Waking Life

I am drinking a mediocre cup of coffee; it’s my second one if I’m being honest. That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but the mug is 16 oz. I normally drink iced green tea in the morning because DC summer has set in, so I’ve got a bit of a buzz going. Though it’s basic, I put four Splenda in it, so at least it feels like dessert going down. I normally add a plant milk- coffee tastes better with fat- but I’m out. I need to go to the grocery store, just one of the things I need to add to my growing To Do list because I’m ready to get out into the world again.

It startled me when I realized I hadn’t written anything since the end of May on this web site. I get so busy with e-mail and Facebook that I forget to be a writer in public. Facebook is easier because I can write in short snippets and it’s not a large, blank page staring back at me.

I have a different “voice” over e-mail, and I like who I am when I write them. I tend to make them weighted because I can let myself go with one person or a group of friends. It’s not so easy with my hundreds of subscribers and thousands of casual readers. It becomes intimidating when I think of it that way, so I need to go back to framing it as writing only for myself, an e-mail from me to me.

Since I’ve come back from Texas, my depression and anxiety has flared up to an enormous degree. It’s another piece of the puzzle when I think about why I haven’t been eager to write (or engage, really). It’s frustrating because with mental illness, I can’t point to where it hurts and I can’t vocalize what will make me feel better. I legitimately have no idea. I have tricks to fool myself into a brighter mood, like putting on gangsta rap with a great hook and lots of bass, or at the other end of the spectrum, ABBA or Aqua.

Today, it’s the Argo soundtrack, because I’ve been writing to it for years. It helps to go back to music that encourages body memory, the feel of typing into the night even though it’s 11:00 AM. Night is when I’m the most vulnerable, which I feel is universal. Conversations that happen when the sun go down are different than the ones had when it comes up.

For instance, during the day I am unlikely to admit what I’m really pondering. It is the barbed wire fence around my emotions, and how much I’m willing to take it down depends on the day. I get the most defensive when it comes to my lack of a love life, because I  think I have good reasons for not wanting someone to walk around in my inner landscape, but as more and more time passes since my disastrous break up with Dana, those reasons don’t seem good enough for other people. I grow weary of people asking why, as if it’s their right to know and try to the be judge and jury of my answers. I want to live life at my own pace, which is infinitely my choice. I just want to tell people, in the words of an old Texas gun safety video, “leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Call an adult.”

My reasons fall in many percentages, but the largest piece of the pie is that when two adults are in a relationship, it is codependent unless both people are strong in themselves. One of my favorite quotes from Khalil Gibran in The Prophet, paraphrased, is that couples should be like trees, not entwined at the trunks, but the branches. I am not that person yet, and I currently have no indicators as to when it will change. Because I am incredibly sapiosexual, I will be sparked eventually by the way someone thinks and interacts. It has happened three times over the last five years, but something hasn’t been right in every case, mostly timing. For instance, my admittance of feelings led to the conversation of “I’d totally be down for dating if I hadn’t just started dating someone else.”

Just to be clear, I thought I was admitting feelings to someone who was single. It wasn’t as if I knew she was with someone else and didn’t care because my ego was big enough to think she would jump at the chance to date me no matter her status. I also didn’t think of her “that way” until Samantha saw us together and said we looked cute…. and then, of course, I had to overthink about it before I said anything, and by then it was too late. This was about a year and a half ago, and since then I have been battling the up and down of depression medications, and if you’re taking them as well, you probably know what I mean. For the uninitiated, the downs mean lack of lust for life, much less anything else. However, I do enjoy being chilled out and relaxed, and that more than makes up for lack of a partner.

I also know that when someone does tilt my vision their way, it probably won’t come through searching profiles on web sites. Every date I’ve been on by doing so felt like a job interview, stiff and uncomfortable to the point of nausea. I just feel done when it comes to internet dating. I’m over it.

I am the happiest when going out alone or with close friends, those that have become as close as siblings while I wait out disinterest. When I’m alone, I am very good at chatting up strangers, so it feels like I’m meeting up with friends I haven’t met yet, as opposed to being insular. I am very much in love with my own thoughts, and I want to wait until I feel that way about someone else’s. I also feel that waiting is appropriate until I don’t feel like my crazy spatter is going to stick to their clothes. That seems like cruel & unusual punishment.

The smallest piece is not feeling ready to compromise or share. I enjoy not having to check in with anyone about where I’m going or when I’m going to be home. I don’t want a relationship to feel like an obligation instead of a joy. The woman I picture is drop dead gorgeous, smarter than I am, and has respect for the fact that we will not share everything. There is a box inside me that I will never unlock for anyone, for any reason. Lack of privacy or jealousy on her part would ruin everything.

In short, I would give my heart to the right person, but I’m not going to settle for the wrong one, even if she is a basket of hotness. More than one person has been worried I’ll be an old lady with seven cats.

Well, what in the hell is wrong with that? I wouldn’t necessarily choose it for myself, but I’d choose it every time over being irritated with someone else. As I have said before, relationships are a lot of work, but they shouldn’t feel like trying to nail a square peg into a round hole every damn day…. and those relationships are worth the wait.

As is, I hope, waiting for a new entry.

 

Two Words

It’s amazing how two words can make your whole day.

It’s amazing how two words can destroy it.

The two words that lit me up like a Christmas tree were “someday perhaps?”

The two words that cratered me were “Mother’s Day.”

The words that made me smile were in reference to a future hangout with the aforementioned pen pal that I’d never actually met in real life, but had been writing to for years and years. When he/she (not giving anything away) comes to DC, it will be fun to laugh together, hug, and show them my version of my city.

My mother died in October of 2016, and as you can imagine, I’m not over it. Mother’s Day happens every single year, and I am sort of used to the onslaught of ads that pointedly ask if you’ve remembered to buy presents. The thing is, though, I’d forgotten Mother’s Day was coming up, and being reminded when I wasn’t thinking about it and wasn’t prepared was, in a word, awful.

So, like you do, I immediately bought a ticket to the opening of the new International Spy Museum that day. What I mean by this is that the museum itself is not new, the-new-spy-museum-atthey’ve just moved and expanded from F Street to L’Enfant Plaza. The only thing I will miss about their old digs is the Shake Shack around the corner. Because, of course, the thing you need after looking at espionage gadgets is a black and white malt. But get it to go. Every time I’ve been to a Shake Shack, seating was a nightmare.

I’m also saving some money for the gift shop. Last time I went, I got a t-shirt on clearance that says, “Argo @$#% Yourself” with the spy museum logo on the sleeve. It is brilliant, but I don’t wear it unless I’m hanging out with friends I feel comfortable with- not always a huge fan of meeting new people in a t-shirt that says “fuck,” even bleeped for child safety. Since I am such a huge fan of “Argo,” I found an old promotional t-shirt on Amazon for $10 that says, “the movie was fake. The op was real,” and has “Argo” in large letters with the skyline of Tehran cut into the bottom, plus the release date of the film. That one I wear all the time.

As I was telling a friend, I think I found the last piece of memorabilia available except the script, which I don’t need because I have the movie memorized, anyway. To say that I’ve seen it 25 times is an understatement by a large margin…. mostly because it is jaw-droppingly scary in some places and so damned funny I start laughing and can’t stop in others… especially every time Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and/or Bryan Cranston are on screen. To wit:

The setup is that O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) is driving Mendez to an airport to get on the plane to Tehran.

O’Donnell: I’m required to remind you that if you’re detained, The Agency will
not claim you.
Mendez: Barely claim me as it is.
O’Donnell: Your ˜In Case Of’s’ good?
Mendez: Just Christine (his son’s mother, they’re separated). Guess I should have brought some books to read in prison.
O’Donnell: Nah. They’ll kill you long before prison.

For those of you who haven’t seen “Argo,” Ben Affleck both directed it and played Tony Mendez (emphatic fist shake at not casting a Hispanic actor), who rescued six diplomats who managed to escape from the embassy in Tehran and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house (the ambassador is brilliantly played by Victor Garber- also one of my favorite fictional spies as Jack Bristow in “Alias”).

I love how the movie is heartbreaking and hilarious in one breath. And no, I didn’t have to look up the lines, just can’t remember whether they’re at National or Dulles. And even though I’ve seen it more times than all my other favorites combined, I still cry at the end (not a spoiler, just the orchestral score).

My best wish for the new digs is that they have a huge Tony Mendez exhibit, because he died not too long ago and therefore, I would guess that even more of his ops are declassified. I am not totally clear on the rules, but I believe when you die you lose your covers, and the ops you’ve done can be made public… just not the ones that involve other people still alive and/or are still in progress. It’s possible some are still current, because I believe that after Tony left the CIA full time, he was still an occasional consultant. No one would want to lose all that experience permanently unless the person was really, really gone. I can’t imagine the grief inside The Agency, because he was a straight-up legend.

In a way, I think that subconsciously I picked going to the spy museum because Tony died to remind myself that I am not the only person in the world in grief.

I feel the same way about walking through cemeteries. To me, it is not morbid. It is an uplifting reminder that I am not alone in my sadness, situational depression, wondering what we’d be gabbing about if she were still here, etc. What I find is that as time goes on, the well of emotional injury gets more shallow, but there are triggers that pull me right back to her open casket, and how I felt completely disoriented, as if the world had started spinning the other direction and I could feel it.

One of those triggers was Tony’s death. I started crying and couldn’t stop, eventually realizing that it wasn’t all about him. Yes, it was devastating to lose a national treasure, but it was also a direct hit on how “gone” death truly means. And not to demean losing friends or extended family, but your reality doesn’t actually crack until you lose a parent. The entire universe seems different, and for a while, it loses all its color. You just wander around sort of half alive in grayscale.

I knew that I was getting better when I could make an effort to see friends, but at first, it was only other people who had also lost a parent. They were my people, the ones who I could confide in and share my rage at the dumb things people say when you lose a loved one, knowing innately that they mean no malice, so you can’t get mad at them directly. You can only get mad at the situation. Bad theology got on my nerves, didn’t measure up to one lady who compared the death of her cat to the death of my mother at church. It made my rage go to 11 and I had to excuse myself as not to emotionally rip her to shreds, because if I had waited even another three seconds, I would have taken her head off.

There’s only one other situation that makes me truly uncomfortable, and that’s the people who, upon hearing about your parent’s death, start crying because they can’t imagine what’s going to happen when their parents die, and that also happened to me in public (again, at church). The reason it’s tone deaf is because my natural reaction was “well, it’s a good thing I’m going through it and not you.” It’s just so egocentric that I cannot deal. It’s just another situation in which I just have to walk away, because I have not come up with an appropriate response, just a sarcastic one.

And that’s the thing. Because you know the people around you aren’t trying to hurt you, there’s just nothing that anyone can say that will make it better, you have no idea what to say in response to the awkward and often just stupid.

If you don’t know what to do, let me tell you. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint, and everyone processes differently, but this generally works across the board. Say “I’m sorry for your loss,” and offer to be present. And that’s it. The ones I loved the most during that time were people who showed up, but didn’t say much of anything. They just sat next to me as I stared off into space and were willing to listen if I could manage to talk. But they offered no advice on what to do, they just let me process verbally. It’s never a case of needing advice on what to do, especially if you haven’t lost a parent yourself. It’s giving the person room to breathe and never, ever comparing grief, even if you’ve been in the same situation. Because we’re not in the same boat, just the same ocean and trying to keep our heads above water. Suffering is universal, but we all have different ways of coping.

For instance, when I was actually in town for the funeral and with my sister and my dad, I hardly emoted at all because I was speaking at the funeral and I wanted to feel put together for it. I wanted to be able to be funny, because the eulogies I enjoy the most are the ones that offer real insight into the person. My mother was a church musician almost her entire life, starting at 12 or 13. So my opening line was, “this is the only funeral Carolyn Baker’s ever been to where she wasn’t working.” It had the desired effect. The entire congregation just broke up.

I am also quite socially anxious, and only three people I knew besides my family came to the funeral, so I had to put on a mask and a suit of armor to deal with being in a HUGE crowd where I knew practically no one. The mask and the armor are extroversion to an Oprah-like level, while inside I am shaking and counting the seconds until I can get home. In short, I didn’t look like someone in grief until I flew back to DC, where I only got out of bed sporadically for about three months. I allowed myself to completely fall apart, just not in front of anyone. I did once, and it was terrifying, so I never did it again. I gave lip service to letting people in, and then I completely isolated, only emoting through e-mail or crying into my pillows when no one was home. I couldn’t even bear crying that was loud enough for my housemates to come running, and they’re people I’d trust with my life.

In public, I became stoic and divorced from my emotions, because feeling even small emotions led to a flooding out I couldn’t stop. It was better not to start, because it would stop me from engaging in conversation. Even when I was with friends, there was a risk I wouldn’t take- being there, but not present….. people talking at my body while my soul was out there somewhere, unable to respond appropriately with laughter or empathy or whatever the situation needed…. as well as just nodding and smiling because I could hear people talking, but I couldn’t understand what was being said. It became background noise.

In essence, compartmentalization was necessary to have a fighting chance at moving on.

I thought I knew grief from bad breakups, and it was a wake-up call to realize how differently devastating this grief continues to be.

That’s because even though you gain and lose people to circumstances throughout your life, there’s still a small chance they’ll reappear. You apologize for being shitty people to each other and as long as the apology comes with changed behavior, it will generally stick…. or as I call it from a stolen line, “resurrection happening in the middle of the mess.”

As an aside, Easter is a very important holiday for me, because I don’t generally celebrate Jesus’ resurrection literally, but the way we resurrect ourselves, both individually and in community.

When a person dies, as opposed to a relationship, you lose hope. You lose the future. And if the person dies relatively young, you get angry at having the years stolen away in which you feel entitled. My mother was 65. She died just months after her retirement from teaching- she never even got to enjoy it. What I miss the most is that I thought we could go to church together more often, because she wasn’t working. Even when she took time off to come and visit me, she’d never take time off from church as well. When she died, she was completely free, because her church had so few members that they decided to close, and she hadn’t found a new church yet. I’d already started looking through solos because I thought I had my favorite accompanist back, and I’d already talked to my choir director about it.

My choir director and my mother were cut from the same cloth, and every time Sam played solo piano, if I closed my eyes I couldn’t tell the difference. When my mother died, it made me come unglued. I went to church for about six weeks after I came back from the funeral, and it was just long enough to realize that it was the biggest trigger of them all and I still can’t go back. I know I will; eventually I will get that trigger stamped back down to manageable, but today is not that day.

I do appreciate that Mike, the husband in the family I live with, keeps inviting me to his church, even though it’s relatively conservative United Methodist. I’d still take him up on it because I know the hymnal from front to back, as well as soprano descants for nearly everything. Singing would be the most important part of church for me no matter what the congregation believes.

In true introvert form, I want to be invited even if I don’t take you up on it.

Another two words that make my day?

Please come.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

Unintended Consequences

News just broke that Jussie Smollett has been indicted on felony charges for giving a false statement to the police regarding his racist and homophobic attack. The two men that were arrested previously claimed that Smollett paid them to attack him because Smollet had arranged hate letters to be sent to himself that contained “a white substance” and they were not getting enough attention by local and national media.

To a complete outsider and armchair psychiatrist, this looks like some kind of mania, so I’m going to go easy on him. I have a huge amount of sympathy for doing the wrong thing while not being able to see the world for what it really is. But having sympathy is not the same as thinking that he shouldn’t have consequences. Consequences are the only thing that really work in terms of forcing self-reflection.

Just because my actions created emotional issues and his created legal ones don’t have much weight with me. They are two sides of the same disastrous coin…. well, legal trouble creates emotional trauma, so in this case, the coin has landed on its edge and Smollet is looking down.

The main reason I believe this can be chalked up to mental illness is that he didn’t play this out to the end. Being such a public figure only increases the chances that he would get caught, because the case is automatically more high profile.

And past that, there are the consequences for the queer community at large, not that Smollett ever signed up to be any kind of poster boy, but to me, the unintended consequence is possibly less enlightened people regarding the plight of LGBT people will say that things in the United States aren’t that bad. This attack was rigged, so maybe others are, too.

I would argue that violence against gay men and transgender people is worse than it is for lesbians, statistically, because lesbians fly under the radar, due to the fact that most men think we’re cute and harmless, playtoys for their fantasies and not individuals with agency. There’s also the demeaning and insulting trope I run across frequently, that it’s cheating for straight women to sleep with other men, but women? That’s not cheating at all. That’s an opportunity.

I will never forget one of Kathleen’s friends taking us to a bar where the friend’s parents were drinking and the dad asked us to kiss in front of him. First of all, eww. Second of all, that’s your daughter’s friends. I wasn’t angry because he was drunk, but I was eager to leave because I was extremely nauseous.

So, my hope is that people do not write off emotional and physical violence toward our community, because it happens all the time. ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to make up threats, they’re already here. And with a conservative federal senate and even more conservative state congresses, the law isn’t often on our side. Before the indictment came out, I was reticent to believe that a black gay man would get a fair shake from the Chicago Police, anyway.

From what I have seen, the investigation looks fair, but surely you can see where I’m coming from based on past history.

It will be interesting to hear what Smollett has to say when he is ready to give a statement. I am willing to forgive him, but not to let him off the hook. Apologies must come with changed behavior. Otherwise, the apology is null and void. The intended and unintended consequences are going to be a ripple effect for a long time to come.

What happens when the next queer person is attacked? It’s only a matter of time. It could be happening right now. Are they going to be believed? Or will the echo of Smollett’s attack create more scrutiny than before?

I want to know that when I say something happened to me, that I will be given the benefit of the doubt immediately.

And so do all my brothers and sisters.

Shared

…there’s a ghost in this house,
When he sings it sounds just like you,
When he falls it brings me down too.

Does it get easier to do?

-Robyn Dell’Unto

When I listen to this song, I can’t decide if the ghost is internal or external. Are the people I’ve loved and lost following me, or is it the feelings I have about them? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if I could go back in time and not move to DC, would I do it?

I have many regrets, and this is one of them, but not because it isn’t wonderful, and I wouldn’t even think about it if my mother hadn’t died so relatively shortly after I did.

Dana made it clear that she did not want to work on our relationship, and I could not live in the same city with her and not obsess over whether I could abide by that decision and how and when to leave her alone.

Moving was a way to give her space to figure out her own shit while I figured out mine, without the need to check in with her every damn minute to take an emotional temperature. I don’t know if it was ever in her plan, but I thought that with time and distance, things would look different, that we might ultimately find our paths back to each other after an enormous amount of therapy on our own, because what we had together was spectacular.

I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it just being over. I held on to that hope for about six months, and then I began to grieve in earnest. During that time, directly after I moved, we talked a few times, and then never again. And even in our discussions, it was never about how we were really doing, just catching up like ladies who lunch. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was an adjustment.

I remember thinking, “this is not the Dana that I know… and that’s the point.”

I think the feeling of the rubber meeting the road in six months is relatively quick. At the time it felt interminable, but it wasn’t. Just a small part of the process in taking her from my reality to my past. The ghost that lives in my house, because I don’t lock her away and don’t care that she’s here. In a lot of ways, it’s comforting, because the memories that come up for me are of laughter and not of strife. I choose to block the bad parts and focus on the good.

And does it matter that these are the feelings I have when I’m alone, closed off to being with anyone else, because I just don’t want it? I don’t see it? That I am incredibly happy with having friends and family who love me, and that being the extent of my support system?

I am not over the way I treated her, and though I have made progress, I am not forgiven. It feels like letting myself off the hook too quickly, because I don’t want a repeat of this pattern ever again.

Also, I’ve never lived my life without a ghost that played tapes in my head, and I have work to do where that is concerned, as well. I’ve never had a mind free of wandering off into the past, reliving conversations of happier times and wondering why things went wrong… and two of them weren’t even romantic relationships, unless you count the complete mindfuck that went along with them. Although the second is self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be complicated, and I made it so.

But there’s a new truth in my life that is here to stay. Dana and I shared some incredibly privileged information that I won’t be able to bring up with anyone else, and I mean this on the serious. No one can ever know, and not because it’s dirty or bad or wrong, it just is. So part of my willingness to work on our relationship, no matter how bad things got, was the reminder that if I lost her safe space, there was no replacement, and never would be.

In that one way, our lives are connected as permanently as our matching tattoos. When I left, I made a point of calling them our honing beacons, but I wouldn’t use it now. It’s just another thing that is.

We were smart enough to be aware of the fact that we could break up when we got them, so we choose something that was meaningful to both of us severally and jointly. It’s not like I have a huge back piece that says “I love Dana.”

But in my worst moments, sometimes it feels that way.

I’m also not stupid enough to believe that her friends won’t read this, so let me assure them that I have no intention of moving backwards, of reaching out, of doing anything to endanger the peaceful silence we have achieved. My stuff to work out is owned, and I have no need for closure.

It’s been too long, it hurts too much to envision those conversations, and the ponderings of my heart are not to be shared… and by that, I mean that I don’t care if she reads my blog. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’ll never know or care. What I mean is that it’s not her job to care about what I think or even affect her life in any way. My thoughts, again, aren’t meant to be shared.

They’re just brain droppings, and maybe not even healthy ones. They just are. It’s not my job to judge their merit, just to let them come and go, talking about them with myself and probably my therapist.

I’m not stupid enough to think that any of my ghosts aren’t secretly reading, and I can’t care about that, either, because then this space ceases to be my own and starts to be a reflection of what I think their opinions might be.

My thoughts aren’t meant to be shared, leading to common ground.

It’s my weight to carry, and they don’t deserve (in good ways or bad) to take off a few pounds.

I am a product of my own inner landscape, sharing common ground with strangers who have had similar experiences… perhaps learning about the ghosts that walk in their houses. Reaching out, but not to anyone in particular.

I remember explaining this phenomenon to Argo, when she wasn’t a ghost, but very, very present, talking about someone else. That when I found out a piece of my past was lurking, she thought I was writing to it on purpose. I told her that quite frankly, when I found out the blood drained from my face and I nearly threw up. She got it, and we didn’t have to discuss it again. Once was enough, and I love her for that. She believed me the first time, and I didn’t have to convince her. It just was. She let it be, and it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I would have been willing to continue our unusual kinship if it had become a thing.

I could easily have let Argo become a ghost, listening to our made up whispers in my dreams instead of grabbing onto reality. The truth is that she is very present in my life. But those conversations happen in daylight, steeped in what is really right in front of me and not pipe dreams.

Probably because we didn’t have as many connections as Dana and me. I never shook her hand, thought her hugs would be memorable but never experienced it firsthand. A virtual x had to do. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if virtual became real, but only from the standpoint that it would have changed operatic swells of emotion into daily normality, letting minutiae temper the page. On paper, it’s easy to run off into flights of fancy. When someone is right in front of you, it isn’t. Reading when I was making her eyes glaze over or her temper flare was different than seeing it. It would have changed my direction and my distraction.

But what I know for sure is that I achieved my own peace with it not happening, it not being likely to happen, and just smiling like an idiot that I got to meet a piece of her at all. That for a short time, we walked in each other’s inner landscapes and it adding galaxies to me that I didn’t know I needed.

Still need, but okay with it being a long time ago and far, far away.

If I could go back and change anything, I would. In a hot second. But that’s not how life works. I got on the “think it, say it” plan without realizing its consequences, which were devastating in their scope. Knowing it was all at my own hand is the worst part, and something that 25 years from now, I will still look upon with regret and shame. Not being in my right mind doesn’t erase or excuse any of it.

But because I’ve seen her picture, her face does cross my mind, choosing to ignore the raw parts and focusing on the joy she brings me now. Memories are powerful, as is happiness surrounding them.

The one that makes me laugh all the goddamn time is, “you like to rap to Eminem? Explain to me exactly how I’m not going to fall in love with you. USE BIG WORDS.” Because of course, I was kidding, but she took it seriously and said, “you might fall in love with honesty coming through our chord, but you won’t fall in love with me, as adorable as I might be.” And that makes me laugh just as much, because it is so undeniably true (both that she was right about misreading falling in love with honesty and falling in love with her as a person, AND that she is, in fact, adorable- she’s so much funnier than me, and the degree is annoying. As an aside, there was one joke between us in which I came in kings full over aces, and though I don’t remember which one it was, I do remember feeling like I’d checkmated the king using just a pawn and a knight, when every day previously had felt like grasshopper would never reach satori).

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people may forget your words, but they will never forget the way they felt. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t like the actual quote, which is that “people will never forget the way you made them feel.” No one can make you feel anything. Your response is your response, and not anyone else’s to own. What is yours to own is either the laughter or the fallout.

I feel like that is what I do on this blog to a tremendous degree. I deal with my own responses, and their consequences. I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. What I can do is learn from the fallout, and try to make new mistakes. To think that everything will one day go perfectly is its own delusion.

What I do reflect on is interconnectedness, how my every response creates consequence, and how I live with it.

Because my thoughts aren’t meant to be shared.

She’s Just Not That Into You

This is not a story about dating. This is a story about a blank page, and how she stares at me like a wanton goddess some days, and a “bitch, please” expression on others. It generally has to do with my depression cycle, because on the downside I lose the motivation to do most things, even when it’s something to which I’m dedicated.

Tony Mendez, co-author of Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, died recently after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s. As soon as I heard the news, I crumpled into myself.

Of course it wrecked me because I dreamed of meeting him from the moment I read the book and saw the movie. Washington is, for the most part, a small town.image It might have been possible had I gotten here when he was still doing public appearances. Just another instance in which I felt late. But the longer I cried, the more I realized that it wasn’t just about him. It was losing yet another person in my life permanently. We’d never met, I’d never shaken his hand, and yet in some small way I felt I knew him. I wish I’d gotten to tell him how much his words have meant to me over the years, how I cried big alligator tears when I didn’t get to the Spy Museum gift shop in time to get an autographed copy, and how my dad threw a hail Mary pass to get me one somewhere else.

As an aside, above left is his official portrait, which hangs in the CIA Art Gallery. The artist was the first female (and first Agency officer) displayed there.

I spent that first night mourning him by reading “Argo” again, taking time to stare at his autograph… making up the part where I’d gotten it at a signing in person. I don’t know whether he has a star on the wall at Langley or not- you’d think after all the CIA TV shows I’ve binge-watched since Alias, I would know whether you get one no matter how you die, or if you only get one if you are KIA. I hope it is the former, but I’ll probably never know for sure. Once, just for laughs, I looked up directions to Langley on Google Maps. Every road within at least five miles is marked “restricted access.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I am not their target demographic.

I wish I had gotten to tell him how much my step sister, Susan, adored him as well…. perhaps even more than me. Susan is also dead now, but when she was alive we had great conversations about how he was an inspiration to the Hispanic community (Susan was half Mexican and the chair of Mexican Studies at University of Texas, San Antonio)… and her rant and a half about how they cast BEN AFFLECK to play him, when in reality he looked way more like Cheech Marin. It would have been way better to have shared the grief, but she’s been gone a long time now…. just about the time Tony made the public announcement that he had Parkinson’s, actually.

And, of course, I have a different reaction to any kind of grief now that I’ve lost my mother. It seems to have affected me on a cellular level. My neurons fire differently now, and it has changed me in ways that I didn’t know were coming- some good, some bad. For instance, she retired from teaching in May and she was dead by October. 65 is by all accounts just too young, and at 41, I’ve become one of those people who grieve the loss of someone’s shortened life by truly taking it in and trying to make more count, because I know how quickly it could be taken away.

I signed up with a modeling agency, not because I think I’m graceful and gorgeous, but because they cast extras and Homeland is filmed here. It’s my goal to stand in the background somewhere, and it’s the last season, so I have to do it now. There are also a ton of TV shows and films about Washington, so it might not be a one-time gig. We’ll see.

I signed up to audition for Washington National Opera, and even though I got sick and had to cancel, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger and if I was going to do it, I have to do it now. Next January can’t come fast enough, and I’ll be taking vitamins and avoiding public places for all of December.

I said yes to traveling to Paris, even though it was out of my comfort zone. I had a wonderful time, but in general I do not like crowds, and the Yellow Vests made me equally uncomfortable because some of the protests had gotten violent, even while we were there. We were asked to stay inside the Musee d’Orsay until the commotion ended. If I was going to get locked in somewhere, it wasn’t a bad place to be, but still……..

20190105_100801Overall, I had a wonderful time, and it never would have happened without me being able to say, “when will I ever get this opportunity again?”

My souvenir was a warm woolen scarf, and when I put it on, it still smells like France. My mind immediately wanders to my favorite part of the trip, wandering around an old cemetery filled with famous writers, artists, musicians, composers, and rich people, because I learned that now to get a plot there, it’s over 10,000 euros. If I had it, I think I might pay it. It’s different than any cemetery I’ve visited. The grave sites are organized into what feels like “neighborhoods,” literally a city of the dead that must be glorious in the early fall. The weather in January was practically mood music. Walking the cobblestone streets was comforting, almost ethereal.

It often lessens my grief to walk around in cemeteries, because in those moments, I am not the only person who has lost someone and there is evidence of it all around me. I am not alone, even when I feel like it.

I am not the first person to lose a hero, a friend, a mother…. and I constantly remind myself because it’s so easy to forget.

Especially when I don’t write it down, on the blank page that always stares back.

Disappointment in Three Acts

Act I

I just had to make a really difficult call. I left a message with the Washington National Opera chorus to ask them if they still wanted to hear me even though I have the worst cold on record and am losing my voice at a rapid rate. I mean, I can sing, but I’d be auditioning as a baritone. I know they want photos and measurements as well, but my hope is that they do these auditions more than once a year, or if they just want to hear the quality of my voice and it doesn’t matter what range.

Act II

I talked to DC Opera, and they do only hold auditions once a year. So I’m drinking a hot toddy and will see if I can warm up again later tonight and in the morning. I know I’ve got my arias wired. It’s frustrating that I’ve worked so hard and my body is betraying me. I’m also angry at the world because I didn’t practice wrong so that I’m just fatigued. This is a virus that I picked up from somewhere, or an allergy in my home. It didn’t start in my throat- it’s deep in my chest and working upward.

Act III

I woke up this morning hoping that the laryngitis would go away as the day wore on- it’s always worse when I first wake up. Unfortunately, I am still so far under the weather that I don’t even want to move, much less sing. It would have been much more convenient to wait until tomorrow to see what happens overnight, but I couldn’t afford it without being truly selfish. Demand is high for these auditions, and I did not want my first impression at WNO to be that I just didn’t show, not allowing someone else to fill my spot. I also didn’t want my first impression with them to be a fraction of what I am truly capable. I’ve come such a long way since I truly dedicated myself to singing that turning in a high-school level performance while stopping to cough in the middle was just unacceptable to me. It’s hard to have to wait until next January for a second chance, but since I put on my reason for canceling that I was sick, there’s no telling what will happen between now and then. Singers get scheduling conflicts all the time. Fingers crossed that I can audition again later as an understudy without having to wait a year. I don’t feel good about woodshedding two arias over this month only to get sick at the last minute. Before I made this decision, I talked to someone who’d been my voice coach in college, and he stressed to me how important first impressions are. My gut says this would not be a good one, and to let it go, as angry as I am.

I have sung with laryngitis before, and the recording turned out better than I could have hoped…. but it was church good, not professional career good. The mistakes I made from not having as much control over my voice as I needed in the moment were noticeable to me, but probably not the congregation at large. They would have been spotted by a judge in a nanosecond.

I took this audition seriously. I bought two copies of 24 Italian Songs and Arias so that I would have a book for me and one for my accompanist because it was cheaper than buying a new printer. I spent hours with a metronome getting timing perfect. I did breathing exercises twice a day, sometimes three. This involved taking a heavy book or two and setting them over my diaphragm, making sure I could lift them as air filled me up from all the way down. I marked every day, and practiced full voice when I was sure no one was home.

It was an arduous process, only interrupted by my trip to Paris, where I didn’t sing at all. It was a short enough break to give me some rest, and then I was back at it. I truly thought I had an outstanding audition put together last week, and then my dream of singing for RBG this year flushed itself down the toilet.

And for that, I am angry. All that work. All that emotion and brain-bending math as I figured out subdivisions for art songs I didn’t know (I’m terrible at sight reading, and they said it might be required). But What I Know for Sure from this experience is that I am capable of getting in. I know it. When I was healthy, I sounded great. I could reach the cheap seats in the KenCen (of all the issues I’ve had to overcome with singing, volume has never been one of them).

It’s not over. They will see me again. It’s just a Langston Hughes dream deferred, not a raisin in the sun. I’ll only be 42 when the next audition comes around, which means that my voice will still be full enough to sing opera and I won’t be old enough for that vibrato you can drive a MAC truck through. My trusted friends will tell me when I get it and to please sit down.

I also have the added plus of being able to spend more time on different arias, and choose from a wide variety instead of using the one book full of art songs and arias I was familiar enough with to pull off in one month’s time. I have time to learn Russian, Czech, even French diction (Francais c’nest pas comfortable pour moi). I will truly have time to dig through the annals of soprano arias and find something that isn’t often heard in auditions, because the book I’m familiar with? Well, so is everyone else. It’s hard to be memorable when you’re singing two arias that have already been sung to death.

To borrow a phrase from my trumpet days, I know I’ve already got the chops. I have joined many community choirs in which I’ve become a soloist, and the one time I’ve been offered a college opera role (I didn’t attend the college, I was in the community chorus as an employee), I turned it down because I’d never done opera before and I thought it was unwise not to start in the chorus and see if I liked it. This was ten years ago, so I remember it was some sort of Gilbert & Sullivan… either HMS Pinafore or Pirates of Penzance, but I’ve slept since then. Ten years ago, I was not confident enough to be in an opera because I was thinking about filling big shoes and not concentrating on the fact that my own are pretty bad ass.

I try not to feel stupid about it. The opera ended up traveling and I could have gotten my name out there. But again, it was lack of confidence. I didn’t find it until I moved to Houston about seven years ago, and walked into a church in my neighborhood and saw a familiar face. Joseph Painter helped me with the parts of my voice that needed to change, but it was more than that. He gave me more soprano attitude than I’ve ever had in my life… not diva status or anything like it. Just the ability to look at a piece of music and never, ever be intimidated. He heard the top of my range and said, “with some work, I think you could add a few notes on top of that.” Then, I was already at a C sharp, and I thought I was tapped out.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay with him long enough to find out if he was right, but in some ways, I should have. Time doesn’t move backwards, ever, but if I’m really lucky, I’ll find the right teacher here. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t want to go back to Epiphany, and not because I don’t like it anymore. It’s just not my place, and neither is Houston, for that matter… even though Houston Grand Opera is in the top five opera programs in the nation, and probably in the top 10 of the world.

Washington National Opera Company (@dcopera on Twitter) has been improving by leaps and bounds, though, because they realized what it took to be world class and are implementing those changes. They even hired someone who used to be at HGO.

The bottom line is that I’m positive that when I am feeling well and healthy, I can crush any audition I want. I have too much training and I’ve been singing too long not to feel this way. And if there’s a bottom line below that, it is having no confidence in my abilities assures me I won’t progress at all. Not wanting to put myself out there already caused me to run away once. I will never make that mistake again.

As long as my body cooperates.