The User Within

A now former friend of mine recently called me a user. This insult was stated in concert with various other insults and unfounded accustations, which only served to maximize the hurt in hearing them. Not because someone that I thought knew me well would say such things–that part still stung, obviously–but because I’ve always strived to be an honest and open person. Even if I fall short. Which I’ve admitted here many times. I screw up. I make mistakes. I’m human. When my integrity comes into question, I wonder why. I’m not delusional enough to think everyone thinks I’m just the super greatest person alive, but when I hear something like this, I roll back and try to understand where it comes from and whether or not it has any merit.

In this case, despite the fact that I know this pariticular insult came from a place of projection and insecurity, I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t wrong. I am a user. I do use people. Just not in the way it was implied. I use people as I expect to be used: as a means to help cope with the daily grind of life and the constant barrage of emotional torment. I use people to offset my inability to ask for help. I use people for their philosophy and spirituality and intelligence and their ability to make me laugh. I use people to talk when I finally feel safe enough to do so. And I absolutely do use people for their love, for their hope, for any sense of optimism they can offer. In turn, I open myself to be used in the same way.

And you know what? That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s what we should all strive to be for one another. A person to use to find peace and understanding when we can’t see it anymore on our own. Sure, therapy is a wonder at times, but there is nothing at all like connecting with a person or people who get you (or even someone who may not, in the right circumstance) and using them as a shield, as a confidant, as an outlet, as a lifeline.

According a recent study from the CDC, approximately 41.5% of adults suffer from symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder. If that sounds high, well, it is. On average, 2 out of every 5 people you know fall into this category. Most often, you may not know. They may mask it. They may tout an awesome life on social media and spend their nights alone in tears. They may shake your hand or give you a hug (or desperately miss doing so, as the case is at the moment), smile wide, and tell you all about their great home and family and work and anything to avoid letting anyone know they are suffering.

I’ve spent much of my adulthood on a cliff overlooking an emotional canyon. In those times, I’m on the verge of a breakdown constantly. I wonder when the balance in life will come, or whether I’ve grossly overestimated the amount of good I’ve done. I refuse to let myself watch Publix commercials (okay, a little lighthearted there, but seriously Publix, dial it back a bit, would ya?). Most importantly, I turn to humor and hope and optimism to try to cope. I write. I funnel all of that pain and grief and anguish into something that doesn’t involve falling apart in front of someone (or a group of someones as the Board of Directors for Broadleaf once learned … sorry about that, folks!). What I have’t done enough, and what I work on so hard all the time, is using the people close to me for help.

Imagine you’ve slipped on the edge of a cliff and are dangling by a rock you can barely maintain a grip on. Someone you know, or even a complete stranger, drops a rope. Are you going to say, “No thanks, I don’t like to use people for help.”? I think not. An extreme example, sure, but I’ll stick with it.

The fact is you, or someone you’re close to, or someone you run into in a store who isn’t as friendly as you would have liked for them to be, is suffering right now. Before you discount their behavior or look to put distance between you and their up-and-down moods, consider the world from their point-of-view.

One of the primary lessons a writer must learn is empathy. There is no conceivable way to create a story any reader will care about unless you can create characters whose motivations make sense. A reader emotionally connects to characters through shared experience, through a relatable flaw, through hurt. It sounds simple. I wish it was. Seeing the world through another’s eyes and heart is a trial that doesn’t always offer the verdict you’d like. But try. Have some empathy. Look deeper. Ask questions. Trust me, people want to talk. Desperately. They want to share. They want to deal. They want to know they are not alone. They may not want to do it right now, but they want to know they can when they’re ready. Be that person. Goodness knows the world would be better if we all were.

I am user. But if I am, then I must also be willing to be used. I want to talk. I want to help. So, if you’re in need of an outlet or an ear or whatever input I can offer, use me. If you need a hug, use me. If you need anything, use me. You are not alone.

The Little Bookstore That Couldn’t

The great thing about having a blog is I can damn well write whatever I want, and you can’t stop me. It’s glorious. If I want to talk about the redemptive quality of reanimated sidewalk-fried worms, I can. It won’t be interesting, but there you have it. I could talk endlessly about all the stupid things I’ve done in my life–and let it be known that I will–and all you can do is groan and tune it out, maybe grumble aloud about how annoying I am. But it will still exist. I can tell you that my dog is stretched over the edge of the couch right now, pining for the Moss to come home, looking like every ounce of hope has drained from her furry little frame, and no matter how that makes you feel, it’s written, done, the webbernuts will keep it forever. You can’t stop me.

And so, I get to do this:

On March 1st, 2009, Wordsmiths Books closed its doors, bringing to an end its short run, leaving behind but memories and a good bit of favorable view. Five years. It’s difficult to believe it’s been that long. Each year I’ve spent a little time on that anniversary offering thoughts, pictures, memories of the little bookstore that couldn’t. I’ve done this because I needed to. I’ve done this because, like a lost loved one, I wasn’t ready to let go. However, time has a way of mending the wound, leaving but scars as gentle reminders of what once was. And we move on.

I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to let go of all the things I might have been able to do to prevent that store from closing. From watching my bookstore family splinter and move on (with one notable exception). From haunting my dreams, nudging my guilt over those who lost money in the process, from tapping that nail ever so slightly into my heart day after day after day. Much like any endeavor in life, there is enough regret to fill a canyon. But that doesn’t change the outcome.

Which brings me to the purpose of this entry. I’m a couple days late on starting, due in part to the final grip of reluctance holding me back, so I’ll make up for it over the next couple days. What I’m going to do is post a picture, with a quick thought or two of the moment, each day until March 1st. I’m culling through the mountain of images that remain, and I apologize to any of you who may not want to be included in an image, or may not consider it the best you’ve had. These images are special to me, and, to that end, I’m not hunting for perfection. Only painful emotions attached to those memories that I can finally put to rest.

If you visited Wordsmiths, then thank you. If you did not, I’m sorry I couldn’t keep it around long enough. To those who wish, I invite you to leave your thoughts, here, on Facebook, or even Twitter (or all). I’d love to hear it.

This is me letting go, in the only way I know how to do it.

The first image is as first image as a first image can get, and requires the simplest of explanations. On June 15th, 2007, Wordsmiths Books opened its doors for the first time. I remember that day well, and I remember this moment like it just happened. I had a lot of hope then. I believed in the idea, and I believed in my staff. I had maneuvered through a great deal of political whooseywhatsit just to get to this point. Regardless of what I might have done different, it is, as my father would call it, a watermark day.

June 14th, 2007, I opened the door to the public for the first time.

June 15th, 2007, I opened the door to the public for the first time.