Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Addictions, Technology, a Moth and a Challenge

Checking email is addictive. There is that little high, that buzz, from seeing the unread message. Of course, more often than not, there is nothing important in the email, no content that requires action or reaction; Facebook and all the other social networking sites offer a similar, minor rush--someone responds to your update, your "what are you doing now" post, and you feel, momentarily, like it matters what you are doing now (which is always, of course, checking Facebook).

I notice that there are multiple, minor addictions that suck the life out of my days. The computer is the biggest culprit; there is the endless Web in which to enmesh yourself, the various photo, blog and review sites some of which are designed for creative output, but many are just excuses to see what virtual 'friends' are doing with their time. I can tell you what they're NOT doing--actually connecting with you, seeing you, experiencing a real friendship.

Writing is already a distancing activity, insofar as there is no way to translate one's soul or spirit into words, especially words even more removed from the writer by virtue of being typed, not hand written. My fingers touch the keyboard, yet no reader will know how it feels to type these words, or the warmth of my hands. The fact that we all collectively spend so much time staring into a screen is yet another distancing reality, and we find multiple ways to keep receding into the background of our lives. All of the pictures that I post to Flickr, for example, seem dead to me in a way that the actual photo never felt. Does anyone remember carefully placing photos into an album? That was a physical, actual experience--the feel of the paper, the arrangement of the pictures in a certain meaningful order, the creation of a life story. Photo sites reduce everything to the same level of importance--it's all equally important or unimportant; there is no personal touch or arrangement of photographs, simply a stream of images.

It's interesting to me that in this age of constant contact with hundreds of friends and strangers via the computer, I have never felt lonelier. I surf all these sites that are supposed to "connect" me, and yet I am utterly disconnected.

Awhile back, I emerged from the depths of the house and the fake glow of the computer to the laundry room, a dusty, cobwebbed outcropping attached to the garage. Our laundry room is a ramshackle place built in the 1920s and probably not intended to last more than a couple of years. I find it, however, utterly charming. We have placed a witch in there from a few Halloweens ago, and she presides over the insects and the dirty clothes strewn about the floor. I saw a moth that night that seemed rather amazing; I fetched Ty to look at her. What I noticed is that moths have faces. I never knew that before. He took several pictures, and later, as I contemplated his pictures, I was stunned to see that the moths in our laundry room and complex, astounding creatures that look like something from a Lord of the Rings movie. They are these small animals that some incredible force in nature created for unknown purposes, and they are shockingly expressive and soulful. Moths have a certain transcendence to them, an animating spirit that humbles me. Never again will I assume that a tiny creature, always overlooked in the past, is a simple pest. That moth changed my perspective on nature, spirit, creation and beauty.

Ty's picture brought that to light. Yes, technology. There was a purpose there, after all. But most of the time, we stare with glazed eyes into a screen, ignoring the amazing life that surrounds us.

The challenge? Go outside and find something astounding that you have never really looked at before. Tell me, show me, teach me something that I didn't know about you before. Use technology as your medium, if you like. Just don't use it as the message.

Find your moth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons in Solitude

When I was in high school, college and grad school, enduring a series of problematic boyfriends, my sister used to tell me that I was fatally flawed: "you can't be alone". I don't know why she thought that. Maybe it was because I used to lock myself up in my room during the summer vacations and write long, anguished love letters to my paramours, who never seemed to suffer with the same level of intensity. Perhaps my sister came to her conclusions watching me cry into the phone, night after night, lamenting my loneliness and inability to function without my addiction, I mean, the love of my life. She hardly maintained the moral high ground, as I caught her poring over the Spanish/English dictionary attempting to translate Joaquin's letters, and more than once I heard her breathing into the phone while I was lamenting my frustrated passion for man on the other end of the line.

Time passed. I married the only decent and straight man in Appleton, Wisconsin and my anguish over lovers was over. Or so I thought. Whatever pain I experienced during those early experiments in intimacy was laughable compared to what came later. I'm not ready to go public with the pain of a divorce, but if you've been there, you know. You know that the silliness of your angst over boyfriends or girlfriends was trivial compared to the searing misery of divorce. Nothing compares. When I found myself alone in my lovely little Craftsman home in Long Beach, I congratulated myself on Being Alone. I surrounded myself with cats and flooded myself with TV and the Internet. So, of course, I wasn't really experiencing the state of Alone. I was, instead, finding ways to numb or postpone the pain. My secret worry is that I am still doing that, shoving vast reserves of emotion into various time wasters or numbing routines. But that's kind of my big wrap-up point, so I'm going to wait on that for now.

My current husband was and is so wonderful that he tricked me into thinking that I had no work left to do, no pain to wade through, no path of spiritual transformation to discover or follow. Love had eradicated the need for such unpleasantness as feeling the weight of the past, with all of its attendant misery, unhappiness, disappointment and hard lessons.

The problem is, my husband leaves once a year to battle miniature warships (this deserves its own blog entry) with big groups of salty Navy types and Republicans (he is not a Republican or a salty Navy type, so I'm not sure where he fits). His departure creates all kinds of upheaval for me, which is entirely inappropriate for an independent woman who makes decent money and has her own interests. When Ty leaves, time rewinds with dizzying speed, and I am, once again, the 19 year old locked in her room, crying over her ambivalent boyfriend. You see, every boyfriend I ever had and even my first husband were ambivalent types: they kept me in a constant state of insecurity over the depth of their commitment or the level of their interest. Ty emphatically does not put me through such torture; however, I don't believe that he could possibly want to spend the rest of his life with me.

Husband #1 ripped out my heart and soul. That's actually an understatement. There are not words for what he did. My therapists advised me to wait a year or two before I started dating. However, I met Ty two weeks after my ex moved out. A few weeks later, our fate was sealed. That's the way it worked out, even though it was not emotionally prudent. Love, the real thing, does not play by the rules. There is a price to pay, however, for the lack of healing time: I depend upon my husband to fill the void that my past has left in me. When he leaves, there is something akin to panic that gnaws at my insides like a starved and insane rodent searching for a way out of my heart.

That's bad. My sister knows that's bad. She'd be the first to tell me. OK. So I have to learn to be Alone. Apparently, the lesson I was supposed to learn in my late teens is still a pending project. It's perversely comforting to think that I'm the same person now that I was then; I'm still young! Pity that's it's such a crappy connection to the past. It seems that my strongest connection to who I was as a young adult is entirely about lack, loss and empty spaces. That scares me a bit, because I have not yet unraveled the root cause of that state of being. I am not sure that I wish to open the Pandora's box of possibilities in search of an Answer. So, instead of delving into layers of unbearable psychic pain (although I could find teddy bears and chocolates and rainbows in my subconscious), I made a list of rules for myself to prevent my tendency to numb or avoid my emotions. It's kind of a short cut to Enlightenment that doesn't require years of hideous therapy (I've done that, it sucks mostly) or brain-altering chemicals (tried that, but I end up feeling like the Zombie who doesn't give a crap). Instead, my rules force me to actually live in the moment and create something.

The Rules to Living Alone:

1. No television during the day. Ever. Only two hours at night, max.
2. No sugary snacks. Menchie's is permitted at night.
3. No mindless Internet surfing or obsessive email checks.
4. Naps are to last no longer than one hour.
5. Practice the piano at least 45 minutes per day.
6. Write something every day that is not work related.
7. Post photos and write blog entries only after 9 PM.
8. Call husband no more than twice per day.
9. Contact a family member at least three times per week.
10. Explore scary places at least once per week.
11. Maintain and nourish friendships.
12. Spend at least 1-2 hours in the sun, although in the Valley in July this could kill you. In that case, wait until 7:30 before you go walking.
13. Do NOT spend more than 2 days a week in the gym. The gym is boring.
14. Deeply enjoy nature.
15. Be a creative and fun parent. Expand Imanya's and Connor's minds and spirits.
16. This one is personal. Sorry.

I hate people who write rules for themselves, all righteous, pretending that they're all spiritually evolved and crap. I'm not evolved. I am attempting to stay sane and leave the sad child behind with her ghosts of boyfriends and husband past. Unfortunately, we never really evolve past the sad child; and the marks that past love inflicts upon us become scars that don't ever heal properly.

The trick to living with these wounds is perhaps to accept that they are there, and stop attempting to discard them or pretend that they will go away. The people I loved are all still with me, forever. They can't hurt me now, but they remind me on a daily basis that I have a long, long road to travel with them. They have something to teach me that I still haven't learned.

I have to be Alone. It won't kill me, but I would like my husband to come home and love me through whatever wakes me up at 3:00 AM, hammering at my heart.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Idea, BAD IDEA

These are actual occurrences; nothing has been made up. I swear.

BAD IDEA: Eating a lacquer bracelet.
GOOD IDEA: Sharing spit-covered lacquer bracelet with your Auntie.

BAD IDEA: Contacting your professor on her personal blog account.
GOOD IDEA: Passing the damn final exam, so that you don't have to!

BAD IDEA: Parading around nude on the back deck.
GOOD IDEA: Spying on neighbors who are parading around naked in their yard.

BAD IDEA: Calling a saloon a "salon" to a local in Coulterville.
GOOD IDEA: Leaving said saloon quickly after you've made said linguistic error.

BAD IDEA: Writing about your entire life online.
GOOD IDEA: Keeping some things private.

BAD IDEA: Chasing elephant seals during mating season.
GOOD IDEA: Chasing life partner during mating season.

BAD IDEA: Exploring condemned buildings alone.
GOOD IDEA: Not exploring condemned buildings.

BAD IDEA: Asking your readers to add to this list.
GOOD IDEA: Asking your readers to add to this list?