I followed the crowd for years.
You do this, follow the crowd, when you are riddled with self-doubt. You especially do this if you are moving through life routinely questioning your own worth, your right to be here, your right to take up space on the planet. I did this. I followed the crowd until three years ago when I dropped out of the routine of life as most of us know it — working, caring for others, partaking of social traditions. I stopped. I woke myself up.
I had been on auto-pilot, asleep with my eyes open, moving through the routines, doing all I needed to do in a typical sixteen-hour day by heart, rotely going about the days, having it all memorized to the point where I could do each of the routines in my sleep.
Apparently, that’s what happened. I had fallen asleep, snoozing with open eyes, except they weren’t really open. My eyes were wide shut.
I have been blogging for eleven years.
In the beginning, during my early blogging years, I was definitely following the crowd. I blogged the way I thought bloggers should blog. I trolled (terrible word, but apparently accurate in my case). I invited myself into the blog lives of other writers and collated their blogging priorities into my inchoate blogging style.
If you can not point to one single adult who you knew and who knew you as a child, one whose belief in you could be steadily relied upon — one whom you could look to for their unyielding love, for the way they are always routing for you to win — you will likely be sentenced to a life of questionable self-worth. This happened to me. I was always left wondering. Am I lovable? Who could possibly want me here with them? Why would anyone ever want to hear what I have to say?
Once I quit work and retreated from the world, I was finally able to spend time getting to know myself.
So I have been reborn, given birth to my own precious (not so little) bundle of SELF, an ethereal new ME. Here on the blog I have been documenting new growth, through the discovery and acceptance of a braver voice, all while capturing images of a woman growing newly confident in her own skin.
At the same time I have been deprogramming my brain, untangling my mind from the poisonous tentacles of the patriarchy. This takes time. I was lost to myself for fifty years— my whole life up until that point, really — before I realized how truly lost I had been, how turned around and turned against myself I had grown. I was adrift in the world with no rudder.
The patriarchy hurts all of us, no matter your color or gender or sexual orientation. The patriarchy is our common enemy.
Years ago, my mother and I were exchanging heated words, our voices raised. I was thirty-something and had briefly moved back home, so it was our first time under the same roof for an extended period as two adult women. She called me cantankerous.
At the time my eyes had widened and I shook my head, flabbergasted because I was stunned to realize we weren’t hearing each other at all, not one word of understanding was passing between us. It was one of those life-altering moments when I wondered, What the fuck am I doing here?
But she taught me something on that day, my mother. I never forgot it. It gave me pause, being called cantankerous.
[cantankerous– adj. — bad tempered; argumentative or uncooperative]
Of course, this is only my side of the story; you may want to take what I am writing with a grain of salt. Nowadays, as a writer/researcher, I am sensitive to the import of story versions. We never really have the whole story of anything, do we? Look at our history. Most of it is a bunch of malarky. It’s called history for a reason. Get it? HIS-story. Yah, exactly.
Anywayz, I digress.
The reason my eyes had gone wide in response to being called cantankerous was because my mother had done something to provoke me, something malicious, and when I called her on it, she called me cantankerous.
My mother is a smart woman, I always saw that. Now with safe distance between us, I can better appreciate my mother’s brilliant mind, even if it was often used more for menace than for good.
My parents — through innumerable dysfunctional shenanigans — became for me, a model of how the world works. Our family life—which eventually became a reference point for me, a microcosm of larger experiences—prepared me for participation in the wider, more known world as a member of the HUMAN FAMILY.
We are all, each of us on this planet, souls in human bodies, and we are all walking each other home. We forget this sometimes. But our hearts know it steadily. Our hearts never forget. Yet and still, we tend to forget. We get caught up in the machinations and activities of the world because we have grown so accustomed to according the world its inflated sense of importance. Gotta hurry hurry hurry, get life done done done, gotta go go go! Until we get sick or we get hurt or we get tired or we get delayed, or until tragedy or bad weather or business collapse, then we are reminded, none of this really matters as much as we thought.
I am doing my part to change the world. Oh yes, I sure am. I am becoming the change that I would like to see. And I am touching lives …. deliberately.
As a former follower, I used to do only those things I had been instructed was my prescribed place to do. As a woman. As a daughter. As a sister. As a black person. As an employee. As a wife. As a mother. As a friend. As a neighbor. When I was still following social dictates, I desired only to stay in my place. I hoped that if I stayed in that mysterious designated place, someone might step forward and pat me on my back or on my head, and say, well done. And then everyone would love me and speak well of me because I did good.
Fuckin ridiculous, but I completely believed in living this way …. once upon a time.
That time is now past.
Today I am newly born, freshly arrived as a three year old woman, even if the calendar says I am fifty-three.
My mother in her beautiful cunning, zinging me with her words, had tried mightily to keep me in my place, similar to the larger world, the way society will stand up and point and wag its finger at us when we dare to be who we truly are, when we dare to be who we desire to be instead of who they want us to be.
My mother taught me something else, something about myself, something I always felt within, but lacked the courage to say out loud: I don’t like to argue. I fuckin hate arguing. Arguing spikes my heart rate, inciting panic, which triggers helpless feelings in me. And if you don’t back up I might punch you or kick you or take a clawful swipe at your cheek or go to sleep plotting your demise. I don’t like feeling this way, it is an out of control feeling of adrenaline, fight or flight. It is remnant of my PTSD.
Back in earlier blogging years, when I was still very much a follower of the crowd (a woman in search of approval and permission; a woman full to the brim with apology for her desire to breathe in open spaces), I got the crazy notion to blog about politics. Politics for fuck’s sake! Being blithely ignorant to what it might actually take for me to politically opine, I was too lost to notice the trigger landmines I would be stepping on. I was like a lamb voluntarily leading herself to slaughter.
I failed to understand the need for healthy debates among political bloggers. I wanted to be able to say my piece and be left alone. Needless to say, arguing ensued in the comment thread. I usually stayed away while my commenters fought amongst themselves.
So I switched things up, deciding to write a few personal posts on the political blog. When I did that I discovered something magical. My personal posts — essays about self-discoveries after reading a book or watching a movie, for instance — were met mostly with bird-chirping silence. At first I was slightly offended. But then I saw the response for the gift that it was and my blogging journey eventually led me here.
Because the truth is, I want to change the world. I don’t want to just write for writing’s sake. Not that that’s a bad thing. I love the endless purposes and forms writing can take. I love writing. Period.
However, through my own writings, I discovered I can change the world by working on and changing myself. And I don’t have to engage in debates (code speak for arguing) along the way. And so I have been writing about my changing ways, the baby steps taken into a newly cultivated life.
My parents — they who are, to me, examples of the microcosmic social structure — have dug their heels in, refusing to change, insisting their way of life is the better way. But I happen to know how frightened my parents really are, how afraid they have been to try life differently.
Today my parents are old and less menacing. However, they are each still full of enough of their own fears to continue being toxic, so I stay away. I also happen to know that my parents were not always this way, that once upon a time each of them were innocent and trusting beings, who in some bygone era, were also kinder and loving children. What happened was, my parents fell down and lost their way in the dysfunctional rhythm of an overwhelming social structure which daunted them.
And for a while there, I got lost in the same way my parents had. I made bad choices. I caused hurt to loved ones. Eventually, I would clean up my act and make amends (thank you, Alcoholics Anonymous!).
I learned how to stop being afraid of fear.
Seeing how my parents white-knuckled their way through life, with fear firmly in their grip, I am reminded of our larger world, reminded of daily society. I am reminded of the perpetual malaise, how palpable it feels when as human beings, we occasionally misread each other, the way we passively and intentionally inflict harm. We recycle slights and offenses as a form of routine defense. We too, are a dysfunctional family (the HUMAN FAMILY).
And yet, somehow, we manage to find ways to become better. We create and we invent new things and new ways. We find each other. We click. We love. We hate. We fall down. We get back up. We live to fight and love another day.
I love you dearly, my friend. I really do. Keep shining your magnificent light into the world! We truly need it.