Coming Back

Dearest reader, have you been having a good holiday? I sincerely wish that you have.

So, where do I begin?

 

Do you remember when I sent out that first batch of graduate applications? I was so tremulous. I wanted to believe in me but I hadn’t worked up the conviction. Did I tell you how much it hurt to be rejected? I cried with each rejection, but I never cried long. I set course for icy dignity, but ended up confused and unmoored. I shut the door of my heart against any dreams, but in that act I somehow invited them in.

At the very first sermon we attended of the church we now belong to, the pastor declared, “you have given up, but God has not given up on you. You have said that you can’t handle another rejection, but you don’t see that you were going it alone.” And then, I kid you not, he looked out over our section of the congregation and said, “you say, ‘I’ve been rejected from grad school, I’m not doing it again,’ but God wants you to try again.” I couldn’t breathe.

Since then I have been reluctantly coming back from the gray death of monotonous survival. I’ve taken to eating more fresh vegetables and less meat and sugar. I’ve started an exercise regimen that works the kinks out of my back and leaves me exhilarated instead of feeling punished. Mostly I’ve become attuned to my surroundings. Today I looked out one of our windows and saw a neighbor’s tree growing oranges. It was so lovely to be surprised by that bright color that hinted at the depth of the things and people that surround me.

I went on a job interview before Christmas, and in the process of the interview, the interviewer suggested that I think about graduate school. Specifically, she suggested that I think about Library Sciences. And with that, the door of my heart flew open and all of my dreams came rushing in and a light was shed that extinguished the shadowy compromises I have tried to live.

I submitted an application for a graduate program in Library Sciences today, but this time I didn’t pin all of my hopes on it and send it out into the world as if it were a beloved child being orphaned. This time I have vowed to take what there is to take and leave the rest.

 

And so, dearest reader, I hope that you had a cheerful holiday and I wish you all the best in the coming new year. Do know that whatever this new year brings, you are loved. I appreciate you. As always: thank you for your companionship.

A Process of Elimination

When I was in high school I wanted to be a fine artist. I dreamt that I could do any job at all as long as it gave me enough money to live and buy supplies. However, the longer I studied art, the more discouraged I became. According to the history books, what do the founding fathers of art all have in common? That they are primarily fathers, are primarily white, are primarily wealthy or charming enough to make benefactors of the wealthy elite. And, I felt inept and uninspired in their shadows. I felt judged by the other students and by the teachers, which was really more a measure of my immaturity than it was of anything else. Nevertheless.

Nevertheless, I quit and any skills I had began to wither under the internalized other. How can I explain this to people who don’t know what it feels like to take in those throw away things from society—commercials, magazines, pop music, mainstream movies, etc.—and so thoroughly incorporate them into yourself that they become legitimate and you are just a shadow of not good enough? But it was me who did the quitting, except instead of full-on quitting I transferred all my energy into writing. Do you see? There is often room to be tricky.

 

When I entered college I wanted to do research on gendered violence. Over time that changed. I was discouraged by several professors from researching anything that might appear to be personally motivated—as if one can separate one’s self from one’s work. As if a lower-middle-class, non-disabled, heterosexually-identified, young, white man who researches white collar crime and Burning Man is separating himself from his research. It was my feminism and my outspokenness that was such an affront to some, and while I knew that, I didn’t really know it. I didn’t really understand that the assertion of feminism is the acknowledgement of an unjust society. I didn’t feel the paradigm threat because I no longer belonged to that paradigm. Even so…

Even so, I changed. In my last year as an undergraduate, when professors asked me what I wanted to do the only thing I could honestly say was, “I don’t want to make the world worse.” And suddenly they were at a loss for words. Did you catch the subtle shift? Because I did, although at the time I didn’t know what it meant.

 

Dearest reader, if indeed you think of me at all, I don’t want you to think of me as a failure. Everyone wants to be liked, but it has been rather a long time since I have felt that I needed to be liked. I am attempting to explain to you that I have looked at the situation I am in, and as far as I can tell there is no room to shift in this situation. However, if you conclude that I am fallible I couldn’t begrudge it because I couldn’t begrudge you.

I had two training days at the group home, and those days have thoroughly convinced me that the non-profit sector is not for me.

Yesterday I was all-ears. I hardly spoke. I took in all that I could and I was appalled.

I wanted to take each resident home with me. I wanted to cook them vegetables, which they probably wouldn’t eat. I wanted to offer to play board games, which I hate. I wanted to tell them to call a lawyer when the police came. I wanted to call a nurse when they complained of pain. I wanted to cook a special meal for them alone because they were hungry when they came back late.

But instead I watched them be ignored until their complaining became too insistent. I witnessed them crying on their phones. I felt them waiting to be heard.

And I knew to my core that these fuzzy bureaucratic restrictions were immediately translated in my body into a lack of care that would quickly drive me mad.

 

My life thus far has been a process of elimination, and with each new experience I better understand what I want and don’t want. I don’t want to work in a group home. I want a job where the stakes aren’t quite so high so that I have more to give to the people I love. I want a job that gives me room to adopt children of my own.

 

So, dear reader, think of me what you will, but I entreat you, just as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. so often did, to be kind to one another. Be kind to yourself. Kindness is a choice. Choose wisely.

And so it goes.

On Success & Hope

During my last semester as an undergraduate, I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I stopped reading somewhere in the first chapter. Gladwell introduces the book by talking about the outstanding health of a certain population of Italians and uses the beginning of the first chapter to introduce individualistic myths of personal agency. Of course he introduces these myths in order to dismantle them but he doesn’t betray this goal immediately. I had heard these myths presented as fact every semester since my first at the four-year university and I was devastated and enraged to see them here in what I thought to be my personal space. It didn’t matter that he didn’t believe the myths, it mattered that for even a short amount of time I thought he did. I was too crushed to keep reading, so I stopped.

Just today I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and as I read I kept thinking, “That character can’t say that! He has no proof! All he has is a feeling!” It didn’t matter that the characters were right in their feelings, nor did it matter that Murakami might have been using this as a device in a book that proposes that while “logic” can fail, intuition holds true. I had been trained that “feelings” mean nothing without “proof.” What a sad, cold world mine had become. What an abusive, mean world to tell me to distrust myself in so many ways and so often that I came to believe.

[As an aside: I think it is interesting and damning that the longer I was in the university system, the more intolerant and self-righteous I became. Having so many frequent interactions with other students and professors who would dismiss my ideas flat out, coupled with interactions of others not in the university who told me what I was studying was useless allowed me to foster an attitude of hostility and distrust. I’ve seen this same attitude in other students and professors, however if it didn’t reside in me I am certain I wouldn’t have be able to identify it in others.]

 

I feel as if I have been fighting some kind of demon this past week. I feel sluggish and ache-y. It’s as if I know that this is a special buffer time—my job has yet to start, the apartment is straightened up, the meals are all planned with back-ups, my partner is no longer my chief worry. When I feel like watching TV, I watch TV, but mostly I read and sleep and put things away or get to the things I’ve put off for months or years. I let my hair down and look in the mirror and see someone who is tired, but I don’t make her smile. She is who she is. She is me.

But I have been fighting a demon. Fourteen years now I’ve felt I had to find some way to exceptional. I had to do it all, do it the biggest, be the best. But I never felt like I was the best. I never felt that I was even second or third best. People would tell me how lucky I was to be adopted, and in my head this was translated into how utterly ordinary, how unworthy, I was. Then I attended university, and for every one professor who gave me space to dream there were three who told me I wasn’t enough. Maybe they thought they were doing me a favor, maybe they thought their job was to be tough, or maybe they were just careless, but at the time and even now I cannot see the merit in their bored and cutting comments.

 

Here’s a thought:

What if, when my biological mother gave me up, she thought she was giving us both the best chance to be happy?

 

Another potential bombshell:

What if my parents mean it when they tell me that they’re proud?

 

I picked up Outliers again. This time I’m not reading it as a scorching indictment of my own lack of success. I’m not so angry, so hurt that I can’t enjoy my life—which is more than I can say for the past four years. This time when I’m reading it, I’m thinking about hope—hope that I will be successful at my new job, hope that this book will help me understand what conditions help make children into successful adults, and hope that I will finally be able to adapt my vision of success to include me.