The Fear of Asking

So. I entered a raffle to win tickets to see Amanda Palmer at the Paramount Theater in Austin. I’m not sure why I did it, except that I know that when someone or something disturbs me, that means I have something to learn. When I first heard Amanda “Fucking” Palmer’s TED talk, The Art of Asking, my initial reaction was one of … disquiet. I thought I didn’t like her. I thought, “She’s too brash, too – herself?”  That startled me. Can a person be too much of who they are? It’s taken some introspection to realize what makes me uncomfortable about Amanda Palmer is that her way of being challenges my way of being. I feel like there are certain immutable requirements governing how I need to be; for instance, and very trivially, I feel like it’s a requirement to shave my arm pits. It is a requirement to feel like my body is something that must be hidden because it’s not “perfect.” It’s a requirement to feel like I should bottle up my emotions or repackage them so as not to seem like a “bitch.” It’s a requirement to have a traditional job. It’s a requirement to keep my yard looking at least as nice as the neighbors. And on and on and on. Amanda Palmer throws away every single one of those “requirements,” except maybe the one about the yard. I don’t know if she has a yard. The point is that Amanda Palmer decides for herself how she’s going to live life, rather than letting society tell her how to be.

I didn’t dislike Amanda, but myself. Of course, it’s easier to blame her. It’s really scary to think that maybe all these requirements that guide and order my life are only optional. This doesn’t mean I want an open marriage (I don’t), or that I want to be naked on stage (I don’t), or that I want hairy armpits (I don’t). The point is that I can CHOOSE what I want, and how I want to live. How has it taken me thirty-seven years to finally realize that!?

A lot of my fear, and my knee-jerk loathing of Amanda came from my own sense that I’m not being enough of an artist. I know that to write is my calling. It is not a requirement, but a personal, deeply embedded categorical imperative. Amanda’s way of living makes me realize I’m a coward. I’m too scared to take a chance and put writing first. I’m too afraid to trust. I’m afraid of having to ask for help.

My mother in law passed away a little over two months ago. Her death was sudden, and entirely unexpected. It shocked me to realize that her years ticked past, my years are ticking past… it was upsetting to realize I’d never taken the time to ask her the real questions about who she was. It was upsetting to realize I’d never asked myself those same questions.

I’m asking now. I’m still afraid. But, I’m asking.

And I won those tickets.

 

Today Is The Adventure

My Uncle Ernie was the first grown-up I ever met who was a dreamer. His child-like sense of wonder shifted reality’s boundaries, and intimated that the magic of imagination need not dissipate with age. Uncle Ernie had the greatest, most sonorous voice and a wonderful, honest laugh. He wasn’t a parent, which probably explains why he was also the first grown-up to ever let me drink a beverage somewhere other than the kitchen. I thought that was unbelievably cool, not only because it’s convenient to have a cold glass of milk when you’re reading, but also because it made me feel grown up. I wasn’t, though, and in one of my innumerable fits of childhood clumsiness, I upended the glass. Instead of being angry that I’d made a mess, Uncle Ernie got me another and told me stuff like that happens to everyone. He understood my nature: not just the clumsiness, but the fact that I, too, was destined to be a dreamer.

Aaron was a friend of mine. He was always the guy that made me smile at work; if you met him, I’m sure he’d make you smile, too. He was very ill, but Aaron never let the harshness of reality – the incalculable unfairness – temper his joy of living.

Last year, within months of one another, Uncle Ernie and Aaron passed beyond this realm.

I was ill recently. Three AM on a Saturday, curled up in a little ball on the bathroom floor, in possibly the worst pain of my life, it occurred to me that I could die. Not someday: right then. I thought of Mr. Aniko, my sister, my parents, my nephews. I thought of my writing. I thought of how I would miss all of that, and how much would be left unfinished. My sickness forced me to acknowledge, in a deep and unquestioning way, that there is no placating ritual that assures longevity. I can’t know what is going to happen, but I do have a choice. I can choose to mark out the days of my life counting down, as if life were a sentence to be served. Or I could choose spend my time in in grateful pursuit of joy. In other words, I can live now, or hope that I’ll make it to a moment that might never come.

On a whiteboard in my kitchen, I used to track weeks until my projected retirement. I have replaced the countdown with my new mantra: Today Is The Adventure.  Life isn’t some magical moment in the future. It is right now. Today.

Aniko Gets Kreativ II:

I don’t believe in countdowns.

My inspiration for this post was Hunter Shea’s poignant look at his realization that life is precious and fleeting. Take a moment to read what he has to say. Then, congratulate him on his nomination for the Kreativ Blogger award! I am passing it along via  Kim Koning, who honored me with the nomination.

Here’s my first Kreativ Blogger post, in which I explain how I’m breaking the rules.