Monday, January 30, 2012


A few months ago I meant to post about sandcastles, but didn't.

Here it is.

When we were kids each year we'd take a trip to the shore, no small task for a family with three or four small children to venture out of the depths of Southwest PA.

After a few days on the beach, my dad would tell us that it was time to make the sandcastle. My dad's a funny guy. He is -- in and out -- a bit of a protocol junkie. He ran the house on a pretty tight schedule, tight discipline, tight restrictions, etc. etc. It's actually something he's devoted much of his career to exploring. He actually writes protocol manuals for hospitals, which other people follow.

The beach wasn't much of an exception. His vacation days had as much structure as his everyday life. (And I am not saying this from a critical or judgmental standpoint -- I just want to create some context for those of you who do not know my father.) It's just how he functions, and somehow you learn to just go along with it (or, in my case, just agree to disagree).

The sandcastles were similar in a way. We all knew it was coming, expected it. (I was usually more willing than my brothers because there was some artistic aspect which I found more pleasing than diving in the potentially lobster-infested waters). Yet -- when we all assembled to work on it together, my dad kind of softened as he became more absorbed in the process of building the castle. He got quiet and pensive and would offer suggestions here or there, but would never impose any overarching architectural concept on the project. He kind of let us do our thing, and in that way kept our attention for as long as it was going to last.

I was always very focused. I loved creating turrets with spiral staircases winding up the structure. The staircases were the best part, chiseling elegant little stairs so that very small people could ascend to the tallest room of the tallest tower. I would often get very frustrated when part of it would collapse, or when one stair was disproportionate to the others. Or when a brother dumped wet sand on something, or stuck what he thought was a rather elegant seaweed-and-detritus topper to the turret.

And my dad would say, "Just remember, there's no mistakes in sandcastles."

This helped relieve me a bit, despite the fact that I kept attempting to perfect those staircases. I knew at the end of the day, the tide would have its way, and the whole endeavor would be smoothed over, at least until next year. I know my dad probably couldn't have predicted it, but this idea has really seeped into my worldview. In the past four years or so, every job, relationship, living situation -- has unfolded in such unexpected ways. I've set out to construct my staircase, and, well, haven't made it past the first story. I'm ok with that, and I have to trust in this process, forgive myself of my intended outcomes. The human imagination is hardly infinite. Sometimes mistakes and snares can cast wide potential.

I look at my dad now. He's really struggling because for the first time of his life, the structure he has built for himself is failing. I see him, and he is really grasping for what to do. I am very proud of what he has accomplished, but I also see this moment for him as a big opportunity. And I just want to tell him that maybe there's another way, that maybe you can't always stop tides or little brothers from getting in your way, and maybe there's a better castle lying in a million pieces on the shoreline, just waiting to be built, destroyed, changed, rebuilt. He has to see that it all was not in vain...

I imagine it must be hard, spending your entire life building one castle, and then realizing that there is nothing you can do but let go. I hope at some point he can take to heart what he taught me, and realize that it was a lesson that extends far beyond an isolated few hours of my childhood and into our lives.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on Fairies.

No, this is not a post about homosexuals.

My brother said to me the other day, "You know -- you really can only have one emotion at a time." We were talking about how I'd been feeling sad a lot, but how certain small things made me happy in a big way all the time. He said, "It's like that line in Peter Pan -- that Fairies are really little, but they have big feelings, and so they can only have one emotion at a time. You're like a fairy! Biiig big emotions ... one at a time." I took this as a huge compliment. Not only do I love Fairies, I love the idea of really committing to something 100% and then moving on to the next big something. It is both a strength and a weakness of mine.

When I was little I really believed in Fairies. The nature-y kind. I once discovered a little patch of daffodils in a neighbor's abandoned lot. I cleared a little bit of earth for them to grow and would lie on my belly and talk to them for some time. I was delighted to see them come back year after year. I knew there was something magic going on, and was content to carry on with the magic in my own little spot, feeling very much like I was complicit in their inexplicable being. I knew that "real" Fairies didn't exist, the ones with wings and wands that Disney tried to sell. But I also knew that if Fairies did exist, they probably wouldn't show themselves to me right out. Maybe they were just little balls of light. I could be patient. I wanted them to know that I was there, and cool with whatever they were up to. You know, just in case.

Likewise I remember sitting in a warm spot on the living room floor, gazing at the dust as it caught the light on a Sunday morning. Thinking to myself that there was something wonderful going on. Wondering if the specks of dust had thoughts and feelings. Creating stories for them in my head. Exhaling and watching them go crazy. (I certainly did know how to entertain myself...). These particles were not fairies but I was certain that they had some kind of magic, and perhaps Fairies would be close by ...

Starting from a very young age I've dreamt about flying. Just ... feeling a slight updraft and lifting my foot, floating off the ground. One of my first words was "higher!" [said on a swing], my very earliest memory was being carried -- feeling like I was floating above the ground without explanation. So much of me was content to bask in this feeling of floating, of sort of drifting above people, observing them and not really engaging.

I know that a few years ago I posted on this blog about a little girl that I met while couchsurfing in Finland. Ronja, named after the girl pirate from Finnish storybooks. Their house was full of magic, and I was so inspired by their lives and all that I saw. Tented hallways, bead curtains. The best and most well-trained dog I'd ever met. Plants with butterflies in them and crystals that cast rainbows everywhere on the floor and walls. I took mental notes for my own magic little place.

When I finally did get to move into my own house, I moved in with a friend. Prior to moving in, she was already obsessing about household rules and how it just had to be for her to tolerate living in any situation. She was going on about how we had to have rotating cleaning schedules or paper towels or something, an I thought in absolute seriousness about my cohabitation prerequisites and blurted out, "Yeah! And we have to have crystals in the windows to invite the Fairies in!" At which point she was like -- "Ok?"

But it's true. Having rainbows dance on the floor is an invitation for daily magic which you have to make at least a small effort to bring into your life. At my work there are dried flowers at the desk, and of course Mr. Stink, my little stinkbug friend. In my room, stars and garlands hang from the ceiling. Little attempts at my own Fairy bower...

So ... these are my thoughts. My wish in life is to live more like a Fairy. A little ball of light that comes when it is invited or feels safe, or simply when it wants to cause some trouble, makes the world a little more delightful and takes on more than it can handle most of the time. Biig big emotions, one at a time.

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.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A nothing post

I'm getting new eyeglasses today! They are big, tortoise-shell, and SOOO eighties. I am making a hard turn to the eighties much to the chagrin of people close to me who actually lived through the eighties (and not as a baby, like I did). Blouses with shoulder pads, high-wasted jeans. Big hair. Jumpsuits. Anyway I like the glasses because they're a little softer, a little more fem than my current R.Crumb/Malcolm-X horn-rims.

That's actually not what I want to write about.

It's Friday night, and instead of hiding like I want to, I'm going to the house party of a dear friend. "Forgive me Father, it has been 20 days since my last social engagement." For a 25-year-old, that's like forty years. I figure that rather than condemning myself to social purgatory, a minor effort once a month wouldn't hurt. And so to hype myself up I'm listening to this awesome song and wondering whose outfit and dancing style I wish to emanate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Confessions of small cruelties

Yesterday at my gym (yes I have a gym), I saw a woman who is a friend of a friend. We'd gone out a couple times. I'd all but forgotten that she'd existed. She was in the locker room and we both looked at each other with vague recognition but neither of us said hi.

I'd met her about a year ago. She was in my friend's apartment, they'd just gone to a party together, and were both already a bit tipsy. She was sitting, slunk back on the futon in my friend's cozy living room, her winter coat and hat and gloves were all on. She didn't get up when I came in. Already a small person, bundled up and ready to go, and sitting in such a deflated but expectant manner, she had the look of a petulant child. I couldn't decide how old she was but then she took off her gloves to accept a glass of wine and I saw that her hands revealed their bones and veins, their youthful fat sucked away. I decided that she must be in her late 30's at least. Within seconds of her first sip of Pinot Noir, she revealed an attitude of a petulant child, "I want to go out. I want to go dancing. I have one night out without my kids and my husband and I want to go out." A few more sips of wine and she'd already revealed to me some incredibly intimate details of her personal life -- petulant no longer quite cutting it as a descriptive -- including that she'd been repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, that she disliked her children, etc. etc. As a side note, I wonder why this happens to me relatively often, or whether it's just a common thing that I have never gotten used to. People tend to reveal certain stunning details of their lives immediately after we've met, as if they wish to either dazzle or shock me with their eccentricities. Little do they know that I could honestly care less, and would much prefer to engage in a conversation where stories are starting points and not giant, random paintballs of information pelted at my head. And so very often I'll try my best to be utterly non-reactionary, an attempt to diffuse the situation and get down to it.

In this situation there was really no hope for that. She would have her way, we would know her discontent, we would know how daring she was.

More Pinot Noir for everyone. My friend, I'd already concluded by then, was an alcoholic, or a burgeoning one. I decided that I needed the wine at that moment more than I needed any sort of discretion on his behalf.

So, onward. She'd gone to Mexico for a yoga retreat, to get her certification. Instead she dropped out after about two days and had had, "the most amazing fuck" with a man on a Mexico beach. He had long hair. He was either French or Mexican, I forget. I kept imagining Fabio even though I don't find him attractive and he doesn't look Mexican or French in the least. This little woman with a Czech accent fucking Fabio on a Mexican shore, as her brand new yoga pants, strewn carelessly into the sand several meters away, were massaged into submission by the tide. "It couldn't," she gasped, as she ran her fingers through French-Mexican Fabio's hair, "be butter..."

She laughed as she mentioned how she tried to explain to her rich doctor husband why she hadn't received her certification. "But I want to go out, I want to dance!" We'd finished the bottle of wine.

We got into her car. She put one of the two baby seats into the trunk, so that I could sit in the back seat. At this point, I'd finished feeling sad for her, I was mostly just fascinated. As I got in, I thought to myself that the safest seat in the car in case of an accident is the seat directly behind the driver. I'm stupid, shouldn't have gotten in.

We went to one bar with "dancing." I have to say, dancing in Pittsburgh in January is never going to be the Saturday Night Fever of one's dreams. I didn't have anything better to do, and at this point, I was already curious to observe her behavior. We went and stood while others danced, and then meandered to a different section of the club where there was some world music playing. There was a coalition of black foreigners there -- some were from Senegal, others from Côte D'Ivoire. We all danced, and I had some fun after all. In that environment, she looked so small, sad, opportunistic. She stepped in several times when I was dancing with my friend, and otherwise leaned against the wall, her arms crossed, downing a hard drink.

A man asked for my number and I told him no. We all finally decided it was time to go, got back into her car. I stayed at my friend's house overnight, but not because I wanted to. I did it to be cruel. I am cruel sometimes, and I wish it weren't an impulse of mine. I wanted to show to her that I was actually free to do whatever I wanted, whereas she had to reinstall her baby seat in the back. And live with herself ...

A few months later my friend and I went out dancing again, just us. She was there, with an older man. I asked whether that was her husband, and he said, "No, they're having an affair."

I wondered to myself how people in Pittsburgh could ever have affairs, seeing as it's impossible to walk outside without seeing forty eight thousand people you already know. As I watched them dance, I felt another cruelty brewing inside me. They were at least 15 years older than anybody else there. Who did they think they were? Granted if I didn't know the circumstances of their relationships, I might have been more forgiving, thinking, "Wow they look like they're having fun," or something nice like that.

When I go out dancing, I rarely dance with anybody else, unless I'm with my brother or a few choice girlfriends. I like to just dance, and that way it becomes about bodies and music and moving rather than crude courtship and sex.

Well. I instantly perceived their self-consciousness, and did nothing to abate their apparent discomfort. They were glued to each other at the crotch-butt, until eventually they made gestures to dance with me or my friend which I blithely denied, feigning a carefree attitude despite my sobriety and complete consciousness of their malaise. Instead, I wished its increase, wished every clumsiness and out-of-place-and-out-of-time-ness upon them. And eventually they stopped dancing. Later the man offered, "I really like how you dance, it was great just to be able to watch you." Half-disgusted, I offered in my best attempt at off-handedness, "Do you not go dancing often?"

I wish I could be somebody who did not judge. I keep listening to this song by the Roches (yeah, yeah, I know: I can't stop about the Roches -- they're great!). It's called "Everyone is Good." I was listening to it and listening to it on repeat for a while when I really needed a dose of goodness. I do honestly believe that everybody is good. But that doesn't mean that I think that everything that everyone does is ok. I try and try not to judge. I've met people who are insightful and sweet and not judgmental. And in comparison I feel like a caveman to their enlightened elvishness. I know there is great complexity to people, and that's what makes them people and that's what makes the world wonderful and frightening and interesting. But I judge anyway. And I try not to hack at my own crude sense of justice ... because I know that's wrong too. If everybody did that ... then things would be crazy fucked-up. And I mean ... I'm still young. Mother Theresa wasn't born a Mother. I know, excuses, excuses.

But sometimes I allow myself some small (intentional) cruelties, and they don't make me proud at all, but. Nobody's perfect.

So yeah, I saw her and I didn't say hi, and I figured that was a small decency to allow for the previous small cruelties. When I walked out of the dressing room, her lover was waiting for her. And I'm sure neither of them noticed any part of the internal drama which I just recounted, so ... who is actually the victim of cruelty here? Sigh. And so I blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I'm at this point where I really don't want to engage with people very much. It happens every now and again, and the last time I really remember it happening was when I was living in New York. I would leave my cellphone at home, not check my email, go on long walks and bike rides, not tell anybody. In a smaller city it's more difficult to remain anonymous. When I was really struggling to get over my heartbreak a few years ago, it required about four trips to New York, a trip to Amsterdam, and one completely solitary trip to France to recover. The trials of the last year or so were more varied in both nature and duration. It would of course follow that the recovery process has been varied and more nebulous. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it. There's less of the somebody-heal-this-broken-bone feeling that I had with the breakup, more, like, what-the-fuck-was-that.

But again, I need to hide a little. There are about a handful of people whose presence I welcome. I'd been feeling a little bit guilty about this, but I got over it. I don't care to offer up excuses for my behavior, and while I appreciate that people enjoy being around me, I often feel very burdened by social interactions where people expect me to kind of carry them. When I'm ready to dance I will dance anybody into the ground, but I just have to be in the right place. What most of them don't know is if I have no desire or motivation to be part of a situation, I lack many of the social reverences that compel others to continue to engage with it on any level. I do have the social wherewithal to take a time out when that side of me is present. A few weeks ago at a party at my own house, I extricated myself for an hour and a half without explanation. I just went to my room, shut the door, and sat in the dark for a bit. When I was ready to come back down, my friends were still alive and seemed a bit surprised but then things kept rolling merrily along.

I needed to get back down to basics, hard and fast. Last year was tough, man. And the year before. Everything I thought I'd wanted, really, thrown myself towards -- from college to boyfriend to jobs to galleries -- haven't worked out. It's ok. I learned a lot. LOTS of really great "learning experiences." I'm almost afraid to say it, but I just want something to pull through for me. At this point, I'm wary, nearly cynical, but really trying my best to fight that impulse. Cynicism, people tend to forget, is so easy in a world like ours.

In the process of learning so many "valuable life lessons," I remember that a handful of people did pull through for me in a big way.

So. I don't know. I am with the people who really matter to me, and just turning down the volume everywhere else. And I think now that my grad school applications are all-but-finished, I'm gearing up to throw myself at the next great beyond. So I am taking the liberty of giving myself a time out. It's not that I don't love the others, or care about them, I just need a volume decrease.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Sorry about the last post. Something about new year's eve and my birthday always kind of gets me down.

I've just -- been feeling removed lately. We had a small get together at the house on New Year's day and I needed to hide for a bit. When I was really sick I longed for social interaction, but then when somebody close to me got very sick, I shunned it almost completely. A few strangers who came into town helped me feel like I could be somebody else, a happier, lighter version of my 2011 self.

Social situations at times make me feel much more lonely and isolated than when I am completely alone. Funny how that is.