Apologies

I have always known, vaguely, that I suck at apologies. And I know that that is a terrible thing to be bad at, if I want to be good at relationships.

The problem is that true remorse is required for a real apology, and that acceptance of wrong-doing is required for true remorse. Here is where I always fail, because, while I absolutely can regret that a situation happened, and can wish that I hadn’t contributed to the situation, I can never seem to bring myself to acknowledge that I was wrong. Let’s look at an example:

Last night it was getting late, but my uber-busy husband (Bear) was sitting up, doing after-hours coding for work, as he has been doing most nights for weeks. I went up to take a shower, and when I came down to get him, I didn’t notice that he was particularly focused on a problem: I chatted at him, and he snapped at me. I was taken aback, and annoyed at being treated in that way, but on the other hand I understand that feeling of being interrupted while I’m concentrating, so I decided to just leave him alone, a bit coldly. My reasoning was that I would give him the space he needed and not pressure him to come upstairs, but also let him realize that he had hurt me. Punish him by giving him too much of what he wanted, if that makes sense. (Now, don’t hate me or think that I’m super cruel. I’m just being really honest here; I know I can’t be the only one who lets my emotions guide me to commit small cruelties towards the ones I love most.) But Bear immediately recognized he had hurt me, and he apologized. Not ready to forgive him just yet, I said it was okay, and made to leave. He decided then to come upstairs with me, and over the next half hour as he was getting ready for bed, I could tell that he was really sorry. At this point I was well over it, but he apparently couldn’t forgive himself unless I formally forgave him, which I did (which was, ironically, hard for me to do, not because I didn’t forgive him, but because it was barely enough a kerfuffle to require an “‘I’m sorry.’ ‘I forgive you.'” to begin with).

Afterwards, as I lay in bed thinking the matter over, I considered what would have happened if the situation had been reversed. As it has been, many times. I am most definitely not above snapping at my husband if he interrupts me. But I think I am much more grudging in my own apologies, because, it seems to me in the times when it has happened in the past, that I was not truly at fault for snapping. Unlike in last night’s situation, where (in my mind) I appeared as a hapless victim who could not have known that I was interrupting, in past situations when I have snapped, it was because it was deserved; the interrupter should have known, should have been able to tell, that I was busy. Somehow I cast myself as the victim when I am both the snapper and the snappee.

So, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too: I am a horrible, self-centered bitch! I have no empathy! I think the universe revolves around me, and I fart rainbows! Well, I know, logically, that this is not true (except for the farting rainbows part; I totally do that). I do feel empathy for people, all the time, but the problem comes when I have to choose between feeling empathy for someone else and seeing myself as being wrong. And finally, we come to my point: I have lived my entire life in fear of being wrong. Being wrong is BAD. If I am wrong, ever, it means I am not pure, not good, and there is no hope for me.

Other people can be wrong; I can accept them and love them in all stages of rightness-and-wrongness. They can be flawed and lovable all at once. BUT NOT ME. Deeply ingrained within my psyche is the message: “If wrong once, wrong forever and rotten to the core and unworthy and unlovable and nononono this cannot be; therefore, never wrong.” I live my life walking a tight-rope of rightness above of drop-off of wrongness. (And I’m not talking righteousness versus sin; I mean being right; always having the correct answer and the correct response, never making a false move or acknowledging that I don’t know something.) But if I cannot accept that I can be wrong, then I cannot truly accept responsibility for my actions. I cannot truly feel remorse. My apologies cannot truly be sincere.

This is not to say that I do not recognize when things go badly, and try to change my behaviors in the future; I do. But I tend to think of it as “avoiding getting into a similar situation,” which involves modifying my behavior, but not really admitting that I was at fault. I understand this is complicated and probably somewhat psychotic, but I am writing this all down here because I don’t think it’s all that rare. I think this might be typical, actually. The major religions teach us that, in theory, “all humanity is flawed,” but at the same time they tell us “SIN IS BAD DO NOT SIN LOVE THE SINNER HATE THE SIN.” It’s an untenable, impossible-to-live paradox. And I have so, so, so much internalized guilt from my Catholic upbringing. And on the other hand, we have the Perfectionist personality, which is also who I am. Perhaps this stems from a religious upbringing, too. And the paradox is this: How can I be perfect if I am flawed? But I MUST be perfect.

I honestly think that many people are like me in this. And I think that we, those of us who cannot acknowledge and forgive ourselves for not being perfect, NEEEED to wrestle with it. We need to strip down to our skivvies, to our souls, and grapple on the floor with the reality of our imperfection. We need to take down the layer of false pride that forces us to hold ourselves apart, but I mean for real, not just in a fancy show of “I’m so human; I’m so flawed” repentance. We need to force ourselves to confront our imperfection, not as an excuse, but as a way to see the real people that we are, the real impact we have on others, every day. Only when we do this can we make better human connection. Only when we can say “sorry” and mean it, every time.

I think this one quality in my husband, above everything else, is what makes me love him more than anyone else on earth; he is truly generous with his soul. I have tried for years to emulate him, but somehow I haven’t yet succeeded. I will keep trying.

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Diagnosis

The first half of this year has been really strange for me. I started with an extreme boost of motivation and energy, but at some point I took a sudden dive into what, I see now, is a deep depression. I know, vaguely, that this is a pattern that I have repeated often through my adult life, but the blogging (here and elsewhere) that I’ve resumed this year has given me access to a new analytical tool; in my previous “life” as a LiveJournaler more than 10 years ago, I had the words, but not the perspective of time, but now that I have both, I am beginning to understand myself in new terms. The term, specifically, is Bipolar II disorder.

What I want to talk about today is not myself, but the concept of diagnosis. You see, I haven’t yet spoken to a professional; I have identified myself as having this disorder only through self-diagnosis. I know, I know, that is no kind of diagnosis at all.* In a later entry, I will discuss specifically why I feel this diagnosis is apt, but first I want to talk about why a label is important to me. I do not want a label to excuse myself. I absolutely do not want a label in order to gain access to any sort of “benefits.” I do not want a label to define me, or limit me. What I want is a label that will liberate me and provide me with an analytical lens to help me deconstruct and construct myself.

People often lose sight of what labels are for, I think. People naturally want to use them to bind: to ensnare, capture, and preserve, because people naturally do not like change. I think we often would prefer to be the only free agents in an otherwise stagnant world (or at least a world that does not change except at our behest). We wield labels like lassos and cages, and in this way they are dangerous. Labels under the banner of Science can be doubly dangerous, because, societally, we have a fear and respect for Science that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what scientific inquiry does. (And even if we know this, cognitively, the social capital granted by the badge of Science is kind of inescapable. We can know that, just because something is based on science, we shouldn’t consume it uncritically, but for lack of time and interest, we often do anyway.) Scientific inquiry is descriptive and investigative, rather than proscriptive; because of this, scientific findings are never complete, and they are always the servant of reality. As in Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology, and all the “-ologies,” science provides tools for inquiry. Scientific findings are like a network of scaffolding that allows us to look at our subject from new, and increasingly fruitful, perspectives, but they can never, ever, constrain their subjects.**

And so, clinical psychology and psychiatry. Whatever label I be given or not given, I am the living subject. I will not be bound by symptoms: I do not want to edit my personal history so as to fit a prescribed set of symptoms; I want the list of symptoms to be better understood because of me, my behavior (and others like me). I believe that my behaviors exhibit the discovered symptoms of Bipolar II, but I am not married to that specific diagnosis; while the understanding of the disorder itself will continue to change as more is learned, I will continue to be myself. Perhaps the label will be merged with another label in a few years, or maybe this one label will get divided into several distinct diagnoses. But so far, this label has helped me understand a part of my behavior that I had not previously recognized as pathological and potentially destructive. I think that with this new understanding, I can better control the behavior, and, I hope, channel it productively (or at least mitigate its destructive capacity).

 

*And yes, I do plan to speak to a therapist. For the second time in my life. I have a lot of trouble speaking about myself; I start to feel really silly. Even writing about myself is hard, because I can’t shake the feeling that I’m taking myself too seriously.

** Linguistics is the study of living language, where the natural manifestations of human expression are complex, ever-changing, and biologically-based; the science of linguistics seeks to understand natural language by describing and analyzing these manifestations, but linguists must always be behind the reality of language use. Rhetoric is the study of written and oral communication, but the subject of this study, the methods we choose to communicate, pre-exist Aristotle or even the Sophists; like language itself, rhetoric is also a naturally-occurring phenomenon of human communication. The language sciences present a particularly interesting scenario because we are all native, “expert” users of our first languages, and yet we are taught about our language through the filter of scientific terminology and classification (rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, definitions, etc.). While we are all instinctively and intuitively experts of our native languages, those of us who excel at accessing it through the technology of writing, for example, receive a great amount of cultural credit; this illustrates my point, on a basic level, of our tendency to respect “science” over the living subjects of scientific study. And yet the reality is that rules of written language, definitions, etc., are always changing based on use. Since the invention of the printing press provided the means and the incentive to (give in to our natural love to) codify language, this evolution has slowed, but it has in no way stopped, and until English becomes a dead language, it will continue to evolve based on use.

Too Much Information

Sometimes I think I am just not equipped to deal with modern life. Social media and the Internet completely overwhelm me. Too many thoughts and ideas, too many possibilities, become too many obligations, too many failures.

Can’t we go back to 1993? I mean, sure, I’ll definitely keep the social progress we’ve made since then, but I can totally do without ubiquitous smart phones and Internet and texting and Twitter and 24-hour news updates. And it’s not just that I don’t want these things for me, it’s that their presence has fundamentally changed the way the world works; even if I were to choose not to participate, I would suffer from my lack of connection. There is no going back.

Is it just me? Sometimes I feel I am dying a slow, slow death by drowning. Drowning in too much information (hey, like the Duran Duran song! Maybe we need to go back further than 1993…).

In Concert

Humanity is like a huge orchestra playing in concert, only the violins are following one conductor, the cellos are following another. The tubas and flutes are engaging in a personal feud with a long history, and the bassoons are casualties. The clarinets are pretty sure the real conductor is hiding behind the stage curtain, and are taking their cues from the wind. The violas are experimenting with compound rhythms, and the piccolo is only playing every third written note. The trumpets have taken a stand on tuning to 400Hz. The trombones have misplaced their scores and are attempting to improvise. The oboes are wearing earplugs, in a misguided attempt to hear themselves better. The saxophones and french horns are attempting a duet, while the piano is co-opting it into a round. The result is cacophony.

If only we would comprehend our own natures, understand our place within the whole, and accept the reality of others. If only we would listen to ourselves, we could make beautiful music. No conductor needed.

(Not trying to be cheesy or fanciful or trite, here. Was just lying back, awash in emotions over news and the world and the Hate Machine, feeling powerless and empty, and wishing it could be so easy.)

For Laurie, who existed

I know what he fears. It is because she was his only child, and he is getting older, her mother is getting older. It is because she did not do things in the usual way, did not make her mark in the usual way. She had no husband or children, and hadn’t yet figured out her professional path. It is because her life did not bear any resemblance to a final draft, but instead was an incomplete list of bullet-points. “Did you know she got her Master’s?” he queries in a tenuous voice. Wanting to tether her to reality. He doesn’t fear that she will be forgotten; he fears that she will have never existed.

I know what he fears, because I fear it too, for myself. There are parts of me, I realize, that only exist because she was here. And now she is gone, and there is no record. Huge sections of my past, anchored in reality by our shared experience, and now unverifiable. Fading from existence. Who will vouch for me when I am gone?

And so I write, so I will exist. So she will exist.

 

You are a part of me in big and small ways, forever.

 

“Kiddie” gloves

So we’re watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and one of the characters says something to the effect of, “Things are going to get tougher from here on out; no more kiddie gloves,” and it hits me: some writer out there is a fucking idiot. Whoever wrote that line, please answer me, WTF DO YOU THINK A “KIDDIE” GLOVE IS? HMMM?? Do you think there’s some special kind of glove worn by children? Have you ever heard of that? Is that logical? Ughhh for some reason stuff like this really bugs me, along the lines of “It’s a doggy dog world” and “For all intensive purposes:” malapropisms, though minor internet research says this might be an “eggcorn.” Either way, I find it unacceptable in published content.

The thing that irks me, to be clear, is not that someone might not know the origin or actual meaning of the phrase “kid gloves” (after all, my husband sheepishly informed me that he did not realize “kid gloves” was not a reference to children’s hand-wear). (For those not in the know, “kid gloves” are gloves made from the skin of baby goats and which were generally soft and thin and used in work requiring a delicate touch, as opposed to utilitarian gloves made from a hardier substance designed to protect the hands from rough work – see the logic of phrase?). The thing that irks me is that anyone would actually use the phrase based on an incomplete understanding. As I pointed out above, “kiddie gloves” are not a thing, and anyone who thinks about it for half a second should realize that. It bothers me that someone who has a public platform for telling stories and using language should not be more aware of the words they choose.

Words and phrases have meaning. It’s true that meanings shift over time, and I am definitely not one of these prescriptive linguists who would attempt to enforce arbitrary rules or try to uphold one dialect or another as “the standard” of English, but that doesn’t mean that there are no rules or logic to language, and that anything can mean anything. All languages have a complex and nuanced logic that comprises a mixture of history, metaphor, and instinct, and while I do not expect everyone at all times to treat their word choices with the respect and attention it deserves, I do expect professional writers, during their published speeches, to do so.

Writingspaces Project

I’ve decided to undertake a new project, based on the idea that our surroundings influence us deeply, especially as writers. Sometimes, after the 42nd grey day in a row, looking out my same windows at the same trees and hearing the same sounds, I feel like life has lost all meaning. Whether I need to smell different air or experience a change in barometric pressure, whether I want to feel the wind after long periods of stillness or whether I simply need to remember that the sun is still out there, shining above the clouds, the underlying issue is the same: I need a shift in perspective. I yearn to get out of myself and my ordinary circumstances in order to jump-start the excitement and possibility and creativity promised by the existence of a million other possible lives.  

A simple change of space has often reinvigorated me, but unfortunately that is not always possible, and so I have conceived the idea of creating a series of virtual destinations for writers. Today’s post will be the first of these, inspired by the daily prompt mountain. I invite you to come along with me: step out of the habit, the mundane, the expected, and immerse yourself in a different aesthetic, if only for a moment. After all, there are more lives to live than can fit in our one lifetime.

WritingSpaces: Mountain hut somewhere in Asia

You are sitting in a small, airy, hut with lots of open windows. It is late evening, and there is a gentle mountain breeze, but you are neither hot nor cold. It has been a day of small satisfactions and minor triumphs; nothing now stands in the way of your writing. You relax with a cup of tea and gaze thoughtfully at the mountains across the lake.

What you hear: no humans are within earshot, but out of the speakers next to you come the sounds of traditional folk music, as heard here

What you see: a mountain lake surrounded by steep peaks: pexels-photo-93684

What you smell: moisture and greenery and evening

What you taste: cherry blossom green tea

What you feel: your bare feet brushing over a bamboo mat laid over smooth bamboo floorboards; your hands clutched around a steaming mug

 

Photo courtesy Michael Sprehe and pexels.com

 

 

Daily Prompt: Sky

The thing I like best about the sky is that it can provide an unimpeded view of distance. I like to look up in the sky, when there aren’t trees or other tall objects immediately in the way so that it stretches on an on, and think about how far I am seeing; to imagine whose ceiling I am observing; to wonder who, miles away from me, might be looking at the same patch of blue. Buildings, hills, trees when I am not on a mountaintop generally get in the way so that I cannot really comprehend my place in space, but when I look at the sky, and especially when those altocumulus or stratocumulus clouds create striations that delineate the miles stretching away, I feel a nameless wonder. I feel like the world is big and mysterious and full of good things, but that nothing after all is really very far away, as if the sky exists as a sort of super-highway where I can avoid being bogged down by earthly bullshit, and instead just pop on over to where I want to be. Of course, I never have yet found the call button for that particular elevator, but looking at the big sky never fails to make me hope.

Sky sounds for today: “Morning Serenade” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Daily Prompt: Angry

From the beginning, we are taught that angry is bad. The culmination of all the ugly, the horrible, the mean, the loss of control. We are taught to hide it, to suppress it, to circumvent it. Nothing is worse than anger. Until you discover that which is worse.

Nothing.

Is worse.

Return

I have just returned from a much-needed vacation. No spectacular destination, but it had been 3 and a half years since I last visited with my parents, sisters and their families, and my extended family. It was sooo nice, so relaxing and peaceful.

I am back now, and facing that dilemma posed by all vacations: how to get back into the routine? For me this is problematized further, since I do not exactly want to return to the old; I need to set up a new and improved routine.  Urgghh.  I have made a list. I’m thinking there are too many things needing to go into each day, but that’s probably just the Lazy talking.

To new routines, new habits, and progress, here we go!