Those are human beings, you assholes.

I have never been great at talking politics. I have never found the right words to soothe pain, to explain cruelty, to reason with those who don’t seek reason. I learned to speak in images, not in outcries, and my arguments only go so far.

But I have been pretty good with metaphors, and symbols, and imagery. So this is what I have to offer.

America is a bear trap. It holds out a prize, dangles it until it gets the attention of a bear with particularly high ambition, and, when the bear takes a closer look, wooed by the tempting morsel, it snaps down and crushes the bear, trapping it in its claws, carving into its skin, digging deeper and deeper. The trap only trips for certain animals, with the hunter waiting just around the corner, watching to make sure that only those who fit his bounty get the morsel within.

America is a predator. It professes idealism, and freedom, and it doles out fear, hatred, and chains. Its citizens work tirelessly to limit the ammunition, but America keeps spitting bullets at an imprisoned target.

America is a siren, offering a song, luring with its sweet voice, with its years of hope and opportunity, and relishes in the splintering crash in the waves below.

We are a cove of bats, blind and comfortable on our perches, only stirring when a loud noise shakes us from our reverie, marring our rest. And the flurry that follows, with wings fluttering and mouths screeching, only lasts as long as the surprise that we have in being rousted, until one by one we settle, fading back into the dark.

We stand at the crosswalk, hitting the button impatiently, wanting to reach the other side, wanting to see a change, but we are waiting for an automated system. We could cross, looking both ways and making an educated decision, but we wait for the green, the signal that all is well. We wait and we wait.

And while we wait, the traffic thickens. While we sleep, the air gets thicker. The hunter reloads, the trap is cleaned of the blood of the many.

We need accountability. We need voices. We need hope, and we need love. Discussion. Truth. Education. Reaching across the barriers. We need to look each other in the eye. We need to understand each other. We need to see. And respond.

Advertisements

This Damn House

I bought a house today.

Those five words seem pretty easy to say, but I’ve been waiting more than eight months to say them. The path to homeownership has had its fair share of turmoil (okay, let’s be fair: every inch of the goddamn way was turmoil), but I’ve finally closed. No take-backs.

A lot of houses have names, like Graceland or Green Gables. After my grandparents had both passed and we could no longer call it “Grandma and Grandad’s house”, my sister and cousins and I gifted the home with the title “Boyne Manor” (their last name). But we also gave it a nickname. See, “Boyne Manor” was the official title, but it sounds a little stuffy when saying it in everyday conversation, so we nicknamed the house “the G-House”, after the G-rents themselves (for years, our family referred to them as Gma and Gdad). This is actually the name that is used more often, and it quite fits.

So my new house will have an official title as well; but until I come up with it, I will refer to it as This Damn House. Because, to be honest, that’s how I’ve been referring to it for months now, anyway.

It’s funny how easily I let myself bear the burden for things I can’t control. Of all the circumstances that swooped in and prevented or delayed me from buying a house, about 95% of them were external – the sellers changed their mind about selling, or the lender read the inspection report wrong, or a bunch of paperwork got shredded so we had to start over from scratch, or the house was listed as part of a commercial zone and the only person who could sign a form saying the house was a house was on vacation [insert steam coming out of ears here].

Most people, I hear, find a house, put an offer on the house, and in a couple of months, have the house. I, on the other hand, had long stretches of time where I began to convince myself that I wasn’t good enough to be a homeowner — that I hadn’t proved myself to the world, somehow, and my penance was to have my closing date pushed back every few weeks until the end of time.

All of this is bullshit, of course. The truth is, I ran into some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad luck. But had you asked, my anxiety-ridden brain, worn down by months of self-disparaging thoughts and a slipping grasp on normality, would have told you otherwise. I owe my sanity to some very good people at Century 21 Real Estate, who encouraged me not to give up after countless dead ends.

I know some exasperating times are coming up in terms of rolling with the punches that a house may pull, but for now, I’ll be content. Because when all is said and done…

I own This Damn House.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

I’ve been practicing how to yell.

A friend and I have been working on an improv show that explores relationship issues. It is for sure the most serious improv I have ever attempted, and the same for my scene partner, and boy, does it feel weird. The form involves discovering a relationship problem on stage, and then uncovering and unpacking that problem through dramatic scenes. So far, it’s felt really good and cathartic, but it’s hard to know whether that’s just for us as the performers, or if the audience would enjoy the mess we make too.

There have been some bumps in this process. The form has changed a lot from practice to practice. And at some point we realized that we would have to break a major rule in improv… Typically in improv, you would try to avoid conflict — and if there is conflict, then an improviser should resist the urge to solve it, and instead allow the conflict to develop a game, or the improviser’s character. Improv is not about fixing things, it is about showing the truth in the unfixed. But in this case, my scene partner and I realized that our form requires a conflict. So whether it gets fixed or not, it needs to be there.

In most cases, though, the audience wants to see the relationship succeed, and to see the conflict resolved. While we made ourselves promise to not always have to resolve it, we did decide that the fun of a form like this would be to see the couple handling the conflict. Or, in other words, getting in a fight.

It became clear that my scene partner and I were going to have to learn how to fight with each other.

This is an incredibly tricky thing to do for me. I am not used to putting it all out there when I’m angry, and I usually try to avoid arguing. So now we find ourselves having to step outside our comfort zones to master the form.

We are still in the early stages of this problem, which is wicked interesting, because we both gravitate toward conflict resolution. We keep working our way to a solution too quickly. This is not the end goal. I mean… yes, that’s the end goal, but let’s be real: no realistic relationship manages to problem solve every little thing before dinner. That’s just not the way things work. So we’ve been pushing ourselves to stick to our guns, to find our point of view and own it, to a fault. To take sides. In essence, to do the unhealthy stuff first, and then work up to the healthy stuff.

What a bizarre feeling, to do something “wrong” in order to get it right.

It’s also really interesting to have to raise my voice at someone. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never gotten in arguments before, but even at my worst, I’m not yelling. My volume level never really reaches above what other people would consider 30%.

I have always been quiet. In high school, my english class was preparing a performance of Romeo and Juliet as a part of our curriculum, and one day the teacher took us out to the football field and told us to yell. It was supposed to get us comfortable with projecting our voice, but it did little more than terrify me. I hated the idea of being loud. I was a generally shy individual. My sister and I had gone through speech therapy in elementary school because no one could hear us, for goodness’ sake, and after a few sessions, my mother had finally relented and allowed us to stop. We just didn’t have it in us to speak up.

So being out on that football field and being asked to yell in front of my classmates was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I had been asked to do at that point in my life. I don’t think I ever was able to be as loud as my teacher wanted me to be. I just couldn’t do it. I “yelled”, and it didn’t sound natural. It wasn’t a real yell… I was just raising my voice.

So now that I have to yell in a performance, it’s a bit strange. I mean, sure, I’ve had arguments on stage before (usually when I’m not supposed to, because I suck at doing the right thing in improv — read: avoiding conflict), but it’s never been a yelling match.

It has been a very backwards experience, trying to craft this form. I only hope that it will be well worth it once it makes its way onstage. But it’s also beneficial offstage, too. Learning to yell may be a stretch for me, but maybe it can train me to speak up for myself in real life circumstances. And maybe studying the way I argue can teach me about how to pinpoint the healthier forms of dissent in relationships down the line.

It’s going to take time – both with the show, and with myself. But I’m excited to see what places the show takes me, both in improvisational goals and in self-discovery. Sounds cheesy, but if I can use a source of enjoyment to cultivate myself, then I’m all for it.

Learning To Be Selfish

I don’t know who swore first — me, or my therapist.

But the feeling was mutual: there was a point where my awkwardness began to melt away, and more and more I found myself able to be me.

I’m not sure if she does this on purpose, but my therapist naturally inserts her very being into conversations. I am able to glean little bits and pieces of her life from things she says, and the way she acts. This is not a bad thing to me. I don’t know if it’s at all normal, but I like it – I like being able to engage with a real person, instead of a textbook, and it is good to feel like the therapy process is not just some stiff ganging up on me and telling me how to live my life; it’s refreshing to be able to just connect with someone and be myself.

I started therapy for a handful of reasons, but one of the main reasons was for anxiety. And even with that knowledge, it took me a while to not be anxious about my therapist. Sometimes you end up finding a therapist that isn’t good for you; what if that was happening to me? What if I had picked someone who just wasn’t on the same wavelength as me, and I was just wasting money by going and sitting and telling her about myself?

But something finally clicked in my head these past few sessions. Possibly it’s because I switched to twice a month instead of once a month… I never quite felt like I was getting everything out over the span of a month, I felt like I wasn’t conveying what I was supposed to convey and so was not helping my therapist help me. Ha. How’s that for anxiety?

But therapy is finally starting to pay off. I’ve got a long way to go, but after a while, some of this stuff starts to sink in.

It’s funny about therapy… I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea of sitting and talking about feelings with a person they don’t know. And that was completely me a few years ago… I refused to believe that talking to my friends about my thoughts and emotions wouldn’t provide the same comfort.

But that was because my perception of a therapist was someone who listens. I didn’t think that a therapist could tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself. Now I realize, regardless of what I know, it is the matter of taking action that’s the problem. Deep down, I don’t trust myself — I’m not willing to follow my own advice.

So a therapist is part accountability, and part… well… teacher. She tells me that a lot of emotional stability is conditioning, working to continually correct my thought process until it naturally goes in the direction I want it to. That’s wicked hard to do on your own. But the goal is to eventually be able to do it without help.

I do feel like this blog has gotten a bit me-centric lately, and I almost want to apologize for that. But I will hold my tongue… I never promised that I would treat my readers to issues only pertaining to them, and 80% of what I say in this blog is me just sound-boarding my thoughts and ideas. I realize that may not be what people want. I also realize it’s what I need.

I’ve always announced that perhaps an additional benefit to writing about personal stuff is that someone else may read and gain something from it. But I have begun to realize something else: I didn’t see that as an additional benefit, I hoped for it to be the benefit.

screenshot_20180329-203804~25469824480030066544..jpg

Maybe my relief in finding a therapist whose personality I can see is because I like focusing on others instead of myself. And maybe my hope that others will relate to my posts is really just a hope that people will take the me out of what they read, and insert them.

Oftentimes, I feel uncomfortable taking ownership of something that’s solely about me because I feel that people may not be interested in it, or that it’s selfish in some way, and essentially discredit my own personal journey in hopes that someone else will find their focus. But is it so wrong for a personal blog to focus on the person who writes it? It’s like writing a story… You obviously must recognize the audience you’re writing for, but if you don’t gain anything yourself in the process, why write it? To some extent, the act of writing should be selfish.

I’ve got a long way to go with therapy, but I’m learning more and more every day that sometimes I just need to working on satisfying my own needs, instead of freaking out about everyone else around me. Sometimes there will be things in my life that no one cares about, and maybe I shouldn’t hesitate to write about those things like I have in the past. Maybe I should just let the chips fall where they will, and if one happens to land in someone else’s cup, then lucky them. But otherwise, they’re my chips.

Hope Sucks

I don’t get why everyone’s so in love with the concept of hope.

Seriously. Everybody’s all like, “Don’t give up hope,” and “Without hope, we’re nothing.” But can we just take a moment to differentiate between the words, want, hope, and fantasy?

Want. Noun. A desire for something.

Hope. Noun. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Fantasy. Noun. The faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

So the difference between want and hope is expectation. I could want a million dollars, but I don’t expect to get it. Therefore, I do not hope for a million dollars. But I do hope in the sun rising. That is a desire, and an expectation.

There are two differences between hope and fantasy. One is the outcome – how probable is it? Do I want a million dollars? Sure. Do I sometimes imagine what it would be like to have a million dollars? Yeah, sure. But the idea of having a million dollars is highly improbable, so again, I don’t hope for it. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is very possible that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but it is more likely that it will… So I don’t fantasize that the sun will rise, I hope that it will.

156ecf22-76ca-4240-9137-8f283adf71ec-49848-00002c5449f062f4

The other difference between fantasy and hope is that fantasy doesn’t include expectation. Pay attention, because at first glance, this concept looks the same as the previous one. I can fantasize about having a million dollars, and I don’t actually believe I’m going to have a million dollars. But what about those who fantasize realistic things, but don’t expect them to happen? For instance, you could apply for a job, and be fully qualified for that job, but not get it, because there is also someone else that is just as qualified for that job. There are some who would hope for the job, and some who would fantasize about getting the job – they want and imagine it happening, but they don’t believe it will actually happen. Okay, so maybe that’s a self-confidence thing – it’s still possible that they could have gotten the job, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to have hope. But it proves my point: imagination does not necessarily equate to expectation.

Adversely, sometimes you can fantasize about something so much that it starts to seem like more of a possibility in your head, and so your fantasy transforms into a hope. And that is the most dangerous thing to ever happen.

This is what really messes me up. You see, wants are perfectly natural, and human. And so are fantasies. And so is hope, right? Except that sometimes, hope is more soul-crushing than anything else… just because you expect something doesn’t mean that your expectation is justified. I could expect a million dollars, but that would be so unrealistic, so why would I do that?

It’s a difficult game to play, because, as I said before, a lot of the time we don’t hope for things that are possible, because we can’t understand that they are possible. And so in those moments, it’s great for someone to push you to hope. But nine times out of ten, my wants are fantasies. I don’t want to be told to hope in those circumstances. Hope is hurtful in those circumstances.

Some call this pessimism. Okay, fine, if there’s truth in that, then I’d rather be pessimistic than continually upset when life doesn’t match my expectations. But if you apply for a job, and you don’t have hope that you will get the job, and you do get it, how awesome is that feeling? Your fantasies just became a reality! I wish that I thought all of my wants were fantasies, because my life would feel like a fairy tale. But that, I’ve been told, is more hurtful than helpful, in the long run.

This is something I’m struggling with hardcore right now. I don’t want to expect unrealistic things, but if I don’t expect anything at all, then I get taken advantage of. I need to have standards. I need to understand what is realistic. But a lot of the time, I can’t tell whether a want is realistic until I see the outcome in retrospect. And so begins the anxiety.

So let’s push ourselves to have wants, and to have realistic expectations, and to be very careful about keeping those things separate. Sometimes they do align, sure. But let them align naturally, and not because we force them to. Hope is only helpful when it’s reasonable.

My Only Resolution

A new year means another twelve months of trying to get things done in a timely fashion.

A new year means trying to perform improv without being in my head.

A new year means shmoozing with people I have no idea how to shmooze with.

A new year means having to put effort into looking for another house.

A new year means just another year full of trying to stop my mind from being too loud.

A new year means another opportunity to do the Paint Olympics, and Harrisburg on the Hunt.

A new year means the possibility of travel.

A new year means warm weather is coming soon.

A new year means fresh chances.

And more intentional decisions.

And better judgment.

And an arsenal of experience to battle whatever life throws into the mix.

And new friendships.

And old friendships, with new twists.

And new opportunities to grow and learn.

A new year will always be a balance scale, trying to decide the weight of its contents, swaying back and forth and measuring which is heavier, dread or hope.

My friend and I have made it a New Year’s Eve tradition to celebrate as many traditions from around the world as we possibly can. Among them are some really fun ones, like breaking plates (Denmark), throwing bread at a wall (Ireland), and burning effigies (Panama).

I’m not sure if the citizens of Panama will scoff at the way we did this, but we drew or wrote something on slips of paper, then all stood in a circle in the front yard and set them on fire. It seems silly, but it was pretty therapeutic. I wrote “anxiety” on my slip, and though I know it won’t be as easy as borrowing someone’s lighter, I hope that in some way, I can burn anxiety out of my life this year.dsc_10201025957911.jpg

Coming home from the New Year’s Eve party at two in the morning, I was pretty stoked for 2018. I got home, and immediately turned to my Jar of Good Things to review the year that had just slipped out the back door. I’ve done this for the past two years, and the concept is fairly straightforward: you write down a Good Thing as it happens, and save it in a jar. It makes remembering things much easier – a lot of the events I would never have thought back on if I hadn’t been reminded of them. It also prevents you from deluding yourself into thinking you had a completely shitty year.

So I sat down, opened the jar, dumped out the Good Things, and picked one up.

It said, “Buying a house.”

There is nothing that will knock you down a peg quite like unrealistic expectations and assumptions. I did not close on my house. I wrote this memory about two weeks before the closing date, when I just assumed that everything would be on track and go smoothly. That did not happen.

And so, sometimes your Jar of Good Things will be peppered with Not So Good Things.

But just as Not So Good Things taint the experience of the Good Things, Good Things can also mask the Not So Good Things. At least, I go under the impression that they can. It’s been said that it takes sometimes a hundred Good Things to make up for just one Not So Good Thing, but it can at least happen, right?

I’m beginning to realize that the sway of the balance scale is important. I don’t want dread or anxiety or Not So Good Things in my life any more than the rest, but perhaps that is what allows me to feel when hope finally tips the scale. Perhaps having those Not So Good Things will continue to remind me to keep realistic expectations at the forefront, and keep my hopes achievable.

That is my New Year’s Resolution: to have realistic expectations in life. There have been so many times when I’ve hoped for something more, and gotten crushed by reality. And it goes the other way too – so many times I’ve assumed that terrible things will happen when realistically, it won’t be that bad.

I’ve got to stop believing that life is made up of either Really Good Things or Really Bad Things, and nothing in between. There are Things That Happen, and they may be good or bad depending on my perception of them, or even on what happens next. And even if they are bad, they’re usually not my fault (I say usually because, well, I’m human). Obviously I want to take ownership of my life, but I’ve got to stop feeling so personally responsible when things happen outside of my power. I don’t want to feel hopeless every single time someone else in Harrisburg closes on a house before I do. I don’t want to belittle myself for doing what I’m supposed to do in terms of calorie counts and still not gaining weight. I don’t want to see my failures in others’ achievements, or assume that the reason a relationship didn’t work out was because of me.

Realistic expectations. Sometimes things just happen.

Here’s to the New Year. May it be full of Good Things, and Not So Good Things, and realistic expectations of what those Things mean in my life.