Monday, June 27, 2011

Yesterday's Lessons

There are 3 types of tears: 1) the type you produce constantly in order to keep the eyes moist and free of foreign bodies, 2) reflex tears, the type that occur when a foreign body (think eyelash or onion or pepper spray) enters your eye, and 3) what they call psychic tears, the tears produced when you are emotional (sadness, anger, humiliation, joy, etc). The last type of tear has a different makeup than the others. Psychic tears apparently contain a natural pain killer for the eye, since otherwise, all that crying might cause pain or damage your sight.

Research suggests that tears might serve evolutionary purposes as well. For example, The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel concluded that emotional tears from women have been found to reduce sexual arousal in men. From an evolutionary standpoint, it suggests that crying may have been a way to drop testosterone, thus reducing aggression, and potentially stopping a male from violence that may get him killed or that may interfere with mating and perpetuating a species. This effect also seems to hold true in animals. Blind mole rats rub tears all over their bodies as a strategy to keep aggressive mole rats away.

When we're born, we lack the ability to cry psychic tears for awhile. We don't yet have the brain and nerve wiring that allows it. Thus, you see the infant or child who wails and gets red faced, but there are no tears rolling. We expect infants to cry. We allow it through toddler stages, seeing temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns as par for the course. Even teenagers are given leeway, as tears are pegged as part of adolescent angst. Moodiness and emotional outbursts are expected and depicted often. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Adult crying is a different story. people fall into different camps. The stereotype that women are emotional seems to have a backbone of truth, and there still seems to be the mindset that men should not cry.

Some are uncomfortable with seeing people cry in public, and others are cheerleaders, encouraging tears as beneficial. Essentially, they assume once you've had a good cry, you'll feel better. Crying is therapeutic.

Is it? Frankly it makes me feel weak and out of control. And I can't control it. Trying to contain tears seems akin to those people who stifle sneezing. It seems...dangerous or bad for the body.

So they roll.

Crying makes you ugly: red face and nose, puffy eyes, saline streaks on the cheeks, makeup running. Come to think of it, those researchers in Israel might want to factor ugliness into their tears-reducing-testosterone theory.

In the last few days, I've conducted my own involuntary research about crying and the reactions to it.

* Tears aren't produced while industriously cleaning the pantry down to its intricate nooks and crannies. They don't come while alphabetizing your spices and rearranging rice grains.They aren't produced while pulling weeds. But the moment you stop working, and you have a moment to think and remember, there they are, and they seem to have brought friends.

* Tears infere with speech. You may be trying to communicate your sadness to others, but they haven't a clue what you're saying and will ask you to repeat yourself because your sobbing is basically a foreign language.

* Tears make others uncomfortable. They have no idea what to do or say. When they do speak, they will inevitably say things that are not helpful. This includes but is not limited to:
- there are plenty of fish in the sea
- name calling the person who caused your tears or attacking his looks or something not
remotely related and are comments which make you fierce and defensive because you love
- they remind you to do things that aren't possible like eating and sleeping
- they compliment you and tell you how awesome you are when you feel like a piece of shit
- they check in with you and trigger more tears with the simple question, "How are you
- they tell you each day will make you better, but they do so while out at a concert with their significant other or while playing with their children
Basically, they also are speaking a foreign language, and you can neither process nor apply their suggestions.

* Animals acknowledge sadness with an abundance of love. They follow you everywhere you go. They sit on your lap more. They look up at you with wet noses and big brown eyes and a wrinkle in the brow, and you suddenly become an animal behavioralist and think they KNOW. They understand, when really they want to ensure that you'll get your ass out of bed or off the couch and feed and walk them. It's survival of the fittest, and they know, in your condition, you are not fit.

* When there is a pause in your crying, you will hit Play by reviewing the final transcript of texts. Or you will look at photos or, God help you, you will play songs all of which are sad. Black Keys and Dan Auerbach will rip your heart partially out of your chest, and then fully when you remember Him imitating Dan Auerbach and singing a particular song.

* You will cry thinking about the day you won't cry over your loss anymore because that, too, is a scary day--that limbo day when you've healed your heart sufficiently to take the risk of opening it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Audrey's Army

Audrey Hepburn once said that she was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it. I don't know the quote's context. I don't know whether she saw that as a positive or negative attribute. The word "terrible" suggests that she saw it as a flaw. And it is, especially in a world that may not provide that affection or welcome your "gift" of affection.

It seems disastrous to have an army of Audrey Hepburns out there seeking out affection and trying to strong-arm others into taking it. Hepburn said she was born that way. I buy that to a certain extent. After all, if you walk up to any hospital nursery, there will be some babies red-faced and screaming to be held, fed, changed. But you will also find the peace-faced babies fast asleep.

I believe its more nurture than nature. I believe our families establish how affectionate we'll be, how needy we'll be, how confident or insecure we'll be. Perhaps the families establish the mindset by example, or perhaps we choose to operate in polar opposites to what we witness growing up. Some have mothers who've married multiple times, and the children of those mothers decide marriage is to be avoided. Others have mothers who, beyond finding someone to conceive a child with, seem doomed to be single their entire lives. The child of that mother decides to chase love tirelessly.

Once we've left the nest and have gained independence, I would say that friends and lovers, past and present determine the extent to which we need affection or the measuring cup from which we pour (or dribble) affection on others.

We refer to those who need little and dribble out affection to others as independent. And usually we admire those people who have their emotions more in check than those who wear hearts on sleeves, those who can't keep their emotional germs to themselves.

Singer, Ani DiFranco, theorized, "People need something or someone to fasten themselves to in order to reassure themselves that they are real." I'm scared by the word, "fasten," and I'm worried about the word, "reassure." The first word carries with it the connotation of a singular action rather than a shared action. A leech fastens itself to a host, while the host would prefer leechlessness.

Then "reassure." Of course it means the person is not sure him or herself. The person has not arrived at a conclusion, is puzzled, is in the dark. I think I do what she's talking about, and that is only made clear when I am alone. When alone, I have the distinct feeling that I am ghostly, transparent, not of this world, invisible.

To be clear, that is not the opposite of independent, as some might quickly conclude. Co-dependent? No. I simply think one light shines better and brighter when another light joins it. That why we have two headlights on our car. Yes, we can see with one, but it's a clearer and safer drive with two.

Ani DiFranco talks about forming attachments so we feel real, which isn't that different from Margaret Mead, who said, "One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night."
I know every day people go about their lives alone: brushing their teeth, making their own breakfast, going to work, coming home from work, eating dinner, sleeping, shitting, masturbating, etc. Yes, it can all be done alone, and some welcome and cultivate that solitary life.

I'm not a fool. I know being alone is easier. There's certainly no drama, no sorting out of feelings, no negotiating, no examining one's own behavior, no trying to please someone, having to care about another's needs. In fact, there's barely a footprint. I don't want that. I want to care about others and celebrate their existence and let them know they matter and would be missed if gone from the world.

I don't want to be one of those people you read about on the news. You know the ones. The neighbors rarely saw the person. The person kept to herself. Then the cloying smell came, and they alerted the authorities. I don't want my life to go unnoticed by others.

Leo Buscaglia said, "We need others. We need others to love and we need to be loved by them. There is no doubt that without it, we too, like the infant left alone, would cease to grow, cease to develop, choose madness and even death."

When alone for large periods of time, I feel that--I feel stagnant, stunted. I feel like I wither. It's not that I neglect my development when alone. I read, I write, I make art. But the passion and emotion and thought process that goes into those outlets is stopped in its tracks. I want to share what I've read. I want to engage in the sort of relationships and life adventures that make me want to write. With art, I want someone who admires how hard I work, who appreciates the end product, even if he doesn't fully understand the method behind my madness, who encourages my artistic growth, and someone who is equally passionate about his own art, whatever that may be.

I can eat alone, but I love cooking for others and being cooked for. I can move my body on my own, but how sweet is it to share the air on Mica Mountain or to point out a landmark on a hike to someone else? Sexually, I can please myself, but it's the difference between a firefly and a bolt of lightening. One can accomplish the big O, but I cannot hold my hand, cannot massage my back, cannot spoon myself, cannot kiss myself 3 times before I go to sleep.

To be clear, I HAD that. And once one has that, being alone is devastating.

There are no medals of honor or commendations for wanting to be loved or giving out love. There are usually only scars and sometimes casualties. So why do it? A friend told me, "It will burn and hurt like a motherfucker, and then you will feel shitty and tinny for awhile, and then you will be okay. Hold fast." How funny is it that he could just as easily be talking about walking on hot coals or getting a tattoo or having a child, but instead he is talking about heartbreak?

Again, so why do it? Why sign on for another tour of duty? Why march purposefully through territory fraught with landmines and booby traps?

Actually, the metaphor isn't right, is it? Love isn't war. And there shouldn't be marching but spontaneity or serendipity--realizing that what you may find is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for. It happened once upon a time (a.k.a July 11, 2010). I didn't seek it out, but there it was: bright as tie dyes flapping in the summer sun. Love was unmistakeable. My world was tie dye bright for one year, and now it's not. And the Audrey in me is half-heartedly wishing she was colorblind because the absence of brightness now brings a harvest of tears, sleeplessness, and a mind mired in memories.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mona Lisa in a Different Light

I'm participating in Marion Bockelmann's annual blog swap. The challenge is "Altered Mona," which is to say that she'd like participants to create ATCs re-envisioning the work of Renaissance artists. Participants send 3 ATCs to Bockelmann in Germany by mid-July and will get 3 ATCs in return.

I worked with Botticelli, turning the rather prim woman sitting in front of a window into a streetwise, tattooed woman in front of a brick wall covered with graffiti.

Next I worked with Raphael. I replaced the pastoral scene in the original with a Route 66, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives kind of feel.

Finally, I worked with a famous reclining nude. In this case I gave her a contemporary (or maybe timeless) concern: her weight. I included an illustration from an old text, Refashion Your Figure, as well as text that suggests that extra weight makes you socially inept.