All Fragments Contain the Whole

fragile book

A few weeks ago I came across a simplified explanation of how a hologram is made. Apparently, it is made when light shines through a series of ripples. (Please note that my description is a super simplified interpretation of the already simplified explanation.) The part that fascinated me the most was the fact that the sheet with all the ripples on it could be torn in half and when light shines through just one half, the entire hologram would still appear. Every single part of that sheet contains ALL the information needed to create the hologram. So in theory, it could still be created on a subatomic level by shining light through infinitely smaller pieces of the ripples. All fragments contain the whole. I love this idea and immediately thought of how it applied to me.

If my broken heart can create new whole hearts from the pieces that have been broken off, why can’t it work in the opposite direction too? What if all my broken bits already contain all the information needed to be a whole and healthy person? Maybe that’s the reason why my heart is able to replicate. It knows how to be whole, so that’s what it makes.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my inability to have healthy relationships, specifically my relationships with men and my relationship with alcohol. I’ve been telling myself that I don’t know how to have healthy relationships with either of them, but that’s bullshit. Just because I haven’t in the past doesn’t mean I don’t know how. I know how. It’s just easier to stick with familiar patterns. It’s easier to say I don’t know rather stand up for my own self worth. It’s easier to quit drinking rather than say fuck you to all the reason I used to drink.

My need for love and approval, coupled with an almost crippling social anxiety, led to some unfortunate romantic entanglements that were heavily lubricated by alcohol. But to cut these things out of my life, to stop trying, to give up on dealing with the roots of bad patterns, is a choice that invalidates my own wholeness. It’s a choice that says not only that I am broken beyond repair, but also that I must accept this brokenness and live my life around it.

I am not broken. I might be cracked, the result of a few unfortunate falls, but Leonard Cohen says that’s what lets the light in. Maybe in some strange way, the light through the cracks is what makes it possible for me to see that I am actually whole. It’s the light through the ripples that creates the hologram. So maybe cracks aren’t cracks at all. Maybe they’re just ripples reflecting light, creating the image of a whole and healthy me.

Resurrection

My mother and I officially switched roles the other night and I became the adult while she solidified her position as the child. The details aren’t particularly important right now. More interesting to me is the emotional process I went through over the course of the evening: Frustration to anger. Anger to more anger. Then back to frustration. Frustration to calm acceptance. And after all this, I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and full of compassion; for her and for myself. Appropriate for Easter Sunday, with its resurrection motif. And this idea of resurrection and rebirth resonated with me. It felt like a new beginning. It felt like I had grown up in a small, but important way. I relished this, since I still struggle with the reality of being almost 38 and living with my parents.

This feeling of failing as an adult was recently brought under a microscope when my 20 year old nephew announced his engagement. There is some part of me that always assumed I would have this whole relationship thing figured out before any of my siblings’ offspring got married. Alas, it is not to be. I also thought that I would have a few months (or more) to wrap my brain around the idea of my nephew getting married. Alas again. The wedding is in five days. All in all, a harsh reminder of where I am not. But it’s also a reminder that comparison is foolish, and what’s good and right for one person is completely wrong for another.

Threaded through all of this is the realization that, despite having lived in Columbus for longer than I lived in Portland, I don’t have a solid core group of friends. I have tons of awesome work friends, but none that have ventured into the non-work realm. All in all I’m okay with this (as I am not a huge fan of socializing). But all of a sudden I feel very isolated.

The truth is though, I don’t think this feeling of isolation has to do specifically with my friends or my nephew getting married or the role reversal with my mother. They play a part of course, but the real cause of my isolation is the tangible shift away from who I’ve always been towards the unknown of who I am becoming. For the first time in many many years I don’t have anything even remotely resembling a plan. I have no idea what I want to do or who I want to be. And while it might be a cliche, I really do feel like I’m alone in a boat in the middle of the ocean. But my horoscope today says the boat I’m in is seaworthy, so I’m not too worried.

(My horoscope also says there’s room for others in my boat.)

New Moon New Beginning

 

The Sunday before last I had an epiphany that allowed me to let go of a huge piece of baggage I had been carrying for far too many years. I felt great for a few days and then woke up the following Friday feeling batshit crazy. Imagine every emotion you have ever felt and that’s what I woke up to. Not the pendulum of manic depression, but all of them all at once. This coincided with a cosmic trinity of the Spring Equinox, a Supermoon, and a Solar Eclipse. That’s a lot of energy. In particular, that’s a lot of energy associated with new beginnings. And new beginnings have always been more chaotic for me. Endings may stick with me longer, but beginnings tend to make me nuts for awhile. So here I am, over a week after my epiphany, and I feel like I’m splitting open. I feel like I’m getting ready to crawl out of my outer shell. Like a cicada. They do this every 17 years and I wonder where I was 17 years ago.

In the spring of 1998 I was living in Champaign Illinois, taking a break from college after a disastrous first attempt. By that summer I would be making plans to move back to Kentucky, having realized that I was not ready for independence or adulthood. I needed to be closer to my parents. Unfortunately, my dad got a job in Ohio and about the time I moved back to Lexington they moved to Columbus. I could have moved with them, but I had already registered for classes at UK. I felt like I hadn’t followed through on anything the previous few years and decided I needed to stay on the path I had started, if for no other reason than to prove I could finish something. So I moved back to Lexington and started my second attempt at college. The next ten years brought heartbreak and manipulation and a fair amount of emotional and mental abuse. To be fair, it also brought a few amazing teachers and two of my best friends. But I still wonder what would have happened if I had cut my losses sooner and moved with my parents. Who would I have become?

I used to think that I would have become an entirely different person if I had moved to Ohio all those years ago; that somehow I would have magically avoided all the bad decisions I made during that decade. Hindsight can be 20/20, but it can also be delusional as hell. The truth is, not much would be different for me. The players would have had different faces and names, but the patterns in my brain had already written the script. I would have still been drawn to unhealthy controlling relationships. I would have still felt like I didn’t really deserve better. I would have still tried to fit myself into the box of what someone else wanted me to be.

I would have still been me.

And there is my second epiphany in the past ten days.

I don’t feel like that girl anymore, though. I don’t believe that I don’t deserve things. I’m not interested in being what other people want me to be. I’m crawling out of that shell of who I was. But it’s not about a second chance, it’s about making room for an entirely new beginning.

I Was Empty When You Met Me

I was empty when
you met me
a hollow shell
of who I could have been
lost and cracked and
desperate to be loved
you were exciting
and smart
and full of
the promise
of better things

You showed me
how to be strong
and helped me see
that I already was
you made me believe
that I could climb
the tallest trees
and so I did

It was hard
and thrilling
and a few times
I almost gave up
but I made it
to the top
and the view
was spectacular

I looked down
to share
my excitement
only to see you
light the tree
on fire
it burned quickly
almost as if
you had doused it
in gasoline
before I got there

I was confused
my newfound strength
crumbled
in my hands
I asked “why?”
you wouldn’t explain
you said it wasn’t
your fault
I was about
to get burned

I fell through
the branches
and part of my heart
caught fire
I did not break
but my existing cracks
were bigger
as if every word
you ever said
had wedged inside
and expanded

I could not
escape the hole
seared through
my heart
I felt the ash
of what had
once been whole
I spent years
trying to convince
others they could
fill the emptiness
but no one knew
quite what
I needed

Years later
I have learned
my heart is like
a starfish
each broken piece
grows into
a whole new heart
all the bits
of ash got bigger
and filled the hole
so now I’m
overflowing
and I know
I’ll be okay

Perhaps this is
what you wanted
me to learn
all along
but that
would give you
more credit
than you deserve

Some Thoughts on Art and Writing

chaos

There is a sculpture in Columbus Indiana, where I grew up, called Chaos I by Jean Tinguely. It is huge and metal and sometimes it moves; a giant cannonball traveling through a giant mousetrap. I remember it being very loud. For illustrative purposes, I like to think of my brain as a smaller version of this sculpture. Always moving and always noisy.  And surrounding this loud mechanical brain are 5 or 6 news-tickers, like you see at the bottom of news and sports shows.  These are moving around at various speeds and some of them are very bright.  The fonts are all different and some are a jumbled unreadable mess. It is loud and bright and confusing.  Art and writing are an attempt, I think, to make sense of this chaos.

I struggled for a long time with the validity of getting an art degree followed by a creative writing degree. I struggled with what I thought it meant to be an artist or a writer. I still don’t have clear definitions of either of these or how they apply to myself. But I know I like to make things and I like moving words around on a page. I like the mess of glue and scissors and paint. I like the sound of pencil on paper.

Art and writing are too intertwined for me to be viewed as separate disciplines. They are tools in my creative toolbox; languages in my mind.  The more ways I know how to make things, the less crazy I feel. Making is a kind of meditation for me, slowing down the inner chaos so it is less loud and not so blinding bright. Creating, in all its forms, allows me to hear and see things that are normally hidden behind the noise.

For the past 10 months I have been lucky enough to work in the Youth Services department at the Library. I have free reign of the craft supply closet and my own mobile Art Cart. I’ve started a Bookmaking Club. Some patrons refer to me as the Library Art Lady. One coworker has told me that my process-based approach to craft-making has given her more freedom (and less anxiety) in how she approaches storytime crafts. Another constantly thanks me for the magic and joy my displays and craft ideas and general personality bring to the department. And everyday I get to make something.

Confidence boosts for sure, but also a reminder to not get caught up what I used to think it meant to be an artist or a writer. It is less about the final product (although this is important at some point) and more about the simple, and sometimes not-so-simple, acts of creating. It’s about putting everything I have into the processes and finding who I am in the making.

Pause, Begin Again

In April 2013 I walked away from my life in Oregon and moved to my parents’ house in Ohio. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made and it felt like failure. I was excited to be near my family after so many years away, but it was not the way I thought I’d celebrate turning 36. I’m not good at certain parts of being a grown up, but maybe no one is. However, I was hopeful that moving home would afford me the time and space to unravel what had gone wrong. More specifically, I wanted to understand why I kept making the same decisions that were never good for me and never gave me a different outcome. It was time to rewire my patterns.

I’m not a fan of New Years resolutions in the typical sense. They seem to set us up for failure. For many years I simply picked a word-of-the-year to focus on: Create. Transform. Collaborate. But these seemed to doom me to failure too. So last year, after months of struggling with the perceived failure I placed on myself for moving home in my mid-30’s, I made the deceptively simple decision to be kinder to myself.

Kindness is a game changer.

I ended the long distance relationship I was in and I quit drinking. Without going into the particulars, I will say that these were the kindest things I could do for myself at that time. By eliminating those two relationships (and yes, alcohol was a relationship) I created the room to simply be myself. These two endings also coincided with the seemingly innocuous decision to not cut or dye my hair for the next few years. (This was actually a rather bold choice considering I had shaved my head twice in the previous 7 years and dyed my hair almost every color imaginable once it grew longer than stubblefluff.) All of these decisions combined to give me the freedom to be still and to let the sand and silt of my life settle. This settling has allowed me to sift through and see what parts are really me and what parts are the masks I hid behind.

And for all of this to happen while living with my parents means that I also confront, on a daily basis, my own history and my own foundation. I am very much my parents’ daughter and I see in them, magnified, the things that frustrate me the most about myself. But I also see how these things form a roadmap inside my brain. If I can follow the map back to the beginning, I can reset the connections. At the very least, I’m starting to clear away some debris. And maybe that’s more important that finding the start of it all.

This past year has felt like a new start. In addition to being kinder to myself I am now trying to approach each moment from a place of gratitude. And this has led to the realization that happiness is a choice. The beauty I find in this crazy world can supplement my happiness. However, true happiness cannot owe its existence to an external source, because external sources can be taken away. But if I choose happiness for it’s own sake, no one can take it away, not even myself. For so long I didn’t really believe that I deserved to be happy, so I sabotaged myself every time I got close. And I also thought that being happy meant denying my darker side and putting on rosy glasses to look at the world. But that’s not what being happy means to me anymore.

Right now, being happy means being passionately and unapologetically myself. It means not getting caught up in bullshit. It means not losing myself to misguided ideas of who and where I should be at this point in my life. It means embracing this time with my parents as a gift. It means trying to be the good I want to see in the world. It means spreading magic and joy.

So 2015 brings less a resolution and more an extension of of my desire to be kinder to myself. A simple set of guidelines:

Live. Love. Laugh.

Live: participate more in the world around me
Love: give more and accept more
Laugh: genuinely and joyfully

Also for 2015:
–read all of Shakespeare
–try to learn some basic piano
–maybe take ballet lessons
–pet a sloth

(And I believe in the ripple effect, so watch out. Magic unicorn mojo is heading your way.)