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!

Dear White People: Shed the taboo. You have always been enough. It’s time.

One of the biggest rules of white Christian America was “Don’t disturb the peace,” at all costs. As to exactly where this came from I have a few guesses, but the cost has been far too high to let it continue. I could go on about the very real and horrible ways it has victimized, harmed, and silenced Black and brown people, but for now, I want to discuss its implication for white people.

For white people, it has meant bottle your emotions and push them deep because no one will care for you if you’re vulnerable; that your greatest duty is to not be a total pain to deal with or make others have to see you for who you really are. So we cut off our hearts and push away from anything that threatens to expose the poison of our deeply indoctrinated need to be okay. We can’t be human so we don’t set boundaries, we stigmatize mental health and look to faith as a cure-all, waiting for the pain to go away on its own when it’s a bit more complex than that. We don’t show up for ourselves, and we stubbornly tell ourselves we don’t feel our life leaking away. We construct our walls and wither inside them.

Meanwhile, the cogs of power weaponized our own silenced pain and fear against innocent people, to the point where it threatens these people’s very lives on a daily basis.

We arm ourselves with guns and dogma and contempt and tell ourselves that’s safer, that’s enough. That nothing will change and we just have to hold our ground until we die.

It’s too late now, our brokenness whispers. Our bitter wounded hearts that were never heard, because human was just too bothersome. Too late now.

But it’s never too late. The voices of indoctrination and trauma are not truth. We have the power to claim better, for ourselves, for our neighbors.

In the social justice realm, the way things are, while we are hurting in our own ways, and however unfair it is, the color of our skin doesn’t make things harder for us. And that’s where our role comes in. The system was built to benefit us, and privilege doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Privilege is an edge on the status quo, and it’s a tool we can wield to protect others and enact change.

As white people, we are being asked right now to amplify and support the voices of the marginalized, those against whom our silence feeds into something far older and far more sinister than the number our questionable “don’t stir the pot” upbringing did on us. The voice of our indoctrination says “us vs them,” that stepping aside means “roll over and die,” but that isn’t the case. It feels threatening, because change is scary. Confronting pain and darkness in ourselves and the nonconsensual ways generational trauma has stained us is difficult and terrifying. We struggle so much to accept our own selves that most days we can’t stand one more person saying our struggle doesn’t mean anything. That our pain is wrong.

Race hasn’t been a source of this in my life because of my whiteness, but I have felt this narrative again and again in other areas. And I will do whatever I have to so that I never ever inflict this injustice on another person. When they tell me their experience, I will believe them. People need to be heard, and when they ask me to listen, I will set myself aside, and I will listen. Black and brown people are no strangers to the most insidious forms of gaslighting, and it doesn’t stop at gaslighting. They’re literally fighting for their lives.

With white people, feeling heard is a difficult nuance. Our own white culture has pushed us down so far we’re not sure what we need. We say one thing, but we’re really speaking to something else. I want you to feel like your pain is heard, but I hope you understand that in the realm of social justice, being heard is only the beginning. There is a call for a greater standard, a greater accountability at work here. I want you to be a part of it.

Growing up Christian, I was taught to think critically with compassion, and that compassion always has to have the last word. If that means I’ll have to dismantle the darkness in me, to do work that completely destroys my worldview and leaves me shaken, then bring it on. I have been doing this work for seven years now and I intend to continue it for the rest of my life. I’ll do it without expecting thanks or a pat on the back, because it is my duty as a citizen of the world. As a storyteller, as a human being. I am a part of this revolution, but it isn’t about me.

That’s not to say that I don’t mean anything. I’m working on my own internal revolutions too. If I don’t show up for myself, I can’t show up for others.

We white people hear “Black Lives Matter” and our programming and trauma hears, “Bury Yourself, Nullify Yourself. You are never good enough.” But that’s not what Black Lives Matter is about. The recent protests are a call to change the power structure. (By “defund the police,” the intent is to move to a community-based system of specialists that are better held accountable, not generalist soldiers on a power trip.) As much as we hate to admit it, racism has only helped fuel the corrupt systems in place, in overt and subtle ways that we have to dig up and eradicate in ourselves too. We were born into a racist society. That doesn’t make us bad people, it means we have work to do. This is about dismantling systems that hurt everybody. About giving people of color relief and justice for once.

For us to be functional allies we have to figure out why our hearts want to stay closed.

We can give ourselves the permission to do the work in ourselves we’ve needed to do for far too long, to identify and address our own trauma that often has nothing to do with racism but very much influences our response to it, to combat the lies we’ve picked up along the way, to be able to hear people for what they’re actually saying. But we can do that work while also amplifying the voices of Black and brown people and supporting them in dismantling a status quo that made us bitter but is actively violent and victimizing toward them.

The corrupted status quo benefits off our staying closed. Staying bitter. To fight it, we have to listen to the voices speaking against it. We have to let ourselves become human, to hold the capacity for empathy with people whose lived experiences are vastly different than our own but very, very real. To stand with these people and say, “I believe you. Enough is enough.”

Black Lives Matter says it has to stop. All of it. The cycle of trauma broken once and for all. This is very much about bringing justice to fruition for people who still have yet to see it in the modern era, but that doesn’t mean you as a white person no longer have a place in the world. You have more a place in the world than ever. You, too, get to be part of history in the making.

All this time we’ve been doing the best we could with the resources we had, but now with new resources, easier access to information, new voices standing on the shoulders of the voices of the past, it’s time to pivot. It’s time to change the game.

It is time to ask where our defensiveness, our hesitation, our condemnation comes from. Whose voice it is, and who it serves. It is time to ask whether we will join the fight to build a better world, or if we will continue to let our unresolved personal trauma keep us buried.

We have the power to reject things that no longer serve us, to listen and learn and confront things we don’t feel equipped to. We don’t have to bury our hearts anymore. We can come alive, we can absolutely stir the pot until it shatters, we can support and protect and listen to our Black and brown brothers and sisters. We can show up for them in a major ways, and at the same time we can learn how to show up for ourselves and each other in the ways our white sanitized cultural indoctrination always barred and demonized. It’s time to claim healing for ourselves as well as for our nation, if only we are willing to listen. 

All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. That doesn’t mean you and your pain don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t seek healing for yourself as well in the midst of all this, but we need your heart and your privilege to push back against the insidious status quo. We’re in this for the long haul, and you’re absolutely welcome at the table.

Early, late, or right on time, you’re welcome to join the revolution.

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A/N: I’ve been floored recently by the advancement in trauma awareness over the last several years, and as I’ve started wandering down that road in my own life, one aspect of the pushback I see from white people in my community against such good, necessary, and urgent societal change as the Black Lives Matter movement is starting to make more sense to me. Today I hoped to speak to that, to assuage some of those fears.

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.

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.

The Verge

I’m on the cusp of bigger and better things, but today I’m losing my mind.

Perhaps it’s been coming on for weeks or days. Change, isolation, alienation, waiting, hoping.

My mind and body become a rush of reaction, of inarticulate, overwhelming emotion. The tears and pain and earthquaking heart push me outside, away from quiet, searching for somewhere else. Somewhere anonymous.

Down the busy street. Where to go? Union Square is too close. Yerba Buena, maybe. No, not far enough. Not far enough.

I walk fast, feet and legs pounding, hands shoved in my sweatshirt pockets, my face a dynamic, contorting inhale and exhale as wave after wave of pain rush in and out.

I flee underground, hop a subway just arriving, take it north. I walk and walk, throat closing and unclosing. 

There is no more logic in it. Now it’s just tears. Just raw pressure compulsively spilling out in wave after wave. The culmination of trying to keep it all together for too long. Trying to be brave, to control and contain everything in me that is weak and problematic and troubling. Terrified of becoming a warning sign while I still wait, sore and fragile, to feel human again.

Lorikeets bab and squeak in the trees above the park on the waterfront, and my emotions only magnify. More memories, of loved ones separated, of my own aloneness here on the edge of bigger and better things.

I walk out to the water down Pier 7, find a lonely bench on the uneven windblown boards. I plant myself there, rubbing at my leaking eyes with the sleeve of my sweatshirt. Letting it out slowly, so as not to crumble beneath its weight.

I stare at the water, at the ferry across the way, the bay bridge. A big white gull with well-kept feathers and greedy eyes sits on the railing a few steps down. Sometimes it cracks open its yellow bill and yawps at me, and I wonder if it knows. If it can sense the pain. If maybe it’s trying to comfort me, or is telling me to stop.

The bell on a fishing pole jingles endlessly in the wind and surf across the way. Its owner in a white plastic rain suit ventures over to my side of the pier. He looks into my eyes a moment, then saunters back to his effects.

Mostly, people leave me alone, and I’m was glad for it. 

When I finally muster my voice, I get up and employ my cellphone, letting any and all words speak as I trudge my way up hundreds of steps to Telegraph Hill. The sun is setting as I climb up and up, through forest and behind back porches, and I feel safe as I climb, out of breath but still talking.

There is a small water fountain at the top of Telegraph Hill, and its presence feels significant, somehow. I feel seen in that moment, in the cool rush of water, in the garbled voices but present hearts of my dearest friends, in the sun setting over the expanse of San Francisco.

I feel emptied and filled, then. At peace again, on the verge of bigger and better things.

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A/N: Some prose about emotions. They’re hard and messy and inconvenient but sometimes you just gotta let your body do what it’s gotta do…

The Death Throes

I’m scrubbing my soul with lye.

The witching hour approaches, and I’m tired of choking on lingering spores.

On paper, it sounds so simple. The cause of the dark circles under my eyes, the heaviness of my limbs, the pain in my stomach.

I look at the synopsis. Stated so simply.

Was that it? Was that all it was?

Mere months of toxicity?

Mere mold, spreading, creeping up the walls and hanging around the human boulder on the living room floor. Fruiting bodies, releasing toxin.

Across the room, spores whispering around my head like gnats, burrowing into my skin. Rooting, spreading, suffocating. Was that all it was?

Behind my eyes, I watch the months in hyperdrive. Over and over again. Every time less raw. Less crisp, perhaps less reliable.

I was cornered because I didn’t know. Wasn’t that it?

Naivety, hope, guilt. Trying and trying, but never able to change anything.

It wasn’t my fault. Was it?

The apartment is clean now, but the embedded hyphae secrete toxin as they slowly wither away.

A red noxious film, a splotch on my heart, a craving for blood, for recompense I will never hold.

The more I want it, the more it binds me.

I gape in despair at the apparition of spores and pain and fumes. Shadows strung up like cobwebs. I thought I’d fought them all.

I thought this was finally dead.

The paper is soaked in toxin. It stings, burns, fills my mouth with bile.

The paper sees it first, in the dead of night. My creator reads over my shoulder, as the witching hour approaches.

I tell my loved ones in daylight.

I have been poisoned, and I will not hide my weakness from those that will pull me up.

The festering is dead and the hyphae are fading, but there may still be some stubborn embers.

Do not let me become what hurt me.

May this aftermath never be more than a passing sickness.

This lingering pain, the sting of antibiotic.

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A/N: It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Learned a lot of life things this year, including things about negativity and toxic people. Haven’t had the headspace to comment on them coherently, and I apologize for my recent absence on this little corner of the Internet. I hope to get back to a regular blogging schedule soon (one that will also be compatible with my soon-to-begin school year.) Thanks for bearing with me!