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.

PTSD

I’ve only recently realized I’m still drowning.

I used to live in a season where my environment was so big, so noisy, so relentless, that the only choice I had to survive it all was to cram myself smaller and smaller. Minimal, numb.

For three full years of overwork and isolation, I still felt strongly it wasn’t time to go home, and I refused to give up. Attempts at breaking isolation fizzled, one after the other.

Too tired.

Too scared.

Too busy.

Catching my breath in that place was impossible, but I tried. Choking and gasping, drowning but not quite dead.

When I finally escaped and had a chance to move on, I threw myself into trying, needing to be okay. But real life set me on a treadmill that is still a little too fast. A voice in my head tells me over and over that I don’t get to rest; I will never get it right, and the stakes are too high.

I feel like I can’t breathe again. I can’t fail, I can’t go back there.

But somehow, I already have.

Somewhere deep in my bones, I never really left.

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A/N: Thoughts from quarantine. This whole situation has dug up things I had preferred to bury as deep as possible, but finally (grudgingly) allowing it to have a name has been helpful.

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.

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

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!

It’s not just about drawing.

It’s certainly been a while! I keep trying to figure out how to concisely describe what my life has been lately, but it feels almost impossible to adequately put into words. I’ve spent the last two months typing in scraps of writing on my phone while commuting in the early mornings, or while I’m sitting in my workspace with too many confusing thoughts to concentrate through. When I tried to consolidate them into a coherent blog post, they kept falling through. Today, fresh out of a rather rough midterm week, I find myself in a good position to actually offer something more put-together for my poor, neglected blog.

It’s been pretty intense these days, a long hard lesson in the concepts that being a professional illustrator is not just about being able to draw.

I thought I had a good work ethic. I quickly establish myself in almost every setting as a hard and intelligent worker. Yet this semester has shown me just how small I still am. I have been pushed to hardcore self-motivate even when my work environment sometimes feels stifling, to not make excuses or waste precious time complaining, to develop systems and efficiency but above all putting in the hours because there is no way around it, to deliver however much is asked of me when it is due, and to decide all over again that I want this enough to work harder than I have ever worked for it.

And my efforts have been fruitful. I’m learning a ton and, though I’m overwhelmingly busy and often exhausted, my inspiration is amply bolstered by everything.

I’ve found I like watching the hands and eyes of illustrators. The eyes of storytellers are always thinking, taking in visual information for both physical navigation, but, more significantly, for absorbing reference and inspiration. In a way, illustrators and storytellers are always studying, always crossing back and forth between reality and the realities they create in their own minds. Such line-crossing has been my experience for as long as I’ve been alive, and I am so excited to be able to see it all around me, to get to learn from people who have made it their livelihood, and are extremely good at it.

I’m convinced illustrators are wizards. And with as hard as this semester has been, demanding more time and effort in my art and processes than I feel I can always keep up with, that thought helps keep me going. Skilled illustrators are capable of things not a lot of people can do. Every moment I spend working toward my classes, I am learning. I am pushing into the reason I decided to plunge myself further into student loan debt instead of teaching myself. I see my art improving almost weekly in speed and quality. I’m connecting with fellow students, learning from people a generation or more ahead of me, yet cut from the same aching, dreaming fabric.

It breathes in their work. In the searching, considering gaze of their eyes, of the steady, analytical efficiency of their hands.

And slowly, I’ve been watching my hands take on a sort of slenderness they’ve never had before. They’ve always been kind of wide, shortish, sturdy. Growing up, I used to think they were kind of mannish. There’s a deep-seated callus on the right ring finger from years of nearly constant writing. Most of the calluses on the palms from gymnastics have faded from 5 years of disuse, but I like to think their memory is still there, buried and dormant. The fingernails are short and ragged, nervous habits fueled by stress and restlessness from the tendency to forget I have human needs.

They are often jittery. A nearly constant pressure to work and create and learn, working as hard as they can stand, but still not perhaps fast enough. This is what the last several weeks have been. The standard my professors hold me to can be overwhelming, but it’s also empowering. I am training to attain that standard, after all. All I have to offer is my best, and that is a bar that is constantly raised and reoriented.

Sometimes I glance down when I’m writing, consider my hands in the mirror as I use them to command my toothbrush. And I can see it, that sense of becoming.

I can see it in my face too. Sharper lines, cartoon-villain-like dark circles under my eyes. An unimposing frame of straight, steady contour lines, most often shrouded in some kind of sweatshirt. A body used to sitting still for hours and hours on end. Of doing whatever it can to adjust to what I’m putting it through. 3 hours of sleep is the new 5. Meals are short and simple, usually only to keep me steady. It holds out as long as it needs to, long nights and even longer days capped by tramping up the steep hill back to the apartment, toting all manner of supplies after an endless day of class.

Over the last month, I have been seriously intimidated by what I’ve gotten myself into: Painstakingly time-consuming assignments to understand paint and color, training myself to be patient and pay attention to realistically render a portrait with just two colors of pastel pencil, spending hours hunched over a tablet screen, drawing out comics more sophisticated than I’ve ever challenged myself to perform, trying to prepare 3 fully inked pages for critique in just a short week’s time. Working my hardest and still having to pull a near all-nighter to stay on track.

I’ve gotten away with too much in my time as a student in higher education. This graduate program’s been teaching me a thing or two about pulling myself together, staying calm, and putting in the hours. I’ve had to take a good hard look at everything I’ve been working for, demanding an answer from myself of whether or not I want this enough.

My life is currently a constant series of adjustments, of striving, of becoming. It has pushed me to the edge and back more than I can count, and I know this is just the beginning. I often wonder if I am capable of pulling this off.

That very fact tells me I’m right where I need to be.

The State of Affairs

I’ve been burnt out and homesick, but I’ve decided it’s not so bad here.

The door of our dwelling is huddled under the stairs up to a walkway. Sometimes I walk among the small spit of grass and trees on my way to take the trash out, instead of parading past a row of garage doors, hoping Murphy’s Law won’t initiate another awkward pedestrian-driver waving game. I grew to take the latter way, though, as the path got littered with plums from the trees.

The back of a horse ranch sits on the top of the hill behind our apartment complex, and sometimes riders take their horses to the corner store, clopping back up the hill outside our apartment balcony with cases of beer. A little white house down the road is home to three dogs: two heavy duty feather dusters and a velvety pitbull. When they’re let outside, they bark for fun, but sometimes one of the little dogs gets really stressed out around the big one.

If I stand out on the patio, I can see the big illuminated sign of the shopping center where I used to work, sluggishly flashing red and blue over the trees like a lonely, distant beacon. It’s a little creepy.

We live across the bay from the San Francisco International Airport, so airplanes frequently roar overhead. Sometimes when it’s particularly loud, I half wonder if a plane is crashing, or if the apocalypse has arrived.

We have a hummingbird and a seed bird feeder attached to our balcony, and I’ve begun making a list of the birds who come to visit. Some of them are birds from home.

Our furniture and beds are inflatable. We planned to get real lounge furniture like regular adults, but before that could happen, we all realized that we’re moving on as soon as the lease is up. Can’t be tied down by real mattresses just yet. My current inflatable mattress doesn’t give me back pain and it’s decked out in comforters and flannel scottie dog sheets, so it’s a pretty decent setup.

We have a little side-room that I think is supposed to be a sort of dining room. This became the office early on. As is my way, I set up camp here pretty much exclusively over the fall semester and now it’s kind of unofficially become my workspace. I finally accepted that, and opted to move things around and add my own touches to the space—like Christmas lights and a cup for writing utensils with plastic molecule models in it.

We’re now just starting to decorate our walls after four months of being here. That’s the kind of four months it’s been. Too tired for initiative for extras. Surviving only.

Though we haven’t failed to cover our fridge in Lord of the Rings-themed word nonsense.

There’s a massive wildlife reserve just a 10 minute drive south, but I’ve yet to actually go there…among other places. There are a lot of welcoming, green places if you know where to look for them. The east bay city I’m currently living in is all right if you know where to go or have your own haunts, but, being new to the area, my aversion to driving in California, and an empty social energy bucket, I haven’t gone out and found them yet.

However, attempts to explore are beginning to bud. So far they’ve been reaping positive results.

My car likes to kill itself in the night. A few weeks ago, I put oil in it, jumped it, and charged the battery up again like an ADULT. One of these days, I’m going to stop worrying I’m going to destroy my car whenever it needs any sort of maintenance.

Afforded six weeks in which to recover from my intense stages of burnout, I more or less hibernated. Things are better now. But I’ve effectively destroyed my sleep schedule, and I’m trying to get it to at least resemble something regular before school begins next week. That hasn’t been as successful as I would have hoped…

The goal of this semester and beyond is to come back to balance. Getting a handle on my cancerous, stubborn cynicism, encroaching social anxieties, and lack of willpower to want to be patient or brave. I’m pretty optimistic that things are going to change for the better, actually. Things are already shaping up in many inexplicable ways.

I’ve felt tired and empty and cold for too long. I want to feel like things are worth it again. I want to work with ambition, pursue the things I love without groaning so much—if at all. Plans are taking shape: Among other things, I’ve decided to start exercising again, to venture outside the apartment more, to again take up recreational reading and daily reflection and prayer, to operate within “responsible self-care,”—minimizing procrastination, taking care of myself and my current home and roommates as a means of staying healthy instead of trying to define rest with avoiding all responsibility.

I want to feel whole again; peaceful, growing, alive. And for the first time in a long while, I feel…malleable–like perhaps the spiraling is over and I’m finally at a place where I can pick up and start making stronger strides forward. 

They say it’s more about the journey than the destination. And for me, this season’s destination is more a general cloud than a distant landing pad. Looking for that inscrutable target causes all kinds of stress for me, so I’ll focus on the journey. The daily steps, the digestible pieces.

I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I understand that such a point of satisfaction does not exist.

But perhaps where I am right now–in this little apartment south of San Francisco, on the verge of bigger and better things–isn’t such a bad place to start, all the same.

I’m Going to Need a New Planner

2015 was a year of change and challenge.

By the middle of December, I was always tired, and holding desperately to a dwindling sense of motivation to keep up with anything. In the midst of it, I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time, but looking back, it makes a lot of sense.

(Me being too hard on myself? Surprise, surprise…)

Exactly a year ago, I was yet to begin my last semester at George Fox University. I still didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into by electing to take Advanced Anatomy, and I’d already been feeling the beginning stages of burnout. I was in the middle of writing my second book, and I didn’t yet know how it would end. I hadn’t even applied to grad school yet, but I had decided I was going to go for it, and had initiated contact with a graduate admissions counselor.

By the end of May 2015, I had:

  • graduated from George Fox University with a biology degree
  • applied and been accepted to launch straight into an MFA Illustration-Graphic Novel program at Academy of Art University in September
  • arranged and embarked on another four-week trip to Costa Rica to visit my host family–my first time traveling internationally without academic affiliation.
  • finished my second novel (which I actually did in Costa Rica)
  • started initial stages of my next large writing project
  • made headway in plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area with my prospective roommates

Graduating college heralded huge changes I didn’t understand until I was far removed from the graduation ceremony itself. The undergraduate science major life I’d grown accustomed to was no more. The friends I had made were spreading out across the country, or staying in the area while I planned to leave to attend a completely different type of school.

Having finished a 10-month writing project, I found myself struggling to keep my creative drive satiated. I had to be writing something. Editing was its own animal. I was practically scrambling for something new to work with. Fortunately, I had something in mind, which develops further by the day. I’ve unofficially started it. School and the other two novels needing attention have to come first. I exhaust myself when I try to work on four large projects at once, much to my annoyance.

I had a great time in Costa Rica, thanks to the very gracious hospitality of my friends and adopted family there. I hope I can go back and visit again someday.

The next couple of months saw preparation for the fall, trying unsuccessfully to secure an apartment from afar, hoping my meager savings would be enough before my financial aid kicked in, undergoing a plan B trip to find work and an apartment before the actual move. A lot of lists and changes of plans took place during this period.

My sister and I drove down August 15, and stayed at a friend’s house for 3 weeks (THANK YOU SUE!) until our apartment was ready. September 15, we were faced with moving into an apartment amid school and work, which proved to be much more exhausting than I had anticipated. Apparently apartments need a lot of things like food and soap, and lack of furniture makes it hard to do homework?

I started work about the time of the move, and I loved the people I worked with, but the amount of energy it took from my already burnt out countenance took a huge toll on my mental health and interfered with my classes. Thank God for financial aid. After two months, I had saved up enough where I could quit and have a reasonable stipend until things shift next September.

Moving away from home was hard for all the reasons I didn’t think to expect. I was suddenly separated from my support group, and I wasn’t yet up to the challenge of putting forth the effort making a lot of new friends at my new school would require. So I found myself rather isolated. The last couple of years have been relatively low seasons, so everything took too much energy and attention. Self-motivation was difficult.

New school meant new expectations, as well as a new area of study I still wasn’t accustomed to. Being a biology major in undergrad, homework was studying and reading and research presentations, not charcoal renderings and figure studies. I felt like I had absolutely nothing under control, and I resented the fact that I needed so badly to be in control. I know having a type A personality is nothing to be ashamed of, but man, I was sure hating it there for a while. (Sounds like freshman year all over again, doesn’t it?)

Stress is needed for growth. I just wish I was able to handle so much stress with more composure.

Despite everything, I actually did well my first semester. I love the school. I learned a lot, improving my grasp of anatomy, learning how to render with charcoal and pastel (something I had very little basis in), learning new media, etc. I again came to grips with the finiteness of time and energy, learning to do what I can to pay attention to my limitations and adjust my movements to allow for them.

I’m really looking forward to next semester, and I hope that it will go more smoothly than this last one. I was so incredibly burnt out.

I still kind of am, but I’m ready to step out a little more, make friends, explore more than I’ve had the ability to.

As things are right now, my first book is nearly finished and I’ve yet to begin looking for agents/publishers (more likely the former). I’m dead set on traditional printing, which is perhaps the hardest way to go.

It’s been rough, coming into a terrifying stage with my art and writing. I’m studying to be a professional artist, and, with my first novel being on the cusp of professional pursuit as well, I’m definitely out of the dreaming stage. The years of working more recreationally than anything else and hoping everything will come together someday. Well, someday is now, and truly stepping out with both my most cherished forms of self-expression, into the zones where risk and failure abound is daunting. I’ve started to feel all the doubts, about life, my passions, my ability to function as a person. Nothing too sticky, mind you. I want this too badly for them to really prevent me from pushing through them.

This year’s been crazy, to say the least. 2015 was like grabbing hold of a cord that proceeded to drag me through all kinds of mire and foliage too quickly to really have time to realize what was happening. Or I was left too drained by it all to want to think about it anymore.

I look forward to working hard and growing more in 2016. An awful lot happens in a year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.