01/17/21

“You have two cavities,” the dentist says, and I feel a catch behind my ribs.

My dental habits this year were the most dedicated and disciplined I’ve ever managed. Even though I avoided flossing most of my life, I haven’t skipped a single night in a solid year and counting. I worked really hard to build healthy habits this year, and this was one I thought I’d nailed. If not 100%, then at least 99%.

I ask the dentist if the cavities are big or small. She just reminds me where they are, and I’m still too stunned to push it. I leave the dentist office in a disappointed daze. I want to know: crap happens, especially with soft, cavity-prone teeth like mine, but didn’t my efforts make any difference at all?

After the kind of week I’d had leading up to this appointment, with heart-shattering relationship implosions ending in denial of progress or closure, I just wanted a perfect reward in at least one area of my life. Wasn’t partial perfection too much to ask?

But life isn’t like that. It is filled with imperfection and disappointment as much as reward and fulfillment. The significance of the one can’t be felt without the pain of the other.

So I’ll pick myself back up, adjust expectations and strategy based on new data, take comfort in how my mental health progress this year proved strong and healthy under pressure, and take myself back to the dentist to get my dental caries filled.

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.

The Question

“What’s your book about?”

I appreciate this question. It shows me an individual is interested in my work, and I have the chance to share a bit of my heart with them.

Except, most times, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I come up with an excuse, or, after a long, uncomfortable hesitation, I say, “Well…essentially, it’s about mad science and stuff.”

And I’m hyper aware that that says absolutely nothing.

If I’m pressed for details, I’ll eventually open up. A few have drawn the full description out of me, but the majority have been polite enough not to pry further. They’ll find out when I publish it, I suppose.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to verbally give a synopsis of the book in everyday conversation. And it tends to come up a lot—as people ask me what I’ve been up to and I often answer truthfully: “Editing.” But when they ask for details, I shy away from taking up their time talking purely about my work and the world and characters I quite frankly think about all the time.

And for some reason, I don’t feel like I’m important enough to be claiming that time? When they themselves asked the question. It’s weird and backwards and insecure, but perhaps that’s why I’m writing about it.

Maybe I hesitate because it’s so incredibly personal. Yes, I’m going to be publishing the book and I want people to read it. My name’s going to be on it. Currently, if people ask to read it, I will gladly send a tidbit or the entirety of the latest draft, depending on how close I am to the individual.

But being asked to describe my book is like being asked to explain in depth what I think are my greatest qualities. Not that I think my book is my greatest quality, but like anything about me, I’d rather they experience it and see for themselves—pick out the meaning and let it resonate with them as it will. I’m terrified that whatever paltry synopsis I offer will turn them away from it, or make it sound odd and indulgent. Because anyone can write a book. And perhaps too many people are very self important about the pursuit.

For me, strangely enough, writing a book doesn’t feel like too onerous a task. Sure, it takes a great deal of effort and time, but I’ve been obsessed with the activity since I was a kid. No matter how busy I am, I’m always writing, always creating. If I don’t, my heart begins to suffocate. To stay healthy and sane, I must create characters and tell their stories.

So I’m at a point in my life where I’ve finished a book and I’m working on getting it perfected for publication. It’s a source of frustration at times, but it’s what I do to unwind and recover from everything else. It feels very much normal for me. Writing lengthy fiction is what I’ve always done. And sometimes I realize it isn’t a common reality for most people. So then I feel like I’m bragging, and I shy away from being in the spotlight.

Normally, I’ll enjoy occasional moments of attention, taking part in a conversation, letting my presence have bearing. But finding someone suddenly preparing to give me their full attention as I explain the workings of my heart and mind…It’s terrifying.

I freeze up.

I deliberate.

I war between wanting to be honest and brave, but being so excruciatingly uncertain of how my exposition will be received.

So I end up lamely brushing off their request. And that bothers me a bit. I feel like I’ve denied them the answer to a very innocent, well-meaning question—like I don’t trust them enough to be even slightly open with them.

But it’s my heart. Even if I know they’ll be gentle with it, I am afraid to show it. I’m afraid to be completely forthright about what it entails. What it has created, what connections it has sought to foster, what efforts it has made to benefit the world.

I easily open up with people about pretty much everything else—my struggles, desires, fears and insecurities. I’ll often end up steering one-on-one conversations toward deeper matters if given enough time and attention, because I feel like knowing what other people struggle with helps us find support in each other. It helps us humanize each other.

So ask me about what I’m insecure about, and I’ll tell you with little reservation.

But ask me what my book is about—and you may be handed something disappointingly vague.