If You Keep Your Mouth Shut the Flies Won’t Get In

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by Heather Murphy

I am a child with no boundaries. It’s best to start that way; with the complete truth just out there, in your face, right off, bang. Because that is the crux of it. It is the result of something it would take hundreds of pages to elaborate upon—and maybe I will do so one day—it certainly does bear examination, but I can only bite off little pieces at a time.

Speaking of biting off pieces, this is about that remarkable muscle which hides in the mouth. The tongue. Sometimes mine seems to operate independently without my true consent, and like a dog unwittingly leading a bear back into camp, incite a ruckus.

Let me tell you how my complete lack of boundaries with people is getting me into trouble in the here and now. But let me also make a disclaimer about how I will be doing so using metaphor, possibly impersonal, universal examples, hypothetical situational psychology, (I just made that up, doesn’t it sound good?) and other totally anonymous tools to get my point across. I have to show some restraint to reach the grace I am ultimately seeking or my words will brew me more trouble, after I’ve already had my fill.

Words have such magic, such power. They can do whatever they want with you, really. They can change your mood and your feelings—just like that. Once they are on the page or out of your mouth, they go out into the world and have their own life. Regardless of your intentions. You totally get that part, right? Regardless of your intentions? It’s like the Venus/Mars thing, where that author talks about how you say one thing but it passes through a filter like thingy in the brain and comes out as something else for the person, something you may not have intended, unfortunately.

But back to the point of no boundaries. I let people in too far, because I’m hopeful, and I don’t set proper boundaries for either of us. It’s sad for me, because it’s already in there, in me, and I don’t know how to un-do parts of me now that I don’t like, I’m already in my forties, though a lot of work in alanon has helped. I realize that what I have to do is just make the adjustments based on what I know about the other person who is disappointing me or pissing me off once I have gotten sort of close to them. I have to realize that it is something in them, and about them that I have reached as an obstacle because this is just how they operate, and it’s for a complex variety of reasons. Not because of some special grotesque and unacceptable fault of my own, but because this is how they roll, baby. Then, I don’t have to take it so fucking personally, I can cultivate some kind of logical neutrality that will ultimately defuse the situation.

So, hang on, are you into this astrology crap? Because sometimes, I swear, there are just certain people—regardless of how beautiful and amazing they might be, who rub you the wrong ass way. Do you have that? Why is that? All the components can be there, everything you need for some juicy material, something you could sink your teeth into…a friendship, a lover, a project, an idea, fantasies, but then…there is just this bad chemistry. Emotions run like roller coaster cars in opposite directions, wool grabs on sandpaper, oil floats atop water, blue and red don’t go…and some people just don’t mix.

Even when I want them to.

I could go off on a tangent about the strange and wondrous dynamic of meeting people and feeling the opposite—feeling instant camaraderie and familiarity, the fun idea you knew them in a prior life, all that good stuff. But this is not about that. This is the dark stuff, the people who are opaque to you, who are like a furnished room with no lights on. The people who tilt their heads to the side quizzically when the others are nodding. Because they don’t get you. And I told you, it’s nothing personal. Even when you like them and they can’t like you back.

But how are you going to handle them? If you’re like me–stupid, you’ll get miffed and run your mouth. The boundaries you’ve set for yourself—out the window. See where that gets you. There’s a big laugh out loud. Because no one of value wants to hear you running your mouth, or making drama, or any of that Jerry Springer shit. If they do, run and hide—find new friends, quickly.

Everywhere you go, you will run into these people. These people you might rub the wrong way. You say potato, and they will say you said, tomato. You will see the glass half full and they will see smudges on the glass. You will read something to them that you have written and they will look at you with pity or anxiety, with puzzlement, perhaps, or even outrage. Since you have no boundaries, you will take this badly and ruminate over it, like a squirrel with a nut, until you have decided you are unfit for human consumption and should live under ground with moles, or in another country where you don’t speak the language.

But wait. You don’t have to. Just because some people don’t get you at all and even think you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you don’t have amazing insights and talents. It just means your signal isn’t getting through to them because of wiring issues. No biggie. Let it be impersonal, please. It’s just like those chemistry experiments in high school. When you mix certain things together, nothing happens. You just sit there, staring, with your protective eye-wear, next to the beaker, but nothing happens. Or, there is this huge explosion. And it leaves a big mess.

I warned you it would be all hypothetical and anonymous and universal, didn’t I? This blathering around the bush. But, I’ve been miffed and pissed and misunderstood and misinterpreted and looked at funny. But because I am a former card-carrying Buddhist who’s been around the block a few times and just wants some freakin’ peace, I am taking the high road. I am thinking of my difficult situation as being an opportunity for growth. I am remembering that certain people will just not get me, and that’s okay, and I don’t have to take it personally or badly when things go awry, and unleash the tongue monster, I just have to find some grace in myself to get through it without looking like an asshole. And I don’t have to name names or point out times he has disappointed me, or she has misinterpreted me, or he has failed to respond to my sound logic, I just have to remind myself to get through it without blowing it, Jerry Springer style.

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Epiphany and the Moose

–by Heather Murphy

Suddenly, stories are surrounding me, invisibly reproducing and hatching in the dark, fecund places of my mind, unceremoniously swarming my days and nights like the termites that overtook that rental I lived in on 3rd Street in Jacksonville that time, when they were suddenly everywhere–flying, walking, dying in teacups in the kitchen sink, mating in a frenzy of orgiastic desperation on my very pillow. The stories are coming back to me like that, and the only way to fight them, is with a laptop.

But there could never be enough time and the memories are coming fast like monsoon rains, and the deluge leaves me with so many impressions, the ideas left scattered on the beach of my hard drive like flotsam washed ashore—that I become overwhelmed with the task at hand.

The stories of those who have passed through me and through this world are coming home to roost, and my own stories, piled up like goodwill bags on the floor of a closet, call out for me to find them and reclaim them, accessorize them with the flourishes that might give them form, and I bring them out to play amongst the old stories of people I used to know as I drive the winding mountain roads of my little valley, with the radio off, and suddenly I understand that our stories are now inexorably tied. When I tell you their story, I will be there. My own story will unfold.

Like the time I drove up that road in the middle of nowhere in Montana when it was getting dark, in that old Mustang of Robbie’s and it started to snow. I should write about that someday. I remember I was wearing clogs and I was embarrassed because when the friendly hunter and his sons had to help me get the Mustang pointed back the right way on the icy, snow-packed dirt road, I slipped and they stared down at my shoes, the final proof that I was insane. And in a sense I was.

I don’t have time to tell you the whole story because all time and thought are being siphoned away now by other stories half-told in Word documents, but I want to tell you quickly, about where I was going, about what I found. I was going to see Jim and Sondra and the girls on the mining claim they were living on in their old school bus, so I could tell them about the car accident I’d had while trying to go see M in Pennsylvania and how I’d almost died and how my heart was truly broken beyond repair, and how I wished we were still travelling together to the hot springs in Idaho so I could soak and heal under the jeweled night sky then sit around all day reading The Wind in the Willows to the girls, but when I got there they were so busy butchering a moose they’d shot, I couldn’t tell them anything. I finally realized it and stopped talking. There was just the sound of meat being separated from bone, and the important beating of my heart, nothing else. And the universe was still for a tiny moment.

The dog whined piteously and strained at its rope and the family huddled over the moose, speaking to each other in low, elated voices. I stared down at my clogs in the firelight. My hands, folded into the pockets of my coat were suddenly, not my hands. They were idle workers, sleeping under a tree while others toiled.

I want to tell that story and tell you how I had an epiphany then, as I watched them hacking at the carcass by lanterns and firelight( how the warmth of the split open moose mixed with their labored breath to form a fog around them), an epiphany about the self and death, and how you can never truly understand another person, or be truly understood because the timing is always wrong and everyone has something important happening, not just you, but there are too many other stories right now, they just keep coming and never enough time, and it gnaws at me to think of me then and how it was–me so self-absorbed around people who knew actual hunger, and wearing those stupid clogs in the wilds of those unforgiving mountains, thinking someone would confirm the extreme importance of my existence if I just got in a car and drove somewhere, regardless of the weather or the fact that I was just another person stumbling around in a beautiful torture chamber called life and not that important after all, not really.

You have to understand, they had to get the meat in or the mountain lions and the bears would get it. No time for hanging it and no way to do so. I took the kettle from the woodstove on the bus and poured hot water into the basin, where cold water waited, and washed my hands and wrists methodically, like a surgeon before an operation, then lit another lantern, took up a knife, and joined them, spattering moose blood on my favorite jacket, and those Bass leather clogs. They were ruined.

Of course I spent the night–in the guesthouse; Jim had turned their old Econoline van into a sleeping nook with a bookshelf and a tiny cast iron stove, and I laid there for hours, watching its flame cast flickers on the metal roof, thinking about the stories they’d told after the work of butchering, stories I damaged my wrist frantically trying to get to paper while I laughed with them, incredulous, thinking, “I have to get this crazy stuff down!” I wondered about the lives of the wild creatures that would come to sniff the bloody blanket of snow and Jim’s meat locker, just feet from where I nestled under heavy blankets. I thought of the people I had met, out on the road like me, people who told me things I know they never told another living soul. I knew I had to write their stories and the ones I heard that night, after the moose. I felt over-excited at the prospect of getting them all down.

I still do.

Time collects the dead but does not tell their story. That is left to the people. I go from feeling like an intrepid archaeologist, gripping my maps and photographs, my journals, eager to begin the work–to a somber miner, wearily clutching a tiny pick in a dark and deep place, where somewhere before him deep in the earth treasure hides, but there is no help in finding it, nor extracting it from the impenetrable stone.

One word at a time, I’m chipping away.