10 Things I’ve Learned While Walking Life’s Path Alone

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Next month, (in 19 days to be exact), I will turn 45. In my mid-40’s, my identity is as malleable as it is fixed, and transformation is not only a process, but also a goal. My identity is also complex and for the first time in my adult life I am beginning to truly appreciate that complexity, because that complexity is what makes me uniquely me. 2017 is still in its infancy, but a lot has happened since the beginning of the year. Not only in the world, but in my personal life as well. As I ease into this new year – still walking this path by myself – I’ve taken some time for self-reflection rather than burdening myself with resolutions I may not be able to keep. I mean, seriously, why create additional heartache for yourself when there are plenty of opportunities for it to find you out in the world?

Pain is a symptom of transformation, and pain is a fact of life if you’re actively living it. Like it or not, pain teaches us how to become better people if we are willing to learn its lessons. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve lived through my fair share of pain. And, because I am a sensitive person, a loving person, and willing to accept others into my life, sometimes things get messy. I’ve had lots of different kinds of relationships and this variety of relationships has taught me a lot about humanity and more importantly, myself.

I am a divorced, middle-aged, three-time college-educated, feminist, left-wing oriented with a heavy dose of secular humanism, single woman of color writer raising a young boy alone. These identifiers are only a small cross section of the other aspects of my life that make me who I am. People are always telling me how strong, interesting, and amazing I am, but despite all of my wonderful and complex attributes, I am still single. I continue to walk my life path alone. Am I happy about that? No. But, I’m beginning to understand that this is my life and if I don’t accept it, embrace the reality that I will most likely be walking this path alone for quite some time, I will never be happy with myself. So, in the nearly 45 years of my life, I have learned some things that I’d like to share with you, if like me, you find yourself walking your path alone.

Be kind to yourself. Self-care is important because it allows us to be healthy enough to deal with whatever is coming our way. Taking steps to maintain your best level of health enables us to not only do the daily things that are expected of us and take care of the people we love in our lives, but it also helps us build a reserve of strength in order to manage our lives better in times of crisis and loss.

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Be kind to others. Everyone experiences pain. Their pain might not be the same as your pain, but they are still learning how to navigate the unexpected disappointments and hurts that life throws our way. It isn’t necessarily your responsibility to help people get through their pain, but a kind word, a smile, or a thoughtful gesture may be all they need to get through the rest of the day, or in some cases, through the next moment. You can’t solve everyone’s problems or rescue them from whatever it is that is hurting them or blocking their progress, but you can treat them the way you wish to be treated. Kindness is free (unless you allow people to abuse it). And here’s the really confusing part that has taken me my whole life to appreciate – and I’m still working through learning this lesson – even the people who hurt you deserve kindness on some level. That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow, and it may require a lot of bourbon to choke it down. It will definitely take time for some of us, depending on the level of hurt we’ve experienced, to even be willing to pick up that pill before putting it in our mouth.

Do not settle for less than you deserve. When you go through a break up, lose a job, or experience any kind of significant loss, your closest friends will usually tell you that you deserve better. Guess what? They’re right. Your friends, if they are true friends, should know you pretty well and have an appreciation for all that you have to offer. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. They are the people who, even on your worst days, will always be there to tell you that things are going to be okay. They will hold your hand, give you a hug, pour liquor down your throat, find voodoo spells for you, and talk smack about the person or situation that hurt you. You should probably reciprocate whenever possible. Knowing what you want in life is important, but knowing your own value will help you gain a better understanding of why settling for less isn’t good enough. At least, it shouldn’t be.

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Crying is not a sign of weakness. Crying is a natural reaction to the physical and emotional pain in our lives. Healthy humans cry when they experience loss or what feels like unmanageable stress. Crying allows us to heal and is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. Regardless of what The Cure says, boys do and should cry, because crying as a reaction to pain is never gender specific.

Friends are more important than lovers. As I mentioned, I have a widely-diverse and rich network of friends who have either known me for a long time (more than 30 years) or who are still getting to know me, and vice versa. Having a lover or lovers can be wonderful, and if you’re lucky enough to find one (or more) who wants to stay in your life long term, even better. When our physical needs along with our emotional are being met, that can be a really sweet time. For most of us, those sweet times don’t last forever. When someone we have been emotionally and physically intimate with decides to end that relationship, it can sometimes feel like the world is ending. Or maybe, in some cases, we might wish that the world would end in order to avoid the pain we’re feeling. When we become not only emotionally and mentally, but also physically attached to certain people it might feel like part of us is dying when they choose a path that no longer connects to ours. If we’re really lucky and choose lovers who are emotionally stable and genuinely caring people, we may be able to maintain a different kind of relationship with them given enough time to heal and process our hurt emotions. In my experience, friendships have always lasted longer than love affairs or long-term romantic relationships. I mean, duh, I’m still single, right? But, many of my friendships have stood the test of time, some lasting through childhood into adulthood. I am a healthier person because of those relationships. And knowing my friends as well as I think I do, many of them would tell you that being a close friend of mine is a good thing. They love me, flaws and all. And, I feel the same way about them. Lovers come and go, but my close friends are usually around long enough to be considered family.

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People who are meant to be in your life will stay. I’m not just talking about lovers and significant others here. Lots of people will come and go in your life. Family, friends, lovers, acquaintances, and a whole host of other major and minor personal interactions that make up the map of relationships in your life. I am fortunate enough to be blessed with many friends. I am proud to say that I have been able to maintain and nurture some of my friendships, regardless of distance and life situations, for more than 30 years. My marriage didn’t last 30 years. It barely lasted 4. My husband was not my friend. I never should have married him. Fear and unmet desires forced me into that situation, and it took me a long time to dig my way out. Sometimes though, no matter how much we care about a person, the best thing they can do for us is to walk away.

Maintaining friendships with past lovers or boyfriends is rare for me. It happens sometimes, but typically it has taken me years to regain the trust that was lost when those relationships ended. The few people who fit into that category who are still choosing to be in my life, even at a distance through social media, are probably going to stick around for the long haul. Relationships, like everything else in our lives, go through periods of transformation. Having faith in the fact that someone you care about deeply, even though they have hurt you in some way, can still be welcomed into your life not only says something about your willingness to forgive, but also that they are worth the effort. Sometimes that transformation will take time and effort on behalf of both parties to make it work. But, if you both care enough, value, and respect each other, it should work out. Patience and understanding are key ingredients, as well as the ability to give people the space they need to shift from one role to another in your life.

You are a whole person without a life partner or significant other. I’m not going to lie; this is something I still struggle with on an almost daily basis. As a single parent who receives zero support from my ex-husband to raise our child, all responsibility to raise my child rests on my shoulders. For those of you who are in the same situation and do not have the benefit of co-parenting/shared custody, you know how hard this can be some days. It can get seriously fucking lonely. Raising a child with two adults in the house is difficult enough, especially if the responsibility isn’t shared equally. Many women and men find themselves in a situation where they may be the only responsible adult in the house. Sometimes, it is better to take on the responsibility of child-rearing alone than be stuck in a relationship with someone who prevents your growth, or worse, your child’s. Yes, it is hard. Miserable even. But, with the right amount of support (sometimes support is simply kind words from friends and strangers) you can do it. Having a partner doesn’t make you a better person. Surviving and thriving without one makes you stronger, albeit a little crazier in the process.

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Time does not heal all wounds. There’s an old saying about time healing all wounds. Bullshit. The wounds that cause emotional and psychological damage usually stay with us forever. The pain will lessen with time, but the wounds never quite heal. Recent research into psychological trauma has shown that in some cases, the trauma experienced by our relatives is passed to us genetically. Studies of Holocaust survivors and their offspring, as well as the ancestors of slaves in America have shown that extreme trauma can be passed down through DNA. Some physiological and psychological scars go as deep as the molecular level, and these painful experiences get coded into our DNA. So, if it feels like it’s taking you a long time to get over something painful in your life, take the time you need, because sometimes pain lasts through multiple lifetimes.

Believe in your ability to heal. Even though we now know that we not only carry the wounds we incur within our own lives, but also carry the pain of our ancestors in our blood, we still have the power to heal. Given time and the right tools, we can still go through painful experiences and come out on the other side with a new sense of who we are and what we can do. Friends, family, therapists, hippie herbalists, voodoo priestesses, and bartenders can help you through the rough times, but ultimately you must be the one to heal yourself. And, if you’re willing to face the pain head on and do the work to heal yourself, you will be stronger for it.

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Be willing to admit that the path you are walking may not be the right one. Change, while scary and often painful, can be good for us. Change allows us to grow and evolve into the people we are meant to be. I truly believe that. In fact, in my opinion, when our lives remain on the same path for too long without change, we become stagnant. Change is not always a negative thing. Change opens new doorways to opportunity and experience. Don’t be afraid to take risks and go on a few adventures. And, be willing to leave behind the things that are preventing your growth.

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Fuckable Fictional Characters: Will Graham

I’ve mentioned several times before in this series that I have a special place in my heart for the insane – or, at least, the people society deems insane. Some people I have cared deeply about throughout my life suffered or continue to suffer with mental illness and the stigma that comes along with these often-misunderstood medical conditions.

My father made a living as a mental health professional. He cared a lot about his clients, and sometimes developed strong attachments to them. I’m aware that there are ethical issues associated with client/therapist relationships that cross the boundaries established by the profession. Despite his role as therapist and healer, he was only human and felt deep sorrow when one of his clients relapsed and hurt themselves or someone else. More than once, my dad received phone calls about the death of a client at his/her own hands. I remember one client’s suicide very well, because my dad cried when he hung up the phone and slipped into a deep depression that lasted months. He felt responsible for that man’s death. He believed that he had somehow failed. My dad was really good at what he did, but he felt too much to be able to distance himself from the very real struggles his clients faced. He cared too much.

Caring too much sounds absurd to people who don’t understand what that can be like. When you feel things so strongly that you can’t seem to separate yourself from the grief experienced by others around you, people you’ve never met, people who died long before you were born, any form of suffering that you can empathize with creates a sense of the suffering inside you. When therapists who have a strong sense of empathy cross boundaries with their clients, sometimes inappropriate or even dangerous things happen, placing both client and therapist in jeopardy.

An excellent fictional example of this kind of situation is the relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Bryan Fuller’s television adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, “Hannibal”. Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist and Will is a profiler for the FBI. Both work under Jack Crawford, the director of the BAU, who investigates serial murders. Will has a unique set of mental quirks (illness) that gives him a nearly supernatural level of empathy, which enables him to place himself in the minds of serial killers and recreate their actions and thoughts while examining grisly crime scenes. Will solves serial murders and puts serial killers behind bars…unless they end up dead. Which happens quite a bit on “Hannibal”. If Will doesn’t kill them, Dr. Lecter will, or they end up killing themselves. Although Jack has asked Dr. Lecter to observe Will to keep track of his fragile mental state as he investigates one horrific murder after another, he never officially becomes Will’s psychiatrist. In fact, they become friends. Well, they become connected by a series of unfortunate events that blur the boundaries and behaviors between them, and a bond of sorts is formed. Friends? Colleagues? Murder husbands? You decide.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does: Will Graham

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However you choose to define the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, it is a cluster fuck of lies, deceit, manipulation, murder-spree fantasies, and some occasional inappropriate touching. From where I’m sitting, I see a lot of sexual tension between two men who are intellectually turned on by each other in a submissive/dominant dance of morally questionable professional encounters that ultimately lead to serious injury – mentally and physically.

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I think I made it abundantly clear how I feel about Dr. Lecter in an earlier post, but now it’s Will’s turn. Thomas Harris wrote him as an exceptionally strong character that rivals the serial-killing monsters in Red Dragon, and Hugh Dancy has taken this character to whole new level of psychosis.

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There is beauty and pain in his gift of empathy, he is gloriously crazy, and his insight and intellect, as well as his extreme awkwardness make him very appealing to this long-time nerd fetishist.

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I often make passes at men who wear glasses.

I don’t know about you, but the smarter a man is, the hotter he becomes in my opinion. Will is a successful criminal profiler, but due to his delicate psychological make-up, it is safer for him to share his wisdom and experience in a classroom rather than in the field.

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Intellectual hotness.

But, Jack Crawford convinces him (against Will’s better judgement and Alana Bloom’s recommendations) to leave the safety of the classroom and return to the field where his expertise can have a positive outcome in solving crimes and catching serial murderers.

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I have a collection of bloody antlers just like this at home.

Will Graham is an incredibly fuckable fictional character, despite the fact that his friend and colleague, Alana Bloom, thinks a relationship with him is too risky. Initially, when Will shows an interest in becoming more than friends with Alana and she turns him down, I was angry. I mean, if I worked with someone as intellectually creepy and hot as Will Graham, I’d probably be making not-so-subtle hints about my interest in him.

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Seriously. What the hell is she waiting for?

But, in retrospect, I realize that I have more in common with Alana than I’d readily like to admit. Alana spends a lot of time inside her own head. I do too. She tends to overthink things. Ditto. In fact, she thinks herself right out of potentially pleasurable and possibly ideal situations, like entering a romantic relationship with Will Graham. Sure, he’s cute and sweet, but he’s also kind of unstable and may require a lot of care giving in the long run. So, she rejects him. He doesn’t take it well, but respects her decision and doesn’t continue to push the issue. He occasionally makes snide comments, but then acts like an adult and treats their relationship as strictly professional.

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We’ve all made the mistake of choosing the wrong guy before.

Seeking refuge from the pain of unrequited love, Will dives back into his work. Because Will enters the minds of the killers he profiles, the field work begins to take its toll. With each episode, Will gets a little stranger, his bond with Dr. Lecter grows tighter, and heads in a weird direction.

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In Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, Lecter is behind bars and the relationship between him and Will is mostly speculative. We know that Will worked with Lecter to solve a crime, and later discovered that Lecter himself was a serial killer. Will nearly loses his life at the hands of Lecter, but ultimately is the one who puts him behind bars. In “Hannibal,” we see Bryan Fuller’s vision of their relationship prior to Lecter getting caught. Fuller’s artistic vision creates not only some of the most beautiful murder tableau, food porn, and uncomfortable interpersonal interactions, but also adds a level of competition between Will and Hannibal that slowly becomes a homoerotic murder fantasy man crush. (It’s totally a thing.)

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Before.

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After.

And don’t get me started about the visual references to David Lynch’s body of work (that’s a different conversation for another day).

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Yep. That’s a human ear alright.

While watching the first season, I questioned not only my theories about Fuller’s references to David Lynch’s work, but also the homoerotic nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship.

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Yeah, I’m just imaging…wait.

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I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one in the Hannibal fandom (Fannibals) who saw what I was seeing. The sexual nature of their relationship became clearer with each episode. Social media (Tumblr, Deviant Art, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook) provided an outlet for fans who wanted to explore the possibilities of that relationship even further, and coined the term Hannigram. “Hannibal” has some of the most creative, twisted and hilarious fans. If you ever find yourself bored and want to entertain yourself, just Google Hannigram and let the good times roll.

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I know, right?

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Disturbing, yet somehow hilarious.

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This is the humorous side, but there is a darker and more sexually-charged side of the fandom as well.

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As far as fan art goes, the Hannigram inspired work found on social media may cause you to blush or shift in your seat a bit. Given the nature of the fiction it is drawing its inspiration from, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neither should it surprise you just how closely violence, eating, and sex are related. But, what might disturb you about that connection is how titillating it can be when presented to us in a gloriously perverse artistic expression through such mediums as film or literature.

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But it is. And so is this.

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And, especially this.

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I mean, that’s like a total effing Romeo & Juliet ending! I know I’m not imaging that. But ironically, it takes Will the longest to catch on to that aspect of his relationship with Hannibal.

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I mean, even the tabloids alluded to the weird and kinky nature of their relationship.

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Any way you look at it, Will Graham is clearly Hannibal’s object of desire. The lines between his murder fantasies and his contracted work with the FBI to observe Will’s behavior blur while the empathetic profiler spirals deeper into mental illness. And while we feel sympathy for Will, the bizarre elements of the fiction lend themselves to even more disturbing humor. Let’s face it, Fannibals are sick, twisted, clever perverts. And I love them dearly.

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Self Love Is Not Selfish: A Letter to My Future Self

Sacred-HeartGrief is very personal. No two people experience it exactly the same way. How our emotions manifest as we go through the process of grieving isn’t always within our control. Many people believe that we only experience grief after the death of a loved one, but grief is the natural response to loss. Loss and grief come in many flavors, colors, and sizes.

The past few years of my life have been . . . challenging. My struggles may not have been as difficult to overcome as the struggles some of you have faced, but I’m not here to compare my experiences or grief with yours or anyone else’s.

In June of 2012 I attended my first residency in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction (WPF). After years of putting writing at the bottom of my to do list, even though it was one of the most important activities in my life, I decided to go back to school and earn a second master’s degree. My BA and MA in English didn’t propel me into a career as a college professor or a professional writer like I hoped, but in many ways these degrees prepared me for critical thinking, problem solving and communicating in creative ways in several university positions. Enrolling in SHU’s MFA in WPF gave me the courage and support I needed to not only follow my dreams of becoming a professional writer, but also made me realize there were a lot of other things I needed to change in my life.

I attended my second residency at SHU in January, where I had an amazing heart-to-heart with my good friend and fellow writer, Valerie Burns. She asked me what would make me happy. Based on the answers I came up with, she suggested I make a plan. The following week I applied for a job that would pay more and have fewer duties that was close to my hometown. I wasn’t thrilled about moving back home, but I knew I would have the support of friends and family. A few days after I got the job offer I told my husband I was leaving. About a week or so later, my brother-in-law died suddenly. In March I moved my son and myself into my childhood home and by April 1 I started the new job. We lived with my mom for a few months and then we found our own place in August. In many ways these were positive changes, but there was a lot going on in my life. Lots of plates were spinning dangerously above my head. Separation from my husband after a 10-year relationship, moving, starting a new job, graduate school, and dealing with behavioral issues my son was exhibiting as a single parent.

During this time I was writing my first novel. Despite all the hardships and upheaval, I kept writing.

My father passed away in October last year after a very long battle with complicated illnesses that led to early onset dementia. He lost his health, mind, and eventually his life at the hands of sicknesses that robbed him of his life-long dream of becoming a published author. For years, he researched, plotted, and sketched out ideas for a historical fiction novel about African Americans overcoming oppression to find a space of self-determinism where they could live their lives without the threat of violence. He never wrote that book. I found the title scribbled in one of his many notebooks while cleaning up the house for my mom. The title of his book is now the title of my first book. It’s not the same book he would have written, but I think he would have been very proud of me for finishing my novel.

I’m not going to lie. Life has felt really hard to manage some days. I’ve suffered with depression. Don’t even get me started on the crippling loneliness. Uncertainty. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Sadness. Emotionally, I’m all over the map. And still, I write. Little bits here and there. A poem (26 last summer). Short stories that seem more like the beginnings of novels. And chapters for a novel I’m hoping to complete a first draft for during Camp NaNoWriMo in July. (Oh shit! That’s today!)

Despite all the upheaval, disappointment, and bullshit I’ve had to deal with in the past few years, I’m still writing. I’m a writer. That’s what I do.

I keep a journal to get through some of the rougher days. Journaling for me is like having a conversation with myself where I work out some of the issues I’m struggling with and try to release the pain clouding my thoughts. A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to my future self. It was very therapeutic. I can’t recommend this exercise enough. It was an act of self love and care that no one else could have provided for me. Not my friends, not my family, no one but me.

I debated whether or not to share this letter publicly. It’s personal. It’s private. However, I think some of you could benefit from the things I told my future self. It helped me rethink what I was going through at the time and helped me come up with a few solutions to problems that were more distractions than useful or supportive aspects of my life.

Takes deep breath…

Dear Future Self,

I love you. You are doing so well and I am proud of you. Keep doing all the amazing things you’ve set your mind and energy on. I’m looking forward to reading all the stories you’ve written and published.

I knew that you would overcome the self-doubt and those feelings of not being good enough to accomplish the goals you set for yourself. Here’s a reminder of the things we were working toward:

  1. Make Healthier Choices: Better food, more exercise, avoiding toxic relationships, making choices that have a positive effect on you and the people you love.
  2. Find an Appropriate Partner: Someone who respects you and believes that you are enough, not his whole world, but somewhere at the top of his list. A priority, not an option. Someone willing to build a life with that you can both be proud of at the end of the day.
  3. Build Stronger Friendships: Spend more time with people who truly value you. You know who they are and who they aren’t. You have a gift for sensing who really has your best interests in mind and who simply wants to bask in or steal your light.
  4. Be True to Yourself: Know your limits and respect them. It’s okay to say “no” when you feel overwhelmed or underappreciated. Take time to sit quietly, alone or with people you love, and listen to what you need to do to recharge. Your body and spirit will tell you. Don’t ignore the voices inside you.
  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away from Bad Situations: I know it sounds ridiculous now, but remember how we used to cling to things and people who made us unhappy? Why did we do that? Did we think our kindness and patience and urging would magically transform them into the people we needed them to be? People will disappoint you. This I promise. You don’t have to stick around to let it keep happening. If someone really loves you, you’ll know the signs. Don’t ignore them.
  6. You Are Enough: You don’t have to prove your worth to anyone. If you feel like you need to constantly prove your worth to someone, stop for a minute and figure out if that need is internal or external. If it’s internal, find a therapist or spiritual healer and figure that out. If it is external and someone keeps expecting you to be more or do more to please them and they aren’t doing the same for you in return, walk away. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t look back. They’ll try to tell you they miss you. Let them.
  7. Never Stop Learning: People, places, things, and the voices inside our own heads can teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us. Pay attention. Take notes. Share your knowledge with others.
  8. Don’t Be Afraid to Fuck Up: Everybody makes mistakes. Own yours and learn from them. That’s how we grow. People who choose to ignore these lessons are not worth your time and energy. You are here to grow and learn. People who refuse to join you on your journey will only hold you back. Mistakes are like bruises, not permanent scars. They do not define us unless we allow them to. Keep moving forward; don’t let fear of making mistakes keep you from reaching your goals.
  9. Forgive Yourself and Others: You’re not perfect and you don’t have to be. Everybody fucks up sometimes (see above). Don’t dwell on that for too long. Make amends, apologize if necessary, forgive yourself and forgive others when they do stupid things that are hurtful. Carrying around anger only does damage to the vessel in which it is contained. Be angry. Cry. Emote. Then let that shit go. Put it in your art, not your heart.

Stay strong. You’re doing great things.

Love, Me