Wednesday, May 31, 2006

1976, A Vintage Year

I am thirty years old today. It sounds cliché but it feels like a substantial amount of years, for the first time. I guess having the prefix twenty, even in the number twenty-nine makes it appear younger or not as substantial, if that makes sense. Part of me feels strange at thirty, like I am trying to be something I am not. Most of me feels elated that I have finally escaped all those decade where people still held me by the neck with their criticisms and expectations and lives that are more together than mine...

I feel very distinct and individuated and myself. Not suddenly, of course. It’s a process that’s been happening since my late twenties. For a while now I have been coming back into the limits, the comforting limits, of being myself: no real judgements, no self-hate that really moves me to do any harm, just you know a bunch of stuff that is going on, just life. It’s almost as if you spend a ton of years in this twilight zone state of thinking you’re getting past something to get to something. When you are young and without proper guidance and proper love and you do the whole chicken with head cut off thing, with seemingly no end in sight, because that's the only way to live and to learn. Everything is: a process, a depression, a struggle, a growing up, a realization, an epiphany, this relationship, that one, this thing with your mother, that close call, this thing with your friends, the getting past it, the getting better, the reporting on it, the tracing your point A’s to point B’s, the accounting for the way that you were, the way that you are, the making promises about the way you’re gonna be, espousing all kinds of travel metaphors for life.

Then one day there is a shift that begins subtly, very subtly in the way you understand your life. I bet a lot of it comes from your being exhausted from doing the other way, honestly. And you come to realize you’re not getting past anything to get to anything, you’re just passing through, you’re just being the you that you are, in the time and place that you are. And barring some terrible things preventing that from happening, you should be very happy and most satisfied to be who you are in the time and place that you are. And then you realize this is The Prize. Not so much the prize of the accomplished or the beautiful or the succesful or the rich or the famous or the happy ever after people or whatever (though you would love all of that, of course) but the prize of the children, the gift of those first acquainted with life. Kids get it; they get that life is about living. Since they say in Cape Verde and other places that very old people are in a childish state (we call it meninencia, from the word menine, for child), growing up and maturing may be this journey back into parts of the child’s original spirit. Granted I don’t mean to say that we, certainly that I, become child-like or even carefree or even young in spirit. I don’t feel young, but I’ve only felt young in retrospect anyway… I mean that maybe when we start to mature, we turn our faces in the direction of acceptance and self-contained ease, and that those are traits kid traits, at least before the world tries to fuck with them. And I don’t think children are super naturally amazing beings, in fact I know they are very fragile in their apparent resilience--I just think that they are at ease with what they are here to do, originally. They are at peace with the comforting limits and the possibilities, they are content to just live and find happiness and others like them to be happy with. Unlike what it looks like, their pursuit is profound, it’s not simplistic, because seeking to be happy is profound and not simplistic, and because they live to grow. The whole point of a child's life, often superficially measured in inches of height and ouces of weight and numbers of words spoken and spelled, is to take in the life that is theirs. This is such a long, long way from the days of throwing up my life away.

That said, a very special young person, speaking of the spirit of youth, who I worked with and I guess mentored (that’s how she would put it; I’m still getting used to that idea) wrote me this card, not knowing it was my birthday, just to thank me. The card was amazing, and had a Jack Kerouac quote which she said made her think of me. And to that I say Let’s Hope So:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…

-Jack Kerouac

Monday, May 15, 2006

Arguing The Finer Points

My son has entered a very testing, exhausting, hyper-argumentative phase. He has to argue everything now. Here are some of his recent arguments. Laying these arguments out usually involves my son gesticulating and pacing a lot, rubbing his chin and sometimes raising his voice. I have no idea where he gets it from...

1. Since he was allowed to watch Harry Potter 4, which was PG 13, "and nothing happened to" him, he should be able to watch "all PG 13 movies--hello?"
2. He should be allowed to watch any and all sex scenes on TV because he "is not a fresh kid" (cleary he thinks I'm a moron)
3. He should have his bedtime moved from 8 PM to 1 AM because "at 1 is when I finally feel like going to sleep."
4. I should play with him as much as he asks--which is 24 hours a day--because he" is a kid and that is what kids need."
5. He should not only get gifts when he behaves, he should get gifts all the time. "Because."
6. Most recently, he should not have to wish his grandmothers, his godmother or any of his aunts happy mother's day because "they are not my mother. That's their own kids jobs."

Friday, May 12, 2006

I Stand Corrected (Blog About Another Blog)

One of my very good friends, read my “Watching Too Much Oprah” entry and wrote me back to tell me about myself a little bit. Her e-mail prompted me to edit said entry and cut it down a little, for many reasons. My friend’s email read in part:

“Trying to fix is annoying, and usually, totally misses the point, but people do that because they love you. It's hard to know the best way to be a friend to someone. There are many of my friends who are in shitty situations, relationships, mental states etc, who I wonder if I should have been more active, less of an enabler to whatever thing is unhealthy in their lives… Again, the question, what's my point? That it's tough to know the best way to be a friend to someone who's going through some rough shit. And when people show you that, in one way or another, it might help to remember that the suggestion about graduate school or getting fixed up isn't really the root of the impulse; those things are manifestations of being someone who really gives a shit about what happens to you, your life, your happiness, and your child's happiness….”

Ok, checked me. At first, having read her e-mail my instinct was to delete the whole entry in question—you know me, more insecurity, more defensiveness, more, more, more! Separate from that though, I felt badly that I represented my two friends in such a poor light. But then I thought there are rules to the blog! Including a rule about committing to the process of not deleting what I’ve written, and contending with it. And did I want to delete it because it was mean to my friends, or did I want to delete it because I didn’t want some representation in print that I am an asshole?! Hmmm. Anyway, I edited it and that’s that.

Edited or not, part of what the entry says about me is that I walk around carrying a lot of this self-loathing or insecurity—and that I like to control the way it fits into my life. I like to control the way in which I can own up to it, deploy it, insert my moment of honesty about it here and there, so to speak. I can only admit to the imperfections when I’m sole manager of that imperfection. I can say “oh maybe I’m a bit defensive” and say pretty much anything else after that, about how regardless of my being defensive, people are really assholes. Which is a very slick way to do introspection, right?

All my life I have been very good at this but in a more blatant way: you could never beat me to the punch in saying all that is wrong with me. I'd open the conversation with that disclaimer, I'd e-mail you the poem, I'd tell you the sick psych ward joke--always would get there first, get it out of the way. I used to be too deliberate about it though and so I had to stop it (this one time that I really needed therapy sessions to work for me, I had to stop it), and I thought I really completely got over that. But clearly, I didn't. At least not entirely. I just got more nuanced and sophisticated about it, and not in a premeditated way—the human mind is a masterful tool of self-defense... To destroy this structure, it makes up a new one, a better one. More stealth if you will. In some ways, re-reading that entry, I see that it is still never okay for someone else to echo that hey maybe there are things that I am fucking up, or not even fucking up, but that there are things that are not right and could be better. Only I can venture into that domain—and I can invite you in, but I don’t like you to walk right in, make yourself at home and start talking. This is very eye-opening for me, in the most unsettling way. The thing I fear most of all maybe in life is the idea that I sit with my bullshit and make no progress.

Because of course, of course, I’m full of shit for that: people who are part of my life are entitled to their own opinions of it, and they earn the right to express it. It’s either a conversation or it’s not, it can’t be a pretend conversation. My friend who e-mailed me won’t stand for any pretend conversations, for the most part, for better or worse. That’s very much her angle. That's all of my friends' angle, the good ones, the ones that I truly love and keep near. My angle is very much that I draw lines that I expect folks to not cross…(and for legitimate, even defensible reasons too). And I probably won’t be able to change that very easily; I’m guessing it will change when other things change.

Ah, what can we do? Happy people are better at living life, I say this all the time. They’re better at honesty, they’re better at relating, they’re better at taking criticism: it’s like if life is an endurance sport and those who live satisfied lives have the stamina and people like me don’t. Bad analogy. Life is a craft and satisfied people are better at the craft, they have more skill. Resilience is not strength though one is often confused for the other. I think in my life it has always been the case. I am very resilient, but I’m only recently feeling strong. I am very capable of taking shit from life, but I’m just recently trying to get good at living life. I think enduring and being resilient are very passive qualities—they’re not skills, they’re not active or proactive or powerful qualities that move a life. My best case scenario is that to get to the point where I become skilled at living life, I have to get past the point where I can just sit here, and passively take my blows. Which I have done for a long time. So maybe when you wake up from that passive state you are defensive and you are self-protecting and you have a short fuse and you jump always to the worse possible conclusions about things…That could be your first stage of awakeness. Then you can evolve into the person that can be awake without the fear and the defenses up, that can be your final stage… After my friend’s e-mail, clearly a lot went through my mind—some old and some new, some predictable (which I am proud to say I resisted!) and some unpredictable. But I’m okay with it. They don’t call these motherfuckers growing pains for nothing. (Thanks Friend!)