Fear

June 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s a lot I love about adulthood, about growing up. I love providing for myself and having the freedom to make my life what I want it to be. I like buying frivolous things without feeling like I have to justify it to anyone, and I like how it feels to be able to pay my bills, buy my groceries, spend that little extra on new treats for the dog. I like growing up to realize that there’s no special manual for how to be an adult, that people aren’t really all that different from when they were kids. Adulthood just happens, but not in the way that you would expect. There’s no real miracle moment of “Aha! I’m an adult now!” It’s just a gradual process of learning and living, but you never really “get there” because adulthood, in the sense that it’s this magical place of security, clarity, and consistency, doesn’t really exist. That’s important to realize because you can understand better that people won’t meet your expectations a lot of times because they’re still children in some ways, they’re still growing and learning and living life. 

My least favorite part of adulthood is realizing that the world is a terrifying place. People do terrible things to each other, the stuff of nightmares, and so often their victims are completely innocent, having done no wrong to their attacker. 

We walk around in this complete facade of safety that society has to buy into in order to function. Most of us follow the rules because we assume everyone else is going to, and we just want to go about our lives pursuing our own goals and happy endings. But it’s all a lie. We are completely vulnerable 100% of the time. And there are people out there who will take full advantage of that. 

People keep telling me how brave I am to be moving to Dallas alone. 

I thought this was the strangest thing the first few times I heard it. “Brave? Why? This was the only job offer I got. I have to take it.” Some of the most exciting times in my life were going to new places where I’d never been and didn’t know anyone. What is so exciting about Dallas is that I’ve never moved to a brand new place where I didn’t know anyone. My first real time in DC, my internship at the Smithsonian, I felt very alone in a brand new place. I’d been there once before, sometime in middle school, with my family, but I didn’t remember much about it. Some of Alec’s family was there, but I didn’t really know them well, certainly not well enough to feel comfortable calling them if I needed something, so I might as well have been on my own. It was exciting! And definitely a learning experience. Figuring out the metro on my own was a challenge, but I learned by watching others (and by making mistakes). The first time I went to Massachusetts was for my 9 week museum studies program. There was a girl from Emory there, but I didn’t know her prior to the trip beyond seeing her in one of my classes. I didn’t really explore that much of Mass because I didn’t have a car, but it was still refreshing to be in a new town with new architecture, landscapes, people types, and weather (cold. rainy. foggy. not the Alabama summer I was expecting). 

So I’m super excited about Dallas because I’ve come a long way since my first solo flight to DC. When I would travel for my old job, I went to new places all the time, drove around new towns and cities, met complete strangers (and tried to convince them to give me their information). It was a whirlwind usually, but still exciting in many ways. And a growing experience. Adulthood is about figuring things out for yourself the best way you can, and I’m so looking forward to figuring out Dallas. 

I’ve got big plans for it too. When I went off to Atlanta for college, I didn’t really commit to the city. I didn’t care about exploring it or finding what was unique about it, I just wanted to graduate and move on. When I got to DC, I was held back in many ways by Alec because he didn’t like the little boutique restaurants I did and dragging him to a museum was almost always a regret. He just wasn’t interested in the same kind of exploring that I was, so we only explored the things in the middle ground, which left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied when I left the city. I felt like I’d only scratched the surface. I don’t want that with Dallas.

I’m planning on going to all the museums between Dallas and Fort Worth (I think there are 7) at least twice before the end of my internship. I’ve made a list of a number of local Dallas restaurants and bars that I want to go to, so I can really see what “true” Dallas feels (and tastes!) like. I want to actually go to community functions like jazz in the park and late nights at the museum and lecture series, etc. I want to be involved! I want to meet people and maybe make some friends. I want to actually invite people over to my apartment without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. My next apartment won’t be huge, but I’d like to make it more of a home than I have in the past. I’ve gotten into such a bad habit of seeing everything as temporary, from apartments to people, so I don’t get really invested in them. I really want to see if Dallas can be a home. 

Do I feel brave? No. I don’t see how moving to Texas is particularly brave. Unexpected, knowing me, for sure, but brave? No. Brave people move someplace completely foreign. Brave people abandon everything they know. Brave people go where I dare not. 

I’ve thought for so many years about doing Peace Corp. My mom wanted to do it way back in the day, but my dad didn’t want to, so she never did it. I got so close when I was in DC, after I decided Alec and I were over. I had signed up to go to a recruitment session and had even filled out the application, but I hadn’t sent it in. Then one of those petitions came into my email inbox, blowing the lid of the truth about the Peace Corp. The rape statistics are outrageous, on par with college campuses and the military. And, just like college campuses and the military, most of the cases are dropped because the victim is blamed and shamed into keeping her mouth shut. The lack of protection for women and the lack of justice when they are victimized is outrageous and is simply a threat I cannot bring myself to risk. Fear. 

I also had a brief stint recently where I thought about joining the National Guard because I wanted to be among the first responders when natural disasters hit in our country. I thought that would be a good opportunity for me to feel like what I do matters, to really help people. But the rape statistics in the military are too high and too terrifying. Fear. 

Hell, I’m even afraid to travel to certain countries because of their rape statistics. As a woman, I am hated. As an American, I am hated. As a white person, I am hated. So often I feel like I’m walking around with a target on my back, and the target only gets bigger the more I stand out from the crowd. Fear. 

I am paralyzed by fear because I am a woman in a world that has a long, long history of being cruel to women. I keep wanting to think it’s getting better, that men’s barbaric tendencies are fading into an evolutionary history, but I read the news. The stuff of nightmares. Just in the last five years, the horrible stories I’ve read have scarred me for life. My suicidal thoughts tend to increase when I am incapable of preventing myself from dwelling on these stories of women being brutalized — how can I stand to live in a world with people like that walking around? How can I bring myself to leave my house, to sleep at night, to be kind to strangers, knowing the horrors that exist? These aren’t some inventions of a morbid fantasy designed to remind people of how much worse life could be. These are real stories about real people. I would much rather someone try to murder me than rape me. There are things worse than death. Fear.

This is the first time I’ve really lived alone. Technically, I lived alone in my last Atlanta apartment, but I lived in the basement of a house, so there were two people right above me who would hear me scream if I ever was made to. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep at night because I’m convinced there are men outside my window, men at my door, men trying to sneak in through the back. It’s silly because my apartment is so old and my doors are so creaky, that if someone did manage to open them, I would be alerted to it immediately, so there’s no real reason to jump at the smallest noises. But my imagination reminds me that I am helpless and vulnerable. I have no weapons, nor do I have the knowledge or strength to properly use them if I did. What could one small woman do to even one large man? Nothing. I am helpless and that’s just a fact that I have to deal with. Animals do it all the time within that massive web of the food chain. Animals are cautious, animals evolve on the defensive, but enough animals are caught to keep the food chain going. I am living on a constant prayer that no harm will come to me or any of the women that I know. Due to my overwhelming fears and constant reminders of the threats in the world to women, I’ve been second-guessing whether I even want to have kids anymore. How can I bring life into this world knowing the harm that could come to it? How could I raise a daughter to be smart and safe without terrifying her? 

And what have I learned? My parents raised me to be smart and careful, but I’m just like every other girl when faced with a significant male threat — I freeze up, I shut down. It’s shocking, it’s honestly shocking to me that I, of all people, the feisty feminist who isn’t intimidated by anyone, could completely freeze up when a man starts handling her in a way she doesn’t like. When I was 18, I learned that about myself. I fought back at first, but when I realized he had no problem hurting me, I froze. I stopped fighting. I escaped only because his roommate came in, and not because his roommate helped me. Bros before hos, isn’t that right. 

In retrospect, I excused that as being young and naive, as it was my first real negative physical altercation with someone. I really thought I’d learned the lesson, that I’d grown into someone who would be able to take care of herself, to predict those situations and prevent herself from getting in them. I thought I was someone who had the balls to keep myself safe. I thought that was true until just last year, I went on a date that went bad. At 24, just like 18, I froze. Pushing him away didn’t work, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was in a public place, I could have easily screamed or walked away, hid in the bathroom, done something. But I just froze. Fear. 

I was able to text for help, and a large male friend of mine showed up, giving me some feeling of safety though I was still very much so frozen, afraid to do or say anything to stop the situation. Fear. 

What I most hate about being a woman is how men stare. Even just walking my dog around the block, in baggy old teeshirts with my hair in a bun, men stare. They yell at me from their cars, they oggle me out of windows, they turn around to watch me as I walk past. And there is nothing I can do. No confrontation of the male gaze is successful. They don’t care if you look at back and catch them staring. They don’t care if you flip them off or yell a hearty “FUCK YOU” at them. They think confrontation is funny, because what could I do? I can’t prevent them from looking at me, and they know I couldn’t prevent them from taking me if they wanted to. Every day I am reminded of how, simply because I am a woman, I am nothing more than an object for their taking. And I am helpless to protect myself from them. Fear.

I will be alone in Dallas. I won’t have anyone to call if I need help. I will finally have to take care of myself. I will have to be smarter. I will have to be more suspicious of other people, more paranoid. I will have to be more vigilant about not buying into the facade that we are all safe, that we are all safe in our homes behind locked doors, that we are safe in public areas with security cameras, that we are safe with people we think we know, that we are safe because others will hear our cries for help and step in to save us. I will be alone and I have to grow and evolve to ensure my survival. 

I suppose, in facing that fear, I am a little brave. 

Cracking Like an Egg

June 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. Here’s what’s going on:

– My job at the museum ended in May. Not because I did anything wrong, but because the budget just couldn’t make it (supposedly). There was a brief dash to apply to as many jobs in Birmingham as possible, but thanks to me being such a ridiculous planner, I had a nice chunk of change coming to me in the form of student loans that I’d requested for the summer last fall (and then forgot about them until I got my award letter).

– I’m currently working about 6 hours a week for this special program with the Joan Mitchell Foundation where I’m paired with a local Birmingham artist and I help him create a living legacy. It’s going really well, but the artist’s dog gets really aggressive with me at weird times, which makes me anxious when I’m there. And, honestly, I take it very personally when a dog doesn’t like me. It’s good that’s so rare.

– My parents are hiking a section of the AT again, so they’re mostly out of contact for a few months this summer. Normally this doesn’t affect me that much, but given how much I’ve seen them over the last year since I’ve been home, and considering how stressful of a year it’s been, well you can say I’m definitely feeling their absence.

– Mark and I broke up for the final, real time about a week ago after a public screaming fit that was probably a long time coming. Some days I feel totally fine but other days I have a really hard time living in his absence. Losing a lover and a best friend at once is twice the heartbreak.

– Speaking of heartbreak, Alec is coming home for a visit in July and we’re tentatively going to try to get dinner or drinks or something. As you can imagine, this has ignited a flurry of very confused emotions for me and very mixed responses from family members. On one hand, the outcome could be totally fine. We could see each other, have a great time, and then go on our very-opposite-direction ways, feeling glad that we’re in a friendly place. Or, as my dearest aunt fears, things could totally crash and burn, sending me reeling into a very dark place where I regret every decision I’ve ever made, reopening wounds that have just begun to scar over. My counterpoint to her was that we may both chicken out.

– Oh, lest I forget the biggest news: I got a 9 month paid internship in Dallas. I’ll be going out in July to hopefully sign the lease on an apartment (I have four that I would like to see, but am hesitating on calling because I hate talking on the phone so much) so I can move in August (because what better time is there to spend hours outside in Alabama and Texas hauling heavy shit up and down stairs?). I am SUPER excited, but I’ll make a post about that later.

– Also, I got a new dog. She’s a brown/orange and white spaniel/collie mix who has a hell of a bark for her meager 40 lbs size. She has stupidly cute ears and freckles all down her legs. I named her Asha. She and the fatty get along well.

– I’m in the last editing process of my thesis. The entire first draft was turned in to my advisor on Tuesday and I’m getting her comments back now.

This leads us to the real meat of this entry. Understatement of the year maybe, but it’s been a stressful year. I’ve gotten through a lot of it reasonably unscathed, and definitely by the seat of my pants, but now I’m in what I thought would be the easiest part of the year — writing my thesis. I am an excellent academic writer. I have been since college. Almost every paper I’ve ever written for school, I’ve written the night before, and the gross majority of them I’ve gotten A’s on. (In Art History, specifically, I’ve only had two papers not receive an A, and I learned to step it up for those professors)

My thesis is an unusual situation because I’ve condensed it in a way that is… inadvisable, you might say. Basically I had about three weeks to write the thing after I was officially approved to begin it following the passing of my comprehensive exams in May. That’s right — three weeks to write a thesis. On Tuesday I turned in about 70 pages. My advisor, who has to read the entire thing, make edits, and get it back to me in time for me to edit before sending it to my committee in, oh, A WEEK, is doing the best she can getting through it. So far she’s sent me comments for the intro and chapters 1 and 2, which take up about 3 pages, single-spaced.

I’m trying to verbalize how I feel right now. I thought I had things managed, when I just had the intro and chapter 1 critiques, but the chapter 2 comments were almost 2 pages alone. So what did I do? I cried. Like a fucking baby. I stared at my computer, cried, then rolled over on my pillow and sobbed until my dog put her nose in my face wondering why these weird noises were coming from me.

It just doesn’t feel do-able. It feels totally overwhelming. She wants me to do all this extra research, put all of this extra stuff in. I know she’s just trying to make the paper better, but how am I supposed to do all that in a week? I can’t even get books shipped to the library that quickly (because UAB’s library is so shitty it rarely has a book I need). It just feels impossible.

And it makes me feel like I’m a terrible writer. What was I doing? How could I have written something so bad that she wrote literally pages and pages of comments on it? Does she think less of me now that she’s read this crappy thing I threw at her? I honestly thought, when I turned it in, that it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t think I did a bad job, I didn’t think I had bad ideas or that my examples weren’t good. I thought I did a decent job, though I knew there would be comments (of course there would be comments — she wouldn’t be doing her job if there weren’t). But the amount of things I have to change, and more importantly/overwhelmingly, the amount of things I have to write, on top of everything else I’ve written… well, it makes me want to cry like a baby again.

I think it’s just been a tough day. I won’t go into it, but I will say it’s been an emotional day, and I was alone in my apartment for most of it, so those bad feelings just festered. Maybe the chapter 2 critique isn’t really that bad, it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back (no, I think it’s really that bad).

I also lost my parents’ gas card, so I feel like an irresponsible child. I’ve looked everywhere for it, except in the giant pile of clothes I’ve been too lazy to put up, where I’m hoping it’s hiding in a jeans pocket somewhere. I keep trying to remember the last time I saw it, but I get gas so rarely, it’s not coming to mind. I just hate disappointing my parents and I’ve never in my life lost a credit card, so I guess it’s just a “feeling bad about myself” week.

I just feel like a pathetic little looney-bin sitting at home with my cat, crying into my ex-boyfriend’s beer, and wondering if my advisor is disappointed in me and how mad my parents are going to be when I tell them that I lost that card. Alone and empty. And crying. Pathetic.

I keep trying to blame my erratic, over-emotional responses to things this week on PMS. how trivial, how elementary of me, how non-feminist. “Oh, it must be my uterus making me feel and act like a crazy person.” did you know that that’s actually one of the arguments against Hillary Clinton becoming president? People said stupid shit like that, like “Can’t have a female president. She’ll start a war when she’s PMSing!” God, unbelievable the things people say.

But here I am. A complete emotional wreck. I’m normally very controlled, very contained. If anything, I’ll have a brief emotional outburst and then I’ll feel better, completely back to normal. But I’ve been crying now for over an hour, and I’ve felt really emotional all week. This is not, I can admit with only a little shame, the first time I’ve cried this week. Or the second. Or the third…… or the fourth. For being unemployed and not having a lot to do (after my thesis was in, I refused to touch it until I got comments back from my advisor, so I’ve had a pretty slow few days), it’s been a hell of a stressful, emotional week. Nothing in particular has happened, my brain just keeps going all sorts of directions.

Bringing it all back to my thesis, I feel like I haven’t gotten into a PhD program yet because I’m just not smart enough. My ideas are boring and my thesis is contrived. I get good grades (4.0, bitches!) but I haven’t learned much. I just get by on the least amount of work. I only bust my ass the day before something is due, and I guess my brain works overtime then, but overall, I don’t work very hard. I take on a lot at once, which makes me feel like I’m doing a lot, but really I’m just skirting by in all areas of my life, I just have a lot of areas that I’m involved with. I’m just not good enough to do a PhD, and given how I’m reacting to my thesis, I would never get through a dissertation. Pathetic. I’ll never be a curator because of that, and that’s something I’ll have to deal with when I get to Dallas. I need a plan B to that dream. I’ll never make it there. I’m thinking about getting an MFA, so I can teach art. I don’t know. that’s all I’ve got so far.

Must. stop. crying. Of course I finished all the ice cream yesterday in an emotional-eating frenzy. I think I forgot to eat dinner today. Beer counts, right? Why isn’t alcohol numbing these negative feelings? Jesus, you think a chemical would fix things…

Tomorrow I will wake up feeling better. I’ll wake up with a game plan. I’ll wake up knowing that I can do this. (until the next break down, anyway. I sure am showing cracks around the edges from the wildride this year has been)

 

Kind of unrelated, but may be adding to my heightened emotional state: I saw my first drug deal today, in broad daylight, across the street from my apartment. I just stood there, gaping like an idiot, because my brain was like “wait, what’s going on…” so not only did all four of the drug dealers in the car get a very good look at me and my dog, they drove past me a second time, again all staring out of their windows at me before driving off. of course, my first white-middle-class-never-touched-a-drug-in-her-life brain was like “whoa, that was really weird.” instead of “oh shit, they’re going to shoot me” which is what people on facebook thought, because they clearly think more like criminals than I do. now of course I’m freaked out thinking I’m going to get shot in a drive-by because I saw all of the drug dealers involved (like I could ever pick them out of a lineup… NOPE). Because *that’s* just something else I need on my brain. if I get shot, now you know why. some kind of big, boxy silver sedan (chevy, dodge, cadillac?) with HUGE chrome rims. that’s all I got. let’s just hope they don’t want to shoot me and were really just checking out my ridiculously adorable dog.

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