This Is It
I’ve heard two schools of thought when it comes to blogging.
One is that it’s necessary to be transparent, at least some of the time, in order to be real and authentic. In order to make the visitors to one’s blog feel like they’re connecting to a real person and not just someone trying to pitch their book/music/product/idea.
The other is that, really, the general public doesn’t WANT to be too exposed to one’s navel-gazing. That sometimes, it’s all just TMI, and we should aim for professionalism in order to not make the reader uncomfortable.
I’ve always felt pretty middle-of-the-road about the subject. I would never reveal grossly personal details, but at the same time, I think it’s pretty obvious when someone is reading my blog that they’re reading MY blog.
But this time is different. This time, I feel compelled to tell you a little bit more, so I’m just going to say that if you belong to the latter group, please avert your eyes. Don’t continue reading and then be annoyed that I’ve shared personal stuff, because, well, you’re READING it.
Now that you’ve been warned, I’ll continue…
On Friday my teenage son and I went to see This Is It, the documentary that includes footage from the days just prior to Michael Jackson’s death. First, I have to say that I thought it was an amazing glimpse into Michael’s life as a performer. I’ve always been a fan of his music (who DIDN’T love BAD in the 1980s?), but getting a peek into the rehearsals for the tour he was never able to begin was an unexpected joy. He didn’t look like someone who was ill or high or otherwise incapacitated, which of course, doesn’t mean he wasn’t. But I was astounded at how physically fit he was at 50-years-old and how kind and generous.
One of my favorite things about him was his approach to criticism. When giving it – to the dancers, the musicians, anybody! – he would end by saying, in a very soft voice, “With love. With love.” It took me a minute the first time he said it to understand what he was saying; “I’m sharing my thoughts with you in love, not criticism or mean-spiritedness.” Sometimes he would say it straight and serious, and others he would smile, saying, “This is with love. L-O-V-E.” I’ll never forget it, and I’m going to make a point of asking myself if the things I do and say are “with love” from now on.
In general, Michael seemed like a kind, quiet, extraordinarily gifted man. And yes, I’m aware that the movie was put together by people who cared for him and therefore, wouldn’t show anything unflattering, but that’s not the point of this blog post, so I’m not going to go there.
Mostly, the movie made me really sad that for so long, Michael was the object of ridicule. That only now, after his death, are so many people realizing what a musical treasure he was, how much talent he possessed, what he contributed to the landscape of modern music. It made me sad that we, as a society, feel the need to pull apart and destroy those who are different. That we succumb so often to fear and insecurity by tearing down the people around us who exhibit something extraordinary, because many, many extraordinary things manifest themselves as different, “weird”, quirky, eccentric.
I read a study recently about creative genius in people with Bi-Polar Disorder. In this study, eighty percent of the study group (people classified as having creative genius) met diagnostic criteria for BPD as opposed to only thirty percent in the control sample. I find it really, really interesting that it is now believed that many, many well-known, creative people suffered from BPD long before it became classified as such, including Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Wolf, John Keats, Vincent Van Gogh, Beethoven, Winston Churchill and so many more.
Until recently, people with symptoms of BPD were referred to as moody or difficult or complicated. It’s ironic, I guess, that the very qualities that may contribute to one’s extraordinary creative ability might also be the thing that makes them ill-equipped to handle the notoriety that comes along with success in high-profile fields. IThere may be more than one reason why there is such a high rate of drug abuse and suicide in the musical, writing, art, and acting communities. Many people who find themselves in these positions, really, just want to be left alone. They just happen to have extraordinary talent, but they aren’t prepared or equipped to deal with the vitriol and hostility that comes along with it. And let’s be honest – they shouldn’t have to.
Anyway, I was looking all this up because I often struggle with my own “eccentricities”. I have spent many, many years feeling apologetic for who I am, even though, on close inspection, I’m not so bad!
What I am, though, is complicated. What I am is introverted. It’s not easy for me to be in front of people, even though some of you who have seen me speak laugh off my confessions of being painfully self-conscious in a crowd because I’ve learned to hide it so well. I am a terrible everyday friend. I don’t know how to call and just chat to see how things are going. I forget birthdays, anniversaries, and job interviews. I often decline invitations to do things or go places because, truthfully, I’m very happy at home with my kids and my writing. I can take WEEKS to return an email and actually avoid answering the phone most of the time. But I’m here if you need me. If you need someone to talk to, someone to listen, advice, help of any kind, I will drop everything to give it to you. I answer every email I receive, something that gets more and more difficult with each passing day. I offer writing and publication advice to anyone who asks for it – whether they’re fifteen or fifty. I am more than happy to include other writers in my promotional activities, and I spread the word about great books every chance I get. But there are whole days and weeks when I just want to be left alone. When I don’t want to talk or visit or socialize. I don’t want to be friendly or “on” for anyone. I just want to be at home, working or watching movies with my kids. Because of this, there are VERY few people in my inner circle of friends. I’m not for everybody and everybody’s not for me. And that’s okay.
Ironically, while I handle professional stress such as deadlines EXTREMELY well, everyday stress is unusually tough for me. Worries over money, my soon-to-be ex husband, even a malfunctioning boiler, can floor me. During those times, it is nearly impossible for me to work, because my mind feels chaotic. I can’t… shut everything off long enough to work – and sometimes even sleep – which makes it really imperative that I limit those stresses in my life. One of the unexpected pleasures of getting older (I’ll be 40 this month) is, hopefully, knowing oneself a whole lot better, and I’m getting better at recognizing the situations and people who create the kind of stress for me that makes it difficult to work, sleep, and most importantly, to feel the sense of serenity that is really critical to my well-being.
I feel life’s fragility on an almost-daily basis, and this sometimes makes me afraid to do things. But I always do them, ESPECIALLY if I’m afraid, because I have a personal policy to NOT live my life in fear. But it’s hard for me. I have to push myself, sometimes force myself. I’m always glad I’ve done something once I’ve done it, but while I’m THINKING about doing it, I’m almost always paralyzed with fear. Despite this, I’ve lived in eight different states, taken tremendous risks, tried almost EVERYTHING I’ve ever wanted to try (I’m still working on that list and hope it never ends), never believed it when I’ve been told something is impossible, reinvented myself more times than I can count, and looked fear in the face over and over and over again. Maybe I’ve cowered instead of laughed, but I’ve never quit.
I can write a first draft in under two months, writing in hours-long bursts of manic, euphoric, creativity. And then I can crash and need to sleep and stay home and do nothing for long periods of time to recharge. After a big writing burst, I feel like I could sleep for a week, and then I feel guilty for feeling exhausted because, let’s face it, I’ve been sitting on my ass for X hours working on my laptop NOT running a marathon.
I’ve only recently started wondering if maybe there’s a name for the way I am. Something beyond “complicated”. Which is how I came to find myself looking up BPD and feeling almost ashamed of it. And that, my friends, is a very big problem, because BPD is a legitimate diagnosis for many, just like anxiety-disorder (which sometimes goes hand in hand with BPD), ADD, OCD, etc. Denying it, is like denying the existence of alcoholism or depression. These kinds of disorders still carry with them a tremendous stigma. It makes me admire people like Patricia Cornwell, who has openly acknowledged her BPD, even more. It’s hard and scary to cop to something so personal in the hopes that it will help someone else feel less alone.
It doesn’t matter, in many ways. I am who I am, and I’m learning to say, “This is me”. I’m learning to surround myself with the people who can accept me the way that I am. I’m learning to say that I’m sorry if my being me makes it difficult or painful or lonely for you, but it isn’t personal. It isn’t a reflection on how much you mean to me or how much I care for you. I try always to be kind. I try to be sensitive to your needs and fears and sadnesses. But I am not perfect. Like you, I am fragile and imperfect. I make mistakes – sometimes big ones. But there is one thing you can be sure of; whatever you think of me, however much you like to discuss and critique and exclaim over my failings, I worry and think and wonder about them far more than you could ever know. I’m aware of them, and I’m always working to balance the need to be who I am with the the things you – and the world – require of me. Please forgive me if I don’t always succeed and know that I will do the same for you.
Michael Jackson may not have suffered from BPD, but I think he DID suffer from his own insecurities and fears. The only difference is that his played out on the worldwide screen in front of millions of people who were far too eager to point them out, to use them for entertainment and a way to assuage their own.
And I guess that’s the take-away, at least for me. We are not so different, really. Underneath it all, we’re just trying to get along. To figure it all out. And maybe, just maybe, we could try to be forgiving of one another’s failings, to cherish the things that make us each different and mysterious and, yes, complicated.
I’m going to keep trying. Are you?