I am happy beyond measure. I am giddy beyond belief. I am stunned speechless.
Okay, so not that one … because, really, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing a blog post if I truly had no words. Let’s just say my flabber is gasted and leave it at that.
I have no idea, but I am so excited and over-the-moon about it. It makes me want to giggle and celebrate. My inner child (and her not-so-inner alter ego) are both happy dancing over this stupendous discovery.
In many ways, it feels as if I’ve been blogging for forever. But, in others, it’s painfully obvious I haven’t been at this for very long at all. I think I still make a lot of rookie mistakes. I still feel anxious about every word I decide to send out into the ether. I still sit down at the beginning of each week — heck, the beginning of each day! — and think to myself: “What am I going to write about today?” And I worry that each idea might be my last. It’s a whole drama thing, but it’s a good kind of drama. The kind that gets my brain working and the ideas, hopefully, flowing.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating (and repeating and repeating and repeating): Deciding to blog on WordPress was one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time. I had forgotten how much fun writing could be. I had forgotten that I wasn’t alone out here in the world: stuck inside my head with only my own words to keep me company. I had forgotten what it felt like to be around kindred spirits — even if it is only via the internet.
And so, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank all of you for the wonderful experiences I’ve had so far. Thank you to my wonderful followers, who buoy my spirits every day with your kind comments, who inspire me with your beautiful blogs, and who remind me that I’m not alone out here. We’re all in this together.
Okay … now that the mushiness is over and done with, come and celebrate with me! Pull up a chair and pour a drink.
So, on the outside, I am cool as a cucumber. I am calm like the perfect sunset over a peaceful ocean. I am confident like a … well, like a really confident person. To look at me, most people would think, “Wow, that gal has it all together.” People who don’t know me, that is. People who get to know me — even just a little bit — quickly discover the sad truth I keep hidden from the world at large.
Underneath this wonderfully serene exterior, I am one hot mess.
It’s all right, I can admit it. After living for so many years with the suspicion that my inner life was a bigger mess than anyone could possibly imagine, it’s almost a relief to type it out loud. It might be a mess, but it’s my mess. I’m strong enough to own it.
The funny thing about my “hot mess” is that, for many, many years, I was able to hide it from myself. I smiled and nodded along, feeling like I was sailing through life with no problems at all. No sweat, I used to think to myself. I’ve got this. I can do this with my eyes closed. Until, suddenly, one day … I couldn’t. You see, my eyes were closed, which meant I slammed up into the wall of truth that was looming in front of me the whole time.
These days, I know it’s bad for me to ignore my feelings and thoughts. I might try to hide them from myself, but, inevitably, they will come back to bite me in the hoo-hah. I might not feel particularly stressed or anxious, but those feelings are there — lurking beneath the surface and just waiting for a chance to photo-bomb my dreams.
This is just what happened last night. I had the dreaded “stress dream”. For some reason, my stress dreams almost always revolve around school and test situations. And they always leave me feeling a little bit breathless when I wake up in the morning, the dream so vivid in my imagination that I have to remind myself I am not in school any longer so there’s nothing to fear.
So … my crazy dream last night. I found out I had to take a test. I can’t remember what it was for, but I vividly remember the teacher giving this test was Mrs. Miner, one of my strictest high school teachers. Which was strange, because I was clearly in college in my dream. I was supposed to go buy a blue book for the test, and I was on my way to do this when I ran into my mother. She was standing on the corner two streets away from my apartment, because, apparently, she had nothing better to do than stand around and wait for me to walk by. My mom wanted to go shopping, so I told her she could come along with me. But I told her I had to buy a blue book, because I had a test. I was already worried about this test, because I hadn’t studied for it at all. I didn’t even know I was enrolled in the class! But, there you have it: there was a test, so I would have to buck up and do my best. My mom didn’t want to go buy a blue book. She told me that was boring, and she wanted to go shopping for clothes. I needed “something pretty” to wear because all of my clothes were unattractive. I told her no. I needed a blue book, and I didn’t want any new clothes. I particularly didn’t want new clothes that she was going to pick out for me. She completely ignored me, and I ended up spending the entire afternoon following behind her from one store to the next, trying on clothing I didn’t want and didn’t like. Each time I would try to sneak away to buy my blue book, she would catch me. I was trapped.
Before I knew it, the entire day was gone, and I had to go to class to take my test. But guess what? All the stores selling blue books were closed! There was no way I could find a blue book, and I just knew Mrs. Miner wouldn’t let me into class for the test without one — not that I even should have been in class, anyhow, since I didn’t remember registering for it.
But, anyhow … I raced back to class and darted in just as Mrs. Miner was closing and locking the doors. I have no idea why we were all locked in, but no one thought to ask about it. Mrs. Miner was like that: you just nodded and stepped smartly along without bothering her for the details. She gave me “the look”. You know, the one that said she knew I didn’t have a blue book or even a pen. She was right. I slumped to my desk and sat down, certain I wouldn’t be able to avert tragedy this time.
I looked up, and my first high school boyfriend was sitting across from me. When Mrs. Miner wasn’t looking, I asked him if he would loan me some paper and a pen. He said yes, and handed over a marker and one (ONE!!) sheet of paper. When I asked for another sheet of paper, he shrugged and told me I should have brought a blue book with me. I wanted to yell at him, but the test was starting. I heard the timer ding, and someone passed the test paper back to me. There was only one question on the test. It was something about the meaning of life and how we connect to others, and we were supposed to write a ten page essay on it.
Ten pages! I only had one piece of paper and a lousy marker! How was I ever going to pull this off? I decided that, if I could write really, really small, I could fit all the words in on the front and back of my paper. And so, that’s what I did. I thought it was all going pretty well, but Mrs. Miner caught me. She sent me out into the hall to finish the test, because I only had one piece of paper instead of a blue book. Needless to say, she didn’t offer me any more paper. Or a real pen. Or even the little-bitty nubbin of a pencil that should have been thrown out already but wasn’t.
Even worse, I had to carry my desk outside — all by myself. It was heavy! I sat down in the hall — with Mrs. Miner watching me — and proceeded to write my essay in little, teeny-tiny writing. I have no idea why, since Mrs. Miner had already told me she wouldn’t grade it. But, whatever … it’s a dream. Dreams are weird. Once I had filled in the whole front of my paper, I turned it over to find the marker had bled through. The entire back-side of my paper was a huge, black blotch of ink! Dismayed, I turned back to the front side to find … you guessed it! A huge, black blotch of ink, instead of the words I had so carefully crammed onto the page.
I thought all was lost, until it started to rain. My paper melted away in front of me, before Mrs. Miner could see what a mess I had made of it all. She didn’t want to stand out in the rain, so she told me I would have to do a make-up test later.
As I waited for my heart to stop pounding, I said a little prayer of thanksgiving that I wasn’t in school any longer. And felt really grateful that I can, sometimes, keep my inner “hot mess” hidden from the world.
If they only knew …
Are there any words in the universe that can make me angrier than the simple, two-word command: “Be nice”?
The answer to this is no, there are not. Which you’ve probably guessed already, considering I’m sitting here typing a blog post about the whole thing. Or, perhaps I’m running out of blog post ideas. This could be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon your perspective … but I digress.
The refrain “be nice” echoes throughout my childhood memories like a bad commercial jingle. You know the ones I mean: the ones with those songs you hate so much that it makes you physically ill to hear them, and yet, they are so catchy that they burrow into your brain and run on an endless loop until you wish you could go mad just so it would stop. Any time I expressed an opinion that differed from those held by my parents, any time I expressed an emotion my mother didn’t like (anger, sorrow, jealousy, etc.), any time I was even remotely upset, “Be Nice!” was the command I heard. As an adult, I even do it to myself! Instead of letting myself feel what I feel, I catch myself saying, “Oh come on now … be nice.” Instead of acknowledging my feelings and their value, thereby acknowledging my existence and value as a person, I hear those hated words in my head: “Be Nice!”
Each time it happens, I want to scream. Or bang my head against the nearest solid object — not for long, just until the annoyingly smug voice inside it shuts the heck up and stops bothering me. I don’t want to “be nice” — not when this command is a subtle code for doing what someone else expects of me, or, even worse, when it means surrendering the ability to have any of my own emotions. I’ve been there. I lived in that place for a long, long time, and it’s not pretty.
Perhaps I am overreacting. Scratch that. I’m sure I’m overreacting. But, when you’ve lived with something for your entire life, when that something burrows into you and eats away little parts of your soul until you end up middle aged and wondering if you even really exist … Well, overreacting happens. It is impossible for me to describe the pure, unadulterated hatred I hold in my heart for the command to “be nice”. Let’s put it this way: If “be nice” was on fire, I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on it in order to put out the flames. This is how much I despise these two words.
Don’t get me wrong. Being nice is not a bad thing. I like nice people. I strive to be a nice person in my every day life. I’m confident I don’t always succeed, because I am human. There are times when I feel angry or jealous or just icky. But, underneath all of that is a person who, usually, manages to have compassion and a somewhat positive outlook on life.
But here’s the thing about those words. “Be nice” was a loaded gun pointed directly at the core of my being. As a kid, those words told me I wasn’t as important as the people around me. They taught me I wasn’t to have an opinion or even feelings that made other people uncomfortable. They taught me I was flawed, and could never possibly live up to the expectations of those around me. No matter how hard I tried, “be nice” was always there to remind me I had failed. They taught me I didn’t matter. I was to be seen and never heard, unless spoken to first. Each time my mother told me “be nice”, she took away a little part of the unique mixture of personality and emotions and thoughts and experiences that should have taught me who I was and where I existed in this world. Instead, I learned to parrot whatever my parents told me and to stuff down any errant feelings. I was the perfect automaton, although both of my parents — to this day — comment frequently about how stubborn and willful I was. It makes me laugh, mostly because I would cry, otherwise, and they would never understand why. Oh, if they only knew!
“Be nice” still haunts me. To this day, my mother frequently will tell me “be nice” in response to various things we discuss in our phone conversations. And you know what? It still cuts me to the quick to hear it. In that moment, I am back there — a lonely, confused child with no self-esteem — and it hurts. But the difference is that, now, I can remind myself I am not that little kid any longer. I can remind myself that “be” and “nice” are just words. And I can end the call and hang up the phone. Sometimes, walking away is the most healing thing we can do for ourselves.
The other day, my daughter came to me with a complaint about something. I can’t even remember what it was now, but it was important to her. She’s nine. The world is full of drama. As she was telling me all about who did what and how and how it made her feel so angry, I caught myself starting to say, “Be nice.”
Ugh! Can you believe it? As much as I despise those words, here I was, about to unleash them on my beautiful, amazing daughter. I guess it’s pretty hard to overcome a past that’s deeply and painfully ingrained. Luckily, I caught myself in time. Instead of the hated words, I gave her a hug and told her I was sorry she was sad and hurting. As I held her in my arms, that lonely little kid who still lives somewhere in the back of my psyche whispered, “Be nice or don’t. Be whatever you want to be. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
It’s gray and rainy here today, and I have a headache. I should be working on my book or doing laundry — or both! But I am grumbly and a bit grouchy. Did I mention I have a terrible headache? Yeah … one of those kinds of days: the kind that make you want to revert to your caveman roots and slump around saying “ugh” all day long.
So, instead of the post I had planned on writing, I have decided to ramble on about something that makes me happy. I like to think of it as my “collective madness”.
I collect anime production artwork. I must confess I feel a bit like someone at one of those twelve-step meetings: “Hi, I’m Pish. And I’m a cel collector.” Needless to say, this isn’t something I tell most people. I try hard not to let my anime / collecting life and my “real” life cross paths, mainly because most people don’t understand what might drive a nearly (sort of?) normal person to the depths of giddy insanity inspired by such a nerdy hobby. Also, this is not a cool hobby. I love it, but I freely admit I’m letting my inner nerd show here.
I am not sure what caused me to start collecting. I started watching anime a few years after graduating from law school. I was miserably unhappy in my career, and I was going through a creative dark patch. It took all my energy to get through each work day. I was too emotionally and mentally exhausted to write. In fact, at that point, I hadn’t written in about seven years. Writing had always been my escape from unhappiness — a way to make sense of a world I didn’t understand. Without it, I was lost for quite a long time. I think, somehow, anime stepped in to fill that gap for me. It offered me the escape my overtaxed mind and emotions badly needed.
Most people think anime is all girls with weird hair and big boobs who run around in skimpy clothing. While there is quite a lot of this in anime, these types of shows don’t appeal to me. And anime offers so much more. The artwork is vibrant and bright. The settings range from fantastic to urban grit and grime. And the character designs are often beautiful and fascinating.
Underneath the colorful flash, the shows I love most are about people overcoming odds in the most drastic of situations. They are about characters who search deep down inside themselves to find more than they ever thought existed. They are about the courage and resiliency of the human spirit, about never giving up, even in the face of the worst odds.
Although I enjoy watching new anime whenever possible, there are certain shows that I love, and that I watch again and again. I never get tired of them because they speak to me on some deeper, more emotional level. They fuel my creativity and imagination. They remind me that, no matter how terrible things may seem, there are good things inside all of us — a strength of emotion and character that, maybe, we didn’t know we had until we needed it most.
Eventually, watching anime awoke my creative spirit. After soaking in this incredible art form for a year or so, I sat down and started writing again. Yes … this means fan fiction. There is a part of me that feels I should probably be ashamed of this fact, but really, I am not. I hadn’t written anything in over seven years!! To be able to sit down again and have words come from my head and onto my computer screen … to be able to have those words flow together and, somehow, make sense with each other … to be able to see those words coming together into a story … It was like magic. I don’t think I can describe the feeling of elation and release I experienced. I remember sitting there, at my computer, and holding my breath. I was afraid to breathe, as if doing so would break the moment and cause the words to flee to the dark reaches of my brain once more. Tears were shed; I guess that says it all.
I suppose collecting anime production artwork was a natural and eventual progression, but it took quite a while before I decided to take the plunge into collecting as a hobby. Truthfully, it never occurred to me that I could own a little piece of the shows I loved. Once I realized cels were out there, and that they were attainable for “regular” people like me, there was no doubt I would end up surrendering my sanity and a good bit of my available cash to the siren song of this hobby. I started collecting around nine years ago. I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment.
Those first years of collecting were wild and nutty. I don’t know how many of you guys collect anything, but, if you do, you probably know what I mean. It’s an addiction, which, thankfully, is legal. There is an almost euphoric rush involved with stalking and acquiring those perfect, beautiful pieces that will add to or fill holes in your collection. Or, in the case of anime cels and my particular approach to collecting, the one, little frozen moment in time that represents a scene in a show when I felt connected to my favorite characters. The hunt can be exciting. There are pieces in my collection that I never thought I would acquire. I searched for years before finding them.
In recent years, I have slowed down quite a bit in the collecting world. The shows I love the most are older, which means not as much great artwork comes available for them. As I’ve become more experienced in collecting and as my collection has grown, I’ve become more selective regarding the pieces I want to acquire. And, the hard fact is that things are more expensive now. For a little while, I thought I was pretty much done with my nutty-obsessive hobby.
I felt a little sad about this. After all, cel collecting had been a huge part of my life. It had led me to interact with and meet other interesting folks who shared the passion I have for this beautiful and often under-appreciated art form. At the same time, it’s inevitable that we move on from things — even something that has brought us an incredible amount of joy. Writing has stepped up, once more, as a creative outlet for me, and I find myself focusing more and more on my own original work. This is a good thing, and makes me feel that my love for anime, somehow, brought me full-circle in my creative journey.
Yesterday, though, I managed to close a deal for a couple of new cels. One of these is something I’ve been seeking for two or three years now. And the giddy rush of happiness I felt as I sent off the payment told me: I may be slowing down, but I’m not done yet!
I think the hardest thing about being a parent is learning how to let go. It seems like it would be an easy thing, particularly since children tend to suck up a lot of time, effort, and energy. I remember, when my daughter was a tiny baby, there were so many things I looked forward to: the time when she could finally talk and tell me what was bothering or upsetting her … the time when diapers would be a distant memory … the time when she would finally eat only “regular” food … the time when she would be big enough to explore and interact with her surroundings … and on and on.
Back then, when she was still tiny and relied on me for everything — when she, literally, couldn’t go anywhere without me — I thought about the future with a sort of misty-eyed fondness. I thought about how it would be so nice to have more free time. I thought about how it would be much less stressful, once she could tell me what was bothering her, as opposed to trying to interpret various cries of distress. I thought about how nice it would be once I no longer had to carry that heavy diaper bag around. I thought about how lovely it would be to save on the expense of baby food, once she started eating the same things the rest of us ate.
I thought about a lot of things.
What I didn’t think about was how hard — how absolutely terrifying — it would be for me to let go. I didn’t realize each new adventure and experience would take her a little farther away from me, along her path toward becoming a teenager and, eventually, an adult. I didn’t think about how I was going to feel, for example, standing on the curb and watching her walk into school the first day of second grade: the first time she told me, “No, Mama. I can go by myself.” I didn’t realize how frightening it was to be the person left behind. Sometimes, I feel like I spent nine months working to bring her into this world, and I will spend the entire rest of her life fighting the urge to stuff her back inside my uterus. Because, once your kids are out there, they are out there. They are part of the world, and you can’t always be with them.
Today, my daughter headed off to Philadelphia for a school field trip. She has been excited about this trip for months, and she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and eagerness this morning. This is the first time, since she started pre-school, that I have not gone as one of the chaperones. And, over the week or so leading up to this trip, I came to realize my biggest fears as a parent are letting go and not being there. Perhaps, they really are the same fear, just all wrapped around each other. I don’t know, but I do know it took a monumental effort for me to smile this morning, kiss my daughter good-bye, and drive away from the school. I looked back and saw her standing on the sidewalk in front of the school, chattering excitedly with her friends and teacher, and felt like some invisible hand had reached into my chest and wrapped my heart in a vice-like squeeze. If I had been alone, I might not have been able to leave. Luckily, my husband was driving, which meant I didn’t have the option of turning around to snatch her up and run for the safety of home.
As I was telling her good-bye, she whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, Mama. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home tonight.”
And so I drove away feeling unsure and inadequate, but also knowing I don’t have to learn how to let go all at one time. For now, this is enough, and the rest will come. Baby steps, which will teach me how to walk before I have to know how to run.
When I was a kid, I often dreaded weekends a little bit. Or maybe a lot. I look back on things now and realize how lucky I was to live in the country. Now, I long for space and peace and quiet. Even as a kid, there were things I loved about living away from the nearest town and neighbors — things I wouldn’t have traded. But the weekend presented a bit of a challenge for my restless spirit.
My parents were not people who went anywhere on the weekends, other than church. My dad, especially, is a homebody. Even now, he hardly ever goes anywhere. My mom, if she feels the desire to see something other than the four walls of her house, will head out without him. He has mellowed over the years. When I was growing up, he was absolutely in charge of where we went, when we went there, and how long we stayed. At least, during the weeks when he was home from work. Even when he was gone for work, though, he was still kind of in charge because there was a very strict budget to follow. We didn’t dare step outside its lines.
The weekends seemed to stretch in front of me: this block of time, with a space carved out for church, that seemed almost impossible to fill. TV wasn’t allowed, especially during the day, and we lived in a four room house. Four rooms: two bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, and a combination kitchen / living room. It’s not like there were places to go for a change of scenery.
Instead, I changed the scenery inside my head. I read a lot. I wrote, although I was too shy to show my work to anyone. When the weather allowed, I rode my horse. I played with my dog and my cats. But I felt jealous of my friends, who lived closer to town or who were allowed to venture into town from the country. I felt lonely and bored and, often, more than a little bit trapped.
Today, it often seems as if my life is too busy. I live in a large metropolitan area, where I am forced to deal with traffic and rude people — sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis, it seems! There is no quiet here. Our house is near the metro tracks and a highway. Even with the sound wall nearby, we hear honks, screeches, and the click-clack of the train well into the night from our bedroom upstairs. We live in a townhouse, so there isn’t much space. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp, and our house is connected to our neighbors’ houses. And we can reach restaurants, shopping, school, church, movies … and any variety of entertainment options … within less than an hour, depending on traffic. I am coming and going all the time. Some weeks, it feels almost as if I am never home, between school activities, church activities, and errands.
Even at home, there always seems to be something to do. There is something to clean. There are dogs to tend to. There is a cat box to clean. There are hamster cages to wash. There are meals to fix. There is a child to mother. There are expectations to fulfill. And laundry — of course, there is always laundry, laundry, and more laundry! Even writing devolves into some kind of chore, instead of the escape it used to be. It becomes harder and harder for me to turn my brain off to let the words flow, especially when people are counting on me to finish my writing projects. It’s a lot of pressure when people expect things from you. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s something I am not yet skilled at dealing with regarding my writing.
In many ways, I now have the life I thought I wanted in my youth. Now, of course, I long for many of the things I used to have. I suppose human nature is like that. The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. But, one thing that has come out of growing up is that I appreciate a free weekend more. Now, when faced with a long Saturday — a day with no appointments to keep and nothing in particular to do — I no longer feel restless or annoyed. Instead, I think to myself, “This is Bliss.”
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