Expectations

Expectations

This word has been on my mind for the last few days and I’ve been thinking it through and about what it means to me.

I feel like all my life I’ve been trying to live up to, deal with, and sometimes fight expectations that are real and stated to me though most of them have been unspoken and probably were never real to begin with.

It was busting an expectation almost six years ago (April 30, 2015 to be exact) that put me on the road I am now. On that day, I busted an expectation that I wasn’t allowed to make a simple mistake even though I’m human even though I fixed my mistake and set everything right. I didn’t say this out loud but in my mind, I felt the snap as I called it then and have been incredibly grateful for it ever since.

One expectation I have struggled for many years is the expectation I should only be miserable and wrapped up in anxious bullshit. This came from being told that I shouldn’t be happy about something when my life was so full of shitty things going on. The expectation I felt for me was I was to only focus on the shit and not on anything else. I felt like there were people who didn’t want me to be happy at all because they felt like I didn’t deserve that because I had a specific role to play and if I smiled I was breaking character.

My late father used to say, “You don’t have to walk around feeling sad and sorry for yourself all the time. You have the right to be happy.” That statement comes to me whenever my mind tries to wrap itself up in sad-and-sorry for myself. There’s an expectation in our world, both spoken and unspoken that says if people are in misery they should stay that way and focus on working their way out of it. This nose-to-the-grindstone or endless hustle in modern parlance is wrong because it stifles joy and happiness, which is a much-needed respite from pain and misery. Feeling guilty for happiness in the face of misery is a universal human condition, one I believe is born from mean-ass people who deserve to be told to take their shit and shove it back up their ass where it belongs.

For so many years I felt like I had to hide my feelings from the world both good and bad. I felt like the expectation of me was I wasn’t allowed to show any feelings at all unless someone deemed them acceptable. I lived to other people’s expectations for far too long. But the good news now for me is this: that’s burning away like frost on a roof under a hot sun.

We live and labor under expectations but I have come to believe the most important one is what we expect of ourselves. And that expectations for ourselves are really our goals and dreams, hopes and fears. This is why I believe in what I am committed to writing about this year, the breaking of silence once and for all. The first thing that I use to break my silence is 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 the right to deal with your thoughts and feelings in any way you chose to, including in silence.

I can’t say that enough and I won’t stop saying it. I also tell myself this when I a breaking silence, the thought that came to me on that day in April 2015:

Everyone else is just as full of shit as I am, but I’m not a bad person either.

I don’t have all the answers and neither does anyone else. And we never will. That’s okay because life is an endless quest for answers, for truth, and for me, a way to think and feel without restraint.

I believe in expectations of good, of kindness, and hope. I believe in expectations of truth, honesty, and justice. But I also believe in the expectation that we can learn by doing, and by living.

My goal now is not to live to the expectation that I can’t find joy and happiness, or that I can’t follow my own path because I must give all my energy to alleviating my misery. I can only do what I can, and what needs to be done. Once that’s over, I can move on to other things, including things that make me happy, like writing for example.

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.