A friend once asked if I’ve ever considered myself to be depressed. The question left me mildly irritated, both with my immediate defensiveness and how she had inadvertently categorized my flaws with ease, felt like I had ticked all the right boxes to warrant a particular diagnosis.
I remember a summer I was forced to see a counselor for cutting myself. I’d spend every Wednesday afternoon on her couch, sat there in stony silence as she poked and prodded, like I was a lab specimen, tried to coax a response so that I could be labeled and medicated. The more she tried, the more stubborn I was in my resolve to stay silent. Why are you doing this she asks me gently, patronizingly. By this she had meant acting out. To her it was simply a pattern of behavior that needed to be corrected. Perhaps this was an assumption I had projected but I couldn’t help it. There is a distinct assumption that the act of cutting is inherently a cry of attention and this exasperated me. It belittled my emotions, made me feel like my pain had been fabricated.
The truth was, I was unable to excavate my own truth beneath the layers of discomfort and shame, how my body carried that burden of pain as a physical manifestation because I could not pinpoint its source. The scars were a visible record of the dull throbbing of sadness that clouded my periphery, something I had instinctually wanted to protect and keep private, but the lines on my wrists had betrayed me. They revealed a darker underbelly of hurt and loneliness that I was reluctant to share with words. I detested being forced to talk about it. I felt like an admission of any kind would be the ultimate sign of defeat.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a piece I read recently by Leslie Jamison that referred to many writers in particular as “wound dwellers.” For some reason, the phrase stuck with me. It implies a gratification from reveling in our pain, because they offer a temporary comfort, cushioning our own self-destruction. For a time I had cut because I didn’t know how to articulate the gnawing sensation of sadness inside of me. And now I’ve substituted one medium for another. Replaced razors for words.
• 12 September 2013
i am trying to love you
We are standing on a cobbled street under a flimsy umbrella trying to figure our way back to the hotel when a lady comes up to us, her clothes are brown and frayed at the edges and she has a tiny baby wrapped around her body like a prune. She is barefoot; there is rainwater pooling around her ankles. Without hesitating I reach for my purse in search of loose change. “Don’t” you say gripping my wrist tightly, your face stoic. “They’ll all come around asking for more.” you say. “And what’s so wrong with that? With wanting to give.” I retort. I am aware of how syndicates worked and yet I couldn’t stop my desire to help when I could, hated the ways in which you wanted to control my decisions for me. Your short fuse and my stubbornness eventually escalates into a fight. I resented the ways you viewed my earnestness as naïveté. How I traipsed through life with open palms, while you build fences when you could.
When we get back to the hotel you beckon me, muster up some weary tenderness. “I’m sorry,” you say nudging my arm half-heartedly. I am reminded of how when I was little I used to jam in a puzzle piece that wouldn’t fit, adamantly trying.
I swallow my tiredness. I keep on trying.
• 19 August 2013
In class I am told to draw from my own experiences when writing, so they come across as more realistic. For a time, this becomes my crux - I am unable to carve out characters without elements of truth, parts of myself that are carefully concealed as fiction. When I tried drawing solely from my imagination, the words lost their pallor, became lifeless and unrelatable on the page. For a while I stopped writing simply because I couldn’t – not without exposing parts of myself that I was unwilling to share. The idea of putting my feelings out there to be subjected to judgment was terrifying. It left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. As I struggled to pen my emotions in earnest, I grew afraid my work would be written off as being “too sentimental”.
In the process of growing up we have learned that it was “cool” to stay apathetic, to rely on cynicism as mask and view our own softness as naïveté, that would perhaps in some way, undermine our intelligence. Irony triumphed sincerity. It is this inherent fear as women, that our feelings would be discredited as being overtly emotional and artificial. In our quest to appear strong and independent we have been quick disqualify our own struggles and pain, dismiss the heart in favor of the mind.
But still - we do this with an innate desire to connect, the most basic of human impulse. We want to feel things. And we want the acknowledgement of others. In the midst of our cynicism, we want our heartfelt declarations to matter. At the crux of it, we continue to hope for wonder, hunger for words that express our sensitivity that will trigger an unequivocal response of tenderness instead of mockery. And we should cherish it when it does.
• 26 July 2013
"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
Albert Camus, The Stranger
• 19 July 2013
"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”
Dorris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
• 17 June 2013