Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Single + Happy = Superpower

Funny how lately my (very intermittent) posts are all about relationships, because today I want to talk about being single. The topic came up yesterday when I had coffee with a relatively new widow (her husband died 2 years ago) who admitted that, while she misses her husband, she’s adjusting to her new life just fine, thank you very much. Not surprisingly, she is also an artist. So she was was already accustomed to spending large amounts of time by herself.

When the subject of dating came up, we both admitted to not being interested enough to go looking for someone. “Who has the time?” she shrugged. I agreed, “If it happens naturally, organically, and it’s easy, I’m all for it. But I’m not wasting time seeking out a partner. I have too much to do!”

It’s not just that we’re busy with our creative pursuits. It’s also that we don’t feel the need for a partner.

Personally, I’ve never been one of those people who always needs to be in a relationship. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of living alone and being perfectly content. My friend remarked that this is usually something men struggle with more than women, but I don’t know.

I know A LOT of people who are miserable alone. If they’re not in a relationship, they feel like there’s a void in their life, like they’re inadequate, and they’re lonely. Worse, like there’s something wrong with them.

I look at these people probably the same way the religious look at me – wishing they could understand and feel the amazingly empowering feeling of being single and happy. It’s like a superpower.

We all know the benefits of being in partnerships. But people don’t talk about how great it can be to be single too, especially as a woman. So, here goes.

When you’re single, you are in complete control of, and need not consult anyone else about, your time, your living space, your schedule, your finances, your body, your life. You are totally autonomous. An independent state. No discussions or compromising necessary. You want to do something, you do it. You don’t want to do something, you don’t. The only person you answer to is you.

Of course, the flip side is that The Only Person You Answer to is You! Some people don’t like that kind of pressure, they want to discuss things, get input, share the responsibilities, and so on. And I get it. When you’re single, you have those discussions with friends, family, and therapists.

When you’re single, you can focus on your passions without interruption and distraction, other than those of every day life (which can be significant). This is something I think about often.

I’ve always admired relationships between artists where there seemed to be a real symbiosis, where the artists respected each other’s work, and actually made it better. The couple that comes to mind is Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne (if you haven’t watched the documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, you should – here’s a review about it).

Of course, Didion and Dunne had their issues, but their partnership seems to have been one of immense respect, a partnership of equals. They were both writers. They edited each other’s work, supported and understood each other. They gave each other the requisite space to create. They worked in different ways, but also shared a similar rhythm. They spent lots of time apart, and then came together. They could exist in the same space without speaking, and they could also have long discussions. They cherished alone time, but were also quite social and threw (apparently wonderful) parties.

If I were ever to be in a relationship again, that is the type of relationship I would want. Anything less is just a waste of time and energy.

In the meantime, I’m rocking the single life and happy! I focus my energy on taking care of myself, my dog and my house, on being a good friend and a good community member, and on being as creatively productive as possible. I spend a lot of time by myself (with my dog), but I also socialize a lot, host frequent dinners, and make a point of keeping in touch with people.

I do not feel like I’m missing anything by not being in a relationship.

I had a great love, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. But now that I’m alone, I’m good (and as any of you who have followed this blog for a while, you know that did not happen overnight).

I do not need a companion to feel loved, valued, worthy, legitimate, or safe. I make myself feel those things, and in doing so I feel more powerful, more capable, and more content than ever.

There is power in the number one.


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On Invisibility

In my last post, I mentioned feeling invisible sometimes. How and why does this happen?

To start with, I am the youngest of three in my nuclear family (five, including the siblings I didn’t grow up with). Apart from my mother and I, everyone else was a Leo: strong, bossy personalities. Being the youngest meant that I often wasn’t old enough to engage in the many serious conversations my family had concerning my mother’s precarious health, my father’s emotional abuse, my parents’ failing marriage, and so on. As a result, I grew up the kid in the room listening to the adults – a quiet observer.

Growing older, I would add my two cents when I could, but by this time a dynamic had been established that was difficult to undo. I would always be the youngest, least experienced, least knowledgeable. It’s not that my opinions or demands weren’t respected, they just didn’t carry the same weight.

On top of that, my father’s emotional abuse drummed into my young, developing mind that I should just sit there and not talk back. After all, what can a child say to a raging adult man? Not much. The few times I did try to speak up, I was shot down so forcefully to make me quake with fear. Thus developed the habit of accepting and even internalizing bad behavior.

Later in life, I would also (except for a brief period) be the unmarried, predominantly single, and childless member of my family. I don’t care what anyone says, but people who are unmarried and childless are not taken as seriously as people who are married and have children. Full stop.

It’s not surprising then that I get along with strong personality people, and that strong personality people get along with me. The problem is that, inevitably, these personality types act as if their lives, issues, and dilemmas are more important than mine, as if I’m there to simply listen, as if I’m not actually there.

I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten into my car, or entered my house, or showed up at some agreed upon meeting and just started talking about themselves, as if picking up a conversation that we were (not) just having. If they ask me how I’m doing, it’s only perfunctory, not a genuine inquiry into my well being. Because as soon as I answer, the conversation turns back to the other person.

When I do bring up my own issues it tends to feel like an imposition, and I rush through it, aware that the other person only has a finite amount of attention to spend on subjects that don’t revolve around them.

Then there are people who feel as if they can behave in any way around me – I guess they feel that comfortable. But they’re wholly unaware of how uncomfortable I am with their behavior, and of little to anything outside of themselves.

I don’t blame anyone for these situations. If anything, I blame myself.

The fact is around certain people, I revert to being a passive person who tries to avoid conflict at all costs. This doesn’t mean that I never talk about myself, or behave loudly, or make bold statements. But when faced with a stronger personality, I retreat.

When someone is loud, I am quiet. When someone continually talks about themselves, I listen. Sometimes I play a silent game where I wait to see how long it takes the other person to notice that I haven’t said one word. Believe it or not, some people just keep on talking.

I tell myself, it’s not worth saying anything because that’s just who they are, and they’re never going to change. When I have tried to set boundaries, or point out bad behavior, people usually become defensive, or they’ll say they hear me and then forget the next time we’re together. So, there’s no point in bringing it up.

Except years of not saying anything, not standing up for myself, not telling people to shut up and listen for a change, has caused a well of emotions to build up. I’m at the point now of avoiding certain people because I just can’t take it anymore, I won’t take it anymore, and I don’t have the energy to confront them.

Instead, I choose the company of people who do see me, who do listen, who do notice things and pay attention, who reciprocate, who are aware enough to have genuine conversations.

By the way, the flip side of all of this is that the ability to be silent, retreat into the background, and just listen and observe, can be a very useful skill – especially if you’re a writer. When people just go on and on, I take mental notes. I notice more than they ever will, more than I’d like to, frankly.

This is what makes me a good writer. And a good director.

And, I hope, a good friend.

This is also what I meant by using my “writing voice” more often.

I don’t know why, but I can write things that are difficult to say out loud. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and fortifies my soul. So, I will keep going.

PlHave you ever felt, or do you ever feel invisible?


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My First “Do It Yourself” Project

I distinctly remember the first time Kaz fixed something for me in my apartment when we were dating. I practically swooned. I’d always been pretty useless at fixing things. I knew how to hammer a nail, replace a lightbulb and use a screwdriver. But anything else was beyond my capability and, frankly, my interest level. My attitude was: “That’s what men are for.” Luckily, Kaz was good at stuff like that. And I was good at cooking, so we kind of balanced each other out.

Now, as a widow/woman living alone, I’m back to square one. If I need something fixed, I have to either find someone to fix it for me, or learn how to fix it myself. Hence, this story…

It all started with a dirty, weathered, falling-apart wood shelf that was leaning outside the cafe where I work PT. I don’t know what drew me to this rickety thing, except that I really needed a bookshelf, and the cafe owner said I could have this one for free. (It was such an eye sore, I was doing her a favor by getting it off her property.)

Convinced I could do something with the shelf, I brought it home and propped it up in my downstairs hallway, where it remained for the next few months. Every person that walked through my door and saw the shelf suggested I throw it out. One friend even emailed me links to shelves on sale at Target. Another suggested IKEA. No, I told the doubters. I’m going to fix it.

Except I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t even own a power drill. And time was running out. The shelf unit had to be fixed outside, and therefore before it got too cold.

In early October, I secretly started asking around for a handyman. I thought living in a rural area, finding a handyman would be easy. Not so. Besides, it felt like a cop-out. Why pay someone to do something that I really should be able to do myself?

So I turned to my brother-in-law, who renovates buildings in New York City and has a full-blown workshop in his house. He agreed to let me borrow one of his power drills… and then surprised me with a power drill tool kit for my birthday, complete with drill bits, screws and a level.

my little friend

Say hello to my little friend.

A female sculptor friend of mine taught me how to use the drill. And I was all set to go.

On a chilly November morning, I dragged the shelf unit outside, rinsed it off with a hose, and lined up my tools.

tools

Needless to say, the dog was skeptical.

ruby skeptical

The shelf was so unstable, I couldn’t even take a photo of it standing up. In order to fix it, I would have to take it apart and put it back together. I also wanted to paint it.

janky1janky2The first step was to replace all the pieces of rotted wood and remove all the rusted nails. This required using the hand saw to cut new pieces of wood, and my new drill to attach them to the slats.

The dog was still very skeptical.

skeptical from afar

Once I managed to do all of this (without sawing a finger off), I was ready to paint.

ready to paintpainted slats

After painting, I had to re-attach all those boards, once again using the drill. It took me a couple of weeks because I drill slowly, I had other things to do (like work), and it rained off and on for a week. But eventually, I managed to get all the boards attached.

six boards 15 boards up

Then it rained for another week.

Yesterday was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in a while. I woke up vowing to finish this damn shelf project. All I had to do was re-attach the other side of the shelf and touch it up with more paint. The first part proved more challenging than I anticipated. For some reason, my drill bit kept getting stuck in the wood. After a few times of that happening, and a whole lot of cursing, I put the drill aside, picked up the hammer and just nailed the thing back together.

almost there but still slanting

Once it was upright (and I’m not sure you can see in this picture), it was STILL SLANTING to the right a little, and I could move the shelf back and forth with my hand. No bueno. I quickly painted four of the extra boards I had, then drilled them into place to stabilize the whole unit (and provide a back rest for my books).

Then I re-painted . Et voila!

4 more boards

finito

Even the dog was impressed.

ruby watching in bed

A neighbor helped me bring it upstairs… and now I have a bookshelf!

Hallway before

hallway before

new hallway2

hallway now

It’s not perfect, but it’s stable and looks great in the apartment. More importantly, I built it myself and couldn’t be more proud. 🙂

Have you built something? Show me pictures of your DIY project!