wisdom

When Jokes Attack

So, earlier this week I turned 35. I can now run for president in this country, check a new and exciting demographic box on forms, and refer to high school students as "those damn kids". (Get off my lawn.) One of the things that reportedly comes with advancing age is wisdom. And I think I might've gained some recently along with leveling up. It has to do with humor. It has to do with those pesky voices in my head that I'd rather bind, gag and shoot into orbit. It has to do with re-writing 35 years of programming.

So meet me after the jump and listen to the story of how Jamie realized she needs to be kinder to herself. 

Now, being good to yourself might seem like a no-brainer. Well duh! *shakes head* It's not for me. It's something I'm still learning. I've been unpacking a lot of old baggage recently (hooray major life changes making you sift through your shit, and forcing you to chuck it!) and I've discovered roots to current behaviors.

One thing you should know about me is my humor. I often use self-deprecation for comedic effect. In fact, I do this so often, it used to be a tagline on this site (and it still is on my business cards): 1010131511I've used self-effacing humor for decades at this point. At first it was a defense mechanism. You see, I was a fat kid. Look at this picture:

me, circa 1987

I'm sitting here trying to type the next line and it's killing me not to make some wisecrack. But that's part of it, isn't it? For years I've made jokes about my body because, as the logic went, if I said it first, that meant that the bullies wouldn't get the chance. Yeah, I was bullied a lot because of my body. I was taller than the other kids, that's for damn sure. And I was bigger. I was a perfect target, and kids are fucking cruel sometimes. So "beached whale" was a popular one. Pig, hog, fatso, fatty, thunder thighs, cow, heifer, chunky, chubby, Jabba.... I heard them all.

So, I did what I did best: I made jokes. I started putting myself down before the others could. I started talking smack to preempt their attacks. And even after the attacks stopped, I kept on doing it. Just a few months back, I started jokingly referring to my physique as comparable to a "harpoon-scarred manatee".

Funny, right?

*shakes head*

No.

It's hard to be nice to myself. So that picture up there? I was 7. When this picture was taken, I'd already started trying to diet and had very conscious thoughts of literally cutting off my fat.

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1986. First grade. I think this is when things ramped up in terms of my "education". I don't know exactly when it began, but I was taught at an early age to dislike my body. I was taught that my body was flawed, gross. Something to be hidden. Something to be improved. ("You'd be so pretty if you just....") Something to be ashamed of. And this wasn't just society telling me this. It wasn't magazines or television. It wasn't media. It was personal. Friends, peers, teachers, family members. I was trained to believe that this body of mine was inherently wrong.

As I looked through pictures today for this post, trying to find one that was the best example of how terrible I am, I kept saying, "There's nothing wrong with her. Nor her. Nor her. Why did I think I was so fat? Why did I think I was so ugly? And why the fuck did everyone tell me that?!"

To be fair, I say "everyone", but it wasn't "everyone". However, when some of the most important female role models in your family keep spouting off "You'd be pretty if..." or "you lose X amount of weight, I'll give you $25".... no shit, my grandmother tried to bribe me. And it wasn't just weight loss. I had warts on my hands when I was younger. They went away on their own, but she would always say, "If you get rid of them, I'll give you money." (For the record, freezing warts FUCKING HURT!) Later it was plucking my eyebrows. And it was always $25. So that's the going rate of acceptance, apparently. (sorry, that was a little dark.)

Thing is... other people put such importance on my looks, I started feeling like that's all I was My worth was in my body, in my appearance. And it wasn't good enough. So I couldn't be good enough. I learned better over the years, but sometimes, those old tapes start playing when my voices are nostalgic for the old days.

me at 35

Point is...those voices have been around for a very long time. Those jokes, those reactions... they're ingrained. And I've always thought that the jokes were harmless because they were self-inflicted and I didn't really mean it, right? I was just joining the crowd or getting one in before anyone else could. So calling myself a "harpoon-scarred manatee" is harmless! Wrong.

Recently, I was having an intimate encounter with my beloved when his hand slid up under the hem of my shirt. Just a little so that it rested on my belly.

Every single one of those voices began shouting 'HARPOON-SCARRED MANATEE!!!'

And thus began the awkward mental tango of self-loathing and trying not to wilt on the spot.

Since then, the phrase "harpoon-scarred manatee" has been banned. Sean has put his foot down on the matter and gets quite cross with me if I make jokes about myself. Friends are calling me out when I make other self-deprecating wisecracks. But as I said above, it's kneejerk. It's reflex. And I'm learning that. I'm trying to undo that. I'm trying to stop, which means not only re-wiring my humor, but it means unlearning lessons that have been in place since before I was in first grade. It means undoing a lot of damage that others started, but that I carried on.

And it doesn't mean that I need compliments or approval or acceptance from others. It doesn't mean I post selfies looking for gratification. No, that's not it at all. In fact, I don't want that. It doesn't mean that I post this blog and get sympathy or apologies. I don't want that either. All of the acceptance and apologies need to come from ME to ME.

It means looking at pictures of little Jamie and saying, "There was nothing wrong with her at all." And it means looking at a picture of me at 35 and saying, "There is nothing wrong with her. Not at all." Most importantly, it means never teaching my child to hate her body. Teaching her instead that she is a work in progress, that she is beautiful and loved and never has to jump through hoops for love or money. There is no, "if you did this, you'd be better".

Self-loathing is learned behavior. So is self-love.

And I'm working on it.

And I think I'm going to need new business cards.

 

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Fail

Last night I heard one of the most glorious stories of epic failure ever conjured by reality. It's so rare that you get something so juicy without a script, but this gem was mined straight from headlines.

Sir John Gurdon, is a British stem-cell researcher. Unless you're a bio-engineering groupie, however, his name might not ring any bells. Doctor Gurdon attended Eton, Oxford and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. His work has garnered several awards over the years, most recently the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Pretty impressive resume, I'd say. However, before he was "Sir" Gurdon, Johnny caused some trouble for his teachers. In fact, one of his high school science teachers said that since Gurdon preferred to "do things his own way" it would be a waste of time for him to continue learning the sciences. Hell, the professor continued saying that it would be a horribly bad idea for anyone who tried to teach this boy science. For sixty years, Sir John Gurdon has carried that report card with him. And now, he's a Nobel Laureate.

Many things about this story make me happy (dude, that stodgy professor--who's probably dead--just got pwned!), but some things just astound me. And some aspects make me think... Sixty Years

That's 1952... That teacher's nay-saying voice has been rattling around this man's head for as long as my mother has been alive. That in and of itself boggles my mind. There were no men on the moon when he took that report card home. Kennedy was alive and not even on the political radar. There were no Beatles. Not even Quarrymen! Just remnant shock from World War II and poodle skirts.

We hear this story--or variations on it--all the time. It's part of the underdog fixation. Tell someone they can't and watch them exceed expectations, right? Hell, I have been told that by a few people in my time. We've all been told at some point that we aren't enough. Most people believe this about themselves and just stop there, letting the broken record of it play into perpetuity. Believe me, I know this. Self-deprecation is the basis of my sense of humor. Without it, I'm a talentless hack whose only chance at a funny bone is banging a circus clown. Anyway, these rejections and slights from childhood/adolescence stick with us. Over time, those infinite loops of "you're not good enough" can erode one's bliss......or it can strengthen it.

You can choose how you let those voices control you. You can choose to listen to those report cards, or you can box them up and ship them straight off to Hell.

This is something I'm consciously working on right now in my personal life. I've got a lot of fat-shaming voices in my head that I'm trying to snuff out, but their roots run deep. Like first grade deep. I have to do this, though. I have to eradicate that shit because it's not healthy. It's not productive...even if it has been worth hours of jokes at my own expense over the past few decades. For a long time, those particular voices have not been helpful, they've hurt me. I've said for a while now that of all the wounds I've survived, I've inflicted most of them upon myself.

It takes work to tell the "good" voices from the "bad" ones. Snarky inner dialogue is a constant for me and is a good motivator. It's what keeps me going. The voices that tell me I am a "talentless, ass-dragging sea creature who couldn't write her way out of a wet paper sack" are toothless tigers at this point in my life. I can laugh at them and gain strength from the knowledge that they're wrong. But it's not always so easy to deal with.

I know authors and artists that are dealing with this, too. I know that every query rejection is another voice to add to the chorus of fear in your head. You get enough of these voices together and it can paralyze you. Don't let it. "What if they laugh at me? What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough?"

Who cares? Fail! Fail gloriously! Write the words you want to write, tell your story, paint your masterpiece, sing your arias and dance rings around the world if that's where it's at for you, but do it. If you fall on your face, you get back up. If you fail, do it with style and pinache. Do it, learn from it, and do it again...only this time better.

That's what goes into every brick on your path. Try try again.

Don't be afraid to fail. Aim for the sun, shoot for the moon, give it everything you can...but just fucking do it. Failure is its own success, so it is always an option.  What about you? What voices are you trying to kick in the junk and evict from your brainpan?

Nerdmaste, my friends.

Falafel

So, my daughter watches Arthur on PBS. It's pretty rock awesome as far as cartoons go. One episode in particular speaks to me on many levels. Every time I see it, something new jumps out and smacks me upside the head. Fellow writers, artists and museslaves...please take a moment or 10 to watch Falafelosophy. (Features Neil Gaiman being awesome!)

 

Ohana Means Family. Family Means...

So, I'm not one to "air dirty laundry" in a public forum, but, a family member of mine said something on her Facebook yesterday that really set me off. It was so sad and disappointing that I had to say something. I did. On Facebook. But, there's more to say about it and I think it's something that more people may need to hear. So you get a blog entry. 

Today, I'd like to talk about family. I often talk about my "family of choice"...that's my tribe. My group of friends. My Ohana. Not so, today. Today we're talking about that genetic cesspool we call "relatives". 

Meet me after the jump. 

Yesterday, my younger cousin posted the following on her Wall:

"I've come to learn that just because someone is related to you or considered family doesn't mean they love you or necessarily care about you. You can't choose what family your born into but you can choose who deserves to be in your life. If people want to waste there presious life talking about me and trying to bring me down I suppose that is there choice but I wont waste mine worrying about you any longer:)"

For the time being let's look past the horrific spelling and grammar and concentrate on the meaning of her post. Essentially she's saying that just because we're related, we don't have to love one another. We didn't choose each other, so we can choose to ignore each other. (For the record, this post of hers isn't about me.)  Look, my family has never exactly been a Rockwell painting. Thanksgiving and Christmas at Grandma's was more like a trip to Dysfunction Junction. At best it's a three-ring circus with an adjacent freak show. We've got several variations on mental illness, drug addiction, favoritism, religious differences, battle scars, loud mouths,  awkward teenagers, high school drop-outs and people who insist that the first president was George "Warshington". It's not always pretty. It's not always fun. Sometimes it's downright embarrassing. I'm sure you can relate.  So, I know where my cousin is coming from. We share part of the same root-system. But I cannot agree with her. The comment she made is so...blind. It breaks my heart to see it, really. See, to me, family is the most important thing there is. Family of blood and of choice. Family is connection. As I told my cousin yesterday, Family is a safe place to fall, to be angry, to be happy. The whole point of family is that they see you at your best, your worst (and vice versa), that you didn't choose one another, but you love each other anyway I get the need to walk away sometimes. I get that if someone is just poking at you and all you can feel about or around someone is negative you need to walk away. Get out of a toxic situation, re-evaluate when you've had a chance to get it out of your system and come back later to see what can be done. 

But burning the bridges behind you? Saying you don't need your family? That just because you're related doesn't mean you have to love one another? Pardon me for saying it this way, but fuck that. 

Sweetie, your family may not say things you like to hear, but they love you anyway. They care about you. If they didn't, they wouldn't fucking bother. They'd just let you run off and do what/whomever and screw up your life while they point and laugh. Oh, and something else...if you didn't care, it wouldn't piss you off. If you didn't love them, you wouldn't give a shit what they think and it wouldn't get under your skin.  You've got family members who've gone through a lot of shit with their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. People who have been used, lied to, stolen from and abused by their family...and they still love them. Your own Grandfather says his wife gave him "scars he'll take to the grave", but you saw how devoted he was to taking care of her for the 10 years leading up to her eventual death. Why? Because that's what  family does.  So walk away for a bit and clear your head if you want. But do not EVER fling about bullshit like that comment you made unless you are prepared to back it up. Unless you mean it down to your toes. It's not a game, and cute little emoticons don't change that what you said was childish and heartbreaking.  Your family loves you. Because you are family.  Deal with it.  

Reunion and Communion

So last night I had the most amazing dream. (Even better than the Conan O'Brien and Adam Savage dream!) And chances are that if you're reading this, you were in my dream! How cool is that? (You were clothed, I promise.) As is usually the case, I can only remember snippets of it in vivid detail, the rest of it is rather amorphous and has been reduced to a series of snapshots and emotions.

Now, over the years I've done a lot of analysis of my own dreams. I've come to understand a lot of the symbolism that my mind uses to show me things or work through problems. An example: If I dream of the house where I grew up, or a school that I went to, I'm usually trying to work through an issue that happened at that time, when I was in that mindset. I look at my own mind like a high rise condo, so buildings in my dreams tend to refer to minds/attitudes from that specific time in my life. Also, I have vivid dreams. Full color, full sensation. Faces of others, though, can be blurry or completely wrong. Many times I will dream of someone and only get the "feel" of them, rather than see their face as I know it.

With me so far?

Okay. So...last night's dream started with me walking along the halls of my junior high school. I was with two girls that I had passing friendships with. We were all grown up and strolling down memory lane in a very literal sense. So, one of the girls looks at the next room we're about to enter... it's the high school auditorium and we can hear a theater production going on.

"I'm not going in there," she says. "If I had it to do over again I never would've gone in there."

I step away from the two women, look in the door and I see images from my past swirling about. There's my drama teacher, there's my first boyfriend, there's my last performance on that stage. All of these events are walking along the same stage at the same time, all unaware of one another. It's like I can see threads between them, one that leads to another.

I look at the girls and say, "I'm going in."

And as I step inside, it changes. I'm in the high school auditorium, yes, but EVERYONE is there. All of my friends and teachers from high school, people that graduated before me, after me, with me... past present and future of this place are all in one area. The stage is in front of me, the seats are all packed around me... to the left is a huge open door. In the next room I can see a similar place... People mingling and smiling, laughing. Among them I see my college professors and friends that I went to ISU with.

A voice asks if I want to go there.

"No," I say, "I don't need to right now."

So, I stay in the high school auditorium and things get blurry for a while. I walk around, I talk with people, I share memories and smiles. Contact is fleeting but potent. Then, I'm walking backstage and through another door and I'm in the old band room. Once again, the place is bursting with people. Now, all of us are wearing the purple. Satin jackets or letter coats, t-shirts with show themes from decades past. There are people here who marched the drumline before I started elementary school. There are trombone players reminiscing over the "Zifflemeyer" story. Directors are trading secrets. I sit down among a wall of drummers and look down to see I'm in my old regalia--baggy jeans, band t-shirt, Chucks and a band jacket. I've got sticks in my pocket. Everyone there is in their personal prime. Some may be 30 and others may be 16, but everyone is at a place of comfort.

I look around the room and I can see that other me...the one who was mingling with the theatre group in her torn jeans and white button-down. Past her I can see the choir robes and Madrigal costumes. Beyond her I see that room that leads to ISU.

This is where I'm hit with a wave of emotion and the emotion has words inside of it. Kinda like a fortune cookie--only tastier and more filling.

It says - "You are all here. All of you. And you are all as you should be. All parts of you shine. All parts of  you have meaning. All of you are good."

I just stand there in awe and whisper, "Wow."

My husband joins me and the memory place falls away. Like a pond reflection rippling when a stone hits the surface.

"I just had the most awesome dream," I tell him. "I need to write this one down."

Yeah.

That was a kick ass dream. I'm glad I walked into that room.