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.

deconstruction journals vi

Today, deconstruction feels like searching for safety amid gentle knocks on locked doors by well-meaning lovers, reverberating through the dim, stale hallways of the labyrinthine fortress I created.

I pick at the rusted locks wanting to let them in, insomnia and nightmares in my patient, scratching despair. None of the locks have keys or combinations. The terrorized adolescent that made them never designed them to open.

It was all supposed to make sense someday. The logic of my body was built on the fear of certain destruction, as the empire intended.

Was there something very wrong with me, I wonder, that I played its game so well?

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.

I am learning

to welcome the soft animal of my body back into my life.

In a culture that punishes limits and demands an increasingly lethal level of productivity, I learned to live in shame that I could never be good enough. I learned to believe there was something wrong with me because this sickness never felt like home.

I learned to fear the myth of my soft animal, the inner demon. Yet when I crept to the hollow tree where she lives to meet her for myself, I was surprised to learn she doesn’t want laziness and destruction.

Mostly, she wants vegetables. She wants exercise that excites and interests her. She wants play and novelty and safety, companionship and sunlight.

And I realize these desires are offensive. To the industrialized machinations of our culture. To the systems that we were groomed, but never built, to serve.

It has taken me a long time to learn that those things that are offensive to power, in fact, point toward freedom.

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!

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.