Once more, with feeling

I’ve had one cup of coffee, and enough sugary items to make sugar cubes eject from orifices I didn’t know I had. As I describe myself, I am a sweet tooth on two chubby legs. I bought a t-shirt a little while ago that says “Things I have working for me – resting bitch face, thick thighs, and sarcasm.” That about sums it up.

I enjoy wearing slightly provocative, if not outright rude, t-shirts. It saves a lot of time, sort of like a directional road sign. “Last exit before 100 miles before next rest stop.” Or, as I like to imagine the message – abandon hope all ye who enter here.

I have been sarcastic for most of my life, once I got the oppositional defiance in order. I have been such a creature of obligatory posture that once I found that failure to meet obligations did not result in immediate death, I rolled my eyes and raised a middle finger on each hand. I have never looked back. Sarcasm is a gift from the Universe, and I do my best to make good use of it.

Today it is gloomy, with humidity high enough to mimic a bowl of tepid soup thrown over you. It’s not just the weather – a shooting in Austin TX resulted in 13 or so injuries, and nobody knows exactly what happened or why. It’s also the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando FL, where a lone gunman with an assault weapon killed 49 people. It’s also Pride month, when LGBTQIA+ people celebrate their lives, refusing to be ashamed of their sexual orientation and ways in which they express their identities. With all the free-floating feces in the air, it’s hard to even remember to have any Pride…of anything.

Celebration and mourning, all in the same minute at times. That is the reality of these times. Our celebrations, however, feel a bit muted these days, as though we are prepared for the brevity, as though we are braced for the next reason to mourn, the next reason to be rendered speechless by the depravity of other human beings. Most of us cannot begin to comprehend the total detachment from reality and human response a person who require to calmly shoot more than 50 people in a crowded bar, while they screamed and died just inches away.

I’ve read that people capable of doing such things are usually sociopaths, and do not have the capacity to feel remorse for committing an act such as that. It’s a personality disorder, a mental health issue. I’m not quite sure if understanding the medical circumstances of such a disorder should cause me to excuse the perpetrator (they were just sick, you see) or indict the mental health system for its shortcomings. I suspect there is room for both responses, but we need to grieve first. We need to shake our fists at the sky and ask the unanswerable questions of “why?” and “how could this happen?” I don’t know if there’s ever a reason for a mass murder, or any explanation that could result in my understanding of things like this.

When something feels incomprehensible, defying any of the rules of civility and respectability, sanity and justice, I rattle it around inside myself for a long period of time. Maybe if I turn it this way…no, wait a second, let’s try THAT way…OK, what about a few inches over to the right? Nah, it’s never going to be right, never going to be understood, never going to make sense to me why all these people have been ended for seemingly no reason at all.

I am a creature of extremes. If I like something, I REALLY like it. If I hate something, I REALLY hate it. I need to own the feeling, with all its depth and nuances. I need strong representation of color and sound and emotion and personality. For instance, I despise even the concept of that beverage “Hint”. I am sure it’s a fine beverage; I have tried it at least a couple of times. I don’t like it because it is merely a “hint” of a flavor. I need the full taste, not a hint, not a breath, not a rumor of a flavor. I want to be immersed in it, having every available taste bud standing up at attention and saluting the deliciousness.

A marketer’s dream, I’m always the first in line for trying a new product. I have tremendous faith in the power of advertising; I’m a sucker for pretty packaging, clever advertising, the whole nine yards. Like a kid, I’ve got to have the new, improved thing and tear into it before I get home with it. I get disappointed quite a lot, but still I persist. My contribution to the domestic national product, I guess.

Back to this day, however, a great many people are quite shocked by some recent news of The Former Guy’s efforts to investigate high ranking members of his political opposition, and even journalists who appeared to be unflattering of him. It’s not shocking to me. Troubling, maddening, Infuriating, heinous, but not shocking. This is how he rolls, mean spirited and self-serving to the end, with no dearth of supporters to assist. Why should I be shocked to see a performance that is simply true to form?

At times, I fear that many of us are simply far too innocent in our outlook, in our expectations, in what we’ll settle for. I’ve always said that I’ve seen the worst of what people have to offer at times, so very few things shock me. At times, when I’m emotionally compromised, I am devastated to be shown those qualities in someone I care for deeply, but that’s where the child in me lives – in my heart. Otherwise, there’s not much that actually shocks me, that I cannot digest.

I suppose I operate in the vein of that old proverb about the monk (or in some versions a lady, in other versions a simple traveller) who carries a venomous snake across a river or body of water. The monk observes the snake having trouble getting across the waterway, and helps the creature in a spirit of good will and charity. Once they are safely on shore, the snake bites the monk, who recoils in shock and horror. “Why did you bite me, after I was kind to you?” cries the monk. The snake calmly replies (it is, of course a talking snake for purposes of the story), “You knew what I was before you picked me up.”, and slithers away without a backward glance.

OK, so – we knew what this guy was long before he was elected. One of his first public acts was to make fun of a disabled reporter. His supporters cheered, and things went downhill from there. During the campaign, he was equally distasteful, and yet the commercial media missed no opportunity to provide him with all the visibility he could handle. And he is a bottomless pit.

The only explanation that I find useful in explaining this sort of cognitive disconnect is to follow the money. During the campaign for President in 2016, the more shockingly The Former Guy performed, the more they covered his antics. The more mean spirited and ignorant his comments, the more coverage he got. It was, to large extent, free advertising but one hand washed the other – ratings were over the moon. The more his behavior declined from civility, the more they offered viewing of him in action and the higher their rating were elevated. His, and theirs. What’s not to love?

At this point, we can’t afford the toll on this. Many people have rejected civility in favor of “telling the truth”. There’s some false equivalence between political correctness and lying. I can agree that politically correct idioms can be used to avoid saying what needs to be said, but that can be remedied very easily. As a minister friend of mine used to say, say what you need to say and we’ll pretty it up later. I can tell someone that I find their portrayal of immigrants (as entitled scum who believe the country owes them something and who don’t pay taxes but partake of social services at high levels) to be troubling, insulting, and incorrect without having to resort to racial epithets, insults, and culturally insensitive micro-aggressions. It can be done. Everything that crosses my synapses is not worthy of entering the public square.

I despise playing social games, or adhering to some mysterious code of nonverbal signals and dog whistles that I am supposed to have learned a long time ago. I’ve been told I’m a good listener, but I can also be astoundingly aloof when I’m overly excited with my own responses. It’s not particularly effective for me, but often it’s like trying to reign in a water buffalo with a shoelace. Frequently, I just let it rip. No harm, no foul.

When there’s harm, however, I retreat so fast it will make heads spin. I err in terms of not knowing the language, not knowing the rules of the road, but I’m not typically a mean person…unless provoked, and usually over a long period of time. When I do resort to meanness, it’s to enforce boundaries and repel the enemy, not to do harm for the hell of it. I didn’t come out of the gates mean, and I don’t typically operate from that perspective.

Mean does not make a lot of sense to me, particularly when there has been no harm done. Some people are just mean, though – they came here that way, and probably exhibited those characteristics very early. When my mother got so mean and embittered after her mother died and her marriage fell apart (well, I’m not sure if her marriage had ever truly been together in the first place, but that’s another story entirely), she was responding to a great many circumstances that were outside of her control.

From my mother’s description of girlhood with her sister (and my aunt’s affirmation) she could always be mean. From her perspective, because she was so tiny and sickly, she had to defend herself as best she could. My only problem with that, however, was that it wasn’t clear that she was being attacked or had any reason to mount a defense. Who knows, but I do know there was a somewhat high-functioning mental health dysfunction at play with her, probably from very early in her life. Today, it could be diagnosed as bi-polar or possibly borderline personality disorder, but whatever it was, she had high levels of anxiety and panic most of her life. She compensated reasonably well, but sometimes her attacks came out of nowhere.

To my mother’s never ending frustration and often disgust, I let people get away with near murder in many instances. I still do. It’s not even altruism or compassion or anything intentional, just a mistrust of my own temper and my distaste for the tension of confrontation. When the tension is taut and heavy, both sides in a macabre tug of war, those are agonizing moments for me. I will walk away or cry uncle or say fine – you can have it. Whatever it is. I cannot stand that kind of tension.

Some people thrive on tension like that. Because I have a temper, and because I am not capable of having vague displays of emotion, people believe me to be more comfortable in confrontation than is true. For many years, people goaded me into confrontation because my display of anger was so…entertaining. Bleh. That was never me, but I had not other way of garnering attention or fending off the aggressors. I had two speeds – “off” and “overdrive”. The interval between was a nano-second.

These days, I would like to believe that i have a slightly longer gap between stimulus and response, but I still have my rocket-launch moments. Those are more rare than in most of my life, possibly owing to age, but more likely to the years and years of work I’ve done on unsnarling my own wiring scheme. I was never given as-built diagrams for what goes on between my ears, or in my heart, so it’s been a massive effort of tracing signals, repairing broken connections, and tagging problematic junctions.

Particularly after I got sober, I have never been afraid to explore my emotional and mental health. I did believe that I was irredeemably crazy for quite a while, and even wondered aloud if I was a multiple personality. These days, I am pretty comfortable with the diagnosis of self-sabotaging human being, prone to internalizing terrible awful really bad things. I accept that. I’m told it’s all fixable, although I may go to my grave (or the crematorium, I can’t decide which) without completing the repairs.

When I was about eight, I had decided that I was never going to have children. I believe I’ve written about this before, but I saw a Marcus Welby, M.D. episode where a woman was screaming in agony while in labor with her child. I could not understand why anyone would be willing – happily choose, even – to be in such pain. I had a visceral response to that, and decided there was no way in the world that was going to be my experience. That proved to be true, because I truly never had the urge for motherhood. Never. When I got older, in my twenties I believe, I was fond of explaining to people who asked about that some feelings that felt a bit more honest. I articulated very clearly that I did not feel that I was a fit candidate for motherhood, that I was screwed up, my m other was screwed up, and there were enough screwed up people in the world without me contributing any more. That was true for me. Plus I just never really had that surge of maternal hormones or whatever it is to motivate any other response.

Things worked out the way they were supposed to, I’m sure, although I’ve felt guilty for a long time about not giving my mother that status as grandmother and matriarch that I believe she wanted. But that wasn’t me. Her sister got that, and I think she was secretly envious of that, and that it drove some of her bitterness. I just couldn’t be someone other than who I was, even if who I was presented as a mystery to even me.

When I observe people behaving so very badly, harming so many other people as they bulldoze through life, I understand how that can happen. It happens when the only thing you can see is the back of your eyelids, the only thing you can feel is the hole in your own soul. A hole in your sole is like the black holes described in astronomical videos and literature, space that is so dark and formless but yet massive, so gravitationally forceful that even light cannot escape it. It is never satisfied, and if other cosmological bodies venture too close, they will be unceremoniously absorbed. It’s thought our galaxy has an enormous black hole at its core, propelling the motion of everything else for millions of light years beyond it.

The thing about black holes, though, is they start with light. A star that dies in an effusion of light, a pulsar shooting intense light rhythmically into the void. After the light fades, the entire mass of the once light-emitting body is compressed to a dense point that is a minute fraction of the original, a singularity. A singularity will bend things around itself, because everything outside of itself is fair game to satisfy its needs.

I have known people like that, or at least it feels like that. Singularities, people unto only themselves. People so dark and formless but still magnetic, still drawing in all manner of resources to them, only to consume them entirely. In some mental health discussion, they may be called emotional vampires, or sociopaths, or narcissists. I don’t much care at this point, but I am a magnet for any and all of those specimens who take more than what they give, and will consume me without even a burp of satisfaction.

Because I know this about myself, I try very hard to recognize the signals that people like this may give off, but often they do not emit any sign of their true nature. As one of my medical providers says, they are very good at what they do. Well, that’s nice. I just need them to do it somewhere else, as far away from me as possible, because this little star has had enough. When I encounter people who think a little too much of themselves, who brag about their accomplishments (with or without good cause), who are self-absorbed to the point of being thoroughly unaware there are other people outside of their peripheral vision…I want a big red alarm bell to sound loudly and a transporter beam that whisks them away to activate. But there are a lot of them. A lot.

So, when I see people who are so empty and miserable that all they can do is suck the life out of everyone else, I feel sad. I feel as though I have been that empty, and that miserable, and I harmed people. The stakes were just not that high for my sphere of influence as they are for executive level political figures. But still, I understand how it works. What I don’t understand, though, is how so many people are loyal to that infinite darkness.

The darkness can be enlightened, but a person would be required to see their own darkness, and want to do something different. I wanted to do something different. I can’t say that it’s all done now and I have been summarily enlightened, but that downward spiral of anti-light is no longer rotating. There’s a bit of distance between me and that energy of nothingness, and that’s where the light comes in.

Hell is the place you’re trapped inside your own skin with yourself, and you don’t like yourself. There’s not escape without something being changed, and you’re stuck there. It’s a horrible place to be, because you feel as though who and what you are is being eaten alive, one bit at a time. You are always bleeding and in pain. That’s a most horrible way to live, because there is no substance, no drug, no medical remedy that will relieve that pain. The only solution I could find was to admit that I couldn’t put the fire out from inside the house. It was going to take a village and plenty of water.

There are still a couple of glowing embers that can reignite when the ground gets too dry and the water level drops. I can usually fix that, if I’m paying attentions. When I smell something burning, I’m in trouble and I’m going to have to work pretty fast and hard to quell the flames. In recovery, we say there is a simple solution for complicated people. I am a complicated person, because I’m still hacking my way through the dednse rain forest that hides my heart. Self-protection is everything, but the wall keeps things in as well as out.

I wish it would rain or something. The humidity is crushing, and it feels like a storm is close. I would love a good thunderstorm right about now, with a lot of noise and lightning and blinding rain. I feel like Mother Nature needs to release some of her pent up energy, so bring it on. I have to go out for a short time later, so I hope it’s either over by then or doesn’t start until after I’m back home. Cheeky little bitch, ain’t I? Yeah, that’s me. But a black hole I am not.

When is enough enough?

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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