The life of a writer generally means that we look lazy on the outside, but our minds are running a thousand miles a minute. I have great contempt for people who think writers aren’t doing anything when they’re staring into space. For bloggers, how do you think we dig deep enough to remember stories from our past? For fiction writers, how do you think those exotic worlds we create form themselves? For non-fiction writers, how do you think all that information synthesizes from something only a niche market would read into a consumable for the general public?
We just sit there.
Additionally, there are only certain personality types that think writing is a real job to begin with, because they don’t think about what it takes to write and market something that might be successful… especially the books they’ve already bought and loved. Books that are already on the bestseller list mean that the writer is respected. Writers who haven’t published anything there are dreamers with blind ambition, head in the clouds, with no respect for the real world.
When are you going to get a real job? and it must be nice to have a partner that supports you so that you can just do your little writing hobby are constant issues brought up in my writers’ group on Facebook. It makes me angry on their behalf, because as primarily a blogger, I have to have a real job, because it gets me out of the house enough to have experiences about which to write…. and I don’t mean writing about work (Dooced…. look into it). It’s just that once I leave the house, I am more likely to do outside activities after work than I am when I am homebound, stuck in my own head. It leads to being relegated to writing about the past, rather than the “character” changes that come over time as I do.
Sometimes, though…. just sometimes…. I stop thinking about the past and start imagining the future. Most often, it’s about actually following through on finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on for my M.Div. Thinking about my own dreams is infinitely more satisfying than the other fantasies that run through my head. My Bachelor’s is a political science major and a psychology minor, because even when I started college, I was thinking about what it would take to pastor a modern church. It is not up to me to encourage my congregation as to how to vote- that crosses all sorts of lines- but regardless of party affiliation, there is plenty of legislation that is right or wrong in a black and white sort of way… like minority treatment in America, immigration, the constant battle between giving the queer community rights and threatening to take them away, ridiculous ideas like killing gays or putting them in concentration camps that thankfully don’t come up that often and yet, are ideas in the current marketplace. There are all sorts of ideas that the legal definition of a reasonable person should not support, and I could care less whether any of them identify as Democrat or Republican. These are not party issues, they are human ones. I have said that my dream is to go to historically black Howard University. This is because I have gone to majority white schools my entire life, and if I am to understand anything at all about the minority experience, I have to observe it.
There is nothing within me that says I will ever fully understand, because I will never have black skin. I will never wear those problems. My aim is just to listen and soak up everything there is to learn.
But that’s not all there is to the dream. A lot of my career has been spent in academic technology, so I have applied to every college within a 50 mile radius in the hopes of working there, because generally a university staff position comes with tuition waivers. If I get a job at Howard, for which I have an application pending right now, that would be my ideal dream. But if American, Georgetown, or University of DC get back to me first, I’ll have to consider them.
But that is only where my mind goes when I’m thinking about myself. I also live in the clouds at times over where my life would have gone had I not reached a boiling point and exploded “crazy spatter” all over people I love dearly.
The most consistent message I get from my friends about this relationship is to just let it lie. Stop thinking about it, stop wishing it were different, just… stop. I followed through on stopping contact, but there is a part of me that cannot help going back over it in my mind, thinking about dialogues it would have been nice to have. Susan fills this hole in my heart quite nicely, but as I know for sure and have read from others, no one is her. It took me a long time to realize that the teenage blushing butterflies were love for an idea, not a person, and once that connection was made, it was over… meaning that for me, I could look at her as a ride-or-die without seeing stars, and for her, it was a little too little too late. I understand this more than she knows, so there is no residual anger. I behaved poorly; I do not deserve her. But we often go for coffee in my dreams. Those conversations are hilarious and heartwarming. It is and has to be enough.
God (literally), where do I begin? When I think of everything I’ve lost over the last three years, the only reason Argo comes up first is that our relationship was the shortest. She got under my skin in the only way someone else besides Dana could… her words. Therefore, I have never had a shortage of them regarding her, because the connection was so cerebral. It may not be fair to start a paragraph about Dana talking about Argo, but I do it to illustrate the inversely proportionate nature of the grief. Dana is not just under my skin, so close I can access those emotions at a moment’s notice. She is the river that runs through me, emotions so deep that they stay buried most of the time so I do not drown. Having been married to each other for so long is akin to having phantom limb pain. As time goes on, it gets less and less intense….. sometimes. But then I’ll remember something touching and time erases itself instantly. We just broke up yesterday. Additionally, there were so many years where we weren’t married, just very close friends, and that weighs on me, too. I initially thought that we’d be able to put our relationship back together to the point where it wouldn’t be weird to talk and laugh. I can say for sure that was the case when my mother died, and Dana kept me company as I was waiting for my flight out of BWI. But we hadn’t talked for months before, and I haven’t heard from her since…. and yet, that’s ok. Again, there is no anger. In a lot of ways, I got exactly what I deserved. Behavior always has consequences.
One of the behaviors I sincerely regret, even though there were a lot of reasons for it (context, never excuses) is that I stopped being a true partner. I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was in the midst of discovering just how bad emotional abuse as a teenager had rewired my actions/reactions as an adult, and all the unhealthy patterns played out with the people I love most. I couldn’t give much, because I was reduced to survival mode. I was trying to let her in, and at the same time, not realizing how repetitive it sounded, especially since it probably didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of room for me to listen to her (because I cannot and will not speak for her). The truth is that I did care, deeply, about her thoughts and feelings…. especially the ones I was engendering in her. I didn’t want to be a bad partner. I just was. When it got to the point where it was clear Dana didn’t want to listen to me regarding my constant rumination, I went looking for dopamine wherever I could find it…. yet another series of terrible decisions (see above).
In my dreams, she knows me now. She knows who I’ve become, and not who I was. Recovery takes time and backbreaking effort, and she has not been along for the ride unless I’ve been asleep. I often don’t want to live in a world where I cannot hear her laugh, so I close my eyes and it becomes clear as a bell. My regrets fall by the wayside because we have moved on. They cannot torture me because they cannot touch me. I am only getting the conversations I want when I am playing both sides.
When I am awake, the thing I think about the most is that in February, we’ll have been married ten years, virtually estranged for a little over two, but the paperwork is no less valid. It’s been a long time since Dana told me that she would take care of the dissolution, and I waffle every day between wanting her to come through on a promise and getting tired of waiting and taking care of it myself. The rumination is endless… does she just forget, or is getting divorced too painful and she’s waiting for something to happen for it to be less so? I know that feeling. Anxiety makes me wait for a day when I feel stronger on some things; it was not until I put it together that I had to change my own mood that I realized waiting until I felt stronger was pointless.
Another thing I know for sure is that if and when I have a partner again, they’re just going to have to accept that I have a past (like we all do), and I do not want them to be a jealous ball of spazzbasket if stories about her come up. I don’t want to tell the painful ones. I want it to be okay to laugh about the funny things that could only have happened to us. I want it to be okay that I will love her for the rest of my life without being in love with her, because there is too much shared friend history to just forget.
I refuse to be bitter. I refuse to think that there will never be another love for me. I refuse to think that the mistakes of the past will haunt my future unless I let them. To me, the whole point of life is that you cannot avoid making mistakes, but you can certainly avoid making old ones.
You just keep making new ones until eventually, you die…. which brings us forward….
My Mother (Carolyn)
I have five old voice mails saved from her that are so painful to listen to that I want to erase them, but I can’t, because then I’d never hear her voice again. The most recent was three or four days before she died, because I wanted her advice on whether I should drive to Houston to spend time with both her and my dad, because she had broken her foot and he was going through multiple facial reconstruction surgeries after a tumor the size of a quarter was found in his nose. I sent my mom a text message in the morning that said get back to me ASAP, because I wanted to know if I should get going soon. Well, she didn’t have her phone on her and didn’t return the call until about 2:00 PM, and in classic tiger mom fashion, the voice mail was full of anxiety saying that I had scared her, not my intent but her perception was that I was in danger…. and then, of course, I didn’t hear my phone go off so I couldn’t relieve that anxiety immediately.
The rest of them are pleas to call her, because my mental health was not good and I wasn’t in a place to talk to anyone. It was not personal in any way, shape, or form. It is the most guilt-inducing feeling I’ve ever had in my life…. how many more conversations we would have had if I’d just picked up the damn phone? Because here’s the thing. I couldn’t always take off the mask and just be small-l leslie with her. Picking up her phone calls, for me, required a certain amount of being “on.” It’s sad and terrible and no less true. At the time, it felt like altruism. I didn’t want her to feel my pain, because she had shown me over and over that she couldn’t take it. She would bleed out for me, and I was unable to take it in because I didn’t want someone who was only on my side. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right in knowing I was wrong. Her empathetic nature was to feel sorry for me, when I didn’t feel sorry for me at all. It was hard to listen to, hard to accept as valid when I’d made so many errors in judgment. Therefore, just about every conversation was between my mom and Leslie Lanagan.™ I suited up so I could act happier than I really was- the conversations were light and fun. But in my worst moments, I couldn’t even muster that.
I just have to remember that before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation in which there was nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business. Those voicemails are just an echo of the past, and not representative of what really happened before she died. The conundrum is wanting to hear her voice in any way I can, and knowing that if I listen to it, all I will take away from it is what crappy moments I made in our timeline.
In my dreams, none of that ever happened. We’re at Starbucks, we’re in her classroom, we’re at the teacher’s center laminating ALL THE THINGS. I’m helping her with bulletin boards and fixing her computer and trying to teach her how to use Netflix on a smart TV. We’re waiting in line for the new iPhone. We’re literally next in the queue, and my alarm goes off…. and any flight of fancy in which I’ve been enmeshed touches down at DCA.