What It’s Like to Live Without Hope (even When You Still Feel it)

This is the first time I’ve really thought and written about something like this before. When I’ve talked about Hope it’s always been in the best possible way but today I’m going to show you another side of it.

I’ve always said up until now that no matter how bad things got, I always had hope for the better. But two times in my life, I didn’t have that feeling because all the hope and prayer and positive thoughts weren’t going to stop what was happening right before my eyes.

The last seven years of my mother’s life were just a matter of when she would die. It was a soul-deep certainty her, my father, and I knew from the day she was diagnosed yet it wasn’t something the three of us talked about. In those seven years, she was in remission for less than eighteen months. And even as the cancer kept coming back despite repeated blasts of radiation and chemotherapy, I saw her get up every day she could and go to work when she was sick and tired as hell. But on Saturday and Sunday, I’d get up with her and hang out with her on our back patio while she worked with her plants. That brought her some joy and happiness, yet as I look back on that, I felt like we had to guard it from most everyone else.

Why would I have to guard against these moments of happiness?

Because my mother heard so much that she had to be strong, brave, and think positive thoughts. But what that really means to someone is that they can’t feel their entire range of emotions both good and bad. It means that simple moments of joy could be seen as denial of the battle that has to be fought every moment of every day. Cancer isn’t a battle. It’s a disease that slowly kills a lot of people. So to try and dictate someone’s feelings about that reality is hell to live with. The worst part of that is not having hope for remission and recovery, and that every moment feels like it’s a stolen one and not meant to be cherished forever.

After my mother died and when my father moved out to the lake and I took the car (we only had one car between us), I used to go out to see him once a week to do his shopping and stuff. But I didn’t just hit-and-bounce. We took a lot of drives, sat by the dam, or I just sat and listened to him talk. We both knew he wasn’t going to get better, that his health was slowly deteriorating. And yes, there were times he told me I didn’t have to stick around and listen to the ramblings of a dying old man as he put it. I told him I did because he was saying things I needed to hear, and that one day I would become to keeper of his stories. And like before with my mother, the only hope I had was that after he was gone I would learn to live my life to the fullest. That didn’t happen then but that’s what I’m working on now.

Because I do have hope that my life will get better. I’m not sick and dying like they were all those years ago. And most of all, I don’t have to put up with anyone’s fucking shit like I did back then in a totally-wrong idea of keeping the peace.

I know how hard reality can bite you in the ass but I will say this here: if you are not dealing with death, dying, pain, and misery, you have hope for a better life. And not just for yourself, but for other people, especially people who have been hurt, oppressed, or forced to live in fear. Hope gives you the ability to be compassionate and empathetic to others. Hope gives you the ability to reject hatred, to reject fear-mongering, disinformation, and to stop the fucking spin and gaslighting. Hope keeps you going not just in the short-term, but in the long run.

When you have the ability to help others individually, or as part of something bigger like voting, that is hope in action. I’m one of millions of people who damn good and well know you can’t save everyone, but you don’t give up on saving the people you can.

Most of all, no one as the right to tell anyone how to think and feel, and that they have no right to feel happiness and joy despite pain and misery. No one should ever have to feel like their feelings of hope, joy, and happiness are wrong. And to anyone who has ever mouthed off at someone and told them not to be happy or sad, go to Hell. If you can’t handle someone’s hope, joy, happiness, or pain and grief, walk away and stay away. And to anyone who’s ever had to endure that fucking shit, know that you have every right to your feelings no matter what they are. Guard your hope like a fifty-foot dragon and breath fire if you have to. And never forget what it’s like to live without hope.

Forward March

As I write this, the sun is just coming up over the horizon. My coffee is brewing, my pets are having breakfast, and I’m wide-awake and writing this. I did the doom-scroll on my phone and saw the President acting like the tin-pot dictator that he wants to be. And I saw that it looks like the Senate won’t flip. I know there are many more votes to be counted but my hope isn’t being dashed in a dramatic sweep like 2000 or into a shell-shocked silence like 2016.

No, after all the anger burned off last night followed by a few moments of grief and loss, I packed it in and went to bed. Because I knew the next day was coming like it always does. I was always told that from as far back as I can remember and now having taking forty-six trips around the sun each with three-hundred and sixty-five days and an extra day every four years I can say this: the sun does come up and the world keeps turning.

Four years ago, just around the time of another Presidential Election, I began a journey that would change my life. It was a journey started by asking myself one simple question: why do I think and feel the way I do? My plan then was to use writing to figure that out. I wrote a lot of stuff that never saw the light of day but that’s just fine. Writing can be a form of therapy and using it work things out on paper is a good thing. After four years, I reached what I call the ‘Recovery’ stage. This is where I could see where I’ve been, and where I needed to go. But now I will move to the next stage: Forward.

As I turned out the lights and crawled under the covers, I realized how and truly alone I am in this world, and that no one is coming to save me. But instead of that thought making me want to curl up and fight like hell not to cry, I felt calm. My mind slowed down to one thought: I know what to do now.

Forward, onward. Up with the dawn, hands on the keyboard, make sure to eat, earn money, and make things happen for me. Yes, it’s a shit-show out there at times but I ask myself here: when hasn’t it been a shit-show of some kind?

In the past few months, I’ve begun to get a hold on my writing projects. In the last few weeks, that hold has been beginning to firm. Now it’s starting to lock on. And that is because whenever I hear some naysaying-negative asshole voice in my head I know now it’s just an echo from the past. That echo doesn’t control me anymore, and I don’t back away in fear from it. I tell myself if someone ever does come at me that I’m ready to stand and face them. I have finally begun to truly understand and accept that I have the strength to stand up for myself when I haven’t done anything wrong.

Two days ago, I published a piece ‘When It Feels Like Hate’. It was a thought that has taken me four years to put into words and trust me, it wasn’t easy to write. I know it’s a good piece but there was a nagging thought it was also pretty hard to read. But as I woke up this morning to the electoral shit-show, I told myself I was totally right in what I said. I have taken a stand on that piece and drawn a line in the sand in front of me like Colonel Travis did at the Alamo all those years ago. And like those brave defenders at the Alamo, including the women who made a hard run to get help, I won’t give up. And I won’t stop writing. Because if I feel fear want to ramp up inside me because of old feelings like feeling like a worthless sack of shit just for being who I am, I’m not going to let that happen. I will fight like those men under Colonel Travis did, and like those women did across Texas (read the book ‘True Women’ for a vivid account of those women who trekked hard across the cold hard ground of East Texas to reach Sam Houston).

To anyone reading this, move forward. One step at a time, no matter how hard it feels to do so. Keep moving away from the voices and echoes that will hold you back if you let them. Move past the voices and echoes that come before you. Remember, you are so much stronger than you will ever know. And that although silence can be crushing at times, you can break it in your own way.

And a final thought on the Election: what we’re seeing on a national scale here is dysfunction that’s been there all along. For as Maya Angelou said so well, “When people show you what they’re like, believe them.” And as my mother used to say, “People like that very rarely, if ever, change.”

When you move forward, you change for the better. You bring the light. Whether it’s moving forward despite the national shit-show, or moving forward despite assholes behind you saying you can’t, keep moving.

From therapy, to recovery, and now, forward. Or as the Chicks sing so well now, “March, march to my own drum/ Hey hey I’m an army of one” (Songwriters: Dan Wilson / Emily Strayer / Ian Kirkpatrick / Jack Antonoff / Martie Maguire / Natalie Maines / Ross Golan)

The Lack of Joy In Writing

Writing doesn’t bring me a lot of joy these days. There is no joy in me when I write about pain, suffering, and cruelty. I don’t get any joy from writing things that are painful and true.

So why do I write like this?

Because I have to is the first thought that comes to my mind. Because for me, not writing about what’s eating at me and occupying so much of my mental and emotional energy is like leaving an open wound to fester and grow infected. I used to try and bury stuff like this but I can’t do that anymore.

When I first started writing back in the era of MTV and leg-warmers, I did feel joy at putting words onto the page. I loved the feeling of those words pouring out of me, of being able to escape into my imaginary worlds. But as the MTV-and-leg-warmers era began to wane into Total Request Live and boy-bands, I wanted to do more with my writing. And that dear readers, is when writing started to get hard, and a lot of joy got lost that still hasn’t been found.

It was okay for me to piddle about writing fiction but wanting to write about political and social issues, or just any type of non-fiction writing… well I’d been told I couldn’t talk about politics and issues at all because I was an idiot, and that I was only good enough to write non-fiction that was sweet a bit clever. I have since come tor realize all this negative talk was total fucking bullshit. It was just people being loud-mouthed assholes because they knew what I wrote might be different from what they thought and felt and that was a bad thing.

I have never, ever wrote with the intent of using my writing as an axe to grind, win arguments, or prove a point. That’s never been my intent and it never will be. I write to express my thoughts and feelings, to share my observations of the world, and to tell stories both true and not-so-true (fiction). If anyone thinks otherwise, keep reading.

That loss of joy is not a bad thing. What I get in return is a feeling of accomplishment, of knowing I did the work myself and will continue to do so. Now I know with some people in this world who can’t see past the end of their own noses this is not a popular or acceptable feeling. To some people, this is a hard smack of selfishness and ego. It’s selfishness and ego if that’s the intent behind it, meaning writing is done just to deliberately inflict pain onto someone or the world in general. Hate speech and spin-bullshit-lying of right-wing disinformation campaigns is a shitty example of the ego and selfishness of its’ creators. But if that’s not your intent, and it’s sure as hell not my intent, then I reject that accusation of my writing as just an expression of selfish ego.

Did I know my writing life would come to this all those years ago? No. I knew it would be a lot of hard work to learn my craft as I’d been told from day one. What I didn’t know then, and what can only be learned with time and living, is how I could use writing to work through my own emotions, my own experiences, and yes, my pain. I’m not the first writer ever to use writing to sort out my own emotional and mental stuff. But I sure as hell won’t be the last.

This is why I don’t take it very well at all when someone says writing is easy, or worse, that’s it nothing but a public ego-stroke. If you think all these words came out perfectly as I typed them with no need for correction or revision, or that I didn’t think about them all… then you’re wrong because of what I’ve told you about the process here. To readers who make demands on writers to be a certain way or write in just a certain way… well I think Nora Roberts gave the best response to that: “Bite me.”

Now I’m sure someone might ask me, what gives me the right to make demands of my readers to examine their conscience, their thoughts and beliefs? No right, really. But I’m not asking anyone to conform to a certain way of thinking. I’m asking people to think of their own responses to my work as I have thought about mine and put them out there in my writing. It’s been demanded of me as a reader, and as a person and I have examined my conscience, and my thoughts and beliefs and come out a better person from what I’ve learned. I think the only real thing we can do is accept our differences without forcing someone to conform, or trying to diminish them as a person for being different to begin with.

Whenever someone decides to pursue something with all of their energy, whether it be writing, music, auto racing, or any activity really, they will be seen as different by some people. And sadly, some of those people will be complete and total fucking assholes. But as my later father was fond of saying, don’t the let the few assholes in this world ruin things for you. I’ve spent too much time and energy worrying about what some lame-brained ego-centric idiot might think instead of just doing something.

Not anymore.

Writing As a Form of Recovery

Twenty-five years ago, give or take, I read a book called ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. I loved it because it was all about embracing your creativity and putting your art in a place of importance in your life. But it was also about learning to recover from the pain of having your creativity suppressed by fear.

Twenty-five years later, give or take, I understand that fear very well now.

When I graduated high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. My grades sucked, I didn’t take the SAT or ACT tests, and since both my parents were working I probably wouldn’t have qualified for a lot of financial aid so I decided college wasn’t for me. What I wanted to do was focus on my writing, and my parents let me as long as I pulled me weight around the house-which I did.

When I was twenty, my father had his first heart attack followed by a series of injuries that forced him into early retirement. Then right after I turned twenty-one, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, unknown to anyone until now, I decided to put my own goals and dreams for my writing, and my own life on hold to help take care of my mother. I have no regrets over this decision and never will. But my parents didn’t let me give up on my writing.

More times than I can ever remember, after a long hard day of work, chores, and errands my mother and father would say to me, “We got this.” And they would tell me to go off and write, or read, or get something to eat. In addition to that, they paid my writing group dues for years along with conference and workshop fees. And multiple times my father actually drove me to my writers group meetings because he and my mother were adamant that I needed to get out of the house and do something for myself.

I knew there were people in my life who didn’t support my writing, or me having any kind of life of my own. It wasn’t out-and-out shit to my face for the most part. But when you’re as quiet as I am you see behind the masks people wear, and you hear it in people’s voices, and feel it in their subtle actions that make you feel like you’re doing something wrong even when you’re not. After my mother died, my father told me he and my mother caught a lot of flack for letting me live at home and pursue my writing such as it was back then.

I kept quiet when my mother was alive because I feared both her and my father would turn on me if I spoke out against that flack, and kick me out of the house and out of their lives forever. But after my father told me what he did and that he would always support me and my writing, I wish I had given the proverbial middle finger to all of that flack and rocked my life so much harder. Instead, I retreated and tried to keep to myself as much as I could. I felt like I was not worthy or able to have any kind of a life, and that if I pursued any kind of social life or writing career someone would have tried to destroy me for even thinking about it, much less pursuing it in some way.

This fear impacted me as hard as it did because it came to me at the most vulnerable time in my life all those years ago. When I was dealing with huge waves of emotions at the horror of watching my parents die slowly and painfully. It tore into me all the way to the depths of my soul, a huge bloody talon that has taken me years to remove but left behind a wound and pain that I will never forget.

It has taken me four years to put this wound into words, and deal with it through writing. And it’s harder than hell for me to write this because I can hear voices in my head telling me this is bullshit, and that I’m a complete idiot for saying anything like this, especially in a public way. But the most important thing I’ve learned over the last few years is this: I’m not a bad person. I’m just as fucked up as anyone else and I’ve made mistakes. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was giving people power over me they never really had, or gave a shit enough about to follow through on.

What has brought my words into the light here now is this: it’s not about me, nor is it about the people who’ve hurt me in the past. It’s for others who have been through things like I have, felt emotions like I’ve had, and are still thinking that people have the power to hurt them. To them I say this: no one has the power to hurt you unless you give it to them. For me, writing and going public with this is taking power away from people that was never theirs to begin with.

I feel like I’m in a stage of recovery now because most of what I write isn’t being trashed as soon as I get it out of me. I still feel fear but I tell myself that fear is just an echo of the past. I tell myself my words will be met mostly with silence. I’m fine with silence because I have lived with it for so long. But I’ve broken it inside myself, and it’s not the shattering I thought it would be. It’s like the rising sun breaking over the horizon.

Breaking the Silence of Creative Oppression

Shortly after I joined my local romance-writers group in the mid 1990’s, I was told very early on not to speak out publicly about any political or social issues. I was told not to do this in order not to alienate readers and publishers. And for close to twenty-five years, I went along with it like so many writers and other creative professionals did.

But now I this: It was never about alienating readers. It was about silencing dissent. It was the language of the Oppressor.

Being told not so speak out or ask questions is not about keeping people from disagreeing with you. It’s about keeping hard questions from being answered, about staying silent about hatred, violence, and injustice. It’s about keeping people from uncovering corruption and bringing the perpetrators to justice. It’s about staying silent and letting people suffer because other people believe suffering is meant to be and that people deserve to suffer.

After the 2016 Presidential Election, there was a severe reckoning in the romance writing community and other creative communities. The reckoning was painful because we had to examine our silence and how much it played into what we have now, the death-and-suffering cult that is trying to kill us all. We had to face the fact that our silence didn’t do anything to stop the tide of hatred and injustice that has swept over our world. We had to face the fact that our joy in our creativity couldn’t hide the pain and suffering in our world. And that our silence gave power to the Oppressors of this world because we had to realize and accept that silence is the language of the Oppressor.

That reckoning from 2016 onward was personal for me, too. It’s been a long and painful road to travel on, especially the time I’ve spent in the cold storage unit of my mind and memories. But it’s a road I’m glad I found the courage to travel on because I’ve found my voice. And I say this to those who wanted to silence me:

I do know what I’m talking about. And I do have a right to speak my mind, share my thoughts and feelings, and to speak out against pain and suffering.

Before Jesus Christ walked the Earth, pain and suffering were seen as the will of God. The world was made up of masters and slaves, rich and poor, and that sin could never be overcome. Then Christ came to Earth and talked of unconditional love even for the most broken of people. He talked of alleviating suffering above all else, healing the sick, comforting the sad, being with the incarcerated, and speaking out against greed and injustice. He was not silent, and I honestly don’t believe he wanted anyone else to be silent either, even his enemies as he offered them his other cheek.

And I know what I just wrote about Jesus Christ will set some hair on fire. But this is what I was told to keep silent about: the truth. Not just the truth of facts and events, but of my own personal thoughts and feelings. Because as I’ve said before, the worst thing I have ever dealt with is feeling like I had NO right to my own thoughts and feelings, and the ability to deal with them and express them.

As a creative person, I will say when you have a need to create and speak like I do, silence is extremely painful. I grew up with silence, silence about not speaking out against the bullying I was subjected to, about the pain and prejudice I witnessed and did nothing about. Most of all, I kept silent even in the most painful of times because I thought that’s what the world wanted of me. Now I see that silence for what it is: the tool of the Oppressor.

One thing I’ve learned over the last four years is that as I break my silence, my world hasn’t come crashing down around me like I used to think it would. I chose that silence and alienation thinking it would protect me from being hurt. It didn’t. What keeps me from being hurt by hateful and oppressive words is knowing that my silence won’t stop that and it never will.

I have made a commitment to myself now every single day: to find my voice and make it strong, and to not let fear and doubt ever silence it again.

Deflating the Detractors and Gaslighters

In yesterday’s blog post I wrote this:

Now I’m sure some lovely detractor will say I shouldn’t be ranting and raving here and burning my bra and all that crap.

Detractors are people who will try and get you off track whenever you start talking about something they don’t want to hear or deal with. They’ll start with deflection by changing the track of the conversation and if that doesn’t work, they’ll try and tear you down. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll gaslight your ass.

Gaslighting is an old term from a play called ‘Gaslight’ which was later made into a movie back in the 1940’s starring Ingrid Bergman as a wife of a rich guy in Victorian England who thought she was going nuts. In reality, her husband was trying to drive her crazy so he could chuck her into an insane asylum and divorce her so he could marry his younger side-piece. In the end, she realizes what he’s doing and she beats him at his own game.

But deflection and detraction are the start of the gaslighting process and it’s hard to fight against it, especially if you’ve dealt with it from your earliest days. You could say it’s a form of bullying and you’d be right on the mark. So what do you do about it?

First, you see for what it is: cruel and nasty behavior. Some people might say it’s an unconscious and that someone just learned that behavior and doesn’t know anything else. I call bullshit on that because if someone is told they’re being a conversational shit-head and refuse to stop being that way, it’s not unconscious.

No one is born with perfect communication skills. We learn how to communicate by doing it and taking in ways other people do it. Problem with that is sometimes people learn the wrong way of doing something then jam their head up their ass instead of taking their head out of their ass and learning how to communicate better and taking responsibility for their words and behavior.

For me, being a good listener means shutting my pie-hole and paying attention to what someone is saying. It means not just listening, but thinking, too. And yes, it’s a battle sometimes to work past biases and emotional responses that act like walls being thrown up in your mind. But you can work to prevent those walls from coming up by seeing them for what they are and keeping them down.

One of the most hurtful things I have ever been told is that I have a shit-ton of pride stuck up my ass. It’s hurtful because I always thought I had to do as much for myself as possible before asking for help. Yes, I tried too hard to be self-sufficient but when people see that as pride and not determination, they’re the ones who are wrong, not me. Now I will freely admit here sometimes I just toughed out and did my own thing because I didn’t want to deal with the bullshit of being made to feel like a moron for asking for help.

Deflection, detraction, and gaslighting are ways people use to either get people to do exactly what they want them to do without giving one tiny shit about what that person might want to do instead, or it’s a way of not wanting to confront personal shortcomings and shitty behavior. Either way, it’s wrong because deflection, detraction, and gaslighting tear at a person’s self-confidence, self-esteem, and beat the absolute shit out of them mentally and emotionally.

One of the hardest things I have had to work through is dealing with those deflecting, detracting, and gaslighting voices in my head. I’ve had to tell myself a million times they’re echoes from the past, past experiences, and my own past thoughts and feelings. Over time, I know echoes fade and the more they fade, the less power they have over you.

Finally, as a writer one of the key things I use in editing my work is making sure I’m not doing that deflecting, detracting, or gaslighting shit in my own work. I try to edit in order to keep myself on track and on topic.

In the end, my advice here is to trust your feelings and your instincts. And if someone is telling you something that you know is not true, or worse trying to get you away from that truth, question and challenge their motives for doing that. Don’t take excuses such as unconscious behavior or good intentions. There’s nothing wrong with thinking for yourself and defining your own values and beliefs.

You can find your own voice amid the deflectors, detractors, and gaslighters. You don’t have to put up a wall of silence to keep them out of your mind. You can walk away if you can, or stand strong and know you can survive the wounds and overcome them.

Yes, I Said This

Yesterday I went searching for a book I was planning to read as research for my ‘Intersections’ writing project. The book I was looking for was ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The book caused a stir a few years back when it was published because it was made out to be a guide for women in the corporate world. Well, I found a copy yesterday in a used bookstore but as I leafed through it and read a few pages here and there… I said to hell with this shit and put it down and didn’t buy it.

Women don’t have the time or the half-assed luxury of ‘leaning in’ anymore. Our democracy, our rights, and our lives are under heavy assault from right-wing religious nutcases and corporate-American assholes like never before. And besides, we tried that ‘lean in’ shit and did it work for us? Hell no.

Now I’m sure some lovely detractor will say I shouldn’t be ranting and raving here and burning my bra and all that crap. To those detractors I say this: Phyliss Schafly is dead and buried and you’re not bringing her back to life to kill the ERA because we’re past that shit now.

Yesterday I snapped inside as I realized why I’ve been avoiding my writing is that I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to write books that are more sad-and-sorry for myself than anything. I’m through with being sad-and-sorry for myself. I wrote something yesterday I haven’t posted yet because it’s still in rough-draft form but I danced around it for a few days until I figured out why. I danced around it because it could have turned into a sob-fest woe-is-me piece of limp bullshit, but instead it turned into a potential ass-kicker. It turned into an ass-kicker because I realized although I may not have done a lot of things most people have, it doesn’t mean I can’t do them going forward once we have a pandemic response team in the White House that actually knows what the fuck they’re doing.

What brought me into sad-and-sorry for myself territory was the death of Eddie Van Halen, one of the most talented and innovative guitarists of all time. Eddie’s music with his group Van Halen was the soundtrack to a lot of lives, and to a lot of hanging out and partying. That put me into sad-and-sorry territory because I don’t have those memories of hanging out and partying. There are a lot of reasons for that I’ll elaborate on in my book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ (and the piece I started yesterday was the beginning of that). But what took me out of sad-and-sorry was telling myself that going forward, I can make new memories. I can’t go back and relive the past but by the Goddess I can move forward and live my life and kick the living shit out of the over-protective voices that kept me from hanging out and partying like I should have.

Speaking about this, or in my case, writing about it was a challenge because it’s pretty revealing. But I figure with what I’m working on with my ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project why not go all the way? I mean, there isn’t some bullshit criticism that will be new to me when this goes public and since I’ve dealt with that all my life and am still standing, walking, and breathing, I’ll deal with it. Mostly I won’t acknowledge or engage with it, but if I have to I will stand up and quote Kamala Harris: “I’m speaking.” And I’ll say that especially if I get interrupted, or talked down to, or have someone come at me with well-intentioned bullshit intended to shut me up.

I’ve read a few self-help/memoire type books over the last few years but I’m glad I didn’t indulge in a steady diet of them. Because now when I pick one up and leaf through it, I’m putting it back down again. And that’s because I’m beginning to truly realize I know not only what I want to write, but how I want to write it. Best of all, I’m beginning to learn how to take my own advice.

I am telling myself now I am not going to get into sad-and-sorry for myself. I’m not going to tell myself I’m an unlovable and unworthy slob because I’ve been silent for so long and have a past without a lot of memories that most people have. If someone doesn’t like me for the way I’ve lived and the lack of experiences, they can go straight to Hell. And I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, or come at me with pity, guilt, or remorse either. I keep telling myself now I’m not responsible for someone else’s feelings and how to deal with them. I’m responsible for how I feel and deal with my emotions, and how I interact with the world. But if I’m not doing something wrong, and someone just doesn’t like that and tries to tell me I’m wrong and an unworthy fuck up, they can go to Hell.

I did manage to buy a few books yesterday instead of the one I set out to. One of them was ‘Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?’ by the late great Molly Ivins. I grew up reading her newspaper columns and cried hard when she died (#FuckCancer). I want to be like her and write and say instead: I not only can say that, I just did.

So say it, and live it. And don’t lean in, but bring your own folding chair to the table and take your place as the late great Shirly Chisolm once said.

Find Your Moments of Joy

All my life, I’ve been told to keep my mouth shut. Worse, I’ve been told not only to do that, but go away and stay away. And worst of all, I’ve been told I have no right to talk at all because I’m full of shit and I don’t know what I’m talking about.

It’s just taken me a lot of years to realize that silence is the tool of the oppressor. And that oppressor isn’t just the court of public opinion and random assholes in this world, but of people in your life. The people in your life are the well-meaning ones who think because they’re in your life they have the right to dump on you and that you just have to sit in silence and take their shit.

This is why I keep myself to myself, so to speak. But this isn’t about me, though. This is about good, kind, loving, and generous people I know who feel like they can’t be as open about their lives as they would like to be. They feel like they can’t share their joys and successes without getting shit all over.

First, I celebrate and feel an enormous surge of happiness at seeing other people happy and successful in their lives. Especially people I know who are good people, people are successful and happy because they not only work hard, but they have faith, hope, and love in their lives.

But I will say this now to anyone reading this: if you have ever shit all over someone for their joy or success… ask yourself why. And keeping asking yourself that question until you find all the answers you can. Then have a very serious talk with your conscience and whatever God you believe in. Then in the end, don’t ask for forgiveness because that won’t take away the pain you’ve caused. Instead, make a conscious decision to be a better person going forward. And maybe then, you’ll earn a tiny bit of the trust and good faith that you tried to destroy with your thoughtless and cruel words and behavior.

During the worst times of my life when I was watching my parents die slowly and painfully, I still managed to find tiny bits of joy and happiness in each day. I worked my fucking ass off to hide all expression of emotion during those times, to try and keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. And not just because I felt like no one wanted to hear me or be with me at all, but because when my guard did slip, it didn’t go well. And I will not excuse shitty behavior, or minimize it in any way by saying people are just thoughtless and have their heads up their asses and spew diarrhea of the mouth. And I won’t take all the blame by saying I turned into a cold-faced bitch just to get through those times. Because I shouldn’t have had to be like that in the first place.

This isn’t easy for me to write because I’m not shuddering in fear inside myself now. I’m shuddering in barely-restrained anger and rage at people who hurt other people because they choose to. And I’m shuddering inside with an aching pain for good people who have been hurt by this cruelty. So to those who I rage and ache for I say this:

You have every right to your thoughts and feelings no matter what they are, good, bad, ugly, or anything in between. And you have every right to deal with them in any way you choose to, and you have every right to express them in any way you choose to (or not to).

Also, as my father used to say to me: you have every right to be happy. You don’t have to walk around feeling sad and sorry for yourself. And if someone doesn’t like and gets butt-hurt if you tell them off for their shit, remember you are NOT someone’s hemorrhoid cream. You have the right to tell them off and walk away from them. You don’t have suffer assholes if you don’t have to.

I was reminded of this last night after I read a devastating New York Times article on the child separation policy and how it was rammed through so damn hard because the cruelty was the intent all along. I shuddered and cried inside thinking I didn’t have that in me to do so. But I know it meant that I am still human, and that I can still feel enormous grief and pain over this suffering. And that I can feel enormous rage and anger at the monsters who are doing this. But as my father also used to say, you can’t run on anger forever.

So eventually my emotional storm subsided and I got up to wash dishes and get ready for bed. When I do that I put my headphones on and listen to some music. I found the Rolling Stones new release from their ‘Steel Wheels’ tour and was surprised to see some tracks on that album of songs I didn’t know they had done live before (‘Undercover of the Night’ and ‘Harlem Shuffle’). So I cranked it up and pretended I was backing the boys as I did my stuff before bedtime. Yes, that made me feel better and I refuse to apologize or take shit for that.

Don’t ever lose those moments of joy because life is both good and bad. The world is out of balance right now but we can get that balance back if we’re strong and true to ourselves and are good to each other.

Celebrate Life

I do not celebrate or wish death, pain, or suffering on anyone, including anyone who has caused that to happen to others. I say this because I believe that celebrating or wishing will not change the person who delivers death, pain, and suffering onto others. I think we have to live our lives with kindness and compassion, and not to become like the people who their lives with cruelty and  malice to others.

Why do I say this?

I say this because someone who has acted with cruelty and malice towards others won’t change just because they’re suffering now. There are people who have suffered painfully with the very things they have denied and fought against and who haven’t changed one damn bit for the better. People only change if they choose to. If someone feels shame, guilt, regret, and remorse for their cruelty and malice they have one of two options: accept those feelings and try to live without being cruel to others, or deny those feelings altogether and go on being the cruel and malicious monsters they are. People who need to feel shame, guilt, regret, and remorse and use it to make amends and learn how to live without cruelty and malice very rarely, if ever, change. Why? That’s a question for them to answer, not you or me.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been going through a lot of my thoughts and feelings about things like empathy and forgiveness because of a major event that’s happened (the super-spreader COVID-19 event at the White House Rose Garden last week that has the President in the hospital). The reason for the waterfall of thoughts and feelings is there are calls to show empathy to those diagnosed and being treated despite the fact they denied, minimized, and demonized those who have had it, died from it, and are trying to prevent the spread of it. For many people who have lost loved ones to this awful pandemic or have survived it, or have had loved ones who survived it, these last few days have been a huge battle for them. The talons of pain and grief are sharper and deeper than ever. So in my definitely not-so-humble opinion here, they don’t owe anyone who dug those talons into them things like empathy and compassion, or most of all, forgiveness.

I’ve said forgiveness is when you remove talons that someone else sunk into you. You do that by facing that pain and learning how to live with the memory of it for the rest of your life, and knowing there are no words or actions that will ever take it all away. And if someone feels shame, guilt, regret, and remorse over what they did to you, that’s for them to deal with, not you. For those of us who have been hurt because of something we didn’t do wrong, we have to learn how to let go of our shame, guilt, regret, and remorse that we shouldn’t have felt at all.

I believe in free will and that each person can choose how to live their lives. I’ve thought a lot over the last few years about how to live my life and what I believe in. I work hard not to sink into the pit of despair and anxiety. I work hard to tell myself I’m not a worthless piece of shit-human who will never fully be a part of anything or anyone’s life. Being such a quiet loner is something I have to deal with on my own. But it doesn’t mean I can’t believe in the ideals that I do have and try to integrate them into my daily life as much as possible. Feeling things can be total fucking hell sometimes. But I wouldn’t stop doing that for anyone or anything, even if it makes people want to lash out and hurt me. My relative isolation is a shield against most of that now.

If someone is in pain but is still living without compassion or empathy for others, I believe you can be kind to them without denying their cruelty and malice. You can be the better person in not hurting them in return, in caring for them. You can do this because this is what it means to live without cruelty or malice in your life. But if you can, I also believe you have the choice of walking away, too. And I believe you have the choice of not fully engaging emotionally, either. I don’t believe you have to open yourself up to more pain if you can’t walk away, or if you choose not to do that.

But I will say this: it’s not easy to walk away, or live in relative isolation, or not fully open yourself up. This is something I deal with even after I have removed those sharp talons of pain from my heart and soul. And why it takes me so long sometimes to find peace, happiness, and joy sometimes.

So I say celebrate life, celebrate the good in this world even though you will never, ever forget pain and suffering. Don’t let go of the good in this world, and in yourself most of all.

The Self-Confidence of a $20 Tip

One Sunday afternoon I went to pick up a ride (I’m an Uber driver for the uninitiated here) from a sports bar. Guy got in with a big bag of food and he was real friendly though I could tell he’d had a few drinks. We didn’t have far to go but I had the radio on and he said turn it up and I did and we started singing along to what was playing, “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra. Then after that song was over, I heard the opening chords to the next one and with a self-confidence I rarely, if ever exhibit, I said:

“Oh, I got this.”

The song was ‘I Touch Myself’ by The Divinyls. If you’ve heard the song you know it’s pretty hot though with no bad words so it can be played on the radio. So I start singing along and my voice is doing pretty well and yes, I was driving at the same time. Then we got to his house and we’re still jamming along to the song but just before the break comes in, he suddenly goes, “Oh shit!”. Then he slaps something into my hand, grabs his bag of food, and gets out of my car and runs up to his house. I open my hand to see what he’d slapped into it and it was a $20 bill. Yes, I got a $20 tip on a $5 fare just for singing a song with a confidence that was like a glitch in the Matrix for me.

Yet as I look back on that moment now, I’m beginning to think I should have this confidence in myself so much more than I do. This in turn begs the question: why have I never had any confidence in myself or my abilities?

I could answer that it’s a long story and give you the highlight-reel. Instead, I’m going to take a different direction on my answer and talk about something I’ve been reading about for a few years now.

A few years back I read about ‘imposter syndrome’. My summary of it is when you feel like you’re just acting like you know what you’re doing when you really don’t and that eventually people will find out and throw you into the pit of despair to be eaten by giant swamp rats. This feeling is caused by a lack of self-confidence in your abilities and knowledge and it does have long and twisting roots that can be hard to work through. For a long time, I was puzzled by this explanation because I always felt like I never knew what I was doing and that people knew it and felt sorry for me and that sooner or later I would end up in the pit of despair.

I think the bigger question here is why do we feel like this? I mean, the assholes of this world, most of whom really don’t know what the fuck they’re doing at all sure as hell don’t suffer from this awful feeling. But these are the same assholes who will try and pick at your self-confidence so you’ll slink away or just shut the fuck up and let them run wild as assholes. I think this is why so many awful people get away with so much fucking shit and it has got to stop.

Yesterday I had a thought come into my mind: I’m so freaking tired of having a mini anxiety-attack over the smallest shit. I know it’s just my slightly screwed-up brain chemistry being improperly conditioned to this response. But I also realize a lot of my anxiety comes from a lack of self-confidence. I do know what I’m doing a lot of the time, and that I can think on my feet and react accordingly if I have to. And most of all, I know there’s nothing wrong with that. And best of all, if someone ever decides to mouth off at me about this and say I’m an ego-centric bitch I can be all Zen-calm like The Dude and say, “Yeah, well, like, that’s your opinion, man.” Or be more like The Dude’s friend Walter and tell them to shut the fuck up. (last two sentences reference the movie, ‘The Big Lebowski’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

So my message to anyone reading this here is: have confidence in yourself and what you can do and learn, and don’t let anyone shit all over it and try and take that from you. Self-confidence is not something that can be taken from you despite what you might think. And if someone doesn’t like that, they can go to Hell for all I care. Because no matter what you do, whether it’s making a damn good cup of coffee, dressing and feeding yourself, driving your car without causing an accident, or programming a computer not to blow up the world, do it well and do with a confidence that you will hold on to no matter what some asshole says or does to you otherwise.

Live your life like you know all the words to a really hot song and you can sing it with a pretty good voice. And maybe just maybe, the world will give you a version of a $20 tip.