love, marriage, music, musings

Writing about my scars for the past nineteen years…

It’s time for another goofy selfie. Today’s featured photo was taken in Innsbruck, Austria, in August 2020. We’re both a bit broader and greyer.

Good morning, everybody. It’s November 16th, which means it’s my wedding anniversary. Nineteen years ago, Bill and I tied the knot under somewhat scary circumstances. He was a 38 year old man who had been through divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, domestic violence, and 9/11 at the Pentagon. I was 30 years old and recently graduated from a double master’s degree program that had put me in a lot of debt.

We met in a chat room in 1999. He was newly separated from Ex and had recently rejoined the Army as a full time officer. I had just started grad school and didn’t know anyone. We fell into a friendship in November of that year, finally meeting in person in 2001. When 9/11 struck and no one knew we were dating, we decided to go public… and not long after that, we got engaged.

I know I used this photo last year, but it’s really a good representation of us… and how we are. And we don’t have any recent photos of us. Maybe we’ll take one this weekend.

Now, here I sit, pretty much debt free, but never having used those degrees I spent three long years working to earn. Bill is retired. The last nineteen years have been full of adventure and, for the most part, a lot of fun. I talked to Bill and my mom last night. Bill is in Poland on business. Mom is in Virginia, watching ships pass from the windows of her apartment, which offer great views of the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t have much to say to Bill, since I last saw him at 4:00am Monday morning, before he flew to Warsaw.

To my mom, I said I was surprised by how well marriage has worked out for Bill and me. Especially considering how and where we met. Lots of people had doubts about the feasibility of our relationship. My mom, especially, was creeped out that we met on the Internet. She thought it was WEIRD. Years later, she admitted she was wrong to doubt us.

My career didn’t work out the way I had hoped it might. Now I think that’s probably a blessing, even if it’s hard on my ego. I had always wanted to be a writer. Sure enough, that’s what I am. Almost every day, I write something, even if lately, I’ve been putting up a lot of reposts. I don’t mind the reposts, since a lot of them eventually do get read, especially the book reviews. The reposts are, for the most part, from days when I had good thoughts to put down, and I see nothing wrong with recycling stuff. I live in a country where recycling is the law. Aside from that, sometimes I just can’t think of anything I want to write about that badly. That’s not a bad thing. Taking the odd day off is good for the soul and helps me recharge, and sometimes old posts are still entertaining or educational.

This morning, I was reading some old posts I’d written. I was trying to think of what I wanted to write about today. I found a post I wrote called “My Special Brand of Shitty Sunshine“. I had forgotten what it was about, but was intrigued by the title. One might think that post would be full of vitriol. Actually, it’s a fairly thoughtful post inspired by Caleb Wilde, the guy who runs the Facebook page for Confessions of a Funeral Director. I wrote it on May 19, 2019, after having read an insightful post Caleb had written. I was struck by his thoughts on why he writes, and I related to it so much so that I quoted him:

Speak and write about your scars, not your open wounds. That’s the axiom you’re supposed to follow as a writer.

Anyone who regularly reads my writing knows that I often write about my scars. However, like Caleb, I also write about my gaping wounds. Sometimes people don’t know how to take some of my more “honest” thoughts, especially about certain subjects. I have occasionally been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice about some of my content or opinions. Some have warned me that sometimes I come off like an ass. Of course, that only stands to reason, because just like almost everyone else out there, sometimes I actually AM an ass. I’m just being authentic. 🙂

On the other hand, people have also told me that many times, the posts about my open wounds are useful. They relate to them, or are entertained by them. Or, sometimes they SHOW me the posts are useful to them, by stabbing me in the back and talking trash about me to a certain mutual former landlady, or to likeminded people who don’t like me and want to stir up shit among themselves. While I’d rather people didn’t use my writings to cause trouble, there’s not much I can do to stop people from doing what they’re going to do. That’s the price I pay for writing down my thoughts and sharing them. Besides, since we left Stuttgart, most of that juvenile crap has stopped, since I have made a point of not engaging with most of the military community in Wiesbaden.

I know a lot of people make lifelong friends through ties to the military. My parents had some dear, wonderful friends from my dad’s 22 years in the Air Force. Bill and I have made a few friends, too. But, by and large, I’ve found that trying to make friends with most people is kind of a fruitless exercise. It’s kind of like dating. You date someone for awhile and break up… and sometimes you can be friends afterwards, but a lot of times, there’s too much pain and the relationship falls apart. I haven’t dated much in my lifetime, but I have found that I’ve had a lot of “friends” who turned out to be temporary. On the other hand, I’ve had other friends who have been around for decades, even if very few of them are “close friends”.

Maybe finding real friends is more like panning for gold, which in some ways, is harder in the age of the Internet. It’s easier to find “friends”, but harder to find quality friends. A lot of people think I’m weird, anyway, and don’t take the time to get to know me well. But, in fairness, I don’t invest a lot of time in them, either, because I sense that they don’t quite accept me the way I am. At my age, changing for the sake of a friendship that will probably be temporary isn’t worth the effort. So, those who take me as I am, like Bill… and even my mom, these days, are people I make an effort to keep in my life. There are a few true friends, too… including a couple of people I’ve never met in person and know little about.

But, in all seriousness, having been associated with the military lifestyle for the past 19 years, I gotta say that as much as I loved living in Stuttgart– especially since a total of six of our years as a couple were spent there– it really is the most toxic place we’ve ever lived. It’s even more toxic and dramatic than living on Fort Belvoir was. We spent four years living there, and we saw a LOT of drama. And that was before Facebook or Twitter! Stuttgart the second time was even worse, even though we didn’t live in a stairwell apartment but, in fairness, that probably was because of social media.

Caleb continues with this: “Burnout, secondary trauma, PTSD, depression, fear, disassociation, social anxiety . . . these are all a part of my concoction of diagnosed open wounds (more on the diagnosed part of things when I’m feeling up to talking about it). And these wounds rarely have time to heal when their source is your job. For some of us, like me, writing from our scars isn’t entirely possible because some wounds just remain . . . open.

Well… he’s a funeral director, so he’s bound to see and hear a lot of sad stories. He’s not unlike a bartender or a mental health counselor of any stripe. I wrote the post that fathered this one in May 2019, before COVID-19 was a thing. Caleb’s business is bound to be even more difficult today than it was two and a half years ago. In fact, it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any recent posts by him. I just checked his Facebook page, and it looks like the last fresh post from him dates November 13, 2020. I can only assume that he’s very busy with his work. I hope nothing worse has happened.

But this is what he posted, almost a year ago… and I guess it offers some explanation:

There’s a sliver of time in a person’s life when society actually encourages us to care for ourselves. That sliver of time we’re afforded for self-care happens when we experience a loss. After we lose someone or something, it’s like all of a sudden everyone around us becomes caring and encouraging with phrases like:

“You can get through this!”

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

And . . . “You need to take some time for yourself.”

And for a minute we believe them. We allow ourselves to let our space get a little dirty. Or maybe we stop shaving. Maybe we order out and watch more Netflix. During a loss, we let ourselves take care of ourselves.

But in the back of our minds we have an imaginary clock that’s counting down the days til self-care takes a back seat to “responsibility.”

Right now all of us are experiencing a loss. A loss of normality, of the rhythms were used to dancing to. Just like with the loss of a loved one, we’re suddenly having to learn an entirely new dance with no promise that the old dance will ever play again.

We’re friends, right? You’re here because you’ve read something I’ve written and you connected to it. So, as your friend, let me tell you:

“You can get through this.” There’s no promise the end of this will be the same as the beginning. It won’t be. But we can get to the other side.

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

A lot of us don’t like the COVID versions of ourselves and that’s okay. It’s okay to be less patient, less stable. Take all the time you need to accept yourself as you are right now.

“You need to take some time for yourself.”

You can stay safe and not be a martyr. Nobody is asking us to sacrifice ourselves. Do something you like (the pic is me doing something I like). Stay away from things you hate. Train your mind to think on things you enjoy, not things that make you angry and fearful. You have total permission to care for yourself. I’ve been telling myself that it’s okay to be a little more patient and gracious to myself right now. I give that same grace and patience to the families I serve at the funeral home. I don’t have to starve myself of what I give.

I don’t know what Caleb Wilde is up to right now. I hope he’s alright, and the realities of life in 2021 haven’t buried him, either figuratively or literally. It occurs to me, though, that his writings about his scars and gaping wounds have inspired me, and taught me new things. Likewise, I hope some of the things I write are inspirational, educational, entertaining, or even just offer some reaction of some sort. Even if that reaction is disgust or anger… or something else negative.

I’m sitting here writing this post today, on our 19th anniversary, mainly because 19 years ago, we said “I do.” I didn’t go off and work for a public health agency or take a job as a social worker. I didn’t become a grant writer or lobbyist. I didn’t do what I had been planning to do when Bill and I had that chance meeting in a javascript chat room, back in 1999. We later progressed to mIRC, and then Yahoo! Messenger, which is where I got the news that he’d survived 9/11. I remember the first time I heard his voice was over VoIP, rather than on the phone or in person. I never thought that would lead us to marriage. In fact, I never thought we’d meet in person, let alone become husband and wife. I have to admit our partnership has really worked flawlessly on all levels, in spite of everything, including COVID… 😉 And yes, it’s worked out “in spite of ourselves”, too…

Wish COVID-19 hadn’t taken John Prine… because this song could be our theme song.

And… just as I’m about to close today’s musings, James Taylor’s song, “Daddy’s All Gone” just came on. As I sit here, wishing Bill was home on our anniversary, and I’m reminded that his career has taken him away so many times… though so far, not permanently… I realize how prescient that song could have been for him. He wasn’t a James Taylor fan before he met me, but he’s come to appreciate his music. I’m sure I’ve played “Daddy’s All Gone” for Bill. It might have made him choke up, especially given that he missed out on raising his daughters.

This song has meaning for Bill…
And this song has meaning for me… especially this particular version.

We were supposed to see James play in Frankfurt on February 11. We have second row seats. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has fucked that up, and James had to postpone his European tour. I hope he gets here eventually. I really could use another show by him. I’m not surprised the tour was postponed, though. A year ago, we were supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ play in Mainz. He has postponed that show three times. At this writing, we’re due to use our tickets for last year’s concert on May 11, 2022. I had to look it up, because I can’t keep all of the updates straight anymore.

Well, I guess I’ve prattled on long enough. Those songs remind me I really need to practice guitar. Thanks to COVID-19, I may have more time for practicing, because I fear there may be another lockdown soon. Anyway… we’ll probably do something celebratory over the weekend. And maybe I’ll put up the fucking Christmas decorations while he’s gone. Wow… this year has flown by. Before we know it, I’ll be thinking about what to write on our 20th wedding anniversary.

Edited to add… Bill and I walked down the aisle to “Highland Cathedral”. I just happened to stumble across this rendition, and now I’m a blubbering mess. Seriously… it is GORGEOUS.

I could listen to this all day.

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book reviews, celebrities, love, marriage, memories

Repost: My review of Carly Simon’s book, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir…

I originally published this book review on my old blog on December 14, 2016. It appears here as/is.

I have long admired singer-songwriter Carly Simon.  Having been born in the early 1970s, her music, and that of her ex husband’s, James Taylor, has been a part of my personal soundtrack for many years.  I also enjoy reading life stories, especially by people I admire.  I downloaded Carly Simon’s 2015 memoir on the day it was released, but I’ve only just read it.  I tend to download a lot of stuff that interests me and it sits in the queue until the mood strikes for me to read it.  There was a time when I would have greedily devoured this book days after its release, but I guess I’m slowing down in my old age.

Anyway, Carly’s book is entitled Boys in the Trees: A Memoir.  I like the book’s title, since it references the title song from her 1978 album, which I remember almost wearing out during Christmas break 1991.  I had a month at home with my parents and had always loved the song “You Belong To Me”.  I bought the CD and played it non-stop.  It was a comfort during those bleak winter days when I was 19 years old and hating the semester break at home from college.

Simon’s book starts with her story of growing up in New York, the daughter of Richard Simon, one of the founders of the Simon & Schuster publishing company.  She had a privileged upbringing, surrounded by family and friends.  Her two older sisters were beautiful and talented.  Her brother, Peter, was younger and the son her father had wanted.  Carly writes that she was supposed to have been a boy named Carl, but when she came out female, her father simply added a “y” to the name.  Carly Simon’s father evidently didn’t mesh that well with his third child.  He was the first of many men to disappoint her.

As Simon grew older, her father grew frail.  Sidelined by strokes, he was eventually convinced to sell his interest in Simon & Schuster.  Carly’s mother, Andrea, fell out of love with her husband and had an affair with a much younger man named Ronny.  Starting at age 7, Carly also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a visiting teenager who had seen porn and wanted to replicate it.

As a teenager, Carly Simon lived in Martha’s Vineyard. James Taylor’s family also had a home there and that was where the two of them met, when they were adolescents. In November 1972, they would marry at City Hall, wearing wedding bands they purchased for $17.95 each, at a Middle Eastern kiosk. The rings weren’t even the ones that had been on sale. Simon had been involved with other men, notably Mick Jagger and Warren Beatty. Taylor had been seeing Joni Mitchell before he hooked up with Carly. But they were destined to be together and make two children, Sally and Ben.

When James and Carly were still married.

Boys in the Trees is divided into three books.  I think Simon was wise to divide the book that way, since her story is not one that necessarily lends itself to seamlessness.  The last book is about her marriage to James Taylor, a man she clearly deeply admires and probably still even loves.  Sadly, James Taylor was apparently not a very good husband in the 1970s.  He had a pretty serious drug and alcohol problem, which Simon references, as well as a penchant for affairs with other women.  They were together when their careers were both smoking hot and, though they were able to make beautiful music together, it wasn’t enough to forge a commitment.  

Simon writes that things really went to hell in her marriage to James Taylor after she’d become a mother.  Suddenly, the children were more important and she could no longer turn a blind eye to Taylor’s dalliances.  I got the sense that perhaps James Taylor resented that.  In any case, she basically makes James Taylor of the 1970s out to be a selfish ass.  Whether or not he still is, I don’t know.

Wow… 40 years ago.

Naturally, whenever I read about another person’s relationship, I wonder a bit about the other sides of the story. And there always are other sides to include the truth. I don’t think Carly Simon is lying about what happened, and she admits to being difficult herself. But naturally, this book skews toward her perspective… not that I think cheating and drug abuse is necessarily acceptable behavior. Simon writes that she still lives in the house they lived in and much of it still bears Taylor’s design marks, some of which were not as inspired as his songwriting.

I think Carly Simon would have made a fine author had she not been a musician.  Her writing is elegant and interesting and I enjoyed reading about the many inspirations behind songs I’ve loved for years.  When she was married to Taylor, the two collaborated a lot on their albums.  It was cool to read about how Carly Simon came up with the ending coda for “Terra Nova”, a gorgeous collaboration on Taylor’s 1977 JT.  I well remember the hit song “Jesse” from the early 80s, which she reveals was actually inspired by her son, Ben.

As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I appreciated Carly’s revelations about her own issues with panic attacks.  She writes about one serious attack she suffered in Pittsburgh back in 1981, when she had to call upon the audience to help her.  She writes that she still gets letters from people who were at that concert, many of whom express a great deal of empathy for the situation she was in at the time.  Panic and anxiety kept Carly Simon off the public stage for several years.

Curiously, Simon’s book ends basically with her split from Taylor.  She doesn’t write about her second marriage to and divorce from poet Jim Hart, although she does mention him in her acknowledgments.  She doesn’t write much about her breast cancer battle, nor does she write about how it felt to become a grandmother.  But perhaps those stories will come later.

In any case, I really enjoyed Carly Simon’s memoir, Boys in the Trees.  I recommend it.

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Ex, lessons learned, mental health, music

It’s important to B.S.U.R… exactly who you are… Life lessons from James Taylor

There’s an old song by James Taylor that comes to mind as I type today’s blog post. The song, “B.S.U.R. (S.U.C.S.I.M.I.M.)”, comes from his 1979 album, Flag. Although a lot of critics might not share my opinion, I think Flag is a wonderful album. It’s probably my favorite of JT’s older albums, probably because it’s the one I remember best from when I was very young… my introduction to him, as it were. Yes, that album includes a cringey disco cover version of “Day Tripper” by The Beatles… which, actually, is kind of a guilty pleasure to me. But it also includes several good songs, including James’s wonderful rendition of “Up On The Roof”, which I prefer to all other versions. And it also includes the aforementioned “B.S.U.R.”, which has James’s ex wife, Carly Simon, singing backup, and some very wise lyrics.

Be as you are…

Here are the lyrics to “B.S.U.R.”, in case you’d rather not play the video.

She’s been holding on too long
Hoping I’m gonna change
Giving it up just a little bit more
Each time I come home
Looking and acting strange
Putting her down for putting up with me

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

Do you think you might improve me
Trying to take control?
Watching every little thing I do
Just like a bleeding movie
Just like a leading role
Mama, this ain’t me
And I don’t believe that’s you

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

First you make believe
I believe the things
That you make believe
And I’m bound to let you down
Then it’s I who have been deceiving
Purposely misleading
And all along you believed in me

So, we circle around one another
Playing a guessing game
Strangers at this masquerade
Pretending to know each other
We strain to catch a name
And never see the mistakes we must have made

Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am
Be as you are
As you see as I am, I am

(songwriter is James Taylor)

Just for the sake of context… in 1979, James Taylor and Carly Simon were the parents of two young children. They had been married for about seven years. In spite of the wise lyrics in this song, James was actually in a bit of trouble. He was a notorious drug addict, suffered from depression, and, according to Carly Simon’s book, he had a habit of cheating. It’s interesting to note that the “flag” used for this album’s cover is the international maritime signal for “man overboard”. Indeed, in 1979, James Taylor might have very well felt like a man overboard.

Carly Simon reportedly wanted James to settle down and be more of a family man (another great song by James Taylor). But, as James titled his next album, Dad Loves His Work. He wasn’t going to change. They were divorced by 1983, and perhaps spurred on by the 1981 drug overdose death of his close friend, John Belushi, and the 1983 death of his friend, Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, James got over his heroin and methadone habits.

But Taylor still struggled a lot with depression and considered retiring from music. He was asked to go to Rio de Janeiro in 1985 and play a music festival, which was recorded and put on an imported CD. I actually own a copy of it, courtesy of one of my sisters who gave it to me for Christmas in 1990. James was so well received in Rio that he got a second wind and released another album called That’s Why I’m Here. I distinctly remember reading the liner notes and saw that he’d dedicated the new album to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Taylor would go on to consider retiring again, after losing his father and his brother, Alex, on James’s 45th birthday in 1993. Alex was also a severe alcoholic.

So… what’s this got to do with “B.S.U.R.”? Well, I just think this song, and its very astute lyrics, offer some sage pearls of wisdom. So many of us try to be someone we aren’t. It’s usually because someone else has told us that there’s something “wrong” or “inadequate” about who we are. Sometimes, there is a legitimate issue that needs to be changed. Like, for instance, getting treatment for an addiction or character flaw– say philandering or lying. I’m not referring to issues like those. I’m referring to little criticisms about things you can’t easily change about yourself, like becoming a night owl if you’re a morning person. Or becoming an obsessively neat person if you’re naturally more of a slob. Or acting like someone you’re not, simply because someone else thinks they would prefer that alternative version to your authentic self.

This morning Bill and I were talking, as we often do over our weekend breakfasts. Bill was telling me about a dream he’d had this morning. He was typing it out, because he sends his dreams to his therapist, who specializes in Carl Jung’s techniques. Dreams are an important part of their work. Bill has really been enjoying working with the therapist. He’s learning a lot about himself, revisiting decisions he’s made. Some of the decisions he made because he wanted to please other people. He didn’t want to disappoint important people in his life, so instead of doing what was best for him, he would acquiesce to what other people wanted. The end results of not advocating for his own self-interests sometimes led to disasters that affected a whole lot of other people. For more on this, you can read this post.

It occurred to me as we were talking that somehow, Bill got the idea from other people that who he was wasn’t enough. He bought into the idea that he needed to change. When he was growing up, he was often compared to his grandfather, a man he never got to meet, because his grandfather had died when Bill’s mom was 14. Apparently, Bill’s grandfather was a really wonderful man. And Bill was repeatedly told that he was “just like” his grandfather. It was as if some of his family members thought he was reincarnated somehow. It wasn’t enough for Bill to be who he was. He was expected to be like a dead man he’d never even met. It was impossible, and disconcerting. Why wasn’t it enough that he was Bill, a marvelous man in his own right? Why did he have to be someone else?

Later, he married his ex wife, a woman with whom he was completely incompatible and didn’t love the way he should have. He married her because she had him convinced that she was his one shot at having a family. Throughout their almost ten year marriage, he bent to her will and tried to change for her every whim. She criticized everything from his taste in music to the length of his hair. She didn’t like his choice of career and wanted him to leave the military. She wanted to live in a house that was a money pit, mainly because she thought it looked like a house she’d seen in a snow globe. She wanted him to be Mormon. She constantly drove him to “change”. Who he was wasn’t enough for her. Meanwhile, she was just fine with herself as she was and was unwilling to amend some of her own destructive habits, like buying things when she had no money to pay for them.

Bill wanted to please his ex wife, so he worked many hours at low paying jobs that didn’t suit him. He gave in to her demands that he have a vasectomy, live in a town where there were few jobs suitable for his skills, grow his hair, become a Mormon (which included giving up alcohol and coffee and wearing special underwear), leave the military, support his ex stepson as if he was the boy’s father, support Ex’s sister and her child on his tiny salary, let Ex spend his money on whatever she wanted, and let Ex handle the bills… which she handled by not paying them. By the time he cried uncle and let go of the marriage, he had been through bankruptcy and foreclosure and she had him convinced that he was a terrible person… so bad, that she could easily replace him with her next victim, #3.

Wow… if Bill was such a terrible person, why is it that we’ve been so happily married for almost 19 years? Do I seem like the kind of person who would marry a jerk? I have a lot of flaws myself, but I can tell you for certain that one flaw I don’t have is “people pleasing”. I don’t stay with people who make me unhappy. Not if I can help it. I don’t have a tendency to attract abusers. I’m probably too outspoken for them.

In any case, I love Bill just the way he is. I always have. He doesn’t need to change anything fundamental about himself for me. I think that’s why it’s so easy for us to be with each other.

Now… that doesn’t mean that there aren’t habits I’d like for him to change. Like, for instance, I’d like him to say no to me sometimes. I’m not always right. Bill likes to be a leader, but sometimes he gets a little bit wishy washy because he doesn’t want to disappoint me. But what ends up happening is, I end up disappointed anyway. Here’s an example of what I mean.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Switzerland, Bill had his heart set on visiting Carl Jung’s house and museum. Jung’s house and museum have very limited visiting hours and one typically has to book tickets in advance. Bill had done that, and we had an appointment to go to the house and museum at 2:00pm. But before we went, we visited a church to see Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows.

Now, I wasn’t particularly wedded to either of these activities. I would have been happy just to sit on the boat cruise and take a tour around Lake Zurich. But because Bill wanted to explore Jung, I was happy to do that with him. However, one thing that is a must, and something that we both know about me is that I get really “hangry”. So, as our time for the museum appointment approached, I told Bill I wanted to have lunch. He looked at his watch and got flustered. It was just after noon, and he was afraid that if we sat down to have a nice lunch, we would miss our appointment.

So I said, “I guess this means hot dogs for lunch, then?” I don’t really like hot dogs very much, but I could see that’s where were headed. I would have been just as alright with getting fast food.

But Bill hadn’t even decided how we were going to get to the museum. Would we be driving or taking the boat? He wanted to leave that to me, and hadn’t told me ahead of time. He asked me what I wanted to do.

I got irritated and said, “You wanted to lead. This is an activity that you want to do. I’m along for the ride. I know you want to go to the museum, but you know very well what happens when my blood sugar crashes.” I also needed to pee, and that wasn’t helping matters.

So we finally decided to take the boat. Sure enough, the only food available near the dock was the Swiss version of hot dogs… or currywurst or the like. So we had hot dogs and Coke for lunch. Bill was upset, because he thought he’d let me down. It’s true that hot dogs weren’t necessarily what I would have preferred for lunch, but I was willing to have that if it meant I wouldn’t be hangry. But he was beating himself up over the hot dogs. That wasn’t the issue, as far as I was concerned. I just wanted there to be a firm plan so everyone’s needs could be met.

It turned out the boat had concessions anyway, but our trip to the museum was just thirty minutes. It was just as well that we had our sausages. And next time, hopefully, we’ll make plans that are a little more than half baked, especially for something important, like visiting a museum that has limited opening hours.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a partner to change certain habits like being too much of a people pleaser or being wishy washy. But I do think it’s wrong to ask them to change major aspects of who they are. I do think it’s wrong to demand that they make permanent alterations to themselves– yes, even like having a vasectomy or plastic surgery– if they would rather not do that. I think it’s wrong for a person to think they can change or “fix” someone– mold them into someone else– especially when their idea of what they want changes every day. And with Ex, it seemed very much like her idea of the “right” person was fluid and ever changing. There was always something to criticize, and I certainly don’t think she’s the best judge of what needed fixing in others. She didn’t enjoy Bill for the wonderful man he is. She wanted someone else. Perhaps she wanted someone who only exists in romance novels… I don’t know. But she didn’t want or deserve Bill, and as it turned out, he didn’t want or deserve her.

I think “B.S.U.R” is a surprisingly wise song, even though James Taylor was dealing with many personal demons and, perhaps, even serious character flaws of his own. I do think James has redeemed himself, and done a lot of work to be a better and happier person. It helps to be introspective and seek help to overcome things like addiction and mental conditions like depression and anxiety. He’s obviously not the same person he was in 1979, and that is to his credit.

As for Bill… I have never not loved and appreciated him for who he is. I love everything about him. No, he’s not perfect, but neither am I. We work on these things together. And I am so very proud of him and happy for him that he’s exploring things that interest him, like Carl Jung. He’s learning to play guitar, too, and trying to improve his skills in Spanish and German, because he wants to, and it interests him. Those are things that will enhance the wonderful person he is. I love him the way he is… and I will always advise him to “B.S.U.R.” Because asking anything else of him is asking for certain disaster. Life is hard enough without being married to a person who is constantly demanding that their spouse expend energy to be someone they’re not.

It’s also okay to say “no” sometimes. In fact, sometimes it’s essential, and the initial disappointment will spare everyone a lot of aggravation and grief. It’s okay to sometimes put your needs first… because, as they say before every flight, you should always put on your own oxygen mask, before you try to help someone else. If you don’t consider your own needs, you can’t be of optimal assistance to anyone else. So take a lesson from James Taylor and “B.S.U.R.” It’s easier and more sustainable than being someone you’re not.

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rants

“I think it helps us not to know each other…”

Tl:dr– Please don’t try to read my mind. It isn’t nice, and probably isn’t as interesting a read as you assume it is.

Back in 1993, James Taylor came out with his wonderful Live album, which was recorded during his 1992 East Coast tour. I was in college at the time, and a devoted JT fan, so of course I bought it as soon as I could. Over the past 27 years, I have gotten many hours of enjoyment from that album. I’ve seen James Taylor play live several times. One thing I’ve always noticed about him is that he truly loves to perform, even if he’s probably a more introverted soul when he’s not on the stage. Of course, I don’t know him personally, so I really don’t know how he is off stage. The truth is, even though I’m familiar with almost everything he’s done, we don’t know each other at all. I’m just a fan of his work, like many thousands of other people around the world are. I may feel like his biggest fan, but I’m probably not. There are most likely a whole lot of people who love his music even more than I do.

James made a quick-witted quip on his Live album, when an enthusiastic female audience member shouted out, “Love you!” to him after he sang “Something In The Way She Moves”.

You can hear Taylor’s quip at about 3:30.

His response was a deadpan, “Good.” Then he added, “I think it helps us not to know each other.”

I’m no “James Taylor” by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I make any assumptions that someone is going to declare their “love” for me at a concert, on a video, or in the comment section of a blog post. If someone ever did do that, it would probably really freak me out. I’m not comfortable with people who express that kind of extreme emotion toward me unless they are someone I know personally. And even then, it kind of freaks me out. I’m sure James Taylor has gotten used to those kinds of extreme declarations of love or disgust, though. Lots of people have told him they love him or hate him. That’s what happens when you put yourself out there. People tend to love it or hate it, and many of them have no compunction about telling you what they think.

Taylor’s wry response to his adoring fan on the Live album comes to mind this morning as I reflect on some of the feedback I occasionally get on my writing. Sometimes, I think people who are exposed to other people’s writing, music, art, or whatever else get the idea that they actually know the person who is presenting it. Sometimes they forget that an artist– for lack of a better word– is often a total stranger to them. They wind up projecting things on the person who presents their creative pursuits to the world. They make assumptions about what the artist is thinking or feeling at the time they created their piece.

This phenomenon was one quarrel I had with being an English major. As an English major, I was required to read different works of literature and write an analysis. I don’t think that was necessarily a bad exercise in that it taught me to look beyond the obvious. However, it always bothered me that I was supposed to look for things like symbols and hidden meanings as I tried to analyze a piece of writing, even though I could never really know what the writer was thinking or feeling when he or she wrote it. I got reasonably good at writing analyses of other people’s writing. I had to in order to earn the degree in English. But I was never particularly comfortable with it.

In fact, my discomfort with analyzing other people’s writing was kind of vindicated a few years ago, when I stumbled across an article written about the American author, Flannery O’Connor. The piece was about how, back in 1961, an English lit professor and his students were having trouble analyzing a short story O’Connor had written called “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. The professor’s interpretation of the story was evidently pretty far off the mark of what O’Connor was trying to convey. He wrote this about O’Connor’s story:

We have debated at length several possible interpretations, none of which fully satisfies us. In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not ‘real’ in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey’s dream? Please believe me when I say we are not seeking an easy way out of our difficulty. We admire your story and have examined it with great care, but we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp. We will all be very grateful if you comment on the interpretation which I have outlined above and if you will give us further comments about your intention in writing ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’

Ms. O’Connor, flabbergasted by the professor’s interpretation, wrote back to him. Here’s a quote from her response that kind of speaks to me as I write today’s post:

“The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

As someone who likes to write and used to do a lot of fiction writing back in the day, I never felt all that comfortable with some nameless person reading my words and making assumptions about what I *really* meant.  How can a person really interpret a writer’s true meaning if they don’t know the writer?  Sure, you can learn about history.  You can even learn a writer’s life story. But unless you are inside the author’s head, you can’t really know how he or she meant their work to be “interpreted” or even if such interpretations would even be welcome.  And if the writer was writing many decades before a reviewer’s birth, I would think the lens would be even more skewed.

Sometimes this phenomenon even happens to nobodies like me. Yesterday, I wrote about an experience I had with my aunt’s brother a few years ago. When I wrote that post, I was mainly feeling kind of amused. But I guess amusement is not what came across in my writing, because someone left a comment that indicated they assumed I’m still “mad” about that incident three years later. The fact is, I’m really not “mad”. I wasn’t even that “mad” when it happened. I would say I was frustrated and annoyed, but not necessarily “mad”.

When I think of someone who’s mad, I picture a person who is irate and seething with rage. That’s not an accurate description of how I was feeling then, or now. How I was feeling in 2017 was a combination of irritated, disrespected, and exasperated. But once that incident was over, it was over, and I completely forgot about it until yesterday.

I wasn’t feeling any of those negative emotions in 2020, either, as I recounted the story about my aunt’s brother in yesterday’s post. What I felt yesterday was mostly levity, particularly when I found that picture of the yellow truck with the words “Fuckin’ Hick” on it. If I recall correctly, that picture was taken by a friend of mine who was annoyed that the truck driver had parked his truck in her neighborhood. She was worried about property values going down because of the profanity. I was thinking about Bill driving on the Authobahn, being annoyed by another driver who not only was driving her own car, but apparently wanted to drive Bill’s car, too. 😉

Yesterday, I didn’t feel like writing about COVID-19 or politics or any of the other issues of the day. Sometimes, I feel like writing about something that doesn’t have to do with current events. When I was writing yesterday’s post, I was thinking of people who might read it and get something useful from it– for instance, the part where I wrote that “at some point, it’s got to be okay to be who you are“. That was meant to be a supportive statement for those who have felt that others disapprove of them in some way, and it was more of the main idea I was going for, rather than venting about being disrespected. But obviously, some readers missed the point. Perhaps that is my fault for not being more clear. Yesterday’s post wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a funny story, but I didn’t really mean it as a vent, nor was it an indication of how I feel right now or a sign that I’m still fuming at my aunt’s brother. The fact is, I don’t even think about him very much these days.

I will freely admit that I often hold onto some emotions for longer than perhaps some people think I should. I definitely hold grudges when someone is egregiously shitty to me. I think it’s because I was forced to endure a lot of bad treatment when I was growing up and there was nothing I could do about it at the time. As an adult, I’ve been learning constructive ways of countering that kind of treatment. There are only so many times a person can turn the other cheek before they finally snap back.

I used to be a lot more aggressive when I “snapped back”, but lately I’ve been trying to be more assertive. Assertiveness is not an easy skill to master. If you’re aggressive, you might be able to bully someone into compliance with your wishes. Assertiveness is a better, more respectful, more mature communication skill, but you run the risk that the other person won’t appreciate the respect and will either not respond at all, or will respond with aggression. I had initially tried being assertive with my aunt’s brother by politely asking him not to be a language cop on my page. That didn’t work, so I resorted to what some would consider “aggression”. Dropping f-bombs to someone who clearly hates them is probably considered aggressive by some people. On the other hand, acting like a language cop on a middle aged woman’s Facebook page is disrespectful and patronizing, and yes, that can cause a person to get “mad”.

While a Buddhist would likely tell me I would have more peace if I just said “fuck it” and let it go, that’s just not the type of person I am. I am a deeply flawed human being, just like everyone else is (including James Taylor). But I think it’s important for most readers to realize that they don’t know me personally, and it’s not helpful to project your interpretations of how you think I’m feeling. If you’re really curious about how I feel, you can always ask me and I’ll probably tell you. But please don’t assume you know and assign specific emotions to me. I consider that disrespectful.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t like it when people try to mind read, particularly when they are people I’ve never met. It makes me uncomfortable. Or, if you do want to assign an emotion to me, kindly keep it to yourself. Assuming that I’m “mad” about something when you don’t even know me is more likely to make me mad at you. But then, maybe you don’t care if I get mad. Most people don’t, which is why I ended up in that situation with my aunt’s brother in the first place. 😉

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