Sunday, November 26, 2006


The holidays, man. Why do they make us so crazy? I think I've gotten a grip on them for myself (everybody does, right?) , but the mania around me always unsettles me - and the crass commercialism just pisses me off. I think it's all related to the expectation that everyone should be happy around this time, (and if you're not happy, buying stuff will make you happy!) and the reality that peoples' lives don't follow a set calendar schedule of jollity.

It makes me tired. Maybe it's also the weather that does it - the cold, the early dark, the clouds, the rain. This is the time of navel-gazing, of going inside and facing the dark, both literal and metaphorical. I find myself not wanting to get out of bed on the weekends, watching too much TV at night, wanting to drink more. It's also the time of being cozy and warm, if we're lucky, watching the hearth fires and twinkling lights the way humans have for millions of years. The Festival of Lights (our ancestors' way of fighting off wintertime depression) is right around the corner, yet with all the lights, so many of us are sad, depressed, lonely, or irritated, frazzled, and stressed. I suppose that's not exactly an original thought.

I'm feeling the depression in my bones again, and I'm trying to just let it be, to sink into it a little bit and not fight it. It's normal, at least for me. It's not a disease. it's a physical reaction to external events, both natural and human-made. It's probably the psychological equivalent to hibernation. It's time for me to curl up inside myself, like a bear or a squirrel.

The problem is that in this society, there is no time to stop, and just be. I feel unfriendly and anti-social when I get this way. People jar me, like rubbing sandpaper across sensitive skin, even when I like them and they're being perfectly civil, but I feel like I should be out amidst the crowds, smiling cheerfully, happy in the groups that make up my life - friends, family, coworkers. I feel like I'm letting them down, running out of time to be a social success - it feels wrong even though I know it isn't.

But, I am thankful for many things
, including being able to spend several days over T-Day weekend with my family in the redwoods in Guerneville (that picture above is the view from the back deck of the rented vacation home). I'm thankful for: having a family that doesn't judge me, or at least not obviously so; spending a few days bonding with my beautiful and intelligent 18-month old niece; getting to watch the mist dissipate in the morning over the Russian River and sitting in the hot tub late at night looking at the stars; having the capacity to be sensitive and self-reflective, even when it hurts; sitting and drinking ginger tea, wrapped in a red robe, while it rains outside; books; the Cowboy Junkies on my stereo; a day to give myself permission to fall apart.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Blood Red

I remember once, about ten years ago, I had a short-lived relationship which ended when my boyfriend broke up with me because he wasn't in love with me. It was my first experience with being dumped, and I didn't take it very well. We tried to remain friends for awhile, and at one point, I remember he picked me up from work. I had painted my fingernails a dark, dark red color, and the minute I got into his car, he saw them and said "Been in a dark mood lately?" That memory is inextricably linked in my mind with being dumped.

Today I'm wearing blood-red lipstick even though it's a normal workday. I like the color. It stands out and makes my face look pale and serious. My lips look like I just took a bite out of a living thing. I was staring at myself in the mirror in the bathroom at work this morning when I realized the connection between my lipstick and the dark red nail polish of ten years ago.

This weekend, I was once again relegated to "just friends." I think this is the fourth time this has happened with us, in six years. I realize I'm not bitter about it, the way I have been in the past. I don't blame him, really. It can't be easy knowing I feel this ambivalence, and with the fact that we haven't been getting along very well lately, it makes sense to me to end this. I probably would have done it if I was stronger.

But I do feel depressed, and defeated, like curling up in my house with my head under some pillows. I feel no desire to tell anyone or to seek comfort. My only comfort right at this minute are my blood-red lips. I can't quite explain it, but I feel like wearing this lipstick always. It takes itself seriously, it won't be fucked with, it's the opposite of ambivalence. Like the fingernail polish, it knows what it is, and maybe I feel like when I wear it, I know who I am, too.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Is Love, Anyway?

I really envy all those people who seem so in love with their partner, so sure that they made the right decision to be with that person, even when they're fighting or going through something stressful. I've never had that, at least not for any length of time. Oh, I've had relationships, but I've always been plagued by this idea, after maybe the first year, that it just wasn't going to work out. There's always something about the person that I don't click with, something that drives me batty about them, or something that makes me think 'RED FLAG! RED FLAG!" . Either I'm not physically attracted to them, they bore me, or they have different ways of viewing the world that it just doesn't seem possible to work through.

As I've been getting older, with no foreseeable strong, secure, lasting relationship in sight, it's been on my mind more and more. Is it just that I'm not the kind of person who can be in a relationship? Am I too something: too stubborn, too judgmental, too set in my ways, too introverted, too sarcastic? Am I kidding myself when I dream of having a stable, committed long term relationship with someone who loves me, warts and all?

The thing is, I do have someone who loves me like that, I just don't know if I love HIM that way, unconditionally, willing to forgive his flaws as he's willing to forgive mine. I find myself now in a place of ambivalence with him - do I stay, do I go, do I do something else...? Is it my predeliction for ambivalence cropping up now, or is it that this really isn't the relationship for me? Should I listen to my mind ("You've broken up and gotten back together 3 times in six years!") or to my heart ("He sees you the way you've always wanted to be seen. He treats you better than any lover ever has.")

I've been reading a lot of books about zen and mindfulness in relationships these days, and they all say the same thing: ambivalence and confusion are okay. The true path to love is to stay with those feelings of confusion, not fight them or try to pin them down. And intellectually I can buy that. But the western part of me, the one that grew up in a couple-centered culture where you're aren't really successful in life unless you have a significant other, is yammering away at me that I have to figure this out, and figure it out NOW. Either stay, and commit to this man, or go and find someone else. But DO SOMETHING.

I don't have a biological clock. I don't want kids, and never have. I have a good professional job and own my own home. I don't need anyone else at this stage, except emotionally. And I know intellectually that being in a relationship doesn't guarantee anything: not security, not happiness,not love, not having someone to grow old with, not anything. I know that. Yet there's a part of me that thinks if I just find that right person, I'll finally be happy and can stop searching for happiness. And that part of me is standing behind me , looking at this whatever I have with this man, and saying "that's not happiness!"But I don't know what happiness looks like. Emotionally, I feel like happiness should be a state of pure, uninterrupted bliss, but in reality, I think happiness is knowing in your soul that you can deal with whatever comes down the pike. And I don't know that with this relationship--whatever it is. But is that true, or is it only my projection?

Nobody in my immediate family has ever had a healthy, long-term relationship, as far as I can tell. There's a long history of infidelity and divorce. So I never learned what it was to be in a healthy relationship. I know that's at least one of the core reasons why I can't seem to build one, either. I'm swimming blind here, trying to make it up. That's freeing in some ways and debilitating in others: I feel like I have the tools to build whatever I want, but I have no blueprints. The only thing I can do is try to pay attention, try to treat people well, and try to be loving to myself and others around me. Maybe that's really the only answer, but man, it sure doesn't fit into that fairytale romance crap I grew up believing: one man, one love, one white picket fence...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Was Never Ugly

I borrowed my mom's photo album of my kid/teenager photos last week, as part of my attempt to come to terms with my childhood and figure out how I got where I am today. One thing struck me when I was leafing through the album: I was never ugly.

Ever since I can remember, I've thought of myself as ugly. As a young kid, I had a major overbite that required a purple nylon headpiece that I wore through my first years of school. Then, when I was 10, I developed acne that has never really gone away. I took Accutane for a year or two, which stopped the worst of it, but that was in college. By then, I had already developed a self-identity as the "ugly girl", at least in my own head. I thought of myself as this impossibly ugly monster girl, who would never be loved by a man and would forever be an outsider, in the shadows. In addition to the overbite and the acne, I was pathologically shy, almost autistic, as a young girl, and so I really never had many friends and never had a boyfriend until I was in college. This only served to prove to me that I was too ugly for the rest of the world.

Even now, at 36, I struggle with my self-image. I still think I'm ugly: big, hulking, tall, big-boned, long-nosed, scarred, lanky-haired, ugly. I know I'm not, really, but it's hard to shake that self-identity. But when I looked at my kid pix, I realized: I never was ugly. It was all in my head.

It makes me smile in relief, but it's also very, very sad. I think about the quarter of a century that I've spent hating the way I look, when in reality I was a very cute, smiling, eager, blond-headed kid, not very different from most kids. I just wish I could go back in time and say to myself, in some way that I would really believe it: "You're not ugly, you're beautiful and vibrant and everybody can see it but you."

Now I have a task cut out for me. I have to get off this self-imposed trip about me not being attractive. It's been a chip on my shoulder for my whole life, and now it's time for it to get off and go take a hike. It's the story I always tell myself about myself, and it's never been true. And it's so hard to get rid of.

When I'm with my female coworkers, I always feel like I'm the "big girl". I feel sort of clumsy and unkempt next to them, unfashionable. When I see pretty, stylish girls, I always feel like a troll next to them.

In relationships, it comes up, too. I've not had many relationships, and I always used to blame it on the fact that I just never was as cute as the other girls. "Guys are so shallow," I'd say to myself, "They just want the cute, tight little mini-skirted girls, and can't deal with an intelligent woman like myself."

But what if A) it was more complicated than that, and B) I actually DID get interest from guys, I've just most often been the one not interested in THEM? That means I have to change my whole self-identity, from the victimized so-called "ugly girl", to the one who has always had the choice as to how my life has turned out. Shit.

That means I can't blame anyone else. I mean, I could blame society for feeding me media images of women who represent unattainable beauty standards (and believe me, I have), but I've always been smart, and started calling myself a feminist at 19, so really I always had the tools to look past that crap. I can't blame my parents, because they, or at least my mom, always told me I was beautiful.

And I suppose blame isn't really important, anyway. The point is for me to start constructing a new story about myself. One where I am the heroine of my own life, which is what I always fantasized about as a kid. I always wanted to be the straight, tall, proud warrior-woman (with a big white horse, of course!) who did battle when necessary, wowed people with her various skills, and inspired courage in others. Wait a minute...could it be...that I really AM that woman (without the horse, of course)?

Constructing a new story about ourselves is healthy, for us and for the people around us. I've dated several men with chips on their shoulders, and it's no fun. I know the one I've been carrying around has caused its share of problems with the people around me, most notably my boyfriends. The question is: how do we even start rewriting our own personal stories? It's so easy to repeat the old stories, I mean it's second nature by now, right? Most of the time we don't even realize we're doing it.

I'm not sure how to start, except by being aware when I go into that old headspace again, and consciously rewriting what I tell myself about myself, until that new story becomes second nature. I don't want to spend another quarter-century telling myself something about myself that's untrue.