Tuesday, March 21, 2006

SPT {Time-2}

Poised. She keeps using that word to describe me. Poised. I hate it. Every time she utters the word it's like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. Long, immaculately manicured nails. With bright red nail polish. Poised. Screeeeeeeech! The real reason I hate the word is because she's right. I am poised. Even during the most difficult times of my life I have remained poised. I might be dying inside but no one would ever know. On the outside I am the pictured of bravery, strength, and faithfulness. I am poised. When we tackle tough issues in her office I remain stoic, unemotional, detached. I bite my lower lip. I control the shaky voice. I remain poised. And I hate that I just can't, won't, let go.

She asked why I stay so poised, who or what is keeping me frozen in this state? She asked whose opinion and reaction is dictating my stoicism. She asked who my "other" is--the other that keeps me locked in this poised position. Is it someone/something real or is it something I've created? A voice that keeps me in line but doesn't really exist. For the most part I would have to say it is fictitious. My "other" is a figment of my imagination. There isn't a literal someone that keeps me in a straight line, that keeps me in my "good girl" straight jacket. Perhaps a few reprimands in the past that I've internalized but nothing that's really tangible in the here and now. But, the more I've pondered her question, the more I've realized there are times my "other" does have a face and name--it's my grandparents. Don't get me wrong, I love them more than anything. They are my rock. They are the heart and soul of this family. But all my life I've been told to behave for their sake. Oh the secrets this family has kept from the two of them. Late night whispers over the phone all followed up with, "But don't tell M & G." Don't tell. Stay in the appearance of perfection. Stay poised. It's as if my realness wasn't acceptable. There was the message that I had to protect them from my imperfections, my choices, my rawness, my wildness, my passion, and oh yes, my "sinfulness." And so I hid it, we all hid it. We hid the truth.

I remember my mom sending my 15 year old sister on a summer vacation to Florida with my grandparents (Disney World, Epcot Center, the works) without ever telling them she was pregnant. She couldn't tell them her 15 year old daughter was pregnant. You don't tell those kinds of things to them. You hide it, as if that will somehow make it go away, make it less of a reality. And so they were always the last to know when news of this nature struck our family. Just a couple of weeks ago, when my brother noticed the tattoo on my lower back (I guess he'd missed it before now), the first words out of his mouth were, "Has M seen that?" All of life is lived with their invisible hovering presence, their watchful eyes, their moral standards. And because their moral standards are supposedly in sync with God's moral standards, and the fact that my grandfather is a minister, the line between grandparents and God can get a little muddled.

Their influence on my life has been so positive. They have taught me everything I know about love and support, compassion and service, giving and faith. And yet there is this other, this other that holds me back and keeps me poised. When I think about this other I feel angry. But, then I remember they never asked me to hide my realness. That was a choice I made and keep making. It's easy to want to blame because blaming gives me a place to put my hurt, my anger and my disappointment in myself. It gives me another option instead of owning it. It gives me an excuse to stay stuck. Blame is so much easier than change.

I don't know how I got trapped in this behavior. Did someone think they were too fragile, too "good", to handle the nasty truth? Did we decide we just couldn't bare to hurt them with our less than perfect reality? As far as I can remember they never asked for this and would probably be quite surprised to know I even feel this way. I feel insecure even bringing these thoughts and feelings to the surface. Maybe I shouldn't write this. Maybe I should go back to doing what I do so well--staying quiet, remaining poised. You see, it's even a risk to say these things outloud. It's safer for the fragile family dynamics if it all stays in the dark. I know before I publish this post I'll revise and rethink and re-evaluate many times. I'll make sure I choose my words carefully so that there will be no misunderstandings, no hurt feelings. I'll make sure I've emphasized that this is no one's fault but my own because god knows I wouldn't want anyone to think I was pointing fingers and not willing to take responsibility for my own life. That all comes with being poised.

So, is it time? Time to let go. Time to stop living with the voices of all these "others"? Is it time to slip from my poised persona and break into a billion tiny, jagged, delicate, shining pieces? Is it time? And if it is am I really ready? It's been time before but I only managed to make the tiniest of baby steps then. Maybe that's all anyone is ever required to make at any given time--baby steps. Is it time to stop living as if so many other opinions matter? Is it time to allow myself to fall apart, because falling apart really can be freeing. All those broken pieces. All that lack of confinement. All that freedom. All that space to move and breathe. All those secret wants and desires spilling into the universe. I want it to be time. Really I do.

It is time for what I can do now. And this may be all I can do until I'm stronger, braver, a little more desperate. Until it's time for more, I guess it would be wise, and kind, to accept that I may always be a little bit poised. That may be a little too ingrained in my psyche to ever really let go of. Perhaps I can befriend my poised-ness until my alter ego, the one with the fish net stockings and the Janis Joplin attitude, gets her footing a little better...until she just can't wait any longer and she whispers seductively in my ear, letting me know that yes, it's time.


Blogger liz elayne said...

I want to say so much after reading this...so very much. But I think this is what I need to share with you.
I believe that you will know when it is time. Keep listening to the whispers of your soul...and you will know.

9:55 PM  
Blogger kelly rae said...

i'm thinking that your inner janis joplin is on her way to you, to us, to the world!

10:23 PM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

I love this post. I especially love when you acknowledge "That was a choice I made and keep making. It's easy to want to blame because blaming gives me a place to put my hurt, my anger and my disappointment in myself. It gives me another option instead of owning it. It gives me an excuse to stay stuck. Blame is so much easier than change." So true...something that I'm struggling with at this time as well so thanks for finding the words. Change is a choice. And not always the easiest one to embrace.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Hey Janis! http://www.janisjoplin.net/lyrics/main.html
Are you singing the blues? We all want to be accepted for who we are. You have many beautiful colors to sing, though it is difficult to do that when the choirmaster likes ballads other than rock n roll! Do I hear you humming a new tune?

11:00 PM  
Blogger Wenda said...

I just want you to know I'm sitting here quietly in awe, watching you unwrap your gifts.

11:24 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

that must have felt
good to make
some connections
and put some things together...
and its not
about blame,
its figuring out how much
is you
and how much is nature/nurture/environment...
so well written

3:09 AM  
Anonymous wendy said...

by naming this poised 'other' you are already giving her less power. The secret keeping keeps us trapped - name away - you are more than poised, so much more.

your 'wilder' side is breaking through!

4:57 AM  
Blogger mayseek life said...

how interesting-thought provoking! I had been referred to as poised as a young girl in catholic school by the nuns...strangely enough my family life was chaotic with an alcoholic parent and being on my own alot..poised can be a facade. though it can be valuable as i ponder it now. you have again taken me on a journey of possibilities with your writing.thanks

6:15 AM  
Blogger acumamakiki said...

Soulful and heart-felt you are on a path Michelle and each time you write, each time you express the words in your heart, you heal yourself a little more. It is time.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...

In this post, you are the voice of a whole generation. Maybe even two, or three or four, generations of women.

It's such a contradiction to me, because I've always wished to be more poised. More capable of hiding my feelings.

I still do.

I see it as the ability to bluff. To control the situation, not just myself. It's a manipulative tool. Being poised.

It's putting on your poker face and winning the game.

Or, maybe it isn't. But one thing is for sure. You sometimes are blinding with all of your multi-faceted brilliance.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a thought provoking post! I agree, generations of woman have been taught to be poised, to play the good girl part. Fantastic putting what many women feel into such beautiful words.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

Very, Very Powerful for a Self Portrait Michelle...Thank you for sharing; it touches me as always.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous yolie said...

I don't think this was/is a choice for you. This is stuff that is "forced" on us and then becomes embedded and difficult to extract. What muddled little creatures we are!
I like your idea of befriending your poised self. I think making friends with our demons is probably a good way of neutralizing them. I had an idea for a book about that. Little line drawings of me and my demon having lunch or going shopping etc. Getting to know them and love them. Killing them with kindness and compassion.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Wow! Your so overpowering girl! Your words rain down like dew drops perminating the soul!

7:58 AM  
Blogger Deb R said...

Oh my. As I read this, so much of your family's story feels familiar to me. Here's to trusting that we're each on the right path and you know it's the right time when you need to.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

i think of poise as a positive much in the way that Josephine mentioned. it is a skill that i have that helps me accomplish what i need to do.

and until today, i've never even thought of it as being anything but good. now i don't know. will havee to mull that over in my mind.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

I read something once about how we must kill the other woman - the woman who is the female society expects females to be - but the idea felt so wrong to me. Even if there are parts of myself that I recognize as constructions of social norms I may not have chosen for myself, I can't always erase them without feeling as if I'm harming some part of my identity. But yes, these others aren't always helpful either. So I really like your idea about befriending your poised-ness until your alter ego, "the one with the fish net stockings and the Janis Joplin attitude, gets her footing a little better...until she just can't wait any longer and she whispers seductively in my ear, letting me know that yes, it's time." Thank you for a very very thoughtful piece of writing.

9:28 AM  
Blogger lovegreendog said...

wow, the influence of grandparent, the good girl show, i can so relate...
i can't wait for you to decide it's time for more...
blessings on your journey

11:06 AM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

this was so beautiful and so free'ing to read.

thank you, thank you for allowing us to be with you during your baby step.

i resonate with your sharings because my family is so, so similar to this. so, so similar.

janis joplin ~ you
joni mitchell ~ me

i am not sure if we'll ever truly "arrive" at a time when it all comes pouring...I think the time is now, but baby steps it will be.

bless you, beautiful soul.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

We've said this to each other often - it feels like I could easily have written this post. Isn't it hard to believe that the spirit that you have revealed day after day in your post is not revealed externally. Poise or controlled - whatever you call it, the strings are unravelling. You are acknowledging this otherness that is the true you without spite toward your grandparents. I applaud you for that. I don't know how accepting they would be, but the real you that we have seen could not be more compelling and beautiful - and fully loved and accepted by God (and I so understand confusing emotions about God with the one who represented God's presence most strongly in your life!).

12:41 PM  
Blogger Yummyteece said...

My grandfather once asked me what college i planned on attending (I was in 6th grade at the time). I told him (much to his dismay) that i wasn't sure i wanted to go to college, because i was an actress! He made it very clear to me that only women of loose reputations go into the theatre, and heaven forbid, i didn't want to be one of those.

I carried that statement with me for a very long time. I rebelled against it, choosing not only theatre... but embracing my 'loose reputation' to every extent.

Still there are days i hear that voice that says that no respectful young woman should pursue the life i live, and it gets to me.

Here's to your inner Janice Jopil and her proud 'let it all go' attitude. Here's to choosing a new and different path. Here's to being wild, and loving ourselves because of it.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Michelle Fry said...

I swear you were writing about me here. I was taught and obviously took it to heart that I needed to avoid all appearance of sinfulness or inappropriateness and man am I poised as hell. I even bite my lower lip till it's raw.

7:59 PM  
Blogger telfair said...

This was a fascinating post...you did such a great job voicing these thoughts and feelings. It's funny -- as the emotional and headstrong one in our family, the one who was always dismissed because of the "drama" of her extravagant feelings, I always wanted to be "poised!" It had a ring of strength and elegance to it.
That being said, I can totally understand the need to break out of the constrictions of family conformity -- it can be a chafing thing. A fine line between feeling held and supported, and feeling too held down. Good luck and we'll be rooting for you. I won't say to "become" Janis Joplin -- but to become your own self inside -- an unfettered, indomitable Texas girl with the soul of a Parisian.

10:56 PM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

I am startled by the similarities of our relationship regarding these fragile family dynamics. My grandfather is also a preacher. He and my grandmother are the strength, the fortress, of this family, so loving and compassionate and forgiving and just wonderful. But the secrets...the need to always "behave", to keep that persona, etc. Reading this post, I literally felt as if I might have written it myself...how deeply and authentically it touched me. Thank you so much for sharing this...perhaps reading this will spark my own courage to let go a little more and begin to reveal more of my true self.
If you ever want to talk about these issues, let me know...I'm sure we could swap some interesting stories:)

8:05 AM  
Blogger LiteraryGirl said...

I felt that way about my grandparents when they were alive. My grandpa was such a man of God and I just worried constantly about disappointing him. I'm not sure if this was self-imposed or possibly taught to me by my mother, but I was always guarded around them, not wanting to let them down. I've missed them a lot lately.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Lillie said...

Poised for flight.
Just open your wings.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Nan said...

You are the age of my daughters, but I can identify... my parents were the ones who I felt like I needed to protect all my life. When I was in my mid-40's I decided to divorce my husband of 28 years... to do this, I had to reveal my "other" to my very conservative, godly parents. Yes, I still agonized as a 40-something!!!! I was so afraid... afraid that they would be crushed? afraid they would never love me in quite the same way? afraid they would judge me? Yes, all that and more. But they surprised me. They were so incredible and so much stronger than I gave them credit for! It was my fiction that my parents wouldn't accept me. Yes, there was some awkwardness and hurt at first, but it was a very positive experience overall for us. Not the divorce per se, but the fact that I owned up to who I was and gently held on until we were all okay again. My advice? When you feel ready, try your wings :-)

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Shannon (sentimental) said...

Wow, what an entry. Beautiful!

5:43 PM  

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