Comfortable in my own skin

Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles_7546808832_lSo there’s a passage in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for Parents that talks about a friend of hers that struggled to feel comfortable in her own skin after the birth of the baby. What was described also resonated with my current experience of an unexpected, dramatic relocation. Lo, the example cited after that was a woman who had a cross-country move (in addition to a baby.) No, I haven’t had a child – but I recognize this discomfort in my own skin. Some of it is about connecting to the place more, and I come as a significant part of San Francisco’s defining community spirit is dying. I really hope I’m not here as hospice midwife.

I realized that while I’m walking more by necessity – sedentary San Francisco = moderately active Minneapolis, I haven’t just walked to walk since I moved here. I do have a few reasons for this: my allergies are just as bad here, and my Minnesota allergist is playing games with my record transfer, deferring the treatments I need to actually live in my own skin. Since all my allergies are environmental, outside time can get dangerous. I’ve also been sick twice in two months, and both were full on knock-you-off-your-ass-induce-existential-despair sick.

The “uncomfortable in your own skin” factor has come up synchronistically a few times of late. When I moved to Minneapolis and assumed my new identity as a newly single adult, the disappointment in myself for letting divorce happen, the conflicts between who I was, what my family wanted me to be, and lacking the money necessary to even attempt to fulfill my family’s demands I visit Indiana all tore me apart. (There was also a fear that if I did go, they’d trap me under a glass and keep me there.) The discomfort in my own skin became a buzzing noise in my head that eventually manifested in chronic hiving. That hiving is why I’m getting (or trying to get) allergy shots now.

I moved to Minneapolis in November of 2002. Over a year later, as I had coffee with a friend, she commented that I seemed “more comfortable in my skin lately.” At that point I had learned some, but not all of my hiving triggers. I also knew more about where to park, what might get me a ticket, and where I should not go for a walk at night. I knew the way home with certainty. I felt more comfortable in geographic space, and it helped me to acclimate my inner space.

The skin not fitting makes sense for pregnant women – suddenly your body isn’t yours anymore, then you get it back, but it’s not the same body. It’s got some new chemicals in it, some new processes going, and nothing is going to change it 100% back to pre-baby no matter what you do with it externally. A relocation is not like that. I know that.

A dramatic relocation does, however, do something sort-of like that to the soul. Minneapolis became integrated into my sense of self. It was my city, my town, my treasure trove of unappreciated and under-appreciated secrets. Suddenly I find myself in San Francisco, a place former residents rhapsodize because they don’t know exactly how many jewels in their memory have been stolen, or ripped away thanks to byproducts of the Ellis Act.  I keep thinking this doesn’t fit. This isn’t home. There are no artists and writers here – they’re all in Berkeley and Oakland, and every single one I’ve spoken to has plans to leave for Portland, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or Chicago.

Everything about here sort of chafes – and I realize now it’s the tension of the unaccustomed. So yes, I’m uncomfortable in this new skin. Being given a new city is a lot like being given a drastically altered body. Suddenly I must explore it piece by piece, find the new sensitive spots, identify the danger zones, seek out the places that produce pleasure, and seek new forms of pleasure, too.

It’s an a-ha – it’s my skin. The following days, through Solstice, I’ll focus on getting walks when it’s safe to, in getting deeper into my gym habit. I need to do what it takes to relax and get back into my own skin, and get into this new geographic body.

 

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Isolation

"I'm a Mom!"
“I’m a Mom!”

What Julia Cameron writes in the Artist’s Way for Parents about the isolation of a new parent is resonating with me. Why? Because a similar isolation haunts me at the moment. I am suddenly relocated from everything familiar. I sort of know safe and not-safe neighborhoods. A person I am meeting next week wants me to “pick a place with wireless.” Well, I don’t know where that is – and since I am tutoring her in using the Meetup.com system, I’m pretty sure tethering might take a bit too much work to explain this early in her tutoring.

The first month out here, in the temp housing in San Jose, I got sick. So rather than try to go to meetups in San Jose or try to meet people, all I could do was spit out mucus and watch television. I couldn’t even go down to the workout room there. The one time I did, I had some bikini-clad girls staring at me, boggled by the fat woman at the treadmill. There’s a lot of that in California.

After the move to San Francisco, my partner went off to work, leaving me to stay home with the boxes. The mountains of boxes with our lives in it, lives we could not even think to start until opened. Lives that required massive editing because in addition to familiarity we also gave up a roomy three story townhouse for a three bedroom, one bath in a distant neighborhood.  While my partner goes off to a job he loves, it’s my job to the editing. I can of course reach out to people – I’ve maintained cross country and international friendships for years. But when it’s time for a cup of coffee, I don’t know where the coffee shops are and my partner has a gift for finding the shittiest ones humanly possible. I start conversations in lines all the time – at the grocery, in those coffee shops, at the farmer’s market. Not one will lead to anything. Finding new friends requires joining groups, and joining groups is something my partner doesn’t do very well, if at all, at least not the type that I can frequent.

I could get up, drive to Oakland, but despite California’s “plan” to get more electric cars on the road they aren’t facilitated nearly as well as my partner insisted they were when he told me how madly in love with San Francisco he is. Really, chargers are bitterly competitive things, and electric cars are bitterly resented by the underclass. The one local EV meetup I hoped to attend switched to a Fiat-owners only meetup, and the owner politely suggested I check out the EV meetup…all the way down in San Jose. These are not the acts of people seeking expansive fellowship or environmental good. I don’t want a misogynistic reaming if I get distracted while charging my car. And it’s going to be awhile before we install a fast charger.

Even if I could drive the car somewhere, there’s a very good chance I would have nowhere to park it. I damn near lost a my virtue to a parking space in the Castro because of that. The buses are OK, but the Fulton line is so overcrowded it really should have a train line instead. Also, in the outer districts some buses only run every twenty minutes even though the population is high enough it should run more than that. These things also create a sense of suffocation.

The one meetup I’ve gone to was fun – for people that want to sing, for the sake of singing. But it’s also a bit out of step, and in a pretty bad neighborhood. People there use old technology. They stick to the American songbook. They like folk music, something I’ve learned to hate because I want to experience new things, not the same four Kingston trio tapes my parents owned and played over and fucking over. The two men at the meetup were over 50 and had very specific ideas of how women should be all qualities that would drive me to suicide if I had them. But they were happy I was there.

That also made me feel isolated, in a different way. No one here is 40 or almost 40. All the age meetups call for 35 and under or 50 and over. I am not those things. I am not a mommy, either, and that also tags me out. The other Pagans all live over in Oakland, or around Santa Cruz.

It’s a different kind of isolation. It’s also quite painful.

This will of course change over time. As I develop routines it gets better. I’m in a bitter mood because my routine got wildly screwed over by the Cantonese repairman today, when he took almost five hours to repair a garbage disposal, and in the process brought his wife and a plumber into our house without my permission. I had plans today, and I have deadlines, and because I work from home I often find those deadlines and myself disrespected. This is what a writing career when you also have a vagina can feel like. People just assume you’re not doing anything, not because you’re not, but because they’ve been taught over and over to be almost literally blind to it.

But yes – I do feel isolated.  Yes, it does bother me. Yes, it will change, but right now I’m in it and it hurts.

All this Artist’s Way stuff: here’s the payoff

So I started the Artist’s Way in 2008, mostly as a sort of me-too with Xiane and Cassidy and Angelique, two being women in the Etsy beauty products guild I was in. It’s one of those situations where life definitely has a purpose – the beauty stuff was a huge diversion from what I knew I was supposed to be doing.  This 12 week series turned into exactly the kind of guidance I needed because it made me pause and look not just at my creative habits but at my entire life.

The Artist’s Way proved so helpful I moved on to Finding Water. Then on to Walking in This World. Then I just kept going…and only this year have I sort of caught up, with the Artist’s Way for Parents sitting on my Kindle despite my not having children.

The small steps, the daily work, the wisdom – for me, it helped. Because now I have my first published book to show for it:

darw_book_cover

At last, it’s out – and it would never be finished without my adherence to the Artist’s Way path. You can get your own copy at Amazon or any other bookstore your heart desires. You may want to ask your favorite indie bookseller to order a copy.

But… it’s out. I did it.

And after I post this I’m going to work on the next two books I have contracted.

Supplies: Ice on the Wings

Ice cased Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison / photograph by Frank Hurley
From State Library of New South Wales flickr commons collection

There’s a few different places where a project has been all lined up ready to go…and someone went and iced the wings.

Back in the 1990s, I was all ready to launch a Pagan Writer project. I raised the subject on a listserv. Suddenly, the person running the list stopped me. “No no no… we don’t want this to be an ego project like that one with that BNP that you don’t even really know…”

He never explained what made him think a directory of markets for Pagans would be an ego project, especially when headed by a (still) unknown like myself. But he did it again, with every other project raised. “No no, you need to do it this way…” notably when it came to follow up, he was never available.

Not the same guy but I encountered this situation rather a lot when I first started pitching the Divorcing a Real Witch book. Every few people – usually other Pagans – would wrinkle their noses and say, “Oh, that is so niche.” Notably it is only a small percentage of Pagans that bring up offense at the title… not because the offense is real, but because they think finding offense makes them somehow insightful.

What pushed me forward with the book was that the non-Pagans I told about the book got excited about it. “Oh, yes… we want that ourselves! That’s really interesting!”

I will be writing thank you notes for people that have helped me push this book along. Because yay.

Supplies: Piggybackers

Alice with pig 2013
from the original illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Piggybackers are the people that find a way to benefit from your projects… while often doing none of the work themselves.

Writers, among other artists know them well:

“This will give you great exposure!”

“Well, we can’t pay you, but …”

For small businesses that produce widgets, there is one word that SAYS IT ALL: Consignment.

I used to just lay down and let the piggybackers hop on. But those that would hop on have realized I’m on to them and try more subtle approaches. It’s especially dangerous in the day of blogs: the Huffington Post is nothing but a pile of people with a giant pig on their back. That’s the classic example. But it’s also very grey pigs: the Huffington Post actually does give great exposure, which most things that claim to absolutely do not.

I’ve found marketers that approach blogs not only fall into the piggyback category, they often find ways to tweak collective guilt about why we’re doing what we do. While being ONLY about making money is a terrible way to run a blog, it’s just as bad an idea to provide a universe where marketers get something for nothing. We’re constantly shouting at people to buy, buy, buy and it’s destroying them – that constant shouting. They’re buying wrong as a result of it. And bloggers have to walk that line, while navigating that the buy is also shouted at them from all corners. In the Internet system, piggybackers are the first predators of a successful career.

There’s one specific example I said no to over and over – requests I write free for major corporations. I’m dealing with a piggybacker in another sector of my career right now. I was unaware of how much of a piggyback was in … until I’d signed on the dotted line.

But now I know. And I’ll be getting that pig off my back soon.

Supplies: Disarming the Wet Blanket Matadors

2013 March - Andy Warhol at Christy's in Minneapolis
Shot I took at the Warhol and Christie’s auction visit when it hit Minneapolis.

Want to see people disarming Wet Blanket matadors in a measurable way? Visit TheUglyIndian.

There are a few methods for disarming Wet Blanket Matadors. I am always open to those beyond what I already know.

Most methods depend on the type of wet-blanket being thrown at me. This might work better as a flow chart.

If they are a “won’t work” type 

…inject logic. How do you know that? Can you predict the future? If this is based on the past, how? Are these the same people involved?

If they are a “speak for me” type

…ask when they had that conversation with me that revealed these truths. If they claim that it’s in my behaviors, ask for what behaviors led them to that conclusion. Then, ask why they didn’t ask me questions at the time I was behaving in such a way. Also, ask if they are telepathic. If yes, ask if they stand close to too many radios.

If they are a disaster will happen type

Refer to the first.

When possible, just excise the matador. Better to have supportive friends of good quality than people that just hold you back from absolutely everything.

Supplies: Very Serious People

Snooty Art Face dude
– caught this guy making Art Critic Face several times during a consciously populist exhibit. Pretty sure he heard me making fun of him. I’m not proud of my behavior, either, but it was a good capture.

There are bound to be some Very Serious People around me somewhere. I just don’t have close ties with anyone of the Very Serious variety. After spending a good chunk of my free time with and on two Very Serious Guys for a few years after my divorce – sometimes pushed there by two “not serious” but actually quite negative female friends – I’d had enough. I’m a strong organizer and a competent leader; I know when to be serious.

Serious is for special occasions.

The only way to make anything sustainable- any event, project, hell, political party – is to inject a gigantic dose of “not serious.” The light hand is the successful one.

I am often taken as far more serious than I actually am. My truest self is my prankster, my dancer, my poet together. If I’m serious about something – it’s temporary, so I can fix what isn’t working or what needs to work so I can then revert to my more playful state.

Left untouched, I am quite playful.

Supplies: Letter to my Distorting Mirror

Diana in car, with that hat
Dear DM:

There really was a difference between us. It wasn’t that I was loved more by our parents. Quite the opposite; if you had payed the least bit of attention you would have seen it as plainly as everyone else in the community did. It wasn’t that I had any natural advantage. All advantages were distributed according to perception. No matter how valiant my actions or how exemplary my schoolwork, I was perceived as fat, dumb, lazy, lesser. You were perceived as pretty, smart, a blooming starlet. Remember when that school teacher asked you if you planned to be a writer and then turned to me and told me I could be your editor? As a professional writer now the layers of irony to this are delicious. After all, one of the reasons you have avoided using your own considerable talent is because you might be subject to … editing. You might have someone tell you that your work – and because of your personality disorders, by extension you – are imperfect. It’s unlikely you could get even a short story printed; even true constructive criticism is an affront to you because the only criticism you know how to give is of the mean-spirited variety.

I could be fair…but since you’ve never been fair to me, my unfairness is exactly as fair as you deserve.

One of your favorite tantrum topics was your absurd claim that you “never had the same opportunities that I did.” When viewed from a perspective of historical fact, this is absolute raging horse shit. Not only did you have the physical advantage – being thin and normal, thus making your admission into any social group based wholly on your behavior without the handicap of looks – you often found favor with the more popular teachers. I did not. I had to work against the perception of those, like Janet Szot, who considered me slow and stupid based on my appearance, even in the face of excellent work and a track record of decent grades.

But there’s no denying I’ve done better than you. I had far, far fewer opportunities than you did – and most were not presented to me for my refusal or adoption as they were to you. I had to go out and get those opportunities. I failed a lot in high school and I have failed a lot as an adult. But I’ve made more progress than you, also, despite only rare occassions of opportunity actually bothering to stop at my door at all.

It’s very simple: when I found an opportunity, I took it.

When I had a bad experience, I looked for a different opportunity.

I never demanded that an opportunity fit my imagining.

If the opportunity I wanted didn’t exist, I went out and made it.

We both had the advantage of being well spoken white girls. You had the advantage of being perceived as from a good family. Thanks to you, I had the additional handicap of being perceived as coming from a bad family.

So while you shriek about how cold and selfish I am, at how I’ve exploited you or some other flat out falsehood, I can say quite levelly:

Fuck you. We both deserve what we got.

Diana

Supplies: At my largest I am…

"diana rajchel" magickalrealism "twin cities"

My father’s death shrank me. I lost all confidence. It had been waning a bit before, anyway. At my largest I am a showperson, almost. I am comfortable on a stage. I speak up. My thoughts and opinions are fluid, coherent, relevant to the moment. My voice remains steady as does my eye contact.

I have, at my largest, been called eloquent. People attempting to shrink me, to take away that self confidence and self-control, called me “opinionated.” Notably it was only used when I expressed my own opinion – reflection of theirs got me painted as “well behaved.”

I am not well-behaved.

At my largest, I bear a potent sense of mischief. I use window markers to write disapproving comments on double parked cars. I print out “be kind rewind” stickers for a friend to surreptitiously plant on DVDs. I convince people to climb a tank parked in the town square and dance the hokey pokey.

At my largest I call people out on manipulative bullshit. I am courageous, dislikable, unladylike and strong. I am my best self in the situations where the most people are likely to not like me – often because I am refusing to be a victim, refusing to let them make someone else feel like shit just for being.

I am extremely likable to the discerning.

I am funny. I am generous. I am sharp-tongued, incisive, insightful. I say things out loud.

I am infinitely creative; I am at my largest when I have finished something, published something, provoked a good laugh for a stranger. I get mad about things and find solutions to the things that anger me. I express love, fiercely.

At my largest self, I am fun and terrifying; powerful in ways that people find unacceptable, smart, discerning, and utterly myself.

Supplies: the Identified Patient Voice

Oh wow, this chapter is really hitting home on a lot of stuff I’ve had to deal with. I know the identified patient voice. The more shitty something someone wants me to comply with is, the more exaggerated this particular tone of voice. My mother and sister used that one on me so many times I can’t count. One memory that comes to mind is, after it came out I dated a black man, my mother used IPV to say, “Your brother-in-law is worried because of how black men treat women.”

It was such an exaggerated, insane thing to say – all done in a way to make me think I was the one that was somehow crazy. Even though I knew my (now ex) bro-in-law couldn’t care less what I did, ever.

In recent years, it’s less, just because I’m much choosier about who I spend my time with. There is one person who has kind of done it recently when I got irritable with someone doing a bad job on my watch. Credit to the person who did the bad job: he responded as though I were perfectly sane for getting annoyed, which I was. But fortunately, that one’s not a black and white issue – the guy has some expectations about how women behave but he’s not too overbearing with those beliefs most of the time. Also, there are a few other men that will step right in as a check and balance to say “No, she’s right.”

I’m actually quite blessed in the crap I don’t have to tolerate anymore.