Friday, March 25, 2011

On Having Flaws

Before I had my nervous breakdown in the 90s, having worked in the mental health field with adolescent offenders, and having taught anger management courses and scored kids against a list of "thinking errors" in the name of teaching them self-assessment skills, I found myself in a position where I felt a human being was honor bound to be as good a person as they were capable of being.

Part of it was my Christian upbringing, which although I had already become agnostic, I was very conscious was still a large part of the reason I had become the person I was. Part of it was in response to the years of teasing and abuse from my classmates in school. It was a challenge to myself that I would show them all (and perhaps myself) by being a better person than they ever were. Part of it was that I felt I had been given a gift as a counselor and friend to all, and had to be no burden on anyone else so I could instead take on their burdens, be the Good Samaritan, the caregiver, the man people wrote soliloquies about when you died.

I never got angry, I just felt a sadness that there was pain in the world.

I never allowed myself selfish wants and desires.

And when I made a mistake, I made sure to feel really, really bad about it. And I did.

When I let my hormones get the best of me on a hot, frisky night, and I didn't hear the word "no" the way I should have, not to the point of actually crossing any lines, but definitely to the point where a woman who had already experienced sexual trauma felt suddenly retraumatized, and I didn't see it, didn't respond as I, as an advanced soul, should have, I felt such shame. I felt like the lowest of the low.

When I, not knowing I had ADD, but knowing instead that I was clearly very intelligent and creative, and interested in so many things, could not reconcile that knowledge with the fact that I was getting Cs, and even sometime Ds or incompletes in school, I became increasingly despondent. I felt like I was an imposition on more than just the people who had such hopes for me, like my parents and my very intelligent friends. I began to feel I was an imposition on the world.

When, after nearly three years in the mental health industry, it became increasingly clear that I was not going to advance in stature and salary until I had at least a Master's degree, but that I wasn't going to get that Master's degree until I finished my Bachelor's, and that wasn't going to happen while I was taking fewer courses each semester, but I couldn't seem to manage to take those courses without becoming overwhelmed, and I had to work to pay bills, rent, food, car payments. Well, I began to wonder if perhaps the very oxygen I was breathing might be better breathed by other people.

When my writing, on which I increasingly began to pin my hopes of justifying my very existence, increasingly became lack-luster, bland, repetitive, dry and (gasp!) uninspired, I lost the last of my hope. My muse had died, or perhaps had even abandoned me for someone else.

I now officially had nothing to give the universe.

I was eating the universe's food. Breathing its air. Accepting the goodwill and high aspirations and terrific compliments and "Wow you are such a good actor, a good writer, wow you're smart", and I was giving it nothing in return.

I. Was. A fraud.

And this was a great insult to my very essential sense of identity. I was a higher soul, with a sense of purpose, a gift to give, and I was pissing on it and throwing it away.

Perhaps, in this light, it might make sense that I became suicidal, despondent, lost in a hazy cloud of shame and doubt and cynicism. Smart, creative, and unable to do anything with it worthy of the man I felt I should be.

Perhaps, on the other hand, someone might conclude I was melodramatic, and they would likely be right. But melodrama is not melodrama to the person experiencing the pain. The pain is very real, the shame, the quandary of being responsible for being better than you clearly are.

Anyhow, the suicidal impulses and depression were very real, more real that the doctor on the psych ward where I checked myself in would admit to my mother. ("He wasn't really suicidal." Yeah, right.)

Bear with me. There is a point to this.

Recovery, for me, began with a most curious realization.

It is okay to be flawed.

It is okay to be human.

The real fraud is to think that you are a higher soul with grand gifts and great responsibilities.

The real tragedy is to consume oneself so much with the need to be grand, amazing, gracious, generous, even-keeled, wise and always right-minded, right-hearted, unselfish. The greatest mistake we can make is that any mistake or base motive we have is somehow an indication that we are docked against some cosmic scorecard, that karma has just revved its motor, and it's waiting in the wings for the opportunity for me to step into the street so it can run me over. That God just frowned and wrote a memo to St. Peter. That Santa just transfered my name to the bad list.

The greatest gift we can give ourselves is permission to be human. Flawed. Imperfect. Impatient, grumpy, and yes even hypocritical.

I celebrate being a hypocrite. I actually do. You can ask most of my friends, because I have preached it more than once.

I zealously protect my right to be angry sometimes. To stand up for myself, only to realize later on that I was in the wrong, that someone else was under undue burden, and I only made things worse by getting uppity and snippety and snivelly.

I am not perfect, and that's fine.

The measure of a person is not the ability to get by with the grace of a ballet dancer in all things. Perfect people freak me out. People that have every hair in place, that seem calm and eternally happy, unflappable, poised. Those people are the people I watch, because I know that they will have one hell of a collapse, and it will truly be epic in proportion.

I recently read of a notion of a form of enlightenment in Buddhist circles that is, at best, temporary. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about it in Eat, Pray, Love. The idea is that, on the path of meditation and reflection, one will occasionally meet the universe, taste the "oneness" of enlightenment, feel at peace and truly, at last, understand. Everything.

And then the feeling will fade, hunger and illness will eat away at the equanimity, people with annoying rasps in their voices will begin to talk just 5 seconds longer than you really are prepared to handle, mosquitoes will begin to bite, and you begin to care about that again, bill collectors and phone marketers begin to call on your cell phone, deadlines demand your attention, and you very steadily begin to lose your shit and become a very unenlightened being and finally one day you might snap at a cashier, say something quite offensive to a loved and cherished friend, be very insensitive to someone you love.

And that's all right.

You're not a bad person.

You are a glorious human being who goes through cycles who is occasionally strong, occasionally not and wants, really wants, really does want to be a better person.

But isn't yet.

Our flaws don't define us. And sometimes, the task at hand isn't to become perfect, but to develop a sense of humor, like one would show to a five year old who can't quite master dancing and keeps tumbling most gracelessly onto the couch, to laugh, and hold the child, to hold "you" in loving arms and say the simple phrase:

"That's okay. You're allowed to be imperfect. I think you are glorious just the way you are."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Ready for Autumn

Ready for Autumn
by Vania Smrkovski
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contemplation on a bench in the park on a cool autumn day and she reflects on her life and her entrances her exits and her hours no maybe days no maybe months or even years in this very seat in this park in years past and she wonders how to measure her life.

Snow flowers sweat grass-stains dirt ground into her dress as her dress ground into her hips as her hips ground into him and she smiles, red-cheeked, at that steamy memory and she wonders how to measure her time here.

Grammar middle high college grad doctor mother wife retired diagnosed terminal and now she waits here on the bench in the park on this cool autumn day and she reflects on her lessons and she breathes and she smiles and she sees so many choices.

So many ways to measure her life.

Contemplation. As leaves fall upon the ground as leaves fall upon her bench as leaves fall upon her shoulders her lap her face and cover her eyes and they measure her in inches and then feet and then yards and she is covered by the autumn leaves and she waits for them to do their final act upon her.

Baby-blankets quilts backpacks rain-gear grunting man with garlic breath and whispers of love, and children on her breast as she sleeps, and knitted quilts and one day a shroud and she wonders if anyone will remember.

Will anyone remain to measure her life.

Contemplation with no urgency only peace only love only certainty of a life fully lived in this park in this world with her friends with her loves, as the leaves leave the trees till they're bare, and she knows she is ready she has given she can go she can go she can finally let go.

Hand on her shoulder warmth and firmness and calm and timeless and she turns, sees his face and she smiles.

And she smiles and closes her eyes and arises and takes his hand.

And she bids her park goodbye.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I Am Mighty

I Am Mighty:
by Vania Smrkovski
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You try to weigh me down, but I am mighty, and I will dominate, and I will defeat you.

Yes! I am made up of chemicals, neurons, imbalances, experiences, scars, self-esteem, and

Yes! I know the words of my own doom by heart and hear their echo still, and

Yes! I still hear the words from the school yard, the school bus, from college, from work, from the darkest night in bed alone and weary and teary and afraid, but

You! Cannot defeat me and

You! Cannot break me and

You! Will not define me for

You! Are but what I make of you and

I! Will not be limited by the world you paint for me, you deamons of doubt and fear and anger and angst and self-loathing.

For while I cannot control the tidal flow of despair that you create in my mind and my soul,

I can still choose how to respond

And I will defeat you

And I will perservere

For even in the deepest pit of depression and despair, my tears will erode you, my fury will blow you down, and you must know that I am mightier than you can ever conceive.


Vania 3.0, it's happening.... The writing, the act itself, the inspiration, has come back to me.....

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Allee Willis Blog � Blog Archive � Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – 1970’s Disco Suitcase Set & Pomplamoose

Allee Willis Blog � Blog Archive � Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – 1970’s Disco Suitcase Set & Pomplamoose

Being a fan of Pomplamoose, as I have been so eager to share on my profile before, I thought I would share this great blog by the writer of "September", who was so impressed with their remake of her song that she tracked them down and offered to collaborate on a record with them!


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

It has happened at last. Officially single, ready to start anew.

Well, to be sure, I never really knew where I would be when I found myself in the summer of 2009 wondering if I had indeed reached the point of no hope. I put everything I could into my marriage, trying to really look at my part in our arguments, to see what I needed to improve, so that I could be sure I had ruled out everything before I finally gave up.

But I had lost hope, and while I didn't know where I was going, I knew that I was in the unique and wonderful position of having recently reconnected with friends from years past, and I found myself looking at the world of theatre for the first time in nearly 20 years.

And I felt just a little less afraid.

These last 8 or 9 months have been quite a journey, and now I have capped off the first chapter of what I have termed "Vania 3.0", the next great revision in my self-identity. The divorce was final as of yesterday. I can't quite celebrate. I do not hate my ex wife. Not even remotely. I still fervently hope that we will be able to develop a strong friendship again.

She is still my primary veterinarian for my cats, and we still get together once every couple of months to watch TV together. It's awkward, maybe more for me than for her, I don't know, but I met her when she was still freshly in the United States, a college student not quite ready for the real world, and I watched her grow into a strong, independent woman. Even if it turns out that we are not meant for each other, I still cherish those memories together.

But, I'm starting chapter 2 of my Vania 3.0 life, now. I've made major headway in the story analysis of my "Great American Existential Novel", developed characters, back story, potentially interesting plot developments. I've done three full stage productions, the last, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, being the most challenging and fulfilling for me yet. And I might, just might, actually be seriously in a position to open up a dinner theatre here in my home town of Knoxville, TN.

And now I'm spending a great deal of my time wondering what I am going to do with my personal life. Do I just happily find a way to live on my own? Do I remain open for a new relationship one day? Do I just crassly find a way to get laid whenever I can? I'm not sure if I'm that kind of guy. For all that I still get urges (fairly often, truth be told), I just can't bring myself to just be happy banging a stranger. I do want to actually know the person I'm with. Call it a sense of propriety, maybe, or perhaps just call it a sense of insecurity -- maybe I just need someone I can trust enough before I make love with her.

Meanwhile, knowing that a relationship happens pretty much despite anything I do, I am just content finding my home is indeed my home. My salvation, my protection. I can tuck away all the corners that lead to the outside world and rest in the cocoon that is my condo, feed my kittens, cook a meal and lay back and read, or watch some TiVo'd programs, or just close my eyes, pick up my recorder and dictate some thoughts on my book.

So here's to you, my ex-wife, my friends who knew me as Vania 1.0, or Vania 2.0. I hope you'll be able to tag along as I enter chapter 2 and take part in the story that is my life.

It's only now starting to get really interesting....


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Gardener: a peek into the story

I hereby provide you an email I sent to a friend describing who this Gardener is and why she (? he?) is important in the story. Most of this will not make sense.

So be it.



Hey, thanks for the offer of help....

I know very little about gardening, so at this point I am doing a character study. I want to understand it well enough to build a character. I want to understand enough about its history to hopefully build on that knowledge.

The character is a god, of sorts, and a mortal character as well. I'm not sure how much even she/he knows of the dual nature. But the Gardener has been building, harvesting, nurturing for aeons. The garden he tends is as much heavenly, ethereal. They are the stuff of forces, wind, gravity, electricity, but they are also attraction, between people, inspiration, focus.

While I do want to study our own many mythologies for my stories, I plan to kind of tear them like you might make confetti out of paper. Reattach them as with tape, or water for papier mache.

The Gardener is interested in particular in a peculiar thing he/she has encountered. Its original form is lost to us, but upon the discovery of "DNA" in our mortal world, its reality changed and it became highly complex DNA, strands distributed throughout our reality, sometimes in people, many of whom are remarkable, known to history as saints, artists, philosophers, kings, but many of whom are animals, plants and even rock.

These strands were once part of one original god-like being, one of a handful at the time of the creation before creations, the creation that created the canvas upon which our Judeo-Christian god painted the light upon the darkness.

The Gardener doesn't understand everything -- in fact what the Gardener thinks she knows is mostly myth, misinformation, legends, deception, but she understands that, like mating different Orchids, one can create something new and unique, and so she serves the purpose of the story by heralding the first transformation I need for my main character.

In my stories, Sandy, I plan to follow a mortal, an ordinary divorce who moves to a small town to rebuild his life, as he faces the confusion and certain descent into madness as he discovers he is more than a mere mortal, but is -- what? Divine? Even that word is so Judeo-Christian as to be meaningless. But definitely made of subtler stuff than what can be understood is his world of physics, psychology, is, is not, either/or, mass, meaning.

So the Gardener is only representative of the next level of reality, but a reality that is just as false as our own, and once the first book is done and our hero has discovered a truer sense of himself, he will only come to discover that there are many layers to the skin that covers his eyes.

I want the Gardener to be as rich a character as I can make him or her. I want to know legend and history. I want to know what callouses form where, and how the clock is set differently each day and each season.

I hope this gives you a better sense of what I need......

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ankle Deep in the Black Bog of Writer's Block

Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune is just about over. It's been a terrific run, and I feel like I've learned a lot as an actor. I am hoping for this last weekend to be the best yet.

One more weekend to go, and I no longer have any huge commitments after hours. Well, having just about wrapped up this latest 2-month excuse not to really do anything with writing, the thought of the massive project has been getting ever so insidiously under my skin again. At the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a book called "No Plot? No Problem!", just for the sake of having the topic of writing part of my evening regimen.

The real problem is that, while the act of writing itself is important, I still find myself going back to the notion that I have a very specific story that I want to tell -- I am simply not yet at the point of writing the tale. It's that simple. I could sit down and write fifteen short stories in a week's time and it wouldn't give me one iota of a sense of satisfaction because they simply would not be stories that I want to write.

So I am recommitted to giving this process of story outlining and back-story development a go. I have printed out every single note I have on the topic, in my Google Documents & Spreadsheets collection, in my Google Notes collection, in the LiveScribe notes I've been collecting, on my over-sized sheets of notepaper that I bought last December along with lots of permanent markers and lots of stick'um so I can post them on my wall, and over the next few weeks, as Frankie and Johnny closes and I am able to commit more time, I will cut these notes up into little scraps of thoughts and paste them on my wall in my office at home and pray that a sensible pattern emerges.

See, I am exploring something very peculiar. It doesn't even have a fully fleshed out story, yet. It's an exploration into the very notion of identity and reality. The story presumes a set of physical laws that would have an impact on so much of our notion of what is a person, what is a moment in time, what is "real".

Meanwhile, I will take a break from theatre work. At least a couple of months. These little hermit-moments don't tend to last too long. The writer's block has made it difficult for me to stay on task and sort through my thoughts. I'm still trying to enlist the aid of some of my creative friends, but they either complain irritated that they can't grasp what I'm trying to do, as if the fact that I can't either isn't relevant, as if I'm trying to show off for them, or they focus on irrelevancies or try to advise me to "just write", ignoring everything I've been saying all along.

Yes, I know that "just write" is important. I'm not discounting the idea that the act of writing, in and of itself, sets the creative juices flowing. I've already been down that road and the motivation simply isn't there to continue. The reason for this is that the real problem I am trying to solve, this puzzle of how to tell a story about a god who doesn't even know what is real, isn't yet ready to be written.