Saturday, February 15, 2014

Searching for Connection with Unknown Words and Actions

It's 6:20 a.m. I was rudely awoken by a scorpion that stung me in the foot when I turned over in bed at 4 a.m., and although I am relieved to say a friend of mine was right when he told me that scorpion stings don’t hurt that badly, they certainly DO hurt for a long time.

It’s probably a good time to write you anyway, invisible audience. A lot has happened in the last 10 days or so since my last blog post, but I’ve been having problems trying to articulate it in a cohesive manner, and that’s been enough to keep me from trying.

It’s a recurring theme, actually: if I don’t know that I’ll be able to do it well, it’s scary to try. It’s that perfectionism thing – the thing that tells me that it’s either perfect or nothing: that I must impress people with whatever I’m trying to do or no one will love me.

It’s even worse than that, however. Underneath a bunch of other crap I have cleared away, I have found a deep-seated fear of being alone, and a realization that I have kept myself isolated because of this fear: because the feeling of isolation is more acute after losing a connection than it is when I feel like there’s nothing to lose, so why not just get used to feeling alone to avoid hurting so much?

I did it by resisting all good things I knew about myself; all the ways people showed me that they loved me; all proof that I am worth that love, and dismissed it as luck, happenstance or a mistake. While I was ignoring all the good, I was gathering all the bad – the criticism, the rejection, the imperfect attempts at human connection, all the burned food, all the pain – into a fortress that I could sit in and say, “See? It’s true. I’m not lovable and here’s the proof.”

It’s still that black and white thing. I’ve written about this before, but recently it’s become clear just how deeply I carry it. It's the idea that it’s nothing or everything; if I can’t make sense of it in my head AND in my heart together, it cannot possibly be true; if I do not have it all together all the time, then I have nothing.

How exhausting, and limiting. I spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out how I can love someone deeply and yet hate them in certain situations. I spend even more energy trying to align how I act to match this idea: how to reconcile that I can have certain parts of my life dialed in and yet beat myself up over and over again for the parts that aren’t yet working the way I want them to.

Realizing that I’ve been such a monster to myself has been hard to process. At the same time, realizing what I’ve been doing is actually leading to some clarity, and an ability to recognize the thoughts and patterns when they emerge and try to do something to change them.

For the last 6 months or so I’ve been taking a voice class. I had always thought that I couldn’t sing, and yet recently and as a result of the class, I have found that I can sing. In the last couple weeks, more than one person has complimented me on my voice: its range, its resonance, and its strength. The class has nothing to do with learning scales or doing exercises and everything to do with finding one’s true voice: finding the part of yourself that really has something to say, and letting it say whatever it wants. It’s been a lesson in trusting the voice to speak for itself and practicing over and over again until, suddenly, my real voice emerged, and it’s more beautiful, real and ALIVE than I ever thought possible.

In the midst of letting my voice lead me through these classes, I’ve found that I have a longing to make other sounds, but I don’t know how to make them and I don’t even know what they are. The same idea that I’ve always had that I couldn’t sing has kept me in the same box, and there are only certain sounds available in that box. Outside of the box, where I find myself singing out loud – and loudly – while walking down the street, in my house, or in the shower, I find I want to come up with something else: something more original, less scripted, and more ME than any other sound I’ve ever made before. I think it’s similar to my discovery that the words were not enough: that there have been some missing pieces that I have only recently become aware were missing, not because I’ve found them, but because, suddenly, I can sense the space where they should be.

This all seems to be related. I hear the sounds I’ve been making; I see thewords I’ve been writing; I recognize the scripts I’ve been using all these years now. Even better, I am now seeing the holes in these sounds, these words, these actions, and where the space is around them: where there’s room for improvement, where there’s more space outside of them; where they don’t actually have any legs to stand on. And even though I don’t yet know how to fill these empty spaces or how to get from what I’ve been saying or writing to whatever it is I can’t quite yet fathom are the words, sounds and actions that will give me connection, at least now I’m willing to allow that the answer is out there. With some trust in myself and a lot of practice, I now know I can find it, simply by showing up and saying something different than what I’ve always said, until I find the words that I didn’t know were there, backed by my new voice that has gained its strength and resonance simply from being given the freedom to say whatever it wants. That, and knowing that that kind of sharing – the sharing that comes from an authentic me – is perfect, in all its imperfect glory.

Love and {insert unknown word here} kisses,

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Deviating from the Script

About six months ago I was in a play here in Boquete called Proof. The script won the Pulitzer Prize for its writing, so the director made sure we all knew that we needed to memorize our lines VERBATIM, because if the writing was good enough for a Pulitzer, nothing we could improvise in its place would come close to being as good.

That’s all well and good in a scripted situation, but lately I’ve realized that I’ve fallen out of that kind of territory, and that the subsequent improvisation is tougher than it looks.

I’m trying to do something different here than I’ve ever done before. As of yesterday (February 5), I’ve been in Panama for a year, and I can safely say that the person I am now is very different from the one who arrived. To be honest I’m not sure how differently I seem to outsiders, but I certainly feel a hell of a lot different than I ever have, and that comes with its own set of challenges.

I have realized that, even when it wouldn’t serve me, I’ve always been casting about for a script to follow in any situation.

First date? Great. Talk about mundane things, don’t use too much of your vocabulary, try not to be too excited, definitely don’t eat too much, give some time for a kiss at the door, but not too much time, because that would be needy. Second date? Repeat, but maybe increase the amount of time at the door just slightly.
Uncomfortable situation, with someone who won’t shut up, won’t stop talking about themselves, or drunkenly holds onto you and tells you they love you? Be patient, be polite, and know it will soon be over.

Something emotionally hurts beyond all recognition? Hole up in your house where no one can see you cry and weather the storm alone.

These are all old scripts of mine, and as comfortable as it can be to repeat the words I’ve learned by heart – such an apropos term, don’t you think? – the only way to break out of it is to toss away what I’ve always known and go for something else – something new: a different approach; some different words.

How TERRIFYING. If I handle it off the cuff, -- if I let myself slap that drunken hand off my arm, lean in for the kiss myself, or show up at a friend’s house on a day I just know I’m not going to be able to hold it together without sobbing and seeking an embrace -- if I have no idea what I’m going to say to them, I have no idea how they’re going to react to me, either.

And therein lies the hard part, invisible audience: losing the illusion of control and realizing that there’s much more freedom and beauty in it than in using the words that may have never worked the way I wanted to them to, but certainly got me a response I was expecting. When I’ve scripted out the response, however, I haven’t made room for any of the magic or music that can come from spontaneous and heartfelt human interaction.

This hurts. It hurts more than I ever expected. It hurts more than I ever wanted it to. It feels in a way I’ve never let myself feel. I am angrier, sadder, happier, louder, more terrified and more emotionally raw than I ever could have been before, and in the midst of all these feelings, I am bumbling around in the dark, trying to find the words to turn on not just the light, but the right light: the one that leads me further down my path instead of back to the old scripts I’ve shoved into a dusty corner. 

I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s what it really comes down to. It’s all new, and not in a bad way, but it’s a scary way nonetheless. I can’t even pretend to know anymore. I give up trying to script my life, trying to anticipate the next step, predict my way through the next month or try to anticipate in advance how to sandbag my defenses for the next storm, because not only do I have no idea what the next storm will be, if I guess incorrectly I will have spent a lot of time and energy building a defense that I didn’t need in the first place.

So here’s to making room for the improvised moments of magic: the possibility of golden unexpected connection, and to moving forward despite the fear.

Love and unscripted kisses