How to Even Tag This One…..

I haven’t heard anything from Blackboard, and I’m starting to get very frustrated, because of all the companies I could work for in all the world, this is where I straight up belong. Helping Scott and Andrew set up the Academic Technology Support Center at University of Houston was one of the greatest years of my life. Scott even sent me to University of Minnesota for a WebCT conference, complete with nine inches of fresh snow on the ground, and I learned more in that one weekend than I did in five weeks of trying to teach myself. At first I thought I’d end up becoming an instructional designer myself, and got to do a little bit of that with Evangelinux and again going out on my own with Udemy.

I haven’t posted anything to Udemy yet, and will let you know when it’s available, because I have an issue I need to clear up first. I have to figure out how to evade online pirates, who will download your videos and take your course for free, offering it to others through direct download and torrenting.

If I can’t figure out how to do it on their server, I might be interested in offering it on my own. To do that, though, I’d have to move to a real server space rather than WordPress.com, because apart from a small donation button, they will not allow you to make money. I understand- they’re giving you server space for free. If I moved to another server, I’d be able to have more control with scripting, etc., plus be able to use things like Google AdWords. Now, you don’t make much with Google AdWords, but at the same time, you make more than if you can’t use it at all.

The idea of the course is Linux for beginners, using desktop recording software and voice overs. I have more than one idea, because I think people need to know how to use the command line, because typing is so much faster than searching through menus to get simple things done. The second idea is talking about replacements for all the software you really need. For instance, it is just not worth the cost to spend money on Windows, Office, PhotoShop, etc. when similar tools are available for free, and often open source, so that if you’re a programmer, you can customize everything to what you need with no legal penalty… even with Linux itself. Microsoft is just beginning to get on the open source bandwagon, and there is no way they’ll ever release the entire source code for any of their flagship products.

Quick tip for PhotoShop users… there’s an open source image software called GIMPShop (a mashup of Gnu Image Manipulation Program and PhotoShop) that changes all your keyboard shortcuts to the same ones you’d use in PhotoShop, therefore cutting the learning curve in half. Maybe I should have saved that for my own tutorial, but there you have it. The first one’s free.

I only lasted a year at the ATSC because I was promoted again to Internet/Intranet Developer II. Back then, it was so much easier to be a web developer because we were writing all our own code from scratch rather than having to make our web pages talk to databases, one of the major changes in web development over the years. Cascading Style Sheets were about as sophistocated as we got. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a file that you reference that is similar to creating styles in Microsoft Word. Basically, you separate out all the content from the formatting and put the formatting in this one file that works across all the pages in a particular site. That way, if you want all your headings to be in a larger/different font, you change one file rather than manually having to change every heading on every page… which, back in the day, was as excruciating as it sounds.

This is another reason to change to my own server space, because on WordPress.com, all the fonts and everything are controlled by the theme. If I upgraded to WordPress premium or whatever, I’d have complete control of ALL THE THINGS. But I still wouldn’t be able to do everything that needs to be done in terms of protecting myself from illegal downloads…. or as much as I can, anyway. Surely there’s got to be some kind of Digital Rights Management for personal web sites… which wouldn’t stop a hacker if they were really dedicated, but would definitely stop the lazy ones.

But for most of you, this post is probably unbearably boring, because you don’t want to hear about WebDev and all that computer crap. You come hear to learn about what I’m doing and how I’m feeling and how I’m interacting with others, along with how I’m dealing with soul-sucking grief.

The short answer is that I’m not.

I’m burying myself in trying to find a job, trying to push myself to create my own courses to have income I don’t have to watch, anything to get away from having to think or feel anything that doesn’t have to do with business. I have done so much feeling and thinking about everything that I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of feeling down ALL THE FUCKING TIME. I’m tired of feeling that I don’t deserve joy because I am enmeshed in grief. I am tired of feeling guilty when I receive said joy because I am “supposed to be” in mourning.

I am tired of worrying about what Dana & Argo and anyone else I’ve pissed off thinks and turning my attention to those who do show up. Because honestly, what good is it doing me? They’re never coming back and it is wasted energy all the way around. I’ll never be able to say enough, do enough, be enough to erase the hardship I’ve caused both of them. “You’ll never amount to anything” and “we’ll never be normal” are beginning to be it for me. I say “beginning” because it’s just my personality to overthink and overworry and carry that shit around for years on end… because not only do I owe them a hell of a lot more from me than they got, they’ve stopped listening and they did a long time ago. Even when I am being dead-level honest, they don’t believe it, anyway. It’s not my job to judge whether they should believe me or not. That’s their decision, one in which I’ll never have control (and shouldn’t). But what I can do is try to stop thinking about it, try to stop caring so damn much, try to love them in a loopback that feeds me and keeps me going rather than expending energy trying to “win” them back. I can’t undo or redo the past, but I can take the lessons I learned and turn them into something beautiful in their names… because I cannot and will not forget the gifts they gave me along the way. It was a long road to stop thinking about all the negativity and toxicity and just breathe, taking in the wonder of their prayers and presence while I had it.

Just because I erupted and crazy spatter and emotional vomit rained all over them due to forces I thought were literally beyond my control doesn’t mean that I don’t take full responsibility for it. Notice that I said “forces I thought were beyond my control.” They weren’t. I just didn’t have any coping mechanisms and everything I was feeling made me go off like a loose cannon, saying and doing things completely contrary to who I am, because my emotional abuse lasted so long that when I finally accepted it and started moving on, there were….. casualties. I said things I’ll never be able to take back, acted in ways I never thought I’d be capable.

Because I had no way to stop it at the time, everything that was heaped upon me was heaped upon them… mostly because I couldn’t confront the person with whom I was really angry…. and it isn’t as if I didn’t try. I tried with a passion I’ve never felt before or since. It left me full of despair and rage for which I had no safe outlet, and chose the most unsafe of all…. two people who loved me beyond all reasonable measure… or at least it seemed that way to me, because I didn’t think I was worthy of that kind of love. It surpassed all my understanding…. and because I was not healthy, of course I chose to go after this dysfunctional, unstable, disaster of a relationship rather than relying on the healthy patterns I’d developed with Dana, and later with Argo. And, as all emotionally abusive relationships inevitably end, I blew up like a firecracker because it was SO UNFAIR.

It had never been fair, but I didn’t know any different. I wandered further and further from myself, my values, my personal compass as I tried to release the thunderstorm that had been raining on my head since 1990.

In the words of Dooce, it sucked and then I cried.

It sucks that I’ll never go back to that time in my life, because both relationships ended with our bridges burning in effigy. How could they not? At this point, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what I want, and they are two completely separate things in each relationship.

With Dana, it would be the ability to have stayed married through the storm, knowing it would pass once I returned to my old self. But you never go back to someone with whom you’ve had a physical fight. She started it and by God she was going to end it. I’ve never been hit harder in my life. I do blame myself for escalating things emotionally and not running away before it got physical… but I don’t blame myself for getting hit, trying to defend myself, and it ending….. poorly.

With Argo, it would be to erase the words that cut me like a knife, that “we’d never be normal.” It would be her contacting me as if everything was okay and yet, it was CLEARLY not. It would also be the chance to thank her in person for emotionally whipping my ass, because it got me back on the road to wholeness. It would be the chance to give and receive hugs that last a second longer, because it might do more good than an apology in black and white. It would be a chance to know the whole package rather than the people we presented to each other- only the sides of each other that we wanted the other to know. It could never be a do-over, but a begin-again. It would be to know forgiveness rather than remission.

For the non-Episcopalians, remission of sin is erasing it like it never happened. Forgiveness is recognizing the wrong and reconciling it.

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to cover anything up. I want my friends to love me even though I am hugely flawed, because I’d do the same for them.

I am starting to find those friends, or rekindle friendships that have been idle a long time. It is an important step in finding the next great love of my life, because if I can’t be a good friend, I can’t be a good partner.

As I rest and recover, though, there’s no place like localhost.

Tolstoy Abridged

…she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.

-Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

It is funny the lengths to which we will go, the things we will withstand, when we think we need something or someone… most likely someone. Things are an achievable goal. People are moving targets of emotion. In most relationships, but not all, there is some bit of lopsidedness to it. Not everyone finds that marriage, that friendship, that boss in which esteem and respect are equal to one another.

And yet we go on, trying to please and tolerating others’ behaviors as if they are normal in order to learn their particular brand of dysfunction. As Leo Tolstoy says in Anna Karenina, “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No family is immune to it- to fit in, we adjust our expectations from the ways we were raised to the way they were… because equality is about compromise, and need is ingratiating ourselves, sublimating the parts of us that are completely different so “we’re on the same page.”

I didn’t learn this from my biological family. I learned it over years and years of emotional abuse. Early and often I changed my behavior so that I didn’t rock the boat, and walked on eggshells, afraid to be myself… because when I was, it was a signal to me that I wasn’t needed anymore. Agreement meant love; disagreement meant “I just don’t know what to do with you. I can’t win, so I’ll just leave.”

Appeasement was the name of the game, and we all do it, but some less than others. Take, for instance, your work phone voice and the voice you use when you’re just shooting the shit with your friends. If “the customer is always right,” sometimes that means swallowing words that need to be said and aren’t… mostly things like “you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Customer service is the only profession I know in which trying not to fake your own death so you don’t have to go to work is a daily struggle…. because people won’t unload on the others they’re mad at, but they have no problem treating the clerk at Target or the waiter at Jaleo like that. They think it’s impersonal, having no idea how deep their words cut… because hey, they’ll never see you again.

And that’s where they’re wrong. They need you. It’s not like they’re going to abandon going to Target or Jaleo, and they’ll see you again whether you want to see them or not. As soon as they walk in the door, you remember their “kick the dog” syndrome and try desperately to find someone else to help them.

But sometimes you’re stuck, and it’s a crapshoot as to whether they’ll remember and apologize.

This same behavior happens in relationships. We’re mad about something else, and unload on the people we love the most, because we know their softest spots. Unsurprisingly, they also retreat, and if the words cut deeply enough, and apology isn’t necessary, because they won’t hear it, anyway.

Because sometimes the emotional abuse is given, rather than received… especially if that’s what’s been modeled for you long enough. Others tiptoe around you, so that you don’t pick up your toys and go home… the exact scenario you were trying to avoid with someone else. You watch as they change their behavior around you, rarely self-aware enough to know they’re doing it, because you’re doing the same thing… your own egocentricity in the way… both saying to each other “please don’t leave me. I am broken and I know it, I just don’t know how to fix it.” Just not with words.

But that’s what happens with fully-functioning adults. As a child and an adult in any kind of relationship, the balance of power is off to an enormous degree… and any perceived anger is all their fault. There is nothing within them that says “this person is treating me unfairly and I need to stand up for myself.” This is because when the child tries to stand up for themselves, it leads to witholding of affection and long, drawn-out silences in which the child takes on the “I have to fix everything” mentality. Instead of another adult compromising themselves into your crazy as you adopt theirs, children cannot begin to comprehend what they’ve done wrong.

And often, this is the root of the problem with adults who also think that every slight is their fault. You don’t get away from it, there’s no relief until you can take back your own power… and it never, ever happens in an instant. It is a lifelong process of examining why you think the way you think, because even when you think you’ve made progress, you’ll fall back into old patterns because they are so ingrained. It is a lifetime of two steps forward, and between one and four steps back. Just like one is never cured of addiction, one is never cured of codependency.

Adulthood modeled badly for children leads to future adults that cannot trust their own intuition, often relying on other people they perceive as just as damaged as they are because they know they can take a healthy person and destroy them. Sometimes it’s a good thing to share experiences, as my friend Donna calls “compatible wounds.” At others, it’s one awful pattern feeding the other with no end in sight, because neither one is aware of just how much they’re doing to excoriate good memories.

The eternal rub, the thing that makes both of you bleed, is that when you’re saying awful words to each other, it’s really just a cover-up as to how you feel about yourself. If you think you’re worthless, that’s how you’ll treat others. You don’t really think that about the other person, you’re expressing your own disgust at yourself, and it comes across as rage and anxiety… words coming out of your mouth before you even have a chance to connect consequences. If someone has treated you that way, why would you? It’s “what you’re supposed to do” in an argument. For two people abused as children, these are fights that are designed to cut both people off at the knees, mutually assured destruction in which both parties have trouble standing back up.

The craziness continues because you’re so afraid of getting “crazy spatter” on healthy people… or at least, the people we view as such… not really taking in that everyone is fighting a battle of some sort. These days, I tend to believe that there are no healthy people, only healthy actions… and, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I don’t know of any story of self-enlightenment that doesn’t begin with getting tired of your own bullshit.” I had to decide to get healthy. I had to decide it was time to, in the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “put away childish things.” However, just like deciding to come out as GLBT, you don’t do it once… you do it every day. I can’t just decide once. I will die having to make these decisions.

If Need accommodates cruelty, it is a choice to step away from it…. not once, but each and every day. I would amend that statement to say that Need only accommodates cruelty when it is based in lopsided affection, when you think you need something not meant for you. Healthy need is interdependence, not wishing and hoping someone will finally realize what you have to offer… because pro tip… they won’t. Users that make it impossible to please them will only move on to someone else when they realize they can’t get adoration from you anymore. They’ll just lovebomb someone else until they’re so wrapped up in the lovebombing that they can’t understand why it would go away, and what they did to deserve it.

“Putting away childish things” is the realization that you know exactly what you did. You took those childhood behaviors and carried them into adulthood, where they no longer serve you… but again, it’s not a realization that happens once, but every time you interact with others. You have to ask yourself if you are really happy and healthy, or in the company of others, whether everyone is just unhappy in their own way. You have to stand up and say………….

I’m not going to get into the ring with Tolstoy. – Ernest Hemingway

Meditation on the Tenth Doctor

I sometimes wish I had a TARDIS that would be willing to let me cross my own timeline. Every time I think about the loss of Dana, Argo, and my mother, I hear the Tenth Doctor say, “fixed point in time. I am SO sorry.” I have to believe that losing everything is what is meant to propel me into greatness, but so far, I have seen no evidence. Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant write in Option B about post-traumatic growth, and except for blogging every day and trying to put my emotions out into the universe (which I hope is helping someone), I have done nothing except fold into myself in fear.

Fear of crowds, fear of friends, fear of going to church after the one time I LOST it. You’d think I’d be willing to forego my fear of my friends, but sometimes it becomes so awkward it’s onomatopoetic. Sometimes it’s that they say things I don’t want to hear. Sometimes I’m just uncomfortable for no valid reason except it sometimes seems as if my mother has just died, and she didn’t. It’s been months, but I have flashbacks all the time that seem incredibly real. Fear of church is natural. My mother was a church musician her whole life, and every time I go in, no matter what church it is, I panic with an intensity I’ve never felt before. I can see her at the piano or organ bench. I can see her in the alto section. I can’t stop the pain and anxiety, so I avoid it altogether. My choir wants me back, and I can’t seem to explain well why it’s not a good idea. I thought that it would make me feel better to be a soprano in tribute to all the work my mother has done.

Well, not so much.

I have always been anxious around huge crowds, hiding behind Dana, and then my friends once we divorced. I went to a party last Friday, and I had a lot of fun. I had drinks for the first time in months, which served two purposes. The first is that it acted as social lubricant so I could actually be funny. The second is that it kept me from feeling guilty that I was having fun at all. Mourning people that close to me makes me feel like I am not deserving of fun.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I deserve.

I lost my mother through absolutely no fault of my own, but I can’t say the same for Argo and Dana. It is an uphill battle to forgive myself for all the sin and cortisol I felt coursing through my body, because now I can’t apologize enough, I can’t achieve enough, I can’t send enough gifts that make it all better. I thought that words didn’t matter without changed behavior, and as it turns out, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference either way.

I wish I could stop caring. It’s been three, almost four years with no relief… not that I haven’t tried, but in the meantime, those two years have been a shitshow of enormous proportions. I haven’t had time to really stop caring about anything, even if they “deserve it.” By that I mean that I am not angry, I am just sad, because it’s appropriate to let go of people you want to show up for that don’t want to show up for you.

Toward the end, every single time that Argo showed up for me, I felt like she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. She’d take one phrase out of an e-mail and blow it up into enormous proportions… the last communique re: we’ll never be normal and then cutting off all contact when it brought up some feelings of past shame for me and asking her why she thought that a phrase like that wouldn’t come across to me as “we’ll never move on.” I think she thought it was going to start another fight, when in reality I was breathing through those words like labor, exhaling anxiety and inhaling both peace and “now what do I do?” Part of it is that when I said that, she wouldn’t work it through like I’d hoped. Part of it was that I never meant to “poke the bear,” and even more shame rained down on my head.

And yet another part is that it would have been so damn easy to fuck off from e-mail and have a conversation in real time, so that we could actually see the other one “e-mote.” There’s such a difference between a) writing something into the ether and waiting with baited breath for a response and b) hearing what the other person says and being able to say in real time, “that’s not what I meant. I meant THIS.” I truly, honestly believe that if we’d ever taken the time to see each other’s responses, our whole deal with each other could have been cleared up in less than 15 minutes with some active listening.

But, despite how busy either one of us is, you make time in your lives for the people you want to see. For her, I am not one of those people. For me, I have nearly constant distress, brought on by a whole host of other factors, that words like “always” and “never” make it into the conversation. I am not “always” and “never” anything… and I am betting neither is she. We’re both complicated in our own ways, probably what made us attracted to each other in the first place. And I do not mean romance, I mean magnets that click together instead of repelling each other… that came much later.

Again, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time.

I’d like to tell her what’s going on in my life, I’d like her XOs of support, I’d like the normalcy that came with me thinking she hung the stars and being the moon for her. More than talking, I’d like to go back to the days of listening. If I had everything to do over, I’d listen more and talk less. I’d breathe through her anger at me rather than “clicking off safe” and returning it full force. I am a believer in grace, and I didn’t offer her much… and when I did, she couldn’t believe in it, anyway.

The reason this is hitting me so hard after all this time is that if I hadn’t been such a “judgmental dickhead,” I’d be able to express grief and joy in equal measure. I’d still be able to have a full range of emotions in front of her when I really need that safe space to be able to say everything I won’t publish here. There is something therapeutic about pen pals, especially those who have no bearing on your daily life and can look objectively at what you’re saying because they don’t have a horse in the race. It cannot be equated to attending therapy, because you’re not talking to a trained professional. But you do get that friend whose advice is not tainted with taking anyone else’s side, because they don’t know them….. and don’t care. They’re not there for them. They’re there for you.

Most of all, she never met my mother.

My contribution is that I’ve never met anyone in her life, either… and I’d step in front of a bus for her if it meant she was safe… the same way I’d react for anyone in my family… because before our blowout, I definitely considered her as such. When truth and honesty traveled our chord in both directions, there were deep and lasting feelings on both sides of the equation. The rub is that it seems to have been a lot easier for her to disengage than it will ever be for me, because hold on…. I have to overthink about it. I am not willing to say it WAS easier, only that it came across to me as such. Perhaps her grief is only in her private moments to which I am not involved, and shouldn’t be. I have to believe that there is grief on her end, because she doesn’t take anything lightly, not even me.

I wish that it WAS easy for me. It would open my life up and make room for other things, and it is happening slowly but surely. But when I feel bad about something, I am inconsolable. When I met Argo, it was winning the lottery, and ended with consolation prizes akin to a 1972 Amana side-by-side refrigerator freezer (bonus points if you get the movie reference).

Again, I believe that this entry is all about displaced grief, because Argo is alive and my mother isn’t. It’s easier to focus on my grief because with my mother, there is no chance in heaven or hell that she’ll respond. I feel, in some ways, the same way about Argo… with the exception of the smallest hope imaginable, like a candle that’s at the end of its wick and the flame is so small it is barely there. With my mother, the candle has already been snuffed with the bell end of the candle lighter I used to carry as an acolyte.

The trick is how to change all of this post-trauma into something with boundaries in which I can live. Right now, there are none. I can’t compartmentalize, because nothing keeps me busy enough to forget, even for a moment. But this is not a journey I can take with Argo, only about her. I would be mortified to learn that she was still reading, and relieved at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. My words are just the rambling I’m feeling at the moment, and not representative of all of me. I have more depth than this… no, really. But sometimes I’d like her to know that I remember her with such clarity… that even after all this time, I wish her nothing but the best in her pursuit of happiness… that I pray she is happy, healthy, and alive with possibility.

As I have said, her kindnesses are written in marble, and her anger is written in sand… the rain having already washed it away… or at the very least, pushed it out of reach. I feel the same about my own anger… that working through all of this has nothing to do with how I feel about her personally, but delving into the past to create a future that does not include all the mistakes I made…. to know them is to keep them from happening again.

Maybe that’s post-traumatic growth in and of itself, and I am selling myself short- with the exception of being able to write about Dana in a way that truly lets go. I forgive her, but I do not forget. She told me to my face that I’d never amount to anything AND that she thought I had the ability to lead millions. I cannot reconcile those things, and they are words I can compartmentalize, because the former reinforced my opinion of myself, and the latter was just a WTF? moment… one of these things is not like the other. I stuff my feelings about Dana down so deep that I can’t access them except in small bursts, because I can’t take more than that. The buttons on my clothes hold in my feelings where she is concerned, because she is the river deep inside me where I refuse to drown… because I could, easily. I could wreck my whole life based on her opinion, because she was the most important person in my life. When she took my own insecurities and beat me with them, it destroyed a piece of me I’ll never get back… it has torched my ability to trust the new people that come into my life… because if I am vulnerable with them, whose to say they won’t pick up on those same hot buttons and push them? Everyone is wonderful in the beginning.

It leaves me asking myself how I can trust Argo without trusting Dana, given that both fights were just as terrible emotionally? My answer for this is that Dana saw what was right in front of her, and Argo saw what could be. She believed in me as a writer, one of the first to do so… to recognize that writing WAS a real job… that staring out the window is hard work for someone like me, and though I look lazy on the outside, am running a marathon at the cellular level… backbreaking emotional work that does not quit, not ever.

Outside of Argo, my marriage began to unravel as I became a writer, especially as I got more and more popular. One of our last conversations (the one regarding me being able to lead millions) was just as much about jealousy as anything else. In retrospect, it must have felt good to her to knock me down a peg… but she’ll never know how badly she burned the whole board. In this way, and this way only, I felt as if I’d grown past her. When I wanted to do more and be more, she was out.

Argo already had the type job where she WAS doing more and being more, so I wasn’t a threat to her. She was excited for me, that I was embarking on something she thought only I could do…. or at the very least, was rarified air. As much as it terrified and saddened me, leaving Dana’s choice shitty phrases behind and grabbing on to Argo’s belief was what I needed at the time.

But here is the rub for all bloggers everywhere. Unless you are writing something impersonal, like a blog for a business, it starts off with new readers thinking you’re amazing… then they get to know you and think you can write all things accurately except where they’re concerned. It is an immediate, face-cracking fall from grace…. when in reality, I am only telling my part of the story and would love to hear the other one. There are three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the objective Truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.

With communication gaffes, it’s usually because people will not acknowledge Truth. We can both be wrong, and we can both be right. No one has a lock on what really happened, only our perceptions of it. People mistake perceptions for reality all the time… when Truth is the chasm between offended people.

Perhaps it is this displaced grief that is allowing me to think differently about everything in my life, because as much as I might wish for it, I can’t cross my own timeline.

There’s No Present Like the Time

Dear Lindsay,

This year we both face our first birthdays without Mom, and I’m sorry I let you down. Big sisters are supposed to do the really hard stuff first and tell their younger sisters about it so they don’t have it quite so rough. I’m so sorry that because of the way the calendar falls, the tables have turned. I can’t imagine what it’s like to celebrate the day Mom did all the work when she’s not there to enjoy it. I am here to listen to you vent, but I am sorry that I can offer no words of support that would equal what you must be feeling.

But I can tell you that when Mom told me she was pregnant with you, it was the happiest day of my life next to meeting you for the first time. I was too young to understand exactly what “pregnant” meant, so Mom and I spent my bedtimes reading books on “the birds and the bees,” and what it would look like to be an older sister. I wasn’t there for your actual birth, but I remember Mom telling me that she was so surprised that her obstetrician, Dr. Ritter, stayed in her room with her all night, the first to see your seven pound, nine ounce glory.

Our age difference is larger than a lot of siblings I know. I may have not had the specifics down pat, but I did know that our family was getting a new little person… one in which I was old enough to learn to take care of, making sure that your bottles were just the right temperature and your diapers always fresh. Just so you feel safe about this, it was all under adult supervision.

My first real memory of you is dad picking me up so that I could see you through the nursery glass at Methodist Hospital… and then everything fades until a few months later. You were sleeping soundly, and I sneaked into your room and put a teddy bear under your arm.

By then, we were living on Galveston, and I remember that every time we went to the beach, you would approach the water cautiously, and as the waves rolled in, you would run away from them, yelling “don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” After the crash, there you went, running back into the water just enough for it to lap over your toes.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I started kindergarten the September after you were born, and I remember you and Mom coming to pick me up every day at Parker. It was the highlight of my day to see you in your Muppet Babies leotard and tights, complete with headband just like Jane Fonda.

After that, my memory goes to Baybrook Mall, where we had an airbrushed sweatshirt made for you that said “HYPERWOMAN” in a jittery font. You wore it until it was in rags, because it was you. Getting you to be still in any capacity was (and is) beyond my capabilities. But when you made the choice to sit still with me and actually talk, it meant more, because I knew how much effort it was taking on your part.

The next thing that comes to mind is the chicken pox story.

You got what you called “the chicken pops,” and Mom made a cake that had a little blonde girl with red hots all over it and invited all the kids who hadn’t had it yet for a party, because their parents were eager to get it over with, too. I admired your strength, because it was the worst case I’d ever seen. You had them both externally and internally, the most uncomfortable being down your throat. But did that stop you? Nooooo…….. You were the life of the party.

Come to think of it, you are the life of every party.

Taller, more muscle mass, and faster than I’ll ever be is the inspiration that gets me out of bed in the morning. My younger sister is someone (I have) to look up to. Not only is your career inspiring, I’ve always been a little bit mad that you can reach the top shelf and I can’t.

But despite that “anger,” I’ll always jump in. I will never forget going on our cruise when you were three and I was nine. We were sitting on the ledge of a saltwater pool, right beside a sign that said “four feet deep.” You fell over backwards like a SCUBA diver, and I have never moved so fast. I jumped in without thinking. The water was so deep that I thought I might drown trying to get you to safety, not having had the clarity to think, “ok, I’ve got her. NOW what do I do?” We were so close to the edge that I swam under you, your diaper pressing against the top of my head, and kicked my legs to propel you upward. You popped up on the deck like some sort of magic trick (oh, hey, look…. flying baby) as I tilted my head and set you down. My neck hurt from the strain, but that was sort of the good part. It burned that memory into my brain, saving it for a time in my life that those years are slipping away.

Mom & Dad will never know how much danger we were actually in, because they weren’t there… but the superhuman strength of seeing your sister in danger is limitless. I will always be the tiger in your corner, claws sharpened, because now Mom will never be there. I can’t replace your loss, but I am always here to help.

I hope you know it’s a strength that will last a lifetime. I will always jump in, I will always protect you, I will always bite the ankles of your enemies… no matter the personal cost. This is because just by being around you, I become a better me.

Again, I’m so sorry that of all the things I didn’t do before you, going through this is one of them. I wish I had more to offer you than words on “paper” and a piece of my heart. It’s not much, but it comes from a completely unique store.

Love,
Leslie

Craft

Last night’s dinner with Pri-Diddy was relaxing and just what I needed. Oh, how we laughed. It was good to get back into the normal swing of things. For instance, I found a really cheap parking garage next to the Metro that’s WAY less expensive than Lyft, and because we were meeting at 5:30, I can’t think of a less desirable place to be than searching for a parking place in Dupont Circle during rush traffic/Happy Hour. It was nice to have someone to “drive” me into the city, and I played games on my phone until I got there. Just for kicks, I looked up the route from Silver Spring to Dupont by car, and in addition to time to find parking, the route at that hour said anywhere from 28 to 58 minutes. This is partly because of traffic, and partly because the speed limit on 16th Ave. is mostly 25.

Going anywhere inside the Beltway during rush hour is a nightmare, because there are no freeway exits where I’m located that would drop me off where I need to be…. and yes, for those who don’t live here, I am talking about THAT 16th Ave… the one that when you arrive at Pennsylvania, you see a large, white house with many dubious occupants.

I don’t want to publish my exact address, but what I will tell you is that I’m a few blocks inside the Beltway between University and Colesville. Getting across the river into Arlington/Alexandria or toward Baltimore is easy.

Driving into the city would take away my sanity without my incredible lists of podcasts and the Bluetooth connected to my phone, so that I can talk to my family unimpeded. I don’t tend to listen to music because I’d rather have my brain engaged. It keeps me from road rage (not that I ever really had it to begin with), because there are often moments in which I like traffic because I want to finish a story. I have lots and lots of driveway moments.

And though I don’t drive it that often, I like being stuck in traffic on 395 between the Pentagon and the city, because it is breathtaking. You see every monument on the way in, and traffic is just an excuse to gawk at that beauty. I also enjoy the Baltimore/Washington and George Washington Parkways, because they are both beautiful- green space everywhere and, on GW, the thrill of passing Langley.

Now, I don’t know the difference between the George H.W. Bush campus and the one in McClean (or perhaps they’re the same thing and the road I’m looking at takes you to McClean, but I do know that on one of my favorite TV shows, Covert Affairs (on Amazon Prime now), Annie Walker works at GHWB, and she drives this little red Volkswagen that reminds me of my own little “spy car,” Eggsy (named after the main character in Kingsmen: The Secret Service… also because she looks like an egg). I think I’ve said this before, but every time I pass the entrance to Langley, I hear Austin Powers’ voice saying, your spy car’s a Yaris?

I don’t have any desire to work there. First of all, they’d never hire me, anyway. There are two main reasons I wouldn’t be able to get in, neither of them bad for a civillian, but not up to snuff when you’re talking about working for the government. I’d tell you what they were, because they’re not secrets of which I’m ashamed, just better saved for an in-person conversation rather than blasting it all over the world.

However, if there’s one thing I know I’d be good at (with the exception of only being able to speak English [and REALLY bad Spanish]), it’s interrogation. For all of my life, I’ve been one of those people you can sit down for a conversation and let the other person get up later not having realized the sheer amount of information I’ve been able to gather.

I know the questions that get people talking, because what do people like to talk about more than anything else?

Themselves.

I can’t see myself in a room with HVTs (High Value Targets) and having to do shit to them to make them talk. I am better at a party or a dinner in which I disappear with one person at a time, creating intimacy that makes people spill. It’s a game I don’t even know I’m running, because I am genuinely curious about people and want to know them, know their stories, their backgrounds, what makes them tick… but you don’t get that information without being willing to be vulnerable about yourself, either.

With my friends, I will spill as much information as they do. We are on equal ground. If I was actually in a position with the FBI or CIA, I’d be poring over alibis to be able to be vulnerable as someone else… spilling their details rather than my own.

But it is a fantasy, because I know where I really belong… outside of all the danger, outside of all the intrigue, outside the Beltway, period… unless my government job was the same thing I’d be doing for a private IT company.

I’m just a geek and a writer. I can live out my fantasies through fiction while my day job is tame and relatively uninteresting.

I’d rather fly under the radar than be a part of it. My great uncle worked for the C and DIA before I was born (or shortly afterward). I would have loved to hear his stories, but he was high enough up that he couldn’t have told me anything, anyway. Now that he’s been dead for 40 years, I might be able to get a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) casefile on him, hoping that his ops are declassified now. It would be great to have snippets for my fiction that echo my real family. But what I think I would get is a few sentences and a lot of black sharpie.

But there is a cost… and that is possibly finding out more shit than I would ever want to know. Would it make me a stronger writer, or wrap me uplike a burrito in fear?

Supposedly, he died in a coup in Africa… but the jury is still out on whether that’s what actually happened, or whether he disappeared off the grid like a Man in Black… putting on the last suit he’d ever wear. In my mind, he could have been Agent F…. he didn’t die, he just went home.

By now, there is probably a star on a wall for him somewhere… another thing that goes through my mind as I’m driving toward Alexandria, because GW Parkway is the shortest path.

Escaping into this fantasy world is one of the things that lifts me out of my grief, and I’ll take anything that will do it. Yes, it’s dark, but at the same time, all-encompassing, like a novel taking place in real time… If I could get away with it, though, I’d want to write a biography, because I am much better at writing in first person than trying to create a fictional world. I’ve proven that to myself over and over. I don’t want to give up on trying to learn to write fiction, but I’m not there yet.

Part of the reason I’ve started so many novels without fleshing them out is that I get stuck quickly with plot holes and transitions. This will change over time as I get more and more experience at it, but right now I am not confident enough in my abilities.

The parts that stick with me are the character analyses, because I can imagine a person, but not the environment where they live. I am trying to read more fiction these days, but the reason I haven’t in the past is that I tend to pick up other writers’ voices quickly, and the fiction I write down sounds like the last writer I just read instead of me.

When I first started with Clever Title Goes Here, my ideas were all my own, but the style echoed Ernie Hsuing, Heather Armstrong, Mrs. Kennedy, and all the other popular blogs I devoured on a daily basis. Clever Title doesn’t exist anymore- it’s a link to the Wayback Machine, where you can look at my old entries as archives. I owned the domain from 2003-2015, and the entries are still there, but the comments aren’t always because the links to them are broken. The only one I lost that really meant a lot to me was from Wil Wheaton. I was talking about a singing audition and feeling amazing about it afterward, saying that it felt like flying. He replied that it was the same for him after an acting audition.

I didn’t have a very thick skin in those days, and after a few comments from my friends, torched the entire thing… an impetuous, grave mistake because there were so few daily bloggers that I became very popular, very quickly… as evidenced by Wil Wheaton knowing my work.

I met Wil at Powell’s Books when he came to read snippets from Just a Geek. I introduced myself as Leslie from Clever Title Goes Here, and he smiled, then wrote in my copy, “To Leslie… Clever Inscription Goes Here. Love, Wil.” I can’t think about what might have happened if I’d kept my blog going from 2003 until now, because getting into the blogging crowd before everyone was doing it was paramount to real success.

In writing fiction, I don’t want to fill someone else’s shoes. I brought my own.

So,for now, the idea of “bringing my own shoes” exists in this space alone. In most cases, I’m doing okay work, with a few outstanding entries. That is mostly because I don’t work on them as craft. It’s a brain dump, unedited, all stream-of-consciousness all the time. Even my article on marriage took about 15 minutes to write, and it is the one thing I’ve done that’s consistently been shared all over the world, because I wrote about something so universal that anyone whose ever been married and read it have had the same comments, boiled down to #me #same.

Sometimes I imagine what I’d be able to do if I really put some thought into all this, but then I think, “nah.” My blog works for me because of everything it isn’t. It’s not for anyone else but me, being able to look back over my past and see with glaring clarity all the flaws and failures I need to fix, as well as the great moments along the way. If I took the time to worry about craft, I’d get stuck in Virgo perfectionism, and I’d never publish anything… Editing gnaws away at my courage until I think “it’s not good enough,” and the thousand or so words that I’ve written get erased with one CTL-A and one backspace.

I just try to tell my truth, which isn’t anyone else’s… something that’s gotten me a lot of kudos and a lot of anger all at the same time, as if I have a problem with someone calling me out on my own bullshit.

I don’t.

People are free to disagree with me all the time, and I appreciate comment threads that do so. This is because I appreciate people who are willing to see all the things I don’t…. the part of the story I don’t know, because it’s not mine… it’s theirs. It’s not my job to tell their stories, and it’s not their job to tell mine. I am responsible for my words, but not their responses… but I do take them in as valid, because all emotions are. It’s a clinical separation, a step back to hear people without internalizing it into the fear of never saying anything ever again… the reason I torched Clever Title to begin with.

What I didn’t know then that I do now is that writing on the Internet is like getting a tattoo on the face. I didn’t know that even if I torched everything on my own server, a cached version like The Wayback Machine even existed. There’s nothing I will ever be able to do that erases past mistakes. The only topic I am not willing to publish is how I’m doing at work. The term “Dooced” is so popular that it was even a question on Jeopardy! For those of you who’ve been reading Heather Armstrong since the beginning, who didn’t love her take on the Asian Database Administrator, et al?

I have to believe, though, that getting fired is what launched her into this higher plane, that the worst thing became the best over time. That being said, I’m brave, but not THAT brave… and I believe that Heather intended to teach all bloggers from her mistakes, and I’ve taken them to heart.

Although this entry from The Bloggess about work is my absolute favorite of all time, bar none. It was written in 2008, and still makes me fall out laughing, because had I been sitting next to her, I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together, either… like looking through the Methodist hymnal as a kid during the service and finding out that one of the composers/lyricists was named P.P. Bliss.

Now, had I been on the committee who put the hymnal together, I would have suggested we just go with Phillip, because I’m betting I’m not the only kid who’s ever had tears running down her face trying not to cackle in church… and then, knowing it was inappropriate to laugh while I was supposed to be paying attention, almost asphyxiating because I couldn’t pull myself back together.

It was absolutely as funny as some of the things Pri-Diddy and I joked about last night… but those are unprintable. 😛

Folded into the Family

I can’t remember the exact moment Prianka came into my life. Somehow, she has just always been here. We connected because we were both bloggers at the time (Prianka says she’s gotten bored with her life) and became fans of each other. That led to chatting online a bit and talking on the phone for hours at a time. As I have said before, we have never done the whole crush thing, because we each needed that space to talk about our lives to the other. I wasn’t the girlfriend, and neither was she- we were both the people for each other that got to HEAR about the girlfriend. At the time, I desperately needed a friend in that area. I had met Dana by that point, but she wasn’t my friend. Just some chick I saw at church and thought was a little bit (lotta bit) craycray. As Dana and I gelled, though, so did Prianka and I. In 2004, Prianka called me up and said, “my friend Nina has a conference in Portland and I’m coming with her. Can we stay with you?” I was thrilled. Nina and Prianka spent the weekend with Dana and me because Dana’s wife, Carol, was out of town and there was no where Dana wanted to be more than with the three of us. We made an EXCELLENT foursome.

We ended up watching Clueless, playing Trivial Pursuit, and eating junk food….. a lot of it. That weekend in 2004 cemented us for life, because it’s 10 years later and we’re still going strong. Stronger, even, because this is the first time in our lives that we’ve been able to have the kind of relationship where either of us can say, “let’s meet for lunch.” If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that we meet for lunch most Mondays at Native Foods Cafe, which has become an exercise in just how much food I can stuff in my face at a time. I am fascinated by vegan food Fascinated. To me, it is where food becomes art- like taking cashews and turning them into Alfredo sauce. These Mondays have become very, very important to me because Prianka has the mindset of an elite athlete, and she pushes me without pushing. She sets ideas down and I just have to Keep. Up. It’s working. She is inspiring me to be a better version of myself one tofu peanut butter parfait at a time.

Because her wedding had been planned for so long before I considered moving back to DC, I did not expect an invitation to their wedding, but as it happened, last Sunday she and Elena had a cancellation, so when we met for lunch on Monday, she literally stopped me on the street and put down her stuff and said, “I HAVE TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW.” She texted someone and a few hours later, she texted me. “Do you have time to talk?” I said, “sure- call or write away.”

A few seconds later a very apologetic Prianka said, “are you ok with being invited last minute?”

Ummmmmmm. YES.

The emotion didn’t hit me until she and Elena walked into the restaurant as a married couple. They’d had a private ceremony with their families, and they were wearing traditional Indian wedding dresses- Prianka in deep red and Elena in gold and green. I cried like a baby. She was gorgeous. Everything I’d ever wanted for my friend and she got it, wholeheartedly. The room was FULL of people just celebrating her and her marriage to another beautiful woman. I’d never met Elena before, and she welcomed me with open arms into their family. That was the best part. Getting to feel like the family I felt with Prianka extended to both Elena and the brothers Nandy (Avik and Amit) that I’d heard about for the last ten years but was just now putting faces with names….

Amit’s toast was hilarious- he talked about when the Nandy family used to go back to India in the summer where her parents had a four-level house that looked out onto the neighbor’s roof, and one day he and Avik were being pests and threw all Prianka’s clothes out the window onto the neighbor’s house. He said it was only funny because she got most of the clothes back, and I found myself wondering what happened to the rest of them…….

Speaking of India, that’s an interesting fact about Prianka you ought to know. Avik and Amit were both born in the US, but Prianka was born in Calcutta at the same hospital where Mother Theresa worked. Honestly, it shows. Prianka is just power, grace, and style in a tiny body. You can’t even believe the huge ideas that come out of someone so small. For instance, Pri is on a mission. She does IT and spreadsheets and analysis for the World Bank. She takes her gifts and funnels them into a larger mission, which is everything you want in life, really…. to take tangible gifts and turn them into spiritual ones. I got to meet Prianka’s parents and I told them that I thought their daughter was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I am looking forward to getting to know Elena well enough that I can say that to her parents, too. From what I have seen so far, that’s going to be no problem.

It was also a joy that Nina was at the wedding, too, and brought her husband with her- a thrill because I’d heard about Jeremy for the last ten years and this was the first time we’d ever shaken hands. I liked him immediately. IMMEDIATELY. In a “you’re my new best friend call me every day” kind of way. He’s a lawyer. He’s a pit bull of a lawyer. He told me how to go after Silver Spring regarding their inane homeless shelter policy in about 30 seconds, in a way that I know I’ll win. Hands down. If he runs for something, I’ve got a job in a speechwriter’s stable. That was when I melted inside. I told him that we needed to spend time on the phone together and visiting each other because in order to speech write for him, I needed to learn his “voice.” He and Nina live in “Luevul,” so I imagine that there will be much Skyping as we get campaigns off the ground. I am already formulating the Dog Catcher campaign in my head. We have similar backgrounds- his mother was a Baptist minister and my father was a Methodist minister and even though the doctrine is different, the experience is the same. I told him that I’d like to meet his mother, and he said that she died in 2013, but that he would find a way for me to meet her in another way by giving me access to her writing. Do you see how that just reached into my heart and squeezed? I looked at him and said, “that’s why I write. THAT. I want to live forever.” I want to live forever, as will all of the “characters” that come into my life, for the short-term or for the whole run.

In terms of blogging, Prianka HAS been there for my entire life. She’s seen my writing career blossom from three followers to 30,000, and will hopefully be there for three million as well. She said something that I have to write down here, because it is so beautiful that I need to record it. She said, “all day, you have been my lodestone.” And it’s true. I was that person she could reach out to for a hug when she needed to get back into her body and back down to earth. To make sure that she was, as I say, “God to head, head to feet, feet to floor.” It was magnificent to be there for someone I’ve loved for so long in a way that defies odds. I was joking that the reason we’re so close is that we met online and then discovered that neither of us wanted to murder each other in our sleep so we’re golden. We talked about how when Prianka came to visit me, that was WAYYYYYYY before that shit was normal. We each just took a leap of faith and trusted that the care we felt over the e-mail and the AOL Instant Messenger and the phone would translate.

It did.

Yesterday, I went to her wedding. And now she is officially invited to mine, if and when it happens. And on that day, she’ll be the one I reach out to for a hug, just to remember that I am “God to head, head to feet, feet to floor” as well.

I love you, Prianka. Truly. And I can’t wait to get to know Elena so I can be there for her, too. You brought Elena into my life at a time when I really needed friends, and she is as gorgeous as you are. I am so blessed to share in your family, and I hope you know that you have long been a part of mine.