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The most terrible poverty | Manolo for the Big Girl

The most terrible poverty

Yesterday Francesca posted her thoughtful response to reader L’s letter on loneliness (the title of today’s post comes from Mother Teresa’s description of that condition)  Today I’m giving it a go.

Dearest L,

Let me tell you the little-known parable of the Volvo and the Cadillac:

Once upon a time there was a remarkably beautiful, witty, erudite goddess of a woman named, uh, Rumcake. She lived happily with a Volvo station wagon named Tilly. Tilly was a good car with lots of safety features, decent mileage and heated seats which were nice to have although not technically all that useful in Texas someplace that’s not Texas because this isn’t autobiographical.

Tilly ran  day in and day out, got her oil changed almost regularly and was well-loved.

Then one day, a classic Cadillac named Stella Blanche appeared. Blanche was big, beautiful and looked especially good topless, not unlike Rumcake herself. Now, Blanche required a lot more maintenance than Tilly.  Rumcake’s grandmother, who had never driven anything but Volvos in her life, was forever trying to convince our spectacularly-shod though WOEFULLY UNDERPAID heroine to sell Blanche because she was too much of a hassle to maintain.

Rumcake then sensibly inquired whether Grandma was smoking the crack.

You don’t just get rid of something you love because it needs special care. You take care of it. Blanche is beautiful, special and a lot more interesting than any late-model Volvo –which by the way needs maintenance from time to time, too– and although you might get your five-for-five-dollars undies in a budge at the idea of my car spending more than 20 minutes a year in the garage, I know that it’s just a part of making sure she’s getting what she needs.”

Rumcake was, right (as usual) her grandmother was wrong (again as usual) and everyone lived happily ever after. Especially her mechanics. The End.

Now, I know sometimes stories are too subtle for deep interpretation, so let me lay a little church on you:

Sugarlump, you need to get yourself some therapy.

The way I figure it, it’s all part of the Self-Care Package. I’ve got a gal who does my hair when it needs to be trimmed, someone who shapes my eyebrows when they’ve crawled together like a pair of star-crossed caterpillars, and I’ve got someone who helps me out during stormy emotional seas.

I wouldn’t want an amateur to cut my hair or wax my brows, and since emotional wellness is NEARLY as important as getting that perfect “arch of disapproval” etched into the wooly mammoths that are my natural eyebrows, you can bet your pants I’m going to see a professional there, too.

You might benefit from regular meetings, or you might just benefit from occasional shrinkage, like I do. Besides, there’s nothing more boring than someone who doesn’t need therapy.

As far as being lonely goes, well, I think sometimes you’re just going to be lonely, and that sucks. A lot.  Hell, I’m NOT shy (were you sitting down for that one?) my idea of heaven is being left alone for a week, but even then…sometimes I’m lonely. I even get a bone crusher from time to time.  The key is to have solid foundation under the loneliness that lets you ride it out. I can’t help you with that specifically –that’s something for you and your therapist– but I can say Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty” certainly opened things up for me.

I suspect, though, your loneliness isn’t just loneliness for the living. Let’s not kid ourselves, Loneliness is grief. When we are lonely, we are grieving our missing relationships.  Sounds a lot of like bereavement to me.

I’ve lost six family members this year, six, including my favorite person, my grandfather.  My little brother –my backup favorite person– has cancer (God punished him for having a stupid goatee). It’s been nothing but a cavalcade of suck since this time last year and L, I am grieved.

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since my grandfather went into hospice and I went to stay with him and although the initial shock and sadness is over, my grieving has only begun.  That’s the thing about grief: it may change forms –now it aches where it used to stab–  but it is there for as long as it pleases, and fighting it isn’t going to help anybody.

I very much suggest finding a grief therapy group or someone who specializes in bereavement counseling. I’m part of Walking the Mourner’s Path, a bereavement group through my church. If you don’t have any program in mind, contact your local hospice, tell them what you’re looking for –faith-based, secular, whatever– and they’ll provide you with information. You’ll find most bereavement therapists suggest starting no sooner than six months after the death, so you’re in prime position.

Seriously though, L, That’s the only rock-solid advice I can offer.

Everything else here is just the inklings of someone, as a therapist, makes an excellent fashion blogger: (BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE)

Now let’s talk about the whole “together” thing.

I can’t speak for the rest of the gang but I am exactly as together as I appear on this blog, which is to say not very. Frankly, I think it’s part of my charm, but the whole thing is really academic to the argument because we all know loneliness doesn’t give a pink-pantied damn whether you’re “together” or not.

What does “together” even mean? Have you ever in your entire life known someone, I mean really known them down to the pop-the-zit-on-my-back, emergency-pregnancy-test-in-the-gas station-outside-El Paso level who was really “together”? Answer: no, you haven’t. No one has, because they don’t exist. Being “together” is a bullshit human construct and it can take a long walk off a short, splintery pier and it can take “I’m over it”  with it.  Screw ’em.

The sooner you stop believing the external has anything at all to do with the internal (or eternal) the happier you’ll be (no, this does not mean I’m granting novelty sock amnesty; dream on, sister).

Speaking of external, I don’t believe in external fixes. Sure, I’d be way more lonesome without Dozer, my brother and my friends but for as much comfort and joy as they provide (which is lots) ultimately, external fixes don’t work and I can prove it to you in three little words.

Crazy.

Cat.

Lady.

Your therapist can steer you in the right direction (and if you feel she isn’t, switch shrinks) but let me leave you with this last bit of counsel:

Be part of something bigger than yourself.

If you think you could die tomorrow and it would be as if you’d never existed, that’s an easy fix. Make someone’s life better. Find something you can do in your community –it’s important you be able to get your hands dirty and see results– and do it.

I know you’ve said you’re shy and tried volunteering. Well, keep trying. There are days I drag myself to my gigs, convinced I’m wasting everyone’s time. It’ll pass.

Shop around if you need to until you find the right fit, but I cannot overstate how important it is to do something bigger than yourself. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but it needs to be something tangible and consistent.

If you are looking for volunteer opportunities but can’t find something that suits you, email me; we’ll talk and get you sorted out, wherever in the world you are.

And finally, by writing your letter, you’ve made a difference in my life. We may never meet, but we are now permanently connected.

If someone reads my response and gets any humor or hope or inspiration then you’ve touched their lives too.

We are all interconnected —whether we see it or not– and along those ties, run the currents of love, empathy and support that are the natural, inevitable byproducts of living in community, no matter how virtual, spread out or messed up.

You may not see those ties, you might not even feel them right now, but like those little cutlets I stuff in my bra on the first date, I promise you; they’re there.

Gin and tonics (and hugs and support),

Your pal Plum

20 Responses to “The most terrible poverty”

  1. Becs September 30, 2009 at 10:46 am #

    Danggit Plummy I hate crying at work! This was so spot-on. I’ve definitely made some of my best friends through volunteering – my one recommendation would be to try to find something that has you work together in a team, rather than each doing your own thing. I help with therapeutic horse-back riding lessons, and we all have to work together to get everything done, so there’s a lot of interaction.

  2. KESW September 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Posts like these are the biggest reason that I can use to justify to myself why as a size 10 I read this blog. :) I definitely ditto the advice on becoming a part of something larger than just yourself, and kudos to the letter writer on saying that that didn’t have to be a romantic partner for her. A friendship, a mentoring relationship, becoming a part of a religious community, forming a relationship with God, are all just as meaningful if not MORE so than romance. I wish you could lay a little church on one of my friends who is going through a similar situation, Plummy… I’ve tried and he is stubborn.

  3. Kimocean September 30, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Well written Plumcake! Great advice and a great reminder for all of us that self-care is a broad and ongoing part of life. I heartily second the therapy recommendation in particular. Knowing when you need a little support to maintain your mental health is my definition of sanity.

  4. gemdiva September 30, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Excellent post Plumcake! I think that sometimes we think we have to do it all on our own and that asking for help is some kind of shameful weakness. To my mind realizing that you need help and seeking it is one of the most intelligent and character strengthing choices a person can make. Choosing to write the letter and reach out is a great first step for “L”.

  5. Plumcake September 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm #

    Becs, I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve made someone cry on this blog, but it’s the first time I haven’t felt bad about, or at least felt bad about NOT feeling bad about it. You know what I mean.

    I think you’re onto something with the volunteering as part of a team. As probably surprises absolutely no one to find out, I’m a teensy bit of the John Wayne/Dirty Harry end of the team player spectrum, so I have to really seek out balancing my solo stuff with something more on the team-building side.

    Those therapy horses sound amazing, what a wonderful gift and opportunity for everyone involved.

  6. Plumcake September 30, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    KESW, the old joke goes “how many 100 watts does it take to change a lightbulb” and the answer is, of course “one, but the light bulb has to really want to change”. I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s struggles, but when he’s ready I really believe he’ll be able to hear what he needs to progress. The trick for his friends is making sure they’re there when he’s ready. It’s a tough gig, as well you know.

    And about being straight-sized. You’d be surprised at the number of readers I get emailing me who are outside our “core demographic” men (straight and gay) women of all sizes. You’re in a sizable minority, and we’re glad to have you. Especially since you’ve got such exquisite taste in writers.

  7. Plumcake September 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    Kimocean, I’m constantly amazed by folks who wouldn’t dream of trying to rotate their tires solo or even give themselves a pedicure who think it’s a big deal to get a little professional couch time.

  8. Plumcake September 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    Gemdiva, thanks. I’m glad L reached out too. Look at this dialogue she’s opened. Also, several studies show that patients’ mental states actually improve between the time they address what’s going on, even just by making a telephone call to schedule an appointment with a counselor.

  9. Jen Anderson September 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    I’d like to add one suggestion for meeting people that a lot of people overlook. There are fan clubs and other groups with common interests that get together in person and most people don’t know each other there at first, so it’s easy to join in. My husband & I met a lot of our friend through the Dr. Who NY group. Meetup.com lists different gatherings every night of the week, so L should be able to find something she’d like to try out.

  10. daisyj September 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

    Yeah, what she said.

    As far as the volunteering, I would highly recommend One Brick, if you happen to live in city where they have a chapter. It’s great because it’s commitment-free volunteerism– kind “volunteering for people who don’t like volunteering”– and you don’t have to sign up for a bunch of hours or go around hitting up your friends for money. You just pick what you want to do, sign up and go do it, wash, rinse, repeat.

  11. Ragster September 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

    Plumcake, this is a great post. Good on you for being to the point and telling it how it is, you’ve provided some great advice in there too.

    As someone who lives outside of the USA looking in, I often get the impression from Americans I see on TV, or that I’ve met in person, that there’s a lot of ‘self-help’ speak going on, but no action. I love that you emphasised “and do it” in your advice, that really is the key to getting over personal challenges, setting yourself a plan and actually doing it. (Oh, and no offense intended to Americans, just sharing an observation, I’ve met many awesome ones too.)

    I think one of the key steps in getting yourself out of the suckiness is realising that every single person on this earth goes through suckiness at one time or more in their lives, and that you are not alone, and that it’s not all about you and how miserable you are. Sometimes you have to kick yourself up the backside and tell yourself to get over yourself.

    Good luck L, you’ll come out the other side and feel awesome!

  12. Margo September 30, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    I’m blubbing into my novelty socks here. Excellent post.

  13. Twistie September 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    (Hands Margo a dry pair of novelty socks)

    I cannot agree enough the value of getting involved in something bigger than oneself. There’s always room for one more at your local soup kitchen, boys and girls club, community theater, museum docent program, open mic night, coffee house stitch and bitch…whatever activity or organization floats your boat. But if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you might consider starting something. If there’s an issue or activity that matters to you, chances are there’s someone out there looking for something very like it to do.

    Some rewarding things I’ve done over the years: walk-a-thons for worthy causes, demonstrating crafts (mostly bobbin lace) at fairs, volunteering at a day camp for kids with cerebral palsy, manning the Easter Seals booth at the county fair providing free wheelchairs for visitors with mobility issues, performing choral music at a senior center, doing volunteer office work for a museum. In pretty much every one of these cases, I happened upon someone doing something cool and joined in.

    I have a neighbor who goes around to all the local bakeries gathering up their leftover bread at the end of the selling day, then delivers the loaves to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Another volunteers at a no-kill animal shelter.

    There are a million great causes out there, and thousands more good projects just waiting to be started. So knit blankets for preemie babies, help train service dogs, organize a trash pick up day for your local beach, tutor a kid in history, read to a lonely senior citizen, deliver food for Meals on Wheels…pick something and do it. Whatever your interests, skills, and time availability, there’s something you can do to make someone else’s life better. Doing that will make your life better, too.

  14. Melissa M September 30, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    L,
    I am so glad to have read your letter and all the responses. I have been coming to terms with my own loneliness lately, and it sucks. A lot. For years I’ve been convincing myself that I enjoy being single and that I am independent and strong. And while those things are true, I still feel overwhelmingly lonely (especially at a time in my life when everyone around me is pairing up). It’s nice to know that there’s someone else out there, dealing with the same issues and feeling the same emotions.

    A few thoughts:

    “Recognizing feelings of loneliness, allowing myself to feel them and let them pass without judging them, rather than trying to force myself to feel happier.” – love Francesca’s advice. So important.

    There are so many recommendations for therapy, and I am all for it; I’m a BIG believer in the power of thearpy. In fact, I am in individual therapy and group thearpy every week. Which brings me to . . .

    Group thereapy!! It can be so awesome. Excellent opportunity to connect with others on a deep level while healing yourself. It can be more challenging than individual therapy, but it can work wonders. Also, it is typically much cheaper than individual therapy (I pay $100/week for individual and $72/month for group).

    Many, many thanks for sharing. And thanks also to Francesca, Plumcake, and Twistie for posting your letter.

  15. J October 1, 2009 at 12:46 am #

    Fabulous Post Plumcake! Absolutely spot on with some very pertinent and practical words/advice.

    Thank you
    From the other Ls.

  16. Lisa October 1, 2009 at 10:37 am #

    All right, as long as we’ve gone and said the “therapy” word, let me suggest one bit of advice that echos what Plummy just said: just as you feel free to change hairdressers if they don’t work, you can feel free to change therapists if they don’t work. I’m not talking running for the hills as soon as said therapist says something you don’t like (you already know that); I’m talking about just basically not finding the sessions helpful. Just because one therapist doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean another won’t. I tried three before I found one that wasn’t obsessed with my weight.

    Again, be well, L. The right things are coming to you.

    I’m fond of crazy cat ladies, so watcherself, Texan. You don’t want them cats turning on you.

  17. Plumcake October 1, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    Jen, that’s an excellent suggestion. I’d caution against BBW meetup groups, because the few times I’ve been they were the most disgusting things on earth. Predatory men, desperate women and actual porn being made. Seriously. Like. Porn. I liketa DIED.

    Daisyj, I’ve never heard of that organization before. Sounds like a good physical group.

    Ragster, thanks. I don’t know if it’s American or generational or what, but Kids These Days –I blame the baby boomers, because I resent that generation anyway– like to complain about things but not do anything about it. Talking about it isn’t enough, doing something about it is key.

  18. Melissa October 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    As someone who has had counseling at various times in my life, I can highly recommend it. Everyone can benefit from a bit of introspection. I think it’s also important to see a physician. There are many kinds of treatments and often a combination will work.

    It sounds, to me, like L is being a bit tough on herself. An otherwise great life doesn’t ward off depression. For a long time, I felt guilty because I had a lot to be thankful for and I still felt bad. I think you need to give yourself permission to grieve and to feel bad. It doesn’t make you ungrateful. It means your’re honest.

  19. Twistie October 1, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    HEY! Plummy, as a baby boomer, I resent that remark! Talking about it is always enough!

  20. Christine October 2, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    Dear L,

    You’ve touched me very much. I feel like you much of the time and am trying to take Francesca’s and Plumcake’s advice.

    Best wishes,

    Christine