Spinning Plates

June is the always my busiest month. I have birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries to remember, trips to go on, and a whole summer to plan for. I also tend to overbook myself around this time of year. So, of course, this year, as I plan two trips, three birthday celebrations, and numerous social engagements, I’ve also decided to get a second job.

This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but all the plates are still in the air for the moment, so until they come crashing down, I’ll keep moving forward.

Happy June, people!

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Walking Blind

I have officially begun the process of tapering off my medications. This is a daunting and frightening process for me, not only because I’ve tried and failed in the past, but also because it portends enormous change. If I can successfully gain independence from medications without returning to a state of constant pain, my future looks vastly different from it did just months ago.

My life has been changing rapidly this year, and as exciting as the changes are (for the most part), any transition is hard. In February, I moved and was in a very scary car accident. I reevaluated my approach to life, and vowed to do less surviving and more thriving. In March, I started going to the Texas Migraine Clinic, and my migraines and headaches vanished, nearly overnight. I’m half-way through my first pain-free month, potentially ever, definitely in the last decade.

Living without pain is so different from what I’m used to. I’m accustomed to waking up in pain, slogging through the day just trying to minimize my triggers, until I can go to sleep, still in pain. There isn’t a lot to look forward to when living with chronic pain. It had become my Normal, though, and I had resigned myself to a lifetime of it.

Optimism is terrifying, because if I’m wrong, there is enormous potential to get hurt. I’ve been mistakenly optimistic so many times in my life that I’m starting to question the value in feeling hopeful. I’m one week into my tapering off process, which will be a two-month battle at least, and I’m dizzy and lethargic. It sucks. My headaches haven’t returned, though, so there is reason to hope.

It is hard to convey how little I trust myself. A month away from turning twenty-six, I had hoped to have more self-awareness and a better sense of what I wanted from my life. Stagnation and failure has forced me to push that goal back, but also, as I grow up I feel less confident in my perception of reality. I fear that I lie to myself more often than I acknowledge the truth. Denial is an ugly beast that lives deep in my heart, and as of yet, I haven’t found a way to evict it.

For now, I am ok. More than ok. Maybe next year at this time, I’ll be able to hold down a normal adult job, and maybe I won’t. Maybe I never will. Either way, life will continue.

“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” ~Unknown

The Great Divide: Race, Rights, and Real Change

Over the past few days, as I read my twitter and facebook feeds, I’ve been feeling deeply frustrated. There seem to be an enormous amount of alarming things happening in the world right now, and the response I’m seeing ranges from inspiring to appalling. I want to lend my voice in support, but it is a tricky business to weigh in on some of these issues without making an ass of myself, as I see so many people doing.

Today, the Supreme Court is voting on a landmark marriage equality case. I support marriage equality unequivocally, and I hope that they make what I feel is the right decision. I think that a few generations from now, we will look back at a time when same sex marriage was a contentious civil rights issue and be quite embarrassed.

Yesterday, a high school student in Washington brought a gun to school with the intention of hurting himself. Thankfully, he was tackled by a teacher before he was able to hurt himself or anyone else. Nevertheless, this event highlights to me the precarious nature of adolescence, and our outright failure to provide adequate mental healthcare, education (!!!), and gun safety practices such that these frightening and deadly occurrences persist as a hallmark of American culture. The answer isn’t simple or easily prescribed, but that doesn’t mean we should stop having the difficult conversations and working towards tangible solutions.

Earlier this week, an earthquake in Nepal caused massive loss of life and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that left climbers stranded. I am following this story and sending my thoughts to all those affected by this natural disaster. I hope that the global response is generous and facilitates the healing of this beautiful and unique place.

This issue I really want to talk about, however, is not a natural disaster, but rather a very human one. Following the death of yet another young black man at the hands of law enforcement, there have been peaceful protests in the city of Baltimore, and riding on the tail of those peaceful protests, looting and violence. I emphasize the peaceful protests, and will continue to do so, because they should be our main focus, despite what the capital-m Media is presenting. As is often true with large-scale peaceful protests, especially in tense and racially or economically diverse cities, a combination of boiled-over frustration and opportunism have led to the ugliness of looting and unprovoked violence. Nevertheless, to focus our energy on the condemnation of this reactionary violence is to lose sight of the greater issues at play here in Baltimore, and previously in Ferguson, and even further back in the civil rights protests and conflicts of the 1960s. Indeed, when reading headlines this morning online, I found myself thinking, “what decade am I in?!” I feel discouraged, thinking of all the progress that I thought had been made, and seeing as I grow older how devastatingly wrong I was.

Yes, certainly, progress has been made since the 1960s. No, I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of the situation, which is why I’ve refrained from offering my comments before now. It has become clear, however, that my silence and the silence of my peers (my white, educated, middle to upper class peers specifically) is tantamount to condoning the continued devaluation of the lives of those who look, sound, and behave differently from me. I had the privilege of working in an inner city high school last year, and I was able to see firsthand the way our education system continues the segregation of students based on their level of ‘achievement.’ To make a complex issue brief, those who come from poorer families – a majority of whom are black or Hispanic here in Texas – are in remedial classes, while wealthier students (read: white kids) are in the advanced classes. Sit in on any class in Texas and you will see that segregation is alive and well in our great country. Clearly, this is an oversimplification, but the point stands. Again, I don’t have the ultimate solution to this problem, but I think having a frank conversation about it is a good first step, and I don’t see that happening.

To return to the immediate issue at hand – the death of Freddie Gray, and the protests in Baltimore – I think it is far past time for a change. Those of us who have stood by mutely, reading the news and declining to participate in the necessary conversation, are guilty in our complacence of having allowed the situation to escalate to its current state. There is clearly a problem with the way our law enforcement is being allowed to treat people of color in our country. The racial divide has grown so vast and full of prejudice that the band aids being applied currently will not be enough to change the culture of hate as it currently exists. I believe, some might say naively, that those who enter law enforcement careers genuinely want to protect and serve their communities. We must, therefore, provide them with the education and skills to protect and serve ALL members of their communities. Obviously, some important piece of the puzzle is missing.

I don’t know how to solve this problem, although I wish that I did. I grieve for Freddie Gray, and I dread the future for my students of color who are entering an adult world that is far more dangerous for them than it is for their white peers. I fear for the future of our country, which incarcerates almost ten times as many people of color as white people. I mourn the loss of potential and creativity we accept every time a student drops out of school and joins the ‘prison pipeline.’ I despise the apathetic approach to rehabilitation employed by much of our broken prison system (especially since we know that rehabilitation works). I renounce our cultural values that tell us that the only way to prevent crime is through imprisonment, and that those who mess up deserve to be stripped of their rights. When black men make up 60% of a prison’s population and less than 2% of the same city’s college enrollment, we have to acknowledge that our country is broken.

I am frustrated and angry and scared, and I know that my knowledge only permits me to have the broadest of opinions on this subject. I hope that, as we educate ourselves further, we can have the kind of intelligent, respectful, and vulnerable conversations we need to have to create lasting change. I welcome comments and criticism, although it scares me.

More links for consideration and to start conversations:

Prison: To Punish or Reform? -PBS
Baltimore and Black Lives Matter -Flavorwire
Punishment Fails. Rehabilitation Works. -NYTimes
Rehabilitate or Punish? -American Psychological Association

Sick Days

Sometimes, when I’ve had a series of good weeks, I forget how much it sucks to be sick. Right now, I’m really sick – can’t get out of bed, sore all over, trouble breathing sick. In light of that, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and eating a lot of soup. My boyfriend is a saint for taking such sweet care of me.

I don’t have the energy to write more today, but I’ll leave you with a sweet quotation:

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
~Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

My Fickle Muses

Why is it that some days it feels like pulling teeth to get myself to sit down and write? I would rather be doing anything else – scrubbing the floors, washing cookie sheets (we all know how much that sucks, right? or is it just me?), doing laundry, chasing down cat hair tumbleweeds. I find excuses to stay away from my desk, only stopping by long enough to get my Cruncher work done (you know, the job that pays me). It is especially difficult on days like today when I feel as though everything is coming out disjointed, choppy, and nonsensical. I can’t feel my own voice, and it’s uncomfy. I’m trying to ignore my inner five-year-old who is having a fit – screaming and crying and pushing back – and come to the table anyways.

That was the goal, right? Show up. Sit at the table, every day, and offer my time and patience to my fickle muse. Here I am, and although my muse is absent, my critic is here, front and center as always.

On days like today, I reread encouraging letters from loved ones and try to latch onto an affirmation or mantra. Today’s affirmation comes from my dad and his facebook wisdom: “There are no shortcuts to success… every path requires hard work and risk.” Alright, dad, you know I’m willing to show up and work hard. I only wish that hard work here showed progress the same way it does in my garden, the way my calendula reaches towards the sun every day, and the lavender has just popped it’s head out of the dirt for a peek.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem I wrote on my phone today while in the Migraine Clinic’s waiting room. The topic is honesty/dishonesty. It is bad and I’m choosing to be brave and share it anyways. Haters gonna hate.

I dread the dawn
as much as I loathe the close of day;
both contain a certain probability of pain.

Agony, that rakish muse,
unwelcome yet seductive in her way,
has slunk back to the shadows
but left her sullen sister,
Discomfort, in her place.

This grey lady moves awkwardly,
and hangs about my neck all day,
whispering clammy words in my ears
and dredging the muddy pit of my mind.

I am loathe to sleep
for fear of dreaming:
of golden sunshine and verdant fields –
or murky waters and cobwebbed corners –
one moment laughing, singing, flying –
then gasping, drowning, sinking –
either way, I am haunted upon waking.

Daytime is no better,
obligations and desires competing
for my limited attentions and energies,
the ticking time bomb of pain looming large and heavy,
just as a Texas thunderstorm hangs heavy before crashing down,
the fuse burns steady, silent, inevitable.

This limbo smears the line of days into a long blur,
grey and mushy like old oatmeal in the trash.
There is no light at the end of the day,
only creeping darkness
and the promise of another grey Tomorrow.

Learning Compassion

Today is my first day in a neck brace, and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s one of those little foam ones – I’ll post a picture on Instagram later – and I’m going to try to wear it at least 50% of my waking hours until I get closer to full mobility in my neck. I’m determined to make the absolute best of this opportunity to work with the compassionate therapists at the migraine clinic, and am really throwing myself into the homework. So far, I’ve improved both my mobility and pain at each appointment, and I want to continue this trend as long as I can!

In other news, I’ve committed to corresponding with my support network on a more regular basis, which so far has consisted of good old-fashioned letter-writing. I have received an overwhelmingly warm and loving response from my pen pals, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain the thrill of receiving something that isn’t junk mail (or a bill!) in the mailbox. It’s an absolute delight to feel more connected to my lovely friends, and I continue to be amazed at my own capacity for vulnerability and self-discovery in letter-writing. I almost feel as though I do my best work when I’m writing to someone. There’s a sense of safety and trust in a letter, and I think perhaps my friends are better at creating a safe space for my emotional expression than I do for myself. (I suppose the truism that one needs to be one’s own best friend applies here, grumble grumble.)

I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for my boyfriend lately. He has a way of quietly providing for my needs before I express them, without demanding repayment or grumbling or fussing. It’s remarkable, really. I feel quite fortunate to have a partner who is both patient and thoughtful, even when I am difficult to live with, as I have been lately. It stands in stark contrast to how I’ve been treated by others in the past – with impatience, disrespect, and a refusal to understand the challenges I face. I wish that I could go back in time and tell my younger self that someone, someday would treat me kindly and lovingly, and that I didn’t have to put up with bad behavior from partners and friends. I feel sad when I think about the way I’ve allowed people to treat me and speak to me, and how I’ve allowed my self-worth to be damaged by their maltreatment.

Nevertheless, I am where I am today because of my past, and for that reason, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had to learn, as so many people have to learn, by living through bad relationships, scary experiences, and terrible decisions. I’m lucky to have escaped my youth relatively unscathed, lucky to have had parents who loved me and a brother who respected and protected me. One of the most terrifying, depressing, humbling, sobering realizations I’ve had as I enter my mid-twenties is this: we all experience trauma of one kind or another at some point in our lives. Abuse, neglect, harassment, stalking, self-abuse, rape, disordered thinking, disordered eating, bullying, etc etc etc. The world is filled with violence, and it touches us all.

This can be deeply depressing to acknowledge, or it can be empowering. I’ve learned to treat it as a gift. We are all connected by our humanity: our capacity for violence, yes, but also for vulnerability. I try to look at everyone I meet and remind myself that they are battling their demons, just as I am battling mine. This perspective opens me up to a new world of compassion and empathy, and challenges me to be honest and vulnerable whenever possible.

There are still people who are deeply problematic for me, who I haven’t forgiven for the damage they’ve done to people I love. There is still a lot of growth I need to do. Still, I try to practice compassion every day. I have an exercise that helps me to move out of my compassion comfort zone:

Every day, try to have compassion for 5 kinds of people:
1. Someone you are grateful to or a benefactor
2. A loved one or friend
3. A neutral person
4. Someone who is difficult for you
5. Yourself

As you can see, it gets harder the further you go. Try it if you dare.

Brief Hopes

Oof, blogging regularly is turning out to be a real challenge for me. The Dream, as it has always been, is that someday I will be well enough to juggle work, blog, new writing, and goodness gracious, I guess a personal life?! Currently, I’m weeks behind on work (including housework, sorry honey!), so I’ll make this quick.

Last week, I started going to the Texas Migraine Clinic. I’m cautiously optimistic. You can check out their website for yourselves, but the basic principle is that my migraines/headaches are caused by a bulging disk in my neck. Through targeted exercises and some hardcore rest, my body should be able to repair the disk on its own. It looks like a daunting uphill battle for the next year, but if it works, maybe that hyper-productive Dream life, or some version of it, could become my reality.

I have so many things I want to write about – what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m listening to, the garden I’m starting – but adult responsibilities are looming over my shoulder, and I need to beat them back before I can properly focus on writing anything.

After two straight weeks of awful pain, I just hope this week is tolerable enough to accomplish the bare minimum. Wish me luck!

On Showing Up

I’m having one of those weeks that seems to fly by, yet drags at the same time. Yesterday, I spent all day on the couch, in the dark, waiting out a migraine. However, I also inadvertently made french onion soup for dinner last night, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

I find that I bury myself in meaningless pursuits when I’m stuck like I am now. I play games on my phone, trawl Facebook, and use my moments of productivity to putter around the house, dusting and washing and rearranging. There’s nothing inherently bad about taking care of the space I live in, but when it gets in the way of the real, capital w, Work, it becomes a problem. I know that when I work – create, edit, revise, translate – my health improves. Even so, it is like pulling teeth to bring myself to the table some days and get anything done.

This reminds me of a scene from my favorite movie, Spirited Away. In this particular scene, the heroine has to serve a river guardian who has become so clogged with pollution that it has transformed into an enormous stink spirit. It is only through her dogged determination that she discovers the ‘thorn’ in its side. With the help of her friends, she pulls it loose, releasing a torrent of garbage and freeing the river guardian, who departs in a blast of water, laughing.

This is how my creative blockage feels: if I were to pull out the thorn, it would unleash the million little demons I’ve worked so hard to pack away. Perhaps, like the river guardian, I would then be free to move and laugh and pursue my purpose. What if, on the other hand, the demons defeat me? What if the garbage has piled too high for me to climb out from under it? So I hesitate, needling my thorn, unwilling to sit with the discomfort.

It strikes me as funny that I would rather endure my physical pain than face my emotional pain. I know that moving through and processing those things that I’m hiding from myself would relieve my migraine symptoms, but I don’t do it.

I remember something my dad always says: you cannot succeed unless you show up. So my goal for now is just to show up every day at my desk. If I spend eight hours staring at a blank page, that’s better than eight hours of avoiding the emptiness of that blank page entirely. Maybe sitting with the page will help me get more comfortable with the idea of opening up onto it.

Another Day, Another Challenge

This past week has been full of challenges and struggle puddle days, and today is no different. I’ve been up since six in the morning with head and stomach pain, and no end in sight. It’s one of those weeks when the reassurance “tomorrow will be another day” is starting to ring hollow.

I hope the rest of the world is having an easier time than I am on this Saturday morning. I console myself with the fact that it’s raining outside, reminding me of home and so many other painful days that did, eventually, come to an end.

This is only the middle.

The Purpose of Life?

A dear friend came over the other day to give me a much needed massage. Since my car accident, I’ve been quite sore and stiff, and it helps immensely to get the occasional massage. We talked while she worked on me, and one of the things we discussed was the struggle to find our ‘calling.’ She lamented not pursuing her dreams earlier in life when she thought she knew what they were, and commented on how if she could do anything, she wouldn’t know what that dream job would look like now. We tossed around some ideas casually, then moved on to other things.

This conversation kept coming back to me over the next few days. I thought about my parents, and how I wouldn’t characterize what they do as ‘dream jobs’ necessarily. Nevertheless, I think they’re happy, and find fulfillment in more than just what they do from nine to five. (They might correct me!) On the other hand, I have somehow finagled a situation wherein I get to pursue my dream job (nothing paying yet) while working part time from home, and somehow I still find ways to feel dissatisfied.

This ennui bothers me greatly. I wonder if our generation in particular has been taught to ‘shoot for the stars!’ and pursue unrealistic dreams, or if it is just a matter of my parents being deeply intent on providing a better life and more opportunities for myself and my brother than what they were afforded. It certainly seems to me that many people my age aren’t content to do work that they personally find unfulfilling, even if it provides them with the means to do fulfilling activities on their personal time. To me it feels like a deadly combination of personal laziness and an elevated opinion of what we’re entitled to in an entire generation. Admittedly, I only have access to a very small, privileged snapshot of my generation. Even so, I can’t help but worry.

Ambition is good, and goals are necessary for progress. I simply worry that as young people, we have a tendency to dismiss opportunities and experiences because they aren’t in line with our narrow vision of what we want, and what we think we deserve. I’ve always pushed myself to challenge those sorts of thoughts, and have had some wonderful experiences because I was willing to try things I felt overqualified for or disinterested in. I’m fortunate in that my parents taught me to approach each job with respect and commitment, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing forever. If I hadn’t been invested, I never would have learned so much and risen so far in my retail job a few years ago. However, there came a time for me to leave, and it was ambition that pushed me out the door.

Perhaps balance, then, is the most important element to this life – ambition is good, humility and work ethic are good, but balance and a realistic self-image are what ultimately facilitate happiness. Thinking about my masseuse friend again, I must admire her ability to find balance, and therefore happiness. She doesn’t have a dream job, but she does have a job that she excels at (and she doesn’t hate it!), and she has plenty of activities and hobbies that bring her joy in her extracurricular time.

Everyone’s version of happiness looks different. Not everyone wants to work from home, spend their days playing with cats and writing, but I do. Perhaps that’s really the thesis here: I can’t define happiness, contentment, fulfillment for anyone but myself. In my flawed mind, however, I judge myself based on what the people around me are pursuing. Office jobs, teaching, graduate school – my peers are doing these and many more great things, but they aren’t right for me at this time in my life. I feel like I’m getting left behind, but if I were to stop and take stock, I think I’d find that the only person I’m competing against in this race I’ve imagined is myself.

Maybe I just need to give myself permission to be happy. My happy doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and that’s ok.

…I think.