Just a Thought

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I’m thinking about becoming famous. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted, but apparently, these days, in order to sell a memoir, the memoirist must have a “strong platform.” One agent told me she’d be interested in representing me if I had a YouTube channel or a podcast with at least 100,000 followers. I told her I made a couple of make-up tutorials. She didn’t think that was funny.

So, what is a girl to do? Do I continue querying as I am, cross my fingers, and cast a spell in the hope that there is an agent out there (one I happen to find in the haystack of bajillions) who believes in my project enough to take it on and shop it around to publishers? Or do I start a podcast? Or do I take videos of myself wearing fancy hats while I read poetry?

About a year ago, I interviewed to volunteer with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and thought I would be able to help those who struggle with mental illness. Then I realized Sure, the idea of being strong and showing up as an ally for others sounded great, in theory. It was my brother who made me see more clearly what I’d tried valiantly over the years to forget–I’d spent enough time over the years learning how to cope with my biological mother’s mental illness. Did I really have the emotional fortitude to willingly throw myself into that realm again? As a trauma survivor, working in the mental illness sector might not be good for my own mental health. After all, I suffer from anxiety, codependency, and intermittent mild depression. Wouldn’t I need to be some kind of Superwoman, or stupid woman, to open my arms to this? To say to others, your mental health is more important than mine, so let me help you while I ignore the emotional rollercoaster roaring inside of me? Yes. So after attending an orientation and passing an interview to be a mentor, I quietly backed away without even saying goodbye.

I’m not a quitter, but maybe I am. I quit teaching, didn’t I? But maybe that (and leaving NAMI before I’d officially begun) was more about recognizing something important–a calling, perhaps–and letting my inner voice and wisdom guide me to a better place for myself. Recently, someone very wise whom I admire greatly, spoke with me about the inner spirit we all have that has a voice and constantly tries to teach us what we need and in which direction we should roam. Now that I’m a full-time trophywife housewife and writer, maybe all I need is to meditate on this, to give my spirit some tranquility so it can show the true me to myself. Maybe I am supposed to start a YouTube channel or a podcast. I have no idea where to begin or how to sustain such a thing. But every success starts with an idea and I have a few of those, so, at the very least, there’s hope.

Last night, I Googled “how to get involved with programs to help heal trauma,” and I stumbled upon the “Attachment and Trauma Network, Inc.” I had never heard of this, but as I explored their website, I became more interested in the work they’re doing. Primarily, they educate parents and professionals about how early childhood trauma affects neurobiology and learning. They also have programs aimed at helping people heal from attachment disorders and trauma. In the past, people have suggested I volunteer with foster kids or become a foster parent myself. Those ideas put a pit in my stomach, which was probably my spirit guide trying to tell me not to go there. But this network speaks to me in a different way entirely.

I’m a firm believer in the power of using our strengths and talents to improve the world. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could use my education and psychology background to help people improve their lives? As a writer, I could lead creative writing and journaling classes that teach others the benefits of poetry and self-reflection. Or I could do any number of things related to this–things I might not even know exist.

It’s possible that I’m supposed to be a writer. However, recently, I experienced something surprising during a transformational breathwork session. Toward the end of the session, the healer working with me said to listen to my mind, try to hear my spirit speak. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and if I hadn’t experienced it myself, I might not believe it could happen. A voice in my head that was not my voice arose from somewhere–maybe my subconscious–and it told me to “speak.” From that moment, I’ve been seeking ways to use my voice literally. I joined the San Diego Poetry Circuit and read original poetry every Tuesday night. Maybe there are other opportunities for me to speak in a capacity that combines my talents with my interests that also has the potential to help others.

And maybe from that, a platform can be built. I never started out thinking about doing something merely to become famous, and it doesn’t seem like the path I’m supposed to follow, but wouldn’t it be just like a freakin’ spirit guide to lead me to my true calling in the most circuitous way imaginable? Play basketball so you can develop self-awareness and self-esteem. Become a teacher so you can nurture your speaking voice and learn how to be comfortable on stage. Get your MFA in creative writing so you can improve your storytelling and editing skills. Write your memoir so you can see the source of your trauma. Put it all together and speak so you can show others how your resiliency saved you…because if others learn how to be resilient, maybe they, too, can save themselves.

I don’t know. It’s just a thought.

On Quitting Teaching, Revisited

I always cry when I watch Grey’s Anatomy.  Every. Single. Episode. It’s not that I think these people are actually dying.  I am fully aware of the reality of the situation: I am sitting in my big, comfy chair with a bowl of too much popcorn in my lap and Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry at my side, and I am watching a television show.  “It makes me so sad, but I love it,” I tell my husband, who’s a few feet away paying half-attention to the show while he winds down from his tough day managing engineers.  He’s really paying more attention to Candy Crush level six-hundred and something. But he’s tuned in to Grey’s Anatomy a little.  “It’s just a show,” he says to me.  “They’re not real people; none of this is real.  I don’t know why you have to get so upset.” 

At this point I could do one of three things: 1. I could explode into a tirade about how dare he say that and why did he even marry me because this is how I am.  I am sensitive and if he can’t understand that then he should just keep it to himself because he doesn’t need to crush candy and me, too2.  I could explain to him “why I have to get so upset,” which would result in him staring at me and back to his phone with a slight shake of his non-believing head. 3. I could keep it all to myself for my own reasons because the bottom line is I know why I’m crying and that’s good enough for me.  I’m at the point in the relationship where #3 is my option of choice because I’ve learned a thing or two, or fifty about being married.  I’ve learned about my husband, yes, but what I’ve really learned is that I am way too compassionate.  I care about what happens to people, even if they are just actors on television enacting real-life scenarios.  These things could happen, and it is the possibility that a pregnant woman might be fine one moment and then die the next.  And her baby will be cut out of her by brave and skilled, quick-thinking doctors.  The thought that such grief, loss, sadness, despair, and struggle actually does occur is what underlies my sadness while watching this show.  I am also crying for the hope and faith in humanity that these characters represent.  They may not be experiencing real life, but they represent people everywhere who are experiencing very real struggles. 

But my tears aren’t about death. As a teacher of high school students for over fifteen years, I learned how to interact with and build rapport with teenagers.  Many of my students remarked that I was different than other teachers because of my teaching style or because I was “real.”  I tried to impart to them the importance of doing their best while maintaining a healthy balance.  Many of my Advanced Placement students were stressed to the gills because they tried to do too much.  Conversely, many of my “college prep” students were failing or flailing, or both, because they weren’t doing enough.  A significant aspect of my teaching philosophy included the belief that they needed to be their own best advocate, and that their life was going to be impacted by their decisions, academic and otherwise.  It might seem like this should go without saying, but every year, I had many, many students who lacked direction, volition, goals, and urgency.  They made excuses instead of changes. 

Perhaps one reason I felt like I could never do enough as a teacher was that I was supposed to help prepare these kids for college or for life after high school at the very least, but I saw how ill-prepared they were as a whole, and taking my class for 57 minutes a day hardly seemed impactful enough.  It wasn’t my job to counsel them; it was my job to teach them how to master the state standards, many of which seemed impossible, given the students’ ability.  It was as if someone had demanded I teach giraffes to do ballet.  And I loved my students, and I was passionate about my subject.  I wrote with them, showing them how to do what I wanted them to do.  My approach was interactive and animated, and we laughed.  A lot.  I learned how to be a person in the world because of my job as a high school teacher.  And when I went to graduate school, I learned how to be even better because my confidence soared. 

But something interesting happened around my twelfth year of teaching.  It seemed the more of a veteran I became, the more overwhelming the job of teaching the future became.  I saw major problems in the education system and became ethically opposed to how things were being done.  We were forcing students to master Shakespeare, students who were worried about whether or not they should commit suicide.  We were telling students that they had to follow MLA format when they hadn’t eaten for two days.  We were acting as if school was the most important thing in the world and the only thing they should be worrying about when they were being bullied and getting pregnant, and smoking cigarettes in the bathrooms or across the street at break, when they were showing up to school drunk with vodka in their water bottles, joints in their backpacks, and ecstasy in their pockets.  If I had a dollar for every time a student told me about another student who “wasn’t anything like they were in class in real life,” I probably could’ve retired a long time ago on a mountain of cash.  Teens are having sex.  They are smoking.  And drinking.  And doing drugs.  And they are lying to their parents. But the longer we keep pretending like these behaviors aren’t a problem, the more of a problem they become.  I don’t have statistics, but I have instinct.  The culture of teens changes as much as it stays the same, and when adults close to teens pretend like everything is fine or like these things are normal or accepted, teens feel two things: vindicated and abandoned. 

I quit teaching for a number of reasons, one of which is I thought I might be able to make a significant contribution to my community or to society in some other way.  Teaching zapped my spirit because so much despair lurked around every corner, in every desk chair.  While many students wrote to me to tell me I was the one bright spot in their day or that they always enjoyed coming to my class, my heart beamed.  However, I felt like a fraud.  It was and always will be true that literature and writing are important for many reasons. I tried to instill in my students a love for literature, a means to achieve unique and authentic writing voice, and the pertinence of hard work and pride in workmanship, but what I really wanted to do was eradicate the poison that was killing them long before they got to my class. And this was an impossible task. Maybe this is the real reason I cry while watching TV. Grief compounded over the years has nowhere else to go.

Saudade

For some time now I’ve been stuck in this place of longing for people and things I know I will never experience again. It’s a cruel kind of nostalgia that extends beyond memory and into a realm of existentialism that I can’t come to terms with. I’d say it’s a form of melancholy where tangible photos do not exist and love letters have no value.

In reality, the lights have snapped on, and everybody’s home or dead. There is no resurrecting the past.  

…And he said, “Didn’t we have a good time?” So I said, “Yes, the best,” and it was as if we’d never parted but also as if we’d never really known each other. I remember the night perfectly yet not at all. Music blasted into the crowd and lights caught us dancing in the glow of a euphoric, shared experience that lingers somewhere inside of me.

It’s the details that slip—what was said, the time of night, the exact order of events, and how we ended up. There must have been the drive there and back. But did he spend the night at my place or did I drop him home? Was that the night we slept on the floor because his sheets were in the wash? Did we eat cold pizza from the cardboard box in the morning after I traced words on his back that begged him to guess how my heart was flecked with love? It was the kind of love held hostage because our language lived under the covers instead of in the air.

There were so many entanglements then. He’s miles away from me now, so none of it hardly matters. This can’t be a love letter because married women can’t reminisce like that without consequences. This is a memory. A feeling. An irony. One of many sadnesses I carry that taste like good whiskey. Like a toast to things that once were but can never be again. And it’s beautiful just as it is. So I wouldn’t go back even if I had the chance. If I keep him suspended like that, he’ll always be mine and I his in a perfectly parabolic arc, fading away over distance, time, and space.

Journey to Self

Sitting here waiting for my flight home I’m thinking about all the ways we journey: spiritual, social, emotional, physical (bodily and geographical). Mostly I’m feeling sentimental because I’m coming down from the high of a beautiful weekend with family. I realize we journey from the womb to the world–to many worlds–all of which educate us, or try to teach us new understanding in some way. I said to my pregnant cousin that all the people who loved me when I was a baby are dead, and she assured me people were excited for me to enter the world. And I’m sure they were. How else would I choose to think? Every baby deserves to be loved from the time she is born. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be loved and even though I logically know I’m loved, I experience an emotional breakdown every now and again. I think my insecure, chaotic childhood is to blame. It sent me on this journey to find stability and security in the face of vulnerability. And don’t we all seek to be found, understood, and loved by others in some way?

Travel is a metaphor for seeking love and joy. As I board this plane home, I choose to know love if only because I seek it. I am surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and family who love me just the way I am. But for some reason, it’s the destination of loving myself that has been the most difficult place to land.

If I Say It’s a Rat…

            Today I rescued a small animal from my pool. I suppose it’s a stretch to say, “rescued” since the animal was already dead, but nevertheless, he was stranded on the bottom, and I brought him up. It was so big, I’d spotted him through my kitchen window and almost cried because I thought it might be a bunny. I scooped him out gently with the net, an act that was pretty easy because once I nudged him, he floated up like a weightless thing. Really, he was bloated, and his arms and legs stretched out as if maybe he’d tried to gallop in a valiant yet hopeless attempt to outrun death. 

            I should have taken a photograph so I could show you proof of my humaneness, but I’m not sure what the rules are for posting death online. Whatever the legal way to dispose of a dead creature is, I did that. I’m sure it was a rat, but the last time I saved a rat was when it had gotten its neck snapped in our pool vacuum and I said to my husband, “It’s a rat!” and he was like, “You’re ridiculous. It’s a mouse.” His opinion didn’t prevent my having to dislodge his water-logged body—the rat’s, not my husband’s—from inside the vacuum where he’d been duly clamped between two rollers. 

            Since we’ve been living in the city-country of good ol’ Escondido, I’ve become accustomed to the small things scaring the shit out of me when they scurry from behind the trash bin to the bush. I’m also now familiar with the terrifying sounds of coyotes, and I’ve learned that nobody, probably, is being murdered but that a pack of these feral dogs is closing in on a kill and showing excitement in the form of soul-shaking high-pitched squeals and screeches. I also now know to expect that when I open my windows at night, I voluntarily let in the pungent aroma of feral urine. 

            I’ve almost been killed by snakes, and when I say “almost,” I mean it was probably a garden snake and I didn’t get stupid enough or close enough to discern its venomous potential. 

Also, I once scooped up a bloodied rat with a shovel. It had given birth in my garage before proceeding to die,

which became obvious to me when the accompanying clot revealed itself to be a rat fetus.

   When I said to my husband, “Oh, it’s a dead rat and baby,” he was like, “Come on, it’s only a mouse,” as if those minor details made any difference whatsoever in this situation. He’s never above stating the obvious especially when such comments are to distinguish between my hysteria and his rational truth. He’s smart, for sure, but I’m the one doing the saving and scooping and legal disposing, so if I say it’s a rat, a rat it is. 

            Be thankful I spared you a picture of that. And of this one today, with his wet, glistening fur, soul gone to rat heaven or wherever it may be—who knows whether this rodent lived a well-examined, charitable life. 

            And on this day, as I write to you from my place of work (which is my home—on a lop-sided couch, blanket over my legs because I get cold) and braless, which I’m not sure makes me more free. I’m pretty sure it just makes me more vulnerable, so let that be a lesson. It doesn’t matter what the truth is sometimes–it’s your perspective that carries the most weight. And if you’ve got one, you’re ahead of the game. 

            Happy Thursday. May it be ratless, cozy, and safe, and may you always know which side of the argument you’re on. 

Short Makeup Tutorial

Hi, Y’all,

I felt very Southern there for a moment.

I’m SoCal again, so dudes and dudettes, today I bring you my most recent makeup video. This video focuses on the eyes (mostly). All other makeup was done prior to recording. Since the last one was about a zillion hours long, I thought I’d give you a super short one–it’s under 4 minutes. And it’s fast-forwardable. Or you don’t even have to watch it. So really, it can be as short as you want it to be. I’ve included music and labels so you don’t even have to hear me talk. I’m doing so much for you lately, totally going above and beyond.

If you are interested in the products used, leave a comment, and I will share the details of this look.

Have a beautiful day!

Free Solo Is Effing Nuts

            I’m watching Free Solo, the documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold. Free soloing is the term for climbing with no ropes, carabiners, harness, helmet, or belayer. What. The. Hell. My first question really is why does anyone want to do this? I can’t even understand why people climb, ever, even with all the gear. It just seems too dangerous to be motivating or fun. Honnold is the only climber to free solo El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park. From base to summit, it’s about 3,000 feet. That’s just over half a mile.

            This guy reasons that anyone could die at any given moment in the course of a normal day. His logic is F-L-A-W-E-D flawed. Because dying might happen anyway, he climbs free solo. I’m skeptical about this dude’s mental health. Now, I’m all for living your life the way you want and choosing experiences over things. I just don’t understand. At all. 

            It must be the adrenaline rush he knows he will achieve if he succeeds. Truly though, his fight or flight response must kick in immediately, and so he must keep going, but that’s once he’s already a hundred feet up the side of a flat rock. What is driving him to start in the first place? 

            He started, he says, because he was shy and introverted, and it was a thing he could do to get away. He loved to climb trees and roofs as a kid. Didn’t most of us? And we didn’t become insane pursuers of death. 

            Climbing has allowed him to travel. I get to travel, too. But I don’t have to test my strength and determination in unique, terrifying feats just to go to Europe. 

            He says he would choose climbing over a lady. This is life, his passion. Alex Honnold is a rare breed. 

            There are climbers, hikers, nature lovers by the million. I love to bathe in nature, traversing paths beneath the trees and losing myself along hidden trails. It’s euphoric and healthy to get out there and move in the world. And I may be in danger of spraining an ankle, or maybe even getting pulled into a bush by a maniac. But I’m pretty careful and vigilant. And I’m big. I’m not the smart choice for an abduction.

            Maybe my logic is flawed, too. However, I’m not willingly throwing myself into a daily routine where one slip, one mistake causes me to immediately plummet to my death. 

            Climbers readily acknowledge that “anyone who made climbing a big part of their life is dead.” And yet they continue to climb.

            Honnold got an MRI to check his brain for abnormalities. “Maybe there is something wrong with me,” he thought. Why else would he want to do this, doctors asked. See, even science suspectshe is off his rocker a little bit.

            Scans revealed Honnold has no amygdala activation. His brain actually needs a higher level of stimulation to satisfy his emotional center. That makes sense. Mystery solved. This is something I can fathom. 

            Now I’m going to watch this uniquely motivated man scale some rocks.

            “I think when he’s free soloing is when he feels the most alive,” his mother says. 

            I feel alive when I write. We are just as different as two people can be. I’m okay with that. I have no death wish, no adrenaline bankruptcy. I used to feel most alive when I ran, or after playing the full 40 minutes of a basketball game in college. I can’t achieve that kind of rush anymore because physically, my body won’t allow it. And I think I’ve had enough brushes with death to say with certainty I don’t relish the opportunity for more. When annihilation has stared you in the eyes, you learn it’s wise to back away rather than surge toward it like a medieval warrior with a sword. 

            Honnold explains that he feels a bottomless pit of self-loathing—that nothing he does is good enough—which is part of his motivation for climbing. He acknowledges there’s satisfaction in facing a challenge, and the result is heightened when you are facing death. He says it allows him to be perfect, because if he’s not perfect, he falls and dies. Done.

            Listening to these reasons and watching Honnold in action has put me a little closer to his world. It doesn’t make me want to climb; I just don’t get excited by the promise of death. I don’t want to skydive or bungee jump. I don’t want to cliff dive. I don’t even want to ride on the back of a motorcycle. I’ve done that before. Any rush I might have experienced was stamped out by sheer and utter panic. Feats like this put me into overdrive, flooding my amygdala with the kind of fear that says run! And this is the typical response—it’s why humans have survived over the centuries. 

            Our flight response has kept us safe from danger. Imagine if, from the very beginning, cave people started approaching the fierce lion, standing up to the hungry bear, throwing themselves off the cliff. There’d be about three people in the world, and that does not make a civilization. In order to thrive as a species, we had to fear and flee. And that’s okay with me.

Free Solo. Dir. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. National Geographic Society, 2018.