Breakthrough

Sometimes I write a whole lot of stuff and then I just file it away, never to be seen again.

Unless I die and someone figures out my laptop password, divulging all of the secrets within the “Current Writing Projects” folder, there are thousands upon thousands of words that will never be read by anyone.  And that assumes that whoever cracks my password bothers to read my work.

I often feel like writing for an audience makes my writing rather shitty.

In my undergraduate studies, I got a less than fabulous grade in my advanced expository writing course, even though many in the class considered me a fabulous writer.  But I didn’t follow the process that my professor so wanted me to adopt.  My first draft was never handed in on time, and my final draft was usually my first draft with more words tacked on the end.  His process, I believe, was not how I wrote well.

Now, that professor and his colleagues and his many protégés would likely argue that I can’t be writing well if I am still handing in rough drafts.   But I made it through two master’s degrees without a second draft.  And I still feel as though writing in ways that aren’t very stream-of-consciousness, throw-words-out-without-thinking, and blurt-whatever-comes-to-mind are ways that are less successful for me.

I may be wrong.

That happens surprisingly often, given those aforementioned multiple degrees.

But even if they are correct, and my writing would be improved by having a more traditional, tested process, I can’t seem to do it.  Or, more accurately, I can’t seem to love it.

My whole life is sort of like this, I think.  The more traditional and tested, the less enjoyment I experience.  I’ve always been the headstrong, impulsive, unbound type.  And the moment that people set expectations and made rules to hold me in, I suffered.  Some would imagine that the impulsiveness and the chaos of anarchy were what hurt me.  But I truly believe it was being caged that broke me, not being capricious or catapulting into life.

I know that some of this stems from the unhealthy personal history of which I sometimes share bits and pieces.  Feeling captive—being captive—made me desperate for freedom.  I needed to run.  I needed to fly.  I needed to be shot out past the orbit of Earth and end up in the sky, preferably somewhere amid Cassiopeia.  I’m not sure why.  The queen has simply been the place I wanted to be since we had a star-gazing event in the rural backyard of my grade 6 teacher.  That constellation beckoned.  The moment I could, I ran, I flew, I threw myself toward the heavens.

But there were always new sets of rules and people who tricked me into believing I wanted to be caged once more.

This weekend, I read a lovely bit of my daughter’s writing.  She wrote about me.  And she wrote about how I became tethered to the ground by my own body and mind—how I lost my confidence.

I spent all that time seeking to be free, and then my own body and mind caged me.  I finally broke out of the orbits of family, partner, religious tradition, patriarchy, and expectations that were not meant for my good but for my compliance, and the thing that pulled me back down was my chronic illness.

I haven’t been myself in a really long time.  Some days I don’t even know who that self is, or how to find her.  The weight of fatigue and pain and mental anguish grounded me in ways that nothing and no one else could.  And that devastates me.

And suddenly, all I want is to run, to fly, to be thrown to the heavens.  But I don’t even know how to begin.

Caged.  Subject.  Tethered.

Some would say that as age sets in we become more “grounded”, and they mean that in this sense where you gain stability and live out your years with calculated and wise decisions.  And when any of us stray from that trope, we are cast into another—the mid-life crisis sufferer.

I’m in that forty-something stage that may or may not be mid-life.  I’m not average, so I cannot expect that my life span will hit the average either, frankly.  And some people might think that my recent propensity for bright-colored hair or new tattoos or parties with my daughter and her friends or casually dating a string of inadequate suitors are symptoms of this mid-life crisis.  But those people would be wrong.

My desire to find myself again, and gain my strength, and live unfettered and free, and restore my confidence, and be the kind of woman I love to be is leading me down the road I am travelling.  And that is not a crisis.

That is a breakthrough.

That is me learning to own the parts of me that existed before and between cages.  That is me learning that the Christy who fought to be free is the Christy that is naturally occurring.  That is me learning to fly once more.

I may not be good at careful and calculated.  I may not be good at decorum and expectation.  But I am good.  And I am best when I am set free—allowed to embrace my own way, and to chase my dreams without the weight of expectations, rules, secrets, tethers, and ties.

I think that this journey began with me crawling from a pit of despair, and I have a long way to go before I can spread my wings, but I am on that journey.  My feet are on a path, and that path is leading to my best self—no matter what the critics say.

And I am starting to believe that I can one day make it back to the queen in the sky.  Soon I will remember how to fly.

Some things never change

I’m sort of a change addict.  I rearrange things all the time.  From the files in my office to the paints in my studio to the furniture in the rooms to the items on my bedside table, I am always looking for another way to place things.  And I often like to pretend that it is for increased efficiency—and sometimes it accidentally brings about increased efficiency—but I think it is just that things need to be constantly in flux for me to feel comfortable.

This is actually the opposite of what makes most people comfortable.  Stability and stasis and knowing that you won’t bang your toes on a credenza that wasn’t there yesterday seem to be more comfortable for most.

I used to attribute my desire for change to boredom.  I just figured I was the kind of person who needed new scenery … and that is true in part.  Highly intelligent and creative people often need movement and change, and lots of us live in mess or chaos as a result.  We feel life more than just live it.  And, like anything that you see or feel each and every day, you become numb to things if they stay the same for too long.

Once my daughter’s teacher thought she would place a brightly colored sticky note to my daughter’s desk to remind her of something.  That sticky note had an effect for about a week and a half.  After that time, the note just became a part of my daughter’s normal desk environment.  It no longer screamed brightly to remember, but it sort of faded into the everyday.

For those of us who feel our way through life, everything fades into the everyday, and we need something new in order to feel stimulated and excited and motivated.

I am one of those people, so boredom is an apt way to describe much of my need for change.

But, over time, I discovered something else about the way I desire change.  It felt like an escape.  It felt like freedom.  It felt like a release from captivity.  And it still does.

I often describe my situation as “stuck”.  I can’t afford to move.  I can’t find decent housing with a voucher that is meant to safeguard the poor from not finding decent housing (another tale for another time, perhaps).  I can’t leave the state without throwing my disability case out the window after 16 months of fighting for my rights.  I can’t change the ways my body and mind react to particular stimuli.  I can’t end the pain that plagues my whole body.  I can’t stop seeing the doctors and therapists who already know and have seen the ways my disease affects me.  I can’t end the awareness of the past events that led to this point.  I feel trapped within my disability and within a particular way of living as a result.

And I want to escape once more.

I keep changing what I can.  The furniture, the nightstand contents, the filing system all move around.  But I’m still feeling stuck.

Last night, while I was attempting to catch up on the washing of dishes (a failed attempt, but a bit of progress at least), I was thinking about my relationship with my mom.  It wasn’t great, for most of my teen and adult years.  We didn’t understand one another very well, and communicating emotion wasn’t a strong point for her, and obeying without question wasn’t a strong point of mine.  We argued as a result.  But last night I was thinking more about how she must have felt when all I wanted to do was escape, and even though I don’t really think my mom floats around my kitchen in some non-corporeal form, I said aloud, “I’m sorry if it hurt you Mom, but I needed to try … I needed to try to be free.”

I hadn’t thought of what I did from age 18 to 28 as trying to be free before, at least not in any real and deep sense.  But I was trying to be free.  I didn’t want to be captive or kept.  And running from place to place and moving from man to man and snorting line after line felt like flying after years of living caged.  It wasn’t a crazy person living out her crazy.  It wasn’t a woman lost seeking a place to fit in.  It was freedom–finally freedom!  And all of those things in all of that time didn’t necessarily serve me well or bring me wholeness and good, but they weren’t necessarily meant to do that anyway.  They were just meant to be the opposite of captivity.

When my little dog gets free of the tethers that hold him, he runs like a motherfucking bat out of hell.  He doesn’t know where he is going, or why.  He doesn’t care.  He just runs, and runs, and runs, and runs.  And there isn’t any catching him.  You have to run past him (which, by the way, sucks for a good runner, so the few times I have had to do so I nearly died as a result) and then convince him that running in the other direction sounds fun, leading him back toward the house or car from which he escaped.  Freedom.  Flying.  Just going because you are finally allowed to go.

I spent 10 years of my life flying in glorious freedom.

And then, I went back to living as others expected or anticipated I would or should.  Because you can only run so far before you tire and need to turn around.  But I still miss the flying.  I still miss that freedom.

There are all sorts of expectations once more, and there is a lot of weight to the conditions of disability and poverty that I am struggling to carry, and there are rules and rules and rules about how you may or may not be when you are dependent on others (and very few of the rules or expectations are reasonable or intuitive or helpful).  And I start to feel trapped and stuck and without an exit plan.  It reminds me of being a child, and not being able to express that really bad shit was going on in my life, and not being old enough or aware enough to leave the situation to which I felt captive.  All the ways I tried to escape that captivity—throwing tantrums, threatening my abuser, trying to run away, becoming despondent, sleep walking, wetting the bed—went unrecognized or were blamed on other causes.

I don’t fault the people in my life who didn’t know those were attempts at escape.  It isn’t easy to understand when you haven’t been informed or educated about such things.  All you see is a bunch of crazy and inconvenient and inappropriate, and you don’t know how to fix it.  And even when I did get the attention of therapists or doctors, they were kinda shitty therapists or doctors, and they did more harm than good in most cases. I wasn’t properly diagnosed with C-PTSD until a year and a half ago, because I had a breakdown/freak out/panic in the right place and the right time, for a change.

The thing about this desire for freedom, however, is that it starts to morph into something new as I age and become more aware.  I still want to run away, but I want to run to a place that brings stability, a therapeutic environment, and release from the debt and dependence of poverty.  Being free looks more like stasis and stability than I like to admit at times.  And I think that I would still rearrange the furniture and the files and the art supplies and the books in this more stable version of freedom, but I don’t think that it would make me feel stuck or captive or without freedoms.  If I had a little house on the beach, just big enough for me and the dog, and the occasional visit from my dad or my daughter, and if I could swim every day and get a massage and take a walk along the water, and if I could write and create and sell my work, and if I could grow a few plants out in my tiny garden instead of on an apartment window sill, and if I could choose the life I want and not be forced into situations that I don’t want, I could feel free in one place, and not ever need to feel the need to flee or fight or struggle toward something else.

I started with a title that implied that things don’t change.  And many things don’t.  But many things do.  And it isn’t true that the more things change they more they stay the same, even if my freedom becomes a little cottage which I own and can settle into for years to come.  Because, while that seems like stasis, it is much different from anything I have experienced in all my years—it is something I choose, without influence and expectation and abuse and appropriate cultural expression and manipulation and guilt and force making me choose (which isn’t really choice at all).

Much has changed inside of me, and in the way I see myself, and in the ways I understand my history and my illness, and in the ways that I act and react because of new awareness, and in the way I treat myself as a result.  But much has not changed.

I still long to be free.

I still want to fly.