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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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.

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.

hurt people obviously hurt people

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Five by Polly Nor

I have essentially barricaded myself in my room and I have every intention of either dying here or disintegrating into nothingness. I am open to either option quite honestly.

It’s been a trying couple of weeks. I have learned a lot, lost some friends, and gained some new ones. I have been struggling a lot with knowing how to pick my battles while also maintaining my integrity. I admit it has not been an easy journey.

I’m tired of defending myself or defending others (no one ever asked me to be their advocate). I am tired of being told that “hurt people hurt people”. I am well aware of that fact as someone who is hurting day in and day out.

We are all hurting.

I wish I didn’t feel the need to comment on every little thing. I wish my brain would turn off and not judge people or come up with snarky commentary. But at the same time I don’t wish any of these things because my voice is my strongest asset.

I am entitled to speak up when I see something that is not okay. I am allowed to call someone out if they’re being disrespectful. And I am more than allowed to tell you if I think you’re a total two-faced scumbag.

And conversely, you are all entitled and allowed the same things.

It’s what you do with the “constructive” criticism or the character assassinations.

I have learned the most when someone looked me in the eye and told me I was acting like a complete moron and that I needed to check myself. But I also learned the most by taking that commentary and sitting alone with it. By sitting alone and parsing through it to see if there was any validity to the words.

Were the words to help me or hurt me? And ultimately, does it even matter?

You answer to yourself every morning and every night.

We are essentially lonely beings who search for something to fill the void but I am slowly learning the void is there for a reason and it will most likely not be filled.

I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay that we’re all empty, broken, and complicated humans. I think it’s okay for people to engage in dialogues or monologues or endless diatribes.

A friend recently told me, “you can always change the channel.”

Sit with that for a while.

You.

Can.

Always.

Change.

The.

Channel.

And you can always turn off the TV if it really comes down to it.

 

you are allowed to be crazy so long as you read the fine print

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art by lora mathis

Last night I took an inordinate amount of shrooms and I suddenly found myself feeling every repressed feeling surrounding my father’s passing. I was just out with a friend and then BOOM! I was pressed down by the immensity of the love and loss I quieted nearly six years ago. And obviously because I am the most irrational rational human this side of the Mason-Dixon line then I decided I needed to go see my dad.

Naturally.

I wanted to be where my dad was. I wanted to fly directly to Kenya and sit with him for the first time since the pallbearers lowered his casket into the red soil of the village. I wanted to feel his presence one more time by any means necessary.

I regret now that I tried to share my experience with various family members and friends. I regret that I was vulnerable and naked and I showed the part of myself I worked so hard to hide from the world all these years.

And the emotions I felt were not limited to my father’s passing. I was also feeling the entire weight of years of repressing my emotions and ideas in order to make other people feel comfortable. I quieted my own heart song in order to allow other people to feel more at ease.

I wanted to go to Kenya because that is where it all began and daily I wonder who I would be had my parents not decided for me at such a young age that I had to grow up in America. That I had to be oppressed and silenced and broken down because of the color of my skin or a difference in chromosomes.

So I went to the airport. I made the decision to purchase a one way ticket and just go home. I just wanted to go home and be next to my father. I wanted to see my family. I wanted to just give the big ole middle finger to this American dream and go back to where my dreams all began.

I made the mistake of calling my mom and one of my best friends to tell them where I was and where I was going and of course they attempted to intervene. Christ, I have had so many interventions that I could probably start sitting in on them and guiding people as to the correct and incorrect modus operandi.

I was met by a delightful young man named Rod who worked for United Airlines and he told me he didn’t think I really wanted to go to Kenya with just a backpack and two books. He kept telling me what I wanted as if I wasn’t fully present and fully capable of discerning what going to Kenya on a whim meant.

But I did understand and I still understand. And when two paramedics showed up with six police officers I fully understood that what I wanted was irrelevant. I understood that it didn’t matter if I recited Dante’s Inferno in its original language and told you all of Anna Karenina’s family members names or what Sylvia Plath was wearing when she died.

None of that mattered because everyone else saw what they wanted to see even though I was trying to show them what I was seeing. I was seeing my truth. I was seeing things more clearly than I had ever seen them before.

I am back in Logan Square after signing an AMA form for the paramedics and rolling my eyes at the people in blue. Because I might be crazy but I am free from the chains and weight of other people’s expectations. And next time I’ll just smoke a joint and buy my boarding pass before going to O’Hare and I certainly will not call my mom or my best friend.

I am a smart, strong, and genuine individual and gone are the days of asking permission to be who I am. Gone are the days of feeling as if I am stepping on someone’s toes by experiencing the world the way I experience it. I have spent time being psychoanalyzed. I have taken the countless medications. I have talked to multitudes of people and no one has ever offered me something even close to insight as to why I got the brain that I did.

Why some days are technicolor and other days are grayscale and other days are a mix of the two.

Honestly, I don’t even care what color my days are anymore. I’m just happy I’m alive to see the entire rainbow and then some.

 

you’re the dealer and the stoner with the sweetest kiss I’ve ever known

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from The Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems

If I had a choice I wonder if I would choose to be a black woman from the beginning. I wonder if I would choose to be an immigrant, an artist, a marginalized part of society. I have learned so much walking around in this shell of blood and DNA and madness. I have learned so much and become more empathetic as a result of my experiences.

But I have also learned that people don’t want me to ask questions, to speak up for myself, or to exist confidently. People preferred when I was insecure (I still am) and I was crippled by the uncertainty of my existence and the world around me.

I have been called more terrible things by people now that I am living authentically. Now that I won the war inside my own head I am now stuck in a war against the world.

But you know? I am not worried about it. I am prepared to learn and fight and grow in whatever way the universe needs me to. I am not phased by the haters. I am not worried about people who want to tear me down because I have worked hard to build myself up from a very dark place.

I expect to still have darkness come creeping in. I know there will be some days where I will cry nonstop and the world will be unkind and try to make me participate in its insanity but for once I don’t need to let it into life.

There are a lot of people who have incredibly awful things to say about me. And I have made my mistakes, sure, but I am more than the sum of my parts. I know that. No, actually I believe it with every fiber of my being.

I won the war in my mind (for now) and I am at peace with myself.

The rest is just white noise.

you accumulate garbage and it makes you beautiful

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art by lora mathis

i’ve been feelin’ brand new lately, feelin’ A1, feelin’…myself. i don’t know when everything shifted but i am eternally grateful that they have. for the longest time i would read books and poems and prose and wonder when i was going to make it through the proverbial storm. i would be anxious and worried that the status quo was indeed the status quo and i was doomed to be a thotpiece forever and ever.

but somewhere between the vomiting and the depression and the drugs and the insane manic episodes everything fell into place.

the stars aligned and my shoulders began to feel a little lighter. my heart wasn’t as empty and cold and my eyes could finally see something besides the paralyzing sadness.

i have been nonchalantly joking that it’s only a matter of time before a meteor crashes down and ends this bliss. and honestly that would be totally fine. totally.

but i hope it waits a little. i hope i get a few more years before i am burned to death while covered in coconut oil.

i spent so many years hoping i would be happy. that i would be less depressed. less drunk. but i realized that happiness isn’t a feasible goal. yes everything is A1 but also i am sad. i am sad and angry and overwhelmed by this entire human existence.

and that is what humbles me. that is why i know i am finally ready for whatever comes next because truly, how strange, how goddamn strange it is to be anything…at all.

so i will keep one eye out for that meteor but i also fully intend to enjoy it while i got it. whatever it is, it is truly, undeniably, absolutely strange and wonderful and broken and real.

that’s real.