Sunday, March 25, 2007

Soul Doubt

Dryad by Evelyn De Morgan
Sometimes I struggle to write. Part of me still wants to pretend that I'm over it, none of that stuff I write about affects me anymore, and I’m done with all the emotional stuff. If I try to ignore what I'm feeling, though, it becomes stronger, more insistent. When I write about it, I feel more myself. I like myself more. I have problems, and that's okay. We all have problems.

I have struggled this week with feeling like I am a problem. I just talked to a friend who suggested that now is a good time to shed that image of myself. After a childhood of having that message pounded into me (literally), I still see myself in a certain way. That I can't do anything right. That anything I'm involved in will be a disaster. That I'm destined to be a failure. I face my future with a lingering feeling of dread- more bad things are sure to happen. If I start to think that I'm happy, my world is going to come crashing down again.

It broke my heart when I read some of my brother's writing after he killed himself, because he talked about feeling like a failure. He was only 19, and he was not a failure. He was smart and funny and sweet, and had so much going for him. I've wanted to talk to him so badly this week. Sometimes I feel so anxious about making decisions, because I'm sure I'll make the wrong decision. Then I beat myself up over stupid things, often over things I had very little control over. Things that are in the past that I really can’t do anything about now. Sometimes I try to take the easy way out, let someone else make the decision because that way I'm not responsible for it. That doesn't work either because I get angry with myself for letting someone else decide for me.

I tried to counter that feeling I was having this week by making decisions. Some were small decisions that were still difficult for one reason or another, and one was a very big decision about my life that I can't talk about on my beloved blog quite yet. A lot of people already know because I have talked about it a lot in the last 3 weeks. I started to feel like I was just dragging the decision out even after I had talked to practically everyone, weighed all the pros and cons, and had all the information I needed. So I decided. Whenever I go through major changes, whether it's moving or starting a job or what have you, I go through the grief of not having my brother to be there for me. He was my stability, and without him, I feel lost and groundless so much of the time. I hope that someday I will find that sense of stability in myself. I have found, even in the last 3 months, a confidence that I didn't have before. I feel more sure of myself. Even 6 months ago, I never could have decided to make such a big change in my life. The anxiety, the what if's and worst case scenarios would have paralyzed me.

Perfectionism still haunts me. I get the feeling that a lot of adults who were abused as children struggle with it. If only you were perfect, people would like and accept you, your parents would be supportive and treat you right, your relationships would work out, your houseplants would flourish, and your apartment would never be messy. If only, if only. If only I didn't see every situation as an opportunity for me to screw everything up. If only I didn't put that kind of pressure on myself. I feel my brother standing beside me, and he’s saying, don't be so hard on yourself. Look what happened to me.

I am ready to move on from that. I have what I see as the real me- the me that is confident and happy and doesn't take myself so seriously. The part of me that has doubts and fear and feels burned by life is there too. I have to acknowledge those feelings. They've found a voice in my blog, and I've discovered that other people feel those things too. My life is not such a disaster.

This is totally unrelated, but my apartment is freezing cold. I am reeeeallly sick of the weather here. I've had about as much of the rain as I can stand. It's damp enough in here to grow mushrooms. Did you know you can find psychedelic mushrooms growing around Seattle? You can just pick them, and eat them, and, you get the idea. Not that I have any personal experience with that. I do have plenty of personal experience walking the streets of Seattle getting rained on. Enough to last a lifetime. I know its sacrilege to complain about the rain. It calls your status as a true Seattleite into question. I’ve lived here for 14 years, though, and I wanna be warm!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


"One of the things I love about Greek culture is its complete acceptance of the tragic, that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, there may still be a force conspiring against you."

-Daniel Mendelsohn, as quoted in "Poets & Writers" Sept/Oct 2006. Painting (to the left) by Evelyn De Morgan.

One of the things I love about Greek characters is that they rise to the occasion, no matter how powerful the forces against them, no matter how hopeless their cause. Cassandra had the gift of prophesy but was cursed in that no one believed her predictions. Even though they thought she was crazy, she didn't stop trying to warn her people, the Trojans, about the outcome of the Trojan War. She tried to warn Agamemnon, her captor and enemy, about his death. She never gave up, even though no one believed her and everything still happened the way she predicted, despite all her efforts.

Cassandra inspires me. She never shut up. Her own family locked her up when she wouldn't quit with the warnings. (She even foretold the Trojan horse debacle, and they still let it in!) Agamemnon threatened to throw her off the boat, and considering that she knew she was going to die along with him, in her situation, I'd be tempted to throw myself off the boat. In fact, she could have run away from Troy before the war or otherwise directed her efforts on trying to avoid all the personal tragedy she experienced, including her own death. Alternatively, she could have just saved herself the frustration and kept her mouth shut. Telling people things they didn't want to hear made her very unpopular.

She didn't just have people against her- she was fighting the gods and fate. I don't think she doubted herself, her vision, or questioned what she was doing, though. She was telling the truth. She was trying to do the right thing. She had information, and had an obligation to try everything she could to use it for the good of the people around her, even if they didn't believe her. Even if they disliked her, threatened her, and tried everything they could to get her to shut it.

I can relate. I have a hard time suppressing the urge to speak out, and I like myself a lot more when I don't keep quiet about things that are important to me. It's all about doing what you need to so you can live with yourself, whatever the forces opposing you or who believes you. I don't think my story will end as tragically as Cassandra's, though. For one thing, there are people who believe me. There are even people who like me, big mouth and all.

Speaking of my big mouth, I was involved in 2 competitive seafood events recently. A week ago, I participated in a shrimp-eating contest. Not those little shrimp. Prawns. We called it a draw at 26. Then yesterday, my friend dared me to eat the largest sushi roll we had ever seen. I was afraid I was going to choke and that would be a really stupid way to die, but I'm happy to report that I stuffed the whole thing in my mouth and no tragedy befell me.

My life actually feels remarkably untragic these days, maybe because I don't feel victimized by fate anymore. I am disappointed that no Washington State teams were fated to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, but I'll get over it. The college basketball gods are notoriously unreliable, not unlike the Greek ones.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Turning Point - Year of the Fire Pig

Here is your horoscope: Old limitations rear their rascally heads, but they do not intimidate you. Rather, they give you a chance to break free of the past. Take a deep breath and move slowly. Step by step, you can conquer these obstacles.

I spent 6 weeks plumbing the depths of my feelings of worthlessness, and came to a decision. I will not feel bad about myself anymore.

The affirmations probably helped, but mostly, I think I just got sick of beating myself up. Other people can focus on my weaknesses, tell me why I can't do this, have this, be this. I'm just not going to be that person anymore.

Lately I've been reading books about how to succeed as a woman in business, make more money, and negotiate. (I've also been working gruelingly long and stressful hours, which is why I haven't posted in a while.) I want to stop undervaluing and giving up on myself. I've been standing up for myself. Not without considerable, as we say in the business world, pushback. There's been lots of pushback. I've also had unexpected allies show up. The harder it gets, the more I've realized what incredible support I have. I've also realized I'm stronger than I thought.

For a long time I've been focused on how my past held me back, disadvantaged me. Now I'm seeing it from a different perspective- I am a survivor. I'm smart, resilient, creative, and have a sense of humor that gets me though a lot. I always try to do the right thing, to be honest and straightforward. When I focus on my strengths, I don't hold myself back with doubt and insecurity. It's not arrogance or aggressiveness; it's confidence. I haven't had much of it before, but I'm starting to get a taste of it. I’m finally on my side. Doing right by myself. No one should treat anyone the way I’ve treated me. There are plenty of people out there who will tell you what’s wrong with you. I’m not going to do their job for them. I’d rather be on the side of the people who think I’m worth something.

This new way of thinking also requires a higher level of responsibility than I'm used to, that is, responsibility to me. Even if other people try to stand in my way, I can't blame them for my problems. I'm never helpless- there's always decisions I can make. I used to feel like a victim, like I just had to take what life dished out. Now I feel if I want or need something, I have to put myself out there and try to get it. It's scary, because there are big decisions to make about what kind of life I want and how to go about getting it. I'm still trying to figure out what I want. I haven't put much effort into considering my options before. I didn't think I had options.

I have two friends, a couple, who are both consultants. One of the reasons I love talking to them is because they both have made decisions about what they wanted in life, and gone for it (including the type of relationship they are in with each other). They inspire me. Being consultants, they are also very organized. They make lists. They plan. I'm very list-y and plan-y myself. Their methods appeal to me. I had dinner with them last night to get their advice. They gave me homework- a book to read and to start making lists of what I want. Without having ideals to strive for, I have no direction, no idea if the options before me meet my needs, or what would be the right choices for me.

In a couple weeks, we plan to get together and "workshop" our lives. I can envision it like workshopping a poem- look for what's working and what's not. Develop the areas that need developing. Emphasis the elements that are working. Cut or re-work what's not. Of course, you don't have total control of your life the way you do a poem, your own creation (although there are always constraints with poetry, even with free verse but especially if you’re working in a form). Still, there is a lot I can do, both in my life and in myself, to "make it work". (I miss Project Runway.)

I just finished the poetry class I was taking. Here's a poem I wrote in 1996. It's a pantoum- a Malayan poetry form with a locked pattern of repeating lines.

Two Weeks in L.A.
You continue to wear black.
Her curtains are lacy, off-white.
We go out her screen door
In bare-feet, we smoke.

Her curtains are lacy, off-white.
Each morning, she chants
In bare-feet, we smoke.
Every yard has a palm tree.

Each morning she chants.
Her cats circle, curl around her.
Every yard has a palm tree
Open as a young hand.

Her cats circle, curl around her.
We have juice and croissants
Soft as a young hand.
She works nights at a bar.

We have juice and croissants.
She is bleaching her hair.
She works nights at a bar
On Ventura, in a strip mall.

She is bleaching her hair
Before the heat grabs us.
On Ventura, in a strip mall
We buy beer, cigarettes.

Before the heat grabs us
You continue to wear black.
We buy beer, cigarettes.
We go out her screen door.

copyright Kristina Coker