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Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

I wrote a short story with that title once: “This is Not Your Story.” I think it was a fantasy story, but really all I can remember now is the title. I suspect the story itself was not overly memorable.

When I was in London, I spent a lot of time walking around the city, and most of all, the parks. There is something intensely soothing to me about walking in that city’s leafy green spaces, occasionally stopping to take a picture or read a few chapters of a novel. And thinking. So much space for thought.

One thing I thought about a lot was how so much of what has been going on around me has very little to nothing to do with me. In one sense, it does, of course, because I have been present, I have been involved, I have had relationships of all kinds with people throughout my life. But even so, so much of it isn’t about me at all. It doesn’t have a lot to do with what has happened to me, or how I’ve felt, or what I’ve wanted, or what I’ve been thinking.

This is not my story.

Photo Credit: Brujo+ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Brujo+ via Compfight cc

I would like to be able to say that this realization has helped me take things less personally. That might even be true. But at the same time, it has made me keenly aware of my propensity to allow things to become my story, even though they really don’t belong to me.

I allow myself to be invisible. I allow myself to be crowded into a small space so there is more space for others. I allow my voice to cease being heard. I think, if only I say the right thing, if only I behave the right way, if only I am an even better listener, if only I am more understanding, if only I let this slide or keep my mouth shut or let it go because it’s not like it matters that much anyway (it’s not like I matter that much anyway, is really what I’m telling myself here), then everything will work and everyone will like me and I will finally be given the space I need to thrive.

To be clear, this is complete bullshit. It doesn’t work.

I’ve been having a hell of a time writing blog posts lately because I’m afraid to even lay claim to my own story. If I say anything about x topic, I think, then this person will think I’m writing about them, even though actually it has nothing to do with them, or maybe it does but that doesn’t mean it’s not an appropriate topic for the blog, but that means I can’t write about that topic, unless I find a way to be very clever so I’m kind of writing about it without writing about it. And three hours later, here I sit with no blog post to show for it. Or I’m bending over backwards to be incredibly vague, even while suspecting that it’s impossible for me to ever be vague enough. And the writing suffers as a result. This also doesn’t work.

Okay, so what does work?

Being authentic works. Being honest works. Speaking up works. Being firm and clear works. Not wanting everyone to like me works. Noticing when other people’s stories are coming strongly into play works. Refusing to take responsibility for other people’s stories works. Laying claim to my own story, yeah, that works too.

This is my story, and I’m going to write about it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss and inspiration and kindness.

How are you going to tie all of those ideas together in an essay, Amy? Yeah, I’m not really sure either. But I am going to try.

When I first checked my phone on Tuesday morning, I learned that fantasy writer Graham Joyce had died. I felt sad. Sad because many of my friends are grieving the loss of someone important to them. Sad because the one time I met Graham, he had been kind and generous to me.

Sad because then I thought about Jay, and I miss him. I don’t talk about it much. I’m not sure there’s very much to say. The sadness is here, inside of me. That’s all.

We try so hard to distract ourselves, and others, from the reality of this sadness. We want so badly to fix, to take away pain, whether it’s our own pain or somebody else’s. Distraction, cheering up, intellectual discussions about philosophical implications.

But at some point we have to stop all of that and just sit. Sit with sadness. Sit with whatever emotions there are. Turn off the fixer, because there is no fixing death. There is no fixing loss. There is no fixing of so many things.

Sometimes there is someone who is willing to sit with us so we will not be alone. But we are not always so lucky. And sometimes being alone makes it easier. Either way, at some point, the sitting must occur.

Graham Joyce’s final blog post is being widely quoted because it is brilliant. This is my favorite part:

“Actually I know what the dragonfly said.  It whispered: I have inhabited this earth for three hundred million years old and I can’t answer these mysteries; just cherish it all.

And in turn the Heron asks, with shocking clarity as it flies from right to left and left to right: why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?”

Cherish. There is so much that is beautiful and good in the world, and it deserves the attention. It is so easy to miss seeing it; it’s so easy for it to be drowned out by the ugly and the ignorant and the damaging. But the good still matters; it keeps us going.

Inspire. We all need a hand up from time to time, or a new idea, or a fresh way of seeing. We help each other to be creative and kind and informed and engaged. We help each other to be better than we could be on our own.

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

I’m reminded of another quote I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s from E. Lockhart’s novel We Were Liars: “Be a little kinder than you have to.”

That’s it. Be a little kinder. I hear these words in my head several times a week. They help me get out of my head when I’m about to stand up for myself or deliver bad news. They help me get past the empathy response that encourages me NOT to stand up for myself, because they give me a guide for how to behave that honors that empathy while also taking care of myself. They remind me that I can be clear and firm and honest without being unnecessarily cruel.

And they encourage me to a little kinder to myself as well.

Cherish, inspire, and be a little kinder when you can. Yes. That is what I’d like to spend my life doing.

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I imagine a better world for myself.

I imagine a world in which sexual harassment is not a common reality, in which consent matters and communication matters and female bodies aren’t so objectified that it becomes easy to forget there’s a person here in this body. In which harassment is strictly not allowed instead of being given a pass or labeled a misunderstanding. In which no always means no and nobody is trying to pretend that isn’t actually true so they can feel better about the horrible way they have treated other people.

I imagine a world in which people don’t tell me what to do unprompted, and people don’t explain things to me that I already know, and people don’t tell me incorrect information about things about which I already know and then won’t listen when I gently question this false information. A world in which I am not shut down when I try to express my opinion or reservations.

I imagine a world in which there are more choices for me than just the Virgin and the Whore. In which I am not shamed for having a body, for how I dress, for the existence of sexuality. In which I am not pressured, repeatedly, to do things I am not comfortable doing. In which vulnerability is not a weakness to be exploited. In which the word “tease” is never used as a weapon. In which I don’t have to worry about the possibility of being physically forced.

I imagine a world in which instead of being told I’m too emotional, my feelings matter. In which the boundaries I set are actually taken seriously. In which people take responsibility for their bad behavior instead of expecting me to be run over by a bus on their behalf. In which there isn’t an expectation that we’ll all just pretend that didn’t happen. In which my discomfort with bad behavior is met with neither anger nor denial. In which people know that empathy doesn’t mean just caring about someone but involves understanding their perspective and feeling compassion on their behalf.

I imagine a world in which people don’t feel entitled to me, to my body, to my time, to my energy. In which basic decency doesn’t expect a reward. In which my choices are celebrated instead of constrained. In which people don’t use manipulation tactics to attempt to control me. In which instead we are gifts to each other, freely given but not taken for granted.

I imagine a world in which I am surrounded by amazing and supportive people. In which none of us are perfect but all of us are willing to own the issues that are ours. In which we’ve learned how to listen, and how to apologize, and how to respect, regardless of gender or color or class or orientation.

And then I imagine myself. I imagine setting boundaries, standing up for myself, and rejecting the pervasive message that I do not matter. I imagine treating myself with the kindness and respect I used to reserve for others. I imagine allowing others to experience the consequences of their behavior without shouldering any of their responsibility. I imagine shedding shame like a skin I’ve outgrown.

Yes. I can be that woman.

Maybe I already am.

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I’m getting ready to go on vacation, and it hasn’t been the most uplifting time around here, and then just as I sat to write this, the news of Robin Williams’s suicide broke.

I feel like we need something inspiring on the blog today, something to counterbalance the mud pit of suck.

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I haven’t been very inspired lately. Mostly I’ve been bone-weary, and that’s when the doubts began to pop up and frolic in my landscape of discouragement. They didn’t help my mood any. I felt pretty horrible until I remembered something.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

I don’t know if you all are going to find that very inspiring, but it helped me a lot last week, so it’s what I’ve got for you.

Some of you will remember that I had my birthday epiphany about a month and a half ago. I wasn’t sure at the time what was going to happen with it, or if it would even stick.

Well, it stuck.

And it has been both a difficult and an amazing thing. In the long term, I’m pretty sure it will be mostly amazing. But in the short term, it has been mostly difficult. At the threat of such a large change in perspective, all my deepest fears have been coming out to play and fight for their continued existence, and they are as big and as scary as they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, I am already seeing myself and my life differently, and making different choices as a result, but I haven’t yet developed the emotional muscle and skills to deal with these choices with anything resembling ease.

So yes. In some ways things have gotten worse. But I can see how they are going to be better. I can see the people-pleasing behavior beginning to recede as I make real progress in setting firm boundaries. I can hear the desperation in the loudness of my self-critical thoughts. I can appreciate the generous and heartfelt support of the friends I’ve reached out to in the last few weeks. Some of them are newer friends or don’t know me as well, and it certainly felt like they could have easily dismissed my overtures and requests for support. But they didn’t. They were there for me, and even while I was in the middle of disappointing and discouraging circumstances, these people helped rebuild my hope in what my future could look like.

So if I can leave you with one more inspiring thought, it is this: You matter. Your choices matter. You reaching out to others and being there for others when they reach out, that matters. Your kindness matters.

It has certainly mattered to me.

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

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Well.

This was supposed to be a bright, happy, bouncy post. And we will get there, never fear. But now that I’ve sat down to write it, I find I want to provide a little context for where we’re going.

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I believe there is value in documenting the grieving process, so this is what has been happening.

My friend Jay died two months ago now. And in those two months, I have taken an emotional beating. Close readers of this blog apparently already know this, so now I’m just taking the final step and being explicit.

Very little of this beating has had much of anything to do with Jay’s death. His death was a catastrophe that put me in a vulnerable place, yes, and apparently that’s all it took to allow floods of bullshit to wash in.

I was going to call it drama, but let’s call it what it is, shall we? And sadly, much of it is bullshit, plain and simple.

I’m exhausted. And my tolerance for such things has dropped to historically low levels. I am considering keeping it there.

An unfortunate side effect of all of this is that I’ve had to put my grief on hold while I deal with other things. Yes, it’s a luxury to even be capable of doing so, but it is still not a situation that makes me happy. In my experience, putting grief on hold has a tendency to backfire in unfortunate and sometimes unpredictable ways. Not ideal. Not at all.

But that is what is happening. Hey presto, context!

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In more fortuitous news, I’m going on vacation in a few weeks. A blissful, well-deserved, drama-free, AMAZING vacation. I can’t wait.

And in the meantime, I have signed up to participate in GISHWHES, otherwise known as the GREATEST INTERNATIONAL SCAVENGER HUNT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN.

At this point, I think my belief that sometimes things need to be shaken up is well documented on this blog. And there is no better time to shake things up than when life is being unfortunate. So I am extra super excited to be spending next week doing something completely different and outside of my comfort zone.

It should be especially exciting because improv makes me nervous, doing strange things in public makes me a little nervous too, and me crafting doesn’t so much make me nervous as it often yields results that are suboptimal (and possibly hilarious). Or else I’m just kind of slow. Seriously, the only C I’ve ever gotten in my life was in 6th grade art because it took me so long to complete each project. Pushing Amy out of her comfort zone? Check check check.

On the other hand, writing a real online dating profile for Nala? I am so all over that. (Yes, this was a real task from last year.)

I am sweet little dog who enjoys traveling, going to see movies, and pretty much all adventure sports. And of course, I love to bark!

I am a sweet little dog who enjoys traveling, going to see movies, and pretty much all adventure sports. And of course, I love to bark!

The founder of GISHWHES, Misha Collins, has this to say about the hunt: “GISHWHES is about creating art, pushing boundaries, perpetrating acts of kindness and, ultimately, redefining our perception of “the possible.””  And I am 100% behind all those things, as a creative person, sure, but more fundamentally, as a human being. It’s so easy for our view of the world, and of ourselves, to become limited and stagnant, and it is so important to do what we can to work against this trend.

I’m hoping I’ll have time to post updates on the blog over the course of the next week on how things are going in GISHWHES land, but I’m not sure how all-consuming it is going to be. So I will be playing it by ear. (Gasp!)

Meanwhile, I’ll be remembering, and gleefully celebrating, that life is what you make of it, one day at a time.

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Theodora Goss’s latest post cracked my head open, and thoughts have been pouring out ever since. There are at least three essays I could write in response to it.

This is one of them. It is about secrets.

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Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

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I have forged myself into a receptacle for keeping secrets. I have been a reliable secret keeper for twenty-five years. I know things I wish no one would ever need to know.

People tell me their secrets. Mostly men, because I’ve made an inadvertent lifelong study of being the type of woman men confide in. I’ve only realized this recently, and I’m not quite sure what, if anything, I am going to do about it. Is it so bad to be a secret keeper for other people?

I think it actually might be, at least in certain circumstances, because after a while, I disappear in the sea of secrets. The narratives unfold, and I allow them so much space that eventually I compress into hardly anything at all. Being a secret keeper can be hazardous to your health. It takes a master to prevent their encroachment and hold them where they belong.

Can I be a master? Perhaps.

Do I want to be? This is an entirely different question. I think I do, but only when my own secrets get to be a part of the sea.

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There are two types of people: those who, at the slightest hint of anything difficult in conversation, become distinctly and obviously uncomfortable, and those who aren’t afraid of talking about the hard stuff.

There are two types of people: those who know how to listen, and those who have never trained themselves to hold space for another person.

The ideal secret keeper doesn’t blink an eye at the hard stuff, and she holds space without a trace of judgment. The secret teller can then unburden himself in safety.

There is an art to creating trust.

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I have plenty of secrets. I don’t think about them all of the time, even most of the time, but when I do, I feel like they might choke me.

I turned keeping secrets into a modus operandi back in middle school, and I never looked back. My survival, I was convinced, depended on my ability to keep all these secrets that no one would understand. The idea of gossip about me was unimaginably horrible.

So I simply never told anybody anything.

It worked, too. And to this day I don’t think I made the wrong choice.

Then again, I still sometimes say very little indeed. So of course I agree with my past self. Of course.

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I have secrets I might be literally unable to talk about. I do not have the words. I am a writer without words, which as you might imagine, can be disconcerting. I might have to create a whole new language in order to express these secrets accurately.

I do not have the words because that’s what happens when something is traumatic enough. The trauma leaches words of meaning, and it blanches them bone white so they are hard to distinguish.

You read about avoidance of talking about trauma, and you think, oh, that must be like when you avoid cleaning your bathroom. But it is nothing like avoiding cleaning the bathroom. It is more like, your bathroom lacks the coherence and structural integrity to be able to clean. But it’s still sitting there needing to be cleaned all the same. So then you have to rebuild the entire freaking bathroom just so you can clean it.

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Secrets are bad for your health. This seems relevant to the current discussion. It is why one bothers to go to all the trouble of rebuilding the bathroom. Which, any way you slice it, is a huge pain in the ass.

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Right now this blog post is a secret. But tomorrow morning it will go out into the world, and the act of you reading it will transform it into something else.

Now that you have reached the end, it is no longer a secret. It is something we know together.

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I’m in the middle of birthday week. I really like birthday week. Even this year.

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I had this epiphany on Sunday night. I think it might come across as cheesy, or maybe simply incoherent. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway because it’s birthday week. That’s the great thing about birthday week. I feel completely comfortable asking everyone to humor me this week, and in general, people do. Even though most people don’t celebrate a birthday week themselves, it seems to be a concept that is easy for people to understand and get behind. Of course, that doesn’t give me license to be cruel or insensitive. But it means I can tell you stories that might lack a certain punch, and you’re more likely to bear with me.

Which is awesome. And is one reason why I am so fond of birthday week.

Here's another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

Here’s another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

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So, back to my epiphany. It was Sunday night, and even though birthday week had started on Saturday (or Thursday, depending on who you ask), the last couple of days had not been completely smooth sailing. I hadn’t let this spoil my fun, but I was definitely feeling tired. So I was thinking back on the rocky bits of the weekend, and suddenly my brain went ka-chink, and I had my epiphany. (Is that the way epiphanies work for other people? Like suddenly everything just clicks together and makes a lot more sense than it did five minutes ago?) The events of the weekend, I realized, had had no effect on the core of myself.

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Let me explain. (You’re bearing with me, right? Because birthday week?)

I wasn’t plagued by doubts: wondering if I’d done the right thing, or if I should have behaved differently, or did I do anything wrong, or how I could have avoided all unpleasantness.

I wasn’t trying to fix anything: the situation, any other person, or myself. I was perfectly content hanging out with Nala that evening, and if I hadn’t been, it felt as though I would have been perfectly all right not being completely content, too.

I didn’t think any less of myself. I didn’t think any differently about myself at all, really. Some stuff had happened. I hadn’t wanted it to happen, I had feelings about the fact it had happened, but I had responded to it to the best of my abilities. I knew there might be consequences in the future, but the future wasn’t right now.

My life, my circumstances, and my emotions were rippling in response, but the deepest parts of me were unmoved.

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I’ve always hated that saying about how people only have the power to hurt you if you give that power to them. Because I mean, really, if someone is determined to hurt you, it’s not a cakewalk to keep them from succeeding. If you’re being battered repeatedly by life, there is such a thing as getting really freaking tired.

But for the first time, I understood where whoever said that was coming from. I felt like I had a choice.

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I don’t know if this epiphany will stick. But if it does, I think it’s probably the best birthday present ever.

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