Empty Egg (or how to make your own coffee)

I have a problem with jealousy. It’s not a small problem. It’s not an idiosyncrasy or a cute quirk. It’s a looming, strangling flaw that has suffocated more relationships than I’d like to admit. Most of them, to be honest. Okay. All of them. And the ones it hasn’t killed, it’s prevented. No one wants to be new friends with an asshole.

My therapist (yes, I’m that girl. I’m starting a paragraph with “my therapist”, but come on. Look around you. Maybe more people should be doing this.) gave me a metaphor. He’s big on them and they tickle me.

This one involved brunch foods.

He really gets me.

First, we talked about coffee. The gist was that I’m an empty coffee cup. It’s my job to see that there is coffee in my cup. Not the cook’s. Not the waitress’. Mine. Others cannot be my coffee. They can be my Splenda. They can be my half and half. They can be my light soy foam. They can enhance, delight, make more aromatic and delicious. But other people cannot be the coffee. I have to be the coffee.

Next, we talked about eggs. My therapist described me as being a beautiful painted egg, artistic and engaging. But most painted eggs are hollow, the innards blown out through a tiny hole in the bottom. This makes them veneer thin and fragile. The slightest tap can shatter them. They are gorgeous. And the slightest wind will eradicate them.

That’s what happens to me. I want someone else to fill my mug.  If I encounter the slightest contrary force, I’m a mess of splinters. I’m a failed breakfast.

To get through life, I need coffee and eggs without the shell. And I need to be the one to order and make them.  I can’t let other people be my happy. I have to find or if I can’t find it, manufacture my own happy. If I can do that, fill the space with substance that sustains me, maybe I won’t be so easily broken.

Here’s the bug in that particular batter: when you are a parent, you rarely get to chase after your own fulfillment.

Now, I know that sounds awful. It sounds callous and selfish. As a parent, aren’t we told we should be filled with indescribable, ever-mounting daily joy, all the time, just because we have a child?

What if you’re not?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. With my entire soul. I love being with him. His laugh lights up my universe. When he’s not with me, it feels like my heart is bopping around the world without me. It’s crushing to go to sleep knowing he’s not in the next room.

But, the contrary is equally as strong and true.  Because I am a mother and I am committed to that job, and to raising a strong, capable, happy kid, I am usually unable to pursue my own happy.

Because simply being a mom isn’t enough to make me happy.

That’s horrible. It sounds horrible in my head and it’s horrible to see in print. But that’s what it is.

It hurt when I had to give up acting to be a mom. I resent that I can’t buy a decent camera to work on the photography I love because I have to pay for braces. And I am as bitter as that coffee I expect someone else to pour me every time I miss an opportunity to make a piece of art because I have to be at a school meeting or sit at an unending baseball practice.

And I’m not even good. It’s not as if the world is minus a master because I don’t have the time to put out another poem. But I feel it. And every time I see a friend or even my wonderful, generous partner succeed at their crafts, my own envy over takes me. I become as dark and toxic as yesterday’s espresso. It’s insufferable. I hear the words I say and I want to tear out my own tongue in disgust. That’s not me and I hate that woman. But she appears almost every day. I’m want to kill her.

The bleak reality is that there’s no good fix. I won’t spend less time and effort on my son. And I can’t put any more time into me. Therefore, I will continue to fall into deep caverns of rage, sadness and fuming jealousy.

And I know these are uptown problems. I can’t begin to even pretend I know what actual struggle is. If I was faced with the horrors people across this world are dealing with, I’d crumble. I’m not brave. I’m silly and vain and weak. I’m the woman Ruth Bader Ginsburg orders for brunch and spits out into her perfect napkin because goddesses like her don’t have time for slimy, fatty  omelets like me.

So, here with the computer and the silly words it is. Putting something out. Trying not to fall apart. Egg in the pan. Shells in the compost. Coffee in the cup. Trying  to add some light to the darkest  brew. I have to make my own coffee. Somehow find a way. I have to fill my egg with something. Because I don’t want to be a shell. I want to hold a life. Mine.

 

 

Alyssa Herron is a mom and author. The caliber of either is up for debate. Her new novel is available at Amazon.

 

Sitting Out

 

Sitting Out

Hello, Friend

I see you’ve come around again.

Was beginning to wonder if you

hadn’t forgotten your way here.

 

But I knew you’d remember.

I remember.

That time in fifth grade, when we first met,

when I wrapped you around my waist,

tight and knotted.

Because I was afraid I’d forget.

To hold in, to hide,

to stay the way I was,

when I was small and good.

And I remember when that boy,

the nice one,

wanted to steal his dad’s car

just to try and help.

He didn’t.

He couldn’t.

I remember.

Trying to jump off the chair.

Trying to hide them beneath my socks.

Trying to hide, and then hurry.

Trying to hide within a story,

because you can’t tell that tale

the first time,

if you ever want there to be a second.

All it took was a second.

Trying to fit into a box that wouldn’t have me.

Letting people fit inside that didn’t really want me.

 

I remember trying.

I remember fighting.

I remember giving up.

 

It’s easy when you’re here, friend.

We know each other.

Our cells know the steps of the dance

and we move together,

without needing music.

Because we’ve rounded this room together

for a long time.

And I don’t know how to move

without you.

 

But I wish I could.

 

Because you’re not good, friend.

You’re not a good partner in this

collapse of two.

Because only one of us ever falls.

 

You’re possessive and clawing,

You take over my soul and I can’t breathe.

When you fill my head with your thoughts

of not good enough,

of she’s better,

of he doesn’t love you,

of you should just give up,

 

I can’t hear the music

and despite rehearsal

I can’t remember the steps.

 

I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

The spotlight is blinding.

 

I’ve lost so many days with you.

Lost people.

Lost myself.

 

And every time you leave,

the sun comes back,

I say, no, not again.

Because the gloaming

might be dark and cold

but it’s honest; and at least

it puts the shadows where you can see them.

But when you knock, you bring a

a flare of bright and heat.

So hot it chills.

So cold,

I answer,

swept into your arms again.

Sweating in an icy room,

being asked if I have a fever.

 

Because I know these false-caring arms,

I know they are not arms that hold,

to return life.

But ones that suffocate, to bring

Stopped breath.

And then

nothing.

 

So yes, hello Friend.

I see you’ve come around again.

I hear the music coming from behind you,

and I see you holding out your hand,

asking for another turn,

around our wooden floor.

nicked with heel marks,

worn smooth from years

of spins and shuffles and falls.

 

I’m turning off the sound,

even though it’s still rattling in my brain.

Probably always will.

And my feet will tap

to the ghost tunes of

the waltzes I can’t forget,

that left me gasping,

tired,

and bleeding.

 

But I can’t let you in.

I’m not dancing tonight.

 

I’m standing,

arm across the threshold,

giving myself a chance

to stand.

For me.

With me.

Willing to say goodbye.

For a chance at

an awkward, unsteady,

but real

hello.

 

To a life without you,

Friend,

For a life with me.

 

(Taking a break from the novel to consider my next work of a poetry collection. Stay tuned. And of course, the book Drowning Above Water still lives at Amazon.)

 

If You Can

Photo credit: C.K.

Let me know when you get home-

if you can.

I’d like to leave by 5 so get here by 4-

if you can.

It’s cold out here. Grab my sweatshirt from the chair-

if you can.

Just hold me again-

if you can.

Maybe can is too much.

Always asking for one or another
and then qualifying…

if you can.

And you don’t even hear it.

Of course they can-

can call and come and grab,

if they want.

Maybe they don’t want.                                                                                                         Maybe they can’t.
Maybe they’re tired ,
of calling and coming and grabbing
because you ask for it all the time,
expect it every time,
and never consider,                                                                                                                              for a time,

if they want.

Maybe that’s why-

why this whole tangle started,

opposite us at opposite ends of it,

the bite and the working ends of the rope,

knotting, twisting,
getting farther apart
with the same length of thread between us.

Because
if you can,
they can.

But You wouldn’t.
You don’t want to
You won’t ever want to.

But that doesn’t matter
because if you can,
they can.

Even if you don’t want,
they want,

and you not wanting,                                                                                                                   doesn’t make them want less.

Neither has anything                                                                                                                                 to do with can.

The converse, it has only to do with want.

Maybe doing so many cans
makes their want
that much more acute,
makes the want so much brighter and sharper,
and makes it ache so throbbing
and incessant that it veers from

can…

to want…

to need;

that space to
see and feel that

they can
so they will.

And you did.
You made it through
like I made it through
that messy war we made together.

Then you found it,
the real it,
not that make-believe
shit we heard about.

And I love that for you ,                                                                                                                    not you for that,
but there is still                                                                                                                                something that
is  loved
together,
which is irreplaceable
even if means crying
a lot
and smiling
a little.

We can do both.

But I do want.
This.
Don’t need.
Want.

And I’ll be here.
If you want, or don’t want,

Want, if you do.

Need, if you must.

And please stay-

if you can.

 

 

 

(Answer) Before (Listen)

Read between the lines. Listen then answer.

Empty glasses. Empty words. Empty night.         Empty answer.  Empty listen.  

(ANSWER)

Why are you helping me?

Seriously. Put that down.

I didn’t ask you to…

Why? No one just “wants” to do laundry for someone.

Did you do something?
Something bad?  Jesus. Is it really bad? Am I going to be pissed?

No, I’m fine, okay? Why are you..are you just trying to distract me?

Nothing. I’m just tired.

Whatever.

So, we’re not going to talk about it?  That’s the answer?

I said that two days ago.

You could talk to me.

Don’t hurt yourself.

This isn’t what you what.

I’m not what you want.

Look at me.

Right. Cause I want to do this. That it?
I want to put everyone through this shit?                                                                                I wish you’d listen.

It’s so hard.

God, just, stop. Stop saying it’s fine. Stop telling me I’m okay.
I’m not. Obviously I’m a mess. I see. I get it. Obviously I’m not okay.

No. I’m sorry. It’s just… It’s just a really bad day.
I know you do…um…I guess. Get me noodles. 7 1/2 heat. No five. No. Yeah. 7 1/2…
I’m going upstairs. Just…just put mine away if I’m asleep.

(LISTEN)

I’m just doing laundry. It’s no big-

It’s fine. I’m almost done.

I know you didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to help.

Well, no, I didn’t want to do laundry, I’m not weird. I just thought-

What? No, I didn’t do anything. Ok, I smoked today.
I’m sorry. I know you don’t like it, but I grabbed lunch with Mark.
It was one.
Am I missing something? Are you okay?

No, I’m not trying anything. What happened today?

See? Just sit down. Don’t worry about it. We’ll order some pad thai.

Ok. How am I supposed to know?

You said you didn’t want to.

I can’t read your mind. I want to listen. Talk. Answer.  I’m listening.

What have I been doing? I’m trying. I’ve been trying.

I don’t need to.

Of course I want this.

Why would you say that?

I am. Please stop.

It’s me. We don’t have to.
You don’t have to with me.

I know, baby. You’re okay.

I’m sorry.
It….,no. It’s not okay.
I know you’re not okay. It’s not your fault. And I get it.
I don’t have an answer. But I’ll listen.  I want to help.

Ok. I’ll be down here.

(answer)

Dating the Talent

I was actually serious with this.

I was actually serious with this.


I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown when I read her introduction to ‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer. Ms. Brown is a researcher-storyteller who focuses on shame and our inability to connect. Ms. Palmer is a rock musician who lives her life asking and giving and being vulnerable in a way I never could. The theses of both these writers compliment each other and I wanted to learn more.

In a completely unrelated event, with him not privy to any of this information, my boyfriend sent me a link to Brené Brown’s TED talk about the power of vulnerability. We’re on the same page that way.

There’s one important page in our book, however, on which we are on different pages. Different chapters. Nearly different stories.

I have shame. I have vulnerability. I have inability to connect.

And I have no talent. He has it by swollen handfuls. 

At least, these are all things my head tells me. Granted, my head can be a right brutal bastard. Others might not say so about me. They might have nice works and compliments and proof to the contrary. But for me, today, behind the computer, fighting the words, I have no talent.

But if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it. I can’t sing. Or play any instrument. I can’t paint or draw. Truly. My worst grade my freshman year of high school was in art. You can see why. And aside from doing,  I can’t speak about art or history or art history. I don’t know photographers or understand lighting design concepts.

That’s hard medicine to choke down, no matter how much honey you add to the spoon or how strong a chaser that follows it.

I hate not being talented. That’s obvious to the point of hyperbole. But I really, really hate it because I really, really want it. Again, giant obvious.  We all want talent. To be good at something. To be sought after and seen. To feel contributory and valued.

I love creativity and artistry. I will flock to it and stare. I will flirt with it as much as my social anxiety allows. I once gawked and had absurd and inappropriate romantic thoughts about a dossier at the Corcorn Gallery of Art in D.C, not because of anything he looked like or who he was as a person, but because he spoke with nerd-zeal compassion and authority on Stanley Kubrick’s use of facial distortion as a societal commentary in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Entrancing.

The gripping attraction is  because I want to be physically near it.  Feel it. Pretend as much as I  wish with my green-tinged little heart that I had it. Not just faking it. Real goods. The talent that takes up space and air as much as another body in the booth next to you. Maybe I just want some of its skin flakes to entangle with me so give me a bit of something. Because up close, seeing how it’s made, makes it even more beautiful.

My lovely boy is talented. Extremely talented. A photographer. A writer of poems and novels and maker of worlds. A painter. A musician and crafter of songs.  He might say I exaggerate. I care about him, so maybe. But maybe not. I don’t have the goods to participate in the art so I try to facilitate. I buy booze. I make food.  I try to help think of the right verb that means ‘to ask strongly’ but isn’t the word ‘ask strongly’. I provide space and distance and understanding. Well, I always provide space and the sundries to allow creation. It’s as close as I get to artistry some days. To my own disappointment, I have struggled with distance and understanding. With enough conversation and openness from him and more trust by me,  I’m getting it. Getting better at being his audience, listener, problem-tinkering lab assistant. But part of me will  still always selfishly wish it was me as creator. 

Maybe I’m just hard on myself. Not appreciating the work I do accomplish in my possible world. 

Why does it bother me?  Why am I not just immediately thrilled when he reaches a watershed word count or does gorgeous shading work on a charcoal portrait? Is is simple jealousy? Why do I immediately reverse and compare that to myself, with strong and hard criticism. Yelling in my mind that I’m not the one writing. I’m always so humbled and thankful that he shares his work with me. That he thinks enough of me and my instincts and opinions to let me have the first look. Because I want to connect. And I love that he makes himself vulnerable to my gaze and giving me permission for deeper dissection. But so often I’m too busy listening to my own thoughts belittling me and my attempts that I can’t give the time and focus that his work deserves. It’s gorgeous work and I am so thankful he brings me into his fantastical worlds and lets me play.

But in real life, why aren’t I  enough? I’m crazy about this man. Why do I feel like if I’m not keeping up with his every creative beat that it’s not enough? It’s not him saying it. He has read my pieces and sat through my plays and offered not only commentary but heaped praise. Not generic lauding. Thoughtful, honest verbal applause when and where it was deserved. It’s an incredible feeling. To have someone you care about, in turn, care about what you love and what you do. Maybe time to do the same, consistently, intentionally, sincerely for him. Less grousing in my anxious brain about how everyone is better than me, especially the unafraid writer in front of me asking me to listen. How about I shut up and get to work. Stopping lamenting how some of my life choices prevent me from writing and use what I do have.  Actually get better at what I love, instead of wishing I could do what he does.  Keep pushing to  give him, and me,  things to look at, not because I want to prove or compete or to silence an inner doubter, but because I just love it. And I want to share that excited ‘look-what-I-did’ with him.

This is my new, big want. Not just to be a better artist, or any artist for that matter. But to be better at trusting. Trusting that being someone’s first, constant audience is necessary art work. That listening and supporting is a vital gift that I can give. Something I can be good at, even if it means being vulnerable or ashamed of my own lack of work or my perception of its lack of quality. That being genuinely proud and excited for his success can only make him and me and us better. I need to work at being a better artist. Always. But right now, I want to work on being better backstage, taking care of the talent.  Because doing that, also takes care of me.

 (Addendum: He read this last night, while I read the latest chapter of his novel. He liked what I wrote and also disagreed with bits.  He told me I’m talented. He  told me some of what I think is bullshit. He reminded me of what I am and what I can do. We talked and listened and shared and,  for a moment, he was dating the talent. Then he told the talent to put her phone down and go to bed. )


Fat Fucking Red Lines


It’s really hard to take criticism. I get that. 

Once during a writing class in college, I eagerly submitted my first fumbling screenplay attempt to my professor. She was a fantastic playwright and I wanted her to love it. I wanted her to love me. 

She didn’t. 

She thought it was fine. Then she told me it wasn’t a screenplay. It was more a stage play. And that I needed to lose half the dialogue. 

Gutted. Red lines all over my pages and all over my heart. The amazing writer next to me instead got the professor’s phone number and an offer to collaborate in the future. I wound up with an A in the class, but I didn’t care. I didn’t get it. 

Once after the opening night of a show, I asked my director for notes. He said he usually didn’t offer much after rehearsal ended. Then proceeded to give me paragraph after paragraph of blistering critique. My accent was wrong. My walk was wrong. My interaction on stage at a crucial, emotional moment was wrong. 

Again, gutted. I didn’t get it. 

But I fixed the problems. I learned to write better dialogue. And less of it. I learned to keep a firm hold on the characters I worked on for weeks and show them on stage despite opening night nerves. I worked. I got better. I got it. 

As hard as it can be, hearing criticisms about your work or your art is one thing. Hearing them about yourself can be earth-shattering. 

I’m not taking about cruel words or insults hurled carelessly in anger. I can let a ‘bitch’ or an ‘asshole’ from some troll roll off my back. Those words don’t have the bite. But when someone you care about, a person whose opinion you seek and respect thoughtfully says “you’re doing this thing, and it’s becoming a real deal-breaking problem”, those words crash in and leave rubble around your heart. 

New things are hard for me. I don’t pick up new concepts or skills quickly or easily. I need extra time and help and sometimes diagrams and laser pointers. 

It sucks. But I’ve adapted. I’ve learned to take notes and leave clues for myself. I allow extra time and plan for melt downs and mistakes. 

This is frustrating me and exponentially so for the bright people I am lucky to have by my side. They seem to attack a new challenge with zeal and joy. I, on the other hand, scream “I don’t get it! I’ll never get it!” and run away, tears streaming. 

It’s bullshit. And last night, I was called on it. 

I’m attempting to work on my new novella in Scrivener software. As we saw above, it’s a new thing, and I don’t get get it. At this early stage, also pretty sure, I’ll never get it. So, I fussed and pouted and danced my ass off at my own private pity party. The best kind, I feel. More snacks and booze for me. 

It was ridiculous. Stupid. Worse, it was me being willfully ignorant. Refusing to look or listen. Not considering even an attempt at understanding. Not trying for a moment to get it. 

Lame. Super, super lame. 

But the calling out wasn’t what shocked me. It was how it was done. Not yelling. Not passive-aggressive sighing or eye-rolling. Just plainly put. Honest. Stern and with genuine and deserved, not really annoyance or irritation, but more disappointment. The message was clear, not judgement, just awareness. Him reminding me, “We’ve talked about this. This is a distraction. It could become a problem. I don’t want that. I don’t think you want that. You’re smarter than this. You’re better than this. Fix it. I’ll help if you need. But, you’re better than this. So do better. You’ll get it.”

My first reaction was to fight back. Except no one was fighting me. To argue and excuse. Those aren’t the right responses either. What I needed to do, as I’m learning with my own ignorance on intersectional feminism, was to shut the fuck up and listen. No, no, no..still trying to talk. I can tell. Be quiet. And listen. 

He was right. 

So far tonight, I’ve been quiet. I’ve spent lots of time looking at videos and tutorials on the software. I still don’t get a word, but I’ll go back to it. Maybe keep trying. Maybe not. But I hope so. 

No one put the red lines on me tonight. But I still see them. Hopefully, with enough work and trying and then more of both, I can let them fade. I’ll do better. I’ll get it. 

Still There

Still there. Frozen. Willing to make it to the other side of the thaw.

I really can’t call myself a runner. Feels fake and pretentious and smacks loudly of imposter syndrome. Much like my feelings of calling myself a writer or actor. But let’s just go with all those for just a paragraph or two.

If you’re foolhardy and masochistic enough to subject yourself to long runs, there’s a point of absolute despair. At least that’s how my legs and mind have seen it. It’s before the halfway point. Still miles to go. But you can’t see the end, no matter how you crane and squint and struggle.

You have two choices. You stop from pain. Or you keep putting your feet down and make mental offering to the gods that if you keep moving, eventually, you will get there. And they’ll get their pins of flesh.

Because you really want to get there. You’ve put a few bucks on this and spent some hours and want to post a picture of the end with a smile.

You’re still there. Frozen. Stuck. No where to go but through or back and either one is a path of barbs and booby traps.

Same mindset for many things. Finishing a novel. Learning French. Pushing out a baby. With booby trap taking on a whole new meaning of pain.

Same, I suspect and am learning with fear, for the challenges of love and relationships.

The fates have gifted me with a truly lovely young man. Young. Man. Handsome man. My fantastic boy.  I smile when I think of him. Smile more when I get to see him. The best ones are the secret few only he gets to see.

Yes. The fates give. But, the fates also want you to work for what you’ve been given. They are a snarky mistress, the fates, and they do delight in peril of the mind and heart.

Something happens to my brain in the best of our times. I can not help but not just acknowledging but dwelling on the hard bubbling just below the soft, lucious days and moments.

There are things I can’t do for this young man. Not won’t. Not haven’t friend. Can’t. Laws of chemistry and physics. And that makes me think about running away. Let him have the space for the fates to bring him the one who can.

I am quiet and surly and brooding and a nightmare asshole the size of a Gatsby mansion.

And then he touches my cheek and I melt and any thought of running away  sounds ridiculous and I want to slap fully any stupid brain that would suggest such idiocy.

Sharp, prickly difficulties aside, It’s a beautiful place to be frozen. With this tremendous person who inspires and challenges and cares. And warms you until you can feel the icy edges surrendering and you believe it will someday be warm again.

So for today, I’m still here. Still there. Still learning to enjoy every second of light and heat among the cold. Deep enough and sinking deeper so that I’m afraid that if I last until the thaw, everything will flood and at least some of me will drown. But I’ll risk that. I’ll take my chances on swimming. And I won’t waste a second fretting on what the next season brings.

Because I have coats and shoes and hats for them all. And I’ve seen his closet. Maybe he does too. If not, I’ve loved the heat and the ice and the singing in the rain.