July 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time.
I read these words every day as they’re permanently written around my wrist. As I get older, the meaning of the words change.
When I first got the tattoo–I must have been only 18 or 19 at the time–the phrase encompassed a deep-seated obsession with the intense pain of loss that comes with mortality, with humanity. I struggled throughout my childhood but especially in my teenage years with the knowledge that everything I see will one day be dust, that every building will eventually be demolished, that every car will eventually break down, that every person will die. Everything we see is swirling in its own temporality, and in some ways, absolutely nothing matters.
I struggled particularly with depression stemming from my preoccupation with the inevitable death of everyone I knew and loved. I’ve never really been afraid of dying, since there isn’t much you can do and it’s going to happen at some point so you might as well accept it, but when it comes to thinking about those nearest and dear to me, it knocks the air out of my lungs every time I try to imagine what it will feel like to get that phone call, to know that they are no longer in the world, to know that somehow I will have to find a way to live without them.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone dies.
I’m a very avid atheist. I think when I was a kid I really wanted to believe in God. They’re nice thoughts, thinking that “the journey continues,” that everyone who dies will be reunited with me on the other side, that everything I do has been predestined and someone is always watching over me. But I don’t think I ever really believed it. As my childhood and early adulthood progressed, I became increasingly resolute in my non-belief, though I claimed for a while that I was agnostic since God couldn’t be proven or disproven, so it was kind of a moot point. In my adulthood, I’m absolutely atheist without even a trace of doubt.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone dies and this is it. There is no afterlife; all we have is this time, the seconds that pass when we are still breathing.
Once I got to college, I realized people make mistakes. Good people do terrible things. I did terrible things. I know I’m a good person, but I’ve been on a long, uphill climb for years now trying to find a way to forgive myself for the things I’ve done that hurt other people. I’ve been on a long, uphill climb for even longer trying to find a way to forgive myself for all the times I’ve hurt myself. It’s hard to move forward when I know how my self-destructive nature is in such a constant tug-of-war with my better self, the self that wants to live without regret and to exceed all expectations. Self-destruction comes so naturally.
I used to be very absolute about a lot of things in life. *This* is wrong, *this* is right. I’ve learned there are a lot of gray areas. It is impossible not to make mistakes. This is the first time I’m taking a standardized test, learning to drive, turning 18, signing a lease, falling in love. Every day that we exist, we are living it for the first time. I’ve never been 25 before; I’m doing my best while flying by the seat of my pants. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. Everyone will make a mistake somewhere down the road. Everyone will hurt someone whether intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone is learning how to live life and everyone is doing it for the first and last time. What is crucial about understanding this concept is sympathy. We have to understand why people make mistakes, we have to understand where we went wrong. And the most important outcome is that we learn. We learn why someone did something, we see their hurt and pain or confusion, we hear their anguish, and we hope to hear that they know how they went wrong. What separates the good people from the bad people are a genuine sense of remorse, an intent to understand what happened, and a willingness to learn from those mistakes. I’ve made terrible mistakes. I’ve hurt good people. I am trying my damnest to understand, to sympathize, to forgive, and to learn.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone makes mistakes. There are no dress rehearsals, no do-overs, no time-outs or pause buttons. Every day is the first and last time we will live that day. We’re only human and humanity is a flawed, tragic, sometimes beautiful state of temporal existence.
Self-doubt is a dangerous thing. Every decision you make will change the outcome of your life and that’s a hell of a lot of pressure when you only get one shot at those decisions, at those moments in time, because if you make the wrong one, you’ll never really be able to get back what was lost. Things will have changed and the decision will have inherently changed as well, even if on the surface it looks the same as it did when you first had the choice.
With most big decisions, I rarely have self-doubt. I’ve got a smart gut (stranger words never spoken on this blog!) and I trust it even if I secretly think it’s a little off it’s rocker sometimes. I like those long drives between states following the realization of those big decisions because I have the strongest feelings of peace and hope, knowing I did the right thing no matter how hard it was, two feelings that are rare in my rather tumultuous emotional existence. My gut always knows what’s right for me and I’ll follow it even if I feel I need to arm myself with goggles, a poncho, or a gun first (figuratively-speaking).
As I’ve gotten older and realized more and more how right my gut always is, I have to wonder what the hell a “gut feeling” or “instinct” really is. It is some strong emotional expression of what my un/sub/consciousness can’t verbalize? How can I have this feeling that seems so removed from my rational mind? How can my emotional instinct know what is really right, what is really best for me down the road? Or am I merely following a chemical reaction that may in fact be dooming me because no one is guaranteed a happy ending though we all pretend that there is one out there just waiting for us to find it.
In a month, I’ll be looking back on the last year, when I made the decisions to leave not one but two men who loved me, which is really all I’ve ever wanted. But timing is everything, isn’t it? I’d outgrown Alec’s love, wanting something with more passion and romance, something bigger and brighter. I left a stable life in DC, a generally happy life but one that would have left me with an empty, unsatisfied feeling over time. With Mark, I wasn’t ready for the passion and romance, for the intensity of being so important to someone else. It was something I always thought I wanted, but it is clear that I’m not ready for it, that with my baggage and issues, I may never be ready for it.
This is the first time I actually deeply care that I’m leaving a place. It hurt to leave Alec and to leave DC, but I’d had a while to come to terms with it and I was ready to abandon the city for now, to move out and move on, to move forward while putting all the bad things that happened there in the past. Not much bad has happened here in Birmingham, in fact there’s been a surprising amount of good. I’ve got a stable friends’ group for the first time… maybe ever. My family is close and always excited to see me, always making time for me. The city is familiar and manageable, the weather tolerable, the superficial easily brushed aside.
But my gut says I’ve got to go, so go I will. I know that I will never be able to come back to this moment and change my mind, reverse my decision. Even if I come back, the balance and harmony that I feel in this time in my life will be gone, will have shattered, because everything changes as time progresses and life will move on for me as for them. This moment will be gone and the decision will be inherently changed.
I’ve never doubted my decision to leave and I doubt I will, but I am recognizing more and more as the date looms near how much pain this choice will cause and what I am giving up in the process. There is nothing about life that is easy, there will always be a give and take, a system of favors and sacrifices. I’m sacrificing a lot in this stage so what I need to remember, what I need to keep reminding myself of, is that everyone makes mistakes, nothing is ever permanent, life and time go on, and no matter what happens, I was and still am loved.
July 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
I make interesting decisions when I’m angry. not like “oh teen angst, I’m so angry at the world” but in a genuine, fire in my fucking belly kind of angry. The last time I was this angry was when I decided to move to DC, which in retrospect, I actually think was a pretty damn good idea. sure, everything crashed and burned in the end, but I learned a lot about myself and about the world I’m living in, so I think it was worth it.
Upon re-reading my older entry about fear, the anger that’s been growing in my belly for a while completely boiled over. Why so angry, Alexa? I’ll tell you.
– I’m sick and fucking tired of working my ass off and feeling like I never get anything in return.
– I’m sick and fucking tired of being afraid to leave my house at night or go to a bar alone or go to a foreign country simply because I was born with female body parts and a short frame.
– I’m sick and fucking tired of hearing about everyone else’s trips when all I do is work and go to school. There ain’t nothing exciting about that.
The world is so threatening to women all the time, it never ends. Well you know what? FUCK. THAT. I’m a goddamn human being and I deserve to experience every good thing in life just like a man does.
I’m constantly subjected to hearing my friends’ stories about their travels abroad and Facebook keeps me updated on all the new trips everyone is taking, all the wonderful vacations people seem to find time for. Know when the last time was that I took a vacation longer than four days including travel time?
Yeah, me neither. Because I’ve never taken a vacation as an adult. I’m 25 years old and I haven’t taken a vacation since I turned 19. [Actually, I just remembered I took a week to drive out to Colorado with Alec when I was 20 or 21, but considering that was …. something like 56 hours driving in a car without seeing any sights or stopping anywhere more exciting than a subway or a gas station, I don’t really see it as much of a vacation. at least on a plane you can read a book.]
It’s still fucking stupid to say out loud. TAKE A VACATION, ALEXA. now that my dog (and part of my heart and soul) is dead, I have more freedom to travel. I was afraid to leave before because she was getting so old and I would never have forgiven myself had she died while I was away. She died so peacefully, and in my arms, I have to be thankful for that.
Now I have a young dog who will survive without me just fine for a month, which is how long I intend to be gone. I also have the perfect opportunity to take a big trip because my internship is only 9 months long, leaving me a lot of wiggle room between the end of my internship and the beginning of what I hope will be a salaried job at a museum.
I’ve made a lot of excuses for not traveling in the past, and I think some of them were pretty valid, but you know me — when I get angry, pretty much everything can to go to hell. No more excuses. It’s the right time to go and I can’t keep living in fear. I can’t keep living like that and goddammit I won’t.
I don’t give myself a lot of credit because I’ve been in situations in the past that have convinced me that I can’t protect myself. Fuck that.
Oh, did I mention I’m going alone? Because I am.
I’ve been on a million trips alone. Admittedly, they’ve been in the States and they’ve been for a mere 48-72 hours, but I’ve proven to myself that I can at the very least manage on my own in new, unknown places. I can figure it out. I don’t panic. I travel smart. I stay safe. I can do this on a larger scale.
I want a trip for *me.* I want to wake up everyday and know that I can do whatever the fuck I want to. I want to know that if I spend the next week in the Louvre, I’m not boring anyone or holding anyone back. I want the freedom to change plans at will, according to *my* will. I’m a grown-ass woman. I’ve earned this.
Do not be fooled. This isn’t some “disco-hopping-across-Europe” trip. I’m in it for the museums, people. The likelihood that I’ll even leave my hostel bed after sundown is slim (safety first, people! short, slow-running, single women traveling alone shouldn’t be going out at night). I don’t give a shit about coming home with “Oh my god, I was so drunk” crazy stories that everyone seems to think are the highlights of any trip anywhere, whether it be just down to NOLA or across the pond. I want to see ART, motha fucka. MUSEUMS. ARCHITECTURE. CULTURE. I want to SEE the world through crisp, clear eyes. The only thing I’m interested in drinking in is the wonder of the human imagination and the beauty of life captured in something as simple as pigment on panel.
My dream trip would be to start in the Netherlands then work my way down to Morocco, spending at least a week in Paris on the way, but that seems a bit ambitious for a month-long trip. Realistically, I may just start in Paris, head up to the Netherlands, boomerang over to London and go home. I’d love to make it down to Spain (THE PRADO!!!), but I need to be realistic and I don’t want to feel rushed. The purpose of the trip is to SEE and to do that, I have to slow down. I’ve got a long list of places I’d like to visit, but I think my best bet is to focus my trip. The best advice about anything in life: Keep it simple. I’ll be able to travel again. I don’t have to pack everything into this one trip. Keep it simple. Smell the roses. See the world.
I plan on taking my camera, but I also want to take a sketchbook, keeping it simple with pen and ink that won’t smudge after days of being carried in my backpack. The best way to truly see anything is to draw it, and lord knows I don’t draw nearly enough. I’m going to try to get in the habit of drawing on a daily basis in Dallas, so hopefully it’ll carry over through the jet lag and overwhelming feeling of being alone very far from home.
I pack light, I’m street savvy to the point of paranoia (getting robbed in broad daylight at 11am in a public place really changes your mind about what and where you think is safe), and I’m a smart fucking kid. I travel really well, I never panic when things go wrong, and if I start reading Game of Thrones (or some other super-addicting, engrossing book series) right before I go, the plane ride should be a breeze.
Fuck the roaring voice inside me who says I can’t do this because I’m a girl, which means I’m walking around with a target on my back. Fuck my rich friends who have been traveling their whole lives on mommy and daddy’s dollar. Fuck the schools who have rejected me twice for PhD programs that I should be halfway through by now. Fuck money, maybe I should apply for a Fulbright. Fuck the next year when I’ll have to continue my frugal lifestyle in order to afford this trip. Fuck the long list of excuses running through my head. Fuck the self-doubt that constantly clouds my thoughts of the future.
Fuck fear. This is my life we’re talking about, and what’s life without a little risk?