Guest in Your Heart / Writing

Open NOT Broken

Month: June, 2013

No More Tony

I remember how my ex-husband and I used to love to watch the Sopranos. We felt we had discovered the show before anyone else and so were almost possessive as though the show aired to delight us alone. While I loved the show from the start I really couldn’t believe I loved it and neither could other people. It didn’t fit my image.

I’m a feminist and a pacifist (almost all of the time) and could never get beyond violence even in movies like Pulp Fiction where the violence is “artistic” and necessary to the plot. How do you suspend disbelief when each stabbing makes you grab your gut and each punch makes you hold your face? Being told, “It’s not real,” doesn’t prevent tensing up every time someone gets hurt and I don’t find that enjoyable.

But I liked Tony. Hell, I loved Tony. I watched show after show where violence was like background music. Even though he was violent, despicable as a family man and a pig to the women in his life, I felt for him. His panic attacks were sad; his ambivalence about his son’s getting into the business made me hope for his paternal side. Didn’t he have pangs of goodness and wanting to do the right thing? O.k., so the objectifying his mistresses and the strippers topless half the time never got easier to watch. The swearing and the language, I loved it, felt it was well done and there were some great scenes of dialogue in that show.

But I couldn’t understand how I was able to sometimes see this character as a family man. Or how much I liked Christopher or how invested I was in Carmela. I hated Tony’s mother as well as Junior but both were fascinated by both of them and they helped me understand why Tony was such a lost soul. And Janice, she was horrible and pathetic and desperate and evoked my sympathy as well. And the mistresses, oh, the mistresses were high drama or completely used by the men, and yet they also were occasionally more than caricatures. But really, for me, it was that Tony was in therapy, on medication, and had that dynamic with Melfi that kept me into the show.

Who doesn’t love a neurotic mob boss as well as the shrink who dares to treat him? As a viewer, I was a mini Melfi utterly perplexed by Tony and also intrigued. How could Tony be so despicable and sensitive? How could such an arrogant and overweight man of such low moral character act so entitled and confident and deserving of love, money and family? And what twisted part of my psyche found him to be kind of hot and sexy? Was it the sad eyes? Was it the vulnerability of Tony in a bathrobe? Or was it just a bad case of Tony as total bad boy to be rescued by a good girl?
Yes, probably all of that. But it was also that Tony exemplified the rule of all good writing and that is this: No one is all good and no one is all bad. Your villains need a few likable traits and your heroes need to be flawed. It is the human condition and dogma and rigid rule following may be prescribed by preachers, teachers and parents but rarely make for believable human beings.

My love of the Sopranos was a metaphor for my own conflict about the human condition as well as my getting my toe wet in the pool of things I enjoyed that surprised me. Like devouring fish at a rapid pace after three decades of vegetarianism, like keeping my car radio on a stand-up comedy station for six months, like the sound of Howard Stern’s voice which I listened to even while disagreeing with most every word he said.

With age, I’ve realized everyone, even me, especially me, can be surprising and that there’s something incredibly appealing about honesty, even when it doesn’t “fit” or adhere to an image that is unyielding.

I know the people in the lives of James Gandolfini are grieving the loss of a father, husband, friend and artist. I know that is heart-breaking and life-changing loss and I feel for them because he was so young. But I didn’t know the real man. I knew Tony. Tony was in my living room every week for years.

I’m reminiscing about what appealed, attracted, disgusted and confused me about his character. I know a man like him Tony Soprano doesn’t get to live to old age, get a happy ever after or a second chance. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit, until the man who played Tony died I was secretly still hoping he might redeem himself. Maybe the child side of me thought he could turn into a wonderful father and husband who would repay his debt to society and would endlessly nurturing baby ducks before his hour with Melfi.


James Gandolfini

For those who feel the constant remembering of Tony is unfair to the man who was a father, a husband, a friend and artist, I share this.

Personally, the fact that his acting created a character that lives beyond the show seems a tribute to his craft, but I don’t want to be disrespectful. I wouldn’t presume to know what his loved ones are feeling. I know I will miss his work.

The Rain Never Steals from the Sun

I’m going to post a photo of cat puke as my Facebook status or maybe just my broken air conditioner. I’m tired of the parade of adorable smiling children, close ups of flowers and panoramic shots of mountains and oceans at sunset. I’ve had it with the never-before make-up shots of smiling and single women trying to be age-appropriate and sexy saying “notice me,” – all of which I have posted, in the last month if not the last week.

Not today. Today I want photos of zits on the nose, spinach in the teeth and clothes worn inside out or stained. Today, I want to hear complaints about cramps, constipation or pus oozing from a cut that just won’t heal.

Today, I’m wishing when my grandmother was battling with and dying of ovarian cancer I had taken more photos because it was during that time that we got closest. I saw her not only without make-up but also without masks, facing something brand new as a vulnerable, scared and brave human being.

It’s not as though Facebook is at fault. My own photo albums and digital archives are skewed. There are photos of my daughter at one-time events but none of her brushing her teeth or reading a book, which are daily routines. There are 1000 smiling faces for every irritable one and none of someone sobbing in grief over death or heartbreak which of course are common. Every couple looks happy. There are no photos of bickering lovers of teens making faces at the adults giving unsolicited advice.

My journals are filled with complaints, worries and rants while photos are unrealistically blissful. The truth is reality is the see saw of back and forth or the center which both sides share.

So many times everyone, upon greeting is “good” or “great.” Yet, even at the grocery store you see people huddled up carriage to carriage ten minutes into real conversation whispering about the child on drugs, the parent in diapers, the partner in rehab or the house in foreclosure.

Maybe, at parties there could be the solemn section for people who are ill or sad or facing uncertainty. It could be the place where people could say, “Listen to this nightmare,” or “I’m dying to snort again,” or “The love of my life got married today,” or “I’m sick of chemo.”

With truth being spoken, people would start smiling, telling jokes and feeling lifted by the connection of camaraderie rather than trying to force small talk or pretending to feel abundant and grateful when they don’t. I’m not advocating for therapy during parties or endless negativity. But for those of us who spend too much time holding pain above our heads and complaining about the strain in our shoulders and arms might it be easier to acknowledge the weight of true experience or find safe places to put the burdens down?

In my early twenties during college, I went through a cluster fuck of trauma, loss and confusion. Within two years, my grandmother battled ovarian cancer and died, a friend committed suicide, my sister met our biological father on the street in Boston after he had abandoned us two decades earlier. The man I called “Dad” who was more abusive than paternal lost his fight with lung cancer and his burial unearthed an avalanche of emotions and memories. Basically, I was a “hot mess” before the term was even coined. It was hard to focus on dates and handing papers in on time.

I remember wanting to find a support group for people in pain. I envisioned a 12-step group in any city or state available daily where I could pop in and hear another admit, “I’m in agony,” or “I have no idea what to do next.” It seemed revolutionary at the time to believe such a thing could exist, that difficult emotions could be claimed or spoken and even tears expressed. I wanted there to be a place where it would feel safe to be a PIP (person in pain), where it would be o.k. not to be peppy or all put together because I wasn’t either of those things.

I wish I had learned earlier to be brave enough to ingest and digest my experiences rather than worrying that they would consume me or contaminate others. I’ve spent lifetimes it seems swimming against the tide hoping the pull of the moon would shift the direction rather than changing my own position. I didn’t know the water would push me to shore if I would trust it not to pull me under.

Is it only sensitives or introverts or people in the midst of transition or trauma who hunger for deeper communion? Do others find it at their churches, in their families or behind the covers of books read in private? Or maybe it’s not an essential need for everyone but it is for me.

I have wasted energy fighting with my own experiences or emotions, wondering what life would have been like if X, Y or Z person, place or thing (including myself) had been different.

My daughter, on every birthday is both happy and sad. Turning five, she would say, “I’m gonna miss the number four.” Turning ten, she said, “I really liked the number 9.” Sometimes I’d worry she was going to be too much like her mother. Was she going to measure every drop in the half of the cup not yet full? Was she going to grieve what was leaving rather than celebrating what was coming? What if she were as serious as me?

But always, always, she would get attached to her new year and number. Always, like me a few weeks into a New Year, she would figure out how to inhabit time. I finally see the wisdom in allowing, honoring and recognizing the feelings that come with losses, the mixed emotions that are in transitions. Some people are moved on arrivals and others at departures. Does it matter one bit as long as we are brave enough to journey and travel?

Can we accept our own nature and the range of emotions and experiences and expressions? I’m forty-six and still feel I am always remembering to do just this?

I won’t post a picture of cat puke but I will notice the damp coolness of today’s rain, remember that listening to the wind rustle the leaves outside my window won’t steal one ray of tomorrow’s sun. In fact, do you ever feel more grateful for your health than after a flu, migraine or surgery? Isn’t the same true of difficult emotions and experiences?

California Poppies and Gazanias

Favorite Poem, Dogfish

I have loved this poem by Mary Oliver so long I remember the various ages and stages I have been in when I have read it. I love how poetry can be like a psalm that never stops informing, soothing and speaking to the spirit. This poem resonates with me every time I read it or hear it spoken. Different lines speak to me depending how I’ve matured, what I’ve endured or what’s happening in or around my life. But the music in the words mixing with the wisdom do some sort of magic every single time.

So, on the chance they do even a little bit of that for you on this day that doesn’t know if it wants to shine bright and sunny or soak itself in rain, I share a poem from one the great writers still alive in our time.

I am linking to a site because, frankly, it’s already typed out. The poet is Mary Oliver.

Summing Up

I am tired of words, exhausted by the effort expended when what I say is not listened to or heard.

I used to believe a well-articulated point could bridge any divide, as though all the world lacked was understanding and compassion.

But the heart has no ears. It needs no promises. It knows only actions: the way it is considered, tended and held. It has no lips with which to whisper. It feels the truth.

I once held hands with a possible future. I inhabited entire homes there. But I am beyond question.

This writer has turned to math. I am done with words. Numbers don’t lie. Debts I let be borrowed against my good name will take me years to re-pay but I am gaining self-interest.

My heart is as barren as my pockets. I grieve but am not uncertain. Some problems can’t be solved. Some numbers don’t add up.

All that is left is the debris of absence: sleep in my eyes, sand at my bottom and lint in my pockets.

Letters have turned into bullets. Lips of envelopes no longer get my tongue or fingertips.

I am sick of this sentence.

Forgiveness is all I have left to offer without subtraction.

5-Second Makeover & Keep Writing
Another link to writing published on the home page (ya!) of and if, like me, the sociologist in you is curious as to what others perceive as old and young and why and the more superficial side of you wants to know low or no cost things you can do about it – this piece is for you.

I spend most of my energy caring about issues that shape us on the inside. However, anything I can do to appear a bit more vibrant that keeps me healthy and whole is welcome.

As for the internal world, I’m writing lots of memoir and while I need to write to process my emotions, I also need time and space to gain perspective. In other words, I need more time and wisdom before I publish so what’s “raw” has a chance to get ripe. All experiences make for great material and I’m mining all of mine. But for now I’m making sure only to keep writing. I will think about if, what, where and when to publish at another time.

For any writers at all levels I say just keep showing up on the page or at the keyboard. If you save your work you can decide what’s worth sharing with a wider audience, what’s journal venting and what you might want to share with a close friend or no one and what you might offer up to the world.

There’s no rush. No hurry.

Write on.

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