Lying Awake (Don’t Ask Why)

I’ve been up since 2am with a fever & a stomach bug.  I’ve listened to quiet music, concentrated on my breathing, read, crocheted, stared out the window at the slowly dawning sky.  It already feels terrible & mildly headache-y to be awake at this hour of the morning even when I’m well.  But since I’m sick & most likely won’t be going to work or doing much of anything today, I’m here blogging, trying to figure out what I can do to keep myself occupied.

If my husband wasn’t asleep, I would clean.  And it’s quiet enough that I could spend the time writing.  What could I tell you, dear Reader?  I actually just finished listening to this week’s This American Life episode, which I found compelling.  Without giving too much away, the story is about a kid who’s mentored by someone who fills his head with a terrifying worldview & how the kid tries to unlearn those beliefs as he grows up.  I recommend you listen to it if you’re interested, but I can say that the podcast kept my attention because I went through something similar with my own family & the religion I was raised in.

I think the thing that resonated with me the most is that this kid is fighting his own mind’s anxiety so hard, even years later after breaking off contact with this person.  I totally knew what that struggle was like.  There’s a part of me that logically knows that many people go through something similar at an impressionable age—I just wish the inner turmoil wasn’t so encompassing sometimes that that idea would be easier to remember & reach out.  For myself & for those others who struggle to right themselves after a similar incident.

And I think that the other thing that is ultimately sad & frustrating & revealing is that people who influence us like this, with a unforgiving philosophy or an argument built on self-interested emotion or even what they might think is an inspiring anecdote, I think for the most part believe they are helping us.  They reach out to us because they think we need their insight or guidance.  I doubt I will soon forget the absolute tear-eyed conviction of the woman who told me & a Sunday school group of my peers that the world would end in our lifetimes & that we had to rise to the occasion.  Or the sense of absolute worthlessness that flooded my 11-year-old mind then & has stayed with me in one form or another 25 years later.

Which is another reason why it’s a struggle to speak up sometimes, because I never want to do that to another human being, even by accident.  Sometimes I fear that I already have but I’m learning to live with that fear & to be more aware of my choices.

Anyway, this is getting kind of deep for a blog post.  I’ll sign off now & go stare at the Kitten Academy live feed for an hour or so until I feel like my stomach can handle breakfast.  See you over there?


Acceptance (Or Something Like It)

Having recently read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, I’d decided soon after finishing the book to try one of the recommended readings.  I chose Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming To Our Senses, mainly because van der Kolk discussed some of the collaborations the two of them used in studies.  I haven’t put it up on my Goodreads, partially because the book has a weird dual thread of (Kabat-Zinn’s) self-promotion & actual insightful commentary on human perception that bothers me.

But there is one concept that I’ve been stuck on for the past few weeks that I keep playing with mentally.  Kabat-Zinn mentions the Kanizsa triangle, an illusion where three circles suggest a triangle at their center due to their shape.  He presents a scenario where a Zen teacher shows this figure to a student & says something like, “If you say there is a triangle in the center, I will tell you that you’re wrong.  If you say there isn’t a triangle in the center, I will tell you that you’re wrong.”

My initial reaction was a fear where there is no right answer, meaning (for my people-pleasing self) that I cannot make the other person happy or content or solve the problem they present me, meaning a frightening (but purely hypothetical) situation where I can’t solve their problem or get away from their scrutiny.  The idea that ambiguity resides outside of my attempts to understand or create order was terrifying.  Ambiguity means unassessed threats means I might get hurt means run away run away run away NOW.

(And if I wasn’t trying to be honest & make a point here, I’d link to Courtney Love’s “Mono” where she screams those last few words.)

All of that was my traumatized brain.  And now that I’m healing, I’m facing this idea of ambiguity, where things do & do not exist at the same time, & thinking that I might be able to learn to be ok with it.  At least, that’s the skill I want to have moving toward.  I’ve left behind the over-used survival instinct & the chronic exhaustion it causes.  I’m struggling now with the remaining traces on my reasoning, where categorizing past experiences as either all good or all bad seems like an easy solution.

But that’s not what I want.  I want to accept myself & my place in the world & grow stronger from that purposeful knowledge, not from the reactions to the ghosts of the past & the wolves at the door.


The Not-Snow Day

Grey Window View
Morning View in the Winter

Yesterday was an odd day.  I woke up to a temperature of -3° Fahrenheit & a heater that was struggling mightily to heat the rest of the house.  My husband & I decided to spend most of the day in our upstairs bedroom where the heat from the sun would be captured & our flannel-covered bed could help keep us warm.

It was like a snow day without the snow; a sick day without actually being ill.  We went nowhere, camped out with a bunch of books & busywork, & indulged our cat as he stretched more & more across the width of the bed.  But this is not really what was odd.

What was odd to me was the relative quiet within myself.  I’m a jittery person that is constantly pacing & trying to figure out what to focus on first, because there are always so many things I must be neglecting or forgetting to do.  And I’m still that person to a certain extant, but with the recent PTSD treatments I’ve had have turned a lot of that interior noise way down.  I still felt some guilt over choosing to do almost nothing for the entire day, but I was able to do it with the emotional mudslide.  I could answer the question, “What about. . .” with a common shrug & let the thought alone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop fighting myself—that constant tension between what I want & what I think I’m supposed to do or what I think others think I’m supposed to do has been with me so long.  Anticipate, defend, escape, repeat.  But yesterday was the growing proof that the tone could change, that a different balance could be found.  And that insight is such a small, powerful thing that it scares me too because it is too dear to be lost.

But the fear is not the stronger emotion; what prevails is the wonder & the hope for the future.

Audiophilia, Thoughts

Finding the Same Wavelength

I’ve listened to Matthew Good since high school & this spring, I’m hoping I can live out a dream I’ve had since that time then to see him perform.  He’s been posting more frequently on his Instagram lately, especially in the last few weeks where he admitted he had had a near-brush with death again in September of this year.  Since I’m dealing with my own mental health issues at the moment, I’ve been inspired by his self-awareness & determination.  The following post that I’m reblogging below stood out to me.  I’ve reread it a few times, reminding myself again & again that my creativity is my redemption, not my shame.

Knowing who you are is difficult. There are many that spend their whole lives looking. In such cases they tend to be more running from what they’ve never wanted to confront, meaning they’ll spend their lives using whatever is at their disposal to deflect from that reality. There is a marked difference in life between honestly growing and learning and employing the act of it as subterfuge to ensure you don’t have to go into certain rooms in your own proverbial house. In truth, one can run from it for only as long as they can maintain the perception that they’re not running. In my life I’ve grown and faced numerous truths. The growing has been difficult, facing truths has been difficult. It is for everyone. I possess both bad and good traits, like everyone else, but seeing them, acknowledging them, is the key. In that, I have been enormously fortunate because since the age of 11 or 12 I have always turned to the arts to express, and therefore deal, with things. I wrote my grandmother’s eulogy at 14, something I had to do given we were so close and her passing devastated me. I channeled everything into literature, painting, and finally music. Over the last 30 years I have lived with one absolute gift that I’ve been fortunate enough to become my profession. That through art I must succumb to growth – be it ugly, beautiful, or otherwise. Through it my entire life is mirrored, through it my thoughts, my anxieties, my joys, and my many faults have been captured for all time. It’s a unique, nerve racking, yet fulfilling thing, because you simply cannot run from that which is eternally captured and digested by others – out there forever unalterable. In my life I have lived with those who have been one thing at one time and, six months later, something else. It’s not something I can imagine the horror of enduring because I have never had to. But like anything, one must be empathetic to those who cannot go into certain proverbial rooms. I cannot imagine running, because I’ve never had to. Through mistakes and triumphs I have always had the same ground beneath my feet. In that, I know I am overwhelmingly fortunate. I can be alone only because it is always with me. A gift.

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Thoughts on Journaling

With the turn of the New Year so recently behind me & so many good intentions struggling to reach the top of my to-do list, there is something cathartic in writing the following: This time, I’ll be worse.  I’ll be late; I’ll be unorganized; I’ll be intemperate & I’ll be selfish.  After punishing myself for the last few days for being stuck in my old habits, it’s nice to have a temper tantrum, even if it is a written one.

I’ve noticed recently that I’m keeping two different types of journals.  One–a black plastic-covered volume with a succubus on the front–has all of my fond regrets, thoughtful frustrations & deeply-felt unhappinesses written out in cursive in a more eloquent, formal style than how I normally speak.  The other is a bright orange, laminated paper book labelled My Dysfunctions & contains lists of why I’ve decided to hate myself or anything else in terse, caustic, self-pitying language.

This is not the first time I’ve split my attentions or my types of writing across multiple pages.  (Case in point: you are here reading this public performance I stage for strangers & friends.)  Part of my would like to think that I’d have learned my lesson in the 25 years between my first journal & now.  I have constantly vowed to myself, “Ok, once I fill this one up, I’ll start the new one right.  Creative works, interesting dreams & mundane thoughts all put together in one journal, side-by-side like a sketchbook.”  But I never hold myself to it.  Instead, I put my detailed reading dissections in a huge green tome that gathers dust on my craft shelf, my creative seeds in a small portable two-way journal that stays in my purse, my actual drafts & workings in a leather bound book that lives in my secretary desk, my dreams in a dollar-store blank book with shitty, nearly-kindergarten-grade handwriting paper, & of course, the self-indulgent thoughts that are laid out in the two journals I mentioned above.

I go back & forth on why I spread my words all over the place.  Part of me likes have certain places for certain things, even when it takes more effort to maintain the order.  But also, journals have never been just places to purge one’s deepest emotions–at least to me.  Raised in a culture that valued written records & personal research, journals were held up as priceless documents that connected someone to another person in the past. & honestly, that sort of reasoning has not been unlike being told, as a kid, that God is always watching & judging every action & choice.  Someone else might pick up my journals & see my fights with my sisters?!  Or even worse, my secret crushes?!?!?!  No no no, hide the evidence, bury the key, no one is seeing these.  Not even because what they might read is that damaging, but because you can’t control your words anymore once they are rattling around another reader’s brain.  And I want to feel like my words are mine, even for a little while.

Maybe I’ll learn to loosen up in the future, maybe one day I’ll drop the protective act & have that great large integrated journal that’ll hold a more complete look into my perspective.  But I will say that I’ve held Nathaniel Hawthorne’s example of burning his own letters (& the copies he sent to his friends) throughout his life as a secret ambition.  I’ll be worse–I’ll be intemperate & selfish & no one will have any proof.