(10 x 3) + 6

I’m almost 36. Are things changing? Have things changed? What’s different? How much closer am I to my goals? What are my goals? Why do I feel like I’m standing still? Why doesn’t the world make sense? How much longer before it starts to? Will it ever? I strongly doubt it. I sometimes despair of ever getting my shit together.

I feel so much older lately, these last few months. Maybe just this last month. When I suddenly had to face the fact that I’m here alone, I have no partner, just wrinkles and fat and too many cats, not a single pair of decent shoes, a pile of debts that refuses to budge, no matter how resolutely I pick up extra shifts and stop sleeping/eating/talking. I would like to give up now, please, if I may. I am tired. Bone tired. Soul tired.

To tell the truth, it’s the cats that keep me here. I wish I could say that it’s optimism, or faith, some form of belief that things will get better, that my life will mean something. But in the end, it’s as I suspect it is for many people: my children. Who will take care of them if I leave? So I stay. And that means roughly 19 years, or until our politicians get us all killed, whichever comes first. At the moment, I strongly suspect the latter.

Anyway, I’m old. Older. I still look young-ish. Not as young as a few years ago, but not as old as I could look for my age. I haven’t birthed any babies, and I’ve never smoked or spent a lot of time in the sun, so my skin is still in good shape. I’m swollen around the eyes lately, and if you look closely, you’ll see all of the grays in my otherwise brunette ‘do. Plus, there’s much more facial hair than ever before. I hate it. I do what I can, but it’s resilient. It’s wirey. It comes out of nowhere, a sudden chin hair, sprung out of a mole midafternoon. Well, I am a witch. What did I expect?

I want tattoos. I want to wear my inside on my outside, for people to see me as I am. But I’m afraid maybe they do. I fear I am wan, as a personality. That I am nearly nothing, and almost gone. I have never amounted to anything, and I doubt I ever will. I am so bored of all of this. People say things like “there’s so much living yet to do,” as though we should all know that means something good. For me, the future stretches on as either something filled with terror, pain and death, or else nothing – a winding, milquetoast road, paved with the quiet indignities of a long, lonely life.

I wish there were a way to opt out of this round. I just need a break. I need a long walk. I need a friend to hug me and tell me that this is all for something, that there’s a point to struggling on. If there is one, I don’t see it.

But maybe it’s just that the way forward has been buried up to its chin in platitudes, nearly drowned under the weight of all of that fake optimism everyone’s using to cover up their terror. Maybe I’ve just got to shovel everyone else’s bullshit away to see the truth underneath. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more energy to attempt to be OK. One day closer to 36.

And who knows, maybe it’s 36 that makes all of this make sense. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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Roller Coasters & Hotel Rooms

I just had a millisecond of clarity, so I’m going to try to record it while I have something in hand. Apologies if this makes little to no sense yet.

One of the things that I most love about vacationing on my own is that when I’m in a strange place with no friends or family around, I feel fully alone, isolated, and yet happy. I can fully embrace the fact that I have no support system, no protection, no idea of what’s going to happen next or how I might handle it. In the moment, while I’m feeling it, it surfaces as melancholy, maybe a little bit of wistfulness, the sad side of wanderlust. I walk around in shops alone, eat meals alone, go to bed alone, stare out of hotel windows alone, stumble through stilted foreign language conversations with cab drivers and servers alone. There are moments that propel themselves, and others that I have to fight through. I am fully participating in the experience, which honestly doesn’t always happen at home. For me, traveling is a practice in mindfulness.

Even though I’ve explained the emotion that accompanies this as melancholy, it is not sad. It twists my heart. It is unpleasant, in places. But it’s more like the beginning moments of riding a roller coaster, when you’re getting all strapped in and waiting for the ride. There’s this way that you go “Oh man, this is unpleasant,” and then the next moment you’re going, “well, that could have been worse,” and then you’re going, “wait, this is amazing!” (Except that’s not how I handle roller coasters, just how it looks like other people handle them. For me, a roller coaster is like, “this is unpleasant,” “omg, I can’t believe I thought *that* was unpleasant – this is seriously unpleasant,” “I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die, why am I doing this?” and “OK, that was actually kind of funny, in a weird, existential way – and look, I’m not dead!”)

Anyway, this all goes to say that I handle traveling on my own completely differently than living on my own. I tend to look at travel as an adventure, where I’m privileged to be exploring the world solo, and every new moment is an opportunity. It all feels like I’ve done it before, and I’m brushing up on a lesson that I’ve already learned in a life before this one. It only hurts, feels melancholic, because it reminds me of old pleasures. But I’m still open to the new ones, and travel never fails to bring me new ways of seeing that feel like old lessons I used to know. Maybe that’s also because I tend to go to places of great spiritual importance to me, who knows?

So tonight, I was sitting on the corner of the bed, looking at the floor, thinking that I need to get up in six hours and go to a job I hate. I never just sit on the side of the bed at home. I do that all the time in hotels and hostels and albergues. And that physicality is probably why I had just the tiniest flash of that same travel melancholy I get all the time when I’m away, doing what I actually want to be doing. For just a second, I thought, “maybe I should see going to work tomorrow as an opportunity for adventure, instead of a punishment.” And then it hit me – I’m still traveling.

This is just an extended stay at a destination that bores me, and that’s OK. There’s no reason that I can’t tap into the feeling I love about traveling, even here in this place that I call home for most of the year. There’s no reason not to turn this into an adventure. You can do anything that you imagine (within some amount of reason), wherever you are in the moment. I know that, because I’ve done it. I’ve been bad and good, in places new and places familiar. I can bring new energy to this place if I so will it, and I do. So I’ll invite the mystique into my existence here, in this hotel room of an apartment, into this mess of a life.

Who knows, maybe it will be funny, in a weird, existential way…

Things I Have Not Said

I’m still pretty angry, and for awhile now, that anger has been paired up with a heaping helping of shame. At first, I didn’t get it. Why shame? And for that matter, why anger, exactly? A calm, well-planned breakup with friendship intact shouldn’t elicit this level of “BURN IT DOWN!” that I’m constantly feeling. It’s been over a month. Shouldn’t I be getting on with my life?

But it’s started to hit me. I’ve known the entire time that I wasn’t angry AT anyone, exactly. I’m certainly not that angry at him, this last him. I love him deeply, and unconditionally. He’s irritated the shit out of me, yes. The thought of having to spend time in his presence in a non-girlfriend role makes me want to puke, yes. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m being forced to give up on him because he’s asking me to, yes. That last one is crazy, and I’m just rolling it around, rolling it around, rolling it around. Eventually it will wear down to a size where it fits in my head and starts to make some sort of sense, but right now it’s just going to sit here and be weird and pointless, the same as this breakup.

But back to the anger and shame. It’s hitting me that I’m angry for everything. My life. Everything that everyone has done to piss me off and I haven’t said a goddamn thing to any of them. Because I was raised to believe that any negative emotion felt as a result of the actions of other people is my burden to bear. You feel like it’s unfair? So what, life is unfair. Take a number. Turn the other cheek. Practice forgiveness. Don’t even bother complaining in the first place. Ignore the pain. Fight through the discomfort. Never, ever talk about the ways in which you’re failing at being a proper young lady with class and good breeding. Ladies don’t use curse words. Ladies don’t wear that kind of outfit (or that kind, or that kind, or that kind, either). Ladies don’t go out after dark or go anywhere alone or spend time with strange men (or familiar men – in fact, why is that man familiar, good heavens!).

You had a bad experience? It’s probably all your fault. You were wearing the wrong thing. You said the wrong thing. You didn’t put enough distance between the two of you. You should have been scoping your surroundings more efficiently. You shouldn’t have been there at all. Did you laugh, smile, speak, make eye contact, walk past him with a little too much sway? Are you showing any skin at all? Your makeup must have been too dark. Besides, he didn’t really mean to scare you with his scary/sleezy/downright rape-y behavior – that’s just how men are. And you’re just how women are. So shut up and move on. Stop trying to get attention.

And the non-rape-y stuff, the times they shut you down, make you explain yourself with smiley emojis, talk to you like you’re a toddler, shout at you because they want a discount on their invoice, repeatedly ignore you when it’s time for a promotion, deny your request for a raise and then give it to the guy who works half-days and spends his time building his fantasy football league… Well, they’ll listen to you one day when you’re older/smarter/prettier/have a different job title. If you start paying more attention to their sports discussions/TV shows/baby pictures they’ll think you’re a team player and you’ll get a promotion. If you’d just stop being so pushy. You probably whine too much. Or maybe you come across as bitchy when you ask for things. You could stand to wear more attractive things to the office. Dress for the job you want. But not too attractive, you know – don’t want to look like the office slut. Ugh……………….

All this goes to say that I’ve figured out that I’m not suddenly angry. I’m just suddenly experiencing all of the anger that I’ve tamped down over my lifetime. And I’m experiencing this shame for feeling angry, but I’m also angry about having been conditioned to feel the shame, so that’s a really interesting place to be.

So I think it might be helpful to say all of the things that I never got to. All of the things that I thought would be “nagging,” but really would have released some of my stress and probably helped to shape the lives of those men who have gone on to date other women (who are hopefully nagging them right now, as we speak).

  1. You wore too much cologne. Three direct sprays is TOO MUCH. I actually told you that it was too much one time, but then you sprayed another blast. To be funny? Really, you just looked like an asshole, and you STANK of cologne, and it wafted after you. People choked on that all day long in your office, I’m sure. I choked on it just getting near you. You sucked for not listening to me. You were so unbelievably rude, but you acted like you thought it was endearing or attractive. It wasn’t.
  2. Your hair products ruined my sheets. Sheets are really expensive, and that stuff isn’t coming out.
  3. You always left your trash behind. You told me that it was just because you’re absent minded, and I grew to believe that and find it endearing. But let’s be honest. You’re a grownup, and you knowingly made more work for me every time you brought some disposable item into my house. If you know that you’re prone to leave trash around, WORK ON IT. Same goes for washing your own damn dishes.
  4. You woke me up on Saturday morning – the day that I got to sleep in – and demanded that I get up and wash the dishes. You acted like my dad, except that my dad would NEVER make me get up early on a Saturday morning, because he loves me. Screw you. Seriously. I hope you marry a tyrant who pulls that kind of passive aggressive bullshit right back at ya.
  5. You vacuumed while I was sleeping, just because you had to stick to your schedule of self-perpetuating bullshit.
  6. You promised me that you’d always clean the bathtub, did it twice, then made me do it for the next 8 years.
  7. You had the body of a Roman god, had to do absolutely nothing to maintain it, and when you saw me working constantly to try to stay slim, you did nothing to help. That’s OK – it wasn’t your job to help. But it was your job to STOP BAKING SEVERAL CAKES PER WEEK that you wouldn’t eat. What kind of monster fills up a house with junk food when they know damn well that their girlfriend is a compulsive eater? The same kind who bathes in cologne, excels at all of their shared hobbies until she no longer finds joy in any of the things that used to amuse her, and lords his finances over her.
  8. Oh, yeah, that amazing little tidbit. When I was making 35k and loving my job, you told me that I didn’t make enough money and needed to quit. You tried to make it sound like you were concerned with me, but in actuality you were chiding me for my weakness, my inability to fit your definition of success. You harped on how little money I was making, and how there were plenty of jobs out there that paid more – I just needed to look harder. Yeah, I was struggling, but I was paying my half. You, meanwhile managed to put up 15k extra that you later tearfully told me was supposed to “go towards our wedding” as a surprise. Right.
  9. You bailed out of going to my best friend’s wedding. She’s a sister to me. I should have moved out that day, instead of wasting my time. I knew right then that you could never be the man for me, but instead I kept trying. Isn’t that the saddest shit ever? What kind of person loves herself so little that she’d choke on the disrespect rather than cutting ties and moving on? Ugh.
  10. I paid for your half of many joint activities our first years together, because I loved being with you and wanted to share experiences. It was a burden to me, and I resented it, but was mostly irritated with myself for not being gracious enough to just incur the debt. I loved you and wanted you to be with me, and if that meant paying for things when you couldn’t afford them, I told myself that I didn’t mind. But I did. And because I had taken the brunt of someone’s displeasure with me for not making enough money, I decided to never make it a big deal. I did my best to never even bring up the fact that my budget wasn’t meant for two. But then you found steady employment, and everything was looking up. And then you dumped me. It seems like more than a coincidence, but I’m sure I’m wrong. I’m sure the two had nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that our schedules no longer aligned in the least bit, so we grew apart. But it still stings. I’m still angry. I felt used at the beginning, and now at the end, I feel manipulated, which is worse. I wish you could have waited a little while. Taken care of me a little bit. Showed me that you treasured me in the way I treasured you. But you retreated once you had the chance to show yourself. It wasn’t even about money in the end, but it’s easiest to see this portion of the pattern. You knew you needed to pick up the slack, but you didn’t do it. You let everyone around you pay for you, take care of you, ensure that you aren’t too sad or uncomfortable. And at the time I thought that your hangdog air was all shame. And I’m sure that’s a part of it. But I know now that you enjoy feeling that shame. You get off on it. It’s a power play with yourself. It’s erotic, in its own weird way. So yeah, I’m angry at you for turning something as simple as going out to dinner into a lingering guilt trip, just to fulfill some strange need to constantly be wrong.
  11. You should have been honest with me from the beginning. You eventually told me that you’d “thought” you could be “normal.” You thought you could do this, be in an adult relationship, living by adult rules. But you knew what you were doing. You got me out of a bad place, and I will always be grateful to you for that, but you also lied to me. I gave you opportunities to come clean from the very start. I was honest with you, and expected honesty from you, but instead you wore a mask and then gradually fell apart on me. I had already loved you. I continued loving you. I will probably always love you. But you held out on me, and that hurt me. It hurt my life. You’re hurting my life right now.

That’s all I’ve got for the moment.

Midnight Drive

Granddaddy came to visit me the night before last, in a dream that felt like real life. I wish I could say with certainty that it was a visit from the man I so adored, rather than just wishful thinking and misfiring synapses, but I will always be a hopeful skeptic. It felt good, though, and gave me something to think on. So I’ll treat it as it felt – an important message, spoken by my long-dead grandfather, here on a soul-business trip.

We were driving to a wedding. I spent countless hours in the passenger seat of Granddaddy’s truck as a child, when he was alive, so we were back to places that suited us best. He was younger than I last remember him. He was in his late 60’s when he passed away. In the dream, he was around 50, his face still plump and a little shiny, his hair not quite thinned out, and still some black strands here and there. I was my present age. Neither of us remarked on the age differences, and I don’t think it even struck me as odd in the dream.

The wedding was being held at a church that was also a part-time warehouse and granary. Why I know this, I have no clue. We didn’t discuss it. But as the truck got closer to the building, I could clearly read the block letters on the side of the building, and the church was named “Gods Colors” (no apostrophe). I exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve been here before! I love this church!” He made a noncommittal grunt – a characteristic I’d forgotten – more on the positive side than negative, the kind of sound someone makes when they’re barely listening to you, but still want to appear polite.

Instead of stopping at the church, we rounded the corner and kept driving. On the right was a railroad depot, and ahead of us, the road changed from a country highway to a long, stately street, lined with straight, tall trees. The looked like birch trees, perhaps. As we drove towards this long line of tees, he looked over at me and said “You’ve always been so forgiving.” The subcontext was that I was forgiving to a fault, and he watched me being hurt as a result, and didn’t like it. But he wasn’t angry, or sad. He was studying me, and praising me, and it all came across in this simple sentence, and the way he looked at me, hands on the wheel, love in his eyes.

I don’t remember exactly how I responded. Something like, “I have to,” or “It’s my job.” We kept driving, and never reached the trees. Eventually I woke up.

Two things stand out to me from that dream: the church, and the message of forgiveness. Where was the apostrophe? Was the church to multiple gods? What are their colors? And was Granddaddy reminding me that I keep forgetting to forgive myself? I think so. I never see myself so clearly as when he shows up to look at me. In real life (and now sometimes in my dreams) he always looked at me with pure love. How to ever match that? But the truth is that it’s my job to do it. I’m the only one left to do that for myself. I deserve to see myself the way he saw me. I deserve to look upon myself with love and tenderness. I deserve to be forgiven.

Being OK

I don’t have a lot of friends, and most of those live far, far away. I have no social circle here. A few people I can call in an emergency. A few people I can call for a drink (but whose schedules most likely won’t sync up – those friends who float on the periphery, good but not great). But that’s OK. It’s hard to paint a picture of just how it’s OK, exactly, but I’m best on my own. Just me and my cats, a phone call now and then, a bunch of superficial comments on the internet, a day of gossiping and telling jokes at my job. I’m OK.

What’s funny about being OK is that it’s been a little over a month since I got dumped, after three years of dating. That relationship followed right on the back of another, in which I broke up with someone else after eight years. Eleven straight years of dating. I guess I was just tired of it. Tired of constantly thinking about someone else, and how each of my actions impacted them. Nothing too big or too small to worry about. The toilet paper I bought. The frequency at which I plucked my eyebrows. The color scheme of the throw pillows purchased for the couch. The weight of the duvet, the thickness of the door mat, the products used to scrub the refrigerator drawers. The cut of my underwear, lift of my bra, shadow of my cellulite. The shape of my bikini line, the application of my eye shadow, that bout with bra strap acne…every aspect of my life was checked and double checked, and I always came up wanting.

My old ex (not the latest ex – see, that’s a thing I don’t know how to navigate, what do I call them now?) commented often on how little money I was making. It made me feel like shit. I loved my job, but grew to hate it. It would never pay me what he thought I should be making. I didn’t have any opinion for myself, just myself as he saw me, or maybe myself as he wanted me to be. And I wasn’t that person that he felt I could/should be. I was someone else. Who, I didn’t know. I still don’t know, though I’m working at it.

Over the last three years, I’ve been fighting to become myself, and in many ways, my latest ex helped me immensely with that process. But I also let him hold me back, although it was completely unintentional on his part. I still made all of my decisions based on his wants, needs, interests. Thankfully we have much in common, so I wasn’t making decisions contrary to my own wants, needs, and interests, but still it was him at the forefront of my brain, not me. Even so, I learned that I love hiking, and rediscovered my love of camping and nature, of solitude and books and the BBC.

And now I am alone, and grateful for the opportunity. To be blatantly honest, it’s freeing. I’m happier. It’s not that I don’t miss him; we saw each other last week, and I still love him deeply. But suddenly there’s more room in my life for me. I can be my first priority for the first time in eleven years. I’m not constantly worried about all possible aspects of this secondary individual. I won’t spend every waking moment worrying about how his depression is treating him today, or whether he’s unhappy with my weight, or whether he’d eat chicken pot pie if I cooked it. Now I have room to muse over my own needs and desires, to contemplate my growth. My daily anxiety is significantly reduced, because I simply don’t worry about myself in the same way that I worry about and for other people. I never have. When it comes to me, I’m generally confident and optimistic. So I’m doing well – I have no doubt that soon I will be thriving.

My friends have been asking me how I’m holding up. In some ways, my life is small, but it’s been that way for ages. I’m working hard to pay off my debts, so I can live a much bigger life in the not-too-distant future. I spend 98% of my life outside of work alone, with three cats. But I’m doing exactly what I want to do every moment, and better than that, I’m THINKING exactly what I want to think every moment. No wasted energy on people who are fully capable of worrying about themselves.

There are many more miles to walk. I’m not done with figuring this life out, by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m not quiet because I’m wallowing in inner pain. I’m just busy being OK.

Brewing

I am monumentally angry. Outrageously angry. Seething. My innards are burning black. I feel psychically paired with Vesuvius, circa spring 79 AD.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading books about 9th century Saxon England. But maybe it’s because I’m finally letting myself get a taste of what’s REALLY been going on in my head, something that I have pushed down and let go for so long that, instead of passion, it’s revealing itself as a simmering rage. Or maybe I’m just tired of pretty much everyone and everything that stands in my way.

I must go west, and I must get to high ground. I feel like I’m straining at my tether here, and it’s nearly set to snap. Something’s up. Something’s wrong. Or maybe something’s finally right. Maybe this is what it feels like to stand at the edge of freedom.

Just hope I can get out of here before I snap, or before it floods again. Whichever comes first…it’s all up to the Fates now.

Home/Body

TV

My apartment is pretty small – just a little over 400 sq. ft. It’s still the perfect size for me, even though having the three cats makes me fidget a bit. They have plenty of surface area to explore, though, which gives them considerably more “floor space” than I have. They can climb anywhere they’d like, and they take turns sitting on the fridge and looking out the window, or sleeping on top of the kitchen cabinets, or exploring the shelves in the closet. I don’t mind, and let them go where they will. The only reason I’d ever want to move into a bigger apartment would be to give them more room to roam, so to me, allowing them free reign to explore every level in the apartment is completely worth their mental and physical health. One day we’ll move into a place where I can build them all sorts of tunnels and trees and hopefully an enclosed porch where they can watch the birds of a morning.

But this post wasn’t meant to be about their health, though it is entwined with mine, for better or worse. I came here thinking about interior design and modern living. I came here to talk about turning my living room into a home gym.

When I moved in a little over three years ago, the apartment was partially furnished. Straight away, I got rid of anything that looked cheap or was a space-waster (with the landlord’s permission, of course). The only things that I kept, out of necessity, were the mattress in the bedroom and the couch in the living room. The mattress is its own post – I dream of completely revamping my bedding and turning my bed into something akin to a spa experience – but today we’re going to talk about that damned couch.

The living room is minuscule, and the couch is HUGE. It’s a three-seater, deep and overstuffed, and takes up most of the only full wall in the room (the other three walls all have doors – the front door, French doors to the bedroom, and the walkway into the kitchen). With the doors being where they are, the layout of the room is rather forced. The couch takes up a wall, and I set up the television and media center just under the lip of the kitchen counter. That means that I don’t get to add seating to the kitchen counter, which is OK, but not ideal. There’s very little floorspace still available, which is pretty annoying.

When I had a boyfriend, this setup seemed necessary, though I often dreamed of selling the television and having a TV-free home. I never felt comfortable telling him that, though, because as a writer, for him TV was life. This is not to say that I don’t also enjoy watching television – I get caught up in binge-watching shows the same as the next person. And I love my horror movies, and my BBC, and documentaries, and movies about food and traveling. It’s just that I’ve started to realize how much of my real life is being stolen by screens. I am hooked up to a computer for 8 to 16 hours a day at work, and I write this blog on a computer, and when I don’t have a computer open, I’m on my phone or a Kindle or watching Netflix on my television. It’s just daunting. I want out.

And what’s funny is that I’ve turned on the television twice in the last two weeks, or however long its been since we broke up (three weeks? I’d be a shit annal-keeper, though I guess that’s what I am, in a way, the Annals of Anna, as predictable and bland as they might be). I’ve been reading, working, sleeping, and hanging out with my cats. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been planning. Now it’s time for action.

Bottom line is that the couch has to go. I don’t have the strength of will yet to toss the television to the curb, but I can very swiftly turn my living room from a TV-watching station into a gym and craft room – a place to inspire me to be myself, rather than to cater to the whims of others. I want to imbue it with feminine energy, and intensity befitting of my true personality, the one I seem to keep constantly tamped down.

Long ago, I worked for an interior designer who explained to me that the living room used to be centered around the hearth, for warmth, for community. Now it is centered around the television, which provides no warmth, and essentially allows us to pretend we’re part of a community without having to engage in any of the messiness of actually talking to one another. I’m tired of having the television be the center of my home – so I’m going to move the idiot box over to the corner. I’ll get a futon that takes up less space and allows for guests to stay with me more comfortably. I’ll install bar stools, and use the kitchen counter as a craft station. I’ll use the floor space for a new elliptical (I’ve been dreaming of a replacement for my old Tony Little Gazelle for years now), and a yoga mat. I’ll still be a homebody, but I’ll be bringing magic and intention back to my sphere.