Shut up Morrissey, it is not. I mean, the rest of the sentiment in that song is accurate, but I don't think there's anything nice about shyness except that it makes you seem sweet and kind because you don't open your mouth to betray otherwise. I've been shy all my life. Not just introverted, but shy to the point that it's probably held me back. Making friends is a terrific challenge. Getting the things you need and want out of life is doubly tough. Somehow I've managed to overcome my instinct to recede when it counts, but it is HARD. The proudest moments in my life (right up there next to giving birth to my boy and the one time I beat my Memere in Yahtzee) have to do with powering through, asking a question, putting myself out there in person. I guess I always thought I'd just magically outgrow my bashfulness one day, but if I haven't by now, it's safe to say it's going to continue to be work.
I have always been in awe of people who are at ease moving about the world. My dad is one of these people. He's naturally outgoing. My mother swears she is not predisposed to the same degree, but in practice she is the poster child for the HELLO WORLD movement. She lives her life getting over her shyness, every day, to the point where it's still almost impossible for me to believe that she ever has a moment where she is intimidated. She is my idol of fake-it-til-you-make-it.
Being a parent means that I have to speak up for my child's sake if not my own, and though I haven't been tested on that front yet, it's inevitable. But even as I do what's necessary, it doesn't mean I'll ever get to the stage where I've eradicated the shyness inside. Practice might make it easier, but you can't change your wiring. It also occurs to me that people might not think I was so nice if I weren't so shy, but I don't actually care about that perception anymore. It's so frustrating that I can't translate my inner "I truly don't care what you think of me" into, like, starting a conversation with someone I don't know.
Obviously part of why I'm drawn to writing is because that's my truest and most reliable voice. If you've never met me in real life and only know me through a computer screen, it's probably hard to believe that I'm not as loud as I come across. But it's writing that makes me brave. It's the easiest and most eloquent way to interact with people that doesn't involve alcohol. Writing is my friend, but writing is also a crutch. I rely on it too much, I get too comfortable making it my main form of expression. In its way, the internet is one of the best and worst things that's ever happened to me.
I don't have a neat way to wrap this up, just thinking that I'm a shy person, and the condition of being shy is about as nice as being in a cage.
I spent a great deal of my free time this weekend blowing through my old journals, and now I'm thoroughly sick of myself. But it was not without value. For one, even after taking in all the minutiae that passed for important feels and information over that period of time, I feel inspired to write, like really write, in a way I haven't for ages. It also helps to have a catalog of regrets to show me how I've grown and help me to veer back from the edge of assholery. I mean it's all right out there, the times I've hurt people and rationalized it, or deluded myself about things. I was always honest because it was my space, but sometimes being honest doesn't mean being honest honest. I can see right through myself, and it's theraputic to go back there and burn with unrevisionist shame. I've moved on and moved on and moved on, and for the most part, for the better. I'm not saying I'm perfect right now, just that it helps to have a handbook of what not to do.
To be honest if that were the only good thing that was brought about by this excercise, I'd take a match to the whole stack right now. I've built my own decades-long case for the prosecution that renders me guilty on all counts of being a nerd and a total dangus. But the memories are just too good. So much happened, so many births and deaths, graduations, weddings, breakups, friendships. People came and went. For every heartbreak there was a triumph. And for every step there was Niki.
I was foolish to jump in without thinking of how much of an emotional toll it would take. Not considering how much a part of my life she was, how sharply I would be reminded of her. For crying out loud, Niki's the only other person whose handwriting appears in those hundreds and hundreds of pages besides my own. How could I forget that she's the only person I gave permission to read my most intimate thoughts? How could I forget about the journal she gave me for Christmas when we were 18, the first 10 pages of which are her handwritten history of our friendship to that point? It was devastating to take in. But at the same time it is the greatest gift I've given myself. She's there, that's where she lives now. And fuck no it's not enough. But it just is.
After everything, though there's plenty to be embarrassed about in my extensive back pages, there's little that would be funny to read if you weren't me or someone in the loop at the time. So I will leave you with one ridiculous excerpt from back when I wasn't strictly keeping a journal as I would later on, just popping in from time to time. I was a preteen, and at my most dramatic and histronically un-self-conscious. I would post a screenshot of it for the brightly colored and emotive cursive authentic only to twelve-year-olds, but for one, my handwriting is terrible (this condition does not change ever, and I am now half-blind from all that deciphering) also I'm social media pals with almost every person whose name pops up so I'll just let you all fill in the blanks. Besides, upon reflection it is clear that in junior high I was able to fortell--with eerie precision--the entire pattern my romantic life would follow until, oh let's say my wedding day. It's like Dawn's lovelife Mad Libs. Here we go:
I'm feeling a little depressed. I'm a destitute at 12 (note: I have no idea what I thought "destitute" meant). NAME REDACTED (crush of the moment) doesn't know that I exist, NAME REDACTED (frenemy of the moment) hates him, and NAME REDACTED (mutual friend enlisted to play cupid on this mission) hasn't spoken to him yet. Oh, well I don't feel like writing now. Bye.
I just have to present two excerpts from two coincidentally consecutive but randomly plucked diaries (I was 20 at the time, so they don't count as teenage entries).
Niki, though, is my girl She's probably my most favorite person in the world. We're so close and when we're together we're so much fun. We just keep saying how great the other is and how we love each other so much. I didn't really want to have to share her, she's my best friend like that.
That sounds a little psycho possessive to the outsider, but I assure you it wasn't like that in general, just the specific context. What struck me about this passage was my clear-eyed acknowledgment of my love for this woman, five or six years into our friendship, when we were living hundreds of miles apart. The feeling never, ever changed for me, and it puts right out there exactly why I can't seem to get over losing her. I've been lucky to have a handful of very close and wonderful friends in my life, but Niki was always my shining star. It's comforting to me to have evidence that I was cognizant of it in the moment.
Now exactly one month later, 5/29/1995, regarding Mike, one of my new housemates at the time:
I love that guy. He's so funny and cute and likes all the same stuff as me, so much that it's scary. He might just be my soul mate.
Kreskin, ladies and gentlemen.
Maybe I really should start keeping a diary again.
I kept a paper journal religiously from the time I was 15 until... oh probably my mid-thirties? It sort of dropped off when I started an online diary, but it's amazing to look back and see every single day of several decades accounted for and synthesized in excruciating detail. I'm not saying there's great writing in those tomes - quite the opposite. But it's where I poured my heart out, where I was free to be as ridiculous and pretentious and self indulgent as possible. I might just have to burn these babies before I die, because nobody needs this kind of mortifying record. But the volumes and volumes of me-ology certainly come in handy when I need a little inspiration, particularly when I'm trying to access the cuckoo clock period that is the teenage years. My twenties are a blur of life changes and beer-soaked questionable decisions, and though that can be fun to read (and useful when trying to put together missing pieces), it's the stuff from 15-19 that is a veritable gold mine. My writing life, whether fiction or nonfiction, ever circles back two major themes: death/grief and teenagers. To be able to be plunked right back into the choppy hormonal pool of adolescence is a gift when I need to be of a certain mind. Perhaps it's because I so achingly documented that time in my life that I have such a soft spot for teens, who knows. What has been revealed to me after periodic revisits to my journals is that, though I have become a full fledged adult who does boring and necessary responsibly adult things, I have changed very little, fundamentally.
I still care about and obsess over the same things. The two big differences are that I have become sure in and of myself - insecurity does not plague me, and I'm no longer inclined to do a morphing act for approval; conversely, growing up has made me a lot less SURE about things and ideas. I'm more flexible in my beliefs, willing to listen and leave room for argument. The insufferably arrogant smugness of youth has given way to experience. Not that I don't have ideals anymore, just that I don't think I have a single answer. And I'm ok with that.
The inevitable downside of dipping into the vault is that I fall down a rabbit hole of nostalgia and it's hard to come back from that colossally unproductive time suck. Tucked into one page I found a three-page list of quotes that Niki and I wrote down over the course of a weekend in December of 1994 (we were huge into our quote lists)! I hardly remember what any of them mean, but I was so glad to have preserved them and I just wanted to go back and read more and more when instead it was time to get HR ready for school. The potential upside, for those who enjoy other people's embarrassment, is that I will probably be posting some choice excerpts here and there.
This was one of the more gratifying weekends, parenting-wise. HR was at his best, being a fun and funny and relatively relaxed little pal. Yesterday he and I had a conversation that ran our entire walk to the playground. It's moments like that when he feels like such a big kid to me, I can hardly process it. In a few weeks we're signing him up for full-time pre-K for the coming fall, which is great for all parties, but to pull back and think about it, that we're two months out from his fourth birthday, that's a lot of WHOA. As for sleep issues, I've decided to resume full on don't ask/don't tell. Nobody needs to know the details unless I strike a magical solution for perfect bedtime. For now, it's good enough.
This guy in general though: better than good, more than enough.
Yesterday's post was a long time coming. I was waiting to write an appropriate tribute to my grandmother, but I couldn't get it together. Then it hit me that it would never be the perfect time, and I'd never have the perfect, all-encompassing entry. I don't know what made me think I could sum up one of the most important people in my life in one swoop in the first place. So that was AN entry about Memere, but not THE. There won't be a THE. I'm sure she'll be popping up here and there for years to come, as long as I'm doing this. It felt good to get it out, though. And it made me feel like I was gathering those around me who knew and loved her, and we released our good memories into the universe. That's about as close to spiritual as it gets, for me.
The sun is ablaze, it's a balmy 45 degrees, and I'm giddy with renewed hope that we will get a spring. Not today, I understand, but someday. I really wasn't sure there for awhile. Add to that a major vacation being booked and my favorite band's coming to town - it's a hot damn! kinda day and I'm going with it.
When I was a very little girl Memere took care of me a lot, and I have so many memories of riding the back roads of the Western foothills, dropping off her Avon deliveries.
"Oh my, I think we're lost!" she'd say.
She knew exactly where she was going. I didn't know that, which made it thrilling. Or maybe I did a tiny bit, and the security of that made it ok to enjoy that "lost" sensation, but either way, I thought it was the greatest game ever. Just Memere and me, getting lost in her boat of a white Chevy, that was my favorite.
Years later, when I was old enough to not be such a baby about my fear of fireworks (to this day I can't tolerate the booms), Memere and I were driving back from one of my aunt's houses, and it was the fourth of July, maybe the day before. We got back into town just as dusk was falling, just as the regional display was getting started. Without any discussion, she pulled over on a hill, turned up the radio, and we sat and watched the light show together in muffled comfort.
"I can't stand that goldurned noise, either," she said.
It was probably true, but how could I know, then or now?
The last time Memere visited me at my house was just last May, and this time I was in the driver's seat, taking her across town to my workplace.
"But you don't walk to work," she said, surveying the route.
"Sometimes, Memere. I'd rather walk or run when the weather's nice, actually."
"No, but you don't!"
"Right! Sure, ok."
In truth, I do not appreciate being bossed. At all. With someone else I might have pulled the car over and walked the rest of the way on principle, or at least pushed back a little, done what I could to convince them it was perfectly safe. But with Memere, I would have said anything to ease her mind, because she didn't need any extra worry-fodder. I realized as I grew up that to be fretted over obsessively by Memere was to be loved by her. It came with the territory, she couldn't help it. You'd think that as the family expanded, it would spread the anxiety around a little. But no, every single one of us got our own special bead of the rosary, and even if we rolled our eyes on the surface, all of Memere's girls and Memere's boys wore it like a badge of honor. We didn't have to worry because she took it on for us. I have to say, the first time my dad came to visit since she died was odd, like something was missing, because she didn't call to make sure he got there OK. I can't imagine how it felt for him.
Memere never worried about us more than when we were traveling. Is it somehow fitting that my strongest memories of the two of us together took place in cars? With so many sharing the care of one woman, I guess these memories stand out because those were my opportunities to have her to myself.
Even since becoming a mother I haven't achived my grandmother's Olympic level of concern for other people. Sure I worry more than I used to, and that will never go away. But the way that Memere absorbed all of our fears and hurts was her legacy, her protection spell.
I miss my strong and beautiful grandmother. But no more worries, Memere.
So good news: I've been writing. Not in here, obviously. And not too much. But enough so that I feel engaged in a thought process. Enough that I feel like I'm working on something that could take shape, or even just serve as a springboard to something else that eventually will. It's a form of inner peace, is what it is. My optimal formula for a reasonably balanced life always includes this type of project, even if it never goes anywhere. There's something in me that craves it. In terms of an optimal sense of equilibrium for me, I've broken down the other parts. There's the writing bit, then chill-out time with family and friends, lots of reading, a bit of alone time, some physical activity that I'm wholly enthusiastic about (right now running, but I'm on the verge of adding regular yoga again), thoughtful eating, plenty of treats. Work is work, I show up, do my thing, get paid, I'm good to go. Next to family it's the easiest part, as automatic as breathing. But the writing, man, it's so key, yet so easily neglected by me. If history has shown me anything, it's that I'm a self-sabotaging dodo. And I don't want to repeat that history another time. I can say it and wish it and get it tattooed onto my person but if I'm not forcing myself to keep it up, it's back to a naggingly lopsided state of mind. It seems so simple, but when I'm in dumbass mode, it doesn't seem to make a difference.
Just keep writing, dumbass, and all will be well. Hmm, maybe I do need that in tattoo form.