Search yourself

“How many times have you bailed on yourself to watch TV? How many times have you given up before you’ve even started? How many times have you made real progress, only to face a setback and then give up completely? How many times have your family or friends or coworkers watched you quit? How many times have your children watched you give up on yourself over and over and over?

“This is not okay.” + Rachel Hollis

A moment ago I texted my boyfriend, “I need to start writing again, babe.” After school ended, I stopped working on two fantasy stories I began as a way to seize “me time” during the stressful semester. I was mentally wiped from finishing up a major writing unit and writing reflection upon reflection about teaching. The thought of writing more made my brain hurt. So instead of continuing, I let the stories sit… only looking at the drafts yesterday for the first time since May, because I miss the writing, I miss my characters Nymea and Rv’ll and Zenia, and I just… miss the work.

His response was that he knew. How? Hoping he would say something about just knowing how I am when it comes to writing from observing and how happy it makes me, he instead said, “Because you say that all the time.” And since he’s right — it’s true — I was immediately disappointed in myself.

I’m reading Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and the chapter “Lie 2: I’ll Start Tomorrow” really hit home. My boyfriend’s explanation sums me up as a writer: non-committal, talking the talk but not walking the walk, wanting to be the real deal and chasing my dreams but not putting the effort in. Instead I blame work and go out, or hit the gym and play a game in bed instead of opening a blank document…

I give my time away to various people and activities but leave no room for what makes my spirit shine. I go so far as to say that taking the time to write would be a waste because there is no real physical outcome that definitely benefits anyone else, in measurable terms. I think I even use that excuse as my reasoning for turning to teaching for a profession, instead of trying to spend more time with writing in a program designed specifically for it, because who wants to drop $$$ on an arts degree?

(For the record, I could care less about the degree. I’d really just super appreciate the time to write.)

But there I go again. An excuse. What’s the alternative to pursuing my dream of writing? Unhappiness. This feeling in my chest right now. Years and years, a lifetime of refusal. A legacy of broken promises. A path littered with trashed dreams. My word, worth nothing, after all the talk but no follow up.

I want to put an end to it…

Hollis writes, “the only person you need to be better than is the one you were yesterday.” She also goes far enough to say that we are responsible for ourselves, the choices we make, and we alone manage our dreams — no one else will or should do that for us.

Looking in the mirror, I see a woman (tempted to say girl) who HAS — not past tense — crazy potential to do something big with her words. I also see a woman who locks the other one away, keeps her under wraps because it’s uncomfortable risky childish wasteful escapist lazy a dead end not the right time to even think about writing as a priority and… I’m just so tired of giving energy to thoughts that are cynical and “realist” but also deeply lacking hope, like a river running dry.

And I guess that’s where I am right now… halfway through this summer. Guess I’ve been thinking more about my future than I thought I was.

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Dissolving

“Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.” + Wendell Berry

“I react to the suggestion of a miracle — or for that matter, any thoughts about God, the spiritual, or the transcendent — with skepticism and cynicism. It is my default setting.” + Mike Cosper

Last I wrote here, I was spitting with anger, moody and miserable as I neared the end of my first year back to school. For the first time in my life, I experienced not one, but three separate anxiety attacks when faced with the deadlines and expectations of my teaching program. Even when not presently working on an assignment or sitting in class these attacks hit me: in the company of friends, when I lay in bed alone, moments where I felt my heart rise as my body sank like mud, where I relied on the cool shuddering of stars overhead to ease the blood rush of panicked thoughts circling like hungry dragons in the depths of my mind. When the semester closed, so did the attacks. But not the worry, the anxiety, the uncertainty.

It isn’t a huge secret that I have stepped away from the church in recent years. Nor is it an unknown fact that it occurred around the time that my mom passed away, that I began seeing somebody new, that I applied (and enrolled) to the teaching program. It’s very easy and tempting to blame all these circumstances, but I choose instead to name them small catalysts for a change in my heart and life that I’m still puzzling over, saddened by how still and quiet the spirit is, clenched tight in my fist, like I’ve yanked it out of my chest in defiance, but determined on this path to who I am despite it all… It was going to happen, eventually. My faith was a rotten system of roots, no steady grasp upon the land, easily ripped out. A matter of time.

There are so many versions of Christianity I’ve witnessed, see. So many versions of the person I was supposed to be, through all that glass, the smiles on Sunday mornings, the Jesus-loves-you rhetoric. I couldn’t carry those identities anymore. I was a facade. Instead of continuing on, I threw these versions of myself to the ground and walked away. Breaking my dad’s heart, breaking the hearts of church friends. I didn’t denounce the Christian God or Jesus. I denounced the Christian identity I pulled together for myself, confused, uncertain, afraid. I stopped reading the Bible slowly, until eventually the reading ceased. Prayer has become little more than a “I know You’re there, and You likely hate all I do. How I live. What a disappointment I am.”

It’s sad, really. I know this. It hurts. Every time I think of “going back,” I also reflexively think, “Go back where?” I don’t want to live in the shadow of the falsehood I was before, in the churches I went to. Maybe it’s shame driving me away. Maybe it’s fear, the knowledge of sacrifice. All of the above.

I didn’t intend on spending a whole post on this. Today I ordered a Bible study on a whim, “Judges: The Tragedy of Forgetting God,” by She Reads Truth. I’m trying. It sounds very pathetic, really. What if it’s too late, and my heart’s turned to stone forever? I think these things. What if I’m no longer wanted? Can I have my own belief, not hitched on somebody else’s? Isn’t God greater than all we can ever fathom? I buy books, hoping they’ll light a little fire, something, and it’s just… dead in there. Throwing dirt on the flame, scuffing the spark out.

This whole post is kind of a big prayer, in a way. A big, sobbing prayer that refuses to actually let out the tears. Part of me wants to revert for the ease of it, but that life was a lie, too. When I believed before. Are we allowed these moments, these stretches of the abyss? Excused into the dark, tossed like scraps and coal? “You need some time being away.” I am curious to know, hoping to know, if I am not alone.

In which I rant, and rave

“When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” + Mary Oliver

This year thus far has been an angry one for me. I’m angry at the educational system. I’m angry at my peers. I’m angry at work. Angry with myself. Angry, angry, angry. I didn’t think I was capable of the emotion, but here it is, burning like a hot iron in my heart and gut. Reminding me that what I’m really angry about is that I haven’t done enough; that in the end, it might all be futile.

I made the decision to commit to teaching. I am going to continue on in the MAT program. There is still uncertainty and fury glowering in my belly like a fire waiting to swallow me whole, and there is still a part of me that wants to hide away in the stories and books I love so much.

One of my professors extended our class to tomorrow night. We have to give a 5-8 minute presentation answering one of four (or all four) questions he gave us on literacy. It’s supposed to be a low-stakes presentation, meaning more reflective than anything else.

I’m going to talk about reading and writing, and how literacy in this context is not enough so long as English is the “language of power” as Linda Christensen notes in her book Teaching for Joy and Justice. I plan on referencing a scene from a YA post-civil war-era zombie book I’m reading currently, Dread Nation, in which the main character, Jane, must hide her ability to read and pretend to be illiterate to avoid suspicion from the sheriff. There’s a sort of duality to this dilemma: one that English is the language of power and that former slaves and black people are not “permitted” usage of it; and two, if they do master it, as Jane has, there are dire consequences. And I want to trace back to how this powerplay unfolds in our classrooms as ELA teachers. It’s all a very strange idea but I’m excited by it and enraged by it all at once.

And it’s also a reason why I’ve decided to stick teaching out. Things like that are just too important to “let go” into the realm of long research papers and studies. Action has to be taken, too, in real time.

This brings me to my writing. This summer I’m hoping to continue working on the two (or three) stories I started this past semester. They deal with issues of power in their own ways. They’re largely fantasy in genre as well. I also have so many books to read. I’m counting at least fifteen, not including the two I’m currently reading and the one I’m going to start following Dread Nation.

In short… I’m hoping this summer will give me a chance to cool off a bit before I go into kill mode come practicum and student teaching next year. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m having trouble wanting to be compliant and nice and all “under wraps.” There is something to be said for “choose your battles wisely,” but I’m starting to think the small battles are just a distraction from the bigger war being waged across the country. And it pisses me off.

Sorry this post couldn’t have been more nicer. Just the state I’m in.

Unkempt (Getting it Off My Chest)

“Follow
the line you wrote
as if it were salt –” + Eavan Boland

I struggle with inferiority, with wanting to be wanted. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve felt like the odd one out. Peers played with me at recess, but friendships rarely became long-lasting. Those that did last, turned out to be toxic or harmful. Parents used to tell my mom that I was strange and awkward, didn’t take care of myself like a girl should, and that they were worried about me. “Why is she so quiet? Why is she so vague in her responses? Doesn’t she care about her hair, her clothes? I don’t want her hanging out with ____… she might not a good influence. Something’s up. Something’s not right.” Those long-lasting friendships or relationships later in life became riddled with the same words as well as, “I didn’t want to break things off, I was afraid you’d have no more friends.” “You’re cold and a bitch. Why can’t you just talk to people? You look bad and I look bad. People think you don’t like them.”

You would think at my age, I would be over the bridge by now — over all of that. But those words linger, and I find myself wondering what I did wrong, what I did to chase people away. Why I didn’t become best friends with so-and-so, but that other girl did? Why don’t I wear normal clothes, polish my face and hair into perfection like everybody else? Why can’t I just sit down and talk about small things, uncaring of whether I sound stupid? Why can’t I laugh and join in the fun, find the jokes funny? Why can’t I just do whatever I need to do to be accepted?

What digs this up is things like this past Saturday, when I attended the RI Writing Project conference for a class. Although in the morning my peers sat with me, by lunch I was sitting alone at my table, even though they saw me. Or instances like pairing up exercises in both classes and I turn and I am never, ever anybody’s first choice.

I left the conference fighting back tears, trying to mask it all with anger. But God, it hurts. All I could hear in my head were the words of the past as I walked to my car, away from the anxiety and shame of being alone: Unkempt. Impolite. Too quiet. Cold. Unwelcoming. Unkempt, unkempt, unkempt.

Others probably think — or thought — that I chose to be weird on purpose. That I didn’t actively seek out friendship with people because they dressed differently from me, when really, it was because they didn’t give a damn about me. That I purposely tried to be ungirly because being girly meant following the crowd. “But you know by trying to be unique, you’re imitating other people.”

I never actively sought to be different. I just never fit in. I still don’t. And it eats me up on a regular basis. I want to be the personable, friendly, outgoing person everybody wants me to be, but it isn’t my nature, and I feel guilty about that.

There isn’t really anything inspirational in this post. It’s just hurting right now, because these insecurities haunt me and cast shadows into parts of my life they don’t belong in. They wind up hurting the people I love the most because I have my guard up. I just want the memory of pain to go away. And I just want people to stop demanding, truthfully, that I be anything other than myself — that they appreciate the quiet and see past the stoic facade to the realization that I just operate at a much deeper level than a lot of people. I don’t do well with small talk because I’m busy thinking about why you moved your hand a certain way and glanced downward for a few moments, eyes distant and misty. I’m wondering why we’re all in the same room by the same fire, what hardships we’ve dragged behind us but are not talking about, whether we believe that death is it or if there is something bigger than ourselves at work.

I’m tired of hating myself for being myself, and blaming myself for failing to measure up to everybody’s expectations. That’s all.

(Im)practicality

“It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth
Toward God-knows-where?” + Tracy K. Smith

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Thinking about my future. Thinking about what  people expect of me. Thinking about giant ideas and miniature details, the stuff of life that we often gloss over. What it means to be passionate and forever in pursuit, and never giving up despite all the hardship and how steep the climb up the mountain is. What it means when we tell young adults and children to step back and be quiet, when we teach them the opposite in the classroom with literature and a review of history. What it means to be selfish, and what it means to have had enough.

In case you didn’t know, I think a lot.

Just this past week I decided I was done. Done with education, done with the hypocrisy. When I retweeted two links on Twitter — one about growing up as the villain that SFF portrayed, the other about sexual harassment in the SFF writing industry and forgiveness — and lost two education followers, one a teacher/administrator here in Rhode Island, my real world response was, “Wait. What the f–k? I can retweet lesson ideas and quotes on digital learning, but the second I delve deep into the dark heart of humanity, which is what what we do in the classroom is supposed to be about, I am not okay?”

What right do we think we have when we establish a rule of going ahead and touching a student’s most precious property, their mind and spirit, if we refuse to acknowledge that what happens in the classroom should not be insulated from what is happening, what has happened, in the world we all live in?

We place more focus on the physicality of their safety but when it comes to their mental and spiritual safety, we rarely speak of the consequences of what we say and do in the classroom. From our standpoint, we are ‘teaching good things because we are the teacher and we know.’ Whenever I hear somebody say how amazing it is to be able to mold young peoples’ minds, I want to throw up. I know that there is discussion on choices we make as teachers now, and it has been a topic in my classes for which I am grateful for, but I think more needs to be done and said and just outright admitted.

That is just one of the reasons I’ve made the decision to step away from pursuing a MAT, and instead am applying to my college’s MA English program with a concentration in creative writing. There are a multitude of factors, but the anger that night, the realization that no matter how much we talk about the disconnect between the classroom and the outside world, no matter how much I want to teach a unit on how literature can reinforce oppression or provide freedom (an exercise we did in one of my classes asked us to define our dream unit with an essential question; that was mine), there will still be school districts threatening to suspend kids for protesting what they believe is wrong and who need more of an answer than a back and forth between meme-slinging adults despite them living in a state that threatened to secede from the United States because they believed what was happening in our country was wrong; curriculums that neglect the poor, the tired, the weary, the unable; and administrations that believe socioemotional qualities can and should be measured and tracked. Among other problems.

It’s a little like N.K. Jemisin writes… “That’s how *real* power dynamics works: get ’em young, or make ’em vulnerable somehow. Get ’em invested in the system, and silence the ones who don’t buy in. Get ’em believing that the system will save them.

‘Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.’

No man made system is perfect, but I don’t want to sign up to deny everything I believe in for the sake of having a steady income.

***

The few people I’ve informed of my decision have either been excited for me or borderline argumentative. I relate to Jessica Andrews when she writes, “It was an embarrassing decision, because I couldn’t afford it, because it wasn’t vocational, because, as a family friend said: ‘We all know you want to write, but what exactly are you going to do?’” One woman today at work, a former teacher, kept repeating that I could still write and teach, that teaching was guaranteed income.

“Yes, I know. The practicality of becoming a teacher is why I initially enrolled, but I realize now it may have been a mistake.” “Oh, I didn’t say you should because of practicality! It’s just that you could do it for a little while then go off and do what you want.” Right. Because teaching children and young adults is a job that you can just discard after three years or so because eh, don’t feel like it anymore, who cares.

Cue eye roll.

I willingly admit that pursuing writing and more researched-centered activities over using what I know to teach younger generations is a little selfish, but it’s just as bad to teach because you’re afraid you won’t make any money otherwise. Students are not dollar bills. They are people. Flesh and blood. Prone to anger and hatred and love and all the same ugly, beautiful, strange emotions as we are. Full of ideas and words and stories.

I was not 100% committed, and I knew it from the start. I wanted to play it safe. I wanted to impress people. I wanted to finally grow up and just commit to something already, will you? 

“What are you going to do with that?”

***

I’m working on a story right now, for a workshop, but it won’t end after the workshop is over. It follows a young woman named Nemea. She is a Veyor (a shortened term for surveyor), somebody with the ability to witness events as they happen through a ‘mind gaze.’ Encircling her left wrist is a scar in the likeness of a braid called a bloodcrest. It is more a brand than anything else, linked to her ability and claiming her as property to her people as little more than a useful spy; her blood heritage is all that really protects her after she runs from home. Nemea knows there is more to life than witnessing and partaking in the violent exile of disobedient members of the empire (still working on that), but the immediate need for control is more important right now, even as guilt surges forth.

She is, for the time being, selfish. But as another character, Rv’ll, one of the exiles, says, “To be nameless is worse than a thousand deaths.”

I’m caught by the idea of namelessness. Not being able to own your own name, your own person. The desperate need for control and what that does to us, and what it means when somebody has that control over everything we say and do, and when we don’t know any better because it is all we’ve known our entire lives. Not being truly in charge of our decisions, but somehow being implicated in that decision — to be nameless, powerless. The contradiction and unfairness of that existence.

Yes, it resonates.

Where Nemea is going scares me — the transition she is going to make may never be undone — and I think it’s because I’m changing, too. I’m working a lot out through writing this story, even though I’ve barely started.

But I’m also incredibly excited. It’s like going on an adventure. I feel ‘lit up,’ if that even makes sense. Like everything is light inside, merrily glowing.

For the first time, I don’t mind if people think I’m impractical, an idiot wasting her money and time, naive, a failure. I don’t care if I’m not living up to everybody’s expectations for the ‘nice, lovely Briggs girl.’ I want to be more than everybody’s ideas — I want to simply be myself.

I only have one life, and I’m twenty eight years in already. There’s only so many left. When the pioneers went out west, they didn’t know what they were getting into, either. They only knew they needed to find home.

Writing History

For one of my classes, I had to write a “writing history.” I chose to write a poem about my history as a writer (first part) and then the second half is about how the digital world has affected my writing. The second half became more of an inspired fictional narrative than anything else. Anyway, I haven’t posted anything and I currently can’t sleep so this is why I’m choosing to share a poem instead of something else.

I. In the beginning…

The beginning is a swath of blue: cerulean,
pristine, outlining memory & recollections

of dishes, mother’s eyes, my small life
spread out like ice on the page.

All that cold, beautiful, worthy of the red
upward slash signifying perfect marks,

yet unable to erase the strangeness
of who I was at ten, a girl conjured up

with the words “the world, (tiny & blue)
the world I wish everyone could see.” Then, gone

carried like wind into flame
until only ashes remain, & I pause

listen for the stirrings of what drove me
to write on. Ten more years, perhaps more,

noting in a sonnet the desire to break those
who deal in others’ hurt & heal roses

that bruise beneath the surface, plagued
with disease no one wants to touch

but everyone can see. If nothing else,
I tell myself, through the constant flow

of “too vague” & “you are absent, not unlike
a spirit haunting a beautiful house, blind

to who you are or were,” the pain, made paper
thin, has worth. The story, after all

is family. But in the meantime, all these
ghosts are too much, only ink

not blood, unfulfilled. Despite the poems,
the pages never come

& the blue world, so faded, it is bright as the deepening dusk.

II. White Out

Between that first world of blue which ends in night
fluorescence of another kind cleaves through
and a third self is born, only she hides
in a space of pressed glass and circuitry, words
a mimicry of all the voices she’s observed

online, an attempt at perfection, a shout into the void
that for once isn’t help but I have something here,
too, burning so bright, so loud it gets lost
in the digital blur of what the truth is, and where
lay the lie. At what point does she learn

(and others too) how to walk the gold
cord between presence
and static? it eternally binds the electric shock
of Web and white noise linking up to her mind,
creating a ruin of leaf and glass.

And yet
for all the fallout, there remains a story
told over and over by the ghost in the wires,
playing out in blogs and tweets,
text tones and bells severing the quiet,

the words more a promise for what is to come
than the dismal longing for what was.