About a week ago I accidentally publicly published a blog post that was meant to remain private. The post had gone out to 875 people, and had been automatically sent to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Not that I’m deluded enough to think that 875 actually READ my blog, but even the idea of five people seeing this was like being caught drunk in a cubicle trying on a dress that I couldn’t pull off. When I realized what had happened (Rebecca has posted a new blog post on Facebook….aaargh!) I felt like I was going to wretch on the keyboard. But in under five minutes, after a bit of damage control, I reclaimed the errant post back into my private domain. But the first two sentences were out there. A friend popped up on gchat. ‘Data breach!’ ‘Calm down!’ I messaged back – more to myself than to him. ‘What will people think?!’ ‘Fuck off, I don’t care!’ But I did.
That could have been that, I guess. Just put it down to some odd karmic twist and Origami it into an amusing anecdote to pocket for some future evening over wine and friends. But it’s given me pause to reflect on a number of things having to do with honesty, compassion, humour and courage. My first reaction was one of deep embarrassment. Not only because the topic was about that icky sphere of human engagement—romance—but because of the spectacularly bad writing. Since I hadn’t meant for anyone else to read it, I had written it in a stream-of-consciousness journaling-style. I had actually used the phrase ‘castles in the air’. Ugh. I think I would rather an even dirtier load of laundry flapping out there than that sorry idiom. As much as it stuck in my throat, I had to face that fact that when it comes to this particular aspect of my psyche, my ‘stream of consciousness’ is less Orphic wisdom and more Brigitte Jones’ Diary.
Romance is like crack for artists. It boggles the mind how much great art has been inspired by the muse of love. But when I look over some of the outpourings during my most recent passion play, it’s well, not to put too fine a point on it—drivel. The most poetic comment in the whole weary episode came not from me, but from a certain seventeen-year-old, who summarily dismissed my new romantic interest as ‘predatory and up his own arse’. Now, this is haiku of the highest order.
Said the girl to the woman
And up his own arse.
But I had to admit, it was also pretty funny—my most well-concealed thoughts spewing into the blogosphere like an oil spill. It’s a problem that writers before the 1990’s never had to think about. But I flattered myself, as usual. It wasn’t an oil spill. It was far too vanilla for that. My pride was hurt, and that also made me giggle. Humour, my most loyal friend—the one that can say anything to me and I can take it, because it’s delivered with affection.
But even though it stings a bit, it’s not so hard to acknowledge the bad writing. And I can feel a kind of nobility in fessing up to it, like it’s the grown up thing to do. But this is just more damage control. The other, more difficult part to admit, is that I got slain. Emotional entanglement. This is the stuff that nails us to the floor. It’s also the stuff we tuck away in the backs of drawers among the socks, thinking the burglars will never find it there, when actually the first place burglars look is the sock drawer. This stuff makes us seem weak, pins our soft spots under high watt bulbs, with alien life forms sneering down at us, poking about at our most private mutations and demanding explanations for them.
The day I changed my mind, and decided to embrace this ‘mistake’ of mine rather just file it away under things NOT to do online along with drinking and messaging, I received a beautiful and humbling email from a man I’d met on a dating site in the UK. We don’t even really understand the nature of our relationship, but there is a core of humanity to our connection that invests no particular interest in the labels of ‘friend’, ‘lover’ ‘boyfriend’ etc. He took a risk in contacting me, in being so open, since we don’t know one another well. Somehow, he said he’d felt ‘seen’ by me, and it had inspired him to divulge some of the steps of the journey he’d been on since. His honesty and vulnerability touched me deeply, along with his emotional courage. Do we really ever see each other? Or is it all just a trick of the light? But more important than the answer to that question was that he thought I had, and this was a kind of responsibility. He had dropped his guard because he was tired of the fight, but he was moving with caution. He’s right to be afraid. There are some out there who, if you lower your shield, will smile and barrage you with sweet words while taking careful measurement of the distance between their weapon of choice and your vital organs. It’s not always easy to tell who is who in the battlefield, especially with rainbow-coloured mud in your eye.
I felt honoured, but also sad at how hard it is for us to extend genuine trust. If even we, who are unequivocally on the side of love, of justice, of tolerance, of beauty, of humour and personal freedom, if even we whose first instinct is empathy not cynicism can’t trust one another, then what hope is there for the world? But I have to admit, my own trust is now coated in a quality veneer of skepticism. And so it should be. Not to sound too George Bush here, but there are people in the world with evil in their hearts. Duh. There are people who will do and say anything to get what they want from you. Duh. There are people who will happily feed off your emotions until you’re bled out, discard you like a used wrapper, and then claim they did you a favour (No duh. This was news to me). To know that such creatures are irrevocably damaged, and to wish them well in spite of the pain they cause, is not the same as condoning their behavior. Compassion does not make evil okay, it makes us okay.
“Do something every day that scares you” was the advice of Ariana Huffington, back in the day when I interviewed her. This is not so hard for those of us who find ourselves in a low boil panic most of their waking life, but the repercussions from accidentally sharing raw, unedited content in my blog is showing me that although I’ve got quite adept at doing things that scare me, I’m also pretty nifty at avoiding the things that terrify me. As usual, these are the most instructive. I’ve spent the last few months trying to understand what to do with all the pain. Stuff it down deep into my hurt locker in true British fashion; project it onto something/someone else; numb it with narcotics; let it possess me entirely so I wither away while scrawling bad poetry on the toilet wall of my heart (case in point). Gratefully, I had no choice in the end. Exhausted from the manic adrenalin of speed-induced Dodgeball, my pain and I now sit across from one another. Not exactly pals, but ready to talk.
When I was twenty-three, I went to a talk by a man whose name I forget. I do recall that in some language his name meant ‘Close to God’, which I thought was pretentious. He said, before you begin to seek enlightenment, there is another mantra you need to know. It’s ‘I’m a mess, I’m a mess, I’m a mess.’ I didn’t like that. Speak for yourself, I thought. I’m a child of the universe. Today, I know both to be true. I’m a messed up child of the universe.
Lesson….I’ve lost count.
You see, I’ve been abused and used, but in some ways I’ve used in return. I’ve judged and been judged. I’ve wanted, been wanted and Been Wanted. I’ve hurt and been hurt. I’ve got drunk, sobered up and found hidden storeys of inebriation. I’ve gone so crazy, I’ve felt a God’s-grace-hairs-breadth from tin foil and shopping trolleys. I’ve specialized in troll-sized lapses of judgement, sent myself on all expenses paid package tours to various Circles of Hell, and been sucked almost dry by human leeches masquerading as fellow pilgrims. And the fact is, I still believe. I still believe in you, in me, in this whole whacky-Barnham and Bailey-business.
And here is an even scarier truth than being both capable of asinine writing and a romantic fool. Those first two lines, the ones that got away—one thing I hated about it was that they made me seem like everyone else. When the truth is, I am everyone else. I want all the same things, I have all the same fears. And I tangle with demons and talk back to angels while doing my laundry and paying my bills, just like you. And it’s no state secret, so why is it so hard to admit?
So yes, it’s good to do something every day that scares you. And one thing every so often that terrifies the shit out of you. Like skydiving. Or this.