No Ordinary Romance

I love the song A Kiss is Not a Contract by Flight of the Conchords. In fact, I love most songs by them. This one in particular came to mind when I started forming the idea for this post, so I’ll open with it for your enjoyment, and to set the tone:

A kiss is not a contract, but it’s very nice
It’s very, very nice
 

These guys are silly, but they make a point worth considering with this song; a kiss is a kiss, nothing more. Putting everything into that – or putting the responsibility for your happiness or needs on one person – is unrealistic, unfair, and unfun. Yet we do it to each other all the time, especially when our feelings enter the mix.

The subject of relationships is one I am revisiting after taking time to recover from a difficult and disappointing experience earlier in the year. Entering in to that experience, I was still operating under a lot of narrow assumptions about what relationships look like, what I want from a relationship, what expectations (if any) we can have of any partner or potential partner, what constitutes intimacy, or even if intimacy automatically implies or leads to partnership. Consequently, I conducted myself in such a way that made it inevitable for things to not only end, but end in such a way that was very painful for me.

One very good thing that came of that experience was that it helped me realize something about what I want and need at this time in my life. Before this experience, I had no idea that I could just enjoy a connection for what it was without expectation of it developing into anything else. It was hard for me to see the possibilities outside of my narrow experience, especially since I was grieving and fearing loss. To take a risk and be vulnerable to another person without any guarantee of something beyond the immediate experience was almost outside of my comprehension.

Until things ended between myself and this man, I had operated under the definitions that most everyone accepts regarding what to expect and want from another person when it comes to intimacy. I always assumed that you could have all kinds of friendship connections, but that intimacy had to look and behave a certain way. After getting distance from the disappointment of the situation I mentioned above, I was able to see, accept, and appreciate for the first time that there are so many more possibilities for intimate connection which are fun and edifying in and of themselves, allowing each person involved to continue to feel free to be who they are and enjoy life as they desire without necessarily leading to a committed partnership. When I finally really got that, it blew my mind - it felt incredible to me, like I had just experienced Christmas in July.

Social convention tells us to be afraid of something like that, labeling it as irresponsible, or unrealistic, blah, blah, blah, basically framing it from a fearful perspective. I definitely bought into that way of seeing things as the only way when I was younger – I felt that any act of intimacy immediately made someone my partner, or at least was a promise and then they needed to reassure me that they were committed to just me. In other words, any intimacy I engaged in was shrouded by my need to control all the conditions around that intimacy. I thought that every romantic interlude was automatically supposed to lead to the “ultimate” goal: the marriage, the kids, the mortgage, the car, the career, just like everyone else did and had. I also believed (as I had observed happening with so many around me) that all of that obligation would eventually stomp out any passion and connection between me and my partner, and I was supposed to just accept that depressing reality like everyone else does. Having lived outside of that kind of experience all of my adult life, I finally thought to myself, “Wait a minute. My experience has not included that. Why would I adopt that way of being in relationships just because other people do?” I’m kind of thrilled that I have had this epiphany now, rather than at the end of my life.

I love deconstructing assumptions and questioning them to see if they serve me, because pretty much without exception, they don’t. I’ve been talking with my sister about this a lot since she’s been in town for a visit. We’ve been discussing how technology has afforded many more unconventional opportunities for people to find intimacy, and as a result there are many people who are popping up in order to make use of those opportunities. We all just wanna connect. Technology and desire are changing the way we relate and make contact – I for one am open to exploring new ways of experiencing intimacy, and am very glad to hear that I’m not the only one with the same desire.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw

The only constant which I have found to be essential is clear, regular communication. And it doesn’t need to be the dreaded, overly serious “we need to talk” crap that sends partners running away with their hands in the air. It’s just more fun for me when I know what the parameters are. My most recent intimate connection was very unconventional, fun, and creative, but it failed because we didn’t talk so we could understand what it was that was happening between us. I *think* this man assumed I wanted more than he could offer because of how our exchange progressed, but if it’s what I *think* he thought, it wasn’t actually what I wanted…and because of what I *think* he thought and wanted, even I assumed I wanted something that I didn’t want because I *thought* in order to maintain what we were doing that I was supposed to want something else or be something else as a result…and because of all of that, the fun way we had been communicating became tinged with ambivalence, worry, and misrepresentation. Lordy! You can see how and why that just got convoluted and frustrating and basically not fun. All of that confusion could have been avoided if he had been willing to talk, but he wasn’t. And I will never know why…because we didn’t talk. I could speculate – and believe me, I did – but that got really old, and how am I going to continue to participate in something that is guided by speculation, right? And so, it ended. And it’s quite possible that it was completely unnecessary for it to end, but I can’t be sure, because…well, we didn’t talk.

However, even though it fell apart between us, I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; I loved that fun way of connecting that we had, and really hope to experience something like that again. This time, however, it will be clear from the beginning what both people want out of it, so it can remain a light, fun, playful thing that we understand and enjoy. So while I am sad that it didn’t work out with him, I am excited to realize because of our connection that there is a way for me to be intimate that doesn’t involve expectation and obligation. Or even close proximity; If I could have a romantic exchange with a man who lives in an entirely different state, the possibilities for connection and intimacy are much greater and varied than I initially allowed myself to ackwnowledge. I’m not just talking about online dating, either – there’s a spectrum to intimacy that just doesn’t get talked about, probably because people impose limitations on what they think they want or can handle. But I believe that when two people with a common desire make a connection, anything is possible.

I realize it’s hard for a lot of people to see relationships and intimacy this way; it’s only more recently that I’ve been able to do so myself. By doing so, though, I’ve realized it’s a lot more freeing to just cross bridges if and when I get to them, rather than heaping so much expectation onto another person right from the beginning. I feel like a kid in a candy shop with this new realization, and I intend to milk it for all it’s worth.

Posted in allowing, appreciation, attraction, beliefs, communication, connection, epiphany, intimacy, love, relationships | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Beautiful Dreamer

My Dad is a groovy, funny guy. He turned 70 years old last year, and is as full of life as ever. He makes me laugh and he has a lot of heart and zest for life. He has been a soldier, a painter, a photographer, a builder, a traveler, and a singer of love songs. His favorite song on the radio when I was growing up was Funkytown. He used to travel around in a van, and in my pre-teen years we would drive around in it and talk about everything from philosophy to self-hypnosis. The title of this post is from one of his favorite tunes which he asked me to learn on the piano when I was a little girl - he would sing along whenever I would sit down and try to play it. He lives off the Coast of Southern Oregon and I see him as often as I can.

When I was just over a year old, my Father, a Marine, entered what would become not one but two tours of Viet Nam. This experience was traumatic, having a tremendous impact on both his own health and our family, foreshadowing the turbulent years to come as far as our relationship with one another. When I was not quite four years old, my parents’ divorce became official. My Mother, sister, and I then moved away from Los Angeles back to Portland, Oregon where my Mom had grown up and met Dad in high school. Dad stayed in Los Angeles and made a life for himself there, trying a couple of times to join us in the Pacific Northwest to be closer and a part of our lives. It proved difficult for many reasons, and it’s only more recently that we have had the relationship that both of us desired over the years. Time has healed things for us, and it is a wonderful gift that I have deep appreciation for, especially now that my Mother has passed away.

Dad is social, easygoing, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is a fellow artist – a sensitive, unique soul that marches to his own drum. I always enjoy the time I get to spend with him – we talk for hours, enjoying each others’ company and sharing various interests we have both developed over the years. I tell him about my acting experiences, and he sings songs for me. He is holding me to the promise that he will get to attend the Oscars with me when I am finally nominated – and that’s a life-long dream (him in the audience included) that I intend to fulfill. We swap favorite songs and YouTube videos. My favorite was this past fall when we were hanging out on his patio and he sang along with Alicia Keys to This Girl is On Fire. He reads my blog and always checks in with me to talk about what I had to say. My Dad has taken the role of Principle Champion of my life without hesitation, and I feel so lucky to have his love and support.

He recently told me that the Joan Baez version of the Bob Dylan song, Forever Young, was a song that always made him think of my sister and I, the lyrics being his wish for both of us. I wanted to share them, as the sentiment is lovely and speaks to his heart:

 

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

I love you very much, Dad, and have cherished every memory and moment with you. I wish the same for you, that you will remain as you are, forever young in heart and spirit. I look forward to making many more wonderful memories with you.

 

Posted in family, father's day, fathers, marines, viet nam | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Page: Poems That I Love

Hello, my loyal readership! :)

In case you hadn’t seen it yet, I’ve recently created a page of poems – paired with images which evoke the feeling of the poem for me – to my blog. I update it from time to time, so feel free to check it out once in awhile.

http://jlmshishkablog.wordpress.com/pages/poems-that-i-love/

Enjoy!

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Sharon of 25,394 Days

Mom had hazel brown eyes, soft and sad, which betrayed the smile that usually greeted others around her. I always assumed I knew her, the woman who had known me longer than anyone else. Looking through old photos, however, I caught glimpses of a person much broader and varied in mood and experience than I had remembered or even realized. These images portrayed a woman with a life full of dreams and desires which existed long before I entered the world, one of gatherings, fond friendships, and miscellaneous adventures.

Mom loved to embellish her stories, especially ones that portrayed her as mysterious or a trend setter. She befriended gypsies and sketchy characters, and was drawn to people who seemed to live on the fringes of mainstream society. It was not uncommon for her, during the course of conversation, to emphasize just how edgy and different she could be by beginning statements with, “People think I’m crazy because…” or “People just can’t believe that…” followed by some fact from her past. I sometimes felt that her insistence on dramatizing daily interactions was prompted by her lack of ability to pursue the life she really wanted to live; she had mentioned on more than one occasion that she made career choices based on what her father would approve of, and had participated in major life events because of money that would be forfeited if she decided not to follow through, rather than listening to her instincts. I also believe that this behavior was a subconscious reaction to the myriad of physical conditions she endured toward the end of her life which were slowly diminishing her independence.

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Her hair was thicker than mine, and (with the exception of a wig-wearing phase in the ’70s) she had let it gray naturally. Her natural salt and pepper coloring was something she was quite proud of; she loved to recount how all the women at the office assumed she had it done professionally. She had longer legs and fingers than me, and there was an ever-present kindness that emanated from her regardless of her mood. She wanted to be a private investigator and a psychic. She was drawn to Native American culture and spiritualism. She loved cop procedural programs. I used to discount these leanings as being ingrained in her generation of women, predilections adopted by her and others her age via the influence of marketing and bingo parlor conversation. As I mature and grow kinder toward myself, this softer perspective extends out toward her and others; I see now that I was not giving my mother credit for being the unique person that she was, someone with a vivid imagination and desires just as great – and valid – as my own.

Images from earlier years showed Mom to be quite beautiful, even though she never acknowledged or realized this quality in herself. I have found that belief holds tremendous power and influence over the shape of our reality; the more Mom had denied her own beauty, the more her appearance shifted away from her natural femininity. She became less curvy and defined, gained weight, and dressed without the care of someone who feels attractive. My sister recalled a time when Mom solemnly gazed at her reflection in the mirror and said, “I look like a man.” While that was a bit of an exaggeration, neither my sister nor I could deny that Mom’s appearance was far from where it had been.

She remained single after I entered my teens. There was a palpable longing in her, a desire to be loved and cherished which had long been subdued by a sense of unworthiness. Only a few years before she died, she was pursued by a man who lived in the same Assisted Living complex. He proposed to her, making broad, sweeping, romantic plans for them to run away to Las Vegas, where he had lived in his prime. She refused to get romantically involved with him, however, even though she cared for him deeply. She would talk about his attempts to woo her in the same way she recounted other events in her life, as though it was almost too fantastic to believe; such a venture should remain a story to be retold with flair, suspended in a state of possibility.

Her ability to sublimate her own dreams in order to uplift those of others was almost epic. She had played the roles of wife, mother, friend, neighbor, coworker, and caregiver – but the woman, the lover, the individual…those parts were muted once she divorced my father, not long after my sister and I arrived on the scene. Until more recently, I followed her lead, shouldering this lonely way of being like it was my inheritance. It was difficult for me to watch her remain alone when I knew what a tremendous capacity for love she had, as well as a great desire to share that love. I am, however, determined to veer from her example in this regard; I have decided to lay down that burden, that legacy of loneliness which she never intended to pass on to me. I think she would be greatly relieved to see that, as she just wanted both my sister and I to be happy.

Mother’s Day lunch, 2012

That said, the process of grieving, reflecting, and pondering my Mom’s life has revealed a boldness and depth in her which existed in contradiction to and defiance of mournful recollection. As I review old photos and talk with my father about the years when they were together, I am able to piece together a bigger picture which gives me peace of mind. In her life, there ultimately was a balance between sadness and joy, regret and satisfaction, desire and belief. In spite of the unfinished business and unrealized dreams, there is much evidence that Mom had a spectrum of wonderful experiences in her life. I find this to be a hopeful and soothing reminder that we are always expanding, never done, and that no time on this earth is wasted.

She would love that I am writing about this, working at unearthing those hidden aspects and events which made her a beautiful, unique woman. But more than this, she would be thrilled to know that she managed to get her wish after all; in the 265 days I have lived since her passing, I’ve come to understand that there are parts of my mother which will always, to some extent, remain a mystery. I think I can make peace with that – it suits her and makes me smile.

Mother’s Day means more to me now than it ever did, marking the existence of the dear and complex woman named Sharon McMahon. It was an honor to be her daughter; it is an even greater one to be entrusted with her memory.

 

Posted in Mom, mother daughter relationships, Mother's Day, mourning | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

To Whom it May Concern

Recently, a friend of mine invited me to participate in a project started by a male friend of hers. It is called “Letters to Men,” and the title pretty much says it all – open letters to men from women, the subject and specific audience to be determined by each participant.

I initially thought I would be writing my letter to all average-sized white males, as they represent the majority of the demographic who have demonstrated unsavory behavior toward me as a plus size woman. However, since I do believe there is such a thing as preference, and I’m not one for sweeping generalizations, I find it more honest to only address those Caucasian men who hold their preference for plus size women in secret.

When I started to write things down, I was surprised to discover that my first reaction of, “Oh, I have plenty to say” was fueled by the residue of an old story I used to tell concerning my experience of the dynamic between men and women who are fat like me. I was ready to recount the numerous examples of men who would flirt with me, then either call me their buddy or – if I should be so bold as to respond to their behavior – openly deny that they meant anything by it, that they never intended anything beyond friendship (sometimes even less personal than that).

I had experienced an active dating life up until my early 20s when I began to gain weight, so I knew what flirting was and that I hadn’t been imagining things. I used to think this behavior was mostly reserved for men in Southern California, and assumed it was because of the tremendous pressure to be thin and youthful here. However, I have observed this behavior pretty much throughout the US, as well as in most Westernized cultures around the world. Not long ago, I found myself smarting from a rebuff which had picked at the scabs on some old wounds around this topic. I realized the interest that had been activated within me by this letter project had more to do with that than with a sincere desire to say something useful, something that really resonates with where I am now. I had to stop writing and put the project on the back burner for several days, as I no longer knew what I really wanted to say.

My current self is much less inclined to admonish these men for what I would have labeled cowardice in my younger years. In general, I feel better when I am not so quick to cast judgment on others. The only word I feel the need to use (which appropriately describes their behavior) is fearful, and it is one that I would have to apply to my younger self as well. The more I move away from a victim mentality and choose to own my experience in this life, the more I find commonality with those I used to feel had victimized and/or betrayed me.

Now I know what I want to say to them. I wish for them to discover the peace and strength that only comes from living a deliberate life, one with intention to honor self and others, rather than cow-tow to societal pressures. Fear begets fear. I believe their inability to openly declare preference shows a level of shame and denial that can only keep them from wholeness; it does just as much damage to them internally as it does to the women they deny. But rather than censure them or make them responsible for my struggle to openly love those who choose not to love me, I have instead decided to take the first step in modeling a better way.

This is an inside job for all of us. Whether I end up with one of these men or not isn’t my point of focus anymore. I have decided not to look to them – or anyone else – for my happiness, worthiness, or status as a beautiful, desirable woman. Instead of asking them to change, I choose to be my own agent of change, a model of boldness and self love that doesn’t wait for the world to give me a seal of approval. And if I can break out of the cycle of shame and devaluing of those of us who fall outside conventionally defined norms, maybe some of them can follow suit. Regardless, it’s far more important for me to know that even if they never move out of fear, I still know my own worth.

(If you are interested in learning more about and/or participating in the Letters to Men project, let me know and I will forward the information to you.)
Posted in allowing, attraction, boldness, compassion, deliberate focus, fat, fear, releasing fear, shame | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Milestones

Exactly one year ago on St. Patrick’s Day, I returned to Los Angeles to make a new home for myself. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this length and passage of time; so many major losses, markers, and events have occurred in these 12 months that I still find myself perceiving the world around me as though I’m hanging upside down. It reminds me of being on the monkey bars on the school playground, swaying to and fro while feeling a mixture of freedom and mild discomfort as the blood rushes to my head.

20140308-064954.jpg

I have been silent for a bit where this blog is concerned, partly because of my suddenly jam-packed schedule as one of the recent additions to the fantastic Echo Theatre Company. Joining a club that would have me as a member has meant the world to me, acting as a lifeline which guides me through grief and provides focus and groundedness, something which had otherwise all but eluded me.

The other reason I haven’t written is simple: I haven’t known what I wanted to say. Not that I haven’t tried; there are multiple posts in draft form, a pattern which has taught me that the writing will come when I’m ready and not a moment before. Also, alone time has been a struggle for me, a hazy, in-between space that quite possibly cannot (and should not) be chronicled – at least, not at length.

The one thing that saves an actor during hard times is the part scary/part liberating practice of remaining vulnerable – pouring the essence of those life experiences into one’s work. Now that I finally have an artistic home, I have a place to regularly channel all of the emotion and struggle from my eight years in Portland up to the present. As a result, the wreck that is my personal life has become fodder for a new level of excellence in any creative endeavors. Woo hoo – let’s hear it for trade-offs…er, I mean, balance!

I suppose there is an ebb and flow to writing, too. Sometimes I am prolific, cranking out thoughts and passages, and at other times like now, I’m like a recharging battery, plugged in and waiting for the green light. During this dormancy, I’ve been reading voraciously – everything from new plays and screenplays to poetry – as well as catching up on all the films and TV shows that slipped past me during the first months after my Mother’s death.

I’m especially fascinated by this sudden surge of interest in poetry. What meant nothing to me in the past now moves and comforts me, the passion-infused imagery providing a conduit for this block of emotion which has been pent up and difficult to express. As if to perfectly illustrate the relevance of this new-found appreciation, just yesterday I came across the below poem by Robert Graves.

A Time of Waiting
A moment comes when my sound senses
Warn me to keep the pot at a quiet simmer,
Conclude no rash decisions, enter into
No random friendships, check the runaway tongue
And fix my mind in a close caul of doubt -
Which is more difficult, maybe, than to face
Night-long assaults of lurking furies.

The pool lies almost empty; I watch it nursed
By a thin stream. Such idle intervals
Are from waning moon to the new – a moon always
Holds the cords of my heart. Then patience, hands;
Dabble your nerveless fingers in the shallows;
A time shall come when she has need of them.

Harvest_moonIts a little shocking to me how perfectly this poem articulates my current experience. It feels like a response to the call of my open, wounded heart, the sign I have sought regarding how to proceed – if at all – with the securing of these loose ends which make up my inner emotional life. It is a great relief to me to be reminded of the wisdom of waiting, of holding still. This seems to be the first thing forgotten when I’m in the middle of a grief-filled bout of crying, or a panicked imagining that I’m somehow being left behind by those I love, or I’m focusing far too much energy on people who seem too busy or simply not interested in cultivating or even maintaining a connection with me. Even so, I can’t help but note the uncomfortable truth that I do not have much to offer in return anyway; a relationship with me would be lop-sided and unfair to anyone who would even consider making the effort. And so, I remain mostly alone, reserving my energy for those occasions when I need to be social and around others.

It’s times like this when I wonder if there is anything in this blog which is of value to anyone other than myself. I can’t imagine sitting down with a nice cup of tea and enjoying this post, for example – it makes me laugh just to think of it. Earlier this evening I heard someone describe blogs as narcissistic, which prompted me to ask myself if what I am writing would be considered self-indulgent. I suppose to some it would. However, I realized early on that I do, in fact, write this blog primarily for my own edification, and consider any benefit it provides to others to be icing on the cake. I guess that’s my way of saying that I’m going to write it regardless, for as long as I find it worthwhile. Hopefully you consider that to be good news.

On that note, I think I’m out of material for the time being. Time again to rest and recharge, possibly to return in better spirits, but to return sometime soon nonetheless.

Posted in acting, appreciation, connection, creative expression, grieving, healing, heartache, intimacy, loss, love, mourning, relationships, waiting, worthiness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elizabeth and Lincoln and Mom and Me

A couple things have been swirling around in my experience this weekend, and they are stirring memories and feelings about my Mother. These feelings are already quite accessible, as I’ve been sorting through photos in preparation for a small gathering coming up next week to honor her memory on what would have been her 70th birthday.


click below to play song

I get stuck on certain songs from time to time, mostly because they wiggle through my exterior and connect directly to my insides, acting as a tuning fork for where I am resonating at the moment. The above song, Do Not Hang Your Head by Elizabeth and the Catapult, is a lovely, soulful piece that manages to express many of the sentiments my Mother communicated to me, through her words and actions, over the last eight years of her life.

If ever I do hurt you | Make your willows bend | If ever I deceive you | Darlin, do not hang your head

If ever I betray you | Cast shadows on your light | I pray that you may pardon | And forgive me by and by

Oh my, baby, cast another light | Oh my, baby, cast another light

Cause in our greatest conquest | We are what fate depends | That’s the heroes we once dreamt of | When we were children in our bed

And in our greatest triumphs | We cannot shake the fear | That the ones that we most treasure | May at any given second disappear

My dear, may we never disappear | My dear, may we never disappear

Cause we are all just animals | Living in the wild | But we, too, can be civil, friend | I’d like to try that now | I’d like to try that now

And I know I don’t deserve you | But if I ever dare forget | May you help my heart remember | And bring me home again

I finally saw the movie Nebraska today, and I instantly knew why this was the right time for me to see it. It was the perfect compliment to the song; the lyrics were my Mother singing to me, and the son in the movie depicted the role I played for my Mother in response. The son, Davey, realizes that he is in a position to give his father a sense of purpose in the twilight years of his life as his mind and body are failing him. Davey ignores convention and the judgement of others and gives his father a loving, double-layered gift; first, he takes his father seriously and helps him complete what he feels is a necessary journey; second, he leaves disappointments of the past out of the equation and just stays focused on his father, investing his time and actions in the relationship which exists in the present.

Early on, when I had not made peace yet with her memory loss, I often felt abandoned by my Mother; it was as though she had stopped being the person I knew and loved and was playing a ruleless game in which I was an unwilling participant. Consequently, it was a huge challenge for me to let her be who she had become and treat that person with love and respect. She often expressed feeling tremendous guilt about her declining health and how she felt she was a burden that was holding me back. I’ll never forget how her face fell when she realized I had stayed in Portland with her for eight years before coming back to LA last Spring. I often felt during that time that I was taking her hand and guiding her on a narrow, dark path, soothing her with my presence, words, and actions in order to help her be kind to herself as she slowly departed from her life.

Mom’s 69th Birthday

Many of the comments I’ve seen in response to this song mention how sad it is, but I don’t agree. I see it as someone making peace and coming to terms with the spectrum of ups and downs that have occurred in their life; they’re just saying, “I know I’m not perfect, but don’t lose faith in me, don’t lose hope in me, keep me honest, and hold me in your heart.”

This is my Mother’s love song to me. My response – staying with her, being there for her, being present with her – was my love song to her.

Posted in appreciation, caregiving, compassion, connection, death and dying, dementia, family, forgiveness, letting go, loss, love, mother daughter relationships, mourning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments