So I could write some stuff orrrrr you could just listen to the most excellent playlist ever and pretty much know everything there is to know about me. I’m just saying…. (BTW, I suggest you pick the listen to the playlist option cause I’m doing busy watching Wreck-It Ralph to write anything.)
I have no answers for you tonight, but I do have a question—by way of an interview I just did with the legendary innovator and choreographer Bebe Miller—that we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis:
How do I not stop myself?
Here are some things you should read:
And in case you’re not tired of watching me read poems yet, here I am at the now gone but not forgotten Monday Night Poetry and Blues in Charleston, October 2011
Oh, and you should definitely watch this, often, and honestly, I’m kinda judging you right now if you’ve never seen it …
Just back from the first read for Forum Theatre’s production of Nat Turner in Jerusalem by Nathan Alan Davis. Just hearing two extraordinarily talented actors reading an extraordinarily well written script was transformative. And it’s only going to get better once the director and designers layer on their vision. I am quite excited to see it up on its feet. I wish it wasn’t time for me to start getting ready for bed because it’s the kind of work that’s so good you want to come home and work on your own projects. Instead I’m going to de-fuschia my lips, hang out in the shower luxuriating in the hot water for far too long, and then slather myself in coconut oil so I smell good when Jon Hamm shows up in my dreams. (One of these things may not actually happen.)
But that’s enough about me. Mostly tonight I wanted to share this response from Jason V. to this blog post I wrote about vulnerability. (Rumor has it he and Andrea O. are starting a blog soon and I’m soooooo here for it and I’ll make sure to share the news when it happens. Did you see that Andrea and Jason—I said “when” not “if.” I’m just saying….)
So without further ado, here’s Jason…
I want to take care of you but you first have to let me.
I’ve always found this to be one of the most difficult parts of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. The part where you love someone, and you need them, and you need things from them… emotional and physical and maybe even financial things… but you can’t bring yourself to let them help you. Whether it is a conscious decision/choice you’re making or something in the back of your mind and heart that prevents you from accepting help… you just can’t bring yourself to let them help you.
It’s a scary concept – the idea of needingsomeone. You feel vulnerable. You feel helpless at times. You feel as if you should have it together enough to never need anyone in these ways, no matter who it is. This becomes more pronounced the older we get. Accepting help is a very big deal for many of us. Especially those of us who carry forth certain (often very toxic) personality traits. Traits like pride. Ego. Guilt. Shame. Low self-worth. These characteristics tend to work to our own detriment, especially when we really need the help of a friend. We’ll hide the need for help. Even when we accept the help, we’ll hide the fact of that too. Or we’ll resent the person offering the help, like it’s somehow his or her fault that we need it!
And what can easily happen is we don’t accept the help we desperately need. Usually for reasons that are so unimportant to our overall health. We reject people who love us and want to see us do well and genuinely want to help us for… well, for what exactly? What does accepting help we need do to us or make us feel that we so often reject and avoid it?
It can make us feel weak. Weak in the eyes of others and in our own eyes as well. No one wants to appear weak to the outside world or to the people they care about. So we’ll reject help to prove our own strength except… the need for the help is still there. It hasn’t gone anywhere so in reality we’re no stronger than we were before we rejected the help.
It can make us feel like failures. Like because we don’t have enough money to pay the rent this month, we’re failed providers. Like because we need someone to put together our resume for us, we’re failed professionals. Like because we’re single parents and need someone to stay with our kids one night, we’re failed parents.
It can make us feel ashamed. Ashamed at ourselves for taking from someone else. Ashamed of ourselves for falling our household or spouse or child.
I’ve refused help I needed because I thought it proved my strength. When I went through a divorce there were friends and family who reached out, genuinely, to offer money or advice or just an ear. For many reasons I rejected most of their offers. I told myself it was because they wouldn’t understand my situation or because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. That was partially true but the bigger truth was I was afraid to look and appear weak. Afraid to look like I couldn’t handle it. Even though the truth was just that – I couldn’t handle it all alone. And I shouldn’t have handled it alone. Even though I wanted to. Even though I tried to.
I didn’t realize it at the time but this refusal to take help I needed had become a personality trait of mine as an adult. As a man, I was always taught to be the rock – to be the backbone. Men are tough and don’t cry. Men stand on their own two feet and don’t ever need or ask for help. In my household, a man is not allowed to need help because if you do it means you’ve failed to do your job as a provider or protector. That was my mentality and it made tough situations even tougher because when I needed money or advice I wouldn’t seek it or accept it. And when I divorced and took on twin 5 year olds basically by myself… I needed help. Help that I didn’t know how to ask for because I’d never really asked for it before. Help with money, going from two incomes to one. Help with childcare so I could get some rest. Help with coping with the loss and help with coaching my children through it too. What’s worse, I had plenty of good people around me, friends and family, who were willing, able and wanting to help me.
I had to change that. And honestly, I only realized this after I felt I was hurting my children. I felt like I was letting pride and ego keep them from receiving help we all needed. I was prioritizing my own feelings over their well being. After I realized that, accepting help became a lot easier. I told myself “this is what’s best for the kids.” And maybe it was a sell job – maybe I was telling myself what I needed to hear to accept the help we needed. But it did allow me to be able to receive things that I needed at the time and that I wouldn’t have accept otherwise.
I learned from that to prioritize what was most important – our overall mental and emotional health and well being – instead of prioritizing my feelings and hangups. Admittedly, this is a lot easier to do when it involves my kids than when it’s me alone. I still have trouble identifying the times when I need help, which makes it more difficult to accept it. I still have a hard time saying the words “yes, I need you.” I still have a hard time accepting that I can’t, or shouldn’t, do everything alone. That whether or not I’m capable of doing it all alone is not nearly as important as doing what’s best for me and my kids.
But I’m getting better.
So I need either a better filing system or a better memory because today’s been about finding poems I’d forgotten I’d written. Sigh.
I’ve also turned my attention back to the book about my Dad, or about me and my Dad, or about the uselessness of language in the face of grief, or probably some other theme I can’t currently see.
I’m sooooo close to the end, and by “end” of course I mean only the end of writing enough poems, which is the beginning of figuring out how to put them all into order in a way that makes sense, which I suspect will be quite tricky given how narrow the subject matter is.
I read a a handful of the Dad poems last night and they seemed to land, and out loud they didn’t seem like too much, so that’s good. (By too much, I mean that it wasn’t so much sadness heaped upon sadness that people started sobbing so loudly that I couldn’t continue, though maybe I wouldn’t have minded that?)
When this book goes out in the world, I wonder whose voice my readers will hear in their head? If they’re lucky, maybe it will be Armie Hammer, though I suppose that would be odd since it’s a book from a daughter’s perspective, but honestly, I’d be okay with my work in his mouth.
But seriously, who would you want to hear read the audiobook (do books of poetry even become audio books, is that a thing)? I wouldn’t want it to be me only because I don’t like listening to myself. I mean I like that so many people have actually watched the video from last night’s reading, but I listened to the song at the beginning (which I started too high on, sigh…) and then couldn’t get myself to listen to any more.
I didn’t mind listening to myself over the microphone last night mostly because I read so differently than what I’d rehearsed at home that it was like hearing the whole thing for the first time. I forget sometimes that I’ve been performing in some way or the other since I was a kid, and I really do come alive in a different way when there’s an audience. I forget that I have stage presence.
I’ve been thinking about how it’s a sin (don’t worry, venial not mortal) to forget who we are, to not see what our particular superpower is and walk in it. Because we’re scared, or some other reason that ultimately boils down to fear. (Fear is the one human constant, don’t you think?) It’s hard to embrace the spotlight of our own authority but we must if we’re to do what it is we’re put on this earth to do.
My particular superpower right now is resisting the siren call of the TV, and instead typing up this definition poem I just found hiding in the back of a file cabinet. It will (maybe) make up for the poems I mercilessly slaughtered today to put them out of their misery, that is, if it escapes the merciless guillotine itself. Good luck poem, good luck!
I admit to being out of words tonight after reading at Sunday Kind of Love hosted by Split This Rock. It’s amazing to look out at a sold-out room full of people gathered to listen to poetry. I’m still trying to process it all—a local college student from Parkland, Florida, reading a poem at the open mike from a friend of hers who witnessed the shooting;another young woman asking me for a hug and saying the father poems really spoke to her; after the reading a group of students from my MFA alma mater patiently listening as I ranted on about why the creative writing program belongs with the rest of the arts not the literature department. And so many of my beloveds —from work, from church, from graduate school, from the local arts scene—-in the audience. My friend M. kindly streamed it on FB for me, and I’ve embedded the video below.
Before I fell asleep, before I gave myself heartburn by falling asleep when I’d just eaten a bowl of pasta, before the snow started, I’d planned to write a blog post about what a beautiful possibly spring day it was. How it was cold, but a fresh, light-warmed kind of cold, with no bite to it. It was a springtime kind of cold.
And it may still very well be on its way to an early spring despite the groundhog’s pessimism and the icy white outside. If the truth of who we are is not our circumstances, perhaps the same is true of the seasons?
I am waiting for my period, which was supposed to show up on Thursday. If I believed that carnal thoughts about Jon Hamm could get you pregnant or if I weren’t in perimenopause, I’d be worried, so so worried. It’s interesting that as my body is moving from maiden to crone (I seem to have skipped whatever’s in-between) that I wait now not to have my period.
I wonder, is this the start of those 12 months with no period that will land me in full menopause? Or is my period simply on hiatus for a month or two, leading me down the garden path of thinking we have parted forever, only to come flooding back—and yes, from the stories I’ve heard “flooding” is no hyperbole—whenever it feels like it? The 40s can be such a steadying time; I have experienced an influx of wisdom, of calm, of peace about who I am that I never expected to get to. Yet my body is unstable, unsure if it’s ready for my fertility to sputter to a stop, or if it wants to hang out just a bit longer, waiting by the phone for a sperm to call, full of expectation and excitement and already disappointed that the delicious tenterhooks of waiting will end one way or the other. Am I in spring or am I in winter? (And really, I should say “fall” and not “winter” but oh how a poet will lie sometimes just to make the metaphor work.)
I am angry that too many politicians are again tweeting their thoughts and prayers palaver in light of yet another horrific, absolutely preventable murder of children. I am angry because they have reduced prayer to a platitude. Prayer is not a tweet. Prayer is an action. Prayer is a foundation. Prayer is a place to talk with God about your next steps. Prayer is a place to find your energy for the fight. Prayer is a place to find your strategy for the fight. Prayer is a place to find out what you need to let go of and what you need to take on in order to fight. Prayer is an action that shows itself in further action. Something always changes when you pray. Something inside of you breaks open. Something inside of you is healed. Something inside of you is shed. Something inside of you bursts forth. Prayer is a conversion of inaction to action. As I wrote on MLK Day, many of our great civil rights leaders grounded themselves in prayer. They knew that if they started with prayer they could make the world tremble. My prayer life has been nonexistent lately, and I need to take my own advice. I’m going to pray. And I’m going to refuse to believe that prayer is just an excuse not to act.
Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Like every singleton in the free world, I used to slump deep in a funk each Valentine’s Day bemoaning my perpetual free agency. I did have a boyfriend one year for the big day—the one year I actually had a boyfriend—but he was not gifted in the gifting department and it just felt a bit perfunctory. (Given that in that relationship I was, if I’m honest, more interested in performing love than actually open to falling in love, that was probably par for the course.) But then one year, maybe a decade or more ago now, I decided to send Valentine’s Day cards to all the people I loved. Which broke the woe is me spell.
These days I think it’s sweet when people wish me a happy valentine’s day, and February 14 no longer sets off a spell of pining in me. I realize it’s a completely manufactured holiday, but hey, if we’re going to make shit up, I’m down with making up a sweet (albeit completely consumerist) holiday.
Speaking of love, at dinner with L. the other night we started talking about that idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Which is not bullshit exactly, but it’s not entirely accurate either. The idea behind that sentiment always seems to be that everything will be magically wonderful if you just commit to celebrating your own awesomeness. Which is always a good idea, but will only get you so far. And will probably make you try to measure up to impossible standards like having your shit together all the time and all at the same time. Which, let’s face it, is not a thing that can actually happen. For anyone.
Love, real love, isn’t only about the good bits; that’s the kind of love that comes with conditions. (We actually need some other word for that.) What we’re hopefully striving for in a long-term love relationship is unconditional love, and that’s where we need to start with ourselves if we want to end up having that with other people in our lives, whether or not they are people we want to make out with. We need to get comfortable at looking at all of who we are in this given moment. Without judgement. Without guilt or shame. With compassion. With empathy.
This doesn’t mean we have to like everything we find. And we probably won’t. But we do have to be able to say, At this moment, this is who I am and I’m going to embrace myself without judgement. Which is both excruciatingly hard, and excruciatingly necessary, even if we’re quite happy being our own valentines for the rest of our lives.
Let me leave you with this, which is so much more a true thing than that “You complete me” nonsense…