Hotter Than A Pepper Sprout

I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole tonight (as is my wont once I decide I just NEED to hear a song), and somehow got from Joan Armatrading’s “Drop the Pilot” all the way to a video commemorating June and Johnny Cash’s epic coupledom. (OK, I’ll tell you how I got there – it involved The Cowsills, Joni Mitchell, The Grass Roots, and Seals and Crofts…yeah, no, it makes no sense unless you’re me, lol.)

Anyway, I guess I’m just thinking about love vs. codependency, and new relationships when the old ones can’t be so easily pushed aside, for any given number of reasons. I don’t know that I have any solid wisdom to impart here. But I’m trying something very new (for me) lately, and that’s just trying my best not to worry, not to push myself, and to let things unfold as they see fit. In the last 12 years, I’ve learned numerous lessons, but lately, two of them are pushing themselves to the forefront. I’m trying to listen, learn, and avoid duplicating the pain.

Lesson #1: Saying “I love you.”

I’ve dated a lot of people. It might surprise some of you, since I’ve been in long-term relationships for pretty much as long as the Internet has been a serious thing, but before 2006, my longest relationship was three months. I made up my mind quickly, and moved on if things weren’t right. I never told people that I loved them, or talked about a future together, mostly because I was smart enough at 20 to understand that there was a lot of future left, and the odds of making a lasting connection with a guy my age were extremely low. I took every day as it came, and life was pretty good. There were a couple of heartbreaks, but overall, it felt like I was succeeding at the dating thing.

Then I met the guy I assumed I was going to marry, and stopped dating other people for eight years. It might as well have been a marriage, just no paperwork. But it was unhealthy, and eventually I LOST MY EVER-LOVING MIND. Well, that’s the face value…in reality, the people closest to me could see me cracking years before I gleefully blew the whole thing to smithereens.

Here’s the thing – I could have told you in 2006 that there was a problem, even if I couldn’t have given you a name for it. I knew there was a problem as soon as he told me that he loved me, and I thought, “I love (*insert Universe-sized pause here as the non-math person does complicated calculations…*) your family.” I didn’t say that, of course. I said “I love you, too.” But the split second between his declaration of love and my return of the sentiment stretches an eon in my brain. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, or that I didn’t think I loved him at that moment. That’s not it at all. I did love him. It’s just that when I thought about being with him, it was in conjunction with his family – and his family held more weight in my heart. We had a good run, and I can do the coulda/woulda/shoulda thing all day long, but in the end, it was really super wrong for both of us. I mean, it was a pretty epic mistake, in retrospect. He wanted a different kind of life, and I let myself disappear under the weight of his ideas.

The thing is, in that split second after he told me he loved me, I knew that my understanding of love was somehow flawed. I knew that I was going with “solid” instead of “amazing,” because I was worn down by “amazing” turning to “shit” within a month or two. He had all of the rare ingredients that I’d been told I should look for: he was attractive, dependable, and responsible. And his family – I really did fall in love with them. They kept me going for a few more years than I should have endured, if you want to know the truth. I miss his parents so much. I cherished being taken in by a group of rowdy New York Italians, of having someone’s dad keep my special brand of coffee stocked in the house “just in case,” of having an aunt pull me aside to ask for a recipe (still a high point in my life, if you want to be honest), of hearing all of the family stories, and feeling like I could live on forever, with this kind of close-knit family. I’d never wanted children, but all of a sudden, I thought how nice it would be to give my mother-in-law a grandchild to pamper. In other words, my life shifted to accommodate everyone but myself. Classic INFJ.

In the end, as things were drawing to a close, I started to find that my mouth didn’t want to make the shapes required to spit out “I love you.” I was unsure at the beginning, but at the end, I KNEW. I kept waiting for it to pass, to figure out how to reboot it somehow, but it withered and died. And you know why? Because in eight years, we had never really talked. We’d been saying things to each other, but we were never speaking the same language. Here’s what I have learned in years since, about what I was saying, and how I should teach people to interpret my words and my actions. “I love you” isn’t about romantic love, though it celebrates it. It’s not about sex, though it acknowledges it and revels in sharing a healthy physicality. “I love you” is about seeing the person in front of you for who they are, and celebrating that flame for having the courage to flicker. It’s not about wanting them to be better or do better, or envisioning who they could be, or who you could be when you’re with them. It’s about seeing the space between you, and realizing the steps you each take to bridge it, fling open the doors, and welcome the other into your weirdness, every damn day. Loving is easy, but building a relationship where you can love and be loved, that’s a daily commitment, requiring constant renewal.

Right now, love for me feels like that moment of zen when you take a breath and soak in your physical surroundings and state of being, and take note of the person’s presence in your sphere, and think, “Oh, this is good. I could do this more.” If you can meditate in the presence of the person you love – if you can trust enough to breathe freely and look how you look and think how you think and never ever worry how they might have misinterpreted you – and if you can appreciate all the same things about them in that moment – then saying I love you is right for now, and you will never regret saying it, even when now is no longer.

Lesson #2: To Be Continued…

In Progress

I’ve been writing and rewriting this blog post for two days now, so I think instead of trying the same route, I’ll switch gears for a second. The original blog post was an examination of a small realization with large consequences, but it was one of those things where you start writing and open up a maze of topics that you’re unprepared (or in my case, unable) to tackle at the moment. I wanted to talk about an instant where I felt safe, where an unexpected knowledge that I could trust someone led me to make a small, brave choice that I would normally have avoided. Literally, I wanted to write a blog post about how I climbed a ladder without hesitation the other night, because I had watched someone else do it, and knew that I had nothing to worry about. But once I mention that I climbed a ladder, then I have to explain why that’s special. And then I have to go into greater detail about why I’d suddenly feel OK to do it now. And then I’d have to examine the difference between feeling safe, and feeling trust, and feeling brave. Believe me, the difference between the concepts is vast enough to keep me erasing entire blog posts for two days.

So instead, I’ll keep it short, and concentrate on the obvious bits. First, it’s obvious that I’m cautious – in some cases, overly so. That being the case, what many people wouldn’t know is that I’m actually game to do just about anything, as long as it’s fun and probably not going to get me killed. I love adventures. I just need to be with teammates that I trust implicitly. And there’s the rub – the older I get, the more I realize that I have very little trust to spare. Because I don’t trust, I don’t feel safe. Because I don’t feel safe, I don’t move far outside of my comfort zone. And though I’ve done some things that people seem to find courageous and amazing, I can’t do some of the most simple things that everyone else takes for granted. I will force myself to try just about anything, if someone that I know I can trust offers me a hand and tells me they’ve got my back. And pretty much every time that’s ever happened, I’ve had an amazing experience. I know this, and wish it could happen much more often. Too bad about that pesky not-trusting-people thing.

But the other night, I was brave, because I knew that I was with someone I could trust. I actually had two people that I could trust, who made me feel safe, though in different ways (one was a nurse). Of course, at the time, I was just concentrating on getting up a ladder and seeing some fireworks. Then the moment of truth came when I had to go back down, but that worked out just fine, too. It was only the next day that it hit me that in years past, I would have just stayed at the bottom of the ladder, letting the “cool kids” have their fun while I stayed in one piece on the ground. What was different?

I think that the answer is that I’m a work in progress. I’ve spent most of the last year on my own, just hanging out in my head, examining the things that make me strong. I’ve also looked at a lot of the things that make me feel weak, unsafe, and scared. I’ve done some soul-searching on just what it is that hasn’t worked in my life in the past, and what I wish I had done differently – and more importantly, what I wished that I’d required others to do in their dealings with me. I reassessed what it means to give, to allow others to give, to set up boundaries, to allow others to set up boundaries. Somewhere in there, I decided that I’d have to come out of my shell and make new friends if I was going to survive here. I haven’t become a social butterfly, and I’m not blindly trusting everyone I meet, but I’ve managed to luck into some great people. People who can get me to climb ladders.

This process is not done. This process will never be complete. I burned down my life and built it back. It’s not the first time, and it’s not the last, but hopefully it’s the most drastic. I just don’t want to go out on the same boring, listless wave I’ve been riding. I don’t just want to dream big. I aim to live it, too.

 

Monday Dreams

I own a copy editing business, and make enough money to have health insurance, a car, and an apartment that is large enough for me and all three cats. Eventually I’ll get that dog, too. I work a couple of shifts a week at a hostel front desk – not because I have to, but because I love meeting travelers and hearing their stories. I write, publish, and miracle of miracles, get paid for it. I sing on stage again, my heart breaking and re-mending right there and then. My anxiety does not prevent me from talking about the things that I love the most – food, architecture, and learning about other places and people – and I get paid to travel and write about it. I spend time at the local stable, riding and helping muck out stalls, just to be close to the horses. I leave milk out for the fairies. I practice my Spanish. I pay off my debts. I practice my tortilla in Spain and my shepherd’s pie in Ireland. I wake up to freshly brewed coffee, and a sweet smile. I move regularly, and go to sleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof, or the frogs singing, or the broad silence of snowfall, or maybe just the gentle roar of the ocean. I am permanent in my impermanence. I use my body to be as active as possible, use my eyes to see all of the colors, use my voice to sing my happiness to life. Ultreia et suseia. As I will it, so it will be.

Glow

Lately I’ve been getting out of my comfort zone a little bit – and realizing that what I thought was outside of my comfort zone is actually far inside my comfort zone, as long as I’m accompanied by the right people. The difficult part is finding the line between being open to change and connection, and feeling overly emotionally vulnerable. Classic INFJ issues.

The one thing that this is teaching me is that I want so much more for my life than I’ve been allowing myself to have. I deserve so much more. I owe myself more. I just don’t know how to get there. I know that there are walls I still need to scale, but I can’t see them. It feels like the walls are moving around, but it’s probably more like when you’re lost in the woods, and it feels like everything’s moving around on you, when in reality it’s just that your perception is completely askew.

Anyway, the only way to move forward is with deep breaths and clear intent. The only person who can get me there is me. I refuse to be preemptively sad or anxious over imaginary failings. I am OK. I will be better than OK. I need to keep in mind that when things are scary, it’s because I’m taking the risks that I should have always been taking. I am safe. I am whole. I am fully capable of walking this tightrope, with or without a partner in crime. I will thrive. I deserve nothing less.

Intensity

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have zero chill. Well, except for that it’s the opposite. “Chill” in the vernacular sense means “relaxed and cool” but my version of not calm is frozen. Does this mean I am so chill that it’s come back around?

I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, exactly – I know those people, and they freak me out – but I do find myself overthinking things to the point of nervous breakdown. Left to my own devices, I’ll dig myself a hole and fill it full of alternate realities. My stomach churns. My heart feels compressed. My vision starts getting dark at the edges. I need to breathe. I can still smile and participate. You’d never know that inside my head, I’m a freezer-burned Hungry Man meal, two years past expiration. It’s a shame, really. I love Salisbury steak day.

I’d like to say that I’m learning something, but aside from being unable to pull a full breath, the biggest lesson so far is that I’m scared, I’m uncomfortable, and I’m not really built for temporary. I need trust, and I need to be trusted. I need to know things. I don’t like blind spots or dark corners. I don’t care if there are sharp edges, or spiders, or clowns. I just need to know about them.

 

Ugly Little

I wish I knew how to never feel jealousy. I know that it’s not very nice, and that it’s something to fight through. I know that you look stupid when you let jealousy get the best of you. I despise people who take their misgivings out dramatically on those they supposedly love. I did once throw a drink in someone’s face after he admitted cheating on me, but that’s about the extent of my ability to pitch a fit – public or private. I’m better at taking a breath and walking away.

The problem is my imagination. Logic normally helps me work my way through any questions or suspicions I invent, but I’m also a natural born storyteller, so I can’t help but draw up scenarios in a second. Luckily, as quick as I am with spinning a yarn, I can also think in opposites, build myself a healthy thing to believe, before I jump into any feelings that I won’t be able to jump out of. I’m good at doing my research, remaining skeptical, not rushing to conclusions. I can nearly always find a way to explain away whatever has me feeling green.

But the work involved in keeping cool and calm is exhausting. And you can never tell other people when you’re feeling jealous about something that’s going on with them. I mean, sure, if the person is your best friend in the world, and the jealousy has to do with a major life change, then you *might* have the leeway to go ahead and speak your mind in a constructive manner (I’ve done it, it worked, it was awkward, but it helped and I didn’t damage any friendships in the attempt). But most other jealous moments in life need to be handled carefully, quietly, and alone – especially if you’re feeling jealous of something that has to do with your romantic interest. I’ve tried being honest before, and it’s backfired. One partner just brushed it into the huge pile he was building of “examples why Anna’s nuts” (any time that I expressed emotion, or requested to work through, well, anything with him). Another partner told me that he found jealousy to be distasteful and unattractive. (I mean, no shit dude! So do I. But feelings must be felt, and worked through, and released. Shaming someone for having an emotion and expressing the desire to work through it is pretty distasteful and unattractive, in its own right.)

So yeah, anyway, I’ve got some jealousy, and nowhere to put it. It’s silly. There’s no reason for it. I’ll ask some questions, get some explanations, and I know I’ll have no reason at all to feel like I’m standing on shaky ground. But for the moment, this thing is rearing its ugly little head, and I have no way to make it go back to its cave. I just have to sit here, looking like a mean girl, when all I want is to have the information I need to be my normal pretty-decent-human-being self.

Right Now

As of the moment, I’m failing at keeping this blog running. After years of writing relatively faithfully, sometimes multiple times a day, it’s odd to find myself having nearly run out of words. I tend to think that it’s a low-level case of writer’s block, brought on by emotional distress, coupled with exhaust from my job, and probably polished up nicely by how closed off I’ve been feeling for the last year. Anyway, all this goes to say that I’m not stopping in with a really juicy post with lots of great information or funny stories or anything like that (even though, strangely enough, I’m finding I have a few things to say as of late). Really, I’m stopping in to leave myself a reminder, something to read and remember at a later date. Also, Grandma, I know you’re reading this, so I figured I’d throw in a tidbit for you. Nothing like a bit of gossip to add spice to life, right? 🙂

I probably shouldn’t say anything at all, since too much info is how things tend to go awry, and I’m loath to be the cause of dissolution. But I just have to say it somewhere: I’ve met someone. He’s tall, handsome, decent and kind. He has working hands, and a creative streak. He cooks. He loves his family, is great with plants, and has a soft spot for animals. He enjoys wine and goes to yoga, and doesn’t think my obsession with finding the perfect NC BBQ sauce is the least bit strange. He has gorgeous hair. We are not overly similar, but we have a lot of good things in common. I don’t have to explain myself (though you know I do, I must, emphatically, ad nauseam, or else my brain would overheat and my engine would explode). He walks through spaces with a lovely mix of kingly comfort and shy self-awareness. He enjoys small space living. He makes the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten. I spilled a glass of wine on this sweet quilt his mom made him, and he didn’t hate me, even the littlest bit. He played me a song, though I didn’t let on that I knew. The signs are thick. Owls, antlers, amethyst, airstream.

Anyway, I don’t like to say things like, “It’s early days,” because that says you anticipate for there to be late ones, and that feels either incredibly prideful or just inviting of disaster, I can’t figure out which. But we’ve only just met. So I’m endeavoring not to think too hard or be too weird (it’s kind of funny that I just typed that, because literally the definition of Anna is “thinks too hard, and is pretty weird”).

One thing that I can say is that I have a strange thought in my head, and I’m not sure if I manifested it, or if he is just good at making me feel it, or what. But from the first time that he made me feel comfortable and adored, my brain shouted “YOU DESERVE THIS!” I like that. I intend to hold on to that feeling. It hasn’t happened often in my life.

It’s late, and I’m very tired. It’s time to cuddle with my cats and call it a night.