Muchness

There is a line in Lewis Carroll’s tales of Alice’s Adventures that reads: “‎You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

I’ve often liked that line, spoken to Alice about the ways that she has changed.  And though the point of Carroll’s writing was to make nonsense seem like sense and sense like nonsense, defying logic at every turn, I have always identified with the nonsense in a really lovely way.

I am Alice, in so many of these moments.  She is sort of tumbling through Wonderland in this state of shock.  Nothing makes sense.  Everything is literally and metaphorically topsy-turvy.  And what she believed to be true and correct and assumed by all, is not at all true and correct and assumed.

It is disorienting to discover that what you believed was sense is, instead, nonsense.

There are plenty of times in my life when I could relate to this disorientation.  There are many instances where the things I once believed turned out to be wrong or insufficient or nonsense.  And that isn’t an easy process to go through.  And it is a process made more difficult by those who are around you supporting the thing you once considered sense and standing in opposition.

In many ways I have gone through transformations over the course of my life.  And many of them are good changes, but some are or were not positive.  The trip that Alice takes doesn’t just seem to turn her into someone new, however.  It takes her back to who she was in her early years.  It takes her back to the space where nonsense is sense.  It takes her back into imagination and wonder and fun and passion and interest and joy.

And getting to that destination isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  If she doesn’t find her former self, the battle will be lost, and everything falls apart.

I think that this idea of a previous stage in Alice’s life as the best and most necessary stage is telling.  That she once found this strength within her, but now lacks it, expresses a lot.  It helps me see that there was a person I was, and a way that I was being, that might have been better or more necessary, even though it was an earlier and less “sensible” stage and state of being.  And for me, much of that ties to my imagination and my early years.

There is this space in our development that allows for all possibilities.  There is a time, especially in early childhood, when we are allowed to believe wholeheartedly that anything is possible and all the things are good and that we are safe and strong and able.  And that time doesn’t last long.  That time is cut short when we start to see the sense as more important than the nonsense.  We start to be told what we can and cannot accomplish.  We start to feel the weight of failure.  We start to play less and work more.  We lose touch with that fire that burned in our hearts when we believed that all the things were possible, and that nothing was beyond our reach.

I think this is the muchness that Alice is meant to rediscover—she needs to find that space where all the things are possible and nothing is beyond her reach.  She needs to believe in her strength, her will, her ability, and herself.   But not in her reason.  In her heart.

Several years back I was living in a less than stellar situation.  My cocaine addiction was being fed in the midst of a bad relationship.  I didn’t really like myself or the events that were happening or the ways that life was unfolding.  And I started reading and working through a book called Something More.  It had all these exercises within the pages that were designed to remind you who you are at your core.  Through the process of engaging with this book, I stopped wanting to engage in the life I was living.  I truly did start wanting something more.  And eventually my desire for more created a chasm between my partner and myself, and our relationship came to a violent end.  But that end was a catalyst for a new beginning.  A remaking based on a remembrance.  A memory of who I was and what I wanted in early childhood began to fuel the creation of this new way of being.

It was a much improved way of being, to be sure.  And it was a good way of being for some time.  But, today, I find myself back in a space where I want more, and I feel like I have lost a bit of myself.  I have disconnected from the desires of my heart once more, and fallen into the trap of being sensible.  I have lost my muchness.

And now the question that remains:  How do I find it again?

Alice falls down a hole and ends up in crazy town.  I don’t think I want to fall down any holes and end up in crazy townBut falling down holes and landing in nonsense isn’t practical for most of us.  We need to find another way back to our muchness.

The book Something More definitely helped me find my muchness in the past, but I don’t know that repeating that process will yield a better or different result.  And the path to nonsense isn’t one that many embark upon, so there are not a lot of guidebooks to set you on your way.

So, for lack of better options, I have gone back to what apparently served us well as children—I have been incessantly asking, “Why?”

I remember when my daughter went through this stage.  It was annoying and infuriating and beautiful.  I quickly discovered that if I gave her the most detailed scientific explanation possible, she stopped repeating the question.  For some time, I thought that I had quieted her questioning by confusing her.  But, after further consideration, I realized that she wasn’t quieted because she was confused, but because the answer was believable. It was the whole truth.  She knew the difference, as a toddler, between me pandering to her and me telling her the answer to her questions.  And some of my answers would, at a later date in my life and hers, change.  But she could tell when I was speaking what I believed to be true and when I was giving child-sized explanations that didn’t tell the whole story.

So, to get back to myself—to rediscover my core desires and beliefs and find my muchness—I am asking why until I get an answer that feels fully true and wholly believable.

That isn’t an easy process.  I feels a bit like falling down a hole and landing in crazy town.  And constantly questioning your reasons for beliefs and actions can, at first, feel like it is breaking you in pieces.  It feels like you don’t and can’t trust yourself.  It feels like judgment, if you come from a background or current environment that tends to be judgmental.  And it can be really uncomfortable.

But when you keep questioning—when you continue to dig until you get to what feels like the true and full answer to the “why”—you begin to feel stronger and better and more confident in what you believe and in how you choose to act.  It takes time.  Lots of time.  And it is worth every moment of that time.  Because it is really easy to become a believer of the easy answer and to follow the path of collective “sense”, but that collective and simplistic way of approaching the world may be (as it was for me) in conflict with your deepest and truest desire.

My nonsense is better than the world’s sense.

The creative, empathic, passionate, adventurous, strong woman that I am often clashes with what might be considered common sense.  When I follow my heart I end up moving 2000 miles to a new city with no job, no home, and no acceptance letter to the school I hope to attend.  When I follow my heart I end up in the ghetto surrounded by a strange mix of chaos and community.  When I follow my heart I break up with great people to pursue a connection more passionate and powerful than the perceived “Mr. Right” offers.  When I follow my heart my business card reads “Author” and “Artist”, not M.Div.

When I follow my heart I exhibit all sorts of “nonsense”.  I anger people.  I frustrate people.  But I connect to me, and to my understanding and my desire and my core belief, in amazing ways.

I find my muchness.  I get muchier.  I find me.

And we can debate for a millennium the ways that who I am may or may not be “wrong” or “bad” or “immoral”.  I don’t really care to do that, but I always invite civil discussion and dialogue, so I will do so if it seems productive.  But that debate won’t likely end with me changing my view, because the view is formed by the constant questioning and the finding of my muchness.  I’m not going to give that up easily or quickly. I’m going to hold on to that muchness and seek to always follow my heart.

And that might look like nonsense.

I’m totally happy with it looking like nonsense to others, if it feels like the deepest truth to me.  And the philosophical and theological definitions of truth don’t need to be addressed when I look to my muchness.  Because no matter what moral or philosophical dilemma I am faced with, I will still look to my heart, my understanding, my experience, and my study to find the truest and most complete answer.  That might not be the answer you prefer, but I am not made unique in order to become mundanely accepting of someone else’s views.

I am made for my muchness.  I am made to live in it and with it and through it.   I am made to use it to create a better world, to offer new ideas, to live with gusto, and to turn the world on its head and make you feel like you fell down a hole into crazy town, so that you too can investigate, pursue, and live out your own muchness.

It will look different for each of us. Because the truest and most complete answer to all of the “why’s” won’t always align.  We are different people, with different knowledge and experience, and different hearts.  But that doesn’t mean we cannot live together in harmony.  We can do so, if we simply respect and honor the muchness of others—their opinions and beliefs and understandings and experiences and hearts.

I got into an argument with my sister the other day.  There was voice raising and abrupt hanging up of phones involved.  It wasn’t pretty.

Afterward, I continued to ask “why”.  Because her heart says something that my heart cannot.  And my heart says something that hers cannot.  This is true because we are different people, with different experiences and understanding.  But it didn’t break our relationship.  In fact, it might grow all the stronger after the lengthy text messages following the argument that worked to express love and commitments to listen to one another’s needs more fully and respectfully.  But when I sought out the why, I could see her perspective clearly and, simultaneously, know that I am firmly rooted in my perspective for really important reasons.  And while my perspective feels like nonsense to her, it is sense for me.

So, I am holding on to my nonsensical muchness, with the confidence that I will continue to investigate what feels most true and whole, and with the knowledge that my views make others feel, at times, like they fell down a hole into crazy town.

I can accept that.  And I can try to lower them into crazy town gently and with kindness and compassion.  But I can’t give up my muchness.  It takes such work to find it and hold it.  Alice couldn’t hold her heart and her imagination in high regard.  She lost her muchness.  And so have I, but I am regaining it.

I am letting the topsy-turvy feel like home.  I am allowing my own heart to speak.  I am filling life with what I love.  I am returning to the strength within, letting my imagination run wild, embracing the way that I have been fashioned, loving who I am, and continuing to seek out the most complete answer to the question, “Why?”.

I am opening myself to the nonsense, and refusing to be confined by the restraints of the status quo.

I am becoming muchier.  I am finding my heart.  I am gaining something more.

I am embracing my muchness.

 

 

Excellence

Sometimes it feels like a challenge to hold on to the good qualities I have, and not get stuck in an endless cycle of negativity.  The whole growing up in a Dutch Reformed area where you are constantly told how depraved you are thing probably didn’t help matters.  Having a mother who followed compliments with a “but…” certainly didn’t help matters.  And the added weight of shame and confusion and pain from childhood trauma compounded the focus on the bad things, and the distance between me and the knowledge of my skills.

And our society didn’t help me to hold the good qualities.  I was recently reading a theory of how school takes what was creative and forces it to be linear.  Blobs with legs are left behind, and in their place sit letters and numbers with distinct requirements and a lack of creative expression.  And as we become more and more focused on the “correctness” of penmanship and math equations and memorization, we start to lose confidence in the blobs with legs and the ways that we expressed our thoughts and emotions through our drawing or singing or dancing, without a care of skill or proper technique.  This theory struck a chord with me (no pun intended).

I was one of those children who loved to draw and paint and sing and dance and run and climb and express myself with abandon.  I know this, not because I remember doing those things as a child, but because my spirit still cries out to do these things.  And I rarely do them, despite those cries.  I haven’t sung alone in public since high school, perhaps.  I haven’t painted a picture since elementary school, I would guess.  And dancing only happens when I drink too much at a club or when I am shuttered away behind the most closed of doors, even though my body wants to throw out my arms and twirl more often than I might like to admit.  Something in me still desires all of that expression.  Bits of it spill out at times:  singing in the college choir, decorating a cake, doing a bit of DIY furniture refinishing, tapping my foot in time with the music streaming through my headset while I ride the bus.  But, for the most part, my artistic self is hidden behind walls of “not good at” and “not appropriate” and “just something I threw together” and plain old avoidance of the production of art.

“But you write, Christy”, might be a response that has occurred to you already.  It occurred to me too.  But I realized that it has taken many years to for me to embrace my writing as a skill or an art form or an outlet for emotional expression.  And I also spent many years practicing that skill and art in secret … writing poems or letters in hidden notebooks that never met eyes other than my own.  And I did so, because I feared the judgments of others, and felt like my expression wouldn’t be “good enough”.

I have the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm.  I see it every morning when I get dressed.  That tattoo is meant for the whole of me—to see myself as enough as I am, without outside affirmation or some need to perform as others would prefer.  But I think that this word also applies to accepting my expression as enough, whether others judge it so or not.

I remember when I was in elementary school I loved to work on my paintings.  And at one point, probably around grade five or six, there was an art competition for our grade.  I spent time before school and at every recess working diligently on perfecting a landscape that would be entered for the competition.  I put all of my heart and soul into that picture.  And it was eliminated in the first round of competition—just picked up and placed aside, for a reason I would never learn, in the pile of rejected art.   It broke me.

Having my expression judged as unworthy hurt me. Deeply.

And that wasn’t the first time, though it stands out as a stellar example.

I remember working so hard on penmanship—practicing the letters over and over and over—and having a big “unsatisfactory” mark on my report card anyway.  I remember sitting alone at a table during the lunch recess and attempting to be faster in the timed math quizzes, and never improving.  I remember working tirelessly to memorize spelling words in grades four, five, and six, because I was a terrible speller, and working my way from the lowest level to the highest and then losing the spelling bee because of the word commitment, which I gave an extra “t”.  Shattered over and over by the ways I tried and failed, I didn’t give up like you might imagine I would.  I kept trying.  But I kept failing.  And it wasn’t that I failed because I wasn’t skilled or creative or capable, but it was failure because I expressed myself in ways that weren’t what others desired from me.  Dark paintings, a loud voice, not the right height for the part, a penchant for modern when what we want is classical, playing by ear instead of reading the notes, and on and on and on.  I was too much, or too little, or too big, or too small, or too raw, or too stiff, or too…

I was never quite right.  My expressions were never quite right.

So, I stopped telling the truth.  I stopped expressing myself truly and deeply and passionately.  I started being what was expected and acceptable, and in the process I stopped being me.  I stopped knowing me, in many ways.

I did begin to write again, in those secret notebooks, after a book I was reading encouraged me to look back at my childhood self and to try and remember what she loved.  As a woman in her twenties, who had a toddler of her own, I finally looked back and saw that I loved to climb trees and to play with my easy-bake oven and to dance around and to act in plays and to draw and to paint and to sing and to express art in all sorts of ways.  One of the first things I wrote was that list of things that I loved as a child, and inadvertently, I sparked the knowledge that I love to write.  I loved to tell stories.  I loved to say all the things.  But I was silenced by modern academic practices and the idea that performing well was more important than the trying and the expression and the feeling of creating.

So, today I stand as one who still, ultimately, judges every word and every post and every page and every canvas and every project and every single thing about her work with harshness and perfectionism, because I can’t seem to be that child who loves to do the things and say the things, even though I now have full knowledge of her and what she wants and its importance in being whole as an adult woman.  Because I am her and she is me and that which was silenced needs to find its voice once more.

I am learning that what is excellent is not, necessarily, performing in ways that meet the expectations of others, or some arbitrary standards, or to the public perception of success.  What is excellent is being free to express the whole of me, and to say and do and create with that freedom.  Expression itself is excellent.

It is our right to express things, in theory—freedom of speech.  But somewhere along the line that “freedom” started to mean the ability to promote the status quo, in the minds of many.  And true freedom of expression is lost to us.  Offering the whole story, or having the narrative be told by the ones who experience the events firsthand, or allowing the narrative to change based on new information, or letting all voices be heard and judged with equal merit and weight, or just listening to a new perspective is practically non-existent.  What we offer instead is the acceptance of that which meets our criteria and the rejection of all else.  People get put in the pile of rejected art, without ever knowing the reason.  Nations get put in the pile of rejected expression.  Religions get put in the pile.  Races get put in the pile.  Redheads get put in the pile.  All sorts of arbitrary conditions now threaten to put you in the pile of rejected expression, because you didn’t meet the standard of expectations.

And I have yet to figure out who created the standard of expectations.  My best guess would be white, male, heterosexual evangelicals in positions of power or with wealth…or both.  Because patriarchal heteronormative expressions with straight lettering and correct math seem to be accepted above all. (Well, the math is questionable, because things like the number of shooting deaths correlating to the number of accessible handguns seem to be frequently ignored or misrepresented.) Because things that declare the name of Jesus seem to be accepted above all (even when Jesus himself NEVER SAID THOSE THINGS).  Because things that make rich white guys more rich seem accepted above all.  Because “traditional values” like the racism and oppression of the 1950’s seem to be accepted above all.  Basically anything that promotes the white, male, heterosexual evangelical with power or wealth or both is accepted above all, so it is safe to assume they are the ones writing the rule book on acceptable expression.

But regardless of who created the standard of expectations, we need not appeal to that standard.  We are capable and skilled and creative whether the current standards say so or not.

And we ALL spent time as children creating blobs with legs and calling them Grandpa, so we all have the capacity to create without the linear expectations of an alphabet controlling the outcome.  We have enough imagination to flood the world with expectation-breaking media!  We have the ability to sing and dance and climb and paint our way into a new world, where each of us is enough, and where nobody gets put in the pile of rejected expression, but every narrative is told and every story is honored and heard.

Rich, straight, white guys don’t get to tell us what to say.  Mothers that don’t know how to compliment us without adding “but…” on the end don’t get to tell us what to say.  Teachers who care more about an Oxford comma than a beautiful expression of life don’t get to tell us what to say or how to say it.  Judges at the grade six art competition don’t get to tell us what to say or how to say it.  We can take back our right to speak, and use it as a form of expression that sets the world ablaze.

I think often of people who set the world ablaze with their expressions.  Organizers,  poets, composers, pastors or priests or popes, writers, philosophers, politicians, bloggers, and parents or teachers or mentors who let the truth of their stories and ideas flow freely and who influenced people or events or movements or generations with their expression are my heroes.  And even the writers of the super hero comics use creative expressions to offer us ideas of justice and peace and good. (Those are some of my favorite expressions.)  Any voice that counters the violence and injustice of the patriarchal heteronormative narrative that is so pervasive in our society and world at present is heroic and beautiful and good, in my opinion.  Because every incidence of counter-expression is a little nudge toward true freedom.  Every example of free expression fights against oppression and fascism and maintaining the status quo. And I am all about fighting against oppression and fascism and maintaining the status quo.

I think my childhood art expressed that fight, regardless of whether anyone understood such art.  The pictures were dark because my life was painful, and my voice was loud because I needed to be heard, and the raw me was too much because it expressed a difficult to bear narrative, and the stiff me was too guarded and kept because I recognized the way the raw me caused people to flee.  And the truth of my self and my story was locked behind closed doors for many years.

As my young self emerges, and as my art emerges, and as my story emerges, I am still met, at times, with judgments and shaming and rejections and people who would prefer all of it stay hidden.  But that doesn’t break me anymore.

My story and my expression and my art have become stronger than the voices of dissent and disagreement.

I have begun to see the excellence in my expression as expression.  I have begun to travel a road toward recognition of my right and my need to place my feelings on paper and to act them out with my body’s movements and to paint them on canvas and to craft them in various ways, and toward recognizing my desire and my intent and my action in doing so as excellent.

Just because you don’t fit in with the normative standard of the society doesn’t mean that you are not excellent.  It might mean that the normative standard of your society is shit!

So, to inspire you, and to affirm me, here is a list of excellence to get you thinking about your own excellent self and expressions:

The Excellence of Christy

  • Christy makes excellent soup
  • Christy has excellent toes—super cute ones
  • Christy is an excellent painter
  • Christy makes excellent baked goods
  • Christy is an excellent advocate for her own health and wellness
  • Christy decorates cakes with excellence
  • Christy finds excellent clearance sales to create a cheap but excellent wardrobe
  • Christy excels at writing well and beautifully
  • Christy is an excellent dancer
  • Christy excels at napping
  • Christy has excellent listening skills
  • Christy excels at showing compassion to others
  • Christy crafts excellent, diplomatic, and kind Facebook comment rebuttals
  • Christy is an excellent friend
  • Christy excels at talking on the phone for hours
  • Christy is excellent at finding value in objects others cast off
  • Christy excels at treating the marginalized like they are human
  • Christy navigates public transit (with one hand and two grocery bags) with excellence
  • Christy is an excellent researcher, teacher, and student
  • Christy gave birth to an excellent child and became an excellent parent
  • Christy excels at seeking assistance when shit gets difficult
  • Christy is excellent at getting others to rally around a cause she finds important
  • Christy has an excellent singing voice
  • Christy excels at inventing songs throughout her day, so it seems as though she lives in a musical
  • Christy excels at watching musicals
  • Christy excels at swallowing a handful of pills at one time
  • Christy performs Harry Potter quizzes with excellence
  • Christy draws excellent self-portraits
  • Christy is excellent at cleaning up after her dog, and at feeding him too many table scraps
  • Christy is excellent at not defining her sexuality
  • Christy excels in finding partners just slightly less neurotic than the last
  • Christy excels at learning tasks very quickly
  • Christy is excellent at pinning items she will never create to Pinterest
  • Christy excels at making lists about how excellent she is (Just kidding…that was actually kind of difficult, but a good exercise, nonetheless, and one I think you should also try—only about you, not me, of course, and then go out and express yourself in those excellent ways! I’m going to make some soup and take a nap.)