Intentional Change and Personal Death Awareness

Holy sheep shit.

I feel like I fell through a wormhole and came out on the other side of a week and a half. It’s just been madness the last ten days or so. Running, and doing, and writing, and snapping, and all of the things, and then I wake up and it just starts again. Like when time speeds up on Donnie Darko (who is one of my favorite fictional people of all time, for the record).

That discombobulation is what my life feels like all the time, but it’s been more pronounced the last couple of weeks. Sometimes I feel like I just sort of fall out of sync. The laundry gets backed up, and the dishes, and the meal planning and the meal making and the emails and the deadlines, and the overall consistency. Just one small misstep and bam.

I find myself feeling like I’m snapping in and out of reality at various points along my day.

Catchup is never an easy game to play. But it feels like that’s the entire point of my life at this moment.

It’ll be fine. Anyhow, I have this fella named Ash who keeps talking to me even though I’m sort of ghetto and sweary and not at all, it would seem intuitively, his type of person to associate with. And, for my part, I shouldn’t care for him either. Our personalities are polar opposites but something about one another, to each of us, is  mutually entertaining I think.

Every time say Ash I think Evil Dead.

It’s a problem. Because:


For the record, that is not representative of the Ash I’m talking about.

Okay. I’m going to focus now.

Starting now.


In any case, Ash has been forcing me to acknowledge my own accomplishments. I was able to keep my Keystone award a secret for a little over a whole month this year. I’d just gotten news that I’d gotten the Hospice award around mid-March and Jon blasted it in the paper. And I just wasn’t ready for more positive, non-hostile attention. Because I don’t know what to do with positive, non-hostile attention and I definitely don’t know how to deal with compliments.

I also hate people who insist that presents get opened one at time on Christmas morning, because there’s another little social performance I’m not able to feel confident in my ability to pull off. My internal monologue at a one-at-a-time Christmas morning family’s house:

“Did I say thank you enough? Did they believe it enough? Should I say it again? Am I not being appreciative enough? Am I being too appreciative, making the giver of this gift feel like I’m only pretending to like it? My face is red. Oh my God, is my face red? Is it, like, strawberry red or pomegranate purple read? Is it bad? Is it worse? How about now? Is it worse now? Worse than it was three minutes ago? Five minutes? How much worse will it be three minutes from now? Oh my God, five minutes from now??? Can everyone see it? Can everyone see me trying to figure out if they can see it? Fun fact: the lining of the stomach blushes every time your face does. More useless science. NPR. Hidden Brain. Shankar Vedantam. Big Bang Theory. Sheldon. Holy shit I’m Sheldon without the IQ. Oh shit, did they see me geeking out on useless science in my head? I dissociate. I just dissociated in front of everyone. They’re going to call me “Spacey Stacey” now. Just like every other family I have ever interacted with as part of a social relationship eventually does. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckityfuckfuck. Did his grandma just hear me think fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckityfuckfuck? Is she judging me for swearing? I’m awful. I’m the worst. I’m the worst person in the whole world. She’s going to have a heart attack and die on Christmas morning because I’m so distressing to her as a potential new family member/associate. Am I starting to devolve to a point in which I believe in thought broadcasting? Thought broadcasting is a significant and frequent feature of major psychotic disorders. Shit. I’m psychotic. I’ve been living my whole life with a profound psychotic disorder and everyone knows but me…EVERYONE STOP LOOKING AT ME OH MY GOD I NEED A GLASS OF WINE RIGHT NOW I HAVE TO GO. I HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW. BYE, THANK YOU. BYE. I GOTTA GO. BYE. SORRY…”

That’s Christmas morning if your family is going to make me open my presents in front of everyone while you all watch, basically. That’s how it’s gonna go down. Every time. It’s positively formulaic.

You know what? They actually made a movie about if I ever have to go to another first Christmas with new people ever, ever again.


This is what it looks like:

At first, the secret Keystone was a way to make sure it didn’t become a great big “look what Stacey did today” party on the Community page. Because, obnoxious. But then it became kind of a fun game. When’s Jon going to find out about the Keystone? It was fun, having that little secret and keeping it all to myself.

But he found out, and of course there was a story, and then there had to be a photo, and there was another winner – which actually is fabulous, because automatically, 50 percent of the attention shifted onto Brian, thank you Brian, and also you kick ass congratulations – so I couldn’t do my typical three hour prep-take a selfie-process it myself using slimming and complexion healing filters-and submit it with my own caption routine.

Last year I was not going to go to the awards dinner, except that if you don’t go you don’t get a plaque unless you pay a shit ton for it and I don’t like putting it on display but I do like having it on my wall. For me. I don’t expect anyone else to notice it or make a comment about it if they do. I’d prefer they not make a comment about it, actually, in case I’m not being completely transparent here. That’s not why I want it. But I do want it for me. So I can quietly, secretly congratulate myself every day on not sucking in some small, tangible way.

But there were so many people sure to be there, and it was going to be so socially uhhhhhhhnggggghhh. And then Ash came rolling in one day, as Ash does, because Ash just as the air about him of a person who gives zero shits about anything. And he was like, “you’re going.” And he shamed me pretty well, so I decided to swallow my terror of other people, and attention, and I went and collected my Keystone. And that is the story of Keystone 1.

I went to Harrisburg to get my Hospice award in the hopes that so doing would prevent Lisa from telling Jon about it and having him write a story, and that backfired, and Jon splashed that shit AND I had to go to Harrisburg. Which I actually really enjoyed. But still. Counterproductive.

This year, before Ash even texted me (early, the day the second Keystone story ran, to say congratulations), I’d already decided I was going because I did it once and nothing catastrophic happened. Mostly. And I’m trying to be a better version of myself and one of the goals I’ve identified for personal upgrades is to be less afraid of social situations and more accepting of positive, non-hostile attention.

It’s going about as well as can be expected. I’ve gotten pretty good at simply accepting compliments without trying to argue them out of the other person’s mouth, though. Mostly. Pretty much.

It’s a work in progress.

As long as they’re not trying to convince me it’s true I’ve gotten really good at pretending we both know they’re full of shit and saying thank you anyhow.

Ash came in yesterday to get the three columns I submitted in my Keystone package (Alexander, Glorious, and Tiny Drunks) so he could read them, and I was working the first half of what basically amounted to a double shift and I was alone in the newsroom so he sat down and hung out for a while.

As Ash does.

Everywhere he goes.

And we got into a bit of a friendly argument about the difference between humility and self-loathing. Which, for me, is kind of a muddy boundary. But I do value humility. I find nothing more offensive than a person who needs constantly to have his (or her) ego stroked. When the only motivation for anything they do is external praise. Gross. I hate that.

So any time I feel like someone feels like they have to offer me external praise or reassurance I get really disgusted with myself for having made them feel that way.

And going to awards ceremonies and collecting plaques feels like a narcissistic effort to gather attention and praise. And I have to remind myself that it’s not. It’s just other people saying “hey, good job.”

Accepting awards does not make me an egotistical fuckwad.

That’s what they keep telling me. But Ash is good, good, good at the reverse psychologies, because he knew that I would just counter that argument with some intellectualized bullshit rationalization of my own making, so he didn’t go about trying to shame me into being proud of myself that way. He’s quick, and he turned the whole argument into the opposite of itself.

Like a jacket, inside out. Same thing. Does the same job, just as well, but looks completely different.

“You’re stuck up,” Ash said to me.

Easy now, killer.

Them’s fightin’ words, I told Ash. Because I am not stuck up. I devote an inordinate and unwise amount of conscious and unconscious energy and effort to not being – and definitely not appearing – stuck up. So you need to back off, Khare.

“No,” he pushed. “You’re stuck up. Like, this is you,” he said, pursing up his face and squinting his eyes and tossing his head around like a damn Valley Girl having a full-on stroke, “ooh, look at me, I’m Stacey, I’m too good to go to an awards ceremony.”

Goddamn it, Ash.


“It’s not that I’m too good to go,” I whined in my own defense.

“You don’t think you deserve it.”

Jesus Christ.

Why, Ash? Why? Why do you have to be good at getting under my skin? Knock it off.

So. That was my conversation with Ash. Most of it. The other part of it was him not realizing that when I said to him that my crazy adverse childhood experiences have given me a vicious and pathological need to be and appear humble, that I have spent a great deal of time assessing my personality and current deficits with brutal honesty, and that I’m not blaming my childhood and claiming that because of it I can’t change, but instead saying “this is this way because of that,” and then using that information to try and grow into a better version of what I already am.


I had to set him a little straight. He was headed into an argument about how he came to this country with eight dollars in his pocket and drank water to stave off hunger and all of the things and I nodded, and I validated him, and I acknowledged that he had been through some shit too. And he has. His is a pretty damn amazing story as well. But I had to let him know that there is more than traditional, classic examples of stress and trauma. And that some trauma is quiet, and small, and lowercase t, but still significant, and damaging, and insidious. And since he’d been trying to shrink me since that morning I said to him, “Ash, you know your psychology, so you must know that there are also some significant consequences of bad attachment.”

And I expected him to argue more because here’s the thing about those tit-for-tat arguments regarding trauma and stress: people are invested in their argument because on at least some small level – and often on many large levels – what’s packaged as an argument to help you  reach a more hopeful perspective on your own problem is actually, in its true content, an argument to help the other person feel more confident in the legitimacy of their own struggles. And they’ll argue you to the grave that they had it worse because if they didn’t then what’s their excuse for any of their own shenanigans?

It’s a tricky little monster, because the logical fallacy they always default to, when you refuse to buy their “you think you’ve had it bad” routine is that you’re minimizing their pain and suffering. Which, I mean…if I were arguing that my stubbed toe matches his literal starvation, maybe he’s got a point. But our issues are pretty evenly matched pound for pound, I think. They may not look the same, but I think they carry the same weight. Anyhow, that “mine is bigger than yours” defense makes you feel like shit, because at its core it’s an implication that you don’t believe that they are entitled to their own pain. and is a flawed but likely quite effective argument to motivate you to back right on off of your own defense.

I expected Ash to dig his heels in with me on this point, based entirely on what I know of his personality, which is not something he invests a lot of energy in masking or trying to make more traditionally palatable.

But he didn’t. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about reading people through their eyes then I can’t quite explain it, but it’s a really good way to read people. Because we just have not evolved the ability to apply subterfuge to our emotions – to the shit we really want to say – before it reaches our eyes, even if it never gets anywhere near making it out of our mouths.

Smiles can be read as genuine or disingenuous not by watching the mouth, but by watching eyes. They soften, when you’ve gained some traction. They recede. They melt, a little bit.

See? I can’t describe it. Unless you know what I’m talking about this explanation is likely to fall far short of clarifying what I’m trying to describe.

Eye contact is a weird thing for me. Until I’m very, very comfortable with you, I will not look in your eyes. Not even if you put a gun to my head and say “look me in the eyes,” I will not do it.

I mean obviously I’m engaging in hyperbole for the sake of illustrating a point, but you know what I’m saying. It has nothing to do with how long I’ve known you or what sort of a person you are. It’s the depth of our interactions. And if we’ve had shallow interactions I will only look in your eyes if I’m very, very interested and engaged in what we’re talking about moment to moment. It’s the topic that’s got me, not you.

Until I trust you. Then, good luck.

If I trust you, then let me just say right now, good freaking luck getting me too (a) shut up and (b) stop looking at your eye holes.


Ash is a person whose eyes I am comfortable keeping a constant scan on.

And he’s always running some kind of game. I mean, not always, but pretty much. He’s always got some kind of conversational agenda. That’s just Ash. That’s who he is. It’s one of his greatest strengths, and it’s how he’s gotten every bit as far as he has in life.

But there’s always an agenda.

So I expected that little glint to pop when I said the attachment thing but nope. The agenda melted away and he nodded and that was that.

And can I just say that that was one of the most validating things that’s happened to me since early last week? And can I just say, also, that to have two highly validating and corrective interpersonal experiences in one week is kind of shocking for me?

I’m about as able to anticipate and react spontaneously to validation as I am to a good, old fashioned compliment.

SO I’ve been really trying to figure those little anomalies out all week. Which probably explains the cognitive deficits I’ve been experiencing in momentary memory acquisition. I’ve been investing more than  usual in trying to solve that mystery than in being present in my daily life.


Being present. Between situational amnesia and my stellar ability to just cut the cognitive power to moment-to-moment experiencing of my environment I’m able to not be present with a startling amount of skill and precision.

And I’m trying really hard to quit. It’s a skill you either get good at or you don’t, and if you’ve had some tough shit happen in your life and you can’t learn to dissociate you’re going to have a harder time weathering it. It’s not a pretty fact, but it is a fact.

So. It’s why I’m here, but now I need to remind myself – constantly it seems – that I am here. I am not back there. So what was once a strength is now a hinderance.

Ugh. I hate it.

Also, this week’s column is on personal death awareness.

This is an exercise that one of Hospice of Warren County’s first volunteers did with the volunteer training cohort I was a part of last year. It was powerful then. It still is, even if I know what’s coming. I really wanted to walk as many people as honored me with a read this Saturday through it, because I think it’s a really great experience for everyone to have.

I think it’s a great experience to give yourself regularly.

I encourage you to do this exercise yourself. It will surprise you. Trust me, it will surprise you how much of a reaction you have even if you know what’s coming, so long as you are honest with yourself, write down things and people you truly love beyond all measure of reason or ability to control yourself, and legitimately don’t sabotage the final three-card draw.


That’s all I got for today, kiddos.

Class dismissed.



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