It's been a rough year for most folks. Sometimes, when it's been a rough year, it's difficult to find stuff to be thankful for. No one knows that better than I, who is coming out of a fairly rough two year cycle, emotionally, and now, financially.
But here's what I'm thankful for.
I'm thankful that my family is healthy and happy. I'm thankful that I'm going to be a grandmother next summer. I'm thankful I'll have a new job starting next week. I'm thankful for my friends who love me and have been so supportive of me over the past several months. I'm thankful that, for all the difficulties my government and my country are having right now, I can go to sleep at night and know that the bus isn't being driven any longer by a man who hears voices in his head telling him he's the Anointed One.
I'm thankful I have this new PhD program at Pacifica in my life, and I'm grateful for the army of fellow zanies and lunatics who come with it.
I'm thankful I have a roof over my head. I'm thankful I have food to eat. I'm thankful I share that roof and food with my daughter, who for reasons only she can explain, chose to want to live with her mother again. I'm thankful for her darling friends, who've been around so long, they feel like family. I'm thankful for her new boyfriend, who is already family as well.
I'm thankful my friends are well and happy, and that they never cease to amaze me with the generosity of spirit and their raging humor and good will.
I'm thankful I'm healthy. I'm thankful I'm here. I'm thankful for you, the people out there -- some of whom, I know personally, some, I don't -- who read these pages and choose to check in on my life from time to time. I'm just thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you be blessed to spend it with people you love and cherish.
I wasn't supposed to be doing this this year. I was supposed to be concentrating on school and finishing projects and writing papers. For the next three years, my life, outside of anything I might do to earn a living or keep my household going, is to be devoted to only one thing -- school. No unscheduled fun. No unstructured creativity. No pleasure art of any kind. Period. Everyone has let me know nine ways from Sunday what my responsibilities are where school is concerned, and that writing 50,000 words of fiction that might not lead anywhere is a foolish waste of time.
I get that. I get that it's frivolous to even consider reading a book for enjoyment or writing anything that doesn't garner a grade of some kind, or isn't at least written on a syllabus somewhere.
But when I told thriller novelist J.T. Ellison that I was busy, that I had school and a life and how on Earth could I possibly fit NaNoWriMo into my schedule, her response was a little different.
"One hour a day," she tweeted to me. "You can find one hour a day."
Here's the thing. I'm a writer. It's what I do. More to the point, it's what I am. I'm not allowed to act or sing anymore, unless I'm willing to do it inside the boundaries of what someone else thinks I am. I'm not working, and I've done all I can do to look for work. I've sent out the little messages in the bottles, and now must await their return.
So, while I wait, I will write. I will write about Hindu Traditions. I will write about Greek Mythology. I will write about Dream Interpretation. And then I will write what I want to write, because I want to write it.
I've included an excerpt below, which comes from the middle of the 3,714 words I've written in two days. Count your lucky stars -- my cousin, Brian, made the mistake of asking to read it, so I sent him the entire beginning, in all it's unedited glory. Bless him.
It’s the hoping that makes it the worst. Hoping that maybe you were wrong, that you misinterpreted, that maybe he will or has changed his mind. That maybe he’ll see what he’s walked away from so cavalierly, as if all the times your body was stretched along his, skin to skin, limbs wrapped around each other, never mattered a damn.
If not for hope, you’d be sad and grief-stricken and broken, but you’d know to stop listening for the phone. You’d not to stop running to check e-mail. You’d know not to want to continue in a friendship with someone that you don’t want as a friend nearly as much as you want them as a lover, though you’ll take them as a friend because, when you’ve lost a love, you need all the friends you can get, right?
That’s what hope does for you. It makes you dream for the impossible. It makes you wait for a promise full of hot air and good intentions. Until suddenly, you wake up one morning and find yourself telling your best friend that you’re wasting the best years of your life being a stalker, when you could be off being stalked.
Okay, so I'm in the car today, singing to the iPod, as usual, and Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" comes on, and I'm singing at the top of my lungs, adagio con brio, again, as usual, and thinking how this song is so close to my heart and it's, like, the story of my life, and how many times have I lived this very scenario, and then...
Suddenly, it hits me...
"Grrrrrlllll... you have GOT to get you a new theme song."
The e-mail I sent her began, "Why didn't you warn me?" And then proceeded with, "Oh. Yeah. You did."
And she did.
And I listened at the time. Truly, I did. But I didn't quite believe her. Well, that's not accurate. I believed her. I just didn't understand her. Apparently, when she wrote in big capital letters in the Twitter message directing me to her instructional e-mail on this meditation "WATCH OUT", I thought she meant something else. Like, "Have a nice day." Or, "Hugs and kisses to the kids and the family."
She meant, "WATCH OUT!" I know this now.
This meditation - which I won't detail here, other than to say that it involves white light visualization, a fair amount of chanting and a good deal of focused concentration - has turned everything pretty much on its ear. Study, finances, relationships, home issues, employment issues -- much like June, they're all busting out all over. Right now, it looks like a big, honkin' mess. But somehow, I can't help but feel it's the same as when you first start using a new exfoliant. For the first week or two, the skin breaks out, because the cell turn-over has to catch up to the impurities below the skin's surface. The break-outs are the skin's way of pushing out the crap (old unneeded dead cells, toxic junk, dirt and germs), so the new, fresh, good skin underneath can come to the surface.
That's what this experience is. I'm exfoliating. I'm exfoliating my whole life. And right now, my whole life has a zit on its forehead the size of Wyoming. So the only thing to do now is to just step up the regime and be more diligent, so it all sorts itself out. I'm going to be meditating twice a day now, until the life zit eventually works itself out and goes away.
And it will. I know that. Because out of the thousands of zits that I've had in my lifetime, not one has lasted longer than a week or ten days, no matter how deeply embedded or ugly or painful. This one is a biggie, so it might take a while. But sooner, rather than later, it will be gone, and a fresh new layer of cells will be glowing underneath the surface.
Photo is a cropped, modified version of "Sun Beam" by cgjessica, available on deviantart.com, in its original format here.
Just a misunderstanding in how I wanted to renew my domain name. Hopefully, it will be taken care of by Monday or Tuesday. Don't have much to say there at the moment, so it's good to have an excuse to take a break.
Could anything be more painful than reading the love poems and love words of the girlfriend of the man you love on his Facebook wall? And knowing he's responding in kind on hers? And... for the love of God... can't they send private messages for that? Does it have to be done in open comments on walls in Facebook and My Space?
This is why I cannot go to his page anymore, even just to see how he's doing.
I hate that it matters. I hate I fell in love. I wish we were friends again.
It occurs to me... though somewhat belatedly, I'll grant you... that love shouldn't hurt. I'm not saying it should be a walk in the park every minute of every day, especially if two people are living together or seeing each other every day. People get on each other's nerves, a bad day at the office travels home in a person's empty lunch sack, bills and in-laws and kids make patience thin and fragile.
But overall, love - real, genuine, reciprocal love between two people who respect and care for each other - really shouldn't hurt. Love isn't, by nature, painful. We make it that way. Love doesn't break your heart. We do that to ourselves, by choosing the wrong people to love or loving them at the wrong times. Love isn't mournful or melancholy or morose. It isn't spiteful or sad or full of sorrow and unfulfilled dreams.
Love abides with affection and tenderness. It thrives under the watchful eye of dignity and mutual admiration. It doesn't feel imposed upon by the lovers, or feel burdened by them.
And the minute that those other, not-so-very-nice feelings start to creep in, love needs to be reassessed, and perhaps abandoned for something or someone else. But letting go of love, even painful, inadequate, unrequited love, is much harder than I could ever imagine. I have just let it die a natural death in the past, which can take months. But I don't have months. There's a friendship at stake I'd like to salvage, and it's hanging by a thread, and this love that is so toxic and utterly agonizing will kill it sure as anything if it lingers too long.
So how to let go of the love and still keep the friendship intact? Can it be done? Maybe not. I know very few people who can stay friends when one loves and the other does not. Or worse, when the other loves another. If you remove every photograph or visual reminder in front of you, then how to you get the picture out of your brain? How do you reconcile the fact that someone that you could feel so close to, so connected to, so bonded with, so attracted to, could not possibly feel the same way about you? Why is the Universe so cruel as to give me the capacity to love so entirely, to dangle this person who appears, at least on the surface, to be everything I ever asked for, only to then say, "But, here's the bad news, he's already chosen the little blond rocker who (unlike you) is skinny and pretty and very young. But you can be his chubby gal-pal and hear all his laments about how love - even to the skinny, pretty, young rocker girl whom he professes to love most in the world, to the point of being unable to love anyone else - really only gets in the way of his happy single life. Aren't you lucky?"
No. Not so much in love. Or cards either, which is, to me, the ultimate cheat, because shouldn't there be some kind of consolation prize? I mean, if I'm not going to Vegas to run off and get married to the guy who swept me off my feet, shouldn't I at least be able to go there and beat the house at blackjack? I guess my consolation is knowing that I'm not inconvenienced by the burden of love, that my happy single life remains free and unfettered by something so demanding as the love of another human being. I am free. Free to come and go as I please, without anyone caring when or even if I'll be home. I'm free to stay or go, without anyone to share the time either way. I'm free to forgo the comforts of partnership and camaraderie, of intimacy and daily tendernesses. I'm mercifully unencumbered enough not to know how it feels to have someone tell me - and mean it - that I'm their one and only, and they love me the way I am, and they feel so fortunate to have found me.
I guess I must have pretty much hit the emotional jackpot. Lucky me.
So, I'm moving on, as best I can. If I'm free to stay or go, then I choose go. At least love-wise. Pack up my "in-love" self and go far away from someone -- yet another someone -- who is incapable of loving me in the here and now. I need someone present and accounted for, and there's a tiny part of me, amidst the dark void of "no such thing" that knows he's out there. I've taken a little break from the online places I've frequented, in order to try and make myself available for someone who must certainly be looking for me the way I'm looking for him (or will be, once I can wash this current, painful love away).
And the next time, I'll know it's love because it makes me happy. I'll know because the person that I love will love me back, and not be afraid of that. I'll know because I will be valued as an asset, rather than an inconvenience or an imposition. I'll know because he'll be there, right in the room with me, and life will be what it always is -- messy and complicated and occasionally unpleasant -- but he won't blame that on me. He'll know that's just what life is, and we'll get through it together.
And I'll know, first and foremost, because love won't hurt.
I was supposed to be posting all my grand plans for 2009, but it appears... I have none.
Well, that's not exactly true. I do, but I'm having a hard time shedding this really heavy cloak of mental chaos enough to articulate it. I've started this post about six or seven times, and seem never be able to finish. Everything I write seems either trite, or inauthentic or just plain daffy.
I think the problem is the part about making plans. Plans are a big lie, because they imply that somehow you have control over anything, when truly, we have control over very, very little. It's that "LifeWithACapitalL" that keeps throwing a monkey wrench into the whole affair. You make a plan, you figure out how to achieve it, then Life comes in in the most capricious, arbitrary way and screws things up royal. People get old and die. People die without getting old. People you love don't love you back. People you love that love you have to go lead lives you can't lead with them and so, leave you. Hearts break and mend. Jobs end. New ones begin. And you are left with your plans, especially the ones that included the people and the jobs and the now-broken hearts, dangling by a thread, with no hope that they will ever be implemented. So, it seems to me that making plans is definitely so "last year."
This year it isn't going to be about what I'm going to do, but what I want. What do I really, really want? And the answer, it seems, falls into two categories: Short term and long term.
Okay, in the short term... I want to be ready to leave for the Flyaway terminal, so I can catch my bus to LAX, and my plane to Hawaii. I want to have a great time, take some fabulous pictures, see a couple of really spectacular sunsets, and visit with some folks I really care about. Then I want to come home, unpack, and have the first serious workout with my trainer. Then, a few days after that, I want to take the train to Carpinteria, see Pacifica, talk to some faculty, and decide if I really, really want to apply for a five-year program that would end with me having a PhD. ("Dr. Sowards. Paging Dr. Sowards.")
Long term wants include wanting to be healthy and comfortable in my own skin again. I want to look in the mirror and recognize me, the way I did in the spring of 2003. I want to be strong. I want to be able to dance again. I want to sing something wonderful again, and not think for a moment about how I look in whatever I'm wearing. I want to really accept myself, and not think for a second about what others thinks about me. I want to stop making friends with people who are incredibly high-maintenance and make me feel wrong all the time.
I want to finally figure out whether I'm alone because I like it, or because the alternative is "sleeping with the enemy". In the past, living with another adult in the house was tantamount to to extending an invitation to someone to come on in and treat you badly. "Please, call me names." "By all means, feel free to let me know how disappointing I am to you." "Oh, and while you're at it, why don't you toss in a couple of adjectives like 'worthless' and 'useless', just so no stone is left unturned." And yet, I'm pretty sure that everyone doesn't have that experience. I'm pretty sure that most of my married friends have lovely husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and life partners who don't make them feel that way. I'm pretty sure that, while not entirely unique, my experience in this area is limited to a handful of experiences that don't necessarily apply to most other experiences. Other experiences are possible. That being said, am I prepared to risk it? Do I want that experience with enough vigor that I'm prepared to do what's required to allow it to happen?
Good question. If you figure it out, let me know, because frankly, I'm stumped.
Another long-term want is travel. I want to go places. Maui is nice, but I'm talking real travel. I want to go to Italy in 2010, and take travel writing seminar for two weeks in Tuscany. I want to see my English friends again (though I guess I should ask them whether they're really that anxious to see me---I'm only assuming that my charm and allure is irresistible to them). I think I might want to live in England some day, which is why the PhD might come in handy (higher degrees make getting categorized as a "specialized worker" easier). I might want to own another horse.
I want to find a new place to live, so I can be with my kid under the same roof again. I want to get a dog. I want to figure out how to accept myself completely, without feeling that I ought to be comforting, nurturing, counseling, coddling in order to be useful and indispensable. That's not anyone else's doing but mine. I want to never find myself in a situation again where I love someone who clearly could never love me back. I'm pretty sure there is at least one worthy man out there who isn't only interested in the twenty-two year old, size 4, eye-candy trophy girls; I just haven't met him yet. (This may require moving out of Los Angeles county, as even men who aren't in the industry are infected with this particular virus.)
I want to be happy being me, exactly as I am, without once thinking that, if I were only someone else, I'd be enough. This one is tough, because I'm not sure really what it feels like. I think this particular want is at the heart of my chaos. After all, if all you're used to is life on Mars, the newness of the Earth's gravity can really throw you for a loop. I'm Valentine Michael Smith, just landed from Mars, thinking entirely like a Martian, and having to learn what it means to be human. There is much to grok about your strange ways, Earthlings. Much to grok, indeed.
So, thought it is not a list, but rather a non-list, it is all I have to offer for 2009. Perhaps I should have written it after I returned from Hawaii. My mind might have been clearer. My thoughts sharper and more cogent. But I doubt it. This is what I am today, and today, it's enough. More than enough really. It's pretty good.
Happy Rest-of-the-New-Year. See you all when I get back.
P.S. The artwork is a fractal I did a couple of weeks ago, entitled "Mixed Blessings."