The Youest You

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm pretty good at a number of things, but I don't have a special skill, talent, or hobby that I can really call my own. When it comes to my education and career path, I've managed to achieve many of the traditional markers of success. However, I'm fairly confident that's because I've chosen to stick within the boundaries of what comes easily to me, essentially avoiding failure by not challenging myself. It's also possible I'm adept at pretending that I'm better than I really am or know more than I really do.

Maybe I'm truly lazy and don't work hard enough to consider myself accomplished or skilled. Maybe I'm particularly attuned to the fact that there will always be people better than me. Maybe I'm just not cut out to excel at anything.

I'm not even sure why it matters to me. I don't want to walk around with a medal or read about myself in the paper. Am I so insecure that I'm seeking outside validation to make me feel good about myself —like my inner ten year old who wants to get picked first for the team at recess? I think having some sort of special talent would feel like a worry stone I could keep in my pocket and touch when I needed a little pick me up. Maybe what I really need is a worry stone.

Sincerely,

Just ok

 

Dear Just Ok,

It sounds like what you are searching for is greater meaning in your life—some kind of driving narrative about what you are meant to be doing and how you should shape your life.

Some call that a calling.

Recently, I read a book to my daughter (every day, several times a day, for two weeks) called Ella Takes The Stage.  Are you familiar with it?  In this children's story, Ella the Elegant Elephant is asked to participate in her school talent show.  She gets really nervous when she looks up "talent" in the dictionary, and it says, "a special natural ability."

She tries out several (singing, juggling, etc.) but eventually she just ends up supporting everyone else—mending a ripped pair of tights on a dancer, baking cupcakes for all the performers, saving the day by getting the monkey to jump into her hat for the grand finale.  Everyone claps for Ella, who does not win any medals but is appreciated as being the "wind beneath the wings" of all the people who did acts.

The message is: maybe you don't have special talent, or it could be that your special talent is supporting those who are actually talented!  To which I was like, "Oh great, teach my daughter to be a shadow artist who caretakes those with 'real talent'.  Awesome."  Don't get me wrong.  I want to champion all kinds of expression, even those who are more "behind the scenes."  But a total support person is not a fulfilling or sustainable role. So, don't buy into any of that "maybe you're just a worker bee” bullshit.

Here's how I would have ended Ella the Elegant Elephant.  Ella loves to sing, but is shamed out of it by people who think she's not good enough.  In my version, Ella would find a song she feels highlights her unique voice, even though it may sound really odd, maybe writing it herself to make sure it works.  Then she'd perform it at the Talent Show, and some people would get it, and some would cover their ears.  Ella wouldn't win the top medal in the show, but she would start down a path as an experimental musician that was highly fulfilling even as she enjoyed supporting her fellow artists by baking cupcakes and painting posters.

Shit, now I want a cupcake.  Anyway, enough elephants, more you.  It is excellent that you are thinking about this—don't shame yourself out of it.  It means that you are taking yourself, and your life, seriously.  You are craving meaning and purpose, not just empty praise.  You want to find something you're incredibly good at, not necessarily to be successful, but because it feels amazing to excel at something.

It sounds like you have gone down the "usual" pathways for finding that special something you are wonderful at doing, and have come up empty.  So here's where we flip it on its head: perhaps you're not going to find that thing in education/work right now.  Also, your idea of talent needs a re-vamp.  Maybe what you are amazing at is being you.  You need to find the medium to express your "you-ness", and follow that, even if you are not perfect/successful/praised at it.  I promise you, this will scratch the itch that you have to be "great".  You will get so much out of the process that your whole goal of life will shift.

The inimitable Martha Graham once said, “There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”  So, I'm going to ask you, Just Ok, to go off the beaten path if you have to, to find that way to express your uniqueness.  Don't let it be lost in the effort to obtain society's hallmarks of success (degrees you spend a lifetime paying for, houses that depreciate in value, climbing a job ladder you realize you want to jump off).  That stuff doesn't last, and you're right, it's not worth caring about.  But finding out what you are truly passionate about, and what you can do well and feel good doing, is worth pretty much all of your effort.

So here’s what I want you to do.  Make a stream-of-consciousness list of things you’d like to try, even if it turns out you’re not the pillar of perfection at them.  Then choose one to do this week.  Laugh at how terrible you are at first, but see if you get the hang of it.  What did you love to do as a child, before the idea of “success” entered your consciousness?  Were you shamed out of it and into a smaller support role, like Ella the EE, or have you just never thought about what the adult equivalent of being a master at Light Bright is (I think it’s coding, or furniture design)?

The roof is about to be blown off of this “just okay” life you’ve built for yourself.  It is going to be surprising and strange, and you may never gain the kind of external achievement that our culture so cherishes.  But you will know where your strength lies, and that is something that no one can take away from you, and which you’ll need for the inevitable ups and downs of life.

It’s time for you to be your own worry stone.

Love,

Sibyl

P.S. I don't want to influence you too much on this search, but might I point out that your quandary letter was exceptionally well-written?  From one writer to another... whatever you do next, you should write about it.

Assateague

Assateague Island

I awoke suddenly, to find my vision held by a girl with a choppy, asymmetrical haircut, one I'd given her the previous week before our band's first show.  Her eyes were wild as she told me, "We're driving to see the ponies. Get up!"

My roommate grumbled at me as I stumbled around in the dark, throwing my favorite thrift store sweater and used CDs into my denim shoulder bag, “Shut UP!  I have a test in the morning.”  She rolled violently over to face the wall.

My friends were always breaking in to do things like this---grabbing me at 11:30pm to drive to Philly to get soft pretzels from the factory the second they came off the oven rack, whole gaggles of boys (which was against the rules at our university) in the middle of the night, picking me up in my pajamas and throwing me down the wet hill, as I screamed and laughed and rolled.  She requested a single room for our second year.

I shuffled into my shoes and ran to catch up with my friends in the parking lot, who were already hopping into their huge old cars, sturdy Cadillacs and Buicks that once belonged to their grandmothers, all with names like "Marge" or "The Porkchop Express", based on our favorite movie vehicles of the 80's.

I angled to be in a car with Sam, because I knew he would be quiet most of the way and that is what I craved: hours of this dark night to be spent staring out at towns going by that I'd never seen before, drawing designs on the window whenever they got foggy enough.  Alas, Chatty Cindy climbed in beside me, sodden down with snacks and jokes.  She proceeded to build a nest in the hatchback of Sam's car, which we took turns wiggling back into, to take little snoozes on the three hour ride.

I kept trying to get Patti Smith's Horses in the CD player, but mostly we listened to Modest Mouse and Cat Power, which got no complaints from me.

Sam looked over at me and smiled.  "Have you ever camped on the beach before?"

"I haven't done much camping at all.  I was always more of a take-the-train-to-NYC kind of girl."

"Well, we'll hook you up.  It's going to be so magical."

Sam was one of those neo-hippies who was always saying things like this, when he talked at all.  His hair was floppy and his clothes were simple, fitting his soccer body in an effortlessly attractive way, without attention to what was hip to wear.  He was also never seen without his guitar, on which he played sparse songs leaning more toward experimental music than hippie rock.  An enigma for sure, he was my first friend at college.  I was considering ditching the high school boyfriend I'd hung on to to make out with Sam, but sometimes I wondered if he was quiet because he really didn't have that much going on up there.

Cindy was babbling away in the backseat, creating little songs about her round tummy, and making Erin, the botched-banged girl who had woken me up, laugh beside her.  Erin had a great laugh, one of those honking ones that made everyone in the cafeteria stare.  It was also a bit rare, as she was a severe gal, more prone to tell you to get the fuck out of her face then laugh at your jokes.  But Cindy was so absurd and relentless that eventually everyone joined in.

When we finally got to the beach, it was still dark out, and I helped carry equipment that made no sense to me, eventually dropping it with a clamor on the sand.  "Where's the campsite?"  My voice sounded louder than it had in the cramped car.

Len, whose afro was listing to the side from the door he'd slept against in the Suburban on the way there, replied, "There isn't one.  We're technically not allowed to camp here.  But it's such a huge beach that they probably won't catch us."

Probably.  We were a sober bunch, so with a lack of alcohol or drugs to give us thrills, we were often taking these kinds of risks, to get the feeling that we weren't wasting our youth.  I was plagued with a constant fear that I wasn't living big enough, that I was going to look back with regret, wishing I'd jumped from higher peaks.

With that fear riding on my back like a dark-cloaked demon, I stripped down to my underwear and ran, legs akimbo, into the sea.  Allison, always eager to be in some version of nudity, splashed in after me, Sam at her heels.

I floated out on my back, astounded at the amount of stars that clotted the sky.  Sam started pointing out constellations, a skill I'd never quite mastered.

"Wait, where's Orion's Belt?"

"Right there, don't you see it?"  He pointed one spindly figure up, outlining the curve of the famous symbol.

"Ohhhh, yeah. . ."  I hoped no one could tell I was lying.

Len and Erin were building a fire when we came dripping out, and we warmed up and ate the snacks Cindy had brought, and some we'd scored at Wawa on our way out of Pennsylvania into Maryland.

"So, what do we do now?"  I asked.

"We wait. . . for sunrise.  And hopefully, for the ponies." Sam answered.

"What, are they just going to come running through here or something?"  I looked around me, picturing a herd of animals tearing down our precarious tents with their hooves.  The sky was changing, from pitch black to midnight blue.

"Maybe.  They're wild."  I snuggled down closer to him in our sleeping bag.  Even if I wasn't going to cheat on my chicken-haired boyfriend with Sam, I was at least going to feel his body alongside mine, like when I was on family vacation with my boy cousin, and we shared a bunk, my body alive with his otherness and what could not be.

Eventually Cindy finally ran out of things to say, or perhaps she went on a walk to look for the ponies, a huge woven blanket draped around her shoulders, her steps small and plunking.  Either way, she quieted and I dozed off.

I woke up to find the light around me hazy orange, the sun a fiery beach ball floating up over the sea.  I sat up and pulled my knees to my chin, careful not to disturb Sam, looking impossibly young in slumber beside me.

Erin was awake, standing just at the edge of the campsite.  The light made a halo around her skinny rockstar body, ringing it and burning it into my memory.  She turned to me and pressed her finger to her lips.  "Look.  The ponies!"  she stage-whispered.

I scrambled out of the bag and hurried over to her, my glee unconfined.  On a dune, amid some grass, were several beasts, horses so unlike the groomed ones I'd seen on farms and in Central Park, they could have been a different species.  They didn't look my way, lost in their own world of breakfast grazing and spraying each other with sea air as they whinnied.

I looked back at my own pack, all laying on top of one another in a semicircle around the fire.  I went over and nudged Sam with my nose, mouth clamped shut to stave off a whiff of my stale breath.  I pulled him up with my hand and stood him beside Erin, who slung a gangly arm over his shoulders.

Our smiles were like we'd figured out some precious secret.  My hands felt tingly and numb, with the knowledge that for at least this one moment, I was doing it.  I was living flat out all the way up the stars.

Cherish is the Word I Use to Describe

Asking For It with Sibyl

Sybil,

You've actually answered a question for me before. I'm back again because your advice was excellent. I feel guilty coming back for round two; I want to give someone else a shot. But here I am because I need ya.

I am in love. Absolutely, without bounds, in a way I didn't know I could be. I know because I am full of goodness and forgiveness and understanding (I guess you'll have to take my word for it). But the man I love? He doesn't cherish me. He doesn't treasure me. He says he loves me. He doesn't act like it. I've carefully and calmly and sweetly explained what I need, what I want. I'm not a princess. I'm not a nag. I'm demanding the kind of treatment I deserve.

My question is, Sybil, does someone cherish you? If they do, how'd you get them to do that? Did you have to ask? Did they just do it naturally? What do I have to do to be cherished? I love myself; I know that comes first. I am loving, and I'm pretty sure that comes second. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

Sincerely,

Not a Princess

 

Dear Not a Princess,

Your question has been this little voice in the back of my head, the past week.  As I'm doing the dishes, crossing the street, lighting candles or checking the mail, I hear, "Sibyl, does someone cherish you?"  And then, when I answer internally, "I believe so," a further question arises, "How do you know?"

What satisfies the human heart?

I am beginning to believe that only gratitude does.  And that gratitude is not some little addendum to one’s spirituality, something you make lists about at Thanksgiving or consider when prompted in a yoga class, but the secret to living a sustainable life of joy.

So, am I cherished?  Well, my spouse loves me, in the cracked-yet-beautiful way that humans love one another.  I do not always feel the fierceness of his love in a way that I connect with, no.  Sometimes it is too tentative, and I lose myself in the complicated folds of where desire turns in on itself and into contempt.

I want it to burn.

But some years, it just smolders.  I know it is there, right under the surface, keeping me vaguely warm by its glow.  It doesn’t feel like enough and I am cold.  I shimmy under a blanket of self-love, treating myself like the most precious, fragile object I can find, trying not to starve out my desire until it can come in the form of the perfectly balanced fire I so crave.

Here’s what keeps me going on those nights when my toes feel like they are going to fall off: I do believe my beloved is capable of loving me how I need and want to be loved.  And he is trying, as I am trying, as we are all really fucking trying.

It does not always come natural.  Love, like gratitude, is a life-changing practice that starts within but emanates out into action.  And I am so, so grateful to have someone who is trying, with his whole heart, to love me as I am asking to be loved.  When he falls short, there is grace for that, just as when I do I meet his grace.  We share the values of committing to one another while also letting each other change, and sticking with it even when it isn’t perfect.  And trying.  Sometimes I think it’s all in the trying, in the arching, and that the satisfaction of the actual connection is just a fleeting by-product.

So the main question for you and your partner is, is he built to love you how you need to be loved?  For instance, are you asking for monogamy and commitment from someone who is not oriented towards that kind of relationship?  Are you asking for a quiet, steady kind of love with someone who loves in these huge bursts?  Are you simply asking for kindness, which everyone can learn how to do? Can you be grateful for his form of love, or does it really not even register as love to you?

If what he can offer is not what you need, and if you do not share the same values around love, then you’ve got to let him go and find another heart to attach to.  But if you see a glimmer in there of the love you want, and he has the willingness, then keep trying.  Keep arching.  Keep coming back to love.  Even if it all ends, you won’t regret the striving towards love.  You may even find you are grateful for it.

Love,

Sibyl

"I Don't Want a Bigoted Friend"

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

A college friend of mine has an attitude problem when it comes to race. We met 12 years ago and lost touch a year into our studies when our programs diverged. At that point she had already made 2 racist comments, one which I pointed out was unfair and biased, and she conceded. But when the second comment occurred, I cut my losses and went on my way.

Five years ago she moved to my city and sought out my friendship again. I was happy to hear from her, because she does have a lot of good qualities and has turned out to be a fairly loyal, if somewhat self-centered friend.

She had done some traveling after college and I was hoping her mind had opened and she'd matured with regard to her unconscious views on race. Not totally. There were a few less-overt comments that I let slide, due to my passive nature and just general cowardice (ugh). I never thought that she would remain my friend for this long, or that she'd figure it out eventually by interacting with more folks from different backgrounds (our city is fairly diverse and she's since entered a multicultural graduate program).

Alas, that's not really how privilege works, as we both know, Sibyl! The recent release of the film Fruitvale Station, and its confluence with the Trayvon Martin verdict have produced some ugly & awkward moments with her—which unfortunately I've heard of second-hand. Her comments were to the effect of, people are just saying nice things about this movie because of the trial, subtext being that ... black people are getting away with "it"??  It makes no sense. It's getting to the point where I have to run interference with other friends because I'm (perhaps selfishly) afraid this reflects badly on me. I don't want a bigoted friend, but at this point she has become so important to me that I can't just cut & run either.

I think I know the right thing to do, which is to gently bring it up and act like I just don't understand why an otherwise nice person seems to hold these views, and to sort of cushion it by saying I think she's much smarter than that. But I'm afraid that instead I'll start shaking with rage and go off about white privilege (I'm white too, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize what's right in front of our eyes). Any tips? Thanks so much!

Losing the Race

 

Dear Losing the Race,

In the past month, people all over the country have had some unfortunate surprises, seeing how folks close to them reacted to the Trayvon Martin murder case, and the film Fruitvale Station, which depicted the murder of Oscar Grant III.  It’s been awkward, depressing, and downright enraging to see that people you thought were allies are actually indifferent, ignorant, and/or even full-out racist.  How is it 2013 and so many white people just don’t “get” the effects of institutional racism?  Well, privilege is a sneaky thing, and no one wants to give up power they don’t want to believe they have in the first place.

The message I heard, over and over, from the black folks in my life was, “White people who are conscious, please handle your people. We are tired of explaining racism to them.  It’s time for you to step up.”  So, although I recognize that my efforts are far from complete, I’ve been using every platform afforded to me to discuss race in America, and I thank you for another opportunity to do so.

What I am finding is that since most people avoid talking about race like the plague, they are clunky with it.  Their opinions are not fully formed, untested by debate and expression.  They are a bit like teenagers in Health class on Sex Ed day - there’s all kinds of jokes where there should be depth, and the level of tension in the room is palpable.

I like that you are willing to examine what having a bigoted friend says about you.  What it says about you is you are a human with human friends, that are complicated and imperfect and not totally aware of themselves.  Everyone has their equivalent of your bigoted friend in their lives.  It’s like the embarrassing uncle who you used to love as a child for all the reasons you now hope he doesn’t show up at the family functions—his loudness and silliness was fun for kids, but less funny as an adult.

You probably enjoy the bluntness of your friend, in other contexts.  You like that she tells it how she sees it, doesn’t hold back, and isn’t always perfectly PC.  However, you were hoping she would evolve over time.  Ignorant views in college students are to be expected—I’m so lucky I still have any friends who knew me in my early 20’s, a time of bizarre absolutes all over the political spectrum.  However, in adult life, friendships are really difficult to hold on to, and for all the effort one puts in, you don’t want to feel like you’re giving your time to someone who is on the wrong side of history.  It feels like collusion.

This friend has been placed in your lap so you can do your part in making change, starting right where you are.  Relationships are the only thing that change people.  The person with homophobic beliefs has to reconsider when they find out their beloved piano teacher is gay.  And someone with unconscious racist beliefs won’t change them unless people they care about start to stay, “Listen, this is not cool.”

So what you need to do is practice.  Talk about this issue with people you know agree with you, first.  Practice with people you don’t care as much about, too.  I remember when I first started confronting racism in conversations, and the visceral physical reaction you described happened to me.  I shook, I cried, I had to leave the room and hyperventilate.  But, over time, I was able to get those somatic responses under control and speak more freely.  I actually think it’s fine if you shake and cry—it could be compelling for your friend to see how much this means to you.  However, it would be best for your health if you didn’t go into anaphylactic shock every time you talk about this, so practice and breathe.

I actually don’t think you should pretend not to understand why an otherwise nice person holds these beliefs.  Because you do know.  You should be forward, direct, and use examples.  You can do this compassionately, in a way that helps put your friend’s statements into context, showing her that it’s not her fault that institutional racism exists, but it is her business and duty to recognize it and stop propagating it.

I suggest following up your conversation with some reading material for her to peruse.  An article your friend may connect with is Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which includes a list of day-to-day examples of how white privilege works itself out in real life.  She may not want to believe that all of the examples on the list are true, but there are at least a few that she will be unable to refute.  I do understand that this article is problematic, but it seems that your friend really needs to start slowly, although she should be encouraged quickly to move on to bell hooks.  This could be the beginning of a really important personal growth journey for her.

People do not want to acknowledge their own ignorance and privilege.  In order to get them to do so, you have to provide both positive and negative reasons.  For instance, you’ll be saying, “It makes me really uncomfortable and upset when you say these things.  It is why I didn’t call you for years.”  So, the message is, “your racism hurts your friends and makes them not want to hang out with you.”  But also you can tell her your journey, from unconsciously enjoying white privilege to being aware of it and trying to call it out when you can.  What have you gained from this process?  What personal growth can you offer her by becoming awake to how the world really works?

I think it is great that you don’t just want to cut this friend out of your life—that would be a missed opportunity for you both.  Just being aware of white privilege is not enough.  We have to have the courage to speak out about it when we see it, calling it out and encouraging the people in our lives to do the same.  And, what have you got to lose?  You said yourself you don’t want to have a bigoted friend, so give her the chance to evolve, and see what happens!  I really believe this is the only way things are ever going to change—one-on-one conversations with people we love.  The personal affection makes it matter in a way that a movie and a court case never can.

In Solidarity,

Sibyl

Bridesmaids: Broke Edition

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm honored to be a bridesmaid in my dear friend's wedding later this summer. The only problem is that being a bridesmaid costs approximately one million dollars and I'm a starving grad student.

My friend isn't a wedding-crazy bridezilla who expects us to pony up for hair extensions and matching "bridesmaid" bikinis for pre-wedding pool time (that's totally a thing---I saw it on television). She's been so thoughtful that she's even arranged for family members to host us in her hometown since she knows we all have to pay for plane tickets to get there. The expenses that go along with traditional weddings just add up -- for everyone involved.

At this point I've adequately scrimped to get the dress, the shoes, the plane tickets, and the wedding gift. Unfortunately, her bachelorette party is coming up in a couple weeks and it's a weekend trip to her family's vacation house. Between the plane tickets, the dinners out, etc, I don't see how I can swing it. This is one of my very best friends and I hate the thought of not being there for a big event in her life though. How do I handle this?

Sincerely,

The Penniless Pal

 

Dear Penny P,

It appears to be a trend that, instead of a night out of debauchery, bachelorette parties are now days-long events.  Should we blame The Hangover?  Perhaps not---in general, it is pretty great that women are asking themselves, "How do I really want to usher in this new phase in my life?" and what they are coming up with is having their closest friends around them for a weekend, soaking up support and relaxation before all the bustle of the wedding begins.  It's sort of a last hurrah before joint couple vacations happen.

But that's what this is: a vacation.  You stated you are sad not to be there for a big event in your friend's life, but the event is the wedding. This is a vacation, that your friend has invited you on, that will be totally centered on her.  I hope I can adequately explain that I have zero judgment about this practice.  I have been invited on many such weekends in the past few years, as ladies getting hitched have decided they'd prefer a fun time away with their friends rather than a sure-to-be-slightly-embarrassing "bachelorette party".

Many of us cannot afford vacation, however.  We simply don't take them.  A "weekend away" is not a reality for us, or if it is, it is rare and hard-won.  People from income brackets and lifestyles that give them actual time to take vacations and the funds to do so take week (or month) long vacations, and then consider these little weekends away to be just something you do with your Saturdays and Sundays.

Which must be nice.  But those of us without that kind of life spend our weekends at the laundromat, planning meticulous weekly meals that fit our tiny budget and shopping for them, and, often, working our second job.  Most of the time, it feels okay to do this.  This is the life we either chose because we believed in it, or are willing to accept, at least for now.  However, it goes from feeling fine to feeling like shite when all your friends are on a weekend vacation while you are wondering if you have enough pennies to splurge on the tiny box of fabric softener this week.

So, where does that leave you?  You have two choices.  The first one is: you stay home, sit with your disappointment, and work hard at not turning it into resentment.  Perhaps you can offer a special night later in the month with your friend that is just the two of you---you can cook her dinner at your place, present her with a thoughtful homemade gift, and talk about the coming changes for both of you as she embarks on marriage.

You'll have to work together on managing the fact that you can't show up for your friend in the way that you want to, because of your different lifestyles.  This is going to keep happening.  We always want to give more to our friends than we can, and often it is because it is impossible to be at the same place at the same time in our lives every step of the way.  She sounds very thoughtful and understanding, so forgiving yourself for not going on the weekend will be tantamount.

The second choice is you ask for help.  If this is just too important to miss, you must lay it all out for your friend.  You tell her you can't afford the dinners out, so can you all cook dinner at the place where you are staying?  Ask her if she has some frequent flyer miles you can use to get out there.  Let her know how much you want to be there, but you simply can't do it on your own at this time in your life.  If she can help you, I'm sure she will, and it will bring you closer to work on raising the funds together.

Either way, you have to be really vulnerable and truthful with your friend about your financial situation, and your desire to be there for her.  I really believe she is going to be understanding either way, so the hard realities will be all your own.  Your love for your friend is non-monetized.  This is only one weekend, and it sounds like you are a friend who will be with her in the grander sense, for much longer than that.

In Broke Solidarity,

Sibyl

Trust No One

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

Okay, you asked for it . . . This question doesn’t appear to be about relationships, but then again, maybe it is!

Yesterday, one of my best friends was doing an energy healing when with no warning whatsoever, he started speaking (something he doesn’t normally do during a healing!) an unintelligible language and making a lot of weird clicking sounds. It was later revealed that he was bringing in Sirian and Pleiadean energy to prepare him for his next level of consciousness. As if this isn’t mind-blowing enough, my friend was told that he is an ET ‘in disguise’, that he’s only pretending to be human, and that he will reveal himself within the next couple of years. As you can imagine, my friend was a little shaken by this experience.

So here’s our question: Assuming that we are living in multiple dimensions simultaneously (see Brian Greene’s Cosmos series on PBS) or at the very least have lived many lives in many galaxies throughout the multiverse, aren’t we all ETs? Is it just a matter of semantics?

Thanks,

Cosmic C

 

Dear CC,

You have a pretty exciting social life.  Seriously, the best I can do these days when I get together with friends is try not to insult each other's politics by serving only sustainable agriculture.  I am obviously hanging out with the wrong crowd - no one reveals their true identity as an alien, no matter how many glitchy hip hop beats we listen to.

So, you are clearly doing something right, at least on the level of some cosmic shit happening on any old Tuesday.

Now, to your question.  I absolutely cannot claim to be an expert in human-Extra Terrestrial relations, as my experience with communicating with beings outside this earth is confined to whistling the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then feeling a little creepy thinking about who might be listening.

However, I suppose we are all E.T.s, to someone.  In many ways, we are all aliens to one another, our own little universe in our experience.  Sometimes communicating even with the members of my own family feels as complicated as mastering an intergalactic language.

And if it turns out that life does exist on other planets, it will be important to remember that to them, we are the aliens.  I suppose it is all a matter of perspective, and I commend you for widening yours.

I don't think I'd take that friend of yours to Las Vegas, though.  What if all the lights and sounds communicated something to him, and he turned into a creature from a Ridley Scott movie?  Then you'd really have a quandary on your hands.

With Roswellian love,

Sibyl

Why We Need Feminism, Reason #3849

Asking For It with Sibyl

Hi Sibyl,

I feel very lost.  Within the past 4 years, I've moved to another state, lost my job, gotten married, cheated on my domineering husband, gotten immediately divorced due to the shame of my actions, started my own business, moved 4 times within this city, and had the misfortune to fall in love with a wonderful man who turned out to be an alcoholic.

First and foremost, I struggle with the cheating and divorce.

My husband was a great guy, but treated me very much like a mother, being bratty until I fed him and coddled him, and took care of him -- and at other times, he treated me like I was a child.  After moving to his hometown, I made friends very slowly, but when I did, it upset him and he became jealous and would scorn me..  I felt trapped.  I lost my job as an architect, and went to work as a hostess at two restaurants, at my husband's immediate urging.  I also began working at starting my own business.  I had no access to our checking account or shared car, and he was grumpy whenever I needed rides.

I just snapped at some point, and began drinking, partying and had decided it was worth it to let a predatory co-worker have his way and we began a sexual relationship.  I've always been a good-hearted person, slightly bookish and nerdy, so when this co-worker cornered me at a work function and told me that I was beautiful, and sexy and basically proceeded to force himself on me, something in me felt amazing and energized, for once.

But it only made me ashamed of myself and unable to face my husband.  I pulled away, sure that our marriage had crumbled because of me.

That became a turning point in my life.  I ended the affair, moved out, got a new job, and ended up falling in love with a man that I felt immediately kindred to.  During my marriage, I had this feeling that things were happening TO ME, rather than me being in control of my life.  As soon as I made the decision to finally face what I had done, and began rebuilding my life, I felt for the first time in my life that I could see clearly what was important to me and how I had failed to have agency in my own life with my husband.

I remembered all the times when his dominant personality had prevailed, turning me into a submissive and scared person, at his mercy.  I have never been a fighter, always sensitive to the needs and wants of others, and can easily see their perspective.  However, this type of personality, without a sense of grounding in what I wanted, turned quickly into people pleasing, rather than being understanding.  I was an easy victim who fed right into the types of emotional manipulation that people like this rely upon to keep others under their control.  Being isolated from friends and family meant that I had fallen into the perfect situation for an emotionally abusive person to take hold of me.  It's taken me a few years of therapy and personal growth to understand this, and my role in the situation.  I vowed never to get into such a bad situation again.

Very shortly after leaving my husband, I met S, a very charming, handsome and successful entrepreneur.  He was everything my ex-husband wasn't: fun, super sexy and totally energetic.  Whereas my ex-husband never had many friends, S had a million.  He was adventurous, loved my cooking, and we'd talk for hours about life, design, and literature.  He felt like the adult I had been looking for.

We quickly moved in together, and began building a life of trust, health, adventure, and business-building. I had even quit my boring marketing job to begin my business full time, with S's new company as my largest client.  Things felt like they were falling into place.

After two years of our life together, I found out that he had been cheating on me with roughly 5 other women.   Of course I was devastated, but because I had committed similar acts of deception, and had known the healing effect forgiveness could provide, I decided to listen to him and give us a chance to reconcile.

That's when everything began to unravel.

It was right around this time I became aware of S's upbringing.  He was one of 7 children in a fundamentalist Christian household, and was celibate until age 23.  He had carried a Bible around with him every day, and was very fanatical about his religion.  Until he decided that he didn't want that life anymore, choosing the opposite.  He left the church, began drinking heavily, opened up a bar with his brother-in-law, and began sleeping with as many women as possible.  He would start fights about anything that resembled family values, like having children, getting married, being faithful, creating a home, etc.  Though, he also became extremely hard on women who might be like him, dating multiple guys, being expressive of their sexuality.  On one hand, he wanted to be near these "slants" as he termed them, yet also hated them.  I believe he also has a similar feeling about himself, which leads me to the drinking.  I believe he has such internal conflict about how he lives his life, that drinking and girls ease that pain for him.  From my experience as a cheater, the worst part is facing the other person that you hurt.  There are a few ways to get around that.  You find someone new, who has a good opinion of you, surround yourself with others who have low morals and wouldn't judge you anyway, and numb yourself with booze or drugs.  I fell into the "new people" and "drinking" categories.

I've never written this story, and I apologize that it's so long.  Basically, I learned from my own experience that people fall, they fail and deserve a chance to be forgiven.  So I honored this decision and began to work with S to understand him and be there to help him get past this.  I knew that forgiveness would have gone a long way for me.

Another reason that I'm attracted to S is that he is a creative, very successful entrepreneur.  That's something about him that I wish for myself, to be as successful and well-respected.  Being accepted by him somehow makes me feel less insecure about my own shortcomings, which stem from financial instability, building a small business, and taking responsibility for my life.  I also love him, and we truly have a wonderful connection---or so I thought.

As soon as I discovered exactly what S had been hiding from me-- the girls, the drinking, the deception-- he was never the same.  He turned from a loving and supportive partner into a combative, irrational, mean-spirited person.  He began to blame me for "finding out" and for expecting too much from him.  He cared less and less about falling short and hurting my feelings.  I found out that he had been in an on-again off-again relationship for 8 years (which went on during an engagement to another woman, and during my relationship).  I know all this yet, my main problem is giving up and moving on.

Our city is small enough that getting away from someone like this business-wise is extremely hard to do.  My clients are linked to him and his to me.  He constantly makes it seem, to these people, that we are a couple, or at the very least that we are on good terms.  This is what I've termed "emotional-business abuse".  He's mostly concerned with how the public sees him, because he runs 6 restaurants/bars and wants to be seen as a leader.  He threatens that if I tell someone who he really is, that he'll destroy my business.  He constantly tells me that he created my current success.  He represents us as a couple to whoever it seems like it might be fitting to do so (without my consent and without me being there).  Everyone loves him and is fooled by him.  It's kind of a mess.  And I end up feeling so overwhelmed and (again) not in control of my life.  I didn't want this to happen, I wanted to build a life with S, and focus on doing good work and building a great business.  It just seems that because he can't come to terms with who he is, and forgive himself, that he needs everyone to like him to combat the truth of his life.

I feel courageous for having gone through what I did, and to have emerged with a greater sense of who I am, but now I'm just baffled at how to create a life that I am happy with, because so much has been destroyed in the last few years.

The whole situation leaves me with these feelings:

1.  Did I make a mistake leaving my husband?  When it comes down to it, I would love a partner and a family and a home.

2.  Why does someone like S have this power over me and why is it so hard to not equate my self worth with what he thinks of me?

3.  How can I begin to feel happy again, to plan my life with excitement?  Right now, I tend to feel like a failure.

4. How can I let this go and pursue a life that I love?

Thank you so much for reading all of this.  Just writing it makes me seem like I'm spending too much of my time thinking about this.  Please help me gain a new perspective on this situation.

Thank you,

Baffled

 

Dear Baffled,

You are in what I like to call a Patriarchal Shit Spiral. What I would really like to do is plunk you down in a feminist re-training program, where you are not allowed to date a man for at least a year, but I am not sure that exists.

The current man in your life is really no different from the last, he's just a bit more interesting. Both of them see women as objects to get what they want, rather than whole people.

I'm going to directly address your questions rather than speak overarchingly, since there is a lot here.

1. You did not make a mistake leaving your husband. Divorce is a two person endeavour, and there are very real reasons that you cheated on him and left him. You felt it was your only recourse to get out of a marriage in which you were completely stifled as a person. Could you have done it more gracefully? Perhaps. But you needed to get out of there, and sometimes the only way out is to implode it all from the inside.

2. S has power over you because of what you find attractive. In order to stop dating men like S, the co-worker, and your ex-husband, you are going to have to radically change your idea of what is "hot". You'll have to take back a lot of the power you've been giving to men to run your life, and make choices for yourself. It is extremely scary to do this at first, but in the end you'll find yourself wondering what you ever saw in those kinds of overpowering male personalities. I really want you to ask yourself some deep questions, about why you are attracted to these kinds of men, which I think would be best done with your therapist. Have you ever been into a person who wasn’t a domineering personality? How did that relationship go?

3. In order to feel happy again, you need to be free. You are completely bound up in the expectations other people have of you, particularly what the men in your life think of you. You need to get in touch with who you really are internally, rather than whether or not you are a success in your relationships, career, and life trajectory.  I know you are reluctant to let go of S, because all you see down that path is loneliness and ruin, but believe me, this man is not as universally liked as he appears to be. You will have allies if you leave him, and you will rebuild both your business and your self-worth, on your own foundation, not someone else’s.

4. Self-forgiveness is tantamount to your ability to let go and build the life you want. In order to fully embrace that, you need to understand that your choices, and your subsequent shame about them, were a part of the patriarchal system designed to uphold the image of men as powerful beings that get to call the shots, and women as mercurial sprites who exist to support and serve them. It is a system that is hurting men as well as women, and you are seriously caught in its web right now. You’ve got to cut your way free, which will be painful, but incredibly worth it.

In closing, you are definitely not thinking about this too much. It is all you should be thinking about.

In Solidarity,

Sibyl

It's Not You, It's Me. And By Me I Mean My Job.

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I am young and employed at the exact place that I said I would love to have a job at when I graduated with my undergraduate degree just over a year ago. I have a benefits package and vacation days. I rent a small home with a fenced-in yard and a small vegetable garden in the back. Every morning, when my alarm goes off, I seriously consider calling in sick to work. Some mornings I cry.

I have struggled, over the years, with chronic "mild" depression and anxiety issues. I have gone to therapy, tried medication, and have no issues with either of these things. They helped! It was great! I have been off of both for five years to no ill effects. But I have always been "moody" and "high strung," even when it wasn't bad enough to require medicine or therapy. Coping is not my biggest strength. But I'm trying to find a therapist in the area and maybe that will alleviate some of what is happening. I'm just not sure that is the entire problem here.

I loved my job at first. But staff has changed, and now the situation feels toxic. A new coworker is saying negative things to my boss about me. My boss is increasingly taking anger about mistakes made prior to my hiring out on me. I've become paralyzingly afraid of making even a single mistake.  My boss gets annoyed if I don't respond to emails they send after hours or if I leave before they do.  I miss interacting with (and helping, even in small ways) customers, as the nature of my tasks is devolving rapidly into standard unpaid intern-type tasks (and that's about the level of credit I get). Twice last week I came very, very close to having anxiety attacks while I sat at my desk. I've only been at this job for 6 months, although I've been with the organization for 3 years.

Sibyl, do I just need to get over myself? Is this job really not for me? Should I consider jumping back into the job search, even if it means leaving my current position after just a year (assuming I am able to find an alternative after a brief job search [I probably wouldn't be so lucky])? Are the issues with my job just a figment of my currently depressed and very stressed imagination? I should be happy right now---so why aren't I? And how do I get there?

Sincerely,

Sick Of It All

 

Dear Sick of it All,

Perhaps you are familiar with this quote, attributed to Steven Winterburn: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”

I think you may be finding yourself in the latter category, my dear.  You absolutely need to get out of that job.

I can understand your confusion.  It is noble to ask yourself first, "Is it me?  Am I the author of my own unhappiness?"  But I think that before you come to that conclusion, you've got to say, “Well, maybe it’s a little of both.  Let me rule out some external suckiness and see how I feel.”  If you want to find out whether depression is plaguing you once again, you need to get to a baseline of peace to see what your natural state is.

It's possible that you are getting hit with the solemn reality that, for most of the world, work really, really sucks.  It's dehumanizing and disempowering, and all the infographics about "doing what you really love" don't help when you're punching a clock to make payments on student loans that you'll never actually pay off in your lifetime.

However, it does not seem like your issues are normal work drama stuff.  Something in you is reacting strongly to this current environment, and I'm here to tell you, you can make those changes you want to make.  You must be willing for your life to look really different, but it is possible.

Having spent way too long in a job that went sour, I asked myself, once it had all blown up in my face, "Why didn't I get out sooner?  I saw the writing on the wall months ago - what kept me there?"  Everything I could think of: loyalty, security, false hope, all could be summarized by one thing: FEAR.

I feared I wouldn't find anything better, I was afraid of having less money, and I feared what people would think of me if I left.  So, eventually, I was forced out, and once the dust cleared I saw that not working there anymore, even though it meant I was out of the full-time workforce for a considerable amount of time, was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I came to the realization that no job, if you are miserable every time you’re there, is worth the paycheck, if you are paying in mind-body-spirit health.  We spend more time at our jobs than anything else we do.  I’m not saying we need to love every second - all jobs have their equivalent of “taking out the stinky garbage” - but yes, I think you should look for a different one.  And if the garbage still smells so bad that you are hyperventilating at your desk, follow up on those therapy referrals.

Be smart about it---don’t do your job searches while you’re on the clock, don’t burn your bridges (you never know when connections you made at a miserable job will pay off in the future---someone is watching your hard work, believe it!), and save as much money as you can, so you’ll be in the position to take a less-paying but more fulfilling job next, if that’s what happens.

The first step is opening your mind to the possibilities that await, and deciding that being so upset at your job that you are questioning your own sanity is not okay.  You need to break up with this bad job like it’s a really terrible partner that steals your money and crashes your car.  No looking back.

Love,

Sibyl

Let Bravery Be Your Blanket

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

My father was abusive to me growing up. Not very frequently was the abuse physical (the verbal variety dominated), but it was enough to instill a fear of him into me that I've never been able to shake. When he got angry, he took it out on me, I assume because I was the only one who would ever speak up when he was being cruel to my mother or sisters.

As a young adult, he used physical violence against me once; that incident alone is etched onto my memory with crystalline precision, and I cringe every time I see a person in the throes of anger. I had thought that now, since I was an adult, he couldn't hurt me anymore, but that experience settled that false assumption. Since that particular episode, I have just zipped my lip around him and kept my opinions to myself.

We do, however, have a decent relationship now---especially given the circumstances---and I have forgiven him, though I never confronted him about it and I’m not sure I ever will.

Now, however, I am going through a period of rather extreme personal change brought about by recovering from addiction. Through all this healing, I've discovered I’m not the person I once was, with the same strictly conservative viewpoints I once shared with my parents. My father especially cares passionately for right-wing politics and strict religious doctrine---it’s a hot button issue for him, and I've gotten frightened just watching him talk about it. So far, I've hidden my new opinions from everyone so as not to make any waves, but I’m getting tired of stifling my thoughts just so they won’t “get back to them” and result in a confrontation. I want to finally be myself without shame or fear.

The thing is, though, I am still afraid. I’m afraid of my father finding out, trying to engage me on this, and me melting down. I’m not necessarily scared he will hit me, but I am afraid of not being able to defend myself against his anger.

Advice?

Confused and Scared but also Fed Up

 

Dear Confused and Scared but also Fed Up,

The experience of having the person who helped bring you into the world, the man who represents your origins in many ways, turn on you in violence is something that shakes you to the core of yourself.  So my first thought is: though you see yourself as scared, you are actually incredibly brave.  Cloak yourself in that bravery like a grown-up security blanket.  It's why superheroes wear capes.

You were so brave to stand up to him as a kid, you are so brave to work on yourself through recovery, you are so brave to move beyond the values he clings to and find your own, and you are so brave to want to want to be yourself fully, in front of him and the whole world.

You are fucking awesome.

I hope he knows that.  I think he does, and fears it.  That's why he attempted to reassert his power over you by being physically abusive to you as an adult, and with the loud tirades about his politics and religion, which I consider spiritual abuse.

People who pontificate about politics and fundamentalist religions in a hostile way that excludes all other viewpoints are really just trying to order their world.  They see the world as an out of control place, and all the structure and rules of that way of life help them to make sense in the chaos, and find their place in it.

The thing is, in that world that makes perfect sense, where there are such heavy rights and wrongs, what you lose is love.  Love is inherently risky, and folks who are stuck in judgmental worldviews can't risk the rigid walls they've put up to hold everything in place, to love someone who might act in ways they can't control.

Whenever I consider standing up to someone, especially someone with this kind of strict worldview who may not be able to hear me at all, I ask myself this question, "Do they have any real power over me?"  If they do, if they are my direct boss or my landlord or the person holding the papers that say whether I graduate or not, then I consider holding my tongue in their presence.  However, if they don't, then I feel that it is not only my right, but my duty to be a change agent in their lives.  We don't have to wag it in their faces, that we don't believe what they do, but simply and firmly being who we are will be enough.

In fact, it is probably going to enrage your father, to see you asserting yourself, expressing views that are different from his.  The whole cycle of abuse is about power and control, so to see you moving off of that wheel and onto your own path is going to rock his whole sense of self and relationship to you.

My question to you is, what have you got to lose?  It's not like you will be giving up too much if he turns on you.  You say you have a "decent" relationship with him, which sounds to me like you are still in the role of peacemaker in your family.  What would happen if you let that down?  Your mom and siblings might say, "Why are you stirring things up with Dad?" but you could answer, "Why aren't you?  Are we all going to wait until he dies to be our true selves?"

Listen, I'm not suggesting you directly confront your father, provoking his rage.  Where I think you should start is with a therapist whom you can practice expressing yourself.  Engage in some drama therapy exercises, in which you picture your dad in an empty chair, and tell him what you really think about what he's done to you and your family, and how you truly feel about the world.  Then move into the chair and embody him, playing out his rebuttal.  Then move back into your chair, and tell him, "You had no right to be violent with me.  You have no power over me anymore.  I'm going to be myself, and no amount of posturing can stop me."

Then, start simply being your bold self, even if that means you publicly express things that your dad disagrees with.  He'll yell, he'll send you crazy forwards, he'll give you the cold shoulder.  You'll scoff to yourself, "I've survived worse", and let your bravery blanket flap in the wind.  He can’t take anything away from you anymore, because you aren’t under his control, and you know who you are now.  And if he cuts you out of his life, that will indeed be very painful, but then again, you'll be free.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

A Guide to the Many, Many Markets of London

mind the gap

Columbia Road Flower Market

London loves markets.  More than any city I’ve been to, London has a market for everything: for food, for vintage clothes, for Sunday strolling, for flowers, for techno music for children (no, really).  They’re full of shouting British shopkeepers and one of a kind souvenirs, of puddings made of blood and maps from the 1600s, of fresh crepes and live guitar music.  They offer an experience of London at its finest and most distinctively London, but there are so many that it’s often hard to figure out where to begin.  This week, Zack and I are hosting our first visitor (hi, Matt!), for whom I’ve narrowed down the London market experience to its best and most diverse:

For anyone who likes to eat their way through the day: Borough Market, Borough Market, Borough Market.  A definitive London foodie experience, Borough Market has been operating in its present location by the Thames River for almost a thousand years (2016 will mark the thousandth anniversary).  You’ll find fresh baguettes driven over from France that day, pistachio kibbeh, pitchers of Pimm’s Cups, venison burgers, Spanish chorizo, fresh fudge, and all of the fruit and vegetables you could ever want.  Go hungry and sample your way through the stalls with a cocktail or cider in hand; if you commit to one of the more meal-like options, the grass in front of Southwark Cathedral makes a great place to settle.  Borough Market is open from 11 – 5 pm on Thursdays, 12 – 6 pm on Fridays, and 9 – 5 pm on Saturdays.

For people who have at least one plaid shirt in their closet, and maybe a pair of black rimmed glasses: Brick Lane has basically everything, from amazing live music to all types of prepared food to vintage bric-a-brac of all sorts.  Flip through a vintage record collection, slide on a fifteen-pound fake leather jacket, and grab yourself an Eton Mess (a jumble of the biggest, most glorious meringues you’ve ever seen, whipped cream and strawberries).  Pick up a CD of techno music designed specifically for children, and then make your way through the Indian restaurants, where proprietors will shout as you walk by to lure you into their establishments.  While you’re there, pop into Sunday UpMarket (with more established shops, as well as many design stalls and amazing Tui Na massage) or the Old Truman Brewery Vintage Clothing Market, the name of which says it all.

For those with green thumbs, or craving a slice Dickensian London:  You’ll hear the scene on Columbia Road before you see it.  Thick British accents are shouting through the air: “Every-fing for a fiver!  Don’t trust the other fellow – you want leaves that are dead already, go over there.  You want brilliant, bloomin’ blossoms?  You know where to go!”  Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the flower market is worth a trip for the characters that fill it, and for the feeling that you’ve somehow stepped a century back in time.  Columbia Road itself is worth a peek too---it’s filled with charming old map stores, little vintage shops, and more than one saliva inducing bake shop.  The flower market is every Sunday from 8 am till 3---come toward the end if you’re looking to buy as the prices drop.  On a sunny day, there’ll be live music as well.

For lovers of antiques and/or Hugh Grant:  Perhaps the best-known market in London, Portobello Road has been featured in many a movie, including the aptly named Notting Hill.  While the street is winding and picturesque any day (even if the said hill is more like a light slope), Saturday finds vintage dealers from all over the country pulling out their wares: I’ve seen boxing gear from the 1930s, pocket watches from the 1700s, a collection of bells from the sixteenth century.

For people who want what’s cool before the cool thing even knows it’s cool: Brixton is currently in the middle of a (wanted or not) gentrification, and its market is no exception.  Tiny, trendy restaurants featuring all that is free-range, organic and innovative mix with shops halal meats and Reggae CDs, wigs and exotic spices.  With far fewer tourists than other markets, Brixton is worth a stop on any day of the week, although Saturday brings a rotating flea, craft or baker’s market, and Sunday a more traditional farmer’s market.

Because punk will live forever:  Famous and famously funky, Camden Market is the place to go for the most comfortable possible version of an alternative scene.  Fight your way through the tourist oriented stalls selling Union Jack flags and screen printed T-shirts and you’ll find one of the most renowned Goth stores in town, vintage furniture worthy of a movie (one of the stalls, in fact, is owned by a studio set designer), and plenty of people inconspicuously selling cannabis of all kinds.  Grab a liquid nitrogen ice cream (the lychee rose with cardamom pistachio topping is to die for), or pop into my favorite teashop in London, Yum Chaa – I recommend the Om Tea, a white-nutmeg-blackberry blend.

This, of course, is just a sampling of my favorites---I could go on for days, including Spitalfields Market, Angel Market, Greenwich Market, Piccadilly Market and more.  Have you had a chance to explore the many markets of London?  What’s your favorite?

Even Vera Wang Can't Save Me Now

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm going wedding dress shopping with my mother tomorrow. I didn't really want to go and still feel ambivalent about it. My mother can be a loving, generous, supportive person.  However, her insecurities can easily and unexpectedly be triggered, turning her into the Witch of the West. She can be mean and offensive in the most passive of ways, making it difficult to call her out on it. I fear she'll hurt my feelings at some point and take the joy out of the moment.

I also realized recently that she's not a selfish woman but definitely self-centered: everything is about her. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of attention, and I don't ask for much from others, but I do feel the moment I try on wedding dresses for the first time should be about me.

This all makes me sad because I want a relationship with my mother and I want to share these special moments with her, but I've learned that she's so limited and I don't want to be too disappointed in the end.

I decided to bring a friend along for protection, (so sad that I need this) but I'm not sure it will be enough. And with 13 months left until my wedding, how do I continue to protect myself and set appropriate boundaries, while trying to connect with her through this experience?

Thanks,

The Naked Bride

 

Dear Naked Bride,

This is your homework, for the rest of your engagement: practice saying no.

Start small, with someone who wants you to give them money for some charity you’ve never heard of (“Not today, thanks”), or the person who asks, “can you watch my dog while I go in this store really quick?” (“No, I cannot, sorry”), or your co-worker who wants you to finish their work for them (“I can’t get to it, unfortunately”).  No, no, no, and, guess what?  No.

Then when you need to put up boundaries with people you really do care about, like your mom, you’ll be able to do it with a little more grace, because you have practiced.  It won’t come out in an adolescent rage fit in which you bring up every little way she’s hurt your self esteem since you were six.  You’ll just say, “No, I’m not wearing that hideous doily of a veil that’s been in your family for 6 generations.  I totally get it if that is disappointing to you.  But it’s not going to happen, so let’s talk about something fun we can do together.  What song do you want to dance to with me at the reception?”

It’s really sad, but true, that we have to manage our expectations quite a bit with our parents, once we are adults.  We get to this point where we can see them for who they really are, how far they’ve come, but also what their limitations are.  We want our parents to be superheroes, but they aren’t.  They’re just people.  Who had children.

Weddings are ritual events, and all good ritual is acts as a cauldron that brings out everything in people---all the ways we are transcendent beings striving to love one another in the face of impossible struggles, and all of the little wounds that are still festering, and cause us to react in unflattering ways.  They show us who we can be and also where we still need to work.  Rather than seeing this wedding as one day in which you pledge your love to your partner in front of your loved ones, start seeing it as a whole process of creation---you are actually going to become a different person through bonding yourself to another.

So yes, your mom is probably going to hurt your feelings in this transformation process.  But the ways in which she does will give you so many clues to where you are still growing, what sensitivities your partner can help you with.  The best thing to do, rather than protect yourself from all those barbs she’ll throw at you, is to catch them mid-stream, as they are flying at your face, and inspect them.  Ask yourself, “can I use this?  Can I bring this to my partner and let it draw us closer as we go through this together?  Or do I really just not need this shit right now, and need to say a hearty NO?”  Then decide whether you can take that on right then, and use it in your becoming, or not.  As the time draws nearer to the celebration, you’ll be saying “no” all over the place, as you’ll really have to focus all your energy on fighting your way out of the cocoon.

Weddings and marriage are not the smiling photo shoots we see.  They are deep transformative acts, and they unsit all of the important relationships in our lives, especially the ones with our parents.  In the end, however, hopefully it all helps us fly.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

A Sibyl Without a Quandary

Asking For It with Sibyl

The last few weeks, my Sibyl inbox has been empty.  I was tempted to conclude, "My work here is done.  Everyone is fixed."  Then, I encountered a whole bunch of pretty flawed and twitchy humans who could use a good Sibylizing.

Therefore, I'm going to provide you all with a little encouragement to write in your quandary to Asking For It, for Sibyl to answer.

Six Reasons You Should Write In to Sibyl:

1.  You haven't got it all figured out.  I know you---you're not even trying to pretend you have it all together.  So write to me about the things you're grappling with, and I'll help you cut through the fog and see it all more clearly.

2. The act of writing out the quandary and sending it in has helped some of my readers find their own answers, simply by sitting with it in that conscious way.  I've received follow-up emails that say, "thank you for your answer to my question---it confirmed what I was thinking, even while I was still writing it to you!"

3. Interactive columns between strangers are pretty rad.  People who don't know each other, offering wisdom and care for no money exchanged is a powerful thing.  Be a part of this random act of artful kindness.

4. We're a dying breed.  Sugar is on hiatus.  In the last few months, we've lost Dear Abby and Dr. Joyce Brothers.  The advice columnist, once called the "agony aunt" colloquially by Brits, is a classic way for women to show up for one other publicly, with the cloak of anonymity protectively in place.

5. Your friends are tired of hearing about this issue you are obsessing about, and you can’t afford more therapy.

6. Don't you have to see your family this summer?  Yeah.  Write to me about that.  Aren't there weddings you need to attend that you feel weird about?  Write it in.  I don't care how long and rambling your letter about your ex may be.  I can take it.  And your story could really resonate with another person, and help them just by hearing that someone else is experiencing that situation, too.

It's a powerful thing, knowing you're not alone in this world.  Sibyl is listening.

All Grown Up, Still Splitting Custody

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm in my late thirties and my parents have been divorced since I was 5 years old. Growing up I never wanted my parents to get back together because I knew they didn't get along well. They did a great job of never trash talking each other to us kids, but the awkwardness and unlove was palpable between them.

My problem is, the older I've gotten, the more I wish we were one, maybe crazy, but unified family.  I split the holidays, getting some time with each parent, but if I want to have a spontaneous BBQ, I have to choose between my parents because its just too uncomfortable for everyone to be together. Then, I feel guilt on top of this because I prefer my father's company over my mom's. We just relate better to each other.

I guess my question is, are there other grown ups yearning for an un-divorced family, and what is your advice on handling choosing sides?

Help!

Torn In Two

Dear Torn In Two,

We're all grieving the family we don't have.

I have a picture of my parents in my living room, which was taken before I was born, in which they look so happy that I've considered they might be high.  Their faces squished together, both grinning, beautiful, and shining with love.  The pictures I have of them in later years are stilted, posed, in which they look like strangers to one another.

Growing up, I always wished my parents would get a divorce, because their unhappiness together fell over our house like a pallor, making everything muted, even celebratory times.  But they stuck it out, for one reason or another, and as an adult I realized that you never really know what happens between two people, even if you are living in the same house with them.

My father died when I was in college, so I never got to see what it would be like to get together with them as adults.  I find myself jealous of the parents who have grandparents around all the time, and seeing the way that my child responds to older adults, I wish I could give that to her.

But there are trade-offs to everything.  I hear from my friends who have active grandparents that they are often quite stressful to have around.  Also, I think everyone has to navigate their parents' relationship, whether they stayed together, or not.

So, Torn In Two, I don't think you are alone on this.  I think we could all use some time to grieve the happy families we wish we could have, and find acceptance for the one we’ve got.

What I suggest for your dilemma of choosing which parent to spend time with is this: make a monthly date with your mom, and stick to it, no matter what, on your end.  If she's the one to drop the ball, just wait until the following month to see her.  Then, you can let your get-togethers with your dad be more spontaneous, and you won't feel bad, because you have your standing date with your mom.

As for the guilt you feel for preferring his company, you need to let that go, as I'm sure you can find real reasons your dad and you are closer.  Guilt is spiritual cancer.  Radiate that shit with love.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

A New Perspective

mind the gap

Once, I called my Dad from New York.  It was the middle of December, and I’d been living in the city for three months. “Dad,” I said.  “I woke up this morning feeling so bummed, and I don’t know why.”

“Mmm,” he said.  “SAD.”

“I know.” I nodded into the phone, and stuck my lower lip out further, as if he could see it.  “It is sad.  And I felt stupid cuz it was for no reason, but I thought I could call you because you’re my dad, so you have to care.”

“Well,” my dad said.  “That’s debatable, but I was talking about SAD.  Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

It was my first winter outside of California or Arizona; that is, it was my first winter.  I spent awhile half listening to my father explain Seasonal Affective Disorder, and then awhile Googling it.  Like most ailments I look up online, I had most of the symptoms:  oversleeping?  I never woke up before my alarm.  Social withdrawal?  Who in their right mind would brave the gusting wind and snow to meet up with friends?  Weight gain? Well, wasn’t that just my body’s way of trying to stay warm for winter?

Because it made me feel better to say that I had something, I bought a blue light lamp that sat on my desk.  Supposedly, this was supposed to mimic sun, making my poor, confused brain think I wasn’t spending much of my year in a climate mostly uninhabitable to humans, breathing in the breath of a thousand coworkers, only going outside during the pitch dark mornings and evenings during my commute.  Did my brain think I was on a sunny beach in the Caribbean?  I’m not sure.  Did having the bright blue light shining in my eyes make me feel like I was doing something to help myself?  Let’s go with yes, although not enough for me to forget it at the office when, that summer, I left the company.

Fast forward to the next winter.  This time, I was in London, at a latitude---God forbid---even further north than New York.  In London, I’d peek out my window and find that night had fallen at 3 pm.  In London, the snow was pretty the first day and freezing and slippery for the following forty-eight.  When people asked me if I was enjoying London, I would tell them that the grey cloud layer that lay over the city like a reverse blanket was making it awfully hard to go out and explore. I’m sure I’d like London, I’d say, if I felt like I could see it.

Within the past few weeks, though, something magical has happened.  Tentatively, the sun began showing its face, finally casting away the clouds to blatantly, brightly hog the bright blue sky.  People began spilling out of their houses to fill park benches; pubs began dragging heavy wooden tables onto sidewalks and streets and roofs and alleyways---anywhere, really, which qualifies as outside.  I went to the grocery store the other day and found it closed when I arrived.  “Sorry,” the manager mouthed, pointing to the sign he’d just hung in the window.  “We close at eight.”  Eight?  I looked at the time on my phone, then up at the perfectly sunny day, then down at my phone again.  Even the sun loves London in the summer, it seems; it refuses to pack it in and call it a night.

A new London began to emerge, and with it, a new me.  I was suddenly energized in the morning.  I was eager to strap on my shoes and wander down canals, discovering the new parks that pop up in every corner of this city.  I sat at outdoor cafes and laughed as my hair became dusted with a snow shower of falling flowers from a nearby cherry tree.  I watched the sun set from the top of Primrose hill, and looked past the green grass to the shining city below me, lit amber as the sun slid beyond the horizon at near nine at night, and I thought: so this is London.

SAD?  I don’t know about that.  But suddenly, I’m finding it much easier to be happy.

Mother-in-law May I

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

My husband and I met our senior year of college and got married a few years later. We've now been together for almost a decade and I still feel lucky that we happened to meet and that circumstances allowed us to grow as people and build a life together. Our families, both immediate and extended, are an important part of our lives. We hang out with our siblings often and we're happy that our two-year-old daughter can experience the joys of a close family.

Here's the problem: From the earliest days of our relationship, my husband's mother wasn't warm or welcoming to me. Maybe it's her personality; maybe it's that my husband is the oldest of 5 and she didn't have experience with how to treat potential new members of the family; maybe it's that she and I just didn't click because we're incredibly different people with very different approaches to the world. At this point, I'm obviously part of the family, so I don't think she realizes that my perspective is colored by how she treated me for the first few years of our relationship, basically until we were married.

In many important ways my mother-in-law is a generous person who certainly has the best of intentions. I recognize that and I want to focus on it, especially since my daughter adores her. Unfortunately, when we're together for extended periods of time, like family trips, I find myself getting increasingly annoyed and frustrated. We're always going to do things differently. She's always going to correct me. She's always going to insist that she's right about everything. I can't change that, so I just need to accept her and not let all these little things bother me. Any tips?

Thank you,

Throw Grandma From the Train?

 

Dear Throw Grandma From the Train,

Recently, I went to a panel discussion of faith leaders who are seeking non-violent resolution of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank.  The theme that kept coming up was forgiveness.  I rose my hand, and asked my burning question, the one I keep returning to in my life, “How do you love people that are hard to love?”  The answer I got was to try to find the humanity in that person, to separate their actions from who they are, someone worthy of love and in need of care.

I think that is what you've been trying to do with your mother-in-law.  You've been trying to see the bigger picture, be the bigger person, just enlarge everything until it all doesn't bother you anymore.  But it's not the big things that get us, with those people that are hard to love.  It's the little, petty, constant shit that wears on us until we just can't take it anymore.

I actually don’t think the key here is accepting your mother-in-law.  It sounds like some of the things she does to you are simply unacceptable.  It is not okay for her to just decide not to like her daughter-in-law, and to correct everything you’re doing in your home.  It’s okay for you to be really frustrated when she does those things to you.

But you’re right that you need to let go of them, after you feel your feelings around them.  Another thing I heard at this discussion is that holding onto resentment is like eating poison, and expecting the other person to die.

So my advice to you is: stop trying to accept your mother-in-law.  Put all of those acceptance efforts towards yourself.

Accept the way you love your husband.  Accept it so much that it can never be questioned, never be swayed even the tiniest bit by your mother-in-law.  Let it live in the swing of your hips and in your thoughts when the two of you are apart.  Love the shit out of the way you love your husband.

Accept the way you run your household.  Accept your habits, even the ones you secretly think are gross.  Accept your home just as it is.  Accept your choices for food and work and daily routine.  Meditate on your imperfections, embracing all the very things about you that she criticizes.

Accept your parenting.  Celebrate your relationship with your daughter.  Let your acceptance for how you are raising your child ooze out of you to the point that your mother-in-law’s comments about it are deflected, as if your love for your daughter is suit of armor, gleaming and true.

I say all of this as a person who has gone toe-to-toe with her own mother-in-law several times over 13 years.  Early on, I realized this woman was never going to understand me.  But she didn’t have to, because her son did.  I realized this woman was never going to agree with me about most of the choices I made.  But she didn’t have to, because I wasn’t asking her permission or even her opinion.  I brazenly made mistakes, apologized when necessary, kept my distance when I needed to, or called her every week when I felt the desire.  I know for a fact that she doesn’t accept me as I am.  But I am certain that she respects me, and even loves me.  And the reason for that is that she knows I’m not waiting for her approval, and I love her even without it.

So, you have to be your own existential detective.  What are you insecure about?  Is your mother-in-law putting her finger in some open wounds?  Then do more work in those areas, until you can shine out your acceptance of yourself so boldly that she’s blinded by it.

And for the rest, for the hurts she’s inflicted on you in the past, and the ones that she’s sure to incur in the future, forgiveness is the only sane option.  Not just acceptance, but deep, life-altering forgiveness, that does indeed bring your mother-in-law’s humanity to the fore so her actions lose their sting.

The way to love people that are hard to love, like so many mother-in-laws, might just be to love yourself harder.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

Do My Friends Even Like Me?

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I seem to have a penchant for attracting friends who are very ambivalent about me.  Or friendship.  I am not sure, but they are so difficult to be friends with, because they pursue me mightily, but then reschedule our date several times, and say any number of passive aggressive things to me when we finally do get together.  

In between hangouts, I get a lot of "I miss you so much, I really want to invest in our friendship more, you are so amazing" from them.  It's really confusing, and if this were a love relationship, I would obviously just break up with them.  Since it is a friendship, I am so uncomfortable telling them the truth—which is that they are sending me wildly mixed messages and at this point the friendship is not worth all the work it requires.  How do I deal with this friendly mind-fuck?

With Thanks,

Baffled Buddy

 

Dear BB,

Ambivalence is one of the hardest emotions to hold for another person.  When folks are straight up angry, sad, or in love, even when it's difficult to relate, you can just let them express themselves and move on.  But ambivalence, especially when it is directed at you, leaves a confusing sheen on every interaction, which can linger throughout a relationship.  It is easier when the person knows they are ambivalent, but awareness is rare.  Instead, you get something akin to manipulation, as the person is trying to get you to help them sort through their ambivalence with your reaction.

My advice is to get out of there.  Since it sounds like many of your friends are acting this way, that may leave you a little lonely, but being alone is better than being beset by conflicting emotions that belong to other people.  And here's the thing about ambivalence—whoever is feeling it absolutely has to work it out on their own.  No one can take them by the hand and solve their problem.  So it's best to just leave them to it.

You also seem to be wondering, "Why does this keep happening to me?"  Well, consider the fact that you could be a polarizing person, someone who provokes strong reactions in people.  If that is the case, if you are a bold figure who people either love or love to hate, then folks with ambivalence issues are naturally drawn to you, because they intuit you will help them work through their conflicting feelings just by being yourself.  In fact, by confronting them, drawing their consciousness to their own ambivalence, you would be affixing a target right to your chest for all of their wavering arrows.

Don't fall for it.  Not only is it pretty much impossible for you to solve this problem for them, but your self-worth could get all tied up in confusing relationships.  So, put up kind but firm boundaries with these friends, and don't let flattery sway you.  If they are colleagues, simply see them at work, and enjoy the time you have with them there, but politely rebuff their invitations.  Tell them you are busy, and it is true—you are busy being fabulous, trying to attract new friendships, ones in which you can truly be yourself, rather than some kind of magnet they can attach to or repel themselves from.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

Fifty Shades of Yay

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I have a wonderful husband of 10 years and we have a good sex life.  Often, I need a little help to get me in the mood, my choice is romance novels.  Is this normal?  Should my husband take offense?  He's never complained, but I just hope I'm not hurting his feelings.

Thank You,

Romance Reader

Dear Romance Reader,

You're in good company.  The Romance novel is the bestselling fiction genre, ever.  According to Romance Writers of America's 2011 Romance Book Consumer survey, slightly more than half of survey respondents live with a spouse or significant other.  Some studies say that women who read romance novels have sex twice as often as those who don't.  Others say that a high level of romance reading is correlated with happy monogamous relationships.  So, to answer your initial question, your penchant for a little erotica fantasy reading is not only normal, it may be even helping your marriage.

The fact that you are worried about your reading habits, despite the fact that you are one of the ladies having hot married sex after reading a chapter of your romance novel of choice, makes me think you have some shame around this predilection.  Well, head on over to smartbitchestrashybooks.com, where Sarah Wendell and Carly Tan, authors of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, facilitate a thriving online community of fellow romance readers.  They’ll help you realize you’re not alone, and give you some great suggestions for new reads.

As for your second question, I have no idea if your husband’s feelings are hurt by your romance reading.  For that, you’ll have to ask him!  And I highly suggest that you do.  A conversation about how he feels about the paperbacks stacked on your nightstand could lead to a juicy discussion of the fantasies that most intrigue you.  You may find yourself living out a few of them, with your very own leading man!

My hope is that he does not feel threatened by your fantasies, and the fact that they are spurred by stories in romance novels, as it belies your thriving intellect and playful libido.  He should feel glad to have a partner that is inventive in her interest in all things sexual.

However, if he is threatened by it, it’s best the two of you are honest about those feelings, in order to work through them.  Perhaps you could spend a night reading him some of your favorite passages?  Next thing you know, he may be swapping books with you!  A whole world could open up for the two of you.  I hope it is one with lots of lace and fur-lined handcuffs.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

An Adopted Dad

adopted dad

By Cindy WaiteRead the first piece in Cindy's series here

I never planned out my wedding. I didn’t imagine the decorations, or the finger foods, or even my dress. I told my family, defiantly, that I’d wear jeans and a sweatshirt on my wedding day because, “Ew, dresses.” I made the sour milk face you’re envisioning. Then I did back flips on my mom’s bed, made mud cakes in the backyard, and fell asleep reading, a flashlight hidden under my covers. I was maybe a strange child.

I always said I wanted a chocolate cake on my wedding day.

“No, honey, that’s what the groom has. The bride’s cake is white,” My mom impatiently told me, again. I made my sour milk face so contorted I might have passed out from disgust.

I can see her now, my Mom, at our scratched wooden kitchen table, the plastic covering pulling over the edge, the kitchen garbage pail at her feet, a Russet potato in one hand and a peeler in the other. She would have looked up at me without missing a beat with the potato.

“Why can’t I have a chocolate cake, too? Who said only boys can have them? I’m going to have a chocolate cake.”

It made all the women around me laugh whenever I said things about my chocolate cake and jeans wedding, so untraditional was I, so my cake grew in brown, sugary divinity each time the conversation arose.

“It’ll be a BIG chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, covered in M&Ms, with chocolate sprinkles on top of that.”

Then I bested myself, “It’ll be a three layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, covered in M&Ms and sprinkles on top.”

I didn’t spend my young years daydreaming about my nuptials, but I did spend a lot of time wondering who would walk me down the aisle.

I call Rob, my mom’s best friend, “Adopted Dad.” He spoils me. He got me my first perfume, “Romance” by Ralph Lauren, for my birthday because I smelled it in a magazine and liked it. I liked the name as much as the scent.

I’m moderately more graceful than a baby giraffe, only slightly lighter on my feet than Shrek. I smelled Ralph Lauren’s newest scent when I peeled back the bulky page in Seventeen, and I saw myself transform from my not-quite-or-at-all-grown-into-myself body to a romantic heroine starring in my own meet-cute love story. I’d be sophisticated. I’d be urbane, a word so sophisticated, saying it put me in a new class.

Adopted Dad is divorced. He’ll be happily remarried in a few years, when I’m 17 or 18. He’ll stop being Adopted Dad then, but I’ll hold on to the title for keepsakes. Divorced Dad can be a Dad to me; he has room and time in his life to adopt me into it.

Adopted Dad lets me drive. He’s okay with me behind the wheel, guiding me from the passenger seat. He doesn’t grip the door handle and dashboard until his knuckles turn white---that’s Mom’s job, and she should get a pay raise she’s so excellent at it.

I’m driving out to Six Flags with Adopted Dad and his 10-year-old son, my babysitting charge. Adopted Dad took the day off, and he handed me the keys. I didn’t know my palms could produce sweat so fast, but those keys felt like they were dipped in oil they were so slippery. I drove through Newnan straight on to 85 North, headed for Atlanta.

I’m on the interstate, driving through Spaghetti Junction---six, eight, fifteen lanes twisted like noodles, my heart racing with nerves in the snaking, speeding traffic. This is my opportunity to prove my maturity.

I’m 16, but I swear it’s more like 20-something because that’s what everyone says. I’ve grown up in single parent years---that’s 1.5 for every 1 normal kid year. I sort of get how dogs feel, passing everyone by.

Rob tells me, “It’s okay to speed,” as matter-of-factly as though he’d said, “There are cars on the road right now.” I stare at him out of the corner of my eye, my peripheral vision stretched as I also try to keep both eyes straight ahead, my hands at 10:00 and 2:00 and my heart from fluttering straight out of my chest onto the console.

“If you have the money to pay for a ticket, then you can take your chances exceeding the speed limit,” he continues. “You can choose to break the rules if you know the consequences and accept them.”

I feel immensely loved in this moment.

This is real dad advice. This is a life lesson that seems absurd on the surface---one a Mom would yell about, eyes bulging out of her head, demanding to know what on earth he was thinking telling a 16-year-old something so irresponsible. But Dad would know that he has a smart daughter, one with a head on her shoulders that got it, that gets him, that will be a more responsible driver and person because now she’s empowered with choice and the weight of responsibility.

I’m choking up because he said this and I’m imagining that scene, and a car cuts in front of me, and my reflexes jerk the wheel enough for us all to notice, but Adopted Dad doesn’t critique. And I’m calming down now because I can do this.

Men bonded with Chris mostly, growing up. What’s a boy without a dad? They went fishing and hunting, and he learned to tie knots and change a car tire, all while I played beneath the towering oak tree in the front yard. Men lent me a lap to crawl on when I was little and reassuring, big hugs as I aged. Men taught Chris and comforted me.

But Rob took me on busy Atlanta interstates and taught me to trust my gut. He taught me the tools of the Dad trade---lecturing me on too much time spent online talking to boys and wondering if I’d like to learn how to change a tire, after all.

I still wear Ralph Lauren’s Romance. I still think of Adopted Dad when I spritz it, pushing my shoulders back and my head high and entering the mist as any urbane woman might do.

I put Adopted Dad in the “maybe” column to walk me down the aisle.

A Fatherless Girl

fatherless girl

By Cyndi Waite

My mom runs her hand softly along my cheek, like moms do with their babies. Maybe I asked the question, "Who is my dad?" or "Where is my dad?" or maybe she preempts it. She strokes my cheek again and smiles at me.

“My beautiful girl," I imagine her saying it in the wonder-filled way she still says it today. "My beautiful girl, your daddy was a good man, but he is very sick."

This refrain is so palpable and entwined in my childhood, I know the words like a nursery rhyme whose repetition tattooed it on my memory. But there’s not a nursery rhyme for my story.

I was born in Hollywood, a fact that fills me with undue glee. I was a kid who had "a lot of personality," a euphemism for having been histrionic. I wanted to be an actress, a screenwriter, but always, I dreamed of being a Los Angeles Resident.

Because what I leave out is the "Florida" part. I'm from Hollywood, Florida, home of the Cuban and land of the retirees. It’s a far cry from the iconic “Hollywood” sign and yet, it’s true, I’m from Hollywood.

We lived in an apartment building. I can see the outline of it, and I wonder if that's my earliest memory shining through or if I've re-created a memory from pictures. It had a giant, humongous, can't-see-the-end-of-it-can't-touch-the-bottom-of-it pool. We lived there until I was three.

Mom has always been a fish, happiest near the water and stressed, searching for air away from it. Mom's angry? Let's run her a bath. Mom has to get away from work? Let's pack a bag of towels and ham sandwiches and find the nearest lake. Water is Mom's Valium.

Mom's love of the water seeped into Chris and me in the womb; pregnancy didn't keep her from floating weekends away. We came out with our arms failing in freestyle. Outside her belly, we split our time the way she had done while we were in it: between the pool and the beach. I learned to walk in the sand.

***

Mom and Chris hold my hand as we walk to the water, waves lapping my feet and calves and thighs and stomach. I’m pink and round---a perfect Gerber baby, squealing with delight at the touch of the cool south Atlantic waters (that are somehow, someway perfect, while northern Atlantic beaches are drab, the water the color of the gray sand. It’s a mystery I’ve never solved).

Chris, four years older than me, maybe six or seven, swims his way away from Mom and me. He probably travels three feet, but I swear it’s 10 feet---half a football field, even. Mom holds me over her head, and teases me, “I’m going to do it! I’m going to throw you!” and her threats aren’t threats at all but promises. And she tosses me through the air, and I’m soaring what feels like stories above the water shimmering below, and I land, laughing, in my brother’s open arms. They throw me like a football, calling plays, “Go left!” I was a precursor to my brother’s glory days on the football field, a human ball. I wonder if that’s where he learned a perfect spiral.

***

We move from Hollywood that same year, when I’m three. I still suck on a pacifier, a fact that embarrasses and endears me now---a childhood in tact, still so innocent it maybe seemed stalled, in slow motion, behind. Precocious and clever, my brother knows my sun rises and shines with him. Where he goes, I go. What he does, I try to do. Sometimes he uses his powers for good, and sometimes he uses them for evil. The line is always blurry.

We pack up the family Chevy S-10 and move to Georgia.

We say goodbye to our family and friends, and Mom says it’s time for an adventure. She drives stick shift in the small three-seater pickup truck. My legs swing around it; it's hard for her to switch gears sometimes, and I talk nonstop, except when I'm sucking on my pacifier.

She got lost, often, on that long drive. I asked a dozen times if we were lost, and she always said, “We’re not lost, we’re finding a new way," just like she says today. Sometimes I ask her when we're standing still to hear those guiding words.

Hours into the drive, Chris pipes up. “I dare you to throw your pacifier out the window.”

I eye him cautiously; at three, going on four, I’m already stubborn and incapable of turning down a challenge.

“I double-dog dare you. I bet you won’t do it.” The taunts keep coming.

I pull my pacifier out of my mouth, and he rolls down the window, and Mom intervenes.

“If you throw it out the window, I won’t get you another one,” she warns.

Chris smirks. “I triple-dog dare you.”

I can’t take it anymore, and I throw it out, watch the wind whip it, bounce it off the side of the truck and fall onto the hot asphalt. It’s gone. It’s really gone.

I start to cry.

“I love you, but I told you if you threw it out, I wouldn’t get you another one,” Mom reminds me.

Chris looks at me, pride in his eyes. “You’re a big kid now.”

I cry all night, furious and unable to sleep. Mom doesn’t buy me a new pacifier.

The next morning, I’m calm and grown up when we pull into Carl’s driveway.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sybil,

What is twisting my gut is what is also twisting the gut of the nation. My issue is that I am so very, very sensitive to human-caused tragedies, so much so that even a headline can send me toward panic-attack-ville. I've dealt with this by avoiding the news in general (my husband keeps me up to date on disturbing events using gentler wording buffered on either end with a hug) but I still want to be in the know.

Also, avoiding Facebook is much more difficult than avoiding the news; and so I see articles that friends post that I shouldn't click but sometimes do. I am repulsed, deeply saddened and deeply scared by tragedy, but also curious about how terrible things happen (and how I can avoid raising a child that would act in those terrible ways.)

How can I honor my tender self but still stay informed and educated?  Maybe there are others in the same boat that would benefit from some words of wisdom!

Thank you,

Tender-oni

Dear Tender-oni,

When a tragedy of this magnitude rocks our nation, every sentient person feels it in some way.  It sounds like you have the beautiful yet difficult experience of being someone extra attuned to the fragility of life, which means you need to take even more care to be kind to yourself and others in the wake of the Boston bombings.

Hearing tragic news is really unsettling, and it takes us out of our bodies.  The most important thing to do is to get grounded, connect yourself to the earth, and back in your corporeal being.  Wherever you are right now, feel your feet on the floor beneath you.  Imagine there is a connection between the soles of your feet down to the core of the earth, and that a vibration of light is running up through you, lengthening your spine out through the crown of your head.  Put your hands on your thighs, and press.  Then place your hands on your belly and breathe deeply, in and out, until you can feel your breath steadying, and you feel connected to all your limbs from your center.

Now that you are grounded, go ahead and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.  If you're sad and need to cry, let the tears roll down.  If you are angry and need to punch a pillow, or yell into a cup, do that.  If you are scared and need to call your loved ones, please do.  Let them know you love them and you need them right now.

It is okay to try to get the truth about what happened, to allow your brain to make as much sense as possible of such mind-boggling violence.  However, with all the ways of receiving news now available to us, choose wisely.  First of all, avoid visual and aural news.  Receive your facts in words, in the form of complete sentences.  It is impossible to un-see images of bodies mangled, and to un-hear screams and cries.  News that has already been filtered through the brains of professionals into sentences are designed to inform you in the least traumatizing way possible.  Therefore, if you must follow the news, read it in article form, and don’t sign up to be notified every time events unfold---be as in charge as possible of when/how you receive the latest updates.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if you are indeed having panic attack symptoms.  Call your therapist, or if you don’t have one, contact Disaster Distress, a program of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Support Administration: http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/  You can call 1-800-985-5990 toll-free to talk with a crisis counselor, who can help you deal with the normal reactions to such troubling events.  There is nothing wrong with you if you are having triggering responses to such horrifying acts---it just means you are human.

Being human sometimes means being scared, but it also means being able to love.  Do something today that makes you feel really alive, and connects you to the love in your life, and the kindness of humans.  You have to counterbalance the horror with reminders that we are all held together with heartstrings.  This may be as small as creating some art to immerse yourself in beauty, or as large as volunteering to help others even more in need than you are.

I don’t know how long it will take, or what will transpire before we get there, but love will win.  I have had too many wonderful experiences with humans to discount them in the face of tragedy and say “people are terrible.”  I don’t believe that.  Some people are sick and need help and love, so that they can see how alike we all really are, and that there is something of value in each of us.

There will come a day that we will all look in one another’s eyes and see our own spark staring back at us.  In order to make this vision a reality, to end violence everywhere, we have to let the love we hold in our hearts wash over all we come into contact with, until it is a tidal wave, consuming the fear and leaving us ashore at last.

Love,

Sibyl

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