Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.
There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)
But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.
And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.
So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.
Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of feeling as if we do not fit in. That’s actually pretty much my status quo. But every once in a while, I’ll go somewhere or meet someone that makes me feel completely comfortable and at home inside my own skin. When that happens, it’s such a relief. It feels as though I’m removing shoes that are two sizes too small. I feel understood. I can be myself.
We humans are so nomadic and so culturally, emotionally and politically diverse that it’s a rare and precious moment when you find a member of your “tribe.” It’s also a gift to feel at home. These people may not look anything like you, they may be a different age or gender identity or nationality or religion, but you can tell that they get where you’re coming from. And these home places may be far flung and entirely unexpected, but you know that a piece of your very soul resides there.
When you find your tribe or your homeland, embrace that feeling. Hold onto it if you can, if only in your memories. These feelings will remind you of who you are at your very core. And whoever you are, it’s nice to be reminded, sometimes, that you’re exactly who you are supposed to be.
I can’t speak for you, but sometimes I feel so completely freakin’ misunderstood that I even begin to question myself. It’s astounding how many people there are out there who are willing to tell you that you shouldn’t feel the way you feel or that you shouldn’t do what you do. The world is so full of noise that it’s hard for people to listen. And everybody’s a critic.
After enough time in that emotional meat grinder, I feel completely drained of my life force, and I start to wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe if I just twist myself into a particular kind of knot, maybe then I’ll be viewed as saner, stronger, braver, more confident, less irrational, more well balanced, and more appealing. I, too, can be functional, if only…
“Stop being so sensitive.” “Stick up for yourself.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Here’s how you should have handled it.” “Why do you think that way?” “You’re making too much of it.” “This is how everyone else sees it.” “Grow up.”
It’s enough to make me want to crawl into a hole and pull a rock over the entrance. Just long enough to lick my wounds. Long enough to heal and remember who I am. Long enough to keep my wounded butt from lashing out and verbally tearing my attacker limb from limb. Because despite how much it may be merited, it never helps.
What do I take with me into that healing place? Truth. The things that I know are true about myself. The things that no one can take away from me no matter how hard they try. Everyone has a different set of things. Here are some of mine, in no particular order.
I am intelligent.
I love my dog and my dog loves me.
I’m a good writer.
I am a fantastic bridgetender.
People can count on me.
If I say I’ll do something, it gets done.
I’m not afraid of being alone.
I love a hot bath.
I have a great sense of humor.
I’m good with my money.
I love to learn.
I have a creative mind.
I draw strength from nature.
I can be trusted.
I live to travel.
I set goals, and I work toward them.
I am a good friend.
People confide in me.
I’m proud of these things. I hold them close. They are my passions, my values, and my strengths. They are what hold me together even when I feel like I’m being torn apart.
Never forget that you have your very own set of things. Take them with you wherever you go. They are what’s best about you, even in your darkest hour.
So, hold on to your truth. Tell your detractors to get stuffed. And don’t ever, ever give up.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone, only to discover at the end that you were talking about two entirely different things? It’s very disconcerting. It’s like opening an important document, only to discover it’s full of incomprehensible symbols like this: �.
According to Wikipedia, when you get that garbled text, it’s a result of it being decoded using an unintended character encoding. It’s called Mojibake (which means “character transformation” in Japanese). I’d go into more detail, but it would quickly get over my head. Read the Wikipedia article if you’re into that kind of stuff.
But what intrigues me about Mojibake (aside from the fact that it’s a really cool sounding word) is that you can look right at it and know instantly that something is amiss. But you can’t always do so with the verbal equivalent.
Miscommunication can be dangerous. Wars can start on a misunderstanding. And as I experienced quite recently, friendships can end.
Confused conversations can also be hilarious when two friends finally realize what’s going on. But surely those misunderstandings can occur between two people, and each of them walk away being none the wiser about the mistake. How often does that happen? There’s absolutely no way to know.
I don’t like the concept that the foundation of our day to day communication is resting on sand, and can be shifted without our knowledge or control. I hate being misunderstood. I like thinking that the world is solid, and black and white, and that we all grok it in the very same way. But no.
I’ll just have to comfort myself with the fact that I learned a new word today. (Thanks, Mor!) And the next time I have one of those confused conversations that end in laughter, I’ll look at the person and say, “Mojibake, my friend.”
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.
A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”
I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”
My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.
So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”
Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”
Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”
Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”
At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”
God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”
I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.
I am very confused by people who don’t say what they mean and mean what they say. That seems to be the case with a lot of people here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s why I’ll probably always feel like a stranger in a strange land as long as I live here. I prefer straight shooters.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Seattle area. I just seem to spend a lot of time befuddled by its residents.
But it’s not as if Seattleites have cornered the market on such behavior. As a matter of fact, it should feel quite normal to me. My mother was the poster child for obfuscation. She would do anything, absolutely anything, to avoid confrontation.
For example, when I was about 6 years old, she bought me a pair of Keds tennis shoes. I was a creative and precocious child, so my solution to this boring white expanse of canvas was to take a magic marker and write “dirty” words all over them. (At that age, it was probably words like “poop” or “doofus” or something.)
I was proud of those shoes. By wearing them, I felt like I was pushing the envelope. Living on the edge. I thought I was being rebellious and cool.
Needless to say, my mother was less enthusiastic about them. But rather than say, “Oh, hell no! You are not wearing those shoes in public!” she simply gritted her teeth and let me wear them, rather than enduring the tantrum that most likely would have ensued. (I must admit that I was a brat.)
Then one day, we were leaving a grocery store, and as I got into the back seat, one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Mommy, wait! My shoe fell off!”
She must have thought she had died and gone to heaven. She accelerated. She said, “Sorry, honey. I can’t stop. There are too many cars behind me.”
“Well, then pull over there, and I’ll run back and get it.”
“We’re in a hurry.”
“Too late. We’re on the street now.”
I cried in frustration and confusion as I looked out the rear window, watching my beloved shoe get smaller in the distance.
From an adult perspective, I think my mother was being spineless in this instance. She missed a teaching moment when I first created those awful shoes. She could have talked to me about the use of words, and how they can hurt or offend some people. She could have talked about common courtesy. She could have reinforced some much-needed and ultimately comforting boundaries. We could have sat down together and covered those words over with colorful flowers or something.
Most of all, she could have avoided having me think that the adults in my life are strange, unpredictable, and incomprehensible. Those are scary thoughts when you’re a kid. Instead, she took the easy way out.
Oh, I could tell you a thousand stories about how I came to feel as though the inmates were running the asylum in my household. I spent most of my youth wading through lies and excuses and pure fantasies. The sands were constantly shifting beneath my feet.
This kind of behavior made me prize integrity and honesty and safety and trust above all other things, simply because I didn’t experience those qualities very much. I longed for a world that made sense.
That’s why I say what I mean and I mean what I say. You can count on that. I don’t ever want someone to be confused by me. I hate that feeling of being misunderstood, not only because it hurts on my end, but also because I know how baffling it is for others. I lived it.
So just say I can’t have the damned shoes, already. It will only be awkward for a second. And I’ll respect you a lot more.
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Have you ever had a conversation that caused you to look at things in a whole new way? I had one of those recently. I was having a delightful chat with a guy about fun things to do in Seattle. I’d never met him before, but he gave me lots of good ideas.
Then, at the end of the conversation, he said, “Be safe going home.”
Since we had briefly touched on politics, I said, “It’s hard to feel safe these days.”
And his response was, “Welcome to my world.”
You see, he’s African American, and yeah, he probably never feels quite safe going home or going anywhere else, for that matter. Never. And just like that, I lifted my head up out of the cloud of delusion I’ve had the privilege of residing in my whole life long.
This awful, unsettled feeling I’ve had for the past couple weeks is his status quo. This feeling of being misunderstood by just about everybody, of being actively disliked? He has lived that every day. The certainty that most people really don’t have your best interests at heart and are in fact actively working against those interests is a new and horrible feeling for me, but that’s his normal.
And I have to say, this sucks. That, and I’m ashamed of how spoiled I’ve always been. If nothing else good comes from the Trump presidency, at least I can say that my eyes have been opened. And my life will never be quite the same.
Everyone has the right to be safe going home. Everyone has the right, but many of us don’t have the luxury.
When I was 11 years old, I brought some candy to school. They were those little, sugary mints that most kids have seen a million times. My best friend back then was kind of gullible, though, so when she asked me what it was, I told her it was drugs. I thought it was kind of funny, because by all accounts I was the most straight-laced kid on earth. I wouldn’t have a clue where to get illegal drugs. (Frankly, I still don’t.)
She saw me eat the candy, and bunch of my classmates did, too. I tried to tell her it was a joke, but she wouldn’t partake. I felt bad about that.
Then she went home and told her mother. Her mother called my house right after school, before my mother got home from work. And she screamed at me. I mean, she really, really screamed. She called me a little drug dealer and told me I was going to hell. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. She told me I was never, ever to talk to her daughter again, or I’d be in BIG TROUBLE.
So I didn’t. And that felt horrible for the rest of the school year. Then we each moved on to different schools and I never saw her again.
Lately that seems to be a recurring theme in my life– people assuming the worst of me. There has been a very sharp uptick of that since the most recent election. And it’s not even about things political most of the time. Is this the world we now live in? Hostile judgments at every turn?
It always takes me by surprise when these misunderstandings occur, because I have the exact opposite problem. I tend to assume the best of people, and then I’m shocked when they show me otherwise. So these negative assessments always feel like they’re coming way out of left field, and I’m generally so stunned that I can’t think how to defend myself.
The bottom line is that I seem to be losing people. And I can’t decide whether that’s bad or good. Where these people ever really my friends if they can think the worst of me? Should I have to work so hard to prove myself? Am I absolutely clueless as to the image I put across?
I really would go live in a cave somewhere if I could find one with wifi and pizza delivery. And a supply of sugary mints.
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The other day I had to go down to the south end of my drawbridge to do some maintenance. During rush hour, that involves walking down to the traffic light and crossing the road at the crosswalk. On this particular day there was a homeless woman sitting beside the crosswalk button. When I approached, she said, “Did you have fun playing with Catherine?”
When I told her that I didn’t know Catherine, she replied, “I find that to be bullshit,” and proceeded to curse me like a sailor.
Needless to say I was a bit startled. I was really happy when the light turned red and I was able to cross the street and get away from her. Apparently I need to leave Catherine alone. Not a problem.
That reminded me of something that happened about a month ago. I was walking down the sidewalk in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. That is kind of the LGBTQ hub here in Seattle. A man across the street started screaming at me. He called me a “dirty dyke” and told me I should repent.
Being mistaken for a lesbian bothers me not at all. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But hey! I am not dirty. I shower. I floss. I shave my arm pits and everything. The nerve of some people.
As an average-looking white woman, I have the luxury of being shocked when random people hate me without knowing me. I will never have to resign myself to prejudice because I rarely encounter it. That makes me a very lucky person indeed.
So twice this month I got a tiny little insignificant taste of what it must be like to be a member of a minority. Being misunderstood and hated without being known is a really confusing and frustrating experience. And the sad thing is that there seems to be very little that you can do about it. It’s like being forced to stand there while acid is poured on you, by dint of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You may not have any control over the emotions that come at you from others, but you have all the control in the world over the type of energy you put out. The best way to be a positive force for change in this world is to make sure you are not one of the acid pourers.