Saturday, August 27, 2016

Surprised by

It hits me at odd moments.  Blinking my eyes slowly on a Saturday morning, savoring the recent darkness rendered by the blackout curtains I purchased earlier this month.  Glancing out my office's twentieth floor window over the Ford Field toward the horizon just beyond Detroit.  Inhaling the spice of a humid August morning waiting for the early bus into the city.  Surveying the electic, artfully arranged beauty of my living room.  Or just now, washing off my hands after scooping out Simon's litterbox, which I carved out by hand from a large plastic storage bin so he would have more headroom and higher sides to accommodate his aging and slightly arthritic hips.  Moments when my mind is idle, thinking of nothing in particular, at rest in the ease of a quiet moment.

Joy.

It happens more and more often, lately, especially in the last month.  Adjusting to life post-breakup takes a huge toll, mental, emotional and physical--a shift of identity, a drastic change to a long-envisioned future.  (Especially when you move across two states for the guy and undergo two huge career changes in less than a year.)  On the whole, exhaustion won out over even grief, bitterness and anger (although I had/have those in abundance).  But as I've rested, as I've started to mend, to think, to heal, to convalesce, a sweet, pure joy has begun to flash through me in the moments when I'm thinking of nothing.

My life now holds so many more and brighter prospects than it did a year ago, two years ago, three years ago.  I'm living in a bigger place, with more to do, more opportunities, more happening (I love Detroit).  I have a living space that's as beautiful and settled-in as I can make it.  I love my job, where I can keep busy and solve problems without feeling overwhelmed, where I am deeply appreciated by bosses and coworkers, where I know my own worth.  I have fallen in love with public transportation, where I can read for two hours a day instead of grinding my teeth through traffic.  I'm reading more than I've read in years.  I finally bought a new (used) car.  I am free and unfettered, both relationally and psychologically.  And I'm making friends.  I love that I'm finally starting to have friends.

I'm still tired, most days.  But it's the tiredness that feels like healing, not the tiredness that needs healing.  I'm still focusing on getting as much rest as I want, and hopefully before too many more months have passed I'll feel rested and alert.

And I take a quick, childlike pleasure in those flashes of joy.  It had been a long while since I felt them.  I'm glad to have them back.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A is for Asshole

So out of curiosity yesterday I found a site that offers the Big Five Personality Test for free.  Also called the OCEAN or CANOE test, the Big Five measures five attributes that seem to be universally applicable to humans: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.  For each component, you fall somewhere on a spectrum between the poles of the attribute and its opposite.

In the past I self-diagnosed where I fall for each of the Big Five but had never actually taken the test, so yesterday I figured, what the hell.  Mostly my results didn't surprise me; I fall in the middle on the Extraversion scale (drives my therapists nuts when they can't determine whether I'm an introvert or extravert), and my Conscientiousness appears to have increased to being neither conscientious nor disorganized (depending, I guess, on whether or not I give a shit).  The big surprise came from my Agreeableness score: Among the other respondents, I landed in the 38th percentile, far, far closer to the harsh, abrasive, callous end of the spectrum than the nice, accommodating, cooperative end that I expected.

The test's impressively tactful diagnosis: "You find it easy to express irritation with others."

A quick life-montage of my interactions with others would show an overwhelming skew to the accommodating. From childhood on, I did what others asked, bent to others' needs, mostly in terror of disapproval or the resigned conviction that I had no choice.  Apparently agreeableness isn't quite in my nature, though -- I resent impositions like hell; I detest when people behave contrary to my wishes; I do not like to share; thoughtlessness and stupidity annoy the shit out of me.  I am, in short, a grumpy bitch.

I just don't often act like one.

Jeff used to describe me as compliant.  It's a key concept: I didn't accommodate others because I liked to; I complied for other reasons, largely having to do with a lack of boundaries.  I had to learn assertiveness and self-advocacy.  As a result of my early schooling in compliance and my late training in noncompliance, I'm better equipped to express my disagreeableness in healthy ways, while refraining from ripping people to shreds (unless they really, really have it coming).

So I guess it's to my credit that most people don't have any idea how easily irritated I get; I reign that shit in hard because social acceptance is, you know, important.

But my tending toward the disagreeable possibly explains why it feels so, so good to let loose on someone who is begging for a setdown.  And perhaps why, however politely I frame requests when I'm annoyed, the person I'm talking to usually gets the point.

Here's to being cranky.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Liberal White Male Syndrome

"So I met this guy at this atheist social group I started attending.  Not my type, but pretty smart, and really seems to appreciate how smart I am."  I recentered my Bluetooth collar to make sure Leigh Ann could hear me.  "Into neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and stuff.  And I was like, 'okay, awesome,' until this weekend.

"I just don't get how smart people can be so fucking stupid sometimes.  We're at this picnic for the group, and he starts complaining about political correctness."

Leigh Ann groaned, and I grinned while I continued, "He's liberal as shit, but he's complaining about how liberals are unfairly censoring comedy and policing jokes.  His example was this chalkboard sign outside a bar where a server wrote 'We like our beer like we like our violence: Domestic.' Once the Internet got hold of it, the server and the manager were both fired, and this guy thought that was ridiculous and unfair because the joke was 'objectively funny' and shouldn't have caused an outcry."

"So let me just ask something," Leigh Ann said.  "Was this guy, by any chance, white?"

"Boom," I said.  "Nailed it."

Because of course he was.

There's this pernicious disease rotting away at the heart of a certain sector of liberalism, where otherwise relatively enlightened people hold fast and firm to a really ugly sexism all the more damaging for its subtlety and for the denial in which its carriers live.  (Incidentally, it also makes dating really, really, REALLY hard, instead of just really, really hard.)

I call it Liberal White Male Syndrome (LWMS).  My last two exes had it.  These are the dudes who espouse the usual, good beliefs that racism and sexism are bad, that poverty is terrible, that government should intervene to promote equality, that higher taxes for the wealthy are imperative.  They call themselves feminists.  They support equal wages and reproductive rights, and oppose overt sexual violence.  They don't really think beyond that.  Because they're feminists, all right?  They've already thought it all through and they stand on the side of equality and women's rights, so there's no possible way that anything they think could be clouded by the systemic sexism that permeates absolutely everyone absolutely everywhere in our society.  They have magically transcended all sexism, and so every single one of their opinions is just fine the way it is, no further examination required.  To suggest otherwise is profoundly insulting, because they're feminists.

And they are giant, flaming dickholes.

Take this guy from the atheist picnic.  I'll call him B.  You can tell at a glance that he is sensitive, cripplingly insecure, and deeply resentful.  I'm not unsympathetic to this.  I listened to him ruminate angrily about his college students' complaints against him, especially how they didn't talk to him about the things they found offensive, but went right to the dean.  I didn't need to ask to determine that the complainants were women; I could tell by the tone and by the attack on their passivity.  (Never mind that woman are socialized never to be confrontational, and have only recently begun to be encouraged to report situations that make them uncomfortable -- report, not confront.)  But sure, okay, nobody likes being complained about to their boss, I would hate it too.  Guy's probably in the wrong profession for his temperament, which he seems to be realizing.

But then the diatribe on the damage that liberal censorship is inflicting on the comedy world.  The server and manager who wrote the "domestic beer and violence" joke shouldn't have suffered repercussions, because that joke was objectively funny and none of the bar patrons were offended by it.  B argued that it's a shame that people can't make jokes about whatever they want anymore; they have to be careful not to be offensive, and that's stupid.  After all, George Carlin said, probably shaking his head sadly while he did, that forty years ago the liberals were the ones decrying censorship, but now they're the ones enforcing it, and it's a tragedy, one that Carlin never thought he'd see.

Yeah, well, as Clint Eastwood recently reminded us, forty years ago nothing anyone said was racist.  Pretty sure forty years ago wasn't a good plumb line for what is or isn't sexist either.

I asked B to define "objective" humor.  He defined it as the unexpected association of two unrelated things.  Okay, I can buy that.

But what about objectively funny jokes that are mean? I asked.

Well, those aren't funny.  A joke has to come from a good place to be funny.

And a joke making light of domestic violence is coming from a good place?

Well it was a general joke, about a general topic, not directed at someone who had actually experienced it.  It wasn't intended to be harmful.

And -- the clincher of B's argument -- the server who wrote the joke on the chalkboard was a woman.

And there you have it, folks -- a perfect indicator of Liberal White Male Syndrome.  Textbook case.  You have special pleading (something is objectively funny when two unrelated things are brought into association.  But suddenly, when the joke is cruel, intent matters and it's only funny if it comes from a "good place," which has nothing to do with the previous definition, which contained no qualitative element).  You have privilege-blindness to a gender-specific subject (domestic violence is most frequently wrought against women, and therefore something that a male is unlikely to experience on the receiving end and so, from this position of privileged removal from the brutal reality, can look at the entire topic as something distant and "general" and academic).  You have privilege-generated defensiveness toward being called into question (the intent wasn't harmful so the effect shouldn't be; the offender's intent matters more than the victim's reaction or the reasons for it; the victim should merely stop being sensitive).  You have the instant dismissiveness of objecting opinions and the refusal to engage in self-scrutiny.  You have the reactionary blame-shifting so that the problem is the person who is offended, not the person who committed the offense.  And you have that mainstay defense of prejudiced opinions everywhere: The perpetrator of this particular example was a member of the group claiming offense (a woman made the joke, so it cannot be offensive to women -- which betrays a breathtaking ignorance of the internalized, systemic nature of bigotry, as only a LWM can pull off).

Fuck LWMS.

As B made his angry defense of his own sexism, the Avett Brothers' lines from "Ten Thousand Words" ran through my mind:

But their good times come with prices
and I can't believe it when I hear the jokes they make
at anyone's expense except their own--
would they laugh if they knew who paid?

Yeah, dude.  Intent doesn't matter as much as you think it does.  That joke comes at the expense of battered women, murdered women, brutalized girls.  It's not fucking funny.

And I lost all respect for your LWM ass as soon as those arguments came from your mouth.  I know exactly who you are now, and in some respects I'd prefer to deal with an overt woman-hating bigot because at least they're upfront about being total assholes.  You're in denial so deep you're lying about it without realizing it.  And sure, it's possible that you might learn, over time, to empathize, to think, to accept responsibility for your part in a sexist system from which you benefit daily.  But with defense reactions that strong, with that much anger and resentment, Imma kinda doubt it.

Also, I've dated your type before, and it never goes well.  Misogyny will out, and dealing with both the misogyny and the vehement denial of it is doubly taxing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jonah Day

Well, this wasn't going to be a good day from the beginning.

Last night, exhausted, I turned in at nine-thirty anticipating a much-needed eight hours' sleep, only to toss and turn for two hours before falling into a state of fitfulness that barely counts as rest.  Woke up shaky and weepy with tiredness, had to take a different route to work due to a traffic accident, took several wrong turns, ran over a curb because Detroit has a few stupid randomly placed parking lanes that are indistinguishable from turning lanes except for the curb itself rearing up just before the intersection which blends seamlessly into its environment especially with the morning sun screaming into your eyes and now I have a bulge in one of my tire sidewalls which I will need to fix tonight costing up to $250 and I just bought the car last week, and then a lady behind me lay on the horn for about ten years when I was driving too slowly trying to figure out how to get to the correct turn and worrying about the damage to my car (I was a giant dick about it and stuck my hand out the window to flutter my fingers at her in a really passive-aggressively nasty-polite wave because fuck her; the rage that contorted her features before she had to take her turn while I kept driving straight gave me an ugly satisfaction that I've felt bad about all morning), I'm so tired that I'm dropping everything that I touch and running into things and awkwardly slow on my feet in conversations and nothing that I say or do is coming out right, and I just want a hug from someone who loves me but I don't have one of those and I've been struggling with loneliness and old hurts the last few days and I just want to collapse into tears and hide from the world until this miserable day is over.

And I have to clean the house tonight because my childhood best friend is coming to visit tomorrow and all I want to do when I get home is stare at the TV for ten minutes and then go to bed.  And that's without taking into account the necessary visit to the tire shop.

I would say "someone shoot me," but this is Detroit, and I try to be careful what I wish for.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sarah, Then and Now

It's been about seven years since I blogged regularly, I think. New posts aren't going to have a lot of context unless I fill in some of the gap between then and now.

Some things have changed, some of them drastically; some things have remained much the same.

I have gray hairs now, glistening at my temples, worked in shining threads throughout the many-shaded, gold-edged brown of my hair.  I let them be; I like them.  When I attended the First Baptist Church of North East as a teenager, I always admired the hair of a woman who sat with her husband several pews ahead of us -- she never dyed it, and the gray and silver mixed beautifully with the range of natural brown. I always hoped I would go gray that way, and I'm still waiting to see if I will.

I give less of a shit what strangers and bare acquaintances think of me.  That might not appear to diverge much from my younger self on the surface, but it feels more secure and less defiant than it used to; Meg and I agree that something magical happens after turning thirty, where you feel freer to shed all your fucks and do what you want.  So I dress as I please (having developed, since my last serious blogging days, a fairly fantastic sense of style all my own); I wear my hair in a ponytail and wash it once a week because I couldn't care less about fussing with it (and it's curlier now); I speak my mind frankly, with varying degrees of courtesy depending on the occasion; I stay home when I want to stay home; I go out when I want to go out; I don't apologize for feeling "peopled out" and wanting only the company of my beloved Simon (who is now fourteen and just as frisky and affectionate and grumpy as he ever was).

Where then I read entirely fiction and poetry, now I read almost entirely nonfiction, having developed a ravening hunger for the facts, the knowledge, the information denied me from my earliest childhood.  Where I then listened to indie folk and indie rock, I now mostly listen to instrumental jazz (heavy on bebop) -- an exploration completely my own.  In 2008 I moved from Michigan back to Pennsylvania; in 2015 I moved from Pennsylvania back to Michigan (full circle and a half).

I have better boundaries now, a stronger sense of self.  Often I have won them at great cost.

Back then I struggled under the weight of depression; I have since learned to manage it.  I walked through the valley of the shadow of death to get there, and feared, and faced, and relived much evil, and I learned to comfort me.  Now the occasional rough patch is milder, and I have learned to listen to what my condition is trying to tell me when the ground swells rise more than they ought.  The listening has led me out of some deep darknesses into light of my own making, and some of that very recently.

My life is quieter now, less ambitious.  I feel no burden to change the world, although I would like to make a meaningful contribution, to leave the world a little better than I found it--I still haven't determined how.  In the meantime I take pleasure in my work and leisure; I have a job that I like--I am still a legal secretary (after a brief and loathed recent stint teaching high school), much better paid now, and loving work at a large city firm which offers a brisker pace and greater challenges--and I satisfy my brain in other ways while I work out how to satisfy my soul...

...a word that I now use in metaphor.  Once I counted myself a Christian; now I don't.  My journey out of faith was long and strange and wonderful, and I have never encountered such fullness, such miraculous satisfaction, such shattering, transformative joy, as I have on the other side of belief.  My deconversion is a story of love and liberation that I am still learning to live in.

I am still profoundly lonely.  In the last seven years I have entered into two serious relationships; neither worked out.  I ended the last one two months ago.  It was necessary; it was wonderful, if sad, to break free; I have become again the self I recognize, happy, whole, complete and sure in myself, and, hopefully, a little surer, a little wiser, a little more shrewd for the latest experience.  I have deeply loved only once, a long time ago, before either of the last two relationships.  I never had the chance to tell him, and evidently not sharing my regard, he married someone else.  I have never met his equal since, and I'm not sure how likely it is that I will.  I hold out some hope, while resolving, without condition, to be fulfilled with my own company until such time, if ever, as I do.

So there you have it--the comparison in a nutshell.  I remain (as Lizzie Bennett might say) much the same in essentials, although some essential things have changed, and for the better.  Every year I find life a little richer; every failure, setback, disappointment, shows me my way a little more clearly.

I am, ever, Sarah.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Tenuous

Found myself on the verge of a panic attack this morning.

It was a weird feeling, only half familiar. The nausea. The almost atomic-level trembling, invisible to the naked eye but beginning to quiver through the particles of my body in subtle, seismic portent. The fluttering almost-hitch in my breath. The internal barometric pressure building to some black-clouded break. The ache tightening my tear ducts. The flash of adrenaline through my blood. The pinned wide eyes sweeping lightning glances around the room, the desperate urge to flight. I experienced it half-distantly, thinking, oh. I remember this.

The weirdest part was the emptiness behind it - not the emptiness of loss, but rather the emptiness of any real cause. I cast around in my mind for what might be causing stress, anxiety and panic, but couldn't locate anything.

Which, I think, is what triggered the panic.

My mind keeps racing, trying to latch onto one of the many anxieties that have consumed it for the last two years. It grabs at a shadow that looks like job worry, to fall back confused that job worry is gone. It scurries to relationship worry, but that has vanished too. There's some sadness and loneliness and exhaustion there instead, but those aren't sources of anxiety. In mounting consternation my mind leaps to money troubles, but those are well in hand, bills paid, bills scheduled, budget accounted for. Kerflummoxed, bewildered, it starts whirling in frantic circles, spinning up a dervish of emotional turmoil.

I keep thinking that there's something I'm forgetting to worry about.

But there's...nothing. And I have lived in stress and chaos for so long that I can't relax my CONSTANT VIGILANCE. (Pseudo-Mad-Eye-shout-out.) Non drama feels strange, and strangely threatening. Ominous.

We've been here before. Convalescence from trauma can be traumatic in itself. (Does the butterfly ever have a panic attack because it's not a caterpillar anymore?) It's taxing, changing your brain wiring to be adapted to happiness instead of misery. Happiness is unfamiliar, feels fragile, alien, suspicious.

It'll take some time to relax my rigid muscles, calm my racing brain. My working memory will be occupied for awhile, relearning what it means to operate from happiness as a baseline normalcy. I'll forget things. I'll feel scared and nervous, unaccustomed to a lack of reasons to worry.

But this is better. I just have to batten down the hatches when the panic brews, curl up with myself, and talk me gently down. It's okay, it's okay, you're okay.

And I will be.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I hate baseball.

Dissolving a long term relationship and starting over in your mid-thirties does weird shit to your psyche.

Today's bus commute home mostly involved sitting still in a glinting vehicular sea of day-game Tigers traffic - the American pastime apparently being to drive exhausted office workers longing for the quiet of home to the brink of suicide  for the sake of something to do while they wait for traffic to move forward another half-inch. Staring absently out the window - an occupation in which I decidedly revel as part of my public transportation commuter lifestyle - I caught my reflection in the window of a neighboring SUV. The convex pane of glass, presumably just to be cruel, gave my mouth the appearance of jowls.

And I panicked. Yanking out my phone I stared at my mouth in the reflection and started poking at my face thinking,

Shit I need to stop frowning so much.

Oh my god I'm turning into Jon Voight.

The person who someday falls in love with me will never know me looking young. No one will get to love me while I'm still pretty. Shit shit shit.

About half a minute later I was kindly telling myself that millions of women look gorgeous into their 90s and I have many years before I turn into Jon Voight.

But still. I'm smiling a lot just to ease my face muscles, knowing full well it won't do a goddamn thing.