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I’m Trying Not to Be Stressed, I’m Trying to Be Afraid

It’s a frightening time.

I’m frightened.

My body has been on high alert for days. I’m exhausted when I fall asleep and I’m exhausted when I wake up. I am on an edge that no amount of meditating or cute puppy pictures can push me away from. I cry when something breaks in my house or when food doesn’t turn out. I cry when I read the news. I cry when I have do literally anything that is not looking at the news — what if I miss something critical to my family’s survival? The what-if worst case scenarios are so close to the surface of my psyche that you can read them in the bags under my eyes.

At the same time, I am radiating anger over our current administration’s fumbling and self-serving buffoonery. Anger helps people feel like they have agency. Anger means that you have not given up hope but you are furious that hopeful things have not happened yet. I am so furious right now that my body is in full on fight mode — ask my partner how many hugs I’m not accepting (but want oh so badly once my body calms down).

Today seems as good a day as any to start blogging again. By the look of my tweets, I’ve posted an essay or twenty in the last 24 hours anyway. I tend to tweet a lot when I’m anxious frightened. Me and the rest of the sane world are scared shitless (there is a hilarious joke about stockpiling toilet paper if you care to make it).

I had this theory before novel coronavirus took over the world. The theory was that I was hiding behind words like anxiety and stress because I was ashamed to admit that when I used words like those I was hiding from what they really meant– I was afraid.

When I said I was stressed, I was actually afraid. When I said I was anxious, I was afraid, when I said I was nervous, I was also afraid. That was the truth I felt I needed to sit with in order to overcome my fears, both real and imagined. But, I had a fear of feeling fear. Stress and anxiety sure – those are like “soft fear” right? Wrong, turns out, it’s all fear and we are suckers who are afraid of naming it.

It sounds insane, but it’s true. As a culture, we are afraid of fear, and I didn’t want any part of that lie – I pride myself on being emotionally transparent, at least to myself. So, like the queen of a far far away land naming Rumpelstiltskin, I was hoping that by naming and exposing these “soft fears” for what they were, real fears, I’d better manage them.

But here we all are, our president was caught with his pants down in the middle of a global pandemic (more loo roll jokes here) and our senators and hedge fund billionaires were caught with their hands in the cookie jar serving themselves instead of serving the greater good by sounding the alarm and saving lives.

I don’t know where the aftermath of all of this leaves the world, our country, or my family and that’s terrifying, infuriating, and heartbreaking.

I’m trying not to be stressed, or anxious. But I’m not practicing my zen, I’m trying to be afraid, and it sucks – because there is a lot of work that goes into honoring the truth of fear this big; I am struggling to sit with that, and I hate it.

PS. I love you, go wash your hands.

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To Fight Fascism, We Must Risk Delight

I stopped dreaming wide open things after this election. I woke up in worry, and I didn’t like that, so – along with my subscriptions to various newspapers, I also subscribed to poetry and literary magazines. I know the worry is warranted, this is not normal. But I can’t live in worry, and I refuse to wake up there. So, for the last several months, I have been waking up and instead of looking at my phone or the news, I’ve been reading poetry with my morning coffee.

Today, I read this line in a Poetry Magazine from April of 2014 that I bought at a used book store:

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world” – Jack Gilbert

And I’ve been thinking about that stubbornness, about risking delight. I’ve been thinking about how in times of great peril allowing ourselves to feel delight and gladness feels like we are betraying the worry and pain in the world. Often, when we feel good during times of great stress and fear, we worry that by not diligently tending to our fear, our feal will become invalid in some way, that we will somehow laugh ourselves into denying anything is wrong at all.

So, when we feel good, we guilt ourselves into feeling terrible again. We don’t let the light in. We don’t risk delight. But I think, hobbling our emotional guidance system in order to match the chaos and destruction around us is akin to working for the enemy. Especially if the enemy is counting on us to be afraid and play small.

I’ve been working on approaching this world as a love object, a beautiful place to nurture and be nurtured in (as opposed to a frightening and isolating place to exist).  I’ve been wondering about how to unite with people against the fascism we see unfolding within our government. I’m trying to understand how to come to this fight with a mindset that risks delight.

When thinking about our government’s move toward fascism I think about anti-intellectualism. How our current government is at war with science and the press. And I think this specific brand of anti-intellectualism has roots in hyper-masculinity. Intellectuals that embrace the complicated and interdependent nature of our modern world are considered sissies and not “real men.”

I am beginning to understand that this regime and its supporters are operating from a fear of becoming feminine. No matter how they dress up what they are doing, that is the base fear… because the “feminine” is a complicated system of relationships. It is not simple or single point transactional. It is not easily predicted or controlled.

Thinking about the rise of systems after WWII, about how quickly we complicated the world of men with machines and global relationships. How frightening this was to so many people that were not part of building those complicated systems.

When our regime’s rallying cry of “make America great again” is invoked, the great they cling to is a simpler less complicated ideology that no longer works for our time. So what they are doing, is trying to brute force reset our country to before these complicated systems were put in place. Why? Because they are afraid of being forgotten, of being left behind, of losing their identity. The are afraid, so they build walls.

I don’t want to be afraid.

So this morning I am trying to find my balance between resisting our current administration and knowing that what is needed is a revolution of the heart. Punching nazis and making room to pull the silent majority over their walls and out of their fear.

And I feel like, maybe by pinpointing where our culture evolved from the simpleness of climbing decision trees to the complex way we fly through possibility clouds it will help me understand how to do this.

I am working on keeping my mind, my eyes, my hands, and the throttle to my heart wide open… on understanding fear without succumbing to it.
If we succumb to fear, we become like the current regime. Stuck, unable to evolve, resorting to brute force resetting the world to a walled-in identity that no longer serves us but we’re too afraid to abandon.

So what I’m proposing is we put it all on the line. We risk delight. We fight, but we “care bear stare” the shit out of those motherfuckers – with open hearts that are unafraid.

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Not Quite Dating but Certainly a Mugging

[This piece was written and performed for a live audience in 2013 – I found it written out on a folded piece of paper in my coat pocket]

 

Eduardo and I had been going steady for about two months. Well, maybe not going steady, and you really couldn’t call it dating because we never really went on any dates, and we didn’t actually know each each other that well. I don’t know what you’d call it, it was more like… I would hang out at his coffee shop during the day, and by the night’s end, he’d be in my bed. He never really stayed there though, he lived across the balcony and would go home to sleep. What do you call it when you aren’t quite dating your neighbor/Latin lover? I guess it doesn’t matter. We did go on a walk once though.

After locking up the cafe late one summer night we decided to take a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan, I remember the breeze felt good on my face. Eduardo and I attempted to hold hands, but that wasn’t really who we were together, so we just talked, hands in our pockets.

What we realized then was that we didn’t even speak the same language. I mean, we both spoke English marginally well, I just mean, I spoke… still speak… like the world is held together with glitter and spiderweb silk; and well, Eduardo, he was a pragmatist.

Low on conversation and not even remotely in love, we did that one thing that we knew best; We made out, in the dark, on the shore, with the breeze against our backs; It was glorious. There was another couple maybe twenty feet away that looked to be doing the same, occasionally one of their heads would pop up like a prairie dog and look in our direction, then they’d lay back down and roll together with the waves. Chicago summer nights are enchantingly weird that way.

We were closing in on midnight when we decided to leave the beach. Walking back to my car we passed the couple who were next to us on the shore, two men in black hoodies. I got a chill up my spine, only this chill wasn’t the kind that’s an ode’ to love on a strange Chicago night, this chill was straight up fear. The couple turned around and followed us just moments after we passed them.

That’s when I felt what I would later come to realize was the chilly steel barrel of a 9mm against my temple. It really is cold, it’s the first thing you notice before you start to panic. We were being held up, not only that, we were being held up by a couple of dudes that a few moments earlier had been watching Eduardo and I all hot and heavy on the beach. My cheeks burned with embarrassment and my heart raced. Holy shit. Were we really being mugged by the prairie dog couple?

I don’t remember everything, but I remember they sounded scared, I picked up on that and it confused me. THEY were the ones with guns. I remember they pulled on the hem of my shirt and demanded everything in my pockets. I was infuriated with them. I actually yelled at them “You have guns, you don’t have to pull on my clothes to get me to do what you want, back off!” – and they did. Then they took my car keys, my cell phone, my drivers license, and my bank card. From Eduardo, they took $600 cash.

With the gun still on my temple, they asked me to take off my shoes, turn around, and run into the trees. You think facing a gun is unnerving, take a few minutes to think about knowing it’s there pointing at the back of your head and not seeing what was happening on the other end. Will I live? Will I die? Will a bullet get lodged into my brain? Are they planning on hurting me? Will the prairie dog guys kill my neighbor/Latin lover that I’m technically not dating? Why did they take my shoes?

Eduardo ran into the thicket and then I did, the grass was cool against my feet. We waited for what felt like hours. Then he whispered “Melissa, I think they ran away” and I swear to you that sounded better than any admission of love I’d ever heard before or since.

We walked the two miles home barefoot and in shock. We laid in my bed and tried to sort out what came next. To be honest, that’s not true, we didn’t actually sort anything. When we got back to my place we had incredible adrenaline fueled “we could have been killed” sex. It was the first and only time that Eduardo stayed all night in my bed.

In the morning I realized my bank card was FDIC insured and whatever the muggers had taken I could get back, so I called the police. They sent an officer over to take my statement, annoyed I hadn’t called them right after the crime. Eduardo wanted no part of it, I don’t know why – maybe he had a criminal history, maybe he was in the country illegally, maybe he just wanted a shower. Like I said, I didn’t really know him that well.

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What if I’m Just Here to Pour Your Coffee

Yesterday I found myself listing all the things I’ve made and done over the last 7 years. I started this list not because I was particularly proud, or couldn’t keep track (although it IS getting harder to do.) I listed them because I was terrified they wouldn’t be enough. It’s a real fear, now that my children are all finally in school. I am terrified that I am going back to the same space I was in 7 years ago.

7 years ago I was waitressing, 7 years ago I was pouring your coffee. 7 years ago Chicago was the purgatory between my previous life as a cubical slave and my future life of big adventure. I’m equally terrified and feel incredibly guilty when it seems that taking the time to stay at home with my children was not the adventure, but just what I did while I waited for it. What if my children have begun their autonomous lives, and I’m still just… waiting.

I tell myself that this is irrational, that this feeling of panic over my own autonomy is normal if slightly unjustified. After all, I’ve done so much in these past 7 years. I tell myself all stay at home parents go through this when their kids go to school, my children are not leaving for good, they’re just leaving for 7hrs a day, 5 days a week… But this month, these last few weeks, have felt like a slow motion free fall. No longer anchored to playgrounds and playdates,  I am left struggling to make sense of the silence.

I have kept myself busy. I marketed and produced a conference and community, I’m days away from launching Where are the Women with Marian, I’m in a hotel room in Portland preparing to speak at an entrepreneur conference, I’m planning another RVSX excursion, and planning new classes and events for the CWDevs community. Despite all this, I feel like I’m standing still. Without the normal constraints on my time, without the tug on my sleeve or demand for a sandwich while I take phone calls, all this action feels like atrophy.

What if, after all this time, I can’t function without the freneticness? What if my hustle was just a way of keeping sane through the routines of parenting small children? What if breaking my day into those tiny pieces of attention was exactly what my creative brain needed? When I mention this confusion of time and pace, my friends tell me to slow down, take a breather… but these are my childless friends, my friends that haven’t been waiting 7 years for their lives to be even remotely their own. These are friends that don’t understand that the constraints of full time motherhood that made my accomplishments seem extraordinary last year, are no longer there, and I may just be ordinary, after all. What if I slow down and find I’m just “waitress”, what if this last 7 years of waiting didn’t count, what if I’m just here to pour your coffee?