What the Hell is This?

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? — Muriel Rukeyser

Under the Influence March 24, 2012

Today is the fourth anniversary of my li’l’ ol’ navel-gazer of a shadow blog! Just in time for that benchmark, its page views surpassed 15,000. That works out to about 313 a month since its debut. Not exactly The Daily Beast or Gawker, but pretty darn good, given that it’s intentionally hidden away, divorced from my real-world identity, and wholly unadvertised. Most of the people in my life still don’t know about it or how to find it (which is why I speak freely, but change all the names). In short, kind of a thrill. And now that WordPress shows hits by country, I even get to see where in the world they’re coming from. It’s fun! Turkey? Pakistan, really? Honduras? Kewl!

**

**

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds except
the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the
sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
from “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte

That one afternoon I ditched work with my parallel-universe husband seems to have supercharged my writer batteries. I went home that weekend and cranked out a fully-formed article for an ex-fundamentalist Web site that got published a week later, garnering rave reviews. To my delight, one visitor called my prose “delicious;” another wanted to know if I was writing a book. During the following week and a half, I finished a particularly long and involved assignment from Matador that required me to rewrite the same travel story for three different markets. (That’s the project that had previously stymied me.) Not to mention the post I published on this blog, two days after we played hooky. We’re talking about a total of at least 7000 words right there, in the space of less than two weeks. Well over twenty pages!

Say what you will, Dan is like a match to my creative fire. And not in the angst-ridden sense of so many of my past muses, inspiring morosely poetic ruminations about perennial longing. No, I feel motivated and empowered to pursue my dreams with all the more gusto. I want to finish as well as start multiple projects. I want to leave behind the soul-sapping grind of pay-the-bills phone work, and just write all day long.

I wish I could do the same for him. At last count, his workshop languished abandoned; he hadn’t played a music gig in ages. In the meantime, he struggles mightily with his left-brain homework, on the road to becoming a productive member of society and pulling his own weight.

I want to say: Let’s run away together — to some sunny place, somewhere by a crashing foreign sea — and create beautiful things. Let’s live a bold, courageous, and impractical life, while we still have the time. Let’s not strain against the grain of our natures just because other people told us it was the grownup and responsible thing to do. But above all, dearest man, whatever you do, whatever you decide, don’t believe — as I did for so many years — that the world doesn’t want your gifts.

Have I ever mentioned that Dan’s first major was Creative Writing?

**

He is on an extended leave of absence after a death in the family. The one day he did appear, right after it happened, I wanted to put my arms around him, but I reined myself in, as I always do. I have never so much as hugged Dan (despite the fact that I hug practically everyone there, even the enormous gentleman with compromised hygiene) — nor have I even friended him on Facebook. This, my darling readers, has been my way of attempting to respect some semblance of boundaries. It was never my intention to seduce another woman’s husband, after all. This insubordinate love took root with all the tenacity of a morning glory, despite my best intentions.

I miss him terribly. I’m restless and impatient, looking over the shoulders of my colleagues, wading through the repetitive tedium of scripts and rebuttals, barely tolerating the inevitable abuse. I have neither the time nor the energy for the usual psychic vampires who come around to feed off my (now somewhat diminished) excitement and joie de vie. Did he miss me as much, while I was gone? His performance plummeted — coincidentally or not — to rock bottom during those five weeks. He thought they were going to fire him. (The week after I came back, he hit the top twenty.)

I still haven’t had a decent opportunity since that day to fess up, to pull a Shasta, and see what transpires (and I mean other than my irrevocable consignment, in the eyes of All Who are Good and Righteous, to hell). Given my history and my self-image, not to mention the hard data, it’s difficult to be optimistic. But I’ve gone over all that already.

And now I have no idea when I’ll see him again.

**

In the past, the only man I ever knew about who wanted to forsake all others — including his wife — for me was a morbidly obese theatre actor aptly named Karl Bacon. He was married to my friend Maureen, a sweet, bonny Irish lass with naturally red hair. I was stunned when he confessed his undying desire for me later, after they were divorced (and unbeknownst to his current girlfriend), because he had always been insufferably pompous and diffident around me. I had always wondered, frankly, what a wonderful woman like Maureen saw in this unattractive character. He was testy, to say the least, with most people; to her he was occasionally abusive. Apparently he would also have jettisoned her without a second thought upon my cue.

Needless to say, he was never the remotest temptation.

**

Liz, that pretty blonde alpha female from my wedding dream, who is married with a young toddler but who seems, at times, to covet Dan, appears to have attached herself to our old friend Ted in Dan’s absence.

I am more than a little relieved by this. Women like Liz have perpetually bested me; they seem to be able to get whatever they want, and sooner rather than later. Few men can resist the queen bee, and I fear that if Liz truly set her sights on Dan, he’d be hard pressed (no pun intended) to resist. But may I say, emphatically, that she can have Ted, with my sincere blessing. If she’s bored with her unglamorous domestic life, and shopping for an affair, he’d make a stellar candidate. Not only does she fall within his favorite physical demographic, her marital status makes her ideal for his distinctly noncommittal purposes.

The reason I bring up this TMZ-grade gossip is that my ongoing unease with Liz provided the occasion for a thoroughly lucid moment the other day. When I halted my anxious beta-female thought processes for a moment, the honest question arose: so what if she did manage to seduce Dan? Even go so far as to break up his marriage? He does ask after her when she’s not around.

On the other hand, what if Dan’s ultimate response to me were that he loves Mai, and knows they are meant to be together — forever?

What could I really do about it? Any of it?

Sure, it’s painful to lose out one more time to the sought-after blonde every man wants – that will always rub salt in old wounds. Thanks to Cheyenne and her precious ilk, it’s a built-in trigger for some pretty intense and unpleasant feelings.

But in the grander scheme of things, if Dan truly doesn’t feel the way I do, it’s not like I can make him. Any more than Mai can make him not love me (regardless of whether she invokes the attendant rights of her position).

“If it’s right,” a friend of author Diane Conway once told her, “nothing you can do can screw it up. If it’s wrong, nothing you can do can fix it.” (Clearly this friend was not an evangelical of the there-is-no-right-person school.) I don’t know what gives me the impression that this is far from over, regardless of how long Dan is gone. Oh, I’ll keep meeting people; I’ll even date if I feel like it. I was prepared for Dan to have all but forgotten me after my long hiatus…but when I saw the naked joy on his blushing face, I knew that that just wasn’t the case.

If you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, you can’t expect to lead a horse away from water, and make him not thirst.

Or to quote Dan’s man Warren Zevon, They say love conquers all/you can’t start it like a car/you can’t stop it with a gun.

***

This week I dreamt about Ron and Stephanie — the widower of interest I mentioned in a previous post, and the (beautiful, slender, younger) girl friend who captured his heart on the sly. Like the wedding dream involving Dan, this is one that lingers in my mind for days.

I am casually visiting the two of them, and get left alone with Ron for a bit when Stephanie has to run some kind of work-related errand.

I make lighthearted reference to the fact that Stephanie has snapped Ron up before the rest of us could even have a shot. I have no agenda at this point; they’re engaged, I accept that, and I wish them nothing but the best. But I do nevertheless imply, impishly, that I would have liked a chance myself, and punctuate this flirty (but hardly serious) jibe with a wink and a grin.

The unanticipated force of Ron’s reaction astonishes me. Looking stricken, he flushes a deep crimson, and starts to stammer about how maybe things won’t work out with Stephanie after all. He’s backtracking like crazy, as if I’ve just given him a game-changing piece of information.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I’m no longer the jilted “Jen,” I’m the “Angelina” — the irresistible, potentially homewrecking temptress — and not just to a Karl Bacon. (If anything, Stephanie should be the Angelina.)

I have no desire to steal Ron away from Stephanie, but you could sure knock me over with a feather. This has never happened before. I’ve just expressed an interest in someone, however belatedly, and it’s given him an honest-to-god life crisis! I’m too desirable, instead of too pathetic!

When I see Stephanie soon thereafter, I inform her that Ron has provided me with some much-needed practice at humiliation-free confessions — although for obvious reasons I leave out the bulk of Ron’s response. I am aware, in the back of my mind (even as I’m dreaming), that Dan is next, and that the “real thing” will be much harder…though not as hard as it might have been without this overwhelmingly positive reinforcement.

I wake up feeling far more confident than usual about my feminine appeal, and far less certain that revealing the extent of my feelings to Dan would be a huge and characteristic AlienBaby crash-and-burn.

**

Writing this post at the neighborhood coffeehouse, from which I’ve composed a majority of posts over the past four years, I relish the afternoon sunlight streaming in the open garage door. Brendan has gone to Australia with his doctor girlfriend; I hope they’re having a great time. A former “girl crush” of mine, a gorgeous bisexual yoga teacher with multicolor hair, not quite thirty, who knew me back at the studio, chats with me at my table for a few minutes. In parting, she offers me a free class, as her guest, and kisses me on the lips. The entire two percent of me with lesbian tendencies is tickled to death. Once again, I feel yards more attractive.

I intend to find a place like this, somewhere across the globe — a sunny, social spot for coffee and writing where the locals gather, a home away from home. I don’t need much else. It’s amazing how little I require to be happy. I would be even happier sharing this blessed simplicity with someone with whom I feel I belong, someone who feels more like home than any location ever has.

I intend to get there — I believe I will get there — with or without him.

But I do seem to be a hell of a lot more productive under the influence of certain individuals.

 

8 Responses to “Under the Influence”

  1. klandmann Says:

    hi there!

    i neglected to comment on your past couple of posts–have been in a bit of an emotional frenzy. i can’t believe how many people have read your blog (actually, i can believe it). did i get that right? TEN THOUSAND? divided by 313 that’s 30 people per blog. amazing. and so far flung! i wish only to emulate. you can count me as canada, originally where i’m from.

    i think your “naval gazing” gets so much attention because it touches so many people in their own lives. the things you write about are indeed universal–relationships, dating, longing for what we can’t have, lost loves…anyone can relate. pakistan, lebanon, costa rica, wherever. men and women both. you are really touching hearts. you’ve touched mine.

    i’m amazed at how little it takes you to be happy, and i greatly admire it. i, unfortunately, am much more complicated. you are an inspiration to simplify down to the basics of what really is important to me. you rock, babe!

    p.s. i have never been kissed by a woman on the lips but would like to be.

    • AlienBaby Says:

      Hey K, thanks for stopping by and for the good words. It’s actually 15,000 visits! I don’t know how many of those were return guests, but that’s how many hits I’ve gotten.

      You know it took me decades of being miserable to figure out how to find that baseline of happiness! Turns out it’s simpler than we think. And it does have a lot to do with simplifying.

      Maybe put that being kissed by a woman thing on your Bucket List. More, if you like! April is so outrageously adorable, you’d almost have to be dead not to respond to her, but that’s about all I needed. :)

      It just occurred to me that my coffeehouse must sound like an awfully kissy place…Russ recently reminded me about my following Brendan into the kitchen and planting one on him.

      • klandmann Says:

        simplify, simplify. that’s the key. but how do i simplify my brain? years and years of abuse (starting in childhood) have left me with convoluted brain patterns. i don’t know how to get out of it. this gets especially complicated in relationships. obviously, i go to therapy, and it helps a lot. but i’m not out of the woods yet. a close friend said to me once (she can’t remember where she got the quote from) that “if you’re halfway through the darkest forest light is just moments away”. that is an inspiration for me. with 15,000 hits, i think you should start a public blog (maybe not so personal). many people get book deals out of those. it’s time to take the plunge, allen! i support you ALL THE WAY. DO IT!!! i think you could reach a lot more people and even put keywords on a search engine. i really think it’s time to come out of the closet. who else agrees with me?

  2. AlienBaby Says:

    We hit the sub-reply button limit on that one, but this is a reply to you, KL.

    It’s really hard to describe breaking out of the feedback loops in your brain once you’ve done it, but once you’ve done it, you can do it more and more with greater ease…almost like flipping a switch on a machine that’s overheating. Of course adequately processing past trauma instead of burying and ignoring it is important, as you well know, being both therapist and patient…but (speaking from experience) it’s those ways we re-wound ourselves with our own thoughts that can be the hardest habit we’ve ever had to break. Which is why I sent you the book that helped me so much. Tolle’s framing of things truly saved my life. And it is ridiculously simple. The shift I experienced thanks to him is what helped me stop worrying, let go of so much stuff, and realize how little was truly necessary to my life.

    I am on my way to non-anonymity! The Matador blog is public. And there’s a whole community out there, a Matador “market blog” where people regularly get discovered and hired…but I’m going to wait until I finish the course. I still have a lot to learn.

  3. bluemorpho3 Says:

    klandmann, did you look at schema therapy? it’s worth a look, you could use it both for self help and also for your own patients. It explains how schemas in the brain work, the sources of our thoughts, the origin of a never ending fountain of self-deprecation for example, if you have such a schema. they formed because of negative experience, both from shock trauma, and from long term negative emotional experience. (the negative schemas. of course you can have positive schemas, too – then all is well)
    to successfully have modified those beasts – that’s an experience that you really could describe with being reborn. they *can* be modified – just not easily. (and it should also be said that there might exist changes in brain structure, that you can’t possibly fix quickly. for example an amygdala that has grown too big, or some missing link between two brain regions – the physical structure of your brain is required to change to fix this, and it simply takes time, if it happens at all – but at least you can stop the triggers that caused the original negative trend, and also you can implement workarounds. e.g. your too-big-amygdala signals instant fear due to some trigger – then other thought patterns remind you it’s not really required, and you calm down in the next few seconds)
    A therapist can help you, if he is good, with the modification of negative schemas. a large part of this is “limited reparenting”, where the core of your soul makes a corrective experience, and this way stores the indelible fact that a different experience is possible.
    you no longer walk around with the 100% core belief that you will be disappointed, abused and so on by everyone you meet, especially those very close to you.
    Sounds good, does it? So let’s all go and build the good schemas ;-)

    AB, great read as always. I liked to join you at that place in the sun with the coffee. Also, the David Whyte is great.

  4. AlienBaby Says:

    Thanks Bm3. I should qualify what I said by adding that different ways of changing those “schemas” may work for different people. What interrupted the never-ending fountain of self-deprecation for me was basically a traditional Eastern practice, reinterpreted. Just stopping that font is half the battle. But I shouldn’t assert that it will work for everyone.

    I would love for you to join me for coffee in that sunny place.

  5. bluemorpho3 Says:

    Absolutely, not everything will work for everyone.

    Medicine is starting to learn that this even applies for old fashioned “pills”.
    Genetic differences have to be considered – different metabolisms.
    For sure this is even more true for different psychologic makeups.

    Often things can help that you enjoyed as a child,
    like feeding animals for example. Help in the sense of causing some relief, in this case,
    not really help in the sense of being fully cured.
    But maybe 1000 small reliefs will eventually cause a full cure?

    Or imaginative techniques…but they definitely don’t work for everyone.


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