Hi, I’m Alayna, and I’m a victim of bullying.

No, I’m not a teenager. I’m an independent, vivacious woman who realises high school was literally half a lifetime ago, and should have more important things to worry about than who says what and why. Also, the perpetrator of these disruptive acts isn’t a person, place, or thing, but a mindset. I’m being bullied by a way of looking at the world that too many people agree with, and for most of my adult life, I’ve suffered because of that.

I didn’t have many experiences as a little kid or an adolescent that involved bullying, either being bullied by someone, or bullying someone else. I was always fairly popular, amiable enough, and the worst things I ever had to worry about were “mean girl” rumours, the kind of nonsense I both helped create, and received. Despite living my life in one very large city or another until the time I was 27 and found myself in the suburbs, the only physical confrontation I’ve ever had with another person is when a drunk girl from my university found me at a bar, accused me of messing with her boyfriend, and punched me square in the face. I hit her with a bottle, and we all got kicked out of the bar, because nobody was going to call the cops on two suburban-looking Caucasian females with a combined body weight and stature that still doesn’t equal the average bouncer.

In fact, I don’t think I’d recognise bullying if it came up and introduced itself, because I guess I’m just the product of a slightly different generation and mindset than the world has today. I’m not very judgmental. I proudly call myself a liberal. I’m a little weird, a little unconventional, and accept everyone else is too. Granted, I might at some point say something behind your back. However, it’s never anything I wouldn’t say to your face. If someone has heard something that’s the type of remark I just wouldn’t ever make to you or in your presence, it’s a good indicator I didn’t say it. I’ve always been a “What you see is what you get” kind of person, and while I have my share of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and things about me that are just nobody’s business, I can also be very open and approachable once we’ve become friends. Sadly, I repeatedly get myself hurt by stuff that is whispered behind my back, people choosing to ostracize me, or other passive-aggressive types of behaviour.

The other day, The Guy I Am Currently Dating mentioned that some of these things I’ve dealt with—and am still dealing with—are a lot like the bullying that goes on in high school. It’s just somehow a more grown-up version. And, while I’m not really the kind of person who would ever say “Life is picking on me and it’s not fair”, I certainly do feel that way sometimes. Part of the reason I share everything with everyone, and approach conflict in a way that seems “aggressive” to some people, and make a big deal about making sure even the most minor thing has no ill-intention is that I’m remarkably thin-skinned. I don’t know how to defend myself against people who hate me, judge me, and refuse to forgive me for transgressions, or prefer to form an opinion of me at face value, or through the rumour mill. Those things all affect me more than they affect the average person, and they always have. I’ve been told I need to grow up, become less sensitive, take things less seriously, grow a thicker skin…so, like everyone, I have some well-defined defense mechanisms against being hurt. These typically include keeping people at arm’s length until I feel I can trust them, snarky remarks that are sometimes disguised as humour but have a grain of truth, and asking people if and why they have a problem with me, rather than just assuming one way or the other. I don’t excel at brushing things off or letting things go.

“Karma Is A Bitch, And Sometimes You Deserve What You Get.”

While this is true, I think there are limits. When I was 26, I went through a very tough experience in my life where all my dirty little secrets were outed and judged, courtesy of people I thought were my friends. While what happened to me is never behaviour I will understand or forgive, I’ve had to acknowledge my role in the situation. I didn’t treat my so-called “friends” any better than they treated me. I was making choices that might potentially cause hurt feelings or destroy the emotional stability of people I didn’t even know, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was largely going through life with an “I can say and do whatever I want” attitude designed not to let anyone get too close, and at the same time, enjoyed being popular and the center of a social circle.

The fallout from all my dirty laundry being aired was huge. People I didn’t really know in other cities heard gossip and stories. Some of them never met me, but hated me. Some of them never met me, but suddenly wanted to. I got kicked out of my apartment, lost almost all of my friends, and had absolutely nothing. When I entered a room, someone was whispering somewhere. I got e-mails that, more than once, made me wonder if life was even worth living. I didn’t really socialise with anyone or consider anyone a friend for three months.

Of course, life goes on, and every time you get knocked down, you rebuild. However, when you say things like that, when you say “Whatever, I’m a survivor. I’m strong.”, it implies that you’re less emotionally affected by life than you really are. I’ve been devastated, and my heart has been fractured so many times, it will probably never be capable of the kind of love and innocence I once believed in.

I had to take responsibility for my own behaviour, and realise I’d invited some of the bad karma and bullying into my life. I did, and I figured it was time to move on. Every time I felt hurt and “bullied”, I rationalised that I probably deserved it, even if not for the reasons others thought.

Statute Of Limitations

The problem is that karma may balance eventually. However, bullying like that doesn’t end. Six years have passed, and just recently, I happened to hear that someone was choosing not to be friends with me because of things they’d heard about me. Coincidentally, at the same time, I learned that someone from my past was now living in the city, socializing with some of the same people I know.

When I was 21, I made some bad life choices. I treated people badly. I treated someone badly even though I loved him immensely, and moving on from a relationship never hurt like that before, or since. I behaved in a selfish and callous way in order to survive and get what I thought I wanted and needed. I hurt people. There were consequences to all of that, including having to learn what the inside of a jail cell looked like, and that I was nowhere near as tough as I thought I was. I was just a scared girl out of her element who made some bad choices, ignoring the negative consequences to herself or anyone else.

I’ll always have to live with that year of my life that ruined everything. I could blame it on the ways in which the world hurt me, the need to survive on my own in a world that just didn’t care about me, on life not being fair…but I don’t. I admit to being young and stupid, and doing selfish, hurtful things. There were consequences. I had to accept those and live with those.

Over a decade later, I am not the same person. Who is? Who hasn’t changed and grown since their 21st birthday? Yet, there are still people who assume I am, that my past mistakes define me always and forever, and that my character is irredeemable.

The choices that I made later in my 20′s, while I regret the fallout from many of them and that I was so self-centred I forgot to feel empathy for others, or to ever really connect with others—I don’t apologise for the unconventional life path I traveled upon. And when all that unconventionality was “outed”, and I was constantly confronted and expected to feel shame, or move out of the city, or never dare to show my face in a social circle anywhere again, it seems my greatest crime was that I didn’t. I was not ashamed enough, I did not dislike myself enough, I had the audacity to keep on going with my life and rebuild.

Guess what, people? I didn’t always dislike myself. Since that period of my life, I struggle to find any semblance of self-esteem and self-acceptance in a world I believe will never understand my present, forgive my past, or want to be a part of my journey in the future. Your “bullying” tore me down more than you’ll ever know. I’m even more cautious and distrustful about letting others into my life. On my worst days, I probably see myself exactly as you see me. I just have too much pride to let you see me cry. It doesn’t mean there are wounds that just won’t heal, because every time I get there, someone shows up to re-open them.

Being “Reserved” Is Not The Same As “Betrayal”

I didn’t choose the life that most people would choose. I chose a way of life that varies between “unconventional” and “hopelessly immoral”, depending who you are. But I never asked for judgment on my life path. It shocks me when, many years later, I hear gossip and cruel words that have to do with things that were always intended to be a part of my private life. It is not my fault that others could not forgive my choices, and felt I was so worthy of judgment that my private life should become public business. In fact, I think those who chose to do that to me should be judged as harshly as they judge me. I would never open someone’s closet, let the skeletons fall out, and then circulate all the gory details for public consumption.

Doing that isn’t a minor thing. It isn’t revenge for being hurt or not liking someone. It isn’t an acceptable way of saying “People like you don’t belong in our world”. Those actions destroy lives. People have committed suicide over similar issues with gossip and scandal and ostracism. In my viewpoint, it’s one of the worst things you could ever do to someone.

Some of the rationale I’ve received is that people felt betrayed by me because I had secrets. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has a private life. The reason we’re so into melodramas like “Desperate Housewives” and reality TV shows is because, behind closed doors, most of us live lives that wouldn’t withstand public scrutiny and the harsh, unreasonable judgment that goes along with it. Ask almost every politician and his/her family.

We live in a world where “freedom of information” means everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone else, and if you’re not going to open up about that time you got arrested, the kinky sex club you went to, the affair you’re having, that time you stole something from someone, or lied to someone to get your way, or manipulated something out of greed or jealousy or ambition, you’re the kind of person who deserves to be judged…and frequently, and harshly. And for the rest of your life.

I am sorry, but there are some things I don’t feel you are entitled to know. Despite this blog, despite my openness as a person, I actually have a very private and vulnerable side few people see. I am, in many ways, more traditional than you might expect. I am, in many ways, more loving and more compassionate than you might expect. If you judged me solely via the stories you’ve heard and the notoriety my less-than-diminuitive personality has brought about, you’d likely be surprised when you got to know me as a real person, one-on-one. It is a pity that because of judgments and stories and rumours, so many people will never have the interest or the opportunity in knowing that person.

There is a point when that relentless judgment, cruelty, and ostracism will break a person, and sometimes, I think the only reason it hasn’t broken me is because I have too much pride. I am too special to be broken that easily, and I’m sorry if the world doesn’t agree. But there’s also a point where the attempts to do so becomes a form of bullying.

When The Guy I Am Currently Dating gets anonymous e-mails alluding to my past, or someone actively tries to destroy my relationships because they judge me not worthy of love, that is bullying. When The Guy I Am Currently Dating’s mother leaves me abusive telephone messages and letters telling me I’m white trash and Casey Anthony and deserve to die, that’s bullying. When some girl I don’t even know calls me fat and arrogant and a liar, that’s bullying. When someone who is supposed to be my friend tells me they’re tired of hearing me whine about being sick to others on FB, because it’s presumptuous of me to think everyone cares, that’s bullying. When the neighbour gets an attitude and goes all ghetto on me about my dog pooping on the sidewalk and refuses to back down until I clean up the entire front yard, even though my dog didn’t do it, that’s bullying. When I can’t hang out with people whose company I enjoy because their group of friends won’t tolerate my presence, that’s bullying…and particularly hurtful when I don’t even know why. But most of all, when people bring up dirt about me from five or ten years ago and share it with people they barely know, people who then refuse to give me the time of day, that’s bullying.

Have I made mistakes in my life? Sure. Did I do stupid and destructive things as a kid? Absolutely. Did I take a life path in my 20′s that was largely self-centred and something other people may not agree with? Definitely. But I’ve paid the consequences for my mistakes, I’ve gotten my own karma, I’ve had to grow up and move on.

My question is, when is it time for everyone else to do the same?

Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty decent person. I stopped hating the world, got over my self-destructive bullshit, learned to have healthy relationships with other human beings, admitted to my mistakes and took the lumps that were coming to me, and grew as a human being. So, why do I still deserve the gossip and the ostracism and the “I just don’t like you?” and the judgment from people I barely know?

I Am Not Perfect

Nope, I am not perfect. Far from it. I may be the most complex, fucked-up human being on the planet. I may also be one of the most loving, caring, empathetic, life-loving, experience-embracing people you’ll ever meet. I am overly sensitive, overly insecure, and having to be strong in the face of so much meant to tear down anything I might value about myself has taken a decade-long toll on me.

No excuses, though. I still do things I shouldn’t, say things I shouldn’t. I still could do some work on being a more tactful, amiable human being. I still could learn the world doesn’t revolve around me and there are times to keep my damn mouth shut. I still could learn that words don’t just hurt me, so I need to own what comes out of my own mouth.

I have a friend I’ve known for at least 5 years…at least, we’re social friends, and I always considered us as such. We had some good times together. Last time I saw her, I got a vibe that she didn’t much care for my presence. In fact, I felt deliberately ignored, and while most people would let that go, I’m pretty intuitive.

I mentioned it to a mutual friend, who said she’d ask if this friend was mad at me. I declined the offer, because I don’t want to be that confrontational, oversensitive person who thinks the world is always out to get her. However, it’s not paranoia if something’s really going on, and I’m usually right.

So, when I saw this friend in person, I asked her. I give her credit for being a straight-shooter who doesn’t mince words or behave passive-aggressively. So, I asked her if I did something, and if so, what it was. It turns out, I did. I had made snarky comments that weren’t appreciated, and she said it wasn’t worth being mad about, she was just over it.

During the time I’ve known her, she’s always been the type to make her own share of snarky comments, and when one of them happens to be at my expense, I put on an exaggerated sad face and ask why she’s mean to me. I’ve never taken any of it seriously, seen it as drama or passive-aggressive behavior. I thought it was just how we agreed to relate to each other. I kind of started to see it as an inside joke. I mean, when people attend your birthday parties, and you visit their house, and you amicably travel in the same social circle, you know someone isn’t really mean to you…and you assume they know your snarky comments are similarly meant to be drama-free.

As it turns out, that was not the case. She told me she never appreciated it, never thought it was funny, and was over it. I appreciated her candour, and did the right thing. I apologised for my snarky remarks, and for being unaware for literally years that they weren’t coming across the way I thought they were. What I saw as just the odd way we related, she found irritating and emotionally tiring.

I never would have known if I hadn’t bothered to ask her how she was feeling, and what changed between us. I didn’t turn the tables on her, and say, “You say snarky things, too…are they serious, or have they always been a joke?” My behaviour was not enjoyable for her to be around, and when that’s the case, you have to be an adult and own it. So, I apologised. I apologised to her husband for any unintentional rudeness he may have also picked up from me. Apologies were accepted, and life goes on.

Nobody’s perfect, and just because sometimes, you feel bullied by life and treated obnoxiously by your fellow human beings doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to be equally obnoxious, rude, or tiresome. Sometimes, people change and grow, and something that used to be funny just seems immature and a waste of time. Sometimes, how you behave isn’t as cute or endearing as you think that it is.

That’s why I ask people if something’s wrong when I perceive a change in how they’re acting around me. While that can be a little exhausting if you’re an introvert who’s chosen to date me or is a really close friend, and I firmly acknowledge that, for everyone else, it has a 90% success rate. If I sense something is up, it usually is. Where I have a problem is accepting that someone doesn’t want to tell me, or is only willing to tell others behind my back.

When I am wrong, I apologise. I don’t go through other people. I don’t gossip or send someone else to ask if you’re mad or why I don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings. I don’t create a scene. I just want to sit and talk about it, and if I owe someone an apology, they’ll get it.

It is hard for me to understand why more people don’t approach things that way. Instead, I know people who have stopped speaking to me and refuse to acknowledge my existence, and I only ever have hints of “why” through the rumour mill. And, somehow, finding things out that way catches me off-guard, makes me feel shocked and vulnerable, and truly hurts.

Nobody likes to be blindsided, and nobody likes to be judged or a popular punching bag, or topic of discussion. Especially since, when it comes down to it, nobody is perfect.

I try really hard to like who I am, and be content with that person. The last thing I want is people in my Universe who want to make it harder for me to do so. It’s tough to realise your personality and your lifestyle and your past history makes you as objectionable to many as it makes you feel loved by others.

It’s a pill I’ve been trying to swallow for 10 years, and this weekend, I still felt sad and overwhelmed by it. Perhaps human nature is just a force bigger than me, and it is always going to win, or perhaps I just live in the wrong place for me. I wonder, had I been a better person, had I followed the conventional route, made the same choices as most other people, would I be more well-liked? Would I be happier? Would I be more open, and feel less like it’s necessary to guard myself with sarcasm and one-liners, and only talk about certain pieces of my life journey? Would I be the kind of girl that Southern mothers want their sons to end up with, or would they still think me a loud, trashy bitch?

Or would I just have led a more sheltered existence that denied me the ability to look at the world and people in it a little differently than others?

I’ve been dealing with the consequences of hurting others as a stupid 21 year old for a decade. Even when the worst thing I did was choose an unconventional and wild life path, my penance was years of harsh and unforgiving judgment. I don’t consider myself strong, but I know I must be in some way, because I’ve somehow survived and never backed down.

When will I be strong enough that words don’t hurt, that whispers mean nothing, that silent judgment doesn’t affect my life? Am I lacking something everyone else naturally has, or is life just asking a little much from me?

“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” —George Eliot

NOTE: You can either read my snarky rant about positive thinking, or you can just read this awesome article that inspired it. Or you can read both, but depending on how positive you are, you may not be able to handle that.

We’ve somehow all survived the Thanksgiving holidays, and while it would be appropriate to put up the obligatory post about all the things and people I am thankful for having in my life, I’m not going to do that. I’m not an unappreciative, ungrateful kind of person. It’s just that the people in my life *know* how much I love and appreciate them. They received a text or a phone call or a Facebook message or an e-mail reminding them, and I don’t restrict this sort of “I’m just reminding you that I like you!” stuff for holidays.

I actually have a lot for which to be grateful, and the way I live my life is generally to express what I feel, in some form, most of the time. I don’t need a holiday for that. I will express my feelings in the moment, or in a moment soon after that one. You don’t have to know me very well to have figured that out.

Of course, there are also many things in my life for which I am not grateful. They are difficult, challenging, confusing, overwhelming, or just plain suck. I don’t give thanks for those things, even though I’ve been told they’re making me a better person, and being more positive would allow me to see the blessings in the things that suck.

However, I am a realist. I love the things that make me and those I care for happy, and hate the things that don’t. It’s pretty simple.

I’ve written about this topic before, but I have been defriended on social media sites, received scathing comments in response to me expressing my thoughts and feelings, have had people refuse to associate with me, followed by spending time discussing me behind my back in unflattering tones….all because I am not “positive” enough. This is especially true on Facebook, where I’ve had people write “Every time I read one of your posts, it’s complaining about something”. and “Why do you have to post all these negative personal feelings? Nobody really cares and it brings everyone down.”, and even, “Sorry you’re sick, but do you think everyone wants to hear about your problems?”

This seemingly disproportionate response to expression of feelings that are not positive and upbeat shocks me. In fact, when I used a tool to analyze my Facebook posts, it characterised about 70% of them as either “thought-provoking” or “optimistic” in tone. Overall, my Facebook page is more positive than negative, more emotional, more profound, and more concerned with social issues than most. Yet, people don’t like me because I am not positive.

I freely admit, I am snarky. I comment on the things that annoy me or suck about life with a wry sense of humour. I don’t pretend that “challenges are just triumphs in disguise!”. I think “The Secret”, and most self-help books like it, is utter crap. I don’t believe there’s a secret to happiness or to changing your life. Dream boards and visualizing what you want in order to make it happen is kind of like praying for what you want, without doing anything positive to accomplish that goal. There’s no magical formula. It’s great to understand yourself and want to improve your life, but “Closing the door to negative thoughts and people!” isn’t what’s going to get you there. In fact, most self-help and motivational seminars that encourage you to think about positive things and your life will be positive are selling you the oldest trick in the book: denial. When you plaster a smile on your face and deny that sucky things happen to you, and it’s OK to be angry, upset, pissed, and negative about them, chances are good that you’re going to see some anti-depressants in your future.

Shockingly, I’m not a terribly negative person. However, I don’t have blind faith in anything. Things don’t just “all work out in the end” because you’re a “good person”. Read a history book. Plenty of great, positive people didn’t exactly have things work out for them, and plenty of people you wouldn’t want to know have been very happy.

I’m an idealist. I see people and the world the way they could be, and am so often hurt and disappointed that’s just not the way things work out, so much of the time. I am often disappointed. I often feel let down and not valued enough by others. I am often shocked when someone is hurtful or throws something in my face, or claims to love me, yet causes me to cry. I am often looking for something greater than what I have, because I believe on an intuitive level that such a thing exists. However, I’m also realistic enough to understand that I often experience emotional chaos because I attempt to inflict my unrealistic ideals on the rest of the world, and my fellow human beings often do not operate in the same way that I do.

I am also a realist. I know the world doesn’t work the way I would like it to. The legend of Camelot has always been a story close to my heart (hence Lady Guenevere as my screen name everywhere.), for a number of reasons, but an important one is that it epitomizes the duality of my personality. Camelot fell because of human frailty. It was pre-destined to do so; yet, people never stopped believing they could make the world a better place and build something ideal. The ideals never matched up with reality, and the consequences were devastating. Yet, somehow, idealism could co-exist with a firm grasp on reality.

Things don’t always work out in the end. Things disappoint you, people let you down, you fail, bad luck knocks at your door. It doesn’t mean you should stop believing that your life will be filled with positive moments. It does mean that if you’re unprepared to acknowledge negativity and adversity because you won’t allow such ideas in your positive head space, that adversity is going to knock you flat on your ass when it’s your turn to get screwed over by “how life works”. And it will, someday, be your turn, no matter how positive you are about you and your life being charmed and perfect and full of everything you’ve ever wanted. That attitude didn’t work during the 1950′s—it led to people drinking Scotch and popping Valium on a daily basis, but hey, they were smiling— and it doesn’t work now.

Yes, whoever you are, whatever your challenges and things for which you should be grateful, there will be moments when your life just sucks. Something will happen that isn’t fair. Someone will be a petty, jealous asshole and try to tear you down. The stock market will plummet and you’ll lose half your money. A flood or an earthquake or a hurricane will come to your part of town. You or a loved one will get sick.

Inevitably, you’ll have to deal, and the “secret” to dealing is not to visualise a world where everything is so much better and trust that positive thinking means that the Universe or God or whomever is going to fix things for you. You’re going to have to know how to cope, and how to fix things yourself. I maintain that cultivating an outlook based on fake smiles, cliches, and denial in order to “focus on being a happier person” isn’t going to equip you with the survival skills you need. And one day, you are going to feel extremely negative about the fact that cliches and smiles and dream boards don’t protect you from the bad things in life, and avoiding anyone who talks about “negative” things in their life is not only unhealthy for you, it is, at the core, self-centred. “The Secret” seems to be to focus on how awesome you are so frequently that you lose patience and empathy for those who are struggling and suffering, and turn your back on those who need support because they are bringing negative energy into your world. The irony is that you are obviously struggling and in need of support, too, only you’ve found it in a book that claims to have all the answers rather than in other human beings, or deep within yourself.

I don’t argue in favour of toxic people. Toxic friendships and relationships can harm you, can hold you back, and you should like yourself enough not to tolerate them. This is not the same as saying “I don’t want to know you because you’re too negative” to someone who will discuss both positives and negatives openly.

I believe in a full range of emotion and human experience. Nowhere was it ever said that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. We’re not. Sometimes we are, and that’s great. Sometimes we’re sad or pissed off or suffer a loss or uncertain about the future, and that’s OK, too….unless we don’t have anyone in our lives with whom we can honestly share feelings because they’re all too busy searching for the elusive Holy Grail of “positivity, light, and happiness”. I would not want to live in a world where everyone was happy and bursting with self-esteem, announcing how great they found life and other people and themselves, every single day. I know some people like that, and frankly, they annoy the hell out of me. I don’t find it genuine, and the facade makes me angry. As much as people dislike me for being too “negative”, “snarky”, “jaded”, “cynical”, or “realistic”, I want to scream and shake people and say “Why can’t you just for one second behave like a real, multi-dimensional person?!”

However, that’s just me. This page is called “Jaded Elegance” for a reason, folks. You’re not going to find affirmations and self-help here. I do believe in learning about yourself, learning about others, and finding ways to cope with life that enhance the good moments and help the sucky ones suck less. I do believe in friendship, love, compassion, empathy, and tearing down the walls that people build to protect themselves from the world…but only succeed in creating falsehoods and alienation.

I don’t think that deciding to be happy made you happy. I think you lost weight because you decided to stop eating pizza and get on the treadmill. I think you found the right person after years of horrible relationships because you took the time to get to know yourself, and gained enough self-esteem to stop dating jerks and losers. I think you found your dream job because you finally had the nerve to go out and chase after it. If a book or a religion or a seminar did that for you, that’s great, but I think you’re selling yourself short. It may have inspired you to do something better with your life, but you did that for you.

And just because you made positive life changes, don’t start believing life will always be positive and peachy because you’re now one of those “positive mindset people”. Sucky things will still happen, on a regular basis. Hopefully, though, you’ve acquired the necessary tools to deal with them in a healthy way.

We don’t live in a world of happy, and all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to make it so. In fact, “Positive Thinking Is For Suckers!”, or so says this article I love.

Should people be happy? Of course. But trying to be happy, to the exclusion of focus on much else, is the same reason that those who are trying out a new diet rarely succeed. However, they become much less entertaining, telling you the calorie count of every single bite of food they eat, without losing a pound. Focusing all your energy on “being happy” is actually code for focusing all your energy on why you’re not happy now, making you a negative person in denial.

Living in the moment seems to be the best strategy, one that makes me the happiest when I can remember to employ it. Remember, we’re not promised an endless amount of them. Waiting for that day when we’re going to reach some ideal, to “be happy” means not taking advantage of a lot of days in between that could have been a lot of fun. Yes, some of those days will suck. I’d like to think the fun and memorable ones make up for it.

You can look at the glass half-full if that’s your choice, and I won’t judge that. You can bitch about the glass being half-empty all day long, and that doesn’t bother me one bit, either. As for me, I just see a glass with equal amounts of volume and empty space, and think, “Well, that’s usually how life is, isn’t it?”

On really good days, my glass is filled with a chocolate martini, garnished with a cherry. I promise, that’ll give a little boost of positive thinking to anyone. :P

In the end, it’s just life. It’s good and bad, black and white, positive and negative. But as long as you have a tomorrow, you have a chance to do it all over again. In my experience, the cherry will be there when you least expect it. However, when you demand the cherry on top, that’s the day the kitchen will be out of them.

“I had internalized messages during my youth—messages of being too big, too loud, too passionate.I had been told by my experiences that people stayed around longer if you made your needs as brief and palatable as possible, and then went about your day becoming exactly who they need you to be.

I remember the exact day when I realized that I could, instead, choose to be myself.”

—-Mara Glatzel,Medicinal Marzipan

Being yourself isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially in a world full of people who look at the concept as something that’s weird, scary, unconventional, or something worthy of shaking your head at disapproval. For a world full of people who all want to grow up to be celebrities for one reason or another, there’s a total lack of awareness of what it really means to put yourself out there. You know when you put yourself, or some public image of yourself, out for public consumption and people tear you down just for being you? Multiply that by tens of thousands, and that’s what it’s like to be a celebrity or public figure.

Being yourself requires you to be a strong person. Remember when someone told you, as a kid, “Be yourself, and everyone will like you?” Well, it took you five minutes of social interaction in the world to realise that person straight out lied to you. What they really meant you to learn is “Smile, conform, fit in, and pretend to be just the same as everyone else, and you’ll be accepted.”

Accepted, maybe. But will you stand out, make an impact, fulfill your dreams, make the most of your potential, take chances? Never. You’ll get sucked into a quiet comfort zone of acceptance and security, and as you grow older, that translates into a seemingly secure and traditional career path, a car you can’t really afford, a house, a spouse, a dog, a cat, and a few interests you mostly keep to yourself. If you’re young and single, you’ll spend your time looking flawless, making your life sound exciting and perfect, and remind the recently-Botoxed ladies sipping martinis at your table that you are someone to be envied. If you’re a bit older and have children, you’ll sip lattes with the even-more-recently Botoxed crowd, and smile perfectly while you point out that your child, whom you’ve named Kieran or Brendan or Madison or something that implies your child will never pick up a dirty sock in his/her life, is so far advanced for his/her age. That is life, of course. Conformity, playing nice, following the rules, and realising the reward is “I get to pretend I’m better than you whenever possible.”

When is the last time you spent time with someone, even a close friend, who stripped away all the bullshit and was completely honest, authentic, and willing to “be themselves” with you? Look around your world. It’s less common than you think, unless you intentionally make it otherwise.

I happened to, recently, cross paths with a 21-year-old sorority girl, properly coiffed dyed blonde hair and perfect manicure in place, along with an attitude that said “I’m not here for your approval”. Yet, despite my attempts at conversation, she pretty much ignored me, looking at me like I was the most boring person in the world. When, after the group had a few drinks, I turned up the charisma a little bit to include off-colour comments and snarky remarks, she actually told me “Shhhhh. People can hear you”., as if I were a five year old child in need of correction.

This girl, who tried so hard to exude enough confidence that other females would believe she wasn’t in need of any approval and loved her perfect life, was made uncomfortable by the fact that I would say anything I wanted to say without really giving a shit if a total stranger overheard me. That’s when I realised this: I am old. I don’t spend my time faking confidence and pretending to be comfortable around people. I have spent so much time “being myself” in social situations that I don’t even remember how often that can be scary and off-putting to others.

Not shockingly, she immediately re-seated herself at a dinner party to talk to the only two single, available men who were interested in making her the centre of attention, and convinced them to leave the dinner, and the rest of the group, which was too “lame” for her tastes. Prior to her re-seating herself, I’d been having conversation with these people, and it obviously didn’t occur to her that it was more rude to interrupt someone’s conversation to deflect attention to yourself than to tell a joke in a loud, boisterous tone that made old Southern women scowl at your lack of class.

Whatever. I know I’m a classy bitch. New York *totally* wants me back. :P

I remember being that girl, in some shape or form, always needing to compensate for some insecurity by making others think I was unapproachable, remaining a little aloof, to give the impression that “I’m just a little out of your league”. I would hijack your party and take people elsewhere, turning it into my party without a second thought that I was being disrespectful to the host. It didn’t occur to me that it should matter, honestly. Being that girl was a way to deflect any kind of insecurity; “As long as you pay attention to me, I have the validation I need.”

Except, the thing is, there’s never enough attention in the world to provide the validation that comes from “being yourself”.

One of the harshest things anyone ever told me, back when I was 25 or so, and still approached the entire world as my stage and every time I left my apartment, it was a public appearance…was that I wasn’t real. This actually came from someone who was sufficiently charmed by me, regardless, to invest time and energy and affection in me…so it proves men can be a little hypocritical, and still want your company when you’re 25 and attractive, “real” or not….but he said, at an event, “Every time I spend time with you, I feel like I’m spending time with a character, and not a real person.”

That person isn’t someone who I kept in my life, or I’d care to say hello to if we ever crossed paths, but he did provide me with that one sage-if-hurtful piece of advice. I knew that “being myself” was being someone who didn’t fit in here in the South, someone who was loud and boisterous and weird and flamboyant and covered herself in glitter and says “Ooooo!” to stuff a 6-year-old girl would love. So, I tried to reinvent myself, to put on a version of me that would be socially acceptable to a world I found very judgmental, very superficial, and very insecure.

Long story short: That didn’t work. That didn’t work to such an extreme I almost ended up being driven out of town by hate and judgment and gossip, about less than half of which was true.

After that, I said, “Fuck it”, and took “being myself” to a whole other extreme. If I couldn’t be accepted and perfect and flawless, I was going to shock everyone with my unconventional ways.

That was actually pretty fun, for awhile. But it also didn’t work. I felt there was nobody in my life, save a handful of people, who really knew me or cared about me. I didn’t trust anyone. And while you can combat the scandal of a bad reputation in a small town that pretends it’s a city (like Atlanta) by exaggerating your notoriety and making jokes at your own expense, at some point, you realise that what you need is a new perspective.

I never decided I was, one day, going to wake up and “be myself”. I was just too tired of caring what everyone else thought to do it anymore. And once I did, I found a whole group of people who never would have been scandalised by any of my behaviour—past, present, or future. I found friends who stuck around for years and years. I found people who made fun of my quirks, but still loved me and supported me. As soon as I bothered to be who I was, I found it easy to invite people in my life who liked that person.

I can still be a little guarded, a little insecure. I’ve learned the hard way to choose my friends wisely. I don’t open up easily. I have thousands of acquaintances, and a select group of friends. Some people still don’t like me because I’m “too much”, or flamboyant, or downright odd. They don’t think my stories about dating equally odd, “high-profile” people or anecdotes about the silly situations I got myself into before I was older and wiser are entertaining, and I don’t blame them. You can’t please everyone, and “being myself” does often mean being weird, unconventional, flamboyant, and saying things that cause others to turn bright red. I get how some people, especially in the South, especially those who aren’t particularly secure in themselves, don’t like that. I get how my snarkiness annoys others in the same way overly perky, upper-induced people make me want to go home and listen to Nirvana. (I think one of my favourite people, Dorothy Parker, would highly approve.) Some people just don’t like me when I’m “being myself”. And, yet, some people are devoted admirers because of those things.

Being sick over the past year really put things into perspective for me, made me seek out different kinds of friendships, forced me to become more introspective, gave me the opportunity to see things in other people I’d previously missed. I’ve become not only more self-aware, but generally more intuitive and perceptive as a result of needing to take time out from the world. I’ve become a huge fan of one-on-one interactions with others, and realised just how much I hate “clubbing”, and maybe, I secretly always did. I’ve learned that most of my insecurities over the years weren’t real (if you think you’re fat at a size 6, there’s nothing like gaining 30 pounds and five years to make you re-evaluate that girl you judged so harshly.) I’ve learned that most of what was off-putting to people wasn’t that I dared to be my unconventional self, but because there were so many times when I didn’t. I was a social hypocrite, like so much of the world, living one way behind closed doors, yet putting on another face for social occasions. I didn’t let anyone in, didn’t let people get too close. Most of my relationships had an element of superficiality to them I wouldn’t tolerate now.

Yes, as it turns out, I am kind of old. Because I can’t go back to being that faux-perfect-looking, alpha-female, “slightly too good for you” 21-year-old girl, mostly because I know I’m not going to grow up to be that same, even more successful, more socially appropriate 31-year-old-woman. I’m going to realise that’s not me, it never was, and if that means I’m not as appreciated as I should be as a consequence, it’s more likely because I’m in the wrong setting than anything about me is flawed.

Out of all of life’s lessons, “be yourself” is the hardest to learn, mostly because we’re conditioned at such an early age to learn there are social repercussions if yourself happens to be kind of not like everyone else.

Here’s the memo: Everyone else isn’t like everyone else, either. They’re just more people who are scared to be themselves, and believe there’s safety in numbers.

Conformity and blending in isn’t happiness. It’s just one more way in which you’re doing the world, and yourself, a disservice. I have a magnet on my refrigerator, with a quote reading “Stop spending your time trying to be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.”

I got fired from my “regular” job yesterday, a primary source of income and responsibility in my life for well over two years. I’m still processing, and not ready to write about it, or deal with the sudden lack of security and constancy this represents in my world. Strangely, it feels like a loss, yet a loss that has freedom as a side effect. I slept 12 hours in a row last night, peacefully, when I should be worried as hell about my future.

Instead, I wonder if someone taking away the safety of being regular is what it takes to remind me that I’m extraordinary, and should be focusing my energy on doing extraordinary things…or at least living a life that makes me happy, instead of settling for one that resembles “secure adulthood”.

Earlier this month, I came across a great book called 365: A Year Of Journal Prompts, and promptly added it to my Kindle. It was one of my intentions this year to focus on my writing as something I like to do, rather than something I need to do, which is often what I feel when a specific deadline is looming over my shoulder.

When I had my tarot cards and my astrological chart read for the upcoming year—by two different sources, incidentally—both told me that 2012 was going to be a year for life to be put on “pause”, rather than one of adventure or decisive action. This made sense to me, since I knew a main focus of my year would be concentrating, little by little on improving my well-being, on getting on a path where managing my illness doesn’t have to zap my strength or dictate my mood or my life. At first, I was extremely depressed about this. I’m the sort of person who likes big gestures, fast solutions to problems, impulsive reactions, instant gratification. Learning there was no surgery, no magic pill, no quick fix that would take me back to the person I was plunged me into a state of depression for about two weeks. To some, it would be encouraging to hear that with time and patience and the willingness to face fears and anxieties, life would steadily get better. But for me, the eternal realist (and often pessimist), all I heard were words like “chronic condition” and “permanent damage” and “physical and emotional rehabilitation.” All I heard was that I wasn’t going to magically get my life back, I wasn’t going to be able to just ditch the drug that caused me to gain over 20 pounds and zap my energy level, I wasn’t going to be the person I used to be for a very long time.

I didn’t react very well to learning that it would be a year of “pause”, because there are so many things with which I am discontent, things I’d like to change about my life. Shortly after the disheartening news about my life came disheartening news about my job, which no longer gives me the economic and practical sense of stability it once did. I am again a starving artist, uncertain about the future, not sure where life will take me. I used to enjoy that uncertainty at one point in my life, but now, it causes me anxiety. Ironically, both my tarot reading and astrological chart for the year told me that I could expect to experience setbacks, which were necessary to my greater success in life.

Another thing that my tarot reading mentioned was that I have a lot of “success” aspects in my cards, in my natal chart, in what’s perceived to be my personality in general. Countless times, psychics and astrologers and tarot readers and other intuitives have told me that I will have great material success in my life, thanks to my ambition and determination. I always laugh at this, sitting there with no long-term career prospects, a retired actress that no longer has the looks or charisma or talent to perform, a chaotic dreamer with little business sense, a person who keeps getting knocked down by life every time success gets anywhere close. Yet, year after year, they tell me this same thing. Contrary to what my mother always advised me to do, it is not that I will marry well. I will be the one in control of building an empire for myself.

I can’t say I put a ton of stock into all that sort of thing, but it’s amusing to have someone predict your fortune. Sometimes, though, it goes beyond uncanny to relatively specific details that don’t necessarily apply to everyone..and then you have to start to wonder. Is there really such a thing as someone with the gift of intuition enhanced to the point that they can see into who you are, as well as who you might become?

This success thing has always baffled me, because I have always seen myself as someone ill-equipped for success. At this point in my life, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that sometimes I have so many dreams and ideas and thoughts and things I wish to communicate swimming around in my head, that I’m not sure what to do with them. More often than not, I ignore them, and go back to my daily routine. I take my anxiety pill and try to relaaaaaaaaax.

I read somewhere recently that anxiety was an artist’s natural response to pent-up emotion, to not being given an adequate creative outlet. After that, I got this idea in my head that I was going to compile my poetry, even if I never published it. I was going to write a book of fiction, even if I never let another person read it. And I was going to use my blogs and journals to release whatever it was that was hiding, causing my sudden shift from free-spirited example of joie de vivre to being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by too much life. Is it really as simple as a nerve in my inner ear that doesn’t know how to calm down, that freaks out when it’s given too much information to process, and responds with demands for anti-anxiety pills and alcohol and silence? Or is it some other newly discovered fear in my life that’s erected a road block, one designed to keep me from living too freely.

All my life, I’ve fought tooth and nail against those who would constrain and limit me, who judged and disliked me for living too freely. Ironically, the largest fight seems to occur from within, as if those people, those voices, have set up shop somewhere inside my essential self.

Hence, when I found this book, giving 365 prompts for the journal writer, I decided I would spend a year answering the questions presented in my posts; whether telling a story, reflecting on the question, or doing some soul searching. The questions appear to be for the personal journal-keeper, but I can never seem to remind myself to write in my handwritten journal on a daily basis. The thoughts flow more freely here.

The first day’s prompt is this: What strengths have you developed over your life?

It isn’t as easy as I’d think, answering this question. I have always been smart, but not particularly ambitious or motivated to make good use of those strengths, so it’s more a positive quality than something I’ve developed. I’ve always found it easier to make friends and find lovers…but I’ve found it equally effortless to make enemies and incur hatred from those who don’t even know me, so I’m going to disqualify people skills from the list. There are other ways I could describe myself; unconventional, free-thinking, uniquely attractive, quirky, humourous, well-traveled, well-read, a talented performer, a good friend…but sadly, many of these have been transient qualities. When difficult times hit, at various points in my life, I found myself essentially abandoning many of these qualities, replacing them with inhibition. Uncertainty went from meaning possibility to signifying danger. I was no longer as young, as fun, as attractive. I stopped performing, stopped traveling, stopped making as much time for those I care about as I’d like to. I stopped seeing shows, listening to music, reading books I like. I found how easy it was to lose myself.

Yet, I am not lost. I know who I am, if I sometimes forget. I am sensitive, fragile even, but I am also strong, something I never considered myself to be. The quality life has instilled in me…often with me fighting every step of the way….is resilience. When life knocks me down in a way that disables others, I always find a way to get back up. I always find a way to begin again, to reinvent myself, to replace old dreams and circumstances and ways of life with new ones. I do not handle these defeats with grace; I cry, I scream, I hate the world and everyone in it, I sulk in a depression for awhile, listen to emo music and refuse to get out of bed, wonder what it would feel like to close my eyes and never get up…but I always do. I always find a way to survive, even in situations that seem to unbearable for me to comprehend muddling through. I’ve always come through, one way or another. It’s as if the word survivor is encoded in my DNA. Some of these experiences, I still can’t think about. They terrify me. They give me nightmares. They make me feel unbearably alone. But I always remember, “I am here, and somehow, I am supposed to be successful”.

Part of what the tarot reader told me regarding 2012 was that I needed to make peace with my past, because not doing so was keeping me from my future. She did not know I was working on a collection of short stories that are loosely based upon some of my own life history, nor that I had more of a past and less peace than most.

Perhaps the lesson I’m learning now is that you can always move on, you can always adapt, reinvent, thrive, prosper…but wherever you go, everything you’ve ever been and done, everyone you’ve ever loved and hated, it all goes with you. I’m not sure how to let go, or even if we’re meant to. I think that maybe, making peace and practicing forgiveness and non-judgment towards yourself and others is one way to begin.

Life has taught me that on the outside, I might appear a little delicate, a little high-maintenance, a little less likely to adapt to new circumstances than others. But beyond that exterior, there’s something in me that’s a fighter. Even when I’d like to simply give up, that piece of me won’t let me take the easy way out, walk away, let others win. I’m strong and resilient, words that I’d never apply to the somewhat pampered, oversensitive, overemotional, histrionic person I’ve always been. Other people have called me narcissistic, and I firmly reject that label: but sometimes, I wonder if there’s an element of truth to that off-handed characterisation often applied to people that others simply don’t understand, those who seem to live in their own little world.

Maybe there’s a tiny piece of narcissism and pride that will fight tooth and nail to help me survive virtually anything, when a majority of me simply doesn’t feel strong enough.

The next time someone calls me narcissistic, or an egotist, I will inwardly remember to thank them. Without that tiny piece of my psyche that may very well be those things, I might not be here today. It’s much harder to survive and come back from difficulty than it is to simply let things fall apart. That knowledge is, I think, the most important strength I’ve learned throughout my lifetime.

“When he thought of Ellen Olenska, it was abstractly, serenely, as one might think of some imaginary beloved in a book or a picture; she had become the composite vision of all he had missed.” — Edith Wharton, The Age Of Innocence

A week or two ago, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I had a conversation about the concept of the “manic pixie”, which is actually a type of stock character in films (and I suppose, consequently, in all forms of artistic expression.) It made me laugh, because a week or so before that, another friend had used that phrase in an e-mail, and I thought it was a cute little description he’d invented to characterise a certain type of person he’d run into in his life.

To a certain extent, stock characters are the lifeblood of the acting industry, and also the nemesis of actors. If you are, like me, the type of actor who is more likely to land a role playing some exaggerated version of herself than transforming herself into someone quite different, being typecast is a hazard of the trade that can be difficult to overcome.

In theatre, it’s something you live with. Based upon your body shape, height, size, physical characteristics, vocal inflections, ability to sing and dance, and even your real, off-stage personality quirks, you’re able to figure out your type. Either you’re the leading lady or the ingenue, the girl next door or the evil, conniving vixen, the character actress or the comedienne who steals the show, a soprano or an alto, a featured dancer or one who’s hiding in the back fudging the steps. Almost every play or musical has a character that fits your “type”, so you spend a lot of time learning how others perceive you and how to make best advantage so you can play that perfect role for your “type”. You learn not to waste time auditioning for roles that don’t reflect your “type”; in fact, in most open auditions, you’ll be screened out before you even get to the theatre door. Once you’re Equity and your auditions are by appointment, your agent will typically only get calls from those who want to see you for a certain role. It can be frustrating, if you want to branch out and show you’re Meryl Streep, which is why many theatrical performers also work in television, on soap operas, and singing in rock bands or performing stand-up in their spare time.

The world of film is a little more forgiving, mostly because there are simply more “types”. Film is based to reflect the real lives of real people in a way that most theatrical productions and television shows are not; it’s often the reason why musical theatre stars can cross over to TV, but not into film. The habits that are ingrained that make everything larger than life are ridiculous on the silver screen, unless, like Nathan Lane and Christine Baranski and William Shatner, you play characters MEANT to be larger than life.

In any case, I learned that in film, “manic pixie” is actually a stock character, a modern-day muse that attracts others, despite being fucked-up in some way, because she opens the door to a world with which the main character—usually a love interest—is unfamiliar. Although disturbed, she is often idealised because of her ability to relate and connect and help others grow, to disconnect from the world of what is expected and retreat into a greater world of adventure and romance and possibility. Of course, this world is an illusion, an idealised version of life that can never hold up over the long term.

I had an acute moment of understanding when he discussed this with me, because it occurred to me that this has largely been reflective of my experience in real life. Although those who don’t think I’m anything special can’t quite figure it out, I’ve always had a certain ability to attract—-not everyone, but a certain kind of person—and to draw others into my world. I’ve always had the ability to draw others out of their shells, to inspire them to something different and greater, to succeed. I’ve dated normal people who have gone on to become millionaires, Broadway professionals, doctors, lawyers, idealists who work to change the world. I’ve dated a number of people who marry the first person with whom they share their heart after me, and who are quite happy as a result.

I’ve struggled with being idealised, and the sense of broken-heartedness that comes with the realisation that the one you love is in love with an image. The power of this image is so deluding it’s led me to involvements with married men who viewed me as something greater than the simple, ordinary girl I am, and has ended with people considering ending their relationships to pursue something with me…something that inevitably wouldn’t live up to the ideal.

All this, this is why people become interested in me, despite any obvious excess of wit or beauty or intelligence or grace or sense of humour or anything else people gravitate towards. It is why people not only forgive the many ways in which I’m screwed up and the oversensitivity I wear on my sleeve, but the flaws become endearing. It is also when I am devastated when I invest myself in another person, help them to make huge life changes, become the person they want to be, and they end up leaving me and marrying the next girl who comes along—whom I often notice is not as charismatic, not as vibrant, and often, not as open as I am. The inevitable feeling that follows is “Why am I always the person who molds other people so they can move on, and embrace a happier, more fulfilled life with someone other than me?”

The thing about life, as compared to movies, is that people grow…and even stereotypical characters have a layer of something else underneath that may take some effort to see, but it’s there. But, it’s scary to me in some ways to see how art imitates life, and vice versa. At least, it does in my case. I attract those who idealise some aspect of me, and in turn, am attracted by the idea of being seen as something larger and more unforgettable than I am. Unfortunately, this is not the basis for a healthy relationship, and it is the basis for a whole lot of friendships that become extremely complicated in one way or another.

Of course, for a person who also idealises everyone and everything else in the world, I suppose it’s right that I should attract the same. Finding myself in a relationship that has an aspect of rationality and logic and boundaries to it means that I am happier and stable than I’ve been at other points in my life, but I also often miss the sense of the whimsical, the spontaneous, the living in a world that’s somewhat unreal, but filled with big thoughts, big feelings, and big ideas.

I guess, in my way, I’ve always been a manic pixie…and never understood why anyone would tolerate, much less be attracted to, a “weird” person like myself. Suddenly, I understand how it happened that a guy I knew on the internet for a number of years fell in love with the illusion I created…often unknowingly…and I ended up moving to Atlanta to live out that perfect, intense romance, only to realise real life was nothing like I imagined. We hurt each other deeply, that ex and I, and I suspect a lot of it had to do with two overly idealistic souls not being able to face disillusionment and reality on a daily basis without feeling hurt, betrayed, and looking elsewhere for another person to fulfill that ideal.

And, yes, the Wikipedia entry makes reference to Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”, which I still haven’t seen. :P