12. 1. 2019: A reflection

A/N: Found a bit of old writing from a few months ago, decided to add to it. I definitely meant to write more publicly this year, but this year has been a lot of reclaiming, of writing simply because I love it, of journaling and life-living. Blogging used to be easy, but now it’s not, so much.

I figure that’s okay.

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This is the first year after moving away for college that I haven’t lived in a dorm or an apartment. I have been at a full-time job that I enjoy for the longest I’ve ever worked full-time anywhere. I am reasonably financially stable, making steady progress in my creative career on the side.

Five years ago, this journey was only just beginning.

When I was in college, I gave myself permission to study my environment more critically, and I found myself swallowed up by an envy of other people.

I would observe people from afar, wanting, bitterly, to ask them what it felt like to fit. What was it like, to be pretty and popular and outgoing? To not be questioning their faith, feeling betrayed by the very institution that taught them everything they knew about how to exist in the world? What was it like to not hate and fear their bodies? To feel comfortable presenting exactly the way people expected of them, according to their respective genders? To not be confused and frequently let down by their sexuality? To seem to be on a path that made sense, that everyone else was on and hit the milestones at the average times?

First I distanced myself from the church to gain some perspective.

Then I tried, slowly, carefully, to become comfortable in my body, to explore my sexuality. To decide that I wanted to change the perception of my gender by continuing to identify as it.

I took a long trip away from home, honing my craft, developing my stories, craving the frequent coffee date faith talks of my early twenties. For a time, I felt like maybe no one ever opened up, or that it was too dangerous to do that, now that I had graduated from the small private religious institution that had fostered those faith talks.

It was only later that I realized that while there were many ways that I didn’t fit with the perceived pattern and struggled with things that seemed to come so naturally to my peers, it is easy to connect with people through writing and art because, deep down, we all feel a lot of the same things.

We all crave connection. We are all trying to either ignore or disentangle the lies we picked up along the way. We’re all trying to find where we fit, and loneliness comes for all of us, much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

What we present to the world, in public, at work, in our professional spaces on the internet, is the safe, put-together versions of ourselves. The brave faces, the patient smiles. Commuting to work at 6:30 in the morning, it doesn’t matter so much that I’m still struggling to put my body into the equation of my life, to reach out into new social avenues and that I don’t want to stay in the same headspace I’ve occupied for too long, but that I’m scared of the ways trying to grow out of it will change me and complicate my life.

When I’m running errands, a distant observer couldn’t possibly glean from my presentation how much internalized misogyny affected me for how long, for how it still affects me, and the fears that I hold that it still holds sway over my writing.

But moving forward is in the day-to-day, isn’t it? Of making small steps forward, of outlining small, buildable goals, of holding space to break them and start again. Of holding the door open of my carefully closed heart.

This is one of the most sacred truths I have learned this year, that the places in me that I thought had reached their final form, even if I wasn’t happy with them, are still changing.

Seasons come and go, and joy really can bloom from ashes.

I have always kept my hair short,

but now it’s not.

Over the last several months, I’ve let it grow, out of negligence, out of curiosity.

It seemed fitting, in a time so unlike the last seven years, a new season of time, of observation, of choosing presence and putting down roots after one of transience, of overwork and emotional burying and deconstruction.

The last time my hair was my preferred length, level with my jaw and layered up the back, was almost a year ago. The person it embodied was in exile from herself, trying to figure out how to come home.

Now my hair touches my shoulders. It’s all split ends. It swings in a satisfying way if I turn my head quickly, and it gets all over everything. A part of me is afraid to cut it, because then in the mirror, I will look like her again.

I wonder if I am ready to reclaim that image from where I stand today. From where I am going.

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A/N: I’d like to start posting regularly on my little writing blog again. It took a while to figure out what I want this corner of the internet to be, as I’ve long grown out of certain phases of thought and social media engagement I was following in college when this blog took shape. I think smaller moments will be the way to go for me, moving forward.

I recently read “You Are Your Own” by Jamie Lee Finch. Working through new epiphanies this week. It’s been a trip.

Architect’s Entanglement

Don’t need, you will push the world away.

You are allowed to love others, in whatever form that manifests from your robotic heart.

They are allowed to love you back, if it suits them.

As long as it’s convenient.

But do not truly need, or you will push them away.

You can stand beside others in this life, but you must be capable of making it alone.

You must accept that you approve of this existence, this life sentence.

If you do not accept, you must choose something else, somehow.

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If you are human, then you are allowed to love and be loved.

If you are human, you are allowed to need.

Humans are soft and hard-edged. You have these edges too. A soft body, a sharp mind.

You have set many layers of padlocks and security protocols on your untouchable heart.

You have researched, so you know love is not to be earned. Yet you still feel you must earn it.

Quietly, in your own heart, just for good measure.

As if one day, the people you have allowed to love you will ask for written proof of why their efforts were not wasted, and you will be ready.

You will be ready.

Yet the harder you work to accrue and to document this proof, you find you are surrounded by reams of blank paper. Tangible yet meaningless, and still the fear remains.

You know the ones you have allowed to love you will not ask for this. And even if they do, these mountains of blank sheets will not be enough.

Enough for them, perhaps, but never for you.

Whose love, then, are you trying to earn?

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A/N: Felt like ruminating. Logical and creative performance-based personality types like mine constantly run afoul with this labyrinthine question of loving and being loved. Have to take it in baby steps one day at a time.

Rogue

Erika Davenport had been trekking along an unmarked logging road for miles now. The hills between the valley and the coast had a deeply reverent place in her heart, hopelessly and gloriously tangled. The deep green and mossy brown of the flora, the misty hush that cradled every centimeter of the cold, soft soil.

So soon after her mother’s passing, more than ever, she needed this place to be her refuge. But to learn the government’s rumored gestating ground for human weaponry research lived here too, her grief twisted into a sharp black knot in her chest and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Empetrum. 44º15’01” N 123º49’28”W

The name and coordinates were all the Conxence knew so far. Unfortunately, it was all the information the head and second-in-command were content with for the time being.

“Your energies are better spent here,” the former had said. Rann wasn’t a mean person, but his directness was often frustrating. He had everything mapped out. When he looked at her, she felt he were looking into her brain and trying to map her out too. “There are probably dozens of similar labs hidden around. No sense stomping off into the woods after one federal stain with so little information. ”

“The facility’s gotta be highly secure,” the second-in-command added, in that soft and earnest way of his. Kepler was a young man but an old soul, who had succeeded to his mother’s position in their ragtag resistance movement upon her abduction by the state. “It’s too much of a risk. We should wait a bit, concentrate on more pressing concerns until we have more information.”

Erika couldn’t be the only one that cared about this. In that moment, she couldn’t help but look at the common scar both men bore: A large hole cut into the cartilage of the right ear. Rann’s was gnarled and partially closed. Kepler had refined the edges of his with an open silver tunnel gauge. The brand of troublemakers, bestowed by law enforcement to anyone arrested under political circumstances.

“Drop it,” Rann said. “You’re not even combat trained yet.”

“Please,” Kepler said, trying to smooth it over. He was always trying to smooth everything over. “I know this is important to you, but just give it time. I’m sure it will show up again, and we’ll be better prepared to deal with it.”

Rann was a control freak and Kepler was a worrywart. With pressure tightening, no one was sure what they were up against, what was festering under the surface. Any new development could be too late. The sheer possibility that human weaponry was becoming a variable was outrageous. But she believed it, and they couldn’t deny the government would keep its secrets unless someone dug them up.

Erika stepped around a large mud puddle in the road. The frogs were out, chirping in the misty stillness. The air smelled so good here. She double checked her GPS. She was on track, moving closer. Soon she would have to take it much slower, leave the path and skirt a circle around the spot, moving slowly forward until she caught a glimpse.

At the very least, Erika needed to see what this abomination of a facility looked like.

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A/N: I realized I haven’t posted any fiction in a while! Been hard at work on the comics train, developing my work, getting ready to graduate and whatnot.

This is an excerpt from The Bioroboticist, which I’m currently working on in prose and comics form. If all goes well, I’ll launch it as a webcomic later this year.

Click here for more information!

Burnout

A little girl is staring up at me. Her eyes are big and blue. She has heavy brown bangs and buckteeth.

She’s clutching 40 pages of a story she wrote and typed out herself.

That girl looks back at me when I catch my reflection in the mirror. I feel her waiting. The depths of that naive, full-throttle eagerness, throbbing in my head.

Somewhere deep, now.

As I sit at my desk, terrified, trying to convince myself I’m all right and on track, I feel the tug at my sleeve.

“Why are you stopping?” she asks. “Are you going to give up? Is that what happens to our story, in the end?”

She thought she’d grow up to be tough and brave. Hoping for something like a downright prodigy, a blazing success story.

But right now, she just has me. Trying. Choking on an intoxicating mix of burnout and intimidation.

It’s windy on the cliff’s edge, even if it’s somewhere I desperately want to be.

I’ve curled up into a ball. It’s not time to jump yet, with every possibility of turning back. And 8-year-old me is not understanding.

She’s angry and scared that I’ve even thought of turning back.

How dare you be finite, she screams. How dare you be weak and fragile.

Why are you like this? Why are you weaker than I was before? Why are you so old and tired within so few years? Why does your breath stick in your throat and your hands tremble when faced with everything you’ve ever wanted? It’s so close now. It’s yours to reach out and take hold of. So why do you sit there, useless and blank?

I thought you wanted this.

Could I have been wrong?

Could we have been wrong…

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A/N: I’m leaving for San Francisco in a few days. Burnout is still in full swing. I’m as overwhelmed by the prospect of picking back up as I was weeks ago, but now I must be busy and keep my appointments.

 

 

2017 in Review

2017 was a year of story pitches and new beginnings, and a lot of work winding up to launch my career, which I’ll be completing in the first half of 2018. On a personal level, it’s been a year of recovery, of waiting, of wondering. With so much change flickering on a new and untapped horizon, I’ve found sleep and rest in general difficult these last few weeks.

After the end of 2017, when I think about reviewing the year, I find I want more to stitch it together with the previous two, as part of a season that was filled with struggle and mistakes, guilt and disorientation, and attempts to figure out what to do with the messiness of attempted but impossible irreconcilability, in both relationship and worldview.

I got to sit down with one of my closest friends on New Years’ Eve and catch up, which ended up with me spilling my guts about the last few years and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to unpack it ever sense.

When I decided to go to art school, I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, the rigorous academic schedule has been the easiest part. A preface before I continue: I’m going to start talking a lot about church. I grew up in a conservative American Christian tradition, and the sum of body shaming, cognitive dissonance, and gated-community politics led to a massive falling out between us, from which I wasn’t sure my spiritual life would ever recover.

On the surface, my 2.5-year stint in California was a lot of art school, a lot of anxiety and loneliness and frantic efforts to adjust, along with a couple less-than-ideal roommate relationships that left me dysfunctional and out-of-sorts. Despite a lot of struggle and heartache in the midst of all this, I’ve never felt I wasn’t supposed to continue on this trajectory of art school. A lot of good has come as far as career preparation and maturation as a person, though it’s been an onerous deal every step of the way.

I have six months left of my program. I am at once more excited than ever to see what’s next, but also a little unsure of who I am.

I guess that means somewhere in the last few years, I lost myself and found it again.

Talking with my friend on New Year’s Eve, I ended up bringing up a lot about my sophomore year in undergrad, which I suppose is where all this began. That year, I developed a passion for illustration, wrote the novel I plan to launch my career on. (The Bioroboticist), and had the most spiritually gratifying year to date. God was sitting me down and getting me to start uncovering deeply ingrained lies I’d believed about myself; we were in frequent communication, and He saw me through a flurry of academically-induced meltdowns. I was deciding to let go of what I considered a safe, predictable route, and instead planning to take my longstanding love of storytelling to full professional priority.

One would think, after all that, my faith would be stronger than ever.

But what followed was a feeling that I should take a break from my constant attempts at unrealistic regimens and spiritual self-guilt. Included with this was easing up the pressure to conduct a daily Bible study time, and when I asked God if it was really ok, He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.” (We were in closer communication those days.)

The following year was blissful. Free of guilt and obligation. I filled my electives with art classes instead of athletic training ones for my original plan of physical therapy. I finished The Bioroboticist and started on another book, and practiced drawing with obsessive focus.

As the distance between me and the way I had always done faith grew, I began to tease apart sources of shame and fear that had been explained away and buried deep. I began to see where the church culture I grew up in was toxic, and where I had sustained burns by it. Where it ran contrary to the compassion it preached and clung to fear and resentment over organic, human empathy.

By my senior year of undergrad, I was burnt out, betrayed, confused, and up to my ears in physical dysphoria (the latter from sexism and purity culture, as you might have guessed). Everything stung. Everything felt fake and at once too bitter and too saccharine.

I wasn’t angry with God. I’ve never been angry with Him. After years of trying to understand and justify the broken areas of American Evangelicalism, I started seeing and calling those parts for what they were.

“Don’t go outside the walls,” it had said. “It’s dangerous and destructive and evil out there. Stay in here, where it’s safe. Where we love you.”

But I saw it wasn’t safe inside either. Inside was teaching me to fear and demonize others, to fear and hate myself. It had given me a foundation to pursue compassion and grace, to heal, to live. And the more those latter qualities drove me to push into civil justice issues to try to understand, the more I saw the dissonance.

I couldn’t breathe inside those walls. So I left.

I learned early on I’m not good at pretending to be what I’m not. I’ve always struggled with belonging. And I’ve long wondered why, if my core use is to evangelize, why God suffused me with this compulsive need to create stories that were not overtly Christian.

I saw it as indulgent at best, idolatrous at worst. A side hobby to something more proper.

As I moved straight to California after undergrad to start my education in illustration, a part of me felt I’d finally succumbed to making my work my religion. And the cultural institution which had burned me so much, was also where I had learned to connect with God. When my faith in American Christianity crumbled, I no longer knew how to connect with Him. Everything felt wrong and indulgent, so I sought to just be, to keep waiting. To try to honor Him by working hard to hone my gifts. To find what this demanding need to create had to say.

The years I spent in California have been some of the darkest of my life. I felt trapped, and that first year, especially, I was the most anxious and depressed and angry I’ve ever been. I had my first run-in with mental illness in my roommate, with whom I had been friends for a few years prior. We tried to fix what was wrong, but they couldn’t meet me halfway. For lack of experience, I had no idea how to handle communication failure, and I had no immunity against the fallout. We waited until the school year ended and got out of each other’s lives. It took me a very long time to process that first year.

My political views changed drastically. From the outside, I watched the culture I grew up in clutch a victim complex close to its chest, idolize power and control and safety in a system that benefitted them most, declare the world black and white and demonize the rest, demonize me for trying to account for its complexity.

I saw the end of all my ropes. I saw what I become when I am severely off balance and hopelessly empty. That understanding branded itself in the back of my mind, and I always saw its afterimage. A steady, constant fear, a looming ultimatum. I tend to be a stubbornly self-assured person, but that year, 2016 part 2, and far into 2017 saw me feeling more like a liability than an asset.

My next roommate situation was cramped and I put up with more than I should have in the name of not causing trouble. (Which caused trouble.) A lot of good things were happening at school, but I had stopped fully recognizing myself as a person.

I had previously enjoyed a healthy sense of community in undergrad, but it was extremely difficult to make friends in art school. I spent a lot of time alone, too much even for me. (I am very introverted.) I started caving in on myself even while trying to climb back out of a pit of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion I’d been digging, and learning to overwork myself to make deadlines and keep my sense of self afloat.

In many ways, my work was a lifeline. I still considered myself a person of faith, but old me would have likely considered my work to be in full blown idolatry territory.

Yet my efforts continued to be fruitful. I was pushing to be as true to myself as I could, and my work was well received.

I’m a little astounded that I could be struggling so much personally and spiritually, yet have something that was totally competing with any other sense of balance in my life to be so—blessed.

New Year’s Eve 2017, I sat on the end of my friend’s bed, recounting this one time sophomore year of undergrad—roughly 5 years ago now—when I was so paranoid my work was competing with my faith and that God was going to ask me to give it up. He asked me, then, “What if I did ask you to give it up? What would you do?” I took a week to answer, but my reply was ultimately. “I would.”

God didn’t make me give it up. He never asked me about it again.

At that, my friend paused.

“Sara,” she said, astounded, earnest, “that’s what saved you.”

I sat there staring at her for a while, trying to figure out if I was going to cry or laugh or try to deny it all.

This thing that’s been with me my whole life, pushing, competing, propelling me forward; simultaneously something through which I reach out for connection, and something notorious for being socially alienating (I spend a ton of time working), has all along been a connection point to the divine.

Little by little, I’ve been identifying the broken supports the last few years have uncovered, and repairing them with trembling hands. Little by little, I’m learning to forgive as well as fight. I am intimidated to find out what their repair may mean.

I’m starting to see what all this desert season was for. What God had in mind when He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.”

On the edge of sending my work out into the world, realizing a deep, consuming childhood dream, all these disjointed, confusing pieces have been starting to orient into a readable chapter.

Even when I was most estranged, most confused and unsure if I would ever end up talking to God again the way I used to, I believed that if God puts a desire in your heart, He will honor it. I see now there’s more to it. You must honor it too. You must be willing to surrender it, so that the desire becomes a tool of clarity, and not a mad, toxic scramble for meaning and worth.

Because deep down, the Creator of the world made us human. As a creative human, I’m frequently guilty of putting my work first and my personhood second. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly wanted to deal with my own weak, needy, frightened, exhausted self. I have tried to improve and heal her, but I also attempted to drown her out along the way. The work was somehow positive, but the person was wounded and scared and I didn’t understand what she had to say for herself.

I felt I was somehow weathering punishment, or at least consequences, for walking away. I felt California was my sort of reckoning, a fieldtrip to see how not-nice the world was so I could come crawling back. But I see now that all this struggle actually had a bigger point, a point very closely tied both to my work, and my personhood, and I feel I’ll start to see that purpose soon.

I am unspeakably humbled and awestruck by it all.

As I move forward into another year, a single verse from my childhood keeps coming up in my mind.

Taste and see that the Lord is good,

blessed are those who take refuge in Him

Psalm 34:11

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A/N: I’d love to revive this blog. It’s on my 2018 Goals list. My year will be consumed with a bunch of comics and life things as I graduate art school and move back up to Oregon, so we’ll see. I think I put too much pressure on this space. Need to go with the flow!

Favorite Books 2017

Fiction:

This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Not Drunk Enough, Tess Stone

The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Nemesis, Isaac Asimov

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

On Writing, Stephen King

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

 

Nonfiction:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans

My Name is Hope: Anxiety, Depression, and Life After Melancholy, John Mark Comer

 

Favorite Songs 2017

The entire Worlds album by Porter Robinson

“Shelter,” Porter Robinson and Madeon

“Waving through a Window,” Ben Platt (from “Dear Evan Hansen”)

“Event Horizon,” I Am Waiting For You Last Summer

“Formed by Glaciers,” Kubbi

“Alienation,” Morning Parade

“Because,” Yoko Kanno

“Liar,” The Arcadian Wild

“Your Heart is a Weapon,” POP ETC

“Car Radio,” Twenty One Pilots

All the windows are open

in our bedroom on the fifth floor. The sharp steeple of a church peeks out between stepping stone roofs of apartment buildings. I can see the upper terrace of a restaurant, twinkle lights strung in the rafters. Most things are closed at this hour, but there are lights in windows, low and yellow in the hushed and misty air.

In the dull, punctuated dark of a bedroom shared with three other people, I lie on top of the covers and look out on the crowded, cooperative landscape.

And I feel lucky to have this view, even if it’s just for a little while.

I’ve been presented with a lot of pieces,

and I’m eager to build.

But lately has been the details of building. The messiness of the process.

And not the glorified messiness either.

The exhausted days, the not good enough days. The critiques that are hard to listen to. The frustration of setbacks in the shadow of heavily looming deadlines. Everything taking longer than expected, much longer than I’m certain I can handle.

Hanging onto the hope and love of the craft in the midst of it. Clinging to the good habits as much as I can, using every bit of inspiration when it happens to swing around.

Sometimes it’s a delicate balancing act. Other times its a wild careening from one side to the other.

The things we desire most deeply are what we must fight hardest for. And they are found one step, one word, one line at a time.

 

Overextension

The stress dreams have swung around again. Things in my personal life have been difficult, and there’s been a lot of feeling like I don’t have much ground to stand on.

Yesterday, while I was trying to sort through the bad taste the latest dream had left on my waking life, my mom came in from watching the news in the other room and said there were a lot of shootings across the country happening that day. Several landed in San Francisco, where I live and go to school most of the year. Politics-related and targeting republicans in one instance, supposedly. Terrorists giving all decent, loving people of all colors and religions and political opinions a really, really bad name.

My heart is so heavy.

I pray the majority of said decent, loving people would know that the insanity of these hate fires doesn’t represent the whole.

The Internet helps us stay connected, but it spreads us so frightfully thin. Thinner than we were designed for, perhaps.

Something to stay mindful of.

It’s so easy for our news apps and social media to shove catastrophe in our face at all times, silently, imperceptibly accusing us of being horrible, selfish people for being unable to hold it all. In the face of so much going on in the world today, it’s so easy to let it fill you with so much outrage and fear and despair that you forget the old lady next door makes cookies on Tuesdays, or that your friend and his husband want to go on a hike with you, or that your parents are overjoyed to have you home from school for a little while. That strangers on the crowded bus readily squish and move over to let you wade through and dismount at your stop. That if you ask someone on the street for directions, they’ll do their best to help.

I know it feels like the world is falling to pieces.

Please please please do not let fear hold your heart.