Dynamic dynamics and some reflection in the ripples.

But before I dive into all that… I wonder if I’ll ever not think about Electra Woman and Dyna Girl when I use the word “dynamic?”  (I hope not. I miss that lunchbox. And I just fell down a rabbit hole of excellent old lunchboxes, darn it!)

When C and I first met, ours was a pretty easy integration. I had room, space, and time for him, and – when he wasn’t traveling – he had the same for me. Neither of us had much in the way of social obligations, so the majority of our free time was spent together, and it just… worked. It was lovely because it all made sense.

But he has kids, he has a family, and he had a life prior to meeting me. I have family, and a long time of being on my own which meant I was accustomed to doing things my way, or my family’s way. I’d never really given much thought to how much of a challenge it might be, could be, and probably would be, to integrate families that have pre-existing dynamics that may not match up with the other. In fact, it’d be pretty miraculous if they did easily and magically align with no chafing. With two people, it’s not so hard to make adjustments and establish new family dynamics, but when there’s all that other stuff, other people, all those prior patterns and behaviors and expectations… it can get challenging, or at least feel that way.

Some years ago, I opted out of Thanksgiving with my family and went to spend it with friends in New Orleans. I missed my family the entire time. Even when we only spend a few hours together, or if someone doesn’t start cooking the turkey until 8pm, it’s YOUR family. These are the people and the customs you’re used to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had a GREAT time in New Orleans, but I often found myself preoccupied with my internal leaky faucet of comparisons: “This isn’t how it’s done. That isn’t the couch I’m used to, those aren’t the foods I’ve come to love and expect, these aren’t the people who have no problem leaving the room to go screw around on the computer or play ping-pong downstairs…” 

Comparison is the thief of joy, you know.

So, this year will the the 3rd of maybe the last 10-15 where I can remember not spending it with my family; he and I are driving to Atlanta to spend it with his parents and his kids. We figured since he gets the kids for the holiday, it would be great to all get together down there (and easier, and probably less confusing & stressful for everyone to not have a major holiday at our house just yet – especially since our dining table hasn’t shown up). I’m looking forward to it; his parents have a lovely house that is comfortable, and also large enough for everyone to spread out and keep entertained, which means we all keep our sanity, I think.

I’d be lying if I said it isn’t also just a little bittersweet to not be spending it with MY people.

But you know, things change. They’re… dynamic. Families change, relationships change, realities change, dynamics change, venues change; you’d think I’d be used to that by now, right? It’s happening at work, and in the not too distant past, it happened with friendships here, as well.

I won’t get into the family stuff too much, but suffice to say, there’s “stuff”… which is all the more reason why it’s a good and timely thing C & I are heading out of town. Things are changing with my family all over the place, and I can guarantee they won’t look the same a year from now, much less 5 or 10. Even if/when your family drives you up a damn wall bonkers, they’re still YOUR people. The devil you know, right? It’s what you’re used to.

The friendship thing took an unexpected turn some years back as a result of some “stuff” too, but ultimately, it changed like someone threw a huge rock in the pond and the ripples unsettled the status quo; the underwater critters have since resettled in their new spots after being displaced by the rock and the waves, but the slow and gentle lilt keeps it all moving around – just a little, I think, as is the nature of relationship. It’s really just part of life, and I get that, but have been paying a whole lot more attention to it all lately; maybe because it’s important to me to get it as right as I can these days.

At work, we had what’s being referred to as “workforce reduction” – we had to lay off some really good people a few weeks ago, all of whom brought not only huge talent to the agency, but huge hearts and personalities, as well. The place just doesn’t feel the same without them, so the dynamics there have shifted, both from the absence of some, and the remains of the others. It feels like something is missing; something is different. And even something as simple as one new person moving into our office suite, and another person moving across the office to a different desk… everything changes. It’s almost amazing, the ripple effect. If it weren’t so potentially disruptive, I mean.

I know I add to it with my own reticence and resistance to change. I am Bruce Lee’s greatest disappointment, because I am NOTHING like water when it comes to change, or to life happening. I’m messy, and I’m petulant, and it takes me a while to process through all the feelings I have about things. And in the midst of all those feelings, the part of a person where they’re able to pretend like everything is fine was apparently never installed for me, so you always know where you stand, and where I’m at. I worry sometimes that I should have more of a social nicety filter where I can make people feel better and not inflict my own mood on the situation… but then I’m reminded that I’m simply being authentic, and it ain’t such a bad thing.

More about that whole “making things okay for people” thing in another post.

Anyway. Pre-existing dynamics are a mofo, I tell you what. I mean, most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and observe if they aren’t yours to navigate; you can rise above and not participate, just learn. I’m grateful for that. But I’m also having to recognize every time my own upbringing, conditioning, and dynamics are showing up and preventing me from allowing for true connection. I’m having to own up to all the conflicting emotions that crop up as a result of bringing my stuff to the table, recognizing that my way isn’t necessarily the best way – it’s just a different way. I have to breathe, give space, and hold presence with how C interacts with his family, kids, ex-wife… knowing they have a lifetime of engagement, and that I am the “outsider.” Just as it would be if I had kids and an ex of my own (at least, one I had to talk to).

Some folks say blending or integrating families is simple, and we all just complicate it by thinking about it too much. I think there probably are situations and times where it would be simple and straightforward… but more often than not, you’re dealing with not just the people who show up, but all the stuff and things they carry with them (which, you could argue, is an integral part of who they are, at least at that particular moment). Memories, hopes and dreams that may not be coming to fruition anymore, expectations, resentments, behaviors…

Ghosts.

Our new dining room table only seats 6; I think we’d need a much bigger venue if we tried to hold the holiday at our home this year.

Anyway. I find it interesting to note each year when my attachment to Thanksgiving shows up. Christmas I can take or leave; I’ve gotten REALLY sensitive about gifts, people wasting money on things other people may or may not want… I’m bitter about the expectation of present exchanges on a holiday that – for me – has no other real meaning. You know? But Thanksgiving. There’s something about it that goes pretty deep, and I guess I’d do well to figure that out so I can just enjoy the time, the food, the company, and the concept of gratitude, all in my first year married to a wonderful man (and all of the goodness that comes with that – dynamics be damned or embraced).

Thanksgiving was the closest thing to a steady tradition I’ve had in a life full of moves and transition and change, so maybe that’s all there is to it. And maybe it’s time to establish our own dynamic dynamics, our own holiday traditions. Maybe that’s how it all starts over: with us.

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Making Scents of Memories.

Every morning on my way to work, I drive past a construction site, filling up with new homes on a charming, tree-lined street in the charming, tree-lined neighborhood in which I work. Construction itself isn’t so unusual, especially here in Nashville where, everywhere you turn, something old (and often lovely or historical) is being torn down to build something new – like terrible condos. *sigh*

But this isn’t a condemnation of Nashville’s ongoing destination/it-city status, nor on the seemingly thoughtless expansion efforts that are effectively pushing those of lower incomes out of town, thanks to the influx of outsiders coming from either coast with a whole lot more money to spend. I save that rant for in-person discussions (and am usually preaching to the choir anyway… have I mentioned that Chattanooga’s looking better every day?).

The point: that construction site reminds me of someone I used to know who was important to me. Still is, even though we haven’t spoken in almost 15 years. The memory of him is kept alive and well, thanks to the smell of sawdust and the sight of construction: Carhartts and sawdust at the end of every day, back then. I guess it’ll always be like that, and it’s a happy association, so I’m okay with it.

I’ve been thinking about what other sights, sounds, scents, and tastes remind me of times past, or people, or things or events, and what a neat, powerful thing that can be:

  • The smell of Froot Loops reminds me of my grandmother’s house; that old yellow kitchen with the sun streaming through the window. The sound of clocks chiming, all the china blue throughout the house, that gorgeous velvet sofa with the hand-carved wood. The old 50’s car that used real gasoline (ah, that smell) and had red leather seats. A glass bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, another filled with change for me to roll. She always had vanilla ice cream with a chocolate swirl and brownies waiting for us; always had Froot Loops for breakfast.
  • Jergen’s lotion reminds me of my mom.
  • Obsession for Men will always remind me of a dude I went to high school with back in Roswell. I was friends with his sister; he had flipped and styled hair, wore tight jeans and puffy shirts. Total swoon material back then.
  • The smell (and sight) of See’s candy lentils reminds me of my dad. It was such a brief experience, but must have been an important time for me, the one or two times we bought that candy together when I was growing up.
  • Wild onions remind me of growing up in Roswell, too. That empty field next to Scott L’s house; that creek that was so good for finding worms; red clay and white chalk; a time when it was fine for me to make my way home alone.
  • The smell of cut grass and the sight of warm sun as it dapples through the trees reminds me of happiness.
  • Falling leaves, too.
  • And the smell of a burning fire… It reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on, like a memory just out of reach, or something deeper, ingrained… eternal and otherworldly, almost. Or like something built into my bones. Never been able to figure that one out.

And then there’s the taste of things… although, only one in particular ever comes to mind: the taste of starlight mints. They remind me of riding in my step-dad’s diesel Mercedes; specifically when I’d be forced to go to church on Sundays, stuck in the car with the smell of diesel, cigarette smoke, and too much Stetson cologne.

(I won’t eat starlight mints, ever again.)

I do think I’ll write a post sometime soon listing all the songs that carry a memory with ’em, though. Even the bittersweet ones are worth remembering.

Thursday Thought(s)

Genuine… authenticity… truth… real… the real Roxanne… there are all kinds of words and phrases used to describe being, well… real. Telling the truth – your truth – and being true to yourself, I suppose. What does it mean to be genuine? To be real? Does it mean being the person you are right now, including whatever defense mechanisms and walls and behaviors you’ve built up? Does it mean being honest, even if that honesty, that truth you’re telling, changes 6 months down the road? How do you know if what you’re feeling is real and the truth, or something you’ve just talked yourself into?

And what are the barriers to being real? To being honest? To telling your truth and finding people who are trustworthy enough to hear it? Fear? Of what? What is it that prevents people from being who they really are?

Many years ago, my very favorite person at the time installed a mirror in my room. The next day, he asked if I’d used it; I told him I had, and that I loved it. But I hadn’t used it, I’d forgotten about it. I was a people-pleaser back then and wanted to make him happy. By that afternoon, though, I was eat up with the guilt for not telling the truth, so I had to call him and sell myself out. I think he laughed (good-naturedly, of course) and I felt better and that was all there was to it, aside from the learning experience I got from it; still carry that around with me – obviously.

I tell that story a lot. There have been other situations like that over the years, ones that I think illustrate an inner struggle pretty well – wanting to be one kind of person and wanting to enjoy a certain kind of reputation, but really just being someone else and eventually that REAL someone else bubbling to the surface. “Here is who I really am.” Trusting that the real you, the honest one, is good enough just as you are – even if you screw up sometimes. Or a lot. (It would probably help if I weren’t so hard on myself.)

About as long ago as the mirror incident, I knew someone who lied. All the time. About everything. Big, small, personal, inconsequential… didn’t matter, you just never knew if what was being said was the truth. They were lies about who that person was as a human being, as well as what they may or may not have had going on at the time. And that makes me wonder why, you know? Where does that come from? What gets you to the point where you feel like you have to lie about everything? I mean, I get that what I did re: the mirror was a lie, but I also get where that came from, and it was a one-off in that situation/relationship. Is the person telling all the lies all the time being real? I mean… is it possible to lie and have that lie-telling persona be who you really are? “Here is who I really am – I tell lies.” What does “real” really mean?

Anyway. It all leads me back to pondering who I really am. I suppose calling it/me a work in progress is about as good as it’s ever going to get. In keeping with that, I had another “incident” this week as I make my way through the SNAP/food stamp challenge for school (more about that in another post). I totally cheated by taking advantage of free coffee – we are strongly discouraged from taking advantage of free food during the challenge, and lose points if we go over budget. Granted, I didn’t go outside the budget, which is the main requirement of the project, but still.

True to form, I sold myself out with the class. I guess maybe that’s part of who I am, too – I do things that aren’t necessarily in keeping with who I want to be, and then I course-correct as best I can. And maybe part of that, too, is being willing to own whatever consequences come as the result of actions taken.

The little things like this are easy; it’s the big stuff where there’s some work to be done. I like to think of myself as this amazing communicator, and I’m all about encouraging that in other people, but the bigger it is, the scarier it seems, and the easier it feels to just ignore it until it (hopefully) goes away or works itself out somehow. Or, you convince yourself you’re okay with how things are, without having to speak up, until you really are. Or you think you are. See also: Paragraph 1.

“You make-believe until you can for-real.”

All I know is, I value seeing and knowing who people really are, and I do my best to present the same. I think we are our defenses as much as we are who we are when the defenses are down and the vulnerability is there instead. And we get to choose what we want to change (or if we want to change at all, I suppose). We are the sum of our experiences, we are the stories we tell, and, to quote a favorite, we are “the product of all the people that [we] ever loved.” And if that’s the case? Who I really am is pretty great. That’s the real Roxanne.

Thursday Thought(s)

Don’t look for or expect people to treat you well simply because you’re a good person. Instead, look for people who treat you well because THEY are good people.

That way, if someone doesn’t treat you well, it has nothing to do with who you are, and everything to do with who they are. The responsibility lies with them, and you should never question your own worth just because someone else is an asshole.