I scold myself for my “bad attitude,” that open mouth, insert foot, fight until the death thing that too often has made me feel like the lone wolf, the black sheep, the foolish outcast.
The “I don’t give 10 fucks what you think” thing that has proved a stunning survival mechanism.
Because for all my personal style and elegance, that very inelegant caveat to my person I learned early on. Or was born with. Perhaps it was being bullied as a child and having too much responsibility in my home life. Although loving and being loved are life’s center, I just don’t have the patience for other people’s good opinion.
Perhaps it’s the “This Machine Kills Fascists” rebel Guthrie blood.
My life lesson hasn’t been learning to get a back-bone, it’s been learning that radical self-love means the ability to let go gracefully, as well as fighting for what you want.
A story keeps coming to memory today, so I thought to put it down.
Years ago, when I was fighting eviction in Cambridge, managing to stay off the street by courtesy of rent control, social services recommended free legal counsel.
So I tied up my eviction in rent control by requesting continuances, and always filing extensions of time. Staying off the street when you are mentally disintegrating is no small feat, it’s a full-time job.
So I took social services lead and contacted legal services (several more continuances, as I now had legal counsel), and met with two nice, officious lawyers who were going to help me with my case, ease the burden. One was a Birkenstocks wearing leftie, the other was a suit and tie community service type.
I had several meetings with them, gave them all kinds of paperwork. At our last meeting, the suit and tie community service guy said to me, “well, there’s really no reason to ask for a continuance, so we see no reason to file one. But we can help you find alternatives to your current situation.”
I thought, ‘what the fuck is this guy talking about, ‘find alternatives.’ He doesn’t know squat.’
“What the hell do you mean no reason to file a continuance,” I said in a raised voice, “living on the street is a pretty damn good reason. What exactly are you here for if not to keep me off the street.” I was livid, and I let them know.
“Well, if you don’t follow our advice, we can no longer represent you,” was the summary of his help. The leftie wearing Birkenstocks had guilt written all over his face; Mr. Suit and Tie remained unphased.
“Fine,” I said, looking at his blank, dull eyes. I got up and walked out. I didn’t follow their advice. I fired the free representation, and decided to fight on.
Thankfully, the rent control board had coincidentally hired a new director, a woman who was entirely sympathetic to tenants and their circumstances.
Apparently, I lived in a room that according to rent control law my landlord was required to furnish; he didn’t. She managed to work the law and give me credits for furniture and all kinds of other legal loopholes, that gave me another few months of a place to live.
I think of this today, as I scold myself for my big mouth, my opinions, my iron will, and I smile.
Part of radical self-love is embracing all those things that you think are your failings, and realizing that they are what make you shine, make you survive, take you through life to your next step.
I lived in that building for the next 15 plus years, went back to school, managed to get into graduate school. Rent control was eventually voted out, but my butt remained planted two blocks from Harvard Yard, and years of unabated, untrammeled learning.
I look at that bad attitude, and for its many flaws, I am learning to love it. I don’t love all of it, but when push comes to shove, it has saved me from the bad opinions of others, the bad judgements of folks who had no investment in my survival, and the naysayers who I’ve left behind.
Radical self-love. Sometimes it edges are grittier and harder than popular culture lead us to expect.
And the longer you do it, the less you feel alone, for I’ve entered the peace and happiness that “I don’t give 10 fucks” gives.