Sunday Reading : Identity/body image, violence, death, & beauty

Closing the Loop : Aria Dean, The New Inquiry
Body Anxiety and a new wave of digifeminist art : Charlotte Jansen, Dazed
Visions : Kate Gaskin, Guernica
The Language of Violence : Danez Smith and Brian Russell, Poetry Foundation
Being Mortal : Zan Boag, New Philosopher
Beauty and Autonomy on the Bike : Claire Tighe, Bird’s Thumb
The strange, sad quest to match a severed, embalmed head with its story : Michael E. Miller, The Washington Post
Deadly Decisions : Ann Neumann in conversation with Sheri FinkGuernica
This Better And Truer History : J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz, Longreads
The Fruit of My Woman : Han Kang, Granta 

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DigitalDiary 2/22 – 3/2/2016

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DigitalDiary 2/19 – 2/21/2016

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If I don’t see you

 

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On Saturday I bought five books of poetry, a book about psychoanalysis, and a book about sailing from the annual library fundraiser. It was hard to get through the transaction. I felt like my skin was peeling off and I was casually attempting to hold it back without being noticed as the library volunteer asked me to enter my pin number. Smile. Say thank you. Say have a good day. Take your bag. Walk away. 

My impulse is to hesitate before each action and contact. I don’t like to touch things without considering them first, without preparing myself. So I have to remind myself don’t hesitate and try not to wince at the contact with my paper bag full of books. Each minor agitation tells me I shouldn’t try to walk home. It doesn’t feel minor. And I was right. Just the sounds in the parking lot made me feel panicked and vulnerable. How could I have crossed even one busy street?

It’s exhausting to try to appear “normal” in this state. While I waited for a friend to pick me up from the library, I tried not to cry and shake. I tried not to let my hands coil and tangle. I tried not to stare blankly too long in any direction or let my eyes dart around in obvious distress. I sat where only people driving by would possibly see my face. The sky was darkening and the breeze hitting my skin smelled like rain.

I texted R (sort of) because I knew he would tell me it’s okay. He did. It helped. You’re safe. You’re okay. Stay here. Sit. Don’t cry. Wait. You can trust your friends.

Experiences like this used to drive me to isolation at home. Days or even a couple weeks would go by and I’d never leave the apartment without R or a close friend. Not even to take out the trash or recycling. I would avoid making any solid plans with people and feel tremendously guilty if I needed to cancel. I tried not to interpret the sound of their disappointment over the phone as annoyance and criticism. I tried not to imagine it if someone texted or called them on my behalf.

It’s easier now to take each day at a time and to recognize that the episode will end. I can’t go for a bike ride when it’s over, but I could go for a walk or wash the dishes. I can make dinner and enjoy the company of a friend.

My mom often used to tell me that as a child one of my favorite things to say was, “I can do it.” I said it with irritation, according to her, as if I was annoyed at the mere suggestion I couldn’t. As if I wanted to prove myself.

As I try to come to terms with being disabled, I frequently have to reaffirm for myself that I can do things. I’m under the impression that this is really common experience for disabled people (and I suppose very young children). How do you acknowledge and make accommodations for your disability without it ruling your life? How can I help other people see the full range of my capabilities while also not misleading them about my condition (which always leads to more complications, inconveniences, and worry)?

Quitting school was not a solution.
Isolation was not a solution.
Hiding was not a solution.
Lying was not a solution.
Stubborn pride was not a solution.
Pretending I would just “get better” was not a solution.

They’re still not solutions.

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In the past two months I’ve sold more art and writing than ever before. I’m engaged in two separate collaborative projects and hoping to begin work on planning the next Cat Party exhibition. There are other ideas circling my mind that I haven’t had time to work on yet. My enthusiasm and curiosity has not waned at all.

I guess it’s not something you say. I am doing things to enact the belief that I can still do things. Otherwise I don’t know what I look like as someone who can. I can’t see anything now. I am feeling around in the dark for my well, for the words to connect and for my world to inhale deeply.

 

On my heart, chainmail

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When I first started having episodes again — confirming that me and my doctor’s original hope that a period of being medicated would break the cycle happening with my immune system was not going to work — it was devastating. I felt betrayed by my body and I wanted to punish it.

This is not a new phenomenon for me. Between the ages of 13 and 26, I committed various self-harming acts against myself. Cutting, burning, binge drinking, not eating, purging, unprotected sex with strangers, and so on. It’s not that I felt sorry for myself so much as I was trying to find a way to exist. It’s difficult to explain that sometimes you might cut yourself in small, controlled ways just to prevent yourself from slashing your wrists.

I have never been ashamed of my scars because I know that, for better or worse, it was how I survived.

People learn new ways to survive all the time.

Almost immediately following the realization that I was going to keep having the episodes, I found that I didn’t want to eat. Smug satisfaction filled me when I portioned out very limited and specific amounts of food that I would eat in a given day, mostly to prevent me from being sick or drawing attention to myself. If my stomach revolted, I inwardly scowled. You don’t deserve to eat! A cold rage burned in my bones. I didn’t care about losing weight or anything like that. I just wanted to punish my body.

I wanted the hunger to remind me to fight.

Then that determination shifted from day to day. Sometimes riding my bike outweighed heavily restricted eating, or if my husband guiltily suggested that we splurge on a “fancy” coffee. It became difficult to predict how I would feel from moment to moment, so I followed that current and observed myself with bemused detachment. Part of me hoped it would escalate. That I could stop pretending to “handle it well”.

One day after a lunch date with friends — coconut veg soup, water — it occurred to me that I was engaging in thoughts and behaviors that mimicked previous eras of believing myself to be completely out of control, crazy*, and damaged despite the fact that those things are not true about me.

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I feel intensely. Some moments are suffocating, they’re too heavy. Something small has to come forward to clear the air.

bike ride
a long walk
a perfectly brewed cup of Earl Grey
the way heavy whipping cream billows seductively when poured into black coffee
a middle of the day text from R asking how my day’s been so far
going to an art exhibition downtown
a surprise gift from a dear friend
stitching while enjoying an audiobook from the library
writing for small jobs and writing for myself
weather warm enough to enjoy an evening walk and an ice cream
crossing a line through completed chores on my list
a satisfying meal.

Moment to moment still feels uncertain, despite the fact that I eat pretty consistently now. I wrote most of this a week ago, but I feel reluctant to share it. What if I’m not done yet? What if I want to skip meals? What if I need to lie about eating and a loved one is suspicious? Most of the time, though, I realize that the small things are collectively helping me view myself differently.

Maybe I don’t need this secret. Maybe I don’t need a back up plan.

Yesterday my husband and I went for a bike ride, 10.2 miles to and from a local trail. I wanted to keep going, but we both had things to do that required us to go back home. It’s not just the cycling that makes me want to keep going, it’s the trees and the air and the wild flowers. It’s the fact that every time I feel surprised to be here.

I still want to fight. I just want the fight to go down differently. I want to triumph, not just survive.

—-

* The “crazy” I refer to here is the popular expression of female insanity. The madwoman in the attic. Gaslighting. Etc. In general, the traits I listed are meant to be regarded hyperbolically and in no way as a fair description of people struggling with self-harming behaviors.

Kwaidan: The Woman of the Snow

The second story in Kwaidan was The Woman of the Snow, about a ghost that can claim the lives of mortals. She appears to blow onto their faces, freezing them to death, and the victims are later described as having no blood (or something like that). Despite her desire to kill people during snowstorms, she is not entirely absent of other desires or pity. The cold, frightening, powerful ghost compared to the subservient, warm, loving wife is interesting, but most especially after you can see where they overlap and how her sense of power and compassion affects her speech.

In this story, the theatrical nature of the environments are heightened one step further. There are scenes where the environment does not look real at all, and surrealism takes over to depict the true feeling of the moment. Visually speaking, that was perhaps my favourite part of this story. The movement of the trees during the snowstorm (along with the music) and the first meeting of the ghost woman were, of course, not really something I could represent in a single screen shot. Or even multiple. It was a strange combination of stillness or silence, and specific, graceful, unhesitating action.

At the end, I thought a lot about identity. You might not want to read this part if you haven’t seen the movie. On the surface, she decided one night to test his vow of silence. He failed her test, and she didn’t kill him because of their children, but she did leave them immediately. Given the context, it’s not surprising at all that he would tell his wife about that night. So, really, why did she suddenly decide to leave?

It reminds me of other stories I’ve read about female ghosts, entities,spirits and so forth that match up with men, then suddenly leave and “return” to their dominant identity.