Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rituals, Plans, and Lists, Oh my!

I was sitting on a red couch in front of a Vegas nightclub, chatting with random people, and managing to score my friends and I free drinks. I was already slightly tipsy, and reeling from a breakup, and excited to be in Vegas for the very first time with friends.  I had just bummed a cigarette from a guy at a bar, even though I don't smoke (I just like the smell of the cigarette before it's been lit), when a guy I had been talking to said "You're a free spirit, I can tell." I beamed at him. Now that I thought about it, I *was* a free spirit! How had I never noticed this about myself before?!

The answer to that question is very, very simple: I am not now, was not then, nor have I ever been what anyone could ever possibly even begin to remotely describe as a "free spirit."  There is absolutely a reason this was the one and only time that anyone has EVER used the term "free spirit" about me.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that most people who know me at all would describe me in exactly the OPPOSITE way.  My aunt Sherry always told a story about when I was very young, a toddler maybe, and I would get my hands dirty.  I would scrunch up my nose, and wipe my hands together trying to remove said dirt whilst saying 'ICK.' I'm sure free spirits come in all shapes and sizes, and I'm sure not all of them like to roll around in dirt--but I'm sure that they don't obsess/freak out over dirt.  As free spirits, I don't think it's allowed.

So, why, then, has that completely wrong observation stuck with me for so long?  Maybe it's because it's something I've always wanted to identify with--something I've been unable to identify with.

I've always been slightly obsessive--if I start thinking about something, I can't stop. I can't stop thinking about it until I talk to everyone in the universe asking for their opinion/consideration to the point where they get frustrated by how obsessive I'm being.  I've always known this about myself--I think it's one reason I tend to be so indecisive. And, I, like the rest of the world, have joked about being OCD because I do things a certain way, or have obsessive thoughts.  But, I never really took it seriously--until a few months ago.  When I was talking to a coworker, he explained that he had OCD, and explained a few repetitive actions, which of course made me think about my life.  Until then, I hadn't really thought much about the possibility that I might actually have some form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder beyond those stupid tests people post on Facebook that ask if gummi bears separated into their colors makes you feel better (which, of course it does--is there anyone for whom this is not true?  Anyway.  When this coworker brought this up, I began to think about my life in a different way.

It made me think about how I have a pattern I must perform before I fall asleep--I start on my right side, then move to my stomach with my head to the right, stomach with my head to the left, stomach with my head to the right, and then I can fall asleep. Which, sure, might be a bit OCD, but I've been doing this as long as I can remember.  But, it also made me thing of a couple other things that happened in my life.

Once, in high school, like many high school girls, I was obsessed with using chapstick.  But it was different--instead of putting it just on my lips, I had to put it slightly above and below my lips as well. That's because I developed this thing where, instead of simply licking my lips to moisten them, I would tuck my top lip under my bottom lip, and my bottom lip under my top lip (which is kind of hard to explain), but which resulted in a chapped/red area around my entire mouth. I remember my mom telling me to stop doing that. And I wanted to--but, I couldn't.  I didn't know why, but I couldn't stop doing it. Until, finally, I guess I did. Luckily, because the habit was getting bad.

It also made me think about another habit I used to have.  For about a year during my Freshman year of high school, I developed another ritual.  I used to use the fingers on my right hand (the pointer and middle) to write in cursive any words anyone said or I saw displayed.  I would 'write' these on desks as teachers were talking, or in the air by my side if I was walking or didn't have a surface upon which to "write."  One of my distinct memories of this involves my mom, Dad, and I walking around the Swap Meet where my Grandy used to sell--I kept seeing sign after sign, and I would write the words, my fingers working through the air discreetly at my side "T-Shirts sold here" or "Churros." Each sign was immediately replaced by another sign that I had to transcribe into the air--I remember walking around exhausted, trying to not look at signs or read any words, because if I did, I had to write it in the air.  I remember wanting to stop--but being unable to stop.  Until, finally, thankfully, I did.  I don't know how, why, or even when I was able to stop these behaviors--but, I was.  There are other things--other habits or rituals that I pick up and then put down, or that I hold on to, but the writing incident is the one that sticks out most in my mind. It's the one I pointed to immediately when this coworker described to me some of his OCD rituals.

It makes so much sense when I think about it in the context of my life--why I've always had these little habits or rituals. Why I am not a "Free Spirit."  I'm not a Free Spirit--but, I think that's okay. I'm not a "Bound Spirits," I have my moments. And, I have my fun--laughing is one of my favorite activities.  So I have to plan my adventures?  Who cares! The point is that I have adventures--even with the inability to be spontaneous, to have to plan every single thing, with rituals and habits and things that are probably connected to some type of OCD, I have my fun.

No, random guy in Vegas, I'm not a Free Spirit.  I don't think you could have been more wrong if you'd tried.  But, I don't think I want to be a free spirit--at least, I don't anymore.  It's never been my style, and I don't think it ever will be.  My style is riddled with plans and itineraries and rituals and lists and that's okay.  It has to be--because it's mine. And, while I would like to stop being obsessive, and be able to stop rituals at-will (or, hey, better yet: never develop rituals in the first place), I've learned that it's my way--and for whatever shortcomings my way has (and it certainly does have some), it's gotten me here--it's given me purpose and the ability to plan for the future, which is something you wouldn't find in the alternate universe Free Spirit Natalie.

So, I'm afraid that all of you in this universe are stuck with OCD Natalie--though she may frustrate you at times when she repeats information over and over again when she is worried or upset, she's all you have.

Monday, August 17, 2015

As We Sailed Into the Mystic

Some people have been asking me (or asked me at the wedding) about the song I walked down the aisle to. I've been giving a short answer--but I decided to give a longer one here, more for myself than for anyone else.  

The full story starts when I was a teenager--my parents and I were driving home from somewhere, and I was curled up in the backseat trying to sleep.  When we went on road trips, they usually played "my" music, or radio stations that I wanted to listen to.  But, this time, they were playing 'their' music. Bob Dylan came first, and I tried to sleep in the backseat, not really a Dylan fan (though now I definitely am). I would be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated--not only was I not listening to MY music, I was trying to sleep!  After the Dylan CD finished, they put in some guy I'd never heard of--I heard him singing, his semi-raspy voice filling the car. I'm sure I did more than my share of sighing and eye-rolling, until one song came on.  I remember hearing "Into the Mystic" for the first time with my eyes closed, the latch of the seat belt digging into my side. Something about this song just spoke to me--and I don't really know why or how that song connected with my teen-aged soul, I just know that it did.  Since then, I have always loved "Into the Mystic."

Flash forward to New Year's Eve 2009--I met my aunt Sherry and some of her friends in Solvang. She had been going through breast cancer treatment, and she had a few wigs to choose from.  As we were standing in the hotel room getting ready, music in the background, I heard the familiar sounds of "Into the Mystic" begin playing.  I immediately yelled "Turn it up, I LOVE this song!" Sherry turned and looked at me, her mouth slightly open, "Oh my god, Natalie! I love this song too!" Sherry and I were a lot alike in some ways--we looked so similar that when she put my school pictures on her desk, people asked if I was her daughter.  We were also very different in a lot of ways--she the extrovert, me the introvert.  But, every time we discovered another way in which we were alike, I could always count on an "Oh my god, Natalie!" from Sherry.  That night, on New Year's Eve, was one of my favorite moments-- and one I'll always treasure.

Sherry passed away in January of 2010, losing her fight with breast cancer as it metastasized in her brain.

In Grad School that year, I wrote this line in a poem I wrote about Sherry:

I think that every prayer I uttered into the mystic
went to the dark night sky
into the pocket of a thief

It was one of the first pieces of writing I sent Tom when we began talking-- and it was a poem he said he connected with.

Flash forward to our first date, and Tom and I are sitting in a darkened movie theater watching the movie "The 5 Year Engagement." During one of the scenes, a song begins to play--it's a cover, but it's instantly recognizable.  It's "Into the Mystic."  I can't control myself-- I start bawling in the theater, more than I should for the scene in the movie, and soon I'm crying so hard I can't stop.  I try to look away/conceal it, but I'm sobbing, and so of course Tom notices it, and he looks at me with concern, and I assure him that I'll explain it to him later. As we walk out of the movie theater, I do--telling him how much it reminded me of my aunt, and telling him the story of how that came to be.

But there is something I didn't explain: I considered it a sign.  Now, those who know me will know that aside from finding dimes and the occasional animal visitor (crow in my path, ladybug on my windshield), I'm not much for signs.  But I thought that this was one--that she saw me, that she was happy for me, that she was proud of me.

She always did say that she thought I would meet the person I'd marry at work (funnily enough, I always thought that too).

So, when it came time to pick a song to walk down an aisle at the end of which would stand Tom, the same boy from that first date, I looked at tradition.  The bridal march, Canon, and I considered them all.  But none of them felt right--so I searched harder.  I happened upon 2 instrumental versions of "Into the Mystic," and I thought I would use one of those.  When I played them for my mom, she liked them, but she suggested that I use the actual Van Morrison song--I instantly agreed. After all, it was my wedding, and I could choose whichever version of whichever song I wanted.

Now I will forever associate that song with my Aunt, my wedding day, and my dad singing along to the words "I wanna rock your gypsy soul" as we approached the end of the aisle.  I'll keep making memories with my aunt, even if she is no longer here--and everyone else I love who has passed for that matter.

Anyway, there it is-- the story of how I came to walk down the aisle on my one and only wedding day to Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."