Friday, September 20, 2013

the way.

"wherever you go, there you are." i've thought about this phrase so much over the years, and i've always come to the same conclusion: it's not entirely true.

it's partly true, yes, because your troubles will always follow you. it's partly untrue, too, because your surroundings can directly improve your sense of well-being. place is not a cure-all; when i move again all will not be perfect—but i'm certain it will be better, and better is a step toward even better. cure-alls don't exist, and that goes for the supposed cure-all of finding "happiness within." <— another  aphorism that confounds the person trying desperately to find a place of peace. that we should possess the ability to dig deep within our brains and come up with a handful of happiness that we've otherwise failed at finding through other means is an enormous pressure, and one that ends up making a peace-searcher feeling defeated and inept.

happiness, contentedness, peace—whatever you choose to call it—isn't something you can simply will yourself to have; in fact, having it is a job, one you have to work at on many different levels, both internal and external. if i believe that a little piece of my peace lies in living somewhere that offers me a pretty body of water to walk alongside, then i shouldn't punish myself for longing for something i know can help. wherever i go, there i am? not entirely. some places i've gone have helped me navigate the trials of life better than others. that's real. i experienced it. and it means place does have a place in the overall picture of a person's well-being. place isn't everything, but it's something.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, think carefully how you respond. unless the person is being highly unreasonable (e.g., "i have everything i could ever want except for this terrible, horrible, life-altering hangnail!"), LET THEM FEEL HOW THEY'RE FEELING. please. please, do that. please do not tell them how it could be worse or how they should appreciate what they already have, because, odds are, they've already thought of those things many times—and accordingly felt like a jerk for not feeling at peace even though they have their health, a loving family, and a roof over their heads. h-c-p (happiness-contentedness-peace) is not a right, it's a privilege, one we all have to endeavor to achieve, and one we all work toward in ways specific to our nature. some people (me, along with some of you reading this) aren't practical; we don't function at our best when leading the traditional life that tradition tells us to live; we know what's right when we see it, or, more importantly, when we feel it. we're sense-creatures.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, don't contradict them. don't tell them their feelings could change if they would just look at life from a new perspective. odds are, they've tried to turn the wheel of the perspective kaleidoscope and then felt utterly disappointed when the view felt ... wrong, somehow wrong in that way that only the beholder can understand. stop telling them that they're "not different." they are different: they're different from you. and that's all that counts. i think sometimes people are opposed to accepting someone else's uniqueness because that uniqueness acts as a highlighter to their qualities which might not fall under the category of "unique," thus leaving them feeling like a coat of flat paint. in that case, hear this: nothing is unique. not really. one girl's uniqueness is another girl's normal.

when a person is expressing confusion or disillusionment, don't tell them that the things they oppose could actually be good for them if they'd try harder. odds are, they've tried pretty damn hard and then felt bewildered by the fact that wanting something their heart doesn't desire isn't, in fact, good for them. let them be who they are. let them take the journey their way, the end of which might find them somewhere they never thought possible or probable, somewhere that might be close to the place you were trying to lead them back when they weren't listening. if that happens, don't say "i told you so." know that they could only get to that place through their own trial and error. try your best to give gentle advice and suggestions based upon who they are and how they're feeling, not upon who you are and how you think or wish they'd feel.

i can envision some people reading this and thinking, "wow. she's not very appreciative of people caring enough to offer their thoughts." not true. i appreciate thoughts. in fact, i thoroughly enjoy hearing other peoples' perspectives, but the painful truth is that some people are better at offering perspective than others. some people just are. and it's those people whose support, through circumstances they might not agree with or understand, helps the h-c-p seeker along her way—that way always, inevitably longer and harder than if she could just manage to exist solely on appreciating what she has in the present, have goals that don't resemble the ones she's had for a decade+,  become less whimsical, give in to the pressures of circumstance that would have her become who she's never been in the deepest folds of her ever-busy brain.

i'd like to invent a new phrase, and i hope it'll take hold. go viral, if you will. "wherever you are, there you go." every point and place in life is a point and place to move forward from, if that's what you desire and if that's what you're apt to do as a result of being uniquely you. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. don't change. don't put a pillow over your heart, hoping to smother its screams that are urging you to do what feels MOST LIKE YOU (unless, of course, what feels most like you is eating human flesh or kicking puppies. in that case, i hope you're not reading this blog). and if you're dealing with a person who's a perpetual wonderer-wanderer, LET THEM BE WHO THEY ARE. if you care enough for your relationship with them, carefully weigh your responses. try to put more of them—and less of you—into your discourse. that's not an easy task, i know. i fail at it, though i'm failing less with time and awareness. being a careful listener and a thoughtful adviser is work. so put forth the effort it takes to cultivate an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. remember that if someone believes in their gifts and goals and gut—that's precious. you don't have to agree with their decisions and, unless those decisions are utterly heinous, you can wish all day long, silently, that they'd try another way. odds are, however, they have tried and then felt a void. maybe one day they'll try again and it'll feel less void-y. you never know. so remember that: YOU can never know.

we can all use a little help being a better self and finding our h-c-p. help is everywhere: it's within. it's also in a walk by a river. in a good cup of coffee at a shop frequented by interesting strangers. in watching a dog play joyously with his new toy in his own grassy yard. in a child being raised by a parent who's thriving. in a good listener. in writing.

here's to finding it, in whatever way fits you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

after-love letter.

i spent last week beside the ocean with my son and my boyfriend. i slept every warm night allowing the air-conditioning to escape through the open sliding-glass door so i could hear the water's soft roar. i sat every afternoon—for who knows how long because the peaceful feeling was near-meditative—in the shallowest end of the tide, dropping wet sand through my fingers while my son scooped and piled more of it into his bucket. i ran in the mornings on the hard-packed sand, with my son in his stroller contentedly, silently staring out at the ocean. we're at peace with the water, my boy and i.

last night, not many days after the water and i parted ways, love and i parted ways, too. again. i've had so many agains. i've counted and recalled them many times over the years. are they failures? or aborted attempts? a little of both. endings, all the same.

how did i grow into this woman who has such trouble giving and receiving love? i certainly wasn't raised that way. i also wasn't raised to be brave enough to move away on my own, to choose a career path with no certain destination, to be okay without a man, to become a single mom determined to hold onto her dreams rather than give in to the pressures of conceding to circumstance. i'm not sure how i, a product of a traditional, conservative, semi-sheltered upbringing, came to be such a contradiction to my roots. in some ways, that is. from my parents i've inherited an unsurpassed example of giving to others. i haven't carried on that example to the degree that i'd like, but i've had my moments over the years and hope that i've made a positive impact on others' lives, whether it lasted a few hours, a couple years, or a lifetime.

right now, i'm back to the deepest trenches of being me. doing-everything-the-hard-way me. i could've stayed. with him. the man who has treated me and my son with more respect and love than i ever fathomed was possible. he could've stayed, too. with me. the creative, moody, unsettled girl whose singularity, he said—although inextricable from her complications—was what he most liked. sometimes, in the middle of nothing at all, i'd crazy-dance in the kitchen at my parents' house and he would smile—that big, beautiful, warm smile of his. isn't it the most massive, insuperable, intolerable problem that love isn't enough?

it isn't enough. i've had love a few times. fleeting, always. here one minute, running for cover the next. love, the frightened deer. only to be admired from afar? so far it seems so. still, even in my inexperience, i know enough of love to know that its role in making a relationship work isn't as simple as its presence or absence. and i'm brave enough to act on that knowledge.

i've lost me in the past two years. i've been looking for her, in the limited ways the resources of this town, my wallet, and motherhood allow. it's been a slow search. and for the past year, i could've rediscovered her as part of an us. i tried, except there's a part of me that still wants to grow freely, to explore the plans i've had for so many years, loosely laid as they were. as much as i'd like to adhere to the admonitions of facebook inspirational posters that tell me to give up the life i've planned and live the life in front of me, i can't. i won't. i refuse to believe that my gut is wrong.

today my heart is a shade lighter, a little drained. in the days, weeks, and months to come, i hope to give it color again. i hope to feel less sorrowful for leaving love behind. i hope he'll remember me fondly, as i will him. no matter where i end up, i'll never forget what it felt like to be adored effortlessly for the very first time. i'll always remember him as the first man who loved my son. and i think, like the two other loves i left behind and have never forgotten, i'll look back on knowing him and not regret a thing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

capping off a decade.

"you're much cuter without the hat." said my mom as i was walking out the door for a movie date with a girlfriend.

psh. or, more accurately, psh in quotation marks, because that was my actual reply.

i don't know if i look particularly cute or un-cute in my hat—more accurately called a cap—but i love it anyway. it has a history. it's a storyteller.

i bought it in '01 at yesterday's news, a vintage store on east carson street in the southside of pittsburgh. i'd drive up there every once in a while and walk up and down the busy street, just to relish the thrill of being somewhere unfamiliar and in a city. i'd browse the crowded racks at yesterday's news and then i'd get coffee at the beehive, which was a few doors up on the same side of east carson. the beehive is one of those places that makes peeing more laborious than it already is when you don't feel like having your daydreaming interrupted by a bodily function: you have to ask the barista for a key, and the barista is always busy. so you have to wait, resenting every long-winded starbucks-esque coffee order in front of you, while all the muscles in your lower body try to reign in your raging bladder, and then you're handed a giant, painted chunk of wood with a key attached to a chain worthy of a junkyard dog. i've yet to decode the presumed sanctity of the coffeehouse bathroom key.

on one of my visits to the southside beehive, a guy with a young son approached me. our conversation could've been brief or long, interesting or not. the guy could have been tall or average, blonde or brunette. all i specifically remember is at the end he asked me out and that, back in morgantown that evening, i wondered about the intricacies of dating a man with a son, even though i already knew i didn't want to date him at all. how very me of me to wonder about things that will never come to pass.

my trips to pittsburgh were always brief. all i was after were a few hundred mouthfuls of the air and a few thousand blinks of the scenery in a different place. after an hour or two, i'd drive another hour and be back in morgantown with a new addition to my wardrobe, which was highly populated with vintage finds from my pittsburgh favorite as well as the vintage and thrift stores in downtown morgantown, all of which died sudden deaths one by one in the years before the city and i parted ways.

the next year, oh two, i wore my vintage cap to a dinner date with my girlfriends ann and ivy. ivy later sent me a photo from that night, of me sitting against the backdrop of exotic wall hangings at asian garden, a local favorite, where i always ordered the vegetarian duck, spicy, please, with a side of fried spring rolls. in the photo, the bill of my newsboy-style cap was snapped, which was the way i wore it back then even though i didn't quite like the way it looked. i was making an austin powers-type face, with my finger up to my lips. my head was tilted to the side of the room where the metal lunch buffet sat forlorn, cold and empty because it was dinner time, and the big white collar of my blue-and-white striped shirt hung like bird wings from the v-neck of my snug, tan sweater. later that evening, the three of us hung out at the apartment on top of the antique store on pleasant street that was only ever lived in by musicians and artists.

in the year oh three, my boyfriend made a charcoal drawing of me in that cap. it had a round, ball-like tassel made of short, thick yarn that snapped to the top. i wore that tassel in the drawing, but in later years i'd remove it. i put it aside to preserve the cap's original state, in an archival sort of way. "archival" being a word plucked straight from the mouth of my charcoal-drawing boyfriend ten years ago when he was describing to me the metal tacks he used for building canvases that would become part of the archives of his work. i like how "archival" is dual purpose: it's the right word to finish my sentence, in that i want my hat to become part of the archives of my life, and also a relic from the year i'm writing about. and where is that tassel now? hopefully stuffed in a bag somewhere among my belongings, which have been taking up most of the space in dad's garage since the evening—two years and sixty-some days ago—i returned from memphis.

memphis is where i wore that cap on the second occasion i was in the presence of a person who has changed my life forever. we were at the p&h cafe, a small, dumpy joint on madison that had photos tacked up everywhere and one of my favorite veggie burgers in town. it was karoake night and a friend's birthday, and a big group of us were celebrating with alcohol and stick-on mustaches. we sat at a long table beside a row of booths, me across from the man who three years later would become the father of my son. he and i barely, if at all, spoke that evening, but i remember thinking how handsome he was and wondering what that night's drama surrounding his much-younger, very recent ex-girlfriend said about a man his age. i was too busy having fun to give it much thought that night, or any night thereafter when he and i began on our path of two years of on-again, off-again dating, the subtext of which would be mostly repulsive in hindsight were it not for the fact of my son. when i look back on that night, i don't get caught up in the details of the pain it foreshadowed. instead, i think about the photo of me with a stick-on mustache stuck to the butt of my cutoff jean shorts, and i remember what a good time i had.

my mom says i'm cuter without my cap. i'll keep on wearing it, because i like its colors. i like that there's a snap on the bill that looks out of place when it's unsnapped, which is the way i wear it these days. i like that it had a history long before the day i picked it off the shelf at the vintage store, and i like that i've given it an even richer history over these ten years. cute or not, my wool storyteller with the absent tassel is a keeper. a piece of the archives of me.