Commitment Issues

I’ve got a 25% More! bottle of conditioner in the shower.  I am tired of the smell of that conditioner.  I’m ready to move on.  I want a new scent.

That doesn’t mean I have commitment issues, does it?

I’m not being silly, here.  I mean it.

Can commitment issues be detected back in junior high when I couldn’t decide between Flex or Prell, or Levi 501s or flares?

Wouldn’t it make sense that if you hesitate to commit to a deodorant, then you probably won’t commit to a relationship, either?

 

(I’ll have you know that I am a frugal person.  I’ll continue to use up that annoying bottle of conditioner, even if I use too much each time, and it makes my bangs greasy.  Maybe I could bribe Jen to finish it, or use it for shaving my legs.)

 

I’ve noticed that usually men are said to have commitment issues.  Why do women want to commit more readily than men?  (When I first typed that sentence, I wrote, ‘Why do women want to be committed more …’  Freudian?)  After all, don’t we do most of the work of relating in a relationship?  It occurs to me that if I am commitment-phobic, it’s probably because I’m tired of doing all the relating.

 

In my defense, I have a cutting board that I’ve owned since 1987.  I’ve lived with that cutting board longer than anyone I’ve had a relationship with, including my parents – even if I count the times I moved back in with my mom.

That makes me laugh.

Should that make me sad?

That cutting board has survived many moves.  It is the perfect kitchen tool – the right shape, reliable, dependable, and the right size.  If only I could find a ….

 

I once received a gift of a glass cutting board.  (Ironically, it may have been a wedding gift.)  I hated that thing.  No one can convince me that cutting boards should be made of glass.  I’d swear the chef’s knife would wince each time I’d attempt to slice an onion on it.  I’d rather drag my nails across a chalk board than cut on glass.

That “board” was a well-intentioned gift.  Should I have stayed committed to it?  I think, NOT!

 

For that matter, why must I defend myself for being hesitant to commit?  Why do we applaud the capacity to commit without evaluating what it is that one commits to? Whether it’s an office or a cutting board or conditioner or a relationship, if it isn’t a good fit, isn’t it best to forgo commitment and make a change?

Would a sense of frugality dictate that one ought to stay because of the investment already made?  That’s a sunk cost!  Move on, already.  (Except for conditioners which, one could argue, aren’t really necessary, anyway.  Besides, one is no better than another, but most of us seem to think we need conditioner.)

 

How about we commit to life?  I say we commit to experience.  Commit to change and process and the journey.  (Even if the word journey is used too often.)   So what!  I commit to getting as much out of this journey as possible.

I commit to me!

And apparently this annoying bottle of conditioner.  And flares and 501s, and my beautiful cutting board, but not deodorant.  You can’t make me.

 

 

“I’ve Missed Talking to You”

Normally, she’d have gone through the self-check line, but they were busy.  Her four items made their way down the conveyor belt in time for the clerk to say, “That’s all for you?  Looks like Italian tonight?  I’ve the best recipe for lasagna, of course it calls for spinach and my family would shoot me if I dared put anything green in a meal.  Do you know what I mean?  Like they think I’m trying to kill ’em or something.  Little do they know, spinach is one of the best things for ’em.  Do you like spinach?”

She smiled as she inserted her credit card in the chip reader.  She started to give an answer about spinach, but the clerk went on.  Luckily the boy bagging her groceries had already finished.  She said thanks, without having to jump into the spinach-in-lasagna debate.

 

She had two more files to close and then she’d be done for the day.  She opened a file just as a co-worker approached.  She wondered about keeping her head down and not making eye contact so as to avoid conversation.  If she acknowledged her co-worker, she’d be enveloped in drama and details from the previous weekend that had nothing to do with her.  But even keeping her head down wouldn’t protect her.  “Wow.  You must have a lot going on.  What’s that file about?”  What could have taken 20 minutes turned into 40.

 

Between the teller at the bank and the clerk at the post office, she learned about the lives of people that she would never meet.

She knew secrets about people who didn’t know her name.

She knows things about folks that they only learn during the process of talking to her.  She’s heard people say, “I guess I needed to tell someone that.”  “It feels good to unload.”  “I haven’t thought of that in years, I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”

If she had a dollar for every time someone said, “I’ve never told anyone that before,” she could afford to move to a deserted island.

 

A long time ago she realized that she was some sort of conduit for processing other people’s stuff.   It was not her job to fix anything.

She just listened.  She listened and let it pass through her.

Sometimes they felt a little better having been heard.  Often times, they felt embarrassed for having divulged so much that ought to be personal.  They’d laugh at themselves and apologize, and do the same thing the next time she saw them.

It was as if they couldn’t help themselves.

 

One evening found her at a social engagement that she hadn’t wanted to attend.  She’d tried coming up with an excuse.  She wanted to stay home, but The Voice said, “Come on.  You never go out.  It’ll be good for you.”

She went.  He talked.  A lot.  At the end of the night he said, “I’ve missed talking to you.”

She smiled.

What could she say?  “Thank you?”  “I missed listening to you?”  “I’m glad you like to talk to me?”

He drove away as she turned the key in her door.

She put her purse on the table and saw the cat waiting for her in their favorite chair – the one where they sat together in silence.

The Time-Out Chair

I attended elementary school in an old brick building that, many years later, turned into a church –  I think.  The church was named Saint Some-One-Or-Other, but I can’t remember which saint.  I think it’s now empty, but I’m not sure on that, either.  There was one class for each grade and it seems as though there were only about 20 kids in each grade.

Even though there were only 20 sixth-graders out on the playground, those opinionated kids could get in a ruckus in a real hurry.

That’s what social media is reminding me of – sixth graders blowing off stink, on a playground.

Everyone is yelling.

He yells over them.  She yells over him.  They yell over each other.

No one is listening.

Everyone conveniently forgot the tenet about not speaking if you don’t have anything nice to say.

They’ve forgotten tolerance, and more importantly, they’ve forgotten kindness.

 

I never put my kids in a time-out.  I don’t know why I never liked that form of discipline.  Is the idea that the kid is supposed to sit in a chair, face the corner, and think about how to behave better?  I guess because I’m a natural born over-thinker, I never thought the time-out chair was a good idea.

If – when I was a sixth grader – I’d ever been ordered to a time-out chair, I’m afraid of what I’d have over-thought about.  Back then the subjects could have run the gamut from:  Why do some sixth grade girls have big chests while others haven’t even started their periods?  Why do almost all girls have crushes on sixth grade boys who are so clueless?  Is world domination out of the question or a distinct possibility?  Do I want to even mess with dominating a world inhabited by sixth grade boys?

(I’ve a vague recollection of being sent to my room, which is pretty much the same thing, but for an introvert, that’s like a snow day off from school!)

I knew, when my two were very young, that they had acquired my high-level over-thinking skills.  I wasn’t going to give them an opportunity to over/out think me, so the only time-out chair we ever had was a cute little wooden thing we painted for a school fundraiser.  We ended up buying it to put in the garden.  (Imagine crickets, potato beetles and earthworms assigned to that chair for their time-outs.)

 

Now, however, a time-out chair would be heavenly.  I’m not sure I’d even want the internet in my corner.  I’d have a delicious chunk of time to happily ruminate on the usual subjects – cabernet vs. pinot vs. merlot; techniques for texturing the ceiling after popcorn removal; how to reclaim a neglected garden spot; do I really need AWD when front wheel is less expensive; why is it taking me so long to read the Harry Potter series when I’m enjoying it so much (see aforementioned time-sucking subjects); and what will I do with myself when kids are grown and gone?

I’m not pretending that any of these subjects are even remotely interesting to anyone else, but they aren’t unkind or intolerant or likely to raise my blood pressure.  (That said, the popcorn ceiling removal was a pretty good workout.)

 

Anyhow, the ruckus on both social media and the airwaves has me fantasizing that if I were Queen for a Day, I’d assign everyone to their own time-out chair – especially the sixth graders.

 

 

You Look Familiar

“Jesse!  Where’ve you been?”  Hank walked to my side of the bar for a hug.  “I see you stopped writing about narcissism.  Does that mean you survived?”  Hank grinned and walked to his side of the bar.

“Funny, Hank.  I’ve missed you, too.”  I draped my jacket over my knees as I sat on a bar stool.

“But, seriously.  Did you run out of things to say on that subject?”  Hank grabbed for a glass and, before pouring the usual, looked to see if I might ask for something else.  I smiled and he let the amber flow into the glass.

“Ha!  Like that’s even possible.  You, of all people, would know the answer to that question.”

 

Hank walked to the end of the bar to take an order.  Just then a woman walked over to stand next to me.  As she waited to place her order, she looked up at the television screen.  She winced, turned to me and said, “Can you believe ….   Hey, you look familiar.  Do I know you?”

I smiled.  “I’m not sure.  Maybe.  I have that kind of face – that ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’ face.  People tend to think they recognize me from somewhere.”

Hank returned.  “Yeah, she gets that a lot.”

He greeted the new customer and said, “This is Jesse.  She has this thing about her.  Lots of folks think they know her from somewhere.”

She reached out to shake hands.  “Do you work at the bank?”

“Nope.”  I smiled and took a drink.

She ordered a chardonnay.  “I know… it’s that coffee shop on the corner of 9th and Main.”

I looked and Hank and laughed.  “Nope.”

She took her wine and turned to walk over to a table where girlfriends waited.  She looked at me and said, “I’ll think of it.  Nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”  I looked at Hank and shrugged my shoulders.

 

“So, Hank, why do I get that a lot?  What is it about my face that people I’ve never met seem to think they know me from somewhere?”

It’s not your face, Jesse, it’s the way folks feel when they are with you.  You see them.  That feeling is familiar.  They may not have felt that way in a real long time, but they know it.  They crave that feeling.  They remember how it feels to be seen, and they think that must mean they know you from somewhere.  It’s not your face, Jesse, it’s who you are.”

 

 

Oh! The Problems

I’m not well-read.  I’m not one of those intellectual sorts – those cool people – who can quote verse or lines from a classic.  Could be that my memory sucks.

I tell my kids that I’m fun to watch movies with because I could have watched it last weekend, but by this weekend, I won’t remember how it ends.  So, yes, if you want to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the 47th time, I’d love to.  (But, seriously, that movie is a favorite.)

I’ve never gotten into poetry, which is weird because I love art.  I occasionally read a poem that clicks with me, and then I think, “See? I could get into poetry,” but I never pursue poets or collect favorite poems. What am I supposed to do with a poem?  What does it fix?  Does it make me better?

You probably love poetry, and at this moment, you are typing a response about how poetry leads to escape, and transformation, and understanding and beauty.

And one day, when I’m not the mom and the dad and the realtor and the teacher, I’ll find time to read poetry.

Maybe.

 

I start a lot of books, and read until my mood changes.  I have several different books laying around the house – non-fiction, self-help, fiction and more self-help.  Depending on my mood, I’ll pick up one, read a bit, run out of tea, make a cup, and come back.  By the time, the tea has brewed, my mood has changed, and I pick up a different book.

Maybe I have commitment issues.  (That made me laugh.)

A few years ago, I declared that I was done with self-help books.  I checked out two at the library last Tuesday.  I never will be done with self-help.  It’s an addiction, like coffee and complaining.  All three feel good, even if they aren’t always good for me.

So it’s no surprise that when I was driving to the office with the muffled sounds of public radio filling the car, thinking about phone calls to make, and documents to download, Garrison Keillor read a line from a novel that I wasn’t familiar with.  (Garrison Keillor could very likely make me enjoy poetry, but I digress.)

 

“Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own,” from Nelson Algren’s novel, A Walk on the Wild Side.

 

I was pulling into a parking spot as he read the words.  Luckily I didn’t scrape the car next to mine.

My mind raced with, “How come I’ve never heard that before?”  “Sure wish someone had told me that 45 years ago as I was about to venture out into the dangerous world of relationships!”  “Now you tell me?

(To be clear, I changed the gender to make it more applicable to my experience.  Never sleep with a man …..)

As I set up my laptop to get some work done, I thought through the list – it’s not a long list – of “relationships” and their problems.  Okay, the list of problems was long.

Yep.  He had more issues than me.  Whoa, he had way more problems than me.  Uh huh, he had problems that I shouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot pole.

And then I thought about all my problems.  Who’d want to touch those with a 10-foot pole?

WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS.

Gawd!  Why do we bother sleeping with anyone?  Show me one who doesn’t have problems!

The worst part is, the problems aren’t revealed until the vulnerability sets in, and that’s usually after we’ve jumped in bed.  Could we really discover those issues beforehand?  On a first date:  “So, here’s my list of issues.  See that one there?  I’m working on it.  That one there, well, honestly, that’ll never be resolved, no matter how much I throw at it.  Show me your list.”  He reaches into his jacket pocket.  “Here’s mine.”  Some are highlighted.  One, in particular, has been crossed out so much she can’t read the letters underneath.  “What’s that one?”  He winces, “Oh, that’s too embarrassing.”

They shake hands, split the bill and decide they would be better off not sleeping together.

Right.  Like that is part of any relevant reality.

 

I’m still chewing on the line from Algren’s novel, as the last stack of documents come off the printer, warmed by the process of tumbling through the machine.  I decide, “Yep.  Never getting into another relationship again.  Never.  Never.  Never.”  Too scary.  Too many problems.  Too much isn’t revealed until it’s too late.  On my side, and his.

I could take up poetry, learn to paint as well as 14, listen to more of Keillor’s soothing voice, become well-read, or learn to love fishing like 18, and keep my list of problems to myself.

 

 

 

Life as Art

She’s been a painter since she first dipped her fingertips into tempera.  Over the years, I’ve seen her work evolve.  Her early work was more realistic – good, strong, proportional and deliberate.  Now, as she’s matured, I see more of her soul in her work.  The colors are richer.  The light has depth.  I can see she’s more confident in her style.

I got to introduce her to Jen and Will.

We stumbled through the small talk about how crowded the art show was, how many years had she been doing this, and Gee! how about the weather.

Once the awkward was out of the way, Jen shared how she doesn’t like the pressure that comes with a commissioned piece.  I know she was relieved to hear that this artist felt the same way.  When working on a commission, it’s as if the Universe is standing by, ready to put the brakes on the flow.  You could be tuned into your playlist, in the zone, broad brushstrokes creating magic, and suddenly you remember that you have to please someone with this piece.   *Cue the sound of screeching brakes.*  Now the process isn’t full of ease.  You become overly critical and self conscious.  The harsh words line up to whittle away at your confidence.  “They’ll hate that color.  That’s not what an owl has ever looked like.  Who said you could paint?”

Side note:

When you are passionate about something – the kind of passion that happens when all you want to do is think/talk/breathe about that thing – find another who is passionate about the same.  Talk of that thing together.  Feel how the air is sweeter and your lungs fill all the way up.  See how when they mention something that you’ve experienced, you feel like you are now a member of a secret group.  Finally, you belong with others who speak a private language that not many others understand.

If your kid is passionate about something, and you are privileged to watch her engage with another who is passionate about the same thing, then you will get a glimpse of why this passion lights her soul.

 

We talked of style changes.  We talked about color and layering and subject matter and technique.  We talked about when it’s hard to create – commissioned pieces.  She told of the few times she gets inspired and starts a piece in the late afternoon, finishes the next morning, and has this crazy desire to look over her shoulder and ask, “Where did that come from?”

She laughed about how she might dislike something she’s created, only to have someone call her, months after they’ve seen it, to tell her that they can’t quit thinking about it, and ask if it is still for sale.  She could drive herself nuts trying to figure out why that happens, or she could just keep painting.

I asked how she would describe the evolution in her work.  She mentioned that when she looks at older pieces, she’ll either be horrified or amazed.  “Who painted that?  Or, wow…  that’s good!  Really good!”  She grinned as she said that her work has always reflected her different moods.  “You can tell when I’m in a happy place, or when I’m in a funk, based on the colors I’m using at the time, but I don’t really know what explains the evolution.”

We thanked her for taking the time to share with us.

 

The three of us talked of our favorite styles as we walked back to the car.  Will wants to learn to print larger photos.  Jen likes the miniature watercolors.

As I drove across the bridge, I started making comparisons between painting and writing, and that led to life.

I thought of the different chapters of my life as different artists.  There was the Jackson Pollock phase in college when I tried everything I could think of to see what would stick.

I enjoyed the single mom’s version of a Norman Rockwell when the kids and I were on our own and enjoying a simple rhythm and a set routine.

Then, of course, there was a brief period that I would categorize as The Scream.  Okay, maybe more than one period.

Several years remind me of a Russell Chatham – pleasantly hazy, comfortable to look at, evoking a certain mood, and not sharp enough in detail to make me want to look away.

If we are lucky, we evolve, like the artist’s work.  Many times, we look back and we’re shocked by some of the “work” we’ve done.  Other times, we may be pleasantly surprised.  Like the artist, we often don’t know what explains our evolution.

 

When you look back over the years, what comes to mind?  Can you think of a particular artist’s style that represents a group of years, or maybe a single year?  I’m betting we all have our own version of The Scream.

We are all works in progress.

It’s good to think of ourselves as works of art in progress.

Out in the Open

Hello!

Thanks for being here.

I’ve had a bunch of new posts churning around in my mind for several months – new posts for this new blog.  I’d given thought to starting out by writing something shiny and motivating and positive.  As much as I’d like to focus on that side of me, it’s just not where I am every day.

At least I’m honest.

I tend to gravitate to the intense or the darkly funny.  (I avoid scary at all costs, if I can.)  Sometimes I get on Pinterest and pin to manifest a new life by the beach with a stack of books and a beverage.  When I read, it’s most often about how to sort out the human drama and make sense of why things happen the way they do.

Recently, Jen and I were discussing the fact that humans are riddled with contradictions.  I’m no different.

I do like motivational quotes, but we’ve been force-fed those for so long that we become desensitized to them.  Maybe that’s just me?  Take a rock, a babbling brook, add a quote from some guru and magically your life will change.  I don’t think so.

I do know, that every day brings an opportunity to learn something that helps us along our way.  Maybe it’ll be something positive.  If we’re lucky, it’s an exchange with another who might be working to make progress along his or her own path.

Sometimes we’ll be presented with something funny.  Yesterday, I used the restroom at the ski hill.  A mom was helping her four-year-old use the potty and wash her hands.  Her daughter was resisting the process.  Each time her mom urged, the daughter replied by meowing.  The mom was clearly frustrated, and the daughter replied to her mom’s frustration by saying, “Meow, meow,” which clearly made the mom more frustrated.  As they turned to walk out of the restroom, the girl looked at me and meowed.  I meowed back.

 

It occurs to me that I could use that approach with more things in life.

 

This morning I read this line from J K Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“He only knew that he did not want to see their looks of horror; that would make the whole thing seem worse and therefore more difficult to face.”

Immediately, I thought of children.

I thought of all the things kids might experience, and the hard decisions they make when figuring out which of those experiences they might discuss. Whether they choose to discuss with friends or family or their teacher, doesn’t matter.  If only they’d bring that stuff out in the open, they might get the support they need, or they’d learn that others are frightened by the same thing, and that they aren’t weird for being afraid.

And I thought of adults, who are really just kids with responsibilities.  I thought of the things adults refuse to discuss because they are afraid that if the light shines on what they have to deal with, they won’t have the strength to continue dealing.  How many are buried under the weight of stuff they think they can’t handle? Of course there is risk in bringing their stuff to light, but if they don’t, how can they ever be met with understanding, or an offer of help?

Maybe we need to be the vulnerable girl in the restroom who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  We need to risk meowing to see if anyone meows back.

And, perhaps more importantly, when we hear a meow, we need to look up from our phone, put down the latte, and acknowledge the person brave enough to meow.

On that note, I’m going to meow at this messy house, and go back to reading Harry Potter.