I’ve been told in my life that I don’t have a lot of sympathies when it comes to people and I’m not fighting that statement. I just think I’m taken out of context. There was a time in my life that I did worry very much about how people took me, that I thought a lot about if I said this or if I did that how would I look? What would they say about me when I walked away? Would they want to be my friend? Or would I be good enough to want to be around? Would I be invited to their parties, their coffee dates, their adventures? There was a time in my life when I hid behind this stupid idea that I needed to live up to others’ expectations. If I’m being honest, I’m so glad that is no longer me. I am so relieved that at the end of the day I can go to sleep knowing that I gave it my best and if it wasn’t good enough for someone? It doesn’t matter. It was good enough for me. I understand how I can come off as standoffish, slightly aggressive if you take me a handful of times but if you know me? I will go to the ends of the earth for you. No questions ask. I just can’t do that for everyone. And if a perfect stranger doesn’t automatically get me, it’s OK. If they think maybe I’m a little rough around the edges, it’s all good. We don’t have to prove anything to each other. We just need to be kind.
I think there are different types of kindness in this world. I think we all express it differently. I find it beautiful the many ways we show each other respect. There is the very bubbly, high pitched, let-me-help-you type of kindness. It’s the kind that you want to hear when you are at a restaurant or at the post office or checking into a hotel. It’s the cheerleader kind who is so happy to be of service to you. There entire purpose is to be sure you are satisfied. Here’s the thing working so many years in customer service I understand that is forced for a lot of those people and those are the people that I have sympathy for. There’s another sort of kindness that is subtle, that doesn’t demand attention, that doesn’t brag, that maybe comes with a little bit of a bite but it is done with beautiful respect. It’s the kindness that treats you like a human and not a dummy. That’s more of the type of kindness that I show. I’m not a cheerleader. I’m not full of bubbles and I’m not going to stroke your ego just because you demand it. I will not apologize repeatedly for things that mean nothing at the end of the day but I will be kind about it. I get it. Life is full of disappointments from big ones to small ones but saying words just to say words don’t solve a problem. Did you get a damaged canvas? Yeah, that sucks but be an adult. Me apologizing for something completely out of my control isn’t going to fix that canvas but I can absolutely send you a new one. Isn’t that more effective then me saying words I don’t mean? And, sure, I get how that sounds like I’m being unsympathetic but put your life into perspective. Look at what goes on outside of yourself and understand your damaged canvas problem is a way better problem to have then what is going on outside your door.
We come from so many different places and come with so many different values. We don’t always understand those differences. I commend the people in this world that can shine so brightly and love to help the people around them with so much vigor. We need those kind of people. We need the cheerleaders and the soccer moms and the planners and all the shiny happy people because they bring something important to this very hard, dark place we call life… but we also need quiet kindness, too. We need the people who put a blanket on you when you fall asleep on the couch and then go on their way, the kind that does not want the recognition. There is something simple and lovely about being kind when no one sees it. I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I know that my patience for this world is really on a very short leash but please don’t confuse that with me not caring. It’s me wanting to show you respect, one human to another. I was taught we treat each other the way we want to be treated. I don’t want anyone to be anything but real to me so I don’t need the bubbles or the meaningless words or anything that is going to give me a false sense of myself. We need to learn to not judge each other so harshly, to understand that we give each other blankets in different ways and every way is beautiful as long as it comes from a place of kindness. So, do me a favor, next time you go to that coffee shop, give that kid behind the counter a break. If they don’t smile at you the way you want them to, don’t automatically think he is an asshole. Maybe he’s just not the cheerleader type and that subtle kindness is just as valuable.
Life is just a giant bowl of weird things that somehow find a way to work together. We soak up certain parts of our lives in different ways at different times of our lives. While in my teenage years, I thrived on conflict. As I got older, I picked those parts out and pushed them to the side. I often sit at my desk during the week, asking myself how in the world did I land here? But I know that most of my life has been about my kid, about making sure she had what she needed. Then, it became about my husband and being a good partner to him. And somehow all these other things started to find their way into their mix and I drowned myself out. It has been easier focusing on what I am missing more than what I have. That’s true for all of us. I’ve been so focused on all these things I lost over the last few years that I really haven’t sat down and seen what I have gained. I didn’t see that dash of self-discovery that I added. I was blind to that cup of love I finally allowed myself to feel. I get pushed into corners, so easily blinded by how suffocating this world feels to me that I keep out the light. I sit at that desk, surrounded in a hurricane of just unhappy and I hear this small voice whisper to me. Get up. It’s time to get out of the oven.
I texted my mother this morning. I wrote, “It’s nice to feel like myself again.” I wrote that sentence but it didn’t really sink in until after I hit send. When I look back a year ago, five years ago, hell ten years ago and realize I’ve been lost in the mix. And it’s cool. I mean I understand that is life. I accept all the things that hurt me, that I hurt, that held me back. They are all part of me at the end of the day. I remember the day I put me on that shelf. I remember closing the cupboard, telling her that she was safer there. There have been so many moments in my life that I haven’t felt enough, that no matter what I did it just didn’t make the cut. I remember anyone telling me that I was any good, I just laughed at them, distrusting their intentions. You may like me at first but you won’t after awhile. We all fade and, sure, I’ve become pretty skeptical of people… but the girl I put away? She still believes in all of you and it’s hard for me to deal with her disappointment. I’ve fooled myself into thinking I was protecting this hypothetical another person when in reality it’s just me. I learned to take my time with people, to trust my instincts, to only give them a little before giving them a full piece of me. And I’ve been burned and I will continue to get burned but for the first time in a long time, I’m not that concerned about anyone else. And for the first time in a long time, it feels like I slipped back into me. It’s been long overdue.
I’m still a work in progress. Every day I discover something new, annoying and wonderful about myself. I understand my anger and my frustration and my anxiety. I’m like a layer cake just figuring out my layers one at a time. I understand that I can deal with assholes better then I can deal with nice old ladies. I have learned that my lack of patience and my bursts of anger and my long sighs are just versions of my anxiety taking physical form but I’m not ashamed of them. I am in a position that causes me a lot of mental stress. It’s probably been the most damaging place I have ever been. It’s like someone put salt in my sweet tea and I’m having a hard time swallowing it. I thought this week about being an adult and how that has changed over the years. It used to be you worked a job you hated until you died because there really wasn’t any other choice. Eventually, you’ll have a heart attack and leave this world. I think about my parents, watching them as a kid, how they would both come home miserable. I think about my kid off in a beautiful state doing what she loves, living her life, discovering who she is. And then I listen to the old lady on the phone who wants to talk to me about her grand kids or that angry man on the phone who doesn’t believe I’m even a person and I know that there is something better for me out there in this world. This time around I’m not ashamed to say I deserve it, all of it , the entire cake.
The great thing about baking is that even if the outside ends up being not all that pretty, as long as it tastes good, you are golden. I’m rough. I have a lot of work to do. I’ve got some adjustments to make but I understand my ingredients. My kid needed some guidance this week. She’s young and learning, figuring out how the world sees her and how she sees herself. I remember feeling like how other people viewed me was super important. It wasn’t that long ago that I put my worth in other people’s clumsy hands but you learn from that. I told her that at the end of the day it was about how she viewed herself. It was about how she felt she was living her best life. If she felt like she wasn’t whatever enough, then she needed to do the work to see that she was. This silly little struggle of being enough is such a pointless battle but it has taken me 40 years to understand that. You will never be enough for everyone and it’s such an energy draining thing to keep trying. You figure out how to be enough for you, for the people who value you, and that’s it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. I’m at a point that I will no longer apologize for my struggle with anxiety. I’m done trying to hide when I get upset or sad or even happy. It wastes so much energy to be anything other than true to yourself. And over the last struggle bus of a year, I’ve slowly taken that girl out of the cupboard and put her back on. We’re still working some things out and I still have my days where I want to smash my head against concrete but I am so grateful for the courage that I soaked up in the giant bowl of my random life. I’ve just been marinating is all.
I spoke to my mother yesterday and the woman just makes me smile sometimes. Not just because she is my mother but because the older I get, the more I just appreciate her as a person. She was telling me a story about her day. In this story and the reactions she had and the things that were being said to her or about her aligned with the sort of week, I was having. Sometimes I think people misunderstand my humor, the way I deal with life. I feel like people often take my sometimes dark, grumpy nature that I am jaded or mean which is so far from who I really am that I find it funny. Listening to my mother, I realized that (not to quote NBC but to quote NBC) I learned it from you! I grew up with a strong mother, a woman who, while doing anything for you, made it very clear when she was angry, who without words expressed that she had had enough. She snapped sometimes but it was never out of malice. It was out of raising four annoying children and taking care of a dreamer of a husband. She was the rock and the world landed on her every time we fell apart. So I get it, now more than ever.
I was never a bubbly person, a cheerleader so to speak. I was never able to blow smoke up your ass or to pretend like I was something I am not even if I have bent over way too often over the last decade. The one thing that I have always been real but it’s been a weird balance. I am a kind person and that kindness goes far but I have my limits. That kindness takes a toll on me that I am happy to pay for a while but, like my mother, I have my limits. I will have that breaking point where I snap at you, where I want to throw a casserole dish at your head for a simple wrong sort of look. I don’t know how to look at a person and put a fake smile on my face without paying a heavy price. And, honestly, I am a pretty jaded person when it comes to humanity. I will roll my eyes at dumb. I will lose my patience for people who make excuses about why they can’t just be a decent human being. My voice will be sarcastic and my wit will be sharp and I will not fake liking you… because I can’t. It is not in my DNA to be something I am not. The older I get, the more I’m tired of fighting that. I work in a field where they want me to fluff people’s pillows and it takes so much out of me to fake concern for people who don’t even believe I’m a real person but I do it. I do it because it’s what I know. I do it because there are genuine people out there who are worth the price I pay.
I love the dark joke. I enjoy saying weird things, making me people look at me like I am a crazy person but a lot of times I got misunderstood because of it. My voice is not a high pitched one. It is slightly raspy from all the years of smoking. It breaks from how much I have to talk to people during the day. It doesn’t understand how to sound sympathetic when inside I want to straggle you. I think about my mom growing up, how you could always tell when she was pissed because her voice gave it away, how I hear those same tones in my own now. I listened to her story yesterday and it just makes me laugh. I’ve lived on this planet, endured so many different types of people, been through some life enough to earn that jagged edge. I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not trying to hide the fact that I’m scarred because of it. I don’t want to go through this life, pretending like life is good because it’s not. It never was. While we have moments of joy, we carry so much dark, too. That’s the beauty of us, of all of us. I don’t want to vomit rainbows at your feet if I don’t feel them. I don’t want to lie to you and give you fake apologies if I don’t mean them. I want to be honest and real and human with you, with all of you. I’m not sunshine. I’m an Eeyore and an Oscar and I love the inspiration that comes out of that part of me. A part of me is my mother and I am so glad I fully understand how lovely that part of me is. So, sure, I’m going to snap at you. I’m going to sigh heavily. I’m going to, at some point, throw something at your head… but I’m also going to show you love, kindness, quiet respect.
I sat in an office earlier this week, being told that I needed to be more positive. I said nothing in reply really because I understood there was no point to it. I understood who my audience was, old enough to know what battles are worth fighting and which are not. I walked out feeling slightly defeated, very annoyed, and honestly not very motivated. I know that I’m not always the easiest person to read, to get to know. I give you everything and give you nothing at the same time. And I know that I come off as negative at times. I used to want to change that part of me but I’m not very interested in that much anymore. Here’s the thing. I know who I am. I know that I hold my sunshine close to the chest because I’m terrified that the world is somehow going to take it away from me. It has happened so much in my life that it’s just a part of me and I’m OK to share that part of me with the people in my life who I feel comfortable with. I will always have a general distrust of people but I will never treat another person with anything but respect. My very first memory of my mom is her brushing her long, dark hair in a bathroom in a pink nightgown. I remember thinking that she was one of the most beautiful people in the world and, one day, I wanted to be just as pretty as she was. So, I took note of her strength growing up, the things she would tolerate and the things she wouldn’t. Listening to her story last night, I realized that all of that strength has been imprinted in me, in that very small little girl who watched her mother in such awe. I don’t want to apologize anymore for being a little dark, slightly strange, always a bit sad. I don’t want to apologize for being anxious or hesitant or weary of people. I love you all but maybe it’s the time I just throw the casserole dish and see where the crumbs fall.
This week I did my first art installation at a local Coffee shop. I’ve been going to this place since I was 15 years old. That’s a lot of years and a lot of coffee we’ve shared together. So, for this to be the first place I come out so to speak is fitting. There’s a lot of anxiety with this but it’s not the kind that brings me to my knees. It’s an exciting sort of nervous, happy butterflies. For the last 7 months, I have been preparing and thinking, obsessing and dreaming, thinking of all the worst-case scenarios crossing my fingers for the best. Putting your work out there for people to see is always rough but to have it in front of live people makes me feel so vulnerable. I feel like posting it on a website or Instagram there is a certain amount of protection there. I look at those paintings on the wall right now and it feels like I am standing naked in front of you. Each of one of those paint strokes was born from these hands and came from a part of me that I can’t use words to explain. And in that, there is a rawness that I am giving to you.
There was a moment Thursday morning after everything was hung that I became scared. I wanted to pull everything down, say never mind, and hide all of my work away. It wasn’t that I was scared that people wouldn’t like it. There will be people who won’t and that’s all right. I get that my work is very feminine and maybe a more a specific taste. I just didn’t know if I was sure I wanted to show the world those parts of me. There is a certain amount of loneliness in my work, a sadness that I don’t mean to put in there but because those two things have been a part of me for so long they come out when I draw. And it was that sadness, that loneliness that I was scared to give to you. Here’s the thing. Those two things are mine and the source of so much of my strength that I was scared it was going to be taken away from me. My husband looked at me, saw the panic in my eyes, and asked me if I was all right. I was. I always am. At that moment though I had to roll with my anxiety, feel that fear, and realize that doing this was a new source of strength. It was about time I owned that part of me, too.
I have had many dreams about my Dad over the last few nights. I miss him so much but I always miss him. I sit here right now and I look at those pictures hanging on the wall and I think of him. I think of all the conversations we ever had, the good ones and the bad ones, the silly political debates and the dinner time conversations about bowel movements and I smile at all of them. I am not a super-spiritual person but I do believe that spirits exist. I don’t think my Dad is hanging around. I know he has found his peace but what I also know that he visits sometimes, too. And even it is just my mind dealing with his death by creating this fantasy, I’m OK with it. Last night he bought me ice cream and we sat together in a busy place and we laughed and we smiled. I don’t know what we talked about but I remember sitting with him, what I felt and knowing this was his way of letting me know how proud of me he is. He knew that someday I would find what he always saw and it was this strength to try.
I know this is just a coffee shop. I know this may not be the thing that rockets me to success. I have a healthy understanding that I may walk out with every one of those pieces 3 months from now… but for now, I am eating ice cream with my Dad and enjoying this moment.