Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities that he does not possess..." ~Samuel Johnson

About a month ago I received an email from an old friend. This particular person has not spoken to me for a couple of years. He requested that silence and I believe in honoring such requests, so the email came as a surprise. I believe his purpose in writing was to offer an explanation concerning the silence, divulge his negative feelings about our friendship, and let me know he has moved beyond it. Naturally, there was nothing complimentary nor kind in his words, nor were they, in my estimation, entirely accurate. But I also believe in allowing people to draw their own conclusions and explore their own feelings regardless of how those might reflect on me.

I've read his email a couple of times. Tolkien Boy, a bit impatiently, said: "I don't know why you're torturing yourself with this." At the time the statement was made, I was not in an emotional condition to explain, so I said nothing more than, "I'm not."

And I wasn't. I just wanted to make sure...

You see, I'm aware that I have an unfortunate habit of stating my mind. I do it often when with a person with whom I feel comfortable. More than one friend has borne the brunt of my bluntness. Sometimes I try to backpedal, soften the blow, but it's difficult because if I said it, I probably meant it. The only way to excuse oneself when that happens is to admit to idiocy and tactlessness, which is what I usually have to do.

In the past, I've spent a lot of time with the email friend. I've said lots of things. I suppose I wanted to read and reread his evaluation of my interaction with him because I don't want to have another friend leave for similar reasons. Honestly, I don't really care about the opinion of the person who emailed because he's made it abundantly clear that I am not someone with whom he wishes to spend time, and as my time is a premium, I'll simply move to someone who cares about me. But...

Unless I know you well, I don't talk a lot. I listen. People like to talk. I like to hear what they have to say. One of my physical therapists said, "I don't know what it is about you, but I always end up telling you my life history. You probably know more about me than my husband." That's a huge exaggeration, but she did tell me a great deal about herself--details spanning her teen life to her sex life. I'm a safe person to tell. I have no one to whom I would repeat the stories.

However, once I get to know you a little better, especially if you've been in my life at least a couple of years, I talk a lot. I talk about many things (from my teen life to my sex life--well, maybe not quite that much--I don't really talk about my teen life) and I rarely filter what I say. I offer opinions, I expose my judgmental side, I interrupt, I'm sometimes crass, and I say potentially hurtful or offensive things without even noticing that I'm being unforgivably rude.

This is why, I suppose, I don't often get to know people well. I'm aware that I'm not always the nicest person up close.

So when I receive an email detailing all my faults and shortcomings, while I might not agree with the author, I take his words very seriously. I read them, evaluate current relationships, and try to decide if my behavior needs realignment. Most often it does; and so I go through a process where I think of things I've said to my loved ones, wish I could rescind most statements, and make a promise to myself that I'll think before I speak in the future.

It never works.

I suppose the only bright side to all this is:
1. You never have to wonder how I feel about something--ask me, I'll tell you.
2. You don't have to worry that I'm talking about you behind your back if I'm saying it to your face.

Maybe that's not a bright side.

The thing is, most of the time I'm not saying nasty, mean things, I'm just talking. I spew information about myself, dish out unsolicited advice, and verbalize deep feelings. It's uncomfortable, no doubt. I know this because my listener doesn't balance my personal information with his own, people rarely offer advice to me, and my feelings are obviously not reciprocated. Therefore, even if the person wishes to share with me, or feels similarly, it's certain they feel uncomfortable divulging such feelings and/or information. Clearly they have an appropriateness filter.

I need to get one of those.

Tomorrow, when I get to work, I will respond to my month-old email. I actually have not put it off because I didn't wish to respond, but because my life has been extremely busy and it was not on my priority list. However, I'll take care of that tomorrow. My response will, no doubt, be clear and forthright because that's how I speak. It will probably incite more aggravation in the recipient, but that can't be helped--or if it can, I choose not to take the time or make the effort to do so.

Therapist once told me that I was very aware of things people believe are my shortcomings, but I do not see them as such. He said I view them as distinct personality traits that make me Samantha. He could be right. I don't believe he is, but I'm willing to entertain the possibility.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Today the bumblebees arrived. The white blossoms in my crabapple tree not only smell lovely, they buzz with the constant sound of striped, fuzzy bodies flying from limb to limb. DJ used to spend hours watching and listening to them from his upstairs window. Often I would join him. Adam now owns that window. He doesn't love bees.

Darrin has a terrible habit of cutting the lower boughs from our Christmas tree and spreading them across the garden plot near my front door. The pine needles inhibit the growth of my spring flowers and I usually remove the boughs before March is over. This year I wasn't able to do that. My flowers are trying to grow in spite of the hindrance. Tiny pinks and bleeding hearts peep through the long needles, reminding me of my need to remove the dead branches. The dandelions have spread to my lawn. It's time for some serious yard work.

Tabitha and I have been watching the hawks. They're pairing off now. We see them circling and diving as they harvest numerous prairie dogs. I would feel badly for the rodents if they weren't so prone to throwing themselves beneath the wheels of my car when I drive past the prairie dog towns. There's no way to avoid them, and I'd rather have them be dinner for the hawks than roadkill. It's not as much fun to watch the birds from my front porch as it is to spy on them during my morning runs on the prairie ridge above my home, but my hip is not ready for long outdoor runs yet. Each day it grows stronger, though. I'm hopeful I'll be running outside by June.

Adam had a heart-to-heart with me last week. He let me know that he's realized I was right about that get-good-grades-in-high-school thing. His amazing test scores, it seems, serve only to let the universities know he's brilliant but lazy. Every person he spoke to at his universities of choice let Adam know that while he will be accepted, he will  be offered scholarships only after he attends a semester or two at a different school during which time he would, of course, earn extremely high grades. Adam was a tiny bit devastated.

Adam further let me know that in spite of the hours of training he had put in, he was not really interested in being an EMT. I suggested he get a different job--any job--if that was the case. By the next day he had secured a job at a call center affiliated with the university. The pay will be half what he would make as an EMT, but I have to admit that a reluctant EMT is not someone I would like working on me when my life is on the line.

Adam ended our conversation by asking, "Do you ever get tired of being right?"

How I wish he could understand that I'm often right only because I've spent so much of my life being wrong about everything.

I have a recital on Monday next week and then the month of May is filled with accompanying for festivals and competitions. I will teach at the university briefly, for summer music institute which ends the second week of June. My hope is that in July I'll be able to take some days off to rest a bit.

I met with Therapist on Monday. He is always encouraging, pointing out the many obstacles I'm overcoming bit by bit. Unfortunately, there are some things happening which seem to be beyond my control right now. Therapist has assigned a number of exercises to help combat the probable outcome. I feel exhausted just thinking about them. There are definitely moments when I simply want to let things just happen, regardless of whether or not they make me unhealthy or unhappy. Then I cry a little bit (or sometimes a lot), whine about unfairness, wish things were different, feel sorry for myself--and then I move in the direction I'm supposed to. I pretend that's what everyone does when faced with difficult challenges. It makes me feel less like a coward.

In the meantime, I intend to enjoy newly blooming flowers, circling hawks, abundant sunshine, incredibly blue skies, fragrant cherry and crabapple blossoms, and my bumblebees. And maybe, when the afternoon breeze kicks up, I'll take a break from work and make some cookies. Therapist says the smell of baking cookies makes everything seem better and I agree.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Time for the leopard to change her spots

I find the things I'm about to write incredibly confusing.

I think I'm starting to understand this friendship thing. Maybe. To be more clear, I believe I'm beginning to understand the part of friendship which allows people to go away. I think it's because for the first time in my life I'm allowing myself to move beyond my selfish need to "keep" people, into the part where I understand that they have lives separate from mine. Not only do I understand it, I find myself participating in it.

Probably it began when, for the first time in seven years, I forgot the birthday of a friend. It's not really remarkable that I forgot; this particular person hasn't really spoken to me for about three of those years. This was by his own arrangement and I had no say in the matter, but I continued to send email birthday wishes for two years and then, this year I forgot. Darrin reminded me.

I realized after I sent this year's birthday email that I didn't feel at all guilty about not remembering. It's not like my friend went out of his way anything to keep our friendship alive so forgetting his birthday seemed to be a minor incident. But I was a little bit fascinated that I felt only mild surprise at my forgetfulness. And I sent the birthday hail only because it's a habit, not necessarily because I wanted to.

This all happened about three months ago.

Following that incident I went through enormous emotional bouts where I would feel angry that friendship even existed. I knew why I was angry and it had nothing to do with the mechanism of friendship. It was because I was feeling the need to let go of some people and I didn't want to. It was a silly temper tantrum, as some of those people had already made it clear that I did not figure prominently in their lives (although some may have said differently, one gets a picture of reality when there are no attempts at contact from them, and any that I might make are allowed to fall flat or ignored). And my feelings had nothing to do with the people, themselves, and everything to do with my perception of me.

I didn't want to let them go because then I would be just like everyone else.

More than that, I think I didn't want to let them go because I really wanted to be someone who didn't let people down. I thought of all the times I was made to feel unwanted or unloved by my family--I think I wanted to save the world from feeling the same way. Maybe I thought if I was different, if I loved differently, if I never made one person feel that I didn't want or need them, everything that had been missing in my life would somehow be restored.

It doesn't work that way. What was not mine will never be mine. I can't magically make a childhood in which I was loved and nurtured and accepted by forcing those things on people who are currently in my life.

I know. All this makes me seem incredibly delusional and needy. And I suppose that's not 100% untrue. But the good news is, I'm getting over it.

Last week that birthday boy I forgot earlier this year took it upon himself to write me a rather nasty little email. I'm certain it was not his intent to be know...just explain...


To my surprise I found myself shocked and hurt for only a day. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, double checked my behavior with a few close friends and with those who had oversight in my relationship with the email author. All corroborated my belief that things were not as he portrayed them and I had no need to worry.

So I replied to his email, letting him know I had a great deal to do in the next few weeks, that I had some firm deadlines that could not be changed, and I would have to wait to send a reply until I had more time.

You see, while something seems to have motivated him to spend time letting me know how much he holds me in disdain, I really don't have time to do that to another person. And I don't want to. Also, I want to be very clear that whatever his impression of me might be, I've moved on. I have no desire to rehash whose memories are correct, or worry about what he's thinking of me, or wonder if we'll ever be friends again...because we won't. I clearly had already answered that question for myself sometime before his birthday rolled around because I don't forget a friend's birthday and I forgot his.

While I was thinking about this, I realized I had accepted the friend cycle. Wholeheartedly.

Perhaps it's a necessary component of humanity. It keeps us from drowning in drama and hurt feelings while allowing us to temporarily enjoy the delight of getting to know one another, spending time together, and moving on when the time comes. It also helps us continue to get that friend twitterpation which only happens when meeting a person for the first time with whom we are compatible. We're inseparable. We constantly talk about the other person. We plan activities, spontaneously phone or visit, and think of a future which will never happen in which we share family vacations, become next door neighbors, and our children are best friends for life. And then, in time, we tire of each other and move on to the next person who makes us laugh spontaneously, or shares a common interest, or makes us feel for just a moment that we've come home.

It used to make me want to scream--that part where you spend so much time drawing close to one another, but you know it's not forever because you're just friends. It doesn't make me feel that way anymore.

Today my computer decided to be uncooperative. I spent hours cleaning it and looking for problems. All that requires waiting time. So while I waited I went to Facebook and browsed through the pictures of a friend. Months ago such an action would have left me yearning to see that person, wishing my friend would call or chat, thinking about how accepted and loved I felt when I was with them. Today I realized I felt none of those feelings. I felt happy that we've shared so many fun moments. I was very glad we had met. But as I browsed the photos, it was clear that I figured in none of them. My friend's life is very much separate from mine and we're both comfortable with that.

So perhaps the friend cycle doesn't end with separation and distance, but with acceptance that we can only be involved as much as our real lives allow--which might morph into a situation where we rarely speak and we only think of one another occasionally, but with fondness. Maybe it means each is granted the right to relegate the other to a secondary position while they spend time with the people who are present, those they live with daily, and to whom they are committed--and that's okay.

Maybe I'm not monstrous because I've begun buying into all this just like everyone else. And maybe one day it will seem second nature, unremarkable, normal--and the person who will seem extreme and crazy will be the former me who wept over ties that thin and stretch, and relationships which wane, and former best friends who forget each other's phone numbers or addresses and only remember they were best friends when an odd memory interrupts the daily operations of life.

I used to be Winnie-the-Pooh: "If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus one day, so I never have to live without you."

I'm not Winnie-the-Pooh anymore. I still have a lot to learn, but I think I'm ready to move on and let go.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Oops! I did it again...

Hello. My name is Samantha Stevens and I'm a workaholic (cue canned laughter).

Sigh. And I was doing so well, too.

Every time I hear the word "workaholic," I react strongly. It doesn't exist in my mind. It's clearly something people can control (when you finish work, go home and relax), and in today's economy, with the dearth of employment, how can it possibly be a problem?

But it is--for me anyway.

December 2011: Sam had quit all extraneous jobs and, knowing she had to recover from major surgery which took place on November 28, 2011, did not accept another teaching contract at the university.

And within three months I have accepted other contracts, jobs, gigs--you name it--so that I'm now working 55-60 hours weekly once again. I have no idea how this happened. Nor do I have any idea why my email is tempting me with two more very nice contracts to which I have not yet responded. I think I'll take one of them. It doesn't begin until June and will last only a couple of weeks.

See? That's how my mind functions. "I'll just take one more's not very pays well...I like what I'll be doing..." I'm ridiculous.

There is good news:

1. My tax deadline is approaching at which time I believe I will reclaim Saturdays as non-work time (or do-housework time, as the case may be).

2. Most of my performance contracts will be over by mid-May, so at that point I should have some more personal time opening up.

That's it, I guess.

I'll be honest; the thought of having spare time is giving me panic attacks. It's good that I'm seeing Therapist in a few weeks. Maybe he can help me. In the meantime, I think I need people to teach me how to play again. I need to learn how to waste time and stop being so anal about reliability, promptness, and organization. I'm back in that mode where, if' I have five minutes to spare, it needs to be utilized on some project. I've forgotten how to daydream and I don't remember the last time I really laughed about something--the kind of laughter which leaves you weak, helpless, and joyfully tearful. I'm not sure I even remember how to do that.

So I'm going to finish what I began (six more weeks of working 55 hours or more), I'm going to try to exercise restraint and stop looking for more contract work....

I just deleted my list. It had things on it like: read more books, take long walks, lie on the grass and look at the sky, go out to lunch with friends--you get the idea.

Even looking at that last sentence makes me feel like I'm going to throw up. I have a real problem. I need to solve it.

Guess what, Sam! Workaholism is real and you're the poster child!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"There never was an angry man who thought his anger unjust." ~St. Francis de Sales

Today I saw the first leaves beginning on my rose bushes. After a very mild winter, spring has begun. It worries me a bit. Longer, more severe winters bring a great deal of moisture in their aftermath. I'm not looking forward to drought conditions again.

Last night I snapped at Tabitha over something minor. My displeasure toward her was undeserved. I have no excuse for my behavior. But I had had a very trying, long day, followed up by an unexpectedly nasty email. The sender, it seems, was trying to convey something nice, but spent two paragraphs outlining all my deficits and telling me he was angry about them, before following with a paragraph thanking me for some small things I had done for him. Each fault he mentioned managed to target every fear I have about having relationships with people I care about. He finished up his email by mentioning that, regardless of his minor gratitudes, he had no desire for an "active friendship" with me. I think that sentence actually startled me out of shock over the mean-spirited tone of his email, and made me laugh. While I love him and I probably always will, I've not considered him a friend for more than three years and I have no desire to change that, so at least we concur on one point.

However, the email caught me when I was tired and weak, and I was not unaffected. I suppose no one enjoys hearing all the reasons (true or not) someone has been angry with them, and I don't love it either. I stewed a bit, wondered why it bothered me when I really don't care what this person thinks of me, and finally called someone I could count on to take my side. I know--cowardly--but as I've mentioned, I was very weak.

The problem, I suppose, is that I don't understand this aspect of being human. If I'm angry with someone I do one of two things:
1. If the person is not someone who is close to me, and I don't have a great interest in a continued friendship with him or her, I usually say nothing, work through the emotion, learn from the experience and avoid placing myself in a position where the hurtful words or actions can be repeated.

2. If I care about the person and am interested in continuing our relationship, I tell them. My exact words are: "I'm angry with you." Then I follow up by telling them what has upset me. I do this not to spread the anger or cause defensiveness, but because I want to resolve the issue in such a way that both of us feel peace about it, and I'm very clear about that intent. I'm sure the process is unpleasant and probably the other person would rather not go through the emotional gymnastics necessary for me to feel safe with them again, but I'm careful to help them understand it's a necessary process for me if I plan to remain close with that person. They are also given the option to let me know how they feel, both about the words or actions which caused me pain, and about the continuation of our relationship.

So to receive an email where it's very clear that the sender is angry with me (because he says so) but neither of those conditions apply, is confusing to me. I don't understand why someone would go out of their way to do that. I'm not really important enough to warrant such time and effort. It seems mean-spirited and spiteful. Those are not qualities I would have attributed to the author of the email.

So today I will apologize to my sweet daughter and hope she will forgive my nastiness toward her. And I believe I will cling to the words spoken during yesterday's phone call by someone who truly knows me. And I will get some rest, as it seems I really need it.

In the meantime, should anyone who encounters this blog post feel rancor toward me for any reason, unless  you have an interest in resolving the issue with me so that we can be mature adults sharing a healthy friendship, please keep it to yourself for a month or two. When I'm no longer down, I field the spiteful kicks with much more grace and dignity.