Tag: insecurity

The cost of hate

We as a species can be so filled with judgment.  Visual creatures, we can be easily seduced by both beauty and similarity.  We like what makes sense without having to struggle, so we gravitate to people of like minds because we find that the most comfortable.  I understand this.  My whole life, I have been on the outside enough to witness how people can cling to the familiar even when it is destructive.

Only, that avoidance has led us to a terrible place.

Today, neo-Nazis are protesting in Virginia.  As I stared at news feeds with tears in my eyes, I realized I cannot be silent.

Hate has taken over too many souls.

One alt right terrorist ran his car into a crowd of counter protestors. At least one person has died.

What has made this acceptable?

From what mental illness does this murderous disregard for other human beings spring?

I am outraged.  I can’t deny the anger bubbling up within me as I write these words.  With all the volume I can muster, I want to scream at those alt-right Nazis: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  You are damaging everyone; no one less than your own soul. The people you are so busy dehumanizing are just as vital and beautiful as you perceive yourself and your loved ones to be.  No race, or religion, or income bracket, or gender, or sexual orientation, or political opinion can make someone less human.  Neither can those qualities make someone better.”

The alt-right has opined about the hardships heterosexual, cisgendered white people have suffered, but to blame those difficulties on people who do not believe or look as they do is madness.  It could be a comfortable insanity, one bred from generations of racism and blame, continued because it is easier than analyzing why those prejudices are there, but that is the opposite of an excuse.

Is this as simple as being terrified of economic vulnerability and a changing world, but not being able to widen their view to realize that everyone so suffers? I know no one who is secure financially, for whom a death or an illness would not upend everything. 98% of the country is in the same boat.

I am troubled by the entire concept that people who look like me want to take the country back.  The United States was founded by immigrants who stole land from those who were already happily living here.  We have paid a high price for the sins of our history – genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment.

Do not imagine that this has nothing to do with the current situation. We are barreling down the same exact path. Not to mention, those protesting have a twisted but tight grip on the past.

Of what consequence is it to those neo-Nazis and alt right protestors spewing hate that the same sentiments were what fueled the Holocaust and Apartheid and lynchings?  Did they ever study the horror of the Civil War?  Given the T-shirts, the confederate flags, and swastikas, it appears to be a point of pride.  They are lionizing people who committed crimes against humanity, who spoke for the worst that we can be. Given the love of Hitler I saw proudly displayed in tweet after tweet, it seems that they would willingly throw their souls into a bonfire to revel in hate and the delusion of supremacy.

Take our country back implies oppression.  That we could be two generations away from mass lynchings, genocide on the scale that it boggles the mind, institutional racism that crippled large swaths of the country for decades and that continues to be a plague, I wonder: from whom must the country be rescued? How was this forgotten? Why did we become blind to our failings? How did we develop a taste for hate again, or has it always been a secret passion in the hearts of so many?

I cannot move past my revulsion over this orgy of hate.  There is no good that could ever come from it. With every speck of news I wanted to primal scream, howl out my horror. The willful, murderous delusion being paraded in the state of my birth, that one human being is of greater value than another, fills me with outrage.  How could we have gone through World War II, the Civil Rights movement, not to mention watching so much senseless suffering from Apartheid, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, and countless other examples large and small, only to have parts of the population that want to charge down those same roads again?

Only, I cannot hate them.  I cannot feel like they are less, even if I am terrified of their madness. I know better, because I know that we all spring from the same source.

When my paternal grandmother died, my mother found a trunk filled with artifacts from the early klan.  There was my biracial mother, so studiously passing for white, confronted by the ghost of my great grandfather’s hatred.  When she told me about it years later, I wept at the sudden, acute understanding that my heritage contained both sides: the lynched and the one in the hood; the slave owner and the slave.

Like everyone else, the potential for both good and evil exists with me. It means I cannot hate those who protest on behalf of hate; but, oh, God, I can pity them because they keep themselves from such wonders.

One of my closest friends told me about his work within the gay community after Stonewall.  But those protestors could not hear how brave and strong he was, because they could not get past the condemnation of his journey. Likewise, they would not be able to watch the queer-trans couple that is a model of compassion and love, without letting judgment cloud their eyes.  They cannot hear stories of the brilliance of black men and the unbreakable resilience of black women, because they have to feel superior.  To me this is a crushing sadness.  What is missed when hate is the focus!

Because they judge so quickly, so wrongly, choosing to embrace a caricature of the foreigner, those protesters could not appreciate the stunning beauty of Spanish prose, the lyrical miracles tucked inside Sufi poetry, the way that other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, and countless more can enrich their experience of faith.  Because of their race and faith, those protesters wearing swastikas and confederate flags could not hear the wisdom of Archbishop Desmond Tutu or the Dalai Lama, which makes me want to cry for them.

I wonder if their faith is too fragile to acknowledge other paths up the same mountain.

Given their hatred of everyone who is other, I wonder if they have forgotten “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because otherwise  they could not be driving cars into crowds of counter protestors.

Honestly, I am having a real problem right now.

This experience is pushing my compassion to its limits.

I wonder if this is how my mother felt as she dragged that trunk down the stairs, staring in horrified disbelief at the books that called half of herself a monkey and an ape and accused an entire race of idiocy sight unseen.  It must have felt like such a betrayal; the hidden hatred of people whom she had lived with and helped.  I wonder how much of it was rage and how much of it was just despondency when she poured lighter fluid on that hood and robe and those awful books and lit them up.

That hatred became ash, dead and dust like the man who had worn them.

Right now, I am in pain, stumbling through my own journey, aware of how many of those people protesting would hate me because of my heritage, my physical health, my economic vulnerability.  I keep wishing to Christ that I am not simply shouting these words into the void when I say:

STOP WITH THIS TOXIC INSANITY.

Every human being – and that is what both those they deride and they are – is a worthy, valuable person.

I don’t care what you believe, who you love, with what gender you identify, from whence you came, what language you speak, you are worthy of compassion and love.

If we disagree politically, if we believe differently, that is no excuse.  We can still peacefully coexist. We cannot condone or encourage the mistreatment of others.

I am praying that everyone who protests for hate finds some ease for whatever agony drives them to this madness.  I hope they can stop before they start a war or harm more innocents.

Because, here is the kicker, all of us are human and capable of discernment.  We all have souls – and for this I pray, if for no reason other than saving themselves, turn them away from hate.

thoughts on social anxiety

The past three days, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Sunday’s blog.  I suppose I should admit that the social anxiety has not gone away, in fact it has magnified a bit. An endless stream of apologies seems to be flowing from my mouth. At any rate, while I wrote Sunday, I had a tiny epiphany. My conviction that it might lead to the truth has grown stronger over the past 48 hours.

Although, I wonder if I haven’t had this epiphany before and just keep forgetting it.  Perhaps I should go back and check through older blogs.  My memory sputters like a car that refuses to start.

The back pain has left me right on the edge of cognitive load; I feel impaired as I try to process what’s going on around me.  Moving through space while hiding the amount of pain I’m in requires nearly all of my focus. If I drop my guard, I am probably going to become a trembling ball of whimpers. Certainly I was a wreck after dismantling my bedroom so I could flea treat my cat. This hyper-focus on keeping my shit together makes me acutely insecure that I’m missing things like social cues and snippets of conversation. Things get lost. Indeed, I forgot all about a student this afternoon.  Thank heavens she had her own key to the studio, knows what to do and has a forgiving nature.

Social situations have always left me anxious; large groups of people intimidate me.  As blissful as I can be with my life, I have very little confidence in how others see me.  Usually this doesn’t matter, because I’ve learned that trying to please anyone other than myself is fairly moot.  For everyone that likes some aspect of my personality, there will be someone who detests it. One will complain when I am passionate and effervescent, another adores it.  When friends try to comfort me I find myself blinking back tears, for I know if we went down the inventory of my character traits, I could give them someone who is a fan and someone else who rolls their eyes in despair for each and every item on the list. (This fact parallels in art, too: for every one who loves it there is another who will tell me I’m wasting my life.) Worse, when I am in this much pain, all perspective disappears.  Overwhelmingly, I feel forsaken, lost, like the world has suddenly become huge and terrifying. Solitude weighs on me like heavy stones, dragging me under water. All the strength and resilience I have demonstrated is forgotten. The joy I take in I am when I am alone does not soothe me, because in that moment the pain overwhelms all logic, memory and sensation.

Which does nothing to improve my cognitive load issues.  The pain itself can feel like a strange punishment for whatever my sins might be.

All the coping techniques that I can use when I find myself in a triggering situation to minimize the anxiety, and that I can use to derail the post-event insecurity, are not accessible when my body  screams so loudly.  Even if I quiet myself through meditation – something less likely when I cannot sit still without crying – all I can really manage is not fighting the onslaught of emotions and thoughts.  For the past three days, I have been nothing but apologies – desperate not to hurt people while I walk around in this haze – and I have continued to struggle with pain.

Eventually my back will feel better.  Or, I’ll just get used to this level of discomfort.  In the mean time, I’ve got to try to remember that this current spasm of loneliness and worry is happening for physiological reasons more than actual, rational ones.  When I lose perspective, I have to realize that it is only a shift in perception, not a condemnation.  If I say it often enough, I’ll start to believe it.

Right?

And, next time I have a big injury or an incapacitating illness, I’ll try to remember to re-read this blog.

 

rejection

bluewoman_largeI submitted my art to a new venue a little over a week ago and received a rejection in my inbox about twenty minutes ago.

At first there was a thrill, because I could tell it was from the venue from the email address and their subject heading was ambiguous.  However, by the end of the brief first paragraph, for reasons either personal or not (they refused to distinguish between artists they reject on the basis of their bad art and those they reject because their work doesn’t fit the flow of their collection), I had to reel the bare and tangled line of my hopes back in.

The automatic and profound insecurity that I am indeed a bad artist (and by extension a bad business woman and a useless human being) still washes over me, despite increased success and the contentment that ruled over my waking hours before checking my inbox.

Honestly, the “bad art” message can come at you from a thousand different angles if you let it. Indeed, I have written about it in other blogs. I know this is not a situation I suffer through alone.  Every artist I have met had someone disparage their art and suffered rejections.  Alas, realizing I am not alone in this does not always help. Learning to remain secure in myself and my skills in the face of rejection was harder than I can say, and is not an ability I have fully mastered.

If this email had come a year ago, I would be wallowing in it for days, not writing, not making art, simply berating myself for believing in the delusion of hope in the first place.

Thank God, my burdens are not as they once were.  Even as I still steep in the insecurity, my outer reaction could not be different.  I throw my energy into creating more avenues for hope and possibility. During the past twenty minutes, I have ordered more promotional materials for galleries and collectors, written this blog, jotted down some ideas of how to take better pictures and begun editing photos for another online venue where my submission was enthusiastically approved.

More importantly for the well-being of my heart, the painting sitting across the room from me on the easel, still caught in a woeful state of ugliness, calls out to me like a siren.  The artist in me needs to create art, even if it is just rescuing one piece from incompleteness.

Even if it is simply to prove to myself that no matter who rejects my art, this is still what I do.

art or death

I lost my zen during a phone conversation.  Now I don’t mean that I ranted and cursed, but I let someone else’s prophecies into my heart for a moment. They insinuated their way into me like smoke does the lungs. The sensation felt both familiar and disheartening – because I had been doing so much better disarming this fiercenessparticular button.  A year ago, maybe even six months, those statements would have made me wildly insecure and led me to tears – but today, I reacted with defiance. Art or death, because quitting is not an option. Nor is being immobilized by negativity or fear.

Still not the reactions I want to arise from such stimuli, but they were better than falling into despair.

The button that was pushed – which wound up being hit for the second time in three days –  is hopelessness.  The overwhelming verbal waves that everything I – and in both cases the people talking to me – hope for and dream of is impossible. Their art could never support them. Financial situations will never improve.  Our chance for making art and writing has expired.  There is no adaptation to improve this situation.  Conversations even went into the realms of how foolish I am to continue with whatever medium the speaker finds problematical and how vulnerable and irrelevant we all are.

And, on a certain level, those things are real and possible. Economies and people suffer.  Art is in a state of chaos, change and redefinition.  Hence the button being there.  Committing to this life is often a difficult choice.

However, when I am alone, with nothing but my words or art, those voices no longer torment me.  They used to arise spontaneously and hold me captive for hours. They held me up by my arms and toyed with me like a cat does a mouse, all glee and sadism. Thank God, if they appear at all now, they float away without leaving the marks of their claws.

The change was not spontaneous, but rather deliberate retraining using all the tools that meditation, therapy, hope and faith have given me.  Also, this has been an act of surrender: I know I cannot control whether people buy my art, or my house, or support me as a human being.  These glories cannot be forced.  However, I also do not know that I will fail.  I have to surrender to my absolute and unavoidable ignorance of the future.  As my past has faded away to an echo of what it once was, the future too has become something completely unreal.  This realization has, finally, worked its way into my being, all the way down into my bones.

However, it must not be in the marrow yet, because I still fell off my zen.  One of my biggest challenges continues to be standing up against someone else’s insistence that their imaginings, their perception, their dread, and their judgment are the absolute truth.  People can project a staggering amount of emotion onto others, particularly when they are scared, discouraged or feeling doomed.

My impulse is to walk away from such prophets; to protect myself from the power of their woeful certainty.  But, after I let the waves of defensiveness pass this afternoon another thought arouse within me: I wonder if they are relying on me to change their mind?

messages

Several echos reverberate in my mind tonight.  They were sparked by some constructive suggestions given to me about my kickstarter – improvements that i made reality as soon as i got back to the house. Knowing that the reaction i am having is totally unfair because the message given to me tonight was to go boldly forward and be brave and try and try again has not stopped my thoughts from circling the drain. The writer in me howls with grief that my message was so deeply flawed. Simultaneously, i am thrilled by the praise i was given and despondent that my personal failings came through so clearly in text and video. Most of all, i am being pestered by memories like wasps that will not stop stinging me, evoked by the conversation despite the lack of justification. The most prominent criticisms that have been repeating in a loop on the screen of my consciousness came from three sources:

At sixteen, in the voice my mother, when she burned all my poems because they were humiliatingly bad.

At seventeen, when my English teacher told me to give up writing because, even though i was relatively skilled at putting sentences together, because “No one will ever be interested in what’s going on in your head.”

Finally, the embarrassment of my then husband, as he earnestly worried about my poetry and novels being associated with him.

My reaction to all three of these judgments, at the time they were uttered, was to deepen my resolve to write.  The actual number of lines pouring forth from my pen increased with each incident, albeit with some adaptations.  For my mother, i started hiding my poetry better – scribbling it in the margins of pages in the notebooks for my classes.  After i left that teacher’s room, i went to study hall and wrote a list of all the writers i adored who poured the contents of their mind onto the printed page.  In the case of the man now my ex, i became a different person after we divorced to keep him from suffering from a connection to me.

However, the reason that these comments are revolving around in my awareness tonight like a carousel of misery is because of the shameful timidity that they stoked in my heart. For me, it is one thing to have the endurance and inspiration to write and another thing entirely to hold the words i have strung together out for others to read.  Each time i submit, every time i throw my work out into the world, i have this recoil of anxious shyness. It exists with painting and pottery too, but is much more acute with the written word. There has to be a pause, a rest for me to re-fortify, and then i can try again.  With something like a blog, or a single poem released as part of a podcast, the delay can be small. Whatever humiliations i face are fleeting. But for big risks, like submitting a novel or this kickstarter, the time i spend retreating can be ridiculously long.

Several times, even successful exposure has left me hobbled for months.  The same thing happens with dating – something tragic occurs and then i pull away from people for a long time until i feel strong enough to try again. Or the loneliness becomes unconquerable, so i rejoin the world in desperation. Something wonderful occurs, but doesn’t last, and i’m still pulling away because things could be worse next time.

In both my social life and in my career, these pauses have lasted for years. i am deeply shamed by my cowardice. Perversely, these echoing messages became the proof that my hesitation was justified even though they did not stop me from working. i have always kept writing no matter how badly my confidence eroded. Alas, i kept thinking that book after book, poem after poem, could be nothing more than practice. For over a decade, i used the criticisms of others to say that i was not good enough to even begin to try to seek publication. Truly, it has only been in the past five years that i have made any progress on this point with my writing and all forward movement has been halting.

Even now, when i know that creating is the only thing i’m good for, i still find myself hearing good advice, implementing it even though it is probably too late, and then wanting to hide away in the dark, safe inside my house, hoping no one finds out how terrified i really am.

Indeed, i am scared to press the publish button for this blog.  But, i won’t let that stop me.  And, since it’s after one in the morning i will be able to seek refuge in bed and call it “going to sleep.”