Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Facing Fears, and Former Students...

Unalome tattoos.  If it matters, mine is most like the far left image.  
We just returned from a week-long family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It's important to note that this is the first time we have attempted this as a family since the summer of 2009.  The significance of this is that that last summer trip really was a last summer trip for one of us.  That's not the focus of this post, but it does contribute.

I have this...problem.  Significant dates in my life, usually traumas of some sort, get tagged in my brain and remembered.  I have trouble remembering when the good things happen, but things that rip my guts out pop up in their little anniversary outfits and kick me in the teeth on a pretty consistent basis.  Sometimes the teeth-kicking is based on a calendar date, but other times, it's just the "oh, the last time I was here" thoughts that get me.  So, this was one of those things.  The last time we did this, Edna was still with us.  The last time we did this, things were very different.  The last time we did this, I was a different person than I am now.  But again, not the focus of the post, just the backstory.

Anyway, it was the same week seven years ago that we did this last.  To oversimplify, it's also a time of transition for me professionally and personally, and I also had some other "anniversaries" in my head rolling around, when I happened to come across an image of a tattoo that really called my name.  I've wanted a tattoo for a couple of years.  In fact, it was supposed to be my birthday present in 2014, but I just never got around to it.  No, that's not entirely true--I had plenty of time to get one, but I didn't know HOW.  The same fear, if you will, stops me from going to get a pedicure without backup from my girls.  I don't know how things are done, so I just don't do them.  Easy solution, but also the wussy way out.  So this tattoo yelled my name, and my ever-courageous (and sometimes slightly scary) baby sister made the appointment.

I could have chosen an ankle or a thigh or a shoulder for my first ink...but I rarely do things the easy way, and I chose my sternum instead.  Worrying about the pain a little, I had ONE cocktail before we left, and chose undergarments and a shirt that I thought would provide easy and modest access to the area. I had the distraction of a ceiling fan accident (another story) to distract me just before departure, and I was feeling pretty good, pretty decisive about the whole thing.  A rarity for me, so it had to be acted upon.  Not even learning that I'd have to disrobe before the procedure really slowed me down much--it increased the anxiety level, of course, but after all--these people are professionals!

Turns out, one is required to show ID before a tattoo, even if you're clearly over the age of consent, and when the artist read out my small town name as if he recognized it, warning signs went off in my head.  Nobody knows where this town is unless you've lived here, and if that's true, you've usually tried to forget.  But he knew it, and then elaborated by saying he grew up around here and...Went.  To.  My.  School.  You know, the one where I teach?  Oh, and, "You were my 7th grade English teacher!" And here are those band-aids to satisfy your modesty.  Band-aids.  The little teeny ones.  Which makes them the only little teeny things on my body, if you catch my drift.  I avoid the grocery store at home in order to avoid students and former students, and you're telling me I'm five hours away from home and about to set the girls free...and, eeeek!

If I've ever felt like dashing out of a place of business, that was it.  But I sucked it up.  I was on a mission, the tattoo was calling my name, and I knew if I didn't do it then, I'd never get that one OR any other one.  It had to happen.  So I sucked it up.  I held on to my shirt until the very last possible minute, covered up to the best of my half-naked ability, and counted holes in the ceiling tiles as I anticipated the pain that I hoped would distract me from my psychological discomfort.  And it.  Was a piece.  Of cake.  The pain was minimal, the artist was ultra-professional, even when I threatened to time travel and put him in silent lunch, and I love the tattoo itself.  (Shout-out to AJ at Wicked Parrot Tattoos in Kill Devil Hills, should you be looking for a vacation tattoo.)

Symbolically, it represents the path to enlightenment.  The curves and spirals are the difficulties of life, the challenges, the times we don't know where our paths are headed.  The top, the straight part, is where we figure our proverbial shit out, become "enlightened," if you will.  The dots at the top allegedly represent death, the end of the journey.  As I write that, I realize that it's like punctuation, and you know I LOVE that connection to the grammar queen in me.  I have dots at the bottom, too, which to me, mean that everything comes full circle.  Emotionally, it is even more significant.  It marks a time when I faced not one fear, but SEVERAL, and came out on the other end better for it.  It also marks this time of transition, a connection that I will always make when I look at it.  And it replaces some memories, or signifies them, in a way that I could never have done on my own.  Those are all my "squiggles," and my getting through them and coming out better and stronger on the other end is my straight line, my goal in life...and it's closer all the time.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Trust Issues and Disbelief

Blind faith is not my strong suit.  The other day, a young lady who was helping me direct our most recent play came up to me and said, "Hold out your hand," and she held her hand above mine as if she were holding something inside.  I panicked a little.  In the span of a second or two, all sorts of things blasted through my brain---things like, "Maybe she's putting a spider in my hand!"  or 'What if it's something gross?"  I had nothing to fear or worry about from this young lady, so I don't know why I expected it to be a fiery hot thumbtack or some sort of weird creature that might bore a hole in my palm.  But I did.  I expected the worst.

Knowing that that's an issue of mine, I went against my better judgment and held out my hand, cringing the whole time.  Every bone in my body screamed at me to pull my hand back in the nick of time, but I didn't, because I KNOW that my instincts and emotional reflexes aren't always the best. Once I held out my hand, she laced her fingers in mine and held my hand and swung back and forth and made some silly comment and laughed.  I should have relaxed at that point, but I didn't.  I laughed it off and flung her hand off of mine and made some smartass comment about being convinced she was putting boogers in my hand.  

I don't trust easily, even when harmless or stupid things are happening.  A trust fall, you know those team-building things that people do on retreats, just before they sing "Kumbaya" and make s'mores? Well, a trust fall for me would be an emotional disaster, even if I didn't end up in a pile on the floor. There is no way that I would ever blindly fall backwards and expect someone else to catch me. Instead, I would expect the opposite, that they would drop me, let me down.

It's become a viral thing lately for people to stand on busy streets or in marketplaces blindfolded with "Hug Me" signs hung around their neck.  I saw a few of those myself the last time I ventured onto the Charlottesville Mall.  I was fascinated and enthralled.  I could have sat and watched approaching huggers and their reactions all day, but it was really the "huggee" that intrigued me more.  I was too squeamish to walk over and give hugs.  I don't readily touch people, not even people I know well---there was no way I was going to hug a random stranger on the street.  (Besides, in typical non-trusting manner, what if it's a trick?  A  candid camera experiment?  The horror!)  So there is no fathomable way I'd ever stand blindfolded anywhere, much less with an invitation for bodily contact hanging around my neck.
I don't think I'm naturally suspicious--I don't automatically assume that people have malicious intent. In fact, I think I do quite the opposite. I give the benefit of the doubt and look for the good in people  perhaps more than I should (and sometimes it bites me in the ass).  So how does that fit?  It comes down to a lack of evidence.  I need evidence to support my trust, to support my patience, to support my energy and effort. And if it's not there…if I'm working on blind trust…well, then my brain does its own thing, my psyche jumps in just for shits and giggles, and all proverbial hell breaks loose.

I don't often quote 80s hair bands as being words that speak from my heart.  But Poison's "Give Me Something to Believe In" has been running through my brain the last few days.  They're singing about faith in a bigger sense, not the day-to-day trust in other people.  But for me, they're the same thing.  I need something to believe in, and I need the evidence.  And if that evidence isn't there, well, I'll keep looking until it is.   

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Words and Actions

When the words and the actions don’t match
When nothing seems to fit
When I feel like the only solution
Is to give up and to quit

Trying to make it work and
Trying to find a reason
Because to keep fighting for this
Love through every season

Is taking every ounce of my
Faith and loyalty
And all I want understood is that
My love doesn’t come for free

In your corner, on your team
Through every bump in the road
But that comes with a serious price
And, eventually, you’ll reap what you sow

Wound me, hurt me, I forgive
And my scars will slowly heal
Ignore me, slight me, brush me off
Eventually, nothing I will feel

Words and actions need to match
It needs to be give and take
Because when there’s nothing left to give
The camel’s back will finally break.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Science of Coloring

I love the smell of crayons, and I like to fill in empty spaces, like writing in a new notebook or filling in a chart, or rolling a paint roller over a wall and watching the white spaces disappear.  There's something very satisfying about making sure every spot is covered and complete.  So, of course I like to color!

I colored a lot as a child.  It was one of my favorite things to do.  There were very few things that matched up to a new coloring book and sharp, new crayons--you know, the ones where the edge hasn't been worn off yet.  I was careful with my crayons, tilting them and coloring on the side, then turning at strategic moments to make sure the tip stayed even.  Eventually, I'd have to peel the label off little by little to continue to move up the crayon, but that was always sort of tragic for me, because the names of the colors were very important.  There was a big distinction between burnt sienna and raw sienna, and between peach and apricot, but sometimes that difference disappeared with the shreds of the label, and I didn't like to be surprised by the color when those damn labels weren't there.
Adult coloring has become mainstream and trendy lately.  Suddenly closeted colorers, myself included, have options other than stealing their kids' super hero or Cars coloring books to satisfy the urge.  And thank goodness, too, because the colors just weren't very fun--that Dark Knight IS, after all, DARK!

I have several coloring books that are all mine.  A couple were Christmas gifts from my like-minded sister.  But, just like all things in my life, I find it difficult to finish one before I move on to the next one.  So when I found myself facing a huge rack of intricately-designed "adult" coloring books in a craft store the other night, I knew better than to try to resist.  I'm not the only one, apparently.  While I stood there, trying to decide if I was really going to spend ten bucks on yet another coloring book, a friendly older man approached and struck up a conversation about his favorites among the choices, and before I could remove myself from the awkwardness of seeing "AA Susan" in his phone contacts, he was thumbing through photos of pictures he'd colored and snapped pics of, very proud of his work, indeed.  It occurred to me at the time to wonder why he'd photographed them at all when he has the colored page, but maybe it was just for bragging rights or to troll for chicks in Michaels' on a Friday night.

So, what's the appeal?  Google "adult coloring" and you'll find a plethora of articles speculating about the health benefits (stress relief) and entertainment value of coloring for us grownups.  (You'll also find a bunch of free printable pages, so why the hell am I spending money on these things?)

There's a sense of satisfaction in taking all of the white spaces, the blank spaces, and turning them into something.  I even tend to add my own details when I don't quite like the way it looks (boy, is that ever a metaphor for life!).

It's fairly mindless.  The extent of the mental exercise involved is just in the choosing of the colors (burnt sienna, or raw?).  I like a lot of contrast (again, life), but that's pretty easy to do without actual thought.

It's cheap, it's not too messy, it's easily transportable, and there's little to no embarrassment involved (okay, maybe now that I've outed my coloring habit) if people see what I created.  After all, I just filled in the spaces, right?  I didn't actually DRAW anything!

I get out what I put into it.  I have crayons, colored pencils, and, THREE, different kinds of markers of varying tip widths and scents.  And oddly, the coloring utensil that I use is both directly affected by my mood and serves its own purpose.  When I really need to tune out, to disengage, an intricate design with a fine-point marker does the trick.  I have to concentrate to stay in the lines, and filling up those spaces requires a lot of back and forth in a small space, which is not as dirty as it sounds.  When I'm just taking a small break from life, though, I'm more likely to choose a picture with larger designs; I can use a wider variety of tools and not focus as intently on the task.  The markers fill the designs smoothly and without much hand stays steady and I tend to color in one direction only, with little else in my life.

Crayons, on the other hand, are a different story.  Aside from that SMELL (yes, I did just stick my face in the crayon bucket and inhale deeply), crayons can do so many things.  They create that contrast on their own, if I want, depending on how much pressure I use, being careful not to snap those carefully-created sharp points.  And there is something much more satisfying about the need to scribble back and forth, to create that friction to accomplish the task, that markers just can't accomplish.

I don't think I have a favorite way to color.  That would involve choice.  As usual, though, when I can't make a choice, I just keep all of them.  My favorite way to finish a picture is by using markers, crayons, and colored pencils, to vary the colors and contrast, as well as the textures.  Turns out, burnt sienna and raw sienna feel the same, but markers and crayons do not.