Term Papers for Algernon

I have just finished writing my first paper for an online psychology class I’m taking, and I’ve had a couple of rather unsettling realizations. The assignment was to pick a topic from current events and then relate it back to some concept from psychology. I ended up writing my paper about the kerfuffle that happened after the Microsoft presentation at the E3 conference, relating it to concepts of mimicry and conformity. In the interest of staying on-topic, I’ll spare you the contents of my paper and get to why I found this assignment a little more daunting than a page-long paper for an online, non-credited, if-you-fail-this-it-totally-doesn’t-matter class really ought to be.

Current Events?
I am a bad American. I don’t watch the news regularly or read the paper. Granted, I have subscriptions to both The Atlantic and Psychology Today, but The Atlantic is largely geared toward shit-stirring issues like gender equality or neo-conservativism and Psychology Today consists mainly of puffy pop-psychology about how to spot a sociopath or toxic friend. Legitimate science : Vogue :: Psychology Today : Cosmo.

I used to listen to NPR’s hourly newscasts, but those quickly because incredibly depressing. It seems like everybody (NPR not included) is either sexing up the news to make it more entertaining or participating in not-so-subtle axe grinding. Thus, I walk away, figuring that the really big stories will show up in conversation or Facebook feeds. Hell, at least I found out about the tornadoes in Oklahoma. It’s not that I don’t read; it’s just that I prefer to spend my reading time reading books about psychology. That is, whenever I’m not being expected to read a textbook about C# or Oracle. Look, at least I’m not on the treadmill reading about Kardashians or looking through magazines for things I can want to buy. Right?

Combining Ideas?
I think working online is breaking my brain, and being a web developer isn’t helping too much, either. When this assignment asked me to take one idea (the current event) and apply other ideas to it (the psychology concepts), my brain locked up for a while. It felt like I was asking it to do something that I hadn’t done since 2000, and that may be true. Sure, I’ve been in school almost non-stop since I graduated with that business degree in 2000, but it’s been a different KIND of school. Art school rarely requires paper writing and, when it does, the bar is set pretty low. You’re not asked to come up with scholarly English, you’re asked to come up with something remotely coherent. The bar in web development school is even lower: the two papers I’ve been asked to write in the entire Associate Degree program have both been a page or less (double spaced!) and the expectation has been to simply say anything that makes any sort of sense and is at least spelled like English 90% of the time.

Fancy talky words?
In daily life, I write a lot. I type A LOT. But almost every bit of that writing consists of email, IMs or instructional training blogs. That is to say, almost everything that I ever write is presented in the plainest, basest form possible. Fancy words and metaphors wouldn’t suit me in most cases. In most cases, I’m sending someone a numbered list of steps on how to do something. Click here, right-click here. It puts forth an idea, but everything is stated as simply as possible. Complex ideas are presented WITH PICTURES. Have I resorted to the 21st century equivalent of cave painting?

I think this may be why I haven’t been writing as much lately, and this is probably exactly why I need to be writing more. I’m losing the ability to explain complex thoughts through English. The idea I’m trying to convey is right there in front of me, yet I can’t find the words to express it. It makes me feel like Charlie from Flowers for Algernon, witnessing a slow decline before attempting to return to my job as a janitor. There are parts of me that are scared of going to grad school because I have forgotten how to combine complex ideas into term papers. I fear that I would be there, surrounded by scholarly types, and all I would be able to muster would be bulleted lists and paragraphs that fell short of making any kind of sense or point. An oral exam would degenerate into arm waving and multiple uses of the phrase “ya know?” (Not that I’m going to grad school any time soon, but it’s still on the table somewhere underneath the more urgent tasks of bill paying, lawn mowing and showing up to work each day.)

So, here I am, telling you that I’m going to try and write more, if only for my own sake. I can’t go back to being a janitor.

Pianissimo

When I started blogging, I did so on LiveJournal. It was a large community of people, most posts were public, and only a few posts were “friends only.” The friends in my friend list were actually my friends: people I knew in real life or people who had also shared their blog lives with me long enough that they felt like friends. There was an intimacy in that. I even met a couple of my online friends in real life, and we got along famously. Maggie moved away years ago, and I still miss her.

In the 12 years since, things on the internet have changed. People you’ve met 1 time can find you on Facebook. People you’ve never met at all can go through years of your blog posts. Your Twitter. Your YouTube. Your Flickr. People you have never met can know everything you’ve chosen to show them. It’s usually just oddly amusing (there’s a guy on Flickr who apparently REALLY likes my hands), but you see the potential for horror.

In response to this 21st century weirdness, a lot of people have made a lot of things private or “friends only,” but I have never been a huge fan of that. Instead, I came out on the other side of the fence, saying “this is me and I am not ashamed of it. Google all you like.” Who cares about what I say? Basically nobody…but you have to remember that if your stuff is public, it’s OUT THERE. Anyone can see it, and it never goes away. Any potential employer, any new guy you meet at a party, your Sculpt instructor at the Y, the girlfriend of the guy you dated 10 years ago…everyone. On the off chance that someone might be gunning for you, you should cover your ass. If you say that someone is evil incarnate, someone you know is going to copy and paste what you said and email it to that person. If you care if that happens, you probably shouldn’t write those things.

The system worked well. It forced me to be thoughtful about what I said. To always be conscious that the walls have ears. (The walls even have ears you haven’t MET yet. The walls have ears that you will meet at the gym 6 months from now.) In 12 years of blogging, I haven’t regretted a single post. I haven’t had someone email to ask why I’m talking behind their back. I haven’t had someone call me out for anything I’ve written, photographed or video taped. I’ve been ever-conscious that everything I say is public. Very public. GOOGLE public.

But it has also tied my hands.

In my efforts to think things out, be diplomatic, be clear and be unimpeachable, I lost some honesty. I lost the ability to talk about anything. I lost the day-to-day, “here’s my life, here’s my worry, here’s my joy.” For example, you can’t blog about talking a friend through a breakup and how you feel about the possible repercussions of that when that friend’s girlfriend is your Facebook friend. It will hurt her feelings and make the friend angry with you because you have told secrets that are not your own. So you table that blog. And another blog. And another, until you wonder what the hell the point of your blog even IS, since you’re basically just writing articles for the masses. Oh, yes, please. Write a blog about that MOVIE. That’s thrilling. Why don’t you just start a tumblr and post screenshots of text messages and pictures of your food?

I understand that a certain level of privacy can be achieved through Facebook custom publish filters and the like. I also understand that everybody in Nashville knows everybody else and that people talk. I understand even further that not everyone on the average “friend” list is actually your trusted confidante. Sometimes it’s a friend of a friend, or a coworker or any other of a host of people who would love to copy and paste your words and send them to someone who hates you for reasons you don’t know about that may or may not be true.

So, I’m returning to where I started.

I have changed the name and format of my LiveJournal. It is now known as Ritual Shower (what I jokingly call my nightly “de-stress and process” shower) and it is where I sit down each night and process what happened that day. A sort of “think about what you’ve done” that will hopefully lead to more mindful living. A way to take the mass of confusion and emails that is daily life and sit and process it, wrapping each day up in a little bow and putting it to bed.

Ritual Shower posts are friends-only. If you’re on LJ, email me (evilamymauk at gmail) and I’ll add you. If you think we’re good enough friends, we probably are. I’m just filtering out the coworkers, family members and strangers from goth night. The regular blog posts will still be available here, and they will still keep coming. My inner writer still has plenty to say to the faceless mass, and probably always will.

This is my voice and I like it here. I just need to add another dynamic level. A quieter one.

Audience Participation: Shape of a Heart

I recently had a conversation in which someone gave me a rather detailed description of the workings of his chest cavity. What he described was pictured in my head as a Steampunky array of brass gears. In hearing this description, I realized that the way I’d always pictured the working of my own chest cavity wasn’t necessarily the way everybody pictured theirs. You’d think that would be obvious, but it’s one of those things you don’t really consider. My brain is usually full of other stuff; the things that haven’t gotten any thought just get rounded off.

I’ve always pictured my heart as a sort of Jello-like mass, thumping away in its own rhythm. Of COURSE the thing powering my blood is a dessert item. I’m a misplaced pixie, kicked out of the woods for cursing, dick jokes and complaining about sun exposure and a lack of air conditioning. My heart doesn’t squeeze-thump like a real heart. It internally vibrates, like quartz; modern medicine doesn’t understand this and just thinks I have a heart murmur. My heart is not shaped like a real heart or a Valentine heart; it doesn’t really have any shape at all. It extends diagonally and up, ending behind my right shoulder blade, but the extension only makes itself known when it hurts. It’s a sort of orangey-red, glowing and warm, like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

That warmth isn’t necessarily “warmth,” mind you. I’m not exactly one of those touchy-feely, call everybody honey, Paula Deen sort of people. I’ve been told that I’m scary and icy. In truth, I’m just really socially awkward. It’s not that I dislike you; it’s that I have no idea what to do with you. This would all go much more smoothly if you could all become cats, but you’re people. People are weird, mercurial, difficult and they have a lot of weird social subtexts.

The warmth in my chest is more like an internal fire. It times of pain, I have sat and wished that the fire would just fucking die. Sitting, wishing that the damn thing would just go cold and let me be. I could stop caring about everything, go numb, and lie in bed watching reruns of The George Lopez Show. I keep waiting for someone or something to finally freeze the damn thing, but it (like the rest of me) is stubborn. I’m slowly realizing that I’m never going to get an “out.” I’m never going to learn to not care. It’s terribly inconvenient, but it keeps the Jello thumping. You kill the fire, you kill the heart.

Given this, I want to know what your hearts look like. Sit down and think about it (if you haven’t already) and post a comment. I’m terribly curious. Maybe we can put together a coffee table book or something. At the very least, I could make your heart and make it your birthday present. Or just hang it in my house, as though I’ve captured it, mwahaha.

“What’s up with that painting?”
“Oh, that’s ______’s heart.”
“Huh?”

From Sunday, December 12

I have just gotten off the phone with my mother. I love my mother. She has made a hobby out of saving my ass. She’s a good person, a strong woman and a hell of a Euchre player. However, I can’t help but feel sometimes like she is talking AT me and not WITH me. I wish I could enjoy having entire conversations about weather and sales on things at TJ Maxx. Instead, I just sit on my end of the phone wondering why I can’t have a real conversation with the woman who raised me. I don’t even care what the conversation is about; I just want her to tell me something that matters, something that doesn’t make me feel like I’m at arms’ length. Tell me something, anything, that isn’t about the cute little purse you got or what your dog did today. Please. I’m dying. We’re all dying. I try to bring something up, try to pick her brain on some issue that could use some wisdom. I throw out a topic, and she answers with, “well, sometimes that’s how it is.” That’s the mom equivalent of saying, “tmi dude…I’m not having this conversation today.”

The friends I frequently converse with during the day are busy doing 100 different things because work has picked up, the holiday season is crazy and the World of Warcraft expansion has come out. I still see them. We hang out all the time. I am spoiled by my friends in 200 different ways, and I love them to death. They put up with my stupid bullshit more than they should. But, still. I can see things, invisible topics, sitting on their coffee tables, begging to be talked about. I don’t know how to bring up those topics. Instead, we watch tv.

Frustration.

I try to remind myself that there is no such thing as truly wasting time, that there is no such thing as truly meaningless conversation. Still, I want to grab the remote, turn off the tv and say, “I don’t care what we talk about…just please…something…I’m dying.” It reminds me of a relationship I had once where I found myself lying in bed one night, unable to sleep, crying for what I thought was no reason.

The reason, it turns out, was that I had been spending every waking second with him, and he wouldn’t talk to me. He was with me all the time, and I still felt so alone. I never saw my friends. When I did finally see them, I would just sit limply in a chair, looking drained and staring at the floor. I didn’t know why. They thought I was being verbally abused and I thought I was just really tired. I couldn’t tell them what was wrong because I didn’t know. If you don’t know what’s missing, you have very little chance of finding it.

I used to be very good at keeping my own counsel (as Sandman Morpheus would say). I used to run around, feeling my feelings, and keeping my fucking mouth shut. I never told anybody anything because I was afraid that I’d get judged for it. Or that the friendship would go south and they’d use my words against me. Or maybe the topics just never came up. Or maybe I was afraid of trying to talk and then being rejected. Or maybe I spent such a long time having feelings being a terrible tangle that I couldn’t even figure out one specific feeling to discuss. A tangle of wires. You give it five minutes, then just say “fuck it” and go buy a new cord.

Whoever my creator is made me a tangle of wires but he/she/it also made me creative. It kept me alive. In the same way that blind people learn to hear really well, my tangle of wires learned to peace out on reality. I didn’t have the words to talk about what was wrong, not even when I had to break down and call in the professionals. They sat there trying to help and I just spoke in metaphor and waved my hands around.

I didn’t know how to talk.
I held off the problems by playing.

That is to say, I played in secret. Whenever I had the house to myself, I was playing. When my parents left town for the weekend, I never threw a party. Never raided the liquor cabinet. I sat at my piano until I was finished. If the sun was down, I put the dimmer on low and played ballads in half-dark. I played with reckless abandon and horrible singing, safe in the knowledge that no one was coming home and I needn’t listen for the mechanical grind of the garage door. I would have died if they’d come home and caught me. There were a couple times I didn’t hear them unlocking the door, and there they were standing in the doorway of the dining room. It was only slightly less horrible than if they’d caught me masturbating.

It was that kind of playing where you can actually feel your brain shift into neutral.

I played because I didn’t know how to say, “I am pissed off…I am confused…and I hate you for bringing me to this town.” “I am frustrated.” “I miss my friends.” “I think about dying every day.” “I am scared.” “I feel alone.” That’s a lot of stuff to have to have swirling around in you while you’re just trying to take the SATs, avoid that guy who throws fries at you at lunch and write a paper about Crime and Punishment without actually READING Crime and Punishment. I didn’t have time to deal with “issues.” I was just trying to get through Calculus.

I eventually found my words.
Now, I can’t live without them.

On the need scale, it’s right there between air conditioning and music. I lose my shit in 4 days without air conditioning. Without music, roughly 9 days. Without someone’s hands in my brain (or vice versa), I start to wither and die in about 7 days. I start to feel horrible, lonely and frustrated and have no idea why. I start looking at my friends, just wanting to grab them by the ears, pull their forehead to mine and say “I need you to talk to me.”

Then again, it’s not always particularly socially acceptable to go around grabbing people (even friends) by the ears. You just have to wait out the busy times, the holiday seasons and the WoW expansions. Sit at your computer. Type all of the things you would have said.

I love you all dearly and I miss you.
Even if you are next to me on the couch.

December 10 and the Event Horizon

Recently, a friend and I were discussing the time in someone’s life when he or she looks at his or her life and says, “I’ve been doing it wrong. It’s time to stop doing it wrong.” I call this time the Moment of Clarity. He, somewhat more ominously, calls this the Event Horizon. The more I think about it, I think maybe his term is a little more apt.

A moment of clarity sounds like some easy thing that happens where deer and bunnies fly out of your ass and your life is suddenly better. An event horizon is a boundary around a black hole. As in “you’re either going to do something BIG, or you’re headed into that black hole over there.” I’m not saying that having deer and bunnies flying out of your ass sounds pleasant (the hooves!). I’m just saying that the black hole makes more sense. Why?

Because huge life changes are usually brought on by something terrible happening. Very few people have said to themselves, “my life is awesome…let me change everything.”

The event horizon brings on all kinds of change, depending on whatever it is in your life that needs changing. Some people decide to stop drinking. Some people decide to finally pick a major. Some people realize that they’re living in a cage of fear and get sick of themselves and decide to start living, not that I’d know anything about that.

I bring this up today because this day 3 years ago was my event horizon. It sounds very simple to say “my friend killed himself.” It sounds like “this week on a very special ‘Blossom.'” It’s more graphic and truthful to say that someone I loved dearly died alone and sad in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. The sheer insult of that. It’s egotistical to think that I should have been able to do something, but it made me crazy that I couldn’t even help clean out said apartment. All I could do was drag what was left of me to a church in Rivergate, hug his mom and do some seriously epic public crying. Three years later, it still burns. I still want to kick him in the face for it.

Alas, today is not about that. Today is about learning from that. I realized a lot of things all at once:

“You are emotionally unavailable.”
“You are wasting your life worrying about stupid things.”
“You are spending your entire life working.”

It’s all very predictable to realize that whole thing about life being too short after someone dies, but you know. Take it how you can get it. The point of death, aside from clearing up population real estate, is to remind us not to waste time.

One of my biggest fears was to really love someone and then lose them. When it happened, I heard it coming in slow motion. The week of phone calls. The car wreck I couldn’t stop. The begging. I saw a friend the day after it happened and I must have looked like hell; she just stood there having no idea what to do with me. I looked like hell for weeks. It became a sick game. Scare the guy at the gas station. Scare the checker at Kroger. When I wasn’t crying, I had pretty clearly just been. It was like everybody else on Earth was doing their thing and I was in my own little plexiglass box, watching. For months, I had dreams about seeing him, digging him up and bringing him home. In dreams, I went to 20 different funerals. I saw his mother cry 20 different ways. I was metaphorically on the ground, bleeding and wondering whether to bother getting up.

What got me up was knowing that he’d expect me to. When dad died a couple years later, what got me up was thinking “this is not what your father raised. Get your ass up.”

I accidentally performed an overhaul. Not everything worked out. I made a lot of mistakes. I continue to make a lot of mistakes, but I’d rather make those mistakes than sit in my house playing Soul Calibur. Sitting around playing Soul Calibur is easy, but it doesn’t make for a very good life story.

Diah taught me a lot of things. While I wish he’d stuck around longer, those last things he taught me were huge, necessary and life-changing. If heaven exists, he’s there. My dad is probably trying to teach him to play Euchre.

That’s how it is with event horizons: you have to lose big to win big..and you only win big if you get off the ground.

Diary of Happy Party Face

I once saw an episode of Intervention where an alcoholic former beauty queen was heading over to her mother’s house for a family barbeque or some such. Before grabbing the door handle to leave, she stopped and said aloud, “I’m beautiful and happy, I’m beautiful and happy.”

She’d probably been doing it for years. Stopping by the door to put on her happy face and then coming home later to get wasted on Smirnoff and shove down any unpleasant feelings she might have. The sadness of that one moment burned a hole in my brain. How sad, to have to pretend to be okay when you actually drunkenly fell down in your side yard earlier.

The other day, I realized that I’d become her.

No, I didn’t get wasted on Smirnoff. I didn’t fall down in the side yard. I didn’t lose custody of my kids. I got tipsy on wine, bumped into the treadmill, and my cat gave me a very disapproving look. Half credit?

For the last few months, I’ve done a lot more “happy party face” than I’d like to admit. It started innocently enough, the gateway drug being “show up at goth night and don’t let anyone know he hurt you.” Show up and act like nothing’s wrong. Like “I’m Jackie Fucking Kennedy and you can’t hurt me.” Show up, because if you don’t, people think you’re hiding in your house, being all hurt and squishy and writing terrible poetry. No, no. If we’re drawing battle lines, you will not make me shy away from doing what I want to do. I will show up, look cute and dance my ass off.

Then, it snowballs.

If happy party face has to exist in the real world, where people are vicious dogs, what do you do on the internet? If people will take you down in flesh, they’ll really take you down in text. The internet was practically invented so people could flame each other from the safe distance of hundreds of miles.

“Usually, when something bothers me, I write about it…but I can’t do that now.”

“Why?”

“Because of rule #1, Jen. You don’t put your drama on Facebook. It is not done.”

I mean, nobody wants to read weeks’ worth of muddled, passive-aggressive bullshit that only means something to its owner. No one wants to read status updates of you cryptically whining about your now ex-best friend. It makes you look like a drama llama. We all know at least one of those. We all secretly wish they’d just go away.

What, then? Are you not allowed to have a rough week without people thinking you’re a drama queen? Are we all doomed to be expected to never have problems? Has the entire internet become one giant party where everybody has to pretend that everything is awesome all the time? Are we all doomed to spend our entire digital lives at some kind of hellish work mixer where there’s karaoke, a cash bar and your boss dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld?

“How are you?”
“Fine. You?”

Sorry, no. If that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing, somebody just come over and shoot me right now. I am not living there. I’m not going to show up at your wedding and cry because my roof has been given one year to live and I really, seriously need a vacation. It’s your day and I can pretend my life is awesome for two hours. But, by God, I get to sort out my bullshit in my own blog. If you don’t want to hear the drama llama go “mehhhh!” in your face for a few paragraphs, you know where the back button is.

See, the thing I forgot when I was talking to Jen is that Happy Party Face is not what I DO in this blog. It never has been. I show up, tell you the fucking truth, and most of you can handle it. Some of you are just dying for someone to finally tell the truth because everybody else is so busy pretending their lives kick ass all the time. That’s my purpose and that’s what I do.

So, there.

I may have to occasionally be Happy Party Face in real life. We all have to do that. But this is my outlet and I’ll do as I please. As we say on the internet, “kthxbai.”

Little Boxes, Day Four: The Ghost, The Machine

I have to admit, I don’t feel good about this one. It never feels particularly good to walk up to someone you cared for and stab them in the face. However, there are some words here that need to be said and need to be heard. For anyone about to tell me what a heinous bitch I am, I say this: think of all the gory details I’m not including. Anyone who knows the story well enough to voice an opinion would know those, and would thank me for not putting them here. I care enough to grab you, shake you and yell in your face. It’s just not always pleasant.

——————————————–

Dear Sir,

Most people don’t get a second chance with me. You got a third one and you squandered it. In my stupidly idealistic way, I had hoped that more than a year in the tutelage of someone much nicer than I would have changed you into a better person than the one I’d known before. I had hoped that you’d learned by example. I really felt like you were making an effort. I was also making an effort, trying to watch my tone and be more of a team player, to prove that I have definitely changed. I have a pack of friends who are slowly turning me into a better person because I am trying to take advantage of their abilities to lead by example.

Those are the same friends who were telling me to run.
Run fast.
Run far.

They remember what happened last time, the way you dropped me cold, giving little reason. The way everything changed from good to bad overnight. The way I learned that someone can look at me as you did and then lop me off like an infected limb. It was unbelievably cold. It took three years before I was even really willing to let you prove you’d changed, and what did you do? You lopped me off again. Just disappeared, resurfacing next to someone else and creating a situation you can’t possibly have fully thought out.

I cannot fathom how one human can treat another human this way.

Had things continued well for a few more weeks, I would have sat my friends down and said “I know he’s done wrong in the past, but I think he’s really trying and I really wish that you’d give him a clean slate.” I was going to ask them to give you a shot. I was willing to clean away all of the hurt that you doled out all those times, all of the passive-aggression, all of the self-centered behavior and all of the little things mumbled and then never repeated at an audible level.

I was hoping you would win them over. I was hoping you would win me over. I was hoping you would prove yourself, prove that you had decided to grow up as many of your friends have, giving me reason to welcome you back into my life and bed. I wanted to come home to those arms, but only if those arms belonged to a man this time. No one made a mark like you did. All you had to do was prove that you were willing to do the work. In the meantime, I was content to be your friend and move slowly.

Instead, you found someone who wouldn’t ask so much of you. You found a quick fix. You treated the symptom and not the disease. You have cured loneliness for a while; you have not cured the behavior that causes the loneliness. I have lost the guy who made a mark on me, but you are doomed to a lifetime of being miserable. I point this out in hopes that you will change, not for me (you have lost me for the last time), but for you. So far, misery is one of the few things to which you’ve committed enough for it to be considered a long-term goal.

You have asked why you have trouble keeping friends, and I suspect that this quick-fix mentality is why. Your treatment of others is completely dependent on your mood at any given time, and completely motivated by self-interest. At any moment, without warning, you may lose your patience and say things that can never be unsaid. The other person walks away forever and you are left wondering why.

People who only care for people because of self-interest are doomed to be surrounded by people driven by self-interest, because other people will have nothing to do with them. Until you understand this, you are doomed to be surrounded by people like yourself: friends who will leave you as soon as you have nothing they need or want. A circle of people patching up their empty lives with quick fixes.

I had thought for a while that you’d had this realization. That you had decided to do the work that it takes to reap the benefits of better friendships. However, learning and evolving is not pleasurable or quick. Adults realize that things of value take time and work. You tend to give things a month or two and then give up when your efforts don’t pay off quickly enough.

I liked you enough to give you two more chances than most people get. I sincerely wanted you to live up to your potential. I wanted nothing more than for you to decide to work hard enough to become what I know you could be. I wanted you to prove that you wanted me enough to work to get me. You just wanted someone – anyone – to want you, so you could prove that your recent breakup didn’t prove you to be flawed, undesirable. “Someone still wants me! This breakup means nothing!” You weren’t interested in evolution. You were interested in validation. “Self-Esteem Band-Aid Vagina” is not on my driver’s license or passport, so that must not be my name.

You were given a chance to prove yourself changed and evolved, or at least open to change and evolution. Instead, you have proven yourself soulless, self-centered, impulsive and immature. Harsh words, but those are also apparently words that no one has ever cared about you enough to say. You need to hear them; those words are the adjectives keeping you from getting what you really want. Whiskey works for a while, but deciding to be better is what takes away the loneliness. Deciding to be better is what will surround you with better, more rewarding friendships and relationships. Decide to be better.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day Three: O, Canada

Dear Sir:

I really did like you, much as it’s possible to like someone I knew for so short a time. I had hoped you’d stick around long enough to meet my friends. I think you would have liked my friends. Pardon the assumption, but I think you could use some real friends. Your life seems to be all surface relationships and mingling; that’s no way to live. It’s not how my people roll, and I think you would have liked my people.

Oh, I know there was a snowball’s chance in Hell of things working out, with you so far away and both of us most likely never being willing to move, but I was willing to see where it went for as long as it kept being worth the trouble. That “worth the trouble” ended up not being very long.

That’s partly my fault for getting naked too soon, but I maintain that this was partly your fault for being delicious. You opened your mouth and I was doomed. You took the gold standard and sent it platinum. The great dethroner of exes. You may as well have placed birthday cake in front of me and told me not to eat it. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

You used the f-word (“friends”) two weeks in, but were too nice to admit that you’d friend-foldered me. Too “nice,” that is. With quotes. Instead, you wasted my time and concern, let me plan a visit which got canceled and semi-accidentally pointed me in the direction of bitchy tweets aimed between my eyes. That was when it became too much trouble, seeing a stranger address me as a rival. I kept waiting for you to live down an allegedly accidental use of the f-word. You never did. You never let me past the moat, telling me everything about everything, but nothing about anything that really matters. I walked away before I cared too much.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t seem to see you in the same way. I looked at you and saw someone all shiny and bookish on the inside, someone who reminded me of my dad, someone who would play Scrabble AND music with me. It seems that you just see yourself as someone too plain for rock stardom. The big secret about rock stardom is that it’s kind of stupid and it hates everyone over the age of 30. Rock stardom is a fickle bitch with fake hair, fake boobs and a taste for Vuitton bags, which you would be expected to purchase. You don’t want anything to do with her. If you lived in Nashville, you might have gotten the memo that who you are is good enough. That quiet version of you, working a desk job and picking out cars by reliability is much more attractive than the one buying drinks for that bitch Rock Stardom. Who you think those sunglasses make you is just a cheap copy of what MTV’s been feeding me since 1981. If all I wanted was skinny jeans and aviators, I could go to any bar in Nashville and swing a dead cat.

I’d also like to explain my disappearance, because I really DO feel like a dick about that. I really didn’t mean to just disappear without explanation, as though your feelings didn’t matter. I’ve had people do that to me and it sucks. I just didn’t seriously think that you’d notice or care if I disappeared, and you never asked for an explanation. Since you never asked for one, I figured you didn’t care much about getting one. I figured that explaining myself would be melodramatic. If I guessed wrong, I’m sorry for that. It was a good time for a while. I wish you had thought so, too.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day Two: Norse Mythology

The last six months have been difficult ones without much comeuppance for the people who have hurt me. Many of these people have been guys. In fact, the drama got so bad that I swore off (until 2011) any kind of activity that wouldn’t be approved by a Sunday school teacher. The idea was this: if any guys decided to walk away without warning, it would hurt less. For the record, I was right. It did hurt less. Even if most of why he walked away was because I wouldn’t get naked.

What about the others? They show up, they fuck up, they get deleted. There’s either not enough of a relationship happening to bother with closure or there’s too much anger at the time to be coherent. I’m cleaning out some little boxes of hard feelings and writing some letters. I thought you might want to come along. Why? Because people like drama, rumor mills need rumor facts, and sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is tell someone the truth. We all just find it easier to walk away, but that doesn’t do any good. Haven’t you ever wanted to call a potential employer and find out why you didn’t get the job? They’re always too nice to tell you. You just keep making the same mistakes.

This week, I care enough to tell you the truth. I take ownership of some blame. I let go of some little boxes.

———————————–

Dear Sir:

I think the only thing that kept me from saying truly horrible things about you is that I know I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were a derailed train and I was a misplaced jogger. I wandered off and ended up directly in your path. It was a mistake.

You were a swirling mass of pain. You pretended to be okay long enough to reel me in, but then our time together degenerated into nothing but booze and misunderstandings. I kept trying to be understood and kept failing. Runaway trains do not speak English. You couldn’t hear me trying to explain things to you because we have two different meanings for the same word. I kept yelling “hammer” and you kept handing me a socket wrench.

You said weird things, made me feel crazy, manipulated me and indicted me for crimes actually committed by your ex. All of that wasn’t even what made me angry. What made me angry was that I worried about you. I worried that you weren’t okay. I worried that the swirling eddy of pain was going to suck you down. I lost sleep. My back hurt all the time. I was never hungry. My teeth hurt all the time from being ground down whenever I was able to successfully drug myself enough to sleep. We were all scared that you were going to end up killing yourself and there was nothing we could do.

What made me angry was, for all of that concern, you had no discernible concern for me or anyone else. I was going through Hell at work and you didn’t care. You wouldn’t listen. The world was slowly snapping me in half and you didn’t have more than 10 seconds to spare before interrupting me. I couldn’t help you and you couldn’t stop cutting little slices out of me. By the time you’d left, I was calling hotlines just so I could say horrible things and only a stranger would know. The only alternative was to remove you and walk away.

I didn’t write you off and walk away as quickly as I should have because I was trying to at least remain friends. Part of me was doing so because I legitimately wanted to be your friend; part of me was just doing it to keep life non-dramatic for mutual friends. Trying to keep life pleasant and non-weird. Even now, I know that we’ll eventually end up sitting across from each other at some dinner or seeing each other at some party. We’ll have to know how to be nice. I just had to get you back across the moat where you could no longer hurt me. I had to not care about anything you said. I eventually got there.

I don’t hate you and I’m not mad at you because I understand that thing about the runaway train. You may think I magically turned your friends against you. Even if I had that kind of power (and I do not), I wouldn’t have done that. With proper apologies, we’d all welcome you home. With proper apologies.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day One: “Dude, Where’s My Retribution?”

If there is one phrase that I’ve gotten really damn sick of uttering to people in the last six months, it’s this one:

“Dude, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

In other words, somebody does something semi fucked-up to you and, when the other person doesn’t understand why you’re angry with them, you explain how they made you feel and have to point out that you wouldn’t have done something like that to them. Please note that I used the phrase semi fucked up. Truly, deeply fucked up actions result in immediate and permanent deletion. Sometimes you just say, “there is nothing good that can come from having this person in my life” and move along.

I’m sick of people treating me like my feelings don’t matter and then just having to walk away from the whole thing. I mean, what’s the alternative? Write them a well thought-out email about how they hurt my feelings? Well, we’ve already established that said person doesn’t really care about my feelings; what would be the point of letting them know they hurt me? Maybe I could could write something down about how much I hate them? Well, all that accomplishes is releasing more shit into the world and opening up myself to a possible reply from that person which would probably just make things worse. I guess you can always beat the hell out of somebody, but that’s also bad karma and a good way to end up in jail.

What’s a girl to do? If the problem can’t be worked out or the crime is really heinous, I usually just walk away. I thought this was a pretty effective, simple and dignified way to handle things. As it turns out, it just boxes up the problems. Seals them up with packing tape and then they just sit there. You want to ignore them, but there are your feelings, all boxed up and still just as they were when you put them there. Maybe a little skinnier and paler, but there they are. The other person gets to go on, and you end up with all these damn boxes.

There’s no retribution.
There should be.

The person who hurt you is never made to answer for what they did. You get to lie there metaphorically bleeding and they just get to walk away like nothing happened and keep behaving in whatever fucked-up way they choose. They’ll hurt more people and then, when people start to catch on to them, they’ll just move to a new city and start over. Like serial killers.

Usually, I just have to comfort myself with, “the life that he/she is headed for with that kind of behavior is far, far worse than anything I can deal out.” It’s true, but it’s cold comfort when all you really want is five minutes and a pair of steel-toed boots.

For example, when a pack of douchebags laid me off six days before I was supposed to close on my house, I wanted to key their cars so badly. SO. BADLY. Instead, I thought “the way you operate is going to bite you in the ass eventually, and that’d be way better.” I left their cars alone. That business eventually ended up having to cut 70% of its staff. What’s left of the company is a laughable shadow of what it could have been.

I’ll admit that, because I am a flawed person, I really enjoy the fact that everyone in town is slowly realizing that those guys are douchebags. However, the little box of anger is still there. It’s not like keying their cars or beating them up would get rid of the box of anger. I could focus on how I ended up doing just fine without them. I could remind myself that everybody else from the company got laid off later, in the middle of the recession. But nothing makes the box go away.

Have we all become so afraid of consequences that we’re afraid to call people out on their bad behavior? Is there no come-uppance anymore? Is everyone content to just become sort of passive-aggressive? Or is just walking away the more mature, adult thing to do?

No, really. I’m asking. I need answers.