Life as an Extreme Sport

semiotics on flesh

I am a study in signs right now. (Well, not right now – right now I’m a study in “oh fucking hell it’s too late in the year to be this muggy and hot!”) Everything I put on seems to have meaning, of some sort or another. Rubber bracelet with pithy slogan, stamped and brushed silver bracelet, ring, mala, pendant, locket – even earrings. Small bits of meaning woven into each, almost charmlike. The impulses to wear give some insight into the idea that having something that belonged to another gives you some power, over event, item, person. Tangible connections, ties that bind.


It has come to my attention that some people think I am, perhaps, upset, frustrated, and/or otherwise angry and disappointed with/at them. Some people should stop being stupid. Or come talk to me. Actually, both would be best.

I will be the first to stand up and admit I have issues with trusting. Take those issues, add in the utter fear of vulnerability which stems directly from having issues with trust, and you get – well, me. Someone who has a very hard time putting herself in issues she perceives will make her vulnerable – where vulnerable can be read as “hurt by other’s actions.” It also gets you someone who talks about herself in third person, apparently,…

I was talking to one of my sanity points this morning, and admitted that it’s much easier to be angry at people than it is to be angry at something as intangible and insubstantial as cancer. There’s the perception that people have choices, could have done something differently, made other decisions – easier to be wronged by people than impotent in the face of the cancer taking my mother from me.

I need people, but I need my mother more. And there’s nothing anyone can do about the latter, nothing anger will do anything about or for. So I got angry at other people instead. Because it was easier to say “you didn’t do X, Y, Z, you don’t give a damn” and fall back into bad habits about trust and vulnerability and that secret conviction that I’m going to spin around to find everyone stabbing me in the back all at once, rather than see the empathy and care that was being offered.

I have every right to be frustrated and angry – but the frustration and anger were directed at the wrong sources. And if you were one of those people who got whalloped with my rage, I apologize. And we should probably talk, and smooth things over.


Reactions are revealing things. They are, I think, moments where we abandon language and emotion comes through – there is no thought, only action, reacting to whatever it is that has snapped us outside of our narrative stream. They are true, in a way that language, with its narrative construct and attached, sometimes forced, meaning, is not.

I found myself homesick yesterday for the first time in a very long time. I’ve been lucky to not be homesick for Seattle much; I keep in contact with the majority of people I love and am close to, and although it’s not perfect, we do what we can, and I know the bond is there. But yesterday drove home how much I miss my friends, because I so clearly saw, in action/reaction, what I don’t have anymore.

I know this, because I know what happened when Jessica died. I know how people reacted. I know how the people in my department, who were just becoming friends, who didn’t know her, reacted. They dogpiled me on a couch, hugging me. They squished half a dozen people onto a couch designed for two, and pulled me in the middle, so that I literally sat on people, and my skin was in constant contact with other people, nothing else. It took persistent action to be left alone. I couldn’t walk down the hall without someone there, touching my shoulder, holding my hand, insisting on giving me a hug.

There wasn’t a lot in the way of talking. Not about me, or Jessica, or death. The conversation continued around me, the normalcy of life moving on. But as they continued their work, they expanded their spaces and lives to include constant physical contact to ground me, remind me of where I was, and that I was loved, that it would be okay. I could break down crying in the middle of a conversation, and they would hand me a tissue and move on. No questions, no condemnation. Simple affection and understanding. They formed a physical net around me, they let me fall, they picked me up, and let me fall again.

And of course, the people who knew Jessica were the same and more. Rachel, insisting she would walk me the two blocks to my apartment, just so she could give me a few extra hugs along the way. Mickey, Stax, Lisa, and everyone else – all falling apart, all trying to hold it together, all cleaning out the apartment, planning the funeral, dealing with the police. All the things we had to deal with, not necessarily dealt with together, but still shared experience.

A far cry from life here. Different coast, different people, different perspectives. I have to try to see the kindness in gestures here, to see that being told I can’t cry, I can’t lose control, was seeing a larger picture than my narrow focus could – that it wasn’t intended to be as hurtful as it came across, that it is a different way of expression. That the offering of food was just that – doing what I asked for, gently reminding me to eat.

But instead it just hurts. It hurts that no one I went to with my heart raw and exposed made any gesture that I can understand on an emotional level, that I have to try to filter it through a logic lens that is not functioning right now. It hurts that the last time anyone gave me a hug, instead of me insisting on giving someone a hug, was in July, and a colleague I had just met after months of correspondence. Not someone here.

Holly, CHID office minion, used to say that everyone needs three hugs a day, and that we will starve an emotional death if we don’t have that sort of gentle, comfortable physical connection with other people. If you walked into the office and she was there, she would ask you – how many hugs today? And if you were short, she made up for it, would drag other people out of their offices to make up for it. And after a while, people just did it on their own. Because she was right – you feel better when you feel connected to other people.

I miss Holly, and CHID, and Seattle, and the coast that knew how to hug.

hopeful misanthropes unite

Many years ago, I was in the hospital, after deciding that nope, life? Sucked and wasn’t worth it. I was still during my lockdown period, where technically I was not allowed any visitors. But someone had misinterpreted the rules and told me otherwise, and I mercilessly badgered and cried and basically pitched a giant fit until I got what I wanted — a few visitors. It was really, specifically, one visitor I wanted, but he was a package deal with the boyfriend at the time.

We finally sat, alone in a room together, and I remember it as clearly as if it just happened. He sat in a chair, and I sat at his feet. He looked so sadly at me, and I’m sure I returned the look, laden with so much more. We had been friends through a lot, a lot of his problems, and I had been there for him, steadfast, often in the wake of others having enough. I was a rock. I would not budge.

Now it was my turn, my time. I needed a rock. And I told him as much, that I needed to know he cared, that he loved me, that I could fall apart and he would take care of me, he would make sure I was okay. I needed to know that he who I had given so much to would do the same in return, and I needed that return.

I remember everything vividly. I remember sitting, kneeling at his feet. I remember the yellow light, the sick hospital walls, bad furniture in the room, the feel of the industrial carpet under my feet. I remember looking at the floor, even then having such a hard time admitting I needed anything from anyone else, and I remember his look, his sorrowful expression. I remember the tears rolling down his face, quietly, as he understood what I was asking, what I needed, and what his answer meant.

And he reached out, ever so gently touching my face with his long, delicate, almost elven fingers, tracing the route the tears had taken down my face, and whispered so quietly, “I’m sorry, I can’t,”

You would think, those twenty years ago, I would have learned a lesson. That I would have not repeated it since. Of course, if you thought that, you probably haven’t spent too much time around me.

We were never as close after that. I still dropped everything if he needed me, which he frequently did for a while, until he got things together. And when he was more pulled together, he needed me less and less, and eventually he replaced the friendship I offered freely for nothing in return with someone else, someone without history. By then, I simply shrugged. I had walled myself off from him, from those moments where he touched me so gently and said no. In that time, he had proven to me just what he thought of me, just how he thought of me, and I learned that fast, and kept that lesson near and dear to my heart.

I could give, but he never would. It would not be an equal relationship, and I could either accept that and continue to give, or walk away. I chose the first, I gave until I was no longer wanted, and then I went away.

And people wonder why I have issues, especially with trust.

It came to mind because I recently found myself in a situation that evoked similar tone (if the details all different), and received similar results. And found myself that same mix of resigned and so frustrated with myself.

Why frustrated with myself? Because I know me well enough to know I will repeat what I did with the boy above, and have done with people since him. I will continue to care and make it clear I do, I will continue to be there, I will do all asked and more. And I will do it both expecting nothing in return — for that, truly, is what you must do to love, to give unconditionally; you must not expect anything in return. ((Insert Buddhist rah-rah justification, loving kindness, compassion, etc and here. Although truth be told, I think Buddha’d probably be getting close to kicking my ass. There’s a difference between practicing loving kindness, and allowing people to take advantage of your inclinations.)) But at the same time, I know I will build that wall, create an arm’s length distance, and I don’t know if I can stop that, or if anything can undo it.

I know that if, today, the boy from above were to show up on my doorstep, I would drop and welcome him with open arms, while not saying a word about my own situation to him. And now I fear I’m in that situation, once more.

And to be honest, I hate myself a little for it, for being such a doormat. For drawing boundaries that mean I pull back and away while still giving freely. Buddhism would counsel me on how this is a good thing, to give without expectation of anything but the generation of metta. It would also say I obviously still have too much attachment. This would be why I am a bad Buddhist. One of many reasons.

I would say that I am a hopeful misanthrope who is continually let down by the world, yet still keeps alive the idea that one day, one day, it will be different. And keep getting hurt, because one day hasn’t yet come.

when the stoic fails

This is the second time in so many days that I have been sitting still enough outside that squirrels have walked by me as if I wasn’t here, one actually sniffing me before continuing on its way. Buddha, I suspect, would be proud.

I’m sitting outside again – as squirrels have not yet invaded the indoor spaces here – enjoying the evening weather and sunset. It had gotten muggy earlier, so I’d headed indoors to Starbucks. Free wifi and caffeine? I’m always a sucker for a good deal. The grass is a little itchy on my bare legs, but the breeze is nice and I have some limited internet access from Sage’s guest wireless.

I have a bunch of raised red welts on the back of my left hand – as if I were breaking out in hives, or one of the cats had badly clawed me while playing. In fact, given how closely they resemble the marks Lunar and Toledo sometimes leave, and that one or two are bleeding slightly, I thought perhaps I’ve spent the entire day with a bloody hand and just not noticed. It wouldn’t be unlike me,…

I gave them to myself. It took a minute to remember, and realize, as I repeated the grasping of my hand and squeezing, hard, until the pain breaks through and switches my focus elsewhere, out, away.

I got a phone call while at Starbucks, full of bad news. I reacted as well as I could, as well as I normally do – I have delayed reaction down cold at this point. And then I packed up calmly, my feet carrying me to the one place I felt I would be okay falling apart in, safe falling apart in, gripping my hand to blood along the route to not fall apart alone.

I am sitting across from a statue, a woman resting a vine covered sword against the ground. She’s holding a bundle of what looks like palm fronds in her hands, and a hood is draped over her loosely tied back hair. She’s classically dressed and carved, emulating the Greco-Roman tradition, and standing in front of what looks like a funeral byre. Carved on the back of the byre is a memorial to soldiers of the Great War. She’s fading in the dusk, becoming brief outlines and nothing more against the night sky. It crosses my mind that she would make an excellent Halloween costume, except I don’t expect to have a Halloween.

I have a history of being stupid when falling to pieces alone, and this final bit was just too much. My brain short circuited and I went on gut instinct, which sadly is not the most thoughtful of creatures. Go to the safe place, go to the safe place, go to the safe place… not thinking through the implications, just go where, if stupid happens, stupid can’t happen. Where I will be safe, and can lose control, and know then when I yank myself back together, I will be in one piece, not hurt or damaged in any way.

Except I was wrong, and the implications were explained to me. Which I suppose is good – a functional equivalent to a slap in the face. Instead of a physical gating mechanism, an emotional one. We’ll see what the long term damages are. My hand will heal, hopefully so will the rest. It’s hard for me to trust, especially with things like this – I don’t fall apart often. I can’t. And it doesn’t take much for me to curl up inside myself and go “right, people suck, don’t trust people, people are bad.”

There are squirrels racing all around me now. Some are fighting for nuts, others space – some are running in abject fear from the giant German Shepherd that is terrorizing the park with gleeful abandon. It’s sort of nice to see. A reminder that my world is so small, so insignificant in the scheme of everything. That right now, some poor squirrel sees me as a place to hide from the giant, furry, slobbering terror, and that giant, furry, slobbering terror thinks the only thing I am good for is a scritch behind the ears before turning back to ball and squirrel.

It’s perspective.

The trees are changing colour. One tall tree across the clearing from me has a crown of gold and red leaves. She’s the only tree to have changed yet, early to the party, but beautiful and regal, not giving a damn what the trees around her look like, or think. The air has just started getting cold enough at night to hint at the promise of fall, and winter. The tree just changed her clothes early, a rush to protect herself from the cold. A rash impulse – I wonder if it’s one borne from previous experience? I could understand that, empathize with it. Apparently, as I’m already anthropomorphizing.

My mother was in the hospital over the weekend, something which several of you already knew about. My father called me this afternoon, while I was at Starbucks, to tell me that they did a scan Sunday evening, before discharging her.

It’s spread.


It’s riddled her brain.

It is definitive. It is terminal. It is now just a matter of time.

Another dog is racing through the park, chasing squirrels. A brindled pit, happy as the day is long. You can almost hear the doggie thoughts as she races by – squirrelsquirrelsquirrelBALLlooksquirrel!Hey!HUMAN!SMELL…CAT?CAT!oooohlooksquirrel! Another happy creature, just glad to be outside, running.

I want to run. I want to run, to get in my car and drive until there is no more land, until I am at the edge of all that there is, and then leap away. Just crash and sink into the wet wide saltwater, tears and body blending away to nothingness and release.

you can generate warmth in multiple ways

I’m sitting outside right now, taking advantage of the last days of autumn, before it becomes too brisk, cold, and wet to do this. I’ve found an open access point at the park, and am hiding under the shade at a picnic bench. It’ll be the perfect place to take a conference call.

I’m going to have to figure out a more permanent and stable arrangement for internet access before the wet weather sets in, though – this on again, off again internet at home isn’t working for me. (Which makes me suspect I need to switch from cable internet to DSL, a thought which pains. But when the cable is as flaky as it is, no matter whose internet connection it is, then there is a greater problem. The last time I spoke with the company about it, they told me the area I live in is old, and has a lot of above ground cable connections that go out easily. Which, okay fine… but I can’t do most of what needs doing from such spotty access!)

Beyond that, life is as it is. I have, for the most part, moved beyond asking why me – although I have some interesting variances. Which suggests I’m not really beyond it, I’m just generating a subtle distinctions that come across as meaningful when it means I’m really running from the greater picture. Which is all lovely and vague, and all you’re going to get.