Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writers Block and Other Excuses

It's been a week since I told you all that I'm not perfect.  I can only assume you're back this week in hopes of more of the sordid little details I let slip every now and again.  I can't blame you.  I would be too if I didn't already know them all.

If that's what you're here for, you might want to come back next week.  I can't promise any scandal or emotional stories this week, because it's been a week relatively free from emotional or physical trauma (then again, it is only Wednesday), but you never know.  I suppose you'll just have to keep reading to find out.

For those of you who have known me for a while, you know I used to be a writer.  Apparently, I even used to be pretty good at it.  I say "used to be," because I don't feel that I've qualified as much of a writer for quite some time.  Doesn't the saying go "a writer writes"?  Well, I haven't really written lately.  And by lately, I mean years.

Then again, that was one of the points of starting yet another blog.  To write.  To maybe find the voice that I lost somewhere along the way.  And, shockingly, I've written a total of 12 actual blog posts (this will be lucky 13).  True, I have spent the past several years stocking up on some excellent source material, but still.  It's something.

So, to be fair to myself (someone has to be), I guess I've been a writer for at least the past 10 weeks.  "Writer" here is a loosely used phrase, seeing as blogs are often considered to be the bane of the literary world, a dark mark on the highbrow sensibilities of the literarti.  I can't claim that I disagree.  This blog is probably only one step above the journals I kept when I was a teenager, with the major difference being I don't hide it under my bed and I no longer have an all-consuming crush on Ryan Beal.  If Facebook is to be believed, and it usually is, Ryan is currently a tattooed and pierced delinquent, whereas I am an obviously highly successful divorcee doing an astounding job of being an adult.

But we'll give this poor excuse for a public soapbox a break and say that yes, I am writing.  So long as we're being magnanimous, I've also written some recent love poems on the bathroom mirror.  It's not a conventional medium, and I don't expect wide publication, but I think they've been received well by their intended audience.

Honestly, it's a start (the blog and the poems).  I hope.  If you'll remember back to last week, you'll recall that I'm a renowned perfectionist.  This makes being an out-of-practice writer extraordinarily difficult.  Nothing is good enough, because nothing is as good as it used to be.  (Does this all sound familiar?  It does to me.)  I even respond with thoughts of "really?" when people tell me that they like my blog.  

But, like the rest of my life, I guess it's time to start trying.

And, like the rest of my life, it's not easy starting over.

Not to brag, but writing used to be easy for me.  The words were always there.  I wrote everywhere: at home, on the road, at work, at school, at church.  I wrote in notebooks.  I wrote on the computer.  I wrote on bulletins and scraps of paper.  I wrote in the margins of my class notebooks.  I, basically, wrote.

I had ideas.  I had images.  I had turns of phrase that delighted me.  I had titles and character names and backstories and plot twists.

These days, I'm lucky I can come up with a blog every week, much less a sappy note on the mirror.  To tell the truth, the only reason I'm writing about writing this week is that I didn't know what to write about.  Brilliant, I know.

It's not even that I have the quintessential "writer's block."  There's no block.  There's nothing to block.  It's more of a writer's wasteland.  The words are gone.  The ideas are gone.  The characters who used to spring into my mind, as fully-formed as Athena, are gone.

And I don't know where they went.  I don't even know what happened to make them leave.  It certainly wasn't just that I was unhappy.  I had written plenty when I was most deeply unhappy: great, angry, resentful, love-sick poems and pages upon pages of my meanderingly unfinished novel.

I think it was that I stopped feeling.  (Is that a hint of emotional over-sharing?  I think it might be!)  I stopped feeling deeply unhappy in favor of drinking and bad decisions and distracting myself from said unhappiness.  I'd like to note that I am exceptionally good at distracting myself from my own unhappiness and that numbness, for me, can be surprisingly easy to accomplish.  Just have a few drinks every night, pick up an exorbitant number of new hobbies, and forget that there must be more than this provincial life.  You, or at least I, can coast along on that for years at a time, provided the love of your life doesn't come along and completely wreck the illusion.

It's not surprising that the mass exodus of my creativity followed the forced numbing of any real emotions.  Emotional death is an obviously inhospitable climate for ideas.  There's nothing to latch onto, nothing to stimulate or grow.  The wasteland metaphor comes back into play here.  I willingly created a mental desert and wondered why I couldn't write.  

So what now?  I'm self-proclaimedly happy and free, feeling all the normal range of adult emotions again, starting my life over, etc, etc.  Where are the words?  Where is the ease of creativity?  I'm ready and waiting here!

No?  I have to work for it like nearly every other tortured writer on the planet?

That's hardly fair.

But hey, that's life.  It's not fair and it's not easy anymore.  "Suck it up, buttercup," as my boyfriend is so fond of telling me.  He's also rather fond of telling me I should write more.

I'm trying, alright?  I'm writing a blog.  I write the occasional poem.  I may even sometimes feel the stirrings of vague creative potential.  

It's not War and Peace, but I guess it's better than a blank page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Newsflash: I'm Not Perfect

Today is a day where I really don't know what to write about.

It's been a busy few weeks for me.  As usual.  I've been reading, working, cleaning, and being as social as possible.   I got a much-needed, wonderful massage.  I even went out last Friday night and played laser tag.  I was shocked, believe me.

I also celebrated my one year anniversary of working at Fish Eye Fun on Saturday!  Appropriately, I was working.  In some ways, I can't believe it's been another year marker in my life.  The markers are getting better, though.  One year of being on a phone plan with my boyfriend (and therefore one year of finally having an iPhone), which hardly seems possible.  And now one year of working at the best job ever.

My first, rainy night of Fish Eye.
One year later, and still not tired of wedding cake. Or really big glasses.

My event was out in Cadet, Missouri.  Don't worry, I'd never heard of it either.  It was over an hour away on a pretty awesome little farm.  I don't particularly mind when I have to drive for events.  I listen to audiobooks.  I get to see places I've never been before.  I get to look up a the end of the night and be amazed by the countless number of stars you can see in the country.  Plus, the drive back helps me wind down enough that I can go to bed almost right away when I get home.

When I was telling my mom about my event, she asked me a question so very typical that I shouldn't have been surprised, but I still was.  She said, "Is this something you really see yourself doing when you're forty?"

I get it.  My mother worries.  She always has.  She always will.  And really, I can't say that I blame her that much.  After all, I've made some pretty horrendous life decisions in the past that she tried to talk me out of.  With my current life decision batting average, I possibly shouldn't be even be trusted to make my own choices anymore.  So it's not surprising that she should be worried about if I have a plan for my life, or worried about the fact that I'm not doing what she thinks I should be doing.

And you know what?  She's right.  I don't have a plan.  I had plans before.  They didn't quite work out.  So now?  I don't have the greatest or most concrete plan for my life.  I'm seeing what happens, and dealing with it when it does.  So far, it's working out better than before.

But the bigger thing is: I like my job.  More than that, I'd even say I love it.  I like the office work portion.  I like the weekend photography portion, even though I might complain about some aspects.  I'm happy and doing something I enjoy for the first time in seven years.  I don't have the angsty first-world-problem, liberal arts degree regret about feeling unfulfilled like I did with any other job I've had.

And even more than that, I love my relationships, romantic and platonic alike.  I have the strongest, most loving and supportive relationships I've had in years, and it's wonderful.

I still feel like it's not good enough.  I'm not good enough.  At least, it seems, not to my mother.

I know she doesn't do it on purpose.  It's not a malicious attempt to make me feel bad.  It's done out of incredible love.  It doesn't make it easier to deal with.

Part of the problem is I'm a perfectionist who hates disappointing people.  I've always felt incredible guilt and regret when I can't do or be what's expected, when I can't control the way I'm seen, when I can't live up to my own standards much less those of anyone else.

Do you know how to control a perfectionist?  It's easy.  Threaten to tell someone else that said perfectionist is, in fact, not perfect.  It's always worked like a charm with me.

As a child, I threw terrible temper tantrums.  I screamed until I was hoarse.  I cried until I couldn't stop crying.  I threw things.  I told my mom she hated me.  But.  I only did this at home.  I never threw a tantrum in public, because I didn't want anyone to know I was bad.  I wanted everyone to think I was perfect.  And all my mom had to do was threaten to tell someone I admired about what I was doing, and I would stop.

Fast forward to a little over a year and a half ago, when my ex and I were separating.  I confessed, crying, that I didn't want anyone to know what had happened.  I didn't want them to judge me, to know my secrets, know that I was living a lie.  And he told me that no one would have to know if I just stayed with him.  I could still be perfect in the eyes of the world.

It almost worked.  The desire for perfection (no matter how false it would be) almost won out over the desire for happiness.  I felt like that child again, choking back my overwhelming emotions so that I could be the good little girl I wanted everyone to think I was.  It was possible, I thought.  I could give up what I really wanted and stay married.  Then I wouldn't be a failure.  I wouldn't be talked about behind my back.  That status quo would be upheld, and I would keep doing what I was expected to do.

(I feel it's no coincidence that it was during this period of indecision that I finally watched Frozen while miserably wrapped in a blanket on my couch after a book club meeting.  I even confess to crying during "Let It Go," because my God, this damn Disney princess was singing about my life.)

Try as I might to "be the good girl you always have to be," even I couldn't hide how unhappy I was, how torn I was about what to do.  So I confessed the truth of my messy, imperfect life to a few of my closest friends.  And I waited for the judgement.

But, amazingly, they didn't judge me.  They didn't look horrified or disappointed.  They told me they loved and supported me, no matter what I'd done and no matter what I decided to do.  Some of them told me about their own messy, imperfect lives.

Sometimes I forget that we are all messy and imperfect, and we all have secrets (maybe those secrets aren't as big as mine were, but secrets nonetheless). I focus instead on the fact that I am imperfect, and that's an all-consuming thought at times.  But we all make choices and decisions that might not have been the best or wisest, but we made them and all we can do is move on and live our lives as best we can.  I can't constantly worry that someone might think less of me for what I've done or not done.  Because then I'll just get caught up in the same web of false perfection, of living my life according to what someone else thinks is right, rather than what I think is right.  I did that.  It was pretty awful.

Not that I'm suddenly cured of my perfectionism or need to please.  Obviously far from it.  My mother still can make me feel like I'm making all the wrong choices, but I've at least come to terms with the fact that my friends are more than aware that I'm not perfect.

But shhh.  Don't tell anyone.

Just kidding.  Mostly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

August Book List

August was a much better reading month than July.  I'd recommend everything I read.  I also bought like a million books and have no place to put them, so there's that.

Question: does anyone else ever feel the desire to re-buy a book you already own?  I do, particularly at estate sales or used book stores.  I get excited seeing a book I love and have an immediate urge to buy it again, even though I already have it.  If I acted on this every time, I'd have approximately ten copies of A Prayer for Owen Meany. Probably more.

1. So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, by Maureen Corrigan

I loved this.  I love books about books.  I always love books about books, because I'm a nerd, but this was one of the best and most interesting books about books I've read in quite a while.

The whole book is about, as the title says, how The Great Gatsby came to be written and why it's still one of the most well-known and well-loved books, in spite of its less-than-thrilling reception.  Corrigan's love for Gatsby spills over into her writing, making reading this book completely delightful and engrossing.  I knew a lot of the history of the Fitzgeralds and Gatsby already, but still had so much to learn and found so many different new ways of looking at such a complicated, layered little book.  I highly recommend this for anyone who loves Gatsby, as well as anyone struggling to figure out what makes Fitzgerald so great after all.

Four stars.

2. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Of course, after reading about Gatsby, I had to read Gatsby.  Again.  Re-reading it this time, after the benefit of Corrigan's insights and research, was probably my favorite Gatsby experience.  I noticed all the little things that you tend to skim over in regular readings, and loved it even more than the last time I re-read it (before the latest movie came out).  I'm continually amazed by how much is going on in what can barely be called a novel.

If you haven't read The Great Gatsby, I really don't know what you've been doing with your life.  And if you think Gatsby is a great love story, you weren't paying attention.  Like Corrigan, I find something new to take away from each new reading, and continually find new depth and meaning each time I come back to it.  It's even already shown up in my blog about dealing with the past.

Five stars, because Gatsby.

3. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

This was a rough read.  Not because it was poorly written, but it was rough subject matter.  Anne and I chose it for our Drunk Girls' Book Club.  It had also been referenced repeatedly in So We Read On, so it seemed an appropriate next choice.  It tells the story of a young black man coming into his own in the 1940s and 50s, dealing with bigotry, race riots, and the consequences of being "invisible."

I can say that, while I'm glad I read it once, I doubt I will ever do so again.

I gave it three stars on Goodreads, but it's really more like three and a half.

4. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

I listened to the audiobook of this, and absolutely adored it.  All the books.  All the literary geeking.  John Irving references.  Perfection.  It includes the line, "Whenever I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time."  Love.

In short, it's the story of a New England bookseller whose sad life is changed when a child is left at his bookshop.  It's adorable.  It's literary.  It's sweet and touching and funny.  If you like books, read it.

Four stars.  Because I'm easy when it comes to literary nerd books.

5. Toujours Provence, by Peter Mayle

This is the follow up to Mayle's first book about their life as ex-patriots living in Provence, A Year in Provence.  Like his first book, each chapter is a short humorous essay about some experience or observation.  Also like his first book, it is filled with delicious accounts of food and wine and does nothing but make me want to pack everything up and move immediately to France.

These books are nothing complex or awe-inspiring (except for some of the menu recountings), but I always thoroughly enjoy them.

Four stars.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On Relationships, and What They're Not

This is going to be a little more personal than usual, which meant I strongly considered not posting, but I've been thinking about this for two days now, and writing about it is one of the best ways I've found to process.  And really, it can't be much worse than me half-naked, flipping off a camera, like my Wreck the Dress post.  So bear with me, or wait for a happier blog (which will, I promise, be coming).

One of the most important things I've learned in the past year is that I do not exist solely to make someone else happy.  This may seem obvious to most of you, and I hope it does.  But to me, it's been a startling revelation, one I still struggle with sometimes.  But I've learned (sometimes slowly) that I do not need to apologize for having fun, or for my needs, or for having a life outside my relationship, or for not being at someone else's beck and call.  I am not an indentured servant.  I (and anyone really) am good for more than taking care of someone when they're sick, contrary to some opinions.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't want to take care of those I love and care for, or be concerned for their needs and desires.  I do want to.  Very much so.  Because caring about someone means you want to take care of them, do things for them, make their life better.  Particularly when it's a mutually caring relationship.

But here's the thing.  A relationship is more than what you can get out of it.  Relegating the person you spent years of your life with to little more than a servant with benefits is not only offensive to women but to absolutely everyone.  No one should be devalued that much, or be so appallingly blind to the point and real benefit of a relationship.  If my boyfriend and I were to break up, no matter how jaded I might be, I truly hope that I would never have the self-involved nerve to say that I only missed what he could do for me or that I would only want a boyfriend because of what I could get out of him.  That's missing the point of relationships, romantic or otherwise. 

Moreover, that's not a relationship.  At least, not a healthy one.  But it can entirely sum up the main reason why I'm divorced.  I rarely felt actually loved for who I was before this past year or so.  Instead, I felt used, in pretty much every sense of the word.  I felt bad about myself, felt that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't be the person he wanted.  And worse than that?  Whenever I dared to ask for something in return, there was always a reason why I didn't deserve that.  I was a bitch in the mornings, I was a bitch when I was sick, and it was easier to just let me take care of myself because I was some awful gorgon of a creature.

You know what?  I don't feel used anymore.  I don't feel like I'm crazy or impossible to make happy.  It's nice.  It makes me feel like a person.  It makes me feel loved.

And if my relationship were to end, there would be a lot I would miss.

I would miss the companionship and the inside jokes, the messages and drawings on the bathroom mirror.  I would miss wandering around Wal-Mart or Target together.  I would miss sharing my day with him.  I would miss reading a book next to him.  And yes, I would miss the things he does for me.  But I would miss those things because of what they mean, not because I expect someone else to take care of me.  I can only hope he feels the same.

Similarly, if I were to lose a friendship, I wouldn't miss the fact that my friend gave me rides places or bought me drinks when I needed it.  I would miss texting with them, going out with them, sharing stories and gossip.  In short, I would miss the relationship, not the material or physical gains that come from a relationship.

There's no reason a romantic relationship should be different, aside from the obvious.  We are not here to use each other, or to be used.  

I hope I never have to relearn that lesson.