Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Gift, part 2, and Facing shame--or, a post about Nothing

It's just short of 9:00, and I've come in to a beautiful space that is perfectly quiet.

This is the post I intended to write yesterday. I was going to write about being in the Writer's Dojo, and my perfect gratitude toward K.

Well, I guess this isn't the post I intended to write yesterday either. I took a big detour to get here, and thought I'd write about the trip.

In a way, this blog reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld's TV show, the one where he asserted that his show was about "Nothing". "Nothing" has been a problematic place for me, because where most people I know really see nothing, I experience a whole lot of 'Somethings'. This post is about that.

I think I'm going to let my diary entry speak for itself:

Mon Way too Fucking Late, after 10:30

God. Damn. It.

On top of irritated I feel a little awkward too, but I lost some precious time waiting for someone to open up the dojo. No one was available the first time I called; there was no sign in the door, second time I called Jeff answered and may still be in New York for all I know; said Jewell, his SIL was supposed to have opened. I’d gotten here early anyway, and so sat around for about an hour, having forgotten a book to read and my battery nearly dead in the laptop so I couldn’t write while sitting in the car. And here I have a check ready to be filled out to them, and I’m having some doubts. This happened last week too and I thought it was just a one time thing with Jeff gone to New York (I’d thought it was just the weekend) and I could understand that his wife, single-parenting, might have gotten behind.

But, we have an agreement. They’ve agreed they’re open at 10, which is bad enough for me because I’m really ready to write by nine. So I’m pissed about the amount of unproductive time—the time just wasted—precious, precious alone time.

So I remembered Jewell as having been really chatty the time I was here before, and she was going to let me in “in just a few seconds” after I talked to Jeff (“Sorry about that”). She came in a long 5 minutes. We talked a little as she let me in; she knows about Gary’s being laid off, but I had it in my mind that I’d lost time already and didn’t want to waste more in any more chatter than necessary. So I didn’t linger in the foyer. I was just sort of focused on getting over here to write and so thanked Jewell and kind of assumed she was leaving too, and so said, “Good-bye”. She kind of laughed a little and said, “Bye”, back, and then I realized that I may have been a bit brusque, and even dismissive. Like I was dismissing her. That’s the awkward part.

I was going to gripe a bit about wasting time writing about this, as well as sending a message to Jeffrey to tell him that I had found it difficult to wait this morning and I’d appreciate their keeping their hours. (So I feel like I’ve taken care of that.)

Hi, Jeff,

Are you still in New York?

To clear the air, it was difficult to wait past the agreed-on opening time this morning. My solitary/writing time is dear to me and I want to make the most of it when the kids are in school, especially since this is their last 2 weeks. Ordinarily I'd be writing by 9, and I've conceded that hour because I really do like the dojo's atmosphere. Of course, that's not your problem and I've accepted the dojo hours as part of the terms of use. I do think it's fair to ask that I be able to count on knowing when you're open.

The prompt 10:00 opening won't be as much of an issue once school is out, since I'll no longer be taking my child to school over on this side. But I'd like to make the most of this coming next 2 weeks to get as much uninterrupted writing in as possible, since I'm facing famine. A friend has gifted me the money for a full membership for June, with enough left over to pay most of the reduced membership for July. Probably the bulk of the month of June's use of that full membership will be in this first 2 weeks. And I sure don't want to be spending the front end waiting outside, because my back end is finite: I must leave by 3:00 or earlier to pick up my children.

About last week, I didn't have a problem with Rachel opening a little later. I understand that when 'single-parenting' it can be difficult to anticipate the extra time a toddler needs--I know that by experience.

Anyway, I did feel tense this morning, and I imagine you sensed that in our phone call. It seemed like a good idea to call it out, acknowledge it, and move on. No hard feelings on this end...


PS--I put the check for this month's full and next month's partial membership in the drawer.


I started to write a blog post about that; I’d had this sense inside that in dealing with the tensions and the ways it can complicate relationships with others there might be something. One of those universally experienced-but-hiding-in-plain-sight experiences of the tension I felt while waiting, knowing I felt angry as time slipped away, the awkwardness of speaking (finally) with Jeffrey in a civil tone and while wondering if that was being passive aggressive—yet not really accepting his apology. It’s not that his apology was flip or anything, but neither did it recognize that it must have been difficult. He did allow that Rachel said it had happened last week too, and said, “Sorry” again. I just said, “OK”—by way of acknowledging his apology, but not being quite of a mind to absolve him. When I’d consider seeing him in the future, there was this feeling of possible elephant-in-a-roomish-ness: The sense that the difficulty really hadn’t been cleaned up, and possibly swept under a rug. That without my absolution, we really weren’t resolved—a sense that sense of incompletion would hang between us.

And more subtly, there was a sort of haunting feeling that this awareness of elephant-in-room was because of a flaw in me. Shouldn’t I have prepared for the possibility they might be late, since they were last week? Was I too quick to assume that last week was a special case (Jeff in New York, Rachel single-parenting a toddler) and it wouldn’t happen again today? Was I being too anal-retentive to expect that someone be here at or before the published hours time? Wasn’t I foolish to have forgotten my book? Shouldn’t I have prepared by having the AC adapter for the car in the car to charge my computer’s battery which has a shorter and shorter life? I think all of this would have been what contributed to an elephant-in-room feel maybe a year ago.

I wasn't afraid of it this time.

I didn't feel fear but I definitely felt tense. I stayed true to that feeling and didn’t precipitately and inauthentically resolve that tension with Jeff by telling him it was ok. I tolerated the tension and allowed it to stand. As I did with Jewell when she arrived and said she was sorry. A consequence of it was that I was so focused on getting to work that I may have prematurely cut short the usual social niceties period.

I would have worried about that too. And I do still wonder if I should discharge having possibly passed some of my tension on to her by going down and telling her I hadn’t meant to ‘dismiss’ her. Her laugh when I did had seemed like an acknowledgment of receiving something from me, and an attempt to soften it. I think part of the trickiness about that is that whole issue of shame. I suppose, in an over-simplified way of thinking, there was ‘shame’ in her having been so late and keeping me waiting. (And, potentially, shame in me for having not brought the resources to cope better with a possible waiting period as I’d experienced last week) (shame in me for being ‘nit-picky’ about wanting them here at 10, at the LATEST) If shame is present, it seems the cultural nicety is to discharge it by absolving it, however falsely. Being polite to someone is to absolve them from shame by absorbing the effects of their actions into one self and not letting on that something they’ve done has cost you. Betrayal of knowledge-of-shame is cause for acute embarrassment for both parties. I leaked, perhaps, awareness-of-shame when I dismissed Jewell. My clue is her small laugh when she answered, “Bye Bye”. My inclination is to go see her before leaving and say, “Oops—I made a mistake in saying goodbye to you, perhaps when you hadn’t been planning to leave yet. I was just focused on my work and assumed you were leaving too.”

What’s problematic is this then obliquely acknowledges shame.

[Much of my life, I’ve been ashamed when I notice someone else’s shame. I’ve tried to keep it from my awareness, because to even admit it to myself has seemed like something to be ashamed of. Of course, then I’m magnetized to it and it seems to be an elephant in a room. Then I’m left wondering if I have cause for shame because this has become a “bigger deal than necessary” (“I don’t even notice these things!”) (“Just forget about it!”) (“Get over it!”) When the elephant is in the room then I feel it grow because I feel like I’m lying in not acknowledging it. In fact, it seems to keep growing to me, because the bigger it gets, the more draining it is to deny. And a lot of people will just insist that there’s nothing there, and what’s wrong with me for seeing/feeling it? (“Too sensitive”)]

Breaking that chain of thought, because Jeff just came in with his daughter. Well, he looked me straight in the eyes, thanked me for my email, said it was “Awesome”, and showed me the code for the building so I can come in at nine. WOW. He said that communication is very important to him and he really appreciated my frankness. {As I re-read this and relive the moment I just remembered that my cousin hosts "Perfect Moment Mondays." Well, that was mine.}

So, here I worked through a process, saw it all the way through, and didn’t get hung up in the awkward feelings/elephant in room stage—and even got a bit of a reward. DAMN!

Now, to Jewell in just a few.

I went and finished a blog post about K giving me the gift. I’d meant it to be just an introduction to a larger post about…posting. How I’d wanted to be writing about anything but feeling frustrated at having to wait outside the dojo. Then realized that in the nothing was a whole lot of something that might be some of that ‘stuff’ that’s common in human experience but never talked about. Something people think and don’t say, which I think is a goldmine for writing topics. I got bogged down in writing the preliminaries and realized I’d need to break it down into two parts.

Back to Jewell. I’ve resolved, fully, and completely, with no residuals, with Jeff. Do I need to with Jewell, or is the nature of whatever may have happened between us so ethereal it should instead be let alone?

In light of the ‘shame’ thing I was exploring above, in acknowledging my own ‘shame’ in possibly being rude do I merely highlight her shame for having come so late? (And is that really her shame? Did circumstances make it LOOK like her shame, and make her wear the consequences in terms of my briskness with her?) And does this lead to the awkwardness of a situation where she denies the shame, and that’s my cue to deny it too because it’s a breach that I brought it up and reminded her of it, and so I have some shame about that? And then we get into that cycle of compounding awkwardness?

That reminds me of Mother's Day, with Darlene. I mischaracterized her intentions when she took the lint brush from me and felt some shame about that, as well as the shame of having revealed what I was ready to believe about her. So I felt some tension surrounding that. I’d decided to resolve it by acknowledging my ‘shame’ or responsibility in the thing, if for nothing else than my own sense of integrity. The complication is, that in doing this I reveal several things: the fact that I thought it was a reasonable possibility that she was about to give me a lengthy tutorial on using the brush—that is, she’s a person who would do that…that she’d received some of the tension I’d discharged and all it implies, the underlying negative tension between us—that there was some shame in her that had caused me to reveal impatience. The possibility that she deserves some impatience, which is a heavy shame too.

What was clear was that in bringing it up she wanted to deny it, all of it. Including the possibility that she even noticed it…the possibility that she might not be ‘above’ being petty in noticing (assuming that noticing attention being called to someone’s shame is petty).

What a weird dance we do to avoid shame.

In the case of Darlene, I experienced the sound one hand clapping. In the case of Jeffrey, it was two hands, connecting solidly and ringingly together. I solidly feel the difference, and exult in it.

Now, part of the problem of going and owning this to Jewell is that there’s another ‘shame’ implied: my ‘goodbye’ did feel like a dismissal, and a barely polite one to her, and that she ‘meekly’ left. If I say, “You know what? I may have said goodbye before you were ready to leave,” it implies that if she left when she wasn’t ready, then she WAS being dismissed and meekly complying…another kind of acknowledgment of shame.

I was just inspired to do a little online research about Face, and face-saving. This is really interesting stuff, and for whatever reason I’ve always been very susceptible to it. It certainly seems that 'shame', embarrassment, and 'losing Face' are all part of the human condition with each culture having its own vocabulary, ritual, and dance surrounding the experience.

K, look what's come of your gift already! A great start to June for me. Thank you again.


Lavender Luz said...

Well, you have set your intention to become authentic, and you will now be provided with opportunities to do so.

Jeff was a sparkling example of a person responding consciously to your authenticity.

Darlene is an example of a rather unconscious person (I don't mean comatose; I mean self-aware) responding to your authenticity.

You cannot control either one's reactions. You can only thank them (silently!) for allowing you to practice your authenticity.

I was once counseled to add to my intention "...in a playful way."

In other words, "It is my intention to become authentic. I ask for support in this...in a playful way."

If that makes sense. Maybe you can get more Jeffs than Darlenes this way. Ask those elephants to DANCE before they dissolve.


Sheri said...

I admire your ability to work through uncomfortable feelings to find your authenticity.

Wordgirl said...

Wow do your posts make me think.

I sit here in my kitchen and think about elements of shame and my own interactions with people if faced with a situation like yours with Jewell and Jeff...with something as precious as writing and time...alone time.

I really have to step back and think about it because so often in my past if I arrived somewhere and no one was there to greet me I'd wait and wait and wait -- and then probably apologize to the person for some unknown reason when they finally arrived -- as if I were in the wrong -- so averse am I to any kind of conflict I will go to any lengths to avoid it -- lengths that usually mean disconnecting myself -

- I think for so long I was so disconnected from my own divine right to claim space that I would allow any transgression -- and then treat it as if it were irrelevant -- when, of course, it wasn't -- at all.

I really learn so much about my own self as you write about your awareness of your own reaction and needs in situations.



excavator said...

Lav: "careful what you wish for", eh? I really like what you passed on, "...in a playful way." I like play. AND, lovin' that image of the elephants dancing! Thanks for the big smile.

'Preciate that, Sheri!

Pam, when I read a comment like yours it makes me feel like I got 15 or 20. Thank you very much for such a heartfelt response.

I think when our fates rested in the hands of people who were unable to take responsibility for their behavior and didn't see us for ourselves, but how we affected them, the only way we could live with the feelings/confusion that caused was to blame ourselves. So if someone hurt us, it was our fault for being so sensitive as to get hurt. Self-erasure is the next logical step in that world.

Thanks again for writing and visiting, Pam.

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