The Comfort of Absence
I sat in the window seat, always the window seat, because from there I could watch his truck pull out and travel down the frontage road next to the tiny airport in Maine I would travel in and out of, once, maybe twice a year.
His red truck with the driftwood put together around the sides as a kind of fence, was an item I would never forget, even after he moved to Portland and gave it to me, even after I sold it.
He was always leaving, my father, even when I was the one departing. I have carried this with me all of my life. To this day, I am comforted by leaving. The familiarity of the ache in my gut warms me, the longing, the sad departure. This is all soothing to my nerves.
My father is long dead, but I have settled happily into a relationship where I must leave, every Monday. And when I arrive, every Friday, I have the palpable longing that makes me so happy when I see him again.
Summers are a joy. He leaves for two weeks at a time and comes back for two days only, and when he leaves, I am ecstatically gutted, leveled by his absence, and almost immediately anticipating his return. By the end of the summer I am such a joyous mess at his strangeness that I can barely contain myself when fall comes. The excitement of not knowing my love is almost too much.
It is the same with the random men I see here and there throughout the year. I love the longing for them, dreaming into them what is not there. I have a romance with the impossible and in this a perfection I have never known. Time on my hands to do what I want, whatever I want, is a freedom I did not have with my ex-spousal unit.
It was a horror to ride home in the dark, rainy winter Portland nights, an hour into an hour and a half ride, wishing there was more time for me to ride, hoping that he had somehow found something to do that evening. The sameness, the feeling of lock-down was a burden and I always thought it was my flaw, my impossible nature that made this relationship such a struggle.
And maybe it was. But maybe it wasn't.
It doesn't matter now that I have found my freedom in love. For in love, I have dared to create my own type of delicious torture. I have created a life that will keep me longing, keep me wanting. In this state, I have found my peace.
Not my usual skull and bones, but worth the effort, I think. Let me know what you think. I will be writing another one shortly if this isn't enough for you.
Choices and Your Value
"What are you most proud of in your professional life?"
I am sitting in a room, being interviewed for a job I want, and this question passes the lips of one of the three people interviewing me. I think, for only a moment. I know what my answer is, it comes right up in my head, but I know if I say it, I most likely will be disqualified, because my proudest professional moment was the moment I had finally had enough at my last job and decided to do something about it.
In that position, over the course of four years, I had been felt up by the college president, dragged through the mud after I found out a colleague was stealing from the college, overheard my boss and a colleague badmouth my abilities, incorrectly, to cover for my colleague's inability to do her job, and undermined by some of the faculty who did not like the rules that applied to them. These events are only the highlights of a tenure that was filled with misogynistic dealings that I had to contend with on an almost daily basis in this position.
The moment I had had enough was when one of my employees told me that my new boss had been badmouthing me. I decided to use it to my advantage, and I did. When I was finished, they paid me to leave. I will not go through the strategic wizardry I pulled off in order to make this happen, let's just suffice it to say that it was worthy of a Lifetime Movie Event.
In the end, I told this story in my interview, and as I predicted, was disqualified from the competition for the position, but, to this day, I hold that this was still my finest professional hour, because against all odds and what I have been brainwashed to do, I stood up for myself and won. I was able to keep my cool, operate in an ethical manner, and come out on top.
After this, handling the ridiculous undermining and backstabbing that occurs at some jobs was pretty easy, because I realized that the best way to handle misogynistic behavior is to not engage, but document EVERYTHING. The thing about bullies at work, and yes, they are bullies, there is no better word for them, is that they are looking for the fight. They are looking for the struggle. They want to engage in the power games they create. When you don't engage, they lose. When you don't engage and keep a daily journal that you share with HR, you win. When you don't engage, document everything, and build an alliance at work among your colleagues you can depend on to stand with you, you are at all-star level professionalism.
I did not get that job, which turned out to be just fine, and from then on, I never used that as my answer to that particular question again, but I hold to it.
There have been so many times in life when I have felt like I couldn't stick up for myself because if I did, I would have been punished. I have felt like I was caught in a losing game where only the cruel and under-handed could win, and I was too afraid of losing what I had to stand for the right thing. If I told my boss to take his hand off my knee, I might be fired, or lose a chance at the promotion I had been working for. If I told a colleague that she would not get away with blaming me for her shortcomings, she would make it more challenging for me to do my job. If I told my boss that one of my colleagues was stealing, he would turn the tables by accusing me of even worse.
Over time, the more I allowed, the more it wore me down, the more badly I felt about myself, and the more I would allow. It was a vicious cycle and over time, it began to ruin me. It also began to effect how much I wanted to work, how good I could be in my position.
I realized in that moment, when my employee told me what my boss was saying, that I didn't care. I decided I was more important, and that if I lost the promotion, or the job, or what have you, that was okay. I was so tired of letting people walk on me. I was done with allowing people to get away with being shitty.
Now that I have come to this point and crushed it, I am no longer afraid but prepared. I know that I will stand up for myself no matter what. This mindset gives me power and confidence in almost any situation that no matter what occurs, I will choose me, even if I lose an external goal or reward I have been working toward.
No matter the arena, I will choose myself, and in that, I will be a better employee, boss, friend, lover, mentor, artist, writer, or whatever else I choose to be.
Next month will be the fourth year anniversary of this blog. I have been writing it consistently, almost every week, and I started with this same message.
Choose yourself first, always. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the less you will be willing to give up for the comfort of others. Be strong in your convictions regarding your value. We live in a culture which profits from our self-doubt. Do not allow that to convince you that you are worthless.
You are not.
Dig it. The power people have over you is the power you give them. Keep that shit for yourself. It is yours. Use it to do good in this world. We need it now more than ever.
The Rules of the Heart
There has been a profound sadness around me lately, so I took it upon myself the other day to cheer myself up. I was waiting for the bus with a bunch of people. Well, the bus was there, the doors just hadn't been opened for us yet. When the bus driver came to open the doors for us, as she passed, she told the elderly woman in front of me that she had too many bags and she wouldn't be able to board the bus.
I felt like helping her would be nice, and cheer me up, so I offered to take some of her bags on the bus for her. She thanked me profusely and told me that she had just been let out of the hospital and no one had been able to come and get her, so she had to take the bus. She gave me two bags to carry. One of them held her dirty clothes, and the other held a Peace Lily. I saw the plant as a good omen, and on the 45 minute trip to the next town, I felt happy that I had been able to help this person.
After, I met her off the bus and I handed her the bags and a small felt heart I had made. She thanked me and reminded me to get my bike. As I was removing my bike from the rack, the bus driver came out and scolded me for helping her. She told me that the elderly lady who had just left the hospital had taken advantage of me and that she could have kicked us both off of the bus for breaking the rules.
I felt pretty deflated as I lowered my bike off the rack, but when I looked up, I saw The Peace Wizard waving at me. The Peace Wizard, John C. Bromet, is a local celebrity. He walks around Bellingham and Mount Vernon with a large Peace sign, waving at people. He always makes me smile when I see him, but I had never talked with him before this, and now, I felt like I needed his power of peace to brighten my day.
I put down my stuff, pulled out felt hearts for him and the woman he was speaking with, walked over and handed them to them. The Peace Wizard smiled, thanked me, sang me a song, and gave me this picture. And I felt so much better.
It's true, I did things for other people to cheer myself up, and maybe that is not strictly kindness, but I don't care. I would much rather break the rules to help someone than abide by rules that seem inhumane.
I hope that no mattter what is happening, no matter how challenging my day or life is, I will always choose to go out of my way to help people. That's the best kind of happiness there is.
Happiness. It takes so little to get you there. I am happy I remembered that today.
Anger is a Barricade.
"I am SO sick of having to deal with what men have done to me and have done to ALL OF YOU all my life. I just want to be free of it!"
I am sitting in a room full of young women. I, too, am very young, in my early twenties, trying to figure out whether or not Social Work is for me.
We have all volunteered to train to be crisis workers at the Portland Women's Crisis Line. We are all staring silently at the woman speaking. There are tears running down her cheeks and she is yelling. I am a little bewildered.
I can feel her anger, but I don't know her story. I am wondering what it is that men have been doing to me all my life. Is this something I will find out later? At this point, I am unaware, but throughout this training, the aspect that becomes abundantly clear to me is that there are a lot of angry women in the world, and a lot of them are angry at men.
Personally, I have had my share of traumatic experiences at the hands of men, but no more, really, than I have with women. The common element though, no matter how big or small, is the anger. There is no way to approach an angry person and have even the slimmest hope of reaching them, because anger acts as a shield. It has to because it is usually concealing and protecting the pain which has been its fertilizer.
I have attended many "sensitivity trainings" given by people who were clearly angry about something, and it made the whole experience uncomfortable, and frankly, not very helpful. So what do we do? What do we do when the trauma enacted upon us creates this anger shield? What do we do when there is so much pain around a topic for you, that you cannot help but cry and scream when it comes up? What do we do when we want to change a culture fertized by the anger created by trauma?
I have, for most of my life, been angry. This anger is in every way attached to different traumatic experiences I have gone through. The only thing that has helped me manage this is to get in touch with the pain on a fundamental level. I sit with it. I comfort myself around it. The pain from trauma is there, all the time, and the best I can do, so that I don't let it control me, is become familiar with it, I become so comfortable with it that the traumatic charge around the event that created the pain diminishes.
I have tried many other things, but this has been the only thing that has worked. Also, I find ways to practice. Just like in baseball, when players swing thousands of times in a season to hit the ball just one-third of the times they have the opportunity, I find ways to practice communicating without anger, and when I fail, I learn from it. I do not beat myself up about it. I cheer myself on.
Yes, I could walk around angry. I could react to little things that aren't meant as threats, or insults, or slights, because it reminds me of a very painful event from my past. Instead, I use it to wake me up. I use it to wake others up. I use it to change this culture, because in the end, the reason there is so much violence, so much aggression, is that we all keep REACTING.
Until we can collectively come to terms with that, nothing will change. We will never create a compassionate culture from a sea of anger. It is up to each one of us to wake up out of this. To help each other when we stumble. It is up to each one of us to acknowledge the pain and everything that comes with it so we do not use our anger shields to keep others out, or worse, hurt other with it.
I have every right to feel the pain I have in my body. I have every right to express it. But, taking it out on others, creating a hostile environment because my buttons are pushed will only make matters worse, and it will not provide any space for vulnerability. It will not provide any space for compassion or love.
It is time to choose differently. Violence, aggression, fear, hatred have gotten us to this point. In order for us to change the culture, we will have to choose the hard thing.
Are we ready to choose the hard thing? Are you?
This is an excerpt from my #TimesUp training. What do you think? Let me know. It is coming up quick, and feedback is always helpful. Until next week, share this, and think about how you can get more comfortable with the pain you feel. Think about how your behavior can help to change the culture.
A Love Rebellion.
Be a part of A Love Rebellion. Spread love, hope and compassion.
Only the highlights from my creative life. Just click on the image.
My work is supported by my readers. If you feel like you get something out of this every week, and you feel you are able, a $3 to $15 monthly subscription will help me bring you all the ass-kicking content possible. Thanks so much for your support.