ghosts that we knew

Aïê
Ghosts of the Past by Carrie Mae Weems

I’ve recently become fascinated with the study of epigenetics, a theory that refers to how changes in chromosomes can affect active and inactive gene expression but does not change the underlying DNA sequence. Or to put it simply, there are inherited traits which become embedded in our genes and then are brought out by varying triggers throughout our lifetime.  And studies show that these traits can be passed down through as many as seventeen generations.

Epigenetics goes further than the “nature vs nurture” debate because there is no controlling factor which would bring out the signs of trauma. In many cases people can go entire lifetimes without experiencing their inherited traumas but sometimes the scale tips and people revert to behaviors which seem uncharacteristic but make sense in the larger picture of their family’s history.

For example, my extended family has lived in the same village in Kenya for decades and for the most part everyone has married within the tribe or one in close proximity to ours. But regardless of all these controlling factors there is still so much history that has not been shared as a result of a lack in education, written documents, and the natural failings of the human mind as decades pass.

And since Kenya has been independent for only fifty some years then it is not unreasonable to assume that there is an entire world experience which was destroyed by colonization and will forever remain a mystery.

While I think about epigenetics and the role it has certainly played in the lives of my family then I am convinced that there is a correlation between our history and the trauma that is passed down from generation to generation. I am convinced that while me and my siblings were raised by the same parents that does not mean we will have anything in common. And each of us has taken different journeys, made different decisions, and met different people. So it would only stand to reason that we would be so vastly different.

It’s easy to want to blame them, or my parents, or our ancestors but then I am taking away from my own future. I am living in a past that is marred by pain, suffering, and loss. I am shouldering the weight of deceit, manipulation, and gut-wrenching lies.

I will always leave my door open for my family but not when they expect to use me as the doormat before they come crashing into my life.

 

 

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i want you to want me but

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Ansel Adams Gallery

I want someone to be obsessed with me but I also want to be left alone for the rest of my life. I want to have sex every second but I never want a single person to think they can lay a hand on me. I want someone to commit themselves to me until the end of time but I always want to get divorced and have my heart broken over and over and over again. I want to dance all night but I also want to take a long depression nap fueled by oxy.

I want everything you have and I want nothing you have to offer.

I want us to love one another but I also want you to hate me a little bit by the end of it all. I want to fuck but I also want to make love. I want to hold hands but I also want to slap the taste out of your mouth. I want to watch the sunrise and I want to watch the moon rise. I want to burn in hell but I also want to float on a cloud.

I want to glory in everything and I want to suffer nothing.

I want love whatever form it takes. Whatever good. Whatever bad. Whatever right. Whatever wrong. I want this and I want all of that.

I want you here and I want you there.

I just want to want and I never ever want to need you.

I know that once I need you is the moment I will need to leave you and go in search of who I am and what I need.

 

cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and healin’ and dealin’

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art by ceren bulbun

I’m learning how to not take on the weight of other people’s problems. I am learning how to assess a situation, evaluate my options, and then make the best possible choice for my well-being and mental health. I am especially trying to learn how to do this with my mother. She never asked me to worry about her or constantly check in on her but it’s like second nature to me to be concerned for her well-being especially after the loss of my father.

I wish I could be as self-involved as my two older sisters. I wish I could tune out and ignore the woman who gave us literally everything but her organs in order for us to have the lives we have. Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that my sisters are living, but that’s a conversation for another time and another essay.

But I love my mom so much that when she hurts I hurt. I love her so much that I know when she’s sick before she even knows. I am so tied to her it’s almost as if the umbilical cord was never even cut. I mean, knowing Kenya’s questionable medical practices it might never actually have been cut to be honest.

I am an empath to the nth degree. I used to try avoiding it by shutting people out or hurting them before they could hurt me but I knew it could never last. I went through the proverbial storm and I am still the little girl who wore her heart on her sleeve and made friends instantly on every playground.

However, I am no doormat. I am smart as a whip and I am two steps ahead of every person I encounter. I am very rarely surprised by anything people do and I am very rarely emotionally invested in someone until they give me a reason to be.

I believe the old saying goes, “Do no harm, but take no shit.”

I live and die by those words and while it may cause me to lose so-called friends it has also helped me weed out the losers and surround myself with an all-star team of people. Because I am nobody’s fool. I am nobody’s punching bag. I am nobody’s doormat.

I am here. I am human. And I have a voice.

I am an empath and I am also a soldier in every sense of the word. I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not brand new. I know where I’m going and I know where I’ve been. I will love you but I also do not need any of you.

We are born alone and we will die alone.

This is how I am healing and dealing after years of cruising for a bruising.

the doctor is not in

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art by ceren bulbun

I am an artist who shares quite a bit about their life in a public forum. I write about my life. I talk about it. I sing about it. I have essentially chosen to turn my trauma into art as a means for coping. But somewhere in there I think people got a little confused as to why I was doing what I have been doing. I have been on the receiving end of a lot of emails, texts, and messages where people will just unload their entire life story onto me and I suddenly can’t breathe because I am such an empath that I become overwhelmed by the intensity of what they are sharing.

Especially now that I am taking more risks and baring much more private pieces of my soul I feel as though people have been even coming up to me in public places and attempting to tell me their story.

I wish I could solve everyone’s problems, I wish I was a certified psychiatrist so I could prescribe us all a big ass Xanax and be done with it, but I am not able to solve anyone’s problems (let alone my own) and I don’t think the American Medical Association would ever allow me to practice medicine.

So, I guess what I’m asking is that you folks take what I’m doing with my art and use it as a guide to finding your own coping mechanisms and perhaps even your own creative voice to help you cope. And if that doesn’t work, talk to a loved one, go for a walk, or find a trained professional to lend an ear.

My life is my art and art is my life.

But just because I am transparent that does not mean that any of you know me. It does not mean that we have a single goddamn thing in common or that you even understand for a second what it’s like to wake up as Mwongeli every day.

I love that some of you connect with my narrative and find it helpful or inspiring but I also need you all to take a quick pause before you unpack years worth of trauma on someone who is simply trying to make it through this life the only way she knows how.

I have friends, I have family, I have people in my life who know me. Well, about as well as anyone can know anyone and I am simply asking that you all find your own tribe. And if it just so happens that we are of the same tribe then feel free to reach out but please, read my social cues, read the world around you and then decide if it’s really worth telling a complete stranger every detail from your eighth grade trauma.

Are you talking to me or are you talking at me?

maybe the inconvenient truth is, in fact, convenient

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art by ceren bulbun

I am well aware that I have a tendency to share some inconvenient truths. I am intuitive. I am always observing. I am always internalizing, empathizing, and criticizing. You can bet your bottom dollar that if there is something that everyone is thinking but no one wants to say out loud then I will be that one dork who says it out loud while everyone cringes.

But I never say anything out of malice. I would never say something for the simple sake of causing someone pain or to tear them down. I have a friend who says, “It’s not mean if it’s the truth.”

And I stand behind those words.

I admit there are things which are difficult to hear. No one wants to hear about a character flaw or perceived failing on their part but that is also why this world is so broken and people are so unhappy and unkind to each other.

I grew up in a home where my parents always kept it real with me and my two siblings. I grew up in an environment where it wasn’t uncommon to be met with a sarcastic remark regarding something you were doing. I grew up in a home where everyone was held accountable and no one was better than anyone else.

We were all just humans with flaws, talents, annoying habits, lovable habits, bad days and good days. And even if someone was acting like a total jerk (most often it was me) they were still loved and supported and given a hug and some good home cooking.

It wasn’t always easy and there were some days when you could find someone storming through the house in tears (me) or screaming how unfair everything was (also me). But we made it to the other side relatively unscathed and I could not have asked for a different childhood or more loving parents.

I think that’s what people fail to see and understand about this life, they fail to see that it can be a combination of everything all in one moment, one hour, one day…etc. I mean if life stayed more or less the same then what good would it be? I admit I would love to edit out the sadness and pain and suffering but then how would we know to bask in the good and joyous moments?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that as far as life goes and I’m glancing at the endless menu, I will always make sure to try a little bit of everything. I’ll try anything once and I’ll take each experience as it comes my way because it feeds my soul.

ain’t no heart without art

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art by wastedrita

I am currently trying to figure out where I fit into this whole art scene. I want to do it all. I want to dip my toe into every pool and see what comes of it. But I also want to give everyone the bird and tell them what a phony narcissist I think they are.

It’s maddening going places and having everyone try to give you a business card or try to tell you what they do or what they’re working on. I don’t care. If I care, then you will know, because I support my friends. I support causes which I care about. But please miss me with the link to your art or site.

I believe in “organic” interactions. I believe that the world ebbs and flows and what is meant to find you will find you.

Do not force your energy onto me. Do not force your art onto me. If you have to do either of those things then maybe you shouldn’t be out here in these streets doing art? If it feels like work then maybe find something that doesn’t feel like the manual labor which artists work so hard to avoid.

If you are working so hard to have someone look your way then maybe you just aren’t doing something worth paying attention to?

I don’t know what I’m talking about but maybe, maybe just maybe, I actually do.

Maybe as someone who is constantly waging a war in their head, heart, and gut then maybe I know a thing or two about the struggle to create. The struggle to express myself without reservation, without holding anything back, and without (too much) fear of being told my work is meaningless.

Maybe, just maybe, I know a thing or two because I am my own harshest critic and it has taken me decades to share this gift of mine with the world and now I’m doing it and I’m overwhelmed and scared and exhausted and nearly in tears every four minutes.

But then again, what does any of this mean? I will eventually die. You will eventually die and no matter what happens we will be replaced by the next generation and the generation after that.

I can assume that the things I create will resonate with my progeny but only my progeny will know. All I can do right now is sit here, shouting my words into the void, and hope that the echo makes sense to someone.

Anyone.

herstory, history, ourstory

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circa 1994

My sister and her Conservative, religious, homophobic, intolerant, and selfish husband recently decided that neither me or my mother are allowed to see my niece Zora. Because we are toxic individuals who are going to negatively impact the young life of their child. Because I am emotionally abusive and have said “hurtful” things about their marriage like the fact that my sister is an actual hostage in her own “home”. Because I have a mental illness they don’t feel comfortable leaving me alone with their precious little human.

It’s a lot to process and even after you process it, none of it makes sense.

My mom continuously wants to talk about it. She wants to understand where and how my sister became this stranger that stands before us all. And I admit that, I too, would like to understand. But I have also come to accept that I don’t need to understand.

I lived with my sister for nearly eighteen years. She has known me since the day I was born and she has seen the highs and the lows and we were both raised by two of the most amazing humans to ever grace this planet.

And yet here we are, my father is dead and my mom is a widow who is just trying to make it from day to day without collapsing under the weight of her grief.

And yet here we are, my sister’s husband has decided and she has agreed that the people who merely want to love and care for her child are horrible people.

Goddess, I wish I could lie to myself so soundly that I begin to believe it so wholeheartedly.

I am not perfect. I accepted long ago that perfection is impossible and my mom is no exception to that rule. But we are good, if not exceptional, people. We want nothing from either my sister or her husband except to help them and love them and their young family.

But apparently speaking the truth and living honestly is too much for good Christians. Apparently that’s one of the commandments they glossed over.

Thou shalt not lie.

Thou shalt not lie.

Thou. Shalt. Not. Lie.

Richard Yates once wrote, “No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.”

I don’t know what truth my sister is living, or her husband, or what truth they plan to share with my niece but it breaks my heart to know that whatever truth they share it won’t be one that helps Zora grow or learn or become the human our ancestors hoped we’d become.

I would never ask my sister to live for anyone else or to allow anyone else to tell her the way she should live her life but my parents sacrificed and did so, so much in order for her to be free to choose and I just hope that at some point she chooses the side of love and kindness.

I don’t even care if I never see her again. She made very clear that I am not welcome in her life or her home as a result of my mental illness and various other life choices. But it kills me to see her cut my mom out of her life. It kills me to see her keep a child away from a woman who has done nothing but love and care for everyone around her.

I was conflicted as to how I wanted this essay to unfold but I am pleased with the end result and I stand behind everything I have shared. My sister is off somewhere in the universe telling people I’m crazy or that I don’t respect her marriage (hostage situation) but I genuinely don’t care what she says about me because the people who need to know the truth know and everyone is entitled to tell their side of the story.

I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Well, this hurts. It hurts more than losing my father because my niece and my sister are alive and well, but I am not welcome in their life because of factors outside of my control.

I have done the self-care. I have seen the doctors. I have worked on myself for years now and as a mental health professional I find it astonishing that my sister has made this decision.

But like I said, there are a hundred different stories. I just needed to tell mine in the only way I know how. And regardless of the choices my sister and her husband make, I will always, always pick up the phone or book a flight to see my niece and support her no matter what.

So this is my truth.

And this is my story.