It’s good to know I have a few friends/loyal blog readers who care, but you guys truly don’t let some stuff go, do you? *laughs*

Earlier in the month, I posted a piece on synchronicity, in which I shared a sweet story about reconnecting with a childhood crush at a cafe in New York City, and our subsequent love story/short-lived engagement. The point of the piece was not to vent about my personal life, but to share why I believe in synchronicity, and the power contained in the signs the Universe tries to send you on occasion. However, the most common feedback I’ve gotten over the past two weeks is “What happened with the rest of the story?”.

I didn’t really want to go into the rest of the story, because it’s personal, and also because I wanted to avoid exactly what happened: spending more time thinking about my ex-fiance than I have in a dozen years. :P

Since everyone wanted to know what happened to Avery, and why I cut the story short, the answer is a simple one. Life happened to Avery, and he ended up making largely the same choices most conventional Americans make.

After we broke up, Avery finished grad school, and went on to law school. He met a nice Jewish girl who is also the uber-ambitious, driven type, and helped him overcome his overly romantic, idealistic tendencies. In short, he found the polar opposite of me, the girl who’d always loved him precisely for his brooding demeanour, depressing poetry, and desire to change the world.

He still lives in New York City, is with an accomplished civil law firm, and is still, I assume, married happily enough. We keep in touch enough to say we’ve kept in touch, yet not enough to imply any real connection or stir up any issues. We have lunch or meet for drinks perhaps once a year when I pass through town. It is all very adult and civil, and there’s nothing serendipitous about it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have regrets about Avery, but not the part where we didn’t stay together, didn’t get married. I think I intuitively knew he needed to be someone and pursue something other than what I had to offer, and I would only encourage him to take his life in a different direction, one that may have brought him much less happiness in the long run.

If anything, I sometimes feel sadness. I feel a sense of “Why did you need to choose the conventional, the obligatory? Why couldn’t you travel through life the way we always talked and dreamed about, off the beaten path, with me? Why did you end up wanting to change me, rather than let me help you encourage the authentic, adventurous you shine through?”

The answer is, few people are strong enough to choose the road less traveled, which is why it’s called the road less traveled. Doing so means hardship, sacrifice, lack of stability, being judged by others. For Avery, he felt always that his personal happiness was secondary to doing what was expected of him.

Although it sounds judgmental, and it is, I’m of course equally guilty. I fell in love with the idealist who wanted to become a journalist in a war-torn country and write a powerful piece about life in other places, the intellectual who saw himself as a professor who’d publish papers and give lectures on how to make the world a better place. I wasn’t any better prepared for a future that involved me being the wife of a civil litigator, any more than he was prepared to show off an outspoken, bohemian wife without an Ivy League pedigree.

People change, and they do not always change or grow together…and that’s just the sad reality of life. That’s why over half of marriages in the United States end in divorce, because people aren’t static creatures.

I am inordinately proud of Avery and everything he’s accomplished in the world, and the happiness I hope he’s found. I have a close friend who, over the years, I’ve seen gone through a similar transition, and I am equally proud of my friend and his happiness—though a part of me will always be sad he didn’t choose a different path, and that’s simply selfishness. We all have those weaknesses.

And while I still adore and admire Avery, I believe everything worked out for the best. The person—or persons—destined to end up with me are those who chose a path a little less conventional, who retained a bit more idealism and commitment to artistic and intellectual growth throughout the thing we call life, even if it means a crappier apartment and a heart that is broken and disappointed more frequently, and parents who are a little less approving. :P

I didn’t share this part of the story, because I am still romantic and idealistic enough that when I think of Avery, I think of the sensitive, idealistic, protective 16-year-old boy I ran through rain and mud just to hug goodbye…and how the Universe found that moment as meaningful as I did, because goodbye wasn’t goodbye.

The infrequent times I meet up with Avery to catch up on old times and talk about how different our lives are now, I always carry an umbrella.

Old habits die hard, and undue romanticism never does. ;P

Last night, on a free, low-key night spent running errands, eating dinner from Moe’s while watching “Smash” On Demand, fixing my computer, and later watching “Breaking Dawn” on DVD, the Guy I Am Currently Dating and I got to talking about some of life’s more serious and thought-provoking subjects. Among them, this one:

“Is a person only as good as the worst thing he’s ever done?”

This is clearly not a black and white question, and the answer does not apply fairly and equally to all people. If you say “No”, you have to take into account people such as Hitler and Stalin and others whose brutal disregard for human life far outweighs the good they could ever do. If you say “Yes”, you’re minimizing the contributions of Wagner, Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, and others whose behavior ranged from anti-social to unconventional to downright criminal. Even the Marquis de Sade, the self-described lunatic credited with the art of sadism, is a respected author.

As it applies to me, I certainly don’t think I happen to be defined by the worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m not Hitler, I haven’t destroyed thousands of lives, I haven’t killed anyone or even caused physical harm to another human being. I do not necessarily think of myself as the world’s best person, but neither am I the villain I seem to be typecast as.

I’ve lived a wild, complicated life, to be sure. In my younger years, like many people, I experienced a great deal in my life that I’m not sure I ever had the tools to deal with in a positive way, or at all. On the outside, I was a charming and bright, talented student who worked hard because there was no other option for someone desiring a better life. I found achievement to be necessary to define my place in the world. Yet, there was another side of me that was intensely self-destructive.

I’d like to say that changed when I went off to college and found myself, but it didn’t. I was still accomplished, talented…but I also drank heavily, experimented with drugs, engaged in promiscuous behaviour, battled with my weight and a constant dislike of my body, and pursued virtually any dangerous or masochistic behaviour that came my way.

I’d like to say those things changed when I went to work after college, and came to Atlanta…some of them did, and others remained. I found myself being the sort of person who could easily lie, cheat, steal, manipulate. I never behaved with the intention of harming other people, but I had a reckless disregard for myself and anyone else in the world, and even life itself. I had a few lovers, all of whom I put through a very difficult time, who stayed with me through my many betrayals because I represented some sort of exciting world, only to inevitably recognise it wasn’t worth the investment of emotion and moving on was the healthiest thing to do. I didn’t even take time to think about the kind of person I was becoming; in fact, I never thought beyond the next day in life.

I paid an extraordinarily hefty price for my poor decisions over the course of a few years, times when I did, in fact, engage in the worst things I’ve ever done. I was left completely alone, friendless, broke, and in a difficult situation. I faced legal consequences for my choices, and the embarrassment of everyone in the world knowing about the worst things I’d ever done in a very public way.

Yet, I believed I could start over. I believed everyone is entitled to rebuild their lives, to make amends, and to carry on without judgement. As a result, I entered a new phase in my life, one that was highly focused on joie de vivre, of living a rather hedonistic, manic existence. Many people judge this period in my life, as I unintentionally hurt others…but I do not cast judgement upon myself. I lived more in the course of a few years than most people will live in a lifetime. Those who were most hurt were rarely hurt by my actions, but by the fact that I’d have the unmitigated gall to proceed with my life as if the past were not everyone’s business. To this day, it’s an attitude I do not understand. Simply because you live your live in a way that many judge or find morally difficult to comprehend does not make it wrong, it makes it different. If a person does not confide in you about their past, or about their private life, it’s simply because it does not affect you. You’re not in a position to judge, nor to know the sordid details of another person’s past, unless you’re that close to them. I will never understand this “Everyone has a right to know everything and pass judgement on everyone” kind of world we live in.

If we are close, I will tell you about myself, about my past, about my sordid adventures, about the things that fall into the “worst things I’ve ever done” pile, as well as into the “worst things ever done to me” bin. Again, I paid an extremely high price in my life during those years, a period during which I abandoned and forgave myself for my past wrongs to others…for doing nothing wrong, other than having a chequered past that I’d moved on from, and living an unconventional lifestyle that simply wasn’t the world’s business. Despite some appearances to the contrary, I can really be a remarkably private person when it comes to the things that truly matter in my private life.

After that difficult experience, which found me alone and abandoned by virtually everyone who dared to call me a friend—not based on how I’d treated people in the present so much as offenses I’d committed in the past—I was forced to rebuild yet again. Honestly, I didn’t think I was strong enough. I went through a period of great isolation and depression, where I didn’t wish to leave the house for months. People took it upon themselves to attempt to destroy my life for no other reason than they judged my past and disagreed with my present.

It took some time, but eventually, I built a really strong group of friends. I knew that, when push came to shove, many of these people were the real deal, because when people whose lives I did not affect in the least would contact them to tell them about my chequered past and the things I’d done to hurt others, they were not only not shocked. They defended me. In fact, I had older and wiser friends reassure me “You are not the worst thing you’ve ever done, or defined by the pain you’ve caused those you loved.”

I truly believe that. I am not the person I was a decade ago, the one who believed that reinventing myself and letting go of the past meant creating a whole new persona. I am not the self-destructive person who would lie, cheat, and steal because life was a game of “Survivor”, and no matter what, I was determined to survive. It took me years to gradually abandon my wild ways, and get in touch with the person who was still inside, a romantic dreamer with ideals the world couldn’t possibly live up to, and a girl who didn’t need sex or alcohol or material possessions or crazy adventures or destructive outlets, but love, and a way to indulge her desire to create.

I credit this to letting go of some toxic people in my life. When I was at a point in my life where behaving with a certain level of class and respectability wasn’t a concern, I met others who led me down similarly destructive roads. I met people who had no compulsion about lying, cheating, stealing, and learned what it was like to be on the other side of a destructive relationship, more than once. I had a roommate who ran off with my belongings. I carried on affairs with married men without caring, put myself in situations that might have been dangerous, the kind of stories we all see on Lifetime movies. I met people who were unconventional artists, former and current addicts, people with pasts who made mine look sweet and innocent.

When I found myself becoming a different person, the law of attraction seemed to apply. I attracted more kind, understanding, and forgiving people than I’d met in 6 years in the Atlanta area. I found people who, little by little, I could open up to about my life. I found more than one guy who knew about my past and decided to believe in my inner beauty anyway…and one who turned into a relationship that’s totally changed my world for the past three years. I found a job I could stand for more than a few weeks at a time, that used my creative skills and helped me launch a new career. I stopped being afraid of a world filled with people bent on destroying me.

I’m not a saint. I’m still a little wild and crazy. I still like to party and have a good time, but I’ve learned life is not an episode of the Jersey Shore. Most of that is simply growing up. I would not consider doing most of the things I did when I was 22, and because of that, I don’t think I deserve to be permanently defined as the worst thing I’ve ever done. People do change and grow and live and learn and develop into who they’re eventually meant to be.

I still have unconventional views that not everyone understands. Although I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for three years, I am still unconvinced about monogamy. I believe we all have more than one soulmate in our lifetime, and those soulmates come in all different forms; hence, the perfect relationship or marriage is one that does not place limitations or restrictions, and is not defined by jealousy. I still believe that if I want to marry someone of the same sex, smoke pot, or visit a prostitute, the government should allow me to make my own choices about my life. I do not wish to have children, am not sure that marriage is a necessary institution, and think that large corporations and government are slowly eroding individualism, and perpetuating a culture of “Everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone and judge accordingly.” I am pro-choice, anti-judgment, and would love to see a world where love and equality reign supreme.

A friend of mine told me this is likely part of the problem I face in my life; not that I haven’t changed from the person who selfishly hurt others and paid a tremendous price a long time ago, but that I have not relinquished my pride, changed my ideals. I’ve suffered through a great deal, and in many ways, simply see it as karma for the unhappiness I once inflicted upon others.

These days, I’d say I define myself as a good friend to many, and a devoted admirer of a few I’d like to know better. I’m a loving and supportive girlfriend and companion, an intellectual equal to most I meet (though certainly not all), and a talented writer, actress, singer, event planner, and bar trivia participant. I’ve been told I am compassionate, have the gift of empathy, know how to bring people out of their shells, and am the instigator of good times. I’ve learned to choose friendships over acquaintances, because popularity has little to do with love or understanding. I’ve learned that life is short, and it pays to say “Yes” to adventures more often than “No”. I’ve learned that health isn’t forever, and you have to care for yourself above all else. I’ve learned that giving to others…whether donating a few extra dollars to a charity, creating a piece of art for a friend, or sending greeting cards for life’s important occasions…helps define who you are. I’ve learned that you can’t change yourself to please others, because you never will, and you can’t abandon the things you love because they don’t fit with who you think you should be. There is no “who you should be”, only who you are.

Part of that is, of course, who you were. Accepting and coming to terms with the past is important, but it still doesn’t mean I believe everyone in the world is entitled to know everything there is to know about my life. It certainly isn’t in anyone else’s place to tell them. Neither is it in any other person’s place to judge or gossip…we’ve all walked different and complex life paths.

I am no better than anyone else, but I don’t believe I am any worse. I’ve made my mistakes, and I’ve paid the consequences. I’ve made choices, and positive or negative, had to deal with the fallout. If you look at the world around us, obsessed with scandal and self-destructive behaviour and lack of connection with others, and the idea that sex and money make the world go round, there’s little I’ve done that seems too scandalous. I suspect trading stories with Angelina Jolie or Kim Kardashian or any of Atlanta’s “Real Housewives” would leave me looking like a choirgirl in comparison.

Yet, although I am not famous or notable or anyone special in any way, I live in a world where people repeatedly think my past is their business, and they have an obligation to bring it into my present. This happens in the forms of stories I hear from across the country, people I barely knew who attempt to embarrass me in public settings should there be an encounter, and those who send e-mails to people I care about, re-hashing the past in an ultimately painful way.

At what point in life has a person redeemed herself? At what point is it safe to say “I’ve moved on, and I don’t understand why so many others, particularly those who will never again encounter me, cannot.”

I am not who I was at 19, or 22, or even 27. I suspect few of us are. And many of us have more than a few transgressions that have been forgiven, and made personal life choices that are none of the world’s concern.

I have a good friend in NYC who shares a similar story; the more high-profile her life becomes, the more she has those determined to bring up her past in an attempt to humiliate, discredit, or make her an object of ridicule and ostracism.

My life is not a high-profile one, and those who I love and trust enough to discuss matters like my past know what there is to know about me. Shockingly, I’ve learned there are far more people in my life who know about the stories from my past, and still love and accept me. I’ve been blessed to learn that for many, friendship and love is fairly unconditional.

I have moved on. I am a different person with a different life, surrounded by different people, focusing on different goals. It is unfair to be repeatedly cast in a light that’s no longer reflective of who I am, and to be judged upon the past rather than the present.

This year, the tarot reader at my party told me that in order to move on with a prosperous future, I had to make peace with my past. I believe I’ve done that. I only wish everyone else would choose to let it be.

If I *do* deserve to be defined by the worst thing I’ve ever done, it means so does everyone else in the world. And, were all the skeletons to be released from the closets of everyone you know by others who believe “it’s only right that everyone knows, I think the world would struggle greatly.

Even in today’s day and age, certain things are entitled to be kept private. And, when I choose to share those secrets in my life with someone I love or care about or respect, that should be my choice, and not anyone else’s.

My past does not change the person I am today. Judge me on what I am to you *now*, not on what and where and who I’ve been.

After all, no matter who you are, I do not think you are the worst thing you’ve ever done. I think you are a complex human being, and until I walk a mile in your shoes, I cannot understand your life or your choices. I do know, beyond a doubt, that everyone changes.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine advised me not to take it all so seriously, to be so hurt by incidents that constantly rehashed the mistakes of my past or put me in situations where my lifestyle was open to judgment. He told me, “Life is just like the movies. People are comfortable with the idea of heroes and villains, even though neither is so clear-cut. For some reason, you’ve been cast as a villainess in your own life, and your major transgression is your lack of conformity.”

Whether or not I am destined to play one in life, on stage, or anywhere else in the world, I am no villain. I’m extraordinarily emotional, and have a definite need to be liked. Judgment hurts me, being overlooked and gossiped about and ostracised hurts me…but not enough for me to lose sight of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I am going.

In my way, I possess a tremendous strength, and a kindness of heart, a unique and endearing soul, and keen survival instincts. I may not have always made use of these gifts, but I know now they are mine.

And what about you, dear readers? Are you ultimately and permanently defined by the worst thing you’ve ever done?

Addendum: The Guy I Am Currently Dating pointed out that this question is a complex on explored in one of my favourite books/musicals, Les Miserables. It’s a very multi-faceted story, and explores the question from multiple perspectives: Can a person be defined as anything other than the worst thing he’s ever done? An important element of the story is that while Jean Valjean finds himself beaten down by judgement for his past and ultimately returns to a life of crime once he sees he will always be thought of as a criminal, and unable to succeed or survive in a difficult time, it is the love and compassion shown to him by a priest he attempts to rob that transforms his life and his character. The final sentiment of the musical?

Remember the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Day #7:


 

Enya,Only Time

*~ Reconnect With Your Past ~*

Earlier today, I had an e-mail in my Inbox that unexpectedly made me smile. It was odd, because it wasn’t from an old friend, or even someone with whom I have a long and complicated history…but from someone I barely know, yet have barely known for a long time, and accordingly, feel a bit of a “from back in the day” connection with.

We all have a past. For some, it’s an experience that’s symbolic of the “good old days”, something we’re not quite ready to let go of, no matter how much time passes. For others (like me, I suppose), it’s a bit more chequered, full of regrets and memories we wouldn’t trade for the world, and everything in between. For still others, it’s something to be fondly revisited from time to time, but with a greater wisdom and understanding.

Yet, for almost all of us, the past has a way of pulling us back in. That’s why sites like Classmates.com are so popular, and at any given moment of any given day, someone somewhere in the world is using Facebook to find out whatever happened to that ex that was never quite forgotten. It’s also why there’s a TV channel and a radio station devoted to the popular hits of virtually any time period, allowing people a way to escape, and relive the “good old days”—even if they weren’t always that good.

As I get older, I have to admit, I find myself becoming nostalgic. While there are many aspects of my past I’d love to forget, and I’ve picked up and moved on from enough situations,places, jobs, and relationships to make “moving on” a personal specialty, I am really extraordinarily sentimental. I hold a very special place in my heart for the people, places, things, and moments that meant a great deal to me, and I have an extraordinary talent for forgetting the end of the story, how badly that good moment turned out when all was said and done. For the most part, unless I’m in a rather melancholy and self-defeatist mood, I try to treasure all the exceptional moments of my life, and push the rest of them from immediate consciousness. When I look at life that way, I realise I have far fewer regrets, and a much better appreciation of my life as a whole. I have always treasured the experience of life, even if most things don’t end up the way I planned, or might have wished. Even the bad ones, I’m not sure I’d trade for anything, because they’ve molded me into the person I am today.



Now Is The Only Time I Know, ~indiae

I enjoy revisiting the past now and then—-taking a look at the random things in my “memory box”, listening to the 90′s weekend on Atlanta’s Star 94, reading old letters from those I’ve fallen out of touch with— or who are no longer here, and even watching old television shows or movies I used to love, and meant a good deal to me. (see: “Frasier”) :)

Recently, I renewed an acquaintance with someone I’ve known for nearly a decade, though at a distance. I’ve made an effort to reconnect with people who were once a part of my life, and to find out what happened to others. No matter what anyone might tell you, it truly does make you feel happier to know that person you *didn’t* end up with turned out to be happy—and it’s even more fulfilling when you can still have a positive and friendly relationship. I even bought a few of my favourite films from the old days on DVD, for those “blah” kind of days, or when I feel like sharing something I once loved with people now in my life.

I think it made me happy to hear from someone I was connected to what seems like a lifetime ago—although, in reality, it was perhaps 5 years— not because we were that close, or had so many positive memories from those days, but because it seems like a natural progression of things. Certain people are meant to stay a part of your life, in one way or another, as you go through the different stages of your life—and the result of that is a small reminder that the past doesn’t disappear, it just changes into something different, and often better.



Remembering Summers Past, Max Operandi

I treasure the people with whom I have a shared history, and with whom I am still on good terms, because they are a connection to the person I used to be, complete with a unique set of dreams, fears, and hopes for the future. It’s sad to me that so often, “moving on” means leaving that person behind, as well as the people who knew her.