Ankle-Grabbed

mom pulling me back

A GIF of my adolescence

Usually I’m not this late with my blog post, but I’ve been doing some major “change my life” sort of work (it’s going to be months of this, to basically be better able to get what I want from life).

This week, it required me to dig into my life for my greatest successes and failures.

Even though I don’t want to dwell on this part, I need to state that I do not feel at all successful, at least in the ways I desire to. Some of my successes were about friendships and relationships. One of them was learning how to swim at age 26. One of them should have been that I kept myself from sleeping in my car while I was homeless.

Coming up with a list of failures was harder than I thought it would be, but through examining those failures (losing cars and housing and jobs), I saw a theme underneath of constriction.

It was something I had focused on as a teenager. I had been turned down three times to go travel with my classmates or youth group members. Every rejection from my parents was heartbreaking.  And then it was waiting to go to college. Then I tried to figure out study abroad when I was in the throes of a deep depression.

Although I have since traveled to Montreal and Puerto Rico, my passport remains unstamped, and I only got one in 2014 when I thought I’d be traveling to Vancouver while I was in Seattle.

Going through this process got really painful when I got to my last failure, which was my forced gap year. It may be unfair to call it a failure–it was out of my control. But I recalled talking to the Dean of Admissions who personally called me to ask me where I was.

I remember taking the call in the kitchen, listening to the Dean’s deep and well, sexy, voice, and having to ask for a delay in admission. I don’t remember if I explained that I was living with a crazy paranoid father. But I did remember the shame and heartbreak of that moment. I felt myself shrinking into an abyss that seemed escapable.

But from my most painful “failure,” came my most meaningful success so far. Graduating college took 8 years, door-to-door.

If I could make it through that, I thought, I could make it through anything.

And then I made it through a lot more of “anything.” I’m sitting in the middle of “anything” right now.

It was sobering to remind myself of what I have accomplished as successes and have overcome as “failures.” I was able to reframe the failures, but the past two days of doing this, I feel very emotionally raw and spent. Couple that with being 40 and already feeling a bit underutilized for my talents, unseen, and generally misunderstood, there’s a lot of tenderness that my soul is experiencing right now.

And I honor it completely. I earned the compassion and grace that I’m giving myself.

So as a teenager, and definitely now, I feel like this above GIF. At first it was my parents grabbing my ankle when I was desiring to explore my world. And I will never fully know why.

Trips to New Orleans and Paris were allegedly too expensive, and a missions trip with my youth group and our youth pastor before he moved away–that came at the same time as my mother’s trip back to Ghana. So I was forced to be the lady of the house without much thanks or compensation.

But now it’s…”circumstances.” I’ve probably said this before, but I’m a problem that you could throw money at and I’d be solved. I’m sure many of us feel that way.

This current frustration of constriction could eat me alive if I allowed it to. I have to make my world very small so I can get through the day–fight constriction with constriction! It’s one of the sad side effects of living in the moment.

Tonight, astrologically, and astronomically, we’re going to have a new moon (at 9:57 pm EDT). It’s in enterprising Aries, the zodiac sign who definitely know what “I am” feels like.

my whole life

I am this GIF

This new moon will be in my 4th house of family and home. It’s serendipitous and timely that I am exploring my past and how a lot of it does relate to how my parents held me back for so long, even after I left home.

I’ve been through my therapeutic paces for most of my adult. And I’m grateful that I’m not sitting here stewing in anger. There are the occasional burps of pain, like what I’m experiencing tonight, but I don’t even hold them in contempt…or much of anything at all.

I’m not holding this over my parents anymore, yet I can’t say I’ve forgiven them, either. Forgiving narcissists seems like a waste of energy. I’m not seeking justice from them, though–or anyone, really.

There’s a steely acceptance of my life, which includes not having a family that really supports me, a lack of a local community, and a very tenuous housing situation. All of this I’ve had to embrace over the past 4 years which has pulverized me into a pile of humbled dust.

But what if what is really holding me back is the fear is that my miserable situation, in this unholy house, is permanent?

Is this all there is? Subsistence?

Maybe my family of origin is pretty much set. But what about the rest of my life?

I was watching Beyonce’s Coachella this afternoon and I remembered how much I wanted to go to Coachella and other music festivals in my 20s. I wish I had made my whole life devoted to the enjoyment of music so I could have put all my extra money towards going to those shows.

And I’ve gone to a lot of shows. But I wanted to go to so many more.

I had also wanted to become a doctor for most of my life. That was my obsession. My 30s involved a major course correction of my whole life, which included stopping trying to pick up a stethoscope and picking up the pen.

So now, my whole life seems to be about embracing the numinous, which is wonderful. I actually have no regrets about this development, per se. Spiritually, I feel like it’s miraculous that I ended up here at all, but I am 100% in the right place.

My parents may have been able to curtail my travels, but they weren’t able to stand in the way of my soul growth. Many times, they aided in it, for better and for worse.

So what now?

For this new moon, I want to plant seeds for a new home and family. My life seems to be pointing towards that, even if I have no idea of how I will get there and who will be there waiting for me.

There’s also this urgency to shed these old skins of shame and disappointment, to stand firmly within my truest self, to own all parts of my ragamuffin raconteur’s life.

I am whole.

It’s true–I have missed out on some amazing experiences, especially ones with my friends. And they were denied for the pettiest, most selfish reasons. It’s been a phantom pain I’ve carried for decades, my souvenirs of shame that I’m sure more people don’t even know I have.

There have been so many delays and setbacks for rites of passage that should have been straight shots–all wrapped up in bewilderment and frustration.

Why does everything take so fucking long?

So now, I desperately want to start over, and not carry any of the heartache and suffering I’ve accumulated for the past 40 years.

I moved from Birmingham to Chicago and brought my family issues.

I moved from Chicago to Orlando and brought my community issues.

Wherever I end up next, I don’t want to bring any latent issues.

Instead, I want to bring the gifts I’ve been cultivating my whole life: perseverance, wisdom, kindness, gratitude, curiosity, mirth, wonder, warmth, and an unyielding, penetrating love.

I want my life to be radically different than it’s been.

Uranus is conjunct, or right next to, the moon in Aries tonight, so I am feeling the urgency to be unconventional.

Part of that unconventionality is looking back at the good and the bad and seeing those threads of redemption that have held my seemingly disparate parts together.

So for now, I hold myself in a loose and cool shawl of gratitude. I’ve made it this far and that’s nothing to take for granted.

I have a lot of hope for this week and this year, that I can finally have my little monkey paw released so I can explore the rest of the tree and the rest of this world.

Ah, but still, that nagging fear that I’ll be stuck again…it’s nipping at my heel…and I’m not sure if my fears are founded anymore.

So all I can do is try, and keep trying, until I’m set free.

Here’s a song from Sarah McLachlan that seems to be my anthem for this year and maybe my life. It’s from her latest album, Shine On.

And here is the chorus, which really sums it all up for me.

If this is love beside me
I’m working on forgiveness
Laying the past down behind me
Letting go the ways that I’ve been hurt
Let the rivers rise and rage
I’ll try to stand with grace
If everything is love

As Aries season comes to a close this week, I hope you have been able to find your “I am.”

I hope with this new moon tonight and throughout this week, you can plant seeds of truer self-expression and self-care, that you can also shed your old, withered skins of shame, that you can more fully embrace, with a deep confidence, the fierceness and beauty who you are.

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happiness quite unshared

 

happiness quite unshared SOM

For the longest time, I’ve tried to adapt to the lack of human connection I’ve had while living in Florida. And for the longest time, I thought it was my “fault.”

Giftedness: The Plexiglas Wall

I had a mostly written blog post about how one of the burdens of being a gifted person is the existential loneliness that comes with not being able to connect with people. But it was the wrong path, for many reasons. So I’m starting afresh.

For one thing, it wasn’t a problem I had as a child, even up until high school. I felt loved by and connected with my friends. Friendship seemed to happen so easily.

But maybe the plexiglas wall of giftedness started to appear in high school, where I really wasn’t connecting with people. Being a teenager is tough anyway–you’re surrounded by people who want you to pledge loyalty while they don’t even know themselves yet.

I was bullied by my own friends near the end of my time there. So after the exclusion and isolation I experienced in high school, I moved over 900 miles away and went to college in Chicago where I found other gifted people.

I felt at home. I felt accepted. The plexiglass wall disappeared It was easy to share big ideas and the idiosyncrasies such as being intense about everything that the mainstream world deemed too weird to accept.

I thought the real world would be like this.

It wasn’t. It was tougher to keep and maintain relationships. Part of that is due to my giftedness, but part of that is what it’s like to be an adult. They don’t teach you how to create lasting friendships in high school and college–which is maybe why networking events feel so forced and inauthentic.

Lately I’ve been saying that I regret not getting my Mrs. degree because it would have been so much easier to find a like-minded man. The way my life transpired, there was no way I could have accomplished this (mainly financial woes and subsequent clinical depression), but I still feel like that.

Churched and Unchurched

During and after college, I belonged to a few faith communities in Chicago (six in over 15 years). But after reading Divided by Faith, I started my exit out of church

The book showed me showed me the toxic stew that I had been slowly boiling in as a black woman and that white evangelicalism had actually been eroding my sense of self for years, even back when I was a teenager.

So I left–and that’s what going to a Baptist church plus reading theology books will do to you. It’s a shift that I’m still getting used to. It’s not easy to just let it all go and to learn how to find friends outside of a church context.

Church has a baked-in social system, as probably most spiritual and faith communities have when you meet regularly together. That was all I knew, from birth until I was in my early 30s. I didn’t have to think about it. Through our faith, we could bond.

But white supremacy never really let that happen. There have been so many crazy episodes with people, mainly and especially in one church, and the real culprit is racism.

And even if it isn’t obtuse and obvious, it’s the subtle edging you out of opportunities, the gradual getting closer to others. It can make you think that it’s something you’re doing wrong.

Around this time, I learned a lot about giftedness from my friend who was in a master’s program for gifted education. I finally understood that my intensity about life wasn’t appreciated outside of my childhood and outside of college.

Before those conversations with my friend, because the church I was attending was so unhealthy and immature and rife with people who just want to get along to get along, I really thought I was going crazy, that there was something clinically wrong with me.

Clearly, all this feedback of rudeness, of attacks, of accusations of being needy and using others–clearly, that was all my fault.

Nope, that was white supremacy, and these incidents all involved white women. I had no problem with black women and other women of color.

So after many close friends moved south and west, I felt like I needed to the same and follow my passion for writing into grad school. It was time for a new scene.

Maybe I could shake up what seemed to be a growing isolation as people started to get married and have children.

A Dream Deferred

Moving to Florida has been the most disappointing and life-changing thing I have ever done. It was the spiritual growth spurt that I clearly needed, and it has come from a fertile yet fetid compost heap of loss.

It’s a story I keep repeating, because it was supposed to be a story of redemption, of triumph–and it is, just not in the way that I expected.

I came looking for a tribe. That’s how grad school is sold–these will be your people, forever and forever.

What I got instead was an education in how my proximity to whiteness was going to be obliterated. Even with the problems I had in church–which may have been the coming attractions for grad school–I thought that being armed with self-knowledge and an open mind would be enough.

Nope. I had never really learned that whiteness and white supremacy really weren’t things to be close to. My assimilation into dominant culture ended when I wasn’t friends with the main clique of my cohort. And then the subsequent ostracization was by my own hand, too–albeit accidentally.

Long story short: I had been blogging about my experiences in becoming a writer. I wrote about my classes and classmates. I posted them in an open Facebook group, which is the stupidest thing to have (ironic sidenote: this was a group of gifted people who seemingly aren’t that smart about basic things like privacy–I’m still kind of mad about this).

Classmates found out, read the hell out of my blog (and as a writer, it’s hard not to be a little proud of that). One wrote me a nasty, sanctimonious Facebook message that, in retrospect, was probably a bit racist.

What a boomerang of a bummer–I was ostracized from my cohort even more than I already was.

All through that excruciating time, Spirit/the Universe/God was speaking loudly through repeated numbers and this crazy twin flame situation with a guy in my program that began my second year (I kind of loathe that term, but that’s exactly what happened).

I can confidently say that I’m on the spiritual journey that I am on now. I know that if things had gone well, I don’t know if I would have reached the spiritual depths that I needed to for healing, for building a new personal foundation.

And even writing about that time, it’s just now dawning on me that I’ve been holding myself back because of the shame. Meanwhile, the same shit I was reporting about, the racism and sexism, mostly continued (though one guy did stop his talking over women!).

Still, all of these people went on with their lives. They weren’t held back by my words. I bet no one really learned anything from my experiences. Some did worse things than me and still enjoyed the fellowship of the cohort.

So why am I holding myself back? Why am I not forgiving myself? Yes, it’s wrapped up in the deferred dream of finding a writing community. That dream endured a painful death, and I’m still grieving it a bit.

Would I have really wanted to have that fellowship, besides how it would have helped academically?

Adventures in Instability

And after grad school, yes–more poverty and isolation along with my last experience in church, which was more of a last-ditch effort to get some help as I slipped into homelessness.

Yet it really drove home that even I go to church and am a member, I had to be at a certain level of stability that being an underemployed writer could not afford me. It even helped to send me into the arms of an abusive church member who raised the rent on me after my first week moving in with her. Even that was more like two friends were tired of me living with them rent-free because before that, I had been bouncing around Airbnb.

It was just domino after domino falling against me: lost thesis advisor, extended semester, lost job, lost home, lost car, couldn’t stay in the choir I was a part of, couldn’t hold onto the friends I made in church and at work.

And this was where my last blog post started, where I was looking back at all the people I had known, wondering why I couldn’t hold onto them.

I do forget about giftedness, about my intensity, about how most people are just not going to get it. I know that I tire most people out with all the thoughts I have, and with the intensity in which I express them.

But wow, I have been through it. And there are waves of self-compassion that have yet to reach my shore. But others, especially this year, have been able to extend life-changing grace, even if it’s just for a moment.

Yet the past still has some things to say.

Last week, this woman I knew in Chicago years, popped up on LinkedIn, hoping to connect. I was so annoyed with her as a person. She was this flaky, overly chatty person that somehow, people found charming.

And, it finally occurred to me that it was probably because she was white.

She and I were in the same Bible study and had the same close friends. She eventually moved away to North Carolina, where she still is–as some insurance person.

I never had really unpacked these feelings of resentment until I thought about this mutual friend we had, this cute ginger allergist, and how they would hang out–and how he and I would not.

I’m usually not “that woman” over men–well, especially lately because the current new cycle is a reminder. But there was a bit of a crush–nothing intense–for both of us, but somehow, he really liked hanging out with her. I was always mystified by the obvious answers evading me.

Why her? Why not me?

I recently vented to a friend about her, even though I thought I was just going to give more details of the subtweets I had made. It was revelatory and liberating.

Even though that has a lot to do with race and bias, it’s along the same lines of my frustration with my inability to authentically connecting with people–and maybe that’s why the now tended-to wound felt so fresh.

It’s like, what do I have to do, who do I have to be to have my human need for connection be met?

Too Broke to Care

With all I’ve gone through just in Florida–the horrible grad school experience, the subsequent poverty, the housing instability with its usurious rents and scary roommates, and the forced journey into freelancing–why can’t I cut myself some damn slack?

There were so many circumstances outside of my control that were not conducive to trying to put roots here, to finding people who made me feel safe, online or offline.

Those circumstances matter.

Even though 2017 hasn’t been that kind–my room flooded, I lost my car again, I am dealing with an inconsiderate housemate, and I have no consistent local friends–I’m now a little more financially stable enough to feel again, and that really only truly started happening in August–through a friend.

And by feel, I mean that I can feel a whole range of emotions besides anxiety and dread.

I can feel angry about a flaky woman who was buddies with someone who had no interest in being buds with me.

I can stop beating myself up for a mistake that happened years ago.

I can allow myself to be sad about a relationship that seems to have stalled or evaporated.

I can also be OK with desiring to have my own community again.

I’m not a social pariah nor undeserving nor too imperfect nor “too much” of anything to be fully emotionally supported by people.

All of that takes energy, even to say that, let alone feel that. When you are too stressed out with trying to work or finding work, your emotional landscape feels like a vacation home instead of your real home. It’s like you’ve shoved yourself into one corner of your being.

It’s easier to blame yourself because it’s easier to fix yourself than a culture that doesn’t really value longevity or discomfort–because for true relationships to thrive for a long time, you can’t avoid the discomfort of being human and fallible.

Happiness Truly Is Other People

I started to crawl out of this hole of self-blame and shame when I read this article from the New York Times, “Happiness Is Other People.”

A friend had shared that link on Twitter, a friend that I had a life-changing tarot reading from, marking a notable shift in my life. So after being caught in a whirlpool of self-doubt, that article was a lifeboat sent to rescue me.

Although it didn’t change my circumstances, it did change my perspective. It’s not that I’m (just) too much or somehow unworthy. American society is isolative and individualistic, and thus, inhumane.

Like me, like so many of us, I had been fighting against this tide. I kept reaching out and losing my grip on the people I cared about.

In the dance of relationship, it always takes two, but so many of us are not ready for that sort of intimacy, for that sort of accountability.

It seemed when my friend tweeted that link out, all the lights came on. Another friend had been saying similar things.

Yet another friend, who has been the MVP in my life lately, reminded me that the path of self-improvement is typically a lonely one, and that people–Americans–are typically self-absorbed or self-involved.

It was a confluence of answers, from three trusted women, all saying to me:

Baby, it’s not you.

All throughout my adult life, I’ve had to cut and run from so many people and places that have been harmful to me. It’s not that I wanted to. But things end, for a number of reasons, including abuse and neglect.

Sometimes, it’s just that people grow up and apart. Sometimes, the long fingers of time start to fray the bonds between us.

And then, we just slip from each other.

So as someone who has lost a lot of connections to others, it always, deep down, made me marvel when spiritual guru types talked about self-love and self-care outside of the realm of “other people.”

Yet, I really tried this approach during grad school, to be self-sustaining–which made it easier to write about all that was going wrong, including about the people who were making it go wrong.

I didn’t feel connected to them. I needed people to help support through grad school, but it wasn’t going to be them–which doubly crushed me.

Self-care itself isn’t about living in a vacuum. When I learned about self-care, it was as a social worker 13 years ago. It was to make sure you were not serving others from an empty well.

I would never choose the path I’m currently on. It is painful and humiliating and lonely a lot of the time.

So I, too, long for comfort and convenience. I’m American, after all.

But really, what I want is a launchpad, a home base–and a people with a shared history.

It helps, oh so much, to have people remind you of where you’ve come from, of where you’re going–especially when you get disoriented and lost in hopelessness and despair.

It’s also about sharing successes. When I got my first real contract as a freelancer, I took myself out to dinner. There was no one to celebrate that win with. There’s no one here who knows all the struggles I went through to get that contract, to get that deposit, to get that work.  My self-satisfaction felt empty and hollow without anyone, in person, to reverberate the joy and relief I was feeling.

On a spiritual level, it’s hard to create any sense of roots or stability when everyone is off creating their own inner journeys. As someone who is heavily introverted and reflective, eventually I want to share what I’ve learned and learn from others.

I want to freely share my happiness and sorrow, like I used to.

It’s still tough to fully accept that there isn’t much I can do except to keep looking, to lean more on the spiritual support I have–angels and spirit guides. Eventually, I will find all the people, places, and things I am seeking.

So as much as we try to love our whole selves, I believe it’s impossible to do so.

There are parts of ourselves that we can’t fully see or reach that we must see and reach for others. It’s like washing your back or having to be zipped up in a dress. It’s just so much easier to have someone exfoliate your back, your whole back, or to zip your dress up for you.

If we really didn’t need each other, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, and you wouldn’t be reading it.

And, as much shadow work we can do on our own, there is corporate work we must do, to liberate ourselves both individually and collectively.

It can be as simple as sharing a link from the New York Times.

So, as painful and as frustrating as it is, I have to keep reaching out, because that’s what humans do. Humans do need to affirm each other, to give each other approval and support. It’s supported by science.

Sure, I could do bad all by myself, but why should I?

We’re not created to be alone.

Into the Wild and All Alone

Chris McCandless was an adventurer who went into the Alaskan wilderness after college graduation and ended up dying alone in a rusted school bus. He wrote this in a book near his death:

happiness only real when shared

He also underlined this part of Dr. Zhivago:

And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…

Of course, so many people think his free-spirtedness is a source of inspiration. But he did eventually want to go back to civilization after being out in the Alaskan bush for almost 4 months by himself.

I don’t think McCandless was wayward, either. Who knows what was really in his mind besides the journals he had. He had barely lived at age 24. It’s been 25 years since his death.

What haunts me about the movie, Into the Wild, and his life is that he had to go to the edge of nothing and everything to find that he really did need people. Maybe that’s being too reductionist or essentialist. Bu it saddens me that he died so tragically to find an answer he didn’t have to leave the world behind to find.

So that’s where I am, where I always was. I could go off into the world alone to find new adventures and people and places and things, but what’s the point of it outside of my own self-satisfaction? It’s so much richer to have those experiences shared with people who I love and who love me.

I won’t be ashamed for being a social animal.

I won’t be ashamed for wanting connection.

I won’t be ashamed for reaching out.

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