Generally speaking, I handle things better when I understand them. I don’t have to like a situation to handle it well. In fact, if I had a superpower, it would be that. If you tell me that worst thing imaginable (“There’s a murderous clown living in your closet, and he has eaten your puppy!” or “I’ve just finished the last of the coffee. And there is a statewide shortage!” or “I’m sorry, but you are suddenly lactose intolerant and can no longer consume cheese.”), I will not be HAPPY – but I cope with things better when there are facts.
It’s the void that gets me. The dark unknown, the universe of answers turned inside out. Not because the answers do not exist. It’s because they are hidden from view, unable to be accessed. Because some answers are tucked any somewhere – and with someone – else. And it can be very hard, very challenging to get a handle on a situation like that. Especially if there are crazy variable involved, and you’ve absolutely no way to suss them out.
This is what your brain does in moments like that. Or, at least, mine. It’s like that scene in a horror movie where a character is in a basement. Suddenly, the lights go off, and the protagonist cannot find the stairs. It doesn’t matter if there truly is no monster lurking in the darkness. Your brain goes full on oh my god, what they hell? Is that a Jabberwocky? I AM GOING TO DIE. And the character ends up tripping on a rake and impaling himself/herself for no good reason.
Emotionally speaking, that scene is a landmine of what-ifs. Your brain starts to devolve into its worst, fear-seeking self – until you’re fairly certain the reality of a situation is the most terrible version possible. That is nothing more than fear taking all your good sense, wrapping it in insecurity, and chucking it into the ocean, where it gets eaten by a mutant shark while the theme song to Jaws plays at an alarming decibel.
Personally, my problem in this kind of situation is usually twofold. The first problem is that if I’m worried about someone, and I have no idea what’s going on or any way to find out what’s going on, this does not make me worry any less. In fact, it makes it worse. It ratchets up the fear and concern to an unholy height, leaving my pulse throbbing even in my teeth. My brain tends to bounce around like an electrified pinball, occasionally catching fire and shorting out. Because when left to my own devices, I always blame myself. I find some fault in something I did and start with, “maybe…” And that maybe is a whisper that turns into a voice, knocking itself around the inside of my skull. It’s the what-ifs that kill us slowly, stupidly, and thoroughly. (This is a flaw in my personality. One I am forever working on.) You may not notice this, because most things can be hidden with a good smile. But it’s there. Because I am a worrier. I care, therefore I worry. If I give a damn, I give a damn. And no amount of space, time, or intergalactic rifts in either of those things can even remotely change that. Like I mentioned before, it’s easier to deal with a situation if the lights are on in the basement.
The second part of this problem is I am absolutely shit about being able to do nothing. I don’t necessarily need to move a mountain or render some grand miracle. But I like to help. I like to do, even if it’s just to lend an ear, or a hug, or buy you a drink. I like to help. It’s not even a compulsion. It’s pretty much the foundation of who I am. If I love you, I want to help you. End of the fucking story.
But then, there are the times where the basement is dark. Everything is uncertain. And there are two choices, either of which could be possible. In that moment, the wisest thing is to calmly walk to the stairs, moving slowly – not flailing about like a hyperventilating water buffalo. But truthfully, who is really graceful in moments of raw worry or fear? That is something you have to convince yourself to do, reasoning with your lesser self. It is probably the best choice. The second is to sit down in the darkness. Remind yourself that there’s really nothing to fear. Wait it on. The lights will turn back on. You’ll see what there is to see. You just have to wait. Waiting without knowing is the hardest thing I’ve yet to fully master. Without a finish line, an end zone, a set place of ending – something to achieve – it is terrifying thing. What-if it never ends? What if I never understand? What-if [insert thing here]?
What-if. It’s a bitch.
But in the face of what-if, the best thing is to have faith. To believe. To sit back, consider the heart of the situation, and remember that there are a few things in life that are always true: laughter cannot fix a situation, but it can right the most crooked moment. Fear is only good if you use it as a guidepost to bravery. Love is the strongest force on this earth.
I don’t think much in life is black and white. I don’t think most things are easily figured out. I believe in the power of the heart, of the way life gets complicated when we least expect it to. But I think that at the end of the day, we know exactly what it is we’ll fight for. Sometimes, on the rarest of occasions, there is truly a monster in that basement. The lights go out. Your phone suddenly dies. The door slams shut. And you have, again, two choices: you let the damn thing eat you, because you’re paralyzed by fear OR you fight. Because you’d rather go down swinging than curl up in a ball and give in. That is the most important thing: even when it’s absolutely horrifying, you fight. You don’t just accept that the monster is going to eat you.
When that happens, the entire world changes if you know that someone is on your side. Someone believes in you. Someone is willing to risk everything for you. In that spirit, here is the truest thing I know – even my worst days, even when I’m scared, know this: I’m here. I love you.
“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” – Rumi
There are days where I forget myself. Days where I give in to the fear, stay inside the lines, and try to pretend that it’s all for the best. We all have those days. Those days where the safe, easy answer seems like the only logical, reasonable, sane choice. On those days, I often find myself hiding from so many things: from what I want and need, from who I am, and from who I could be.
Living in fear is not living. Living is shame is not living either. A reputation is just an idea based on something that someone else thinks. This not a personal standard. Reputations are a funny thing. You either have a good one or a bad one – is there an in-between? A blend of grey? A middle ground? I think, most often, one part overshadows the whole. But that’s another story for another time.
Today, for an inexplicable reason, I was afraid. I had a thought, and the thought followed me everywhere. It was one of those damned what-if worries. It wasn’t based in anything rational or solid. It was irrational and ridiculous. But sometimes, our brains take that crazy leap across the chasm, voluntarily landing on the other side – only to discover it’s populated with rabid wolves, quicksand, and very disgruntled cannibals. In short: BAD. Very bad. Hid the fava beans – and DRINK the Chianti.
What does one do with fear? It’s not a physical thing. You can’t stuff it in a closet. You can’t kick the shit out of it. You can’t even ignore it. You are housing it. You are holding it. You are listening to its idiot whispers in your ear. How do you fight against something akin to the wind?
The truth is: you don’t. You find something bigger than the fear. You find something stronger than it. You find something worth standing up, worth being brave for, worth risking everything for. And you do it. You dance in the middle of a crowded room. You dance by yourself in the kitchen. You dance down the aisle of a grocery store. That is both a literal suggestion and a figurative one.
It doesn’t matter what you’re afraid of. It doesn’t matter how fierce the fear is. There is always something bigger than whatever it is that you’re afraid of. There is always something to give you strength, be it a person or a passion. There is hope. There are desires. There are dreams. There is love. There is friendship.
Fear can swallow a person whole. It can stick you straight to a single spot, even if that spot is hell. And then, one day, you say enough. Then, one day, you say no more. And you change everything – even if that change begins with nothing more than a decision, a single step. That is all it takes to change anything: one move in a direction. One.
The door is wide open. You just have to walk through it.
Last night, I was cleaning off my bookshelf. It had, as most things do, become a small disaster. That’s the problem when you have what some might call too many books – and only a small space in which to display them. The others, which are vast and varied, live tucked away in various places of indignity. Some are trundled under the bed. Others are in the closet. There are even an abhorrent number of them boxed in the *gasp* attic. Book Siberia. The Isle of Misfit Pages.
Each book on that book shelf is there for a reason. Some are favorites. Some remind me of other things. Some are rare books. There are a few first editions. I realized, though, that while books tell stories, bookshelves do, as well. I came across my copy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’d lent it to my mom last summer, and it was her first Gaiman novel. Her bookmark was still stuck between the pages. Somehow, I’d forgotten that she’d read it. Somehow, I’d forgotten about the small, butterfly bookmark. But there it was, a familiar bit of story.
There’s one of Anaïs Nin’s diaries and a copy of Catcher in the Rye that belonged to an old professor of mine. The Nin book bears an inscription about two people who must part, and while neither of us wrote that, the words became remarkably true. The Salinger book wasn’t one I enjoyed at all. It was that professor’s favorite. It was his from when he was a child. It is, quite literally, a piece of his past – from the childishly scrawled block letters to the full name proudly written out and display. Funny, how even our names change as time passes. Even mine. Depending on if you call me Ali or Alison, I can tell exactly when we first met. But back to the two books: they don’t mean what they used to mean to me at all. I thought about giving them away. I thought about giving them back. Ultimately, they’re still there – next to my mother’s tattered copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. They are a reminder that we are all flawed, although not in the way we often expect.
There are also at least four books full of literary criticism. These aren’t things I use every day, but it’s nice to know that Foucault is just an arm’s length from my desk. And Jean François Lyotard’s le différend somehow became my favorite theory, thanks to a professor who encouraged me to think outside the box, then pretend there was no box, and then remember the idea of the mirror box. (That sentence makes sense if you’re a lit major.)
Stacked on one side, there are photo albums from trips I’ve taken, parties I’ve been to, and holidays. There are, undoubtedly, pictures of people I no longer see or speak to, friends who have moved or changed beyond recognition, and several of those who are not living. There are three sketch pads, an old diary, a book about reading runes, and a stack of old letters. A pewter key, with a claddagh handle, sits on display – given to me by my best friend. There’s a tiny measuring tape/level from my old boss. There are, of course, a pile of Neil Gaiman novels, Deanna Raybourn’s, and an entire shelf devoted to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Each idea on that shelf is not just a thing. It’s a piece of who I am. It’s a story of its own. It’s every place I’ve ever been – and a few I intend to go.
If you want to know somebody, look at their bookshelf. Look at what they keep closest on hand. Look past the possibly haphazard arrangement of titles stuffed together too closely. Realize that it isn’t always about looking pretty or perfect. It’s about holding things close and keeping the memories right there. Every bookshelf tells a story. What does yours tell?
This morning, I found myself searching for a word I couldn’t find, the ghost of yesterday’s mascara underneath my eyes. It is strange how some moments seem to count more than others, how a single feeling can stretch out for an eternity, encompassing everything that it touches. In that instance, all the words stop struggling; sentences are entirely rearranged, until idea of language becomes something else. Something tactile, something sacred. A science of atoms, splitting. The way the wind blows through a chime, music lingering the distance. The warm quiet of blankets first thing in the morning. A Sunday spent without obligation.
For this, there are no adjectives, only shadows of them. For this, there are no explanations, only the pale distance between breathes. All definitions have been rendered useless. All equations found perfectly solved. The key is a single word, polished like a diamond. It turns a lock. It slips a chain. It opens a door and shatters a window.
Sometimes, the things we let ourselves believe are the most dangerous. We place our faith in our hearts, not because it is easy or simple. It is because we realize the power in a single ripple, a star found in the sky, when everything has else has faded into the night. Ultimately, what we believe in is what we hold highest. And where there’s truth and trust, there is strength. There’s making the impossible, possible.
What is more miraculous than that?
Neil Gaiman just posed this question on , and the answers are fascinating. But what is more fascinating is the idea that January is a revelation. It is a beginning, a clean slate, a new year. And yet, if I were to think about it seriously, I would say that January reveals us to ourselves. It shows us who we are, what we want, and the things we love – but only if we really pay attention. Only if we are invested.
It is a box made of mirrors, reflecting and refracting the truth of our hearts. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves, finding that we love or want something or someone. That perhaps the plans for the future must change, or are changing. Perhaps we realize that we are so dangerously close to getting all the things we’ve ever wanted – and yet, we are afraid of just that. Because getting what you want/need can be scary. Sometimes, we think we don’t deserve it. Sometimes, we feel like the monster in the middle of a maze: horrid and undeserving. After all, if we weren’t – if we are worthy – then we wouldn’t be where we are, right?
You learn things in January. Unexpected things. And all at once, everything is different. It can be daunting, but there is no turning back. Not really. There’s only the truth of what you discovery and the bravery inherent in it. January is the foundation for the new year, a starting place – not a stopping place, like December. The things that gather aren’t dead, frozen, or ended. They are almost spring, they are just beginning. They are potential, wrapped in possibility. There is always a danger in it. Roads are slick with ice. The wind is a chilling creature. And yet, in the middle of the snow, you’ll find a Bluejay pecking at the ground. A pop of color against the absence of it.
That is January. All the beauty and all the danger of it. If it wasn’t dangerous in some way, it would also not be quite as true. All great things – inventions, hearts, loves, and art – have an element of peril. Everything created is a risk. A strength born of the most fragile of things. It is a vulnerability you dangle out into the world, expecting nothing while opening a door. The door has no lock. If there was lock, it is now broken. You cannot shut it out, again, whatever you have released. Whatever words you’ve said, you’ve said. Whatever words you’ve swallowed, they rise and churn. All things will out.
This is the promise made, when you realize exactly what you want. This is why January is so dangerous.
Sometimes, all you need to say is I’m here. I love you. Even if you can’ t actually do anything. Even if all you can do is listen. Or hug. Or just be there – in whatever way possible. Letting someone know they are not alone? It matters.
I happen to be a fixer. I love the hell out of words, but I’m a doer. If someone has treated you horribly, hold my earrings. You tell me a problem, and I want to solve it. If you have a bad day, I want to help. Yet, there are times where this is not possible.
I’m here. I love you.
That’s it. That’s all. That’s two sentences. But it’s everything, really. It’s everything that matters. When your back is against the wall, when the walls are falling down, when the day is really shitty – and you just want to punch something? I’m here. I love you.
It seems like such a small thing, but it’s what gets us through the difficult times.
I’m here. I love you.
Today, I am an unexpected swirl of emotions I wasn’t prepared for. As if one can prepare for emotions. But I am thinking about this year, specifically how it started. There’s a symmetry in that, I suppose, as it comes to an end. There have been a lot of ups and downs. There has been a lot of change, some expected, some always probable, and some impossible to brace against.
This has been a year of getting closer to things, even as they feel far away. This has been a year of loss, of reaching out, of feelings, of love, of heartbreak, and moments. Some I wish I could erase. Some I wish I could capture in a bottle.
Looking back on everything I did and I said, I would not change a thing. I would live or love any differently. Knowing what I know, I would not walk away. I would not back away. I would not choose to run, if going back in time was an option. As tangled as they are, my choices are a knot I would not undo.
This year has taught me that I am strong. That it’s okay to lean on people. And that I can be braver than I thought possible. Hands shaking. Pulse racing. Words fumbling – sometimes, blurting out haha at the strangest moment possible. Because, hey, nerves make a person do odd things. I said I was brave, not perfectly articulate.
Right now, my head is spinning, because 2013 is just a breath away, and with it comes all the expectations and hopes that a new, clean slate can offer. Perhaps it’s silly, but 13 has always been a lucky number for me. Taylor Swift came late to that party.
I do not know what 2013 will bring. I have wishes, like anyone else. I could tick them off on one hand, with fingers to spare. I’m not greedy. I’m not uncertain. I am oddly, impossibly hopeful. That is my default. That is my starting place, my foundation – even in the face of total calamity. I may be an idiot, but we are nothing with hopes or heart. Nothing.
2012 brought out the worst and best of me, sometimes at the same time. I wrote more short stories than ever. I sent my novel out on submission. (I am currently tearing it apart for what feels like the 900th time. Once more into the breach, dear friends!) I watched life ebb. I watched a last breath. I took chances. And I put myself out there. I realize that not everyone can do that, and by hurling myself into the fray, I did the right thing. Not the easy thing. The right one. That’s all anyone can hope for, because some truths do not come with expectation or ulterior motives. They are simply truth. They are simply real. And that is what matters most – saying things that need to be said, even when it’s fucking hard. Especially then. It’s not about what happens. It’s not about what doesn’t happen.
It’s about how you feel. Sometimes, that is really all we have.
You cannot teach a heart to love. You cannot tell it who to love. You cannot control your heart at all. Your heart controls you. And if you keep that locked up, silent, you are also locked up and silent. There are a lot of things that a person can fix. You can be kinder, more understanding etc. You can fake a smile, wanting it to be real. But cannot command your heart to love or not love, not for all the right reasons in all the world.
At this moment, things are a mess. Life is messy. Life is rarely neat and clear cut. If it isn’t messy, it isn’t real. There’s probably something you’re ignoring. There’s probably something, or someone, you are avoiding. Maybe you’re settling. Maybe you’re gritting your teeth. Maybe you’re lying back and thinking of England. But when we are trapped, it is often by our own hand. It is most often a choice we make, because it’s the easier one. It’s familiar. It’s safer. Maybe, on paper, it’s the right thing. And yet, if this year has taught me ONE thing it’s that life is short. Too short. It is too short to spend time on something or someone that doesn’t thrill you down to your marrow. Consider the options, all of them. Things are rarely as clear cut as we want them to be. I tend to believe that there’s always a way if you want something badly enough. If you care enough. If you love enough.
And the end of the day, we all want two things: happiness and love. It’s that complicated and that simple. And for 2013, what I wish for you is both those things in excess. Wherever you find them, however they arrive. Be braver than you think you are. Be vulnerable. Give in, even just a little, to some kind of madness. Kiss someone you love beyond words. Also: love beyond words. Say the one thing you’ve been holding back, even if it means you’re crossing a line. Say it, because it’s true. Make a wish. Make a promise. Remember that things worth having are not easily obtained. Trust your feelings. Write your own story. Do not stay inside the lines. Do not think of how things are supposed to be. Instead, see them as they are. Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself, even for the best reasons, is a disservice graver than any lie said by anyone else.
You deserve to be happy. You deserve more than just getting by. You deserve good things. You deserve to be loved for exactly who you are. Sometimes, we forget that.
And if you find someone who loves you for you? Hold on to that. Because that, my dears and darlings, is everything.