I’m So Weird!

The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?

[Alice checks Hatter’s temperature]

Alice Kingsley: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.

Last night I was talking with someone and the dumbest thing came out of my mouth. It is as if it did not stop to pass go or collect $200 dollars. It just came out and landed on the ground with a plop. At the moment it plopped on the ground my mind gremlins went into full force. The gremlins screamed “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” and “Retreat! Retreat!”

Retreat is exactly what I did. I exited the situation like a vaudeville villain which probably made me look even crazier. I returned back to the group of people I was sharing time with. All the while, the mind gremlins were in full force “I’m so dumb!” and “Why did I say that” and “I’m never going to live this down.” Outwardly, I smiled and carried on like there was not a war happening in my mind. I think I am actually quite good at this.

I’ve come to accept that this is my life. I’m weird. Like, super weird. I say the oddest things sometimes and it’s not until they leave my mouth and hit the air that I realize just how bizarre the words are. I once nicknamed someone kitty litter. This is the type of weirdo we’re talking about. I wonder sometimes if people keep me around just to see what falls out next. I suppose that must be both terrifying and entertaining for the people in my world. It’s really all about balance.

I also talk to myself quite a bit. When I walk my dogs, I’ll catch myself having a conversation, out loud, about something that’s happening in my life. I live in a well populated neighborhood so I can imagine that some people have their opinions. It’s not that I’m intending to have these conversations out loud, it just happens.

When I was first dating my partner, he called me weird and it hurt my feelings and I know he did not intend to be hurtful. Those words don’t bother me anymore. I know I’m weird and I have worked to fully embrace my eccentricities.  Naturally, the mind gremlins aren’t too fond of the weirdness. I mean, I’m human so sometimes it’s hurtful when people call me out on it but not too often.

What gives me the most peace about my weirdness is that I think most people spend a lot of time with their own mind gremlins and aren’t really thinking too much about what I’m saying or doing. They might make the mental observation that I said something weird and then slinked away while looking side to side, thus making them even more confused.

I know that I can’t escape who I am so I will raise my cup off coffee and cheers to the great and powerful Maria Bamford, Amy Sedaris, and Leslie Jones, for it is on their shoulders I stand and embrace my peculiar way of being in the world.

Even if you’re disgusting, and everyone is creeped out by you and thinks you’re gross, you know, keep doing what you love! “- Maria Bamford

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Freedom – SB Gamble

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” 

Toni Morrison

As a black man with some semblance of awareness, standing in the face of innumerable social forces, systematic racial oppression, mass incarceration and economic despair, I find myself often preoccupied with the idea of freedom. It’s an important concept for me, one that in face of recent events, is constantly in flux. I know my race, my community and culture had its roots in slavery, and I can see its effects echoing all throughout my community and also within myself. But I know, my story and the Black American story is so much more than that. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, my grandparents and my mother. I am very aware of the plights they have faced in their lives, so now in the modern day, in this supposed “Post Racial” America, I feel I have an obligation to live as free as I possibly can in the finite life. People died, and fought and endured so I could do everything, from put on suit and stroll into my office job to something as fundamental as read.

The balancing act becomes how do I acknowledge the past? How to endure the greatness, the cruelty and weight of that legacy and also maintain my own humanity, my own faith in decency, my own fractured belief in the most fundamental of American principles—that if I work hard I’m free to pursue my own idea of happiness? How does one do this when one’s very existence is steeped in such a legacy? How can I be truly free? But as I grow older and wonder, now understanding the weight of the past, contemplating the recent violence against Black Americans, how does a Black person really attain or even live up to American ideal of freedom?

Is it even for me and people who look like me? How can we as a society continued to excuse the recent violence against Black American by police officer who are supposed to protect them—even in the face of damning videos? And when I pose these questions, it isn’t an attack on our police officers. Any logical member of our society understands the vital role they play in our communities—nor am I disputing the real danger they face on a daily basis. Or moreover, condemning them as a whole—but just like I, a person of reasonable thought, can extend them the benefit of the doubt, where is mine? If video evidence, if protesting, if complying with hands up isn’t enough to hear the voice and plight of Black Americans, what is?

And with all this questions weighing heavy on me, it all goes back to freedom. How free can I be if my heart skips a beat when a police car drives pass me as I’m walking? How free can I be if I earnest conversation with my friends, telling what picture to use if I end up killed? How can I be freed if I’m deemed a criminal on sight? How free am I if worry about become this week’s trending hashtag?

What can I do when these questions pressed down on me?

I could choose to let them harden me, cause me to become caustic and cynical, or I could use them as source of strength. I can look to the past as undeniable evidence that Black Americans have survived. We have maintained our dignity, our bravery, our lives. We have bucked against institutions that sought out to destroy us and devalue us. Every day that I get up and love, laugh, dream or cry is an act of freedom. I strive for greatness and hope for those who died recently and those who have died in the past for me to stand here. I have to press on.

Every day I strive to speak up when I need to, to become a more whole, more descent person to honor those in the past. And it ain’t easy. Some days it takes herculean efforts to just get out of bed. Some days I’m angry. Some days I have no answer for all these questions. Some days I’m deep saddened. I am human, after all.

And to all of those feeling low—we are still here. I am still here. You are still here. You are no longer property. You are longer three-fifth of man. You, like every American, are a person of value. A person that matters.

 “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” James Baldwin

 

SB Gamble is an author, playwright, and a semi-retired party boy. He has written several plays and short stories. His plays have been performed on stage and on local radio in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He won awards as a playwright with NAACP’s ACT-SO competition and Kalamazoo’s Black Arts and Cultural Center. He currently lives and works in Chicago. He is driven to write works that underline his wild belief that people are all equal and have more commonalities than differences. 

His first novel The Last Party is set to be released in August 2016. Please take a chance to learn more about this extraordinary man and his art here. 

 

 

Salve For My Wounds.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
Mary Oliver
The Journey

Pablo Neruda: The Great Lover of Love.

I love poetry. Love, love, love poetry. I was having drinks with a friend years ago and we both agreed that the world would be a better place if we all read more poetry. He recited T.S. Eliot from memory and I responded with Maya Angelou and Pablo Neruda.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

NPR reported today that there were newly discovered works from Pablo Neruda. They’re unsure as to whether or not he wanted them shared and usually I think that we should respect the artist and keep what might have been intended to be private, private. This is why I felt so uncomfortable with Harper Lee’s, Go Set a Watchmen being released.

But, I can’t deny that I am extremely excited to read the newly discovered works of Neruda.

Let me share with you some of what was released (courtesy of NPR)

“Never alone, with you

over the earth,

crossing through fire.

Never alone.

With you in the forests

finding again

dawn’s

stiff arrow,

the tender moss

of spring

With you

in my struggle,

not the one I chose

but

the only one.”

That poem reminded me of one of my favorite poems of Neruda’s (both about his wife):

Sonnet XVII

“I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:

where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep. ”

Pablo Neruda

Love.

 

I Don’t Own My Story.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.”
Nadeem Aslam, The Wasted Vigil

In a lot of the posts I reference having experienced traumatic events. For some readers, they may have some ideas about what happened. But for others, they don’t have a reference or understanding of my life. I understand through messages and responses that some readers may want to know what I’m referring to when I allude to experiencing traumatic events. This has caused me to reflect on the interconnectedness of my life.

I agree that we must own our stories or our stories own us. The problem with sharing many of my stories is that they involve other people. And, other people don’t want/need/think it’s appropriate to share their stories with the world. This blog is both cathartic and difficult for me. Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world. Most of these blogs are letters to myself that I’ve decided to share. And, there are plenty of posts in the drafts box that will never see the light of social media.

There is a constant balance when sharing parts of yourself with an unknown group of people. I feel compelled to be transparent and honest but at the same time I don’t think it is appropriate to overshare. My beloved Josh once helped me understand this process. We were talking about a time that someone shared a traumatic event with him and he said, “They never asked my permission to share that.” That stuck with me. I don’t want this blog to be traumatizing and so there are times when restraint is indicated.

Further, as a human being, I’ve made mistakes. This blog is not a confessional. I am not writing for absolution or understanding. I believe that would put undue pressure on the reader. When I began sharing these posts publicly, I explored how authors that write memoirs decide what is written and what is withheld. The majority said that they would not share parts of themselves that still cause them pain. Meaning, that if I shared something and someone commented in a hurtful way (which has happened) I would not want it to be related to a topic where my nerve is exposed. There are several areas of my life where this is the case and probably will always be as such.

Also, there are things that happened on my journey that involved immense suffering for other people. It would never be my intention to share those stories. I make every intention to respect and protect with each post. I pray this is not a form of exhibitionism.

I’m glad these questions and thoughts were brought to my attention. It forced me to examine how many of my stories were not mine alone. In fact, only a handful are my stories are mine to share. I suppose we will continue see how this all works out.

“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

Please, Stop Telling That Tired Old Story.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“I’ll never be happy”

“No one will ever love me”

“I’m too broken or messed up to be lovable”

“I can’t do that”

“I’ll never get that job/promotion”

“I’m not smart enough”

You’re right. If you keep believing these things you will make them true. This is not so much about the Law of Attraction (aka, The Secret) as much as it is about self-fulfilling prophecy.

We all have scripts written out that exist in our minds related to what is possible and what is not possible for our lives. Whether we know it or not, we operate according to these scripts. For many of us, these scripts were written when we were very young and often written by other people. Maybe we watched our parents trudge through life resentful of their positions. Maybe we were told by someone(s) that we were not good enough. Maybe a teacher told you that you were not smart enough. We know the human mind is attracted to negative messages more than positive ones. And, once the message is in our mind it is locked in tight.

The trick is to first see the script you are working from. Why do you believe you can’t find love? Because you made mistakes? Because you don’t look like a supermodel? Because you don’t make six figures? Those are all ridiculous excuses that have nothing to do with whether or not you deserve happiness. (clue: if you disagree with me you are probably holding on to a script for dear life). All humans are flawed and make mistakes and yet we are still deserving of love and compassion.

Some people are even willing to say what they are really afraid of: Because I don’t want to get hurt. Well, if you are living person you are going to get hurt – that is absolutely inevitable. How would you prefer to get hurt? Living a life you choose or working from a tired old script filled with “you can’t phrases” because that hurts too.

We often act in ways that elicit a response from others that reinforces our script. What do I mean by this?

Example script: I am never going to find love.

What happens next:

  1. You never even try to get into a relationship
  2. You choose a partner that treats you poorly and stay in that relationship
  3. You get into a relationship and convince the person they are an idiot for being with you (you’re too good for me, you’re cheating on me, you don’t love me)
  4. You get into a relationship and push the person away or keep them at a distance (resist vulnerability, act dishonestly)
  5. You get into a relationship and treat the person poorly (abusive, mean, cruel, defensive, jealous, cheat)

Then, the relationship ends and “See! I was right, I am unlovable!” And, I’m not shocked your script played out just as you anticipated.

I could run through the same scenarios related to employment, opportunities, education and happiness. Sometimes in therapy we refer to this process as “begging for your own misery.” As an adult, you are now able to rewrite your script. Yes, the old scripts will linger around and you’ll still hear them and feel the need to follow them. This gets easier and the noise from the old scripts will quiet down. They may never go away but you don’t have to follow them anymore.

What is the biggest difference between people who are happy with their lives and people who are unhappy with their lives? The people that are happy in their lives operate from a script that involves happier stories. It is not that their lives are easier, it is that their perceptions of their lives are different. This was highlighted in the post That Was A Hell of A Day. Be careful very about what you tell yourself about your life and possibilities because it will most certainly come true.

“This led me to a study of expectancy theory and self-fulfilling prophecies or the “Pygmalion effect,” and to a realization of how deeply imbedded our perceptions are. It taught me that we must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as at the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.” – Stephen R. Covey

When I Hate My Body.

“I’ve gone through stages where I hate my body so much that I won’t even wear shorts and a bra in my house because if I pass a mirror, that’s the end of my day.”
Fiona Apple

I did it again. I tried on a pair of pants that are probably a decade old and they did not fit (shocker!). This, I am certain, is an act of self-harm. I tried to shove my poor body into these pants and when they did not fit, I felt my eyes well up with tears and could not stop the emotions. I hold on to the pants with the hope that they will fit again one day. I need to donate these pants.

I am so tired of hating my body. My physical body has held me up when my emotions would have me collapse into a ball on the floor. My legs (the part I hate the most) move me through my every day with ease. My arms hold my partner while we sleep and hug the people I love. My stomach holds nourishment and keeps me alive. I’m so incredibly grateful for my body.

I am exhausted by the inner dialogue and comparison. “If I had her legs, I’d feel better” and “She’s so much prettier than me.” I am weary from this life-long battle against a body that has done nothing but love me.

I could never restrict my eating (I get hangry) but I did have a good run with bulimia. I remember the first time I was “successful” at this task. It felt like shame and power at the same time. I have also tried every diet and trick in the book to lose weight, even as my body begged me to stop (hunger pains, head aches, crabbiness). And, no matter what I tried, I stayed about the same size. I raged against my body. If I am honest, I still rage against my body. For example, trying on those pants.

It is curious to me that people tell you they don’t understand why people develop eating disorders. Or, that you should let the battle go “love yourself.” It’s that easy? Really?  We are bombarded with heaps of absolutely impossible images of beauty every single day. We are explicitly and implicitly told being skinny and pretty are the most important things. To be “fat” makes you the object of ridicule.

I know men experience these pressures, too. I understand that men are subjected to cruel comments related to weight and appearance. In fact, I think this is getting worse for men. I know more and more men struggling with disordered eating now than I ever have.

Also, there is a fine line between supporting someone pursuing a healthy lifestyle as opposed to developing an eating disorder. I want to be healthy. I want to live a long life with few health challenges. I understand that this involves mindful eating and regular exercise. So, of course I want to commend the people I love for engaging in these activities. I want to be able to compliment their hard work without reinforcing unhealthy ideals. I want them to live long healthy lives, too. Where is the line? How do I know if you are struggling with body image and eating disorders. I can’t unless you tell me and you probably won’t tell me.

Truthfully, if you spend a day just observing your world (the real world around you and not media’s representation of the world), you will see that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. We also have to be careful not to persecute naturally thin people and assume their lives are easier. Even beautiful celebrities struggle with body image issues. No one is safe.

When I find that I’m obsessing or crying over pants that don’t fit, I remind myself of what I think makes a beautiful person. And, it is never about how they look. 

The people I find beautiful are the ones that offer tremendous love, compassion, and support.

The people I find beautiful encourage others to set goals and support all efforts for someone to be the best version of themselves.

The people I find beautiful laugh loudly and proudly.

The people I find beautiful pursue wild and crazy passions.

The people I find beautiful love their children and grandchildren.

The people I find beautiful have the courage to live a life they love. They go out and do the things they want to do and the world is better and happier because they’ve done this.

The people I find beautiful openly show affection in public to the people they love.

The people I find beautiful stand up for people that have less than they do. They speak out against discrimination, prejudice, and hate.

The people I find beautiful sing out loud to songs they made up in their heads.

The people I find beautiful have the courage to live honestly.

The people I find beautiful love animals. They love to cuddle a dog, cat, pig, horse, or elephant.

The people I find beautiful love themselves. Or, they are always trying to love themselves (this is probably more fitting).

Ultimately, what you look like doesn’t concern me much when we’re talking about beauty. That is the salve I use to comfort myself when my pants don’t fit. Even if I don’t fit the image of beauty set forth by society maybe I can still be beautiful. It doesn’t always work but it’s the best idea I’ve had so far.

My lovelies, I wonder, if you close your eyes and think of the most beautiful person you have ever known, does what they look like matter much?

Love.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I Need A Few Vices.

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” – Abraham Lincoln

As the year was winding down, I was listening to someone tell me that coffee was their last vice and they were in the process of giving it up. I thought to myself, “Why would you do that?” What is the purpose of living a life with no vices. I understand the importance of moderation (although struggle to moderate) but I don’t want a life with out coffee, cocktails, or television. Needless to say, her viceless life comment gave me a bit of anxiety. Naturally, I related her life goals to my own (as we always do when people assert themselves). I think Amy Poehler said it best when she said:

Good for her not for me.”

A life without vices stinks of perfectionism. And we all know the dangers of perfectionism. I also struggle to believe that someone can life a full life without a few vices. Where is the depth? What about experience? Really, what does a viceless life even look like? Is it possible?

I appreciate the fine line between a vice enhancing your life and a vice becoming an addiction. I think that many people struggle to walk that line. And, there may be a good reason you are giving up caffeine (maybe you’re pregnant or you don’t sleep well). However, if the goal is living a vice free life, I don’t know if I believe that is possible.

The term vice may connote bad behavior for some but it does not for me. In fact, I think it helps people better understand what kind of person I am. My vices currently involve craft beer (if you knew where I lived you’d understand), coffee/green tea, wine, and vinyl records. These parts of my life are not always the best choices financially or health wise but so be it. I’m not about to live in a straight jacket feeling guilty about indulging on things that make me happy.

Isn’t anything in excess a vice? Even “healthy” things can be vices? 

I surround myself with a strong support system that has no problem calling me out when my vices become problematic and my self-awareness fails me. My partner and friends made mention when my box of wine a week habit became unhealthy. Begrudgingly, I heeded their advice and my migraines diminished (thanks, folks). I feel I am able to provide them the same feedback and this is how we keep each other accountable.

I wonder why we all try to figure out where we fit in relation to one another? Why did her comment related to eliminating caffeine cause me to reflect on my own habits? In fact, it inspired a post about my need for vices.

Perhaps viceless living is goal worthy for some people but I don’t think it’s feasible for me. As I enter the new year, I will gladly carry on with a few habits that may not be the healthiest. It might just be semantics and vices to some are indulgences to others. To each their own, right?

“I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices whatsoever.”
Mark Twain, Stories

This Poem Is Stalking Me.

If it is possible for a piece of art to stalk you, this poem would be an example of that for me. This poem finds me on a regular basis.

It repeatedly shows up in blogs or articles I read, books I read (Wild), people literally bring it to me in hard copy (this happened today), it is presented on all forms of social media on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love poetry and I love Mary Oliver. I also love Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, e.e. cummings, and you get it what I’m saying. But, I never see Alone by Maya Angelou (my favorite poem of all time).

WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME MARY OLIVER!?!

A Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention,

how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver