(I’m a fucking human. It’s the worst.)
I want need to believe that I can fly. Not metaphorically, but that I could grow wings and fly. On my twentieth birthday a part of me was sad, because it meant that I couldn’t be a mutant from the X-Men. I grew up a little girl wanting to be Storm. I would sit in front of the TV with my white baby blanket wrapped around my shoulders. During commercial breaks I would twirl and spin.
The line between reality and fantasy/nightmare/dream/possibility/potential is thin for me. I think it has to be. I think most creative people need this thin line so that they can dream the big ideas and believe in the impossible long enough to make it happen. They have to see it and believe it.
This is why the last two years have been so painful. I screwed up. I hurt people. I made wrong decisions. I did this all because of a refusal to accept something. As I tried to fix it, something became clear: I had to accept that I had limitations. I had to embrace the worst word second only to nigger that I know, compromise. Yes, I feel this strongly about this word. It makes me angry and makes my skin crawl and makes my face squidge up.
Accepting that I was limited felt like stabbing that beautiful frizzy haired girl through the heart and burying her in a shallow grave with only her white baby blanket for comfort.
Since I was young, I have wanted to change the world. I have wanted to have an impact. And I don’t really do small or half-way. For example, we shared Mother’s Day with my mom’s friend. This nice friend has four girls. One of them wanted to make a cake, so off to my house we go. We ran out of time that day, so now I am planning on having them over again soon. Here’s the thing, I happen to have 12 ramekins (small oven safe containers perfect for mini cakes). So, what do I suggest to my husband? Of course, that we should invite over some of my other friends’ kids as well. He and I will make one so that’s 10 left, there are 4 girls, so that’s another 6 children I will be inviting over to make mini cakes.
I have been over extending myself since I was able to be in charge of my own schedule. I remember my mom waking up to a high schooler sleeping outside the door of her room. I had stayed up the night before trying to finish my art project and was so tried I couldn’t make it to my bed. Things only got worse in college, much worse.
For the longest time, I wore all of the ways I had abused my body as badges. I eat one meal (sometimes no meals) a day in college, gold star. I often slept only four hours, when I needed at least 7, blue ribbon. I once pulled a 24-hour day on only one meal. I would tell this story as though it was feat to be respected, as though by not giving myself what I needed I deserved some sort of praise.
It was easy to do this to myself because of the results. During my time at college, I did the following: double majored, started two organizations, worked multiple jobs, was in theatre shows, somehow managed to get decent grades, fell in love, volunteered, joined the cult of football, was a member of a dozen other organizations, met my now writing partner, hosted dinner parties, made Christmas cookies for my dorm room floor. I could go on, but I’ll stop. All I could see was the accomplishments and never the cost of things. It took my then boyfriend almost dumping me to wake me up. I remember he essentially said something along the lines of, “I like you, but not your lifestyle.”
Having spent about ten years, trying to slow down, has meant countless hours trying to get to the root of the problem. I found it, but accepting it feels like a violent betrayal. I have been avoiding finishing this post for at least six months, possibly longer. Writing and posting it feels like giving in to evil and mean forces. Like allowing the villain to win.
Some have told me to re-language or reframe this situation for myself. Sometimes I find these tactics helpful. Sometimes a pig is still a pig even if you call it a pink snuggle-bunny.
My whole life there have been outside voices saying “You can’t” or “You’re crazy.” These voices have tried their best to prove to me how incapable I am. They come in forms of racism, sexism, statistics, back-handed compliments and silence.
I have fought these voices, doing my best to never allow them to box me in and trying not to take them as truth. It’s another reason why accepting that I can’t save the world feels like such a loss.
Why I need this
When I started looking at the side effects of believing that I could truly do anything, I started asking myself questions. One of them was, what do I get from this? Following that answer down the rabbit hole led to an ugly place.
I realized that in a lot of ways, believing I could save the world was part of a colonizer mind-set and steeped in assumptions. This idea, assumes that the world wants and needs me to save it. It also assumes that I know how to best implement the saving. As I started to identify these assumptions, I got a sick feeling. I was doing something that I had been suspicious of others for, mad at others for. I’ve called out the White Savior mentality, in subtle ways, a few times in my life. I’ve definitely complained about it in private a lot. Yet, here I was assuming that I could save Syria or Puerto Rico or North Dakota.
The thing about this mindset is it is so well-intentioned. As a little girl, I wanted to be like Storm. I wanted to help people. There is nothing wrong with this desire, but when I start to assume I know how to go about doing that without involving those to be saved it becomes something different. It becomes about me.
After doing the deep-dive, I realized that truly the best way to proceed was to stop making this assumption. I also had to do something different with this desire. To stop taking on everyone’s story as my own. I would listen to the news and be in tears because I got caught up. I got caught up in someone else’s story. I assumed that I must be the one to fix it. I was wrong.
The assumptions served a vital purpose. If I was responsible for fixing the problems of the world, then the problems were simpler. Also, I thought I knew what to do (huge assumption). It was easier.
One part of me: “Ok, people are suffering from a water shortage in a place I spent a few months in over a decade ago. It’s my responsibility to fix it.”
Another part of me: “When exactly are you going to do that?”
One part of me: “Well, I don’t know. The most extreme idea is to fly to Cape Town and start volunteering within the local government to help them figure this problem out.”
Another part of me: rolls eyes, takes One part of me’s hand “Look you know we don’t have time for this, so move on okay.”
One part of me: beings to sob, feels helpless, does nothing, listens to the next news story (rinse and repeat)
It was easier because in many ways, what I was doing was feeling guilt (which I’m really good at) for things that were not my responsibility, while also doing nothing of use for the people I was getting all worked up about.
Thinking about it now, all I can do is cringe at my own arrogance. The key here is that by taking responsibility for everything I was able to quickly 1. Assign blame *me 2. Come up with a possible solution *from me 3. Let myself off the hook because I didn’t actually have time. Three easy steps to feel bad about yourself and do nothing of use.
Looking at all the assumptions and realizing that this process served no one, I tried to think of something better. What would be a better way of walking through the world?
The better way
The answer came in a few different ways. I’ve been doing a lot of work with groups of people trying to bring community together and do work with community. Over the last few months I have had countless conversations about best practices.
The better way is a bit harder, but also pretty simple. 1. Heal yourself first 2. If there is any issue that you feel want to do something about, pause. 3. See if there is work being done by people facing the problem. 4. Ask yourself how you can SUPPORT this work 5. Take necessary steps to SUPPORT it.
That word support changed everything. Ultimately it is not about me. “Eichelle Marie, it is not about you.” I have to say this sometimes to reach past my thick skull to the gray matter.
Shifting my insidious assumption-based practices opened me up to a world of benefits. The first being that I didn’t have to feel bad about myself for things that weren’t my responsibility. The second being that I had more brain space to focus on the work I was doing to make change in the communities I lived in. It has been really freeing. Another benefit has been doubling down on a value. I didn’t know until recently that I valued the micro so deeply. When I say micro I mean small actions.
My optimism is based in a core belief that micro feeds macro. If micro feeds macro, if small actions effect large actions/movements/changes, then every action matters. So, if all I can do is bear witness and be informed about the atrocities, disappointments and heartaches of this world, it counts.
This value takes that word support and makes it larger. It makes the word more powerful. It makes me believe I can fly.
After shifting some values and beliefs around, I was left with some things. One of them being that I still need to believe I can fly. I still need to believe that anything is possible. If I don’t, I go down a dark spiral toward doom. So how can I accept that I have limitations and still believe I can fly like Pegasus?
I’m still working on that answer. Part of it I think lies in something both my mother and I said recently.
I was sitting on the ground in front of my white board, angry because after over a year of cutting commitments and saying no and coming up with work flows and saying no some more and getting really intentional, after all this time, I found that I was still doing too much. In tears, I turned to my husband and said, “I’ve tried so hard.”
My mom was sitting on the couch breaking some bad news to us. After years of fighting to be her best self, reading the books, eating better, giving it to God, working with her doctors (she hates hospitals), praying about it and losing weight, she felt it wasn’t enough. In tears, she turned to the sky and said “I’ve tried so hard.”
As she said the words it struck my center, like the ring of a gong.
I have deep rooted insecurities and ugly voices. I am actively working to eradicate these things. I have found they don’t offer anything of use for me. Many of the insecurities come down to worth and my feelings of lack in this area. The words my mom and I spoke, talk directly to this insecurity. If I accept that I am human and therefore have certain limitations, in some ways I am accepting that I fall short and am not enough.
I don’t think that I have an answer yet. Getting this all down has helped me put to bed my savior mentality (I hope). I’m ready to move forward and support not save. I’m ready to heal myself first before moving on to anyone else. I’m ready to lean into my belief in the micro. I’m ready to find a way to support that beautiful frizzy haired girl with the white cape. The trick is to figure out how to do this while looking at what is vs. what might be. How can dream and reality exist together? I am truly asking. I have no idea. For right now, I will continue to live with intention, follow my curiosity down rabbit holes and stare down the questions I don’t want to ask until one of us blinks.