My friend/possible future baby daddy in San Francisco sometimes sends me links to The Superficial,
usually about celebrity moms or celeb baby bumps. Not to sound like I’m Miss 24/7 Walking Self Help Book, but that’s about as close as I want to come to superficial in real life. I love gossip and celebrity news as much as the next person, but I am trying to excise the superficial relationships I have, nip them in the bud if they are going in that direction, because I just am not interested.
The people I surround myself with, or want to surround myself with, are ones who are both transparent and deep. I don’t need to sit there and philosophize every second but I like to know that if I wanted to, I could. That they’ve taken stock of their lives and haven’t just gone shambling along doing whatever’s expected. That when they smile at me or hug me or ask or answer a question, they mean it. It's the going through the motions for politeness's sake that kills me.
I saw my awesome friend Felicia Sullivan
last night at a book party, and the instant I walked in, she was waving and smiling and I felt her warmth radiate across the room. A lot of people do that fake wave, or say hello and ask how you are, and you know they don’t really care what you say. It’s a polite surface phrase with no real meaning. Which is fine when your answer is fine, but what about when it’s not?
Felicia has this glow about her, something that can’t be faked or forced, a spirit that is infectious. Like my friend Melody,
she’s small but has this big personality, yet she’s also unassuming, observant. I love Felicia and I also value her opinion because I don't think she's afraid to say things that need to be said
or express herself, yet it's not arbitrary or snarky or mean, just honest. She also runs the kickass show Writers Revealed
which I recommend to all readers and writers (and I truly hope that encompasses everyone reading this site, that you read something
that you enjoy).
I wasn’t even going to post this cause I fear I sound too sappy. I do, actually, worry about what I write, how I come across, which holds me back. Lately I’ve been so nervous, so overly cautious, not just here, but everywhere. I burrow into other people’s books and immerse myself in them, which isn’t a bad thing, but it has the potential to be when it's because I'm so afraid of my words, of fucking them up, of doing it wrong.
Though she’s talking about fear in the context of democracy and social activism, in Frances Moore Lappé’s excellent new book Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad,
she writes:Humans are hardwired through eons of evolutionary experience to sense that our survival depends on staying on the “inside”⎯with the tribe. It shouldn’t surprise us that scientists now report that we experience physiologically the pain of being rejected as we do actual physical pain. We thrive on the approval of others; we dread humiliation above all else. So it’s hard for human beings to say, “No, the whole pack is heading toward catastrophe!” We fear being cast out. So we hold back.
I’m not afraid of fear, and in fact, some of my fears, like of cars, I cling to pretty tightly. I go in them, and I deal with it, but I’m not giving up my idea that cars are dangerous. But so many of my other fears, if left to their own devices, would grow to gargantuan proportions, surely dwarfing me, literally belittling me.
Last night I went to Big Quiz Thing, and was surrounded by awesome trivia nerds. I had a host of scattered friends there, as well as random people I’ve met over the years of trivia playing, and it made me realize that the people I gravitate towards are smart, but that’s not why I’m drawn to them. Just like I think people who wear their careers and awards on their sleeves just might have nothing else going on, I have no patience for book smart, the kind where someone skipped five grades and was a prodigy and all that. I met enough of those kids playing chess growing up, ones pushed into it by their parents, warping their natural talent into something overdone, overhyped. But the quirky smartness, the kind where people get excited just to know some obscure fact, not because it’ll help them win, but just for the sake of knowing it, that’s what I’m talking about.
I told someone recently that I have no use for recreational sex, and that might change, but I doubt it. I have had too many experiences where I realized only afterward that having a conversation, a real one, about something beyond things you could find out on someone’s Facebook profile, is in some ways a lot more challenging than having sex, even good sex, and to me one without the other is just sortof empty and meaningless.
I’m emotionally high maintenance, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, or if it is, well, those who want to be part of my life will just have to deal. I feel like with TwitterMySpaceFacebooketc it’s easy to dwell in the realm of the entirely superficial, twittering our lives away and assuming we can sum people up in some limited amount of characters or a cursory glance at a webpage. And I’m not anti-social networking; believe me, I’m all over those sites. But I think there’s a difference between using them and having real human contact with people, the kind where you get to know things about them you never would otherwise. That’s the kind of contact I want, where I get the chance to be nosy, to pry. Maybe I’m so drawn to writers and memoirists because I get to be that nosy and it’s okay. I get to find out what they think about things like family, love, sex, religion, politics, souls, and I learn from them even when I don’t share their views.
But it’s not just writers. I learn things every time I go to Crossfit,
about myself and the people who are part of that community. As immensely welcomed as they’ve all made me feel, I am constantly surprised on some level, like they shouldn’t let me into their club. I know it’s totally irrational and stupid to think that and my reasoning even moreso: I am still very much in the beginner mode there. I do push myself and I am getting literally stronger with every workout, but I feel like these people could lift me in the air and toss me across the room and not break a sweat. And it’s illogical because I know it’s not a competition, but my point is, like in a lot of social situations, I have to mentally pinch myself when I realize, “Hey, these people like me.” I’m sure I sound like a total freak, because why wouldn’t they? But, well, that’s a question perhaps I need to get my ass in therapy about. Why wouldn’t they, indeed? I don’t know, but I am working on that.
So back to fear. I started rereading this book Twenty-five words
by Barb Rogers that I got last year and pick up intermittently. The subtitle is “How the Serenity Prayer Can Save Your Life.” I bought it intending it for someone else but realized that I needed it much more than they did. I pick it up and put it down because I don’t really know what a G-d of my understanding is or looks like, or if one even exists. But what I like about the book is that while on one level, it’s probably just self help 101, it’s not about drinking or not drinking per se, which is good, because I’m not an alcoholic, I just have this addictive personality, and whether it’s inherited or not, it’s there. Those same patterns pop up for me and getting rid of one way of displaying that behavior doesn’t get rid of the others. Anna David wrote this line in Party Girl
that resonated with me, that “an alcoholic personality” is “massively self-involved and always wants to be the center of attention but still has low self-esteem⎯’the piece of shit in the center of the universe.’” So whether it’s an alcoholic personality or whatever you call it, it’s there. It’s that emptiness that no matter how much food or friends or clothes or money or bylines I try to fill it with, it’s still there, waiting to capture me, and I can say not drinking is easy, but what about the rest of it? You know, like, life. Not so much, and I think if you’re used to having alcohol at least on hand as a possibility to clear out some of those deep dark bad thoughts and then you take it away, you’re just stuck with them. You’re stuck with yourself and while I think writing’s an invaluable tool for both experimenting with other characters and purging some of that, the idea of being stuck with myself for…the rest of my life, does not always make me happy.
I think there should be some kind of Fucked Up People Anonymous for those of us like that, though then maybe everyone would want to join? Anyway, Rogers writes:The only way to fail in this life is not to be willing to try something different, to open our minds to change. We are in a lifelong school, where opportunity after opportunity is placed in front of us. I believe that what we do here, the choices we make, will affect what happens when we leave here. And it’s not necessarily the big, life-changing choices, but those seemingly little ones, made on a daily basis, that are so terribly important. Imagine if you knew, from the beginning, that there was nothing insignificant. What would you do differently?
When we fear good things in our lives, it’s because we don’t feel worthy, but if we were not worthy, we wouldn’t be here. To be a success, we need to take part in our lives, to understand we have a choice in all things. The successful person lives with that knowing feeling⎯that no matter what life throws at them, it will be okay. The serenity that lives within cannot be touched by the outside world.
She goes on to talk about fear and courage and such, and if you’re interested, I recommend you check the book out. Rosh Hashanah seems like an appropriate time to clear house in that regard and do my best to not start over in some grand way, but to make it a daily practice of questioning and assessing and struggling and growing.
So to sum up this almost interminably long post, I want people in my life who also grapple with these questions. Not seemingly perfect people who have it all figured out, or overly bland washed-out ones who have never even pondered these possibilities. But those who are somewhere in the middle, works in perpetual progress, figuring it out one day at a time, just like me.