Beginnings and Boundlessness: 2017 in the Rearview

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You’ve never been good at endings. Never good at beginnings. Real ones, at least, not the abstract construct that is the end of one year and the beginning of another. December 31st bleeds into January whether we want it or not, regardless. Time marches endlessly on, and suddenly it’s the last week of this new year and you haven’t written your annual letter to yourself. How to begin to talk about a year characterized more by discomfort than almost anything else? How to make sense of a year under siege–not so much bodily siege maybe, as the privilege limned into your skin is indisputable–in which boiling vats of ugliness are poured on our heads daily, spilled straight from the mouths of politicians seemingly intent on annihilation, vitriol heated by centuries of racism and structurally-sanctioned white supremacy? How do you characterize a year in which the political has been sublimated into the personal, but where you still struggle to find a way to be an effective ally and a bastion against the tides of unmaking that threaten so many people you love and so many that you have no connection with other than shared humanity? You struggle to find a way, but then feel that you’ve accomplished nothing. Is that struggle good enough?

If nothingness is the absence of action, of consciousness, then that is not what you’re doing. You entered a Women’s Studies grad program with the explicit intention of finding a way to be a part of change. So far you’ve only found enough questions to bury yourself in, questions that don’t even pretend to lead to answers. But you have had to contend with the discomfort of recognizing previously held truths to be products of privilege and in need of scrutiny. You’ve had to acknowledge that sometimes your voice is one that should be sacrificed so that another more marginalized voice can be heard. You’ve come to understand how harmful and alienating white feminism has been and continues to be and how important it is that you do better and stop contributing to the very problems you claim to stand against. You’re only a quarter of the way through the program. You can only work as hard as you can, sit with the discomfort that comes from acknowledging your own ignorance, and take every opportunity that presents itself. You have to believe it will lead to something.

In the meantime, be content with the process, with the more sedentary shape your life has fallen into for now, one in which you spend a lot of time disheveled, bespectacled, resplendent in sweaters and leggings, with a cup of tea and whatever you’re supposed to be reading for class (and sometimes for fun if you can swing it).

In the vein of sitting with discomfort, you’ve continued with roller derby which continues to make you feel simultaneously powerful and like a wrecking ball gone haywire. Transferring to another, larger team in San Diego, where the level of some of the players is sometimes so intimidating that you have to almost coerce yourself into showing up, was a big move. Rationally, you know that you will continue to get better and one day be a great skater, but you have to show up. You have to be willing to be bad at this in the hopes of being good one day… or at least less bad.

The end of the year has been characterized by an almost overwhelming feeling of not having control over your life, of being moved by forces more powerful than you. Obligations to school and state, time spent navigating bureaucratic tangles, have forced you to spend time you would have rather saved. Being there for that most precious person in your life as she literally straddled the bounds of life and death, protecting those who needed it, fighting the same old family battles, has taken so much energy but it is energy well-spent. These are the relationships that matter, the people that have shaped you and nurtured you and helped make you who you are. Don’t despair when it seems like progress is being dismantled or those you love are weakened. Celebrate the incredible luck of having these people in the first place. No one said love was easy or straightforward. Besides the love you feel for your family, nurture this new love you’ve found with the man who has shown you how to be vulnerable again, how to create space for another. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t run away when you see darkness on the horizons, don’t listen to the voice that says it’s useless and a waste of time. That is the voice of the scared, small part of you that is so afraid of pain. This love is worth sticking around for.

In this last year, you’ve moved cities, switched derby teams, gone back to school, started a new job, and once again removed yourself from the little bubble of comfort that grew around you during the year and a half you stayed in one place. It has been profoundly difficult in many ways, but it has reinforced that you are capable of anything. You have learned again and again that if you put the effort out, if you try, things can happen that you never could have foreseen. That’s why you need to apply that to writing. You’ve spent so long sitting with your desire to write, so sure that no one will value it enough to ask for it or pay for it that not only have you never put it out there (aside from on personal blogs) but you’ve held back on the very act of writing. When you think of how you want to spend your life, what do you come back to over and over and over again? When you think about how you’re most effective in talking about what matters to you, is it in speaking or in writing? When you have time for yourself, what are you most likely to spend it doing?

You have to listen to yourself. You have to try. You might fail. There’s a good chance you will fail–at least as long as the bar for success is set at money and public acknowledgement. But the biggest failure–and you  know it–will be in never having tried. This year you have started new things over and over again and it has been hard. Each time you began to feel comfortable, you started something else and that feeling was ripped away again, exposing rawness to uncaring elements. Sometimes it has felt pointless. But you can’t deny that each new thing has brought something to your life. Each risk you’ve taken has revealed something new about yourself and about what you are capable of experiencing. Make that fucking choice and stick with it.

I love you. I’m proud of you. I believe in you.

My Life Off the Road: Reflecting on 2016

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2017, goddamn. It’s the beginning, again, although lately you’ve felt little that is new. It feels rather as if this is something of a middle–the middle of what being the only question. If this were a book, we might be nearing climax, but still far from the resolution. The New Year really is nothing more than an arbitrary cusp of time created to break things down into small enough pieces that our little human minds can understand them, and yet somehow it still feels meaningful. Like the tone needs to be set, or the rest of the year will be a mess. Like life is, generally. A mess of options and decisions to be made, of relationships to be nurtured or set loose, of words to swallow and actions to take.

You’ve been feeling lost and unsure, and very much in need of some self-love. You’ve been focusing on the negative, on your proximity to failure, but you have so much to be thankful for, and so many things you’ve done look like a raging success to others who dream of doing what you’ve done–of living abroad, of traveling far and wide, of having the time and the freedom to create yourself in your own image. This woman whose creation is continually being molded by the world, by the people who love her, and by her very own will is beautiful and worthy and well-made. Remember what you’ve been given, and what you’ve earned for yourself. Try to see yourself as clearly as you can.

Regardless of your proximity to other people’s idea of failure, think of the things you’ve done this year. You’ve worked tirelessly to pay off your credit cards (so close, now). You joined a roller derby team, something you’ve dreamed of for years, putting you face to face with one of your biggest weaknesses–the reluctance to do things that you’re not good at. You even hurt yourself in your first practice, adding insult to injury. But once you healed, you went back. You didn’t give up. You didn’t tuck tail and pretend that you didn’t really care. Skating has lit a fire deep down inside you, in a place that has been dark for a while. Cherish that light. Build up the flames until it warms every inch of you. Even if you’re putting yourself in harm’s way. As you well know, injury can come even when we think we’re consummately safe, so do what feels right and good and true. As Charles Bukowski said, “Find what you love, and let it kill you.”

One thing that you’ve struggled with this year is fear and anxiety, in ways you never have before. You’re not a psychologist, but you know it has something to do with how you felt in Ecuador, how you felt when you were mugged, how you felt when men tried to take advantage of you, how you felt when you were, both literally and figuratively, pushed up against a wall without your consent. Don’t focus on that. Focus on what you did in response. Think of how you fought, with your words, with your body. Think of the strength you found within yourself. Even if you smiled and joked after, because you couldn’t admit what almost happened, because you thought that was the safest way out of the situation. Focus on the fact that nothing they did or said or implied dimmed your light even a shade. You burned only brighter. Still, never before have you been so reluctant to touch and be touched. Never before has the very idea of bodily proximity with another person caused you to physically and mentally retreat. But you’ve also never been as in tune with your body as you are now. Perhaps you need to heal and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have all the time in the world and, luckily, you already know that your relationship status has nothing to do with your value or worth. Even if you never wanted to be touched again, it would never make you any less than whole.

You are not failing. But part of you is waiting for your professional dreams to knock on your front door, for someone to recognize that your writing is worth publishing or that your voice is worth listening to or your experience worth sharing. Waiting will never make dreams manifest. You have to put in the work. You have to put yourself out there. You have to set yourself up only to be knocked down, and do this again and again and again and again. One day you will get there. One day you will find that job that makes your heart beat faster and the blood race through your body with passion as its fuel. But not if you don’t try. Not if you continue thinking that maybe you’re not capable of greatness, maybe you’re not as wonderful as those you love think you are. Try, try, try again, even if, in the end, all you have is evidence of effort. At least when you reach back into your past, it won’t be the strangled seedlings of desiccated hopes you hold in your hands.

In many ways, you have felt more vulnerable this year than you can remember feeling since high school. Vulnerability is good. Growth comes from such things. Love your vulnerability as you love that which is strong and confident in you. Don’t wait for inspiration. Dedicate time to your art, and be surprised by what you create. You don’t usually do resolutions, but here’s one: do something creative every day. Whether it’s working on your lettering, or writing (even if it’s just a sentence), or cooking, or dancing. If you’re creating something out of nothing, you’re succeeding.

Work to keep your heart open. You wear your heart on your sleeve, even if you boast the opposite. Only it’s not the heart of epic romance or fairy tales–or at least not the heart of the fair damsel. Your heart speaks of stormy seas and lonely woods, of paths with no end in sight, of fireplaces and books and star-spilled skies. It seeks no twin but rather the fulfillment of its own self. You shouldn’t want it any other way.

Maybe you’ll never have a lot of money. Maybe you’ll never live alone. Maybe you’ll never be able to stop making lists of what needs to be paid for, but also, maybe, you’ll be happy and secure and content in all the ways that matter. Maybe this empty, flat midland you feel yourself in now is just something that needs to be crossed in order to reach the magnificent future that awaits you just beyond the horizon. Keep moving forward, even if only in half-steps. Keep holding yourself up and allow others to hold you up when that feels too heavy a burden.

Do you know that you are loved?

I love you.