It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Stopping the Insidious Craving for Obsessive Love, Stalking and Domestic Violence

The massive popularity of 50 Shades of Grey is more than a little bit alarming. I have nothing against a little role playing, or even BDSM if that’s what you’re into in the bedroom. Two consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they want. The problem I have is when it gets romanticized as a way of life. When a man tells a woman, “I will find you,” that’s the sign of someone who is seriously mentally disturbed. It’s not sexy – it’s very, very scary.

I come from a place of personal experience here. I’ve been raped, I’ve been stalked, and I’ve been held against my will. It was far from being a turn-on, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s called self-preservation and survival. When you’re in a seriously dangerous situation with someone who is unstable, it’s pretty damn stupid to want to jump their bones.

So why do people get off on this kind of thing? Because it’s a fantasy. Fantasy is fine, and frankly it’s a whole lot of fun. Fantasy with another person can be even more fun and sexy. What it requires, however, is a very deep level of trust. So many people are paying to read 50 Shades, and then they’re traipsing off to the theatre to see it. Far too many people are thinking it’s just opening up people’s minds to BDSM. It’s not. BDSM needs to remain in the bedroom. When one person in a relationship is being subjugated constantly and it becomes a way of life, eventually that person is going to want to do something their ‘master’ doesn’t want them to do. When that happens the reaction can be terrifying.

What we need to figure out is why this is still such a prevalent fantasy for women. If you’re one of those women, it’s extremely important. In fact, it can be life-and-death important. There are women in domestic violence situations who cannot break away because they’ve been conditioned to believe a man should have control over them. They believe that physical strength in men is to be desired, rather than mental strength. When it comes time to press charges they don’t want to, no matter how badly they may have been hurt. Men are constantly forgiven for abuses against the person they’re supposed to love and cherish above all others, society passing it off as a private issue.

I’m not one of those people, and I’ve personally boycotted any celebrities I’m aware of that have engaged in that sort of behaviour (once it’s been proven, of course). I’ll never pay for a Mel Gibson movie again in my life, or a Mötley Crüe CD or song as long as Tommy Lee is involved with the project. I don’t care if they’ve gone to jail and ‘paid’ for their crimes. I don’t think the criminal justice system takes it seriously enough, and that’s especially true of celebrities with lots of money to spend on high-priced lawyers. Real men do not lay hands on women in anger. They have no need to ‘prove’ their control over another person. Any man who does this is inherently weak, and is looking for ways to compensate.

This is what needs to be stressed to both women and men in order to avoid tragedies in the future, such as domestic violence and murder. The perception that a man is strong because he is physically capable of pushing someone around, and that it makes him sexy when he shows how ‘manly’ he is, is a very big part of the problem. Truly strong people have no need to do this. If more women understood this, they would be much less impressed by physically violent men. Controlling a woman doesn’t make a man strong – having no need to control anyone is the true indicator of strength. That’s called self-esteem. It’s only the men who feel insecure that attempt to control others, in part because they have no control over themselves or their own lives. The more insecure a person is, the more of a control-freak they usually are.

When you really stop and think about that – I mean sit down and actually concentrate on it – it’s not hard to start feeling contempt toward people who behave that way, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or woman exhibiting the behaviour. When you truly realize that only someone who feels weak will pick on others and bully them, we start to lose respect for them. We can see that they must have serious problems of their own that are triggering the behaviour, and it’s less and less likely that we will allow them that control over us. It doesn’t apply only to domestic violence, either.

When it comes to role-playing, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with it. As long as there’s a clear delineation between reality and fantasy. Some people enjoy subjugation, but when you take a mental trip and imagine your entire life spent in bending to the will of another, how many people truly want that as a part of their lives? What happens when you come home from a job you love, and your partner tells you that you have to quit so you can serve them? What happens when you’re not allowed to see friends and family members that you love? What happens when you start having to explain the bruises to other people? Are you going to start lying and covering up? If your response to a query is simply a smirk and a fond memory of the night before, that’s fine. If your response is along the lines of fearing what will happen if others find out, maybe you need to do some serious thinking about where you want your relationship to go, or if you want it going anywhere.

Size Matters – 8 Ways to Make Truly Successful Resolutions

You’ve probably heard the Latin expression, carpe diem, or ‘seize the day’ as we say it in English, and the movies would have us convinced that we should go big or go home. It seems we’ve rather forgotten the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare. The fact of the matter is, people cannot sustain huge energy bursts. We burn out. And this is what happens to the big resolutions we make every year when the calendar flips from one number to another. We decide we’re going to work out five times a week, for an hour, compared with approximately zero hours, zero times a week. We’re going to quit smoking, cold turkey. We’re going to stop drinking. We’re going to go back to school. We make this huge list of all the things that made us hate parts of ourselves in the past year (or more likely the last ten years, because of the likelihood we’ve made these resolutions before), and most of the time we can’t even cross off one item at the end of the year – for that matter I don’t think I ever even found my list from the previous year.

Go big or go home is alright for a two-hour movie in which we can feel all of these life-affirming emotions in one sitting, but have you ever imagined – really thought about – what it means to sustain the level of work and energy required to accomplish what is shown in these movies? The Lord of the Rings is a good example, and only comes to mind because I’m re-reading the series at the moment, and this topic comes up repeatedly in my thoughts while I’m reading. Many people these days have a hard time sitting through even one of the movies, let alone reading the book that it’s supposed to be about. Now, think of the time frame that those books cover. I’ll make it even easier. The Hobbit, the precursor to the series, was a story about a quest that took a year. That’s right. A year. Bilbo didn’t return to Bag-End for a year after he left. For a large portion of that time he was walking around or riding a pony (being too small to comfortably sit a horse).

As for The Lord of the Rings (or TLOTR for those who can’t be bothered to even spell out the whole title, let alone go on their own quest – which is pretty much everyone), they were traversing some serious terrain. Anyone who has done any hiking in the mountains (which I have actually done – the Rockies in Alberta, if you’re wondering) can tell you that doing anything like that for months is not bloody likely. Not even for the sorts of people who are in love with extreme sports. It’s downright exhausting to go for a weekend, let alone months. As I read through these books again, and try to imagine myself doing anything like that, I know very well I’d last about a week. I would never have gotten the ring to Mordor, and would end up being partly responsible for the destruction of Middle Earth by Sauron.

Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m anti-resolution or anything. As a species I do feel humans are naturally geared toward doing things with anniversary dates in mind. We’re a sentimental group, in general, or we wouldn’t be celebrating holidays of any sort. Perhaps we wouldn’t even have created a calendar. Not everyone is sentimental in that way, of course, but most of us have a soft spot for certain days of the year, be it our own birthdays, our kids’ birthdays, religious occasions, or wedding anniversaries. Some of us merely look forward to a day off work.

No, what I’m trying to stress is the difference between a quest and a purpose. It’s a difference in sustainability, for one thing. A quest is exhausting, and it’s what we tend to set ourselves up for every year. A purpose is permanent. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that human beings should always try to better themselves. We should strive to be more than what we are. We just shouldn’t be striving to be everything we aren’t in a single year. Most of us aren’t trying to be healthier in general. Most of us are trying not to be fat, or not to be lazy, when we attempt our insane new exercise regime – a regime that’s probably both dangerous and counterproductive, especially if you aren’t already an athlete. Unlike Frodo, the fate of Middle Earth is not riding on our shoulders, so it matters little in the grand scheme of things if we lose twenty pounds, and usually the only person we disappoint is ourselves.

I know, I know. So what do I suggest? It’s all well and good to say something won’t work, and talk about all the obstacles, rather than talk about what will work. I’ll never have all the answers, but I have learned what works for me, and for most people who have managed to make real changes in their lives. To start, here’s a list of suggestion (I’ll try to avoid turning it into a lengthy quest of its own):

  1. Congratulate yourself on everything you accomplished in the current year.

    This is a step almost everyone forgets to take in their lives. People focus on everything that’s wrong with them and their lives, and forget about all the good things they’ve managed to do. Did you donate to your favourite charity? Did you take a class in a subject you have an interest in? Did you learn to do something you didn’t know how to do before? Are there any goals and dreams that you fulfilled, and that you’re forgetting to pat yourself on the back for?

    For anyone who is a parent, there are so many things that you’ve likely done throughout the year that no one is giving you credit for – least of all yourself. If you kept your kids in school, out of jail, off drugs, got them into college, or at the very least kept them at home instead of turning tricks on the street, then I would bet there are plenty of things you’re doing right. (Just don’t get big-headed about them, because complacency is the nemesis of any parent.)

    I suppose this is similar to a gratitude journal, which seems to be all the rage these days, but a gratitude journal appears to be mostly about external things, rather than personal accomplishments, and at a time many are beating themselves up about their choices for the previous year, I think it’s necessary that we stop and look at our high points.

  2. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll be able to sustain for the rest of your life.

    If quitting smoking is your goal, you certainly don’t want to quit for a year and go back to it. If losing weight is your goal, short-term diets do not work and neither do excessive exercise regimes when they cause injury or you burn out in a week. What behaviour can you modify to help you toward your permanent goal, and what are the steps that follow after that first one, in order to lead you there? Can you cut down on one of your daily cigarettes every week? If you can, then you might start out at a pack a day, and you’ll be down to none in less than half a year.

    Can you walk for 10 minutes every day, or perhaps 20 minutes three times a week? Can you get rid of the sugar-filled drinks in your diet? Either of those two things can make a huge impact on both your health and your weight (one does not necessarily impact the other, by the way). If you lost a pound every two weeks, rather than the 5 or 10 pounds a week so many fad diets promote, you will have lost 26 pounds in a year, and it will be weight that stays off – fat that will continue to come off next year and the year after, until you’re at a more svelte size. Getting rid of the refined sugar in your diet will have an amazing impact on your health and any future possibility of diabetes as well.

  3. Make actual plans, not lists.

    If your goal is to travel more, book the bloody vacation already. If you can’t afford it, find out exactly how much it’s going to cost you to get there and do what you want when you’re there, decide when you want to take your trip, divide up the amount you need by the number of months you have until then – or, conversely, figure out how much you can save every month and divide that into your total cost, to see when it is you’ll realistically be able to go.

    I already gave examples for quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting healthier. I can’t list every possibility, but you get the idea. Decide what you really want out of life. Find out exactly what it will take to get there. Then make a plan to make it happen. The thing is, if you’re not willing to go through with your plans, then chances are good that these things are nowhere near as important to your life as you seem to think they are, which leads me to my next point.

  4. Make sure you really know what you want.

    You need to be certain that the things you’re putting on your list are truly things you want, and not just things you’re throwing on there because you think you should want them. Are you actually unhealthy? Do you truly need to lose weight, or do you feel you should because one jerk told you that you’d be really pretty if you lost a little bit of weight? Are you happy and comfortable with your current furniture, or have you decided you need to replace it because of what people might think when they walk in the door?

    This is one of the few things I think Dr. Phil is spot-on about, when it comes to the reason many people have such a hard time changing – usually there’s a payoff when you can’t force yourself to change. There’s some reason, deep down, that makes you resist that change. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a fear of change, and the comfort we have in a life that’s like an old pair of slippers.

    Sometimes, though, there’s a damn good reason you’re sabotaging your own efforts – maybe some part of you knows that you will not be happy with the new & improved life you’re trying to force yourself into. Maybe you’ve been told all your life that you’re talented at something, and that you should really do something with it, but deep down you know you would never be happy turning your hobby into a job. I was like that with my artwork. I was on the verge of signing a contract to show at a gallery in Edmonton, and I walked away from it. Partially because I knew it would keep me in a city I wasn’t happy living in, and partially because I knew I would end up hating doing the artwork itself. It wasn’t my passion.

  5. Learn to be happy with everything you already have.

    Now, that may sound a lot like settling, but it’s not quite the same thing. The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. So many of us live our lives chasing after things, and even as we’re grasping them we’ve got our eyes on something else. Yes, it’s wonderful to have goals, and achieving a worthwhile goal is an amazing feeling. Once we have, however, we’re often left with a feeling of emptiness if we can’t immediately come up with a new goal. Granted, most of us have more than one dream in our lives, so we’re always chasing after one thing or another, which means we’re unlikely to feel empty for very long – it’s mostly the rich kids that end up with the permanent sense of emptiness that comes with having no purpose in life.

    Some of us may never reach an ‘important’ milestone in our lives, or we’ll have occasional disappointments or unattainable dreams. Sometimes we set the bar so high we never even start working towards our dreams. Yet, if we are content with our everyday life, disappointments can be cushioned a great deal. Being happy with the life we’re currently living can also help us to separate out the things we really want, from what we think we should want. That means focusing on the things that are working, and that we enjoy. That will mean different things for different people, but we should all stop to appreciate what we have that is already worthwhile.

  6. Don’t put off your happiness until you’ve reached your goals.

    I don’t agree with the notion of living as if you were going to die tomorrow, because I think it leads to the idea that we have to cram everything into a short period of time, and we’re right back where we started – new year’s resolutions that don’t work because they’re basically insane. If you’ve spent the last 20 years living a certain way, that isn’t going to change in a single year. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. However, I also don’t think we should be punishing ourselves, and living less of a life just because we ‘should’ have done a certain thing by now.

    I don’t care how fat you think you are – buy yourself some decent clothes. Believe me when I tell you that you’re going to feel a whole lot better about yourself if you’re wearing something that’s comfortable, and that you know makes you look your best (assuming outward appearances matter at all to you – a weird thing for me to talk about, since I rarely change out of my pajamas). Even if you haven’t quit smoking, that doesn’t mean you can’t start lifting weights, if that’s what you want to do.

    I know my advice goes against the advice of many so-called experts (usually the authors of trendy books, based on new fads), who tell you to reward yourself for achieving your goals, but achieving a goal is hugely satisfactory in and of itself. If it’s not, then why were you chasing that ‘dream’ in the first place? If you refuse to allow yourself any happiness whatsoever, because you haven’t (so far) followed through on your own aspirations, you’re going to be feeling very miserable pretty much constantly – a state of mind that is not the least bit conducive to achieving goals. We have to feel positive if we’re going to push ourselves to keep moving toward a dream. Negative reinforcement is not the way to go. The happier you feel, the more energy you’ll have to put toward whatever dreams you’ve chosen to fulfill.

  7. It’s okay to fall off the wagon. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for the work you’ve already done!

    Almost everyone falls off the wagon on their trip toward fulfilling a dream. Almost everyone who falls off gives up the first time, and falls right back into their old patterns. They completely throw away everything they’ve done for one little mistake. I’ve seen it with alcoholics, drug and nicotine addicts, people trying to lose weight, you name it.

    Let’s say you’ve been working out according to your plan, and then one day you don’t. Think about it logically. Will that single day matter ten years from now when you’ve turned exercise into a lifelong habit? No. It will only matter if you use it as an excuse to forget the whole thing. I know a little about that myself. It’s very easy to talk yourself into letting it go, because it’s easier not to exercise than it is to push yourself into doing it consistently. In part we get down on ourselves for our failure to be perfect, and in part we take the easy road.

    Try to remember that there were x number of days where you did do what you were supposed to do, and forgive yourself right away for any slip-ups. Otherwise you’ll be too mad at yourself to get back to doing whatever it is you want to do.

  8. Prioritize.

    You can’t fix everything all at once, even when you’re doing it slowly. If there’s one way that an annual resolution can help out, it’s that you can tack on one additional item you’d like to work on. What do you really want to improve this year? Make a decision, and work on that. Pretend there’s nothing else on your list. An added benefit is that it provides you with a massive amount of energy and focus – all on one thing.

    Trust me, you do not want to be quitting smoking, removing sugar from your diet, suddenly starting to eat a lot of vegetables and less meat, exercising every day, moving to a new apartment, working on a novel, and quitting your job all in the first week of January. (Especially if you have debt left over from Christmas – a topic for another blog post.) Actually, the amount of stress that each one of those things can put on you is something that needs to be spaced out over a period of years in most cases.

    I’ve seen the lists that people make. Not only are they planning to make those changes in a single year, but they often want to make them starting on January first. It can’t be done. It’s not just that it shouldn’t be done, but that it can’t be. Any change in diet can cause a major reaction in your body. You do not want to hear about my efforts to become vegan – let’s just say my body reacts badly to large amounts of vegetables. Sudden cessation of smoking causes major stress in the body. Most of the changes that people want to make will have an impact on body chemistry. All of them at once are actually dangerous.

    If you’re worried about ‘explaining’ things to other people, here’s a tip: Just say, “This year I’m really concentrating on ____.” If you say something is your priority or focus, it gives the correct impression that you’re not wasting energy on anything that isn’t a priority. It might be enough to shut up a busybody, though I very much doubt it. It’s not really any of their business anyway.

How do I know these suggestions work? They worked for me on a wide variety of things. I had some pretty strong addictions at different times of my life, trying and failing to quit them, and finally being successful at doing so. I still feel a lot of temptation to force big lists on myself at the last minute, whenever the end of the year rolls around, and this blog post has been a reminder of sorts to myself. In fact, it goes right back to the first point. I actually accomplished more than I intended to this year, without putting insane levels of pressure on myself. The biggest was that I went back to school, which was a huge deal for me. Not only did I start, but I finished my course with great marks! It meant that I had to let other things in my life go a little bit, but that’s okay with me. I’d rather have the education.

The truly remarkable thing I’ve discovered about dreams and goals, is that they often come true when we’re not forcing them to happen. I was not actually planning to go back to school this year, though I’ve wanted to for a long time. I just sort of fell into it when the time was right. When I quit smoking a number of years ago, I had been cutting back for a long time. I was down to one cigarette a day, possibly two. I ran out of money and couldn’t buy another pack for a couple of days, but then when I could go buy them I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why bother?” I like to tell people I quit out of sheer laziness. I walked away from a variety of drugs throughout my life, usually because I was content to move on. All of our dreams and goals will start happening for us when we’re ready to make them happen, and not a minute sooner. Otherwise something inside us will always keep it from happening. This is why change can only come from within. No one can force another person to make permanent changes. We can’t quit smoking because it’s what our spouse wants. It has to be what we want for ourselves. Deep inside I think we all know what will make us happy, and until something is a key to our happiness we have no reason to change it.

That being said, I wish all of you a great new year. Do whatever makes you happy, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. My love and best wishes to all of you!

Stalkers and Obsessions in Romance and Young Adult Fiction

Recently I succumbed to the urge to read a certain popular series. Pretty much everyone on the planet will know exactly what I’m talking about when I mention the Twilight ‘saga’ from Stephanie Meyer. Not only were the four main novels in the series wildly popular, but they’ve all been made into movies as well. I also read two books complementary to the four main ones, and I have to say they really scare me.

No, I don’t mean scared in the sense of lying awake at night, afraid a vampire was going to come out of my closet. What scared me was the fact that these novels didn’t seem to get a lot of flak from parents. Sure, the storyline itself is entertaining. The problem is the fact that the two main characters have serious mental health issues.

The four main books are written in the first person, which I always find annoying anyway. I prefer third person omniscient, myself, but that’s purely an aesthetic and personal viewpoint. The perspective is that of a teenage girl who becomes completely obsessed with what looks like a teenage boy, but is in fact a man who’s closer to a hundred years old. If we saw a 100-year-old man walking down the street with a 17-year-old on his arm, in most responsible people that would bring on a large measure of disgust for the dirty old man and his perverted proclivities.

In addition to that, the male love interest leaves her because he thinks it will be safer for her not to be exposed to him and his vampire ‘family’ any longer. When this happens she basically loses her mind. She becomes nearly catatonic in her grief, and when she comes out of that she’s still living life in such a robotic fashion that she’s startled to realize she’s more like a zombie than a human being. Now that’s what we call an obsession.

Even after she realizes what she’s doing, and starts to live her life again, she starts taking risks with her life because she starts hearing his voice in her head whenever she does anything that might kill her. At first I thought maybe there was a psychic thing going on in the stories, but it turns out she was really hearing voices – well, one voice anyway – and the voice wasn’t actually there. So, now she’s obsessed and schizophrenic. She’s having auditory hallucinations brought on by adrenaline spikes.

Eventually her obsession comes back to her, and suddenly she’s alive again. However, she can’t stand to spend even an hour or two away from him without feeling like there’s a big hole in her chest where her heart used to be.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that he spends a fair bit of time stalking her before they’re even together. He went through her house, he was in her room while she was sleeping and watched her pretty much every night. He looked through her things, including her books and music. When they do finally become an official couple, he sneaks into her room to stay with her every single night. At least by then she knows about it and is actually asking him to stay with her. In fact, she’s not actually asking. It’s more like pleading.

I was teenager once myself, and I remember the volatility that comes along with that. I think we’re all a little unbalanced when it comes to first loves. I had a couple of them. My relationships when I was a teenager were monogamous ones that lasted at least a year each. The entire year I was fourteen I was with one guy and he actually asked me to marry him – he was nineteen, so looking back that seems a little off-kilter to me. I had my first major obsession when I was fifteen and sixteen. It was a tumultuous relationship with a Roman Catholic whose mother didn’t approve. I did my share of stupid things, but the heartbreak was over a couple of weeks after he dumped me. I’m not one to hang on. It probably has something to do with having a healthy (or sinful) measure of pride. There was no way I was going to prostrate myself before someone who didn’t want me.

I was also a parent to a teenager. My daughter had her own mild obsession, and eventually her feelings were no longer ‘unrequited,’ but they grew apart and it was over. Basically she had a lot of interest in what he was doing, and in his life in general, but stalking is not something that was ever in her character – even less so than it was in mine. In fact, when I was a teenager I longed desperately to fall in love, get married, and make lots of babies with a man who adored me. My daughter has little interest in that, though she does want a kid one day. She’s not a lesbian, so it isn’t about her orientation. She just doesn’t like the idea of spending that much time with another person, which the exception of her own child. Thankfully she hasn’t made me a grandmother yet, because I’m just not ready for that. I’m still vaguely within the age of being able to have kids myself, so it just seems too weird to me.

Now my daughter is almost halfway through her twenties, and completely skipped out on any mental health problems associated with teenage crushes. I’m in my early forties. The funny thing is, I personally feel the danger of books like the Twilight series. Romance novels are often the same, too. There’s still an envy there for me. At my age the statistics aren’t good when it comes to me finding anyone I can give my whole heart to. I’ve had moments where I thought I’d be able to, but the feelings weren’t reciprocated so I shut my own feelings down right away. It’s not that I don’t have them; I just don’t let my brain run off with my heart.

Still, there’s a sadness and envy invoked by obsessive love stories, even for me. I think we’re all somewhat conditioned to think of that as the only real love there is. Even when we know better logically, a part of us still wants that unquestioning devotion and adoration. Beneath the tough exterior beats the heart of a marshmallow, I guess. I know better than to ever put myself in that position with anyone, because I’ve seen where those situations usually lead. Besides, I’m not really that mentally unhealthy anyway, that I absolutely can’t live without someone. The proof is in the pudding in my case, seeing as I’ve been separated for a long time. There was an interruption of less than four months, where I was seeing someone, but it never got to the ‘I love you’ stage.

After I was done reading the Twilight books I felt sad. I didn’t want the stories to end, because a very dangerous and insidious part of myself wanted to live vicariously through an obsessive love story. As an adult woman with a better understanding of mental health, however, I can deal with those feeling in a positive manner. Teenagers, on the other hand, do not have the life experience to see the books for what they really are. They’re unrealistic, and they’re very dangerous. Showing teenagers a happy ending within such an unhealthy context can breed an unhealthy real-life situation. Even with a parent telling them that the relationship in the series is not a good one, and explaining why, no teenager is going to believe it unless they’ve already been given a very good background in what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Considering the statistics on divorce and domestic violence, however, those teachings are very limited.

Speaking from a bizarre personal perspective, I was lucky in one way. I had a terrible childhood, being raised by terrible grandparents, yet it was my physically abusive grandmother who gave me my foothold on reality and feminism. She wore the pants in that house, and she’s the one who told me (the first time she saw me reading a romance), that reality was not anything like its portrayal in romance novels. For many years, historical romances were my very favourite books. Eventually, after years of personal experience that was contrary to the happy endings I was reading about, I realized she was right about that one thing. It was also because of her that I never felt I was anything less worthy than any man, because I was raised in a home where a woman was deferred to in all things.

Teenagers, especially those who come from broken homes, are looking desperately for role models for every aspect of their lives. If their parents don’t have a successful relationship, they look for people who do – even if they happen to be fictional, dangerous, and unrealistic. With few real human relationships to look up to, they look to movies, books, music, and any other form of entertainment. The Twilight series gives them characters with a happy ending, but if either of those people were living in the real world (vampire lore aside), the ending would probably be very different. Obsession is not love. Obsession often becomes possession. Even within the books, right from the beginning they claim ownership of one another, and grant ownership to each other.

The very real need some people have to ‘belong’ to someone else stems from emptiness within. There is a hole inside them, desperately wanting to be filled – just like the movie Jerry Maguire, with the whole, “You complete me,” thing. Nobody completes anyone else. We’re all individual human beings. My former mother-in-law used to tell me that if I’d wanted to accomplish my own things in life, I probably shouldn’t have gotten married. Um, what? I wasn’t allowed aspirations and goals because I was married??? Her son was allowed those dreams, though. Right. That makes total sense. Never mind the fact that I was the breadwinner in the family at the time, and he was disabled. Reaching for goals was my way of looking to be a better provider, but that wasn’t allowed because I was supposed to be nothing but a wife. Of course, this advice was coming from a divorced woman who had been nothing but a wife to her husband, yet he left her anyway. I always felt like saying, “So how did that work out for you?”

My view on the subject, and something that came up during a discussing about one of the guests we had on the show recently, is that people shouldn’t even get into a relationship until the hole inside them is filled and they’re a whole person. Until then you don’t know who you are or what will be best for you. You’re still striving and your core personality is still forming. The guest on the show was saying all women want men to take charge, which is completely overstating what women want. I’m certainly not one of those women who want a man taking charge. If there’s a decisions to be made that will affect me, then I want to be a part of making the decision. I don’t want anyone arbitrarily making choices for me.

Thankfully that notion brings to heel any thought of having a man swoop in and rescue me from my own life, which is what a lot of romance novels are about. The man comes along and everything that was wrong in a woman’s life is miraculously fixed by him. It doesn’t work that way, especially if you’re a woman who’s the least bit independent. Men seem to feel as if they have to fix everything, even when a woman has a problem and she wants to vent about it. Men will try to tell her how to fix it, rather than just listening and letting her vent.

Often the ‘fixing’ comes in the form of advice, but sometimes it involves actually doing what the woman should be capable of doing herself. Some women do like that, but there’s a trade-off that I would personally never be willing to make. When you allow someone to ‘fix’ your life, you’re also allowing them to take over decision-making, which renders a woman useless and redundant to her own life. Suddenly the man is taking charge of her, rather than simply her problems – and mostly because there’s now the unspoken agreement between them that she can’t handle the herculean chore of running her own life without his help.

Not being able to run your own life, and having someone do it for you, puts you in the category of being a child. It’s not just women who are placed there, but on average it’s almost always the female in a relationship. There are women to this day who work, but allow their husbands to interfere with problems they face in the workplace. Husbands who feel their wives aren’t treated well, or properly (as in sexual harassment cases), will come charging in to confront the supposedly guilty party. Now consider how this woman will be treated in the workplace from now on. Sure, maybe the original problem never rears its head again, but then she’ll never be respected again either. She will be known as someone who can’t handle real responsibility. If she wasn’t in a position of authority, she will never be promoted to one. If she was already in a position of authority, her authority will not be respected and she will not gain additional authority.

This is also the danger in reporting sexual harassment if it’s done in a place that doesn’t really respect legislation. Suddenly she’s a woman who ‘can’t handle a joke’ or simply can’t enforce her own authority. Speaking personally on that, I’ve always just given as good as I’ve gotten when the harassment was directed toward me. No man ever dared to step over the line with me either, but then I have the sort of personality that makes it very clear I would never tolerate it. People just know that I have indelible lines that can’t be crossed. On the other hand, when I saw other women being harassed I did report it, in writing, so that there was no way the company could get away with not doing something about it. Reporting someone else being harassed doesn’t have the same connotation of being a whiner who can’t handle things. I was also in a position of authority within the company, and it was my duty to do something about it.

The tiny part of me that would want a man to swoop in and be my dream-come-true/knight-in-shining-armour, is the part of me that’s tired, I think. I’ve spent my life fighting to keep my head above water, against some rather interesting odds. I’ve had many challenges, and I think it might be nice to one day not have to be the one who does all the struggling, so therein lies the answer to my wishful thinking. The few times I think like that, I remind myself of the price to be paid for wallowing in that fantasy. I’ve made the mistake of going there on occasion in my romantic history, and after a few decades of being slapped for it I’m now fully conscious of that price. I always have much less of a fight to keep my head above water when I count only on myself to keep me afloat.

What I really need, if I ever have another serious relationship, is someone who is capable of running their own life, and someone who has my back that I can fully trust to be there for me emotionally, but not someone who tries to take over the running of my life. Decisions can be made mutually, compromises are perfectly fine, and acceptance of who I really am is mandatory. That last thing is so vital, though, and very few people are actually capable of acceptance when it comes to their life partner. Especially when their life partner has some unusual quirks.

Speaking from personal experience, there are very few people in the world who accept the fact that I sleep during the day, and that has always been my natural pattern. Never mind the fact that I crack every joint in my body, and swear like the proverbial sailor. I can be harsh, too. I’m not unforgiving, but there are people I’ve removed from my life because I also don’t forget. My mother and step-father are good examples. I may have forgiven the fact that my mother left me when I was four years old, and knowingly left me in the care of monsters – her parents. I could never forget it, though. I could never forget the fact that she suspected my grandfather of molesting me, and still left me there. Two deep betrayals that made it impossible for me to ever trust her, or allow myself to love her. The childish yearnings for motherly love disappeared within me forever. I do not want any kind of mother in my life. My step-father turned out to be a faithless jerk who fooled around on my mother, and that shows me a character flaw so important to me that I could never trust him either.

So, I can forgive, but when a person shows their colours you can’t simply forget about them. You have to factor those flaws into the big picture. In some cases a person’s flaws make them more human and lovable. There’s a quote from the movie Hellboy that says, “You like someone for their qualities, but you love them for their flaws,” and I think that’s very true. Perfect people aren’t even very likeable, never mind lovable. There is too much envy involved when another person is ‘perfect,’ along with self-consciousness because we know we aren’t perfect. Of course, no one is actually perfect, but sometimes a person views another unrealistically as being being perfect.

Maybe my imperfections will be lovable to someone some day. I hope so. For the most part I’m content with my life, and I could probably be content to be alone for the remainder of it. It’s not really what I want if I’m being honest with myself. If I wanted to be alone, I wouldn’t feel sad after reading books like Twilight. I wouldn’t have registered with an online dating site a year ago – a profile that I deleted when I started dating someone exclusively. I haven’t done a new profile yet because I’m just not ready to start up with a stranger again, and it takes a long time to really get to know someone enough to love them – either on the basis of friendship, or on romantic love. Attraction comes instantly, as does infatuation, but the kind of love where you would notice someone was missing from your life if they weren’t there…that takes time. Starting a brand new relationship with a stranger is not something I’ve got the time or energy for right now.

I was talking to a friend about how holding hands with someone can feel weird, and he said that if I was madly in love with them then I would probably want to. He’s right. I would. I would feel the need for physical closeness. I’m actually very affectionate that way when I love someone, or even when I’m in a romantic relationship where I really like them. It’s the only kind of relationship where I can be really touchy-feely. I can hug my daughter, but neither of us likes hugging very much so it only happens on occasions like birthdays, or when there’s a death of one of our pets. When I lost Stimpy (my first ferret), I think my daughter was afraid to hug me, because I was already falling to pieces. Getting comfort when you’re like that can sometimes be just enough to break you. The stiff upper lip starts to quiver, and then you’re a blubbering mess.

Back to the topic at hand, however. Obsessive love and stalking are so prevalent in all forms of media that it has become absorbed almost to our cores. I think almost everyone I know has that little piece inside them that wishes they could have that. I’m sure I’m not alone there, or how would the writers of romantic fiction ever make any money? Rom-coms wouldn’t make a penny at the box office, either. Men are told to be persistent, despite the fact that it’s actually harassment to keep going after a woman who says no. It’s part of the rape culture. Men are rewarded for persistence by eventually getting their rocks off, even if it’s not consensual – often because the woman gets tired of being harassed and gives in to what she starts thinking is inevitable.

Romance novels used to be called ‘bodice rippers’ for a good reason. Almost every book involved rape in some form or another – usually a man was ‘pushed beyond reason’ into ‘giving her what she really wants.’ Apparently forcing a woman into sex solved all relationship problems – yes, that was sarcasm. This was only twenty years ago, and despite the fact that publishers are telling would-be authors that they don’t want that kind of book, they’re still publishing books about very unhealthy relationships. I actually wrote a historical romance many years ago. It sits (completed) in a box somewhere. It will never be published under my own name, because I will never allow myself to be pigeon-holed as a romance writer. Once that happens you’re rarely seen as any other kind of writer.

A good example is Nora Roberts. Under her own name she writes romances. Under the pseudonym of J. D. Robb she writes what’s called the ‘in death’ series. All but one title uses the words ‘in death,’ such as, “Naked in Death” and “Glory in Death.” The books’ main character is a female kick-ass cop in the future. For a long time, because it was known to be a pseudonym of Nora Roberts, those books were always put in the romance section of every book store I went into. There are romantic relationships within the series, but the books are mainly about the main character being a homicide cop. They’re murder-mysteries, and yet they were labeled as romance. Now when I go in the book store, though, they’re finally filed under the main fiction section. I haven’t seen them in the romance section for quite a while, but it still took a long time for the series to be recognized for what it really was.

Another reason I don’t think I’ll submit my romance novel for publication is that I’m rather ashamed of it. I’m just as guilty of writing anti-feminist crap as any other romance writer. I would have to cut and slash the novel to ribbons in order to fix the problem. I don’t want to be another Stephanie Meyer, creating mentally ill characters for people (particularly teenagers) to emulate. I would prefer to be responsible with my writing and portray women as something other than helpless victims to their own ineptitude. So, despite my (not-so-secret-now) wishing that I might have that sort of unhealthy connection with a man, I know better than to fall for it. I can only hope that most teenagers will outgrow their interest in the series.

Maybe there’s an antidote. Maybe one day I’ll write about the kind of relationship that’s real and healthy. Two people dedicated and devoted to one another, without having to give up who they are. People who don’t orient themselves to their partners to the exclusion of all else in their lives. Now that would be a relationship worth emulating. They say, “Write what you know,” though, and I have no personal experience from which to draw.

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Just Less Misery

Until my daughter found a job again, we were living very close to the edge. Thankfully neither of us has any bad habits that take up what little money we were bringing in. We don’t smoke, drink, or do any illicit drugs. However, not having money meant we couldn’t do anything beyond pay bills and buy food. We were okay, but it’s not the best existence in the world. The thing is, if you’re lucky you can shut off all impulses to spend, and in my case anyway, I became even more introverted than usual.

It wasn’t until we started having  decent money coming into the household again, that I slowly broke out of that shell I was in. It’s funny, but the smallest things can make such a huge impact in a person’s life. In my case, it was when we went out and spent money on stuff for organizing the bathroom. We had nowhere to store anything except a small medicine chest, and that bathroom is very tiny. So we bought an overjohn (one of those cabinets that go over your toilet, hence the word ‘john’ being included), a toilet paper holder, a proper garbage can with a pedal-operated lid, hooks for the door, a shower organizer, and a new shower head. It turns out that it was money very well spent, because it was inspiring to me.

You see, suddenly one room in our house was no longer hopeless. It felt nice to go in there and see those things. Everything we bought had a nice bronze finish, which really spruces things up, and now we had places to actually store the things we needed to have in the bathroom. Well, wouldn’t you know it, I just had to keep going on other things. Like magic, poof, I reorganized my bedroom so that I was finally able to get some writing done again. Now I’m starting to take on other areas of the apartment. My daughter already has her own bedroom set up properly, so that’s another room that isn’t a disaster area.

Admittedly, my lack of domestic inclinations has a great deal to do with the fact that the rest of the apartment looks like a bomb went off. We do not do any living in our living room, so it’s become something of a dump site for everything we don’t put into our bedrooms. I’m at the point, however, where having a couple of rooms looking nice has been pushing me to get everything else looking that much better. No room in my home will ever be perfect, simply because I just don’t care about perfection. I want to live in my home, not photograph it for the cover of a magazine.

Still, I actually went to the extreme step of washing some dishes this evening. My daughter is at work, and when she comes home and notices what I’ve done, I’ll have to be ready to perform CPR. Too bad I don’t have a defibrillator, because the shock will be great, and there’s a very real risk of heart attack. I abhor doing dishes as a rule. Sticking my hands in dirty dishwater actually makes me want to gag. The idea of soggy bits of food floating around and touching me is almost more than I can bear. I think the issue stems from my stint as a dishwasher in a restaurant, back in the day when people could smoke in them. Just imagine the nasty mess in the bus-pans. Unfinished drinks with their ice cubes floating around, mixing with ashes and cigarette butts, pieces of steak, particles of eggs and pancakes. Quite literally a miasma of gross. I was sixteen years old then, and it probably scarred me for life. Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be dishwashers!

I’m very content being in my bedroom these days. I no longer look around with the faint urge to clean where I end up saying, “F*ck it,” because it’s just too much bloody work, and then going back to whatever game I was playing. I look around with a sense of satisfaction and comfort. My ferret still digs in his food dish and spills it on the floor, so I’m bound to have a mess of some sort, but that’s how it is with any kind of pet. Thankfully he doesn’t shed a lot of fur. He has his newspapers to make his other messes, and that makes them a cinch to clean up.

It blows my mind what effect a little bit of money can have on a person’s life. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just enough to get a ball rolling. Inertia takes care of the rest. Curiously, I’m still in the midst of doing even more dishes. I should really get back to those, and then start tracking down that defibrillator. eBay probably has some for sale.

Beyond My Wildest Dreams, By Any Name

As mentioned in other blog posts, I’m 42 years old. I’ve been through three marriages, spectacularly failing at them all. At my age I had serious doubts that I would even find a relationship that would work for me. However, a good friend of mine gave me a kick in the ass a number of weeks ago and told me I shouldn’t give up on relationships and love, or blame myself for the fact that I hadn’t done so well on the marriage front. Since he knows a lot about my personal history, including a really rough childhood, he told me with some knowledge and authority that I was just doing what I needed to do at the time, in order to find what I needed in my life. I took those words to heart, and despite a hiccup or two I ended up finding success with online dating.

I say success (though there are no guarantees) because I found something I think is pretty incredible. Almost miraculous, in fact. Not just something, but someone, with whom I seem to have everything I ever wanted or needed. My only problem is that I can’t get enough of being around him.

When people talk about love and relationships everyone has their own ideas of what would be the best for them, and what they value most in a potential partner. Some want companionship more than they want anything else. Some want lots of sexual chemistry. Some want a potential spouse and/or someone to have children with. None of these things are necessarily right or wrong – they’re simply what we feel we need.

I’m not sure I really knew what I was looking for in a partner; I just knew there were a lot of things about me that a man would need to accept. I have a strange lifestyle, much akin to that of a vampire from what I’ve been told, and it’s not something I can change – nor would I want to.

There are so many things I didn’t know I needed, though, and so many more things I didn’t realize were even possible. For example, I had no idea that I could be truly calm just lying in someone’s arms, despite having chemistry that brings me to my knees (I mean figuratively at the moment, just in case there are perverts other than myself who are reading this). I’ve never been able to turn off my brain and just relax while being held, but now I don’t even have to make an effort at it. I didn’t know I could talk to someone for 8 or 9 hours in a day, or spend 12 hours in their company and the two of us would still be talking. I didn’t know I could be held and know without a doubt that I was really wanted there.

I guess what I didn’t know was that I could really focus on someone, to the point where I’m not thinking about the million other things I need (or want) to be doing. I began living in the moment, because the moment became vital.

Something else slammed into my consciousness within the last 24 hours. It was a confidence I didn’t know I could achieve. Like so many people I see the physical flaws in myself far more vividly than others see them. I found myself able to make jokes about them, knowing they just didn’t matter. Suddenly years of self-consciousness about certain things evaporated and I said to hell with it – I wasn’t going to let those things be anything other than a punchline. It wasn’t a conscious effort, though. It just came from hearing the right words at the right time, from the one person I needed to hear them from. Not that real confidence comes from someone else – it’s more that the words made me think, and then something shifted inside of me.

When you can be with someone and really feel that the ‘worst’ things about you are not the glaring issues you thought they were, it’s an unbelievable gift that can never be taken away – no matter what the future holds.

I had no idea how important it was to me to find someone capable of comforting me, either. Having lived so long without that, it never occurred to me that I should expect it, so I guess I didn’t allowed myself to want that from a partner. I actually got some bad news a couple of weeks ago, when I discovered that I might have been responsible for the death of my ferret. I had no idea how seriously my actions would impact him, and it devastated me. Nearly 7 months after his death I still grieve for Stimpy every single day, and to learn that I might have killed him with my ignorance was a devastating blow. Instead of being shrugged off when I needed a shoulder, though, somehow I was given exactly the words I needed to hear, again from the one person I needed to hear them from. He took away so much pain with a single sentence. I doubt he even knows the impact he had on me at that moment.

Love isn’t a declaration given to you in three words. Love is what is breathed into a relationship at every significant moment. It’s there when it is needed. Love is when you can’t keep your hands off of someone even when sex isn’t the intention – you just need to touch them. Actions are love. Love is the way you live within a relationship. It’s just there. Being cherished, respected and accepted is something you can feel. Three words can’t express or contain what love is meant to be. People say it all the time, without living it.

Finding someone who makes you feel like this begs the question, “Why couldn’t I have found you years ago?” In my case I know the answer to that question. Some things have to happen just the way they happen. Life prepares us for these moments so that we can see them when they come to us. Some of us learn the lessons early, and some don’t. Until we learn the lessons, though, we don’t recognize what may be right before us. Twenty years ago I looked for completely different things. The choices I made twenty years ago were the wrong ones, but nothing would have derailed those choices without me experiencing the results. I made the same choices over and over, getting the same result. Finally I changed what I was doing. What I looked for was completely different, and lo and behold I found it.

Even five years ago I would never have been wise enough, or experienced enough in my own life, to value what’s important to me now – the things that I’ve found that make me so happy. At that time (for the first time in my life) I wasn’t running from one relationship to the next. For once I took time away from all that to live and be quiet within myself. I didn’t need company, because I enjoyed my own. I was as surprised as anyone else when I signed up for a dating site a while ago. I knew I was ready to be involved with someone again, but whether or not I was ready for the dating world was another issue altogether. I can only be grateful I didn’t have to endure that many first dates before I found the man I had learned to look for. Everything I get from our relationship beyond that can not be trivialized as icing on the proverbial cake, though. They aren’t mere fluff to decorate the surface of our relationship; they’re vitally important even if I didn’t know I needed them.

It’s a beautiful thing to feel utterly safe with someone; safe in the way that you can share details of your soul and know those secrets will be respected. Being safe with someone can open up the floodgates of our emotions. We can bring things to the light of day that we never dared express before, and shining a light on them can be a huge relief when we see they aren’t as dark as we thought they were. Fear of judgment is no longer an issue. You know your secrets will not be used against you at a later date.

No matter what happens, my world has been rocked. Just knowing that these things are possible has made a permanent change in how I look at relationships. Life is like that, though – if you allow it to be. It teaches you new and wonderful things all the time. You just have to be open to the possibilities.

To Thine Own Self Be a True Bitch

It’s a little bit astonishing how self-destructive an assertive woman can be. I don’t let anyone else tear me down, but I’m really good at doing it myself. The truly amazing thing about our minds is that we are what we think. There’s no escaping self-hatred when it’s all that you spew at yourself.

Just think for a minute about all the messages you give yourself every day. If you can’t think of any off-hand, let me fill you in on a few of mine:

  1. I trip because my prescription medications make me a little dizzy sometimes. My self-talk? “God, you’re such a klutz.”
  2. I miss my boyfriend when he’s not around. My self-talk? “You’re so pathetic. Stop being so desperate and needy.”
  3. My jeans get too tight. My self-talk? “Disgusting. You’re fat and hideous. You better lose the weight right now.”
  4. My body isn’t perfect. My self-talk? “Why the hell would anyone want you?”
  5. Everything I do is on my computer. My self-talk? “You’re such an anti-social loser. You’re lazy and boring. You have no life.”

Now, as a feminist I look at that self-talk in sheer horror. If a person actually spoke to me that way outside of my own head, they’d be out of my life so fast his or her head would spin. However, all is not lost, because I have managed to re-train my thought patterns to auto-correct the negatives. It’s not a perfect system, and it’s taken me years to get to that point, but it’s better than allowing the negatives to remain. For example:

  1. It’s because you’re medicated, and besides it’s kind of funny and unique. It gives you something interesting to talk about that has livened up your day a bit. As long as you don’t kill yourself, it’s all good.
  2. The whole point to being in a relationship is to open yourself up to someone. There’s nothing pathetic about it, and it requires a great deal of courage to open your heart after everything you’ve been through.
  3. Concentrate on whether or not your diet is healthy. You just spent a month having to eat every two hours because of a low blood sugar issue, and exercising isn’t an option right now with your injuries. The weight will come off. Besides, anyone who loves me for myself will still love me however I look – otherwise they’re the jerk.
  4.  There isn’t a single person in the world who has a perfect body. Anyone who expects perfection is an asshole. Love what your body has done for you and what you’ve accomplished because of it. You earned all of those marks and scars, and it shows that you’re stronger than everything life has thrown at you.
  5. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself and doing the things you truly enjoy. Never mind the fact that your work is all online. What difference does it make that you play computer games in your off time? It’s a hell of a lot better than zoning out in front of a TV. At least you’re still using your mind.

Where does the bitchy self-talk come from, though? Is it everyone that’s doing it deep inside, or is it women who are sexualized and conditioned by the media? Well, I know it’s not just women who do it. I’ve known a lot of men who were just as self-conscious about their appearance, or various other aspects of themselves. I present a pretty sympathetic ear to a lot of people, and people tell me things I know they’re not comfortable revealing to most people. It’s one of the reasons I’m able to contradict myself when I get rolling on a self-directed mean streak. Through the confessions of others I’ve learned a valuable lesson, which is that not one of us is perfect.

Nobody will ever be truly self-confident about every single thing. We all have our vulnerabilities. Whether we’re concerned about physical characteristics, mental disorders, habits, or personality traits, there will always be something. Most people who do anything creative will feel vulnerable about their work. As many times as a writer, artist or musician is told how wonderful they are, however many accolades they might achieve, there will always be that little voice that wonders if we really deserve the praise. Whenever something new is created, there’s the fear that people will hate it.

This lack of confidence comes from somewhere, though. Whether we were told by our parents that we were lazy, or got teased for our weight in school, there’s a beginning to the voices in our heads. There it lies, dormant sometimes, until something triggers it. We might already be in a bad mood and feeling down, so we revel in making ourselves feel worse. Of course, the more we hear something the more embedded it becomes, and the more likely we are to believe it. A broken record. The initial voice can be lost to history and we hear nothing but our own, or maybe we hear that other person instead.

It can be very hard to buck the voices that tell us nasty things about ourselves. The truly scary part is that a lot of the messages we absorb are flat-out lies. So many of them are things that have been flung at us by someone else in an immature rage. They go to great lengths to say the most wounding thing possible, and they succeed beyond their wildest dreams. I learned a very long time ago not to do that to someone. Once the words are spoken there’s no taking them back. It doesn’t matter if what you said wasn’t true – they will never really believe that you didn’t mean it. They will absorb it into their subconscious and then they will taunt themselves with it whenever the situation seems appropriate.

All of it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, even if it’s only within our own minds. If we see ourselves as physically inadequate, it bleeds into every aspect of our physical relationships. If we see ourselves as incompetent at our jobs, suddenly we’re not performing as well as we could be. We worry to point where our fears might as well be true. The only solution is to break the pattern in any way that we can. That starts with acceptance of our own reality. Sure there are things that are real flaws, and we get down on ourselves for them, but the solution there is to fix what we can. There are some that can’t be fixed, and if that’s the case they’re not really flaws but the reality of a living, breathing human being that’s unique.

I’m not much for praying, since I’m more spiritual than specifically religious, but the serenity prayer comes to mind. Accept what you can’t change. Change what you can. Understand the difference. Most important, however, is to know the difference between reality and self-hatred. Step outside yourself for the moment and be honest about whether or not you would criticize someone else for the things you’re beating yourself up over. If you can’t think of anything nice to say to yourself, try just asking yourself if you’d say something like that to anyone else. Not saying anything at all only works if you haven’t already been mean to yourself.

We become our thoughts. Everything we are is what we think. Or, cogito ergo sum,”I think, therefore I am.” René Descartes was a wise soul. He may have been talking about existence, but it applies to who we become as a person, too.

As for me, well, I occasionally feel like my subconscious has taken on the role of school bully, grabbing my arm and forcing me to continuously slap myself in the face whilst saying, “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” Now that’s a provocation I can’t resist, and I’m forced to fight back in any way that I can, because that bully is just not going to get away with it.