Monday, November 28, 2016

An Altar of Internal Validation

“Listen: In the future, there is a small, quiet room that is just yours, where you are safe and you are free. In that room your shoulders will finally start to come down from around your ears. Nobody can come into that room unless you let them. In that clean quiet place, you will work and you will study. You will love and you will heal. I know this is true because I am there with you. We are there together because you saved us. You saved us because you were brave and because you never stopped believing in that room. See you there, Your Future Self.” -Jennifer Peebas

I’m waiting for something to fall out of the sky and be marvelous. Because I am sad, and I want to not be any longer. This is a relatively desperate request I’m making to the Universe. Make me feel better, I’m not good at it today. The universe obliges me with some unnecessary chin pimples and an early period. There is a moment in sadness, especially in enduring sadness, where you start to feel that the rest of the world has gone on without you. In the beginning, when it is fresh, there is swooping in, there are grand gestures. Your loved ones worry about you cracking in half, and so they rush to your aid. But eventually you prove your strength, your ability to go on in spite of your bruises and more permanent scars. The world quiets and the dust settles, and you continue climbing the mountain. I watched a video the other day about a female artist who used her artwork to cope with her mental illness. When I tried to find her name again, I found that many of the great female artists throughout history have shared her methodology and her madness. When I feel my own demons batting at the walls of my brain, I can only write. An interesting curse. A double edged sword.

I have been thinking a lot about the word validation lately and what it means and why we need it and how we get it. explains it simply: “to make valid; substantiate; confirm.” To look out into the world and ask am I real? And for something, someone, somewhere to respond, You are real. For most of my life, I have sought external validation. I have needed other people to tell me I am smart to believe that I am smart. I have needed other people to tell me I am beautiful to believe that I am beautiful. A lot of the comments I’ve measured myself against came from men; either my father or my brother or my male professors or men I’ve dated. There are some comments that I can strike down with ease--apathetically and without much affect--but there are other comments that I’ve clung to, placed inside a box full of things I know about myself, and things I wonder.

If I painted the meanest of these comments across my body, you’d see that the ones etched in blood, would be from men I loved more. Men who I wanted to believe in me, to see me; the realest me, curled up in a ball, in my glasses, typing ferociously into my computer, and only coming up for coke and laughter. I want nothing more than to scrub these words off my skin and be rid of them forever, to look at myself and see unmarked, untarnished flesh. But Mark Ruffalo and Elijiah Wood aren’t going to come into my bedroom in the middle of the night and erase all of my bad memories, and even if they did, I would probably just create them again.

If i imagine all of the negativity contained inside of a bucket, it is easy to visualize a thick black liquid sitting stagnant inside of it. It is easy to visualize myself picking up the bucket and pouring it in the street and letting the earth have its way with my demons. But the thick black liquid is not all contained inside a bucket, it is attached to parts of me. Each morning I imagine wringing myself out in the places that hurt that day. Some days it is all of me that needs wrung. I recall my best friend saying three months ago, “It is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.” And here I am, just now realizing what she meant.

Rather than imagining all of the black liquid is gone, I must visualize something else, something that feels more realistic and more appetizing. I imagine that I am building an altar around myself. I light 42 candles. I fill a vase with lemon peels and water and pour it over my feet. We will be here for a while, and it will only be us. Nothing is going to fall out of the sky because whatever you are waiting for, you are going to build. Wholly. Completely. Unwaveringly. They will never be able to question your author or your muse. If you want to talk about validation, that’s fine, but know that it is going to come from within, until death do us part.

Do not consider it a period of isolation, consider it a period of cultivation. Inside we will write stories and make dinners, build dreams and read voraciously. We will not die, we will be born, again. And maybe it never ends, and maybe that is okay. And maybe the most romantic child who ever lived will learn to love herself. And when the sides of my thumbs are chewed raw and my heart is heavy with hate, I will go to this place, that I can only write my way out of, and I will bow myself to words. There are some altars that you stumble across and some you've always known. I feel this may be both.

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell
by Marty McConnell
leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong

they can smell it in the street.