DECONSTRUCTION JOURNALS VIII

This week, I faced a spike in financial and housing stress. In the grand scheme of things, it was negligible. It was more likely a product of incompetence, and doesn’t at all spell my immediate eviction, but that’s what it felt like in my body.

For two full days I vibrated with stress, anxiety, and rage, struggling to let it go even after doing everything in my power to advocate for myself. I felt at once helpless, and also capable of burning down the whole world, of exploding my pattern of conflict avoidance and unleashing my righteous, inconsolable fury on the first person unfortunate enough to answer the phone. Having worked at a call center in my past, I tried very hard to be calm and amiable, despite the oppressive pounding in my chest, and cloud of prolonged anxiety attack swirling in my brain.

The problem’s not much closer to being solved due to a negligent corporate landlord, but I chose myself over my fear of getting in trouble for not throwing money at bogus charges. Then I struggled a lot with shame and intrusive thoughts about my anxiety, and whether it makes me broken or crazy. But now that a lot of the cortisol has worn off and no one’s come to kidnap my pets over my outstanding balance, I’ve become curious about my reaction to the situation.

For those two days, it immediately burned up whatever peace and joy I’ve built, like I’ve been walking around covered in gasoline this whole time. And that’s what really upset me the most.

When I step back and take stock, my life is generally trending positively. I’ve done so much inner work, and I’m finding more connection in my relationships, better health, success in my day job, and branching out in my creative work in a way that’s more life-giving than my previous social media slavery.

Yet there’s this dark cloud hanging over my life I can’t seem to shake. I always feel like I’m on a razor’s edge, on the verge of losing everything, of finding out I was never worth anything at all. Things I felt secure in have been upended, and I’m reckoning with my hard won self-confidence becoming dangerously unmoored. I find myself subconsciously braced to be rejected, isolated, and exploited despite reality actively pointing toward the opposite. And no amount of talking about the private circumstances that ate away at me last year has seemed to chase away the paranoia that I am too hard to love.

It’s made any amount of waiting in uncertainty intolerable. But isn’t life just a never ending series of change and waiting in uncertainty?

I cope by trying to do and be everything, but that’s not much of a solution. I locked something down deep inside me trying to survive a situation that’s now passed, and untangling that’s still a tough project.

I’ve come to a point in my journey where I want to spend more time looking forward and embracing what’s next, rather than looking back.

DECONSTRUCTION JOURNALS VII

I recently re-adopted my old childhood stuff from a closet in my parents’ house. As I work my way through it, sorting, cleaning, throwing away, the assortment harkens back to an innocent, boundless way of moving through the world I often struggle to access as an adult. Old water damaged drawings, stapled original comics about bugs, dinosaurs, and space aliens. Beads from broken necklaces made at vacation bible school, jars of rocks and shells from who knows where, tarnished silver tea sets, three huge storage bags full of stuffed animals. (Still figuring out what the heck to do with those stuffed animals. Goodwill or trash seems too harsh a fate…[I blame Toy Story for this angst.])

There is so much about my childhood that I loved, and that shaped me in positive ways. As I sort through my various emotional dysfunctions, I’m finding myself better able to reconnect with the joy and gravity of those moments, mementos, and the people I love.

Among the miniature dragon hoard of old gadgets, trinkets from the dentist office prize bin, and gymnastics medals, I found a pink music box. Years ago, the tiny pink ballerina that spins delicately to the music snapped off. The lid was separating in places. I had never stopped to look at it long enough to even consider that it could be fixed.

I realized I had the tools on hand. I opened a miscellaneous drawer in my kitchen, found super glue for the ballerina, and craft glue for the box. After reattaching the broken pieces, I sat holding them together until the adhesives could set.

The box has stayed mended. My solution, so simple, yet one step outside my usual cognitive patterns, had worked.

I have since learned how to mend other neglected things: how to get the stubborn mothball smell out of new jeans, how to clean the sticky plastic residue off older electronics, how to remove oil stains, or sap from car windows…

It’s unexpectedly empowering.

Each new repair I learn reminds me that I have the ability to improve my life. That I’m not at all confined to the tools, the weaknesses, the identities, I started out with. If I don’t have the tools, I can gather them. If I don’t have the knowledge, I can learn.

I’ve begun to wonder more and more what aspects of scarcity and struggle in my life lie just one step, one tool, one tablespoon of baking soda outside the way things have always been.

twenty-nine

Unless I numb myself,

with work, exhaustion, dissociative social media scrolling,

I will have to face the open wilderness of me.

How deeply loneliness wounded me.

How much of me I cut off, silenced, and contorted trying to become easier to tolerate.

How broken and ugly and unworthy of connection I feel in its wake,

inhibiting my ability to embrace the affection that has entered my life.

I survived my twenties by riding an endless river of “somedays”: academics, rough drafts, the religious promises of heaven.

I found safety in a perpetual state of becoming, in devaluing my present for an idealized future I would never have to prove or fail.

Now that I have regained some sensation, “someday” has become a bitter black hole.

I am no longer interested in “someday.”

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A/N: I turned twenty-nine a couple weeks ago, and, naturally, had an identity crisis. My life is changing a lot, and I’m attempting to take it day-by-day, to be worthy of the good things, and to hold grace toward the hard things.

Banks-vernonia

The air is cold but the sun is warm. I’m bundled up from head to toe, determined to break my distance record. Despite every anxiety that previously kept me within biking distance of my home, I managed to struggle and swear my bicycle rack onto the trunk of my car, mount my bike, and drive it safely to a paved, remote trail I’ve been dreaming about riding since I took up bicycling a year ago.

As I double check my gear at the trailhead, grief and anger tinges my excitement. I had hoped to experience this with a friend months ago when the weather was warmer, because it was important to me, and I was uncomfortable striking off miles into the woods alone. But I’ve since learned that the journey of the last year was always mine to make alone, that it’s natural to lose relationships on the road to healing, even though it’s been painful. I finally decided the first taste of this trail would me mine, at my pace, on my terms.

Invisibility has been the strategy of my life. A helpful ghost. Supportive, convenient, and never asking for reciprocation.

I mastered it, as it turns out, and the outcome was bitter. People I loved ignored the parts of me they didn’t understand or didn’t approve of. Which, these days, is most of me.

Pushing beyond the way things have always been is bewildering and exhausting. The territory is all new.

Bicycling appeals to me, because the prevailing question it asks, drummed into my soul with every turn of the pedals, is: “Will you keep going?”

I break down and lose heart and want to write off the whole world, but I keep going.

On this chilly December morning, I come across other hikers and bicyclists on the path. If I were truly alone, I would be the only one here, but there are many of us. Driven, intense, and expansive, our hearts made of the same substance. We exchange a greeting or a smile as we pass each other.

Among the forest spirits, the old growth, muddy trails, and sylvan quiet, we exist.

I exist, too.

I make it to the ten-mile marker. Sunlight beams on the top of the hill. I am suddenly removed from everything, the steady, grinding darkness that threatens many of my days burned off by the sun. I have claimed something I don’t fully understand.

After a short rest, I turn around and head back for home. As I fly down the hill I painstakingly climbed, the mossy trees and mulch whipping past, those two simple words well up from my spirit and fill every inch of me, as if they have never once occurred to me before. I find myself repeating them, mist on my breath, the cold stinging my face.

I exist.

I am not an anomaly, a disappointment, a defective convenience or idea. My spirit is a river, my body fire. It doesn’t matter at all if people can’t hold space for me. I remain tangible, undeniable.

I exist.

I exist.

I exist.

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A/N: A piece I wrote back in December, but had originally deemed a little too self-pitying to post. The current phase of life I’m in and the things I’ve been processing have made it difficult to decide which thoughts are worth sending out into the world, and what should stay in my private journal. My relationship with my art is changing again, and I’m trying to figure out where it fits.

Corral

There is a knee-high fence surrounding my life.

When I was a child, I was encouraged to leap over that fence, to tear it down and build something beautiful and new with the wood. When I became a teenager, and I embarked on the process of building the tools to do just that, somehow, the encouragement switched to strict, fear-based training. It said I not only couldn’t climb over the fence, but if I even touched it, it would destroy me.

Not kill, destroy.

So I live there, inside the fence, pacing back and forth like a caged animal as the area within grows smaller and smaller, filling with weeds and thorns I believe without evidence that I planted myself. The tools I had eagerly cultivated, excited to get to work on the fence, lay forgotten, overgrown.  

A man stands at one edge of the fence, where a small gate resides, and he tells me I can leave only if I get it right, play by the rules, surrender my life to him.

I tell him to leave. I would rather die among the rising thorns than embrace just another flavor of destruction. Better to be isolated than forfeit my spirit to a fake life.

Your existence is punishment, he tells me. Body and soul. You are not human.

Acceptance of this is the toll to leave the corral. But I won’t. My body buckles under the weight of these narratives, the unspoken rules, the attitudes that have burned me my whole life, stunting my growth and disconnecting me from the rest of the world.

But I won’t pay that toll.

I look for my tools among the brambles, the ones I so lovingly prepared before my heart was broken and buried. It’s painstaking and slow, and the thorns pierce my skin, but I keep digging.

And finally, one day, ax in hand, I approach the fence. Every step hums louder and louder with pressure. The man at the gate just watches at first, but then when he realizes I’m getting too close to the barrier, he tries to use gentle words to guide me away, which soon turn to warning. He’s screaming at me, now, threatening me, as I raise my ax and bring it down onto the fence for the first time.

It hurts. Rage and shame and agony rip up my arms and set my organs on fire. I can’t breathe, and my vision dims in the pressure, but I drive the ax down again and again, the crack and groan of the damaged wood drowning out the voice of the man at the gate. I don’t care what he has to say anymore. I don’t care that I’ve disappointed and scared him.

I don’t care.

I suppose I could just step over the fence. I’m tall enough, after all, but it feels better to walk through the hole that I’ve made. My badge of honor. Anyone who encounters me, they’ll know I didn’t just step over, shoving my feelings down, opting out, but instead I breached it completely. I unleashed my fury, my power, my will on that false, poisonous wall and everything that kept me inside it.

I realize I’ve been a fully-fledged adult for a long, long time, but I still feel like a small, scared teenager. The forest beyond beckons me, and I break into a run toward it, lit up with sheer joyous desperation. 

It will take a long time to heal from my years inside the fence. To believe that I am human, that my existence is not a punishment. That I am a force to be reckoned with and it is my birthright to embrace the fullness of it. 

Even so, the fence with all its thorns and conditions, the shape of my old life, is behind me, burning.

I am free.

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A/N: Reflecting on womanhood and deconstruction today. I’m in the process of confronting some of the more tangible corners of my life left stunted and out of control by misogynistic Christian fundamentalism. In adolescence, I never got to feel excited or proud of coming of age, because womanhood was such a warped, oppressive thing in that culture. You’re expected to either lock down into a quiet, submissive, child-bearing spouse, or womanhood is an evil, disastrous, toxic thing to be neutralized and frozen. In that culture, there was no in-between, and no way out.

My recent project of balancing my work life with emerging habits of rest and health, as well as reorganizing and growing my household out of “vaguely dorm-like” status (in other words, initiating full control and acceptance of my body and my adult life) has been touching so many wounded nerves from my adolescence that I’ve been surprised by a deluge of dysphoria and self-hatred the last few weeks.

I’m encouraged by the progress, though. Things are looking up!

Deconstruction Journals v

It’s still hard to imagine any of this working.

I have always been surrounded by walls, always trying to purge the weak parts of myself and distill away my humanity in order to be accepted. An automaton who performs virtues and mimics life, but who never truly feels alive.

I make movements for positive change, toward health and life, yet the emotional flashbacks of isolation, rejection, and repression drag me down like tar. I have made progress so tangible I can measure it, but holding onto this awareness is ephemeral when I’m suddenly rocketing back to earth. To the painful, incremental sum of a hundred small things and a hundred small rebellions against the way things have been.

I have never not been what I am, but all I know is I can’t be like this anymore.

Change is a small, hopeful candle flame flickering in the dark. There are more candles than there used to be. Maybe someday, there will be enough for my heart to be considered light.

Deconstruction journals iv

(From July 9)

Commuting home from work, I walk extra blocks to avoid a growing throng of protesters. The air is uneasy, strained with thinly veiled rage and imminent chaos.

I believe in the cause, though some days it’s hard to tell if those gathered are part of it, or if they’re just there to destroy stuff.

“They’re all scumbags,” my religious coworker grumbles, a young man who is otherwise sweet and thoughtful. “The whole movement is evil. Protesting doesn’t solve anything.”

I don’t know what to tell him. I hear his complaints often, and no matter who it’s coming from, it all sounds the same. I try to offer a more complex angle, the ever manic advocate for nuance, but my brain is freezing and I want to escape. It feels like I’m always hedging, placating and challenging, being gentle with people who refuse to return the favor. It’s my small glance behind the curtain, and it’s a wonder the revolutionaries don’t burn down the whole world for it.

At least the people you demonize are fighting, I think. Of course the resistance is offensive to your religion because the cultural bottom line of that religion for me, as a woman, was to roll over and try to be content with my suffocated place in the hierarchy. And that extended to anyone else not favored by the power structure.

Peace without justice is not peace at all. It’s hell.

And call me a brainwashed liberal, but I’d always thought it was Christianity’s duty to save people from hell.

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A/N: Today, deconstruction feels like this. I refuse to give the cognitive dissonance justification. I understand where this behavior from religious people is coming from, but it doesn’t get a free pass with me. Not anymore.

Deconstruction journals iii

Honestly, the concept is still so foreign to me that someone could ever want to enter into a romantic relationship with me purely because they like me as a person, and not as an idea or expectation, not as a lost cause they just haven’t yet given up on.

Only recently, I’ve started to understand that in this and other areas, I have been expected to merely tolerate my life. Tolerate depression, disillusionment, loneliness, and rage because I don’t fit. Because I have never quite fit, I thought the best I could hope for was non-conformance and frustration. The price of being an old soul, of standing in the middle ground.

I was expected to call this right. Living but not quite alive. So long as I was functional, what did it matter if I wasn’t human and could never hope to be?

Only recently, I’ve realized I can leave this behind. I can be fully alive.

Not just practical, useful, or safely “content.”

I, too, can be human.

I can be happy.

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You are your own

A piece I made this past week. I’ve been trying to give myself more space to play, to explore creatively while I process a lot of stuff. When I process my emotions, robotic imagery is a common theme; I’ve long struggled to let my organic body have a place in my life, and my engagement in personal relationships is characterized by tightly controlled emotions. I’ve recently realized that my primary “real” emotion is anger, which stands in for most other things I’ve otherwise repressed.

It’s been tough and confusing beginning to sort through this, but for the first time, I feel like I actually have a shot at being human.