Saturday, April 20, 2013

Strange and Beautiful

My friend's first child was born tonight. She is a perfect soft pink bundle of limbs and cries and is strange and beautiful in the way that only new life can be. I watched with her grandparents as she was measured and prodded and wiped and swaddled. Her first moments taking place under shocking bright lights while her father stood in hospital scrubs and held her tiny hand and tried to comfort her with the gentle touch of his soft, wrinkled fingers skimming her fuzzy little head.

He is a feminist filmmaker, former member of an otherwise all girl punk band, and has been married to this tiny person's mother for 14 years. He was made to be the father to a daughter. He will be amazing at it. She will feel empowered and supported and have a unique confidence in her interactions with men that will come from the perfect security she will always know in the love of her father.

I'm incredibly happy for him and for his wife. I am in awe. I am shaken. I am joyful.


It is strange to find in myself conscious thought about something I normally don't question. But I cannot help but think about this now. Today. In this moment.

I will never be a parent. No one will ever call me mama. My uterus will always go unused, never fulfilling its biological purpose. This strange organ that can make life, can create a dizzying miracle, will labor through only the motions of it's cycle until it gives even that up altogether.

I have chosen this, so I have no justification for this odd moment of inner conflict. After 20 years of being sexually active and having never so much as a scare, I may not be able to conceive - this potential for anything else may only be an illusion to me, a sorrow I will never truly have to confront. But I had a harrowing childhood. A childhood of hurt and hollow and scars that never completely go away. The kind of childhood that seems a bit like a gothic novel or a horror story when I forget to forget it. And I have struggled in my own relationships with the several parents that have been a part of my life, and watched their struggles with the children they have raised. So by the time I was ten years of age, I had decided. I could never be a parent.

My whole life people have told me how good I would be as a mother. But the truth is I'm scattered and fragile and always rushing to catch up and never financially stable enough, never grown up enough, have never become the person I would want to be in order to have a child. And if I want to be really honest with myself, brutally honest, the men in my life have always been scattered and fragile and rushing to catch up and never financially stable enough, never grown up enough... or if they were? They didn't want a child with me.

In some quiet part of myself I imagine a version of me who is like my grandmother. She was short like me and sharp like me and gregarious like I sometimes can be. I adored her. She had one girl and five strapping boys. Clever, varied, driven, interesting men. Men who, like me, adored her but also felt like she was their friend, their ally. Men who made something of themselves. She was a force of nature and I always felt as if she willed them into full lives. I imagine that if I'd taken a different path, maybe I'd have been like her. Surrounded by sons. I'd have been good at it, I think. Wise and loving and a little bit stern and a little bit crazy. Good at holding them and good at letting them go, which seems like the trick with raising boys. And I would have been. I think. Good at it. This other me I never turned into. Never found the right man or the right moment or enough healing or enough security to let myself find out.

I was engaged years ago to a man who had a son, a wonderful man who wasn't ultimately the right man for me (both of us too scattered), and his son started to call me "mom" (His "other mom"). We bonded. We were close. I kept up with his son for a long while after I had to leave that relationship behind, but I would mourn every time I had to say goodbye to him. I would babysit him or even just run into the boy in the street with his mother - also my friend - and whenever he left I would cry like the wound was new. It was like that for years. This hollow awful ache I never expected I could feel. Didn't let myself think I might have the capacity for. A kind of broken heart I'd never before experienced, never imagined.

So I have chosen this. I know that. I think it's the right decision. I'm remarkably strong for someone who has been through so much but I would never take the risk that I'm not strong enough or healed enough to hold it together for a child. My mother took that risk with me. It didn't turn out well. I won't make the same mistake. Most days life is hard enough as it is. Recovering from so much death in the past several years. Trying to make my life stable enough just to sustain the long term romantic relationship I am in. Finding ways to fulfill my need to create art and trying to do something with my life. Some days I find even pet ownership to be a challenge. And I have (yes, if you've been around long enough, you'll know this) bunnies. Not typically considered a high stress pet.

So I'm doing the right thing. I know this. But on a day like today it hits me deep in my gut and twists a little. In there under the happiness. That I am feeling. God I am. But I need a few minutes tonight to exorcise this. To acknowledge it. That this little kernel of regret lives somewhere deep in me.

Most days impossible to find at all.


My friend has wanted to be two things in life. His whole life. A husband and a father. And he has been a husband since his very early twenties, but in many ways he was her husband before that. He knew he would never let his wife go from the moment he first kissed her roughly 17 years ago. Being the best husband and partner he could be has been his great goal in life and he's wonderful at it. He worships her still. When he plays guitar he inevitably sings to her, even if she's in another room. Even when he doesn't realize it he turns toward her so she can hear his voice. He cannot help it. His love for her is a part of everything in him. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

So I know how completely and perfectly this girl will be loved. And how fortunate she is to be born into the midst of this great love that is already there. She is so wanted. That is the best thing a child can have. She will have the devotion of two clever, creative, amazing people who are ready and prepared to give her everything. I'm excited to be around for it. To watch as it begins.

A few hours ago a new life came out of my friend's wife (who, I should say, is also my very dear friend). This is amazing to me.

I am feeling a lot of things tonight but more than anything, I am joyful. I am shaken. I am in awe.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


I know I haven't posted regularly in a long time. At first it was the grief. My world turned upside down and I couldn't do this, or much of anything, with any reliability.

But I've really just realized the other thing that happened and took this away from me. I started writing because I was unhappy with the blogs out there that aimed at being for women and feminist but were either bitchy or pedantic and insulting. I know a lot of amazing female bloggers, but they had their own things they were writing about. Feminism and the female voice wasn't their focus. So for a while, it was mine.

I wanted to anonymously share my experiences with rape, weight loss, self-image, relationships, medical emergencies, traumatic loss, and violent crime so that others - strangers - could hopefully get something out of what I was experiencing or had experienced. These were private things, intensely personal things, but things so many people cope with and that I felt talking about could be beneficial. At the very least, for me.

I shared my blog with some friends. A few people I knew. I chose them carefully. The ones I did not mind having access to this personal voice. These conversations I was having with myself.

I made friends with some amazing people online who were also, in essence, anonymous to me. People I had not met in person but whose writing I admired and who were supportive of me and seemed to understand what I was doing and why I was doing it.

I went through breakups. Significant others now seemed off the table as topics so I wouldn't offend or hurt men I had loved who might come here on a down day and, unhealthily, look to see what I was writing. I couldn't do that to them.

A few people I knew personally found the blog. It was an adjustment, but I came to terms with it and it wasn't anyone I couldn't handle knowing these things about me. But it stifled my voice more, made me more hesitant to share. Because I hadn't chosen them as an audience.

Then a stranger here in town who knows my full name and has vague connections to me through mutual friends (but who I had never met) found the blog. He now follows all my public online accounts. He seems like a nice guy. But we don't know each other. And he has read these deeply personal things about me and then shown up to see me and said hello to me in public places because, naturally, he feels he knows me. Like I said, he seems nice. He always has. He even explained how he found me and even offered tips for making my blog more anonymous and to help prevent being located the way he ran across me. But I don't know him.

And that was really it for me. Because these windows into my life weren't written for strangers here in my home town who have no connection to the issues I'm discussing and are just curious about me. And what I could talk about became so limited once I grew concerned about so many other people. I was never the point. Shared feeling and thought was. Being able to have other women who were about to have a biopsy on their uterus search and find my post and know what to expect and how it felt and that they were going to be okay. Sharing what I had learned, what I thought might help, with other people who experienced traumatic loss in a way that made the national news. And talking to other women and men about how feminists aren't one kind of person. Aren't even just women. And that hating men OR sharing tips on how to tell if your guy is cheating were not constructive ways to be a community.

So I miss writing. But I don't want to share my feelings with strangers who live where I live and know my name. And I don't want to edit myself for a growing number of people who actually do know me and could be effected by what I write. I'm trying to decide if I should make this password protected - which defeats my desire to share my feelings with other people outside my life who have similar experiences - or if I should start a new blog somewhere. I don't know. Those of you who have stayed in touch and have always been supportive - I will let you know what I end up doing.

I got tired of not saying this. And no longer being able to write what I really thought. That's all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I always understood that Carrie Fisher quote, “I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to BE art.” I did want that. I often do.

I draw. And paint. And act, write, sculpt, sing, direct, photograph, model, cook, cater, sew, design, perform and am an amateur makeup artist.

I do a lot of things. Or I CAN. I am able to do many things.

After my teenage years and up until about 5 years ago, I rarely created anything. I was afraid. Afraid the things I made would not be good enough. Uncertain what the value of anything that I created might be. If it was something funny or silly or frivolous, it didn't seem to have enough meaning. If I tried to write or paint something serious, it seemed too self-important.

I was made of doubt. So I created little. And kept even less.

I began acting again 5 years ago. By accident really. Anyone who has spent time with a community theater will understand that one day I was helping a friend out by stage managing her play and a few months later I was on stage, in costume for the next production, looking around and wondering how the heck I got there.

The acting community led to other things. And slowly I found myself surrounded by people who make art. Play music, paint pictures, film movies, put on comedy shows... Crazy people. Wonderful people. People brave enough to create. People who don't seem to be frozen by the doubt that haunts me.

A friend I made recently brought this into sharp focus for me. He creates constantly. He is a newspaper columnist, an independent filmmaker, a talented photographer, a natural comedian, and a very capable musician - and he does one or another of these things all of the time. No day goes past without him creating something. Being near this consistent creative force feels strange and wonderful and a little intimidating. But the biggest lesson to me has been the experience of watching someone who doesn't hesitate. Doesn't pull back from trying because he is uncertain if each thing he does will be perfect. He produces work and shares ideas and makes something every single day. It floors me. He is so talented. But also so brave.

I'm still afraid. But I'm slowly starting to draw and write again. Those were the things that came first. When I was too young to understand that directing a play or designing a burlesque costume were things a person COULD do, I was drawing pictures and writing things down. And I am trying new things. And I am learning to have faith.

It took me so long to figure out that part of the beauty is in the creating itself. So many things live inside me. If I start now and I try to get them out of me, making something each and every day, I will never finish. I will never run out. And not everything I make will be good. It won't be beautiful or have value to everyone who sees it. And that's okay. Even if I only make things for myself, these things are evidence of a life lived, of days spent not in fear or self-doubt but instead actively engaged in the act of creating.

I want the art of my life to be in the making of things and expression of ideas and the sharing of joy and experience. I want to actually do all the many things I am able to do.

I want to be brave, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In My Mind

The longer I live, the more I realize how little I know.

I look back at old entries on here and am struck by how much I have changed in five years. How wrong I was about some things, how far some of my ways of thinking have shifted. I wasn't a teenager when I started writing here. I was 30. And even still, my view of the world has altered. The self that I am now is far less convinced she has anything to teach anyone else. I'm a work in progress. There is so much I do not know.

A long time ago I wrote a list of qualities I wanted, a post about the Woman I Want To Be. It was a long list. It had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 items on it. The woman I am now has accomplished some of these things (I have adventurous hair. I pay my bills on time. I am more patient. I travel a great deal more...)

But my priorities have shifted.

And my goals have become simpler.

I want to be kind.

I want to learn to be content.

I want to be good at sharing my life with someone.

I want creating to be a part of my daily life.

The rest will figure itself out. Or it won't. But the stress I have created within myself to meet some vague ideal had never been fulfilling or fruitful. The constraints I have put on myself because of my own fears or my need to fit into some image of perfect that I assumed other people had... they have taken me nowhere.

At the rate I am going I may just be completely self-aware and centered and actualized by the time I'm 70. I think I'm kind of okay. At 70? Clearly I will be freaking awesome.

Some part of me wants to remove old entries. Erase foolishness, broad proclamations, a tone that implies a high opinion of my own knowledge and understanding of the world... But it's all a part of the journey, right? I keep running headfirst into the world (or, to be fair, sometimes the world runs headfirst into me) and getting battered and bruised and coming back thinking, "That hurt like hell. But I learned something." Which is good.

Even when what I learn is that I know so little.

That's okay, too.


When I'm struggling with it, listening to this gets me right on track.

It's the funniest thing, because I don't think the person I was 5 years ago would have appreciated this song in NEARLY the same way.

"It's funny how I imagined
That I could win this win-less fight
Maybe it isn't all that funny
That I've been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it's funny
If I want to live before I die
And maybe it's funniest of all
To think I'll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be."

– Amanda Palmer


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Crossing Paths

In the past few weeks I've made new friends. People who live all over the world - in four different countries - as well as a few new ones here in the states. It's been a long time since I've met new people I have a sudden and strong connection with. I had begun to think I'd outgrown the ability to make such quick, almost instinctual bonds with people - grown too cynical to allow myself to have faith in a stranger, to grow attached to someone new.

When you've lost many people who are close to you, caring can become a risky proposition. Allowing yourself to become very attached to anyone new seems unnecessarily reckless. Every person you let yourself love is another person you will lose. Funny how I remember the fears I had as a teenager - to grow attached was to risk that someone else would hurt me by rejecting me. Now I simply worry about those I love being safe, being well. For the past few years to add to that burden was unthinkable.

I attended a work conference last week. I had made a few connections via online networking in advance, so I was looking for a few faces that might register or be vaguely familiar after gazing at the icon that had represented them to me for the month preceding my trip. Perhaps there is a kinship to working in a similar field, but I also think sometimes you just know a kindred spirit right away (how very Anne Shirley of me, no?). The first night there I introduced myself to a few strangers, had drinks in the hotel bar, passed time as one does when far from home and surrounded by unfamiliar people. Then one of the people I'd had brief contact with online showed up. Our brief exchange online had left me expecting someone with a sense of humor not unlike my own, a sharp mind, someone I was likely to get along with. Perhaps it was seeing anything familiar after a lonely afternoon, but as I introduced him to the group I had gathered with in the bar there was this immediate feeling of comfort. My introduction read so clearly as, "This is my friend."

Some of my reaction to the people I met is, certainly, that I was fortunate enough to meet some genuinely special people. I am delighted to be keeping in touch with several people I met there and feel an increasing sense of community as we maintain contact. But it was also a striking and much needed reminder that I am not done. The world is still huge and full of interesting and wonderful people. I am not too old, too damaged, too cynical to make a new friend. To care about people who hadn't existed for me just days prior.

The week involved listening to a great many speakers, trying to soak up far more information than I feel I could ever manage in just a few days and being exposed to so many new ideas. The first morning I walked into a conference room filled primarily with strangers and sat down next to an old friend. Who I had met the night before.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Holding My Breath

My friend's husband is a Mexican citizen. They are truly in love. They were married in Mexico City almost a year ago. It was joyous. His family loves her. She is so happy with him, she glows. With him, it's like she has found the security and support she has always needed in order to fully be herself, trust herself, accept herself. He is kind and has a generous heart. He is playful with her and has such unwavering faith in her. I love watching them together. They give me hope.

I wrote a letter of support for her petition for him to come to the U.S. while they go through the process of applying for his citizenship.

I know there are people who marry just for a green card. My friends are not those people. I know that immigration is a complex issue with a fraught history and much animosity on both ends of the argument. My friends aren't making any kind of statement.

They are just in love. They want to build a life together. A life where they can live and work in the same country. A life where the people around them love and accept both of them. They want to have a family (maybe not as soon as his grandmother thinks they should have a family, but eventually - a family!) and a future.

She would move there, but the two of them together in Mexico cannot earn a fraction of what either of them alone could earn here. And his family lives in Mexico City - where it is notoriously overcrowded and incredibly dangerous. If they were to raise their family there, they would share a three bedroom home with his parents, his two adult sisters and their two children. And, like his sister's children, my friend's children would play in a small concrete courtyard with a locked gate to ensure their safety in such a dangerous city. So she is here, away from him. Working in the States, to pay for lawyers, so that someday the two of them can have a life here together.

We all know this - but in the U.S. we take for granted the wealth we are born with. I grew up with very little, but the poverty I was born in is nothing like the poverty they endure in other nations. I thought I understood what an overcrowded city meant until I visited Mexico City and saw the people packed like sardines into bus taxis to get to their jobs, the number of people who share a home - and only one bathroom - in even a middle class environment. There are so many people, there is no escape from it - 24 hours a day you have people around you. Huge crowds in the streets, even at home every bed is a shared space. It's overwhelming. I had no idea.

I think that when we discuss immigration, it's easy for the argument to get focused on our resources and to forget the people involved. Families who are separated. People with no other reasonable choice than to seek shelter in a land that will not welcome them. So that they can make enough money to support their families. So that someday their children can play outside. If I was born in a country where the work I could get would not allow me to live in any comfort, where my children had to be locked in a courtyard in order to be safe, where I could not go out without an escort because I feared for my own safety - I wouldn't care whether it was legal that I travel to a neighboring country to live in safety.

I respect that my friends are doing this the right way, following all the proper legal channels. In spite of how painful it is for them to be apart. But my perspective on this issue is forever changed. I watch my friend working, living alone and missing her husband terribly and I am in awe of her patience. I watch her and catch my breath, knowing how she aches to have him home with her and how long they have been apart as they try to do the right thing.

Monday, March 07, 2011


My mother and I were addressing my little sister's commitment ceremony invites last week (sis isn't sure about marriage, especially when so many of her friends cannot yet legally marry in the states in which they live). We were missing an address, so I called my sister. My mother kept writing while she listened to me talking. I got the missing address from my sister and then read aloud the list of names to ensure that we hadn't missed anyone.

We get to a dear old friend of my sister's who I remember fondly. I last saw him a decade ago. Sis tells me he's met a great man and they're very happy. My mom hears me discuss this with her and I say, "His beau is a bear? That's SO perfect for him! I bet they are adorable together."

My mom asks me - very serious and in all innocence:
"Does that mean he's a plushie?"

She learned that word from my sister.

I hope mom makes some awkward incorrect reference to this during my sister's event. It would be suitable karmic retribution.


My father (who is actually a pretty hip guy on the whole) recently read an article online about youth culture and modern slang. He thinks "I'm just saying." is hilarious. I told him some acronym based phrases that were not on the list he read ("OMG" and "bee-tee-dubs" - which is "BTW" pronounced out loud). But the phrase he CANNOT get over, the one that surprised and entertained him the most, was this:

"friends with benefits"

He keeps repeating it. And bringing it up in conversation. Because he thinks it is bizarre and is vastly entertained that people use that phrase.

It's like having a 7 year old hear a curse word. And they aren't used to it and only understand it to a certain degree but they KEEP SAYING IT.

It's horrifying. Makes me wish I could take his internet access away.


I think this means we've come full circle in some odd way. Now I'm the one worried that they're learning words or phrases they shouldn't know and hoping they won't say them in front of the neighbors.

I bet they felt like this when my brother started belting out lines from Les Miserables' "Lovely Ladies" in the supermarket when he was 4. Or when I was 7 or 8 and they took all of us to a restaurant and I wanted to order my drink myself. I saucily demanded that the server put "a LOT of nicotine!" in my Shirley Temple.

(I thought I had the word "grenadine" figured out.)

This is like payback for those moments, isn't it?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Talking to People Who Aren't There

I tend to be a talkative person, but I have become less so as I have grown older. People don't really need to know so much about me. There are things we say to other people to make ourselves feel better, but that benefit them in no way. Some confessions, deep personal thoughts, difficult truths, messy personal histories... some are meant for few people to hear. Your closest friend, maybe a sister. But really, sometimes we just talk for ourselves and it serves no purpose. Sometimes our deepest feelings aren't meant to be shared. Getting to this has been a process. It took me a long time to learn to trust and to share information about myself or things that I felt with people. Then I had to turn around and learn when to stop. I'm still learning.

As I grow, sometimes I find myself "telling" someone something when they aren't there. The things I know I would be saying only for me, the things that are too hard to actually tell. I will picture the conversation I would have, that I might have about these things. I talk it through. I apologize. I tell the person who isn't there all the hard things they don't know, the complicated things I feel but can't say. Different people in my life, people who were once in my life, people I never got to say my piece to.

Sometimes I want to go stand outside somewhere and call things out. Like The Sound of Music meets Primal Scream therapy. Put me in a dress made out of curtains and set me on a mountaintop so I can give the universe hell for all the things I can never say aloud or realized too late. I can see myself - just screaming out sentences. Because the people who should hear them are gone. Or the time for it is past. Or because it would help me, not them.

It's like an exercise I do in my head...
finding the thing I wish I could say:

"I'm exhausted and sometimes this is too much."

"If I had it do over - I would press charges."

"I should never have left you and gotten on that plane."

"Grow up. See past yourself. Yes, I think you are selfish."

"Sometimes I want to protect you from the world. And yourself."

"You should have left her back then."

"No one believes anything you say anymore."

"Next to you is the safest I ever felt."

"I always loved you."

"Come back."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things They Don't Write How-To Books For

I hope none of you are ever caught smack in the middle of a horrific tragedy that makes newspaper headlines. And if you are, then chances are it will only happen once.

I've had two happen in my life - roughly only a year apart (the second of the two was over a year ago now). I feel a bit like I have the lay of the land. I could write a book, but that's so time consuming. Instead I'm going to chronicle some of my thoughts here. You know, where it's messy and unorganized and will never get snag me an advance from a publisher. How's that for brains?

Actually, that's the first thing I learned:

1) Don't expect your brain to be fully present. Be prepared when it goes on hiatus for a bit. Don't feel dumb when you can't form complex sentences, but also - don't operate heavy machinery. Or try to balance your checkbook alone...

In fact, when you have survived a horrific tragedy, and everyone asks how they can help, here is the best advice I have for you: hand your checkbook or your debit card to your nearest, dearest and most trustworthy friend or relative. Give them your bills. Tell them to pay what is necessary and give you the remaining cash in increments. I'm not even kidding. You should not be trusted with money or expected to do math after a tragedy and NO ONE thinks about that. I still have no idea what I did with my May 2009 paycheck. I think I bought some food. And maybe clothing to wear to memorials. And... um... yeah. I got nothing. I have NO IDEA what I spent money on. I just didn't care. At all. I'm still trying to catch up on debts that were ignored and went unpaid during the first several months.

2) Buy a mild sedative (unless you are suffering from dangerous levels of depression). Take it at 9pm every night. I don't care how busy you are. You need rest and if you don't do this you are going to end up like me - awake at 1am on a weeknight making lists because you have forgotten how to sleep. It ain't pretty. I mean it. It's going to take years for the bags under my eyes to go away. Small birds could nest in the hollows beneath my eyes. The sleep deprivation does NOT help you regain brainpower. Take a pill. Get some sleep. Later, when you are ready to heal, you will stop taking them and start dreaming again and blah blah blah healing blah.

3) Even the nicest reporter is not your friend. Everything is on the record. I'm going to write a lengthy post about this at some point, but just remember - even a genuinely well-intentioned reporter (and they DO exist) may misquote you. If you speak to the media, do the following (even though you will sound like an idiot in person when you do this):

Think very carefully about exactly what you want to say.

Say very little.

Pause as long as you need to to come up with the shortest and least complex sentence possible.

Speak at a reasonably slow pace and speak clearly - they cannot quote what they cannot understand or, in some cases, write down (but they can more easily misquote it).

End the conversation as soon as you have said what it is most important to say, no matter what. Even if it means being rude and saying, "Thank you for continuing to respect our privacy" and then just walking off.

You can stop ANY time you feel like it.

An interview isn't a conversation. It feels like it, but do NOT forget that you aren't just talking to someone - you're giving them material. And MOST important - Accept that they WILL get some of it wrong anyway. Even if they mean well. Even if they WRITE it accurately, their editor may cut out half a paragraph that changes EVERYTHING. Be prepared for that.

4) If you choose NOT to talk to the media, you are choosing not to have your voice heard. That's okay. They're going to get it wrong to some degree no matter what. But you need to accept that if you choose not to speak to the press, then you are choosing to keep your point of view to yourself. So, when your perspective and feelings are not represented (or accurately represented) in the media coverage, you need to be ready for that and know that you made that choice. Sometimes NOT talking to the media is as bad as talking to them. You aren't betraying a dead friend if you speak to a reporter. If you knew them better than anyone else, you're probably the person who wants to talk to the press the LEAST. You may, however, also be the best person to describe what your lost loved one was actually like. You may sit at home pissed off while people who did NOT know your friend that well are talking to the press. Neither choice is right. Neither choice is going to make things okay. Even the best news story is not very comforting. But recognize that whether or not you speak to the media - you are making a choice and you need to be ready for what that choice means.

5) There is no wrong reaction. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to figure what you need. What you actually want. If someone you love has died in the tragedy in question, then nothing is going to make that feel better. Except maybe time. Everyone has unique needs and one of the hardest things is seeing what you have to or need to do and accepting that. Conversely, if a lot of other people in your life who are effected by the tragedy - realize that they may have needs and reactions that you do not understand. Their reactions are valid, too. Even if they're weird or irritating. If they bother you, put some distance there, but don't punish other people who are also suffering for their reactions. Vent to a third party but it is important to get through difficult times without increasing someone else's suffering. This is the case with ALL tragedy, but it is magnified when there is media scrutiny. You start to feel like your emotions are supposed to fit some set course - because it's so public and others are SO aware of what is going on. It increases the pressure to "act normal" in a situation where there IS NO NORMAL. So just know that that is okay. You don't have to experience or cope with this in any particular way. Do what you need to do.

Honestly, if a large group of people are experiencing the same loss - the part about trying not to increase other people's suffering at all is dang near impossible. But try. When people are reacting to trauma they all have different needs. Be there for the people you love, but also locate some friends or family who are NOT sharing your loss. I don't care if you have to call someone you haven't talked to in ten years. I guess that would be #6...

6) Have at LEAST one person (preferably more) in your life who has not experienced the same trauma. Sounds easy, right? Well - depends on the scope of the trauma. But seriously - FIND someone. Like actually designate them. Let them KNOW. You are going to need to have someone around or someone you can call who has not ALSO just experienced this devastating loss. It took me forever to figure that out. You can't just lean on people who are also in the middle of healing and you need people you can trust - because acquaintances are not the best people to depend on when someone you love is in the news.

People can be surprisingly odd and unintentionally callous when, instead of just dealing with, "Oh your friend died, that's terrible." they are dealing with, "Your friend died and it's on the national news and the camera crews were right down the street from where I work and..." Yeah. Choose carefully, but find a non-trauma buddy. Someone who isn't excited about the fact that the newspaper reporter wants to interview you. If you stick with fellow survivors, then not everyone's needs will get met and some damage can be done. When massive, bizarre, life altering tragedy strikes - try to find at least one person to stand by you who isn't a fellow "victim." Even if that person is your awesome new therapist (**I HIGHLY recommend finding a good therapist!).

7) When you can, define your situation for the people outside your trauma. Basically, provide "Clif notes" to them. This is actually a good rule when dealing with a lot of types of tragedy - not just news-story horrific level stuff. But... remember that not everyone who matters to you is going to "get" it. And their ability to understand the level of impact the trauma has had on you does NOT mean they are a bad person or that they do not love you. Maybe they aren't imaginative. Maybe they've never experienced any sort of trauma. Maybe they are just human and have bad crap happening to them, too - smaller stuff than in your world, maybe - but still damn big in their world.

I learned to tell people in my life things along the lines of, "I am not okay. I may look okay and act okay sometimes, but I'm not really okay yet. I may not be okay for a long time. This _________ is what happened to me - in practical terms, that is what I experienced. That's a lot to process. I need you to try to remember that I'm always thinking about that, too. Don't give me a free pass to be a jerk or anything. But just be aware that that is part of what is happening inside me. All the time. So if I forget things or I don't reach out a lot - It's not that I don't care. It's that I'm still healing and I have a lot to work through."

It kind of feels like having to explain to the people you love that you were fully functional, but now part of your brain is gone. And you're sorry. And you don't actually know if it's going to come back.

But the things is, they DON'T KNOW unless you tell them. You may be really lucky and be surrounded by people who are incredibly empathetic and just pick up what's going on with you easy as can be. But this is the real world, so I'm thinking that's unlikely. If you talk to the people you love, even in the most rudimentary way, about where you are at and what you are still working through - that gives them some perspective and reminds them that you DO still love and need them. You just don't have complete access to your brain right now.

8. If you can, find ways to laugh. At least try. Again, good advice in all traumatic situations, but more so if it's something SO outside of normal experience (violent act, natural disaster, freak accident) that you have to process both the loss AND a horrific foreign experience. If someone has died, find someone else who knew them who will talk with you about the funny, stupid or weird things about your lost loved one - not just the simple, nice stuff. ESCAPE by watching a funny movie. DO something completely silly. One night shortly after the shooting, a bunch of my friends came over to my house and one of the guys - a big, butch guy's guy in the group - shows up with a hair highlighting kit. He let us highlight his hair. He was walking around with this silly cap on and strands of hair sticking out everywhere and, while my heart was so heavy, it made me see that there would be good again and there would be laughter again. It reminded me that the friend I had lost would want me to be able to smile - and would be laughing himself if he saw this big tough guy with a women's hair processing kit being used on his head (this man is one of my personal heroes).

Finding ANY joy and ANY normalcy kept me from losing my mind. When the world feels like it makes NO sense, the best thing you can do for yourself is find anything at all to laugh about. Or help someone else heal by giving them something to laugh about.


These are the basics as I see them right now. I'm sure I will think of other things. Hindsight is 20/20. I think it was oddly helpful to me and the friends I went through the second tragedy with that I had had some previous experience with trauma in a public arena. I was better prepared for the media. I was more acclimated to the whole idea that terrible things actually happen to real people. On the whole, the big trick is to allow yourself to slow down. Take things one at a time. Don't rush any decisions that you don't have to. I know you don't have much choice about funeral arrangements. When you are involved in the memorial, those things have to be done. So you do them. But everything else can wait. And that's okay.

And last but not least - I hope no one I know ever needs any of this advice. If nothing else, though - rules 3 and 4 are really good to keep in mind during all media interaction.

Just in case, btw - to reiterate - I realize many of you put two and two together and will know which tragedies I am speaking of - which is fine. I just don't want this post or my blog linked to or mentioned in conjunction with anything that identifies my friends or the incidents in question. I hope my own awful experiences can be helpful to others, so I certainly want the advice or ideas passed on, but I don't want media-circus-gawker traffic. I appreciate your consideration.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Hand Dancing

I am almost done with my next post (trying to blog on the regular these days!) but for today I just want to share this: