Holding the Disk At Bay: The Power of Clear(er) Self-Perception

From Flickr user Dani P.L.
From Flickr user Dani P.L.

The current working title of my memoir is I Am Coming In From the Other Side: This is Me Finding My Way.

While drafting, which took place over a couple of years, starting in mid 2011, I had to get into sticky, uncomfortable places with myself. I had to think hard and look hard about choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them and whether or not I’m proud of those choices. I had to take a hard, honest look at interactions I’ve had with other people and figure out what was really going on.

I had to think about my parents, a lot.

There were moments of triumph and pride and breakthrough, yes.

But there were also dark moments of crippling self-scrutiny, self-pity, and clear, sharp anger with myself, with situations I put myself in, frustration with myself at all the things I couldn’t possibly have known.

There were moments during the drafting that I felt clearer than I’ve ever felt.

But then, after, about a third of the way through the fifth or sixth round of substantive revisions, and at a fortuitous break in my generally high levels of productivity, I felt like the clarity shattered around me. Like I was standing inside a light bulb that someone BBed.

I understood, beyond intellectually, the titular metaphor in Plath’s The Bell Jar.

I understood the impulse to end it all.

Those two things scared the shit out of me.

I spent too much time on TV and not enough on writing or being a connected mother and partner. I wept what felt like constantly. I couldn’t even think about myself, but I worried about myself unrelentingly. It was like being numb but in deep, un-feelable pain at the same time.

So I started going to therapy, which was a thing I’d been thinking about doing for a years.

I now feel  like I’d been fingering the edges of this great disk of anxiety that was just kind of hanging out inside me, barely holding it at bay while it influenced me in ways I didn’t recognize and couldn’t understand.

I have only just begun to untangle this with my counselor.

But I have reinhabited myself; my self-comfort, self-confidence has started to return. My focus on the important day-to-day stuff sharpens with startling ease and quickness. I found my way into my MFA paper. I have begun to learn how to recognize and stop specious feelings of guilt. I have started to practice, at my counselor’s urging, really looking at what’s happening when I have a stress response or when I get a big feeling, so I understand triggers and can use them for good instead of evil.

Nothing in my life is different except for my understanding of what’s going on in my body. I needed help to figure it out.

I also needed the honest desire to do so.

I feel powerful and alive and hopeful in ways I have not for some time. Getting these back are like re-encountering old, dear friends with whom everything is easy and good.

So you’ll be able to imagine the empathy I felt when watching this documentary trailer: The Brainwashing of my Dad. I wish I could give money to the Kickstarter Campaign, but I missed it.

My dad experienced a similar thing ten years after Jen Senko’s dad. I cannot WAIT to watch that movie, to look at the locus of my dad’s strident, wrong-headed politics, to have affirmation that the religious right (or whatever its most current name is–T-baggers?) are intellectually irresponsible.

The ideological, philosophical, and religious differences between me and my parents, and my personal, persistent inability to shove myself into a box that would please them, are really the root of my desire to write  a memoir at all.

And even though it has been hard and intense, I’m really glad I had the freedom to do it, I’m really glad for the lessons about myself I’ve learned in the process, and I am wildly grateful that I live in a time where even poor people can get health insurance and afford to go to counseling.

“You Can’t Touch the Music, but the Music Can Touch You.”

from Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker

Child’s been watching Regular ShowI love this trend of hipster cartoons.  I would argue that it started with Spongebob, but maybe Scooby Doo is the original hipster cartoon, adjusted for period and culture.

My favorite hipster cartoon is Adventure Time.  If you haven’t seen it, do.  You will pee your pants.

I was in Urban Outfitters with my sisters in State College.  I used to love Urban Outfitters.  I still do.  But I can’t afford it now.  I couldn’t before, either, but I didn’t know that yet.  Anyway, this gorgeous, pixie, tattooed hipster girl helped us look for the perfect mary janes in the perfect size, and she’s shooting products with an iPhone with some kind of scanning device attached.  I said, “Damn hipster store.”

And my sister leaned over and stage whispered, “They don’t like to be called hipsters.”

She can say that with authority because she is a hipster.

The title to today’s post is from an episode of Regular Show in which Mordecai and Rigby get a really catchy song stuck in their heads.

But the poignancy of the quotation really struck me.

I grew up playing piano.  And aside from that I had a bargain basement teacher who didn’t teach me anything about theory–and when I finally discovered on my own that there was a theoretical aspect, it was a little bit too late.  I could’ve studied it and learned it, but I wanted it to be easy, internalized the way the keys still feel under my fingers.  And I should’ve.  But I was stubborn and charging forward with my life.  I was on to the next art, drawing, and hoping to go to art school, but hoping more to get the hell out of my parents’ house and pay rent.

What was I thinking?

I’m 31 now.  Officially in my 30s.  But–and I’ve been talking about this with people, it seems I’m not alone–I feel like I can return to myself.  Somehow, being “in my thirties” gives me permission to honor who I am.  But I’ve spent greater than a decade changing my mind about myself.  Trying on different jobs and hats and lifestyles, always being a creative person underneath it, and gravely desirious to make my living with creative pursuits.  So now that I’m at home with April Line, artist/creative; I feel like I’m 20!

The world is my oyster.  (You win if you just read that in a NY accent).

A few months ago, I tweeted one night when I couldn’t go to sleep that “Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own bed.”

Being a prisoner in one’s own bed is bad, but being a prisoner to one’s cultural expectations is far, far worse.

Today, I am free.