From the notebook: if I were to write a book

On August 16th, 2016, I started a Google Doc called “If I were to write a book.” I added to it a few times between August and December of that year, and then left it to languish in my google drive until now, a little over a year later. Here, a call and response between me then and me now. A transcription of my very own words, reimagined, rediscovered, grief and truth anew in my reading them at twenty-four instead of writing them at twenty-three. These years have been so WIDE. So wild and wide and fascinating and endless and terrible and wonderful, and I am entirely different than I was in college and just after but so utterly informed by what was planted in me then. Just now sprouting, roots having gone very deep. Original text normal, new text in red italics. Call me crazy, but this secret forgotten google doc may be one of the most true things I’ve ever worked out for myself. I think I was saving it for later, thinking it wasn’t time to share it yet, but I’m not sure what that even means. No time but now, especially given how much things have changed in between (but also how much they haven’t). 75% of me still right in the middle of these words, and the other 25% is confidently sewing on her gorgeous Juki in the woods, sure of one thing but one thing only. 

Things written on different days separated by little dotted lines. My own heart, separated by little dotted lines, all of the versions of myself, all the women I am and have been, each fear and thought spinning still. I am on fire. You can get through the ice. Those are the flags I must wave, and do. That is all I know. 

This, a secret I’m ready to share. 

Me, August 2016, in my favorite chair before it was really, really my favorite in our apartment on Damen Avenue. 


8/16/16, 

Churning.

I’m in hyperdrive, a little bit, while also being totally tired out. Is this the curse of being twenty-three? I feel like I’m continually discovering curses, coming upon new seasons of life only to unwrap the bitter under the sweet. Is that because of anxiety, the dark undercurrent of my whole life? Or is it just because of life and how it is out here, east of eden? I have no clue. Do you?

It’s a little terrifying, honestly, the way that life opens up after college, the way that literally anything is possible, so much so that it also feels like nothing at all is possible and you are finished before you start. I have so many options, but all of them require so much of both effort and resolve, two things I’m seriously lacking in at this point.

The things I don’t have to choose, the things I’ve already chosen, those things are lovely, fantastic. I have an amazing spouse who has promised to never leave me even though I’ve been acting like a total basket case lately and he has probably been rummaging through old paper bags looking for the receipt from our wedding. We found a gem of an apartment in what we think is the best little neighborhood in Chicago, not too fancy, not too grungy, and we have things to fill our home, the right amount of stuff all slid into places. I have dear, dear friends nearby, people who know me underneath my uncertainty, who make me laugh and forget, who invite me over and over to come back to the table and remember what I think about things. All blessings even bigger than I knew them to be. 

But the things I have to choose? They make me feel lost. Still. They make me feel weak. Still. They make me feel deeply, deeply directionless, afflicted, trapped in a life I’m supposed to build. What do I do about that? Do I bite the poison apple? But there are six poison apples! Which one, oh which one, do I bite? I’ve bitten, I suppose. Sort of. How do I unlock the rest of my life? What career, what choice, what place in the world will carry me into my thirties, into passion and fruitfulness, into rest and calm, into myself? Into having babies, into loving my husband, into creating things I’m proud of, into being whole?

I feel resentful that I’m supposed to make money. STILL. Isn’t that terrible? Up until this point in my life, I was always allowed to do the things I loved even if they didn’t make me any money. Theater and writing both fall under this category, the two things that feel most promising and actually interesting in my life right now. I feel this self-inflicted pressure that I need to somehow make a career out of these things, that I shouldn’t put my best effort into them if they won’t give anything back to me, won’t let me contribute to our family, our team. That’s not true, but practically it is. Any part-time job I take sucks energy and time away from these things I actually care about, and I resent that. I don’t like pouring coffee, but it’s the only one of my three jobs that makes me any money right now, and it’s only a tiny bit of money even which I also resent. But when I spend all day pouring coffee, I can’t write because my soul’s depleted. When I spend all day pouring coffee, I feel used up in a way that is unkind, like I’m a servant to the wrong master, like I’m absolutely, terribly, wasting my time. But aren’t jobs like that the cornerstone of being twenty-three? Aren’t we all spending our days in jobs that are a waste of our bright, beautiful selves? Why are there no spaces for twenty-three year olds to feel real and respected? I understand why not, but I can wish. I can wish for paid work in the things I am truly good at. still. I can wish for real mentors and new friends and people to see me as useful and real instead of just another hopeful in a long line of hopefuls. still. I can wish, but wishing is not helping me with the day-to-day of just trying to make it through twenty-three.

What I really want to know is, how did I become so resentful? So bitter, so terrified? What can I do to open myself back up, to feel invited in the rooms I want to be in, to not wake up and have things in my day that I have to trudge to and get through?

I have no idea. Still. 

Except sewing. Banking everything on it. That’s all I got. 

If I were to write a book, what would it be about? It can’t just be musings like this, thoughts best kept to a journal or blog at best. What are the stories of my life? How do I tell them? Where do I find them? Where have they flown off to and what shall I do if they’re gone? Those are the questions I carry. Those are the things that scare me about writing.

Oh, bread! I could eat you all day! I want nothing but to eat bread and only bread, perhaps also paired with tomatoes and cheese in various permutations. Why would doing so make me fat?! Another curse! Life is unfair, I find, because I cannot live on bread alone. A shame, really, because I would be so happy to do so.

Would my book be about bread? Would that be inappropriate or strange? About my myriad of vices, my parade of pleasure, the things in life I like and know? About being in rooms where theater happens, about feeling lonely, about fizzy drinks? About walking down the street, going about a day, about my friends, about what it’s like inside my head? Am I enough for a book? Do I have enough stuff in me? Do I? 

A book about trying to write a book? Yes. A book about being young and scared? Yes. A book about being scared of books? No. Who am I and what do I want? Where am I going and who will be there when I get there? Am I the only one?

I think I have things to say, but I don’t know what they are. I feel it when I read other people’s books (Lorrie Moore, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L’Engle, Leanne Shapton, Sheila Heti, etc.), I feel my words bouncing around in my chest saying you can do this too, why don’t you do this too. So why don’t I? What’s stopping me? I think it’s the smallness I feel, the profound littleness, !!! the way I have to search myself to know anything at all about what I want or where I’m going. Yes, I remember nothing. Things are only possible the very instant they’re happening, and then poof! Vanished!  I don’t know how to speak myself. I don’t know if I’m supposed to. But I also don’t know how to speak other people, and I think that’s what writing really is. Am I just narcissus resurfaced?

But then I remember Jim Young, the dream of a wise ancestor whose legacy has been echoed into my life. He said, “I’m a little person, I like little things.”

I’m a little person. I like little things. And I’ll carry it with me till the day I die. 

So maybe I’ll be okay.

Can my book be little? Can it be a little book from a little person about little things? Is it okay to stand in creation before my creator and feel profoundly little? To offer something little back to creation? To want to give something, to have that impulse, but to have the actual gift be small, maybe even too small to make any sort of sound or space in the world at all? 

Right now my life has a small footprint. I am not famous or great. I think I will stay that way. I don’t know how I could do with anything different. It seems that greatness would be distressing to me. But, I want to make things. I want to do things. I want things. I want to be a person who gives something, drops some bits of me back into the circle of things.

Oh. Oh my. 

I think it really all comes back to God when I let it. When I remember to let it. I have a yearning in me, a searchlight constantly roving and using up a lot of my battery. An undertone of faith, droning on and on and on. It has not been simple for me. A lot of hard work or no work at all and the shame that follows.

One of the most significant things that has ever happened to me:

When I was in college, I had this image of God being at the top of a wall. I mean an actual wall in an actual room, a tall white cinderblock wall in a room I spent a lot of time in. I saw God up there once, sort of perched. I can’t tell you what the thing I saw looked like, but it was God, the presence of him, and he just sat there, quiet. Real, but quiet.

I tried to climb. I worked over and over to climb the wall. My trying was a sort of dance, tactile with tactic after tactic, slipping up and down the slick white paint, trying to find a foothold, letting my hands scrape up and down, gripping nothing, trying forever. There were other people in the room, fully able to see my attempts to climb. I could explain the situation further, but I won’t right now. Maybe another time.

It’s sort of crazy to me that I actually physically created this metaphor for myself one day in this room, that I literally did this. It’s the sort of thing I would see in my head when thinking about God, the sort of analogy I would invent, but this time I actually did it. I was compelled for some reason, and I don’t think on accident. You see, one thing that I definitely do believe in is holy-spirit flavored intuition. The Joni Mitchell mystic in me fully subscribes to that idea. That day when I tried to climb the wall to God feels to me to be prophetic, yes, outside the everyday normal actions of life, poetic, made of true things. When I think about God now, one way I think of him is atop the wall, quiet, there, and unable to be climbed to.

I want to be a woman who writes her life. I want to send strings of writing up to God, a rope to rappel up,  It feels like my way out, although climbing is useless, my way of trying anyway, more than anything else does. (Bold added by 2018 Amy, because if anything should ever be emboldened, it’s this thought.)

I also want most to want to be outside (lol), ultimately to live somewhere with woods, to walk in them nightly, to smell earth. The city is fantastic, and it feels like a place for twenty-three year olds. But maybe not forever? Or maybe in combination with somewhere earthy? Maybe a tiny cabin in the woods on a lake with fireplaces and a long drive to the grocery store? Homeschooling and a small crew of kids and neighbors who are friends? Sounds like a dream and not real life. Sounds like that doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t. Funny how you go to the place you think is exactly right and it’s still not. It’s still not. 

I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much. I will not complain so much, I am just so sad!

I’ve been really interested in feminism, I think mostly because I’m curious about the ability that women have to really actually be strong. I don’t feel strong, so it’s interesting to me that a lot of women do, that glass ceilings feel shatterable to them, that they want to take on the big scary work of the world. “I don’t feel strong.” What about a feminism of weakness, of tenderness, of emotion and truth and piercing empathy? What about that feminism, the one I’m finding in me now, the one that might be the only real one actually?

In how my life is right now, I simply don’t feel free. I’m not free. I’m stuck. I need to feel safer to feel free. I need to have some space in my life to kick my legs around. I need to have some idea of what is coming next, where I’m headed, how it will be. Right now I’m stepping from blackness into more blackness, the thought of which seizes me up inside, causes me to be unkind and unfair, makes me less myself and less Jesus and more all the things Jesus speaks against. But what is there to do about that, really? What is there to do for a fearful person except say, ‘”Fear not” and then see what happens next?


8/18/16

But then Mark Lewis said, “We are taking a sixty-second silent interlude to all go out into the courtyard and look at the moon.” And I went out the door along with everyone else and we stood quiet and looked at the moon, full, bright, for me viewed only through the branches of the dying magnolia tree in the courtyard.

Almost too good, is how it felt. After we got ourselves and our moist feet back inside, Mark said his life and told his stories, as happens at “Feet to the Fire,” what this ritual is called. After he spoke, a few women in the circle echoed something that Mark had expressed. Jenn said, “I think I keep thinking that everything will be okay once I’ve found my tribe. If I could just find my tribe!” And I think we all felt that with her, and all breathed out and looked around the circle and felt like, devastatingly, the tribe was right there, sitting in the room, but about to dissolve. Only for a time. Those people, we so easily become a tribe for each other. We know how to do it. But we don’t live with or near one another. We are so far away. We all got to practice once, for four years of theater in college, living with, but now we don’t get to do it anymore and there is a space left, a distinct missing thing, and it’s painful. I’m only beginning to feel it throb, felt more sharply when I’m invited to stand on the wet earth in the courtyard, that precious courtyard, with those particular people to silently look at the moon. After we looked at the moon, Mark told us to look around and notice who has been looking at the moon with us. But I didn’t have to be told. I knew. I had been noticing all along, from the moment I stepped in the room, the irresistible warmth of actual community, the answer to longing, the unmistakable feeling of being actually at home.


Me, in a photo taken in October 2016 on a beach in Michigan with a ladybug.

11/6/16

It’s warm and sunny outside so it feels more like spring than fall. We’re all all mixed up here, with giant things invading our everyday, and somehow November just sort of appeared, dumping a giant barrel of feelings on me and I don’t know what to say about them so I’ll just write it out. November is for feelings. Feelings are okay in November.

I’m grieving things this month. I’m carrying loss in me. I’m trying to walk forward. I’m acknowledging what is gone. So much. My childhood, my home land, the places I’ve felt safest and most activated, these things feel far away right now. I’m in a foreign land. I’m traveling. I’m a little bit alone. This is no way a reflection on the state of my marriage or my friendships, because these things are actually clear to me right now, true bright spots in my life. No, this all only having to do with me, interiority, the vast spaces within my very own self that I’m trying to cross, the torn things that need mending, the moments when I’m stuck in the middle of the floor and I can’t move my feet, when my brain spins round and round, when I call out to God over and over, “where will I feel safe?” No response, not yet. Just small blessings, sun and tea and friends and grace. No answers, just grace. So normal. So hard.

Last night I sat and watched my former theater ensemble, my family, really, perform Fiddler on the Roof in the theater where my prayers are in the walls. I spent the entire three hours of the play with a tension headache alternating between grinning and crying, trying hard unsuccessfully not to sob audibly at the end of “Far From the Home I Love,” when I saw one of my dearest teachers kiss my friend Emma on the forehead and ask God to be sure that she will be kept warm. It was too much in that moment, too real, too true. That exact moment had happened to me and to all of us a year and a half ago when instead of a kiss we were handed a St. Genesius medal, when we ventured into the world with half of an idea. But watching it last night, I was astonished, crestfallen. It made no sense, none at all. How in the world can Hodel leave after a gesture like that, with a father who loves her and a family and a village around her? How? How? I still don’t know. To Siberia, no less, cold, unforgiving, nothing there but a husband and thin hope. Watching it last night I was astonished that she was going, shocked at the similarity of my own story, my setting out with a husband to live far from my family, my teachers, my people, far from certainty, somewhere new. I was questioning my own choices, angry that we are all forced out of college when we graduate, wanting to take it all back, start over, live in that small theater forever refusing to leave, growing old, embarrassed but safe.  Why in life must we travel? A friend reminded me earlier today of something written by Tony Kushner in Angels in America, something Prior says at the Bethesda fountain at the end of the play. “The world only spins forward.” Why do things end? Why do we not live in small neighborhoods, villages, corners with the people we love? Why are we thrown out of Anatevka? For the whole play you know it’s going to happen, but you don’t believe it, not really. You watch Tevye’s daughters leave one by one and you want to shout, “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!” But it does, really, and it doesn’t matter anyway because everyone has to leave in the end. Is there no mercy? Where will we feel safe?

There is no answer, just that life is long and windy, that we always leave somehow, that we are not yet in heaven, the village we dream of. Here, it is painful. Life is never enough, not really. I’m all torn up, and that’s astonishingly normal. I’m run-of-the-mill. This sadness is rippling through me and through my friends, my husband, each of us suddenly alone and trying to cross a vast expanse, leaving the place we were last safe, in between, not sure what we are headed toward. I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t with Isaiah, if our travels were not caravanned. Although I sometimes feel alone, I have a person who sees me. That’s huge. I don’t deserve it. All I can really do in return is try to see him too. To try to see my friends, see their wandering, to gaze with them toward where they’re headed, to recognize that it’s somewhere different from me (yes, ouch), to remember that we are all now far from Anatevka, and although we didn’t necessarily choose to leave we sort of made it our business to choose anyway.

Everyday, I learn more and more that I know so little. I am no authority, no expert. I will not try to tell you how to do anything, because I’m only just figuring it out myself, poorly I may add. I’m feeling my way, I’m going by guessing, I frequently let people down or don’t let people in, I often leave out the thing I really meant to say. Oof. The internet is a breeding ground for fake gurus, for pompousness and piety in the form of flowy glowy essays, for how-to’s, for drivel where there should be substance. It bums me out, to tell the truth. I’m tired of being told fake, empty truth. And I don’t want to contribute to the cycle of lies and self-infatuation that seems to be popular on the internet. TRUTH. 


I suppose I ought to stop wanting all of life to happen all at once. I’m only twenty-three, after all, and I’ve got plenty to chew on right now as it is. But I can’t ignore the fire at my back pushing me forward, making me run. I am on fire. (IT) Sometimes it feels good, even wonderful, to be rushing so fast toward something. Other times, I’m tired, panting, running still because I’m afraid to stop. Sometimes I stop because I must and a sort of dread rushes over me, which, even when only momentary, is more terrible than the running. You can get through the ice. (HMB) Personal signal flags I’ve needed all along.

This year and a half since college ended has been nothing that I imagined it would be. I envisioned confidence and ease, a stepping into myself, a shell finally hardening. I think what has actually happened is not too, too far from that description, but the way it feels is way off the mark. I feel no confidence, little ease. I feel softer than ever, like if you touched me you could bore right into me. I feel softer than ever, like if you touched me you could bore right through me. I feel softer than ever, like if you touched me you could bore right through me. This, my refrain, my song. 

I’m making things, I’m doing more and different things than I imagined I would (AKA SEWING, this is when that was beginning), and I feel strong, even proud when I consider what I’ve created in this time, the skills I have taught myself, the ideas I’ve had, the will it’s taken to make things at all. But it all is marred by a terrible struggle with anxiety and sadness, a thing that it seems I’ll have to deal with for a while, my whole life maybe, in fits and starts. Sometimes these days I mourn who I might have been if I weren’t stuck in anxiety in the way that I am. The way my body would feel so much more sure and safe if it weren’t tossed about by an overactive fight or flight instinct, the way my mind would have so much space in it if half of it weren’t taken up by empty terrors, confusing circles of thought, mazes to get lost in. I miss the time I’ve lost on worry, the afternoons sitting very still instead of working. I miss the confident, clear-minded me, the things I could have done were I able not to be paralyzed by fear as often as I am.

But then I remember that this other me isn’t real. Yes. There is no other. I’m the whole thing. Everything I make, everything I write, everything I have it in me to do is in there because of the whole of me. Yes. Me minus anxiety is a me I don’t know at all, an entirely different person from start to finish. Yes. A child eager to make lots of new friends, but far less focused or passionate about theater. An adult more pushy and confident, but maybe with a full time job doing something distracting, utterly different, something the actual me can’t dream of. I have worlds in me, but they’re specific. There is no other me to long for. There is no other me to long for. 

 

Me, December 2016, as captured by Jessie, sewing, feeling angry, feeling fine.

 

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