Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leaping into and over Puddles

It is 2 p.m. and it is time to go for a run.  I don’t care that it is pouring outside.  It seems appropriate to leap into puddles today; then again, I never really outgrew puddle jumping.

April 2011 3rd marathon in favorite red running jacket

I don’t stop thinking the entire time I get dressed.  Even as I pull on running tights and a blue tech t-shirt and yank my long, dirty blond hair back into a pony tail, I ruminate over the state of my soul and the economy and chapter 24 and my friend that is irked with me and the overdue car inspection.  And then I smile and stretch and pull on my favorite article of clothing, ever: my red running jacket.

If I have a talisman, this jacket is it.  I bought it at the L.L. Bean Outlet in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, more than ten years ago and I have worn it hiking and walking and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and of course while running.  It’s a thin windbreaker with a zipper that just barely works, a hood, and it has a removable zip-in liner that I almost never use.  If you ask one of my friends who lives around the block from me about me, she might say something about this jacket.  If you see a woman running in a red jacket anywhere near Burke, Virginia, chances are it is me.  I run that many miles with this jacket and it feels as comforting to me as a stuffed animal feels to a small child.

I warm my legs up with a 5-minute walk, and by then I struggle to see the ground through the raindrops.  For a few minutes, I contemplate the ratio of raindrops to air, and I shake my head at my weirdness.  In the summer time, the ratio here in the Northern Virginia swamps approaches 100%, but on this day, it is 45 degrees and even though it is raining, I deem it perfect running weather.  I’m not picky about running weather: rain; ice; snow; wind; freezing cold; burning heat . . .  well, the heat is not to my liking but I love running nonetheless.

I settle into a comfortable pace.  A neighbor drives past in her white crossover and beeps at me twice in greeting, and I wave and grin.  I concentrate on running tall and landing midfoot and I ignore the driving spike-like pain in my lower back.  At my age, pain is the price I pay for running and I will pay it happily until I have no cartilage left in my body, and even then, I will borrow whatever capital I need to keep running.

Running through Puddles

I will keep running for the same reason our souls seek their maker.  When I run I feel like I am home.  My feet tap on the sidewalk and the sound of my hood goes “Glunk-wunk” every time I land and I breathe in the air and the rain and the food for my soul.  Some women retreat to cathedrals or to churches to refill the vestibules of their spirits.  I glance to my left at the muddy, brownish-green water rushing over the creek bed.  The rain creates a living mosaic as it hit the running water in a pattern that intrigues and comforts and confounds me.  And then I give up trying to comprehend it and I just run.  And in running, I am home again.

Philosophical Sayings or Actions that Help Someone in Need

The other day, I wrote about Modern Philosophical Sayings that Annoy Me.  Now, with the help of several bloggers and friends, I offer the companion piece to it.  I hope that when you’re troubled, or sad, or trying to comfort someone who is struggling, you will find something in the words below that helps you.

The first quote comes from I Want a Dumpster Baby: “‘More will be revealed and this too shall pass.’ My sponsor has said these words to me for 10 years. I’ve heard these words a million times and they have pissed me off and have given me great comfort.”

My friend and Blogger, Ill not Crazy, said quite simply, “You are worth it.”   And thank you: yes we are.

Hands Free Mama added her favorite quote.  “My sister sent me a card when I was going through a tough time. The card said: ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay it’s not the end.’ I love this and I keep it in mind every time I am going though something painful or difficult.”

Astrea Baldwin then added a beautiful quote that makes me smile.  “Life is not about waiting on the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  I realized the other day, as I was grieving the loss of my birth family, that even in my grief I was feeling moments of great happiness.  And you know what?  That is fine and good.

My friend Sheri wrote in: “Tomorrow is another day.  Everyone says it, but my Dad said it to me.  No matter how crappy today, this minute is . .  . tomorrow holds the key to NOT being crappy.”  I agree Sheri, and I will add one of the quotes that has gotten me through many a desperate night: “I always feel better after a night’s sleep.”  Not a “good night’s sleep.”  Any sleep has helped.  Many times I dreaded sleep, not knowing what I would face in the morning, but when I woke, I felt better (even if only a tiny bit).

My friend John contributed: “Don’t throw in the towel, because up around the next bend lies the best waterfall you have ever seen.”  In the same vein, John went on to say, “Just like the ocean, the tide will change and when it does, you will behold the best driftwood and prettiest purple agate.”  And it is true, at least for me, that I never give up, in part because I hope to find that waterfall or that piece of driftwood or that pretty purple agate.

Jen Blackburn, the founder of Grass Roots Initiative to Prevent Suicide and a dear friend, said, “BREATHE IN HOPE.  As long as we have breath we have hope, so breathe in hope.”  Ask Jen how much she loves this quotation!  I love it too.  I have not always had hope, but I do know how important hope is for human happiness.

Jen Blackburn added a second quote: “Stay in the present. The past is gone, the future isn’t real.  All we can manage is the here and now.”  What I love about this, for those of us who beat ourselves up about the past, is that it encourages us to let go of that sharp inner critic and to keep moving forward.  This is meshes with another important concept: we must forgive ourselves for mistakes we made in the past.

My friend, Far Away and Long Ago, expressed the simple need for human comfort in her own quotation: “Hold me.  Just hold me. Let me cry, and hold me.  Do not try to speak words of comfort, just wrap your arms around me.  And hold me.”  Many, many times, I have curled up against my husband and asked him to hold me and it always makes me feel better.

My friend Christeen has tattooed two different quotes on her wrists.  The first tattoo reminds her of people/entities who love her or whom she loves (“Faith, Family, Friends”); the second, of things she loves to do (“Live, Laugh, Love”).  “Between those [tattoos], I can usually find something to focus on when I am in crisis.  And since I am more of a tactile than a visual person, having the tattoos helps me because I can touch, rather than merely see, them.”

My friend Tara likes to “Talk it through myself,” and yes, my friend that may “sound simple,” but it is also very helpful.  In order to heal, we need to sort out our problems internally and that requires listening to our inner voice.

My friend, equestrian and 50 Sense Page Administrator wrote: “It’s just a lightning flash in eternity.”  And this is so true.  All pain, no matter how intensely we feel it, is something that in time we can process and manage and move past . . . which is not to say it is not real pain.  It just means that it will not last forever.  Things can and will get better.  In time.

The wonderful blogger The Loneliness of the Stay-at-Home-Mother wrote: “What I try to remember for myself (usually unsuccessfully) and what I tell my friends is that getting it out of your head and off of your chest may not ‘solve’ anything but it will at least give you room to breathe.”  I agree that it helps to talk with people we love.  Then she added something else.  “Also, a lot of people dislike this, but there is a certain simplicity and lightness in ‘It is what it is.’  I take it as: there are things that are out of your control so just take them for what they are and don’t try to shape them to fit your needs or wants.”  Just so.

Another friend emphasized the importance of, “This too shall pass.” Later, she added a quote from the great Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Who here has memorized Rudyard Kipling’s “If?”  If not . . . go grab that!   No, I jest (sort of).  I am not giving out homework assignments.  But poetry helps me cope.  And so . . . does music.  And . . . running, and walking . . .

And finally, what helps me when nothing else works?  When I feel like the world is crushing down on me, I remind myself to breathe.  And when it gets too hard to breathe, I get down on my knees and I pray.  Yep.  He listens, or at least I trust that He is listening, and that’s enough for me.  I may be a woman of reason, but I know when to admit I need more help than another human can give me.  And deep inside, I believe in Him.  And I believe He loves me.

We love to hear from you!  What helps you when you’re struggling?  Peace and love to you.

© February 22, 2012 E. L. Farris

Modern Philosophical Sayings that Annoy Me

Yesterday, the administrator from one of my favorite Facebook Pages, Stephanie StClaire: Blissbombed (she also is a personal coach and writes a blog at asked her readers to discuss the modern philosophical sayings that most annoyed them.  My eyelids hurt too much yesterday to add much to the discussion, but to see Stephanie’s take on this and many other issues, please check her out on Facebook or on her webpage.  Meanwhile, I came up with a list of my own annoying sayings.  So here we go down the rabbit hole.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

No!  Mistakes occur all of the time.  Anything involving human actors means that imperfection abounds.  Sometimes people do stupid things for NO reason.  Remember Camus’s The Stranger?  The main character shoots someone for no real reason, except that “the sun was in his eyes,” or something crazy like that.  Or how about Bruce Springsteen’s serial killer in “Nebraska?”  When asked why he killed all of his victims, he replies, “Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

“Everything happens at the right time.”

This is for all of my friends who conceived a baby at perhaps not the most opportune time.  All of them have stated that the right thing happened at the wrong time.

“It is God’s will.”

This saying once infuriated me and made me hate God for a couple of years, because I mistakenly believed it.  My friend Ceres was 18 when she died in a freak accident.  I was 14.  Ceres graduated from our private school in Maryland (which sent many of its graduates to Ivy League schools) a year early, and went on to study astronomy at Princeton.  After visiting her family on winter break, she boarded an Amtrak train to return to school.  The engineer took cocaine that day and because of his decision, taken without God’s input, the train crashed, killing several.  One of the deceased was Ceres.  God had NOTHING to do with this tragedy.

“God will not throw anything at you that you are not strong enough to handle.”

How do we know God’s will?  God is not a magician, pulling and twisting the strings of our fate and adding just the right challenges to test us when we’re strong enough to handle whatever He decides must come our way.  God does not control our lives like that.  He gave us free will; as a result, people throw all sorts of shit at us we can or cannot handle.  We handle it in the best way we can.  Or we shrug and do nothing.  Sometimes we grow stronger; sometimes we hold on and barely weather the storm; sometimes we crumple.  We alone control how we handle life’s challenges.  It helps many of us to pray for strength, but God cannot lift us off the ground.  Only we can do that.

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was and the present worse than it is.”

This lacks any rational basis whatsoever.  I for one view the past with a great deal of trepidation and sadness.  If anything, I spend too much time living in the future and not enough time enjoying the present moment. In one sense, therefore, the philosopher above at least recognizes a human’s occasional inability to live in the present, or “carpe diem.”  But I mostly enjoy the present.  Greatly.

“Love me without restriction. Trust me without fear. Want me without demand.”

To love someone unconditionally is not the same thing as to love someone without restriction or expectation.  I want and expect certain things from the people I love.  I want (even require and demand) respect and a benevolent attitude from friends and family.  I love unconditionally but not to the extent that I will continue in a relationship that damages me or has grown toxic.  As one friend of mine always says, “If you’re on a plane and it’s going down, grab your oxygen mask first before you help someone else.”  Nor will I remain in an abusive relationship; instead, I create boundaries that keep me safe.  And boundaries, my friends, can be seen as restrictions.

“You can’t love others before you learn to love yourself.”

This one was a hard one, and as a teenager, I would advise my friends, with great sagacity, that they couldn’t love anyone before they loved themselves. Sorry teenage friends but this one is untrue.  I loved others, and often with great intensity, while I secretly loathed myself.  It wasn’t until I held this baby creature named Jim in my arms, and such inexpressible, soulful love for me was written in those big blue eyes of his that something clicked deep inside me.  I already loved him as much as I would ever love another creature, but my child’s love for me taught me how to love myself.  I first loved myself through his eyes.  Or perhaps his love for me sparked something that already existed inside of me.  All I know is that I loved my dear Jim before I loved the woman I had become.

“There is no truth. Everything is relative. Truth is in the eyes of the beholder.”

There is an entire philosophy called moral relativism and as far as I am concerned, it is bunk.  I cite the 6 million Jews murdered during the holocaust.  In addition, I cite the statistic that 1 in 4 women have been raped or sexually assaulted as grounds for believing that there is evil in this world.  And I cite, as proof of good, the laughter of a child, big blue eyes staring into my own with adoration or a sunbeam on a frigid winter morning after a long, cold rain.

How about you dear reader?  What modern philosophical sayings, mentioned or not mentioned above, get you riled up?  I love to hear from you!

My Novel in One Sentence

Novel Overview

            The other day, my writing partner Renee-Schuls-Jacobsen Lessons from Teachers and Twits and I tried to summarize my novel in a paragraph, and I’m here to tell you it isn’t easy to step back and pinpoint a book in one sentence.  And to be frank, I have been a little nervous about revealing the plot because it is, like so much of what I write, a bit raw.  I’m afraid that prospective readers will hear that and howl, “Gah!  Too dark!”  And the thing is, this is not a dark story.  Ultimately, I am weaving a tale of hope, redemption, friendship and love.  How is that you ask?  From chapter 9 to the end of what I am tentatively naming Ripple, I show how competent and loving care can resurrect a shattered young woman and her broken mother.

Because so many people have been helping me solve plot questions on my Facebook page Running from Hell with El, I wanted everyone to know more about what I am doing.  In one sentence, here it is.  After the rape of a 15-year old girl named Phoebe, her mother Helen protects her in a way she never thought she could, and after she seeks help, we see the ripple effect of women helping women.  That sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it took me thousands of words to cull it down to a sentence that could fit in a Twitter Running from Hell update.  And I owe my writing partner for helping me write this sentence.

Where does this concept come from?  Go ahead and laugh.  It comes from a Grateful Dead song.  The song is (yeah you guessed it) called Ripple.  Pretend you’re listening to background music as you hear these lyrics:

  06 Ripple

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,

If your cup is full may it be again,

Let it be known there is a fountain,

That was not made by the hands of men.

In my novel, several characters, in their professional capacity as lawyers, therapists, the operators of a safe home for abused women, and even a horse trainer, reach out and help Phoebe and her mother.  In flashbacks, the reader will see how the mother’s attorney, Cassandra, went through her own periods of darkness.  In a very real sense, I am writing about the ripple effect of women helping women.

When I conceived this novel a year ago, I knew that my main characters, like me, would emerge from darkness and tragedy into a bright future.  This is why I named the girl Phoebe.  Her name means “Child of Light.”  From the very darkest places, if we reach out with our hand with an empty cup and someone reaches back and refills it with love, we will find our way to the light.  Always searching, always reaching . . . for the light.

Judging Friends and Setting Boundaries

In 11th grade, I completed an essay and in it, I quoted the biblical phrase, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”[1]  I wrote a precocious albeit philosophically naïve two pages about the nature of condemnation without comprehension.  To my mind, the concept of judging others meant that we should not judge others before we take the time to understand them.  And it is a truism that as tribal humans, we tend to dislike anyone who looks unlike us.  We feel uncomfortable and fearful of that which we do not understand.  Hence, a lack of comprehension often results in condemnation of others.  And this is neither wise nor compassionate.  Wisdom and compassion both figure prominently in the traits to which I aspire.  In the world I live in, I try to understand what someone is saying or doing before I judge and condemn it.

I’m an adult now.  So much has changed in the way I view the world, and yet so little has changed.  I have a tender heart balanced by a strong jaw.  I stand by my friends and family, often to a fault, and I try to cast a naturally judgmental mind aside when a friend is in trouble.  But here is the rub: it is impossible to live with honor and mindfulness without judging others.

Hold on dear reader.  We need to define terms. To judge means:

1. To pass legal judgment on: The court judged him guilty.

2. To hear evidence or legal arguments in (a case) in order to pass judgment; adjudicate; try: The Supreme Court is judging that case.

3. To form a judgment or opinion of; to decide upon critically: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

4. To infer, think, or hold as an opinion; conclude about or assess: He judged her to be correct.

It is impossible to live, qua human, without “inferring, thinking, or holding opinions.”  It is unwise to interact with others without forming judgments or opinions.  Without judgment, how can we choose, for example, the man we should marry?  Would just any Tom, Joe or Travis do?  Without judgment, how do we vote for politicians to lead our country?  Without judgment, how do we navigate the twists and turns of our lives?

The clear conclusion, my friends, is that actions matters.  Words mean something.  Values are not relative.  And (gasp) some things really hurt or bother me.  That’s right.  Now we’re getting to the real issue here.  Or more precisely, we are going to apply the rule, that we must judge in order to live mindfully and make wise choices, to a real life situation.

I have this friend.  When I met her, I was struck by her larger-than life persona.  She talks too loud and laughs too loud and these aren’t bad qualities.  These are the special details that endear someone to us.  After we became friends, I started hearing rumors.  Mutual friends spoke of her drinking, and as the child of alcoholics, the hair on the back of my neck went up, but I resolved to ignore the rumors.  We talked more.  And because we live in the same neighborhood, I heard a lot more rumors.  “Watch out El.  She swings,” one friend warned me.  “What?”  I exclaimed.  “You heard me,” my friend replied.  “Just watch your back.”  I gulped and nodded and shrugged.  “Well, the way I see it is as long as she does not speak to me about the swinging or the drinking, we’ll be okay,” I reasoned.

Drinking is a hard thing for me to be around.

Swinging.  Wow.  That is even worse of a trigger for me than drinking.  I believe, more deeply than I could possibly express, that our bodies are temples, blessed and sacred.  I have not, nor will I ever engage in a sexual act without feeling love.  And I do not believe love can or should be split among recipients.  Split love, divided love, destroys the stalk that feeds it; by dividing it, a man or woman destroys it.  And when we marry, we take a vow to remain faithful.  Words matter.   Words have meaning.

A year ago or more, I explained all of this to my friend.  I told her I did not want to talk with her or hang out with her while she was drinking.  Over and over, she abused the boundary I built to protect my weary soul from alcohol’s trespass.  She would write me these lengthy, tearful, desperate and drunken notes at night, and I would listen and write back and try to comfort her.  And the next day, I would mildly rebuke her.  Often, she had forgotten the entire conversation.  Don’t get me wrong: I should have walked away months ago.  But I did not.  Until I did.  More on that later.

One night, she asked me if she could tell me something without my judging her.  My chest turned ice-cold.  I knew what was coming.  Fearfully, I agreed, and she told me her long saga about her best friend, her lover, and some of the details of her bisexual lifestyle.  I listened as best I could, and told her I loved her, but did not appreciate or want to hear about any of her sexual behaviors.  She agreed, but her need was great, and so was my patience, or perhaps my need to be needed.  If I listened to her pour her heart out to me, I was being useful.  It is good to be useful.

This uncomfortable dance went on between us for months.  I tried to talk with her about everything but drinking and swinging.  Too often, she steered the conversation to those two topics and each time I let this happen, I felt the weight and stench of her darkness.  It made me unhappy; and yet, too often, I ducked but did not address it directly.  I hold myself responsible for not setting stronger boundaries.

Last weekend, it came to a head when she got back together with her ex-lover and insisted on talking to me about it while she was drinking.  I do not hold myself responsible for what happened between us when I finally said, in a calm, measured note, “Please do not talk about drinking or talk to me while you are drinking anymore.  Please do not talk to me about swinging, or about your rekindled friendship with your lover.  That also makes me uncomfortable.”  She blew up and accused me of judging her.  To her way of thinking, friends do not judge one another.  Friends stick together through thick and thin.  And for a week, she sent me notes.  Needy, angry notes and I stopped responding.  I had nothing else to say.

I have judged, I reckon.  But what I have judged is her behavior and how it affects me.  By making self-destructive, soul-crushing choices, she is choosing a lifestyle that I cannot abide.  I will not stand by and watch a friend drink herself to death.  And I will not applaud as she sleeps around with other women in contravention of her vows.  Words matter.  Actions have meaning.  Boundaries protect us from things and people that bring darkness into our lives.  And I am not blindly condemning someone or something I do not understand.  I understand it too well.  And it hurts me to see.

[1] Matthew 7:1.

Fear of Abandonment and Letting Go

I winnowed my inbox down to 38 messages and while I clicked and deleted messages, I thought about a friend, a close friend, who is going to click and delete her Facebook account soon, and I smiled at the tight feeling I got in my chest.  That tight feeling is an old one, and it represents the physical fear that grips Little El.  What is the little me so afraid of?  Being abandoned, I think.  Yes, I know it’s crazy.  My dear friend will remain my dear friend even after she leaves the playground and social assimilation zone that Facebook has become for me.  She is not abandoning me.  It just feels that way.

I smile sweetly at this tight feeling in my chest and I don’t push it away with frustration or irritation.  It’s worth listening to the tender melodies and haunting refrains that play over and over again inside my heart when I make and then fear losing close friends.  What does it all mean and how do I reassure Little El without holding on tightly, too tightly?  I’m learning the answers through my children; more precisely, by taking a step forward and then back when my own children grip me too tightly.

I have three children and they arrived like little Irish triplets, one after another in a very short space of time.  The middle child, Jim, came with chubby cheeks and these orb-like blue eyes that light up when he smiles and grow dull and grayish, almost vacant-looking, when he feels sad.   Even as an infant, sweet baby James was more sensitive than his big sister and he summoned a side of me that felt foreign at first: a tender, gentle, unconditionally loving side.   Before he came into my life, I had no idea how to mother my kids.  I loved my daughter dearly, but I didn’t really know how to show her.  But Jim.  It was different with him.  He would gaze into my grey-blue eyes and smile-cry, or cry-smile and I would feel it all inside me, and I knew exactly how to turn the smile-cry or cry-smile into a smile.  And that has never changed.

The rub here is that as our children grow, they need for us to teach them how to let go of the arms that hold and comfort them long enough to muster out to the cold, hard real world, and with Jim, this process flattens both of us sometimes.  When I dropped baby Jim off at preschool, he cried and cried and his tears hit my heart like angry, hot darts.  But I had to walk away.  I had to.  I would whisper in his ear, “I will return, I promise, I will, and I love and adore you sweet Jim.”  And then when I picked him up from his classroom, he would glare at me for leaving him, but eventually he would let go of his resentment and messily climb into my arms, with a gratuitous grabbing of my long blond “Breck” hair.

Jim is 7 years old now, and he still holds a painfully tender place in my heart.  He is the easiest of my three children in all ways except for one: abandonment.  It is a truism I think that all children (especially male children) must find the strength to leave their mothers and Jim remains a work in progress on this front.  I help teach a Socratic seminar to Jim and a few of his first grade mates and a strange thing happens whenever I sit at this round table with 5 little boys and girls.  Jim shuts down.

Jim is a talkative, bright boy but he cannot function intellectually at school when I am near him, because his emotional need for me simply overflows his nervous system.  He’s terrified that I am going to like the other children better.  He is distraught that I will be leaving in 30 minutes.  And yet he sort of wants me to leave, so that he can go on being the autonomous and brilliant little boy he is when I am not there serving as his mental crutch.  Everything anyone says in that small little copy room enters his brain as a twisted message, heavily symbolic, of the mother sitting beside him who would love, does love . . . him . . . and it overloads his circuitry.

I have tried to talk with Jim, and explain that while I teach, I am there for all five little boys and girls, but will always and forever be there for him.  He hears me but his heart screams otherwise.  His heart beats and in each upbeat something inchoate cries out, “Don’t leave me,” but in each downbeat sounds the response, “Let me fly.”  I cannot push him too hard or too fast.  He must find the strength to leave me, knowing that he can, with the setting of his internal sun, always return to me.  For now, I can serve as his sun and moon and stars but eventually, he must find his own solar system deep inside, and use it, and not I, to navigate.

Until then, I wait with him.  Until then, he gathers tools and knowledge.  Until then, I hold on loosely but not too loosely.

And from Jim I am learning how to hold on loosely to my friends and to the people I would love.  My mother did not launch me gently into the egg-shaped orbit of my own life.  Yet I made it to where I am now.  Even if I didn’t realize it (even if I failed miserably at it) I am and always was strong enough to rotate gently, not too tightly, around the friends who people my existence.   My friend is not leaving me when she deactivates her Facebook account.  It has nothing to do with me.  And whatever happens, with her or with anyone else who I encounter, fearing their loss before they are gone warps the present by using the past to strangle the here and now.  And so I hold on not too tightly, not too loosely and I let go, not of her, but of whatever fear grips me.

Facebook, The Eagles, Sartre and Punters

It all started . . . oh hell, I honestly don’t know when it all started.  Yesterday, maybe?  It all started . . . in a bar somewhere?  Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, because where it all really started was on my Facebook page.  I’m on it a lot.  Oh crap, I’ll go ahead and admit it.  I’m on in so much that a friend started humming The Eagles “Hotel California” to me and some other friends last night:

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely place
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here.

The thing about these lyrics is that they apply perfectly to Facebook and the virtual world it has created for us.  No, no, this isn’t one of those “Oh my God I gotta get the Hell offline blogs.”  I’m happy here, truly, with friends close and far.  I feel like I’m hanging out at a local bar, minus the smell of stale cigarettes, listening to 70’s music play on the jukebox and talking to an ever-shifting circle of funny, irreverent, kind, and somehow comforting friends.

I’ve been enjoying the conviviality and comradeship I’ve been finding on my Running from Hell with El page.  Don’t get me wrong: I know I offer my own type of crazy.  It reminds me of the last refrain from “Hotel California:”

 Relax said the night man
We are programmed to receive
You can checkout any time you like
But you can never leave!

Honestly, it is hard to leave a place where you feel at home and can be yourself.  I’m still trying to figure out what it means to sing “we are programmed to receive,” but what I am thinking is that humans are hardwired to run around in herds (yep, that’s a nod to a Bills fan friend of mine who is rooting for a team that is staying home from the Super Bowl tonight).  Or put another way: we humans need, crave and benefit greatly from finding a comfortable place where they don’t feel so damn lonely.

Speaking of Super Bowls, I told the following story last night about my weirdest and worst Super Bowl party ever.

Remember “Wide right?” Giants vs. Bills? I was in college and sat next to this huge dog and I thought we were friends.  The kick went wide and with my usual awkward exuberance, I kissed the dog.  That pissed him off, so he grabbed my head with his teeth and chomped down.  Seriously, I thought I’d fallen into an alligator’s jaws.  Most of the people at the party were drunk or stoned so getting me to the ER made for an interesting process.  Imagine having to explain to your econ professor why you had to miss the midterm . . .

This story led to more stories.  The funniest one came from Sarah Moore, and I edited this a little bit but these are all her words.

Sarah: My own daft injury story involves taking a dog to the ER.

Me: to the ER or the vets?

Sarah: the ER.  I had no idea where to find a vet at 3 a.m. on an island in the South China Sea in the aftermath of a bar fight, so I loaded myself & said dog onto a police boat with other victims.

Me: LOL.

Another friend: What was a dog doing in a bar fight?

Me: Damn good question.

Sarah:  The dog, accompanying his owner, who was dating my housemate, was a regular fixture in the bar I ran.  We had very little trouble in the bar, but when we did, I always got a warning call, which I passed on to my punters (Australian word for those who frequent a bar).  The dog’s owner and housemate left the dog behind at the bar with me to “walk me home.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to close up and get out before “trouble” came calling, and in the ensuing mess, the dog got between me, the other innocent punters and flying glass.  Hence his injuries, and the ER visit where other injured punters insisted that the dog receive stitches on site.  By the way, I had a hard time with local police as the only uninjured party that night.

After laughing at great length, I got on with my night, but before I fell asleep, a friend of mine, when bidding a group of us goodnight, mentioned the last line of “Hotel California:”

 But you can never leave.

And sure enough, we reconvened first thing in the morning, with nothing new to discuss, but a lot of laughter and goodwill to share.

I posted a video of The Eagles playing the “Hotel California” at the 1998 Hall of Fame induction on my wall, and the usual suspects stopped by to joke around with me.  And no, it’s not like I sat in front of the freakin’ computer all morning.  I cleaned my desk, which looked like a writer’s hoarding hangout, replete with dead stinkbugs and empty printer cartridge boxes housing LEGOS and Garmin watches.  While cleaning, I peeked at the computer screen (my friend Lumi was right about that) and responded to Lumi:

Yes, I was peeking until my husband said to me, “When was the last time you updated the computer,” and I smirked guiltily. Very guiltily! Then he kicked me off the iMac and I made the whole house smell like Pinesol . . . then . . . .

Lumi : We need a club for our Facebook problem.

And I said:  Remember Sartre’s Huis Clos (“No Exit?”). We could call it that.

Sarah: I’m laughing at myself for still being here and humming Eagles’ tunes.  The Eagles?? Facebook??? THAT is most definitely a Snork.

And that is when I reminded her not to forget the punters.  Sartre and Punters and the Eagles and Facebook: now that makes for a good story.  And when you come back next time, please stop in a grab a seat at the bar.  Sarah is about to tell a story from her pre-barkeep, convent days.  I’m thinking it will be a good one.

Taming my Inner Editor-Hater

The other day, an acquaintance of mine sent me one of the coming to Jesus corrective notes, and I never feel good when I receive those.  I was feeling pretty shitty anyway, and then when I read what she wrote, it tapped into my inner hater.  Some people have inner critics but I have an inner hater and when she gets going, she’s a bloody beast.  Even as I felt shitty about the things she said about me, I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was talking about because she called me arrogant.  She also called me phony and hypocritical and condescending, and I think I am guilt of the latter but never of the former two characteristics.  But the thought of seeming arrogant made me want to laugh, but I was too depressed to laugh, so I smirked a little bit.  If only she knew.  If only she knew about my inner hater.

You see, the God’s honest truth is that I am one of the most insecure, sensitive women I know.  I almost wrote “in the world” but that seems vainglorious, to think I’m the most insecure women in the world. That takes effort and skill, or at least notoriety to reach “most” anything status does it not?  I can’t really claim most insecure or self-destructive woman status, but instead of reassuring me that I’m a little bit okay, it sort of pisses me off.  Come on!  Can’t I be special even in my failure?  No, I joke!  That is my dark sense of humor.  I swear.  Maybe.  Sort of.

What makes me so difficult to comprehend is that I hide my feelings so tightly.  My therapist says that I lock my feelings away as if I were running a nuclear containment facility, as if I fear that any tear or show of vulnerability will prove poisonous to those around me.  Okay, so that’s why she’s got the sergeant’s stripes and gets paid to analyze cocky, insecure, smirking writers for a living.  And now that I am chipping away at the fences that guard my inner core, I am feeling like a hurting, frightened, and very vulnerable little girl most of the time.  And I hate it.

Maybe it’s not such an auspicious time to admit that I’m all insecure and neurotic about my writing.  Hell, I’m insecure and neurotic about almost everything, but for the first time since I kicked my legal career to the curb like the plague-bearing rodent that it was, I am receiving edits and criticism.  And it’s good, helpful, constructive stuff from the very best writing partner in the world.  See?  It’s not vainglorious to use the modifier “in the world” when you’re talking about someone else, right?  No?  I didn’t think so either.

The thing is, I know this is what I need.  I don’t need for someone to keep telling me I’m brilliant.  Secretly, I swear to God, I think I have talent.  I think I can write the doors off just about anything, and nothing makes me happier than spinning a perfect paragraph.  My shit is raw and real and deep, but it is far from perfect.  The problem is that when I see the words “far from perfect” what I read is “it sucks.”  I suck.  And it doesn’t take me more than a second or two before my inner hater takes that shit and runs with it.  I don’t want to talk about my inner hater too much.  She likes attention but I am going to walk her over to the rocking chair and give her a few coloring books to play with while I work.

Okay.  There.  She is sitting by the window with a black crayon, doing her hating thing.  And I have a plan.  I want to say a few words of encouragement to myself.  It goes like this.

“Keep writing El.  Stay true.  Be real.  I can’t wait to hear what you come up with next.  To get better, you need to keep throwing more and more words on the canvas, and don’t get frustrated when you don’t capture it all exactly right on the first draft.  Treat those edits like scraped knees; roll your sleeves up and get back to work.  You can do this.  It’s lonely and it is hard but you’ve never been afraid of hard work.  What you were afraid of was failure, but fear is crippling.  Love is invigorating.  Love the work you do each day.  It’s going to be okay.  I promise.  I love every word you write, even the words that get deleted.  You know why?  Because I love you. “

Chasing Trinkets on Valentine’s Day

Are we, as a society, better off as a result of Valentine’s Day?  Does the expectation of receiving gifts and expressions of romantic love make us better humans?  Is buying chocolates, jewelry or formulaic cards the best way to pursue happiness?  Does another trinket or even mind-bendingly expensive piece of jewelry really make you better off than you were a day ago?

I reckon the answer is a resounding No.  We don’t need a holiday to remind us to love the one we’re with, or to show him or her a little tenderness.  If we’re really present in a relationship, we should express love every day, if not in words, then in actions.  Why is this even an issue?  Why would a date on the calendar, which has somehow wormed its way into our nation’s socio-economic psyche, cause us to treat the human we love romantically any different from we treat them any other day?

Are we somehow sending a rebuke to our respective partner by focusing so much time and attention on one particular date?  By building it up as if it were such an important day, are we in effect representing that we feel less in love during the other 364 days of the year?  And by turning our attention from how we feel to how much we spend showing how we feel, we lose something intrinsically precious.

That’s right.  All of those ads for Kay Jewelers chip away at the foundation of romantic love. Pretend for a moment that our love is a house.  Worrying about what type of bracelet we should receive on Valentine’s Day is like picking out the trim color for the windows before laying the cement or connecting the pipes that carry water in and out of our homes.  It’s more fun perhaps to pick out pretty window paint, but it’s more important to make sure that the foundation is well laid and all of the plumbing is in good, working order.

What are you doing this year to make your love a stronger one?  Are you minding your heart and tending to your feelings and the deeper bonds that connect you to the man or woman you love?  Or are you chasing the pretty trinkets?

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