Monday, October 31, 2011

Texting Blows

Don’t think me unkind, words are hard to find, they’re only checks I’ve left unsigned, from the banks of chaos in my mind. When eloquence escapes me . . .
The Police

I hate texting. I hate it for so many reasons, not the least of which is the inability to have a real, meaningful, communication with a text. Texting has its place, it’s great for sending a quick message to say “Are you here yet? I’m upstairs.” Other than that, too much room for mishaps and misinterpretations.
That being said . . .

I messed up . . . in a fairly colossal manner. Go big, right? Not really. There was a misunderstanding, I sat around and let myself stew about it, let a few other minor catastrophes affect my personal marinade, and then, here comes the brilliant part, I decided to drink . . . excessively. I am not blaming the alcohol, it was me, all me, no one but me. I take full responsibility, drink or no drink. However, as the night went on, and I turned into a cat like princess, I had not yet taken any amount of responsibility. The next morning, however, ugh. As I went over the previous nights events in my head I slowly began to come around, and with every minute that passed my initial glimmer of “I may have been unreasonable” turned into a blinding comet of utter shock at my atrocious behavior. When I discovered that the whole reason I was upset in the first place (a text message that went unanswered) was not even correct (turns out the message failed and was never sent and, therefore, never received, who knew?) I began the desperate search for the nearest sharp object to plunge into my jugular. Failing the location of said shiv, I called my innocent victim, got voice mail (which I expected, I’d have let me go to voice mail hell too) and began my sincere, rambling, act of contrition. I admitted I was wrong, that I acted like a tool, and for reasons I would like to explain (the unanswered but, oooops, never actually sent text), got myself all worked up and that I am so sorry, so very, very sorry. I failed. In every possible way I failed. Because I am human, I am fallible, I falter, and I failed.

With each passing hour, as the requested return call did not occur, I felt more and more sad. I was so un-kind to someone who has been nothing but kind to me. Every time the phone rang I raced to see who it was, but it wasn’t my friend. I kept the phone strapped to me all day, until I began to realize, there will be no phone call. There are a lot of thoughts that come to mind. I had very sincerely apologized, and wanted to do all that I could to make my wrong right, but without communication I was banned. And it was a lack of good communication that got me all worked up in the first place. I began to think about the art of forgiveness. There’s only so long you can spend in the pout house before you need to think about letting the other person off the hook, because eventually they will unhook themselves and no longer be tethered by bad feelings. The punishment has to be equal to the crime or after a while the offender will leave the contrite feelings behind and start thinking “Enough is enough, let’s move on”.

I’ve been on both sides of this fence, the grass isn’t green on either side. The grass is dead and prickly and there’s no swing set in the yard, I hate both sides of this fence, it’s in a crappy neighborhood. Forgiveness can be a tough one. We want to make people pay, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough. My ex-husband once told me I was a world class grudge holder. The horrible, horrible thing about this is that at that time, many years ago, I found that to be a badge of honor. He, of course, didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I wanted people to know when they had wronged me and to never forget. How stupid is this?! But it took me a long time and a lot of experience with others failing me and me, in turn, failing others. I really don’t know what I expected to gain, but back then I didn’t know how to communicate well. I think being a “see you next Tuesday” (you know what I’m sayin’) was my way of pretending to be tough and hoping to ensure that at least that particular person didn’t put me in an uncomfortable position again, a position where I might have to have an uncomfortable conversation.

Again, failure to communicate well, i.e., texting when I should have just called, why didn’t I just call? Because it was during work hours and I don’t like to bug people at work if I can help it.

Being an Astro Creep, though, doesn’t show you’re tough at all, it just shows you can’t be more human than human. All relationships require communication; relationships with friends, with co-workers, with significant others, with your family, and with the checker at the grocery store. Many years ago I had to take a long look at some of the ways I had acted and I saw that people I ousted from my life, or kept in my life just to make sure they were still paying that debt, moved on and led happy lives, free of the crappy feelings I harbored. Oh the humanity, oh the indignity, so incredulous. I found it so hard to forgive then. It felt like it showed weakness in me. Silly, eh? Forgiveness takes an amazing amount of strength and resilience, far more than being unforgiving. Forgiveness requires opening your heart while simultaneously saying “What you did is not ok, but we can talk about it and establish some boundaries and move forward”. You have to walk that knife edge of not accepting poor behavior and still showing love and compassion. You know how this is best done? Say it with me, COMMUNICATION. When you’re the one who has been the jackass (I’m raising my hand right now) you have to be able to hear that, and it’s hard. I’ve had many, many opportunities to experience this and it’s still hard every time. You’d think I’d get used to it by now. I once told The Black Dogs Dad that people should come with warning labels. I was, of course, being accusatory, but I really should have a label myself. It would say something like “98% lovely, but look out for the other 2%”.

We all need forgiveness sometimes. Sometimes it takes a while, that’s ok. Sometimes you have to sit with a thing for while and think about that thing and then walk away from that thing a bit and maybe then go back and look at that thing and decide you’re ready and then maybe not and then you try again tomorrow and then you finally get there, with that thing. It’s not always instant. But like the building of any muscle, the more it’s done, the stronger it becomes and the easier it is to put to use. Forgiveness releases everybody. Not just the transgressor, but the transgressed upon as well. You’re free to leave it in the past, exercise your inner Taoist and be the water flowing over the rock, leaving it in your path, rather than banging your head against the rock for a million or so years before you even begin to make a dent in it. If you flow over the rock, then a million or so years from now you won’t even remember it. Leave it, let it go, be forgiving . . . when you can.

Forgiveness also shuts everyone else up. There can be no speculation when there is communication and forgiveness. When you don’t talk, then you can only guess and that usually makes it all even worse. Trust me, that’s how I got myself here in the first place. Did I mention it’s my fault? It’s my fault. Many years ago when Hugh Grant made his gargantuan error of having a liaison with a prostitute it was all over the news. He was supposed to appear on Jay Leno’s show that night and, naturally, the whole world assumed he would cancel his engagement after this embarrassing gaffe. But, he did not. He manned up and made his appearance. He was remarkably humbled, but he went through with it. When Jay Leno said “I gotta ask, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” his response was “When you reach a certain age, you know the difference between right and wrong. What I did was wrong. I have no one to blame.” Not only did he man up and show up, he ‘fessed up and made no excuses. His already bright star went super nova right then. The world forgave him and the salivating tabloids had the wind taken out of their sails. What can you say now? Nothing, except “What a stand up guy”, tabloids don’t love that. No gossip, no speculation, and no need to hold a grudge. The story was old news in no time and no one even thinks of it anymore.

We all mess up sometimes, every single one of us, and here and there, we all mess up in a Herculean way. It’s not just me (although it’s me a lot), it’s everyone. The next time you are faced with the opportunity of forgiving someone try to remember a time when you asked for forgiveness. If you can’t grant it right away, that’s ok, at least try to talk about. At least let the other person know you need a bit of time. And if, in the end, you just can’t get past it, then have a talk about that too and try to part ways diplomatically. Easier said than done, I know, but at least think about it. You’ll feel better about it later, you really will. And, ya know, glass houses, stones, all that cliché rot. Additionally, when you have said your mea culpa’s and you’re waiting for the forgiveness train to come your way, let it go. You never know why some people take a while, or maybe even never come around. Maybe what you did brought up issues from someone else, you can’t help that. Maybe they have other mental bits and pieces going on, maybe their heads are full of things like “Should I become a chef or an astronaut”? Maybe their shoes are just too tight, you never know. Give your heartfelt apology, but then move on, don’t sit around just waiting. You’ve got a life to live too.

The events that inspired this story were totally avoidable. My behavior was inexcusable, yet I am asking to be excused, and here, before God and everybody, I can say “I was wrong. I am sorry.” This story is likely not even going to be read by the person to whom I am apologizing, but that’s ok, it still needs to be said and I feel good about it.

To err is human, to forgive; divine. Yeah, it’s cheese-y, but whatever, it’s true.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Symbols, signs, omens and stuff

. . . and it was Jane who spoke, she said "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian, but we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share and you find magic from your God and we find magic everywhere.
-Dar Williams

This entry started out as a look at the rituals people observe, be they catholic, protestant, pagan, or otherwise. As I look at the word “ritual” however, I see how extensive it can be. Much like Elvis, ritual is everywhere.

I have a client I see semi-regularly. She came in a while back and seemed determined to keep herself in a state of fear and misery while simultaneously questing for grounded-ness, connected-ness, and general happy-ness. She has complained to me of various maladies that are physical, emotional, and spiritual. If you’re thinking “No kidding Laura Ellen, you’re a massage therapist, that’s kinda what you do”, then you’re right. I began to wonder, though, how much do we reinforce our negative attitudes while searching for a more positive life? My client told me she has a regular therapist back home in Kansas, I am her regular therapist when she is in Denver, she has an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, and an herbalist. She told me she brought her spiritual guides in the room with her, she asked me to sage the room, she told me she was in dire need of either Cranial Sacral work or Reiki, she wishes she had brought her new crystals with her, she has been journaling, she feels her chakras are out of alignment and this is exacerbating her irritable bowel syndrome. Are you snickering? You shouldn’t be. We all do these things, it’s just that some of us use rosaries and liturgies and altars. Now, I want to let you know it is absolutely not ok for me to talk about clients and their issues outside of work. If you think you know who this is, I promise you, you don’t. I would NEVER name a client, nor would I ever discuss a client in a way that could reveal their identity. Furthermore, this writing is not about my client, this writing is about the different symbols we all need and how we may make fun of someone for choosing to use crystals, but then many of us feel the need to show up in a church, of which we are not active members, at least for Christmas or Easter . . . or light a menorah at Hanukkah and yet never honor Shabbat , or claim Paganism but have no idea what solstice is all about.

We tend to think of rituals as relating only to religion and spiritual derivations thereof. But as I look around me I see rituals expand into so many areas of our lives. People like to scoff at ritual and its frivolity, accusing such behavior as meaningless and worthless. But then, money is worthless too, it’s just paper. It’s not literally worth the amount it represents but, that’s what’s important, what it represents. The more zeros the better, the more of absolutely nothing printed behind a measly little number one, you’ve really got something . . . on paper. Move all those null sets in front of your measly little number one, and you’ve got my bank account. But it means something to us. Money, and what it represents, is important to us. Try to eat without it, you’ll be wishing on your crystals and rosaries and menorahs as well.

A ritual is indeed, initially, defined in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as a rite in a religion or spiritual practice. It is, secondarily, described as any regular practice that one follows. Coffee is a ritual. I do not drink caffeine and, believe me, the world is a better place for it. However, I absolutely love my morning coffee. I drink two cups of decaf every single day of my life. I get the coffee maker all set up the night before, a ritual, so that in the morning all I have to do it hit the mighty “on” button. It’s truly one of the most delightful moments of my day. Some mornings, while battling the urge to just roll over and sleep another three or four hours, a light comes on in my head and says to me “Laura Ellen, my love, coffee is ready to go. Just get up and hit the button. All will be well.” I love that light in my head. This morning ritual of coffee follows me everywhere, to any state, on any trip, camping or in a five star hotel, coffee is an integral part of my morning. I mention coffee very specifically because when people find out I drink decaf, only the feeble (of which there are many), will raise an eyebrow and numbly ask “what’s the point?” True coffee lovers never ask this, by the way. The point is this, aside from being warm and tasty, it’s comforting. Coffee makes the house smell good. Coffee is the signal to my synapses that’s it’s time to wake up and start firing. Coffee time is also quiet time. Coffee=morning ritual.

Walking your dog every morning when you could just as easily send his or her furry self out to the back yard is a ritual. Hugging your spouse after a long day of work is a ritual. Going on dates, watching fireworks on the 4th of July, sitting on Santa’s lap, putting a pulled tooth under your pillow for the tooth fairy, watching football every Sunday in the fall, are all ritual; our lives are fraught with, seemingly, meaningless ritual. But, much like cheap paper money, the perceived value of ritual means so much and adds to our lives. Freud wrote to his wife, Martha, the following:

Tables and chairs, beds, mirrors, a clock to remind the happy couple of the passage of time, an armchair for an hour’s pleasant daydreaming, carpets to help the housewife keep the floors clean, linen tied with pretty ribbons in the cupboard and dresses of the latest fashion and hats with artificial flowers, pictures on the wall, glasses for everyday and others for wine and festive occasions . . . are we to hang our heart on such little things? Yes, and without hesitation.

Yes, hang your hearts on such little things, they have unfathomed value.

I think in the more conservative world people are scared that having trinkets and shrines and crystals is the belief that these totems become actual deities rather than symbols connecting us to our higher self, our God; that some people pray to their sage sticks and eagle feathers as though these non living objects house the power of the universe. And yet, the dichotomy is that more conservative people rely even more heavily on their dogma. God forbid homosexuals get married or heterosexuals have a child out of the ritual of wedlock. Still, people have their beliefs and I shouldn’t really say anything crappy about it; but oh look, I did, and here’s my opportunity to delete it . . . annnnnnnnd the moment has passed. Look at Wilson in the movie “Castaway”. Tom Hanks really needed that ball. Did he ever lose his marbles to the point that he thought it was animate? I doubt it, but the need to connect is great, so he found a ball with a name on it and a connection was born. It kept him from going 100% batty. Remember how he screamed “Wilson” when the connection was broken, literally, in the water? It was anguish. Wilson represented some semblance of normalcy, of humanity, and gave him hope. Rituals give us hope.

I have a stuffed blue dog named Ol’ Blue because, duh, he’s blue, so I couldn’t very well name him Ol’ Yeller. Blue has just about no stuffing left in him and the years have worn his material hide quite thin. When I was little I believed he could fly. I would frequently tie string around his neck and twirl him about to prove my point. Ol’ Blue still sits in my room. Need I remind you I am approaching 48 years on this planet? Still, Ol’ Blue is out in my room, not shoved in a box or rotting a land fill. Ol’ Blue is a symbol in my life. He reminds me of a time when my life revolved around my mama and flying blue dogs and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on soft white bread with the crusts cut off. Ol’ Blue has been with me my entire life. Ol’ Blue is a touchstone for me. He knows everything about me, and loves me still. He has lived with me in Texas and Oklahoma and California and Georgia and New York and my beloved Colorado. Having something tangible can help us mere mortals to feel connected to our sense of spirit. God doesn’t care if you see him in a church or while you’re snowboarding and I don’t think he cares if you find him in a rosary or roast beef sandwich or a no longer stuffed, stuffed dog. Additionally, given the many names he has I don’t believe he cares if you call him God or not; you can call him The Universe, The Great Beyond, He Who Is Super Awesome, or Chet if it suits you. Whatev’s, He’s flexi.

So let’s get back to my unnamed client. As I mentioned, despite all her rituals she seemed quite determined to tell herself she is sick and needs help . . . lots of help. There are those who poo poo all things spiritual as being cults and giving people crutches to lean on. I don’t agree with all religions being cults, but that’s ok, I’m not opposed to others thinking that. I certainly can see why religion and spirituality is accused of being a crutch; it is for some. Some people are determined to remain unhappy. Maybe this is their ritual, I don’t know. Still, saying spirituality is bad 100% of the time fosters the same level of ignorance as those who say religion is the only way to know God. God is everywhere. I’m certain he’s in my coffee and that’s why it’s so tasty. It’s worrisome though, to see this reinforcement of things negative built into things that are meant to be positive. Book stores are full of titles telling us how to get what we want, how to stop falling in love a crazy people, how to keep a balanced life, and so on. All these books focus and feed on people’s need, under the pretense of being positive. If you get everything you want, never love someone crazy, and have a totally balanced life then what have you learned in life and when, oh when, have you ever had any fun? For cryin’ out loud, go eat a corn dog and immediately after, ride a roller coaster, live a little.

Rituals, signs, omens, hearing just the right song on the radio at just the right time, these things speak to us. If I were to lose Ol’ Blue I would feel genuine anguish, just like Tom Hanks losing Wilson. I have many such totems, an old beat up jacket that belonged to my dad, mama’s recipe box, a letter from a friend who died, a stone from another friend, they all mean something to me. They all connect me in my heart to people I love and love is a divine feeling, it is our reminder there is something greater than us all that binds us all.

Without ritual what gives our life meaning? If we do not pray or love or hug or become emotionally attached to stuffed animals or drink coffee then what is there?

Enjoy it. Eat a corn dog and ride a roller coaster.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


It was still warm outside at night. We were at a poetry reading and in her poem she spoke of an event that in the past would have held a secret shared moment between us. In the past we would have surreptitiously caught each other’s eye and oh so discreetly smiled. A knowing moment of times gone by would have passed between us in a room filled with people, and only we would be aware. But not tonight, not this time. I look at you and I see you purposely avoiding my eye. I see how stiff you hold your neck, how rigidly you stare above my head, how purposeful you are in your ignorance of me. YOU WILL NOT LOOK AT ME NO MATTER WHAT . . . and then I know. All my suspicions of the past several weeks are confirmed in that moment. Before then I could pretend that I was just imagining things, but not now . . . now I know. Soon I will dream of you and I will be wearing exactly what I am wearing tonight, but I don’t know that now. All I know now is everything has changed, and you didn’t even bother to tell me.

Fall sets in, the air gets cool. I wait for you to tell me the truth, but you won’t, you don’t. A few weeks later, it is no longer warm outside at night, you invite me to spend your birthday with you and I wonder “was I wrong”? But I call you the morning of your birthday and you do not answer, I know I’m not wrong. She is there and you will call me when she leaves. You call me later, I come over and see the evidence that you have not hidden well enough. I say “I’m going to have a cigarette”, I step outside on the front porch . . . and cry quietly. It’s your birthday, I can’t say anything on your birthday and it’s really not my business anymore . . . but I did think we were closer than this. You ask me to send a card to your mother and I’m sad for the girl who was here just a few hours before. She is not spending your birthday with you or sending a card to your mother. She doesn’t know what’s in store for her, but I do, and I hurt for her.

Many weeks later I am at your house for dinner. It has not been warm outside at night for a long time. I see the evidence again and I think “It must be hard to tell me, I will help him”. I ask you about it, giving you an opportunity to get it out so we can have openness and honesty. You pretend not to hear me. I have a moment to renege on my question. I can drop it right here and not hear the truth, and in my nanosecond of hesitation I have unwittingly given you time to dream up your lie. And lie you do. I ask again, I will not be daunted, and you look at me . . . . and lie to me. You look your friend in the eye and spew a river of bile. You tell me more than I had asked, always a sign of lying, and your lie is so outrageous it’s insulting. If I hadn’t been so stunned and hurt I would have laughed at the sheer audacity and stupidity of it. I let you have your lie, what else can I do? I lost my friend weeks ago. It is snowing and cold outside now, but I lost my friend when it was still warm outside at night. I have clawed on to my friendship with you, looking away, ignoring what I see and hoping it will all go away . . . and it does. It goes away, but not in the way I had hoped.It will take several more weeks for what remains of our friendship it to die its slow painful death but it began in summer, when it was still warm outside at night.

And now, many years later I watch your duplicitous nature with someone else. I watch you lie to her. It has been summer, fall, winter, spring, and then summer again many times since that first time . . . when it was summer, when it was still warm outside at night.