"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Me Time

Once again, I have gone too long without writing.  How did I let time and life get the best of me?

I have been given several reminders (some not so subtle) to schedule "me" time.  I understand the concept - I suppose - but how can I schedule "me" time when I have never done such a thing my entire life?  What exactly is "me" time?  I mean, what does it mean for me?  I know for some people it is taking a long luxurious bath.  Mmm, not really that appealing for me.  I get the water all hot, put the bubbles in, grab a book, maybe even light a candle.  I get in the tub and it's nice, granted, for about, say, 5 minutes.  And then I'm bored.  Or rather, I'm anxious.  How long does one have to stay in a bathtub, enjoying their so-called pampering, this guilty pleasure?  I get restless, think of things to be done, thinking taking a bubble bath is not so much something I relish although I am supposed to relish it because isn't that what all women dream of?  Every friend I ever had would sigh at the idea of taking a bath (Calgon, take me away!).  No, I would much prefer a hot shower, immensely more enjoyable, shorter and more productive (I can wash my hair, shave my legs, check one thing off my list of things to do before going to work at 7am tomorrow morning).

I try to think of what I would do for "me" time.  Sometimes, it is writing, taking a few hours to go to Starbucks and sit in the chaise longue, sipping my favorite drink (yikes, the price) and write.  At least with the blog I have a purpose.  In years past, I would ready myself for some inspired writing, only to find I am stuck and now wouldn't it be better to make a shopping list or balance my checkbook instead?  After all, that $5.00 drink has got to be accounted for as I am not independently wealthy.  It is a splurge to go to Starbucks, especially when I could go to my place of employment and purchase an equally enjoyable beverage for half the price (but who wants to go to work to relax?)

"Me" time has invariably meant spending money.  I enjoy shopping but always find that I want to buy something, and maybe I do, but then have to return it a few days later because we really don't have any extra spending money these days, and the cable bill from the old house still isn't completely paid off, not to mention the stack of doctors' bills that remain unpaid.  So going to the movies is out usually (besides, I'll feel guilty about the popcorn as well as the money).  I couldn't find a library if I wanted to (well, that's not true, there is the internet), but I have books at home to read.  There is no park and if there was, it's only good for about 4 months of the year in Arizona.

I often wonder if "me" time includes cleaning my kitchen or doing laundry or organizing the mess on my desk.  It would definitely make me feel better to get those things done, but something tells me that is a reaction to my anxiety and that I only want to do those things because that is what should be done; it's what organized, put-together people with class do, and that's who I want to be, in spite of, because of, the fact that I once again am living in an apartment that is not quite up to standard, but it is cheap (relatively) and it seems I will always find myself living somewhere that does not completely rise to my expectations of where I should be living.  It just brings back all the memories of all the homes we didn't live in.  Apparently it is true that I hit my residential pinnacle when I was in college, in my sorority, when we rented a huge house on a hill that overlooked the Santa Cruz bay.  On Wednesdays in the summertime, we could see the regata from our living room surrounded by windows.  You can see that house driving up Bay Street toward the campus, a monstrous looming structure that turns out was not quite built to code.  I always said, in my unassuming, self-deprecating way that it was the nicest house I would ever live in.  Argue your limitations and sure enough they're yours.

I found a yoga class that is inexpensive.  I like yoga and I guess that counts as "me" time.  Now to get myself out of the apartment and to the class, that sometimes is a challenge in itself.

I don't suppose lying on the couch watching Lifetime TV counts as me time.  Sometimes, watching TV can count as "me" time, but generally vegging out, numbing out, in front of mindless television does not count as recuperative activity.

I never had "me" time growing up.  I did not allow myself to have "me" time.  I don't think I had ever heard the expression.  Sure, I would write, listen to music, daydream about how life could be but wasn't.  And sometimes, I enjoyed just staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, but I was forced to justify it.  My best friend, Tami, could never be still, not out of anxiety, but out of true desire to go out and do things.  I wanted to be like her, but really, I'm a homebody, even when the home is not so great.  Yes, I can be a social butterfly, the life of the party and yes, sometimes the thought of going out still thrills me, but overall, I am happy to just be at home with people I love.

Or was I worried about what would happen if I left?  If I went out too much.  Occasionally, I would be busy all weekend and my mother would say, why can't you just stay home once in a while?  Why do you always have to be doing something?  Maybe she didn't want to be home alone, or maybe she wanted to go out and do something fun.  I don't know.

I do remember a time when I was a senior in high school and I had spent most of the weekend at Tami's house.  My mom and sister came to pick me up.  I immediately sensed that things were not right, that the weekend had been disruptive because of Direll, of course, who was now displaying constant, intense cocaine psychosis.  He no longer lived in reality, and home had become somewhat of a war zone.  We, all of us, were constantly being watched.  You could feel his eyes on you everytime you walked across the living room into the kitchen.  If you opened the blinds, he insisted you were signaling to someone outside.  If you closed the blinds, you were doing the same.  He saw a nail sticking out of the overhang outside our front door and insisted it was a listening device, a bug.  Our whole apartment was bugged, according to him.  We were all spies, and my mother and I, in particular, were involved in very illicit activity, making pornographic movies in our spare time.  He knew because he had seen these movies, of course.  It was ridiculous, there was much eye rolling on my part, but it was also like living in a prison.  Freedom was granted only to those of us who had someplace else to go and the transportation to get there.  I never thought of it this way, but I got out of there every chance I had, under the innocent guise of having plans with so-and-so, or going to my part-time job.  Relief at home came only when Direll went out, but with that usually came a fight before hand, again with Mom insisting he stay home once in a while, trying to control his activity by refusing money, only to have Direll dump out her purse and take it with a grin of satisfaction.  He was a number one asshole and that's putting it mildly.  I could fill a page with insults and derogatory names and they still wouldn't be enough to qualify the way I felt and still feel about him.

I digress.  Mom and Julie picked me up from Tami's and we went home.  They had groceries in the car.  I started up the stairs first to our apartment, reached the front door first, which was usually unlocked.  I couldn't open it.  The handle would turn but something was blocking it.  Frustrated, I kept pushing while in the background I started to make out my mother telling me to stop and to turn around and go back with her.  Her voice was urgent, slightly fearful of what lay behind the door.  Julie started in but I couldn't stop what I was doing fast enough.  I hadn't been home all weekend to understand that things had been really bad this time.  Just as I started to back away, Direll opened the door, his teeth gleaming in a smile (maybe I'm making that part up - the big, bad wolf characterization).  On the other side of the door, our apartment was ransacked.  I knew it was ransacked because all my life I had been reading about ransacked rooms in my Nancy Drew books.  Direll said that men had come over, looking for things to implicate my mother and me in some kind of conspiracy or crime.  But we knew the truth; we knew he had done it himself.  He was crazy.  I went to my room to check its condition.  Fortunately, the ransackers had kept their business in the common areas of the apartment.  A fight, an argument, broke out between him and my mom.  I snapped.  In the bathroom, in the midst of it all, I broke down in tears, and just like in the movies (although I didn't stage it this way), I sank to the floor and covered my eyes and cried hysterically that I just couldn't take it anymore.  Over and over I said this.  My baby sister, now 12, came to my side.  I can't imagine what she thought, or if now, she even remembers.  My mom came briefly, I think, at the sound of my wails, but Direll interfered as usual with my mother's parenting.  My tears turned to rage and the next thing I knew I was on my feet, standing as close as I could to Direll, face to face, yelling at the top of my lungs.  He wagged his index finger at me, tried to loom over me in intimidation.  I wouldn't have it.  I grabbed his finger and shoved it out of my face.  I wanted to hit him, I may have and he backed away.  I might have dared him to hit me.  I was not afraid, I was not going to be afraid, and I was not going to be bullied by him.  My mom freaked, fearing for my safety, fearing that I was escalating the situation, and distracted him away from me.

I don't remember how it ended.  He may have left.  It may have all quieted down at that point.  Maybe I did surprise him with my verbal assault.  Maybe I seemed a little crazy.  I felt like I was crazy, like I was going crazy and would go crazy if this went on much longer.  It was the first and only time I completely lost my grip, lost my self-control at home.

So there was no "me" time.  There was no time for "me" time, not when I had to be on alert at all times.  "Me" time is not "me" time when it is spent hiding out in my bedroom all night, the music turned up enough, but not so much that my well-trained ear couldn't catch the sound of another potentially physical fight.  Maybe that's why I can't sit in the bathtub longer than 5 minutes.  I was only allowed minutes at a time for "me" because there was always, always something more important, something bigger than me that I had to pay attention to.

Tomorrow, I go to therapy and have to report on my "me" time.  My therapist says I have to take the little girl out to play, meaning me.  I still don't know what that means, but I will dutifully report that I went to yoga once and have intentions of going again, and well...I guess I'm going to have to figure out how and what else to schedule that might count as "me" time.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't include cleaning the kitchen.

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