Make way – fuck up comin’ through.

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One of the weird things I’ve discovered is that teenagers are willing to accept me. As someone who was hands down a quintessential loser in high school, this is something that took me by surprise — as I said to one girl last year, “You do realize that I’m the kid you made fun of this morning, right? That girl? I’m her – ten years later. Just so you know.”

I don’t see those kids anymore. Officially, anyway. I’m not in that forum anymore. I walked away, thinking that it wouldn’t matter to anyone but me. After all, it had been made very clear that I wasn’t welcome any more.

What I’ve found out since then is that I am missed. From the kid we caught in the bathroom stall trying to eavesdrop on my conversation with one of my teammates to the shifting rotation of girls that suddenly are in dire need of a ride to the off-site parking lot who attempt to surreptitiously question me & find out why I’m not there anymore, to the overweight, quiet girl that ran into me one Sunday and simply cried, “Where did you go?” that I had to reassure it was okay, that I was still around and it would be all right — if I have learned anything in the last two months, at least I have the small knowledge that who and what I am made some difference and in some way, I am missed.

I didn’t know why they decided that I was all right — I mean gods, the mind of teenager, who can predict that. But they had, and I found myself counseling on the best way to hide/quickly eliminate a hickey (which is amazing since I never had one at their age), missing clothes since borrowing from me became the new black, and being randomly assaulted by a girl in need of a hug to recover from the trauma of her first public 2k competition. I remember sitting down on the sand with a group of kids at their first spring regatta, and having several pairs of little hands reach out and begin braiding my hair. When I asked, “Whuuuutarewedoin’?” I was told, “It makes us feel better.” so I let them have at it.

Z remarked on it once and asked me why this was. When he said it, I just shrugged ’cause back then I didn’t know either.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, seriously – I’m a loser. A fuck up. I fuck things up all the time. Like, hard core. So hard core. And not like, little things. I fuck up big shit. On a daily basis. I fuck up my life, I fuck up my work, I fuck up running my own team – I make mistakes all over the place.

It is in figuring out my latest fuck up that I have come to realize why it is that my teammates, despite everything, trust me to make decisions – hell, it’s been a year, and I’m still surprised when I hear someone say, “This is Claris. She’s in charge.” In my head, there’s still a part of me asking, “Why the fuck am I in charge? And why is everyone okay with that?” I get it now… why it is that even though I’m not there anymore, those teenagers still find ways to find me.

People trust me because I fuck things up.

Everyone has a secret fear – that they’re going to mess up. In work, in life, in love, in something, no matter how awesome you are, how rich you might be… everyone’s afraid they’re going to somehow fuck it up, and that when they do, they’re going to lose it all. They’re afraid that the people around them won’t allow for fallibility, and everything they have will disappear. So they pretend to be cool, they run from situations where they could make the difference, where they could do the right thing, where they could take a stand, and they do this because they’re afraid of losing everything. They’re afraid of pain, and in hiding from that pain they miss out on… their life. They hide behind the facades that we all assume, and insulate themselves from hurt, from the possibility of hurt, and pretend to be infallible.

Teenagers don’t want infallible. They’re realistic enough to know that they are gonna fuck up, and they wanna know that when they do, the people around them will be okay with that, that not being perfect or right every time is going to be forgiven, that it will be something that we can all work through & learn from. They want to know that it’s not going to be the end, that they won’t be dismissed and discarded. They want to know that the people that are around them, the ones they’re supposed to learn from, are going to do the right thing — that they’re going to practice what they preach. They want to know that despite error, they will still be accepted, fuck ups and all.

I fuck up. I don’t hide from that. I never have. Running from things just makes them worse – trying to shunt problems to the side and pretend you’re perfect and blameless just makes you less approachable. Instead of bringing people to you, it causes them to build walls — after all, if you don’t allow for your own fallibility, how can you deal with anyone else’s? You eliminate the capacity for vulnerability, for other people to share who they are with you. They won’t – they’ll only show you the part that they think you will accept.  Because they’ve seen you reject someone else that screwed up, they’ll pull back, and only show you the shiny facade, and there is no humanity in such falsehood.

I was raised not to cry. To this day, I will often vomit when stressed out or upset. There was no time for crying. It was a sign of weakness. There was no room for mistakes – get it right, do it the first time, and damn what your feelings are. Looking back, I get it now. Why I was raised that way. My mother was running from what she was as much as she was trying to chase it out of me. Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven her for it, but at least understanding it helped me to let go of being angry about it.

In all honesty, it is only in the last few years that I have actually allowed myself to begin to feel. As anyone that knew me can tell you, I was a machine – no other way to describe it. Started working at 12, three jobs at once while in high school. Degree in three years while working full time, move to LA, up to four jobs at a time — as Sam once put it, “I swear to god, you’re not human, you’re an alien robot sent here to make the rest of us feel bad about our need for sleep.”

After over a quarter of a century, I gave in — I allowed emotions. I found my vulnerability. Every so often, I’ll crash and sleep for 14, 18 hours at a time – it’s like my body has these jags where it’s trying to make up for all the rest I missed in the first two and a half decades of life.  And to this day, I often don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to deal. Hit the right button, I become the eight year old kid bracing for the next emotional hit, and I will do anything to make it stop.

Because of that, a lot of times, I fuck up. And when I do, I want what everyone wants – for that to be okay. I want to know it’s not the end. That failure doesn’t mean no one wants you anymore. No one wants to have to live in fear of being voted off the island.

Failure should yield growth. Learning. A new way of doing things. When it results in rejection, in cruelty… no one learns from that. At least, they don’t learn anything good.

I have what we’ve jokingly referred to as “Pavlovian Politeness” – years of customer service bred in the reflex of walking up to a cashier & saying, “Hey, how are you today?” (Which, incidentally, can totally screw with them because they’re not used to the customer saying it.) I say thank you to people when they do things, whether I need to or not. I try to say hello when I see people. As much as it’s reflex, I also do it because that’s how I want to be treated.

I used to know this guy. He didn’t want to deal with his own fallibility. Went to great lengths to not have to sit and deal with the reality of what was going on. And after the last time that I attempted to work through things, on the day that I walked away from the situation, I looked at my friend KC and said, “KC, mark me now — those same ‘fine gentlemen’ that are helping him today are going to turn on him. The fact that they don’t want to deal with the truth means that the moment he fucks up, they will get rid of him for the sake of expediency as surely as they are helping him get rid of me.”

Less than seven months later… that’s exactly what happened. And when it did, there was no one to help. No one willing to work through it. No one around to deal. Because everyone that would have made allowances for weakness had left. The only ones left… well, they had a shiny veneer to preserve.

I fuck up. I fuck up a lot. But when I do, I’m willing to deal. I’m willing to work through it. I will sit, and take responsibility for what I did.

I don’t run.

And that, more than anything else, is why my teammates allow me to be in charge – because of the fact that I want for myself, I’m willing to do that for them. They can tear their shoulder muscle, they can have a work deadline, they can call me two days before the regatta and not be able to row, and know that it’ll be all right. They can be unexpectedly pregnant, and get the response of, “Okay, we can deal with this – what do you need?” They know that I may sigh and roll my eyes at them, but when the shit hits the fan, I won’t run. I don’t leave. That no matter how much it sucks, we’ll sit and we’ll figure it out, and at the end of the day, they will not be alone. Shoulder surgeries are met with a dictum that they aren’t allowed back on the water until after fall season so they fully heal and an invitation to come meet us for breakfast. Canceling on a regatta just means that you’ll join us next Sunday instead. Unexpected babies are greeted with cards for baby showers and socks in team colors.

Teams are built this way. Families chosen are created this way.

I have not been okay. I have been hurt. I have been tired. I have been sick. I have not been able to be what my teammates needed me to be. And their response has been to allow for that. To be okay with me not being okay. They have encouraged me to rest. They checked to make sure I had a toothbrush when I would begin every morning dry heaving over a toilet so often that I now need dental work. They have been there when I had to cry, they were patient when I lost my temper. They accepted my mistakes and told me, “Well next time you can come to us and that won’t happen again.” And when the time came for decisions to be made, when there needed to be a voice that defined who we were, I was asked to be the one that made that decision. I was that voice. As one team member said in a meeting, “There is no team without Claris. She’s part of the deal.”  They said this because I didn’t leave. No matter how bad I’d fucked up, I stayed and dealt with it. I didn’t run.  I didn’t abandon them.

It is when you run. When you hide. When you leave others to clean up the mess you’ve created. When you do that, you create your own downfall. You leave no room for fallibility – yours or that of those around you. So when that day comes that you’ve fucked up and you need someone to be there, someone to help you deal, someone to let you know you are not rejected — on that day, you will be alone. If you do not stand for anyone, no one will stand for you.

This is not foolproof. There are no guarantees. You can trust and be betrayed. You can take a risk and fall. It happens. Other people fuck up too. But if you’ve never fallen, how can you ever hope to help anyone else learn how to get up again?

I have a choice to make. To continue to try to make amends and extend a kindness which has thus far gotten me kicked in the teeth, or to leave someone to it and take the necessary steps to safeguard myself. If there is anything I learned from my upbringing, it is that there is a difference between allowing for fallibility and allowing someone else’s fear to beat you up. I need to decide where one ends and the next begins.

Next week, I begin my third decade. The number doesn’t really bother me. I approach it with a rather harshly honest outlook on who and what I am. I take comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone. I know that there are things I will do right, and things I will do wrong. But I will learn from that. I will not run. I will deal.

I will fuck up. And that’s okay.

She don’t run from the sun no more… she boxed her shadow and she won. ~ Paper Bag – Anna Nalick

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  • Mr. Whyt

    Have I told you lately that you’re awesome? Really really awesome.

  • raithen

    So. ya. Glad you are writing again, in short.

    And also late on birthday wishes – but they are heartfelt!

    And also, you’ve got my e. You are freelance. It’s a WAY outside possibility, but I might have some pull at the new gig, and we might get some budget for design. And if it happens, well, let’s see if we can talk…. (and simplify the cross border stuff ;) . No promises, but hey. Let’s talk, so my ducks are in a row if things start to happen.

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