how to be seen

On the occasional blue moon throughout my childhood, our mother would appear unannounced on the door step. Possessed by a sudden wave of bashfulness, we’d stand staring out at her from the hall, with no words to draw her across the threshold. Then, grinning like a Cheshire cat, she’d break the shocked silence with a gregarious gesture and in an instant a silly excitement would sweep through the house. Regardless of how long she’d been gone, we were always devastatingly pleased to see her. After all, she was our mother.

Never one for answering uncomfortable questions, she’d coat us with her sticky charm in order to avoid having to admit how long she planned to stay. So we’d hang on her every word, for fear it was her last, and furtively cancel our plans, knowing from experience that it would be while we were away that she’d surreptitiously take her leave. Of course we couldn’t avoid school, so after a few days we’d inevitably arrive home to learn that she was gone. Flattened with disappointment, we’d grieve our loss anew. She never stayed long, but knowing that did nothing to ease the sorrow.

As a result of her sporadic and unpredictable pattern of visitation, I developed an agonizing obsession of imagining every car turning into our street was hers, and I spent my early adolescence sneaking shameful glances down the road. It was all I could do to disguise this secret longing for someone I knew would never come. The painful truth was that as hard as I tried to will her to me, she and I were never connected.

For me, our mother’s visits were both glorious and wretched. While my siblings would willingly open their hearts like well worn books to the page on which she’d last written, I would covet mine in bitter defiance. I was angry that she could come and go as she pleased while I remained here, needing her. I’d learned the hard way that like a wild wind she’d no sooner arrive than she’d be gone again, and I couldn’t bear it. So during these rare and short lasting visits I kept her at arm’s length. I thought I was protecting myself from further hurt, but regardless of how detached I appeared the pain when she left was no less raw.

Since the earliest days of my childhood I’ve struggled with feeling vulnerable. What initially stemmed from a combination of pride and self preservation with regards to my mother is now an integral part of who I am. Perceiving emotional dependence as a brand of personal betrayal, I learnt to greedily guard my weakness. Now I’m wondering whether, had I been more like my siblings, who gladly offered theirs like a gift in open palms, I might possess more peace and contentment.

On Saturday I was at my weekly writing group in the city. A broad spectrum of individuals who write for both pleasure and profession, we meet weekly to discuss what we’ve been working on, offering suggestions and constructive criticism to one another. After having completed a five minute warm up writing activity, we’d commenced moving around the table and sharing what we’d written. Before long everyone’s eyes were on me. I didn’t want to share; what if they thought I was dumb? But I choked down the foul tasting fear and the words of decline that were dancing on my tongue and I began to read my work. Against my instincts, I permitted myself to connect. It felt good.

I’m realising that if I’m ever going to experience freedom in all its brilliance, I’m going to have to allow myself to be fragile. I know I can do it; I’m courageous. I just have to let go of the fear.

I think of how my mother looked as she stood on our front step, giddy with cheerfulness. I couldn’t understand how, after twenty five months of absence, she could show up and act so exuberant. But now I recognise that performance for what it was; a facade behind which she was sheltering her own vulnerability. While standing alone on the other side of the door, a part of her must have worried whether this time she’d be turned away. And she couldn’t bear to let us see how much that would sting. For all those years, I was incensed by her superficiality, but only now do I understand what was happening behind the veil. My mother, like me, was afraid to be truly seen.

I’ll close with an offering of wisdom spoken by Brene Brown, a lady who’s spent years researching the subject of vulnerability and whose uplifting and informative presentation I have included for your pleasure. It’s worth a watch; she’s quite the funny one.

There’s another way. We need to let ourselves be seen; deeply seen, vulnerably seen. We need to love with our whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee. We need to practice gratitude and joy in moments of complete terror and to just be grateful; feeling vulnerable means we’re alive. And we need to believe we’re enough. When we work from that place, we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

 

 

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the benefits of quitting

When we were kids we delivered junk mail twice weekly; dad figured it would be an ideal way to foster in us those wholesome qualities parents want for their children; a healthy work ethic, a sense of responsibility and so on. Lured by the prospect of having a couple of bucks to spend at the school canteen, my siblings and I willing consented, however by the time the novelty had worn off, the pamphlet run had established itself as an integral part of our weekly routine. In no time, catalogue distribution had simply become something we did. No exceptions. In hindsight, I suppose distributing advertising material did teach us accountability, though more significantly, we quickly learned the fundamental rules of survival; how to dodge a well aimed rock, for instance. The strength that lies in numbers. To never take the precious hour of twilight for granted. Needless to say, being the neighbourhood catalogue kids was tough.

Unsurprisingly, to varying degrees we resented the pamphlets, and as the years progressed, my sisters and brother slowly resigned, trading rubber bands and ink stained finger tips for the bright lights and heady delights of the hospitality industry. But although I’d harped on with the best of them, enraged at having my weekends interrupted by an ever growing mountain of advertising material, I found it difficult to give the job away. So while I accepted a position at the local fast food restaurant, commenced a full time university degree and willingly agreed to a regular babysitting commitment, I was hesitant to throw in the pamphlets; I didn’t want to let anyone down. Besides, at some point over the years I’d acquired an unhealthy degree of satisfaction from the speed and precision through which I could fill a street of letterboxes with my quota of commercial garbage. After a decade’s service there was no obstacle that could break my stride. My efficiency was without equal. I pumped out that junk like nobody’s business.

Despite how much it irritated me, throughout my youth and into adulthood, I excelled at keeping busy. It’s not that I enjoyed the constant demands imposed by my numerous obligations. In fact, my tendency to continue with something despite my disinterest and discontentment was a source of constant inner turmoil. But my reluctance to disappoint and my belief that quitting was a brand of failure had me resigning my autonomy and accepting a fate for which I felt I had no control. Time and time again.

When I decided last year that I needed to walk away from my life and begin anew, I had reached breaking point. I was terribly unhappy. I felt betrayed by a society that encourages us to embrace uniformity and behave conservatively. I was terrified of challenging the status quo; I was afraid I would fail. After identifying these feelings, I saw only one solution; quit it all, so that I might finally experience the liberty of standing on a shaky limb and leaping off.

Unfortunately, rather than approaching the experience with the grace and poise implied by the afore mentioned imagery, the reality has seen me dangling shamefully from the spindly branch, willing my raw fingers to loosen their grip so that I might begin the bumpy descent. It’s been more than a little scary.

I’ve quickly come to realise that behaving unconventionally is hard. It’s also virtually synonymous with being utterly broke. In my old life I had a job which provided a reliable source of income, savings that offered constant security and the assurance that I could make the rent and pay the bills each fortnight. It’s true that I was often miserable, but no matter how bad things became, I knew I could always pep myself up with life’s little luxuries; eating out, frequenting the cinema, purchasing pretty things. Those days are officially over.

This week saw me sitting for a little over two hours at the local Centrelink office, where I successfully registered for a fortnightly allowance. While I waited, an inner dialogue ensued in which I attempted to persuade myself it’s all about perspective; a lack of personal income is all part of the adventure, a sort of levelling exercise. The sceptic in me was unconvinced. It’s true I’d come armed with a book to keep me occupied through what I’d predicted would be an arduous wait, but if I’m honest, was it really my way of informing the room that I was above all this? After all, I wasn’t your standard dole bludger; I was the intellectual variety.

The changes are certainly radical when you exchange your conventional lifestyle for a spendable income of around ten dollars a day. Once you’ve covered the weekly groceries, you’ve about thirty bucks with which to play. This week I spent the majority of that on a second hand arm chair and a little adaptor that lets you plug your modem into the old style telecom phone socket.

Yet in spite of my new found relative poverty, I’m strangely content. I may not have money, but I have a library card, a cupboard full of Mi Goreng noodles and the wondrous internet; I think I’m going to be okay. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a simple life can be both cheap and very rich.

From the vantage point of my spindly branch, I’m grappling with a new truth. Perhaps bailing doesn’t have to be the indicator of failure that I’ve always believed. I’m beginning to sense that quitting may have its benefits; not all of which require a two hour stint in a Centrelink waiting room.