Thursday, June 17, 2010

limited but fertile possibilities are offered by this brochure

When the going gets tough, sometimes it helps me to take a step back. Actually, it doesn't just help; it's completely necessary. You can step back and look at the situation from another angle, or you can step back and try to remember what you were doing before things started going off the tracks, and either way the footing might be a little more secure than it is now. Two nights ago I had a panic attack; last night I had a surprisingly productive practice session, an invigorating and enlightening phone date with a friend, and made the best brussels sprouts I've ever had, bastardized slightly* on a whim from this recipe. Which is more important, the bad and hopefully isolated incident or the string of affirming and positive ones? It's hard to say, and I hesitate to even begin to quantify such things, so I won't. What matters is what I take away, and for that I'm sticking with the brussels sprouts.

During my conversation last night, it came up that some people believe that your romantic partner is the one who is supposed to offer you the most support, to help you the most with difficult things, to be the most there for you. I interrupted, surprising myself with my vehemence: "No! You have to be that for yourself!" My voice was loud, and my blood was up, and I felt unexpectedly angry. It felt sort of good. It reminded me that, actually, I do believe that. I believe that the most important person for each of us should be ourselves, and I don't believe that that denigrates our partners. In fact, it's like flattery: I'm so awesome and I can take care of myself and I'm totally a self-sufficient grown-up person, and hey, I'm dating you! So you're awesome too! I believe that your sense of self should be as precious to you as something shiny and golden and full of weight, that you should hold it close and defend it fiercely. How can you expect to relate to somebody else as an equal if you don't believe that you are equals?

Even though I'm pretty sure that people who believe in the partner-as-supporter ideal would agree with me that a strong sense of self-worth, self-sufficiency, is important, they sure as hell aren't saying it. They've saying that somebody else is responsible for your happiness, for your ability to be awesome; they're saying that you can shift that difficult task to somebody else, and they will take care of it for you. But if you don't have an internal support structure, if you don't trust and believe in and love and fully appreciate yourself, how can you expect somebody else to provide that for you? I think that can only breed laziness at best and resentment at worst. I feel like I've heard (or seen enacted, or intuited the presence of) the partner argument a lot more times than I've heard the self argument; I think that we give a lot of lip service to self-awesomeness, but I think there's a cultural tendency to raise our glasses to ourselves and then go right on leaning on the people we love the most.

I'm still worked up. This is probably partially--although not entirely; this stuff is important--because I've been having a hard time with this myself lately, not the leaning-on-my-partners part so much as the believing-in-myself part. I'm having difficulty seeing my own value. Hence panic attacks. Hence depressed days. Hence feeling like I'm being needy when I'm asking for things that are totally legitimate things to ask for, like help with the dishes or comfort after an upsetting experience. If I don't believe I have worth, then asking for something sounds like this in my head: "Can you maybe possibly do this tiny thing for me? I know I totally don't in any way deserve it and I haven't done anything to warrant your doing this thing for me, but maybe you are so nice that you'll do it anyway." It annoys the shit out of me, and furthermore, it isn't true. I know that. So why is it still happening?

A step back. Before I began this relationship, I believed I had worth. My relationship didn't change that, and I still believe it in my heart, but there's a disconnect between my heart and my head that scares me enough that I want to take a step back. Just one, just inside my own head. I don't know what's going on, but it can stop. There can be more brussels sprouts, less panic attacks. My partners are amazing. I am amazing. Believing that is the first step. I can go on from there.

*I added some garlic because I was short on shallots and used white vinegar instead of apple cider.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

the hot blood in my veins

So. I haven’t been around here much lately. That’s because lately it seems like virtually everyone and everything in my life needs so much, so much time and attention and conversation and consideration, that I feel positively beset by responsibilities, and I’m being forced into cutting corners where I can. Actually, this entry could be considered a stand-in for any number of emails, phone calls, skype calls, and letters that I just haven’t had the time or heart to respond to recently.

I’ve always been somebody who gives, for better or for worse, and although I’ve made a lot of headway in terms of keeping that exchange healthy, right now I feel considerably overwhelmed. Every day I’m riding my bike purposefully instead of for the sheer hell of it, writing emails instead of writing in my journal, practicing and secluding myself with my unreadable pieces of music instead of walking two blocks to stare at the lake and allow myself to relax. Everything I do has a function, and very few of those functions are, strictly speaking, about me. It’s wearing me down, this constant need, this seeming urgency. I can barely sit still, and yet when I do I’m completely exhausted, emptied out.

This happens to me periodically, and I never seem to know how to handle it gracefully. The problem is that all of these needs are related to things that are also genuine wants: I want to be there for my friends and loved ones, I want to play interesting music, I want to lead a purposeful and productive and fulfilling life. The problem is not so much that these things are part of my life—they always are, to some extent—but that the part I assign them in my life is sometimes misplaced. The truth is that the meanings of actions are colored by intent, and lately my intent has been merely to survive, to get through. I’m not enjoying the things that I want; I’m enduring them to get somewhere else. And when I allow want to become need, when I turn my actions into means instead of ends, I am less happy.

I suspect that this particular run through this cycle is hitting me hard because I wasn’t expecting to be here again. Here’s where I admit to a small bit of seemingly-unrelated narcissism: when I’m down, I go back and read my own blog archives, happy insightful posts about waking up and learning how to be happy. It helps, although I often feel like past me is a hell of a lot smarter than present me. (I’m hoping that’s just the mysterious power of hindsight.) This time last year I was in the full-on throes of personal epiphany, learning how to be happy and myself and still get things done, and my writing reflected that. This year I’m winding once again through the torturous passes of figuring shit out, the slow grinding movement that is the precursor to better things, and it feels like a setback.

It’s not, though. I feel like I got stuck on the feeling of radical change and it’s keeping me from appreciating what’s happening now. Last year was all about that change—crazy growth spurts, massive amounts of new knowledge flooding in, a wicked learning curve. This year, however, appears to be all about learning how to grow within the context of relative stability, of the framework that I was learning how to build last year. What I’m trying to say is that even change has to change. Last year was a flurry; this year is more like tidal pull, erosion, a slow shift. I don’t want to discount now just because the pace is different. I’m readjusting, realigning, looking for the good that I can use and discarding the bad that is just holding me down.

And so, I’m taking a step back. If this summer is about slow learning, then I need to let that happen and not try to turn it into something it’s not, namely last summer. I need to relax my hold, take a breath, and allow my needs to magically transform back into wants. And so, if you don’t hear from me in a phone call or chat or email or on facebook or whatever for a little while, don’t worry; I’m just getting back on my feet so I can be a better friend, a better listener, in the future.