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.

Deconstruction Journals ii

Forgiveness is not the same thing as accountability.

It is not for lack of faith that my trust was deeply broken, and that I can’t seem to find it again. It’s not for a desire to sin freely that I choose to hold space for the grief and anger for the ways I was wounded in the name of revival, for the things that were stolen from me in the name of holiness.

“The church is made up of imperfect people,” they say. “It isn’t like that anymore. Forgive, re-assimilate.”

But boundaries continually crossed and emotions suppressed is not healing.

Forgiveness is not the same as accountability. Both are important, but the kind I’m continually asked to assume just feels like a call to loyalty. My betrayed devotion buried, forgotten. Unresolved.

I was born a storyteller, an old soul hardwired to watch the world with eyes wide open, and to tell about what I found. I hold no ability to be untrue to myself, and the things on my heart are the very things the church wishes I wouldn’t talk about.

I take a break, I let it cool down. I go back, yet the environment is the same as when I was a teenager. We can be friends so long as I stay quiet and play along.

And I think, if God put this heart in me, why would he ask me to betray it again and again and again? To shove it down into the dark and watch it sicken and wither?

I was raised to believe compassion has to have the last word, always. We, the children of the fallout, still believe that.

Deconstruction Journals i

The kid’s not alright.

She pushed herself down and cut off all the living pieces. She convinced herself that if she were minimal, she would be perfect and likable, and people would stick around.

But they left anyway, and it’s hard for a robot to make friends.

The kid had convinced herself she was better now, but now she’s just filled with cold, bitter rage. Angry adults destroy their lives, but she still wants hers to work out.

As she dons a brave face for the world, the angry child inside her tells her all this has been pointless. All this striving, minimizing, playing along. She broke her heart for their ideals, became inhuman for their so-called divinity. And now it’s still her who’s in the wrong.

I’ll just keep up this charade for the rest of my life, she tells herself. It’s not like I’ll ever get what I truly need. 

It’s not like I’ll ever know what that is.

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A/N: Some journaling.

Most of my fiction writing these days is attached to a long form project I can’t put up on the internet, while most of my current nonfiction writing deals with this: post-evangelical deconstruction. It’s messy and always changing, which makes it so hard to talk about publicly, or to be honest about in any meaningful capacity. But I know I’m not the only one out there dealing with this.

I used to think I knew what the end goal to all this was supposed to be, but now I think just “healing” would be good. Identifying the unmet needs and figuring out how to meet them. Seeing what I find on the journey.

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.