Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chronic Writing

I remember his name. I remember his words--"I will always be writing something. I can't live without writing."  I remember that he laughed at me once when I said I had completed a full workout in less than an hour. 

I was a grad student in English, as was he. He worked as some kind of sports booking agent, or maybe a comedy booking agent; I think he was a fiction writer, though he may have been a poet. My memory of him may be clouded by the fact that I harbored a crush--such blue eyes, such curly hair, such nice legs.  He told me once that hockey was beautiful, a kind of poem in motion, all flow and movement.

Now, many years later, I never think about his eyes or his finely muscled thighs. I only recall that I recoiled slightly when he said that about writing.  I was young then (comparatively).   I had already had several individual poems published; I thought of myself as a writer. But no one had ever told me that writing was lifeblood.

It wasn't,  for me. I enjoyed it, the challenge, the concentration of locating the right word or phrase, the success that came sometimes, and the praise from readers and teachers. Always the praise.  As early as 5th grade, a teacher had said I was a good writer, so I continued to write.

But, need to write?  Couldn't survive without writing?  Not me. I had 3 young children, a marriage that was raveling fast, a goal to finish an MA in English, a love of the written word that kept me up late into the night, reading on my side of the bed, hiding the small light with the book's cover.

Now I realize he was only repeating one of the mantras of "serious" writers.  Must do it.  Can't stop.  Defines me. Sustains me. Is me.  I have no idea whether he realized that's what he was doing. For all I know, he believed himself wholly.

From the time I was eleven, I thought of myself as a poet. I do love to write poems--well, love to finish poems. However, in the grand scheme of things, I have to place writing in its proper place. I can imagine--have lived--many days that had no room for creating.  I have wiped flour with damp paper towels from an old kitchen floor until it made paste, then thrown buckets of water on it to dilute the paste into something that could be mopped up.  I have held a feverish child on my lap, rocking, one hand on his hot forehead while he breathed into my shoulder,  mumbled in his sleep, sat up occasionally to vomit.  I have sat at my sister's bedside while she recovered from yet another surgery, spoken in low voices to my mother or sister about her recovery--would she ever recover? Would she always be at the mercy of this illness?

On days like that--and they are many--it never occurs to me to write a poem.  I can't find it in myself to place my pain, or my family's pain, or my exhaustion, in any larger context. I can't make metaphor or image out of it. I am simply trying to survive the experience, even when I am not the one in pain. Perhaps even especially then.

Once, at a fairly prestigious writing conference, I heard a famous poet say she had written 350 poems in the last year. In a notebook, which she carried with her. All hand written. I felt a palpable intake of breath--admiration from the eager audience.  Many there longed to be her, to exhibit her commitment and fortitude.  I longed to go outside and breathe the mountain air, since it suddenly felt stuffy in the room.

Though I sometimes hate to admit it to myself, I could stop writing--COULD, I said, not will, not WANT TO. I don't want to admit it because then I have to admit the possibility that I am not a "real" writer.  Because of some generally accepted vision of writers as driven and tormented.  Because of some guilty sense that if I were more "serious" and "real" about it, I would have already forced  2 books of poetry into existence.

What can I say in my own defense?  I was raised to be practical above all.  Bedrooms not dusted? Then you don't go outside to play.  Clarinet not practiced? Then you don't get to write down any time on the  practice sheet, and you certainly don't get to feel the sheer pleasure of learning how to read and make music.  Dishes not done?  Someone will have to do them later; it might as well be you.  Bills not paid?  Pay them.

Do the work that's in front of you, that's my mantra, chosen or not.  My Irish grandmother's image sometimes rises; I don't think she wanted to be canning tomatoes and meat in her eighties. I don't think she wanted to be raising grandchildren, worrying about breakfast and buses and after-school snacks and bedtime stories.  But, somehow, her children's children needed her help. So, she rose each day to help.  It became her reason for rising, just as satisfying her long-unattended desires would have become, had she had a different life.

I sometimes put off writing for other, more measureable tasks.  Unloading dishwasher. Check. Folding laundry. Check. Walking dog.  Check. Getting dinner in the oven.  Check. Preparing for my full load of classes.  Checking items off a mental list carries a certain lovely weight.

I recently--tonight, I admit--looked up the definition for "chronic."  Here's what I found:
long-lasting and recurrent, or characterized by long-suffering. By that definition, whether I write every day or on a schedule, or whether I publish a book every 5 years, I am still a chronic writer.

I embrace this condition.  My attempts at writing have been long-lasting (it's been 20 good years), and they have been recurrent.    I have suffered both for writing--weeping as I write about my dead brother or my children--and for not writing.  I win the suffering category, no question.

Perhaps I have a chronic condition after all.  But who needs a chronic condition?  I don't.  Yet, I meet it if it wants to meet me.  I am sitting here now, composing.

Chronic calls up images of death or some kind of necessity. So be it.  I will write--Lord willing, as my sinewy Granny used to say--until I die.  I can't say I would die without writing--I may die with it. But I will say that when I have finished my other work, I'll be here, trying to make a certain sense of things.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting in shape, Part I

When I first started running as an adult, in earnest, it was early 1994.  I was being chased by some of the worst demons of my life.   I was running away from them and toward a kind of freedom--of thought, of emotion, of soul--that I had not experienced for most of the previous decade.

Marriages fall apart. People's belief systems alter. Appearances begin to crumble,  revealing an incomplete, imperfect frame.  These things happen with such regularity that I cringe, even now, to think that I didn't accept it then.  Or, more accurately, I didn't accept it for myself: "Those things don't happen to me," I would have said.
I struggle to describe what must have been behind that stubborn insistence that I was different from the rest of the world. Vanity?  Arrogance?  Ignorance?  A kind of innocence?
The truth is, my parents had divorced. The truth is, my belief system had already shifted once, when I made a startling move from the strict Catholic faith I grew up in to an even stricter evangelical Protestant faith,  which I floundered in without acknowledging it. The truth is, the appearance of my life wasn't so perfect.  Once, in a poem about my parents, I had written, "their life unraveled only at the edges, where it looked like ornament."
But in the Fall of 1993, I entered a graduate program in English, and every hairline crack in the foundation of my marriage crept upward with force, threatening the integrity of the structure.  I loved the academic life; what I had tolerated as plain misunderstanding when my husband had made fun of my love of books I now had to reckon for what it was: disapproval and judgment.  When I needed to read and study, when I brought books along on car trips, when I had to leave for class as he was coming home from work, my husband railed that I wasn't doing my job as his wife and the mother of our children. Then, I had to face the fully-developed roar of his fear and desire for control, which had seemed a whiny child until that point.  When the first inklings of a growing literary consciousness came to bear on me, when I felt the sheer joy that exposure to ideas brought to me, when I saw the way those ideas conflicted with my conservative life, I  critiqued those ideas to my husband, so he wouldn't see and begin to mistrust me. And I felt ashamed of myself.
The past four years of our 8-year marriage had been a struggle, since the time my husband confessed that he had been involved with a co-worker.  It had never fully developed into an affair; did it matter?  At that time, I had given birth to our second child; he was nine months old.   His older brother was just two.  Shaken to the core--who was she? what had happened? why had I not been enough?--I tried to get some details and start the slow crawl toward forgiveness.  I also kept one part of my brain separate, alert:  don't act hysterical. Don't get too angry.  Remain calm so he will keep talking.
However, once he had unburdened himself, he refused to talk more. I found out who she was, a woman who had come by our house with a gift for my infant.  He would say no more.  It's over, it's in the past. There's nothing more to say.
But larvae must wriggle and struggle, underground or water where they are buried, in order to move to the next stage.  A metamorphosis is not complete until the new creature can be exposed, its ultimate identity revealed.
For the next four years, this creature, the knowledge of this dalliance (could I call it an affair? was it an affair? I didn't even know how long it had gone on) would not rest. It writhed and squirmed, made the terrestrial surface of our marriage undulate and wave; it became hard to walk the straight path I thought I was on. It grew and swelled and the undulations became hills (I agreed to have another child).  It would not die or remain buried; I did not understand what it was or that I had helped engender it (when I was seven months pregnant with my third child, I asked my husband to kill it for good:  please, just promise me it will never happen again.  He said, I can't promise you that).  It bucked and twisted and I was lost in a landscape I thought I knew.  It rested--let me rest--only when my husband traveled for work. And when he came home, it heard his voice say I don't think you even missed me, and it commenced to thrash again.
And then it was born into its final stage.  One night, at a Bible study meeting, my husband obeyed some urge to confess himself to our group of friends. Perhaps he felt the underground tension, too, perhaps it's easier to confess to relative strangers, perhaps I will never understand why that night, that setting. He gathered the group and began talking about the woman and the attraction and the details came pouring out finally, things I had only guessed at: they had lunch together, they held hands, they acted like high school kids with their arms thrown around each other.
He had asked her if she would run away with him.
There it was, complete.  In all its ugly fullness.  Not just a few days' worth of lust.  A plan had formed, been discussed, been proposed.  She had said no. That's why it ended.
I can't remember whether we talked on the way home that night or when exactly it was in relation to my first semester of grad school, to his moving out around Christmas 1993.  I do remember something kept me weirdly subdued, unsure what to do with this information. And I remember that when I said, in desperation, in an attempt to speak the truth of the nameless pain I had borne for four years, Sometimes I just want to be free of you, he responded, How can you say that to me? I'm your husband.  And I knew then that freedom was what I needed.
I wouldn't have said freedom from the marriage. That came  over a year later, and very sadly.  I wanted time to mend the bones of my fractured identity.  When he moved out, though, the demons came rushing in:  no one from church called, or if they did, it was only to warn me not to do anything stupid.  No pastors called me.  I had few friends outside church; I was alone. Even my sister scolded me that the Bible says not to divorce.  I was on the verge of breaking down.
So, I took up running, to keep a few steps ahead of the powerful negative messages that were trying to keep me locked in a set of beliefs I could no longer openly assent to.  I took up running because of its rhythm, something I could count on and feel, that steadied me when I began to think of divorce and panic because I was not supposed to be a divorced person. And, I took up running because my life as an athlete had ended when my husband insisted I couldn't play sports because it took me away from my family.  I took up running to feel the powerful, automatic contraction and expansion of muscles, the miracle of the body stretching itself to its limits. I took up running so I could breathe even through exhaustion and so I could conquer fear at night and sleep.
I was driven to running, impelled by a need to survive, propelled by the release of constraints that had made me a strained, and strange, version of myself.
But when I was out there, I wasn't pursued. I was pursuing health and strength, stamina and flexibility.  I left behind my doubts for the concentration required by pacing, footfall, breath.  I relaxed into a routine and a route.  And when I was done with each run, I reminded myself of the beauty of the body and the body's capabilities by laying my hand on my hip to feel the muscle that pulsed there. I offered my gratitude to the universe.  And I knew the joy that comes when something belongs to you that no one can take away.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Family Psych 4

I am a lifelong Democrat--perhaps even a borderline Socialist, though I am more comfortable with the term Social Democrat. One of my earliest memories of this leaning came when, outraged at the expense of color televisions and disappointed that we couldn't afford one, I vowed solemnly to my family that when I grew up, I was going to open a store and sell TVs for $50, so that everyone could afford one.  My family guffawed at me; It doesn't work that way, they insisted.   Their resistance to my scheme only made me dig in my heels. 

Of course, in a way they were right; capitalism sets wide profit margins that forces merchants to collude.  I understand now how it works; but I still don't like it.  Just last night, watching TV with my husband, we caught a commercial for a local men's clothing store running a sale; all blazers and sport coats are half price. In addition, if a customer buys one, another one comes free for the asking: two jackets for the cost of half a regular-priced one.  I turned, indignant, to my husband and snorted, "The only reason they can manage a sale like this is that their prices are so inflated to begin with."

My lens on the world, then, hasn't changed much since I was a kid.  I am aware, though, of one inconsistency in my worldview.  Happy to extend my sympathy to consumers, the unemployed, the poor, the working poor, single parents, pro-choice proponents, juvenile delinquents, addicts--all the usual suspects in Democratic purview--I struggle to find sympathy for illness.  My dedicated convictions have not been able to penetrate the subtle undercurrent of family history.

It took a long time for my younger sister to finally get a diagnosis for the first of her two serious illnesses, diabetes insipidus.  She had developed a ravenous, round-the-clock thirst, had to run to the bathroom all the time. When water was refused, she seemed to shrink and dry up.  She literally couldn't wait for a drink or a bathroom break.  The symptoms seemed real, yet doctors were running out of ideas.  They couldn't find anything wrong with her. When they hit upon the possible condition to explain her symptoms, the test to confirm the diagnosis required my sister  go without water overnight.  By the time the test was performed the next morning, her lips were dry and literally cracked.

It is a serious thing to suspect someone is faking an illness for attention.  Worse, to blame that person, to say it out loud.  Such an accusation could have lifelong reverberations.

My sister told me, when we were both adults, that while visiting my grandmother as a child, a summer routine we all practiced, my grandmother would put her medication on top of the refrigerator, out of reach. She would tell my sister she didn't need it; she should stop pretending to be sick.  She would try to withhold water from my sister. My cousin Kim, who often stayed there at the same time, would get up at night with my sister, sneak past my uncle Maurice in his drunken slumber in a bed near the head of the stairs, quietly move a chair over to the fridge, and help her get her medication.

Doubt begins as a niggling impulse.  Who could doubt that my sister was really ill?  And yet, it had taken so long to figure out what was wrong with her. And yet, she began to require other medications that transformed her into someone always in need of attention: prednisone made her balloon in front of our eyes. And yet, she has remained ill all her life, acquiring several other conditions, a domino chain of breakdown:  histiocytosis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines.

And yet, the summer before my sister became ill, my brother died. He was three. The two of them had shared a room, two twin beds, two sides of one coin, the younger two of four children, half a family now suddenly less than half.  One bed emptied suddenly.  One companion gone. How long did it remain in that room, a siren wail, a visible reminder that she was now singled out, alone?

When I was only thirty-eight, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck.  For six months, I walked around stiff as a dry sponge, unable to turn my head from side to side.  Among the most frustrating aspects of this condition was the fact that doctors were unable to tell me what had caused it.  I was a runner, a volleyball player, a softball player. I gardened, I landscaped, I hiked.  I hadn't injured myself. There wasn't supposed to be any opening in my life for an injury like this.

Once, venting about the unexplained onset to a friend, I recoiled in recognition when she said, "Think about what is causing you a pain in the neck in your life."

Ten years later, I am symptom-free, a bona fide miracle.  I don't even have the residual pain under my left shoulder blade that dogged me after the majority of the neck pain subsided.  I am also blessedly free of the man I was with then, whose neuroses and passive-aggressive tendencies nearly broke me.  He was paranoid, depressed, unhealthy in a legion of ways; prime among them was his refusal to get consistent treatment.  He hated dogs and I think my children and I think, eventually, me. My life with him was a constant struggle I eventually shrugged out from under. 

My relationship with him is the one thing for which I harbor guilt.   It unfurls endlessly, fabric off a bolt, whenever I think of him.  If only I would have avoided it, I think, and then I chastise myself for not avoiding it.  There is nothing positive--not a thing--I took from our 6 years together. Nothing I am grateful for or miss.  In addition, I believe I brought on the irritation in my neck from the stress I invited into my life through him.  It is my fault; in a way, I made myself sick.

There. I said it.  I do believe that there is a mind/body connection, perhaps psychosomatic.  Sometimes, people's illnesses do reflect in a metaphorical way their condition in life, their needs or neuroses or quirks or unacknowledged fears.

But I do not believe my sister made herself ill.  But I do believe my brother's death shook her to the core, more than I can ever know.  But I do wonder:  does illness shape lives or do lives shape illnesses?  But I do know:  we can become, literally, our worst fears.

I was terrified of my herniated disc, of redefining myself as an inactive person, a person whose condition forced changes:  I couldn't carry the laundry basket up the stairs, I had to take muscle relaxants to sleep,  I had to have a special neck roll for my pillow, I had to work out with a neck weight each day, I had to stretch my neck 3 times a day, I couldn't run or bike or play volleyball.  My life was not my own during that six months; I wriggled under the discomfort a shifting identity brought me. I wanted control back; I wanted to preserve my well-developed sense of agency and control.

If that makes me neurotic, I will have to live with it.

The other thing for which I harbor guilt is a subtle, gut reaction of skepticism whenever I hear about an illness, especially a prolonged or chronic one.  I despise the part of me that despises weakness and analyzes other people's lives, looking for clues to their vulnerabilities.  A person who looks at others that way, it seems, must feel superior, above the pale.  I don't want to be that person, riding on a wave of arrogance that is bound to crash into sand pounded hard by its own settling.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

PRIVACY (revised)

A few years ago, cell phones became de rigueur and blue-tooth headsets became the norm.  (Before that, I am told, blue-tooth headsets signified some inner-circle membership, some coolness that the general population was prevented from experiencing.)  Since then, I have craved privacy, since we seem to have so little of it left.
When something is private, it is either personal (that is, confined to one person or well-defined group) or not expressed (that is, what we never say out loud belongs to our thought alone).  In the past, a well-defined group meant a small cotillion of friends or a tight family circle, or those who shared our beliefs and attended the same church.  Even when we felt most at home in our well-chosen groups, there would be thoughts that never escaped our lips--things we were reluctant to say out loud, even in the presence of good, supportive friends.  In other words, sometimes we were private even in the presence of those to whom most of our inner life was exposed.  That means that some inner-life details were forever private:  i.e. unexpressed.
Cell phones and other technology have redefined the world for us;  now, a well-defined group seems to be whomever is in the public bathroom at the same time we are to hear our unfettered expressions.  Cell phones have encouraged us to put aside the other sense of privacy, that sense of keeping things to oneself (to be fair:  more than cell phones are to blame. Social media, easy access to website-generating programs, and the ability to blog one's undigested thoughts are also culpable.  I know. I am such a blogger, though I hope my thoughts are more than just unmeditated outbursts).  In short, we have either forgotten what it means to keep some things private, or we have so blurred the line between public and private that the two blend like water colors on a palette, or we no longer care about the distinction.
I just turned forty-nine.  In no one's estimation am I old.  Yet, I feel old-fashioned when I think about these changing perceptions of privacy.  I rail against -- not technology, exactly-- but unbridled freedom, the unconsidered offering.  Two impulses seem prominent to me, two that would best be checked more assiduously than they are now.
The first impulse is for complete, unconsidered disclosure.  At its core, that impulse hides another:  seeking attention no matter the cost.  Facebook is perhaps the biggest encourager in this regard. The social media site has become an easy fix;  many people seek and receive instant validation, and sometimes I am among them.  I want to be clear:  it is good to support one's friends, to validate. But Facebook and our obsessive use of it has flattened any scale for balance there may once have been.  Most posts receive the same enthusiastic response, whether the writers have just run a marathon or simply turned in an assignment that was due or washed the dishes.
It may just be my perspective, but unqualified support doesn't mean as much as the kind that is meted out per the strength of the accomplishment. When my mother said she was proud of me, I knew it was because I had gone above and beyond. For better or worse, she expected me to vigorously meet the minimum requirements. Only when I exceeded them did she think I deserved praise. I carry that attitude with me into my work, where committee participation is expected. When I sit on committees and do what I am asked to do, I resent any overt expressions of gratitude (they sound fawning to me); I am simply doing my job. 

Facebook seems to invite the unqualified glee and loyalty of a groupie.  I confess that I squirm at such bald pleas for attention.  I was raised to value modesty over everything. If I or one of my sisters talked about ourselves too much, we were reminded not to be selfish. We called it bragging. That ingrained attitude has its drawbacks; I find it hard to promote my own work even though my professional development depends on it. 

The second impulse is related to the first: namely, thinking that every conversation one has is important enough to be overheard.  I suppose this records itself in our brain waves as the simple truth, a procession of nearly-perfect premises:  I have a cell phone.  I can be reached around the clock. People who are available 24/7 are important cogs in the wheel of progress (hence the blue-tooth devices). Therefore, my cell makes me significant!  So I can talk on my phone any time; people may even want to overhear me, since my conversations are obviously filled with wisdom.
No one who has sat in a bathroom stall and listened to someone argue in the next stall with their soon-to-be-ex will object to my plea for a little tempering of this me-first-me-always impulse. 

What this public display robs us of is the ability to sympathize.  When we hear stories like this over dinner or coffee, stories that we recognize, that break our hearts, that make us enraged at the low-down capabilities of our brothers and sisters, we are quick to offer our undying support. That's because the person telling us has had a chance to call us to see if we're free for the evening, has had time to plan, to go home from work and change into jeans and a T-shirt that has no connection to the bastard who just let her go. S/he has had a little time for introspection, for reflection.  What we hear of the story is considered; it's not all red-hot and blathering.

When it is not directed at us, when we overhear the (still) heated exchanges, we see the person at his/her worst. Unedited.  In the bathroom stall, with water and the hand dryer running,  with the sound of adhesive strips from sanitary pads being torn away, it is hard to get any perspective.  The words grate on our ears just as harshly as the unwelcome sound of the metal lid of the sanitary napkin disposal bin closing.  Yes, we are in a public place; yes, we sometimes have no choice but to pee there.  But that discomfort should be respected, not trod upon.  In other words, don't make me more uncomfortable than I already am, exposing my most private bodily functions in public, by exposing your private life--over which you have some say, some choice--in the stall next to me.

What I fear most about our confusion over privacy in the "Cloud" era is that it debilitates us:  we don't know any more when to keep anything to ourselves. If there is an audience, we reason, we should hurl our thoughts outward.
How little peace can take root in such an atmosphere.  There IS a peace that comes from sheltering some thoughts from public consumption.  I have learned, perhaps a little late at almost 50, that not everything my mind dwells on must be shared.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Family Psych 3

It's hard to be half-pregnant. Or half-hungry or half-full. But we use the word to modify conditions that shouldn't need any modification: "half-crazy"; "half-cocked"; "half-drunk" to indicate being so far gone that there's no real way of stopping the person.

Or, we mean to suggest the opposite: still time to reconsider or retreat from said state by changing some behavior. Once, half-drunk, I . . . The statement assures that the person is in control, or mostly in control. "Half-drunk" indicates a shred of sanity, a shared sense of fun. A wink-wink. We all know what that's like, right? A phrase that invites identification with the brief interval where it's possible to choose differently. We win, no matter the choice.

But reality may differ. Once, half-drunk, I walked by myself at 1:00 am. around the mile and a half loop that snakes through my neighborhood. My life was in chaos: my husband and I were at odds over my middle son, who was living at home but drinking and getting high and (confirmed later) dealing drugs from our suburban home.

No one even noticed I was gone. If I had been "half-sober" instead of "half-drunk," I wouldn't have made that sojourn--I would have gone upstairs to my husband and spoken about my feelings, seeking resolution. Instead, returning home, I launched into a tirade of irrational anger--another common strategy to keep real feelings at bay--because no one had bothered to wonder about me or follow me. The fact that I had returned home alive paled in comparison to my indignation: why wasn't someone watching out for me?

That night, I desperately sought whatever would make my life manageable. Attention? Ignorance? Solitude. I didn't know. Failure to admit the chaos and the fact that I didn't know what to do about it should have been key. But, "half-drunk," I mistook the "key" for a weakness.

My behavior that night didn't arise out of nowhere. I was long schooled in the lesson of "make it be enough." After all, my family was only "half-fractured." Our single mother appeared on the surface to be competent, capable, in control--who else did she need to make her whole? Forget for a minute that our father was out carousing with alcohol and other women. Forget that he never paid child support. Forget that instead of contributing to my chronically ill sister's well-being, instead he cashed insurance checks and kept the money for himself. Forget that we were so young that we forgave him, heedless of any other response.

Her practiced aura of control deeply influenced us. We were rarely angry at our father. We rarely thought of him as the "bad guy."

It is only years later that I can look back on these events and release an audible gasp: how could we have been so blind? He was at best a half-father, nominal in all respects. My sister's health suffered directly as a result of his selfishness (or mental illness--it was so hard to tell). The money he spent on other women and their children (there were always children) should have been spent to reduce the accumulating bills that my sister's mysterious illnesses required. He should have handed the money directly over to my mother or my sister, a fistful of real bills that would have made a palpable difference in our lives.

We coped. Coping seemed "whole," not "half," like the efforts my father made to see my sister and I on the weekends. Coping seemed the only real choice we had. We took pride in our ability to "rise above" our misfortunes. We were our mother's daughters, after all.

But coping is really "half," not "whole." We wanted to be better than our father, whose efforts we accepted grimly. We wanted to make it clear (to whomever was paying attention) that we were better than that effort-- better than him. But we wanted to accomplish that without saying it--especially without saying it to our father at whom the message was aimed.  Pretending to be without needs, clinging to indirectness as a way of shoring up ravaged emotions and psyches is not healthy or whole.

So we pursued our "half-survival." I was half-successful at the various jobs I worked in high school so that I would have money to buy all my own clothes. I wanted the freedom that financial independence (even at age 14) appears to give. Now, years later, I suspect my classmates saw through my facade. I suspect they saw my half-life for what it was and agreed to be friends with me anyway. How could I have hidden the evidence: the single pair of "popular" pants that were to sustain me, along with the 3 or 4 different tops?

Even now, I obliterate the difference between half and whole, in my nightly dreams and my waking life. I must believe I can sustain and maintain. For, how can I ever admit that I need help, that I am only half-capable? I am fully. I must be. That which I need to be.
Those who know my history can follow the path that verifies that the "fully" may really be a "half." That "half" I use sparingly. If I am truly "half-drunk," it is only because it is so fearful to be so fully. . . anything. Fully-drunk implies a loss of control, a heedlessness of responsibility. Half- it will be for now. If that is my source of self-control and a sign of my participation in the world, I will have to accept that.