My dad used to say nearly every time I saw him, “Do one thing a day that scares you.” Which, isn’t difficult for me, as I’m terrified of nearly everything. Getting out of bed can sometimes be a Sisyphean obstacle. Even if I hid inside the sheets all day my mind would find ways to come up with scenarios to terrify me – death by apathy, a sudden illness, a life lived in shallow depths.
The Glowing Seed
“Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee.” – Marcus Aurelius
I was supposed to work on the book the other day. Instead I went to the beach with the dogs. The sky was overcast, and I wore my boyfriend’s hoodie and my black leggings and tried to remind myself to be present in each moment, to not feel the heavy burden I’d placed upon my chest, to let the guilt of not writing wash away. After the beach, I fed the dogs burger patties in the back of my car and put vodka in my smoothie from Jamba Juice and dyed my hair. I didn’t write at all.
I think if I could give my younger self advice that I probably wouldn’t listen to it would be to actually learn to enjoy life. Which when said out loud seems silly and self-evident. But I spent a lot of time refusing to do anything that would sway me from the goals that I had (I remember becoming furious at a boy in college for wanting to spend time with me, because it was taking time away from writing), unaware of the reason for why I was doing such things, or that refusing to take a break would burn out the enjoyment for anything.
There are days when the existential (or life-event) depression becomes crushing, like a visceral weight in your chest making it difficult to breathe. Every motion feels like its underwater. Your skull seems to be floating outside of your body. Maybe you’re suffering from an illness, a loss, a kind of Kafka-esque nightmarish awareness of your environment. Maybe it’s PTSD, or a night job, or lack of money.
There’s no easy cure or simple fix for depression, but there is food.
I used to be anti-meditation. Whenever someone suggested meditation as a method of relaxation, I imagined sitting cross-legged on the floor in some expensive studio, dragon blood incense filling the room and soft chimes blowing as a chirpy voice commanded “Breathe in. Focus on the magic inner being…”. It was another facsimile of peace, something that “spiritual” white people did to make them feel better about themselves. It was right up there with laughable suggestions that warm baths, sunlight, and chocolate would cure me of a lifelong depression wrought from trauma. (Those things do help, but not in the way that most people simplify it. I might write a post about that later.)
The first time I meditated – really meditated – with posture straight, mind fully focused on the breath and the countdown, I realized the purpose wasn’t to relax at all.
I haven’t written anything in nearly two weeks. I needed to take a break, but sometimes even when I feel like I don’t have the energy to write the engines keep burning. It makes it difficult to accomplish the goal of relaxation when you’re ready to spring at any time. I could sit down with a beer and a pizza and watch “Rich Kids of Instagram” on youtube to try to relax, but my shoulders would feel the tension of work unfinished and when I pressed my thighs together I’d feel the roughness of a match ready to ignite. Then I’d dream of upheaval, the hours would go by as I “relaxed” and then I’d haul my body as it smoked to my computer, to feel I was even more tired than I was before.
For one of my essays I wrote for my UT admissions (I did get accepted, by the way, but California called to me instead) I wrote about how important it was to have playtime, not just in a philosophical sense, or that it’s “nice to take care of yourself”, but because of mental processes that are taking place when the brain is disengaged from its task. Something called the default mode network, which is only active when you’re not focused, solidifies memory and enhances creativity. It’s not noble to work yourself to death, it’s inherently foolish. Think of the brain as bicameral, bifurcated. It needs dreams and waking, night and day, elation and sadness, stress and relaxation.
It’s easy to forget, that every process is purposeful.
Even the ones we don’t want.
Sometimes I wake and cling to a cup of coffee because I feel like if I don’t have something to hold onto, I’ll be thrown off the Earth.
Some days there is no center to me.
I drink gin and brush my hair and I try to force the Californian sunlight to make me into something better than myself.
Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state, coined the phrase “Unknown unknowns.” There are known unknowns, things we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things we don’t even know that we don’t know.
I know that I could improve upon my Spanish, I know that I write too much about crazy mothers and small-town prophets, I know that I panic and freeze in moments of crisis, I can snap at people I love when I feel irritable, I don’t take enough time to appreciate consciousness.
I can work on these things, because I know that they’re there.
But I also know there’s a dark side I can’t yet comprehend just behind me, something mysterious, a void glinting in the shape of my shadow.
And that -thing- whatever it is, might be crucial to the years coming forward.
Except, I don’t know what it is.
That’s where the default mode network becomes crucial. It fills in blank gaps, makes connections that you cannot while you’re stuck staring intensely at a problem.
I know that once I started actually searching for the answers then I found them – epiphany upon epiphany unearthed themselves, like a shower of rainbows that came bursting from my dirty clawing fingernails. Even when I’m not working, the subconsciousness is set upon the answers. There are things I know now that a year ago would have been incomprehensible to me, that if someone had explained them to me I wouldn’t have understood, not until I felt their shape.
I think one of the most difficult things to write about is a character experiencing epiphany. Knowing something you didn’t know before, because all the pieces that you’ve acquired throughout the time before have suddenly converged into a full understanding. Written poorly, it can seem like magic, like the writer trying to force a plot point forward, shoving the character through a hole in the pages. That’s because epiphany isn’t really a conscious process. It’s something underwater and deep, but still, crucial to our understanding.
But oftentimes, it’s really the only way to learn – great effort yielding nothing but dirt and more dirt, and then suddenly-
Jewels and blood, showering you with resplendence, gnosis.
I want to learn how to write about that moment. I think it’s one of the most beautiful human experiences.
And I want more of it for myself.
To turn the unknown unknowns at least into known unknowns. That’s all I’m asking for now.
Tomorrow I go back to write, back to the page with all its mysterious terrors, turning over stones. The perpetual questing machine. Maybe it will yield nothing – but searching always has a way of turning up more answers than inertia – doesn’t it?i
Those fantasies of happiness used to always be so far away, in a future that I knew I’d never get to.
They were reclusive fantasies, hermit-like, in bubbles of isolation that had the gray edges of a dreary afternoon. I’d live in Oklahoma or Iceland, writing and raising sheep, eating alone in diners to the whispers of strangers who’d be frightened of my wild hair and my dream-shot eyes and the way I never quite answered questions how they wanted me to. There was no real romance, no money or prestige, or feelings of satisfaction. Just me, a computer, maybe someone I loved, coffee and a moon.
See, even in my fantasies I wasn’t really happy. I just imagined I’d gotten to the point where my heart could slow down to a familiar rhythm, and I wasn’t spending most nights scratching at my inner thighs and waking up with a gasp from a nightmare in which I couldn’t breathe.
We took our dogs out today. And Robert said “Baby, what are we?” as we were in the car, as Pris pushed herself up onto the arm-rests as if she was trying to press her nose against the windshield.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We’re going to the beach with our dogs on the weekend,” he said, as if he can’t quite believe it.
Maybe I’m imagining that there’s a new kind of vibration in the car with us. A tentative hesitancy, that we’re right on the cusp of a transition. That maybe we just get to be happy, that we can live instead of surviving, trying to tie together blood vessels with our teeth just to gain another second. I know that I’m not the only one who feels it.
Three years ago, I never imagined I’d be taking dogs to the beach, or that my heart possessed enough space to love so much. Or that I’d wake up like I was on a precipice with my body pounding, a new lightness that I’m unsure of, like little pieces are finally flaking off of the hard dense ball that I’ve carried inside my chest my entire life.
I think, I’ve never wanted anything more.
I think, in a few years maybe that density will no longer define who I am.
It’s a new kind of terror.
Nobody writes horror books about opening up your heart after 9000 days of living like a crustacean, keeping your softness and your blue blood inside untouched.
About learning to love again after all those days spent wondering how you could reduce your feeling and your empathy because -fuck- you felt so much and it hurt so much and god, how does anyone just exist without pressing their throat into glass and their hands to their faces and turning away inside, inside, hide, don’t look or touch because if anything comes inside it’ll destroy whatever floating fragments of you that are left.
About finally looking up from the floor you’re crouching on and seeing the patterns in the ceiling and on the woodgrain and realizing how much time you’ve spent refusing to look, and just how much there is to see that you were missing. That you exist in a world that is more than gray edges, bad dreams, Bukowski fiction, and whiskey burn. Infinitely more.
There is no horror fiction about crying while building a bookshelf from Ikea, finally realizing you can look at the pieces in your hands, that you’re not turning away from your own knowledge, and when your boyfriend asks you what’s wrong you say, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
When he laughs and says, “It’s going to get so much better, in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Not believing him, but then a day passes, and another, and then it’s been a whole year and you realize he’s right, that happiness has a depth you are only beginning to explore.
Sometimes I actually look people in the eyes now and I want to reel back because of how much information is contained there. Entire full humans, like me. Two consciousnesses intersecting, acknowledging each other. They had been there the whole time, and I’d never even realized.
The waves of the Pacific Ocean go further than my comprehension.
I cry, because of how scared I am in this unfamiliar world. Robert catches me doing it all the time, realizing that I’m happy, that look of fear like I’ve woken up from sleepwalking, into a room I don’t recognize. He sees the whole transition.
“It’s okay,” he says, and he doesn’t have to explain. “You get to have this.”
He’s on the edge of the water, looking out, and so are the dogs, playing right up to the edge of the rocks. It’s cool from ocean spray and all my sense are humming. Happiness is not Iceland in forty years, in interminable space. It’s happening in real time, here, and so I must teach myself to keep being
That’s my family, I think, and if a thought could touch you that one would be an embrace that burns.
Someone told me a few days ago that they thought happiness was a form of self-delusion, or at least was heavily leaning toward that idea. (He’ll know who he is when he reads this, but I don’t think he’ll mind.) I used to think that was a valid idea, and I’ve seen it repeated often enough. If I have to be honest it made me feel smug and self-satisfied in my unhappiness. If, after all, my unhappiness was a result of my intelligence and inability to deceive myself to the cruelty of the world, then I couldn’t be blamed for my inaction or the ways in which I perpetuated my own misery.
The execution of happiness can be extraordinarily complicated, but the premise is simple: Find things that make you happy, and do things that make you happy, and happiness will result.
Not what other people say will make you happy. Not what you -feel- should make you happy. Not what’s easy, and not what’s right. But what will legitimately, assuredly, speak to the little creature that rests in your heart, and stirs at the sight of something wonderful.
There are children starving in this city and if you stab me I will die, but sometimes my boyfriend will get me Redbull and smile at me and I know what it feels like to be warm between two sleeping puppies.
If nothing makes you happy, then it’s not because you’re just so intelligent that you see too much. It is a processing problem. Plain and simple. If you go out to eat your favorite meal and someone is rude to you in the parking lot or someone is talking too loud and that ruins your whole experience – That’s not being smart enough to see the world for what it really is. That’s being stupid enough to focus on an aspect of something that makes you unhappy instead of the fact that you just ate something you enjoyed.
If I look at my dog and instead of seeing how much he makes me happy in that moment and instead, I see the moment when he dies or worry about him getting sick or focus on how he smells weird – I’m not being smart – that’s a fundamental processing problem. That’s an INABILITY to focus.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had so much trouble reading and writing horror lately. Some people write about ugliness like it’s revealing is a profound thing, but I want to write about more than ugliness, or the supposed evil inherent in all men, or how everything beautiful carries a little dark seed of dissent. We know people murder. We know people beat their wives. That tells me nothing profound about the world we live in or why any of it matters.
I get that terrible and sad things happen – and they should make us feel sad. That is good and proper.
But wonderful and good things happen as well – and they should make us happy. That is good and proper as well.
If a sunset or a cup of coffee doesn’t inspire a flutter of appreciation at being alive, that isn’t because the world is inadequate. It’s because you’re just not looking at it.
I write a lot about transformations – women turning into butterflies, into glorious skin-filleted vampires, into robots that carry their memories through hollow unconscious wastelands. I don’t think I’ve written a single narrator in a novel that hasn’t carried a wound that begins to warp them, or travels on a journey that fills their mouth with the blood that begins to redefine them.
And now I’m transforming too – not in the way that I always imagined I would, abruptly, immediately, with the tearing of skin, like a howl ripping through the center of a tornado, or some kind of eucharist machine. My transformation is deliberate. It’s purposeful. I change with a heaviness that feels like everyday I roll out of bed so that I can walk miles across a windswept desert.
But there are things happening in this transformation that I’m not aware of. The human brain has a processing power of about 30 quadrillion calculations per second. For reference, in 2011, the K computer built by German and Japanese scientists to attempt to mimic the human brain, with over 83,000 processors, was only able to mimic one percent of one second of the human brain’s capability – and that took 40 minutes.
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary complex we are, how even the most simple of actions is a glorious culmination of millions of years of synaptic music. There is a lot going on under the surface that we’re unaware of. Subconsciousness, underwater processes, that shift and move the pieces of us around to accommodate a whole shape.
When the werewolf transforms, it does not deliberately and with conscious effort control the new homeostasis of its body, or its newfound hunger for human flesh. Its brain and body shift to eaccommodate its new skin in ways that it’ll never really understand.
Every deliberate action has an unquantifiable amount of data and pathways that was made to get to that action, and the ways in which it transforms the entire system may never be completely known.
I was talking about shame today. Specifically, shame that is used as a motivation to compel action. For years I’d get myself out of bed by calling myself lazy and useless. I’d whip myself mentally to write. And if I did something, but didn’t find it to my satisfaction. I’d castigate myself, say that I was worthless. I thought it was fine. I was getting the results I wanted, or so I thought, so I surmised it didn’t matter how I achieved them. I worked on the video games, I wrote the books, I got the money, the boy, the job offer, the contract, the invite, another motion, another circle, another check-box, another day in which I survived hurtling around the sun without falling off the side of the planet.
I even shamed myself out of not killing myself – calling myself weak and worthless for even thinking that it was an option. So I’d hunch over my laptop in a cafe, drinking an americano, trying to force myself to keep working on my novel, to keep going, clinging to my coffee like it was the only thing keeping me grounded to reality.
To this day sometimes when I smell an americano I’ll get this bitter sharp Pavlovian thought of suicide.
In today’s culture, self-hatred is an acceptable vehicle of growth. Just yesterday on Facebook someone deridedly made fun of women who “loved themselves,” and took duck-faced selfies, indicating that self-love was some kind of character flaw. And it does often seem a little self-indulgent, a little unaware, for people to take pride in themselves. We’re still under the Puritanical influence of our ancestors, and it’s sinful to be prideful in our bodies that are the objects of such sloth and indignities. So we often look down on self-love, without even really understanding why, and so perpetuate this cycle of self-flagellation.
So result of those years of shame-induced movement was that when I achieved something, I never got the satisfied feeling that I was expecting. I feel dull, empty, hollowed-out, looking onward to my next goal with glazed-over eyes. No matter how much I achieved, the internal voice was still whipping me as it screamed into my ear.
Because I’d used shame to try to achieve growth, I was operating under the idea that whenever I achieved something, I shouldn’t be proud of myself, I should be ashamed for not achieving it faster. I was working on the karmic balance of my evil birth – no tabula rasa for me – and every achievement, every good thing I ever did, was only trying to tip the scales toward achieving balance.
Everything we do is important. Not just what we do, but why we do it, and the processes that we use to motivate ourselves. Because everything in the machine is constantly working to achieve internal balance. The consequences of what we do today, may not be seen until years later.
But if you think those things are not reverberating through you right now – building the frequency of dreams – you’re wrong.
In my transformation, I begin to shed the body that hate itself. I can’t quite conceive what the thing underneath looks like, but it’s building itself toward achieving a new kind of efficacy.
Slime, and werewolf blood, and something coiled that glitters. I’ve been writing about this moment for years.
Sometimes I sit for hours inside myself- listening to Chopin or Dvorak or Massive Attack. I look at the trees outside, or the pretty girls on Youtube, and in the spaces between the notes, I begin to hear something. It’s difficult to describe what I hear, because, it’s not a sound, not exactly.
It’s a new way to live. My mind, learning a new rhythm, shifting synaptic waves to build an ocean of gold blood inside of me. An ocean that will carry me through worlds yet unknown.
Because everything we do is transforming us, in every moment, in every space. How we think, feel, breathe cascades into every future moment. Every motion we take, is building us a scaffold down into hell.
Or maybe a rocket to the moon.