Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Wild One, Forever.

Tom Petty died today. Or maybe he didn't really, the news is still catching up to the truth of things. It's weird how that happens, how there can be a declaration of literal life and death, and then someone can take it back. Retract it. Just kidding, I imagine news sources saying. My bad. Timing is a fickle mistress.

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Driving over the Howard Franklin Bridge is beautiful at sunrise. By "sunrise" I mean 8:30 AM. By "beautiful" I mean what am I doing with my life.

I honestly didn't put much thought into it, but sometimes when I blurt out dissonant observations on social media those little snippets of half-cocked snark get lots of reactions. It's weird how that happens, too. It's like other people understand what I meant even if I didn't. I imagine them imagining me driving over the bridge with my windows down and radio up, my sunglasses doing nothing for my tired eyes except to shield the driver next to me from the mascara smeared all over my eyelids. I imagine it's easy for those who know me to imagine it: "Ah yes, there goes Keri. Driving over the bridge she hates more than anything else in the world. She's mildly impressed with the clear sky and easy waters, but she's also wondering what she's doing there to see it. She knows why she's there, of course, but she's still wondering how she got there. Not "how" logistically but "how" emotionally. Yes, they are entirely different questions, especially to someone like Keri. I will give her a "like" to show my solidarity."

I mean, is that not how you imagined it?

I saw Tom Petty in concert once, sort of. I am trying to remember the specifics, but if News Sources can get their facts wrong, maybe I can too and be forgiven. My bad. It's fuzzy. It was some sort of festival or political rally or something other than a headlining tour. He was just performing at some place. And I wasn't really supposed to be there, I just happened to be on the right adventure at the right time with the right people and the right friend of a friend had a thing or knew a person and then before I really knew why or how, I was watching Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

I am an absolute sucker for a good live performance, no matter the artist or genre. Admittedly, I am not a huge Tom Petty fan. I'm not opposed, just apathetic. My favorite thing he ever did was his interview in the documentary Sound City. But what caught me by surprise immediately when I saw Tom was how intimate it was. And how familiar. And how that familiarity fed into the intimacy in a neverending feedback loop.

It was like telling a friend to grab you a drink while they're at the bar and they bring you the exact double-Jameson-and-ginger you wanted because they know you. And you take a big sip expecting some watered down bullshit, but there it is, a manifestation of the relationship you have been knowingly or unknowingly cultivating for nearly a decade. It's refreshing and overtly strong all at once. And it's easy to get drunk on; not just logistically, but emotionally.

It was like an innocuous gesture that turns unexpectedly into a great comfort, like a hand reaching out for yours in the darkness to steady you as you cross the boardwalk down to the beach. It's a kiss on the forehead that doesn't make you uneasy.

It was like how the rule of threes can be somehow comforting until a hack blog writer calls it out and ruins it, much like Jimmy Fallon laughing at his own jokes.

The night I saw Tom Petty somewhat accidentally, I knew every song, or at least some part of every song. It hit me then how pervasive his music was, how deeply ingrained in pop culture he and his music are. Whether I sought it out or not, I had been casually acquainted with Tom Petty, the Heartbreakers and their work for years, possibly forever given my age and the span of their undeniable success. And so, even just being a passive fan, I enjoyed the hell out of that night. We all went back to a bar and someone played twenty dollars worth of Tom Petty songs on the jukebox. But not the same jams we'd just experienced. These songs I didn't know as well, and when I heard "The Wild One, Forever" it really (I can't help it, sorry) struck a chord with me in a big way. It was the last verse that got me.

"Because somethin' I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine
The strangest feeling came over me down inside
I knew right away 
I'd never get over how good it felt
When you finally kissed me
I will never regret,
Baby, those few hours linger on in my head forever..."

Concerts (or shows as my younger, more pretentious self would insist on saying) are a strange and wonderful phenomenon to me. You have this crazy connection with a band or a singer or the music or the live aspect of the performance or even just the lyrics and you exist on this totally different plane of reality. For a few hours, at least. Someone calls out "I love you," and you say it back and you mean it, but do you really? You're strangers. You aren't going home with them in any sense. You don't commiserate over daily life together. You aren't even friends, really. You don't meet up for drinks or a movie when you have time. You don't even live in the same state. They don't know you at all, but you think they get you. Or you get them. But it's fabricated and coerced, not just logistically but emotionally. And yet, it is still very real somehow. Visceral. Palpable. So you buy into it. Or maybe you already bought into it when you bought the tickets, and now you are just denying that you bought into it all because it makes the lie seem real and that's okay with you. OR MAYBE, on that weird Narnia-esque, Through the Looking Glass plane of reality that you find yourself on at concerts, you really do love them and there is a crazy connection and it is familiar and it is intimate and they feed into each other in a neverending feedback loop. The time-space-music dimension is a fickle mistress.

Waking up in a hotel room always throws me off. It takes a minute to remember where I am (or how or why) but I feel safe and at home even before I have figured out the other answers. Concerts kind of feel the same; it's raw and cathartic and dangerous, but also safe. It's structured. There are boundaries. There are rules. The hotel is not your home, but you can live there. The concert experience is not how you actually or always feel, but you can access those emotions there. For a few hours anyway.

I used to say that certain concerts changed my life. They really didn't. I've never seen a band, even one I really like, and then changed anything even remotely significant about my life or the way I live it. And it makes me a little sad to admit that, honestly. I think that's why "The Wild One, Forever" really gets to me. "I knew right away/ I'd never get over how good it felt/ when you finally kissed me/ I will never regret/ Baby, those few hours linger on in my head forever..."

Man. The speaker has really liked and/or wanted this other person for a while and been patient and been understanding and finally had that Through the Looking Glass moment and experience, it was blissful, but it was only a few hours. And while those few hours will linger on in his head forever IT WAS ONLY A FEW HOURS and from the lyrics I can't tell that anything significant has changed about his life or how he lives it at all. It's like he was at a concert with me. There was this golden moment of familiarity and intimacy and then it was over and life moves on. You wake up in the hotel and you're disoriented and then you feel safe and then you check out.

I told you all of that just to explain how "The Wild One, Forever" ended up being the only Tom Petty song in my music collection, but still a song I reach for at very specific times in my life. I imagine you imagining if there is a point to all of this. Do I ever really make a point? I'm just trying to get used to this kind of writing again. How's it going? Yeah, I'm not sure either.

Driving over the Howard Franklin bridge was actually very pretty the other morning. But it was also quite odd. I had the same feeling I'd felt so many times after really good concerts. Did that happen? Am I the same person in real life as I am in that mosh pit? Will I ever see those people again? I know it really happened, but was it real?

Those are weird rabbit holes to go down. The Night Before The Bridge, when I was in St. Pete visiting an old friend, I overheard this conversation about what a number actually is, if it's real or just some way we impose meaning onto the universe. I thought about contributing a line my friend Derek told me once: "math was not invented, it was discovered." But I don't even know if that's right. What is right? How do you define... something, something etymologically true... burden of proof... words about stuff... reference to a book I never read. The conversation moved so fast and I felt so uninformed and uninteresting and I'll be honest, I was only half listening because I was so focused on the fact that I was drinking some kind of pineapple IPA aberration and it somehow did not taste like garbage. And that is a rabbit hole of which I am really afraid. Sure, numbers are bullshit and language is a fallacy and we are all leading lives full of agony and existential choices that only bring about more suffering. Fine. BUT HOW DOES THIS BEER NOT TASTE LIKE GARBAGE?

The rest of the night was full of weird rabbit holes and that concert-going feeling. Safely dangerous. Dangerously safe. And it was incongruous in many neat but functional ways--like a quilt stitched out of cotton and plastic bags--awkward but it worked. It was undeniably fun, even down to the Britney Spears karaoke song that I really enjoyed and was judged for enjoying. (How can you not love a lost man-child with an affinity for obscure metal trying his absolute best to sing "Toxic?" Isn't that why karaoke exists?) I met new people that felt like old friends right off the bat. The beach bar had this weird crowd that liked all kinds of music and this lady (there's always one) danced to EVERY song. She danced to music between songs. She danced while she sang her own song. And then there was the bartender, a cute girl who had exactly zero time for people's bullshit. And there was the guy who sprayed his beer like a total dickbag from the stage and got shitty Budweiser all over the dancefloor, which put the Dancing Lady in actual danger. And then there was Willie, the security guy who came to clean it up and tell Tool Bag to knock it off. But the karaoke lady was already giving him the business for cursing into her microphone. She doesn't like cursing into her microphone. And then there was last call, that magical time where some people can finish up, cash out and move on and other people are relentless in trying to get that last, wholly unnecessary drink and stand around, 100% in the way. All bars can be really similar if you let them. Familiar. Intimate.

I went to St. Pete to live deliberately, and I gotta tell you, I think I nailed it. But I stayed because I felt like garbage. (Maybe that's why the pineapple IPA didn't taste like garbage?! Oh man, I have to Scientific Method the hell out of this. You know, for science.) I'd been running a fever and fighting with my sinuses, unsuccessfully. The decision to stay was the right one for safety and a thousand other reasons. And when I woke up in the hotel I felt disoriented and then I felt safe and then I left.

And driving over the bridge that morning was actually very pretty. But it was also quite odd. So I reached for my phone and played "The Wild One, Forever." I played it over and over as I made my way home, my sunglasses doing nothing to help my tired eyes except shield the driver next to me from the mascara smeared across my eyelids. Windows down, radio up, I sang the words confidently and knowingly and a little sadly, already mourning the night that was but wasn't. The stage was empty, the Dancing Lady was gone, the footprints I'd left in the sand under a bright half moon were undoubtedly washed away by now. And even if they were still there, I'd already left.

The night was amazing and scary and familiar and new and fun and safe and out of my comfort zone and unexpected and somehow already written all at the same time. It was vulnerability gift-wrapped with a pretty bow of boundaries. It was unforgettable, if only mostly remembered.

That night, however, did not change my life, even if I wanted it to, even though it had the power to do so. That many commas can't be right. But that night has changed a part of me, and maybe that will be enough to somehow upheave my life somewhere down the road if it needs it. When I need it. Timing is a fickle mistress.

And if nothing else, "I will never regret... those few hours linger on in my head forever."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shame dying in the light of exposure.

"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom, my shame dying in the light of exposure." - Anthony Green 

This quote is part of a larger Instagram post by Anthony Green, lead singer of Circa Survive, a band whose music I seek when I am a particular flavor of sad. It's less depressing than it sounds; I just have soundtracks for certain moods. And certain people. It's somewhere between therapy and torture, a catharsis but also an inventory of which memories still sting. 

Maybe it is that depressing. 

I haven't written here in so long and I don't even know why anymore. I used to have really good excuses, maybe even real ones, but I don't remember half of them now. I do know that any kind of creative writing I tried to do was painful for a long time. It hurt because it poked at freshly opened wounds without the mercy of bandaging them at the end of the creative process. And it hurt because the creative process betrayed me; something I normally turned to for solace was suddenly and inexplicably barren. I stumbled into different outlets, some healthy some not. And then I started writing professionally, which made writing for myself even more of a chore. It's not supposed to feel like a chore, right? It's supposed to help, not rip the air from my lungs, right?

When I get stuck in a piece of writing, I always remind myself to answer the question. (Thank you, Mr. Resciniti.) ATQ. Answer. The. Question. I usually find that I have wandered off on some articulate but unnecessary tangent that sounds cool but doesn't add any real value. You know how babies make noise just to hear themselves talk? I stitch words into intricate quilts that will only ever see the dusty, crooked shelves of a guest room closet just to prove to myself that I still know how imagery works. So, evaluating the question and my answer to it keeps my writing honest. It keeps me honest. ATQ has been my professional motto for years, except during the detour I took through the service industry. (My motto then was Do Not Stab Rude People.) ATQ helps me focus on personal matters, too, especially when I am overthinking. So over the last year or so I was constantly asking myself questions like "Why can't you at least write about all the cool things happening right now?" and "Has writing failed you or have you failed writing?" and "Why did you abandon the only thing you're good at?" 

The answers I had for my own questions made such little sense to me that I confused the issue entirely. I was so focused on answering a question that it never occurred to me to check if I was asking the right question. I repeatedly asked myself why I couldn't connect to my own words. I wondered why my many, many attempts at writing (for Filthy Nerdy, specifically) ended up on the cutting room floor. I wanted to know what was wrong with me, how I could pen ideas that I didn't even recognize. I might as well have been asking how many teaspoons are in a mile. The answers were impossible; I didn't even understand the questions.   

I should have been asking "If writing is not helping you process what you feel, are you being honest with yourself about what you are feeling?"

The answer, of course, is no. Not even close.    

I have very little to show for the time I wasted invalidating my own feelings. When I decided that my depression and anxiety weren't topics that I could tackle with writing, I inadvertently gave them a strange power. I don't mind them existing, but I was now letting them occupy space in my head without any checks or balances. You win, I told them. I'm not even going to try to fight you.

Each time I sat down to write, no matter the topic, my words inevitably turned to the battle raging inside my head. My inability to get out of bed. My lack of interest in things I used to love. The steady whispers of self-doubt. I wasn't constantly miserable, but I was having a harder and harder time each day connecting to things that were supposed to matter. I grew apathetic little by little until I'd pushed away most of my relationships and responsibilities. It didn't seem destructive, in fact, it felt very safe. I felt safe, swaddled in my own depression. But every time I set out to write about anything, there it was, threatening to come spilling out and ruin my carefully woven stories of "I'm just tired" and "I already have plans that day." I spent exhausting amounts of energy on looking high-functioning, because looking okay was easier than being okay. Mind you, I wasn't a danger to myself or anyone else, but I wasn't being honest either, and that lack of authenticity started to eat at me from the inside out. Disconnecting from my true self prevented me from connecting with anything positive. And so when writing threatened to reveal what I was hiding, I stopped trying to write before it could betray me. You can't quit, you're fired.          

So I was stuck under my own emotional avalanche with no means to dig my way out. And worse yet, when I couldn't figure out why I was stuck, I just started lying to myself about it. You're not stuck, you're busy. It's not you, you just need a new outlet. Yeah, you probably just outgrew the only form of self-expression that ever made you feel whole since you first discovered you could entertain through writing at the ripe old age of eight. Case closed! Nice work, Nancy Drew.          

What a schmuck. I am working on limiting negative self-talk, because I hear it can really screw with you, but I really fucked this one up. I wasn't honest with myself about what and how I felt, and instead of admitting this, I marginalized my emotions until they turned into resentments that I was kind enough to take out on myself and those around me. And the worst thing I did was trick myself into thinking that I was somehow above my beloved, neurotic, late-night blogging as a way to get ideas out of my head and process them. I convinced myself that I now inhabited a place where my shit was together and I didn't need to whine philosophical to friends and strangers in an attempt to A) understand my own struggles and B) use them to connect with others. I refused to believe that I could be so fulfilled and so empty all at once, so I buried the empty under carefully curated Facebook posts and a schedule that kept me perpetually behind. Look at how busy I am! See how rapidly every aspect of my life is changing? Broken people can't possibly get this much accomplished. I couldn't possibly be broken. Still. Or ever again.          

Now that it's over, I don't know why I was so afraid. 

"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was..."   

Yesterday I found out that a really good friend of mine had to say goodbye to her dog of 15 years. I sent her this haiku: 

I am sad for you. 
May your dog rest peacefully. 
I'm bad at feelings. 

I was trying to make her smile, but I was also being serious. I wanted to reach out and give her some words, but I quickly realized that I didn't have any good ones. Now, I have dealt with more death in the last few years than I ever could have expected -- friends, family, mentors, acquaintances; sudden tragedies, drawn out departures, childhood cancer and a suicide. In more ways than I can explain right now, I have become so familiar with grief that I often mistake mourning for something I am as opposed to an emotion I occasionally feel. But if I'm so comfortable in this shroud of a second skin, why could I not come up with something remotely appropriate to say?     

I'm bad at feelings. Since when? For as long as I can remember, the only thing I was better at than feelings was expressing them, specifically through writing. Like, here, here's something that spilled out of me because I was feeling. And this one? More of the feels. Here I was feeling feisty. And here I felt pretty smug. I wrote this because I felt like making people laugh. And this one? I vividly remember feeling incredibly bored so I wrote about the first thing I pulled out of my purse, which happened to be a name tag. 

My grandmother used to say, "Emotions aren't right or wrong, they just are." It's something I hear myself saying a lot, too, something I've been telling everyone except myself lately. They just are. So how can I be "bad" at them, and why would I feed myself this garbage narrative? And why did I believe it for so long?

I think I wanted to believe that since I couldn't (or wouldn't) access my depression through writing, why then, I must not be depressed at all!  

Great news, right? Time to start caring about something, anything, right? I was trying to rationalize my way out of my feelings because I didn't understand them. I was trying to write on a dry erase board with chalk. I was trying to take pictures with a toaster or eat soup with a fork. And instead of simply realizing that I was using the wrong tool, I told myself that I was bad at eating or photography or writing, which isn't true at all. I distanced myself from writing and being truly vulnerable, the things that could have helped me, by telling myself that I was not good at them anyway. Depression is quite smart and will go to great lengths to protect itself.   

For the record, if either one of my sisters had come to me with "I am learning a lot personally and professionally and I'm finding myself in these new positions of trust and authority that make me want to stifle my own feelings in order to meet some self-imposed, unrealistic expectations that I picked up on accident" I would immediately shut it down. I'd tell her that progress isn't always linear, there is no point in life where anyone has it all figured out, other people's opinions of you should always be secondary to your own opinion of you, and it's not worth compromising your boundaries to make other people more comfortable. So the fact that it took me a year to say it to myself is pretty frustrating. It's absurd, really. But I am grateful it didn't take longer. I don't even know what happened today to break the spell -- suddenly I was writing and then I spent all day writing and rewriting. I think I wanted to blog about Christmas cards, to be honest.       

Now that it's over, I can't remember why I was so afraid.  

"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom..." 

I am back to embracing feelings. I give myself permission to experience things, even trivial things, pretty deeply. I use these feelings to navigate the world around me and connect with people. It might sound melodramatic, but I get just as excited over doing flashcards with the boys as I get upset over catching every red light on the way home. My compulsion to explore my own thoughts keeps me surprisingly balanced; I might have some low lows but the highs more than make up for it. The current state of my mental health is not the result of my inability to feel happiness, but rather my capacity to feel all emotions, positive and negative. I am an empath, meaning I can feel and take on the energy of others. It gets overwhelming, and if I don't take care of myself, it gets pretty nasty. I carried so many burdens that were never mine to carry.  
I can be decisively logical at times, but what I've learned about myself recently is that I prefer to feel my way through life. My intuition is directly tied to my empathy and compassion. Maybe I could use a better head to heart ratio sometimes, but I'm okay with being emotive first and analytical second. As long as I am managing it in a healthy way.     

Somewhere along the way I got scared. Scared to feel, scared to write about it, scared to even acknowledge my fears, lest I be judged for not being a million percent confident all the time. I don't know now why I expected that of myself -- I don't think anyone else did. But as I took on new roles at work and within my own family, I mistakenly took on a vow of silence that kept me from speaking up about my own feelings and emotional needs. In my quest to love and protect those close to me, in trying to forge new identities that would keep us all safe, I ended up losing myself. 

It took a while to realize I was gone and longer to decide if I cared.  

I found myself here, in this blog, where I left off years ago. I cringe at the things I wrote, the weird things I overshared and the unabashed way I poured my heart and soul into posts about drinking someone's orange juice and having a crush on a college professor. (Hi, Tom. Please don't look at me while I break down, thanks.) It's all incredibly embarrassing to read now, but it's nice to be reminded that I used to have no fear. I used to be brave, or at least less concerned about how I was perceived. If I felt something, anything really, I was bound to write about it. I want to get back to that. (It may not be as public from here on out, but I had to prove I could plaster my neuroses on FN one last time.)

"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom, my shame dying in the light of exposure."

SHAME DYING IN THE LIGHT OF EXPOSURE. I get goosebumps each time I read this line.  

I can be a good bonus mom and still have days where I am 100% winging it. (I am told this is called parenting.)

I can have anxiety without suffering from it.  

I can be challenged at work without falling apart.  

I can be in a great relationship and still forget how to love myself occasionally. 

I am allowed to be dissatisfied with shallow friendships that revolve around alcohol. 

I am not a bad person for saying no or setting healthy boundaries. 

I am allowed to be scared of change. (Which is convenient, because I am terrified.)  

I am allowed to overshare really personal things on the internet because they are my stories to tell, and I firmly believe that if it helps one person it is worth the embarrassment.  

I give myself permission to engage with my own emotions in a constructive way so that they do not control me. 

I can grieve long past the imaginary statute of limitations society places on death. I can heal on my own timeline.

I am not responsible for anyone's emotions or happiness but my own. 

I am getting used to feeling feelings again, but I think I am starting to feel tremendously free. And awkward. But also free. And now that it's over, I can't remember why I was so afraid.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I am rarely speechless.

Yesterday I told you about three year old Logan Larrabee and what he's been going through as a result of his recent cancer diagnosis. I asked you to donate if you were able and to share my post or the link to the fundraiser to spread the word. I want nothing but the best for this family and I called upon my Facebook friends, Twitter followers and blog readers for help.

I must tell you how overwhelmed I have been at the positive response I've witnessed in less than 24 hours. You guys have reposted and pinned and tweeted and shared and liked your little hearts out. I've watched my rallying cry for Logan grace the Facebook pages of people I lost touch with years ago. I have strangers emailing me asking how they can help. Some of my friends have used their connections to get the companies they work for involved. And in less than 24 hours, you have donated over $300. Most of you have never met the Larrabees. A few of you have never met me. All of you are absolutely amazing.

I pride myself on self-expression, on being able to articulate feelings and communicate ideas through language. I rely on writing to get me through everything. And so I find it quite odd that I cannot string together the right words to accurately describe how much I appreciate the outpouring of support you guys have shown me and my friends. Jim and Robin cannot thank you enough. I cannot thank you enough. I am rarely speechless. I could cry.

And I want you to know, Logan says thank you, too. You guys rock.

On a less "Keri could cry" note, you guys are weird. I promised to write you a blog if you donated, and some of the topics I've gotten so far are off the wall bonkers crazy. You may have more faith in my abilities than I do. If you donated, don't forget to send me your topic of choice if you haven't already. A deal is a deal. And now I must finish writing about modern day hipster superhero Jesus. Yeah.