Thursday, June 30, 2011

To write is to enter the mess

A few weeks ago, a blog I read ( suggested this as a writing prompt: "To write is to enter the mess…" I wrote the prompt into my journal, but never did anything with it. In my not writing-ness, I turned to my "start here if stuck" page, and started with that prompt. You should try it, too.

To write is to enter the mess of living. To write is to fill the empty holes in strangers' lives and to empty the mess of your life onto the whole of the page in the hopes that someone (possibly you) will read it with a spark of understanding, insight, or significance. To write is to fill the empty holes and to empty the full places. To write is to create silence in the chaos and to fill the silent places with words that could speak of wisdom or, perhaps, just put something where the emptiness was. To write is to form words that ease the dull ache of nothingness in the hurting places you thought could never be soothed.

As I sit in the mess of my current life, I feel myself moving away from writing. Moving away from entering that mess. In fact, I feel myself moving away from everything at all: unable to put my finger on words that are usually so available to me, unable to ease the rising and growing lump in my throat and unable, even, to move the lump to tears. In that "unable-ness," in the "inability to…" that seems to be consuming me, there is something almost comforting about just letting the mess be. Letting the holes live in their holey, wordless glory. There is something painfully soothing about not attempting to enter the mess. Just letting it all be without words, as words feel so desperately inadequate anyway. Without words, I can't attempt to rationalize it, explain it away, deny it, label it, condemn it, or clean it. Perhaps, for the moment, that is what needs to happen. Perhaps, for the moment, it's okay to be lost and confused and afraid. Maybe words would only muddle the mess. Maybe now isn't the time to write into the mess; maybe it's time to find a new way of writing. A way of writing that skates around to a new normal, bypassing the messiness without feeling the need to take hold. Is there a way to write that wouldn't grab my heart, my stomach, my lungs, and force the blood flow and oxygen into a new rhythm? Is that way of writing even worth it?

Maybe I just need to get out of my own way and let myself be in mindful awareness that change is hard. That change is hard for me. That change is happening in me and around me and that I am allowed to struggle with this change. Perhaps, I can even give myself longer than a week and a half to adjust.

That is not how I am used to operating, though, and that is not how people around me are used to me operating. I don't know what is "okay" and what is not "okay." Is it "okay" that I lay on the air mattress in my room, curled up in a ball, doing absolutely nothing for an hour this evening? I don't know. I just reached a point where I couldn't do anything else. Didn't know what else to do. I ran out of distractions and things to keep my mind busy and, yes, I could have washed dishes, but my body just wanted to be held, and the only way I knew how to do that was to curl up on my mattress and attempt to find stillness. So I did. I didn't move. I didn't think. I just…was. And then, suddenly, I could get up. So I did.

I had a client a few years ago—a young man in his mid-twenties—who was, initially, a big pain-in-the-butt. He was snarky with me, not invested in treatment, and out and out rude and inconsiderate. This client was someone I ended up seeing for the full year I was at the site, and was ultimately someone who made a lot of change, did a lot of work, and was…only occasionally snarky and inconsiderate. At the end of nearly every session, I always felt compelled to say "be gentle with yourself" or "go easy with you this week." He would always give some semblance of a nod, that was more like a shrug, and he would leave.

One week, however, he brought it up at the beginning of the session. "What do you mean?" he asked. "You always say that, and I don't know what it means." I struggled a bit, but finally articulated what I meant in a way he understood, and my "Billy Badass" client's eyes filled with tears. He didn't even have anything snarky to say. The idea of being gentle with himself was so foreign and profound it left him, literally, speechless and tearful.

I don't know why I just wrote that out, or why I was thinking of him. All I know is that I understand now in a way I didn't when I saw Mr. Billy Badass that there are times when things hurt so much, and the dull ache of nothingness is so consuming, that repeating mantras of negativity that hurt rather than help feel better in the moment than the finest compliment or the most heartfelt love. There are times when the internal chaos is so intense that one solid, reliable standby, even if it is a constant repetition of a harsh, critical statement that is the antithesis of "self-love" brings a sense of release. There are times when it is so comforting and simultaneously painful to inflict that pain, rather than be consumed by it, that the very idea of being gentle can bring tears to your eyes. When the idea of being gentle is scarier than the chaos.

To write is to enter the mess of living. I don't want to enter the mess and, yet, I keep writing. Keep returning to the page, even though I don't want to. Even though I would rather not. Even though it hurts and I am running both away and towards the words in my confusion. I write to enter the mess and form words that could potentially ease the consuming ache of fear and change and chaos. Could potentially fill the hurting places that feel like they can never be soothed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not Writing

I will say this upfront: I don't want to write this. I don't. The very last thing I want to do right now is write. Ever since I moved a little over a week ago, I haven't wanted to write. Life is chaotic and crazy and nothing feels still or secure or safe. I can't find a place—external or internal—that feels safe enough to slow down, hear myself think, and write.

I know things are crazy because my nervous system is in overdrive. Does that sound weird? I don't know…probably. But it is. That's why, when I slow down and let myself think and be and feel (and particularly when I get into bed at night), I shake. Sometimes it is subtle, internal, barely noticeable—almost as though my internal organs are trembling from the aftershock of some tiny earthquake. Other times, particularly when I lay down on the air mattress on my floor in the bedroom that doesn't feel like mine, the shaking is huge and just seems to consume me.

"Let it come," the wise part of me says. "This is your body releasing what it has been holding. This is energy and emotion and tension and trauma working through your body. This is your body telling you what is there, since you won't listen any other way. Let it be."

"For God's sake, Laura," the less wise, pain-in-the-ass part of me says. "Pull yourself together. You're fine. What's the problem here? You're in your bedroom/in your car/in the grocery store, and there's nothing wrong with you. Get it together."

And so it goes.

I haven't started work yet, and my house is largely unpacked and arranged. Something in me is saying, "write." Every night, it says it. Every morning when I wake up, it says it. But I don't. I don't want to. Or rather, I do. I want to desperately. But I can't. I tell myself that once things fall into place, once I feel safe and settle into a new normal, and once I find a rhythm that feels like me finding myself again...once all those things happen, then I can write. Part of me knows, however, that this is a mind trick. See, I know myself well enough to know that the writing has to come first. I can focus on everything else, but it's not going to fall back into place. It won't settle into a new normal. Not until I start writing. It has always been through my words that I find normal.

"But Laura," the smart-ass psychology intern part of me says, "don't you remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Maslow said that, before any of those higher order needs can happen, a person's safety and security needs have to be met. You obviously haven't met those needs if you jump 2 feet off the floor when the dog sneezes, or a bug hits the window screen. You obviously haven't met those needs if you are shaking, sleeping with the light on, checking your doors again and again. Meet the safety and security needs first, THEN work on the self-actualization."

But writing, for me, isn't self-actualization. Writing, for me, might be even more basic than the safety and security needs. Writing, for me, might be a physiological need like food and water and oxygen. Words are how I understand my world and myself and, without words, my entire world is shaken. Without words, I am left with nothing but physiological, inexplicable shaking.

I am reading Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. (Because, you know, I don't want to write so much that I started reading a book on writing). She says, over and over again, that the thing to do is to show up at the page. Just write. Even when you don't feel like it. I'm around page 90, and I'm pretty sure that's all she said so far.

So now, I not only have me on my back, but I've got Julia Cameron on my back telling me to write and, believe me, when Julia Cameron's riding your butt, that's a lot of pressure.

"So just sit and write a blog post," the logical part of me says. "Trick yourself into thinking that people are waiting on baited breath to hear from you. If you won't write for you, write for other people."

But here's the thing: moving has stirred up a lot of stuff for me. I didn't expect it. I didn't want it. I'm trying to ignore it. Pretend it isn't there. Hoping it will go away. I convinced myself that moving would be a clean start. Moving 8 hours and several states away would be putting the past couple years behind me and starting over. Moving would mean I could go back to being the person I was when I left. Are there things about that person that need some tweaking? Absolutely. But being that person would have meant that I wasn't THIS person, and I would give anything not to be this person right now.

So I don't want to write a blog post, because I know that if I do, the events of the past year will come into it, and my "stuff" will probably come up in it, and people are probably tired of hearing me whine about this past year. They probably think I have moved and should be over it. I act like I am all big and bad and brave when really, I have to sleep with the bathroom light on. I act like I am healing and have all this great perspective and have it all together when really, I have spent the last week shaking and overdosing on Bach's Rescue Remedy in an attempt to get my body to stop screaming. I pretend to be all logical and mature when really, there are 5 million people in the state of Maryland and I am terrified I will run into the one stranger I know that lives here, who I met one night of my life, who hurt me.

Nobody wants to read about that. Not even me.

And yet, writing connects me with others. It gives me a way of reaching out and touching the world in a way that is safe and, if I need anything right now, I need that. The only thing worse than facing all of this at all is facing it all alone. But that's not the me with perspective talking. I don't know where she is right now, and so I don't want to write. There's no "wise Laura with lots of perspective" coming to the page today, so there is no way for me to write without shattering that preferred image of myself. I like to think of myself and present myself as someone who is adventurous and independent and, right now, that could not be further from the truth. Part of me longs for some handsome man who will walk this road with me and protect me from the things in my imagination that lurk around the corner. And then the strong, independent feminist woman part of me is disappointed that I feel I need that. I like to think of myself as the brave woman who has picked herself up and travelled forward; the psychology intern with insight and self-awareness who took all the right steps in taking care of herself. I like to think that, because I took all the right steps, these things aren't an issue for me. If I was like I wanted to be, all these things wouldn't be the case. If I was the person I like to present myself as to myself, I wouldn't be struggling to breathe. I would be fine: I would be a strong, beautiful, independent woman. But instead, I am shaking and I am not writing.

But here I am. I showed up at the page. I wrote. I have been wanting to write this deep and insightful blog post on change, because change is what I am living, but I can't. So you get this instead.

The words are on the paper: surely, that must mean something?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Changes in the Bloodstream

I'll deny being a lot of things. I'll deny being a writer (who me?), a poet (psh…), a musician (definitely not!)…but I've never denied, and will never deny, being a nerd. I'm not totally sure of the technical definition of "nerd," but I'm pretty sure I fit it. I'm not necessarily bursting with nerd pride, but I'm not going to deny it, because it's just that obvious. When kids sat at the orthodontist office playing electronic games and staring at the ceiling (basically being a normal kid at the orthodontist office), I was reading Gone with the Wind. While other kids watched "Saved by the Bell" and listened to the Backstreet Boys, I was finishing Jane Eyre. I think I was born into nerd-dom. It's been apparent and undeniable for a long time.

That said, it shouldn't surprise you that one of my favorite writers of all time is Rilke. I love his poetry and his writing, and my copy of "Letters to a Young Poet" is dog-eared, underlined, full of notes, and parts are copied into journals. I love it. A lot. I read it for the first time when I was 18ish, and I remember feeling like Rilke was writing the letters to me. I love Rilke because he seems to feel things in the same, deep way that I do, and he explains them in a way that is simple and true. He seems to know and feel the same, soul-crushing depths and heights I experience, and expresses them in such a way that I know that he, also, feels in such a way that his soul dies and gives birth, drowns, and is born again. If he was still alive, and looked a little less like a dead Austrian dude who lived a long time ago and a little more like…oh I dunno….James McAvoy or Leonardo DiCaprio, I would probably be in love with him.

Love and Leonardo aside, there are some passages in "Letters to a Young Poet" that I just have to return to again, and again, and again. This quote is the one standing out to me now.

"It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, - is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens."

As I am facing so many changes right now, I find myself struggling—not with the things I expected to have difficulty with, but with the presence that is already in my bloodstream. A year ago, when that unfamiliar emotional presence entered, when everything I trusted and was used to was taken away and I was standing in a transition where I was not sure if I could keep standing, that presence entered my heart, and then, my bloodstream. I thought I knew what it was. I thought I had named it and approached it and avoided it and approached it again. I tried to believe that nothing had happened, but I was obviously and undeniably changed. Like Goldilocks breaking into the bears' home, the guest not only entered my house, but was eating my porridge, breaking my chairs, sleeping in my bed, and most importantly, was STILL THERE. I'm pretty sure the Goldilocks that entered my heart was the antisocial cousin of the original Goldilocks, because she did some serious damage. She created huge changes in my bloodstream that even a blood transfusion wouldn't have helped.

Over the past year, I have waited and wanted and longed for the day when I would be "the old me." I wanted the new presence in my life to be gone. I wanted things to be "normal," and I wanted to be my old self again. As I think about moving, I am confronted again with the fact that the old me is gone. As I try, and try, and try to forget and forgive and move forward, I realize that I can't, because I am still learning the ways that my house has changed. When I try to do something new, I try to act as the old me, not thinking (or ignoring) the fact that the guest had also entered there. Not remembering (or ignoring) the fact that the very life force running through my body had been changed. As transitions and changes continue to occur in my life, I feel as though I can change and transition as the pre-antisocial-Goldilocks me. But as I move forward, I realize more and more that although the houseguest is gone, the house is forever changed. The energy is different. The house has seen different things. The house knows different things. Sometimes, the person living in the house…me…sometimes, she doesn't even think about the differences, but the house—the body—knows and reacts. The house knows there have been changes in the bloodstream.

So as I am moving, and moving on, I keep encountering new ways I have changed. Antisocial Goldilocks is no longer sleeping in my bed, but I find that as I move into certain sections of the house that are a little dusty, that maybe I haven't had to go into before, I run across yet another thing that the guest broke or changed or moved or stole. Every time I find it, I remember again the feeling of the unfamiliar presence entering, and everything I trusted being taken away. When that happens, I question my ability to continue standing. I remember that I am changed, I have been changed, and my house—my mind, my body, my soul—is no longer what it was. When that happens, I am sad, and I hurt, and I am angry, because I didn't ask for this guest to enter my house. I didn't ask for these changes in my bloodstream.

At the same time, though, there is something freeing about allowing myself to acknowledge that I have been changed. Trying to fit the new me into the old me, and ignoring the new me that is living there instead, is hard. When I can say "yes, I had a really shitty houseguest who ate my porridge and broke my chairs and slept in my bed, and broke things and left it all a mess; when I can say that a presence, an event, a "thing" entered my life and made changes in my bloodstream, it makes me sigh inwardly, and one of the pieces of my tightened heart releases. "Yes," I can say, "you HAVE been changed. The change is in your bloodstream, and things will never be the same." For some reason, that simple acknowledgement lets me let myself off the hook. And why shouldn't I say that I will never be the same? I am not the same person I was yesterday, or five minutes ago, or five seconds ago, for that matter: everything changes, and everything changes us. I end every day an older, hopefully wiser, person with new experiences, purely because I lived another day. Why, when something life changing happens, can I not say that I have been changed?

It is also helpful to know, that changes to the bloodstream don't change the person. One can change, rearrange, take away, add to the contents of a house, and the essential elements of the house—the essence of the house—remain untouched. It is helpful to think that, even though I have changed, I am still the same. I am still me. In spite of all the changes, I am still who I am, and no Goldilocks—antisocial or otherwise—could change that about me.

I am certain that, after Goldilocks left the home of the three bears, they must have cleaned their house. They might have changed their sheets. Made new porridge. Put Baby Bear's chair back together. And that takes time. People keep telling me, "take care of yourself." Take the time to clean up your house. Fix the broken chairs. Change the sheets. Put the loving energy that once filled your home back into your home. Self-care is a buzz word that is thrown around by many—including me—and seldom practiced. Most times, I set things up as a double-bind: I can do what is right for me, or I can do what I see as the strong/brave/right thing to do. Sometimes, there really is that dichotomy…but not often. When the choices are pitted against one another like that, I feel obligated to choose the latter over the former. Better to act like the broken chairs don't matter than to take the time to fix them. Better to talk to others with changes in their bloodstream than to pay attention to my own. Better to find a better, new recipe for porridge than to make a new batch of the porridge I loved.

But what if self-care is the brave/strong/right choice? Take away the double bind. Accept that, maybe, the choice to fix the broken chairs is what is difficult for me. Maybe, through choosing to take care of myself, I am engaging in a radical act of bravery and strength.

Maybe…maybe…I am worth that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On Being Messy

I wouldn't exactly call myself a neat freak, because my apartment can be a disaster zone sometimes, but I can't stand if things are messy. By messy, I mean if things aren't in their place, or aren't organized, or if I can't easily locate where they are, then things are messy. I can have piles…lord knows I have piles. But if the piles are where they're supposed to be, are organized, and I can easily locate the thing I need in the pile, then that's fine. That's not messy. But if I can't find something? If things aren't where they're supposed to be? That's not okay. Mess = chaos, and that just doesn't fly with me. I can always tell when I am super stressed when I take a step back, look at my apartment, and realize it's a mess.

We all have different ways of coping with messiness, and different levels of mess we can tolerate. I had a roommate my first year of grad school who would get stressed out and walk around the apartment, tripping over her clothes, shoes, books, mattresses, and dishes on the floor (usually in only her bra and underwear), announcing loudly, "MY LIFE IS IN SHAMBLES AND MY HAIR AIN'T RIGHT." Any sort of question or conversation only provoked her further, and the answer was always, "I TOLD YOU! MY LIFE IS IN SHAMBLES. MY LIFE IS IN SHAMBLES AND MY HAIR JUST AIN'T RIGHT." (It's pretty catchy, actually, and effective. You should try it sometime if you're looking for attention, pity, or assistance. You get bonus points if you do it in your bra and underwear).

My preferred method of dealing with messes is generally NOT to exclaim about the disaster while wearing minimal clothing. Instead, I quickly and quietly attempt to organize, pick up, reorganize, reconceptualize, and take care of the mess. It's a control thing. I hate when things feel like they are out of control. And messes are definitely out of control.

So right now, the apartment is a big stinking mess. Moving makes some of the biggest messes I know. Some things are packed, some things aren't. Things aren't where they're supposed to be. There are boxes in random places. I'm not really sure where I'm going. I have no idea what the getting there process is going to be like. Things here aren't necessarily wrapping up as neatly as one would hope. There are a lot of messes, and everything feels very messy.

If I hate being physically messy, I hate being psychologically messy even more. I like to be able to name what I'm feeling, tie it up, put a little bow on it, and stick it on the shelf with the appropriate label, date, and time. I'll reflect on it later, when I look back at all the little boxes on the shelf in my mind: "Ah, I DO remember feeling frustrated on June 10th, 2011 at 5:45 pm!" I like to be in control of that. Yes, I may be angry or sad or frustrated, but as long as I can box it up and tie the bow and stick it on the shelf with the name, time, and date, I'm okay with it.

I like to think of myself as a pretty mindful person. I like to believe that I am aware of what I am thinking and feeling, and that I am non-judgmental in confronting those thoughts and feelings. I have used mindfulness-based interventions with my clients, and extolled the virtues of mindfulness to them. Recently, though, life happened and grad school happened and dissertation happened and stress happened, and in the midst of all those happenings, my own mindfulness definitely stopped happening. There's no judgment there, of course, because, you know, I'm never hard on myself,* but the mindfulness just kind of fell away. I think I forgot meditation existed. And non-judgment and all that awesome stuff I told my clients? Yeah, well, Hypocrites Anonymous called the other day. They want me to be their president.

So, on Friday, I decided to go to a labyrinth organized by a friend at church. "A little walking meditation, a little time in the quiet…it'll do you good," I thought. So I went. I spent some time talking to people, spent a little time writing in the journal I brought, and tried to open my mind and slow down the thoughts. I wrote some things out, just to get them out of my head, and then continued to sit. I could feel my mind pulling me in places I didn't want to go, and I fought it. I knew I was wrestling with some real stuff, some big stuff, but I could only ask myself over and over, "how do I let it go? How do I move forward from it? How do I just release it?" (aka "how do I get rid of this?). Finding that I couldn't write my way into an answer to those questions, and finding my anxiety sufficiently amplified, I decided I was just going to go walk the labyrinth, and hopefully walk my way into an answer, or at least into a place of peace.

The sanctuary was dark, cool, comforting, and familiar. It was silent. Completely silent. And there was no one in there but me. I stood for a moment, breathing, and imagining myself grounded and centered. I felt things start to quiet in my body, and felt more grounded. I started walking. I wasn't thinking, per se, and I wasn't chasing the thoughts, but I definitely also wasn't in the place of not thinking. I moved slowly. Mindfully. Just, honestly, letting myself be.

Ellen DeGeneres does a funny sketch about how things come up in the quiet moments (you can watch a piece of it here:**.

Fortunately or unfortunately, what came up for me was not the Clorox song.

I walked the labyrinth twice, and the emotions became stronger and stronger, even as the thoughts were fading. The emotions have been there, but this time, there was no research paper to distract me. No thought about needing to read that article on hypothyroidism and depression, or needing to go fix the formatting on page 191 of my dissertation, and how DID the margin get to be 1 inch on the left on just that page rather than the 1.5 inches it was on every other page? Turns out, it's pretty scary when you need to meet yourself for the first time in a while. Turns out, it's not exactly a walk in the park when you realize that all those things you've been brushing off, everything you've been saying is "fine," all that "stuff" you thought was over or a non-issue is actually a big issue and not fine at all, as a matter of fact. It's not so much fun when all that stuff is, suddenly, staring you in the face, and all of a sudden life feels very, very messy.

Have I mentioned that I don't do messy?

When I finished walking, I sat down on the floor with my journal. I started writing and tears started falling. My thing about messy extends to a thing about crying. Crying is messy. Other people crying is fine. That's not messy. Crying is natural. Crying is healthy and cleansing. But me crying? That's messy, so…I don't do it. I will, if I have to, if I'm alone in my apartment when not even the dog can see me, but other than that, I don't. And yet, Friday evening, there I was, sitting on the floor in the sanctuary, with people right outside the door, and I was crying. I considered packing it all up and going home. But I didn't. Something about the space, about the stillness and the quiet and the solitude, something about it felt okay. Plus, I was messy. I couldn't walk out of the sanctuary if I was crying. So I wrote. I wrote until the tears dried, and then I took a breath and dug deeper. And I cried again, wrote until the tears stopped, and then stopped to reflect. I repeated it a third time, digging deeper and deeper and deeper, being completely honest with myself. My hand just kept moving, and even my inner critic knew she better shut the hell up and hide. I contradicted myself. I wrote the same sentence 3, 4, 5 times in a row, until I no longer felt my heart tighten when I wrote it. I wrote the same word 4, 5, 6 times down the page, until my stomach no longer clenched when I thought about writing it. I said the same thing, in 4 different ways, in 8 different places. When I started to move into "fix it" mode, and started telling myself what I "should" do, I stopped and closed the book without reading what I had written. I collected myself, went to the bathroom and washed my face, collected my belongings, and then stood and talked for a few moments. Things went swimmingly, and I was nearly out the door…and then my friend asked the question:

    "How was the labyrinth?"

    "It was wonderful," I said. In my head, I swear I said, "thank you so much for creating that space. That's exactly what I needed tonight." But that's not what I said. Instead, before I could stop myself, I said, "I cried."

    "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Do you want to talk about it?"

    In my head, I struck a pose of being completely together and cool. "Psh," I said in my mind, "I'm totally fine. Super-fantastic, as a matter of fact." But instead, my eyes filled with tears and I shrugged my shoulders and looked at my shoes. Damn this stupid disconnect between my mind and my body! I thought. I've had enough people do the shrug with the tears and looking down at their shoes thing that I know what that means. That means they're going to say "no," and they're going to tell you they don't want to talk about it, and that means you're going to get their butt into the chair, and they're going to cry and talk and you're going to listen.

So I said "no," because crying is messy, and the fact that my brain and my words were not cooperating was messy, and I had a big mess in my head and my heart and my apartment… But she said "sit down." I shrugged again and blinked to pretend I wasn't crying. So she said "sit down" and she shut the door to give us privacy and I shrugged and looked at my shoes…and sat down and pretended I had it all together.

And then I fell apart and I cried. Not just a little teary. Not just a couple tears. I mean that I cried the snot-filling-your-nose, can't breathe, tears rolling down your face, messy sort of cry. And that's why the meteor hit the Earth and split it all into little pieces, killing everything but the bedbugs and cockroaches, 'cause those suckers are indestructible. Sorry guys. I really do apologize. I always knew my messiness would lead to the end of the world. Be grateful I held out for 25 years.***

I came home and was confused, tired, very drained, and also very much okay. Peaceful, even. I couldn't fall asleep, so I plotzed around for a bit, and then opened up my daily meditation book for the meditation for the following day:

    "June 11: Be Honest with Yourself.

What are you feeling deep down inside? Under the anger. Under the rage. Under the numb I don't care, it doesn't matter. Are you really feeling scared? Hurt? Abandoned? Go more deeply into yourself and your emotions than you have ever gone before. Be more honest with yourself than you have ever been before. The way to joy, the way to the heart is tender, soft, gentle, and honest. The way to the heart is to be vulnerable.

You don't have to be so brave. You don't have to be so strong. You don't always have to walk away with your head held high saying, "I can handle this. I've been through worse before."

Become angry if you must. Feel your rage if it's there. Go numb once in a while, if you must. Then take a chance, and go a little deeper. Go way down deep inside. See what's there. Take a look. Risk being vulnerable."****

If I'm honest, right now things feel pretty messy. Perhaps the universe is telling me to try being messy. To turn down the membership to Hypocrites Anonymous and try being honest with myself, try not judging my thoughts, feelings, and actions, to try to return to mindfulness. Perhaps it's telling me that I can learn to sit with the mess. Or maybe it's telling me it's okay that I was messy, and it's also okay to go numb now for a bit, in the midst of all the mess. Maybe, it's just saying that it all is, actually, okay.


*Or sarcastic, for that matter.

**Also known as, this piece is something I really want to write, but am having a difficult time writing, so go watch Ellen and come back while I think about what to say and how to say it.

***Have I ever mentioned that sarcasm is a coping mechanism?

****From Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul by Melody Beattie

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I am what I am

So, a few weeks ago, I was part of a poetry service at church about loving ourselves. In the meeting before the service, we decided to start at the "it's really hard to love ourselves" place, and move to the "I'm super fantastic" place in our poetry. A friend and fellow poet suggested writing "I am what I am" poems*, and said she would write one. I thought about it, and wrote a poem with "I am what I am" in it...but that poem was just a little too personal (and had a few too many f-bombs) to be read in church. Oops. I wrote a different sort of poem (without expletives) but when I heard my friend's "I am what I am" poem, and the "I am what I am" poem written by the congregation, I was amazed. THAT is some cool stuff, I thought. I decided I would write an "I am what I am" poem. So I sat down, and I wrote at the top of the paper, "I am what I am." And then I waited. And I waited. And I waited. So I wrote it again: "I am what I am..." and then I waited. Apparently, it still wasn't time for me to write about me being what I am.

So the next week, I had a "poetry workshop" with some kids at church. As a "warm-up," I gave them each a slip of paper that said "I am...". "Now," I told them, "you can write things that we would know about you. You could write things like, 'I am a girl' or 'I am a boy.' Or you can write things that we don't know about you, like, 'I am a person who hates broccoli' or 'I am Harry Potter's biggest fan.' OR..." I paused for dramatic effect. "Or you can write something that is more symbolic, or metaphorical, or something that couldn't be real that you feel sums up who you are. This would be something like, 'I am the one ray of sunshine streaming through the clouds' or 'I am a mama bear in her den' or 'I am lemonade on the hottest day of the year.'" I handed them slips of paper. Five seconds later, hands shot up: "can I have another one?" "Can I write more than one?" "I need another one." "Can I just have a whole piece of paper?"

Clearly, this is easier for them than it is for me.

I don't have the permission of the authors to publish their work here, but it was amazing. With lines like, "I am paint that wants to be splattered" and "I am the odd kid that lives down the street" and "I am a hat that wants to be worn backwards," their "I Am" poem is obviously super-fantastic. What amazed me, too, is that they sat, wrote their poems in 5-10 minutes, and handed them to me, beaming: "look what I wrote!" "Read this!" "Listen to this one!" The room buzzed with excitement and creativity. When I read them their poems aloud, I thought we would explode with the magic of words we were creating. Most importantly, they were proud of their work. They put words on paper, read them, and were happy with it. Watching that process was amazing.

So, I left that session and thought, "You know, you really should try writing your own 'I Am' poem. If the 10 year olds can do it, I'm pretty sure you could string some words together." I, finally, made myself sit down and wrestle it out. I'll have you know it still took me 4 days to write this poem. 4 days! It was a hard one. A really hard one. But I did it. I want to say something like, "It's really not good, and I really don't like it..." but in an effort to be like my 10-year-old poet friends, I'm not going to. I'm just going to say: this poem has driven me NUTS!

I Am What I Am

I am what I am:
I am puppy kisses, goats, roosters named Zuckerman, and ankle-biting ducks.
I am knee-high wading boots, overalls, bent spoons and rusted out pots perfect for mud pies, grass soup, and dirt cakes with dandelion honeysuckle icing.
I am deer snorting in the darkness, tents with dry-rot in the front yard, 4-H entomology club, and cowbells banging on the front porch, telling me it’s time to come home.
I am the teenager who escaped to her bedroom and lost herself in books such that stories came to life with an imagination so vivid, they infiltrated her dreams and wrote sequels in her mind.
I am flashlights under blankets until the quiet hours of morning: it was Judy Blume who taught me to love the silence of 2 AM and the ways stories and words fill the quiet with mystery that burbles, joyfully, in my heart.

I am what I am:
I am Durga, Buddha, and Mary of Guadalupe, together on my dresser.
I am faith and disbelief, uncertainty and striving, clarity and conviction.
I am a teenager with answers and a 20-something with none.
I am an old soul who is discovering, uncovering, and recovering, denying what I know and owning what I don’t as I try to figure out how to live in a world I’m not sure I ever belonged in.
I am candles and dirty dishes,
prayer flags, violets, bamboo,
books littering a bedside.
I am mechanical pencils scratching legal pads at 3 AM when even the dog has given up and gone to bed without me as I sit,
writing until the jagged, pounding thoughts smooth into silence.

I am what I am:
I am the big sister who answered to “mom” on the bad days; the glue that held things together when they were falling apart.
I am the 9 year old who was told not to cry, and didn’t.
I am the kid who learned that feelings aren’t meant to be shared. Thank goodness I became the 25-year old who has decided to break those rules and does, again and again and again.
I am the 12 year old who navigated children’s hospitals with a 3 year old in tow and befriended children hooked to machines in playrooms who discussed waiting for hearts like I waited for the tooth fairy. It was there that I learned to be strong for others before I knew what strength was.
I am the young adult who learned how to visit her baby sister during visiting hours and ignore nasogastric tubes, locked units, IV lines, and “I hate yous.” I learned how to hold the pain of broken closet doors, self-hatred, and fear without words, how to be the mom she wanted and the friend she longed for.

I am what I am:
I am a 3rd grade drop-out, a soon-to-be doctor with no high-school diploma. I am the ex-homeschooler who will always be a homeschooler at heart.
I am the poet who denies she’s a writer, and the writer who denies she’s a poet. I am slips of paper with lines of poems in the bottom of my purse, in the margins of textbooks, at the bottoms of grocery lists, in the middle of psychopharmacology notes.
I am the aspiring musician who pretends to read music but can’t, and is too hard-headed to take lessons because she can figure it out herself, thanks.
I am the person with the familiar face that strangers spill their stories to in line at the grocery store,the girl recognized by her smile, the passionate woman with a penchant for social justice who doesn’t know how to rein it in, and doesn’t want to.

I am what I am:
I am words becoming unleashed; a voice, no longer silent; power, no longer hidden.
I am expanding limitless horizons and targeted goals, maps with fuzzy borders, no clear destinations.
A dirty blue Subaru heading in the direction of my dreams, I am an expert at U-turns, 3-point turns, throwing it in reverse and driving until I figure it out.
I am rarely singular in purpose: I move at a speed I can’t keep up with, determined to keep challenging, moving, pushing, destroying road blocks, “I can’ts” and “you won’ts.”
I drove from the place I grew up in with one foot on the gas and one on the brake, my stomach knotted with “how could yous?” and “why are you doing this?”, a mind full of other peoples’ beliefs that I would be back home before the year was out, but I knew I had to get the hell out anyway.
I am a heart beating with the truth of following dreams and, four years later, I am driving back, one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, desperate for my mountains, aching for the familiarity of home, only to find I’m leaving behind the home I made.

I am what I am:
I am nose rings and skirts, my father’s skin, my mother’s hair, and eyes that are all mine.
I am flip flops and dangly earrings, ballroom dance and belly dance, I am waiting on the brink of confidence.
I love with an intensity that fills my body, am far too sensitive and feel too much, but can’t live any other way.
I give big, long hugs, talk with my hands, write long letters, tell friends I love them, and mean it from a place in my soul.
I am a therapist described by supervisors as calm, gentle, and loving. I am arms scarred from teeth and fingernails, and I am unending patience, rewarded by trust, fleeting eye contact, and spontaneous smiles.

I am what I am:
a 25 year old light of insignificance
making my place in the world by loving and dreaming of becoming
I am.

*You can read her super-fantastic "I Am What I Am" here

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Feeling Beautiful

It's not too often that I like the way I look in pictures. However, there is this one picture of me—an old picture—that I love. I'm about 12 years old, and in the middle of the woods near the house I grew up in. I am wearing overalls, a blue undershirt with flowers, and black wading boots that come up to my knees. My long hair is pulled back in a ponytail that touches the small of my back, and I have a thick white headband holding back the whispy strands up top. I'm standing on the bank of the creek, notebook and pen in hand, totally absorbed in whatever I'm writing. It's obviously a candid shot my mom took—I am completely in my own world.

I don't know why I love this picture so much. It really is nothing special. 11-14 was a really awkward phase for me (and really…who ISN'T awkward at that age?). I don't know if overalls were "in," or if I just thought they were, but I wore them A LOT. I'm not smiling or looking at the camera, but if I were, you would see braces and teeth set at wonky angles (probably orange and black as this picture was taken around October or November). The kid in the picture is normally self-conscious and shy. She gets picked on by others because she's smart, because she's different…lots of reasons she doesn't understand, and her journal is full of lists of things she could change about herself, should change about herself, to be better, look better, act better. There were full page lists of what was "wrong" with her…but in the picture, she's not thinking about any of those things. In that moment in the picture, that kid is at home in her skin and her awkward overalls and waders, and she knows it. She's feeling it. I can tell. When I look at that picture now, I want to tell the 12 year old me how beautiful she is. I can see the soul of me in that picture, and I want the little me to know how beautiful that is. I wish I could say that the 12 year old me would have believed it.


I woke up this morning, remembered everything I told myself I would do today, and decided to take a walk with the dog. But I didn't just want to take a walk. I wanted to take a LONG walk. I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to walk until I felt like I couldn't walk anymore. I get like that sometimes…I just need to be alone and try to find myself again. Sometimes, I need to walk a really, really long way.

Normally, when I leave the house I have to put makeup on. I have to make sure I pass some sort of standard (what that standard is, I'm not really sure, I just have to be sure to pass it). If I don't do that, I'm just too uncomfortable. There are too many voices going off, too many alarms sounding in my head. But, this morning, I woke up, brushed my teeth, changed my shirt, grabbed a bandana and a hair tie, and I was out the door. In the same shorts I slept in. With no makeup, no time in the mirror, no nothing. Just out the door, like that.

I thought about it while I was driving, and started to feel uncomfortable—almost turned around, even, but no. Why did it even matter? The goal was to find me, not a soul mate. The purpose of this trip was to reconnect with myself through the Earth. I convinced myself I didn't need mascara or clean shorts to connect with the Earth Goddess energy I was trying to find. I pulled into the parking lot, slathered myself with sunscreen, grabbed the dog, and started walking.

My body falls into a rhythm when I'm in the woods that I can't really explain. When I'm angry, or sad, or searching or frustrated or overwhelmed, I want to be in the woods. It's the only place that feels big enough to hold it all, sometimes. It's the only place where I can stop thinking, and sometimes it's the only place I can think. When I'm walking in my neighborhood or at the park, my mind is still reeling: wondering what people are thinking about me as they walk by, feeling exposed and like they are probably judging me, thinking about what I need to do later, what I'm going to make for dinner, worrying about global warming or human sex trafficking, thinking about that one time I forgot to put yeast in the bread I was making, and wondering what homework I should be doing instead. When I really go into nature, all of that stops. I can't tell you what I am thinking—it's just there. I'm there, in my body, and there is nothing else.

It's perhaps not a good thing, but I'm not scared to walk alone in the woods. Other places? You bet'cha. But not there. I feel more at home, more protected, stronger, when I am in nature than when I am anywhere else. It's where I used to go as a kid, too: there was never any place private at my house, and emotions weren't meant to be expressed. When I was overwhelmed or angry or tired or scared or just needed a break from it all, I could go for a walk, go sit in my "fort," or go wade in the creek. Although I couldn't put words to it (I can barely put words to it now), it just felt like, for 10 minutes, the world was lifted off my shoulders.

When I was sexually assaulted a year ago, I was told repeatedly how unattractive I am. How no one will ever love me. He told me exactly what was wrong with every part of my body. At one point, I convinced my drunk friend to go to the bathroom with me and told her we had to go, that he was an asshole. When she wouldn't buy that, I told her that I was tired and had to work the next day. She told me not to be so stupid: a handsome guy that was totally out of my league wanted to make out with me and take me home—I should go for it because I would wake up in the morning feeling so beautiful, I wouldn't even realize I was tired. Something must be wrong with me, she told me, that made me want to leave. Something was wrong with me that I didn't want him.


It's been over a year, and I'm just starting to get to the point where I look in the mirror and see more than the flaws he enumerated. Over a year later, I'm still waiting to wake up feeling beautiful.

But today, as I was walking, I stopped and put my feet in the creek. I was slightly out of breath, sweaty, and grimy from the mixture of sunscreen, dirt, spider webs, and dog fur. I was wearing shorts I had slept in, a bright yellow t-shirt that is at least 8 years old and has letters half on and half falling off. My shoes were caked with mud, and mud had splashed up the back of my legs while I was walking. My t-shirt was wet from picking up my wet dog after he scared himself in the creek and refused to walk back across the water. My hair was frizzy from the heat, wavy in all the wrong places, and pulled back in a wrinkled, blue bandana. I had on no make-up, hadn't even washed my face before leaving, and could feel my cheeks flashing pink. I looked up at the sky and felt my arms raise out to my side and above my head, and I just felt so comfortable, I smiled. Giggled, even. Closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the damp earth smell that feels more like home to me than home ever could. For a moment, there was nothing else in the world: there was me, and my dog, and a presence that might have been Love and Truth filling the air. I stood there, grime and all, savoring the moment and trying to figure out "what is this weird thing I feel?"

It's hard to write it. Something about it is difficult to admit, even. But, I think, I might have felt "beautiful."