May 1, 2021

A persimmon, an agreement, the trap, manipulation/control, what is cosmic

I have this image in my head of your mother pressing a wild persimmon into my hand while I was sitting on the porch in Virginia, talking to a friend on the phone. You and the rest of your family had come outside to play croquet in the field by the penned in coop of chickens. I needed some time alone so I came outside to sit on the porch to read and talk to my friend, while the rest of your played a board game. In the distance, it was storming.

When you all came outside, it occurred to me that you guys might have thought I was being rude by not participating. But I just didn’t feel like it, and besides, over and over again, everyone in your family had always told me I was family, too. I felt safe. I watched you all pick out mallets, chase each other around, laugh, and chit chat. I liked being able to be part of it, without having to be part of it. When my attention went back to my phone call, I saw your mother walk up to me from my periphery. I turned and smiled at her and she smiled back and produced the persimmon. I was still talking on the phone. She put it in my hand, it was tiny and round, like a amber cherry tomato. She was still looking at me as she walked away, smiling, her expression a lure.

We’d been writing letters to each other for the six months leading up to the persimmon — about art, about making a good life, about making family. We found shared threads in our stories. We had a matched enthusiasm for connecting with each other, I made time for it on weekends. She sent me paintings, asked me about my life. I reached deeply into myself to find things to show her, to establish intimacy, to make myself visible. We quickly made a clearing for each other. It was about you, of course, even though we said again and again that it wasn’t about you.

I am still so ashamed of how I acted when I was high on mushrooms on our one year anniversary. I am still scared to see myself high again because of what happened. I was a whirlwind, I became my anger and my fear. I have thought so much about what happens to our brains on psychedelics ever since, about how it is not cosmic, that descent into our psyches. It is just a chemical reaction that removes our guile, our cleverness.

For you, it meant that you could show me honestly for once that our paths were not aligning. (You were protecting yourself and our relationship by pretending they were.) For me, it meant that the entanglement and manipulation I’d exerted to keep you with me became overt. (Did I love you because you made me happy or did I love you because I knew I could control you?) The illusion slipped, and I could not control you, control who you were, what you wanted, and so I became my father, my mother, my brother, melting into awful accusations and attempting to trap you, to bind you to me, over and over again, by humiliating you, by patronizing you, by explaining to you that I had done so much for you, had done so much for our future together, how could you not see that what I wanted was exactly what you should want? How could you not see how much you were hurting me? But I had quietly made these stitches all around you, over the course of our relationship, knowing I could gather the seams when I needed to in order to trap you.

Later, you said I had made you feel so small. Much later, when we were breaking up, you said you felt that in that meltdown you thought I had expressed something of my real self that I did not allow to be seen. I think you meant that it was an expression of my full intelligence and personality. Three months after you are gone, I see you are right, but not in the way you thought you were.

When it all unraveled in Virginia, when I heard your mother berating you in the kitchen that morning after the storm, after the persimmon, saying that you were exactly like your father. When she screamed at me, calling me unkind and rude, shaking, the corners of her mouth drawn down. When your little brother told me that he ended it with his girlfriend because he didn’t like her family. When I had erased all of my emotions and directed my body to go through the motions, hugging your mother’s boyfriend as he just stood there like stone, staring straight ahead coldly. When I heard you screaming at your mother in the driveway, telling her that I was your family now, too, telling her she couldn’t speak to you like that. All I could think of was your mother the previous mornings, generously stocking the fridge at the house, generously making apple spice cake in the morning, generously giving me a cup of coffee in the morning, generously writing to me, generously giving, giving, giving. The persimmon is all I could think of.

I used to believe that falling in love was cosmic, that feeling of seeing someone and knowing. I always imagined releasing myself to the current, allowing greater forces to take over. I was always so angry, felt so victimized when it didn’t work out, when I was left with the same disappointment every time. (I just want you to be happy, you said to me. Will I ever find someone to love me how you have loved me? I said.) Every time, I would point to the trap that I’d worked so tirelessly to lay (instead of being responsible for my present) and declare, actually, it was all someone else’s fault. Is it really more important to me to be safe (to be blameless) than to be happy?

How to convince myself to stop willfully looking in the wrong direction?

How to convince myself that I am safe, that I do not need to seek safety, that there is in fact something better than safety?

How to witness the cosmos, instead, as the universe inside of me, looking out?


September 26, 2019

Abandon, Watchfulness, Fear, The Unexpected, Los Angeles, A Cold

I think of abandon as standing in an open field, like in Austerlitz or in Johnson City, whatever I say or do absorbed readily into the air. Feeling vulnerable and alive, choosing to come back to myself in the face of a great expanse of horizon, deep and unknowable.

Lately I think a lot about how to maintain that feeling of expansiveness. In the past, I have been inclined towards watchfulness, seeking out sure bets and rules. But I find that my world constricts in that frame of mind. I have less pleasure, less curiosity. I become manipulative and overbearing. How to comfort that part of me that becomes anxious in chaos? How to validate it without letting it consume me?

In Los Angeles, the sunlight was so consistent, I couldn't keep track of time. I was sick all weekend and the combination of cold medication and relentless golden light made me feel like I was maybe going insane. One night, I accidentally took a dose of long release daytime medication that kept me up, my brain humming anxiously the way it used to during the worst of my insomnia. I have a habit of making impulsive decisions when I am fearful, as a way of getting rid of the fear. But I've come to see that acting from a place of fear does not make me courageous, as I used to think it did.

I could observe, I could be present to myself and continue to pursue the unexpected paths. In Sancerre, I learned that I had to be patient in order to observe the forest come alive. Here, another reminder to stillness, to sit with my fear, to stop fitting my life into a narrative, to be humble in the face of what I don't know.


August 7, 2019

Tarot, The Fool, Letting Go, Aquamarine, Self Validation, Dragon Tattoo

My tarot card reader kept pulling the "Fool" card for me this past Saturday, so I have been thinking lots about what it means to start over, and how starting over means inevitably letting go. Without getting into it, this year has been marked by loss. Not the kind where I had something and woke up one day and didn't have it anymore (though there was some of that, too). Instead, I recognized that so many things I used to believe and identify with were illusions that I'd either created to protect myself, or that I didn't have full knowledge to see through.

I think I should feel liberated, and I do, of course, but I also feel strange. Expansive and opened up, a little listless. I spent the first half of the year on the road turning outwards, then decided to plant myself in New York for July and August, because I became a little homesick. With that stillness came grief. For people in my past, for the person I used to be. I feel I'm in a liminal space now, not yet quite new, the last threads of what was old, just slipping from my grasp.

From this vantage, I sense what I need to let go from my past, the feeling like light on closed eyes. I feel that in order for me to move on, I need to work to let the past go. Not the child, but who the child felt she needed to be. The woman I want to become--I can see she is just ahead of me now.

I've been moved to reflect on all of this so pointedly because I'm planning to get a tattoo in a week and two days. Emma drew it for me, a kind looking dragon, sprawled on its back like a playful cat. I've wanted it for years, but it existed as sort of fantasy until now and as soon as it dawned on me that it is happening, I began to spiral into the obvious sorts of anxieties: what if my tattoo artist screws it up, what if it looks awful on me, what if I hate it, what if it blurs in the future, what if my parents get mad, what if my future is affected by it?

An instinct I can remember ever since I was little: taking the plunge on something I want or like, then desperately wishing I hadn't done it afterwards, trying to find a way out of the consequences of my decision, for no reason except that my own validation wasn't enough. I asked Ma if I could paint my room a bright aquamarine when I was in middle school, she agreed and hired painters to come do it. Then afterwards, I spiraled in a fit of anxiety—counting out all the money I'd saved from my allowance, hoping it'd be enough to hire the painters back to paint the room in the original cream. When I told my mom this, she told me, no. I can't remember what happened after that, but years later, I remember someone saying they liked the color of my room, and my not even registering the color anymore at all.

When I felt frightened of the idea of getting this tattoo, I went for a swim and began to remember that the adventurous path can often be scary, even dangerous—that's part of the adventure. In Sancerre, I saw that it thrills me to choose this path, and that I'm capable of staying alert enough to gauge the danger. I can always walk away. But if all of this is true, then it means that I can also choose to lean into the excitement and thrill of adventure rather than the anxiety of it.

Today I began to think of what it might represent, getting this tattoo, wanting to get it despite the fear and equivocating. Of course it represents all the usual things: impermanence, youth, art. But personally, I feel as though this moment, before I leap into a new kind of self, I want to commemorate it, and also draw a line in the sand. To never go back. I want to go through a ritual, leave with a new body. Commit to that new body. The dragon, it symbolizes who I am, the liminal space that I've tried to make sense of my entire life. It also represents my own power, and my courage to keep going forward.

Emma also reminded me I could buy temporary tattoo paper to try it out on myself before next week. And even when I get to the shop, I can always walk, if it doesn't feel right. No need for blind leaps, I have the tools to make sure it feels good, to not fear seeing.