On feeling your feelings and being afraid to write.

I read somewhere once that it takes 1/3 of the amount of time you were with someone to get over them after a break up. And so far in my life, that has been true to form. My first long-term boyfriend and I were together for almost four years and long after the sting of separation ended, I was plagued by these dreams of him every night for almost a year and a half. Even after I was dating other people and no longer thinking about him during my conscious, waking hours. At night, it was a different story, like clockwork, these bizarre dreams, somewhere between unrealistic fantasy and nightmare would play out. Like scenes of him packing all my clothes and throwing them out the window, or in a fire, or in a chest to be locked forever. Or flushing all my jewelry down the toilet, or cutting my hair when I wasn’t looking. All these strange composites of small events where I felt really violated or like my “identifiers” were being sloughed off and taken away from me. Night after night after night after night. Some long, some short splices, some repeats. Eventually, it felt like the dreams were becoming more of something I had to deal with and process more than the actual ending of the relationship. After consulting my closest friends and even praying aloud that the dreams would end, one day, they just…did. And that was that.

Now, of course, in retrospect, I understand things on a much deeper level and realize that the dreams were a larger metaphor from my unconscious about my feelings of having so much of my identity, my dreams, my goals, my friends, my memories tied to that relationship and feeling equally confused about redefining myself as a single girl in college in a new city with an entirely new group of friends and passions. Paired with the foreclosure of my childhood home, it seemed that all that used to identify me (quite literally) no longer existed. It was, at once, powerful and terrifying. It was so easy to cling onto toxic things instead of reinventing myself from such a vulnerable, open spot. As with most things, and the passing of time as life’s ultimate salve, it’s so clear that it had to happen that way. When I think of him now, as a happily married man to a beautiful woman who shares so many of his interests, it’s a richer layer of gratefulness. Not only because it was becoming a rotten relationship from my stern need to not let things organically change and grow while being hurt as we became two different people, but because he is happy. It’s one of those things that seems completely impossible in the fresh moments of a break-up, but I truly do wish him well and am happy that our paths crossed (and ended) because I understand now the lessons I was supposed to learn from that. It’s a small, simple calmness that I hope to transfer to other parts of my life that need closure and healing.

Still again, I am suffering from post-break up trauma. Though I understand that relationships ending (especially long ones with lots of floor-plans and future-planning in the works) is not a simple one-way street. I understand fully I was the catalyst for many of those arguments and the quick crumble of my last relationship.

In a lot of ways, I was embarrassed about being broken up with. I had to return to Charlotte, tell my family, my friends, my co-workers, everyone about the end of this long-drawn-out story they had all been baited on and hoping (to my face, at least) for the best possible outcome. Coupled with being bed-ridden from extremely inflamed kidneys and a blood infection, I felt like my body and my life were rebelling against me. My cling to hope was that if I could be less sick, less worried, less upset, things would settle back into normal. In retrospect, normal wasn’t as it seemed. Again, time (that damn time, doesn’t abide by my need for hasty answers) has shown me the truer nature of the relationship. I had fallen in love with a man who lied to me about his money issues and let the weight of that facade crush him. I was as dedicated to loving and growing his presented self as he was to maintaining that image for me. Later, it was revealed, he was constantly in fear that he was failing me and our relationship. Thinking on those revelations is still like an acidic sting, because I felt blindsided by his enormous wave of grief and self-hatred. I thought we had been growing this thing together, nurturing an in-progress work that required equal parts tender love and direction. I realize now, we were both honoring a third entity, a mirage of our projected selves: the him he wanted to be and the me that needed him to not just become, but already BE this thing I had been led to believe was truth. As with all lies, they come to light. I felt confused, betrayed and abandoned.

Potentially one of the most hurtful chapters of understanding and growing from this experience was allowing myself to feel and grieve and not repress or hate the feelings that were coming from the deepest parts of my psyche. The repeated mantra of maybe if I was “less sick”, “less worried”, “less upset”, maintained my desire for my life to regain a sense of normalcy. I resented myself for feeling any way that would potentially make someone not want to be around me. So, in a sense, I was presenting a facade. (Damn full-circle irony, life, you bitch! But I gotta have some humor and laugh at it all).

Of course, this obvious continuation of a destructive pattern revealed itself later when trying to understand why my current (very good) relationship was suffering from my emotional double-presentation. I was suppressing emotions for fearing of showing myself in any less than a pleasant light until they bubbled up and over THEN feeling completely ashamed for having the negative emotions at all. It was a inward spiral of self-blame. It made the smallest frustration erupt into an on-going battle with myself on both fronts and leaving my love to suffer the casualties. It was hard for him to follow and even harder for me to explain. Only as I began to write and allow myself to process (without my own critique or deletion) the pain and fear I was still harboring from being in a vulnerable place was it clearly revealed that, I, too, had been presenting a fraudulent version of myself. A version that didn’t feel stress or worry or pain or fear or loss. And instead of ricocheting back and forth between maintaining a sometimes false outer beam of light and imploding from letting the emotions fill, I realize I am somewhere, perpetually (dare I say, comfortably) on the spectrum of emotion.

That small things make me cry, like traffic lights taking too long and when people who don’t know me that well give me good hugs. And big things, too, like that I’ll probably always be trying to repair my parents’ relationships with each other and with me, and that in this important stage of my career, feeling stunted and confused and directionless is a giant part of understanding myself as an artist. That when I allow myself to feel the emotions, I become less like a mine field and more like the ocean, wide and free, breaking and calm. Understanding on a deeper level that I am a living, breathing thing, that requires my own approval in order to grow.

I say all of that to say this: I haven’t written anything directed to be shared because one of my last blog posts was used against me as a reason for ending that aforementioned relationship. I wrote it riding home on the train from Raleigh and it was the next to last time I ever saw him. I was raw and open and comforted by my own observations on life’s funny patterns, layers, and metaphors. I guess it was read as an immaturity. But from a person who harbors a facade for, what they believe, is for the security of themselves and others, maybe being open and raw is bad. And though I loved that post and those words and they brought me great relief, I also began to resent them.

So, here I am, apologizing to my words and myself. For knowing now that a man was waiting to meet me in a year’s time who loves my unmasked fullness and has taught me that feeling my emotions when I feel them allows room for better things. That there is no shame in healing. That I am lighter and brighter and ever-expansive. That love is all-encompassing and embracing. That there doesn’t have to be a “catch”. That we can just be. Together. Through all life’s sticky, glorious hurdles. Here’s to writing, and feeling, not only because it’s necessary or that I want to recant on that particularly dark time in my life, but because as with all things I can contribute, I know someone needs to hear this:

You’re worth your own time, your own healing. Run your own bath water and make yourself something glorious to eat. Treat yourself as you would treat your own son or daughter, because inside all of us is our inner-child needing love and attention. Wave at dogs and cry because nature documentaries are sad sometimes. Become deeply interested in something. Do whatever the hell it is that you’re really good at doing. Do something else that you suck at doing until you’re moderately okay at doing it. Know that people appreciate your presence, your breath, your contribution. Understand the light and dark parts of yourself and acknowledge both. Say “thank you” to the past you and “I’m ready” to the future you. Know that you never really get over anything but rather gain a deeper knowledge of it as you continue to interact with pain your whole life through. Realize this isn’t as terribly tiring as it sounds. Realize, too, that hating yourself and encapsulating yourself is a lot harder than eating some fruit, or taking a kick-boxing class or reading outside in the sun. That people often make crutches of their pain and grow very fond of complaining and dwelling and becoming one with their vapidness. Realize that you don’t have to be one of those people.

Love and light (and sadness and heartbreak and every other morsel of human-“being”) to you and yours. Here’s to new chapters.

Auxochrome

 

FridaAuxochromeHere’s my newest painting of 2015, “Auxochrome”, a portrait of Frida Kahlo. Title inspired from her letters to husband Diego Rivera, in which she says (translated):fridakahlodiary7

Auxochrome — Chromophore. Diego.

She who wears the color.
He who sees the color.
Since the year 1922.

Until always and forever. Now in 1944. After all the hours lived through. The vectors continue in their original direction. Nothing stops them. With no more knowledge than live emotion. With no other wish than to go on until they meet. Slowly. With great unease, but with the certainty that all is guided by the “golden section.” There is cellular arrangement. There is movement. There is light. All centers are the same. Folly doesn’t exist. We are the same as we were and as we will be. Not counting on idiotic destiny.

The portrait was inspired by a poem by poet called “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell“, which reads:

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

*

For me, personally, inspiration came from the newness that I am experiencing while coming out of a tumultuous long-distance relationship and finding my new footing in my old city. Feeling out what was home and finding comfort again. Frida was at the same time, both the sexual and spiritual freedom ideal of many women and still hopelessly devoted to the idea of loving and being loved. It’s something I identify clearly in myself and am still incessantly unsure about it. The motif of an open and a closed pomegranate is a nod to her endless child-bearing battles. I see pomegranates as the ultimate fruit symbol of lushness, newness, life and rich vitality. The open fruit, exposed and delicious but quick to dry and spoil. The closed fruit, one to keep, one to wonder about, one to hope on. Perhaps she herself felt like that at points, dually ripe and closed. To be eaten and inedible. Indulgent and hand-staining red. I can relate.

Forgetting the Pain in Six Steps.

This is a response to a poetry prompt from someone whose words I admire and aspire towards. Personal comments and responses, both commentary in nature and poetic in reverberation are welcomed and encouraged.

Forgetting the Pain in Six Steps:
Bree Stallings

Step 1: Go outside and stand in the pouring pain and allow it to wet your skin and your bare feet. Pour a double-shot of pain and take in timed doses. Refuse to leave your bed until your open eyes watch the sun set, rise and set again. Eventually turn off your ringing phone. Listen only to live recordings of old songs played with slow guitars and sad, soft voices. Sit down in the tub and wait for the hot water to run out. Forget to wash your hair and forget to water the plants.

Step 2: Paint over all your half-finished paintings. Cry at the junk mail pile. Skip the glass and drink straight from the bottle.

Step 3: Get out of bed. Slip on the pain like well-worn house-shoes. Watch an entire T.V. program without listening. Run a bath and force yourself into the scalding water. Grocery shop and sit the pain in the front of your cart. Check your rearview mirror as your drive and make sure it’s still there. Sleep on the couch even when you’re not tired.

Step 4: Take your pain on a date. Save it a seat in the theatre next to you, laugh at the funny parts and look over to see if the pain is enjoying the same things you are. Buy yourself flowers and forget them at the checkout line. Share chicken nuggets with sad homeless men on abandoned benches. Drive until your gas light comes on and keep driving.

Step 5: Wash all your sheets. Do your hair and use too much hair spray. Answer your ringing phone. Call your mom and leave a voicemail. Eat slowly and with intention. Write thank-you letters and no-thank-you letters and send them all.

Step 6: Devour the pain. Have a second-helping of pain and try to remember that this was once easy, that this is a favorite dish of yours. Consume the pain until you’re dizzy sick from the smell of it. Sit in your own disgust. Digest. Agree with yourself to never feel this way again. Develop a new palette with fresh colors and zest. Become hungry for something new and seek that out.

On what I know of trains and love…

The first time riding the train was much more romantic than this. Maybe I was just more romantic then–more apt to see the beauty in the mundane, but today is an unusually overcast day in August. In a long blur, we are passing green, stagnant swamp waters, shotgun mill houses and homeless people. We passed one man, asleep, wrapped in a tarp on the strip of land between woods and an abandoned car lot. His head resting peacefully on his arm and I wonder what he dreams of, his weathered face perfectly relaxed in a sleepy smile. His calm and his failure to be rattled by the incessant train’s horns, his situation, it all arose an audible gasp from somewhere below my belly.

It was like sharing a split-second secret, me abruptly aware of this man’s existence and him dreaming past the familiar sounds of people and rattling metal rushing past. I know no one else on the slowing rain saw him, their heads bobbing in between sleep or burrowed in their fully-zipped jackets, trying to hide from the cold that even the rail hands aren’t ignoring as they pace the aisle–arms rubbing for friction, hoping for warmth.

I am infinitely sad this morning, like my chest ripped open and the universe is spilling out. It’s a feeling not like the crying bursts that have been spotting my weeks lately but more like a slowly expanding, dense weight.

The man in front of me has been on the phone most of the time, concerned about “Rita” and her vitals and who will be where during visitation hours. I am happy I am not him. I rattle through my new bag of prescriptions and take two–one for infection and one for pain. The noise of the crisp paper bag alerts him and he wheels around, phone to ear, and we lock eyes as I throw the pills down my throat, only breaking eye contact to tilt my head back and swallow half a bottle of water. He gives me a look that says he is glad he is not me and turns forward in his seat again.

Passing all these small towns with their nice-enough downtowns that no one wants to hang out at after sunset and the slow life of small diners and old gas stations reminds me of home. So many places remind me of home, though the definition of “home” is unclear to me. Some ambiguous, amalgamation of memories from separate times and places but no snap shot image and no specifics. It’s freeing and it’s sad. I am anxious to get off the train.

Train rides force you to slow down and digest your thoughts. I’ve been a jumbled mess but begin sifting as the rail-car grudgingly shattles along. We pass a hundred graffitied love exclamations, “Drew loves Charlotte!”, “Hannah and Amy Forever”, a one lonesome “Will you marry me?” on a the shell of a crumbling bridge. I wonder if Drew still loves Charlotte, if marriages have a weight limit like bridges do. I take another pain pill.

My own examples of love make me a skeptic. Until recently, I thought jealous spurts and tough love and harsh criticism meant someone cares for you, so much so they couldn’t even contain themselves and exploded out of their routine and personality to show you. Past relationships, although unsuccessful, have proven that I respond to that type of attention. After years of pouring love into empty, broken vessels, one starts to feel empty and broken, too. What do we do with all the love we’ve made? Cultivate it like infant seedlings? Tuck it in ripe soul and tenderly wait, pulling weeds as necessary? The issue here is that with beginner gardeners, green thumbs aren’t easy and the ability to single-handedly kill a garden is hereditary, passing down through generations. The issue is that we see green and we think growth, not knowing weed from fruit and not being able to see beneath the soil a war of roots and the fight for energy and space. But, I want to learn.

Metaphors aside, I grew my first tomato plant this summer, those first 2 ripe, robust red bulbs meant so much.

So, what I know of trains and love is that I know nothing about trains or love. But I am infinitely curious and excited to start finding the beauty in the mundane again.