Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stormy Weather

I have been known to be very unrealistic when it comes to things that I say I want to do in this life.  And, admittedly, I know that as soon as the words start to come out of my mouth, I already have zero intentions of actually doing them.  These things are not unrealistic to other people, but I could write a book about how NOT to achieve your dreams.  You just have to fail in your mind before you even try.  It’s easy.  For instance, when I say, “Someday I’d like to be a travel writer,” I know this won’t ever happen because I frequently get lost in my own neighborhood…where I grew up.  I also wait terrified for food poisoning to set in after I eat anything remotely different from the norm, and I have to drink a whole bottle of wine before I board an airplane.  Anyway, this got me thinking about unrealistic expectations and where they come from; and today, it all became crystal clear.
This afternoon, my mother and I sat across from each other eating flounder francaise from the Valentine’s Day early bird menu at a restaurant where a tan, wrinkly man in a tuxedo stands on a stage and croons Frank Sinatra to a couple of bar flies in the middle of the day (who knows, maybe he’s living his dream, and if so, I commend him.  He’s fairing better than I).  But, whenever my mother and I get together, she finds it necessary to tell me which career path I should be on, and every time we get together, I am a little bit older and a little bit closer to these options hitting their expiration date.  Once, I mentioned that I liked sea lions and she said that I should get a job working with them at Sea World.  I live in Pennsylvania with my two kids, I’ve never even seen a sea lion in real life, and I’m positive I would suffocate in a wetsuit.  Today, she looked at me straight faced and said, “I know what you should do.  You should be a weather girl.  On TV.”  I let out a heavy sigh and poked around at the sad, soggy fish on my plate and said, “Mom.”  I thought that would be enough to stop her in her tracks because do I need to explain?  Yes.  Yes, I do.  “I’m serious, Sheleen.  They make really good money.”  I set down my fork and leaned in.  “Mom, I’m 35.  I’m also not a meteorologist, nor have I ever even entertained the idea of becoming one or had any interest in the weather at all.  And anyway, I’m pretty sure you need big boobs to get that job.”  Complete lack of education and experience aside, she argued the boob part.  Have I seen so and so’s boobs on such and such channel?  My boobs are fine.  They’re totally qualified for the job. 

I pacified my mother by telling her, “Fine, I’ll look into it.  I’ll go home, put on a decent bra, and practice fluid arm movements in front of my wall like a professional.”  She nodded her approval and I realized that this is where my unrealistic expectations come from.  They are born out of my mother’s belief that I can do anything, and while I pity her for that, I also bask in that glow of non-reality.  We finished our wine, paid the check, and on our way out, I asked Frank Sinatra’s impersonator if he knew the song “Stormy Weather”, and he knew it well.

Friday, February 19, 2016

No Words

      My brother died.  People have been asking me how I'm doing.  At first, there are no words.  They elude you.  Even simple objects cease to have names.  You sit and stare into a swollen silence.  It hangs heavy in the air like a thick, suffocating fog.  And then the words come and they don't feel real.  My brother died.  Those words shouldn't exist.  To speak those words is to use air that I no longer have. But you need to attach words to your suffering so that it doesn't eat you alive.  My brother died.  Now I walk through life a ghost--a shell of the person I used to be.  My heart is a leaden anchor weighing me down.  My soul has been ransacked of whatever was left.  I am afraid of this sadness. My heart feels like it is starving to death; that low, deep rumbling moan, that dull ache of need.  But there is nothing to fill it. What it needs is no longer here.  Assuming I live to be old, I do the calculations in my head of how long I have to be here without my brother. It's too long.  I can't call you anymore.  I can't give you a stupid haircut.  You can't force me to eat food that that I don't want to eat.  Everything feels old and used up, lackluster.  It's fucked up.  I'm fucked up.  I awake in panic in the middle of the night because this world is not my world anymore.  My life, my home, our parents home...it's all foreign to me now, like everything is made of paper and I can tear right through it.  And on the other side of it is a vast darkness, and you.  An infinite expanse of stars.  You get to be that now.  For me, you get to be every sunbeam that stretches out an arm towards my face, every beautiful snowflake, every breeze that shakes the tall trees.  And when there are no words, there you'll be. And that shall be my solace.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nobody's Perfect

We all know that no one has a perfect life--at least we think we know--there might be a few people out there really livin' the dream and all they need to be happy is to wake up and breathe the fresh, wild air and good fortune follows them wherever they go and they never have to poop in public places.  But no one really knows that person because they are basically mythical creatures. Actually, they're not people at all, they're unicorns. But even though we know this, it can be easy to compare yourself and your life to other people's, ESPECIALLY on the Internet.
Obviously, you're not going to chronicle all of the sad and miserable events of your life in a photo gallery on Facebook (although that would be funny if you wanted to have a sense of humor about it).  You're also not going to post a picture of the extra 8 pounds of belly fat you packed on over the winter on Instagram. Nobody wants to see that! But, despite knowing even this, we still compare.  I have looked at people's pictures online and have said things like this to myself: "She is such a good mom.  Her kids are always so clean.  How is that possible?  My kids always look like they are covered in dirt, like they're about to go on stage and perform in orphan Annie, the musical.  It's not right."  And just like that, I am comparing my life to other people's and it's stupid and gross.  And here's why!
 I recently posted a bunch of photos that I took at the aquarium with my kids.  Looking objectively at these photos, it looks as if it was the perfect, fun, relaxing day for all involved.  My kids look like they are so interested in these sea creatures that they may grow up to be marine biologists some day.  I am smiling brightly in front of a tank of sting rays and I'm not wearing sweat pants--I look normal!  There are Instagram filters on some of the photos, making them look artsy and cool.  Well, let me tell you a secret.  Sometimes photographs are a lie...for this was a day from hell.
I will not go into grave detail but I will say that the day started out with good intentions but when we got there it was very crowded with dark narrow spaces, it was uncomfortably warm and humid from everyone's breath and sweat, my children kept running away from me and getting lost in the crowd, the smell of the hippos nearly knocked me on my ass, and I found myself saying, "Sheleen, you can not have a panic attack in front of this penguin.  You just can't."  But I was going to take a picture, so help me God!
So there you have it.  Nobody's life is perfect (even if the photographs tell you they are) and that's perfectly okay.   :)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hey you! Yeah, you!

      I've been having this reoccurring dream lately.  It's a dream about someone I love that is no longer in my life, and it leaves me feeling as if I have just taken off my helmet in outer space.  Needless to say, I don't like it.  It makes me feel things that I'd rather not feel.  So why is this dream haunting me now?  My guess is, it's the holidays--the time of year when all the ghosts of Christmas' past come knocking at your door.
      Maybe you've lost someone you love too--a parent, a sibling, a friend.  Maybe you will be waking up on Christmas morning without your child.  Maybe your spouse left you for someone else.  Maybe you are sick, in financial strife.  Maybe you are an addict, or you are worried about someone who is.  Maybe your heart is utterly broken.  And during this time of year, when the expectation to be merry and bright, and all of the holiday cheer is too glaring in the face of your pain, it feels like a suffering of another kind.
      Guess what?  You are stronger than you think, you are loved, and you are not alone.  And I pray, to whatever God it is that made us the human, delicate, feeling creatures that we are, that you do not go to that dark place.  There is no one there to comfort you.  We are all here, standing in plain sight, fighting our own personal battles every single day.  Hey you, it's going to be okay. "The best way out, is always through."-Robert Frost

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Being a Person is Hard

Being a person is hard, and life is pretty weird. Undoubtedly, we all fall somewhere in between this, one being: not very hard or weird at all, and ten being: I’d rather be a goldfish because nothing is hard or weird to them, they eat their own poop and don’t remember it, scale. For a while, I was a solid ten on this scale that I just made up. Everything was hard and weird, and being a goldfish would be much, much easier.
I used to get dizzy a lot. Really, really, all of a sudden, grip on to the nearest object and/or person and fall down anyway dizzy. It went on for a pretty long time before my boss ordered me to get my head checked. It wasn't good for business for his customers to be seeing an employee of his bumping into walls and clutching onto strangers lapels to steady themselves. Not good at all. So I took his advice and I saw a doctor.
After a thorough examination, the doctor told me that I had stones in my ears. I had no idea what that meant but I didn't ask any questions in case it was something really bad that I didn’t want to know about. So I half listened, half imagined my head as a busy little rock tumbler, polishing these ear stones into glittering little gems, and I said, “Ooooohhhhh. Yes, that makes sense.” He gave me medicine used to treat vertigo and sent me on my way.
The medication did nothing except make me break out in hives all over my face and neck. I was dizzy, itchy, and swollen. But life had to go on. I still had a job and a college night class to attend. Things got harder, and weirder. It felt as if I was living in a fun house, except there was nothing fun about it.
At school, I would gaze up the daunting four flights of stairs to my class and wonder how I would make it to the top without feeling like I was walking upside down, my stones floating around inside the darkness of my skull like little particles in space. Students brushed past me, shooting me sideways glances as I hung on for dear life to the railing like it was a rope dangling down the side of a concrete mountain. At any moment I could careen to my death if I didn’t give the climb my utmost concentration.
This problem was too much for me to deal with alone. I felt compelled to tell everyone passing me on the way up. “Don’t mind me; I have stones in my ears.” I was looking for compassion and understanding, neither of which I received. I told my professor that I needed the seat in the front, closest to the door, for the rest of the semester. That should anyone else sit there, he should tell them that it is reserved for another student. When he asked why, I told him that a situation may arise in class where the room will suddenly turn, I will fall out of my desk and have to army crawl my way out into the hallway where I may or may not regain my composure. That to save myself the energy and embarrassment, it would be better if this didn’t happen at the back of the class, where I would have to crawl past the feet of my peers. So that is what he did. He said, “Class, listen up! This seat is reserved for Sheleen for the rest of the semester.” No further questions.
Eventually, the dizzy spells subsided. I don’t know how or why. My follow up ear, nose, and throat doctor probably knows but I never went to that appointment because I felt it was too hard at the time. Which brings us back to that scale I made up earlier. Fortunately, for all of us, we have the ability to grow and learn, and we don’t have to stay where we fall on this scale. We can hop around. We get to choose where we want to be. Being a person is hard. But we can do hard things.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Moo Who

I don’t know that much about anything in particular.  But that’s not to say that I don’t think about everything all of the time.  Like, whenever I go to Tanner’s farm and I get some of their homemade ice cream, I go outside and I stare at the cows as I lick my ice cream cone.  They stand there and swat flies away with their tails like their not even thinking about it; like it’s just something their bodies got so used to doing.  Like a mother who stands in line at the grocery store and sways back and forth because she got so used to rocking her babies over the years and now she can’t help it.  But I look at the cows and I think about how my sweet, sticky treat was made from the milk inside their bodies and it makes me suddenly uncomfortable and grossed out and unable to make eye contact with them.  It’s the same kind of feeling like when you accidentally walk in on someone who is naked.  I feel like I need to apologize to the cows and walk away with my head down in shame. And I’m not sure why everyone comes out to look at the cows like I do, but everyone does.  They don’t do anything.  They might lie down and someone will nod and say, “Mhmm. Look, that cow just layed down.  It’s gonna rain.”  And I think that makes people feel smart, like they have a really good read on cows, and the weather.  Some people bring their kids, and they hoist them up to get a better look over the fence and they say, “Look, honey! Look at the cows!” But the cow is just standing there, blinking or eating grass, or thinking about lying down.  Some people make jokes too.  Like a father to his son, “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Moo. Moo who?  Moove over so I can see the cows!” And the cows lie down because that guy is an insufferable nerd and they feel sorry for his kid and they have heard just about all of the knock knock jokes that they can handle.  And it’s not like cows are the most majestic creatures either.  I don’t think that anyone is standing there absolutely captivated by their beauty like you might with a horse.  I could be okay with staring at a horse.  The cows just always look pissed off or depressed to me.  Maybe they don’t like us eating ice cream in front of them. Maybe they feel too much pressure to be entertaining to children. Maybe they don’t like being stared at. Maybe they don’t want to mislead us about the weather.  Maybe they just want to lie down because they’re tired or they’re just trying to change things up from standing.  Needless to say, I don’t go there anymore.  I don’t think I was getting the same kind of cathartic experience like everyone else.  So now I eat my ice cream at home like a decent human being.  And I do it for the cows.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Get Back on the Bike

Get Back on the Bike

        When I was a kid, I practically lived on my bike. I rode it everywhere. Down hills, up hills, to friends houses, to the ice cream shop where I would ride home licking the dripping cone the whole way back. No hands!  I had my accidents too.  I flipped over the handle bars, broke my arm, got a groovy cast, and got back on the bike the next day. I was fearless and invincible. 
       Somewhere along my teenage years, I ditched the bike. It grew cold and rusty as I pursued other "hobbies".  I may have become too cool for the bike, I'm not sure. But after so many years of being cool and inactive, after lounging around and smoking cigarettes became my number one hobby, it was time to get back on the bike. 
        My whole family was down the shore for a good old fashioned summer vacation and everyone was headed to the boardwalk to ride.  Everyone looked shiny and happy and I wanted to be shiny and happy too. So I put out my cigarette and walked over to the bike I was meant to ride. I swung my leg over it and sat down. I wobbled, the bike wobbled. It felt foreign and I was scared. My palms were sweaty on the handlebars and my legs were shaking. "What happened to that fearless girl I once was?" I thought.  I left her back with my old bike, locked up in the dark. I had forgotten about her. 
         I rode shakily behind my family to the boardwalk. "Okay," I told myself, "the boardwalk is totally flat. I can just cruise at a comfortable pace and my lungs need not fear any steep inclines. I can do this."  I smiled nervously at my family, my 65 year old mother hauling ass right past me, not a care in the world. 
         As I rode the bike, something strange was happening. My equilibrium was off. I gravitated towards everything I looked at: seagulls, light posts, the ocean. I rode in a diagonal, becoming dangerously close to other bikers. They shot me surprised and appalled glances as I became too close for comfort. I was a strange, sweaty girl with a smokers cough and I was suddenly there by their side, rubbing elbows.  I couldn't help it. I was like a moth to a flame. 
       When they sped forward to avoid me side swiping their tires, and I was once again a lone rider, something else happened. The lines of the boards beneath my tires were drawing my gaze down like an optical illusion. Now I was gravitating towards the hard, unforgiving ground. What the hell? Had I ruined my eyes spending too much time trying to see the hidden pictures emerge from those magic eye posters in the 90's?  I had bike vertigo, and I wanted to go home. 
       But it wasn't vertigo, it was fear. I realized that I had stopped doing a lot of the things that I once loved and my life had become stagnant. I lived so far inside my own head that the outside world became scary and threatening. I started to think that the world was for everyone else; that I wasn't worthy of the good things that life had to offer. I'm not sure how or why this happened, but now, almost ten years later, after I was lying on the boardwalk pinned beneath my rental bike, shiny happy people cycling around me, it's time to lose the fear. 
          I turned 32 a few weeks ago, and at a party my family threw for me, they presented me with a gift--a brand spanking new, shiny pink bike, equipped with a basket, a cup holder, and a bottle opener (in case I need to crack a cold one for some liquid courage).  But when I looked at my new bike, I felt the fearless girl in me squeal with excitement. The world is for me too. I am worthy too. It's time to get back on the bike, and I'm ready.