Do I Dare?

Maybe summertime sadness isn’t just a line in a song. I feel it most intensely when I wake up on Sunday mornings, in a colorless, thoughtless fog, wanting to return to unconsciousness and drift through the rest of the week. Now, as summer approaches its brightly burning end, I do this with an eye toward the handful of days remaining until I return to school. Soon, Sundays will no longer signify sadness. But today does, because I am at home and something is missing. There’s no sanctification, no distinction between this day and the other six, no special family time. Everything is out of whack. I feel like a time traveler from the 1930s who ended up here and is standing, shocked, at the world’s sheer indifference to the states of their souls. No matter how long and hard I stare, though, I can’t seem to make the people around me care. I’ve tried and tried, and the only thing I trust that will help them is prayer.

Being human, and despite my desire not to, I fear, or get nervous about, many things. That I’m actually sabotaging my relationships and attempts at happiness. That I’m not following God’s will for my life, that I’m not strong enough to do so. That I’ll be alone for all my life. That I’ll never get to see my favorite bands in concert. That I just have so many ideas scattered around my head that I’ll never get to see them all through, or even organize them into a list with which to start. Sometimes I even feel guilty about writing, despite the fact that it might be the only thing at which I might have a reasonable amount of talent. What if I’ve been spending all these hours, all this energy typing away for nothing? What if no one ever reads a word of anything I’ve written?

T.S. Eliot famously asked in his well-known poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Do I dare/disturb the universe?/in a minute there is time/for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” I’ve had moments where I question my motivations and wonder if I really should say the thing that weighs on me. Is it worth the disaster that will follow? In those moments I do believe, faced with my own inadequacy, that “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

Part of why poetry is so beautiful is its universal power. It is easy to live in our heads like Prufrock and assume that nothing we could say, however important the revelation, is worth the risk of rejection. It is easy to say that we are insignificant. Nothing we could ever do would matter. Yes, we are physically insignificant when we think about the universe. We are tiny next to the ocean and the mountains, dangerously unpredictable compared to the change of the seasons and each sunrise and sunset, imperfect next to the rhythm of nature.

But perhaps everything we do is spiritually paramount. Like flicking a finger into water, causing ripples that get larger until we can’t see them, so each action, each smile, each kind word, each prayer, darts around like a ball in a pinball machine and strikes the next obstacle. With each breath, each word, we disturb the universe, the status quo. And perhaps, even more than the risk of rejection, I fear never disturbing the universe at all. I fear never meaning more to another soul than that one girl they knew a long time ago. I fear never provoking a thought, or moving someone. I fear that I will not disturb the way things are.

So I guess I dare, with each breath.

“Moving On”

You must make new memories

In that dress (the one in which you cried,

the one in which your bones shook as you

stood, watching – sweating, unbelieving, stomach sinking –

his hands on her, she where you should be),

the one you hid in the closet,

Smiling memories so bright that you forget why

You have to ask yourself at the end of the night

Why you never wore it again after that one time.

It looks good on you.

The Glue

I don’t know about you, but I tend to mentally roll my eyes when stores and chain restaurants refer to me as their ‘friend’ in business communication or rewards programs. I understand the business’ motivation; they want to come off as cheery, warm and inviting. But in real life, when I leave that establishment, the CEO of whatever company isn’t my friend. I don’t know any CEOs personally. My friends know things about me that strangers don’t, and some know me better than others. I’ve told some friends things I thought I’d never tell a soul, and they’ve done the same with me. This kind of trust isn’t just a nice thing; it’s the foundation of any kind of interpersonal relationship.

It’s become fashionable in our culture to speak of marriage as just a piece of paper. Why go through the hassle of planning and paying for an elaborate ceremony, the argument goes, when we could just live together for an indefinite amount of time until everyone just acknowledges that we’re basically married? We know that we love each other and that’s all that matters. Alternatively, why should we waste all that money when half of modern marriages end in divorce? Why do we have to get the government involved in the first place, anyway? In the end, all we’ll have that we didn’t have before is a tax benefit.

Personally, especially with the rise of the gay rights movement and many conservatives’ opposition to gay marriage, I don’t think the government should be doing any of the nuptial officiating. Just get the state out of our private lives altogether, whether we’re gay or straight, and make the choice to commit to each other the personal and religious character it deserves. But I don’t mean to get sidetracked here. The high divorce rates of the past few decades provide the evidence: when powerful, intimate relationships (romantic or platonic; I used the word ‘powerful’ to demonstrate just how those with whom we connect can reflect on and influence us, even can create new life) are treated as nothing more than contracts in which one party provides payment for some service the other party performed or good the other party delivered, and can be ended at any time for no reason, they unravel. There’s no glue to hold them together. Love, to me, does not keep score.

For example, I will never be able to repay my parents for what they have done for me. They, as well as the eternal grace of God, are the reasons I am walking around on this earth and typing out these words at right this very moment. But their care for me didn’t stop when I came out of my mother. She didn’t look at her frail little baby and say, “Okay, you rented out my body for five months, now fend for yourself and repay me.” My parents fed me, clothed me, and helped me in dozens of other ways for my first eighteen years of life, and they still support me. I try and help them out whenever and however I can, even in small ways, but I recognize, and the three of us understand, that I will never, ever be able to balance out the account of our relationship. They love me, and I love them back, even though we fight sometimes. Perhaps deficit spending, while terrible for the government, is a good philosophy of the soul.

Friendships are also full of give and take, but typically on a much smaller scale. I don’t freak out if my friend down the hall asks to borrow a fork and doesn’t return it for a few days. If my friend buys me dinner (or vice versa), we don’t expect to get paid back somehow. The human connection, in these instances, outweighs the physical goods getting traded.

If I ever get married, and I don’t know that I will (always waiting to see what God has in store for me), I hope that my husband and I will continually love each other despite our various flaws, the way we deserve it. This love can’t be measured or declared in the forms of money or objects. It would just always be present. The stereotype that marriage is boring and unfulfilling after the first few years/kids might make for some average comedies and forgettable commercials, but in the end every day is a choice for that person to whom you made a public as well as a private declaration. It’s not about a piece of paper unless you see it that way, if you’re unwilling to give of yourself and adapt to a new rhythm of life, if you see your spouse as a decoration or a badge or a trophy to display in your social media profiles, as if saying, look, world, I’ve been chosen by this person!

Speaking of social media, while it’s great to connect with people from whom you haven’t heard in a while or who live far away, it can also become an addictive, trivializing force on its own. Soon life revolves around who’s opened your snapchat, counting the minutes it took them to reply, how many likes your Instagram post of last night’s sunset got, analyzing messages in the group chat, feeding your paranoia that everyone is secretly meeting up without you…. It goes on and on and on. Real friendship runs deeper than buttons on a screen. This should be obvious to most people, but I’ve noticed myself falling into the trap. I and no one I know has ever signed any friendship contract that says “I promise to like all of your posts without fail and if I don’t it means I hate your guts.”

Lastly, I will never, ever be able to repay my debt to Jesus, even if I lived a thousand lifetimes. I can do my best to follow Him, but I’ll never be perfect. But even when I screw up, it doesn’t mean that the Lord rescinds His love.

Last fall, I took a political philosophy course, and even though I’m not a political science major, everyone thought I was because I ended up loving it so much. I could probably still have a nice debate about John Locke’s social contract and its relevance to modern political life. I wrote a whole paper on several elements of the original social contract that could get updated, all the while keeping the central ideas of equality and liberty intact and unchanged. My motivation behind the thesis was the idea that treating interpersonal relationships as dealmaking opportunities or simple contracts would be poisonous to all involved.

When you become someone’s child, parent, sibling, friend, spouse, or whatever relationship, you’re no longer dealing in clear-cut figures and facts. It’s not quite like choosing a college or a field of study. You are choosing to become involved in that person’s life, for better or worse, and to leave an imprint on him or her that will remain forever.

I’m doing my best not to need constant reminders that my friends are thinking of me. They know I’m here. And I know they’re there. Let’s spread love, and leave the legalism and contractualism to the law.

 

A Trickling Stream of Words…

It’s August 1st. That means only 27 days remain until I get to move back into college and start what will hopefully be another brilliant year. The flip side of that, of course, is that I get to enjoy the company of my family and cats for only 27 more days. The start of August also means that most of summer 2016 is behind me, for better or worse. Most of summer is behind me, and I have to confess that I haven’t written as much as I’d hoped I would when I came home in May with all the intentions of using up every bit of daylight ahead of me.

My writing is where I go to escape the narrowness, the stress, of my everyday life. In streams of words I can build worlds, tell truths and explore fantasies, and speak in a voice that is authentically mine. Lately, though, that stream has been running pretty dry. It’s like I can hear every drip. This is supposed to be the one thing you’re good at, I tell myself, so do it!! But it’s hard to set aside a silent block of time conducive to creativity amid all my other responsibilities and tasks, and the last thing I want is for my writing to become just another chore I need to check off of a to-do list. And lately, as Everything Else has been forming a chaotic storm with me in the middle and the clouds build, I find it even more difficult to focus than during school when I had three papers due and squeezed two hundred words onto my story before passing out around midnight once (that’s a true story).

I think the first thing I need to do is shut out all my distractions: leave my phone in another room so I won’t be tempted to snapchat and check Instagram and my email every five minutes, then put on my big headphones and get into the groove of some instrumentals (because lyrics, however beautiful, no matter how much I love the artist, are distracting). Then I should just say a prayer, open up a new document, and dive in.

The second thing I should abandon is my fear. Writing and reading have always been my things, like how some people have passions for baseball, or hiking, or… whatever. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words, how much influence they have over us in various settings. Bottom line: I’ve always been a nerd. My parents know it. My friends know it. They believe in me. Heck, I’m taking a whole 3-credit course in the fall about tutoring other people in writing! That doesn’t mean I’m the next Shakespeare (and I’d never imagine even coming close to that level) and of course, academic writing requires a different approach than creative writing or personal writing. When I write an essay, I first want to understand the topic and what I’m supposed to do, and then come up with a possible thesis. When I’m writing a poem or a story, I try to start with a feeling. There might be a particular scene that plays out in my mind like the perfect movie; those are my favorite and I try to get to those. Or I might start with a person, who’s probably got some deep emotional baggage, and get them to resonate with real people. In either case, a certain phrase I’m dying to use will probably start rolling around in my mind. I just have to convince myself that even though I’m not getting a degree in English, I have a mind and a keyboard (sometimes it’s a notebook and pen, or my phone) and a perspective that I need to share. That’s why we do this, after all. It’s easy to quote Hemingway and say that “the first draft of anything is shit.” I know that nothing short of a miracle will let my fingers spin pure gold out of those little square with letters. Writing would be a million times easier if it didn’t feel like putting together an invisible jigsaw puzzle, but it would also be less meaningful.

When I think about how I want my current story to end up, it’s easy to imagine it in someone else’s hands, perfect, making her laugh and cry and feel. It’s easy to think about how everyone will love it. But more importantly, I also know exactly why I wanted to write it in the first place. I just have to get back on track. If I get too caught up in daydreams, I try and remember this motivation.

I have to be confident. I have to believe in the words that got me to where I am. I have to break this gray cycle of monotony that keeps me from focusing on what I should be doing.

Which is writing. 🙂