The Girl on Fire

                                                         

I’ve blogged about being a 20-something probably more times than you all care to read. I’ve done nostalgia posts, issues facing 20-somethings, thoughts from, thoughts for, poetry, you name it. I’ve done as many perspectives and ideas as I can probably muster on a good day and I think probably some more on top of that. but today, today is a day of awakening. Today is the day of heart unrest that had me up all night, fuming, crying, filled with super-heroine leveled frustration. Seriously, had I had just an ounce more caffeine I may have turned into the curvy, sassy half-sister of Elektra. But all comics aside, I have both a blog about me and a blog about life for today. I need to do a brain purge and today just seems to be the day to do it, so here goes. It’s probably going to be verbose, it may be a little biased and it most definitely will be emotionally charged and opinionated. That is my waiver statement and you all have been alerted as such.

I’m a teller of stories. Each time I go to write something, say something, think about something, it is always a story. I try to look at all the sides of an issue, even if I’m vehemently against it, for the sake of the story. I want to know the truth. That’s what’s supposed to set us free, right?

           

This past week I’ve looked at more SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) cases and political blogs, news stories and social media commentaries about social issues than I probably ever have. It started out as a paper assignment for one of my classes and turned into a passion fueled quest. But as it would turn out, the thing I love is also the thing I hate. You see, the more stories I read, or cases I analyzed (depending on the moment), the more I found that moment where I knew this was something I was passionate enough about to make into a career. But then after a couple hours of stewing, it was those same things that made me sickeningly depressed. I’ve never experienced something like that. And so, I found myself in the loop of highs and lows that although is not unfamiliar to me, was altogether too much.

It went on like this for about a week, as I said, spending my days in class and reading the things then coming home, doing more homework and letting the issues sit on the back burner. Then I would spend the nights crying, because my heart was so heavy with the injustices that I saw that day. My husband, who is well-accustomed to my emotional outbursts was the greatest of help (no sarcasm!) and I woke each day with a renewed vengeance to attack these case reviews and articles and such with fervor. The cycle just repeated itself. By Sunday (yesterday), I found myself in such a great need for a restoration of my faith in humanity that I decided to watch A Walk to Remember. Little did I know that a.0 my faith would not be restored by that movie alone and b.) I was going to spend the night awake and crying and telling my husband about how much the world hurts my heart. I think I’ve gotten such crappy sleep this past week that I’m running on fumes and that’s literally forcing me to remain in this depression cycle.

So. I want to discuss some of the things here that I did with my husband yesterday/last night.

1. I want to be a diplomat, but I sometimes feel like it’s a lost cause. How can I seek to help people if I cannot even help myself? A: By knowing myself, I will be able to help myself and therefore help the other people.

2. How can I be a diplomat from the “greatest country ever” if we’re so oppressive here? And although we are not the MOST oppressive, how can we be the best if we aren’t the best, you know? A: By making “here” live up to its potential.

3. Why have we come so far only to move backwards? We are oppressing college students with debt, women, different ethnicities, different beliefs, different lifestyles. Don’t believe me? Look at the Ke$ha case, the case in Georgia about LGBT discrimination, the social media stories about Muslim discrimination, the way police officers are treated nationally, look at my post about college debt. And don’t get me started on the Flint, Michigan issue. A: Because people don’t understand the full effect of their decisions. That’s what I can help.

4. If I’ve been doing this research for a week, and am depressed about it, how can I expect to do it for the next 40 or 50 years? A: See below.

                                                        

And really, I’m going to stop it there because the questions just unravel in a fit of hysteria. And no, dear readers, I don’t think you need to answer these questions, but I’d be more than willing to hear your thoughts. I supplied some answers, but they’re obviously shallow ones. As I’m sure you can guess, I’m spending so much time thinking about these questions that homework is starting to bleed through and I’ve become incredibly opinionated about all that is going on. I’m taking some politically based classes this semester (thus the assignment and the bleed through) but you know, I never expected that I would become emotionally invested.

And I guess that’s where I will leave for today. I’ve always viewed my emotions and attachment to ideas as a negative aspect of myself. Like that was my big flaw, the thing that could be the very ruination of all I’ve worked so hard for. I have done my best to hide my emotions, treating them as a part of myself that had to be tamed, that I should be embarrassed about. And yet, it is that very thing about me that is pulling me in two very different directions. I am both very concerned for my emotional health doing this job, living this life. But. I am also incredibly excited, incredibly passionate about this subject and I think that’s the one thing that will force me out of bed each morning, striving to make the world I live in a place I can be proud of, where justice prevails and human rights are universal. 

  

The Day I Was Honest

I’ve held onto this post, mostly becuase I couldn’t give it all it deserved. I had to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not entirely sure it’s today, but I think I’ve got a good grip on what I want to say and I think it’s a lovely way to open the new calendar year.
Last semester (and thusly last year) I had a lot going on, as we’ve discussed. I had just transferred to the big city, made new friends, was working on establishing myself in the ways of the world. And I began to blog seriously. I watched this video today of an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith, which I absolutely loved and the idea came bubbling up in the back of my head. That’s why I’ve decided to blog on it today.

In the interview, she was talking about how to balance your life. That’s something I really struggle with. I live too much in the future and not enough in the now. I think about how to fix the problems I may encounter and not so much on how to prevent them. So when she said “focus on yourself. Do what makes you happy.”I really felt like we were approaching a revalation. Her argument was that if you do not find a way to keep yourself in balance, to take care of yourself, you will look to others to do so. You will blame them for sacrificing your entire life for them and not getting happiness out of it. And it blew my mind (metaphorically, of course). 

Now that you’ve had some background info, on to the actual point.

Last semester is by far and away not the first time I’ve had to take sick days. I’ve had bronchitis, strep, the stomach flu and a host of colds throughout my life. But I don’t skip irresponsibly. I take pride in my ability to attend school and work with punctuality and integrity. But last semester was the first time I was honest with myself. As I was crafting my email to my professors for the day, I began to reason out what my excuse for missing class was. Was I suffering from a 24 hour bug? Had I awoken with a flat tire or a low battery? Had I merely slept in? And I realized that I needed to stop kidding myself and respect myself as much as I respected the professors.

 

 

Good morning!

I will not be in class today. I need to take a mental health day and will return to class tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding.

Best,

Michelle BB.

For the first time in my entire life, I used that excuse. I’ve always been ashamed to, like it was some sort of cop-out excuse for being lazy. But it isn’t. And in fact, when I returned the next day, my professors went out of their way to make sure I was alright. Two of them even stopped by the office where I work and made it a point to see if I needed anything. They didn’t see me as a lazy, incompetent student. They saw me as an individual who responsibly needed a day to regroup.

  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at their reactions. Mental health has been quite a large topic lately, and I was taking a bunch of anthropology classes, so they all understand the value of psychobiological health. And as I said, I do not skip irresponsibly. There is always a reason-a real reason. But it got me thinking. How can I stand here (or sit) and tell you all that we need to take steps to mental health help and then be ashamed of the fact that I have to use that reason myself? Why was I ashamed in the first place?

Because it still carries the connotations. I don’t want anyone to see me as weak, unbalanced, incapable. I fight hard for people to see the bright, driven, passionate individual that I am. But I guess I got caught up in being a super heroine, without flaw or needs. And I viewed my own mental health as something along the lines of an excuse to be used as a cover up for the fact that I didn’t have the motivation to do something. That isn’t even the case. But I’m glad I learned that. Because mental health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s a facet of the same diamond. I was scared that my professors would use that against me in the future. But all that happened was me finally letting go of the fear and replacing it with the statement “I have to take care of myself-holistically.” And once I did that, I think I managed to do just that.

  So thank you, Jada Pinkett Smith, for reminding me that I do indeed need to find my balance and stop sacrificing myself away. No one else is responsible for my happiness and health.

What’s My Age Again?

9 December 1992. It was a cold day in December, flurries and snowflakes abounded and as the sun disappeared, a lunar eclipse kissed the moon. In the chill, the bitter cold of night, there was a silence. A single snowflake fell to the ground, having caught the light of the blood red moon, and the world held its breath. Seconds passed, each one bringing the moon closer to the culmination of the eclipse, the tint caressing the moon with no inclination of saying goodbye. And right as the moon shone brightest, a scream rippled through the stark white hospital. The lights were dim, the sounds of Christmas carols humming through the radio and in a flurried rush, as the snowflakes outside the window, a baby was wrapped in a blanket, the jam-like innards having been sucked from her nose, her bottom having been smacked. That child, covered in goop, being rapidly wiped off and swaddled, was me. I came home in a Mickey Mouse shirt, which my mother graciously lets me keep in my clothes drawer with my socks.
My mother was told she could never have kids. I was both a surprise and a blessing (or so my parents tell me). I’m sure they really had no idea just how many surprises were to come to them on my behalf. I’ve been through every emotion and hair color, I’ve grown fond of coffee (if you couldn’t tell), I fell in love with music. I learned to play almost a dozen instruments, I even thought about being a music major in college, even auditioned. We always put the Christmas tree up after (or on) my birthday). And now, I live with my husband and life has changed so much since my earliest memories.

Last year on my birthday, I anxiously awaited the minute I turned 22 so that I could buy the Taylor Swift song. But as I approached this birthday, I realized that finding a “23” song would be much harder. So I began my search. As the title suggests, I found Blink-182 first and then Jimmy Eats World. But that song just wasn’t enough for me. I’m sure my sister would love for me to claim the R5 song “Wishing I Was 23” but I just can’t connect to it either. Next to reach the chopping block was “23” by Shakira. I’m a huge fan of Shak, and I really thought maybe this song would be it. But I kept looking-just in case. And then I landed on “Waiting” by Jamie Campbell Bower. And I think I have my song. 

Being 23 is already pretty stressful. I have another year just gone. I spent it being sucked down by my cowardice and anxiety, I found myself changing my mind-a lot, and I picked myself up after tons of times being metaphorically beaten down. But it’s gone, for better or worse and I can’t get it back. That’s really something to think about. It’s a scary world out there and I’ve missed another year. Or am I just another year closer to the best me I may ever be?

So my goals for year 23, are personal,more so than they have ever been. I want to break my shell once and for all. I want to get out and meet people, make eye contact and not be afraid of everyone. I want to work out more. Not so I can be skinny, but so I can be healthy. I want to be able to go into the next parts of my life in the best shape I can. I want to do something-like get my book published, or sell a song to a famous person, or even just go somewhere. And more importantly, I want to succeed. Less thana year from now, I’m applying to grad schools and law schools. I want more than anything to get in. I want to smile at the acceptance letter and realize I did it. I want to not be scared to drive. I have a CRAZY story to tell you all sometime about why I have worries driving, but today I shall not get into it. And I want to enjoy life. I don’t need to have “everything”-the perfect body, makeup, hair, and material goods. I just want to spend more mornings looking at the sunrise, more evenings staring up at the heavens and maybe, just maybe, finally learn how to play guitar.

All that I need is to be true to myself. And that is my favorite reason why I’m 23.

So come close, and I’ll scream

Oh just let me be me

And I fail to see

The dark skies aren’t all that dwell inside me

-Jamie Campbell Bower, Waiting

  

Thankfulness, Day Four

Today, I am thankful for nature.

I lived in the country almost my entire life, minus about a total of four years. Some of that time, I was only a baby and do not remember. I lived on my own for a year and now I live with my husband in the big, sprawling city. I have no complaints about my life so far, save the fact that I cannot enjoy nature they way I could when I did not live in the city.

Nature is this big, glorious thing. It’s filled with magick and mystery and wonder. In the morning, there is dew on the grass, which you mowed the day before. There are gravel roads which stretch on for miles, sometimes the dust kicks up when you drive too fast, or the weather has been too dry. Trees line the roads, like they did in old fairytale stories. The lazy days of summer can be handled with a little time in the creek. In the spring and fall, thunderstorms bring mudrunnin and dancig in the rain. 

In the spring, your world blossoms with green and white and pink, little shoots of crops tilting their head towards the sun. By the summer, whole fields of food are alive, catching the unforgiving warmth of the sun, the blissful cool of the rains. In fall, harvest begins and with it, the chance to see hay bales, mazes and hayrides. You’re greeted each day by the magnificent art that crosses your eye at every glance. And just when you think life can be no more beautiful, the first snowflakes dance lazily across your face.

Little cottonballs litter the browning ground, a little more each day. Sometimes the temperature warms and they disappear. Sometimes the temperature drops and you are left with little sheets of ice. But on those most special occasions, you awake to find you have inherited acres worth of diamonds. Your coffee feels a little happier, blankets a little warmer and your heart bursts at the prospects of getting outside to make snow angels.

The thing is, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nature is more than just seasons and weather patterns. It’s the coraking of bullfrogs late summer evenings. It’s the migration of butterflies in fall, along with the geese returning in spring. It’s each individual organism being alive and being recognized as sentient, beautiful creatures living in the same space we are. You can’t help but feel small and large all at the same time. And that’s why I’m thankful for nature.

  

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.