All In (or Here Goes Nothing)

Despite my high level of sensitivity, I often joke about becoming a bit of a cynic. One of the lessons I’ve learned from all of the ups an downs is to always have a plan B and to never really let go of the ledge. As you can imagine, sometimes it can be difficult to tell if my hesitation saves me from difficult situations or causes them.

There is no better example of need for a security blanket than my refusal to delete my online dating profiles. Sure, I’ll hide my profile, or just ignore winks or messages, but I always know my profile is ready and waiting for me, just in case… It’s reached the point where I’m not sure exactly how to answer when a guy asks me how long I’ve been on a particular site. After all, I’ve only been looking for a few months, but technically I signed up in 2007.

Somewhere in between my posts about feeling too little and feeling too much, I realized that my self preservation instincts are probably running a little too high. They say you can only know real happiness when you’ve also experienced pain, but I’ve subconsciously opted for none of the above. Instead, just give me some superficial ups and downs and let me continue on my boring but blissfully unaware way.

After reading some of my old poetry a couple weeks ago, I could see “Life Lite” being the ultimate in self preservation, in the most literal sense. After the pill swallowing episode, I made a promise to myself that I would never again attempt to take my own life, almost entirely for the sake of my grandmother–I couldn’t bring myself to put her through that. It’s obvious that the pain was still there. My poetry was all written in the years following that episode. And then the poems stopped. As I stopped writing poems, I started writing a satire about my classmates and teachers at school (with the help of a friend), and that was the birth of my more matter-of-fact/flippant/sarcastic writing style. Where my words once channeled the extreme highs and lows I felt, now they reflected a carefully crafted persona. And to be perfectly clear: this perfectly crafted persona would never allow herself to be vulnerable to those crazy pesky feelings.

The question is: does art mimic life or does life mimic art? No matter if the chicken or the egg came first, the end result was the same: I learned to protect myself emotionally through any and all means necessary. But maybe that really isn’t the right answer.

And so we return to those online dating profiles (I’m sure you were beginning to wonder what they had to do with anything)…

I recently found myself in the situation of questioning if it was time to hide the profiles again. I’m not in a relationship, but I’m in a situation where there is a possibility of a relationship developing. A few years ago, I wouldn’t even be questioning- I would remain active on dating sites until I was very definitely in a relationship and then I would hide my profiles, where they could easily be dusted off if needed again in the future. And hey, maybe while I’m wading though the Marsh of Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain I’ll meet someone I like better. (Note to self: must add the Marsh of Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain to the map of Sick and Twisted, perhaps on the edge of the Forrest of Confusion?)

The only problem is, as much as I loathe Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain (also known as the Great Maybe), there’s a part of me that wants to keep exploring and try to make it to the other side. And maybe there’s even a part of me that doesn’t really want to meet someone else right now, even if I might like him better. So today I did the previously unthinkable. I didn’t hide, I deleted. I deleted profiles; I deleted apps. I decided to let go of the ledge, and let myself fall, no matter what might await me when I land.

The Next Chapter

Around October, 2004, I decided that I needed to find a choir to join.  In my mind, this meant finding a church.  Over the next few months, I attended a number of different churches, hoping to find both a choir and a warm and welcoming community.  There was only one church that I re-visited for a second time, and then a third.  All three times, I saw the church’s Contemporary Group, which sings the earlier Sunday Mass.  The group sounded like what I expected from a small church music group.  There were a couple of people who sang well, but overall, it honestly wasn’t all that great.  But that wasn’t a drawback for me.  I knew that I could carry a tune, but that was all the confidence I had in my voice.  I loved to sing as far back as I could remember, but always considered myself average, at best.  So a not-so-great group meant that I wouldn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough.

I remember when I finally had the courage to approach the director about singing in the choir.  It was December 19, 2004.  I told him i wanted to join the Contemporary Group.  He looked at me with surprise and asked, “The Contemporary Group?  Are you sure?”  Then he asked me if I had a chance to hear the regular Adult Choir.  I had not.  So he asked me about my plans for Christmas and said the Adult Choir was singing Christmas Eve.  He asked me to listen to them, and then make my decision.

A few nights later, I saw the Adult Choir for the first time.  I was amazed, to put it mildly.  Never had I heard such music from a church choir (except the Chapel Choir when I was in college).  Their final prelude song was Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and I found myself wanting to join in from my seat.  This was the type of music I was used to singing.  But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to sing in a group like that.  I suspect the director thought I changed my mind when I disappeared for the next two Sundays, but I was torn between joining a group that only sounded okay, and one that sounded divine.  I debated where I would feel the most comfortable.  I debated what time I really wanted to go to church, since each group sang at a designated Mass.  Finally, I opted for the less intimidating of the two groups, and officially joined the Contemporary Group in January, 2005.

Eventually, I ended up singing in both groups, but it was a long and twisting road to get there.  The first few times I sang with the Adult Choir, I felt like I wasn’t really needed, and that it didn’t matter if I was there or not.  It didn’t matter that I had started getting solos in the Contemporary Group.  In my mind, I was still that awkward 8th grader who butchered her song during the school talent show.  It was years before I stopped physically shaking whenever I sang by myself.

It was my director who believed in me long before I believed in myself.  From that very first solo in the Contemporary Group (given to me at my second rehearsal, which I was later told was a new record), to standing on the altar to lead the congregation during Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil, to the handful of Sundays when I was the only first soprano in the larger choir, it was my director who had faith in me and gave me so many chances to learn to have that same faith in myself.

Today, almost ten years later, I said goodbye to my director, as he moves on to his next adventure.  I know it’s the best thing for him, but I still feel like a small piece of me died today.  So much of who I am today was shaped by my time in the choir.  So much of my identity is tied up in belonging to those two groups.  At the same time, my director became one of my best friends and partners in crime.  We reached a point where we could look at each other during Mass and have entire conversations without.  I know that the Choir and the Contemporary Group will continue under new direction, but I’m not sure if I can continue with them.  It’s true that the only certainty in life is change, but so much of what the choir means to me is tied up into the faith and the confidence my director gave me.  The idea of continuing in his absence feels empty and hollow.  The music might still be there, but it feels like the heart behind it is gone.

As I prepare to turn the page to the next chapter, I remain undecided about my future and where it will lead me.  I continue to pray that as I was ten years ago, I am led to the place where I belong.

Close to Home

I generally pay little attention to celebrity gossip, lifestyles, etc. I can’t say that I care who Kim Kardashian dates or what publicity stunt Justin Bieber did last week. I do not know these people. In most cases I have no desire to know these people. Therefore I do not wish to dedicate anymore of my precious brain matter to following their lives than I absolutely have to. Except for times like this, when the news hits so close to home that you can’t help but lose your breath for a few seconds.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, this evening’s big news story is the death of Robin Williams, in what appears to be a suicide. Along with the usual comments about how much he will be missed and how much of a comic genius he was, the other observation was that he never appeared to be battling depression and it just goes to show that you don’t always know what someone is going through.

This was what got me. From the first time I tried to tell my mother that I thought I was depressed to even my sessions with my psychiatrist, the consensus always seems to be that I don’t look or act depressed. It didn’t matter what kind of storms brewed inside me, on the outside I appeared “normal.” I don’t know why I hid my feelings. I’m not even sure it was ever something I consciously did. I realize hiding my feelings probably helped me in a lot of situations, such as work. But it also made it harder to fix myself. After all, if everyone tells me I’m fine, I have an excuse to ignore what my mind is telling me. It’s just hormones. I just need sleep. It will all feel better in the morning.

I attempted to take my own life when I was in high school and swore that it was something I would never resort to again. But I know how it feels to be so overwhelmed and to feel so cornered by demons. I’ve lived through the darkness of believing that the only escape is through death. It sucks. It’s a pain that I would never wish on another human being.

As the world mourns the loss of a great man, I hope that the tragedy of his death helps to raise awareness of the illnesses that can’t always be seen, and how they can affect any one of us, regardless of the face we show to the world.

The Dating Blogs, Part 1: Maybe This is a Bad Idea

Maybe it’s me.

I sometimes wonder if I should resign myself to spinsterhood and save myself the aggravation of dating. Or at least quit the online dating sites, even if that might be the equivalent of accepting spinsterhood.

I’m sure that I haven’t always been as cynical as I’ve become, and there are times when I don’t think I’m truly a cynic at all. I’m not entirely immune to understanding how rare and special it is to be attracted to someone who is equally attracted to you. But I also recognize just how rare that can be, and I honestly get tired of wading through all of the maybes and the not reallys and the not until hell freezes overs. On the other hand, I also get tired of all of the unanswered winks and messages. Online dating provides opportunity for record levels of rejection in a very short period of time. Efficient? Absolutely- if finding a partner is a numbers game, online dating is definitely the most efficient way to work those odds. But I also feel like this inherently makes the process cold and impersonal, and not necessarily very good for the ego. It can feel like the search for the proverbial needle in a haystack, and how long are you really willing to keep digging?

I honestly find the whole process uncomfortable, starting right at the beginning with the profile setup. Of course we all know that the profile picture is probably the most important part of the whole profile. I totally understand that- appearance is going to be the first thing anyone notices, and I’m not trying to say that it shouldn’t be important. Right now I’m simply venting some of my own personal frustrations, specifically that I’ve never liked how I look in pictures. I’m sure it’s mostly a matter of being my own worst critic, but I never seem to look as good in the picture as I do in the mirror. I also don’t typically go out with camera-happy friends, so it’s not like I have a plethora of “activity pictures” to choose from. I’m generally stuck with the dreaded selfie, which could possibly account for some of feelings that I don’t photograph well.

Because I believe that I’m an optimist at heart, I like to pretend that the rest of my profile matters. That brings me to the next ordeal- the general who you are and what you’re looking for “essay.” I consider myself a decent writer, but I can’t shake the used car salesman feeling as I try to talk myself up. The thing is, I know that I’m awesome. I’m not perfect, I certainly have my issues, but all in all, I know I’m a pretty good catch. But I generally don’t feel comfortable with being compelled to convince various random strangers of this. No matter what kind of witty statements I throw around in my head, the end result always feels stilted and unnatural. I know that many people share my frustration, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better.

Of course, once the profile is finally tackled, then comes trying to navigate any sort of interactions. I think this is the part of online dating that most frustrates me. The more I contemplate it, the more I believe that this is the root of my cynicism. I’ve always been kind of a shy person, even in real life. It has never been easy for me to initiate conversations with complete strangers. I can’t count the number of times that I sat for 10 or 15 minutes just trying to type a one or two sentence message to a guy after his profile caught my attention. All the advice out there says to say something more than just “hello.” But I wouldn’t approach a man in real life and start telling him in great detail why he should go on a date with me, and it doesn’t usually feel comfortable in the online world, either. Based on the number of messages I’ve received that have only said, “hi,” I’m relieved to know that I’m probably not alone in this either.

I find that my tolerance for the whole system waxes and wanes. Some days it all feels like a great big adventure. Other days it feels like a chore. But, at the very least, my re-entry to the online dating scene has given me several additional ideas for future blogs… Not a return to my old bad dates blog, but general observations/experience/frustrations. I suspect at least a few of them will follow shortly…

Blogging While Dating: A Recipe for Disaster?

Back about 10 years ago, I made my first foray into the world of blogging, via my MySpace page (yes, I’m that old). As I was navigating the dating world, I published blogs based on a number of bad dates. Since my potential list of readers was relatively small, I didn’t think twice about sharing my adventures- I just made sure to change the names.

This time around, I decided to keep a blog for myself, not for the entertainment of others. Don’t get me wrong, I would feel humbled, honored and amazed if people actually read what I wrote, but my primary purpose is my own catharsis. I’ve also come to appreciate that nothing on the internet is ever truly private. So I have to decide how much I’m willing to reveal. And I have to be honest, I’m not sure it’s a question I really want to consider. While I acknowledge that I might not always put my best foot forward here, I don’t want to censor myself because I’m afraid of what a potential date might think of me. After all, this is me and I know I’m not perfect. It makes me think of my favorite quote from Marilyn Monroe:

“I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

I wonder how that would go over on my online profile…

Maybe the Walls Aren’t All That Bad

I’ve written before about feeling like the wall I put up around me is even stronger than I ever hoped it would be. Maybe it was even a little too strong.

But then life reminds me why I wanted to close off part of myself in the first place.

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks. Up and down, up and down. The events themselves stop mattering. All that matters is trying to deal with the onslaught of raw emotion.

It’s times like these that I realize I seem to be lacking in coping skills. There are only so many friends I can text. There are only so many words I can find to put a name to the hollow feeling. Today I spent two hours on my novel and barely made a dent. Maybe I’m taking the wrong approach. Right now it’s all trapped inside, but maybe I need to fully open the floodgates before I try to control and shape the river of thoughts. I wish I could say that this is my attempt to do exactly that, but we all know I would be lying.

I’ve certainly made it clear that my emotions are raw and spent, and yet I can’t bring myself to say much more. I’m too selfish to share some memories. Other memories remind me of how weak I feel, and my pride prevents me from sharing those.

Hell, I’m so afraid of my own thoughts that even the anonymity of Whisper doesn’t seem to provide enough cover. Believe me, I tried. I downloaded the app last week in hopes that I could share with strangers the thoughts I was too scared to share with friends. Instead I kept typing the words only to delete them.

Last fall I wanted to break free of the prison that’s been guarding my heart and soul for so long. Tonight, I just want to find refuge within.

Writer’s Block?

I’ve obviously been pretty quiet for the last few months. Ironically, it’s not for lack of things I want to write. My problem had been getting my thoughts into somewhat coherent sentences.

Okay, that’s not entirely true (but it’s also not entirely false). The other huge piece has been balancing my need to process my thoughts through writing with my desire to keep certain pieces of my life private. There are some memories that I selfishly want to keep stored only in my own head. Then there are others that I know need to stay silent because of how it could impact other people involved. Because let’s face it, even with fake names, there’s a limit to how much I can protect someone’s identity when most people who read this blog know me personally.

It’s the same pressure that keeps the majority of my Facebook posts on the obnoxiously vague side. I want to talk about my life, but not at the expense of someone else’s privacy. Seriously, trying to be ethical really sucks sometimes.

My problem is that my reluctance to open up about anything has carried into my other writing and brought my novel to a complete stand still. I need to either find a way to work around it or spill it all and just duck and cover from the fallout. I guess we’ll see how it goes…