beyond expectations

I’ve tried to write a posting for a few days, now. It’s not coming along so well.

My blogging routine has become a very careful endeavor. On my old blog, I didn’t really have much of a purpose, so I just wrote whenever and whatever I felt like. It was random. And that was fine for what it was, but it wasn’t much. On this blog, I’ve told you specifically what my purpose is—reconciliation between the sundry aspects of me.

Unfortunately, one aspect of me that I have to figure out how to reconcile with, or maybe better, how to communicate, is my deep insecurity and tendency to be easily intimidated and directed. Some of you (very few of you) might recall a posting that lasted here for all of a week (if that) before I pulled it. I pulled it because I received the most hurtful, vitriolic, condemning email from one whom I once considered a friend. In this email, I was shredded for being what s/he perceived as arrogant. The content of my posting was how I hate being put on a pedestal where others expect me to be better, or hold me to a higher standard, or believe that I believe that I am better than they because of whatever random gifts God has given me and I had no control whatsoever about my having. This individual interpreted my complaining posting—my rant—as my actually believing that I am better than everyone else, failing to realize that my complaint was exactly what s/he was inferring. My complaint is that people think I am better or think that I think I am better when I know darn well I’m not, and most of the time believe I’m much less than others.

So here’s another part of the disciple, the truly unseen part. She doesn’t think she’s better than anyone. She does know a few things, and these few things are what she stands on when everything else is so wobbly beneath her. That she will defend logical truths to the end does not make her arrogant, any more than defending the truth of the Pythagorean theorem makes a mathematician arrogant, any more than defending the evidence of evolution against the evidence of creationism makes a scientist arrogant, any more than defending the diagnosis of an ailment against the denial of the ailment’s existence makes a doctor arrogant. Some things are right, others wrong. Defending truth doesn’t make a person arrogant. And in fact, a person who is terribly insecure can still solidly defend the truth of an argument or theory, can argue for a position over another, lesser one held by somebody else who is completely comfortable with who she is. In claiming I am arrogant, this emailer meant that I think I am better than others. But to think that a theory, argument, or position is better than other theories, arguments, or positions is not to think oneself better than other people.

So when I received that “I need to tell you this because I care about you, but you’re terribly arrogant and being arrogant is horribly unattractive and that’s why you’re still single” email, I was cut to the core, in shock, and actually in tears for a couple days. I immediately deleted the posting that was so horribly misunderstood, and deleted the email after a single read, taking care to erase it from the server, too, so I’d not be tempted to read it again and use it to further my all-too-real self-abuse. Unfortunately, as you see, it only took one read. It’s burned into my psyche.

Ever since that email last May (to which I never responded until now), I’ve been extremely careful about what I post here. My mother always used to tell me that people can’t handle what you feel. By this, she meant that I can’t just go out and share my thoughts or emotions with people. I have to be careful. People get offended, or people take it wrong, or such like. So I decided to keep this blog somewhat distant from my deepest feelings, since it seemed my mom was proven correct yet again.

But the effect of this is, as Kelli has indicated, that I’m pretty silent here right now. I don’t have anything academic, philosophical, theological, or anything else in that zone which I perceive as “safe to blog about” going on right now. And I don’t want to offend anyone else and receive another machete-gash email. So I’m silent.

But then—there’s that insecure part of me, that part that feels the most, loves the most, that part that makes me vulnerable and human, hiding away in a safe closet where I won’t be open to machete emails or, unfortunately, deep spiritual growth.

I have been thinking about a lot, lately, reading a couple books by Pentecostals who have hidden in their closets or undergone exorcisms to liberate them from the demon of homosexuality. I’ve been reading stories that are so hauntingly close to mine, that I’m raw. I was in my bed last night, meditating long about why I’m not in any relationship, about why I’m scared to try. I was thinking about why I skipped out on the “welcome back” party for the grads in my department last night, about why I will probably skip another tonight. About why I never go out to anything, about why I never go to bars, about why I hide in my apartment all alone with my cat and books. I was thinking about how this year will be with my research fellowship, that gives me permission to stay home all the time, never even to go to campus for classes or office hours since I won’t be teaching and am not taking any more classes. I was thinking about the fun woman who was always out doing things with people and trying new things, about whatever happened to her.

Somewhere along the line, fear and self-protection became the dominant aspects of my lifestyle. For many years, I was out there hanging with the crowd, doing all the right things, and yet always feeling completely alone no matter how many friends I had in that crowd. I always felt like the tag-along, the one people allowed to be with them, even though it’d be just as fun without me. The only time I didn’t feel like that was with Sz and J, my two best friends. Only now, they’re both married, and whenever we hang, it’s Sz and G and me, or J and Sh and me, and I’m again the third wheel. Always the third wheel.

And I was thinking last night, what is wrong with me? Why am I so blasted afraid of just doing things? I was thinking, I really need counselling. Only, it’ll have to wait one more year—one more year until I actually can afford it by (God willing) actually having a good job with benefits. I thought of my two defining relationships. The first ended when he impregnated my sister. And as he was living in the same house as all of us, my parents saw fit to pretend he and I never dated, and that I had no feelings to sort through. My church saw fit to busy me and to pretend I never had any feelings to sort through. To drown me in “prophecies” about my future husband, who (surprise!) happened to be the new pastor’s son. My soon-to-be brother-in-law saw fit to blame me for anything that “might happen.” It was all nothing. The second was when I finally found out who and what I am, and fell madly in love with the only person who has ever allowed me to process through that first relationship. And this relationship was banned, too. Whereas when Jim and I were through, everyone erased the past like some scenario from Orwell’s 1984, when Kelly and I were through, I was told in no uncertain terms the past should never have happened.

I long believed that I was so messed up I couldn’t relate properly to men or women. I was diseased. Well, I was dis-eased, ill at ease. I realized last night that my problem has something to do with the fact that these two defining relationships were both so horribly messed up (Kelly and I were emotionally messed up, and brought that into our relationship) but not only internally. I was never allowed by those all-important family members to have had either relationship. I don’t know, yet, exactly how this figures in, but last night, when trying to figure out what in the past so messed me up, thinking about my family’s—and my closest, most respected friends’—response to these two relationships welled me up.

And I think about how easily I give up on potential relationships now. I won’t pursue. Why not? Because I so deeply accepted the gender role I was inculcated to embrace. I was the one daughter in my family who did—ironically, because I’m gay. My straight (and homophobic) sister was out playing with all the guys and doing what no “good Pentecostal girl” would ever imagine. My bi sister the same. But it was so easy for me to keep it all Platonic. And when I was so carefully being “ex-gay”, the Platonic pattern was an easy fallback in my female relationships, too.

So here I am, leaning hard on my forty-first birthday, and wondering what in the heck it will take to develop a confidence to let myself risk hurt again. Because only in that risk will I find relationship again. I’ve played it safe, been the “good girl” for twenty years. And I have to say, I’ve no clue how to be otherwise. And no courage to try.

And it all boils down to the same thing. I have a strong front. I am an intelligent, witty, and thoughtful woman. I write well. I think hard. And I’ve learned, following my parents’ advice, to show this face to the world. I’ve learned, following hard experiences, to show only this face to the world. But to quote Twila Paris, deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child. My sword is down, and I’ve been crying, lately. That’s the truth of the matter.

You see, being smart doesn’t make a person better or more capable. Just smart. So what. Who cares? Yet in this disordered universe we have this ridiculous notion that intelligence = value. And that one’s knowledge of one’s intelligence is directly proportionate to one’s sense of comparative value to others, as measured by their intelligence. So if one knows she’s smarter (or less smart) than another, then one must believe she’s better (or less) than another. Well here I stifle a strong urge to swear. (Actually, I do swear, I just don’t type it.) I suppose if one accepts the ‘intelligence = value’ notion, then the other follows. But I don’t accept that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t, given my self-assessment and consequent behavior regarding who I allow myself to be vulnerable to (practically nobody). And if I did see myself as better than others, then why in the heck would their words cut me so deeply so often so easily?

It’s ironic, actually. Tell people how you feel, and you get attacked. Don’t tell people how you feel, and you get attacked. Olga ripped me to shreds, in part, because I seemed to her invulnerable, without feelings, aloof. She was actually stunned that she hurt me, shocked that I was actually another human being, even though her attack came on the heels of my telling her my deepest, most painful story. And this emailer? S/he knows my story, my fears, my doubts, my insecurities and my intelligence, my academic goals. Believing that I’m smart and know I’m smart, s/he must have attacked me on the presumption that I think I’m all that because I know I’m smart, even though s/he knows full well my insecurities and how much the email would hurt. Why is it that people have to attack?

And it’s this bewilderment, this incomprehension of the pit bull tendency in so many people that motivates my hiding. But then, that’s just doing what others expect of me.

I let people tell me (directly or indirectly) how to live my life. Some might think this untrue—given my seeming independence in going to grad school, moving across the country despite my mother’s depressed and “you’re abandoning me” response, but honestly, this sort of thing is patently surface. I still obey unspoken mores, still worry about countless things regarding who I am. When in my 20s I used always to worry what mom would think, and act accordingly. My sister still does. But I think maybe I still do, too—only it’s gotten so deep into my psyche that I don’t voice it any more. We used to joke that mom’s stricter than God. And yet I find that I seem to be just like her this way, when it comes to me. I’m stricter than God. I have this set of rules I don’t even know what they are that I have to follow, and they have me lashed to the wall of this claustrophobic behavioral closet I can’t find the lights to or reach the door to escape from.

And thus, my academic side is both a sort of release and an escape. It’s a release insofar as I can focus on what I’m good at, where I can succeed. I can focus on black and whites (as far as philosophy can be black and white—which is why I’ve become an analytic thinker, who focuses on definitions and logical relations) instead of the endless vagaries that swirl mistily around my life. It’s an escape insofar as I can avoid my life when doing philosophy. Sometimes. Okay, maybe not so much. But certainly when doing my dissertation which is so ridiculously technical, it has nothing at all to do with my life qua interpersonal being.

So why haven’t I said much lately? I used to journal. Then my church in San Jose broke Kelly and me up, and I was told to black out or tear out all references to Kelly in my journal. The woman I loved most I had to erase from my life. And like my relationship with Jim, I found a part of myself forbidden existence. I had to pretend I wasn’t. I had to think always about what others might think, even here in my most private communications. I’ve never been able to journal freely and nakedly since. It’s all very careful. Now blogging is not journaling, nor should it be. Journaling is private, blogging is something the whole world can read. But even so, that email sliced me the same way the marks-a-lot requirement did. I have written many postings, posted few—because I’m afraid to offend, even more afraid to be attacked. Same reason I was in the closet for 20 years.

And I post this now, not because the fear is gone (I very much expect to have offended again that person who attacked me “because I care about you” by calling me arrogant and consequently an unattractive spinster), but because I can’t do this another 20 years. And if I don’t start now, when will I?

It comes down to expectations. In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo starts his journey through the kingdom of Wisdom in the land of Expectations, where the Whether Man informs him that “Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.” Time to drive on, whether or not I offend. And, in the parting words of the Whether Man to Milo, “whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way.” I suspect, this way won’t be the way others approve or even understand. And though this saddens me and will probably yet again hurt me deeply to discover whom I this time offend, I can no longer let my unhappy anticpations dictate my path.

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4 thoughts on “beyond expectations

  1. Eliz Anderson

    I am sorry to hear you were – are hurt by someone once again. Thank you for taking the courage to blog again. I have missed you. I too fight with exposing myself to miss understanding and ridicule and still express what is meaningful to me. Hugs girl.

    Reply
  2. mary

    I, too, have been accused of being too aloof. Keep on keepin’ on. I think with time, we get better at understanding why others attack and being comfortable enough with our own self to let it belong to that other person.

    Keep going!

    Reply
  3. wvhillcountry

    I am so sorry to hear that you were hurt by that person’s email. You have shown a lot of courage. I’m glad you are back. I missed you.

    Reply
  4. bridgeout

    How very sad that people don’t think before their pen, which is far mightier than a sword, cuts right through someone’s soul! I am so glad you shared this… and that you are writing again!
    Thank you also for sharing about these various books in your sidebar! I want to get “a life of unlearning”…
    Peace…
    Wendy

    Reply

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