follow the light
I am sitting in my bedroom, injured, waiting on pain killers to kick in. I probably should be heating up some dinner since I missed eating earlier because I was passed out after hurting my arm in some ridiculous situation that involved cats. That’s probably all you need to know about that.
Since Tuesday, like many Americans, I’ve been traveling the grief rollercoaster–alternating between despair, shock, absolute rage, extreme fear, and defiant hope. Finding faith in the pockets of humanity I call home. Holding on for dear life for the pieces of myself that carry me through dark times. Letting go of those who inflict pain in my world. Being brave about enforcing boundaries and speaking my truth. I try to do so without marginalizing anyone because I don’t want to be that bitter woman inflicting violence in a violent world–when everything I value and love about humanity is at risk–and my anger is about hate.
I’ve had to make some choices about who I am and what I will accept this week. Who I will accept. I’ve always had this personal policy–this loyalty–an allegiance to the truth of any situation–a pledge to be uncomfortable. Because if you are doing life right, you should be uncomfortable.
There’s a quotation from David Foster Wallace that a friend recently reminded me of: “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” And I remember how this one thing this brilliant man said rocked the core of my life because it resonated so deeply.
I am not one to let go. Of people. Of values. Of places. Of suffering. It is a core part of who I am as a person. I am loyal to a maddening fault and often at my own very painful expense. This, I think, is one of the defining characteristics of an INFP. We hold on. We champion. We fight like Hell. We grieve for all eternity. We make our anguish pretty.
Even when we’re wrong. Even when it’s stupid. Even when it means someone takes a chunk of flesh or a piece of your soul. We do this because we know what it feels like to be left.
So, I don’t unfriend lightly. I want to know my friends. I want to understand those who are different from me. I’m okay with discomfort. I’m okay with disagreeing. But I will not tolerate cruelty or disrespect–toward my friends or other loved ones. For me, though, I sometimes let it go too far. And I fail to be loving to myself. And so, I hold on because letting go means acknowledging something heartbreaking about myself: that I sometimes don’t see my worth, and that the perfect parts of those I know–the parts I remember and love? Well, sometimes, they no longer exist.
I’ve done a lot of letting go this week. But not of the things many of my friends are abandoning. I’ve let go of my need to be right. I’ve let go of my need to be SuperWoman. I let go of Eternal Peacemaker. But I’ve accepted something new. A personal challenge.
My whole life–people have referred to me as Writer Girl. The wordgirl. Words have been mine since before I can remember. I used to write in the margins of all my books, wearing my cowboy hat–all these words in some language only I knew. And a big part of that was sharing them. I couldn’t just leave them in the margins. I would tug at my Mama’s nightgown and tell her stories before bed. Those stories, now, of course, are lost. Because I don’t remember my baby talk language, and death tends to erase the past–leaving parts of you gone for someone else to find and make sense of. But the impression lingers.
I’ve always had emotions inside me that required translating and a unique language that required explanation. It’s part of why I turned to photography. The camera was my tool for helping people focus on what I saw in the world. It was a way of having a conversation–with myself and others–without speaking. And to be honest–as an introvert who loves words…even I grow weary of them. I often have a hard time putting them together. I often find myself chasing passages that only make sense to me.
At my core, I am an artist. I see the world differently. I see beauty easily. For me, pain is a form of it. But, for me, art is therapy. So much so that I decided, some time ago, to be an art therapist–to share what I found for myself with others who maybe shared my struggles with worth.
Art saved my life and does so every single day. And I do it more for me than anyone else. Without any goal except to find the truth. And to heal. That’s it. But the reason I’m an artist is because it’s not enough to create the thing. I have to share it. Mostly because I know it means something.
Like many artists, though, I’ve found that–in large part–I have abandoned the part of me that creates and shares. Sometimes, I think that is a good thing since so much of my art has been used as a coping tool. Or as a way to escape suffering. A way to turn off my brain and let myself feel.
It takes a lot of energy and a lot of willingness. So, I often wonder if my inability to dedicate myself to it in recent years has been an indicator of something more significant. If those things I fear are happening really are happening–and if the world is finally succeeding in keeping me quiet and broken.
Mostly, I realize–I’ve avoided a ton of writing–the hard work of writing–because it is such hard work. And life is exhausting. And inspiration is fleeting. And writing something like that–more than anything–is a craft that requires a discipline I’ve yet to find for absolutely anything. The closest has probably been work–and even that has not really been a focus. It’s more like a side dish I don’t really want. And maybe that’s a problem.
I’ve felt the void for quite a while. That inability to commit to anything for too long–even the things that bring me joy and peace. And I’ve started to connect it to other things–to the reasons I’m broken–and I’ve started working on those things. And I find that the more I work on those things, the more I want to share. The more I write. The more I try to translate my broken heart into something that really heals–myself and others.
My life has been stories–whether I’m telling them or not. It’s how I connect. It’s how I disconnect. It’s how I keep going. It’s why I stop.
For months, I’ve been promising myself I’ll get back to things. That I will work on that screenplay I’ve had in my head. That I will revise that play and keep working on all those other projects. On all the notes in my iPhone. That I will do things with my photos. That I will set up a meditation space and a creation space so I have no excuses.
But you know: life.
This week, though, part of the gut punch was that–in focusing on the obstacles in my life–the things that keep me from joy–I’ve been sidetracked from my own healing. That I chose silence and maybe that silence was part of the problem. Through all the yelling and all the wailing I see everywhere? I keep finding beauty, but no one is sharing. It’s all been drowned out, and I am reminded that the world needs me. It needs my lens. My heart. My verbal vomit. It needs Alma’s sermons and embarrassed remembrance. It needs all of us. We are all poets. A very wise woman taught me that.
More than ever–the world needs critical thought and critical feeling and vulnerability and light. That’s the only way to circumvent trauma and shame. It’s the only way to keep going. And we all have a choice to make. Do we give in to the despair and the lowest common denominator–or do we create the world we hope for?
I discovered Sarah Kay years ago, when she performed with another poet, and talked about love. Her words have always resonated with me, and this piece I found tonight was especially relevant for tonight’s writing. I am recommitting myself to the art of capture and the art of letting go. It’s time I started sharing again. Because I am nothing that happened this week. This is who I am. This is what I know. And I refuse to let the dark overshadow this light.