Smudge

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Imprinted in my brain is an image. An image I have tried to recreate with crayons and pencils to no avail. I’ve seen this image in my head for years. But only recently have I actively tried to unlock it. It’s no secret–no hidden meaning. It’s me.

A red smudge is at the bottom, like a gash, with one side sharply edged, almost harshly defined. the other side fades, ungathered, uncollected.

The smudge is at the bottom of a series of containers of some sort. They are all textured and off-angle, overlapping and cattywampus with no discernible pattern. They get progressively but not exponentially larger the higher up they go. I can’t tell if there’s a lid, or a lock, or a key or any way out. I can’t move the edges of the ones I can reach. But I know I can figure out how to make this work, how to get out. There’s a trick. I know there’s a trick. If I could just focus and if I’m smart enough I can solve this puzzle.

I can imbue the smudge with my essence and make it work on getting out. Sometimes it doesn’t want to get out. Sometimes the smudge is perfectly content to lay at the bottom of this shaft and hide. Sometimes the smudge craves escape so deeply it feels like crawling out of itself. Sometimes it’s helpless. Sometimes it’s strong. But always, always, it knows there is a trick that it hasn’t yet figured out.

The textures of the containers vary. Some are smooth. Some are woven like a basket and will snag at the edges. One is bumpy, feels like braille. Several are thorny, but it is possible to grip without being impaled on the thorns if you are mindful about placement. There are sandpaper rough textures and spongey moss-like textures. Temperatures vary from chilled, to warmish but a visual inspection will not reveal temperatures.

The smudge will coalesce. It will learn. It will reason and suss out the trick. It will get out. And then I will be free.

 

You and Me and Never We: A Series of Complicated Almost Interactions

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She had known him for sixteen years.  And although everything about him was perfect for her, their timing had never been right…or even close to right.  So she enjoyed him for what he was, and continued hoping that all of his characteristics would arrive in the form of someone she could be with.
She had been quite young when they first met.  She was newly married and already pregnant and working full time in a field dominated by men.  She was, however, an expert in her field, and it was in this capacity that she met him.  She waddled into a meeting prepared to make a presentation to a roomful of guys who would be taking on a huge project overseas.  She was not at all prepared for the effect he had on her.  She could not drop the gaze of his deep blue eyes, and she found it odd that she was noticing her heart rate.  She was vaguely disconcerted that she should be having risque thoughts about a man other than her husband, even though her husband was already disappointing in many ways.  She tried to concentrate on the business at hand.  It was not uncommon for smart-ass comments to be exchanged and this was no exception.  It was sort of a rite of passage…a test to see if she was ‘one of the guys’ or if she would puddle into female offense.  She rose to the challenge and earned the laughter–and attention–of the room.  He smiled at her quick wit, and listened to her presentation, asking insightful questions.  They worked together closely over the next couple of months, and she could tell he was taken aback that he had strong feelings for her, despite her marital status.  She kept telling herself that it was just the nature of the project that had her thinking of this handsome, single man so many hours of the day and night.  The project launched, and he was off.  She continued on with her life, but continued to think of him fondly and ever so slightly inappropriately.Eight years later, they were assigned to another project together at work.  This time he was in the leading role, and she was support, having scaled back her hours significantly as a working mother.  Her marriage was now in its final stages, although she had not yet accepted that in her heart.  She walked into a meeting and there he was.  Her heart raced as it had all those years previously.  She was thrilled at the ease that they slipped into a close working relationship.  He was as smart as ever and had that same wit she remembered.  They could seamlessly switch from serious, in-depth work strategy sessions to reviewing the latest rock album they both enjoyed.  But while her personal life was crumbling, his was perking up.  He had a serious relationship, although he rarely discussed ‘the girlfriend’ with her.  Once, she met ‘the girlfriend’ and had a difficult time handling the jealousy.  How ridiculous was that?  Jealous….and he wasn’t even hers to begin with!  The easy camaraderie…the give and take…this THIS is what she had thought a marriage would be like.  How could she have this with a colleague??  But life intervened again, and she left the project due to family considerations.  And he ultimately took another project elsewhere as well.

And now 7 years after that, he had reappeared.  Only this time, she was divorced and he was married.  Happily too, from all outward appearances.  And yet again, she immediately slipped into a very familiar and close working relationship.  She could tell that both of them felt the tension, and they both knew that if they gave in, it would be the end. The end of their friendship. The end of his marriage.   So she kept her feelings to herself, worked with him, day in and day out, hearing tales of his Perfect Family Life and wishing that she could find his clone….to keep for herself.

For all these years, he had been The One that she had measured all other men against.  He had everything she wanted and needed–he was intelligent, funny in a twisted way, had an edge revealed only to his nearest and dearest, handsome and deliciously male.  And still, unavailable to her.

Almost

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I almost forgot your smile. The way that one little crinkle in the corner of your eye gives away that your whole face is about to burst into sunshine.

I almost forgot the way your heartbeat softly tickles my ear, comforting and steady.

I almost forgot how your left eyebrow arches, dark and satyric, when you’re being a smartass, or a goofball, or naughty.

I almost forgot the sound of your laugh, rumbling in your chest and erupting into the world with joyousness.

I almost forgot the sleepy warmness of your hug in the pre-dawn soft light.

I almost forgot the simultaneous strength and softness of your hands. The silly tickles and the silent grace they provide.

I almost forgot the shelter of your arms, protecting, possessing.

I almost fogot your kiss.  Warm to hot, fierce and soft, soul to soul.

I almost forgot.  I almost gave up hope.

Almost.

Dissection of a Beautiful Lie

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Confused in my heart and in my head

if it’s you I miss or what I thought we had

Becoming myself without you

Backward looks are mixed

You never really loved me

I was always your charade

For years you fucking lied to me

Too closeted, too afraid

How can I miss what never was?

Was I  so fucking blind?

I should have known you weren’t mine

When you didn’t know my heart

I should have known you weren’t mine

I was muted from the start

You slyly mocked my soul

Said my work was pointless

Dismissive through control

For 20 years I loved you

Thought I wasn’t good enough

I never had a chance

I never had a clue

That I was always innocent

The fault lay all with you

You kept me far away

Built walls I couldn’t see

Ignored me every day

I laid blame at my own feet

Maybe I never loved you

Just the myth you deftly wove

Or maybe you really fooled me

Thought the joke was well-played

Mistaken your assumption

That I could not go on

I will rise above

Darkness has not won

My soul no longer stagnant

My spirit stretches wings

Light shines through my hell

I feel it strengthen me

I am

Rising stronger

Rising healed

Rising

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Be Free

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I have an unpopular opinion on immigration and refugees. I don’t believe there should be any such thing as illegal immigrants–we welcome all. Refugees? We’ll take them all. Yes, I recognize this would cause problems. All kinds of problems. I also strongly believe we are perfectly capable and intelligent and can figure it out. Don’t I know that “terrorists” will get in? Of course I do; of course they will. They’re getting in anyway and nothing–let me say that again forcefully–NOTHING will prevent a determined person bent on violence from getting in. To my mind, this is the price of a free society.

Immigration to the US has always been contentious. In the early years of our nation, the residency requirement for citizenship was raised and lowered several times, ranging from 2 years to 14. Xenophobia is widely considered to be the driving reason for raising the amount of time needed to become a citizen. The first exclusionary immigration law came in 1875 with the Page Act, banning the ‘landing’ of immigrants from China, Japan or any Oriental country. Ostensibly, this was to prevent prostitution, but was also in reaction to an unemployment problem and the availability of cheap Chinese labor after the completion of the trans-continental railroad. Embarrassingly, these bans were not specifically set aside until the mid-20th century.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th and all of the 20th centuries, adjustments were made. Allotments set, always favoring northern European immigrants. Literacy requirements were set. Bans on physical and mental disabilities were put in place in the late 1800s and were strengthened until the late 20th century. The common denominator behind all of the changes is economic. During times of unemployment, the restrictions tightened. During World War II, when men were off fighting, the US opened the borders with Mexico to bring in men to work the fields. We have had bans on political ideals twice–anarchists and Communists.

To my mind, the underlying factor here is fear. Fear of economic distress. For politicians, fear of being blamed for hardships. Fear that ideas might take root and sully our nation in some way. I reject this fear. Embrace the differences. We can all learn from each other. Think of the incredible cultural gifts America has received from every country in the world. Why can’t we remember that when we have economic downturns? In the face of problems, we have always done better when we set aside differences and work together. Always. We seem to be able to get this at a community level, but not much larger. It seems to become too abstract, too impersonal. What can we do to make broader, national policies personal? I don’t know the answer. But I firmly believe we should seek it. If we want immigrants to be tax paying citizens, decriminalize living here. Welcome new citizens. Encourage  a love for their new nation.

Refugees are similar–I cannot imagine being in a situation so horrible that fleeing with nothing is the best option. To then face discrimination and horror in a sheltering nation is unthinkable. Refugees are guests and should be treated accordingly. We should open our best for refugees. Most will want to return to their own country when it is safe to do so. Some will stay, sure, but most will not. What kind of memories do we want them to have of the US? Are we not discouraging radicalization by being a welcoming host rather than rude?  To me this is logical.  What can we do to encourage this? What about tax breaks for families who host refugees?

I love my country. I have had the opportunity to live overseas and to visit several countries and I believe with all my heart that the US is the best. But we have a lot to learn and always have room for improvement. This is an area we could and should improve. Challenge your elected officials to find creative solutions. We can all benefit.

Music Saves my Mortal Soul

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Last night, I went to a concert. Not just any concert, not to me. This was a concert that I had to attend. And I had to be front row. Because this was a concert with two bands whose music has literally saved me. Sixx A.M. and Shinedown.

If you are not the kind of person for whom music is vital, you will not understand this. You will think I am ‘silly’ or possibly ‘crazy’. We have a fundamental, possibly insurmountable, difference. I am a person for whom the lyrics to a song are chronicles of life. If I cannot connect lyrically to a song, it will not speak to me. I may enjoy the music–the chords, the bass line, the rhythm–but the song will not become a part of me.

I got turned on to Sixx AM about four years ago. I had purchased Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries” a few years before that, but it had taken me that much time to work up the nerve to read it. I knew it would knock me back emotionally and I didn’t read it until I felt emotionally capable of handling it. When I did read it, I read it straight through without stopping, sobbing and screaming the whole way through. I’m sure my neighbors at the time thought I was crazy. I have a brother who is a heroin addict, and who has been for over 20 years. I detoxed him twice. There really are no words to express this horror. Nikki does a good job of exposing the depths of living as an addict. It has helped me come to terms with my brother–to understanding that he will literally do anything when he’s in an active addiction. I can’t help him. He’s got to do it alone. Plus, I have my own demons to fight.

Anyways, after I read ‘Heroin Diaries’ I bought the album. And fell in love with the intelligent, thoughtful, hopeful lyrics accompanied by a driving bass line (crucial to me) and solid hard rock. Then I bought “This is Gonna Hurt” which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of all time. I can, and do, listen to this album on repeat.  I bought ‘Modern Vintage’ and ‘Prayers for the Damned’ the days they came out. ‘Modern Vintage’ is musically diverse and compositionally complex, but not my favorite. ‘Prayers for the Damned’ is flat-out excellent.

The lyrics on all of Sixx AM’s and all of Shinedown’s albums hit me in the gut. They speak to me viscerally. I have wrestled with major depression for over 15 years. I have been nonmedicated, undermedicated, incorrectly medicated, and (with any luck) properly medicated. I have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall off of a roof, landing on my head. Lyrics such as “I’m on the front line, don’t worry I’ll be fine, my story is just beginning…. I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regrets, and now I know that I’m alive” (Shinedown, “Diamond Eyes”) enter my brain and wriggle down to my heart, bolstering the spark of desire to keep going. When Shinedown sang “Fly From the Inside” last night, I cried. This song is one I played on repeat one night, one really bad night when I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up again. This song, these lyrics, focusing on what’s next, the next open chapter, and learning to fly found inside me what I needed most at that moment. An ember, nearly out, an ember that warmed instead of cooled. Because of this band, this song, these words. brentsmith

Sixx AM has had the same effect on me. Songs that understand the dark, secret places nobody wants to acknowledge while simultaneously focusing on the hope of another day, the joy of finding a way out, the beauty of an act of kindness, or a smile, or a thank you. The first song of theirs that brought tears to my eyes was “Permission” off of ‘The Heroin Diaries’. ‘All of my devils are free at last, and all of my secrets revealed. And your permission is all I need to heal’. Gut-wrenching. Truth. In my case, the permission needed was from myself, and from my children.

And then I heard ‘Are you With Me?’ and everything changed for me. ‘Are you with me now, come back from the dead, you’ve been inside your head for too long. Are you with me now? Find the places that scare you, come on I dare you!’ This vocalized my reality. I was stuck inside my own head. I wasn’t living. How long had I been dead? How long? At least a decade. This song, these lyrics, opened a window in my soul allowing in more light, more air. Would I still struggle? Of course. Every. Damn. Day. But I was taking positive action. Gaining determination. Losing doubt. Losing fear.

On the same album, ‘Oh My God’ reminded me that the best way to feel better about yourself is to help others. ‘Oh my God, this is insane, how did it get like this, or has it always been this way?’ are words I have literally said over the years delving into seemingly unsolvable problems. I began sorting out what matters to me, what do I care about, what makes my blood boil that i want to tackle? Can I make a difference? Can I make a small dent in a huge problem? Can I help even one person–because helping one person may not change the world, but it is the world to that one person. I can. I can!

The latest Sixx AM album has several amazing, fighting songs that I have taken on as personal anthems. ‘Rise’ reminds me to keep going. ‘The Last Time’ strengthens my resolve to move forward, unguarded, walls down, open and aware. And that no matter what negative voices in my head tell me, I Was The Innocent. ‘Everything Went to Hell’ cuts me open, as one of the lines says, and is an unflinching reminder of the brutal way my marriage ended. (See my post on what would have been my 26th anniversary for more detail).

For all of these reasons, I had to be at the show last night. I needed to be there. I needed to look in the eyes of the men who created these songs, these words, these poems of my life without knowing they were doing so. And I did. I was on the front row, the rail. James Michael looked me in the eyes as I sang along with him, singing and dancing and releasing the pain, the past. Never before at a big concert like this have I felt so compelled to be there, to be at the rail. When I bought the ticket, I gave up coffee for several weeks in order to afford it (those who know me will understand this sacrifice–perhaps James Michael will as well, he seems to be a fellow coffee addict!!). My friend Megan and I arrived at the Tacoma Dome at 6:30 am to ensure that we were first. People said we were crazy. No. For both of us, this was a concert of vital importance on a personal level. Sixx AM and Shinedown delivered. With strength, beauty, and a powerful positive energy I value beyond measure.

Long live the day that I decided to fly.I am with me now. I am Rising. Because rock music reminded me of my inner strength.

 

**cover photo by M. Counts. Photo of Brent Smith by the author.

 

Newspapers at Night: the Poetry and the Prose

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This week I left a second job I’ve had since the first week of February–delivering newspapers. I took the job for the extra money (duh) and because the hours didn’t conflict with my 8-5 job. As with most jobs, there is far more to it than one would think. Sunday papers are a bear–they have to be assembled by the carrier (and let’s just take a moment to think about the fact that it is cheaper to have people do this than to have a machine do it–are these people being properly compensated?). Sundays I got to work an hour earlier and stayed an hour later–there were also between 75-100 more deliveries than the rest of the week because a lot of people only get the Sunday paper. This did not stop several customers from grumbling if their paper was later than they wanted (please note–not late–just later than they wanted. Because cranky.) I learned a few things about myself and about life in general; I believe that this is always possible if only we take the time to listen and think.

Cool wind musses my hair through the open window as I accelerate down the wide, empty street. The night sky dominates my field of vision; awesomely beautiful and expansive. Orion lies on his back, his celestial sword eternally raised. Peace fills my soul drinking in the inky spectacle.  A few more deliveries and the rim of the earth allows the first vestiges of daylight, softening the black to the deepest sapphire hue.

I love the night. I love the quiet and the low-vibration of the world. Muted textures and colors of  homes and businesses allow thoughts to swirl and connect without distraction. Darkness does not frighten when  you tune in to the stillness and unearth serenity.

I found myself looking forward to hushed solitude. I prayed and meditated. I sang along with the radio. I worked through conversations–fictional and not–in my head. I worked on conquering depression. And I delivered between 300-400 newspapers a day.

It would be easy to get in the habit of tossing newspapers with no thought. Here, a carrier is on a contract and is paid per delivery. Daily paper pays at ten cents a delivery and the Sunday paper at thirty-five cents. Mistakes –a missed delivery or an incorrect delivery–are handled punitively. A first mistake with a customer costs three dollars. A second is five dollars. If it becomes an escalated issue, your job is at stake. Customers are not told this, and the customer service operators (no longer employed by the paper and outsourced overseas) are encouraged to write up complaints. This is very much a ‘shit rolls downhill and you are at the bottom of the hill’ kind of job. However, most of my customers, even the cranky ones, simply wanted their morning routine. They wanted their newspaper with their morning coffee–a completely reasonable desire. Who among us has not felt out of sorts when our morning routine was disrupted by a small but important-to-us detail? I felt it was not only my job but my privilege to help make somebody’s morning go as they wished.

All that said, I am not sad to stop getting up at 1:30 am 6 days a week and 12:30 am on the seventh day. I am not sad to stop seeing snarky comments from clients come across the daily ‘mail’ (pre-worded complaints are abrupt and actually not true–I asked one customer about it when I called to follow-up on what had been written up as a serious complaint and she had said none of the things I had been told she had. She was, in fact, upset at the wording I had been given). I am not sad to stop trying to remember if this is the driveway where the customer wants the paper on the left or the right, bagged with a rubber band, or No. Rubber. Bands. Ever. People are weird about their newspapers. I mean seriously you-need-help weird. “Paper should be in the upper left quadrant of the driveway” “Paper should be folded flat with headlines out” “Paper should never be folded, only rolled”… SERIOUSLY????

I learned that I can get up early, something I did not believe. I learned that I can get overly exhausted, something I did not want to believe.  And I learned that I still love the night. Deeply. I will seek out the company of the night more often, on my own terms.