Category Archives: Writing

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness & The Case of the Ever Empty Heart

In this weeks installment of  Dear Ms. Love n Happiness the question comes from a dapper and endearing young man who I will refer to as Mr. Empty.  Oddly enough, Mr. Empty is far from being empty. In reality he has a huge heart and is endowed with the kinda gifts that change the world,  he just doesn’t know it yet.

Mr. Empty asks:

Dear Ms. Love n Happiness:

Why, even in a relationship, do I always feel ’empty’?  I am now in my early twenty-somethings, have been in multiple medium-term relationships, yet have not found myself filled with joy, or anything close.

Thank you,

Mr. Empty

Dear Mr. Empty,

Who are you trying to kid? This is no relationship question. I know you are far too brilliant to actually believe that any relationship or for that matter any thing external could fill up this emptiness you are experiencing. You just want me to be the boring ol hag that tells you what you already know. Fine.  Knowing full well that I am about to be trite, tired, cliché and commonplace, I am just gonna say it anyway: All those warm fuzzies you are longing to experience . . they have to come from you first.

If you are anything like most of us, you have to hear things 1 billion and a half times, so I’ll give it to you again and this may sting a little: All the girls you bed, all the money you make, all the art you create, any drug that you take will  not fill up that hole.  Duh.

Here is another little nugget of truth that may piss you off before it sets you free:  Your pain is not special. Whatever it is that is gnawing away at your insides, your childhood, something you didn’t get, something that you got you didn’t want, whatever you call your cross: It. Is. Not. Special. Neither is mine. Neither is my moms, or my lovers. Not my sisters,  not the guy on the bus who smells funny, not the asshole that broke my heart, and sadly not even the bitch that seems to have it all. None of our very painful burdens are special. What a heartless bitch, right? I know.  But think about it, they are not special because we all have ’em. Look around, from the most prestigious and powerful to those on the fringes of society, we are all running around with heavy loads to bare and trying to fill up aching holes.  And believe it or not, this is really good news!  Once I saw that this false feeling of emptiness is part of the human condition, so much of the problems power over me was taken away.

Now at this point you have a choice. Many people choose to get all dark philosopher prince on the shit and question the existence of God, don dark-colored garb, shake their fist at the heavens and write mad treatises from caves. Whatever. It’s been done. Do it again if you want. But, I think that what you really want is something different. You want to live from you heart and your soul. And this here is how I think it’s done, clearly I am still working out the kinks myself:

1) Find something you believe in with all your being and get your arse involved. 

Sure, your heart is empty and your soul is shriveled up.  But, my hand to God the best prescription  for this emptiness is to give more of yourself.  Giving  gets the heart pumping harder and your soul stretching. Its gets you out of the Philosopher King head and into your heart where the fuzzies live.  You will find, as a natural consequence of  giving to others that your own healing starts to occur.  You will realize that the cause you choose to  get fully behind is the one you need most for yourself.  (Is it a coincidence that I am writing a book about my experience as a single mom or that my dream is to start a program for broken-hearted little kids who want to write, or that my best friend helps troubled teenagers through art, or that my neighbor works with gay children?)  In short, heal others and you heal yourself.

2)  Realize that cynicism is overrated. 

You are very brilliant, and for brilliant people it’s easy to use your intelligence to find all sorts of evidence to support cynicism.  I know because I spent my entire college career doing just that.  I paid about 60k a year so I could sit around and commiserate with a bunch of other Sad Sams. We studied Nietzsche and Pound. We psychoanalyzed every halfway optimistic text within an inch of its life.  We compared horrific childhoods and told blood curdling stories about he atrocities committed in the name of faith or love. Oh- we had so many super pseudo-intellectual  reasons for our emptiness.  Our emptiness was a big, beautiful badge that we proudly wore. It was symbolic, it was artistic. It was bullshit.  I walked away with astronomical student loans and a still empty heart.

3) You gotta believe in something.

For me belief is not something I can categorize, summarize, rationalize, or intellectualize. For me, belief was something that lived inside me all along.  I just had to quit beating it down with a stick and let it come out and live a little bit.  For you, and for everyone else, belief is a personal experience. How you experience it, how you express it, how you access it could be as different as  my fingerprint is from yours.  What I do believe is universal is the fact that somewhere, maybe deep, deep, damn deep down in all of us, we know our truth. We believe in something outside of ourselves.  Life is a process where our knowing gets covered with shit. I suppose the challenge is to start shoveling the shit!

4) You gotta use your powers for good

The darkside really does not need any more help, they got that bizz on lockdown. Plus, the pay off and benefits are shitty. Mr. Empty, I would suggest that you take all your brilliance and all the energy you have put into to constructing your identity as the: intelligent, artistic, deep, emotional, wounded dark and slightly cynical man into something new. Use your  immense powers for good and build yourself as the man who experiences joy and fulfilment and lives surrounded by love.

I have a feeling joy is right around the corner. So take your remedy for a while and then lets compare notes. I  know a whole tribe of non crazy, at least in the dangerous sense, mildly cool peeps who are on the same plan.

Namaste Cuz!

♥ & ☺ ,

C.

Oh, and spreading all this love n happiness is kinda hard work, so laughing helps too.

Advertisements

Kicking Cartoon Ass

Eeyore being sad.

Image via Wikipedia

At the risk of sounding like a complete psychopath, I have a confession to make: I hear voices. The voices in my head sound a lot like the five o’clock news. They are all doom and gloom with the occasional side of sensationalism.  “Next at five, Candice will never find what she calls “fulfilling” work in this economy. She ought to be grateful to have any job at all! And stay tuned as we uncover breaking news of how Candice has probably taken years off her life in her many failed attempts to quit smoking! And later, watch as we bring you exclusive coverage as Candice gets her heart ripped out of her chest and stomped on again because she was misguided enough to trust another man!!!”

  If Eeyore and the teacher from Charlie Brown had a love child, it would sound exactly like one of my voices:  “Wah wah waaah. Oh . . . bother.” These voices, or my “script” as I refer to them, have been following me around for as long as I can remember.  Over the years their incessant chatter has become more like background noise, like a television on in the other room while you are trying to sleep; you eventually train your ears not to listen. Although certain situations really aggravate the script and the voices get louder. For example, say I am about to walk into a room full of people I don’t know very well. Suddenly my News Anchor Eeyore will go berserk and gets all Stephen King’s Carrie on my ass and shouts “They’re all gonna laugh at you!!” Or, say I am thinking about taking a much needed vacation to Mexico, the voice kicks in: “You don’t have any business going to Mexico! I mean all kinds of horrible things are going on over there! Besides, how are you able to afford a vacation right now? I mean, there are people practically standing in line for handouts and you want to go gallivanting off to Mexico??”

Heaven forbid that something wonderful happens! The voices will become deafening, like a keg party in your living room when you have to get up for school the next day and no amount of covering your ears or hiding under the covers will allow you to get any rest. Such was the case when I got engaged: “Oh… you’re gonna try that again. Haven’t you learned anything from the last several times you tried being in a relationship? Do you know what the divorce rate is these days? Besides, why would you think he really wants with someone like you anyway?”

Perhaps the worst was when I decided that I would give this whole writing thing another try. This time my voices didn’t even dignify their thoughts with words. They just burst in to shrill, hysterical laughter at my dream.

Sounds crazy, right? It is. But believe it or not—I am actually very lucky that my voices sound as crazy as they do because I am better able to recognize that they are not me. I mean, I actually enjoy meeting new people and I will never, ever turn down an opportunity to travel. And love; sure it’s shat all over me before, but so what? I still believe in it. And writing, well laugh all you want but I have known since I was old enough to read that one day I would make my living with words. The great news is that the crazy-Eeyore-piss- on-sunshine-fear- mongering-news-caster is not me!  That voice is not me at all and there is a lot of power in knowing that. There was a time when I thought that the script was part of me and even worse, I thought that the voices were right! (doom and gloom can sound so authoritative) I am not sure how they got there, or what purpose they could possibly serve—but I do know that everyone has ‘em.

My girlfriend Lee runs around like Chicken Little. Even though she is one of the strongest, smartest and most successful women I know, she is constantly bracing herself for the worst the case scenario. Even in the midst of all her dreams coming true she has one eye on the sky and is wondering “What the hell am I gonna do when the sky starts falling?”

If being thoughtful and caring was an Olympic sport my friend Lynn would be on the Wheaties box. She is the type of person who notices that something might be going on with you before you know it yourself. She has the uncanny ability to see the good in others and to make the best out of the worst situations. She is the type of girl who could probably make having a flat tire in the middle of the desert an absolute riot. However, she is always haunted by her voice: The Roadrunner. “Meep meep!” He screams at her constantly. Always pushing her to do more, move faster, get it right and figure it all out! Poor girl can barely sleep at night because the Roadrunner is always running her ragged.

And then there is my friend Milana, who has been blessed with one of the hugest hearts I have come across. She dreams big and has the absolute tenacity to make these dreams a reality. Yet she carries around the voice of Yosemite Sam with her everywhere she goes. This fiery, hair-trigger tempered nut job is always threatening to go off and destroy all the things she loves.   

Clearly it is not actually characters from the Warner Brother’s cartoons we watched as children or the creatures from beloved children’s books that have infiltrated our minds. We got these scripts from some pretty heavy places. Maybe it was an abusive step dad who was always screaming. Or a father we never thought we could please but we ran ourselves down trying anyway, or maybe it was being raised by people who had very dark views of themselves and the world. But facing down a personifications is much easier than facing the real thing. So, as cute as Eeyore might be, with his tacked on tail and big dopey eyes, I have decided I am tired of this donkey trying to run my life and piss on my dreams. He has to go.

So I put the little donkey in a cheap suit and I sit him at a news desk. And he starts in with that same story. About how I am not allowed to be happy when there are so many miserable people out there. About how the world is a scary, scary place and I had better watch my step. He goes on to tell me that I have no business having dreams, they won’t amount to much and he’d hate to see me disappointed. And all the while I am slowly stepping further and further away from him. His voice takes on the “Wah, waah,” quality as I continue to step away. He probably thinks that he has won again and that I am just going to retreat in the shadows as usual. That is when I get my running start. I start barreling straight toward him and as I pick up speed I think of all the things that I have missed out on, all of the things I would not risk because I was busy listening to this negative bitch tell me what the world is like. I think of all the ways that this voice has tricked me into being less of who I actually am.

I plow into my “script,”  and I knock the daylights out of Eeyore.  I scream: “Shuuuut Up!” Once that poor little donkey is on the floor I look at him and say: “You are the one with no business. No business telling me how to live my life!”

And so, that’s how  I kicked Eeyore ass. And I will continue to kick it until I am free.  All those things that seemed so desperate and real, those voices that ran me around in the same circles I hated, they started to loosen their grip. What kind of nasty script are you running from? Who personifies your “voices”?  Is it time you drug Gargamel out into the streets? Are you sick of all your callous sarcasm getting in the way? Maybe it’s time for you and Garfield to have a little go time. All those demons can be personified into a harmless character and then faced down and defeated. Unless you tell me it’s Snoppy. Then you got big problems, real big problems.

Shakespeare in Divorce

William Shakespeare, chief figure of the Engli...

Image via Wikipedia

To Thine Own Self Be True . . .

Besides boys and drinking, in college I studied literature. Yet, sadly I have to admit that my knowledge of Shakespeare goes about as far as Mel Gibson’s Hamlet to that one hit wonder from the early 90’s by his sister’s name.  However, I am absolutely gaga for the Bard. Or, at least I am supposed to be— a bookish girl who always loved words tends to make heroes and saints out of all writers, even the ones of which she is not entirely familiar. Then about four years ago, I fell even deeper for Shakespeare when I ran smack into him in Brooklyn. Rather, I ran into some of his words.  Although they were written about four hundred years ago, that day their appearance on an engraved sterling ring in a bohemian flea market seemed to come in a rather timely fashion. “To thine own self be true” read the inscription. “Damn Skippy!” I thought, did a mental fist pump, plucked the ring up and scurried back to Manhattan to continue loosing myself amongst the many people.

I was in New York for the soul purpose finding myself, trying to figure out what in the world I was going to do with my life, and sometimes the best way to do that is to lose yourself for a few days. I needed to go to a place where no one knew me, where no one needed something from me and where I was free to pound the pavement and scour the subway searching for answers. I had just turned thirty, my student loan bills were pouring in and every day I went into my office I felt as if I was spooning out a small portion of my soul.  My son was now almost a year old, and his father and I’s relationship was not going to get better. It was so diseased that it really just needed to be put down in a humane way. But—I didn’t have the balls, I was too terrified of the “what if’s” to see what was right in front of my face.

 As I wandered from burrow to burrow and NYC whizzed by me in a blur my vision started to focus and it became apparent to me that my dreams had shifted into a nightmare. I could no longer afford to press the snooze bar on my life and wait for things to get better, I had to push past my inertia and indecision and actually do something to wake up. When I saw Shakespeare’s words on the ring, I didn’t stop for too long to think about what they meant. I simply thought, “This is fate in a flea market telling you to get your sorry ass out of this pathetic relationship and get on with your life.”

 So that’s what I did. I went back to Atlanta and instead of tactfully putting my relationship to sleep; it turned out to be more of a “shooting a lame horse” incident that went terribly array.  I proceeded to go through one of the worst “divorces” and custody battles imaginable. Although, to talk about divorce as being something better or worse than you could have imagined is somewhat pointless.  No matter how many people we know who have lived through them, how many sickeningly simplistic movies have been made about them, or how many times we have heard the staggering number that is the divorce rate, really there is nothing neither real nor imagined, that can prepare you for the reality of a divorce.

 A divorce is two people who were once so in love that they could see their futures in each other’s eyes and who now can no longer look each other in the eye. Divorce is when a stranger comes into a courtroom, wearing a robe and a grim smile, and proceeds to divvy up your life with the precession of a surgeon and a scalpel. Divorce is when bailiffs and court employees herd you through the system as if you are one of many because you are literally one of many. You might as well be assigned a number. Instead of Jones v. Smith, the tittle of your case should be: 1407b v 2356a, because you are now a cow in a large herd, a number, a statistic. Your life is no longer “personal.” And guess who got you here? You and the former love of your life. I don’t care what anyone says about amicable divorces. There is no such thing. Divorce is insanely heartbreaking no matter what the particular details of you and your ex’s relationship were. No matter how happy you are to see his broke-down ass go, it always hurts when they hammer the final nail into the coffin of what was once your greatest dream.

And while I lived through that nightmare, I wore my flea market fate on my finger and would stare down at those words making them mean whatever I needed them to mean that day:

To thine own self be true. Yes- I can face this bully of a man in court.

To thine own self be . . .  yes, I can survive the pity filled looks from the other moms at school and show my face in front of the many acquaintances who had “heard” my story.

To thine own self . . . yes, even though all I want to do is crawl in bed and sleep until it all goes away, I can muster up the energy to be present for my son.

To thine own . . . yes, I can start to believe in love again.

And eventually, that nightmare passed and somewhere along the way I tossed the Shakespeare ring in my jewelry box and hadn’t thought of it much until yesterday while doing a little organizing. I came across it my heart stopped for a second. “to thine own self be true” it whispered and I stopped what I was doing, left the little piles of neatly folded shirts and stacked papers, wandered over to my desk where I proceeded to do a little Google research and read about what other people think the words mean. The line is from Hamlet and is spoken by a father, Polonius, to his son who is about to take off and do some traveling, the proverbial “finding himself” trip.  What preceded this famous statement was mostly a fathers lecture on how his son better not lose his ass financially and that he better damn well avoid slutty women.  So, for many it’s hard to believe that the phrase, “To thine own self be true” was intended to have quite the same introspective, feel good meaning we have attached to it. But, I had to wonder, did it matter what other people thought about the words? Did it even matter what the Bard himself meant by these words when he put them in the mouth of Polonius? Not really, to me they were my battle cry, and my fortune to read.

When boiled down to their most basic and least poetic meaning, I take the words on my ring to mean: “Know who you are, cus the more you know yourself the less likely you are to screw yourself over.”

When dispensing relationship advice people have a habit of saying, “Listen to yourself, just follow your gut.” If you are one of those people, please, go ahead and punch yourself now. How can someone listen to themselves when they don’t know what they the hell they are saying??  In order to follow your gut you have to know which one is yours. Knowing yourself, as it were in my case, turned out to be more difficult than I would have imagined. I was always confusing who I thought I was supposed to be and who others wanted me to be with who I actually was. In most cases when I should have been “listening to myself” there were so many conflicting voices going on in my head I felt like a Schizophrenic.

Had I known myself back then I would have known to pay attention to the voice inside my head that said, “Um, this shit ain’t right!” When my ex brought me leftovers from his dinner out as a consolation for not taking me with him, or when the day I was moving into his apartment he went out with his guy friends looking like a character from “Night at the Roxbury.”  If I had known myself then perhaps I would have trusted myself when after watching my ex miss the entire third inning of a baseball game because he had to take a pretzel back to a stadium concession stand based on principle, I thought: “This guy is impossible to please!”

So now, at thirty-something I am finally getting around to being true to myself, to feeling my gut, to picking out my voice in the crowd, and to knowing myself. And sometimes, it’s not all that pretty.  Am I always blowing love and sunshine? Hardly. But I can thank Shakespeare in part for this: I won’t ever have any dreams blow up in my face or my hopes perish before my very eyes again because now a days I deal in reality, a nitty, gritty, true to myself reality and that is better than a dream—it’s true to life. y

And . . . to lighten all this introspection up:

Crushed.

Faith (George Michael song)

Image via Wikipedia

At the age of thirteen I was temporarily psychotic. That is to say I came down with my first crush and it was the type of crush that makes you realize why they ever came up with the term crush in the first place. I was in agonizing physical pain. It was absolute mania, I cried, I swooned, I giggled, but most of all I was elated. The world was larger and more alive. It was an innocent school girl version of being on shrooms. I just seemed to feel everything. A sunny day, a barking dog, a taste of spicy mustard, or a sad song; everyday ordinary events were now attached to feelings.

We women have been going publicly psychotic over our feelings for ages. I have yet to see, and I doubt if I ever will, a mass of boys scream and swoon over any girl.  Males simply retreat to their room with some visuals and that’s about the end of the story. From Beetle Mania to the hip-swiveling induced hysteria of Elvis, we girls put our passions all out there. The widespread celebrity crushes of my generation were The New Kids on the Block and the Back Street Boys, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed them, but I was still busy pining over George Michael. I followed his career from Wham! and wanted nothing more than to wake him up before I went-went to the ass-shaking, spirit moving sounds of Faith.  Sadly, years later he dealt me and the rest of the female species a crushing blow when he announced that he preferred men. (Sniff.)

Now a days it’s Beiber Fever; tiny eight year old girls and, strangely enough, sometimes their mothers too can be found weeping and wailing over this teen age boy. I roll my eyes and shake my head, What is this crap? However, if I think back to the time of my first crush, and many subsequent crushes to follow, those emotions were so raw, so all-encompassing, so damn, well… crushing, I can completely relate to these frantic teenage girls.  Had I come of age during the time of  YouTube and stumbled upon George Michael kissing Jordan Knight, I too would have pulled my hair out in agony. (please see the poor girl below)

My own personal psychosis struck while at summer camp. The culprit’s name was Jobie Dixon. He was a few years older, tall and dark with piercing eyes. We slow danced to: “Goodnight Sweet Heart” at a fifty’s style sock hop. He guided me around the dance floor in this awkward but very gentle way.  I remember my dress that night more clearly then what I wore yesterday: Blue poodle skirt, white blouse, pink ribbon around my pony tail and a pair of black and white saddle oxfords that pinched my feet until I could no longer feel my toes. After “our song” was over he leaned way down to give me a tiny kiss on my blazing hot cheek. I just  stood there frozen. . . staring at him. . . until thankfully one of the junior counselors came and led me away by my hand.

We all returned to our cabins and I sat on my bunk barely able to move. . . just staring off into space like a complete head case. My cabin mates had to guide me to my tooth-brush and help me into my pajama’s, mind you I was twelve and sober not twenty-two and hammered. Love drunk I guess?  When I finally laid my head down to sleep I slurred: “I think I’m in love.”  I was toast.  A sickening and sappy hopeless romantic was born.

I came home at the end of the week still drunk on love potion (# 9).  It was in this state that I decided to share the news with my grandmother.  This was not something I would normally do. I was the type of girl who always seemed to be flooded with emotions; however my family was not the type to discuss feelings at all. I’m not sure what my words were, probably some giddy and girlish rant about Jobie but guarded and somehow toned down. I had learned that restraint was the proper way of expressing myself. My grandmother looked at me and said flatly: “Well, that’s nice but you just remember: boys only want one thing and after that there’s just a lot of pain and hurt. And guess what? It’s always you that ends up getting hurt.”  They say coffee won’t sober you up, but those words were like the cops in my review mirror and they have been following me ever since.

Did I mention that I was only twelve? I couldn’t quite imagine what that one thing that boys only wanted was, but I had enough of a general idea that it made me queasy. Phrases like “rain on your parade” or “burst your bubble” come to mind when trying to explain my emotions at that moment, but it was more than that.  It was a shrinking of my heart and a sinking of my spirits.  Now I was burnt toast.  I was a romantic meshed with a cynic.

This, as it turns out, is a pretty confusing predicament for all involved; including the boys. Jobie Dixon didn’t want just one thing, he wanted a few. He wanted to hold my hand, to sit next to me at church, to walk me home from school and “to go steady”.  So naturally I tortured him for years, playing games and telling him I was not sure what I wanted. What I wanted was to be loved and to love his tall sweet ass back. But, noooo. That would have been too scary and I was trying to avoid all this pain and hurt my Grandmother spoke about.

I must have had a dyslexic heart because I was always getting it backward! There were guys that showed up on time for dates, listened when I talked, gave me thoughtful little gifts and even wrote me songs, but I convinced myself that eventually these guys would reveal themselves to be the monsters my grandmother alluded to, that deep down they were maniacal assholes that just wanted to hurt me.

Unless of course they really were maniacal assholes; like some guys I have dated who have stood me up, screwed my friends and then stole my money. These guys, I was convinced, really loved me. They just had a funny way of showing it.

Oddly enough, the aim of all my antics was to protect myself, to avoid being the one left with all the pain and hurt.  And in the end everyone got hurt. Love: I have had it all screwed up so many times. The only way I ever got it right, or for that matter seen anyone get it right, is by doing the opposite of what I had spent years doing. Instead of building up walls and hardening up hearts, I had to split myself wide open. Only with this risk was there ever any real chance at reward.  Sometimes I miss the simpler times of sock hops, boy bands, and the innocence of love drunk hearts but through the years it’s been a sobering experience. A few painful lessons, the right teacher, and even my dyslexic heart learned to read the language of love. If only adults might learn that sometimes it’s wiser to keep their cynicism to themselves, maybe we could avoid crushing a few more hearts.

Love and Happiness

Love and Happiness

Bitch I am not talking about what had happened to you! Should my poor loved ones ever be misguided enough to ask for my advice I always begin with, “Well, I remember the time that…”  They roll their eyes and probably wish they had kept their problems to themselves.  But the truth is, I am listening, this is just how I relate.  Stories are how I make sense of the past, and how I navigate the present.  Perhaps you were wondering if you should go on a date with one of your co-workers and when you happen to run it by me for some reason I have to launch into the story of the time I almost quit the fourth grade talent show, but instead we rocked out some of the finest Michael Jackson lip-syncing any one clad in a pink tutu could have pulled off . . . ever.  And this relates to you how, you wonder. Because! I am trying to tell you to take a risk, to go for it; I just always have to get there through a story. Annoying, I know.

“Past is prologue,” my beloved English teacher was fond of quoting. Well, I was all over that.  When was I ever present? I was always that girl with my head in the clouds, or in books, or scribbling in notebooks. I lived in the past, recalling events and hashing and re-hashing their meaning. And like a neurotic soothsayer I was always trying to tell the future based on a story of the past.

Now a days, I seem to be living a lot more in the present than ever before. I’m not a millionaire, I have not come down with magic powers (yet), but I am just pretty damn happy right where I am.  Probably because by some miracle, the present is as good, if not better than anything that I could have imagined, and I no longer need to hide in stories or anchor myself to the past. Yet, I am still true to my first love: stories.

Somebody somewhat important once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I don’t know about all that, but the point is I have certainly examined mine.  And yours. And his and theirs.  I am girl ruled by her feelings.  The following are but a few of the stories that shaped my feelings on the big things, like love and happiness.