Every Day is Saturday

The joy and heartache of working for myself from home

Happy Birthday?

Candle

Well, hello there. It’s been a few months. I told you I probably wouldn’t be writing any more posts on this blog, but the need has been growing and I can no longer resist.

There’s a lot to say, and nothing to say. But I’m going to say it anyway.

My 49th birthday was yesterday. It was a great day for me. I heard from many, many friends and family during the day. I took the day off from work and spent it with my sweet husband, doing things I enjoy. Then we had a lovely dinner with some great friends, and my sister came, which made it just that much more special. So I feel prepared for the staring contest with 50 that officially begins today. Bring it, half century. I got this.

At the same time I feel a little weird about celebrating when there is so much awful going on in the world. As I sat in the crowded restaurant eating and drinking and laughing, thousands of my fellow citizens were protesting (peacefully, thank God) the disconnect between “All Men are Created Equal” and the unequal treatment a large percentage of these men and women are subjected to, every day of their lives.

I don’t believe that people should give up their celebrations when things like this are going on. It is as important to express joy as it is to stand up to injustice, and I don’t feel guilty about it. What I do feel is a terrible sense of helplessness, and of inadequacy.

I read post after post on Facebook, article after article in newspapers and magazines, and listened to all the voices raised in this collective howl of frustration and impotent rage, and I wonder if I should add my voice. I suppose this post is evidence of what I finally chose.

I don’t actually have anything to say that hasn’t already been said, and said well, by others. I don’t have any new wisdom, or brilliant insight, or magic words that will make it all make sense and show us the path forward. I wish I did.

What I do have is a renewed sense of the importance of saying SOMETHING.

So, this is what I have to say:

  • I believe that racism is real, institutionalized, and rampant in our country.
  • I believe that racism will never go away until the majority of white people who abhor racism actually DO something about it, and not just assume that because they don’t actively hate black people that there isn’t a problem.
  • I believe that denying racism is racist, and I have been very disappointed to see some of the people I know buying into this dangerous lie.

The thought that any of the black men I know – these smart, talented, creative, successful, loving men – could be shot at any time for no reason is intolerable.

I have to do SOMETHING.

There have been some good things written about what white people can do to help. This is one of those things – speak up.

I never engage in casual racist talk. Sometimes I even try to point it out. I can do better than that. I will be more vocal in the future.

I will look for other ways to help. I will start being part of the solution, however I can.

You hear the phrase “Be the change you want to see”. It may sound like a cliché, but it is a profound truth. We don’t often get to make the big gestures, but we can always make the small ones, and sometimes that’s enough to soften a hard heart.

This is me, a white girl, stepping up. For my friends. For myself. For everyone.

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Turn the Page

Turn the Page Large

I like to think of the story of my life in terms of chapters. There’s Childhood, which encompasses everything up to the start of 6th grade. Then there’s Junior High, then High School, then College, and then the Alliance Theatre (my one and only professional theatre job). Then came The Lost Years – that strange, meandering gap of time between 1990 and 1993, when I went to Paralegal school and did the only really serious partying of my life (and it wasn’t all that serious, not really). In the fall of 1993 began the IRT, Down Right, and Stage Door Players years when I was working full time during the day and doing theatre pretty much the rest of the time. Then in 1995 my husband-to-be entered the picture, and 1997 began the chapter I call The First Three Years of Marriage. 2000 – 2003 was Grad School, 2004 to mid-2005 was Recovering from Grad School and Looking for a Better Job, and in August of 2005 started the CoreNet chapter. There’s some good stuff in there, but in June of 2010 it came suddenly to a close. The next chapter was Trying Desperately to be Self-Employed, subchapters of which are called ATB Meeting Design, How We Work, and Moventus. You can’t say I didn’t try.

And now I’m here, at the end of one chapter and the beginning of yet another.  I don’t know what this chapter will be called, since I don’t know what’s going to happen or how it will end, but for now I’m thinking of it as the Going Back to a Regular Job. I’m hoping that early subchapters will be titled Getting Out of Debt and Going on Vacation for the First Time in Four Years. Certainly the themes of Remembering How to Get Up in the Morning, The Daily Commute, and Lunch – Bring or Go Out? are ones I’ve been exploring my first week at the new job. Also important has been Remembering What I Used to Know about Commercial Real Estate. It’s coming back to me, I’m happy to report. I figured it would, I just didn’t know how long it would take.

But before I turn the page on the last chapter of my life and start writing the new one, I wanted to look back at this incredible time and be grateful for what it has done for me. Yes, it’s been hard, and yes, ultimately it wasn’t sustainable, but I wouldn’t trade one moment of it. Not even the really bad ones. So, here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve learned:

I’m More Resilient than I Had Ever Imagined

I won’t say I’m “tough” – that implies that I’m not breakable. I’m not fragile, but I am breakable, and I did break, into a thousand sharp pieces that took a very long time to glue back together. In the process some of those pieces didn’t fit anymore, so when I came back together I was different. More able to withstand shocks. More comfortable with uncertainty. More secure in my own skin. Less needful of others’ approval. Much more patient. There were days when I thought I would never see the sun again, but I did, and I know now for a fact that no matter how dark it is today, no matter how overwhelming your grief is today, no matter how hopeless you feel today, that one day it will be better. You just have to hold on.

I am an Artist

I’ve written about this more than once, so please reference my published works for more detail if you wish, but for the first time in my life I have fully embraced the truth that in my core I am a Writer and a Theatre Person. Years ago I turned my back on the theatre to do other things. I will never do that again. I will also never not write. I am a writer. It’s who I am.

The Money Always Comes

My biggest fear in life is not having enough money to pay the bills, and I have stared into the gaping black hole of that fear over and over and over again these past years. But here I sit, in my house and not in a cardboard box under a bridge, and I think sometimes that it’s a miracle how that can be true. But it is, and I know that for reasons that have very little to do with the rational world, the money I’ve needed has always been there when I needed it. Can’t explain it, don’t want to.

If it doesn’t Make You Burn with Passion, Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I hung on to the dream of self-employment for as long as I did for a lot of reasons. Some of them were good reasons, some not so good. But the truth is I wasn’t trying to forge that career path out of a burning desire to do that kind of work. And it showed, in the end. I tried, but I know it showed. So, my loving advice to you is this: don’t try to go it alone for anything less than the pursuit of your life’s work. It’s too hard if you don’t love it with everything you’ve got.

I am Content

I’ve been a restless person my whole life. I still strive to be better at the things that are important to me – my work, my writing, the theatre, my friendships, my marriage. But for the first time since childhood I am completely content with my life as it is right now. I am overwhelmed with blessings. I have a wonderful husband who I love and who loves me. I still have both of my parents and I treasure my relationships with them. My sister is my best friend. I have a theatre family that is a constant source of joy and belonging. I have a snug home, affectionate cats, and a car that runs. And now I have a job working with some super nice people doing work I enjoy for a wage that won’t make me rich but will damn sure keep me from feeling anxious about my finances. I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning feeling grateful, and humble, and so very aware of just how good I’ve got it. I have more than enough.

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The title of this blog is “Every Day is Saturday: the Joy and Heartache of Working for Myself from Home”. Given that the title no longer reflects this chapter of my life, this will be my last regular post under this title. I may start a new one; I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I have been so moved by your support and encouragement over the years. You are one of the biggest reasons why I’ve been able to see myself as a writer. I am more grateful than I can ever say.

So, I wish all the best to all of you on your own journeys. I hope you find your passion, and your contentment.

Amanda Taylor Brooks

January 31, 2016

 

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Getting In the Mood

Christmas Cocktail

You know, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I’m busy with work, I’m distracted, or I’m worried about this or that. I’m just not into it. No matter how much I know I’ll enjoy it once it starts, it’s getting going that can be the hardest part, you know? I have to grit my teeth and force myself to take that first step. I know if I could just relax it would be easier, but I’m having a hard time letting go.

I’ve tried, I really have. I wear the special clothes, I have the right accessories. The room is all done up nice. I’m going through the motions, but I just can’t seem to capture that special feeling.

I can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit. Santa’s just not doing it for me. Not yet, anyway.

My tree is up. The stockings are hung. I’ve done most of my shopping (yes, online, I’m a horrible person, but Amazon Prime is the bomb!). The Christmas cards are all written and addressed and mailed. I’ve baked two batches of cookies that are so good I’m regretting that I’m going to give them all away (Scrooge much?).  I’ve even broken out my seasonal slop-around-the-house sweatshirt, the one that says “Noel” with the red ribbons on it that’s two sizes too big. You would think all that would be enough to have me humming “Holly Jolly Christmas” all day, but, alas, no.

Maybe it’s being stuck in the house that has kept me from catching the Christmas bug. I haven’t been much of anywhere except the grocery store for a few days, and the guy with the bell outside just gives me a headache. I did feel a twinge looking at the Starbuck’s Christmas Blend coffee – there’s something about that stuff that brings out images of crackling fires and warm blankets and good books and cuddling that is distinctly Christmas-y.

Maybe it’s the 70 degree weather we’re having here in Hot-lanta. But really, that’s not all that unusual here, not at all. We Atlantans know how to pretend we’re living in a winter wonderland in spite of the shorts and flip-flops temperatures in December!

I’m not sure what’s keeping me from feeling all goose-pimply and excited.

I love Christmas. I love the little traditions my husband and I have, the rituals we perform every year. I love giving presents. I love the plays and the concerts we attend. I love the annual parties, where we see friends we don’t see at any other time of the year. I love getting together with my family for a big meal and tons of laughter.

I suppose I could get out of the house and go to the mall. I could wander around and look at all the stuff for sale, and the decorations, and listen to fifteen different versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” playing over the loudspeakers in the department stores. But I don’t know – the older I get the more the buy-buy-buy frenzy turns me off. It’s out of control.

I miss my high school chorus. This was the time of year when we sang all of the Christmas music – sacred and secular – we’d been rehearsing since September. We went to the malls and sang, we had a school concert, and we sang in area churches on Sunday nights. The feeling of being a part of that group, making beautiful music together, was (and still is) a highlight of my life. To this day, nothing has made me feel more in the spirit than a rousing rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” or the quiet simplicity of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Such great memories.

And there’s this – it’s hard for me to get in the mood when I’m surrounded by so much suffering and endless need. This year, as I have done for the past few years through my church, I will buy a gift for a child who may not otherwise have any presents to open because at least one (and sometimes both) of their parents is incarcerated. The greetings the prisoners send to their children, written on the gift tags by someone else, probably a stranger, are heart breaking. “Daddy loves you!” The periods of personal poverty that I complain about are nothing compared to these families, and my contributions, while sincerely made, feel hopelessly inadequate. All I can do is this much, and I pray that it makes a difference, even if it’s for only one child. Surely that’s worth a few dollars. I’m just grateful that I have the means to do it.

That’s it, though, isn’t it? I’m not going to find the Christmas spirit under the tree or in my stocking. It’s where it always has been, in the gratitude I feel for what I already have. I have so, so much.  There’s nothing I can buy that will make my life any better than it already is now. So I’ll focus on the love and joy in my life and marvel at how lucky I am, and how blessed.

The rest is just gravy and trimmings.

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On the Verge

Cliff Edge

Today is the day we prepare to launch ourselves head first into the “holiday season”, which, in my book, has always meant those weeks starting with Thanksgiving and ending on the first Monday in the New Year when I pretend I’m still working but I’m really not. Not much, anyway. As little as possible.

Oh I know, we’re all still “at work”, but what are we doing, really? Between the increasingly infrequent emails, the meetings that suddenly get cancelled, and the conference calls that no one shows up for, aren’t we really shopping online or arranging lunches/drinks/dinner/brunch with as many friends as possible before Christmas, organizing our family get-togethers (who’s bringing the green bean casserole?), and trolling YouTube for funny cat/dog videos? ANYTHING but actually working. Well, ok, we have to do something work-related, if only to justify our paychecks, but out of a regular 8 hour work day maybe 2 hours gets spent on actual work – the rest is just filling time. Am I right?

Of course, now that I’m self-employed and work from home you’d think I’d have gotten over this mentality, right? Wrong. For some reason, even if there isn’t really anything to do (or anything that needs doing right away) I still find myself at my computer, standing by just in case I get an email from a client or a new task from one of my colleagues.  And while I’m waiting, I start “goofing off”, just like I used to do when I went into an office. And actually feeling guilty about it, which is beyond crazy.

I’m a contract worker. Once the terms of the contract have been fulfilled, I’m done. I can do what I please with my time. I get paid for the work I do, not a certain number of hours in the day. And I am extremely close to being done with my contracted work this year. A few odds and ends, and that’s it! There’s some non-client-related stuff we need to do before the end of the year, and we will, but honestly, unless something changes, I’m looking at a very quiet December, work-wise.

So what will I do with my time? Hmmm . . .

  • I’ll bake a lot of cookies and give them as gifts. I did that last year and it was fun.
  • I’ll get my house in order. There are some cobwebs in places that have been there way too long.
  • I’ll read books.
  • I’ll work on stuff for my theatre company; we’ve got exciting plans for next year!
  • I’ll do things that make me happy, like listen to music and look up new recipes to try.
  • I’ll go to parties and concerts and movies and plays with my sweet hubby.
  • I’ll spend more time with my family.
  • I’ll do some writing (see, I’ve already started!)

Mostly, I’ll try to find the quiet in the middle of the holiday frenzy to be present, and to acknowledge how astonishingly blessed I am. I am loved, and I love. In this harsh world we live in, to love and be loved is an extravagance that millions of people can’t even imagine. When I think about that, my “problems” become very small indeed, and the simple joy of baking cookies or sitting down in the peace of my home to read a book seems luxurious.

So here, on the verge of the madness, stop and take a breath. Close your eyes. If you have love in your life, be thankful for it. It’s the only thing that matters, because it’s the only thing that will endure. Everything else can be taken away, even life itself, but the love you have given and the love you have received will always be there, waiting for you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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Dazed and Confused

feet in sand

If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling a bit unstable these days. Like walking on a sandy beach with the tide going out; what you’ve been standing on – that seemed so firm – is disappearing from under you, and you start to wobble. That’s how I feel, anyway.

We live in a crazy world. Awful things happen daily, and we’re subjected to a non-stop onslaught of hatred and fear and death on our televisions and radios, from friends and acquaintances on Facebook, in our Twitter feeds, on the front pages of newspapers and magazines. The world is screaming at us all the time that we are not safe, that gigantic, unstoppable forces hate us and are out to get us and there’s nothing we can do about it because our government is weak and our leaders incompetent. It’s the background music of our lives, and recently the volume has been turned way, way up. It’s drowning out everything else.

I’m not going to go on a rant here; there’s too much of that going on already. I don’t think it’s helpful, and sometimes I think it can be actively harmful to us to listen to too much ranting. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the emotions and forget that there is good in the world. It’s so easy. I have a hard time fighting it, too, and I find myself getting outraged by the messages I see coming at me from everywhere. It’s overwhelming.

I’ve been reluctant to write anything at all about the “current state of affairs”; if you want to know what I think, ask me in person (preferably over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine) and I’ll tell you. There’s too much room for misunderstanding in this format. And I have too many friends with opposing viewpoints to feel comfortable sharing my opinions here. I love all of my friends, and it grieves me to see so much hostility coming from both “sides”.

And honestly, what are these “sides” anyway? Don’t we all want the same thing? To live in peace and harmony, to be protected from the bad behavior of others while at the same time maintaining our right to self-determination? I’m sure there are those who prefer that we stay at war, for their own profit, and that’s sickening. But I don’t think I personally know any of those people. I also don’t think I’m going to persuade anyone to lay down their deeply held convictions and open their hearts to at least hear someone else’s perspective. I wish I could, but I can’t.

My friends, the world we live in isn’t safe. It never has been, and it never will be. Your home could be destroyed in a tornado, or a flood. You or someone you love could be killed in a car crash today. Someone could walk into the restaurant where you’re enjoying your dinner and open fire. A teenager with an assault rifle and a grudge could shoot your child as she sits in a classroom. There is no safety, anywhere.

I’m not going to tell you what you should do to deal with the insanity coming at us from all sides; plenty of others are already doing that. All I can tell you is what I will do:

  • I will stop watching the news.
  • I will go outside and look at the sky.
  • I will pursue my passions diligently.
  • I will pet my cats.
  • I will read a good book.
  • I will go to a play.
  • I will cook tasty meals.
  • I will travel.
  • I will give to charity.
  • I will pray without ceasing.
  • I will love my family, my friends, and people who piss me off.
  • I will be grateful for the extraordinary life I have been given.
  • I will do my best to be kind to everyone.

This is my act of defiance: I will enjoy life. I will seek out the good. I will refuse to be afraid, or angry, or outraged. Life is too short, and I get to choose how to spend the time I have. I choose Joy.

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A Writer Writes

Typewriter and coffee large

My life, whilst awesome, has been in overdrive for a number of months now, and even though I’ve been struck repeatedly by great ideas for blog posts I haven’t allocated the time to write any of them down. And after so much time, all the possibilities piled up and up and I had no idea where to start, so I didn’t. Until today.

What’s so special about today? Oh I don’t know. I just decided that I would re-shuffle my priority list and put this on top. Not that my priority list is all that long at the moment, which is a big change from where I’ve been for some time now. Let me explain – no, it’s too much. Let me sum up:

  • Since early June I’ve been either in rehearsal or production of a play (for those who don’t remember, I’m a stage manager and a board member for a local theatre company), which means that I was out of the house pretty much every night for months;
  • My wedding anniversary and birthday happened;
  • Work has been VERY busy with deadlines;
  • I took three work-related trips in August/September, in the middle of all of that rehearsing and performing;
  • I had the honor of stage managing a dear friend’s wedding;
  • Lalalalalaonandonandon . . . .

There’s been no time to quietly reflect on all the thoughts that have been running around in my head, and any downtime I got I spent on the couch watching television in a vegetative state. There really are just so many productive hours in the day, and once the power supply in my little brain got all used up, I was done. I couldn’t make myself wax eloquent after one of those marathon days, so, no writing for me.

I’m surprised how much I’ve missed it. I mean, I’ve been over-feeding my muse lately, right? All this theatre must have filled any possible artistic void in my soul, right? Apparently not. I’ve been itching to sit here and do this, and I’m really happy right now, clacking away.

Don’t misunderstand – I am a theatre person. It isn’t just what I do, it is incorporated into my cells, hammered onto my brain, burned deep within my heart. What a fool I was to think I could live and be happy without it. Idiot. Well, I know better now.

But writing has always been part of me, too. My father just sent me a photo album of pictures of me as a child, and he included a stack of papers that he’s held onto – some of my report cards, some pictures I drew, birthday cards I made. But the things that blew me away were the bits of writing. I was quite the poet from a very early age. There’s also one page from the play I wrote (and directed and starred in) that I made the neighborhood kids perform in our garage. I’m sorry to say that my handwriting hasn’t significantly improved. These things amazed me, not because they were any good (they weren’t), just the fact of them – I did that, I wrote those things. I had the impulse to do that.

I know I’ve said this many times, but I’ve never seen myself as a writer, which seems ridiculous given all the evidence to the contrary. I wrote as a child. My skill at writing has always been a safe haven for me in the business world. I’ve written articles for which I have been paid – the very definition of a professional writer. I’ve been working on a novel. I have a blog.

And this happened – my alma mater printed a blog post I wrote after a Homecoming weekend two years ago in their alumni magazine. So there it is, out there, with my name on it. More evidence that I should be able to call myself a writer.

But can you call yourself a writer if you don’t write? I think at the end of the day that’s my biggest hang up. I feel like a phony, calling myself a writer and not writing (creatively, that is) every day. I can’t say to people “Yes, I’m working on thus-and-so” because most of the time I’m not. I’m too busy doing everything else – or at least I think I’m too busy. Which is the same thing.

I daydream about taking a week off and locking myself in a cabin in the woods to finish my novel. I’d really like to get the damn thing done, to get it out of me so I can move on. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I can’t see it happening, though – always too much to do. I’m self-employed, so there’s no such thing as paid time off. No work, no pay (or at least that’s how it feels). So, again, no writing for me.

I think about the story of Stephen King, how he wrote Carrie on a typewriter he balanced on his lap sitting in the tiny laundry room in his tiny home. That’s commitment. That’s dedication. Compared to that, I’m a total hack, a journeyman, at dabbler at best.

I am convinced that to be successful at anything creative – painting, dancing, acting, writing – you have to do it, every day. I know this to be true. I’ve written about it myself. This is why sometimes very talented people don’t “make it”, and why lesser-talented people sometimes do. It is a basic human struggle between action and inaction, and success cannot be measured in dollars. Although we are promised that if you follow your passion, the money will follow. I’m not sure that’s true – I know several dedicated, talented artists who have completely committed themselves to their artistic pursuits who haven’t achieved this promised success. At least not yet. I admire these people. Their dedication inspires and intimidates me, but their financial struggles give me pause.

So what does all this mean for me? No idea. I will probably continue to want to call myself a writer but believe I’m a phony until I can find a way to write every day, which will always be a challenge. That won’t change.

I also know that writing occupies a separate, important part of myself that I wasn’t aware of until I took this extended break. There’s a void that only writing can fill. I can’t easily ignore it any longer.

All I can say for sure is that today is a new day, and I have a chance to start over. I’ve written a blog post today. That’s a good start.
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Of Fear, Love and Writing

WritingI have never considered myself to be a creative person.  I have been a singer, but not a musician.  I have acted, but never ever thought of myself as an actor.  I inherited none of my father’s ability to draw and paint.  I’m a good cook, a competent (but not brilliant) photographer, and at a very young age I knew I could have been a decent dancer if I had kept at it, but I did not.  Even with all of these pursuits I never thought of myself as an artist of any stripe.  In my mind, artists were the ones whose gift was obvious, their talent undeniable.  When I compared myself to people I thought of as artists, I believed I was not one of them.

In college I discovered stage management as a discipline, and the first time I heard the term “theatrical technician” I knew I’d found myself.  What a perfect description of me – the practical one who kept the creative types’ feet on the ground.  I could stay connected to the world I loved, but I never had to reveal myself.  I could hide in plain sight, no one the wiser – except for one professor who saw right through me, and who I knew I’d disappointed.  I managed to push the shame of that aside and soldier on, convinced I had finally found my calling.

I was always a good writer, but not of stories or poems.  I strongly believed that I had no gift for creative writing; any attempts I made to write stories in high school were, in my opinion (and that of my English teacher) unsuccessful.  And being the person that I have always been, if I couldn’t be great at something I just wasn’t interested in doing it at all.  I was used to things I wanted coming easily to me.  If I perceived my goal to be too far away I would abandon it in favor of something more easily achieved.   Struggling for my art was not something I wanted to do, which is why I ultimately abandoned all creative pursuits one by one.  Eventually I even stopped stage managing, and for years and years I’ve done nothing creative at all outside of the kitchen.  Which explains a lot.

Writing became a tool that I used to become successful at my non-creative pursuits.  It wasn’t a friend helping me find my way, it was a slave I bent to my will.  It was this way until my cozy life fell apart and writing became my counselor, my support and my confessor.  I wrote the words of my heart in the ink of my grief.  I wrote to catch hold of the pain and put it someplace outside of myself.  But the time came that I didn’t have to do that anymore to survive, so I stopped.

Now I find myself writing again, and for the first time in a very long time it is for the primary purpose of creating.  But even as I’ve taken the first few steps into this new world I find myself up to my old tricks – trying to find the easy way, allowing myself to be content with the early attempts, not stopping to dig too deeply.  Fortunately I’ve recognized this tendency before I’ve sabotaged myself, but the realization has forced the question: do I move ahead, knowing the difficulties that I will encounter, the time it will take, and the statistical probability that I will never make a comfortable living as a writer, or do I do what I’ve done so many times and give up before I even really get started?

I have been at this decision point before, and I have always chosen the path of least resistance.  Sometimes I was aware of the choice I was making, other times the opportunity to choose differently came and went so fast I didn’t see it until it was gone.  Most of the time I convinced myself I was making the “right” choice, even as I ignored that soft, gentle voice that said I was making a mistake.  This time, though, there don’t seem to be as many alternatives available.  It’s as if I’ve used up all of my excuses, and a stronger will is pulling me in, like being caught in a whirlpool or a tractor beam.

And I can feel myself changing.  Thoughts I haven’t had in years about who I am are appearing in my mind.  A sudden thirst for poetry has taken hold of me out of nowhere.  Ideas for stories I could write, ways of making the new memoir meaningful (not just entertaining), and fragments of poems I want to attempt are all jumping around inside my head, dying to get out.  I haven’t felt this energized in decades.  Not since I became afraid of making myself vulnerable, of showing the world who I am and who I was meant to be.  I’m falling in love again, with words and their beauty and mystery and power.  I’m still afraid; I’m not sure if that will ever change.  I’m just tired of letting it stop me.

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Man Friends, Part 2

Venus & Mars b&w

It does take a certain amount of courage to be just friends with someone of the opposite sex (or someone you “shouldn’t” be friends with). People often don’t understand how it’s possible. I know that it is possible, but it can be tricky, and you have to adhere to the rules. What rules you ask? Why, the rules I made up for myself. I’m not a relationship counselor and I don’t pretend to be one, but I’ve honed these rules over time and they have served me well. Here they are:

Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship

Rule #1 – If you find that you are physically attracted to your friend, take two giant steps back. This is the most important rule, and one that causes trouble for people trying to maintain a friendship with someone who is not available for a romantic relationship (or who themselves are unavailable). The thing to remember here is that attraction is spontaneous and mostly outside of our control. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you can certainly control how you react to it. If you value your friendship and don’t want to lose it, be careful how you interact with a person you find yourself attracted to. Don’t allow the attraction to take hold. You may have to step away from the friendship for a while; that’s ok. It’s more important that you don’t do something stupid that you can’t take back.

One other thought about this topic. Yes, sometimes attraction is inevitable and unavoidable, and it can add an element of fun to your friendship, as long as you don’t feed it. I can’t stress this enough – if left unacted on, physical attraction will usually diminish over time, so let it. If your friendship is truly important to you, you will protect it by staying as physically and emotionally far away from the person you are attracted to as possible until the attraction, starved for attention, dies off. I’ve been through it, and I promise you it works.

Rule #2 – Talk openly about your spouse or partner. Unless your friend comes to you for relationship advice there’s a temptation to not discuss your significant other with them. Don’t fall into that trap. Your spouse or partner is an important part of your life; they are part of who you are, and you have to bring all of that to the table to truly be friends with someone. It can feel awkward, but make a point of doing it.

However, DON’T compare spouses or talk about them in a derogatory way thinking to amuse each other! That’s the height of tacky, and I don’t do it or put up with it. I am NOT here for you to complain about your spouse. If you are honestly seeking advice in order to improve your relationship that’s ok, but DO NOT call me up bitching about your wife. I will tell you to get a grip and hang up on you. Also, if I see you behaving in a way that I think is disrespectful to your wife, I WILL call you up and yell at you (yes, I’m talking about YOU – you know who you are!).

Rule #3 – If you’ve had a romantic relationship with your friend in the past, don’t dwell on it. I’m a fan of closure, so if you’re trying to have a friendship with a former flame, deal with whatever you need to deal with and move on. Your friendship exists in the present, not the past. If you find that all you ever talk about with that person is your old relationship, they are not truly a friend. They are a Movie of the Week, endlessly repeating. Get over it. There’s a reason your relationship didn’t work out in the first place, so be glad that you’re both in happy relationships. Find those things that formed the basis of your friendship in the first place and go from there.

An important point here – if your former flame is reaching out and wants to be friends but they are not in a happy, committed relationship be very careful. I would actually advise that you keep your distance from that person. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be their friend – they may need a good friend – but be extremely careful how you manage your interaction. They may be looking for more than just friendship, and they don’t have anything to lose. You do. Watch your step.

Rule #4 – Don’t expect too much. If your friend is in a committed relationship (or, you know, has a life), don’t expect that friend to be interested or available to you all the time. Actually, if one of you seems to be constantly chasing the other one down it can signal trouble in the primary relationship that should be dealt with. For me, I’m happy if I hear from my man friends every couple of months. We may have short exchanges on Facebook, or I may reach out if I see something involving a mutual interest, or if I hear something that causes me concern. Sometimes we’ll meet up for a beer or a meal if we happen to cross paths. But I have no expectation or desire to be in constant communication with my man friends. It would be creepy, and a bad idea.

Rule #5 – Don’t overdo it.  This relates to #4; don’t send your man friends messages on a weekly basis. That’s stalking. These kinds of friendships need space and distance to survive. The trick is finding that balance between keeping the friendship alive and getting too involved in your friend’s life. There’s a limit to how much communication you should have to keep your relationship in the “friend only” zone. Again, like the attraction thing, you have to be very conscious about how you manage the communication with your man friends. I find the key is to have lots of them so I don’t have time to only focus on one (but maybe that’s just me).

Rule #6 (This is for the women only) – Don’t expect your man friend to understand you. This is actually good advice for any relationship, but it definitely applies here.

Women, if you want understanding and empathy, go to your female friends. A man will never, ever understand you, and it is extremely unfair to expect them to do so.

What you can and should expect from a man, be it your husband or your boyfriend or your man friend, is for them to respect and honor you, and to enjoy your relationship in an honest and open way. You should be confident that your man friends like you just for being yourself – otherwise, what’s the point?

A friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. It provides a source of comfort, joy, and companionship. All relationships are different because everyone is different. I get different things from every friend I have, male or female. From some I get sympathy for and identification with my struggles. From others, comradery. From some, wisdom. From others, simple affection. From some, laughter. From others, moral support. From some, the connection of shared passions.  From others, deep and abiding love.

I give my love to my friends freely, without reservation. My friends, men and women, sustain me, they hold me up when I need holding, they give me a place to focus my caring and concern. I am impossibly blessed with the most wonderful friendships of every kind. Some of them may seem unconventional. I really don’t care – they’re mine, and I cherish each and every one.

One last thought. To the spouses of my man friends:  I am not a threat to you. If anything, I’m your greatest ally. I have no desire whatsoever to take your husband from you. I have my own husband; I don’t need yours. Unlike other women who may be interested in pursuing a relationship with your man, I know where the lines are and I will not cross them. But I do ask that you have enough confidence in your marriage to acknowledge that your husband’s friendship with me could make your relationship stronger. If you can give your man the room to be a friend to me, and for me to be a friend to him, I promise you that he will respect you more than he already does.

But, and this is really important, you can’t make him not like me. You can forbid him to speak to me or you can punish him if you think he’s getting too friendly, but that won’t make your marriage any stronger. I’ve lost friends to jealous wives, and I let them go; the last thing I want to do to someone I care about is make their life harder. Friends don’t do that. But what I hope is that you can give him the freedom to maintain his friendship with me, even if you don’t like it. Just so we’re clear, I’ve done that for my husband, and he has done it for me.

So there you have it. This is what I’ve learned over the years of having lots of man friends. I care about them, and I want them to be happy. I hope they feel the same way about me. I think they do.

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Man Friends, Part 1

Venus & Mars b&w

I have a lot of male friends – maybe more than is the norm (or, let’s face it, strictly necessary) for a married woman in her 40’s. I’ve thought a lot over the years about why this is and how I’ve managed to maintain these friendships, and I’ve decided to tell you all my secrets for keeping man friends. Guys, this is for you, too – if you want to know how to be friends with a woman – just friends – this is what you need to know.

First let me say that my husband is the best man friend I’ve ever had. When we met we hit it off right away with a combination of similar interests and a sense of humor. The other stuff came along in time – shared values and goals, trust, commitment – but the friendship has remained. To this day he’s the person I most enjoy being with. We still find ways to make each other laugh, we adore traveling together, and we look forward to going out on dates. We love each other, of course, but we LIKE each other, too. I still see him as a distinct person, someone who has a life and thoughts and concerns and history that is completely separate from mine. You may think that’s an unusual way to view one’s spouse, but I believe it’s the key to a happy marriage. I’m with my husband because I choose him, out of all others, to share my life with – not to become my life. It’s a conscious choice I make every day, and every day I am thankful to have this amazing man as my husband.

Please also understand that my closest, dearest friends are all women. There’s a bond that women have based on shared understanding that is much stronger than any of my relationships with men except for the one I have with my husband.

So, now that you understand those two things, I want to tell you about the other men in my life – my man friends.

I’ve always gotten on well with men. I’m not entirely sure why (I suppose some of my man friends would have to tell you that), but I’ve always had friends who are boys. I do know that sometime in my early teenage years I figured out that being friends with boys was much easier than being friends with girls, in a general way. Boys were unlikely to say mean things just to hurt your feelings, or to purposefully exclude you from group activities, or to take pleasure in publicly humiliating you. I experienced all of this behavior from girls I knew. As a young adolescent I was overweight (which was unusual in my day) and I wore glasses, which made me a prime target for bullying. I found a respite from that social nightmare by hanging out with the guys.

I’ve also noticed that even though we’re all “grown up” now, some women still behave this way; if I’ve had problems with a boss, it’s always been a woman boss. That’s not to say I haven’t had some good women bosses – I have. The best boss I ever had was a woman. But so was the worst. I’d rather deal with men in that capacity because most of the time they’re really only interested in your work. Yes, personalities do come into play, but again, it’s unlikely that a man will try to embarrass you publicly for the fun of it. Throw you under the bus, yes. Take credit for your work, yes. Blame you for their mistakes, yes. But at least they won’t get all personal about it.

So, here it is – my big secret.

I like men.

I realize this won’t be a shock to anyone who knows me, but hear me out. The secret to being friends with a man is to like him for who he is and to have no expectations about what your relationship is or can be.

It’s that simple. And that complicated.

I love all my man friends – straight or gay, married or single – just the way they are. I don’t need or want anything from them. For my married or committed friends I am a huge fan of their partnerships, and for my single man friends I live in hope that they will find someone who will love them. I am here to listen to their problems if they choose to share them with me. I will go to the grave with their secrets. If they want my opinion about something I am happy to give it. The same goes for my advice – and I don’t care if they take it or not. I’m here to celebrate their victories and commiserate their setbacks. I’m someone they can turn to who will always be there, never judging, never demanding anything. The only think I ask is that my man friends respect the friendship as I do, and that they want the same things for me that I want for them – happiness, success, and fulfillment. And that they have the courage to be my friend in the face of occasional disapproval.

Ok, that’s enough for now! Next week I’ll share my Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship.

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Only Human

Forgiveness

Sometimes something happens to remind me that no matter how hard I try, I am human after all. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes – I make mistakes all the time. I’m pretty good about admitting my mistakes when they happen and doing my best to make up for them. I also don’t hold other people’s mistakes over their heads, because, hey, nobody’s perfect.

The thing that I have the hardest time letting go of is when I do or say something in a fit of anger that hurts someone else, usually someone I care about. That happened this weekend, and I’m having trouble forgiving myself.

I told you last week about what was coming – the pressure, the deadlines, the stress – but that I love the theatre “more than breathing” (to borrow a line from one of the plays we presented this weekend). The time we had to pull the whole production together was tight to say the least, but we did it. It was a huge team effort, and I am so proud of the work we did and how it was received. It was entirely successful on every level. A triumph!

But my feelings of joy about it are tainted with the knowledge that I let my feelings of insecurity and stress and fatigue lead me to lash out at a friend.

I know I’m only human, but I keep thinking I’ve grown up, that I’ve moved beyond needing to be reassured that I’m good at what I do, that I’m valued, that I’m respected. Obviously that’s not the case. My friend was only doing what he felt was right, and in my fear of being wrong I got hugely defensive and took a (metaphorical) swing at him. I immediately apologized, and we hugged it out, but I’m still chewing on it. I know he forgives me, but I can’t seem to forgive myself.

I’ve always had impossible standards for myself when it comes to how I behave. I should NEVER get angry. I should NEVER say mean things. I should NEVER raise my voice to someone. Of course I DO get angry at people, but I almost never, ever lash out. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I was stressed out. Yes, I was terrified that I might be so rusty as a stage manager that I would screw up the cues I was responsible for executing (I didn’t). But none of that matters. There is no excuse for what I did – none. And I don’t want to let myself off the hook, or find some excuse that makes it okay, because I don’t ever want to do it again.

I realize I’m probably overreacting, but I can’t help but compare this episode with one that happened over twenty years ago, when in a very similar situation I lashed out at someone I care for. It makes me very sad to think that in all this time I haven’t learned a damn thing.

If someone had said to me what I said to my friend, I could find it in my heart to forgive them, easily. I wish I could forgive myself as quickly. Maybe that’s the lesson here – not to learn how to never have an honest (although inappropriate) emotional reaction, but how to accept the forgiveness offered and move on.

I guess I still have some work to do.

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