Friday, August 15, 2008

Thinking of What to Say

A man in his 20's says:

I fear the herd mentality. I avoid Top Forty radio, don't bother with New York Times Best Sellers. If everyone likes something, I'm convinced I won't. And yet, secretly and unbeknownst even to myself for the longest time, I want the same things everyone else wants. This internal dichotomy makes me feel like a fraud. To the observer, I appear to be an easy-going sort of person who can easily engage with people. The reality is that I feel no connection. The one thing that seems so obvious to others has been eluding me all my life. Relationships are a puzzle, a crossword in a script I'm unable to decipher.

Lust, yes! I understand the mechanisms of lust, the machinations of desire. I've been in lust several times. But love? I don't think I've ever been in love. I so desperately want to join the game before it's too late. But the older I get, the more emotionally immature I feel. And I know that all the isolation I have ever felt has been due to self-sabotage. For example, I waited until I was 25 before I told my parents I was gay. Can you believe it? The irony of it is that I knew they would accept me as I am, but told myself not to risk jeopardizing it. "All that wasted time," is what my mother said that night.

Will I continue to be my own enemy? I feel like 'How Soon Is Now' by the Smiths was written about me. I'm passionate, and authentic, and kind. I don't consider myself unattractive. People like me and tell me I'm fun to be around. So when is it going to happen? How soon is now?

The Conversation:

Jason: Evening!

Good evening!

Jason: How are you? Have something good to drink?

I've got a frosty ginger ale here, just slightly adulterated with some Tanqueray....

Jason: Ah, sounds good. I have a little pinot grigio. Although, it's warm.

Isn't that supposed to be served kinda warm anyway?

Jason: I hope so, because then I got it right.


Jason: Are you ready?

Ready as I'll ever be. Let's get started.

Jason: I'd like to start with your friends growing up. Can you tell me a little bit about your friendships? Who were they? What were they like?

Growing up was...interesting. We moved around a lot, so I had to say goodbye countless times.

Jason: How often did you move?

Let's see. I changed cities three times, and went to six schools, all told. I would say I only really felt close to people in college.

Jason: What was the course of an average friendship growing up? Let's say around 13 or 14 years old.

Oh God. Thirteen was the most miserable age. I had no friends for the entire year I attended that school. I couldn't stand it! Ironically, I won a prize at graduation for being the most versatile student. Go figure. I guess the way I perceive something and the reality of the situation is not the same thing.

Jason: Why didn't you have friends?

I didn't want to intrude. Everyone else seemed kind of clique-ey, like they had a good thing going without me. It's a character trait I got from my father, I think. This desire to please others and not make waves, to the point of pathology. Plus, I felt like I didn't share any interests. There was no point of connection, no common ground. I felt like I wasn't like anyone else, that I couldn't understand. How do you strike up a conversation with someone you don't know? It seems contrived, talking about the weather, fake, and so I don't do it. And rather not say much at all.

Jason: Did they tend to disappoint you?


Jason: Put myself in your shoes at age 13. What was it like walking up to someone? Or probably more realistic, what was it like if you were around these kids while they were talking to each other? What would be going through your head?

To be honest, I don't really remember any particular scenario. Obviously, it must have happened. But I guess not enough to be memorable. That changed when we all went to high school. It was a bit like a second chance. Everyone was new. And you had to strike up friendships in order to survive the older children.

Jason: Were you good at altering yourself to fit a friendship? Did you feel a couple steps ahead of people? Shaping the relationship how you wanted, and for the goal you had?

Oh very. That's why I was popular with everyone in high school. People still recognize me in the street, and then I have no idea of who they are! And I think it's so damn artificial--these silly little conversations about what everyone's doing now. I actually don't care. But would never tell them, of course. I was steps ahead of people. I could blend in very well by then--talk to anyone, about anything. Very rarely did I gain any sort of satisfaction from it, though. I didn't belong to a group. I chatted to geeks, jocks, and posers alike.

Jason: Did you sometimes wait for an opportune time, maybe the right vibe, the right topic, the right moment, to mention something that you cared about? Did you do it to see how they would react? If they would be interested or care?

All the time. I don't think my interests were instrumental in anyone's formative years though, haha! There was a lot of pretending. Pretending to share interests: music, fashion, pop culture.

Jason: You didn't find that others were interested in what you were interested in? I'm thinking that your interests were unusual, more advanced, older. Did people sometimes claim you were weird or put you down in some way when you spoke about your interests?

People were seldom interested in the same things I was. I guess my interests were more mature, thinking back, less transient. I don't think people considered me weird or an oddball. They always thought I was funny. And that annoyed me. Sure there's wit, but there's more to it. I often felt like I was seen as a diversion, some sort of entertainment. Not something to engage in. Just something to passively watch.

Jason: Being entertainment is fine when it seems to be leading to something. That maybe you'll find some common ground, but when it ends there, or it ends in an insult or dismissal, the whole effort becomes very anger inducing. Would you agree with that?

It's rather unfulfilling. Not anger, really. It just makes you tired. Tired when it doesn't seem to be working, and you have no other way of being.

Jason: Don't you feel cheated, sometimes?

I actually sometimes feel like I get what I deserve. Very little human warmth.

Jason: Why don't you think you deserve human warmth?

Because I don't put in the effort. But I don't know. And don't understand why it has to be such a game. Before the real connections start.

Jason: Why would you put in the effort if you get stung for it? Isn't the entertainment a kind of effort? Aren't you trying to appeal to people to find common ground? And demonstrate your mental abilities?

I guess. But after a while, you have to hope the other party starts to reciprocate. And they seldom do.

Jason: That's right. They seldom do. Is that your fault, or their fault?

I may have unrealistic expectations. It comes with being a perfectionist. If it doesn't go exactly as planned, we'd rather just forget the whole thing.

Jason: Were you forced into a position of responsibility in your household? Did your mother or father rely on you for more than childhood things?

Not at all. I was always granted the space to do more or less what I wanted. But having an older sister who screwed up and disappointed them a lot...that made me take on those extra responsibilities of being the "good kid." Without it being expected of me. I just did it to compensate in some way.

Jason: What you mean by "space?"

Space = opportunity.

Jason: Does space also equal not a lot of direct attention? Accolades, but not involvement? Praise, but not understanding?

No. I think you're reading too much into the word (bad choice in hindsight). I have virtually perfect parents. Very close, very involved. But I don't tell them everything.

Jason: What sort of things do you keep to yourself?

I try not to bother people with talk about feelings too much. I don't recall ever having a conversation with my parents about how I feel socially inept, for instance.

Jason: Did they ask you how school was going when you were having a horrible time?

They did, all the time. And academically it went fine, so I'd steer the conversations towards that, and not what I did during break time.

Jason: Why weren't you honest about how you felt?

I didn't want to bother anyone. No one died. I wasn't suffering academically, so it was silly. Not something worth sharing. I didn't need close friends, I was fine. Even I believed it after a while.

Jason: Were you afraid that they would feel responsible? And feel badly for making you move?

Hmmmm. I've never thought about that. No, I don't think so. I think they would have assumed I was capable of coping.

Jason: They would have downplayed your feelings?

No. I think at that point I had led them to believe that I was emotionally stronger than I really was.

Jason: Imagine yourself telling them at age 13 how you felt in school. What is the reaction that you imagine that makes you want to not say it? To avoid the conversation?

I only told them how I felt at 13 once I started college. What had made me not say it at age 13? The imaginary look of sadness and empathy in my mother's eyes.

Jason: How would you feel if your mother was sad?

Upset. So it's best to just avoid it.

Jason: Would being upset be an immediate reaction? Kind of like a reflex?

It's a reflex, I guess. I have very strong emotional ties to all my immediate family. They mean the world to me. Always have.

Jason: How do you feel when a quasi-friend, maybe someone at work, becomes upset by something you say? Do you immediately become upset? Do you try to remedy the situation, and if you can't, to avoid that person?

An acquaintance? Well, no. I wouldn't be upset then. Obviously I would try to be courteous, but I wouldn't go out of my way. I definitely wouldn't actively try to avoid someone I've wronged.

Jason: A friend. What if you yourself said something that ended up hurting a friend?

That has happened with friends, and it does make me feel miserable. In such an instance, I would go out of my way to remedy the situation. But I've also drifted from people I once perceived as friends, because of such scenarios. They need to also be accommodating. If not, they must stay the hell away from me. These days I'm very wary of "toxic friends" who become all-consuming. A friendship should be natural and easy. No maintenance required.

Jason: Do they need to be accommodating because you would be accommodating for them? Would you help them feel better about hurting you?

I don't hold grudges easily. But I can think of three people I don't want to see again. Ever. And I actively avoid them if I can.

Jason: Do you not hold grudges, because you empathize about how awful they must feel about making a mistake?

I'm not a psychopath. I do feel empathy, sometimes even for people I've never met (or fictitious ones in novels, even!). However, there comes a time when the whole relationship, that whole engagement, becomes immensely tiring, an artificial assemblage of things left unsaid, things to skirt around. It is not worth the effort for me if it's that damn delicate.

Jason: I'm in no way judging or pushing for a solution here. I'm just getting into how you feel in discrete situations. You seem to feel a bit cheated when someone you've hurt isn't accommodating to you. You can even feel angry about that. I'm thinking that even if you're hurt, you will help the other person feel better about their mistake. However, it has limits, like you say.

True. But I think this is it: friends shouldn't make you feel tired by their very presence. And most people do. Anyway, that's how I see it.

Jason: Have you ever felt equal with someone? Someone who is at least remotely a peer?

I have a couple of good friends I'd give my life for now. And the best is that I do believe that they would do the same. It has taken me an awfully long time to find and connect with people who feel and think more or less as I do. Which makes me feel very fortunate. However, I still feel entirely awkward when meeting strangers. It takes me a long time to build up enough courage (or is that trust?) to initiate the whole thing. And the first couple of weeks (or months, sometimes) still feel very fake and uncomfortable and artificial. I hate it. If only there was some sort of recipe. But people are too unpredictable.

Jason: Are they your equal?

New persons, or my handful of good friends?

Jason: The good friends.

I don't understand what you mean by equal, I guess.

Jason: Do you find yourself more the leader, having the ideas, being the more dynamic? Do you find yourself doing more, taking on more responsibility? Or, is it balanced? Or, are they more the leader?

It's balanced. We think up stuff to do together, and are equally accommodating. They don't make me tired! I listen when they speak, and vice versa.

Jason: Do you find yourself being wholly yourself? Or is there still a little posturing? A little thought going into it rather than totally natural?

With me, friends are total comfort. In new situations, posturing absolutely. I've been working with a new group of people since moving to this town about a year ago. After six months of sheer agony and hardly speaking to anyone, I can finally joke around and chat to people. But I still feel slightly like an impostor. I'm doing it to survive. I have to make new friends or perish. And the process is therefore unnatural and awkward and uncomfortable. I'm more skilled at it than at 13, though! It only took me half as long this time around! But there is no joy in meeting new people for me. Although others seem to like it quite a bit. Otherwise all those dating agencies would go out of business, I think!

Jason: For you, what does it mean to be alone?

On the whole, I don't have much of a problem with being alone. The constant twitter of other people leaves me bored and under-stimulated. There's always something interesting happening inside my own brain. And this suits me fine, for the most part. But there are those quiet hours of the night when I want, no, desire that input from outside myself. I realize now that we weren't meant to be alone, even if people are such an irritating species. I have a lot to share, more than I'm allowed to with those few precious friends. And it seems like such a waste not to.

Jason: Why is it limited with those friends?

Surely there are things you share with your wife you've not shared with anyone else?

Jason: Emotional support? Emotional sharing? Safety to voice those things?

I get emotional support from friends. I complain about the absence of love constantly to those who wish to listen! God, how sad does that sound?

Jason: What is the extra piece that falls into the category of love that doesn't exist in friendship? Beyond the physical part. That's clear.

It's a closer kind of connection. One where there finally are no secrets. Are you telling me that this is all there is? I don't believe that. There's a very intense core that I've not shown to anyone, not even close friends or family. And it burns when you keep it to yourself this long.

Jason: That's the core I'm trying to get to. The emotion it feels. The disappointments. Can you identify a trait that your lover would have that your friends do not?

I want to show someone the world in my eyes. But so far, the initial connection to get to that stage has eluded me. Maybe it's because I can't identify that distinguishing trait. It seems easy for others, but I really don't know what to look for. And I'm afraid of looking like a fool. So I end up doing nothing. I have often thought that there are no sins, but there is one sin, and that is fear. Fear leads to all the others: jealousy, greed, murder. And fear is what keeps you back. Yet knowing this does nothing to lead me to action. Welcome to the dichotomy that is my life.

Jason: If I put a new person in front of you, what percentage of you would have hope that this person would be a kindred spirit? Who wouldn't be tiring? 5%?

Interesting question.... From my experience so far, not a lot. Most people have nothing to offer me.

Jason: 1% or less?

I wouldn't be without hope. Everyone deserves a chance. But I'd be extremely careful about letting my guard down. Assume that all snakes are poisonous before electing to handle a new specimen, I say.

Jason: What is the nature of your fear in this situation I've presented? Is it that one more failure is another nail in the coffin? That you might not be able to stand the disappointment of one more? That it might prove once and for all that it won't happen for you?

I think the fear in this scenario is a mixture of the fear of disappointment, and also the fear of being taken advantage of. The first is fear of something passive, a lack of connection. The latter is a fear of something active, malice or vindictiveness. Strangers are not to be trusted. I don't think anything specific would prove to me that it's not in the cards for me. But my life taken as a case history so far, has not been very reassuring.

Jason: Why would a person take advantage of you? In what way?

Since I don't seem to be as plugged in to what everyone else thinks is important or interesting, I'm afraid of being misunderstood, of looking foolish, of being derided or patronized. And condescension is the one thing I can't handle. It really pushes my buttons.

Jason: Being looked down upon by someone who has no right or basis for that opinion is hugely galling, isn't it?


Jason: I'm going to type something longer. Give me a minute, okay?


Jason: Although it doesn't seem to be rooted in your family life, there have been times of great upheaval in your childhood. Being moved around is very traumatizing. It places you in inferior situations, being the outsider. It makes you hyper-aware of what it means to be included or excluded. You learned to be watchful and cautious of others, because to get it "right," could mean the difference between the comfort of friends, or being truly ostracized. On top of this, you were cursed/blessed with high intelligence. That high intelligence put you immediately out of sync with many or your peers. What turned you on, didn't turn them on. In fact, they probably felt threatened by you. They protected themselves by putting you down or making you feel different. Later, these same traits made you very interesting to be around. To "entertain." However, in the end, these situations could be just as isolating. You are right to be disappointed in people, because people have truly disappointed you. But it's not really their fault, because there are few people in the world who are equipped to be your friend. Especially in the way that you are looking for. Someone to penetrate that deepest core that's you. You've been disappointed and hurt so many times that you've become extremely tired and cautious to the extreme. That, of course, is going to tend to hold you back from making connections, because the truth of it is that you will often be the one who has to lead. You are in more of a position to see ahead, to see into people, than they can see into you. You talked about feeling emotionally immature, and in a way, you haven't had the opportunity to grow in that regard, again, because of how few people are equipped to understand you. When you couple this with your aversion to upsetting people, it puts you in a catch 22. You are very dedicated to making the other person happy, but then are hurt when they don't reciprocate. Fear of upsetting them or being misunderstood paralyzes you, and it's often unclear how to proceed. That's how I'm feeling now, putting myself in your shoes.

I think this is quite accurate, except for the part about being in a position to "see into people." I often feel like I can't tell what they're thinking (about themselves, about life, about me) at all. And I am only dedicated to other people after a painstakingly long evaluation process, once I've let my guard down. Yes, it is a catch 22 and I am unclear how to proceed.

Jason: Thank you for clarifying that point. I was reacting to how you see steps ahead of people, and how you can create what seems like good interactions for them, but empty ones for you. I understand that what's going on in their minds is still a mystery. Yet, you can manipulate them on some level.

Thank you. That's precisely it. On the whole, I'm not an unhappy person. I don't feel ostracized. But a little bit disconnected once in a while, and a bit left out when the lights go out.

Jason: Not having what you deeply want can be just as damaging as being ostracized. It's just a much slower burn.

Slow burn. That's me. I have been hard on myself. But because all this madness inside my own head, I totally have the power to turn it around. And I know I will. I just hope it's soon.

Jason: I hope you've found some good in this.

Thank you for listening. I didn't want to be the only awkward one anymore.

Jason: Have a great night.

I hope you get up in time for work tomorrow.

Jason: I'll be fine.

Goodbye, then.

Jason: Good night.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still Calling

A man in his 20's says:

To set this up, you need to know I'm a Christian, specifically an Episcopalian. Also I'm married and called to be a priest.

A couple of years ago I was in the middle of what they call the discernment process--essentially the application and approval process which leads to going to seminary and eventually to the priesthood. The process up to that point had been somewhat of a pain. A necessary pain, but a pain nonetheless. One of the requirements was an approval by the vestry (the board) of my home church.

My priest asked me to come to church a little early one Wednesday night right around this time. He was a young guy, who was just out of seminary himself. His office was so small there was nothing between us as we sat. The look on his face gave me a knot in my stomach. "I've been looking for a way to say this, and I think it's best just to say it. You did not get the approval of the vestry to go further in the discernment process."

The wind was knocked out of me. In that moment, all the plans I had, the plan I thought were God's plans, came to a screeching halt. I asked for the reasons, and he vaguely mentioned something about not being mature enough right now. What was frustrating about this whole situation was that the people there didn't really know me, not the real me. So how could they judge if I was ready or not? Just like it was with college friends--everything was just on the surface. No deep meaningful relationships.

The people there still don't know me. And now I'm questioning whether I'm supposed to be a priest at all. It ended up being a good thing, I think. It allowed me some time for introspection, and I've come out a better person for it. But I still don't feel any kind of fulfillment, and not being sure of my direction in life has made things worse.

The Conversation:

Jason: How's it going this evening?

Pretty good. Tired but pretty good.

Jason: Long day?

Yeah, my day starts early

Jason: I'm sitting here with a glass of homebrewed mead. Anything over on your end?

Not yet.

Jason: You want to grab something or just get

My wife is bringing me something in a minute. Lets do this.

Jason: First off, I really felt for you in what you've shared already. I thought we'd start with a pretty big topic. What was the first time God truly revealed himself in your life? I don't mean just going to church because your parents went. Really had a presence personally.

I would say the first time I FELT God was in college. Felt him and really understood, you know?

Jason: Tell me a little about that. What were you doing at that moment?

Well I was on a retreat actually in Panama City, and the whole weekend was themed around the Holy Spirit. One of the nights there was a service where there was an alter call, and I went up not really having a purpose, but went just because that's what I was supposed to do. For show almost.

Around that time I had really started to deal with the death of my father, which was something that I hadn't ever fully gotten into until college. So I went up there, and it just hit me, God was telling me that he was there for me. I never really felt God until that point. I understood that God loved me, but there had always been some transference of my relationship with my Earthly father to the Heavenly Father. So God had always been distant. But at that moment, he wasn't distant and I cried like a baby. I was up there for a good 20 minutes just weeping.

Jason: You had already chosen to become a priest at this point?

Oh lord, no. That wasn't until years later. I wanted to be a coach at that point.

Jason: What year in college were you?

I was in my second year.

Jason: What kind of coach did you want to be?

Football and wrestling.

Jason: What were you majoring in?

I think at that time I was still officially undecided. I just hadn't done the paperwork to switch to Physical Education.

Jason: How long before had your father died?

My father died when I was six, and I was twenty at the time, if memory serves. A little over 14 years.

Jason: What did His presence at that moment in Panama City mean to you at the time?

Well, at the time, it gave me an appreciation for who I had in my life that cared for me, my friends especially. God kind of showed me that he had put them in my life to hold me up.

Jason: Were you struggling?

I didn't see it at the time, but I was. I was so desperate for acceptance. But at the time, I wouldn't have said I was struggling. Not to any great extent.

Jason: Did you tell your friends what you experienced that night?

Oh yeah, they were in the room. They saw what I experienced. I went up to my roommates who were my best friends and gave them a huge hug.

Jason: Did they share it with you? Did they seem to understand the importance?

Another friend had her arm around me as I cried. They seemed to get it, yes.

Jason: Had they had similar experiences they could share with you?

No, I think the nature of the relationship with them was more of older bothers, at that time anyway. So they didn't share, not that they weren't open to it. It just didn't happen.

Jason: Around this time, when you were twenty, what was the kind of moment when you would feel hurt for not being accepted? When did you feel left out or isolated?

I seemed to always get left out of social gatherings. Not intentionally, I think, but people just didn't think to call me. That happened a lot.

Jason: Did you have a best friend or two, or did you tend to be around people who were best friends with someone other than you?

At that time, my best friends were two of my roommates. They were both older. One of them was my former youth director. I was less social with my college student friends, the ones who were my age.

Jason: Did you ever speculate on why they didn't invite you?

Oh yeah. I thought they didn't like me. I thought they thought I was annoying or whatever.

Jason: Why would they think you were annoying?

Well, I didn't like myself very much at the time, so I was always looking for validation from other people. I had to include myself if I wanted to be included.

Jason: How did you end up with older roommates?

During my first year in college, I lived alone. When summer rolled around, it just seemed natural to try to find a place with my two best friends. I was at their apartment my first year anyway. I slept there a lot.

Jason: Did you know them before college?

Like I said, one of them was my youth director, and the other one was his friend. He actually came with my other friend to youth group sometimes. They were who I knew when I want to college so I already had an "in" with this particular group.

Jason: How long before this time was he your youth director?

He became my youth director middle of my sophomore year in high school.

Jason: Did he look out for you?

In high school or college?

Jason: Mainly high school.

He looked out for all of us. I don't know that he made a special effort towards me.

Jason: When you say you would sleep over at his apartment, did you have a dorm room and roommate somewhere else?

No. I lived off campus in a crappy one bedroom place. I had planned to go to a different college out of state and then changed my mind, so I never lived on campus. I got into the dorm process late.

Jason: So, off the bat, you were at a disadvantage fitting in.

I have to preface this next bit because I neglected to mention a big fact so far that you may have picked up on. My social group was pretty much centered around my campus ministry. I was very active in our local campus ministry. My youth director had been the president, etc. I feel like I had a big advantage fitting into my social group because a lot of the older students there came and spoke at my youth group.

Jason: Was this social group the same one you felt left out of?

Eventually yes, but that was really after the older students who I knew prior to college had started to leave

Jason: How were you around other freshmen?

I was fine, I suppose. A few of them were from one county over and went to the rival high school. I clicked with them and another guy my age. There was actually a nice little group of us freshmen at first. Two of those guys were in my wedding.

Jason: But it changed over time? As the older group left, you felt like you lost some ground with your peers?

Exactly. The fact that I was so "in" with the older students helped in the short term, but hurt in the long term because I wasn't making those connections with the other freshmen. I was hanging out with the people I knew more. Of course, it's not that we all didn't hang out together sometimes. We did. Just not frequently.

Jason: When you say that you didn't like yourself at the time, what particular things bothered you?

Well, my physical appearance mainly, and I had a hard time seeing my good qualities, so the bad were very pronounced. I was a horrible procrastinator and didn't put forth a very strong effort in classes.

Jason: After your father's death, did your mother remarry?

Yes. A few years later.

Jason: Was he your stepfather all the way through until this time period?


Jason: How was your relationship with him?

Pretty bad, actually.

Jason: What went wrong?

Well, I was a city boy that had moved to the country, and I never seemed to be able to do anything right consistently.

Jason: Was he critical of you?


Jason: How did your mother view your relationship with him? Did she see how critical he was?

She knew, but she didn't see it in the same light because she knew him differently and better.

Jason: How was your relationship with her by the time senior year of high school rolled around?

It was pretty good. Around that time it started to shift to where it is now. Almost more friends than parent/child. I mean she's still my mother.

Jason: Do you have older siblings?

Yes. An older sister.

Jason: How was your relationship with her growing up?

Pretty typical, I suppose. Annoying younger brother type of thing. I've come to realize now that basically she's very difficult. No other way to put it. So things got pretty intense at times growing up, and I think that explains some of it.

Jason: Did she get along with your stepfather?

No. Not at all.

Jason: Did they fight?

Yes, but not like equals. He's a pretty old school guy when it comes to parenting, and they clashed a lot. There is a better word than fight for what they did, but I can't think of it right now.

Jason: Did he manage to get the upper hand, or did she always manage to hold her ground in some way?

She had her moments, and I don't think she ever really submitted to his authority, but you could say he had the upper hand.

Jason: After your moment in Panama City, how did your plans to go into physical education change? Was it an abrupt process, or a slower drift?

They didn't change. I still went into physical education.

Jason: What did you do after graduation?

I eventually changed my major from physical education to general studies after I realized that I didn't want to do PE anymore, so after graduation I continued with my college job and picked up some more hours until I was able to get a better (in theory) job.

Jason: Did you get another job?

Yes. A few months after graduation, I got a job with family and children services.

Jason: How long after this did you begin to think about the priesthood?

I was called to the priesthood while I was still in college.

Jason: Was the process of following that calling going on at the same time? I'm trying to understand logistically what was involved.

Yes, the process was going on at the same time. See, I wasn't even an Episcopalian when I received the call, so I had to be confirmed and then wait to start the process.

Jason: Was there a particular moment when you received the calling?

Oh yeah, there was a moment while I was on another retreat.

Jason: What happened there?

There was this point during the weekend where they set it up where you take a walk to the chapel. It's at night and the path is lined with candles and also lined with people who had been on the retreat in the past. They're singing to you. Pretty amazing actually

Jason: It sounds powerful. How did you feel?

Loved. Pure and simple. I wept again there too.

Jason: What was different this time (the calling)? What did it mean to you at that moment to be a priest?

Different from panama city?

Jason: Yes. And any time before. What did becoming a priest mean to you at that point? How would your life be different than if you remained at family and children services or some other job?

I think it was different because of the shear activeness of the people involved. They were doing something for me. They were acting on God's behalf. In the past, my deep moments like that with God were somewhat passive as opposed to active. At the time, being a priest meant being a preacher and a pastor, but they are actually pretty different than being a priest. But Baptist and Methodist clergy were all I knew. I wouldn't be fulfilled to any great extent if I were in another job other than priest.

Jason: Did you feel like you would have a vital role in something far greater than most everything else the world could offer?

I think that's true to a certain extent now, even though I think the laity is more important than the priesthood, but I didn't think along those lines at the time.

Jason: What drew you to the Episcopalian priesthood more than to the ministry in the Baptist or Methodist church?

The community. People seemed more genuine in the Episcopal church, or my experiences at the time led me to believe that.

Jason: How were you received when you joined the church?

My wife was Episcopalian so she was ecstatic, and the church we ended up joining was very welcoming. The people I met on the greater church level were amazing.

Jason: Did they know when you joined that you were interested in the priesthood?

A few people knew. I didn't really advertise it to any great extent until I had been a member for a bit.

Jason: How was their reaction when you first told them?

There weren't any negative reactions but people weren't jumping out of there chairs. When it came up, the reaction was like, "okay, that's nice. Good for you."

Jason: How much time passed between that moment, and the moment you were told that the church was not recommending you to go forward?

I would say about 2 years.

Jason: When was the first time you suspected that things might not be going as well as you'd like?

Hmmmmm. Really, when the my priest told me about the decision.

Jason: Everything seemed to be positive up to that point?

As far as I could tell. Any negatives were very vague hints at things but nothing major.

Jason: You must have felt terribly blindsided. Sorry for that.

I was. Thanks for the sympathy.

Jason: When you left and had time to get over the shock, did you churn about what happened? What was really going on?

Well, it's funny. By the end of the night, I had run the gamut of emotions and potential scenarios. My wife ended up being more upset than me, and I ended up calming her down. Don't get me wrong. I was pissed, but my conscience kicked in pretty quickly as it usually does, and the right thing became clear.

Jason: What did you end up deciding?

Oh, I'm still there at that church. I'm still on the vestry (board). The immediate decision was clear: tough it out.

Jason: How did they fail you? What did they not see?

They didn't see me, the real me. They saw the immature kid who couldn't hide his frustrations during meetings. They didn't see my passion for helping people. It's a distinct possibility that I'm to blame for a lot of that. To be honest, I don't get excited about that church. (Never really said that out loud before.)

Jason: What don't you like about it?

There isn't anyone there our age for us to be connected with. I don't think my wife and I get a lot of respect because of how young we are. Everyone there is a good bit older. Not nursing home old, but older.

Jason: What sorts of things would frustrate you at meetings?

Oh man, for a while we didn't have a priest so the SR warden ran the meetings, and he didn't know how to reign people in, and they would go on for hours. We had a 3 hour meeting one night. Now we have a priest. 1 hr 45 min tops.

Jason: What did the human failings of this church do to your calling?

To be honest, not a whole lot. It made me question it, but human failing are what it's all about you know? I think it confirmed to me that I may not be called to be a parish priest, but that's out of my hands to a great extent.

Jason: Are you following the calling now in another way?

That's what I've been trying to do since I got the calling--find someway to live it out while I'm waiting. Right now, I'm active in Vocare, which is a ministry for young adults. It's a retreat weekend. It's based on the retreat weekend where I received my calling. Same basic format. Just different in a few ways. More Ecumenical. (The other one, not Vocare.)

Jason: Who are you right now? If you could build a life around you based on a pure expression of who you are, what would that life entail?

Wow. Right now, I'm a guy who's still figuring out who he is. In that world, my life would entail community and genuine relationships. I would hope to foster that with and between other people, because really all we have in life is other people. That's how God moves--through and sometimes in spite of people. I would say a pure expression of who I am would be genuine caring, people being open and real with each other, and lifting each other up.

Jason: I'm going to type something longer now. It may take a minute....

Jason: If I try to put myself in your shoes, at many times in my life, I felt a great weight pressing on me. It's very difficult, if possible at all, to remember my father as a person, but I sure remember his absence. The man I could have looked up to, and been mentored by, disapproved of me and made me feel like I wasn't competent, like I couldn't handle the things I was supposed to. The church, youth groups, and my personal relationship with God were my lifeline, because behind all these hurts and disappointments and doubts, I could see the truth of something much greater, something eternal. There are people who devote themselves to the passion of that truth, and I feel most at home working alongside them. But they're hard to find. I'm still looking. I wish people would let go of all the smallness and pettiness and see what I see. The purity of what's possible.

That's amazing. Truly amazing.

Jason: I feel like I understand a small part of what you went through.

I think you captured it pretty well.

Jason: I hope you feel a little lighter. That a small bit of the weight is lifted.

I do feel that way, I really do, and I thank you

Jason: You're very, very welcome. Thank you for participating and sharing your feelings! I'm sure your experience will help others when they read it.

I hope so. Thank you for doing this. What you're doing is a good thing in this world.

Jason: Have a great night.

You too, Jason.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Cold Coat of Many Colors

A woman in her 30's says:

Have you heard the song by Dolly Parton about how her mama made her a coat of many colors? Well, I had my own version of that coat. It was red quilted fabric with some floral design all over. Cheap, really. It wasn't even that warm. But a family friend made it for me, and I liked it. Unfortunately, the kids in my third grade class weren't impressed.

One day, I made the mistake of wearing it in class. The teacher left the room for something, and suddenly it was open season on me and my red coat. I was mortified, of course, and never wore it again. I remember one girl stood up for me and told everyone that at least someone cared enough about me to make it. But I was beyond believing that was enough. I felt as if my love of that coat was somehow wrong, as if I myself was flawed for even considering wearing such a dorky thing. Mind you, this was just the first in a long line of humiliating episodes at this school. I was spit on, punched, and called horrible names. The entire four-year ordeal ended on the last day of sixth grade when I found a hate letter taped to my bike. The entire class signed it.

The Conversation:

Jason: Hi there.

Hi. Sorry, I was getting a drink.

Jason: Something good?

Oh yes. Apricot Weizen.

Jason: What's in that?

It's a wheat beer with apricot flavor

Jason: Oh, I tried something like that recently. It was really good.

Tastes better than it sounds.

Jason: I have a little Limoncello. I'm going easy tonight.

Yum. I was going to stick with diet coke, then I reconsidered.

Jason: Good plan!

Yes. Plus poking old wounds requires a bit of liquid courage sometimes.

Jason: Speaking of which, are you ready to poke a little?

Poke away!

Jason: Tell me a little bit about the family friend who made your coat. Was she a friend of your mother?

She was a housekeeper that we used. My mother was a single parent so this woman would come in and help around the house. She often made clothes for me.

Jason: What did your mother do?

She was in sales. So she worked long hours.

Jason: Were you friends with the housekeeper? Was she also around when your mother wasn't?

Yes. In the summers, I used to tag along on other jobs with her and help out. It kept me out of trouble and gave her an extra hand.

Jason: Why did you tag along? Were you bored, or was there something about her you liked being around?

I think it was something my mom arranged since summer meant no child care. But I liked her. She was very salt of the Earth. She also had a helper who was mentally handicapped. He and I got along, and he was a sweet guy.

Jason: Why did she make you clothes?

She was a good seamstress so she enjoyed doing it. But I think it was also to help out my mom. Money was pretty tight.

Jason: Was it a stretch to pay for the housekeeper?

I've wondered that myself. But I think she and my mom worked out something. She only came in every week or two. And I'm sure there were times my mom fell behind.

Jason: But in the summer, you spent more time with her than that, right?

Yes. I'd spend the whole day with her and her helper. She mostly sat and smoked while he and I did all the work.

Jason: Did she talk?

Oh yes. She had opinions on everything.

Jason: Can you give me a little example of a typical day of conversation?

Gosh. It was so long ago. I remember she'd pontificate about everyone. My mom, my sister, other clients. Since I didn't get along with my sister I usually enjoyed those conversations.

Jason: What did she say about your mother?

I'm sure some of it was negative. Having to do with how my mom raised us, her boyfriend, etc. But I can't recall specifics. I remember she used to talk about herself a lot, too. She was a big woman, short grey hair. Almost manly. She'd had a mastectomy and showed me the scars once. She showed me a picture of herself when she was young, and I was shocked. She'd been so pretty in her youth. But when I knew her she looked rough. Like life hadn't been too kind.

Jason: Where was your sister during these times you were working with her?

I'm not sure. She's several years older than me, so might have been at home watching TV for all I knew.

Jason: Your mother was okay with her hanging out?

I think so. She used to leave us alone a lot. Well never me by myself except for when I came home from school. Usually my sister was there with me.

Jason: But your mother wanted someone with you other than your sister in the summer?

I don't think it was like that. For all I know, my mom might have traded my services for money owed.

Jason: What were the ages of you and your sister at this point?

Or she just thought I'd enjoy getting away from my sister since we fought a lot. At this time, I was about 8 and my sister was 14.

Jason: Why didn't the housekeeper like your sister?

Well... My sister is complicated. She's got learning disabilities and is bi-polar, although then we didn't really know about the bi-polar part. Everyone just knew she was "difficult." Unfortunately, on top of those things she learned early how to manipulate my mother.

Jason: How?

She'd get violent and throw fits.

Jason: And your mother would back off?

Or she'd cry and talk about how horrible her life was. Yes, mom's guilt would kick in and she'd take my sister shopping even though she couldn't afford it.

Jason: You mentioned boyfriends. How often were they around? Was it one guy for long periods, or did she break up more often than that?

My mother started dating a man when I was 6, they got married when I was in junior high, and they were together until I was in college.

Jason: How did he do with your sister? Did he try to discipline her?

Yeah there were lots of fights about how to deal with her between him and my mom. He never took my sister in hand or anything, but I have a sense that he would lecture my mom about dealing with her.

Jason: Did he help support you guys while you mom was dating him?

Yes. He helped my mom buy our house.

Jason: How was he with you?

We were kind of like buddies. I think I learned early on how not to be a problem, so he enjoyed hanging out with me.

Jason: What was your relationship with your mother like at this point (when you were 8)?

It was pretty good. I mostly tried not to add to her stress. Although I remember at this point, I went through a phase where I was terrified to sleep alone at night. And I would come to her and try to talk about how I didn't fit in. But I think she was at a loss about how to help me. I remember going to her and sobbing, saying "I don't feel like myself." But I never could explain what that meant. She tried to listen, but I don't think she understood.

Jason: What did you do when something big was upsetting you? How much of a struggle was it debating whether to bring it up and potentially upset your mother?

I think I internalized a lot. It was only when I was really upset that I'd tell her. Or else she'd notice I was upset and ask me about it.

Jason: Did you bring more of these things up with the housekeeper?

Not really.

Jason: You were alone with them?

For the most part. Like the hate note I mentioned in the intro. I hid it when I got home. My sister found it and went to my mom. I was so angry at her for telling mom.

Jason: How did you feel when the housekeeper made you clothes?

Well, honestly, a part of me felt embarrassed. But I knew I should appreciate the effort. So I wore them. Some of them were nice, though.

Jason: How did you feel about the coat? Did you really love it or did you feel somewhat obligated to wear it?

A bit of both. I remember thinking it might make me a target, but the rebel in me wore it anyway. I do remember feeling that "someone cared enough to make me this so it's special" thing about it.

Jason: Did you ever react less than enthused when you were handed any of these clothes?

I was trained well, so no.

Jason: In your mind, how would she have reacted if she found out you didn't wear her clothes, like the coat? (Of course, you did stop wearing the coat.)

I think she would have been hurt. Probably would have lectured me about being thankful someone made me clothes.

Jason: Do you feel like she should have been more mindful that folks generally didn't go around making clothes? Should she have thought more about how hard it was to fit in?

I don't think it's realistic to expect a 60 year old to think about what's cool. Like I said, some of it was fine and people wouldn't have known it wasn't store bought. But a couple things, like the coat, were way off the mark. Of course, that's me speaking now. I'm sure back then a few thoughts along those lines went through my head.

Jason: Did part of you resent that she was making it harder? Making you struggle between thoughts of pleasing her and appreciating the effort and what you really wanted to wear?

You know I think if I resented anything it was my mom's pressure to wear it. She's the one who drilled the politeness into me. The guilt for feeling like something wasn't cool enough to wear.

Jason: Did that kind of conversation happen right before you wore it to school?

It's really the idea that I should suffer so someone else won't that got me. I don't remember any specific conversation. I think I just knew it. She never said don't wear it if you don't like it.

Jason: I'm getting a feeling here. Putting myself in your shoes (as well as I can), I'm feeling the effect of a lot of struggles and issues and near chaos around me. I'm feeling like the last thing I want to do is make it worse. However, I have needs too. No one is really helping me.

Yes, that's it. Everyone else was so wrapped up in their own thing, and I didn't want to be a burden. So I learned to suck it up and just be the good kid.

Jason: How were you feeling the morning of the coat-day? Were you feeling like it wasn't going to go well? Or were you thinking everything was going to be cool, and were blind-sided?

I think I knew it was coming. I mentioned the rebel side. I knew it was coming, but I did it anyway. Part of it was practical, because I was cold. There was a moment there where I consciously made the decision to put it on anyway.

Jason: Were things already bad for you in school at this point? What grade?

It was third grade. I think things were already heading in this direction. The timing is a little fuzzy since it was so long ago, but there were problems with certain kids.

Jason: I remember third grade as being the time when cliques first started forming. Was that true for your school?

Yes, there was a ring leader for sure. And of course, I had a mad crush on him.

Jason: How many kids were problems? Were they rough on several kids, or mostly you?

Third grade I'm sure there were others. But I know by the end, in sixth grade, I was the main whipping girl.

Jason: Did you feel different in school versus home? Were your personas different?

Good question. I'm sure my rebellious side came out more at school. But it wasn't doing me any favors.

Jason: What were you rebellious about?

I think sometimes I tried to be different.

Jason: Was it possible that you were so invisible at home (some of which by your own painful choice) that you wanted to be seen in school? To have a bigger impact? To act out?

That's possible. I remember always signing up for the talent show and being a bit of a know-it-all.

Jason: What was it about the boy that made you have a crush on him?

Probably that he treated me so bad. But he also was the cool kid. He played soccer and had lots of friends. I remember one time he was kicking his soccer ball around the playground. It got away from him, and I caught it and took it back. He punched me for touching it.

Jason: What would he say or do to you in general?

A lot of name calling. I think he knew I liked him, which made him treat me worse. I remember one time a teacher told him she thought his behavior indicated mutual interest, and he responded by spitting at me.

Jason: What did the teacher do to that?

I think she was as shocked as I was. I'm sure she said something, but I don't recall him being punished really.

Jason: What kind of name calling was it?

Well there was one name that stuck. Most of it had to do with my appearance.

Jason: I know these memories are painful. Feeling okay?

Yeah I'm okay. I get a little angry on my kid-self's behalf.

Jason: Did you have friends of your own to back you up at this time?

I had a couple of friends. One was a tom-boy, who I think people were afraid of. *smiles* But I think at that age it's so hard for kids to know how to defend their friends. Everyone's so worried about becoming a target themselves.

Jason: Very true. How did you feel when the kid called you names and punched you?

The punching was devastating. As I staggered away, I wasn't looking where I was going and got socked in the head by a kid in a swing. So add more embarrassment. I think I went to find a teacher, the one who taught our class, and she blew me off. The names I think I just tried to laugh it off or pretend it didn't bother me. Even though they did of course.

Jason: Did you react by staying away/avoiding him, or did part of you want to change his mind?

I think I wanted to change his mind.

Jason: I can't believe the teachers blew you off. Sorry for that. Not that I'm really surprised.

That teacher didn't like me. At that point I wasn't an exemplary student. And he was. In fact, I think the sixth grade issue is because I finally found a teacher who liked me. I started making good grades and she nominated me for this award. And of course that enraged the other kids.

Jason: I didn't ask about your father yet. Was he around at this point?

Sort of. He traveled a lot.

Jason: When did he and your mom get divorced? How old were you?

I was 3.

Jason: How was your relationship with him when you did get to spend time with him?

We had fun together. I think he enjoyed spending time with me because he saw me as the kid who'd make him proud. He wanted me to go to the naval academy, something he couldn't do because he married my mom young. Which is hilarious if you know me.

Jason: Did you have a good personal relationship with him? Did you feel he knew the real you (as a child)?

Back then I thought it was good, but now I understand it was conditional. As long as I behaved it was good. And I learned never to misbehave because I'd seen my sister. He put a lot of pressure on me about grades, too. Like my sister would be rewarded if she got D's. I come home with straight A's and I'm challenged to do it again. But we did have good times. I'd travel with him in the summers, and we'd joke and laugh a lot.

Jason: At the point you were first knowingly attracted to your husband, what was the most striking thing about him?

He cared about my comfort. That sounds so simple, but it was as if he was attentive to my needs. If a noisy truck was pulling up next to the car, he'd roll up my window. When I was sick, he'd call and check on me. These two things happened before we were dating.

Jason: Those are great attributes. *smiles*

Of course he also made me laugh, which is critical.

Jason: What changed between 3rd grade and 6th grade? Why did things slide for you?

I think it was cumulative in part, but the thing I mentioned earlier about the teacher in 6th was key. For the first time, I really blossomed in school. My grades got better and I felt excited to go to school. And I think by that point, the kids expected me to be different. So when I started to shine a little bit, they felt I needed to be put in my place.

Jason: Why were they so intent on that?

I remember the award I got being a huge issue. They felt I didn't deserve it. Some said I was stupid, so I shouldn't get an award reserved for smart people.

Jason: Why did they think you were stupid?

I don't know. I'd been in the talented and gifted program since 4th grade, so it's not like it was completely out of left field. But I wasn't known for being the best student in regular class until then. I was that classic-bored-by-class-work-but-tests-off-the-charts kid.

Jason: What was it like in 4th grade? Was that boy still in your class?

Yes he was there throughout. Fourth I recall as being a bit better. Getting into TAG helped a lot because I loved going to those classes. But I think a new girl started that year who would create lot of trouble going forward.

Jason: How were you with the other kids in the gifted/talented class?

What's funny is a lot of the kids from my regular class were in there. But I don't recall trouble when I was there. I think the teacher kept our little brains so active it wasn't as much of an issue. We did lots of team projects and I don't think there was ever an issue.

Jason: What was the new girl's problem?

She was a trouble maker. She had a crush on the boy too. But she was better at the game. So she teamed up with him and teased me to get on his good side.

Jason: Any idea why he was still intent on teasing you? Was it the liking him part? Was it just habit at that point? Something else?

You know at the time I had no idea. As an adult I like to think he was insecure and boosting himself up. But the pessimist in me thinks he might have just been mean.

Jason: If you could say or shout something in response to the people who signed the hate note on your bike, and they would really hear and take in what you say, what would it be?

Oh man.

Jason: Take your time. It's a hard one.

Hold on. I'm trying to get this right.

Jason: It's okay. Take your time....

Back then I didn't know any better. I believed you when you said I was stupid and ugly and worthless. But now I know better. It took me a long time, but now I feel sorry for you all. Your herd mentality has probably not served you well in life. And I hope that no one ever makes you feel as bad about yourself as you made me feel that day. I was special and deserved to be loved. And more than anything, I wish I could go back and hug the eight year old me, and let myself know that being myself is okay.

Okay, that was really hard.

Jason: Here's a virtual hug for that 8 year-old.

Thank you. And surprisingly expletive free.

Jason: Ha! You definitely deserve some expletives in there. But then again, making them hear is harder than yelling at them. You did the harder thing just now.

Jason: Did things change after 6th grade?

Yes, my mom got married and we moved to a new school district. There was still some fun-making, but it wasn't as bad. I'm not sure anyone survived junior high without getting teased. Although I have to say, that girl, the trouble-maker, appeared a few years later at my high school. Suddenly she wanted to be friends. I had nothing to do with her.

Jason: Did part of you feel vindicated?

Oh yes. I was never mean to her, but I avoided her.

Jason: Who was the person she saw when she arrived in high school? How had you changed?

Well I still wasn't one of the cool kids. But I had good friends. I'd found some activities I excelled in. I made good grades.

Jason: Did your mother's life calm down? Was it easier for her after she married and moved?

Things at home weren't great then. Very soon after the marriage, things went downhill. My sister was a factor. She went through serious bouts of depression, and my step-father couldn't deal with it.

Jason: What was your role during those times? Similar to before, when you tried not to make things harder for everyone else?

I was a confidant for my mother, a buddy for my step-father, and the bane of my sister's existence.

Jason: What did you do with your sister? Were you taking action against her, or did she simply resent you?

She resented the hell out of me. We never got along. I did take some action. I'd call her on things, which of course never went well. Of course, I resented her too. But in many ways, I was the older kid.

Jason: Because she drew so much attention? Because people were forced to focus on her, and weren't focusing on you, except to meet their own needs (like a confident for your mother, rather than a mother for you)?

You know those birth order studies? I'm the youngest but acted like the oldest, and she's the oldest and acted like an only child. She drew attention and money. And she also had it easier, in my opinion. She'd say otherwise, of course. One time she racked up hundreds of dollars in phone bills because she called a psychic hotline. Ergo we had no money for Christmas that year.

Jason: What did your mother do to her?

Yelled and paid it.

Jason: Your stepfather was exasperated?

Oh yes. There was lots of fighting. Them and my sister. My mom and stepfather. I kept to my room a lot. Yet, in the end, my mom always bailed sis out. Which naturally upset my stepfather.

Jason: I'm going to try to put myself in your shoes again.


Jason: I feel like if a problem comes up around me, I readily step up and deal with it. I'm probably better at it than a lot of people around me. Yet, many times when I do it, it's also tinged with anger. There's a bit of resentment about stepping up. A bit of unfairness.

Definitely. There was a real double standard at work. I was always expected to be capable. Yet my sister was seen as incapable, so people expected less.

Jason: If something happened to strike at my self-esteem, it was very threatening. Very painful. It's not like I had a home version of me that wasn't being seen. At home, I was treading lightly, people really didn't have my back. I may have even looked to the outside world to build my esteem, to repair the vacuum at home. When the outside world failed me, it was terrible. I tried even harder to solve the outside issues. I never gave up, even though I was treated worse and worse.

It's sounds so grim, but yeah I guess that's pretty right on the money.

Jason: I feel like I understand a small part of what you went through.

Thank you for that. It's been a long road to deal with those issues.

Jason: I hope it lightens a bit of the old wounds to talk about them. To get some understanding.

Yes, it's cleansing. It's also good that I can talk about it all and realize that so much of it wasn't my fault.

Jason: No, what others did to you was not your fault. How we react to those harms is our responsibility, however. I know I've let some of my old wounds drive my actions now. It's hard, but important (I'm learning) to see them, then to break their unconscious hold.

Yes, I still struggle with self-esteem and worrying about people's opinions. But now when I do that, I'm able to say, "that's that old wound talking."

Jason: Yes!

Jason: I hope I haven't kept you up too late. I hope you have a great night!

Not at all. Thanks, Jason. You have a good night too.

Jason: Goodnight.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Night Conversations Needs Participants

Interest in Night Conversations has been been strong. Thank you all for that! Sharing these kinds of thoughts helps more than the person speaking them. By reading, we learn more about facets of ourselves.

I understand that it is a big step to take a seat in the chair. If you are on the fence, if you would like to talk but are hesitating, please consider a little nudge in our direction. I promise you that the hardest part is determining to sit down. The rest is liberating.

Participation can be done on a completely anonymous basis if you open a new Yahoo account unassociated with your name. The invitation is open. Simply email me at jevanswriter at yahoo dot com and get your favorite drink ready.

Conversations are by Instant Messaging.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On an Unsettled Spring Night

When have you felt misunderstood?

A woman in her 30's says:

In my twenties, I took one of those youth-oriented bus tours through Europe. Most of my fellow travelers were less inspired by the great sites than the good opportunity to drink and get laid. There was a guy we called No-Pants Steve who dropped his drawers whenever the bus “theme song” of You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet played.

I felt very removed from the group, not because I was so taken by Europe, but because I didn’t have that talent for being loose and uninhibited. Some of the girls took pity on me after a night out in Barcelona when I drank too much sangria and admitted that I hadn’t kissed anyone in three years. On the ride back to camp, they started whispering mysteriously to Mark, the male “me” of the group. I just smiled and looked out the window, silently mortified. I knew I had said too much.

That night, when everyone took off up the hill in search of more alcohol and I turned to go back to my cabin, I heard footsteps on the gravel behind me. It was Mark, looking white and gawky in the moonlight. From the hill, my roommate helpfully shouted, “Be nice! She’s a virgin, you know . . .” Mark and I laughed, looking down at our hands. I wanted to run, but I didn’t. After a few nonsensical comments about the stars (yes, really), he made his move. As his moist lips descended, I realized that he must believe I wanted this, that I convinced my friends to speak to him, and that he was the one doing me the favor. Every instinct repelled me, and yet I kissed him back. I couldn’t disappoint his very slight expectation. And it had been three years.

The Conversation:

Jason: How are you tonight? I hope you're comfortable.

I'm settling in.

Jason: Good. I should have a glass of wine.

I should have something stronger.

Jason: Ha! It'll be okay. Really.

If you say so. :-)

Jason: So, tell me about your trip. What was it like preparing for it? Were you excited?

I was excited, but a little apprehensive, too.

Jason: Apprehensive why?

I felt like it was planned for me by my mom. That kind of group tour would not have been my first choice.

Jason: Did you pick the destination?

We decided on the big European tour, which included about seventeen countries. To be honest, I was looking for an excuse to run away at that point in my life, and this fit the bill.

Jason: Did you want to make the trip at first, or did you feel forced into it? Did your mother think it would be an important experience?

She brought it up, and I was ambivalent at first. My older siblings had the opportunity to go to Europe, and I think she thought it would be a nice diversion. I was struggling a bit with my career choice at the time, and she wanted to give me some happiness, I think. So I wasn't forced, and I was appreciative of the gesture, but at the same time, it didn't really hit me that this is what I was doing until I stepped on the plane.

Jason: Tell me a little more about wanting to run away. Figuratively or literally? From what?

I had a bad habit of embracing my parents', and especially my father's, choices for my life. I thought I was going to be a veterinarian at the time, and was working in an animal clinic to gain the necessary experience to be admitted into school. But I was miserable. So yes, I was eager to get out of my head, and away.

Jason: Did your parents sense your unhappiness?

My mom...maybe. But you know, she thought the cure was going to Europe.

Jason: Why would she think that?

I don't know. She always spoiled me. She's a big believer in purchasing happiness, if possible.

Jason: So, it was a random choice? It didn't reflect a conflict that she knew about (such as your father wanted one thing and you wanted another)?

I may have to take my time with some of these. Just warning you.

Jason: That's fine. They're hard questions.

My father was absolutely determined that I become a doctor. I sidestepped those wishes by choosing veterinary school, but it was never a good substitution for him. And I wavered back and forth on the subject. Perhaps my mom thought that by pushing me away for awhile, I would get a grip on what I really wanted.

Jason: What was the reason he was so passionate about it?

He's the kind of person who thinks it doesn't matter what you do for a living. As in, you're never going to be happy working, anyway, so you might as well reach for the top. It was the prestige of the thing.

Jason: If you became a doctor, would you have been a crown jewel of the family in his eyes?

Absolutely. My older sister didn't quite have the smarts, and my older brother was an enormous failure in his eyes.

Jason: Did this type of responsibility often fall to you?

Yes, I suppose so. My brother showed the greatest "potential," because he was very smart and athletic. But after he floundered in college, the anvil came down on me.

Jason: Did this "failure" affect your brother?

Immensely. He developed anorexia and depression.

Jason: As your older siblings disappointed him, did the pressure build on you?

It sometimes felt that way. The funny thing is that I always felt like I was his favorite. Which made disappointing him even more painful.

Jason: Did that change after you finally decided not to go into medicine, or did you remain his true favorite (i.e., not by default)?

I think he likes being with me most. But it's so hard to tell.

Jason: Did you feel like he saw the real you, or did he only seem to see who he wanted to see?

My father doesn't have the slightest notion of who I am.

Jason: How so with your mother?

She tries. She really does. But we're so careful with one another.

Jason: Did she go with you on the trip?


Jason: Did anyone go with you?


Jason: How did you feel about going alone?

I was nervous. I'm not at ease around people I don't know well. And I knew I would miss my solitude.

Jason: So these friends on the trip were friends of circumstance?

Yes. I doubt a single one of them would have been a friend back home.

Jason: So you tried to fit in with them the best you could?

To some extent. I did often separate from the group during the rare moments that was allowed. But I drank more than usual, and in conversation, I stuck to topics that I knew would interest them. For all of the great culture and history around me, it was a very shallow month and a half.

Jason: How hard was that effort to maintain for a month and a half?


Jason: What element of "fitting in" was the most effort?

Being forced to be "on" for that length of time. Talking about crap. God, I just wanted to curl up with a book and read.

Jason: If you could have wished to interact in a different way, how would it be?

Everything was so frenetic. Each hour planned...appearances to maintain. I would have liked to take a deep breath and talk to someone about all the beautiful things we were seeing, about what books we were reading, films we loved. But yes, I also need that alone time, especially then and even now.

Jason: Did you predict that the trip would have great effect on you?

I think I had the tourist-on-speed mentality. My father and brother were always such history buffs, and I knew I would be expected to see as much stuff as possible, and to report back on what I saw. And yes, I know that sounds absurd.

Jason: Did the trip have a great effect on you?

Yes, but not the things that I thought would. Not the things in Fodor's.

Jason: Describe a revelation moment for me.

There was a lot of anti-American sentiment at that time..."U.S.A." with a swastika for the "S" was spray-painted on some buildings. It was a shock for me to realize that this is how Americans were viewed. I was very naive, sheltered. I went running one morning, with my slick running shorts and bright white tennis shoes. These two teenage girls started following me up the hill, making fun of me, though of course I didn't know what they were saying. I was so tired! I couldn't deal with it. They were nipping at my heels. I turned around, crying. I wanted to tell them that I wasn't a cartoon.

Jason: It widened your perspective?

Yes. It lifted the veil from my eyes.

Jason: What was the before and after?

Before, I was conservative, like my parents (always, always like my parents). I had blinders on, and was very satisfied with my good fortune, without ever really thinking much about it. Afterward, I started drifting toward more liberal positions. I started to think for myself a little bit more. It was about time.

Jason: You realized that America--its policies and attitudes--were not perfection?

I suppose I knew that theoretically. I mean, I had taken a Vietnam War course in college by then. But seeing ourselves through others' eyes--acquiring that far-flung empathy--was harder sought.

Jason: When you look at people (in general) around you today, what do you see?

I see people struggling, but hopeful. That sounds like a trite answer, but it's such a difficult question.

Jason: Do you feel part of people around you, or separate from them?

I have so few friends. I have my family. So usually, I feel separated from others. But I'm always sensitive to any sign of pain, no matter how casual.

Jason: Do you feel like you make that choice to be separate, or do others make that choice by pulling away?

I think it's my choice. I don't make that effort anymore. I'm not stuck in a bus traveling through Europe.

Jason: When you were on that bus, did you feel like there would be a time when it would be different? Maybe when your peers caught up to your maturity?

Not really.

Jason: If all responsibilities were removed from you and you were dropped in a brand new place, would you feel lost?

I think I'd feel liberated--for about five seconds. Because my responsibilities are different now. They're mine. I've chosen them.

Jason: And after the five seconds?

I'd feel guilty. Most of my responsibilities have names now.

Jason: But just imagine those responsibilities didn't exist, not that you left them or abandoned them. Are you defined by your responsibilities?

Not anymore. At least, I don't think so. If I had never married, if I didn't have those responsibilities that come with family, I think I'd be feeling relieved after those five seconds. That umbilical cord finally severed. Free.

Jason: But are you afraid/uncomfortable to fail in those responsibilities, even when they are unfair? Is that the freedom you would feel? The removal of that emotional power over you?

Yes. God, yes.

Jason: That must be so hard. I can feel how confusing it is. You want to live up to expectations, to make other people happy, but at same time you resent the power of other people's disapproval to upset you. You probably blame these people who put demands on you, but you also blame yourself for not pushing back. I'm so sorry your father did that to you. Although he didn't mean to, he missed that line when we, as children, crystallize into young adults and our needs fundamentally change. Past that line, we need freedom and loving encouragement to become who we essentially are meant to be.

Jason: What I feel the most, however, is how hard it must be to build a deep comfort in yourself when so many potent demands were placed on you from the outside. Your solitude is your escape, your peace. Yet, it can only last so long. Soon, the fear of taking too much time for yourself creeps in. I feel like I understand.

You do. Thank you, Jason. I really was nervous and self-conscious at the beginning of this. But not anymore. It is liberating to reflect on these issues with someone I can trust, and find acceptance instead of judgment. I'm very happy we shared this moment across the night. And I know I'll carry it into the day.

Jason: Have a good night.

Good night.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Commenting Policy

Public comments are permitted on Night Conversations, provided that all such comments conform to this Commenting Policy, which may be amended from time to time.

  1. Comments are for the purpose of supporting the participant and sharing your own similar experiences and feelings.

  2. No advice, judgment, ridicule, or other unsupportive comments are permitted.

  3. The blog owner reserves the right to delete any comment at any time for any reason.

  4. The submission of a comment transfers all rights in the comment, including, but not limited to, copyright, to the blog owner.

  5. Blatant abuse or refusal to conform to this Commenting Policy will result in your IP address being reported to the abuse department of your internet service provider.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Where It Began

(The idea for Night Conversations came from a written conversation I attempted with myself on a train ride home one afternoon. Not only did I learn from it, but others who read the story at The Clarity of Night found meaning for themselves also.)

Jason: What was your childhood like?

It was okay.

Jason: Just okay?

It was fine. I don't have any complaints. My parents stayed together. We had a nice house. My father had a good job. We got to do fun things.

Jason: How did you spend your time?

I went to school. I played. The normal stuff.

Jason: No, what did you do in your free time? Did you hang out with the neighborhood kids?

Well, I was really good at entertaining myself. I had all sorts of interests. Crazy things. Like science and astronomy. Or making up stories. Sometimes I built things.

Jason: Are you an only child?


Jason: Did you wish you had a brother or a sister?

Oh no. My friends with brothers and sisters were always fighting. It used to bother me. I couldn't understand what the big deal was. Why they got so mad. It's okay if the little brother plays with us. Really, who cares?

Jason: Why did that bother you?

All the conflict. It just seemed so draining. Emotionally draining.

Jason: So you spent a lot of time with these friends with brothers and sisters?

Sure. Now and then.

Jason: What do you mean?

Well, I moved when I was growing up. That upset the applecart, so to speak. I lost all my friends twice. And people change.

Jason: How so?

Well, I had one friend who moved in next door and was in the grade over me. After a little while, he met a kid in his class who lived farther away, but was in bike range.

Jason: So he drifted away?

They saw each other all day in school. It made sense.

Jason: Any others?

After I moved, I made a friend next door, but he got girl-crazy around 14. He went off with her. I ended up lecturing them about birth control. You know, really simple stuff. The idiots had a pregnancy scare.

Jason: Did friends often look to you for advice?

Absolutely. The story of my life.

Jason: Who did you go to for advice?

I had some very cool teachers in school.

Jason: You asked them about birth control?

No. No. Of course not.

Jason: So who did you go to for the deep things? The personal things?

Well, no one, I guess.

Jason: How about parents?

No way!

Jason: Why do you say that so strongly?

Well, you know like when no matter how much you try to explain yourself, the other person just doesn't seem to be hearing you?

Jason: Yes.

That's how it was. Like there was this phantom person standing twelve inches to my left. I'm waving, hey, you guys, I'm over here.

Jason: Isn't some of that normal?

You tell me. My mother, for example, thinks she taught me to be the most considerate, respectful person in the world.

Jason: Did she?

Not the way she thinks. In her eyes, I'm the equivalent of a 12-year-old kid who remembered to say thank you to the nice lady.

Jason: What about your father?

My father likes to bring up the good old days. When I used to have this huge smile. When I used to have a belly laugh.

Jason: Don't you laugh any more?

Not around them.

Jason: Why?

There's no frame of reference. We're not speaking the same language. They're talking about one thing, and my mind is flying off to another. I'm polite. I nod and smile when I'm supposed to. I used to laugh like that when I didn't feel so alienated from them.

Jason: Why don't you talk about what you want to talk about?

I tried that.

Jason: What happened?

They looked at me like I had three heads.

Jason: Why so?

Well, to be fair, my mother looked at me like that. Her eyes would blank out. The blue screen came up. Can't compute, system overload.

Jason: Your father was different?

Yes, but actually worse. He understood more and just didn't like it. He felt that I was being difficult. Competitive.

Jason: Were you competitive?

No. I certainly wasn't trying to be. You have to understand, he had quite a few problems of his own. When my parents eventually divorced, he accused me of letting my mother choose me over him.

Jason: What did you say to that?

I told him it wasn't my job to save his marriage. He had to fix things with my mother on his own.

Jason: How are things now with him?

Polite. Sometimes he wants to reconnect. Other times the old jealousies come out.

Jason: All this was going on when you were growing up?

There's more. But you get the idea.

Jason: So, while you were giving advice, being the stable and responsible one, who was there for you to lean on?

I feel like I'm shrugging my shoulders a lot tonight.

Jason: What was that like?

I don't know.... I'm not sure. I just don't know....

Jason: Are you okay?


Jason: Are you sure?

I was just thinking. Maybe I'm realizing that the things that bother me now aren't so different than the ones back then. Just different faces on similar problems. Maybe the truth is more painful, and I need to resolve that before I can move on.

Jason: The truth of what your childhood was like?

Yeah, because I let myself spend most of it alone.