I love Christmas music. I start listening on November 1 and truth be told, I have a few favourites that stay on my phone all year long. Those Grinches who purport that November 1 is “way too early” to hark the heralds (or deck the halls) can bite me. We live in a free country. You don’t have to. I want to.
However … there are a few things I don’t want. I don’t ever want to hear “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” ever again. The dumbest of the dumb.
I don’t ever want to hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” updated to be politically correct. Grow up.
I can totally live without Mariah Carey screaming “All I Want For Christmas”. Apparently it is the most downloaded holiday song of all time. Don’t care. I like the little girl who sings it in “Love, Actually”. Just don’t like screaming and showing off.
And I have a real hard time (see above) with artists who decide they know better than the original songwriter and change lyrics to Christmas classics. Why? Why do you think it’s necessary to mess with Irving Berlin or Mel Torme? Do you think it makes you clever or unique? Seriously, if you’re that clever just leave the standard alone and go write your own timeless classic.
Which brings me to this. Another one of my least favourite (and horribly overdone) festive ditties is “Last Christmas”. Followed closely by the also hopelessly (haplessly) overdone “This Christmas”.
Last Christmas I gave you me heart, the very next day you gave it away … Hang all the mistletoe, I’m gonna get to know you better … this Christmas …
Last Christmas. This Christmas. Whatever.
How about this: last Christmas we all took this special holiday for granted. We fretted about shopping and decorating and wrapping and baking and gaining weight and dressing fancy for the office party and spending too much (or not enough) money and fitting everything (and everyone) in and not losing our minds doing it. We never thought in a million years the only thing we would be fretting about 365 days later is that THIS Christmas we don’t get to see our loved ones. We don’t get to host (or attend) a family dinner. We don’t get to hug our grown children and we get to kiss very few (if we are lucky!) people under the mistletoe. THIS Christmas we will (or at least should) be grateful for our own health and the health of our loved ones. Period. Full stop.
What a difference a year makes, right?
Well, I would like to challenge all my songwriter friends to write a new song. A new song called “Next Christmas”. A new song about what we have learned, what we still will learn and how we will bring all this newly-gleaned wisdom into all Christmases henceforth. How NEXT Christmas we will all be smarter, kinder, more generous, more grateful, more loving and more … present. Present in the true spirit of the season. Taking nothing and no one for granted and embracing the season with joy. Joy unimpeded by expectations and stress. Joy that we can hug and sing and shake hands and be together and yes … kiss under the mistletoe.
“Next Christmas” will be my new favourite song. I feel it.
It was December 1992. The year that my Christmas belly-full-of-jelly was about as big as Santa’s himself. Except my belly was full of baby. However, the only bells that were jingling were the ones on the blood pressure monitor. The ones that clanged loudly every time my doc checked my numbers. Pregnancy Induced Hypertension he called it. PIH. It most likely would not abate until the baby came out.
But the baby was not supposed to come out until the end of January. So I got sent to bed with instructions to stay there. As the good doc said, “If it wasn’t Christmas I’d be sending you to the hospital.”
I was scared. I had endured three miscarriages before this pregnancy and I was scared.
After a few days in bed, Christmas arrived and my head would not stop banging. I called my mother to let her know we would not be joining the family for Christmas dinner. My mother calmly informed me that if I was too ill to come for Christmas dinner I should get the hospital immediately.
My mother knows how much I love Christmas dinner.
I spent Christmas night on a hospital bed and the next few after as well. My numbers settled down so I was sent home. My numbers skyrocketed so I went back. Because it was the holiday season, I saw a different doctor every day (mine was off skiing somewhere) but I will never forget the immortal words of Dr. Ken-Doll who saw me the say I returned.
“You’re in for the duration, Vickie. No more going home until this baby arrives.”
My heart sank. I hated being in the hospital and the baby wasn’t due for another month!
“The good new is,” Dr. Hottie continued, “PIH babies typically come early and they come fast.”
Oh. Goodie. I think.
New Year’s Day arrived and my new best-friend nurse said I could have a hall pass. My numbers were good. I could leave the hospital for a few hours to have dinner with family.
I spent those few hours on the sofa with an ever-increasing headache and ever-increasing numbers (my dear hubby had borrowed a BP cuff from a friend). We hightailed it back to the hospital early and my nurse immediately knew exactly why.
“Now you go to bed and you stay in bed except to pee. Those are the rules, Vickie. DO NOT break them!”
I hated being in that bed. It was uncomfortable and slippery. There was a plastic mattress protector under the flimsy sheet (you know us pregnant gals … things can get messy!) and I always felt like I was about to go flying off the bed every time I rolled over. Plus the constant PA announcements and then the code blues. Every time I heard one I was transported back to the night my father had a heart attack and then overcome with grief for the family going through it. (Yes I am an out-of-control empath plus there were all those hormones!) I was getting very little sleep and feeling kind of cranky.
On January 2 that day’s doctor stopped in and asked me how I was feeling.
“Tired. Really tired. I can’t sleep in this damn place.”
He looked at me like I was a moron. “Well then we’ll give you a sleeping pill.”
“What? Seriously? You can give a pregnant woman a sleeping pill?” I had never taken a sleeping pill in my life so now didn’t really seem like the optimum moment.
And I got my pill at around 8:30 that evening. By 9 I was drifting off into beautiful, unslippery sleep.
At around midnight I was awakened by a sharp cramp. “Oh damn,” though I groggily. “I’m getting my period.”
Holy crap!!! I’m pregnant! There are no periods. That was a contraction! I’m having a baby!!
I buzzed the nurse. Then I got up to pee and my water broke all over the floor.
The nurse said, “It looks like it’s time, Vickie. You’d better call your husband.”
My poor dear hubby, who had been driving the 30 minutes back and forth to the hospital twice daily while still maintaining a full-time job, answered after the 5th ring.
“Hey honey,” I chirped merrily, “Wanna go for a swim?”
“What?” He was still half asleep.
“My water just broke,” I announced proudly (as if I had personally orchestrated this event). “We’re having a baby!”
At this point I had been in hospital on and off for well over a week. Hubby knew the drill. He had witnessed the drill. Never-ending labours that went on and on and seemingly never-ended. He knew this was just the beginning. “Um, why don’t I get some sleep and I’ll come first thing in the morning?”
“No honey, come now. The nurse said you MUST come now.”
He was suddenly wide awake. “I’ll be right there!”
My contractions had begun less than an hour earlier and they were already a minute apart.
I was moved to the pre-birth room and given an enema because accidents do happen and those wonderful doctors sure as heck don’t want to be catching the wrong thing when we start to push. At the exact moment that I was sitting on the throne allowing the enema to do its thing, darling hubby walked in the door with two giant coffees in his hands. “Hey honey, I brought you a …”
He took in the scene instantly as I let out a loud contraction-induced moan. “Just give mine to the nurse,” I sputtered between moans. “I’m good.”
Back in bed I was asked if I wanted natural childbirth.
“Absolutely!” I exclaimed between even more moans. “I promise not to wear makeup. Now please give me drugs!”
They did. And soon thereafter the horrible cramps weren’t quite so horrible anymore.
But that darn baby refused to drop. He was nice and cozy in his own heated pool and had no intention of greeting this new year any time soon.
The drugs wore off. It was now 7am and a shift change so I had to wait for the new anesthetist. But she was busy with caesarian sections which for some reason were deemed more important than my agony.
My contractions were pretty much on top of each other, I was fully un-drugged and my blood pressure was frighteningly all over the place. At one point the nurse screamed “240 over 140??? We have to get this baby out of here!”
The anesthetist arrived on cue and shot me up. I have no idea what she did differently than her predecessor but I was suddenly completely frozen from the waist down. Delightfully, deliriously, completely frozen. Bu-bye contractions!
They wheeled me into the “birthing room”. I asked who the on-call doctor was. And I had gotten to know so many.
“It’s Dr. H,” the nurse rolled her eyes.
Oh, I had heard so much about Dr. H. He was one of the older docs and a bit of a curmudgeon. Grumpy and abrupt. Great. I had been hoping for Dr. Ken.
The nurse came to my side and whispered, “Vickie, I know he’s an old crank but he is the one you want. If there is any trouble at all, trust me, he is the one you want.”
I was relieved and terrified at the same time.
Dr. H entered the room with a young intern following like a puppy. He took one look at my nurse-friend and muttered sarcastically, “Oh great, it’s you. So lovely to be working with you again.”
This pair obviously had some history and she shot back without skipping a beat, “You know what, doc? Kiss my ass!”
Everyone in the room cracked up. Even the doc. He obviously had a sense of humour.
Good thing too, because there I was on the gurney with my feet up in the stirrups, frozen solid from the waist down. I had no idea what would happen next.
“Vickie, can you push?” the doc asked casually, all the while doing things with his fingers that usually require dinner and a whole lot of wine.
Push? Push what?
I tried with all my might to push and all the veins popped out on my forehead.
Apparently I could not push whatever it was I was supposed to push because I was FROZEN SOLID!!
“Vickie, this is Dr. M. You know we’re a teaching hospital and he is here to learn so do you mind if he takes a look?” Dr H corralled his young student into my legs. The poor boy was sweating buckets.
“Sure, why not?” I responded. “I’m here to serve.”
Everyone chuckled. Except for Dr. M. He was still sweating.
“So Mrs. van Dyke,” he offered lamely, “Do you think you’re having a boy or a girl?”
First off, who the hell is Mrs. van Dyke and secondly why the fuck am I making cocktail chat with an intern?
“I AM having a boy, doctor. I know this because I had amnio!”
Dr. H chimed right in. “Why did you have amnio, Vickie? Is it because you’re so old?”
Funny guy, that doc. Everyone laughed. (Even my husband, damn him.)
But hey, I am a seasoned performer and therefore – funnier. “You know what, doc?” I glared at him between my spread-eagled legs. “You can kiss my ass too! And I have made it readily available to you!”
Seriously, brought the house down
But still no baby. My precious baby would still not drop. They finally got him with forceps (ouch). Dragged him (literally) kicking and screaming into this world. Hubby took him to the “checking station” while I lay on the bed staring blankly at the ceiling. The drugs were still in full effect and I had felt very little. I was just numb.
While everyone else was busy fussing with my issue, Dr H came to my side. He sat next to me and very quietly asked, “Are you okay?”
I nodded. That was it. I couldn’t speak.
He took my hand and said, “Vickie you have a healthy baby boy. He’s early but he’s a good weight. Your blood pressure is down. You did great, momma.”
I burst into tears.
And then Hubby put Sam in my arms. There he was, finally. A real human. MY real human. My real human worth every ounce of pain, struggle and worry.
It was January 3 morning and I had finally got my Christmas present.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And by that I mean it’s snowing. The trees are pretty. We’ve put up some decorations.
Other than that I have no idea what Christmas will look like this year. I know there will be no big family dinner. I know that there will be no festive party where we make merry and sing carols. I know I won’t be getting together with “my girls” for wine and gifts. Heck, I’m not even sure that I will see my son.
And that is the reality of a Covid Christmas.
We now live in what I would classify as “The best Christmas house ever!”. You have no idea how much I would love to share this house with family and friends. I am, after all, the consummate Christmas girl. I start listening to holiday music on November 1.
That I am doing. But everything else seems awfully vague this year. My calendar is decidedly empty.
So here’s what I’m thinking: this year let’s accept that everything will be different and then stop pouting about it. Let’s accept that – in my lifetime at least – it is one Christmas out of many. Let’s rejoice that we are healthy and doing the right thing by staying apart. And then let’s embrace some new possibilities.
We have just “adopted” a family (anonymously). There are so many (more) in need this season so we have decided to play Santa. Personally. Not just a donation in the Salvation Army kettle or an extra bag of groceries to the Food Bank (and we will do that too). Through a local service, a family has been found. Mom, Dad and three kids. Santa has been provided with a wish list and I can tell you Santa just can’t wait to get going. The elves are pretty damn excited too. We are not exchanging gifts with our families this year. We’re all good, thank you. But so very many are not. And it will take such worthwhile effort to fill the sleigh with goodies for this family to awake to on Christmas morning. I may actually wear a Santa hat when I go shopping.
The other thing I have decided to do this Christmas is resurrect the art of sending Christmas cards. Not emails and not Facebook messages but actual real cards sent by post. When I was a kid I loved getting cards so much my best friend and I exchanged dime-store greetings every day for the month of December. It was such a delight to open that envelope and read the wondrous words, whatever they were.
Well, get ready world – the cards are already coming! Santa has to start early to get to everyone, right, and the one thing I have realized is I barely write anything with a pen anymore so I can only do so many cards before my hand turns into “the claw”. But I promise you this – I shall not rest until everyone who WANTS a Christmas card, GETS a Christmas card.
So if you WANT one, make sure I have your address.
And that’s it. That is what a Covid Christmas looks like to me. Help others less fortunate and reach out to loved ones. In a new old-fashioned way. Yes, we will Zoom and text and video-chat and I might sing a few songs with no one and we can decorate and bake and celebrate with our bubbles and we can share photos on Instagram and wrap presents for the dog and kiss only one person under the mistletoe. That’s okay.
I have not hugged my son since last January and I’m pretty sure this January will also come and go without a warm embrace. So be it.
Being Santa will be good. Sending cards will be good.
Staying healthy will be extra-special good. Let’s all give each other that gift.
I’ve been pretty consumed with the US election these last few days so decided it might be worthwhile to think about something else for a minute. And where we now live, the way the sun currently sets through our living room window is every bit as compelling – if not more so – than the drama south of the border. But, as spectacularly riveting as those sunsets are, the last two have been vastly different. And that got me to thinking …
Am I a poet or a mariner?
Two nights ago the sky was cloudy. Not overcast, but enough clouds to create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour above Lake Huron. Each moment was distinctly different from its predecessor. Each vista brought new hues and vibrant variation and the most superb theatre I can imagine. I was mesmerized and energized, running out to the deck every 10 minutes to snap a new memory. The show went on and on and continued to delight until the final glimmer of sundance sank into the sea.
Last night was another story. Clear as that proverbial bell. As a matter of fact, it was the first fully clear night we have experienced since the sun traversed its way into our cinematic window. Man oh man, that giant glowing orange ball did not disappoint! It blazed with passionate intensity. It heated up the heavens like a bonfire in July. Its celestial inferno demanded all eyes and every attention, so scorching was its incandescence. It was fucking amazing.
For about 15 minutes.
Then it was over and it just got dark.
That is what got me thinking. You see, all that combustible glory was indeed … glorious. But it was also short-lived. The night before was shaded with innuendo. The clouds were mercurial. From one minute to the next you just didn’t know what might develop. Modulate. Transform. It went on and on and on. These moments were filled with wonder, astonishment, incredulity and gratitude. On. And on.
The mariner will always choose a clear sky. When the stars shine brightly smoother navigation is assured. The simplicity of an orange ball dipping into the horizon brings solid, easy closure to the day. The mariner is pragmatic. The mariner will take brief beauty and almost certain invulnerability over anything else.
Then there is the poet. Unlike the mariner, the poet typically does not need to survive the vagaries of the natural world. Yes, the poet will have a difficult time earning a living, putting food on the table and a roof over her head. But the poet dreams anyway, with pen in hand and (hopefully) a warm fire crackling. So when the poet sees the clouds, and the changes, and the vagaries of the sky, the poet is entranced. Because the poet understands that those clouds represent pain. Potential pain at the very least. There is no security in those clouds. Those colours change as quickly as a woman’s heart. That sky is as unpredictable as love itself. And as beautiful. The poet is both transfixed by the artistry and disturbed by the vicissitude. Enchanted by the spectacle and tormented by the intensity.
The poet not only accepts all of this, the poet welcomes it. The poet will take kaleidoscope over orange ball every day of the week.
Well, maybe not EVERY day. But most days.
So I ask again. Are you a poet or a mariner?
Take your time to decide. I’m pretty sure the election can wait.
Today we closed up our trailer. Our little summer home that we have enjoyed immensely for the last five years. It was actually snowing when we awoke this morning and the weird snow-shower-sunny-rainy morning continued as we packed away deck furniture, loaded up linens and did the end-of-season dance known to those of us lucky enough to own a piece of seasonal paradise.
Then we drove home.
It took twenty minutes.
Yes, our new home is just across the peninsula on another body of beautiful water, with a magnificent and ever-changing view that we enjoy daily.
Yes, as Ontario folks near and far are closing down for the winter, we actually live in our cottage. Like, full-time.
This was not a fluke or happy coincidence. When I was a kid my father built our first summer shack and it immediately became my favourite place in the world. There was no plumbing, no indoor toilet, no ceiling (just a big cathedral roof and dividers with curtains between the bedrooms) and no heat, save for a small, black wood-burning fireplace. There were mice and spiders and giant moths and bats. It was glorious.
During my (misspent) teenage years, the idea started to percolate in my beer-soaked brain that living in a cottage would be wonderful. That chill, woodsy vibe suited me just fine. Naturally indoor plumbing was factored in (as was – much later – a dishwasher, laundry facilities and a soaker tub) but I already knew by the time I was 17 that I wanted to live by the water in a cottage. A “cottagey” home.
And here I am. Here we are.
Living the dream.
And that, my friends, is the point. You can dream all you want. And we should. But it is vital that we pursue those dreams with (realistic) zeal! Plan the work and then work the plan. Figure out a way to live your adventure every single day.
Back in my 40s, when I was living my ex-husband’s dream, I was already planning our next adventure when we were flying off to our current one. It drove him crazy (and rightfully so). But even though my life – on the outside – looked pretty damn cushy, it was a life I needed to escape from.
Eventually I did. That is when I learned that no matter how hard you dream and how hard you work at achieving that dream, you don’t always get the dream you thought you wanted. Fair enough. Well, not really, but hey, it’s life, right?
But the one thing I NEVER gave up on was the desire to not only escape to my great adventure but to actually LIVE my great adventure. Day in, day out. And please understand when I say “adventure” I mean REALISTIC adventure. Lake Como with George Clooney didn’t happen (why?) and Malibu in a beach house didn’t happen either.
What happened was Lake Huron with a view (not waterfront) with a scientist cum/handyman. He didn’t win the Nobel, my book didn’t hit any bestseller list and we sure as heck can’t afford waterfront. But I can assure you we are LIVING the adventure every day. Covid hasn’t impacted our mental health the way it has so many BECAUSE we are living our adventure every day. We have no need to escape. We are okay with hunkering down. We are even looking forward to whatever the winter months will throw at us.
I know we are fortunate. Some would say lucky.
I say we planned our work and worked our plan. We adapted when things went sideways and we were open and available to new or shall we say “altered” dreams. We wanted water and a cottage to call home. Everything else was negotiable.
This past summer, when we sold our previous house and hadn’t found that dream home I so coveted, I started to get a little worried. Then I widened my lens, looked further afield than my dream may have dictated and discovered this place. The moment we walked in I was thunderstruck. It was wood, wood and more wood. Wood walls and wood ceilings and wood shelves and wood floors and wood doors and WOOD.
“Well,” thought I, “we’ll just paint some of this wood, won’t we?”
And then it hit me.
THIS was my cottage. This was my dream. This was not some suburban home transplanted to the shores of a great lake nor was it some glorified mansion built to look “rustic” but in reality was a glorified mansion.
This unexpected house was my cottage/home.
It was our next great adventure.
It is now our current adventure. I know we are fortunate. I know there are so many who struggle to make ends meet daily and adventure is the last thing on their list of priorities.
I also know that if you don’t know WHAT your adventure is, you’ll never find it. If you haven’t dreamed it, wanted it, willed it, worked towards it … well, how can it ever happen?
Don’t let it fade. All that youthful exuberance, faith and lust for adventure, don’t let it die.
Then plan you work and work the plan to get that damn dream fulfilled.
You might think it is being respected. You might think it is being appreciated. You might even think it is being heard.
I think it is being seen. I believe that being seen is more important than being loved.
I’m not talking about selfies, a mirror or my Instagram feed. I am talking about being seen to my very core. Being seen in all my psychological mess. Being seen in my glory and my despair. Being seen and acknowledged and recognized for all the beautiful and bitter truth my soul can muster.
I want to be seen.
Unfortunately it sounds simple and it should be easy but it is not. We are all quick to “love” because love is such a sweet, emotive, understandable action. Sure we comprehend that there are many different levels of love (the love for a spouse, the love for a child, the love for a friend, the love for a pet) but we spew the word freely in any number of scenarios. We spew because it feels good. It feels good to feel love, to do love, to say love. We like feeling good.
But to really see someone, well, that’s a whole different story. Because the truth is – you might not love what you see. When you really gaze into the deepest pit of a person’s foundation you might see grubby dishonesty or dirty disregard. You might see sloppy emotions and unresolved anger. You might see chaotic confusion and untidy torment.
Love is snug and ordered. To risk really seeing someone you must risk turbulence and disarray.
Fact is we are programmed from an early age to avoid turbulence and disarray at all costs. Snug and ordered wins the prize! Messy gets you detention. So we develop an armour to keep all of our messy buried. We want to win, dammit!
But what good is a prize when it is won under false pretenses?
I realized very early in life that I was a messy girl. My father and I locked horns regularly in my stubborn teenage years. I was a good student but never afraid to challenge a teacher (or a professor or a theatrical director) if I thought they were off-base. I had a mouth on me and the brain to back it up and I wasn’t afraid to use it. This made life very messy. Both my first lover and my first husband hit me. Just to shut me up. And I remember a later beau once saying to me in a fit of rage, “If I was ever going to hit a woman …”
He didn’t. I think he knew at that point I would have him charged.
But the point is I didn’t spout off because I wanted to be punched. I spouted off because I wanted to be SEEN. I wanted the mess building up inside of me to pour out of me. I desperately wanted to share the mess so that it would stop encumbering me. I felt very alone in my mess and I just kept scrapping and sparring in the hopes that someone – anyone – would say, “STOP! I see you. It’s okay. I see all of your mess and I still love you.”
My 2nd (much better) husband never came close to hitting me. When my mess reared its demanding head he just left. Always emotionally and sometimes physically. He would say, “I don’t need this!” and go for a walk.
He didn’t need my mess. He didn’t want my mess. He absolutely REFUSED my mess.
And so I learned to stifle it. Hide it. Bury it.
As we all know, anything that kicks and screams and demands attention and is then stifled and buried? Well, it’s going to show up someday. And when it does it’s not going to be pretty.
So that is why I now BEG to be seen. I allow my unkempt soul fee reign. I encourage my pugnacious heart to speak freely and fully.
And those people who prefer order? Those people who select silence? Those people who don’t need this?
I encourage them to build a life elsewhere. Without me. No hard feelings, honest. YOU are the architect of your own cosmos.
As I am of mine.
I want to be seen.
It was the movie “Avatar” that brought this to light. Those lovely, big blue people, remember? They said, “I see you.”
It was so much more than I love you. So. Much. More.
I think “I see you” meant “I see your soul.” I see beyond the façade, beyond the armour and beyond the ridiculous simplicity of Disney love. I see you and I see your heart and I see your mess and I see your substance and I see your potential. I see ALL of you.
And I’m still here.
To me, that is so much more important than just being loved.
I have a headache. My neck is sore and my shoulders are aching. My blood pressure is up again. I think my teeth hurt too.
I wonder why? Do you think it might be stress?
Yeah, maybe. We are living in weird times. Stress, on some inherent level, invades our lives on a daily basis. Every time I put on a mask I’m sure my BP blips. Every time my throat tickles or the staircase takes more than its usual toll I am absolutely certain I HAVE IT. We watch the numbers skyrocket as this second wave takes hold and there goes my BP again. And then there’s that damn election south of the border …
But there is more. There is much more stress on a personal level and I am learning (the hard way) that it is UP TO ME to manage that stress. It is UP TO ME to prioritize that stress. It is UP TO ME to take my meds but also sort out a more “holistic” approach to my headache and my blood pressure.
This past spring I published a book. My book. Probably the one and only book I will ever write. I published it during a pandemic when Black Lives Matters was dominating the press and the publishing world. Then I sold yet another house. After which I moved into yet another house in yet another community. Our new house had (serious) water issues and internet issues and oh yeah, our mover actually left some stuff behind and my dog had non-stop diarrhea all of these issues were stressful.
But the real issues was this:
I am a fixer. I have always been a fixer and I do pride myself on being quite good at it. I have a logical brain and it runs really fast. So if YOU have a dilemma I will think and think and think some more until I find a way to fix it. I will lose sleep and take Tylenol and drink too much wine UNTIL I figure out a way to fix your problem. And if I can’t figure out how to actually fix your problem (because let’s face it, some problems are unfixable) I will allow you to talk ad infinitum about your problem and I will allow you to drag me into your endless dialogue about your problem and I will listen to every word you share about your problem until eventually your problem will feel like my problem and oh fuck … there go those numbers again.
Apparently I’m not very good at saying “no” to a pal with a problem.
But I have decided it is time I learned. It is time I put my own health first. It is time I started to say “No, this is not a good time” or “No, I can’t have this conversation right now” or “No, you can’t come visit” or “No, you’re going to have to sort this one out on your own.” I once read that “NO is a full sentence”. We shouldn’t have to always explain our decisions. We hope that our friends and even family members will understand (and forgive) when we simply cannot serve. Or when serving our self becomes necessary.
It’s a tough one. If my son needs me I will lie down in front of a train if it will help. If my beloved is struggling it’s unlikely I’ll say, “Oh well, you sort it out.” And if a close friend reaches out … damnit I’ll probably still answer the phone.
Is it a guilt thing? Do I feel guilty if I do not show up on demand? Do I actually feel it is my God-given responsibility to ALWAYS be available (even when my doctor might counsel otherwise)?
I don’t know.
And quite frankly I don’t know how I’m going to resolve this conundrum. What I do know is that I am going to start by recognizing that it exists. By acknowledging that it is hurting my health. By realizing that if I don’t get that oxygen I so desperately need, I won’t have any oxygen to share.
This new mindset is also going to have to spill over into all aspects of my daily life. ALL ASPECTS.
So … I am going to have to take a Twitter-vacation. A morning-news wrap-up holiday. A social media break from politics. I will read Heather Cox Richardson every morning because she is a true voice of clarity and reason in a completely unreasonable time. But that’s it. I’m pretty sure I can’t solve the political shit-show that happens daily in the United States. I can’t even vote even though I am still an American citizen (by birth … you have to live there for two years in a row to vote and I never have). I cannot will the American populace to grow a fucking brain and vote out that imbecile AND all of his blood-curdling cronies. My constant attention to what is happening down south will in no way impact what actually happens down south on election day or any day thereafter.
So I must let it go. I must live to fight another day. I must live to fight battles I might actually impact. I must stop trying to fix everything and spend a little more time fixing me.
I may learn to say “no” a little more often.
I may not.
“Physician, heal thyself!” comes to mind. And I am no doctor.
I’m pretty sure the world will keep on turning without my constant involvement. OUR constant involvement. I think we can all learn to let go of this overwhelming need to fix stuff. All stuff. Other people’s stuff. It’s okay if we just stand back and breathe. Nurture ourselves. Even if just for a moment.
I have no idea how this will go for me tomorrow. But if I don’t answer your phone call or immediately respond to your text … I hope you’ll understand why.
When my British Beloved and I first started dating, he introduced me to this delightful and quite descriptive phrase: “That guy is so up his own ass!”
Up his own ass.
I love it. Didn’t totally understand it then but now I think I do. Up your own ass means you have an exceptionally high opinion of yourself. It means your ego is perhaps a bit out of check. It means you might be a touch blind to what is going on around you because, well, your head is in a deep, dark place.
We all go there sometimes. The trick is not to dwell there indefinitely. The trick is to realize that residing in that special sanctum (I said sanctum, not rectum) is stupid because it’s dark and you can’t see what’s going on around you. How the hell can you see anything when your head is up your own ass? As opposed to, say, attached to your neck where it belongs.
The sad fact though, is that far too many folk end up dwelling up their own asses for far too long. This is not to say they become full-fledged ego maniacs. I just mean that instead of a quick trip to “me-and-only-me” land, they choose (for whatever reason) to sign a long-term lease, pack up the furniture and move it and all their other baggage into their own ass indefinitely.
I know this because I did this. Many years ago when my heart got ripped out of my chest, stomped on and then splattered against numerous random walls, I too left the land of the living and moved into my own ass. There I languished in turmoil and pain, suffering, suffering and suffering more because there was only room in my ass for me and my pain. Nobody else fit. So day after day, week after week, my pain and I inhabited my ass. In hindsight (pardon the pun) I think I must have felt safe in my ass. Safe from more pain, yes, but also safe from the anxiety-ridden torture of actually living my miserable and heartbroken life outside of my ass. My derriere provided exactly enough living space for me to NOT have to worry or even think about anyone else.
Here’s the problem. And I apologize but there is no delicate way to say this. When you live inside your ass the only thing you see is shit.
In order to fully experience the wonders of life, the magnificence of this planet, the glories of music and art and literature and Netflix, the warmth of friendship, the devotion of family, the affection of dogs and the taste of a freshly baked apple pie you have to get out of your ass and get on with living. No matter how daunting that task might seem.
So what’s the answer? How do you do it? What concrete steps can you take to get back into the light?
Start doing things for other people.
That’s right. Get out of your ass, stop thinking only about you and your problems and start doing things for other people.
Once those wounds started healing, those deeply carved heart-wounds, I made it my mission to seek out and facilitate moments of wonder. Those aforementioned wonders of life. I sought out my busy, overworked single-mother friends and invited them and their offspring for dinner so that they could have a night off from cooking without the price of a restaurant meal. I did this weekly. Sometimes more. because is twas also very good for me. I hosted jams in my home monthly so that my music-minded pals could make music with abandon and not worry about cleaning up the next day. I volunteered at my son’s school so that I could infuse some creative spirit into his learning and also enjoy yearly the absolute wonders of Wonderland (sitting with seven backpacks while my charges rode the roller coaster for the third time). I paid attention to my pals in pain and made sure they had a safe haven (my bar) to vent their sorrows and heal their hearts. I visited my mother weekly. I walked my dog daily. I started a little music group with two other women only because they were SO wanting to make professional music and I was able to make that happen. I just kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny until one day I woke up and realized my life was pretty good. It wasn’t what I expected but it was fulfilling. It was uplifting. It was on a positive trajectory.
I was no longer living inside my own ass.
We all will experience pain in this life. We will all get slammed and slaughtered and hurt or neglected and abused and misused. And yes, we will all on occasion take time to vacation in our own asses so that we can heal.
Let’s just not get too comfortable in that posterior palace. Let’s make a concerted effort to restore, rejuvenate and move forward. In the light. Let’s remember that the world is full of distressed damsels (and dudes). In the grand scheme of The Universe (if it has such a thing) we are just tiny mites of dust. At least we will be soon enough. So let’s just try to big-picture the hell out of this life and put our pain to good work. It comes back tenfold, this I know.
Remember, in the immortal words of this blogger, when you live inside your ass all you see is shit.
This morning I read a tweet (turned into a meme) from someone named Bruxy Cavey: “Humans long for unconditional love, but market a false self to get conditional love. Hence, our true selves are neither known nor loved.”
I have no idea who Bruxy is, what he does, if he’s nice or if he’s an asshole. I do believe though, based on this one statement, that he is very, very smart.
This is what I see on my social media feeds every single day. I see people – and when I say people what I really mean is women (mostly) – posting a daily dose of “Look at me and my wonderful life!” “Look at me working out!” “Look at me smelling flowers!” “Look at me having a glass of wine with someone else who wants you to look at them having a glass of wine with me!”
And on and on it goes. Humans longing for love. Longing to be seen. To be recognized. To be affirmed.
“Look at me, look at me, look at me. I’m okay, right?”
Am I okay.
Am I pretty enough, active enough, slim enough, interesting enough, young enough, aging gracefully enough? Am I worthy of your follow, of your like, of your comment, of your …. love.
Before I type another word I will admit to dancing with this devil myself. I work in an industry (media) where “profile” is important. Catering to “fans” is part of the job. Showcasing my work is “necessary advertisement” and publicizing parts of my life comes with the territory.
But I have never learned to take a good selfie and now I am glad. I do not want selfies of me saturating the internet. I do not feel an unquenchable need to share every moment of my life. When I go for a walk, I go for a walk. If I see something beautiful or interesting I take a picture. I take a picture of the beautiful or interesting thing. I do not take a picture of me grinning in front of the beautiful or interesting thing. I am neither beautiful nor interesting when I walk. I am typically sweaty and skanky. And ya know what – I do not need to post a picture of sweaty and skanky me (in front of something beautiful and interesting) and hashtag it with a bunch of humble mumbo-jumbo extolling the virtues of “keeping it real” or “getting the job done.”
I do not need to “market a false self” to get conditional love. Love that is conditional on me continuing to market the “profile” I have created. Not the “what’s in my head” profile. The “what do I look like living my fabulous life” profile.
Which brings me to this brief aside: those busy little social media beavers sharing their “insights” into how to be your best self or live your best life or blah, blah, blah … I’m bored. I’m pretty sure you’re not an expert. If I need expert advice I’ll buy a book or see a therapist. Armchair psychology delivered via social media by self-proclaimed “authorities” is little more than a lame attempt to create stardom – for yourself. You may think you’re helping, and maybe your fan-base will even confirm that. But in the end it is still YOU searching for affirmation. It’s weird how there is a whole new star-structure (usually self-awarded) on social media.
I write this blog BECAUSE I want my true self to be known. I know that I’m lucky if half a dozen people read my musings and that’s okay too. I would rather half a dozen people be compelled to THINK than a hundred dozen people believe my life is perfect because I purport it to be so.
Purport is my favourite word when it comes to social media pandering. Purport: to present, especially deliberately, the appearance of being, often falsely.
This is the time in my blog where I would normally bring forth stories of individuals I know who are guilty as charged. Believe me, I know LOTS of them. I love quite a few of them too, in spite of their addiction to self-promotion. And please understand I am well aware of the difference between promotion and self-promotion.
Promotion: Advocate your work. Advocate your creativity. Advocate your business. Advocate your product.
Self-promotion: YOU are now the product. Everything surrounding you is incidental. YOU are the star.
I can tell you honestly that most of the people I know who fill their feeds with their own face have insecurities. Self-esteem issues. Doubts. Uncertainties. Anxiety. And this oh-so-public addiction is the way they combat those demons. They seek “conditional love.” I mean c’mon – how can it be unconditional when it is ALL based on a photo? On what YOU choose and what YOU purport?
I find it all a bit sad. And so there will be no personal tales in this blog.
I will only say this: I love the sky. Sunrises, sunsets, clouds, huge vistas and starry nights. I love water and mountains and castles. I love happy people making merry and musical people making noise. I love artists who promote their art, businesses that promote their commerce, families that promote their tribe and friendships that promote their familiarity. I love travel photos and decorating photos and food photos and animal photos.
I do not love the blatant “marketing” of self in order to win conditional love. You want unconditional love? Try living your life, not as a continual photo op but as an experience in which you are truly and wholly present. An experience that doesn’t always have to be documented and certainly doesn’t ever need to be purported. A life not designed by your own inner ad-exec, desperate to sell your product, which is, of course … you.
Try taking yourself out of the picture every now and then.
I know … a real conundrum. And you thought I was going to talk about sex.
Actually, I am. And the big question is – which comes first? Intimacy or intercourse?
Now I know a lot of self-righteous puritans will chime right in and say, “Intimacy! You must have intimacy first for sex to be meaningful! There must be a sharing of emotions and loving discourse and true participation of souls for sex to achieve its best potential.”
I know that’s how my friend P feels. P and her hubby haven’t had sex in months because he is building a new business and working exhausting hours. P hardly ever sees him. So when she does, like when he wakes her up late at night or first thing in the morning, looking for a little ‘communion’, she pushes him away. She explains firmly that she is not a “wham-bam-thank-you-mam” kind of gal. She admonishes his lack of emotional foreplay, his utter disregard for physical foreplay and his apparent disinterest in satisfying her needs. P expects more.
P’s hubby sighs with abject frustration, staggers to the shower and then bolts to work, committed to face yet another 12-hour day with no satisfaction in his back pocket.
This goes on for weeks. And then months. P’s hubby finally stops initiating sex altogether and P figures he’s just too tired to care. She reckons when they finally take that Cuba trip he’s been promising her, they’ll figure it all out and get back to carnal knowledge.
You see, right or wrong, noble or evil, P’s hubby is now banging his colleague. As a matter of fact, P’s hubby has actually fallen in love with his colleague. No matter that they’re having quickies in the board room and “wham-bam-thank-you-mams” in the parking lot. P’s hubby and his colleague have somehow forged intimacy in the most un-intimate way and are planning a new life. Together.
P does not have a fucking clue.
So I ask again. Chicken or egg?
What if P had indulged her hubby? What if P had agreed to a morning interlude that wasn’t perfect but was maybe – necessary. Necessary for her hubby to face the grind for yet another day. And what if this unbalanced program ran for months?
P’s girlfriends would say, “You deserve more!” They would say, “This isn’t fair!” They would say, “Hold out until he understands what YOU need!”
But what if P replied, “I need intimacy with my husband. But right now, at this moment in time, I need to support my husband more than I need to get what I want. And maybe – just maybe – if I fuel his tank with the gasoline he needs, he will find the energy to bring what I need to the table. Or the bedroom.”
That is exactly what happened with N. After many months of “negotiating” (read: bargaining) with her partner, N realized that fighting for sex, romance, intimacy or all of the above was an exercise in futility. They were both frustrated with the dialogue and frustrated with the end (or lack thereof) result. So she “capitulated”. “Let’s just do it!” she exclaimed one evening after the kids were sound asleep. Not with hostility or disdain but with enthusiasm, like an adventurer stoked to attempt a new climb.
It was quick and efficient but N had fun. N’s partner had fun. After all that fun, they passed out cold. And the next morning N initiated playtime again. Her partner was incredulous – and thrilled. That night he suggested they plan a “date” for the weekend – kids to Grandma, romantic dinner a deux and some leisurely time in bed. N’s guy had gotten the message – gratefully – and was now prepared to do his bit.
I’m with them. You see, I believe sex begets sex. The less you have it the less you need it. And the less you need it the less you want it. And the less you want it the less you’re willing to give it, even when it is highly and fervently desired by your beloved.
But the more you have it, the more you realize it DOES bring intimacy to your relationship. The egg doesn’t always have to come first. Sometimes a quickie gets the job done and renews the special bond you share. Face it, in a monogamous relationship you’re only having sex with one person. It’s your special treasure. The unique and exclusive jewel in the crown of your commitment. Something to be valued, polished, cherished and yes – practiced. When you don’t, well, that tiara loses its luster pretty damn fast.
Okay, sorry, bad analogy.
But please don’t believe for a minute this is strictly a man/woman dilemma. As in “man wants frequent coitus, woman wants frequent romance and/or infrequent congress” (no, we’re not talking politics here although when I think about it, maybe we are?). On one level perhaps it is an age-old problem. My buddy D explains to me that most guys need sex to feel intimacy. His take is that most women need intimacy in order to feel sexual. This may well be a hardwired neurological basis for reproduction. Think about it – men were the pursuers. Women were the deciders. Men would test the waters with sex and if it felt right to them they would start feeling intimate. This would maintain the relationship. Now the women needed to feel the connection FIRST in order to have sex and reproduce. Kind of a neurological checks and balance system. It guaranteed good and long term mate selection. Not to mention survival of the species.
But in modern relationships, we typically get to a place where sex is more for pleasure than propagation. And that is where “appetite” comes into play. And just to be clear, it’s not always a Mars/Venus thing. As it turns out some women are way hungrier than their men.
So I ask … do you have to be starving to eat? Do you have to be famished to enjoy a fine meal? Do you have to eat only celery for dinner in order to enjoy chocolate cake for dessert?
In the formative days of a relationship (and I mean that in its truest sense … not a hookup, not a fling, not a dalliance – a liaison with legs) I do believe intimacy should come first. How I know this is irrelevant (okay, I’ll probably write a blog about it tomorrow) but I DO know it from personal experience (if you don’t believe me, read my book).
But when you’re in it and everybody (the two of you) gets complacent and lazy and smug and FORGETFUL, things screw up. Things get chippy. Things get way too BUSINESS-LIKE and the contest over who-gets-what-when ultimately turns into detente (silence – when nobody gets anything anytime), outright hostility (when argument because the new passion) or – like in P’s case – replacement.
P told me once many years ago that she had decided firmly to NEVER indulge in “duty-sex”.
And now she doesn’t have to.
I prefer to call it “loving-sex”. A physical manifestation of your affection, desire and TRUST in your beloved. An act of generosity so profound and so unselfish it transcends the minutiae of everyday life and invites just a little bit of heaven into the mundane.
There is no chicken and there is no egg. There is communion – the interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; an intimate communication.