Monday, July 19, 2010


The substitute for sex is chocolate. I don't like chocolate. The substitute for running is walking. I'd rather run. The substitute for a night out is a night in. And isn't it more fun to go out, when presented with the two options? The substitute for a good friend is a good book. And friends can listen. The substitute for a win is a moral victory, which is still a loss. The substitute for new shoes is your favorite pair of old shoes. But nothing compares to new shoes. The substitute for a vacation is a staycation, and we all know that's a bad substitute. The substitute for a nap is caffeine. The substitute for a family is a career (for a lot of people). The substitute for a good personality is good looks. The substitute for your favorite TV show is a rerun.

I'm not one for substitutes. I would rather have my first option or nothing, in most cases. Call me a spoiled brat, but I'm not talking the choice between Jimmy Choos or Payless (and I'll punch you in the face if you suggest that). I'm just talking about life's little pleasures. I don't want rain, I want sun. I don't want to lose, I want to win. I don't want to walk, I want to run.

There are a lot of people in this world, in my opinion, who are just fine with settling for second best. And if they are happy, more power to them. I, however, am not this kind of person.

The substitute for saying something is saying nothing. And this is where I fall into the substitutions list. Don't ask me why, but if I am unprepared for a conversation, I'm usually not very good at it. I'm not talking about the "Hey, lady, how do you get to..." questions, but ask me anything about how I'm feeling about anything, and I'll clam up. If I stuck my fist in my mouth, I would probably say more. But I cannot talk about it. Absolutely cannot. Unless you give me time to figure out how I want to approach the subject, I'll simply reply, "I don't know." Even if I know you aren't going to judge me for anything I say or feel. Some part of me feels unjustified to feel the way I feel. Or at least to communicate these feelings.

So, if you know how I'm feeling, consider yourself a bit privileged. It probably took me a long time to get there.

My lady (whom I have amicably divorced) spent many minutes diagnosing this issue as one of my "coping" skills. And the funny thing is, I had no problem spilling all of my emotional secrets to her. It is the people I care about that I guard myself from. That's so backwards.

I've spent the months since my lady intervention really trying to communicate. To let myself feel weak and to tell my "you's" how I feel. And that's the base behind it all. I do not like feeling weak. I also do not like feeling selfish. So when I feel like I am clogging time with my worries or feelings, I feel both weak and selfish. Which is all in my head.

Do you have to constantly argue with yourself? It's exhausting. I need a divorce from my brain on some days. To truly analyze a situation, I try to attack it from all angles, including what the other person is thinking. But there is no way to know that. There's no way to know what they are going to walk away from a conversation thinking.

And here is what I have dissolved from this conundrum: Everyone thinks about themselves. First. There is not one situation that we will face in life that we don't automatically think about how it will effect the "I" argument. In sympathy or empathy: What would I do in this situation? In anger: What if someone did that to me? In sadness: I would be upset, too. As a second thought, we will consider the other parties. But it is always the I that we will side with first.

We can call this self-absorbed or we can call this self-aware. Either way we are all self-focused. I find that having a balance is the biggest challenge. Because to be aware of myself and what I'm feeling, I have to give in to being a bit absorbed in my own self. I have to ignore the selfish feeling and allow myself to be just that. Selfish. And somewhere in the thought process appears the selfless side. Allowing me to be both selfish and selfless in the same wave of thought.

But does anyone else actually think like this? Constantly analyzing and comparing and justthinking? You can see now why it is hard to make a decision with this head.

Part of what I'm finding out is that it is relieving to know that most people don't walk away thinking of me after a conversation. They are thinking of themselves. Picture it like this: You walk into a gathering of friends feeling completely unattractive and wearing normal attire. Nobody is judging you like you are judging yourself. Isn't that nice? When you finally realize that you are only the center of your own attention.

No one is going to care about you as much as you care about yourself. Even the people who love you. They are incapable. I cannot enter your brain and feel what you are feeling just as you cannot enter mine. And so we are back to communication.

Communication is flawed. Not the language of communication, but the grey area between understanding and feeling. It does not matter what kind of support team you have behind you, most of the trials of your life will be fought and won within your own head.

The process is trying, exhausting. But the substitute for thinking is not thinking. I think I'll think my way.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Little B

"Do those scars cover the whole of you? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived." Chris Cleave, Little Bee

This is not going to be a book review, but please allow for a few comments. Little Bee has been laying in wait on one of my bookshelves for about two months. I got completely wrapped up in a 3-book series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Who Played with Fire, and Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), all of which were fabulous and enthralling, none of which provided me the pleasure I found in Little Bee. I can't tell you with certainty why I initially bought Bee or why it went straight to the shelf, but I grabbed it on my way out of the door before my 10-day hiatus from home.

I am a fast reader. But I'm not supersonic and I enjoy really immersing myself in a book. So I started it about 2pm yesterday and finished at about 11:30 tonight. With a lot of play time in between.

My parents won't buy me books for Christmas anymore because I used to come down the stairs on Christmas morning, grab the book, and spend the rest of the day with my nose glued to the spine. Its almost out of my control. If a book hooks me, I can't seem to walk away. Or I can put it down, but the characters keep talking to me and the plot dictates how I interpret every day motions. I suppose that is what makes a book great, worthwhile, an impact.

Bee was not what I was expecting. Or, rather, I didn't expect anything, but I really did not expect greatness. I've done (more than) my fair share of book reading, and I am still surprised when a book finds me and provides everything I need. Great literary style, intriguing voice, and full, beautiful characters. And a message that is imparted upon the reader without force or overbearing inflection. I love a book that can mean something different to anyone who reads it. A book that gives the reader room to think for themselves. An author who doesn't think his audience is stupid. I would think that once you trust a reader with the story, the writing would be really fun to do. The trust definitely makes it more fun to read.

If you like to read, read this book. I'm sad that I've finished it. I'm a little lonely without my new friends.

I finished the book and became suddenly aware of how quiet it was in my room. The movie reel in my head clicked off and there was white noise. There's a moment after you stop reading where your brain takes a break because it knows it is about to be overloaded with the impending analysis.

At some point in my life, I need to join a book club. But I want some serious members. Not too serious, mind you, because I like to cook and I enjoy wine and all that, but if we're going to talk about books, lets at least be intelligent. I think I will need to create my own so I can make all the rules. If you want to sign up to be in my book club, you can email me your applications. There will be a test. But it won't be too hard.

I am enjoying this time in my life. It is unlike any other happy times that I've ever had, I think. Because I'm old enough to expect the difficult things and young enough to ignore many of them. I'm excited about exploring what these next few months and years will bring. I am loving and appreciating all the dimensions of my many relationships. The hope that I feel right now is refreshing compared to how I felt in September after my surgery.

Little Bee helped me realize a few of these things. If you've read the book, you might call me crazy. Pieces of the story seem hopeless, but the story in its entirety is triumphant.

About a week ago, I wrote a blog that got erased. If you write, you know how hard it is to rewrite. Pretty sure it got erased for a reason. An advice column about learning, basically. Learning from everything. But it wasn't written from the right voice. Thinking about it now, it may have come off as chastising. A holier-than-thou monologue criticizing self-help books with an attitude of GET OVER IT. And in hindsight, I think I was talking to myself.

In my mind, everything doesn't just "happen for a reason," everything is a challenge. A challenge to face the situation and a challenge to learn from it. We are constantly building off of the challenges that have been set before us so that we can become more aware of ourselves and the life that surrounds us. It is when we have stopped stepping up to the challenge that we have lost ourselves. Some of us will be defeated. Some of us will give up. And the warriors will simply regard each challenge as action, result, reaction--believing that no one moment can define an entire lifetime of learning. One moment is just another moment to learn from.

I believe that if everyone thought their story was worth telling, we would all be authors. Everyone has a story. They aren't all dramatic or large. Some of them are happy, a lot of them are sad. You may even say that many of them are boring. It depends on how you look at the story that defines its interest. How you tell the story. It also takes courage to tell it.

One day, when I find the right way to tell it and have the gumption to overlook the haters, I think I would like to write my story. The unfinished story, of course. Because no story is ever finished. I could write an entire book solely on my scars, how they made me feel dead for a long time and how "a scar means, I survived."