Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give and Take

I just got a note in the mail from a friend. Closing line: "You have a lot to give." A tragically loaded statement as far as I'm concerned.

A couple years ago I broke up with my boyfriend of 3.5 years. ("Lizzy, WE KNOW") Many of you were there, and I do believe that there is a series of really intense posts around that time. I was devastated, heartbroken.

Heartbreak, yes, in spite of the fact that I knew it was coming to an end. In retrospect, about six months into the relationship I knew -- in my heart of hearts -- that something wasn't quite right. But for one reason or other I really clung to the relationship. In part, I guess it was because it was the only love I had ever known, and it is to this day the only relationship I'd ever had. A big part of me was totally convinced that our love would trump all -- that all of the bad parts of our relationship were circumstantial. This of course may have been a self-preservation tactic on my part. I was insecure, in part convinced that if this didn't work out, probably nothing would.

I'm getting away from my point. I guess in the decline of our relationship I really made a hell of an effort to cling to it. I moved closer to him (at least in part) to see where the relationship would go. As he was drifting away from me in what ended up being an incredibly painful transition year, I kept coming to him (literally making myself close to him). I remember one night he was very busy with school work, and I was tired because I'd spent an entire day at the office. I went to bed early, and he came in and started fussing over some papers, and I complained because he woke me up. He said, "Why are you even here." I wrote it off as him being stressed and fell back asleep. I kept coming to him, even though I felt increasingly unwelcome in his space. I'm sure he'd long since decided that it was over, but was going through a lot of what I was going through. Eventually I broke my foot and for at least two or three weeks the crutches, my lack of a car and characteristically shitty weather prevented me from going anywhere. He didn't come to visit or see how I was, until I asked him to. He came once and then not again.

The relationship kept fumbling painfully forward for another seven months after these things even happened. And I kept trying to do more and give more, at least give what I could. I was miserable at work, had no studio and wasn't making much art outside of commissions and invites. Which meant I was triple miserable. And my major emotional support structure (boyfriend) was not doing much to help things.

What I'm getting at is this: my impulse is always to give more. To forgive before I understand, and try to see the good in things. For a long time growing up I was pretty stingy. I had siblings, and knew when the good fruit snacks came, they would be snatched up by mangy brothers and I had to get mine first and stash them away.

My parents were also kind of funny about giving. They say that in most family structures one parent is the "security" parent and the other one is the "nurture" parent -- and usually these fall along gender lines. My parents love me and my siblings very much, but when we were kids they were kind of obsessed with the idea of creating a security for their family, which meant in part that there wasn't much leeway in the structure that they created for themselves and for us. I really think that (although there is always grey area here) that my folks "security" parent genes were dominant over the "nurture" genes. Everything was "fair" and "even," and anything that was deemed superfluous (e.g. not fulfilling basic needs and education) was brushed aside. In other words, unless it was "earned" nothing was really given. (I am not only talking about objects here, although that was a big part of it.)

In this sense, whenever I was given anything, I felt guilty about it, and in some way indebted because I had not earned it. And that which I was given and had earned, I felt justified about. Looking back it feels pretty unhealthy way of looking at the world.

It wasn't until later that I started to learn about giving, in little bits. About being in relationships based on trust and generosity and understanding that some days are worse than others, and so you give more or you take more depending on the circumstances. I learned this from friends, from my second family. People who, time and time again, just kept giving and for no reason. It became too burdensome to feel guilty about it, and the only thing left to do was to give. And I'm not just talking about giving things. Because that's a really minute notion of what it means to give. But time, and energy and love.

I admit that when I fell in love for the first time I may have gone off the deep end, but I do not regret anything. And it was reciprocal -- we both gave a lot into that relationship, for better or for worse. But I think at a certain point I did kind of lose myself in the relationship, which is why I think that the break up really threw me for a loop. In the six months of severe insomnia that followed, I woke up every night between 3 and 4 am, unable to get back to sleep. In my sleepless internet browsing, I researched causes of insomnia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each hour of the day is part of a Qi cycle. Each stage of the cycle has a body part with which it is associated. If there is an imbalance in that part of the body, problems emerge. Between 3 and 5 am is the stage of the "lung," which, not surprisingly, is associated with the act of giving and taking, and the emotion of "grief and sadness." I thought that it was telling that almost every night, I was brought back into consciousness during the hour of the lung. That there was an imbalance; perhaps too much giving -- to little taking? I was also working three different jobs, none of which made me happy.

The insomnia didn't get better. Not with 10 mg of Ambien every night. Not with melatonin and massage and yoga and exercise and reading and breathing exercises. The house was never so clean. I was never so well-read. But in the daytime, I was like a zombie, always awake, but always only partly functional.

Things were kind of reaching a breaking point for me. I applied for a credit card. One morning in my room I went onto a travel website, and used my new credit card to purchase a ticket to Paris for two weeks and four days. I told my boss at one job that I needed to quit because I had to go to Paris. I told my boss at my other job that I needed to go to Paris, and understood that it might mean I was fired.

Then I went to Paris, and for two weeks, I didn't have a cell phone, alarm clock, or the internet. I went around, read books, ate chocolate, drank wine, talked to strangers, went thrift shopping. If I wanted to eat a chocolate croissant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I did. If I wanted to eat a kinder bueno bar at 11 pm at a bar with a pint of beer, I did. I took. I took and took and took. People were really willing to give. I relied on the kindness of strangers, and my shiny new credit card, and neither did me wrong.

My insomnia persisted throughout the trip. It was great, in a way, because I was always sort of at the ready. Early morning, late night. I was my own perfect travel companion.

And when I came home, I started sleeping again. For a year plus I had given all of myself into a dead-end relationship and dead-end jobs. And then I packed all of my selfish me time into two awesome weeks in Paris. Poof. My Qi was kind of back in balance, and didn't get off-kilter again until my roommate situation got screwy (approx. 5 months).

As I've grown older and gained in experience, I am finding that generosity is a major component in any relationship for me. It has, in a sense, been a breaking point in many of my relationships, and often becomes a barrier between sort of regular social acquaintances and friends.

I find that it is still often easier for me to give than to receive, but I have made a big effort to be comfortable in my Need. I am no rock, no island. There have been times where I have really needed help, and I'm glad that I am able to ask for it. That I feel like I can.

Recently, I hosted a couple guys from Philadelphia who I only peripherally knew. There was no question in my mind that they would stay with me and I would feed them, etc. Not only because so many friends and complete strangers have done the same for me so many times in my life. But because they were there and they needed a place to stay and I liked them. One of them came up to me after the first of two night they stayed with me and gave me this whole monologue about how he was really messed up because of his overbearing father and too-giving mother, and how he is comfortable in his need, in particular around generous, solicitous women. I thought this was generally odd, and was in part annoyed because it made me think twice about what I was doing, and whether I was being stupid. I wrote it off. I felt bad that he had this big hangup and figured that if that was a role that felt comfortable for him, and for me, then why think much about it anyway?

Ugh in any case. This note that I just got, "You have a lot to give." This whole time I'm just trying to qualify why it irks me so supremely. In part it's because of what it isn't saying. It is acknowledging potential to be rather than being. And also this idea of one-sidedness. I don't want to over think every contribution I make to the lives of others ... and I don't want to curtail it either. I'm neither Mother Theresa nor Paris Hilton ... Most likely it was written because the writer didn't know what else to say, which makes me wonder why anything was written on the note in the first place.

This is way too long, and I know I'm being difficult, and this probably wasn't the ending you'd hoped for after such a wildly peripatetic entry. But there's plenty of food for thought here, and THIS is why I write blog entries and not essays or books or whatever and nooooow I'm gonna stop. Oof.

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