Monday, September 3, 2012

If the world were a canoe lake. (Or: A better baptism; Last days.)

There is a moment when everything changes.

Standing on the dock of the canoe lake at 7 am in a bathing suit, crowding close to friends for warmth and smiles, waiting. Glasses off, the lake is a blur – so is the dock, your partners, your toes. AJ agrees to “lead the blind,” taking you and another by the hand as you edge your feet carefully down the stairs and onto the floating dock. A smile. 1, 2 – 3, jump. You come up spluttering, the water warm – you find faces in the gray water around you, steam rising up and up from the bath.

 It is H20′s birthday, and your last full day at camp; as you splash your way into the group, “Happy birthday” is screeched at the top of lungs. Campers are here somewhere, but you don’t notice them, not now: instead the people with whom you have shared the past two months are in sight, laughing as they splash and bob. The hovering steam skews reality; the moment lasts and stretches until you are moving toward the edge of the lake, hand in AJ’s hand, everything cold and changed. AJ grins a grin that reaches her eyes. In a few hours you will say goodbye to her. In a day this will all be over.

You drape a towel around your shoulders. Your friends beckon you to follow them; muddy feet balancing halfway into your boots, you lean forward into a tottering walk beside them, laughing as you listen to their devious plans to surprise hug a fellow staffer. A shiver reaches your calves, your neck, your spine. Magic shifts inside the morning air.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I think I want to raise my arms to the sky.

My name is Catnip, and I live in the forest. I live in a tent, and occasionally under the stars. I live in the Sierra mountains of California, at 5,000 feet elevation, brushing up against a culture of dirt trails and trees stretching their limbs to the sky. I work 22 hours a day caring for children far away from home and from moms, sweeping through veils of ash and work so hard it makes the brain go whoosh - stop - freeze - keep going, going, go. I shower infrequently. My camp name is Catnip, and I miss civilization - I miss beds and central air conditioning and my mom. I miss talking to those I love on a regular basis. I miss wearing clothes that fit me and having time to dwell on my own thoughts.

But there is something about this place that makes it worth it, a quiet agreement that through utter exhaustion and children creating disaster at every corner, an understanding that in the brain quashing work there is an unexplainable fulfillment. There is something here that makes me happier on a more regular basis than I have ever been. Even in the worst moments, when I am so tired speech is difficult, when my stomach beats its own angry and acidic rhythm over the sheer stress and abuse, when my body wants nothing but to stay inside its sleeping bag at the bell's toll at 7 am, when the moments build up until my self is ready to burst from the seams at any slight movement... I want to be here.

The short and infrequent 24 hour breaks are a sweet relief, an opportunity for laundry and a shower that lasts longer than five minutes, but the thought of leaving for good is oddly unpalatable. My summer camp is a fairy land of children finding happiness and ultimate fears in one fell swoop. With reality suspended, suddenly everything is possible. Each day is a world of its own as moments stretch and replicate.

I am finding a voice, though I cannot discern if it is mine yet. I am finding. I am.

"I think you want to raise your arms to the sky."
- from "E" by Katrina Vandenberg

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"All the art of living. . ."

I cannot remember the last time I put forth a legitimate effort toward homework – certainly not recently. (For the zero of you lovely people worried I may be squandering my education, I am doing fine academically. Homework is silly and laborious. I get through it.) Any of yesterday evening’s possible productivity was eclipsed by a friend asking to hang out and I obliging. We played pool (at which I’m awful but manage to own in the sense that I am not broken up about this aspect of my personhood) and watched a movie. The movie's main virtue, beyond harboring poetic justice and other literarily good things, was derived from its inclusion of a young, attractive Keanu Reeves. (I have nothing against the fellow, but the attraction I felt was jarring and unexpected. Was it the suits?) Towards the end my wonderful roommate was able to join in on the fun; it was a strange but ultimately good evening.

It still boggles me that people want to spend time with me, though, when I am prone to say so little. Talkative folk are happy to create a chime-filled home in the quiet space, maybe. I am all for lively discourse, but the fact that one singular person could have so much to say is a mystery to my deeply introverted Self. This is not a negative judgment – it really isn’t. I enjoy people. I appreciate that there are those content to fill my silence with quirky tales and eyes that glint in the light of their smiles.

In recent years I have acquired quite a lot of self worth. I am fond of my Self, which is useful as we spend quite a lot of time together, and for the most part I can wile away many moments with my thoughts contentedly. Inner turmoil and I are also, of course, well acquainted – but this is something I accept and work through on a daily basis. On the whole, I am content with who I am.

“You don’t say much, do you?” “You don’t eat much, do you?” “You don’t wear colors much, do you?” “You don’t get out much, do you?”

But you haven’t asked me what I do or how these things make me feel.

As a girl human, I was chubby. (I am still by no means perfection on legs, but the term feels more arbitrary now that I’ve gone through the motions and process of getting over/through societal pressure to a large degree.) I’m not sure it occurred to me that this was “wrong” until I grew taller and adults were suddenly telling me that I was lovely now that I had “thinned out” some. When I was ten, we ran into my teacher at the bank. She said, “what are these acne spots? Oh, but she’ll have boys after her like flies to honey once she hits fifteen.” At nineteen, boys are still yet to show any interest in my majesty; the difference now is that I realize superfluous attention from boys would make me unhappy. I have yet to dispose of my teenage hormones, however – just one nerd-boy-who-is-not-accidentally-gay would be great, for the record.

That same year, a friend’s mother told mine that she really “ought not be dressing Katie in all these purples. She looks okay in them, but she would look so much better in teal.” While the comment never made any actual impact on what I wore, I still sometimes wear purple purely in spite. (And in any event, purple is a fantastic color.) Teachers twice concernedly asked me whether I had lost weight while I was wearing a red blouse; whether this was true or not, for years afterward I was convinced that red made me look thinner.

My childhood was shattered glass, bare feet, and blindness. (Call me overreactive; no longer will I apologize for the unoriginality of my story.)

My father was always easily angered. Once my mother told me that he disliked it when we finished eating our dinner before he did. I spent years afterward running this through my head during dinnertime in an attempt to kill time and parse meaning from it. When I was nine he stormed from the dinner table, grumbling loudly that his dislike for this sauce should have been clear when he refrained from eating it the last two times and that my mother should not be fucking serving it. We never ate it again. It was my favorite sauce; maybe memory has made it this way.

There is a difference between being accepting of and feeling comfortable with oneself, between forgetting and getting through.

I’m so much happier now.

Classy mirror photograph is classy. Self, body,
and I may never meet impossible beauty
standards or perfection, but we like each
other just fine. 

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
- Havelock Ellis

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A flood of somethings.

Sometimes I am selfish. I don't always want to share this journey with others, particularly of late. Part selfishness - mostly reservedness - and maybe not only this, but also: if I fail to filter feelings into words, I can pretend that tribulations aren't.

When I do begin to scrape words together, I feel petty in my insecurities. I received a 4.0 for my first semester in college, and my English professor means to use my final project as a resource in her classes, and I have been accepted into the Honors program at Universityland, and... I am still a mess. My feelings may misconstrue the never-ending quandary, but I have always been good at school. As such, these good things surprise no one but yours truly - so I don't perpetuate this work ethic for perpetual pats on the back. Or maybe I do. Maybe this is the issue, for as lovely as accolades are, they do not fulfill me as I wish they would. It would be easier if it were enough, wouldn't it?

The shining academic record and glittering tales of success are an easy way to disguise my worries. Look, I can say, I have saved myself. I am fine; I don't need help. Pretend perfection is my game of choice.  Silence is a simple tool. I don't lie - I merely fail to tell, alter feeling until it takes on an acceptable shape.

This is not to say that I hide within my silence well. It isn't even that I am greatly unhappy. Yet there is a disconnect somewhere, a niggling voice inside keeping me from any sort of comfort in asserting myself. I don't want you to know the rough number of times I have overdosed on Cheez Its and British comedy in a fit of wallowing, yet eventually the fact that I have hidden makes me angry, as if you should somehow innately have the power of mind-reading. As if you have no sadnesses of your own.

And my sadnesses feel petty, too. Soon I will be returning to Universityland; my roommate and dear friend will not, as she is taking an internship. I will be okay - it will be okay - everything will be okay. (Mantra.) Because there are always good things. Because I will find things to do, because I will find ways to occupy my mind (see: mountains of homework), because it will be okay. But still I am frantic, ready to return to Universityland but uncertain of how ready I am to be there. Tiny Town Texas is comfortable only in that its incessant sluggishness and unhappiness is unsurprising - but my mother is here, hugs ready at any hour, and my soon-to-be departure is not something I want to think about at any sort of length.


Breaks from the norm are difficult in and of themselves, for the new and empty space breeds unending worry. I will be okay. It will be okay. Everything will be okay.

Miscellany: a) I no longer eat meat. Adjust your judgements accordingly, as - as you well know- vegetarianism is definitely an evil and conniving cult.

b) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is positively glorious, and I would recommend your reading it.

c) I send my love.

Friday, October 21, 2011

(Flux, n.) Some days the cracks are less apparent.

I seem to have run out of words. The few phrasings I manage to pull together over and over again are far too familiar. I feel lost, I inevitably write. I've lost something. Maybe this 'writing' has never been easy, precisely, but here I flounder in a manner I cannot pinpoint. It used to be easier, right? I have nothing new to say; I lack color. I don't want to whine. Rather, I want to fix myself before any difference is noticed. I lack the muster to create something solid enough to say aloud. I feel disjointed, ungrounded, and unendingly transient.

I manage to (sometimes) fool myself with the idea that lies count only in what is said. Yet I am oh so practiced in the art of silence, which can be something very like lying.

The line that separates acceptance from detachment is blurred. Sometimes, in unexpected quiet or crushing noise, the things I have cast aside come back and lock the breath inside my chest. To pause against the rush is to urgently attempt to recollect and restore all things. I ate lunch an hour late today. I need to send an email. There is homework to tackle, more homework than I can accomplish in twelve lifetimes. He... no. No, I can't. Not now. It hurts.

I like to forget the cracks.

There are a lot of things I like to forget about myself, and often do by either design or total accident. I like to forget great swathes of time, and often do. I like to forget, especially, that I spent six years of my childhood overseas. My memories lack distinction, skewed just so to promote the most graceful of stomach flips. I remember then in a tangle of bleached picture memories and bitter whisperings; I like to pretend that then wasn't. I like to pretend that then is completely removed from now.

I like to forget that my father is problematic and that the years I have spent painfully toeing the line (et freaking cetera) are a nearly direct result of this, erm, "difficulty." I draw a blank for a moment when questioned about him; he tends to surface just long enough to wreak total havoc while playing the part of the victim, yet even this streamlined approximation doesn't feel fit for sharing with most. I don't hate my father for a heaping conglomeration of reasons, but the fact that so many (acquaintances, often) choose to defend him is head on desk amusing to me and enough to keep me quiet.

For whatever it's worth, writing does feel more difficult now. I have had this post in development for a week and have yet to decide what I mean by it. I switch sentences around at a frantic snail's pace, unable to make head nor tail of what I am saying. The words are all the same.

I want to tell you about college, but I feel as though I have lost the drawstrings with which to pull ends together into something sensical. I want to tell you about the guy who jaunted down the main pathway near the library on a fine Friday morning, hair a flop of wet curls framing sunglasses. He carried a vintage briefcase somehow transformed into a boombox, which sputtered a hip hop beat as he passed.

From my perch on a hanging bench, I watched people for an hour before the fountain behind me was shut off for maintenance. The white noise that had before masked the sound of footsteps and laughter suddenly gone, the already off kilter feeling of familiarity in the air dissipated.

There is an amount of comfort in knowing something well enough to make movements without worrying deeply. The harsh angles of the new are easier to navigate once you have gotten to know them. Yet the longer I consider perspective, the less I am sure of it. The stasis is intermittent. People change, the weather changes, and we move through the shifting chaos.

The all encompassing dilemma.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From the throes of a (not) existential crisis.

I am in the throes of an existential crisis.

This is a complete lie, but it feels more concise (and, frankly, fun) than "I have my first college exams this week and my body has decided to attempt illness in protest (thanks, yo)." I am convinced that I am doomed to crushing and total failure, but this is hardly breaking news and more of an occupational hazard than anything else. A preliminary count totals six humans who have assured me that I will not fail these exams, college, or life in general. It is also apparent that all I do is a) study, b) put stuffed animals on my head, c) consume caffeine and/or dairy products, and d) view the internet with longing.

Granted, I am a citizen of the Internet, future crazy cat lady and douse myself in glitter with increasing regularity, but it occurs to me to wonder what exactly I would be doing were I entrenched in a thrilling and active social scene. From what I observe through thorough and exact research, "fun" in college quite often includes alcohol and illicit activity, neither of which I am interested in partaking. While I am fairly certain intellectually stimulating conversation occurs somewhere on campus, I am currently too terrified and immersed in study (i.e. panic) to seek it out.

I may be slightly biased at the present time, as I have been studying the ins and outs of genitalia* for the past two days in preparation for an exam in Human Sexuality. Unfortunately it is not a practical exam, as we all know I am the loosest of women, constantly whipping men and ladies into a froth of raging hormones, and would thus be prepared to bring such an examination to a satisfactory finish.

Such is life.

* I have also been making all of the terrible innuendos. All of them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A brief note on my lack of sudden and complete happiness.

I often (almost always, of late) avoid writing because I feel that I am required to maintain a certain image. I feel that I am meant to be in a certain place and am expected fit into a guideline; the few words that occur to me are distinct only in their disjointedness and lack of zest.

I didn't expect to find happiness here immediately and I haven't. Do I expect to get there eventually? Yes and... yes? I hate complaining, for it feels unnecessarily whiny and disrespectful of the trials of others. Look at me! College is so hard! I miss my mom and I want to cry all the time but can't let myself!

But it's true. I'm not happy. I do miss my mom. I've set the most potent of my emotions on the back burner, which plays a big part in the fact that I don't know what to say when asked how I am. A great deal of the time I don't feel anything.

I say these things without wishing to be overdramatic. I want to press that I will be okay. I mean, probably. As terrifying as stasis is to me (it demands disaster), I always find it again.

As for happiness? I'm starting to lose the idea that happiness is something one finds. A dear friend told me many months ago: "[Happiness] is not a location, not a prize. It's inside of you, already." This remains one of the best things anyone has ever told me.

I'm not giving up. I'm just... very much overwhelmed. Sad. Shaken. Tired. And entitled to these feelings, as lacking in poetry as they are.