Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Story Week

Everybody has certain gifts that they're born with.  There are the obvious ones, which most of humanity can easily identify: musical, artistic, mathematical, analytical.  Then there are the subtle talents which even the person possessing them doesn't recognize as unusual abilities: green thumbs, debating, empathy, conversation, organization.  You have to learn to pay attention to what you're good at, be it an artistic flair or understanding the sorrow of a drooping plant.  All people have gifts both open and shy, and usually a cornucopia of them.  Insecurity addicts have a hard time seeing the plethora of gifts within themselves.  I always recognized the fact that I could draw well.  I was just good at it from a very early age.  But it wasn't until my teenage years that I began to suspect the less obvious gifts within me, and another two decades before I considered them abilities at all. 

I'm good at helping people.  There's something inside of me that they're able to open up to, and that has become, to me, the greatest gift of all.  When I was married, my husband used to get irritated by total strangers telling me intimate secrets or problems.  "We can't get in a hotel elevator without somebody telling you their life story by the time we hit the lobby," he used to say.  And it was often true.  What's more, I welcomed it.  I felt honored by people being able to do this, that there was something in me which made them comfortable enough to share their pain, joy or irritation.  I would do the same thing back at them, open my big mouth and tell my big stories, hoping that my openness could help lance whatever emotional boil was consuming them.

This last week has been full of stories.  People who've read Freak have begun contacting me.  I'm a bit overwhelmed by their kindness and enthusiasm but thrilled as well.  They tell me their terrible stories and when I ask, "Do you think the book will help people?" every one so far has said, "Yes."  That's what I so desperately want it to do.  That's what these shattered folk tell me it is doing.  For them.

One man told me about scar tissue removal he had to have done from ten years of his father raping him and tearing him open.  He said what bothered him more than the rape was having to admit to the doctor where the scars had come from.  Another woman shared the story of her drug addict son beating her so severely, he bruised her larynx from choking her unconscious, then broke out all her front teeth by beating her face into the floor.  That struck home for several reasons.  I had a drug addict son too, and my grandmother lost all of her teeth from her drunken husband doing exactly the same thing.  After he'd beaten her enough to make her fall down, he sat on her back, grabbed her hair, and slammed her head repeatedly into the floor, breaking not only her teeth but every bone in her face.  Another young woman told me about an incident in prison, where some bitch carried her screaming baby in for visitation of the inmate father.  When an employee at the facility offered to hold the shrieking kid while the mother emptied her pockets, he noticed blood pouring from the side of the child's diaper.  This bitch had rolled drugs up in tin foil and shoved them up the baby's anus, tearing him open.  They arrested her right there and took the baby away.  Another woman told about waking up the next morning from the date rape drug.  Somebody had slipped it into her soda at a club.  "I knew I wasn't drunk, like he said," she whispered, eyes liquid with the dirty shame of it.  The rapist's shame, not hers, but she still hadn't been able to acknowledge that yet.  Another woman told about her mother getting so enraged when she tattled about her uncle molesting her, she called a family meeting and made the daughter read a testimonial about being a sinful liar who didn't honor her parents, as the bible taught. 

Terrible stories, true tales, ghastly personal histories.  But there was beauty in them as well, which not one of the brave souls who shared them had grasped.  The man with the scar tissue volunteers as a Big Brother for an inner city kid.  He's helped steer the boy clear of the drugs and gangs which are rampant in the neighborhood.  His empathy and understanding, even though he never shared the story of his own abuse, has helped this young brother of circumstance.  The woman whose son knocked out her teeth is one of the most generous philanthropists and volunteers for charity work I've ever met.  She has raised awareness of drug addiction and the horrors the family endures by bravely sharing her story.  The young woman who witnessed the skank with the bleeding baby is an abuse victim herself, and lectures at a girls' shelter now.  She has risen above the past and built her own future stone by shaky stone.  The molestation victim volunteers at a incest hotline. 

I told them I was amazed and humbled by their beautiful stories, and the strength they'd been able to gather to do such acts of selfless kindness.  When you're raised with so little to cling to, such hard soil to try and grow roots in, it's almost blinding to witness that kind of beauty, grown from such ugliness.  These incredible individuals have spun shit-covered straw into gold.  So thank you, to all the brave folk out there who have used their terrible histories to help change the fate of those fellow broken souls, and all the cracked and bleeding futures to come.  There is great horror in the world, and we often drown in it.  But there's great beauty as well.  That's the one that you have to dig for.  That's the hidden gold, and it's in each and every one of us, even us insecurity addicts and abuse victims.  We're like crackle glaze vases, covered in hair thin cracks that create an aesthetic beauty from their seemingly impossible cohesion.  Recognize the beauty and strength inside yourself, my friends.  We all have terrible stories.  What we do with them is up to us.  Take care, make sure to be kind, and keep the self-hatred to a minimum.  You can do it. 

Love, R

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Psyche Slurpies

A person's psyche is a delicious thing.  So many people sip and dip at our emotional state, a tasty slurpie of indecision and floundering resolve.  Be careful who you let into your lives, and beware of loved ones already there.  Love can be a heavy thing when you have no boundaries and little self worth.

There are well-meaning folk out there who, despite the best of intentions, undermine a person's confidence with surgical precision.  It's usually done this way: you have a dream of some kind, from publishing a book to carving the Empire State Building on the top of a crayon.  Whatever.  It's your dream and chasing it is good exercise.  The well-meaning folk slip poison verbage into your ear, supposedly for your own good.  "That's nice, but you're not a kid anymore."  "You should get your head straight and give up this stuff."  "I just want what's best for you."  "Do you know how much time it takes to put together an album?  Who's going to listen to it?"  "I only say this because I love you."  "When are you going to get a real job?"  They usually don't mean anything subversive.  Their intentions are good.  They might actually love you.  But their words are, nevertheless, meat grinder poison and very difficult to ignore. 

It's the love that gets you.  It's easy to brush off the opinions of a scuzball you don't like anyway.  It's extremely hard to brush off the napalm stickiness of bad advice from a loved one.  For us insecurity addicts, we usually love scuzballs, so we're screwed.  Their advice is, by definition, the recommendation of a scuzball anyway, but we listen to it because they're a loved one.  It's a Catch 22, an eternal mobius strip without beginning or end.  At least that's what it seems like.  Throw in a generous and kindly hearted insecurity addict and they'll be a frog that boils.  You know the adage: slightly sadistic curiosity in a pair of scientists who did an experiment with frogs.  If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it'll jump out again immediately.  But put a frog in room temperature aqua and slowly heat it, and it'll sit there until it boils to death.  I did that for decades and got decidedly blistered.

But I finally wised up and hopped out, slippery skinned and steaming, but alive.  As a kid, I'd been beaten and raped repeatedly, as a young woman I chose educated versions of my father to stoke the fire and keep me uncomfortably warm.  It's what I knew.  My self love was so low, my own opinion was worthless to me.  I didn't trust it, I didn't find any value in it.  Why should I?  I was the idiot who got us in this mess in the first place.  I allowed others to talk me out of my dream, all because I loved them.  Some of them even loved me back.

So recognize the truth behind all words, well-meaning or not.  No one should ever give up on their dreams.  Life forces reality on us all; we all have to earn a living so we can eat.  But no matter what you do, no matter what career you're in, enjoyable or otherwise, and there are a lot of otherwises, never let go of your dream.  It's a siren call that never goes away.  If you ignore it, there will always be that uncomfortable place of blisters and misery bubbling away somewhere inside of you.  Give yourself a break, swallow your fear and be courageous.  Chase your dream and hop out of that pot.  Believe in yourself, even when it's impossible, even when you sneer at the very thought. Believe.  Like anything else, Hope is an exercise.  Do your sit ups.

Love, R

Monday, April 4, 2011

Googly-Eyed Giddy Glee

I got a package in the mail today from my daughter Rhianna.  She had called to tell me it was on its way, a smile in her voice as she described my possible reaction to whatever fun thing she had sent.  Rhianna has a knack for giving the perfect present for oddball me, so I was excited.  Only two other people alive know the weirdo soul of me and give gifts accordingly.  One is the man I love, the other is my highly artistic librarian friend.  He gave me a wishing tree for Valentine's Day.  I gave him a pink skull candle holder.  The librarian periodically gives me the most hilarious and/or fantastic t-shirts in existence.  I gave her a dog-eared pulp fiction crap novel about a damsel in distress nurse with large breasts.  Found it at a garage sale.  As for Rhianna, don't get me started on the avalanche of strange presents exchanged over the years.  When she was sixteen, I put a large dragon-handled knife in her Easter Basket, right beside the purple Peeps.  My friend Captain, who was visiting for the holiday, remarked, "What the hell kind of mom gives her daughter a gigantic KNIFE in her Easter basket?!?"  Rhianna replied, "A cool one."  Soul to soul, my daughter, and my two marvelous others.  We have all loved the strange and conventionally unappreciated things in this world.  So when the package from Rhianna sat perched on my front step when I got home today, I did a little hop for joy, grabbed it like a line backer, and ran into the house.

I opened it with my roomie.  Inside were two packages; one for me, one for her.  She was stunned by Rhianna's generosity, but that's Rhianna.  We tore open the little presents inside the gift bag and squealed with glee.  Rhianna had visited from the Midwest last fall, and remembered something my roomie had mentioned two things she'd like to have.  Both wistful musings resided inside her gift bag. 

Mine were straight from heaven.  Three little candles depicting the old Universal Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman and Frankenstein were inside one package.  The second housed a coffee cup with a white brick background and the scrawled red letters: Pink Floyd The Wall.  I shall sip some sweet sweet tea from that cup.  Chamomile, perhaps.  The third present had me bursting into tears.  It was a DVD set of the BBC masterpiece Planet Earth.  I watched that series with Rhianna when we both lived in the same town, and she used to joke about my floods of tears for every episode.  I was just overwhelmed by the beauty in each chapter.  There was a little note on the side of the gift bag that simply read "Mom" with a little heart drawn beside it.


It's moments like this when I feel the incredible gift that is my daughter most keenly.  Not just that she gave me a present, but the fact that she chose the absolutely perfect present for her strange, creature feature-loving mom.  That she knows me so well, loves me that much.  Sometimes we get so overwhelmed by people being awful, by our history of people being awful, that we just sort of compress into blobs from the gravity, too heavy to lift our lips in a smile.  All that can be brushed away on the gossamer sweetness of an ugly little candle. 

Life has a way of tickling us out of our sadness sometimes, even when we fight the very thought of heart-warming joy.  We simply have to pay attention, value ourselves enough to be ticklish (it takes time but is worth the effort) and allow a giggle or two to escape.  I cackled like a happy Tex Avery witch when I opened my gifts.  My lovely, ridiculous, magnificent, unexpected gifts.  From a daughter who loves me.  Three years ago, I would have smiled tearfully and thought only of how much my son hates me.  Time heals all wounds, even if they ache forever when it rains.  That's why sunshine like today is so important.  Emotional vitamin D, every bit as important as what we feed our fleshy envelopes.  If you're in a dark place right now, my friends, don't despair.  Fight the gravity and the ghastly misery by dragging yourself into a patch of sunshine.  The world of thick depression can be chipped away bit by bit if you just keep at it.  Like a sculptor working to free beauty from the stone, you'll be amazed at what a masterpiece you are inside.  Because you are.  All of you.  Masterpieces.  Just keep on chipping and you'll find it.  Believe.

Love, R