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Category Archives: Essays

All In My Head

Is it the thought that counts?

I think not.

What matters much much more is the action.

Maybe there is an alien civilization where beings connect with one another telepathically, a society of limbless heads soundlessly transmitting.

Not so humans–thank goodness.

I was reminded of this recently when a former love told me that he still thinks about me every day.

At first I was thrilled to hear it. For weeks I thought about him thinking about me and tried to convince myself that this would fill the empty place inside me that longs to love and be loved. I imagined him thinking his way right up to my front door–and then I remembered that he would have to use his legs, and not just his head, to return to my life.

Alas, the thought of a thought is not the same as a smiling face at the door, a hand in my hand, a strong embrace, a caring voice asking, “how are you?” and meaning it.

For years thoughts of thoughts and dreams of dreams and imaginings of imaginings were what passed for my love life. I was a lonely child and a lonely teenager.

A couple of times in my life, I have ventured beyond the thought into the actual sensual and tactile and real-time experience of relationship, of love between two humans. It bears no resemblance to thinking about someone thinking about you.

Being together in the palpable present is all there is when it comes to relationships. It is a sad perspective indeed that has made me believe I should settle for thoughts of thoughts instead of opening myself up to the possibility of an actual warm and loving human within reach and view.

It is time to banish these imaginings and find love not with my head but with hands and heart.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Body and Soul

 

Present

If only I could master the wise and ancient discipline of living in the moment.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I sigh deeply and shake my head.

I understand the goal but find the practice extremely challenging. It seems virtually impossible to keep my restless mind from obsessing gloomily about the past or tiptoeing trepidatiously into the future.

Nowhere would present-moment awareness be more useful to me, and nowhere is it more lacking, than in my romantic life.

At any given time, you can find me brooding about at least one of two types of men. Neither one exists in real time as a present-moment relationship but either species can dominate my thoughts and eat up endless hours.

Type Number One is a former love whom I haven’t seen in years and who exists only in my memory and imagination. Who cares that he is nowhere to be found in the present. In my memory, all the loveliness of our time together is preserved in High Def, and all the frightening fight scenes, hurt and heartbreak, have been erased by Time and Denial.

His image is equally vivid in my fantasies, where I enjoy daily, and sometimes hourly, screenings of The Return of My Ex…a Happily Ever After melodrama about a rapturous reunion whose details change but plot remains the same: He Comes Back, We Surrender to Passion, We Meld With Each Other and Remain Joined and Joyful for All Time.

Type Number Two is someone I know casually whom I am sure is Destined to be My Man at some unspecified point in the…present?…No, future of course. We have almost no contact in the present. When we do have a fleeting encounter, it is committed to memory, where I edit and tweak it into a convincing snippet of a love story. TN2 is a pleasant acquaintance with whom there is enough chemistry to produce a credible fantasy of being a couple but (as with TN1) not enough of a relationship to produce a romance outside of my imagination.

Why do I do these ridiculous things? The most obvious answer is that old bugaboo known as fear of intimacy. In my twisted way of thinking (or the unconscious depths of my brain) a largely imaginary relationship has a couple of advantages: I can control it and I will never get close enough to it for it to hurt me. It also probably came in handy at my all-girls high school to have a fierce romantic imagination that could make a rare date or dance occupy my thoughts for several months. I guess that was better than facing up to the true depths of my teenage loneliness.

Clearly there are some things that I need to recognize…right this very minute:

I left my all-girls institution many decades ago and have no need to invent or enhance relationships.

Friendships or romances that barely exist in daily life don’t exist at all.

Living in my memory and imagination is neither mentally nor spiritually healthy.

Living in my memory and imagination is a great way to end up really crazy and lonely.

The human connection that I am hoping for will only show up in the present and I will only be there to greet him if I’m living in the present.

Guess I’m going to have to take another shot at Being Here Now.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Foibles, Follies and Roadblocks

 

Owning It

Here’s a difficult epiphany:

I am responsible for all of my actions, past present and future.

Ouch.

It stinks to recognize that sometimes I’ve been a bad guy, or done the wrong thing, over the course of a lifetime.

I’d like to think of myself as being Nice and Sweet and Lovable.

I’d like to think that other people, or challenging situations, made me do this or that. Oh how I would love to hand this messy ugly stuff to someone or something else.

I hate the fact that I have become aware that blaming is lame. I used to love passing the buck. It was so much fun and brought so much relief.

I was a lovely, touching victim–especially when I was young, tremulous and tearful from a surfeit of hormones, and painfully thin.

Not only did I think other people were responsible for my lapses in conduct. I believed that I was responsible for other people’s behavior. This created some interesting dynamics in intimate relationships. I spent a lot of time exchanging blame with my significant others, feeling guilty and responsible for their actions and laying guilt trips on them, and ultimately engaging in attempts at mutual control and suffocation. Small wonder we parted–and I was left alone and lonely.

OK, I do know that I can attribute a few of my worst qualities and behaviors to my genes. There’s a good scapegoat. I can also lay a tiny bit of blame on My Childhood and the traumas I endured as I was coming up in the world.

Here’s the bummer, though. Here’s the joke it took me decades to get.

Once you leave childhood and home behind and you’re on your own, you become responsible for your actions, no matter how scarred and crippled you are as a result of your genetic material or the way you grew up.

I sure wish I had known that about 30 years ago. I think I would have watched my behavior a lot more closely.

There is, however, an up side to all this. Recognizing that I am responsible for my own actions also means that I have some say over what I do. No one else gets to control me or my behavior, although I hope that God will weigh in early and often. I am in charge of my actions. The same is true for others. I don’t have any control over what they do nor should I try to exercise it.

And that means:

I’m off the hook. I can concentrate on tending my own garden.

Tending it mindfully and well.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Clarity

 

Stillness

I am frightened by life’s open spaces. I clutter up silences with chatter, rush around pretending to be busy. On the rare occasions, however, when I quiet myself sufficiently to allow stillness, wondrous things happen:

In silence I am able to really sense another person.

In silence another person is able to see me for what I am.

I have never been kissed without a very deep silence occurring first.

I have never had an intelligent thought without silence preceding it.

I have never solved a problem without stillness.

I have never had a moment of clarity without stillness.

I don’t know why I feel the need to fill every space. My guess is that making noise and getting busy are things I do when I’m afraid.

It seems the more I long for something, the more I fear it. I long to be close to others. I long to be open and vulnerable enough for miracles to happen. I am dying to unclench my hands and abandon the illusion of control. I yearn for someone else to pick up the thread: another voice, another hand.

I am also terrified of these things.

Filling spaces with noise and activity appears to be a defense against anyone getting close.

They say human beings are made up mostly of water. I think we are comprised mainly of defenses. Defensiveness is a wonderful trait for survival, not so good for intimate relationships and everyday miracles.

I am aware that in order to connect with other human beings and with life experiences, I need to be undefended in silence and open spaces. I fear, however, that if I remain unguarded for too long, I will be scorched or trampled or feel the need to flee–or at least get behind a solid barricade.

Perhaps the secret is to develop accordion-like instincts, or the rhythms of a fish…a fluid ability to be open one minute, and closed the next.

It requires tremendous emotional flexibility to do that, as well as a lot of courage.

I think it would be worth a try.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

Losing Control

It has been that kind of day. Tried to turn on the television but I could not get the remote to work. Tried a second remote. No good. Tried them both at the same time, one in each hand, like a gunslinger. Still the stubborn LCD would not turn on.

The frustration with my Sharp Aquos is just the latest in a string of failed attempts to get the world to function the way I want it to.

The thing I love about the remote, when it works, is that you can get exactly what you want: the channel, the volume, the high or low def. You can choose Wii tennis or Guitar Hero, Al Jazeera or Telemundo, Mob Wives or Rachel Maddow.

How different it is dealing with people.

The problem I have with relationships is not that I want folks to disappear from my life because I can’t stand them. I just want my peeps at the right volume, tuned to the right channel, at the right time. I am a benevolent despot–not a demented Roman emperor. I only want to control other people sometimes, and usually all I need are a few minor adjustments.

I was trying to explain this to my son the other day: “It’s not that I don’t want your friends to come over. It’s that I don’t want them to come and sit on the porch from the moment you get up at 2pm until the moment you fall into bed at 2 am. One or two hours of college students with their colorful antics gives a liveliness and zest to the home ambience. Twelve hours turns it into outtakes from The Hangover.”

I know I know I know. You can’t control people. You can’t adjust their behavior. You can make requests, modify your own actions, and establish and keep boundaries. That’s it.

This does not feel fair at all. It seems as if we should be able to honcho the humans in our lives just a little bit: A tweak here, a tiny update there, an occasional reboot?

Here’s an idea:

Why couldn’t there be a remote for other people’s behavior with just a few simple commands: “Come Here”, “Go ‘Way”, “Be Nice”, “Hug Me”, “Love Me”, “Listen to Me”, “Tell Me I’m Not Fat”.

It seems like it could be a great thing–but what would we gain if everyone had one?

Problem is if we all had remotes for fine-tuning other folks, it wouldn’t really improve anything. People would still be trying and failing to manipulate each other, sending out mixed signals, battling, projecting, misunderstanding, even hallucinating their way through relationships.

I guess the only means to escape an uncontrollable world of frustrating human connections is to go back to where I started: grab the clicker, turn on the TV, and choose a parallel universe.

I’ll have to get the remote to work–but that I can master.

 

Open Heart, No Hands

By now the Old Me would have scattered her entire wardrobe around the room looking for the Perfect Outfit to attract Him in an understated way. I would be panicking as I realized that I don’t own any Hoochie Couture and would have to settle for leggings and the best of my light and summery but not cheap looking blouses.

Next would come the anxious process of searching for physical flaws using every mirror in the house: the full length one on the bedroom door that has a bloating funhouse effect, the fluorescent lit bathroom one that makes me look like an Ancient Alien, the softly flattering wall mirror which always reflects a lovely glowing woman in her prime, and the final reality check in the small but deadly mirror that magnifies.

Then, sweating in the 100 degree heat whilst trying to figure out how to control the egress of water from my pores, I would grab my purse and anxiously head for the door and the place where I know He goes for lunch or coffee or to hear music at night. Or perhaps I would cruise down His street to see if I could spot Him. Could I park and hide behind a newspaper?

Today, however, I am not doing any of that. Instead I am relaxing at home, writing this and trying a new approach to handling the extreme emotional and physical discomfort known as Romantic Attraction.

I would describe my new strategy as Getting Over It. Call it preventive medicine for the broken heart. The way I see it, if I can get over the guy (and my own Big Feelings) on Day One, then I will save myself a lot of suffering later–starting with the disappointment I will experience if the frisson of attraction fizzles.

Getting over it means having a realistic approach to pheromonal urges from the first warning thumps of my eager heart. It means taking the fuzzy filters off my eyes, removing the chick flick script from my brain; not planning the wedding from across a crowded room nor breaking up with Him in my mind before our first friendly chat.

It seems to me that a lot of the pain of relationships comes from getting too far ahead of myself. A healthy love affair is the ultimate Twelve Step exercise in present-moment living without forcing anything or trying to race into the future. You are just there dealing with it as it unfolds, neither inflating nor deflating it with your imagination and projections.

I am not sure why I feel the need to rush a relationship. It could be an urge to control, to move rapidly out of the uncertainty that is part of new love into the later more secure stage of things.

After all, nothing is more ambiguous than a new attraction. True amours, lousy love affairs, crushes that crash, and one-sided infatuations all start out more or less the same way. I’m talking about the very VERY beginning: the idyllic fantasy-fueled interlude before red flags, epiphanies, disappointments, hating, blaming and heartbreak.

The fact that you cannot tell where something is headed at the outset means you have to endure uncertainty, unresolved feelings, fear and fretting if you want a relationship to develop. For control freaks and anxiety junkies like me, living with the unknown is agonizing. Sometimes I think I would rather wreck a potential partnership than wait to find out of it is a go or a NO.

In fact, I have done that very thing–more than once.

Some of my airbag-popping strategies for racing into romance (and crashing) have included:

Doing IT too soon in order to get IT over with and become instantly intimate (guys mistook me for a garden implement and tended to not call again–apparently nothing has changed in this regard since the 1950s).

Cultivating a passionate relationship via email before the first coffee (we got so emotionally involved that we had a huge cyber fight and broke up before meeting).

Really opening up on the first date, and sobbing uncontrollably (this is terrifying to a guy…a romantic buzz kill for sure).

Treating the hopeful like a husband by displaying all my worst personality traits in a single email: a paranoid, petty, possessive, jealous Gynormous Beatch Manifesto. This is the sickest way to lose a dude. Yeah, it’s instantaneous.

That is why today you won’t find me driving slowly down the Street Where he Lives (while singing the Broadway tune of the same name) nor surreptitiously scheming to get his email. If you pry into my brain you won’t find a single fantasy about the banging body I plan to have before He Gets to See It.

This time, I am dousing my flaming imagination with cold water, giving up on all hopes and plans, surrendering my will to God and the Universe. I am over him before I start, before I get a chance to ruin it.

Over him but at the same time completely willing, optimistic, and eager to see what develops.

Heart Open, Hands Off. I think it’s a good plan.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Clarity, Essays

 

Baited

I wanted it so badly I could feel it crunching between my aching teeth: The first bitter bite, the heat in my veins, the sweet release of rage, pure and cathartic, roaring out of me.

Oh how I wanted to take the bait. How I longed to wreak vengeance on the person who was dangling the hook.

Have you ever felt like this? Maybe you know what I mean. That Person Who Can Get To You Like Nobody Else has struck again. You feel wounded, wronged, righteous. You want revenge.

You have been baited and you want to bite.

Problem is, you also know that if you take the bait things will get much much worse: pain, entrapment, spiritual annihilation.

Sometimes it’s really hard to back down from a fight, especially if you have the misfortune of having chronically troubled relationships in your life.

It’s tough when you feel righteously wronged. Someone has tried to get you. Someone is spoiling for a fight. You’re not being paranoid. It’s real.

Alas, even when the other guy is out to get you it’s not always a good idea to get into it. For one thing, you probably won’t elicit a confession, to say nothing of an apology. Folks who bait you rarely admit to it. They dig the subterfuge. Copping to something takes the fun out of it.

What’s more if you react to the provocation then you have made it your problem and your fault. The person who will suffer, especially when the perp is denying everything, is YOU.

Finally, and hardest to admit, if you blame the other guy and punish him or her with a tidal wave of rage, you are ignoring the fact that there may have been some small provocation on your part. Did you deserve the evil response? Definitely not. It’s good to keep in mind, however, that behavior is karmic and if you want to stop a negative cycle you have to let it end with you. No fair? You betcha.

What to do with the leftover feelings broiling your brain?

I’ve tried everything, I am sorry to say, including smashing glassware, burning pictures of the Evil One, mixing a batch of cheap cocktails in the sports blender, and unleashing my ire in an apocalyptic fit of drunk dialing. I don’t recommend any of those.

Today, I stomped around the empty house ranting and weeping, then I cranked up Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Monster”. It was splendid to sing along.

After this bit of catharsis, I decided to head for the cooler air of the higher ground. I can’t promise I will stay in the peaceful aerie of forgiveness but it’s a pretty good destination for a scorching day in July.