Monday, May 22, 2017

I'm never going to get laid wearing these clogs

I'm romantically rusty. This is best evidenced in my current choice of footwear.

Nobody wants to fuck a woman wearing clogs. Maybe the Dutch. Maybe. And unfortunately, I've never been much for heels. The cautious type, I tend to wear shoes that allow me to haul ass, whether it’s to catch a bus or outrun a serial killer. Basically, I want my footwear to prepare me for the worst life has to offer. 

But now that I'm in England for the next few months, these ugly-ass clogs have to go. And make room for penis. See, there's a guy I like here. It's a minor crush but enough to prove I still have a heart and pussy. This man I like (Maurice, as I'll call him) owns a little restaurant where I have breakfast a few times a week.

I wasn't even sure I liked him at first, that crushy feeling felt so foreign. Then I found myself laughing a little too hard at his jokes and looking over my newspaper to check out his fine ass in black jeans. The strange feeling in my stomach? Not indigestion but butterflies. Wow...who knew they were still possible?

So I traded out the fuck-me-not clogs for a pair of boots I scored at a local charity shop. Not super sexy per se...but sexier.

But something still seemed wrong. With every encounter with Maurice, my brain turned to mush. Clever thoughts turned into inane utterances that left him scratching his head in confusion. Any elegance I thought I had was replaced with clumsiness, including knocking a glass out of his hand one morning while I was gesturing wildly about something or other.

And of course, the language barrier didn't help. Don't let them fool you: Americans and Brits share the language in theory only. In Northern England especially, the dialect is thick and spoken quickly. This lead to even more awkward exchanges and punch lines that only made sense in my head.

This whole process started to feel painful, not fun. Even with improved footwear, I felt like a pimply, stuttering teenager asking a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance.

So I worked on more externals even more. But the act of beautification just highlighted all the shitty ways I've been feeling about myself in the first place. The expression "putting lipstick on a pig" came to mind but that sounds too self-punitive. More like "putting lipstick on a lazy, disillusioned yet horny middle-aged woman whose attempts to look attractive feel like an insult to her threadbare soul."

No game, no game at all. That's because the clogs on my feet weren't the problem. It was the clogs in my head that kept me from getting lucky. I had turned into a practical but sexless pair of shoes that are good to garden in and easy to slip on when you're taking out the trash. Oh yeah, baby. 

So why keep trying when I felt so...blah inside? Because when the flirtation did work, when our eyes would connect across the room, that chemistry blast felt amazing. Raw and enlivening, attraction can pack the most deliciously pleasurable and life-affirming punch.

Also after decades on this planet, I've come to realize that its often a good sign when you feel stupid and vulnerable. It means shedding light in a darkened corner of your being. You're trying and its not always meant to be pretty. Like strengthening weak muscles, it’s supposed to hurt a little.

Last week, dressed and coifed just a little more than one really needs to be for breakfast, I fantasized about asking Maurice out. If I could just make a plan with him, maybe I could get to the sex, where I would really shine. (Flirtation might not be my forte, but I planned on getting real in bed. Seriously real.)

Just as I prepared to get up from my table and walk toward him, Maurice's girlfriend walked into the restaurant. I watched them kiss in that contented, casual way that happy couples do. My butterflies were replaced with indigestion.

As I walked home, I felt dejected and discouraged. But at the same time, strangely relieved. Now I could now flirt with him more easily, knowing it wouldn't amount to anything. He could be the training wheels on my bicycle ride back to sexiness. 

Self-esteem is a tricky bag. We're made to believe bullshit platitudes like "Its only when you love yourself that others can love you." But seriously, what the fuck is self-love? Does anyone ever really experience it, other than sanctimonious New Age types? 

Love by its very nature, implies a recipient. Like one hand clapping, self-love seems theoretically flawed. A nebulous concept that seems to do more damage than good.

Like many women, I don't often know my own power. I look at myself and know I'm not horrid to look at or anything. Yet I can't imagine repeating I-love-you into a mirror thinking it will make one lick of difference. I simply can't pretend to feel better about myself than I do.

And I'm learning to be okay with that. Not possessing something. Lacking in something. Why force self-esteem where it doesn't exist?

The best one I can currently hope for: occasional bouts of self-compassion and glimpses of self-acceptance as well as a growing awareness when self-hatred (an easier concept to grasp than self-love unfortunately) tightens it gnarly grip around my throat.

I continue to flirt with Maurice. And I still continue to bump into things around him. It's not always pretty, this process. But it feels necessary. The human spirit deserves to shine and attract, not hide and retract. If I trip over my own two feet getting there, I'm learning to be okay with that. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

When your Junk Drawer Turns into a Snake Pit

I’ll try to keep it simple today. Feeling a little dark, spiritually flattened. Not a day to ask too much of myself.

(Yeah but remember, doing nothing can drive the rusty nail deeper.)

Okay so I’ll keep it small then. A dose of activity is often enough to keep the monsters at bay.

Today I will sort out a junk drawer in my dresser. One packed with various cables and wires and adapters and chargers and other techno bullshit.

As I peek into the drawer, the voices start:

Oh my god…it looks like a box of angry snakes. I can’t cope…nope.

Quickly I close it and take a stuttered breath. Then jump in again, crippled with indecision:

I shouldn’t throw out this weird-looking cable. If I need it later, I’ll be pissed at myself. But if I keep it, then I’m not really “cleaning out the drawer” am I?

Then some random “keeping up with the Joneses” thoughts:

There are people out there with way better wire drawers than me. I bet some people even label their cables. Or maybe they don’t even need a wire drawer because they’re using all their wires. They’re wire smart and I’m wire stupid.

Then unnecessary guilt:

I’ll ask my friend Dan about these things. He’s a computer geek. But I don’t want Dan to think I’m using him for his technical knowledge. I should call Dan but definitely not talk to him about these cables. That’s what I’ll do.

I finally toss out one wire (with a frayed end) and two booklets for cell phones I owned several years ago. The drawer hardly looks any different than before.

I grab one wire, determined to ditch it. Then an acid-like moment:

This cable is absurd looking. Why is it so big, so awkward? I’ll hide it in the back (in case I actually need it for something.) But I DO NOT want this ugly cable staring at me in the face every time I open the drawer.
Then the final realization crashes in on me:
What else am I too crippled to do based on endless rumination and needless fears? If I can’t organize this fucking drawer, how the hell can I organize my LIFE?

The word depression conjures up visions of sleeping all day (oh how I wish I had that “brand”) or a blank, thoughtless state (again, I wish). Like most mental health terms, it rarely hits the nail on the head.

Depression is active, repetitive, scouring, unfaltering, greedy, deeply cyclical and highly sensitive. Punitive thoughts nag and chomp at you constantly, like eternally hungry piranhas, making the smallest activity difficult. A drawer full of junk becomes a hostile, knotted symbol of my inability to make change in my life.

Maybe I’ll just make some toast instead.
Seriously, is that not a hostile looking cord?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

My hair is sassy but I'm not

That's one tentative smile. The kind you make when your new hairstyle is bringing more to the table than you are. It's bold and snappy and I'm clearly not feeling that way.I look forward to growing my hair out quickly so I can yet again retreat behind it...which will take about 2 damn years.

I took selfies before they were called selfies (I swear). Now, taking shots of yourself is just another grating aspect of our vapid culture. Yet I still take them. The process is enlightening, comforting. Then sometimes its not. Most of the photos suck and as I get older, a higher percentage suck...I wish that wasn't the case. I wish I didn't feel that way.

Since I can't afford a shrink, my photos serve to show me how I'm doing (because photos can't lie and all). It's amazing how much your subconscious imprints on every image you take. How your face reveals all these "tells." Once viewed at a distance, messages become more clear. A visual diary of your subconscious.

I want to rock middle age like my haircut. But the fire inside is quiet and small. Maybe its alright for a haircut to do the work for me. An outside in job. I hope so.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Treat your Single Friend (like a Real Human Being)

Not a witch…well, not on Sundays.

“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke.” — Gloria Steinem

As a single female in my 40’s living in a predictably beige suburban area, I’m frequently the victim of needless social suspicion.

Never been married? And without child? Clearly she’s a witch whose come to eat our young and lure the men folk away!

Friends, family…even the man you’re dating might wonder:

What did she do wrong?

Strangely, you’re slightly more accepted if you have several failed marriages under your belt.

Well, at least she tried, right?

It’s not done purposefully or even consciously, but this type of social shunning of the Stigmatized Single Female (SSF) is isolating and weird.

So here are a few pointers so you can treat your single friends like (wait for it) your equal.
Don’t assume you understand modern day dating better than us. Just because you “found your match” doesn’t make you an expert on how it’s done. Especially when you’ve been with the same partner for eons. Chances are, you have no clue what its like to date in today’s world. So keep your advice at bay and respect the bizarro nature of modern day mating.
Don’t feel sorry for us. We outnumber you. There are now more single adults in the U.S. than married ones according to economist Edward Yardeni. So the next time you consider us the “outsider” statistically speaking if you’re married, you are. We’re not an anomaly but the majority, baby.
Limit your usage of the Royal We. If asked, “How are you?” don’t answer, “Well, George didn’t get that promotion so we’re really stressed out.” You and your partner aren’t joined at the hip. Your SSF most likely just wants to hear about you. (We may not even care about George. Sorry.)
We’re not your Perpetual Plan B. Coupled friends grow to expect your availability (what else could she being doing after all?) yet we’re often the last on your list, after your family, hubby, etc. So if your SSF asks about your plans this weekend, don’t respond, “Well it’s your lucky day. Jorge is taking the kids camping so we can hang out!” Yay…lucky us.
Dare to invite us to couple-heavy events. A few of my married friends have invisible categories when it comes to social functions that you’re welcome to attend and others, well…you’d better not. It’s couples afterall. You’ll feel awkward, right? We probably won’t feel weird at all. But maybe it is you who secretly fears our single juju will poison your party. Not to fear. We’ve adapted to a variety of social situations without bursting into flames or stealing your husbands and fleeing town.
If unhappily married, don’t compete with us or “cock block” if we’re in pursuit of another. We get it. You and Dante have lost that lovin’ feeling like, a decade ago. You’re frustrated, underloved and undersexed. Suddenly the life of a single woman isn’t look so bad afterall. So you act “as if” you’re one of us when we’re out together. But guess what? You’re not single. And we are. So back off.
Side story: Recently while having my hair done, I commented on a handsome guy getting a haircut. My hairdresser without missing a beat said, “He lives with someone.” “Oh shit, I guess I’ll have to cancel the wedding plans then,” I responded. What could she have said instead? “Yes, he sure is handsome. If I weren’t unhappily married, I’d go after him. But since I can’t, you shouldn’t have him either” which often feels closer to the truth.
There is no Mr. Perfect for us so don’t critique our choices. This is my personal favorite: If I date a guy at the tail end of a relationship: “Hmmm….sounds like he has baggage. Better watch out.” If I date a man who has never been married, “Never been married? Sounds like he has baggage. Better watch out.”
Most single 40-something women have probably dated men who were involved with someone or in the process of ending a marriage or have sole custody of a handicapped child or just completed a stint in jail for tax evasion. Baggage simply happens after decades of living.
We don’t care how much of a player you think he is or how we could “do better.” We found this person for now so we can have some needs met. Congratulate us on our resourcefulness and adaptability amidst a crappy dating pool.
We’re not in a constant state of wanting someone to “put a ring on it.” Don’t assume that just because we’re single, we have only one goal in mind: to not be single. Sure we’re looking for love and passion like anyone else, but we may have grown to enjoy our freedom. Crazy, right? We might also see what our friends endure in their relationships and secretly think, “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.”
And don’t try to hook us up with someone just because he’s single and you’ll assume we’ll date just about anyone in our “desperate state.” We don’t want to date Ugly McPherson anymore than you would if you were single.
If we’re talking to your significant other, be flattered not threatened. Consider yourself lucky that we even like your significant other (since a few of you have made some seriously questionable choices). Remember: we don’t have to like your partner just because you do. We’re gifting you by liking them.
We see behind the smile. Just because you’re coupled up doesn’t mean we believe you’re truly happy. Women who have embraced singledom often see the strain of the role you’re trying so hard to play. Sometimes you resent us for seeing the truth so clearly. But don’t. Consider us unbiased and excellent judges.
So there you go. Stop treating your SSF like she’s a weirdo or has done something horribly wrong to be in this “unfortunate position” that a majority of us occupy. Don’t think you’re going to save her with your sagely but dated guidance. She’s you and you’re her afterall. The only thing that differentiates us is circumstance and choice. Besides (on a happy note), we all die single anyway!

[Thanks to single sisters Shannon and Aimee, and coupled friend Lynn for their contributions.]

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What Manny Brings to the Table

Manny is my neighbor's dog. His owner works full-time so when he told me Manny was stuck in a house all day, I decided to take him on my daily beach runs.

Well, wow...what a difference an animal makes. He's so energetic and electric, it rubs off on me and brings a sweet, airy light to my Scorpio-heavy life.

He's a bit hyper...okay a lot hyper. He's only a year old, with a combo of German Shepherd and border collie. Both are serious work animals and require immense amounts of exercise for a balanced dog. (Apparently Shepherds have so much stamina, they could run at a moderate clip for 24 hours.)

It's always a thing of beauty to see him run at his full capacity, like when he chases after seagulls on the beach. Which I probably shouldn't let him do (because he wants to kill them) but it burns off that surplus energy. Burns off my surplus energy too.  

We chase gulls together. And sometimes when we're in motion, I think: Oh look, I am a woman who runs with the wolves. The wild in me has finally returned and the petty neuroses of every day bullshit falls by the wayside.

The strangest thing happens when I take him back to his owner's house and return to my car: I can still feel him there in the backseat. It's like this sparkly and tingly magical imprint he leaves behind. A little God dancing around me. A little Dog dancing around me.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

It's Just a Truck (Or Why I Don't Like Michael Stipe)

"1200 dollars? You gotta be kidding me."

"Beth, the rust damage is too extensive. If we try to fix your brakes, it will be like opening a whole can of worms. Fuel lines are rusted...calipers...its just not worth it."

"But...what will I do with it?"

"We can send it to the junk yard."

"Okay, um..." My voice starts to quiver. "I'll stop by and take the stuff out of it on Tuesday." I put down the phone and let the news sink in: my truck is finished.

Last week when heading on the island, I had a near-miss accident. I had to slam on my brakes and flew onto the shoulder of the road. The brakes made a horrible screaching sound afterward and I had it towed to garage. I kinda knew it wouldn't just be a mere brake line. It's a 1990 Toyota 4Runner with close to 200,000 miles on it. It's rusty and repairing it would be the proverbial "throwing good money at bad."

Six years earlier, I bought the truck for $2000. I had moved to the Jersey shore from New York and I was pretty broke and not relishing the idea of making another monthly payment to another large entity. So I bought the truck outright from a local fisherman here. The first time I took it for a ride, I was in love. It was a truck! Not some low-riding car...a truck! The little kid in me squealed with delight.

Some people buy cars for status. Even if I had the means, that is not why I buy a car. I buy it to safely get me from point A to point B. And it helps if its cool and has some character. Which my truck did. It also helps if you don't have to get tons of repairs on the damn thing. My Toyota 4Runner ran like a charm for years, needing few repairs.

Growing up, I remember my mother buying lemon after lemon. So many icy cold mornings were spent with my mother cursing at the car because it wouldn't start again. "Just my luck!" my mother would proclaim. And I feared I'd have the same bad luck, like some genetic predisposition to crappy cars.

But the bad luck I feared didn't stop at cars unfortunately. I've often felt that I just wasn't very "lucky." I was never going to secure that killer job or get the recognition I thought I deserved as an artist. I wasn't going to find that perfect guy who'd sweep me off me feet and stay with me for life. I wasn't going to have tons of money; I was always going to struggle to get by. Bad messaging, you might say, but sometimes when you have a tough childhood, you sense a shitty pattern.

I remember listening to an interview with Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM. He credited his success to his supportive parents who believed in him from day 1. He seemed built for success and I've quietly resented him ever since. My widowed mom was stressed and overwhelmed. She couldn't "build" me for success; she was too busy figuring out how to feed five kids and keep the electricity on.

But I always felt like a winner. I knew I was unique and creative and my "voice" was powerful. Never felt like some supermodel, but I always appreciated my looks. I could play them down or pump them up. Strong, healthy. Maybe I wasn't "built" for success but I would overcome the limitations of a difficult childhood and faltering self-confidence. Fuck Michael Stipe. 

So what happened? Real life, I guess. You can want things with all of your heart and soul and it doesn't mean you'll ever get them. Years go by, and like my mother, you find yourself just trying to survive. Dreams become  a luxury for the privileged.

Or maybe I was the lemon. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn't work right. My internal mechanisms were just flawed and I'd just be one problem after the next.

But purchasing my red truck reminded me that "luck" and "success" aren't always what you think they'll be. Luck may be a cool truck that lasts for years. Success may be teaching a young kid to surf on his first try and seeing the huge smile on his face. Stardom could be singing with your friend on a roof at midnight.

Maybe Michael Stipe is wildly successful but has some weird eating disorder or an all-consuming fetish for dirty socks. And undoubtedly, he has a really nice car...but its not my truck and it never will be.

My red truck reminded me that I'm not cursed. I'm not a lemon. Things do work out for me, just not always in the ways I expected. And now, I'll say goodbye to it. And I'll thank it because it did its job and protected me to the very end. And it can't anymore. It's too old and worn and tired.

I am my truck. Highly imperfect but built to last. Trustworthy, dependable and comfortable. Rusty but fabulous in its own way.

The next phase of my life awaits me. I plan to leave this area and say goodbye to one of the only places I've considered home. It no longer is home. Like the truck, it used to be a safe haven but its not anymore. I will try my "luck" again. And hopefully I'll buy a vehicle that's safe and smart. But it will never be this truck.

My truck showed me that every once in a while, even in some random ways, I can be lucky too. (Or blessed...I never liked the idea of luck anyway.)

[Photo credit: Tim Faunce]

Sunday, April 07, 2013

You and your Dumb Untreated Mental Illness

Let's say I had a highly communicable disease called mondocrazyitis. It's so contagious, you might catch it standing in the same room as me. Even talking to me on the phone leaves you vulnerable.

Yet you still see me out in the world, sick as a damn dog, spreading my mondocrazyitis to the public at large. You'd think I was careless and just plain dangerous.

My point, you ask?

There are way too many untreated headcases out there with zero compulsion to treat their oh-so-obvious issues. And we have to deal with their crazy every day!

Whether its an addicted boyfriend or a bipolar boss or a hoarding parent or a puking friend, these nutters just traipse around causing chaos and often thinking they're so beyond mental help.

Why don't they do anything to fix themselves? 

Symptoms that you’re an untreated kook:

You’re a hoarder. It’s not healthy to bury yourself alive in crap and shit. If you can’t open the doors in your home or your cat is sleeping on top of a pile of newspapers from 1972, you’ve got a problem. Get help!

You do weird things with food. You binge, purge, starve or store bread crusts in attics for emergencies. You're just act weird with food. And it's been going on for years. You think no one knows but everybody does. Get help!

You’re a love addict. You’ve been in a string of soul-sapping poisonous relationships for years yet you continue to pursue the same type of jerk as if your life depends on it. You tell others how amazing this guy is and how only you really, truly "get him." Get help!

You’re another kind of addict. Booze and drugs can be our good friends sometimes, but if you’re punching walls and puking every time you drink, hello, you probably have a problem that's been affecting others (jerk) for years. Get help!

You’re a sociopath and you know it. Oh sociopaths, you sneaky little mindfucks you. You manipulate others and mess up their lives and are never in the wrong for doing so. You're also the least likely to get help. Get help anyway, you heartless soul!

You’re unhappily married. Egad there are a gaggle of you, aren't there? “Doing it for the children” right? Solid rationale. Maybe they can be as miserable as you when they grow up and get in a relationship. That's all right. We simply adore your endless bickering and icy silences. Get help or divorce!
Yes, but does therapy really work?  

Hell if I know...though I've spent thousands it anyway. Why? Because it beats blindly trampling through life with a problem that actively affects myself and others.

I have to manage my mental issues. It's my responsibility as a big girl in the real world. Because if something is broke, I have this wacky human tendency to want to fix it.

Do the same. Don’t let your dumb mental illness affect your own happiness or that of others. It’s your job as a human.

But if you choose to stay sick and avoid any form of self-examination and self-growth, please use a the mental equivalent of a Kleenex and cover your mouth when around others.

And every day, whether its at work or home or out in the world, people like you and me are unwilling recipients to their free-floating mind bugs. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Real Women Don't Listen to These Guys

Okay, I had to laugh when I first saw this anti-sex trafficking campaign from the Demi and Ashton Foundation. Some Hollywood heavyweights bandied together for a purpose. A good publicist makes sure his or her client has a sturdy cause to plaster a face to.

But this one? With these guys? Well hello, hypocrisy! Come sit a spell.

I'd bet, let's see, MY LIFE, that all three of these men have used the services of sex workers in the past (month, maybe). Have they all been of age? I'm sure they weren't fretting over it at the time, what with the champagne, cocaine and stuff.

"You want entertainment, get yourself a couple of hookers and an eight ball." - Sean Penn

But then there's this critical aspect that's more cringe-worthy: confusing sex trafficking with sex work. This campaign mindlessly muddies the two, but that's nothing unusual. Many anti-prostitution campaigns will do just that.

A few years ago, Craigslist was "forced" by 17 attorney generals to remove their adult services section of their website due to fears that it harbored sex trafficking activity.

 "They're buying and selling children out there. Better arrest the hookers on Craigslist or they'll buy and sell more children!" roared the battle cry.

Of course, they arrested women. Working women. Lots of them. Whether you agree with the moral choice of a sex worker is not the issue. They arrested the "lowest hanging fruit" according to sex work activist and author Amanda Brooks and not sex traffickers:

If you want to fight sex trafficking, go find sex traffickers and put them away. Be my guest. I don't know a single sex worker who will stop you from doing that. Arresting consenting adult sex workers isn't going to stop a sex trafficker. It has nothing to do with actually saving those who need help.

There are plenty of consenting sex workers who have been radically affected by these dubious crusades. And the religious right love this kind of double speak:

Sex work = sex-trafficking
Anti-trafficking = anti-prostitution
Pro-life = anti-life

Is sex trafficking a problem? Yes. Human trafficking is a tremendous problem. (I guess Ashton is not as concerned about the children used for labor, which constitutes a substantial 20% of all trafficked individuals worldwide.)

Kutcher claims that "once someone goes on record saying they are or aren't going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable." If he's means worldwide trafficking rings, this will not be brought up at their next board meeting, I promise. If he's speaking directly to pedophiles, guess what? They're not listening to advice about their severe sexual predilections from a glossy playboy celebrity. 

And while I love me a little Justin Timberlake, do we truly think that this campaign would have an iota of effect on human trafficking, where massive rings extend worldwide? A cute t-shirt is not reaching them. As a matter of fact, that cute t-shirt insults and undercuts the extent and extremity of the problem. (And let's hope that underage forced labor isn't making said cute t-shirt.)

What this "campaign lite" does instead? Shames prostitutes. Shames Johns. Shames the oldest profession that ain't going nowhere, whether you like it or not. And conveniently, does not shame (nay exalts) the guys who have used their services. (Please trust me, they have.)

Interestingly, I've seen several feminists and feminist groups proudly post this ad on Facebook, which seems so obviously contradictory in its messaging. Filmmaker Iari Lee and A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World (whom I truly respect) parrots this rhetoric without seeing the possible hypocrisy or outright damage. Jumping on a bandwagon for sake of jumping.

I've often heard male friends say, "I'd never pay for sex. I don't need to." Well, kudos to you. But some choose to. And in countries all over the world, it's a fine and legal working arrangement. So I can't help but note the underlying message:
"Real men (like us) don't have to pay for sex. We get it for free. Because we're Sean Penn, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake." 
But that doesn't fit on a coffee mug as easily.

I have a new slogan: 

"Real women don't take shaming, hypocritical instructions from Hollywood playboys."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Life, Not like the Movies...Again

In the movies, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago. When they’d sit around the kitchen table, harmonizing, laughing and simply embracing life. And I, a little girl, would sit on rotating laps, listening or trying to sing along.

[Me at 5, singing with my family.]

In the movies, when I sing this old song to my dying aunt, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. When I finished, she’d lovingly touch my hand and whisper, “I’m so proud of you, Bethy."

In the movies, after she died, it would propel me to work harder, to take what I learned from my upbringing and blaze my own trail, kinda like Coal’s Miner Daughter. Wild success would follow and when I accepted my first Grammy, I’d thank my aunt. And I’d get choked up, which would only endear me to the public that much more.

But life is not like the movies…again.

I know, I know.
It rarely is. That reality check has been delivered to my table time and time again, thank you very much. But sometimes, I’d like to catch a fleeting glimpse of that dreamy Technicolor world before reality smashes through my screen yet again.

In reality, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago.

In reality, earlier that morning, I worked on one of those old tunes so I could make her happy during her dying hours. Hoping desperately I wouldn’t cry when I sang it, I gave it my best shot, while sitting on her bed. She sang with me a little and filled in the words when my mind went blank from grief and sadness.

In reality, when I was done, the room was silent, with one cousin sniffling in the background. (So far, so good. Kind of movie-like, right?)

Then my aunt, with her eyes closed and a weak smile on her face said:

“You never really did much with that voice of yours, did you?”

In reality, I laughed. I laughed at the inappropriateness of her response. The timing. The incidental cruelty of it.

“You know what your problem is, Bethy?”

“What, aunt?”

“You start things and then you just go phhhtttt.”

“Aunt, you don’t really know about anything I do. I’ve been performing and creating for a long time now. And I….”

And I went on to explain the myriad of ways I’ve “succeeded” that would fit her limited mental picture of success. The weird little TV show I produced with a band of amazingly creative friends, the years of fun and freaky experimental theater, my online writing success, my band, my extensive choir work. But somehow I knew she didn’t quite conceive it because she hadn’t seen me on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. 

On a bad day, I wonder if I buy my own story. So hard it is, to be an artist. Nobody really understands your stupid little path, including yourself at times. And unless you’re part of the 1% that succeeds, you’re forced to cling to some fading bohemian dream, insistent that it must mean something, right? Right? That it matters to express yourself. On a bad day, it seems like an act of great futility and grand self-delusion.

On a good day? On a good day, you believe in yourself more than anyone could because you’re forced to; there's little to no external validation to bolster this search. You begin to express yourself not for recognition or notoriety (because you’ve given up on that ego trip a long time ago) but because, like a real artist, you feel you must.

You are your own rock god and super hero. You become star-struck, even if it's just for one fleeting moment, with yourself.

Even you can’t imagine you could reach such depths. It's well-earned self-respect that no one will ever be able to take with a careless comment. Ever.
In reality, my aunt died. And she’s not a bad person. She actually cared deeply about my "success" and my creative abilities. She did believe in me somewhere amidst her limited perception.

At least I’d like to believe that. That's how the movie ends in my mind.

The song I sang to my aunt:

Related Post:

Karaoke as Cheap Therapy

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Story I Started in Bed

So you and I were groggy, lying in bed, waking, touching one another. My thoughts were sleepily wandering from one topic to the next. I started telling you a story from my past that I never finished.

It was about a necklace and my old boyfriend Robert.

Robert, a tricky and wild sort. Compulsive liar. Addictive personality. Suffered from PTSD from his time in war zones. Former Navy Seal. So he says. (Turns out that was a lie.) Good-natured but with a definite dark side.

He's the type who should be immediately removed from the life of anyone with a modicum of common sense but like that gum stuck to your shoe, he stuck on and we've strangely morphed into friends. Or family. Or something in-between.

Even amidst all of our "issues" (and my god, do we have them), I guess we care about each other on a very basic level that can't be that easily undone. Trust me, I've tried.

Anyway, I got that far into the story. And maybe you started touching me in just the right places. Or maybe the wine and the stars from the previous night still held me captive. But the story was lost, somewhere, lost in soft kisses and warm, inviting arms.

So now that you're not here to distract me so pleasantly, I'll finish my story:

I asked Robert to give me a gift several months ago. In the years that we were together, I don't recall him ever buying me so much as flowers. Not that I live for that stuff, but it's still welcome, of course. And while we're not together anymore, a romantic gesture from any guy in my life would be appreciated.
I told him I wanted a silver necklace with a pendant. Nothing fancy. Something I could wear and feel protected by. Connected to. Something I could touch to feel loved.

Last month, Robert sent me a text telling me he got me a gift. When I asked him what it was, he replied a bracelet. Hmmm...I don't really wear bracelets, but hell, I guess I should be appreciative anyway, right? 

When we finally saw each other in person, he handed me my "gift" wrapped in brown tissue paper. I opened it and there it was: a pair of men's aviator sunglasses...what?!
I mean, it was a good pair (and strangely reminiscent of the kind he normally sports)...but still.
" What happened to the bracelet? Or for that matter, the necklace?"
"I just thought you needed something more practical. You'll get more use out of these anyway. You probably don't have any real sunglasses."

Living at the Jersey shore, I wear real glasses all the time. I have to, being an outdoors sort. But I didn't bother telling him that. I said thank you and tried to be happy with the gesture, not the gift itself.

So happy that the next day, the following item was placed on Ebay. 
As the days went by, my mood darkened when I thought about it. I remembered Robert picking up a broken, cheap bracelet on the sidewalk prior to giving me the glasses and saying, "Here's your bracelet." He had been joking but I didn't laugh.

Over the phone, I told my dear friend Amanda in California about my necklace that turned into a bracelet that turned into a pair of men's aviator sunglasses on eBay. We laughed and sighed.

"Amanda, why would it be so hard for him to give me something, even now? I just wanted a simple gift. It's not like I get a ton of things from the men in my life. This turned into a...mockery."

"Aw, honey. I'm so sorry that happened."
Tears rose in my eyes, thinking of how I easily and readily I give myself to others. Why I can't be the recipient more often? Am I just a romantic workhorse that others perpetually ride?
Of course, I could be oversimplifying. Robert frequently takes me out to lavish dinners (even now, as friends) and more than that, he adores me, even amidst his profound limitations.
But like other men (and I suppose women as well), he has great difficulty in professing his feelings. And a gift, (perhaps jewelry in particular), is that kind of pronouncement.

So what comes in the mail a week later? A necklace. With a key on it. "A key to my heart" a hand-written note reads.

Surrounding the box were romantic little notes detailing my wonder, beauty and ravaging sexiness. And how worthy I am of the most magnificent gifts in the world. Hearts and kisses drawn all over it. It was a gift of love, wrapped in love.
And it was sent by?
(Scroll please.)

My friend Amanda.

That's the story I was going to tell you. It was a story about friendship and kind gestures. And women taking care of each other, even romantically sometimes. That was the story I was going to tell you before we made love in the dancing daylight.