Tag Archives: denial

Communication

Last week, my partner and I went to the movies and saw Arrival. Without giving any spoilers, I found it a stunning story about communication, among other things. It was the communication piece that really grabbed my attention, though.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking in a newly focused and intentional way about communication—what it means, how it looks, where it breaks down and how to do it well.

The truth is, I don’t want to know how to do it well. I want to know how to do it perfectly.

Another truth is I’m always thinking about communication, because I’m always working on my book, on this blog or on relationships, and they all involve communication. My partner says there is no relationship without communication, and I think he’s right.

As regular readers know I am wont to do, I pulled out my Random House Collegiate Dictionary to give myself a starting place. Anyone who’s used a dictionary knows there are often multiple meanings for any given word, so I made a list of the definitions I liked, cut and pasted a little, and came up with this (emphasis is mine):

Communication:

  • To give or interchange information to/with one another.
  • To express one’s true thoughts, feelings and moods easily.
  • To have or form a connecting passage.

Although I’m intellectually satisfied with this definition, it feels incomplete and inadequate. In fact, it makes me mad. If only effective communication was this easy and simple! Instead, it seems to be one of the most desperately difficult things we do, and we must communicate if we are to manage life in today’s world.

How many ways does communication break down for us in a day? Are we even aware of all the ways it breaks down? How often are we communicating something completely unintentional?

At the same time, have we ever, in the history of humankind, had so many devices and forms of communication at our disposal? Have we ever had access to so much information and so many other people?

So why aren’t we happier, more authentic, more secure and sure of our worth? Why are so many of us starving for healthy, fulfilling connection? What’s missing?

If I knew, I would fix it in my relationships, but therein lies one of the problems.

This is the part that always sneaks up and bites me in the ass.

Not everyone wants the level and quality of communication I do. Generally, I don’t take this cold little fact personally, but among my nearest and dearest it does feel personal, absolutely. I feel utterly and completely rejected and shut out, in fact.

Another problem is that not everyone is capable of the level and quality of communication I am. Many people carry terrible damage or experience disability that prevents them from being able to participate in touch, in sex, in eye contact and nonverbal cues, even in conversation. I can tell you from personal experience it can be very, very difficult to sort out those who want to and are unable to from those who simply don’t want to. In the end, it doesn’t matter, it all comes to the same thing. When communication is limited, relationship is limited.

I can do more. I want to do more.

A third issue is that communication is two-edged. It’s an enormously powerful skill and ability, both constructively and destructively. We all know people who use communication as a weapon, not a tool. Sometimes, a simple, ominous clearing of the throat can be far more terrifying and damaging than a blow. Both actions are communication. Even worse are people who deploy words that say one thing and an action that says another, like the abuser who says he loves you while he hits you. This is called gaslighting, and I’ll blog about it in the future. It needs a post all its own.

A fourth point is that we don’t have enough silence in the world. Silence is the cup that holds communication. It takes time to write, to create, to speak, to hug, to make love, to nurse an infant. It takes time to nurture a friendship, a lover, a child. Sitting with the ill or dying takes time and quiet. Listening takes time and presence. Our slavery to technology and stimulation has all but eliminated uninterrupted time for our relationships with ourselves, let alone with others.

And that brings up a fifth aspect. If we don’t, won’t or can’t communicate effectively and honestly about who we are, what we need and want and the truth of our thoughts and feelings, we can’t form a connecting passage, to quote the above definition. We’re not even connected to ourselves.

As though all those things didn’t make communication a big enough hairball, we have to remember who we are. We’re human, which is to say each one of us carries stories, beliefs, expectations, memories, scars and bleeding wounds that get in our way every time we communicate, even with (especially with) those we care deeply about. We all have painful triggers. We all get hijacked. We all make assumptions, we misunderstand, deny, obfuscate, conceal. We all filter through our particular history and experience. Few of us have any training in effective communication. We can tweet or text a sentence or two, but ask us to do more and we’re at a loss. For one thing, we don’t have time to deal with it.

We also have rules about communication, individual rules, tribal rules, cultural rules. We have rules about acceptable language, rules about keeping secrets, rules about being indirect, rules about protecting others, rules about loyalty and duty, rules about privacy, rules about what we’re willing to reveal to whom, rules about who we trust and don’t.

Even the words we choose can make or break communication. Here’s an example out of my own life I’m feeling particularly resentful about at the moment.

I’m a woman, a partner, a sister, a daughter and a mother. I love wholeheartedly and I’m very clear about how important healthy relationship is to me. I know the people I love well, and I try hard to accommodate their personalities, preferences and idiosyncrasies. I’m not Miss Fixit. I’ve no investment in protecting people, and the four men in the world who I love most are unbelievably capable and intelligent adults.

When I say, “What can I do to help? “Is there anything I can do to help?” or “Is there anything I can do for you today?” I’m not implying they can’t manage their lives, dammit! I’m giving a message of love. I’m saying, “I’m here. You matter to me. I’m glad to lend you support. I’d love to collaborate/cooperate/work with you.” I’m making a connection. I’m giving what I most want. Catch me being insulted if someone asks if they can help me figure out how to run the errands, take care of work and cook a meal!

My male partner says, with great patience, that I should use the word “assist” instead of help.

Seriously???? These four idiot men, who know me better than anyone else, need me to tippy-toe with my language in order to hear a message of love and support?

Never mind. I’m over it. Figure out your own damn life, and I’ll figure out mine.

Furthermore, catch me allowing any of them to help me, even though I know that’s connecting for them. They don’t need anything from me, I don’t need anything from them.

See how that breaks down?

And half of that is about me. I’ve been taught to be indirect in my language, I’m giving others what I want myself (this never works well, because the recipient rarely understands that’s what I’m doing), I’m coming across as relentlessly mumsy-wumsy and overprotective, and I’m assuming these four men are like me and won’t ask for help if they need it, but I’m the one who can’t ask for help, and now I’ve fastened myself more firmly in that position because they won’t cooperate with me and allow me to love them, so I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of…

And so on.

My conclusion about all this is that communication among human beings is a clusterfuck. It’s confusing. It’s messy. Most of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing and many of us are not that well intentioned in the first place. We have wildly varying degrees of ability with wildly varying aspects of communication. We try to hide, we misunderstand, we make mistakes, we don’t remember accurately and we’re often terrible at listening. We want to be right, we want to be validated and agreed with and we want others to meet our needs quickly and perfectly so life feels simple and uncluttered, emotionally, at least.

I’m never going to do it perfectly, and neither is anyone else.

But hey, let me know if I can help you in any way!

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Reciprocity 3: Reality Check

When I began this blog, I made a deal with myself to stop pleasing people. http://ourdailycrime.com/letter-of-resignation/   I hope you don’t think this decision led to happily ever after. Aside from a couple of notable exceptions, I’m not making friends and influencing people among my nearest and dearest. Still, I’m determined to grow and heal, whether it pleases others or not.

Lately, though, I’m getting bored with myself. I’m bored with my one-dimensional, civilized blogging. I’m bored with living up to the most mealy-mouthed, simpering word in the English language: Nice. I’m tired of hiding my rage, my passion and myself. This blog lacks vitality. It’s too fucking nice. It’s naïve, in the way women who try too hard are naïve. Women like me.

I can do much more than nice.

So, here’s this week’s post.

Reciprocity is a fine, fancy-sounding concept, but it’s not much use in the real world. The real world is all about Fuck You.

In the real world, men own women; parents own children; addictions, technology and the media own all of us and the biggest narcissists and bullies run the world. The real world runs on the power to control other people. This is because most people can’t control themselves, so naturally they take it out on everyone else. If we’re standing too close, it doesn’t matter who we are. Don’t kid yourself. Child, parent, lover, spouse, oldest and most loyal friend—it all counts for nothing and reciprocity is NOT in the equation.

If you don’t believe this, just look at the way we treat our home, poor old weary Mother Earth. Everything we need is here. Everything is provided. What do we do? Take a crap on her and poison her and then complain because she doesn’t give us enough.

Gratitude? Dream on. Thankfulness? You must be kidding.

Reciprocity, connection, boundaries—sure, sure. But in the real world, if we rise from our sweet-smelling bed every day, brush our teeth with milk and honey, say a cheerful good morning and work as hard as we can at loving and supporting others with the hope we’ll get it back, we’re not very bright. You know what we’ll get back at the end of the day from most people?

Fuck You, that’s what.

Because we’re human. We’re not inexhaustible. We want to be loved, too. And eventually we’ll piss someone off. We’ll say the wrong thing, or we’ll be wearing the wrong color shirt, or (most unforgiveable of all) we’ll forget for a moment that we are not the priority.  That’s when it happens.

An explosion.

Unforgettable words.

A scene.

A thrown dish.

A fat lip.

Fuck You.

And it’ll be our fault, because they haven’t had their coffee yet, or they’re hung over, or they hate the job they’re about to go to, or they didn’t get laid last night, or we’re failing our job to make their world a better place. We disappoint, we have a boundary, we say no, we dare to ask for something, we fail to comply. We make them crazy and we make them treat us like a piece of shit. As far as they’re concerned, we can take our love and shove it up our ass.

And if we’re stupid enough to persist in trying to understand, trying to placate or sympathize with a bad mood or a hard experience, trying to alleviate their pain, then we really will deserve what we get, which will be another

Fuck You.

AND if we think our willingness to forgive and repair will be reciprocated by theirs, if we think taking responsibility for whatever we did wrong (even though we’re clueless about what it was) will cause them to do the same, if we excuse and minimize and tell ourselves they didn’t (couldn’t) mean what they said, then we deserve every name, every accusation, every curse and every blow we take, because we’re stupid, we’re pathetic, we’re in denial and people like that get destroyed.

What is it about “fuck you” we’re failing to understand?

But don’t listen to me, sisters. Go ahead, spread that love around. If you keep demonstrating reciprocity and everything else you want, they’ll get it. They’ll love and value themselves the way you do. They’ll love and value you and your relationship. You’ll be able to make peace, keep it glued together, avoid further catastrophe if you try hard enough.

Sure you will. Good fucking luck with that.

Women like me are in a very small cage made out of niceness. We’re constitutionally unable to do anything but be nice and try harder. We’ve been VERY well trained. We won’t make a scene. We’ll be an adult. We’ll forgive anything. We’ll never take our pain out on someone else, because we don’t want to make someone else feel the anguish we feel. We conspire to prioritize the needs of others. We don’t talk about our own despair and isolation. We don’t blame anyone outside themselves for our difficulties, we just soldier on as well as we can, feeling guilty about our stress and failure and meekly accepting blame for everyone else’s shit and if, one day, we are hurt or frustrated beyond bearing and we DO explode, well, then there’s outrage and injury! Then there are trembling lips and tears! It’s for everyone else to put a needle in their arm, or powder up their nose, or soak their lives in alcohol. It’s everyone else’s right to melt down, lose control, self-destruct, say hateful things and generally behave like 3-year-olds. Women like me are for blaming, forgiving, cleaning up the mess and taking responsibility. We are NOT recipients of forgiveness.

Reciprocity, my ass.

Yeah, reciprocity is great, if you can get it. So’s a good fuck, a great job, a loyal friend, a new Subaru and a vacation in the Bahamas. In the meantime, wake up and live in the real world. Take your finger out, pull up your socks and move on. Live or don’t live. Love or don’t love. Look for reciprocity.  It’s out there.  Some people are adult enough to participate in it.  Never let it go if you find it.  But prepare for

Fuck You.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Dancing Home

Last weekend I took my own advice and surrendered to the now of my life.  Two big, heavy wooden doors opened like wings and I came home to dance between them.

New England Barn

One of the dearest friends of my life introduced me (kicking and screaming all the way) to dance more than ten years ago.

“No,” I said, “I can’t do that.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

But she, in her infinite female wisdom, nagged and niggled and poked and prodded until at last I agreed to try it.  Once.  Just to get her to shut up about it!

So I tried it and found myself there, waiting.  I rarely missed a dance for years and years afterward.  Ours was a small group of dancers, ebbing and flowing over the years, but the core group remained remarkably the same.  Sometimes there were only two of us.  It didn’t matter.  It was a safe place, a place to be with myself in candlelight, a place to be in my body without thought, shame or responsibility.  Everything happened at dance.  We raged, we sobbed, we hurt, we lay on the floor.  We shouted and clapped, farted, belched, giggled, played, pounded on the walls and danced until we drooled.  It’s one of the few places in my life where I’ve felt I belonged.

Leaving my dance group was the most painful loss when I left my old life and came to Maine.  I knew I could never replace it, but I hoped to find another place, another group, another dance.

The farmhouse I live in is more than a hundred years old and that means the ceilings are low.  I don’t need a lot of room to dance by myself, but I do need to be able to move freely.  I did dance a couple of times the first winter and spring I was here, but I had to make myself small so I didn’t scrape the ceiling with my hands and my mind was filled with what I’d left behind.  It was so painful I didn’t want to face it again.

In Colorado we danced in a yoga studio.  It was a beautiful space—clean, high ceilinged, wood floored.  Perfect.  Our little town was safe after dark, the studio was easily accessible, it was heated, there was a bathroom available and for most of us it was less than a five minute drive to get there.

Since I’ve come to Maine I’ve searched for a local group.  I’ve talked to several women about dance.  Some have been intrigued, but they’re busy, or they have partners, or we don’t live very close together, or there’s no place to get together and do it.  You know.

Here, the nearest town is twenty minutes away in good weather.  I’m sure there are places in town we might use, but I don’t know where.  Or who.  Or how.  I’m intimidated and overwhelmed and it seems ridiculous to try to find a suitable gathering place when there’s no dance group to use it.

So I stopped trying.  Too painful.  After all, now I have a partner to hang out with in the evenings.  I told myself I’d keep thinking about it, look for openings, and eventually, maybe, be able to start another group.  Or even find one.  One day.  When we had more money.  If we moved somewhere else.  If we had a better car that could actually deal with driving on winter nights.

But this summer there’s a lot of movement and change, not all of it comfortable.  I’m learning a lot.  I’m feeling a lot.  Writing is good, and so is swimming, but dance accesses something deeper.  I’ve known for a few weeks now I need to find a way to get back into those depths for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

So I decided to quit playing games with myself and figure this out.

Naturally, an old farmhouse in Maine comes equipped with a barn.  Ours is a total of New England barn in winterfour stories, a typical New England nineteenth century barn   There’s a bat colony in the top of it and it’s an apartment house for rodents.  It’s constructed of gorgeous beams and posts, high ceilings, huge blocks of stone in the foundation.  Windows look across the tops of the trees and over the river valley, most of them without glass now.  We have six cords of hardwood stored in the garage level and miscellaneous stuff on the top two floors.  The spirit of the building is in the bottom, though, which is accessed through two huge heavy wooden doors that are permanently propped open in the back of the building.  This area is mostly underground and the stone foundation can be clearly seen.  There are old pens and animal stalls built by hand from the plentiful wood here; not boards, but logs and saplings, rough cut.  The mowed area in front of this lower floor is not visible from house, driveway or road and is surrounded by trees.

So, I built a playlist of good music, a mix of old familiar dance tunes and some new discoveries.  I swept and raked, picked up trash and got rid of some impressive spider webs.  I found an old rusty tin can, filled it with dirt and stuck incense in it.  I put on a skirt and some jewelry, found a pair of light shoes I thought would work (I’ve always danced barefoot), grabbed a yoga mat to sit in the grass and stretch on and went to see what would happen.

They were all there, my dancers.  It seemed to me I could almost reach out and touch them.  They mingled with the ghosts of animals, long dead; generations of birds, now flown from empty nests in the rafters; and the dirty lace of old cobwebs.  My feet felt clumsy and heavy in shoes and it wasn’t night, but my body remembered how to move and my brain remembered how to lie down and rest.  The music swept me up, pushed me with sharp elbows and knees, shook me by the scruff of the neck, played with me and soothed me.  I danced with my expectations, my stories, my fears and limitations and loss.  I danced with my disappointment and grief and rage.  I threw down my rigidity, refusal and denial and danced in their blood.  I danced with the joy of coming back to myself.

I danced in an old barn, in a new life, but not alone.  The past is still with me, the dancers I knew green and supple in my memory.  The pain of change is not, after all, too great to bear.  I don’t need money.  I don’t need a better car.  I don’t need anything that hasn’t been here all along.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else or anything else.  I just needed to surrender to what is now.

So this one’s for you, my dear Bobbi; for you, Jill, in all your beautiful sensitivity; for you, Rena, who taught me so much about strength, courage and being real; and for you, Pat, who brought essential balance to our group and allowed us to dance with a playful small boy.

Half a world away, you all still honor my dance with your presence.

**************

The experience of dance is a hard thing to convey to someone who’s never done it.  I’ve written extensively about it, however, in my book.  Please see ‘The Hanged Man’ page for a new excerpt.

We based our dance practice in Colorado on the work of Gabrielle Roth, and I still follow this template.  Please see my web resource page for links.  Also, here’s a wonderful piece about the power of dance:  https://godsandradicals.org/2016/08/22/in-praise-of-the-dancing-body/

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted