"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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Valley Girl

As I prepared for my entrance into Sequoia Junior High, I was excited to get my long straight hair done in a more fashionable style.  I was a huge fan of "Love Boat" at the time, and I loved Vicki, the Captain's daughter.  I loved her hair, more specifically - a very feathery, big hair look that was starting to become the signature hair of the '80's, and that's what I wanted.  Of course, there was no internet to find a decent picture and even if there would have been a photo, I didn't know about hair magazines (if they existed), and I couldn't be sure that everyone watched "Love Boat" (I don't know why. . .?), so my best attempt at getting a picture was using the Poloroid camera to take a picture of the television screen (in the event that she had a decent close-up).

For some reason, my mom was all hot on perms at the time and we decided that that's what we would do with my hair to attain this "Vicki" look.  Remember, this is 1983 and hair styling was nothing like it is today.  I look back at old TV shows and pictures and think "damn, that girl needs some product in her big hair to catch the fly-aways!).  Mom had found a hairstylist to cut my hair (and Matt and Julie's) - I guess we were all of the age where we needed someone other than Mom to trim our hair.  We went to the salon for the cut and then she came to our condo to do the perm.  During the process, she would disappear into the bathroom several times.  I, naturally, didn't think anything of it, but afterward Mom felt compelled to share with her 13 year old daughter that she thought that the girl was doing drugs (probably snorting coke) during her many bathroom breaks.  What makes a parent think that's necessary information to an adolescent?  I'm not one for being overprotective of children and hiding them from the realities of the world, but it's just another example of how my parents - both of them - shared way too much with their children.  I didn't need to know that my chemical curls were being rinsed out by a cokehead.  Goes to show society's understanding and/or acceptance of recreational drug use (barring heroin, I guess) during the '80's was naive in itself.

Sadly, my hair did not turn out like Vicki's.  And I really didn't know how to style it.  It was not a pretty, spiral perm that came along later in the decade.  It was just really curly, with a life of its own.  Just look back at my 8th grade photo of me in the purple top.  Hideous.  As it turned out, my curly hair was one of the things that Tami proclaimed to love about me.  That, and the fact that I wore make-up (meaning 3 colors of eyeshadow and color coordinating eyeliner).  Her mom wouldn't even let her wear mascara at that age or do anything with her hair.

As a last hurrah before school started, I had my friends from Santa Monica carpool over to spend the night.  We rented a VCR (Beta probably) and movies, one of which was "Valley Girl" with Nicholas Cage.  In that condo, there was missing the feeling of our famous slumber parties, maybe because we had been apart too long, maybe I was apprehensive about the hair thing.  Come to think of it, I had never actually hosted one of our slumber parties because of Direll so maybe that was what made it different.  I got mad at them for being too loud, for fear of waking the rest of the house.  I don't know why.  No one ever came downstairs and told us to be quiet.  My little Nazi had come out.  Everyone had fun, I guess, in the end, but I never saw any of them again.  I was in a whole new world.  The Valley really was different from Santa Monica, which was much more LA-ish, more city-like than the suburb we had moved to.  Gag me with a spoon.  Like, totally.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

8th Grade, Part 2

Nothing ever came out of the Arash infatuation.  I mean, I never truly gave up on him, but it was becoming clear that nothing was going to happen.  He barely spoke to me as it was, although I was starting to become friends with his friends - Roman, Anthony, Jeremy, Damian, even the "Reflex" guy, although we did keep our distance because of Tami (didn't want to inspire any false hope, of course).  I was still super shy, nearly choking on my own tongue each time one of them spoke to me, cheeks the brightest pink ever.  And in truth, mostly if we spoke it was to say "excuse me" to get to my locker.  But we all had the same classes together, and I had Tami to handle social situations, being that she was much more outgoing than I was.  Plus, she had the advantage of having known them the year previous, although I suppose I maintained the advantage of being the mysterious new girl.

It was hard being so shy, not just for the obvious reasons, but because I was often mistaken for being a snob or "stuck up" which is how we said it back then.  (Nowadays, I proudly admit to being a snob but only about certain things and it doesn't take a psychotherapist to figure out why, but that explanation is for a later post.)  But back in 8th grade, I wasn't stuck up, I just didn't know what to say or do.  People used to tell me to "SMILE" as though I walked around with a perpetual scowl, which maybe I did; maybe that was my natural expression.  Let me tell you though (and for any woman to whom this happens) - all you people out there who think it is endearing to tell a girl or a woman to "SMILE":  it is damn annoying and makes me want to do anything but smile.  I'll smile if I want to and certainly not because you tell me to because the last thing I want you to think is that you have the power to make me smile.

That was one of the things I liked so much about Tami.  She, like all of my true friends, was able to bring out the true me.  I tell people now about how shy I used to be, and they laugh and laugh and can't believe me; they think I'm joking.  So I have to preface my "shyness" stories with the whole "I know you're going to find this hard to believe but..." line.  I was comfortable with the people who knew me best, or in a group where someone else was the butterfly.

Tami's outgoing personality would have its advantages and disadvantages to me in many ways throughout junior high and high school, but truly I had never had a friend like her before.  As best friends do, she would flatter me, sincerely, and make the sun shine on me the way it never had.  During 8th grade she never admitted to "liking" anyone in school and even when pressed, it was a stretch for her to mention a summer counselor she'd had the summer before, but I could tell it was nothing like my crushes.  When I had a crush, I was all in. As Shakespeare wrote, I was "one who lov'd not wisely, but too well."  I guess I've always been that way in all my relationships (yes, psychotherapists of the world, analyze that one to death, as I have).

Looking back, it feels as though my crush on Arash lasted a lifetime.  In reality, it probably lasted a month or two and then I was off to the next one.  But let's catch up on what was going on at home, lest we forget probably the biggest reason Tami felt like salvation to me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to the Blog

I am sitting in the eating area of my now favorite, newly discovered, from here going forward writer’s retreat.  Where I am is a secret for now – I’m not ready to share my secret hideaway quite yet.  Leave it to say that it is a beautiful, stone house in a place that is not 117 degrees that has been restored to its post Victorian era self.  The parlor, where I would be sitting in the window seat had I not left my lap desk upstairs (where Deril sleeps off day 1 of our anniversary adventure – not in the way one would think; rather, in addition to the physical pain he is enduring right now, I think he wishes to sleep away all memories of our on-the-way-here stay over debacle – a story not even worth telling), is my next foray into this house where I would like to pretend I am receiving visitors in a muslin blue day dress, or maybe reading a novel in the window seat.  Or maybe, my handsome Lord Deril will pay a call and dare so much as to hold my hand or steal a kiss.  I am too much a romantic.  I should have lived during another era (although that in itself I am sure I have romanticized too much).  The hosts here have generously allowed me to borrow the use of an old black felt hat with a dark rose flower.  Deril is afraid I’ll abscond with it, which I won’t, but which has given me the notion to find a thrift store in town and buy myself a “writing” hat. 

I’m at a crossroads, I feel.   I need to find myself.  I am more than a retail manager.  I am a writer and I need to write.  To find in me the wherewithal and the energy and determination to do so is my challenge.  I know I must work for a living; we all have to pay our way somehow.   But a paycheck, while it feeds my stomach, does not feed my soul.  Fortunately I have found dancing again, though I am a long way off from being a Black Swan.  But I must remind myself that I am me, I am Shelley Marie Smith Balough, and I can only bring out the dancer/writer/person I am by completely being and embracing myself.  I guess that’s what this blog is all about.

When I get anxious, which is often, I tend to respond in a few different ways:  eat and eat poorly, spend money which I usually don’t have, try in some way to control all aspects of life around me, or sleep, which at the point of sleep means I’ve gone into some depression.  I KNOW that what I need to do when I am anxious is fill the hole, soothe the sensation with writing.  Let words fill me up – fill up the tank, as motivators like to say.  I don’t know what scares me about writing.  Is it because I am a perfectionist?  Too judgmental of my own work or more likely, is it that I am just afraid of the emotions I might access while doing so.  Most of the time, though, I come out of it feeling very reassured, very satisfied, especially when I work on an aspect of my blog.  Ah, yes, progress has been made.  I know I’m different – I mean we’re all different – but I mean different.  And I guess by that I mean untrusting.  I think my fear deep down inside is that I’m a fraud.  I think that’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to figuring my dad out.  I think that was his greatest fear as well.

Until tomorrow…

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Then and Now

When does it ever stop?  The things we do, I mean, to make our lives easier but which take up so much precious time.  Can't time stand still while I make the coffee for the morning, do the laundry, take out the garbage and the recycling (and don't forget to replace the bags)?  Is this just life?  Is this just it?  Are these the little things in which I am supposed to be finding joy?

I am burdened by this overwhelming sense of failing, like I am failing at living the life I want because I just don't know how to get there.  I was complaining to my mother the other day about the stress of my recent promotion, the challenges I was facing and she said with cheerful sympathy, "It's like you're on the Apprentice!"  "But there's no million dollars at the end," I whined and then went on to unload the other burdens of my life at the moment, to which she said (this time with a more cynical cheerfulness), "It's like you're on the Amazing Race!  Your life is the Amazing Race!"  I laughed this time because ironically it's true - isn't that what life is?  Yes, but I reminded her that somehow making coffee and doing laundry and cleaning the cat box don't seem quite as exciting as backpacking around the world, building crystal goblet pyramids and learning how to plant potatoes, Russian-style.  And again, no million-dollar prize at the end.

Once, during the few years after college when I lived in my much beloved studio apartment on the tree-lined street of downtown Sacramento, I made one of my weekend excursions to Los Gatos, just north of Santa Cruz, to visit friends.  As I embarked on the 3 hour drive in my Toyota Tercel (fondly nicknamed the "Bullet" by the same friends), I decided that I was going to be on vacation that weekend; that it wasn't just a regular weekend - I was going on vacation with a vacation mindset, even if it was just from Friday night to Sunday night.  I declared my "vacation" to my friends who were satisfyingly impressed with my decision, and indeed, it felt like I was on vacation all weekend. 

I never have weekends like that anymore, in truth, mostly because I work a retail job and in retail we rarely have 2 days off in a row, much less an actual Sat-Sun weekend.  But what I remember about that weekend and those weekends to follow - the ones where I abandoned my Sacramento life for the fun and yuppiness of the Bay Area - was how carefree I felt, how enriched my life suddenly became if only by the blissful indulgence of brie and bread and olives and strawberries after a walk to the farmers' market and a feigned interest in the local art gallery.  Or salmon for the first time with mango salsa and wine and intellect, the cool wit of twenty-somethings who think they have it all figured out, know better than everyone, even though we had no clue.  What snobs we were, and I loved it.  Youth, I guess that's what it was.  Youth.

Now I'm going on forty-something, and most would say I am still young - and I do believe I am - but it's a different kind of young.  In my mature wisdom, I know - and more importantly, understand - that I have so much ahead of me, that in many ways, life is just beginning.  How to seize it, that's what I haven't figured out yet.  Does anyone ever?

My friend Kevin has amazing stories about his life.  I love talking to him.  Someone will bring up the name of a well-known person and he will say, "I grew up down the street from him and we used to go ice skating on the pond, etc, etc" or something to that effect.  I love his stories.  I want stories like that.  Of course, he has about 30 years on me, but he is as alive as anyone I know.

I want to be happy.  Generally, I am happy, but sometimes, like now, that depression just slaps me in the back of the head (think NCIS and Mark Harmon).  I have good reason.  My husband, Deril, is back in the hospital, this time with pneumonia ("you seem strangely calm", the ER paramedic said to me.  I could only laugh because pneumonia is nothing compared to brain surgery).  I am glad Deril is there, only because that is the best place for him to be, as sick as he is.  How he got pneumonia is still a mystery to me, but if I ever entertained the idea of an air purifier, the deal is sealed now.

Anyway, my newly found exercise routine is on hold and my house is still in boxes because between trying to find my way in the dark in this new job role and visiting the hospital (bad wife, leaving your husband all alone all day!), I have no time, except to come home and try to get enough sleep to do it all again tomorrow.  Hence, the drudgery of making coffee tonight so I don't have to do it at 5 in the morning.  The Lifetime Movie Channel never sounded so good as I try to drift off to sleep in my bed made for two, bookended at least by my two kitties who can't understand where their daddy is.

But here are the good parts:  I ended my work day on a very high point albeit 20 minutes past my already nine hour day; I kissed my husband and held his hand and felt very loved and appreciated; and I blogged (amazingly without a cat climbing onto my lap while I try to type).  Not bad, in spite of the coffee-making, which, at 5 in the morning, I will be very happy I did when I smell it brewing and know I don't have to get up and make it half-asleep.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Life Is Hard

Someone I love so much is hurting today, and I wish there were something I could do to change that.  I have been out of touch with everyone in my life it feels for the past month at least because, well, life is hard.  I've said it to myself so many times, "life is just so hard."  Yes, it is.  I try to comfort myself with the familiar quote I've heard from somewhere that nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Is it March already?  I am chastising myself a bit for having ignored my blog for so long.  I wasn't going to do that!  Let life get in the way, or lose momentum.  So here I go again.  I am starting, it feels from scratch, but not really.  I realized tonight I just have to get something down and the rest will come; the momentum will return.  It's hard to be so positive sometimes, yet it's critical for my survival; otherwise, the depression will creep back in, kind of like "The Blob".

Have you seen "Black Swan"?  Here's the thing I love about movies like this and especially books:  you can believe whatever you want about the story, the ending.  I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it, but my interpretation of the ending seems to be the least popular; that is, I am in the minority - so far I haven't gotten anyone to agree with me.  That's okay.  That's the beauty of art, and even if the creator of that art has a definite, decided explanation of what it means, I can still believe inside that there is something else to it.

I guess what I'm saying, maybe what this post is all about, is that interpretation is everything.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Melt In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands

In spite of my reticence to accept that my childhood had any effect on me as an adult, I did realize pretty early on - say my mid 20’s – that I was much more comfortable when my life was in a state of chaos or great flux.  Drama, whether it was over work, over a guy, any kind of upheaval in my everyday routine, was a familiar state of being, much easier to cope with in many ways than a more even keel, dare I say, routine and boring.  I didn’t know how to function in an everyday, quiet, peaceful manner.  I would get antsy, anxious, depressed if things were just – again the word – routine.  I didn’t feel satisfied. 
Of course, I knew this somewhere in the depths of my being, but I never would have been able to articulate it.  I would know it, acknowledge it and then shrug it off as if to say, “well, yeah, but that’s just because.”  I didn’t give it any further thought.  Instead, I looked for some way to shake things up, anesthetize my feelings by going shopping (read “spend money I didn’t have”), eat, make sudden life decisions (“things would be so much better if I just went back to school”), or incubate under the bed covers while watching movies or bad TV.
It was times like that that I would pull out my box of writing that I’d done, determined that if I just focused, I could be productive and become the writer that I’d always thought I’d be by now.
And if I only had a boyfriend – the perfect boyfriend – then my life would be all right, because, of course, I was ready for one and it was time already to catch up with my same age college friends.
These were desperate times.
My mom likes to recall when I lived by myself for the first time in a rented studio apartment in downtown Sacramento, the only part of Sacramento that has any character to it and which is vaguely reminiscent of San Francisco.  I had the top floor apartment, hard wood floors, ceiling fan and all, with a big window that looked onto the leafy treetops of I Street.  For a studio, it had a full sized kitchen with room for a small table and a door to separate it from the living/bedroom.  After a while I even managed to fit a futon and coffee table in the main room so that there was a sitting area rather than just my bed.  Additionally, the bathroom and closet area was partitioned off by French doors which allowed for a small dressing room.  All this for only $325 a month.  It was a great apartment and my mom fell in love with it, with me, with my seemingly happy-go-lucky 24-year old life in good old Sacramento.
It was one of the best  and unhappiest times of my life, the best because of the beautiful picture it painted, and the unhappiest because my insides didn’t reflect the picture outside.
Life was pretty routine back then.  I didn’t have a lot of friends in Sacramento.  I had no boyfriend, only hopeless crushes on men who wouldn’t return my feelings.  My highlights were my weekend trips to the city, San Francisco, or Los Gatos, where my college friends lived, and suddenly my life was amazing.  We would pretentiously go bar hopping in Pacific Heights, picnic outside at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, always with wine and brie and olives and strawberries, or walk through the local art galleries in small town, high-rent Los Gatos.  At those times I was important, I mattered, I was somebody.  But always, by the end of the weekend, I had to face the inevitable drive back to Sacramento, through Vacaville (cowtown) and to the loneliness of my studio apartment with all its nice touches and decorative reflections of the person I wanted to be.
Perfect.
Hollow.
Alone.