While I was in Dubai, I think it was my second night in my hotel room, I wanted to take a bath in the deep, wonderful bathtub. I was exhausted and couldn't wait to sink into the hot water. I turned on the tap and the spray started coming out of the huge round showerhead. I tried a few knobs but couldn't figure out how to get the tap to switch over, so rather than not take a bath, I just let the water come out of the showerhead while I sank into the tub. It made me think of the whole nature of how I went about planning my trip: my way. I know I didn't do things the way many other people might.
I didn't research every single thing, or even all that much, about where I was going. I knew what I wanted to see in Dubai, knew that I could afford it, knew that I felt compelled to go, and that was enough. Once I made that decision, I didn't think twice or second guess it. It's funny because an American friend who's lived in a non-primarly-English speaking European country said she wouldn't travel to Dubai alone, but she would live abroad, whereas I don't think I could hack living in another country. I wasn't sure, at all, of how things would proceed in Dubai, but I realize now that part of why I went was precisely to show that I can handle obstacles, be they missed flights or ATM frustrations or unwanted visitors or not getting my unemployment payments.
The flipside of doing things in my sometimes roundabout way is that I live with a sometimes debilitating amount of fear. I would almost always rather be deferential than confrontational, even when I know I'm right, because it's so rarely worth it to me to push a point or tell someone I think they're wrong. I live with such terror that I will be someone who is too tough, too mean, too demanding, too selfish. In service of that, I often bend over backwards for people, to my detriment. The other day, an electrician was working on the intercoms in my apartment, and what I thought would be a short wait turned into an hour and a half of me being stuck at home. I overheard my neighbor, who works at home, say she couldn't keep walking out to test the buzzer with the electrician, and I wondered why I'm not more like her, more assertive, more protective of my time, which is the most valuable thing I "possess."
My way is often the way of least resistance, which assumes that everyone else's priorities are automatically more important than mine, but the problem with always saying yes is that I wind up resenting it. The anger that I don't think I'm allowed to have starts to simmer and build, all because I didn't think it polite to tell someone to fuck off when they try to tell me where to go or what to do or how to behave or whatever it is. I'm not really sure where that fear comes from, especially considering what I do for a living. By default, I already have opted out of plenty of social niceties. There are people who are going to think I'm somehow automatically unacceptable because words like "bondage" and "spanking" appear in my books.
I think about it when I'm writing pieces like one I'm about to file, one where I have to, if not ask permission, let people know that they are part of a story I'm telling about myself. Where I'm admitting something I'm sure plenty of people will think is stupid or dumb or misguided. I'm not saying it's not those things, but if I've learned anything this past year especially, but really the past decade, it's that it's okay to have stupid and dumb and misguided feelings, and even if it weren't, how exactly I could control them I'm not sure. It's always when I tell myself my feelings are "wrong" that I wind up getting myself into worse trouble. I think about how my heart was pounding in my hotel room at an unexpected knock on the door, how I was shaking, and later second guessed myself, wondered whether I'd imagined that, and if not, whether that had been an outsized, incorrect reaction. I know now that maybe it wasn't the reaction someone else would have had, but if we spend our limited time on earth trying to emulate someone else, we miss out on all the things that make us unique.
In five weeks and one day I will turn 37 and that countdown feels important to me, like there are things I still haven't gotten right since last year that I now need to fast track on my life learning curve. One of those things is simply allowing myself that space to be myself, to be angry or scared or jealous or uncertain or stressed or whatever other "bad" things I have somehow internalized I'm not supposed to be. The weight of trying to fight those off, thinking they will contaminate me, mark me as a horrible person for that sinful act of feeling, is just too heavy. I know part of my wanderlust has indeed been about shaking off that weight, but now, at home, and as I prepare to go places like Houston and Austin and Scottsdale and wherever else, I need to unburden myself from that heaviness right here, right now.
I still don't know how to be a writer, but I know that the deeper I dig, the more I discover about myself. I find that after the initial seed of an idea lurks something more, things I wouldn't have discovered without putting those first thoughts down.
I saw Beth Orton last night at Town Hall, seated next to two men about my age, who I'd bet money were gay, looking up Monica Lewinsky on one's phone before the show on my left and a slightly older couple to my right, plus two men who should maybe have some slapstick reality show in front of me. Beth told us about how a taxi had kicked her and her crew out of the cab for giving a wrong address, to drop them in Times Square. She told us about her flu. She apologized a few times, and had the same nervous shyness I've witnessed at every show of hers I've attended. For a second, my cynicism crept in, and I wondered whether that shyness is indeed an act, and I concluded that the answer to that is both yes and no. It is, in that it is what we see of her there onstage, with a guitar strapped around her neck or sitting at a piano in her t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. But it's also her, with that voice and whatever fears she has to conquer to get up there, and those songs. "Could you please knock me off my feet, for a while?" she sang during "Galaxy of Emptiness." I love that line. I love the fantasy of escape, but I also know that my job is to dig in, in hard times or otherwise.