Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Raggle Taggle Gypsies

O what care I for my house and my lands,
What care I for treasure-O,
What care I for my newly-wedded lord,
For I'm off with the Raggle Taggle Gypsies-O.

I am starting to believe we have a deeply rooted sense of our selves very early on. Hopefully our families help us foster that sense of self. This isn’t always the case but this story is not about picking on families. Parents do what they think is best and as you get older if you find it didn’t work, well, grow up, quit blaming them and get on with your life your way.

Personal evolution involves expanding our social circles beyond family and trying on different personalities. We need to feel different feels and smell different smells and hear different hears. As the years pass we eventually reach a point when we’re comfortable with ourselves and we care less about what others say, including our well meaning families, but during the process of evolution we do care what others say and we are not always sure footed enough to stand our ground when we think “I feel like I want to run off to Rome and paint but the world says I should go to college and get married.” Here in America we do not value the eccentric so much. People who don’t follow the norm are sometimes characterized as drunk, drug addicted, shiftless, lazy, irresponsible ne’er do wells. Even those who become successful are not always welcomed in polite society. Keith Richards is great on stage, but would you invite him to Sunday dinner? If you answered “yes” this story is for, and more than likely about, you. If your answer is an unequivocal “no”, read on anyway so you can learn about the raggle taggle gypsies that may be in your life.

When I was a little girl in Midland, Texas we had an enormous console stereo in the living room. Stereos back then were pieces of furniture. My dad had lots of records and I learned to love listening to music very early. It rubbed off on all of us. I feel I have fairly eclectic taste which I attribute to a large family living in a small house. My brothers, my sister, and my dad all had their music choices and I listened to all of them. There were five kids, two parents, and any number of dogs and cats at any time in a three bedroom house. We shared bedrooms, we shared one phone number, we shared dinner time as a family with the television off, and we shared the stereo . . . sort of. I had a pink record player in the room I shared with my sister and I believe the boys had a record player in their room, but if you wanted the good sound you had to go in the living room with the monolith that played in hi fi. You could stack about 57 records on it, they’d all drop one by one, when they finished you’d turn the whole stack over. My brothers introduced me to The Kinks, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and some 60’s folk sounds at a young age and it stuck. My dad liked country music, he liked some gospel, and he liked hootenanny. I loved dancing around the living room standing on my daddy’s feet. There is a traditional folk song called “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies”. In this song a woman has a lovely house, fine clothes, and a new husband. One night the raggle taggle gypsies come singing at her door and she spontaneously, almost blithely, gives up all her finery and security to run off with the gypsies. I loved that song and I loved my vision of the woman who runs away with the gypsies, raven haired with a mischievous grin.

I remember as a very little girl being so intrigued by her fire and her love of excitement over comfort. I thought “I’ll probably do that someday. That sounds like something I’ll do when I grow up.” As an adult I told this story to the Black Dogs Dad, his response was “and that’s what you did.”

And that’s what I did.

I didn’t realize it until many years after I was divorced but it was. My ex husband is an exceptionally nice man and he deserved someone better for him than me. I’m glad to report he has found her. When I was young I had no idea who I was and I looked to him to “save” me and define me. Thank you Steve for all that you put up with then. Under the guise of being a “Mrs. So and So” I didn’t have to discover Laura Ellen as an individual. But did I already know who I was and wish I was someone else? Was I destined to bring Juliette Binoche’s “Chocolat” character to life? Do we already know who we are but not know how to be who we are?

As I mentioned earlier, often times our well meaning families veer us off the path of “whom we are meant to be” and on to the path of “whom we would like you to be in order to save us all embarrassment should you decide to become someone unsavory”. Parents are happy when their children show an appreciation, even an aptitude for the arts, but rarely is it encouraged as a path to follow except as a hobby. Parents can be so afraid of their children being hurt that they fence them in and discourage the fine art of flying high. DO NOT GO UP THERE WHERE THE AIR IS CLEAR AND YOU CAN SEE FOR MILES! STAY DOWN HERE WHERE ALL IS MYOPIC AND BEIGE AND SAFE!!! It is with the best intentions, but the fear is then passed on and thus we have a covenant controlled nation of fearful folks living in matching houses painted varying shades of pantyhose colors . . . taupe, ecru, sand. If you’re feeling like the off white sheep in your suburban neighborhood maybe you could paint your shutters olive, you crazy wing nut you.

The world needs all kinds of people and I mean no disrespect to the life choices people make. It’s great that some people have an affinity for numbers and want to make lists of numbers in rows and columns that match up and balance. If people like me were left to fulfill tasks involving numbers the current recession would be much more akin to a downward spiral of all industrial civilizations. It’s great that there are those who enjoy following the rules and coloring within the lines. You all help keep the goofy people in the world stay grounded and remind us to pay our bills, put gas in our cars, and wear pants when leaving the confines of home.

BUT, the world needs the goofy, color outside the lines, pants forgetting people too. All the freaky people make the beauty of the world. Where would modern medicine be if Leonardo DaVinci had not been curious enough to cut open cadavers? What if Copernicus just said “Sure, we’re at the center of the universe, it’s all about Earth”? What if Columbus hadn’t tried to sail to the end of the flat earth and what if all the members of The Clash had just gotten factory jobs and never recorded “London Calling”? Who wants to live in that panty hose colored world?

In the years that have gone by I have tried on lots and lots of prototypes trying to find who I am, who I am meant to be, and who I want to be. I have tried to fit in and do what the rest of the world deems comfortable and socially acceptable, I have rubberbanded in the opposite direction and tried to be much more of a rebel than I really am. We try on these ill fitting personalities because we are looking outward at others and are concerned with how they see us. I believe I am finally on to something with who I am, because I am looking inward at me, and because I am old enough to not be as concerned with what others think. I know that as far back as I can remember, I knew I was an unconventional girl. I knew I was fascinated by those that leave the finery and security of home to run off and live a freer life with the raggle taggle gypsies. I knew I liked skirts that twirl out when you spin around and big dangly earrings. I know that in the country of Laura Ellen childlike glee abounds. I know that in that childlike country I can be hurt and rather than saying “That hurts” I will often act like a petulant child and say something snotty. I have also learned from others who have visited my country that it is ok to say “That hurt me”.

Do we ever know who we are? Do we always know who we are? Is it a constant process or do we make some grand discovery of deep inner identity and then plateau into the peace of self knowledge, and if so, is the plateau the end of the journey? I like the idea of constantly changing, evolving and growing. I think it’s a must and at the same time, we must honor the core of ourselves. Our core spirit helps us to maintain some relationships, to know when to let others go, when to question people and when to question ourselves. To know who you are and what is right for you is to know your world and be able to share it lovingly, as well knowing when it is being improperly invaded and you must advise others to not tread on you.

Learn to love you and know where you can bend and where you must remain adamant and, as Shakespeare so poignantly said . . . TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Black Dogs Dad

“Oh will you never let me be? Oh will you never set me free? The ties that bound us are still around us, there´s no escape that I can see, and still those little things remain, that bring me happiness or pain . . . These foolish things remind me of you”
Jack Strachey

Friendships change, it happens . . . it’s still such a bummer though. Ending a dating relationship is painful, but not always an enormous surprise, you’re either going to spend the rest of your earthly lives together or you’re going to break up. Families are great but you don’t hand pick them, they’re foisted on you and you love them with no rhyme, reason, or explanation. Friends though . . . friends are people you choose to be with . . . on purpose, so a faded friendship carries its own special sting.

Right now you must be thinking “Laura Ellen, you seem so jovial and delightful, who wouldn’t want you as a friend?” I agree but man oh man some people really do find ways of living their lives without me. Some friendships just sort of drift off and naturally filter themselves down until you become Christmas card friends. That’s all right, people’s lives and priorities change and Christmas card friends are still friends per se. Other friendships though, come to an end abruptly and sometimes with a final kick in the backside on the way out.

Today I took my inner child, Ruby Grace, out for a walk in the rain snow mix and we tromped and splashed through every puddle we could find. On our walk we passed the snow filled court yard up the street and around the corner where Black Dog likes to play. Black Dog used to stay at my house when Black Dogs dad would go out of town. I liked loading Black Dog up in the car and driving up to the foothills to play in the “good” dog park, but if we just needed a quick walk and a little quality ball throwing and chasing time we would walk over to the courtyard. Back then the house was full with me, my inner child (Ruby Grace), my inner shrew (Lola), two cats (Lucy Lulu and Delilah Jane), and Black Dog . . . but not anymore.

My friendship with Black Dogs dad has changed. It’s best I suppose, but it has it’s painful moments. It’s weird, isn’t it . . . how sometimes it can be better for something to go away because it was so painful and yet you’re still pained by its absence? There are reasons for friendships to change, fade, and even end. You can remember all the bad things and all the times you thought “what am I doing here?!” And what were you doing there? You were probably having a good time, at least part of the time. We don’t invite people into our lives because they never, ever make us happy. I like people that aid and abet my happiness. With Black Dogs dad it was his inner child I grew to love most. When Black Dogs dad is happy his eyes twinkle and I mean it, really. I’m not using a goofy phrase, his eyes really twinkle. His inner child doesn’t surface often so when he’s let out he really shines. It’s the most beautiful part of him. Black Dogs dad’s inner child is creative, playful, introspective, meticulous, loveable, loving, mischievous, and at times flat out silly. I love Black Dogs dad’s inner child. My inner child, Ruby Grace, loves Black Dogs dad’s inner child. The adults though, Black Dogs dad and me myself and I, often got in the way of our friendship.

As I write this it dawns on me that maybe that’s how it is with most relationships gone awry. We are all taught to abandon our inner child, our creative selves that love finger painting, that see beauty and fractals where others see a mess. Somehow as adults we’ve come to believe that seeing life, and people, with childlike wonder is inappropriate and should be left behind as we age, and age us it will.
It seems backwards to me. In our adult lives we don’t seem to love as well as we could, we’re too busy being adults. As adults we need to pay bills on time, show up to work on time, learn boundaries, honor our commitments, the list goes on. These things are all true and I am not condoning childish behavior. Childish is not childlike. Our adult selves are always trying to make sure someone doesn’t get the best of us, doesn’t make a fool of us, doesn’t draw us in only to hurt us. If we don’t want someone to get the best of us then hats off to everyone, no one will ever get the best of what’s in us if we don’t show it. What if someone does hurt you? Well, it hurts, but you’ll survive and go on to try again.

I look back at the playful times with Black Dogs dad, times when his inner child surfaced. There were all the concerts we went to together and danced like maniacs from the first note to the last, the times we took Black Dog to the park, going to soccer games, and playing Guitar Hero. Black Dogs dad can do an almost perfect impersonation of me. Black Dogs dad can make up great stories with goofy characters and voices right on the spot. Black Dogs dad can make me laugh until I snort. Black Dogs dad is a gifted painter. When Black Dogs dad plays his guitar he has a very particular smile that is not seen at any other time. His inner child doesn’t just come out then, his inner child races to the surface and fills the room with unbridled happiness. All these great play dates our inner children had together; I can mentally splice them together so the movie that plays in my head seems like it was all ice cream cones and carousel rides . . . but it wasn’t.

The adult side of this story can be painful and the memories are not a misty, melancholy movie set with Bryan Ferry singing “These Foolish Things” in the background. The adult side of me reads over the last paragraph and wonders “Was it ever real? Did I see more than was really there?” The adult part of me and Lola, my inner shrew, have to sometimes remind Ruby Grace, the sweet inner child, that we all shared some extremely painful moments in this friendship with Black Dogs dad. Lola screamed in anger and Ruby Grace curled up and cried. And Ruby Grace, loving and forgiving, twinkle eyed child that she is, reminds Lola and me that we loved him.

What if our adult sides had given way to our inner children more often? What if we had both agreed to open up our skins and be careful with each other and kind to each other and let the gleeful parts of ourselves out and not worry so much about how the other one may or may not hurt us? Our adults often acted so childish and not childlike. What if we had spent more time enjoying the essence of each other, and our own selves, rather than trying to outdo each other? What if we had listened better and more often rather than just biting our tongues, waiting our turn to speak because “Hey, I’ve got something really cool to say so hurry up and finish whatever unimportant thing you’re saying, to which I am not really listening”?

I don’t know the answers to all the “what if’s” because life goes the way it’s supposed to. I really believe that so I accept that our friendship had to ebb. I wonder sometimes if our friendship will flow again. Likely it will, it’s part of our history, but will it ever be the same? Probably not, but it probably shouldn’t be. In order for any relationship to survive it has to endure change. Not everyone comes into your life to stay. Even the closest of friends, someone you thought would always be around, has to go sometimes. New friends and new relationships come into our lives and their necessity eclipses what came before. It’s not wrong, it’s the changing of the seasons. They’re all beautiful, but only in their time.

As with some of the most celebrated art work ever created, sometimes you gotta take a few steps back to recognize life is a fractal and to see the beauty of the entire finger painting.

POST SCRIPT: This story was written quite some time ago and it has seen countless revisions based on my feelings, my relationship status, Black Dogs dads relationship status, phases of the moon, what shoes I’m wearing, the price of a gallon of crude, beer, and anything else I have deemed important at any moment in time. What does not change is the importance of the Black Dog, his dad, and the affect they have had on my life. I love them both . . . even when I feel like strangling Black Dogs Dad.