Neglected Questions

© Regan House Photo, 2012.

I order my coffee and he asks my name. Smiling, I tell him. The word rolling off my tongue in its constant and familiar fashion. Our eyes lock for the second time during the transaction, “Ruby. You look like a Ruby.”

Oh, thank god, I think. At least something still fits. I’ve been floating around lately. Not sure if my feet are on the ground or pointed skyward. Nothing fits. I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

A week ago I told him what my life looked like. He pulled all the pieces of information I’d handed him over the last nine months and listed all the things I’ve ever expressed any desire for. Looking at me over the top of his mason jar glass he prods, “What’s stopping you from doing any of that?”

“I don’t know. It just wasn’t the plan. The plan was different, you know? We had one. We did. For the last year and a half I thought we were going one way, but very suddenly we completely changed direction. So I guess… I mean, I guess I just don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I was working so hard on something that is no longer applicable.”

Like a college kid who suddenly realizes they no longer have any interest in pursuing their major. All the work I’ve been doing is only useful in moderate amounts. I’m struggling. Floor out from under me. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

Options are endless. I know that. I know. Paradox of choice, I guess. And it’s just been so long since I asked myself that. I dropped out of school almost three years ago. That was the last time I’d put any thought into any sort of plan. Even then it swung violently between the things I thought I’d find fulfilling and the things I thought I’d find fulfilling, but would ultimately destroy me.

Sitting on the tiny balcony of our Oakland apartment, smoking Newports, with my phone pressed to my head, I talked to Tobias. “You know, people say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, but I think that’s total bullshit. Working hundreds of hours a week will leave you depleted no matter how good the cause. I just don’t know if I want to do that.” So the pendulum took another swing away from law school and back to teaching. But that takes arguably more guts, doesn’t it? I remembered the conversations we used to have about knowing I’d done something important if I earned at least one death threat and wondered if standing at a whiteboard in a high school classroom would ever get me a genuine one.

Then you take into account that getting my Juris Doctorate would cost well over 200,000-dollars and it’s hard to tell myself that it’s something I have even the slightest interest in. What can lawyers really do anyway? And that’s just another question that was left unanswered when I put my key on the dining room table with a check for two months rent and a letter telling my roommate that, no matter what I’d try to convince either of us of, I wasn’t coming back. Mason was the only thing I’d been certain of my entire fucking life.

Still is.

But at some point I have to start reintroducing those questions. Those, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” questions. Because I can. And I haven’t been asking them. Not lately. Not with any expectation that I might answer them. Definitely not with the inkling that I might answer them and then act on that answer.

Maybe that’s the fear. If I know the answer then I have very few excuses not to act. If I act I open myself up to fumbling, to failing. To putting the things that were important when the plan was different on a back burner. To having to ask for help and support. To not knowing if it will continue to be something that interests me, but sinking my teeth in anyway.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Really. I can talk myself into something and then right back out of it in less than a week’s time. Lists of pros and cons that are made up of nothing more than what I assume everyone else wants and expects out of me. Like my whole life has been a messy collaboration of “are you proud of me yet?” and “fuck you for telling me I couldn’t”. So I wonder if even when I thought I was skimming the surface of the big questions the answers were all coming from the mouths of everyone but me.

Come on, kid, what do you want from me?

Too Easy

 

oaks

It’s easy to turn the alarm off, roll over, and wrap my arms around Mason. It’s easy to sleep until ten and spend another hour in bed reading while I wait for my thyroid medication to kick in. It’s easy to skip breakfast, have lunch at three, and grab some pre-made entree from Whole Foods for dinner around eight. It’s easy to put off writing, to skip my run, to ignore the loaded barbells at the gym. It’s easy to let days slip by without leaving the house. It’s really fucking easy to climb into another hole and bury myself under an array of, “I just don’t have it in me,” statements.

The sun comes out and I ignore it. We rearrange our desks, dining table, and bookshelf to finally make room for a sofa and a television. I dye my hair and buy a new pair of sneakers. The little gestures are trying to add up to a different approach. They’re trying to make it obvious that we’re in a new season now. That we have a very real chance to start all over here. I face myself down in the mirror and try to remember that I don’t have to carry around the weight of winter anymore. But it’s easier to hang on to it. Easier to keep doing what I’ve been doing than to try to break out and bathe in new intentions. In sunlight. In spring. So the seasons go on without me.

Winter took awhile to get a grip on me. I propelled myself well into December before the claws sunk in, so I suppose it only makes sense that I wouldn’t be able to force it off my back as soon as the calendar turned over. But goddamn, wouldn’t that be nice? Climbing out is always harder than falling in. It’s easy to slip, to find yourself laying in the dirt, breathing heavy. But climbing out takes dedication, takes focus, takes the ability to try over and over and over again.

Lately I’m remembering stories about people spending days climbing out of deep mountain crevasses, pulling themselves out of treacherous canyons with broken legs, sawing off their own arms to free themselves of rock slides and hauling themselves to safety. Maybe the stories in which the protagonist just lays down and dies at the bottom of pit don’t make for good books, inspiring television, so they are mostly left untold. But I still can’t help but feel that there is an indomitable aspect of the human spirit that we all carry in us, but seldom call upon. I wonder if I can access it without breaking any bones. I feel like much of existence is the psychological equivalent. It’s easier to just lay at the bottom of our lives and let the snow pile up, but those aren’t the stories I want to tell. So I dig out my icepick and I start climbing.

I know there is a lip I can get to, solid ground I can hoist myself on to. I can see it through the incessant rainfall. Little glimpses of sunshine, promises of something else out there when all I can see is the solid wall of earth in front of me. But holy hell if it doesn’t take all the energy I can possibly muster and then some to get to it. And it’s in those moments that I dig my heels in deep and I listen hard to Shane Koyczan again. His steady voice is telling me,

Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. … If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone—that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion. … Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but come back. They will tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack despair, you can even wear your sorrow—but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.

So I press on. When my alarm clock goes off I climb stiffly out of bed, put on my running shoes, and head out into the day. I drag my feet to a coffee shop after breakfast and write feverishly. With every ounce of strength I can muster I clamber to the grocery store and I buy ingredients for dinner. I stay away from my empty apartment. I stay engaged with the streets and sunlight and the flowers poking up from barely thawed ground. It’s hard. It takes all the energy I have and by the end of the day I’m exhausted and aching. But I catch myself smiling. I’m humming while I chop vegetables and stir a big pot of chili. It’s easier to not do any go those things. But it’s harder to live like that. It’s easier to phone it all in, to lay motionless in the bottom of winter’s pit. But that’s an impossible way to exist. I can climb out of this. One day of hard work stacked upon another will inevitably get me over that goddamn lip.

Searching Love Out

Image

Mason has been working late the last couple of weeks. It’s conjured weird flashbacks of my time living alone. How I used to spend hours tramping around various cities knowing that no one was at home waiting for me, that no one would worry or wonder where I am. I took a page out of my old book and spent five hours tracing out foreign paths through neighborhoods I rarely explore. Noticed the subtle shifts in temperature and in what areas people are most likely to make eye contact, to offer a smile. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that I’ve lived in Seattle for the better part of three years. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re not working a nine-to-five. When you don’t have a car. When you stop hanging out at bars until two in the morning and drunkenly stumble thirty blocks to the one place you know you can get a burger at this hour. Maybe that’s what happens when you get comfortable and everything you need is in a mile radius of your apartment. Maybe that’s just what happens when you don’t put roots down.

I used to think that by staying only half-engaged I would be more likely to adventure. Not having strong ties or solid commitments means that you’re free to ramble on out of anywhere with only a letter to your landlord slid under a door at three in the morning. But there’s a loneliness that exists in that. As someone who has spent my life embracing the “lone wolf” description, I’m finally left understanding that wolves aren’t built to roam solo. So I’m left wondering how I’m supposed to build a pack, claim a territory.

Most of my life I’ve spent dreaming about some arbitrary place I’d someday finally find worth my time. Some mythical land that would make my heart dance and be brimming with the type of people I want to get to know better. But that place doesn’t exist. It’s not down some highway or a quick plane ride away. It hasn’t been sitting nestled up to an unfamiliar ocean, teeming with folks who understand how hard just getting out of bed can be. There is no place that is going to iron out the creases of existence or make all my war-wounds insignificant. Life is always going to hard. It doesn’t matter where I am.

We talk about how difficult living gets when the weather turns to shit. I become convinced that if I could somehow live somewhere with more daylight I’d be a completely different person. Then the sun comes back and I’m left dealing with the same thought process, the same chemical make up, the same story I had during the winter, during the previous spring. Yeah, the rain doesn’t help. Yes, it definitely gets worse when the sun is setting at four in the afternoon. However, when it all goes back to the the way it was, I’m the same person I used to be. That’s the hard part to come to terms with, isn’t it? I can take proper measures to support myself. I can eat well, exercise, take my thyroid medication, maintain a good sleep-wake cycle, see my therapist and my doctor regularly. Indeed, I must do all those things if I have any hope of functioning. But those aren’t the things that are going to save me. The only thing that’s going to do that is to break down and rebuild how I think.

I’ve haphazardly put together an entire life based on the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that desperately needs to be remedied. That’s the ship I’ve been sailing for as long as I can remember. Of course that captain hasn’t wanted to put an anchor down. The whole damn thing is sinking and no one knows how to fix it, so we may as well chase down that horizon. Get as a close as we can to that bright green flash before the sea swallows us whole. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That plan of attack makes perfect sense for the situation I thought I was in.

But there’s nothing wrong with my boat. The crew spent most of the first half of the trip fighting and getting drunk, so we’re probably a bit lost. I don’t think the captain was properly trained for this type of mission, but she’s got some time to learn still. Everyone just needs to take a step back and a few deep breaths. Admit that the ship is in fine condition and figure out where the fuck it is we’re going.

Sink Your Teeth In

Image

The winter is receding. I find myself waking up drenched in sweat, like my bones are thawing while I sleep. My face is regaining color to match the flowers that seemed to push themselves out of their tight-wrapped buds overnight. It’s amazing what just a few days of sunlight can do. The relief that comes from finally being able to leave the house without leggings under my jeans. I feel like an animal that slips into hibernation for the harshest months. All systems slow to the bare minimum. I slept for fourteen hours a day and got sick at least once a month. Hiding out in our apartment, I’d make myself leave only for weekly appointments with my therapist and the doctor. Constantly trying to figure out what the hell is really going on with me. Long talks and sobbing into handfuls of tissue. Blood tests and supplements and more blood tests. Really, though, I don’t think this is the worst winter I’ve seen. It wasn’t until January that it really started settling in and the next thing I knew March was reaching its end.

Over the past three months I buried myself in books and shitty TV shows in Netflix. On a whim I bought a plane ticket and less than a week later I was in Louisiana with one of my very oldest friends. We trudged through the swamps and hide out in his truck while the icy rain mixed with Mardi Gras beads, listening to old mix CDs, and talking about what a miracle it is that we’re both still alive. He looked at me earnestly and said, “You know, it’s still really hard, but it’s the best it’s ever been.” And no matter how hard that usually is to remember, I know that it’s true. Life is always getting tougher, but it’s always getting better, too. I’m finally learning to accept the fact that I will only ever subject myself to as much as I’m truly capable of dealing with. And that dealing with those things is always going to enrich the experience. It gets better every time. We talked about the hard stuff. The things that tied us together for over ten years and thousands of miles, but had regularly been left unspoken. We pushed and pulled and struggled to understand what our friendship would look like now that I’m clean and sober, married, and three years older than the last time we shared a space. It’s always a challenge to embrace the fact that things aren’t how they used to be, that things will never be the same again. In the end, though, it felt like coming out of the winter. We hugged at the airport and I could feel how much better it was going to be from there on out. Finally letting go of all that hurt from growing up that he was hanging on to for me. It ignited something.

I’ve been trying to keep pieces of myself in too many places. Like Sage Francis said, “I stay committed like one foot in, one foot out…” I’m sorting out where I came from, the things I’ve done, the things that have been done to me. Trying desperately to understand which pieces are part of me and which ones are just part of my story. I have my gaze set far out past the horizon line and my feet stuck in a sand that no longer serves me. It’s exhausting. It’s immobilizing. It’s the realization that I have been half-assing a lot of my existence lately. Making excuses to not let my roots grow too deep in this Pacific Northwest clay. Shutting in because if I don’t know the answer or what I really need then what’s the point in even talking? I’ve always assumed I needed a game plan. I also always assumed I’d never last long enough to ever see any game plans I had play out. Stacks of barely begun projects and every new idea quickly followed up with a “what the fuck is the point?” makes for a shell-like existence. And I’m sick of it. Maybe I’ve just been afraid of getting hurt. That’s the irony, though, isn’t it? I’ve spent my whole life getting hurt and I’m finally ready to admit that it’s not as bad as I make it out to be. We are all scars and broken bones. We are all barely able to pull ourselves another inch with bloody fingertips and gravel-crusted knees. But it’s better than it’s ever been. I’m done being afraid of putting both of my feet down. I’m ready to sink my teeth in.

Goldilocks

Three Gulls

© cuppyuppycake, 2013.

I get to the point where I’m ready for something new. When everything feels like it’s in a pretty good place and I have a nice handle on all the things I’m doing. A good routine is set with exercise and eating habits that work well for everyone involved. I’m getting up early and writing. Lately I’ve found myself in a place completely different than I thought I’d be at this time last year. Somewhere that I didn’t think I’d be staring at for years. But here we are. Settling in to an equilibrium that I’m happy with. So I start thinking that I’m ready for a new topic, a new addition.

But, of course, that thought immediately paralyzes me.

Adding more to my plate is the most logical thing. It would keep me growing, prevent stagnation. But it could also go so far in the other direction that I lose all the freedom and inspiration that is responsible for me thriving currently. There is such a gentle balance to strike there that I have never gotten the hang of. I suppose that’s the crux of being a truly all or nothing girl. Add too much and nothing gets done. Add too little and I’ll feel like it barely counts and just want to add more. More until it’s too much again. Add to that the seemingly endless amount of things I could choose from and I’m stuck constantly second-guessing. I feel like there must be a relevant story in Greek or Roman mythology for this. Some dude that had his choice of most everything and didn’t want to choose because he would lose the ability to choose the other things later. Never choosing anything at all and never growing, never changing.

There must be a balance there. Where giving up a little of my freedom for my betterment doesn’t seem so daunting. A logical decision out of all the possible choices that doesn’t make me lose sight of all my other options. I feel like I’m looking for more no-brainers in my life. When I spend my time writing or exercising I never wonder if I should have spent my time doing something else. When I commit to weekly appointments with a therapist I never wonder if I’m missing out on something better those mornings. When I married Mason I never thought for a second about not dating any of the other guys out there. Those weren’t hard decisions. But they also weren’t decisions I mulled over or debated, so maybe that’s the only real problem I have.

Forever cursed to think too damn much.