Five Things

Another Chance to Un-God Myself

There are all kinds of conflicts, and they’re not all mine to solve. Who knew?!

Five of Wands, Photo by Me

Five Things is a weekly essay of five short thoughts inspired by my own life and observances now that I’ve moved back home to Indiana after years of living in New York.

One.

I’m a hard sleeper, but that hasn’t always been true. For most of my childhood, I struggled to sleep. For various reasons, I either laid awake in the dark, or woke intermittently through the night. I had to search for and practice experiencing the kind of rest that actually restores you, instead of the kind born from psychic exhaustion. The kind that forces your eyes closed after a fight. I suspect a lot of people must learn to do the same over the course of their lives, if the lesson didn’t come to them by way of direct guidance or structure. There are so many things we don’t know we have to learn. So many ways we assume we ought to be without ever having the chance to try and fail and try again. Those lessons come down on you like a hammer, if you never get gentle correction. Sometimes, you’re the one holding the hammer. But even that is only because someone taught you how to swing and hit.

I’ve gotten used to being able to sleep through almost anything, and I usually wake rested and ready to “step out into the daily accident.” After the move, I regressed. For the first few weeks of living in Indianapolis, I missed my usual bedtime every night, and woke later and later in the morning. Never too late to get started, but always behind the time I expected or wanted. Each morning, I face a list of things I must do, and must quickly try to discount the ones that require someone else to do their part before I can do mine. This transition isn’t the first time I’ve relied on generosity and hired help from others, but it’s the first time I’ve so happily and by choice.

I’m always trying to give up on feigning control I never had. I’m at least being more reasonable in my expectations. I’ve finally accepted being disappointed by myself or anyone else won’t kill me. Even if they lose my couch. And if they do lose something precious to me, if someone I’ve chosen to count on doesn’t come through, I will not walk the old path of finding a way to blame myself for the outcome. I will not turn my common disappointment into a singular despair allowing me not to seek a solution, because I believe with everything in me, that I will only ever know disappointment when I let myself want too much. I am so good at convincing myself there is, and never was, a solution to be had.

Yes, I want to unpack more kitchen gadgets and books right now, but the movers still haven’t arrived. I need to take my dog to the vet again, but wherever he goes, he’ll be a new patient, and there’s all the paperwork and introductions that come along with that. I need warmer clothes, shoes, and a cast iron skillet. My book is technically done, but there are still edits to be made, sentences to clean, and a marketing/publicity beast on the horizon. I’m smoking cigarettes again. Five members of my family have contracted COVID 19. I anticipated, but could not truly predict, the frustration of living this much closer to people I love, and not being able to hug them in the hopes that we may all have many more opportunities to hug each other in the future. Not that I can control the future, but I suppose I can do my best to take steady steps toward it without tripping myself or anyone else.

There is so much to be grateful for amidst these common stressors, and I try to be present enough to honor that gratitude. I’m not looking ahead so I might control these situations. I am looking ahead toward the light of an earned hope, and freedom. I worried that not sleeping meant I was slipping back into an older version of myself, one who hadn’t learned what I know now about giving up the idea of control where I have none to my name, and choosing to rest. There’s no need to break myself down further because transitions always come with a little damage. I don’t have to be angry with myself or look for reasons why I’ve failed to get every action right. Once, my therapist told me I needed to Un-God myself, and release the belief in my ability to control the narrative of the world. Carrying burdens that don’t belong to me never helped anyone who was in need of my assistance. Least of all, Me, when I most needed to be on my own side. I don’t have to live that way, and for the most part, now, I won’t. I don’t have to use the hammer on myself or anyone else just because it was laid in my hand. I can set it down, and I can walk away. I can find a new tool.

Two.

Traditionally, I’ve struggled to see myself as a driver. My fear of operating a motor vehicle kept me from even trying to get a drivers license until I was almost eighteen years old. After I learned to drive, I realized I wasn’t bad at it, maybe even rather good at it, but I still didn’t trust myself. The first time I drove on a highway, my boyfriend followed close behind me in case I panicked. I didn’t, but I worried I would, and the worry didn’t end until I shifted into park directly outside my destination. In my memory, I held my breath my whole the way there.

When we decided to come back to Indiana, my excitement kept me from having too much anxiety about returning to a place where I would be expected to drive almost everywhere. Indianapolis is a great city, but it isn’t exactly known for its walkability. In some areas, sure, but not where I am, and only in a few places where I’d eventually like to live. The last time I lived here, I didn’t have a car either, but I lived in a lovely little self-contained neighborhood where I didn’t really need to have one. Not that I could have afforded one if I did.

I relied on public transit in Indy for almost two years before I moved to Brooklyn, but this time I have a car. We’re borrowing a car from a friend so we can take our time buying our own, and even though I get giddy loading my grocery haul into the backseat instead of trying to wheel it onto a subway platform, I’m still getting used to trusting myself behind the wheel. Kel loves to drive, and it’s easy for me to just let him. I’ve had to be intentional about taking the car out by myself so I don’t use him as a crutch, which I really really want to do. But I don’t let myself. I run errands on my own, and sometimes, I just take the car for a drive so I can feel my body relax into the seat, allow my core to sway with the winding roads, and remind myself that I can do so much more than I often allow myself to believe is true.

A few days ago, Kel and I had to make a stop together, and I drove. I’m still getting used to driving in the city because I didn’t do much of it even when I lived here, but I remember all the street names and Google Maps makes most of it easy. I noticed Kel getting tense in the passenger seat while I drove, and if I missed a turn or squinted to see a sign, he’d quickly tell me what he would do, or remind me that I’d missed a turn right after the voice in my phone did. It started to mess with me. My confidence in my driving ability started to wither, and I made another mistake trying to rally and recover. After another comment, I turned to him and said, “If you want to help, you can read me the directions on my phone, but you can’t just tell me what I’ve done wrong after I’ve already done it. That doesn’t make me feel good, it’s distracting me, and I don’t like it.” Look, I know it sounds like a mild condemnation, but for me? Not shutting down emotionally so I could keep the peace? Sticking up for myself? With someone I LOVE? That’s a big moment. A big deal.

Kel looked contrite, nodded, then gave me the room to find my way. My confidence got a lift from naming my feelings, setting a boundary, and having it respected. This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, but it stuck. I still feel the warmth of the moment, the heat rising in my face, and the wisest part of me remembering that I’m allowed to be frustrated, and even angry, in love. The permission I need to say what I mean, and mean what I say, has been granted, by me, and affirmed by my partner in life. We made it to our destination and back without incident, and Kel apologized for how his anxiety manifested in the moment. My forgiveness came easily because I did not need him to tell me I’d done the right thing. It didn’t take long after I spoke my piece for the tension to break because I hadn’t held my breath for an apology. When I am sure of who I am, what I deserve, and the next turn I want to make, I breathe easier.

Three.

Last night, while journaling, I wondered how honest or clear I’ve been about who I am in my communications with strangers online. I know I don’t lie or mislead, at least nor purposefully, but do I convey my reality accurately? Not completely, of course, there’s no way to download the human experience into a digital conversation, a truth we know now more than ever before. But do I make it look too shiny, too dark, too overwhelmingly happy or sad? I don’t need to give myself away. I know the difference between privacy and secrecy, but I also know the power of intentionality or lack thereof. I know how easy it is to do what’s expected when you don’t intentionally set out to do what’s thoughtful, compassionate, or right. I don’t want to overshare, but I want to be honest, and I am always walking that line.

If you write in online spaces, how do you maintain your privacy without creating a sense of secrecy, or false mystery about your circumstances?

Four.

This week, December 4th, I’m going to be in conversation with Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew about their book, Black Futures, and it’s going to be a great time. These are two brilliant artists and thinkers with a lot to say about where we’ve been as Black folks, and all the places we have yet to go. The point, I think, is that we do and shall exist in every time and every place. What we are can not be eradicated from the living. As long as life marches on, Black people will be here, marching forward.

You can buy tickets here.

Five.

As I’ve said before, I struggle with routines, even though I know how good they are for my mental and emotional well-being. When I have some kind of structure in my life, I thrive. As long as the structure isn’t oppressive as I usually encounter it in form. Sometimes people ask me if I became a freelancer so I could do whatever I want at any time during the day, and while I guess that’s a perk, it’s not really accurate in my situation. In theory, I can do whatever I want at any time of the day, but in practice, that sends me into a hellscape of anxiety. I lose my center. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to schedule my showers, or breakdown my life into 15-minute segments, but if I don’t know where I want my day to begin, I run the risk of losing my day to…I don’t even know.

I’ve resisted the idea of making up routines for myself because I don’t like feeling stuck. When I was a younger person, when I really could have used the knowledge, nobody told me routines could change as you see fit. No one described them as a kind of evolving outline made to to fit the ever-changing needs of your day/week/year/life. I didn’t know all the options I had, even when I thought I had none. Who knew that routines could be something you made for yourself instead of something foisted upon you by obligation and expectations. I don’t blame myself for not knowing what was available to me, I’m just happy to know now.

For the last couple of years, our morning routine consists of coffee and a quick tarot card pull for each of us. Usually, there’s music in the background, a large dog laying bedside us, and sunshine pouring through a nearby window. This is the only routine we’ve been able to maintain since the move. The view has shifted from a clear shot toward the skyline of East Brooklyn, to a wooded yard where squirrels fight and cardinals dance in the branches so close to us, we stop speaking, hoping they’ll stay long enough to commit to memory. We forget that they’ll be back, and we’re not going anywhere for a while. Then, another swallow of lukewarm coffee, and we remember.

Today, I pulled the five of wands, and thought of how tough it’s been these last few weeks, and how it’s all been worth it, every step of the way. Productive conflict, Kelly called it. I’ve known obstacles, and I’ve felt the call to give up over and over again in my life. Most of what I faced felt easily preventable or needlessly cruel. None of it particularly productive, at least, not in times of transition. This time, every hard moment has given shape to a new more beautiful understanding. It wasn’t productive because it felt like work. It was productive because it taught me something new, something I needed to learn. And I forgave myself, each time, for what I didn’t know before. I hope you can forgive yourself too, for what you didn’t always know, and what you had to learn in real time, with real consequences, along the way.

Kelly made a playlist called Coffee and Tarot. I love it. You can listen to it here.

Writer. Editor. Host. AshleyCFord.Com

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