walking inside to my door), I told him goodnight. I smiled. I gave him the kiss of death: the sideways, Baptist, three-pat hug. You know exactly what I mean: that hug you use at church for members of the opposite sex -- arm around them from the side, so there's no chest-to-chest contact and pat, pat, pat...release.

He drove off into the night, and I thought surely, surely I'd acccomplished my mission. This dating business wasn't as tricky as I'd thought. I should give date-extraction seminars! I was so proud of myself.

Two days later, he called me.

I've since gotten over the feeling that I'm going on dates in the same way I choke down brussels sprouts. No, wait....I feed those to the dog. Nevermind, you get the idea.  I still feel awkward on a date; I still feel the need to hand him a list of what will and will not happen at the end of the night, with an opt-out clause: feel free to run after appetizers, sir. I'm still never sure what to do those painful moments at my door. There's always this urge to yell, "k, thanks!" and punch him in the shoulder, then slam the door in his face. 

I am a horrible dater. I'm not sure if, statistically, I have to improve at it over time or not. It's sure never worked for my driving. But I do know this --

I'm no ninja.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Moving On

What do you do when you've outgrown something as fundamental as home?

I have lived in the same small town all my life. I was born here, raised here, thought I'd die here. And, for years, that was enough.  Nowadays, I'm not so sure.

 It brings to mind a Rascal Flatts song:
"I've lived in this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they're always the same
They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it
They'll never allow me to change
But I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong
I'm movin' on

I'm movin' on
At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me
And I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone
There comes a time in everyone's life
When all you can see are the years passing by
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone
I'm moving on."

Sometimes, this place feels like a too-tight shirt -- you just can't move, can't breathe. 

I love my family. I have a reverence for who and what I've come from. There are bittersweet memories about this place that I'll cherish forever. I love the mountains. There's a solace in being surrounded by them. I love that when my nerves feel jarred and exposed, I can drive in any direction and wind up on some mountaintop, amid the breeze and trees and earthy smells of dying and growing. There's a peace, a continuity that I need to feel. I suppose that's Whitman's influence. Alack and bedamned, those Transcendentalists!! 

I love to stand on a rock or overlook and gaze down at the common-place trivialities of life carrying on below me. There's a comfort & freedom in the reminder that I'm a very small part of the universe. Sometimes we give ourselves too much weight, too much importance; it's lovely, on these days when our self-importance feels so heavy, to be brought back to our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, there's the paradox of our impact upon everything we touch.

These are the thoughts I ponder, standing on my mountains.

As much as I treasure this, lately, it feels as though there's something more, something different and new. There was a time, not too far off, that "new" was a dirty word to me.  Change was something to be avoided at all costs. The known, no matter how ill-fitting it might be to my heart and self, was better than that terrifying, dark abyss of the "not-known".

That's not true, anymore. These days I have a yearning for something.  I don't know what it is, yet. But I know it's out there......waiting. There's a heaviness in the air that tells me the winds of change are blowing. I'm breathing it in, pulling it deep.

I could ponder the inter-connectedness of the universe, God's amazing grace, the collective unconsciousness, and how very beautifully small I really am at the seashore just as well as here.

It comes to me, just now, Home is inside us. We carry it everywhere we go. Our roots ground us in the sandy soil or black fertile loam just as well as in this rusty red clay of my childhood.  And so, if home seems to be a too-tight shirt, it's just the circumstances -- not the life.

It may be time for a trip up the mountain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Dirty "D" Word

I got divorced. 
Those three words always drop like stones into a conversation, heavy in a roiling cauldron of emotions.  Strange now, how it seems a little harder for the other person to hear the evidence of my marital failure than it is for me, but that wasn’t always the case.  Acceptance was a process.

 It wasn’t as if I woke up one morning and said, “When I’m thirty, I hope I’m divorced and all alone.  I hope I have no one to sit with on the sofa or laugh with at stupid jokes or argue about whether the toilet seat stays up or down”.  Yet here I am, thirty-two and divorced.  It happens every day.  It’s nothing newsworthy…except to those who are going through it at the moment.  Then it becomes all-consuming: a very public “dirty, little secret”.  This is particularly true in the south, and any woman who leaves her husband in the Bible belt without just cause, like adultery or physical abuse or the fact that he cheers for the wrong football team, is slapped with the label “Jezebel”.  Ok, so I’m joking about the football teams….a little.  We all know that Friday night lights and Sunday morning services rival one another down here.  At any rate, it would almost be more acceptable to say, “I just could not stand to hear him yell ‘Go Big Orange’ one more time” than for a woman to admit that her marriage is slowly choking her.

I realized pretty early that divorce is often like an amputation to remove a cancer.  It leaves this huge, gaping hole that nothing except time can heal.  In the meanwhile, you have to adjust to a new life without that limb.  The ex isn’t the only part cut away, either.  Pretty soon, friends whom you thought were really your friends fall away, too.  They stop calling; they stop dropping by; they act as though they don’t know you.  You lose the places where you used to go together. You lose the little pieces of life that made the marriage mean something.  Just like an amputee suffers from a phantom limb syndrome where he can still feel his missing leg, so I had my moments where I mourned the loss of things I see now I never truly had in the first place.

It is a sad thing, indeed, to look back on fifteen years worth of life and wonder how much was done with an ulterior motive. Was he always so conniving and narcissistic? Was I always so untrusting and jaded? Did life and time change us, or were we always so broken together? I wonder now how much I chose not to see, out of fear and insecurity. More than I’d like to admit, I’m sure -- even to myself.

And, yet, would I change it? It was, in part, these moments that made me who and what I am now, a woman finally comfortable in her own skin. I find myself, though, uttering those proverbial words pretty often, “If it weren’t for my kids…”. I’d what? Hit that cosmic do-over button we all wish we had? Erase him from my life like one big multiple choice mistake? Who knows. We can never really know what we’d do differently, if given the chance. In all honesty, we’d probably make the same crappy choices or, God forbid, make brand-new horrible choices. Sometimes it’s enough to leave well enough alone and know when to get out of Dodge. Then just look ahead.

I was a small-town anomaly-the personification of every drawling debutante’s worst nightmares. I got pregnant my senior year in high school. It was a shock to everyone, but no more so than to myself. Of course I understood the anatomy and biology of it. We’d had that reproductive talk in 8th grade health class, after all. Still, perhaps I thought in the back of my mind that National Honors Society laid claim to some heretofore unknown contraceptive powers. In short, I was an idiot. While I was busy being the editor of the paper and singing in choir, practicing for Mock Trial and Model UN, going to Quiz Bowl games and AP classes, I also managed to make a baby with someone who couldn’t be more wrong for me. Score: hormones 1, common sense 0.

To make matters worse, I refused to follow southern protocol. When I was supposed to marry quickly and produce a lovely infant after a conveniently premature delivery, I instead proceeded to live with my high school sweetheart for eight years. There were many times throughout that near-decade I realized we should never have been together. We were like explosive substances. We brought out the worst in one another. So how did we fix this? We got married. Of course!

For years, we rubbed and scraped through our lives together, quietly ripping one another to shreds. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning and realized I was unrecognizable to myself that I knew something had to change. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, had no immune system, suffered constant fatigue. I couldn’t even make a simple decision anymore without second-guessing myself. It was brought home to me that I wasn’t hiding it all so well anymore when my mother told me one morning over coffee, “You used to be so independent and so happy. I look at you and feel like I don’t know you anymore. You never laugh. You never smile. You never decide.” In that moment, I knew what I was feeling was real. Other people, if they looked closely enough – if they cared enough, they saw it, too.

And so we divorced. And I was a traitor and somehow suddenly one of the Untouchables. People didn’t make eye contact. They disappeared out of my life like ghosts. It took me a long time to understand if they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, if they chose to be blind to the truth of my suffering, they were not people I needed in my life. And so I let them go.

I went out one evening for my 4 mile walk in a new pair of shoes. I hadn’t made it 2 miles when I knew I needed to turn around and head home. What had begun as a mild irritation was quickly becoming a painful, burning blister on my heel. As I headed for home, I knew I needed to pull off my shoes if I ever wanted to make it back. So, here I was, walking along the busiest street in town, barefoot and carrying my shoes like some sort of crazy woman. People stared. They gawked. They wondered if the facility knew I was loose.

It was in the midst of this ridiculousness, I had an epiphany that changed my mind set in a way I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully explain. Just as I’d rather walk home barefoot, under the judging eyes of strangers, so I chose to be divorced. I could have stayed in my marriage, rubbed raw and open by the constant abrasions of never being enough, never being what someone else thought I should’ve been, or I could suffer these small snubs and slights to get somewhere I needed to be. Somehow, taking my shoes off was symbolic to me in a way so powerfully, I don’t know if anyone else will ever understand how clear my situation became.

Yes, I am divorced, down here in the Bible belt, of my own volition. I wasn’t left; I wasn’t abandoned; I wasn’t cast aside. I was dying. I was being blistered from the inside out, and I chose to take off those shoes that had never fit right. As I sat next to my ex-husband tonight at a high school football game, cheering on our kiddo from the stands, I thought to myself, “I just couldn’t stand to hear him yell ‘Go, Tech’ one more time…”, and I smiled. I may still be walking barefoot, but I’m getting there.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why the Heck Not?

I decided to start this lil ol' blog...

Professional procrastination is a fabulous thing.
So I asked myself, "What necessitates your voice being heard?"
    Translation: Why do you feel the need to subject others to your blab??
And then it occurred to me, the vast majority of people in a position to speak, often probably shouldn't. Thus, I reckon I might as well.

I'm no one of any particular reknown. I'm not famous. I'm not wealthy. I'm not powerful. I'm not beautiful....shoot, I'm not even tall. opinion is just as valid as anyone else's. My fingers get just as trigger-happy. And there's something beautiful, many times, in the mundane. So, here we go. :)