First Saturday Report: September

Writing & Submitting:
As I write this, I’m waiting to hear back from The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans on the manuscript I submitted to their annual contest. I doubt the news will be good. I am a pessimist after all.

Finally broke through the climax of the new project. The rough draft of the scene is—well—rough as hell, but that’s what revisions is for. I’ve been working on this first draft for about two years or so, and I’m ready for it to be done. I’m not sure how long I’m going to let it sit before getting to the revisions. Maybe I’ll send it to some trusted readers, see where they find the really awful parts and start there. Until then, I think I’ll try some short fiction, some poems, and essay or two. A screenplay? I don’t know.

Polished up my second essay for the journal Vautrin and sent that off to Todd. I’ll need to get the next one ready soon.

My reading pace has dropped in the last few weeks. I’ve been a bit more social than normal, and it’s been taking its toll here. I’m still plodding through Rushkoff’s Team Human and although I’ve been carrying around Tate’s The Government Lake, I’ve not been reading it. I did tuck Jeanine Hathaway’s new poetry collection Long After Lauds into my bag with the best of aspirational intentions, but have only read a poem or two.

We recorded the last live show of the summer last month and that will be out soon, if I’ve not dropped it already. John Jenkinson and Cathy Dryden were our performers for what we called The Cookout Show. It was probably our largest crowd so far.

As this post goes up, I’m getting ready to start recording a new Problematic Tropes series with my friend Jenn Zukowski. This one is on Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes. I’m sure it’ll be as fun as the Problematic Badass Female tropes, and much more personal as these tropes seem, perhaps, more insidious and destructive.

Heather and I are thinking of ways to expand and monetize the podcast, even though it feels kind of anti Team Human: i.e. taking something you love to do for the love of doing it . . . and “monetizing” it. But we need gear, the use of bigger performance spaces for the live shows, and other show related things, and it’d be much easier to pay Heather for her work from a different pool of money than the one I use to feed, clothe, and house myself.

Part of being more social these days often means passively watching TV, either with someone or after hanging out with someone in order to de-jangle the brain. I’ve moved on the Deep Space 9, finally watched the last two or three episodes of Stranger Things 3, and was shown Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the first time. I still haven’t renewed my Netflix subscription even though I want to watch the new season of Glow and people tell me I need to go pack and watch all of the series Easy, and not just the episodes with my older-brother-spirit-guide Marc Maron.

My forays out to see live music fell off in August. There’s some shows coming up this month that I’m hoping to get to.

In the “keep me occupied at work while I trudge” podcast realm, I recently started listening to the 1619 podcast, which is about the first slave ship to make it to America. I’ve also picked up the Deconstruction Workers Podcast – mostly because Jenn was on there talking about the Problematic Badass Female tropes. The other shows look interesting so, I’ll put it in the loop for a while and see if it sticks.

Random Thoughts
Other people’s expectations. That’s what’s rolling around in my noggin these days. It’s not unreasonable for people to have expectations of the people around them, and of the people who are important to them. Where we get ourselves into trouble are the unreasonable and the unspoken expectations. Separately or combined—but especially combined—they tend to act like landmines in any relationship.

I was once promoted to a data entry job at a call center, given a little bit of training by a co-worker, and allowed to work the job for a month on a “probationary” status. The manager I reported to never laid out the expectations, never told me I was making errors, never had a meeting with me during my month-long probationary period to see how I was doing or if I had any questions. I thought I was doing fine, but on the last day of my probation, I was told I wasn’t meeting expectations, and that I could either go back on the call center floor or quit. When I said I would have worked to improve if I’d been told I was making errors, the manager told me that she “wasn’t a hands-on manager.” I quit that day.

My father and I struggled with both unreasonable and unspoken expectations. In situations like that, deeply intimate situations, it’s often hard to even articulate or admit to certain expectations. The sources of those expectations are often buried too deeply, too primal to even really be understood and are masked by more immediate, surface expectations. It’s taken me years of reflection, to even begin to understand what some of those things were, and it’s been almost ten years since my father died.

Ten years without the burden of all those expectations, by the way.

Before my father died, I couldn’t have devoted myself to reflecting on those deeper, mysterious expectations because we were still wrestling with more immediate and present ones. All I could do, and at the time it was only the first, early attempts, was to begin to let go of my anger at him for, well, being who he was. My father was kind, empathetic, loved bad puns and jokes, and he especially loved music. He could also be narcissistic, codependent, arrogant, and short tempered. He felt shame and self-loathing at incredibly deep levels, and I think that drove both his kindness and empathy as well as his codependency and anger. I don’t think that either of us, while he was alive, could have admitted to ourselves or each other how deeply we needed the other’s approval—but I was the child, and he was the parent and I needed him to act the part. I needed him to be a parent (not my friend, not my therapist—roles that he preferred), and he needed me to approve of him, but I couldn’t because he couldn’t be the parent I thought I needed. A classic, emotional Catch-22.

Even if we’d been able to talk ourselves to that point of understanding, it wouldn’t have helped. It wouldn’t have helped until I did the one thing I was only beginning to fumble my way to doing when he died, and that was to let go of my expectation that he act like a parent. I had to forgive him for being himself.

That’s hard. Taking someone as they are, fitting them into and around the uneven parts of ourselves, takes a lot of patience and forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you let them stomp all over you. If they do that you’re justified in pushing them away. Most people, however, aren’t psychopaths or sociopaths. Most people when they hurt us will regret it, ask for forgiveness, try not to hurt us again in that way. However, when someone we care about hurts us, especially accidentally or unintentionally, our ability to frame that moment correctly, to let go of our immediate hurt and not let our own defensiveness (our expectations of the other person and ourselves) take over and drive us to lash out, is tested. In the best of circumstances, we should be able to let that person know they’ve hurt us without being defensive and angry, or lashing out ourselves.

That old Catch-22 again. Someone hurts us, we’re hurt so we lash out and hurt them back, which hurts them and they . . . . you get the picture.

Calmly letting someone know they’ve hurt us in a way that heads off the cycle is even harder than forgiveness because we have to be aware of and attuned to our own expectations. We can’t really adjust, rejigger, or reset most of another person’s expectations. We have to understand there are different types of expectations with different sources. There are the general expectations a person has in general that come from the person’s family life—how they were raised, the relationships with their parents and siblings and, even, previous platonic and romantic relationships: things like they expect the world to be unfair and cold, or welcoming and forgiving. They expect to be treated like property because they are women, or they expect to take charge because they’re men. Then there are the expectations we have of other individuals that are based upon previous behavior by them. Think of it this way, since we’re in the computer age: it’s firmware vs. software. The firmware is made up of all the expectations our parents and our past experiences have given us. The software is written by the interaction of our separate, not fully compatible, firmware. I can’t change or upgrade your firmware, I don’t have the right “permissions.” However, I can change and upgrade my own firmware to accommodate, or adapt to the relationship (the software) being written between us.

In the case of my father, I had to rewrite my expectations of him, and then I had to learn to forgive those broken parts of him, the codependency, the anger, the neediness, the narcissism, and be aware of the fact that those things showed up as defenses when he was feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and full of self-loathing. You see, even though he had helped to write my firmware when I was a child, I was the only one who could rewrite it as an adult. If he had not died ten years ago, I wonder what kind of space my efforts would have opened up between us. By not holding his feet to the fire every time he failed to live up to my expectations of him, and finding a way to forgive him, would that have given him the space he needed to see our relationship as clearly as I was beginning to see it?

Maybe some might say that, being the parent, he should have gone first. To that, all I can say is his firmware was older and had been in place and unaltered much longer than mine was. Our lives were vastly different. My father never wandered off into Buddhism, never sat and pondered the idea of negative capability, or pondered the ideas in Japanese aesthetics like mono no aware, and a thousand other things that made me who I am – and still as imperfect and flawed as he was but in different ways.

And that leads me to another thing I’ve been thinking about: those spiky, jagged parts of my own personality. I can grind them down, make them less sharp, but they’re still going to be there. They’re still going to poke people from time to time. There are also actions I don’t perform well, things I’ve never learned how to express or articulate. Oddly enough though, I don’t need to be praised for making the effort to learn those actions, for limping my way through the motions. Sure it’s a benefit to those around me, but really it’s first a benefit to me because selfishly, it makes me a better writer if I can learn to express those inexpressible things.

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