Saturday, December 13, 2014

If I Tell You That I Am Nothing, Just Go With It

That's right. Don't argue with me. Don't tell me about how much I mean to you, or Jesus, or somebody else, or the universe (although I genuinely appreciate it, and I love you too, and I'll be much more likely to accept that gift when I'm in a different state of mind. For now, thank you.) Go with it. Give me a "right on" or a high five or a nod or gently tap your glass to mine. Cheers to the abyss, friends; let's dive right in.

Right now, I am absolutely nothing. Right now, my life is meaningless and sedentary. Right now, I take drugs to make me sleep more, but it's less of an escape than I want. It's a restless series of naps interrupted by sadness or my feet getting too clammy or my arms getting too warm or I really have to pee or the bright flashes of light that happen when I close my eyes and just will not go away. The alternative to this, when I'm feeling better less dizzy, is to stare at screens all day and pretend to be real. (I'm almost sorry for that; I know that I tend to make my ridiculous life irritatingly public and I understand that I've essentially flaunted my socially unacceptable behavior like some model strutting down a runway. But I'm desperate to find other humans like me, so bear with me and my candid conglomerates for a bit longer, please?) I can make a delicious quiche, though, and I guess that's real enough.

What if this life is actually an in-between; a prison? What if it is purgatory for those of us who are only spirits, for whom a body is unnatural? We've been losing bodies left and right, folks, and it's hard on us because we can't always see the spirits left behind, or hold them. But we have been losing bodies, bodies only. People who I love as well as the loves of my loves have been shutting their bodies down, permanently. Out of a different vein, I hope, I'd readily donate mine. Body snatchers, come snatch it up. I am a wild spirit when I'm healthy, and I don't want to be trapped anymore; see, I've got places to go. If our spirits are eternal, then they've already transcended dimensions because our universe had a beginning, and it is finite. If we are infinite, then we are timeless and we are able and we aren't constrained to the only dimensions that are observable by our physical bodies. This body is an awful constraint, my skin a tapestry that I've had painted with needles to remind me what might still exist inside, outside.

The redeeming quality to this purgatorial life comes from the glittering beauty of the creation that surrounds us, and then the things that are invisible. Things like memories and dreams, our capacity to design and wonder, and the moments when I can tangibly feel ethereal fingers running down my spine, offering comfort, radiating, whispering "I'm still here" and things like that. Still here, even after my mortal nothingness gets caught making loud demands towards heaven. Shouting demands, like I'm even anything, crossing my arms over my hardened exterior and secretly hoping for a new mercy in the morning.

Still, I wish my sleep were deeper. My medicine wasn't designed to do that. No escape.

But perhaps this season was designed to make me as small as possible, as nothing as possible. I have little utilitarian value, absolutely no financial value, and I can barely exist where I am at any given moment. I have been bled bone-dry while riding this cycle of worthlessness, knowing what I need to do and finding its possibility just barely out of reach, then deeming myself unworthy of getting better, fine. And the thing is, I don't really want your suggestions. That is, I'm not prepared to receive them. There are certainly many very small, very doable things that could make things seem a little bit better for the time. But that's just it; it only makes things seem better, and seem is not worth my suddenly available time. I won't leave my bed for anything so shallow. 

My mom told me that even though there's not much I can do right now, she still wishes for me to have a nice time at home. And I can't give her anything back; there's nothing I can say to that. It breaks my ravaged heart.

What kills me, or rather what makes me want to end this whole charade entirely, is the fact that I was not designed to fritter away my 24th year. I should be free and laughing and thriving and dancing and learning, my God, I should be learning the things that I really, really wanted to learn. I went away to learn, and instead I turned into nothing.


Well. No use crying over nothing, I suppose. It's just...nothing.

Monday, December 08, 2014

I Wanted to Dissolve, or, To Clemson with Love

I haven't written anything in here for a few weeks, and I probably should have, but it has been difficult to find words to describe this season that are appropriate for your eyes and consideration. That is to say, I don't need a whole lot of emotional reactions. I have had enough of those to compensate for any of yours, as far as I'm concerned.

At the moment, I'm in Michigan. East Lansing, specifically, at the MSU library. And it's interesting to me the ways by which I've both dreaded and longed for the impossible reversal of time. I mean, I shouldn't say impossible; it isn't. When Einstein recognized that a gravitational field was the same thing as a free fall under any constant force, and that one could manipulate the fabric of space and time simply by using that gravitational field or by traveling fast enough, he was also stretching the fabric of human thought. And those resulting thought experiments brought us to the singularity inside of every black hole; that impossible, invisible pinpoint; that treasure shielded by everything that we're not allowed to see in only three dimensions.

So, we have to manipulate time for the theory to work. It's incumbent upon us to think outside of linearity and causality and imagine, for a moment, that our intangible imaginations are the extra dimensions that we need in order to make sense of anything. 

Gravity, time, these things are everything.

I've been fluctuating heavily. On the surface, it's largely because I'm preposterously undiagnosed and under-medicated. But beneath that, my mind was designed to recognize parallels and the universe is full of them; indeed, it may be one itself.

On one end of my oscillation, I am floating. Floating as if there is no gravity at all, which means that time is unaffected. I am neither bending nor stretching anything; I am existing, and that is about it. I am happy in my blissful cloud, and content to simply sit wherever I am and bask in the energy of whomever I am with. Relaxation washes over me like a rising tide-maybe I'm dying, maybe I'm going numb-but those things don't seem to matter at all and I am a shell. I am lightness, and I am light; a packet of photons with an uncollapsed wave function. I haven't observed myself in any specific reality, nor has anybody else, so I am free to exist in all of them until I decide. I am here, and I am gone, and I am over there; I am floating.

On the other end, however, I am sinking. I am a living embodiment of Newton's 3rd Law, I am my own equal and opposite reaction; however, the Law of Averages has not worked in my favor. There is no happy medium. There is no ground. And actually, eventually, there is no Newtonian gravity where I'm headed. I am falling and I am crushed under the heaviness of what my observed realities are. I buckle and I convulse and I collapse under the wave of black and bright bursts that have clouded my vision for months, and I panic. I panic because where there had been no gravity before, there is infinite gravity here. And we call an infinite gravitational well a black hole. According to the theory, lots of dicy things happen on and inside of the event horizon. I see nuances of my existence annihilating as matter and their own antimatter, I am stretched beyond my physical limitations, and I see my entire history of time in brutal flashbacks that violently sideswipe my memory in this place that I cannot thermodynamically describe. Time is reversing in the worst way. If I were ever significant enough to have my own piece of spacetime, I feel it bending and twisting on top of itself until I'm caught in an infinite loop for which I've tried, time and again, space and again, to construct some kind of tangential escape. But gravity is too strong, here. My tangents always lose momentum and return to the things with which I have not properly dealt. And this time reversal is in no way merciful; it doesn't grant me the opportunity to return to a happier time, a factory reset to my last known functionality. No, not here. Gravity was designed gracefully, but it is not gracious. It is an unforgiving, mysterious force. I am frantic, I am confused, and I am heavy; I am sinking.

Luckily for me and for the rest of the universe, things that were meant to oscillate can still oscillate with or without the influence of a gravitational field. And time will run on my watch in a linear and constant fashion, as long as I can keep myself to three dimensions. But this is all very difficult to describe and it has seemed impossible to live this way on a day to day basis, so you may understand why I simply wanted to dissolve out of Clemson.

I wanted to go quietly. I didn't say a proper goodbye to everybody. The closest thing to a Goodbye Party I had was Friendsgiving, which wasn't really meant to be a Goodbye Party. I didn't ask anybody to help me move my things. I wanted to do this as single-handedly as possible.

As per usual, that plan pretty much disintegrated.

At Friendsgiving and during some everyday interactions following that night, my friends surprised me with so many presents and cards and happy memories and kind words of support for which I really didn't have the emotional capacity to handle. See, I didn't want to impact these people in the ways that they've impacted me. I didn't want to matter. During this season I feel like nothing, and I wanted to be nothing, and I wanted to disappear and not be noticed.

Well, too bad for me, I guess. Because as much as I am my own Newtonian Pair, they are mine as well. Every action is rebutted with an equal and opposite reaction. The unphysical magic of the human experience provides all the mores and lesses that we crave when we strive to quantify, but ultimately, I can't set foot in the spacetime local to Clemson without providing a ripple in that fabric. Nobody can, nobody ever has. And the truth remains that while I felt my personhood and my intellectual abilities shrinking during my time there, my heart grew in leaps and bounds. I fell in love with all of you. All of you. And I remain to be in love with you now, and I will continue to be in love with you for the rest of my life. I am in love with you, Clemson, because love rolls with the punches and leans in for kisses, and we've done all of those things.

Whatever direction time takes us, and regardless of the magnitude of the gravity surrounding us, I am in love with you.

That is a fact.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Met the Queen

I've been struggling with the way by which I want to write this. It's huge and it's multidimensional and it is so much like looking through an immaculately cut diamond with a laser. I met the queen this week.

I met the queen, and she knows she's the queen.

When Tashmica told us that she was on her way, I was literally Sandra Oh as Principal Gupta at Grove High School in The Princess Diaries. 






The QUEEN is coming."

Literally. Endless fangirling: commence. And when I met her on Wednesday, I came up right behind her, and she almost jumped out of her skin when I tapped her shoulder (because honestly I probably slapped it with my awkward excitement) and when she turned around, I almost lost myself in the magnitude of her presence. Because 25 years ago, she held Tashmica's bravery gently, like it was a baby blue Robin egg in a delicate mass of twisted brown twigs. I believe that she looked straight into Tashmica's soul that day the way she looked straight into mine on Wednesday night, and I believe that she saw Tashmica's strength and her potential for absolute greatness.

A potential that she is now pushing and leveling up, every single day.

The queen listened, that day. She was gentle. She was intuitive. She was humble, from where she sat as a monarch. She said those magical, delicious, honey-sweet words: "I believe you." She did the right thing.

And Tashmica this past Wednesday, clutching a giant check from the USA Network, told us how much she recognizes that gift. She told us that she had been unaware that children and teenagers are continuously made to feel dirty and worthless, or slut-shamed and silenced. Because she told the right person. She told the queen. And the queen came as soon as she heard. As a result of that, Tashmica comes as soon as she hears. She told us that we deserve the advocacy that we may not have been given, and that there is nothing wrong with us, and that we are survivors, Soulfires, all ablaze like sparklers on a dark November night.

I came to the Soulfire calendar reveal after a very difficult week. A week during which my flight response was mysteriously overactive, and during which I experienced some of the most profound sadness I've ever felt. I'm in transition. I've momentarily abandoned my passions that used to provide a solid foundation, and I've found myself in a cycle of frustration and loss. I fluctuate between sinking and floating, but I'm very seldom grounded. 

So when I approached Lisa the queen that night and told her that I was fine, that I was leaving school and that packing up my home broke my heart but that I was fine, she looked into my eyes and asked me a question. She asked me if, at school or at home in Clemson, I was being abused.

It caught me off guard. Nobody had ever asked me that before. Nobody.

My heart started beating like it was alive again. I have not been abused at Clemson, but nobody had ever asked me that before. And if anybody had asked when it was relevant, I would've likely said no. I wouldn't have been able to justify to myself that somebody was mistreating me. I wouldn't have given myself that grace.

But this time, I felt justified. I felt like I had just been inducted into this community...after all these years, it felt official. Here was a person who wanted to be certain that I was safe, and if I wasn't, I believe that she would have been the first to advocate for me, and for all of us. She wants us to be proud of our bravery, and to own it, and to celebrate it.

It was one simple question, but it carries such enormous significance. It meant that somebody, the queen no less, was standing at the ready to advocate for me. It means that I do deserve advocacy. And these people, these survivors, that have danced into my life are the people who would come running to me if I need it.

They'll come as soon as they hear.

Firecracker photo from the Lansing State Journal. All calendar photos by Jena McShane, hair & makeup by Heather Jarous; both brave, beautiful survivors with us.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Fear Itself

"..but as bad as I am, I'm proud of the fact that I'm worse than I seem."
-Ani DiFranco, Grey

I'm having the hardest time placing my own face over the things I know to exist behind the place a face usually goes. Or, more accurately, I'm struggling to assign my own face to this illness inside. 

Probably because, insightful as I may tend to be, I don't understand what's going on. I'm exhausted almost all the time but I'm not physically tired, so I wake up frustrated that I'll have to fight myself to get out of bed...and then most likely lose anyway.

Lately, I've been spending loads of time with the people who I love, and who, I imagine, love me. I am sad to realize, though, that it has only made me feel marginally better. At some point during the evening, I often find myself struggling to contain myself within my own body...and then I panic.

One of a few things happens; but no matter what, I dissociate.

Sometimes, I isolate myself in a place with fresh, frigid air. I find a staircase somewhere and sit, collecting my breath, scanning every nuance of my environment, hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware. I wait until I'm ready to sink back into the norm.

Sometimes, the invisible part of me has escaped. I don't know where I've gone. And I'm furious that I wasn't able to go with it; instead I've been left with the body that I'd readily abandon in a heartbeat just to be free. I call myself back. I plead. I beg. Where have you gone? Please come back. Where are you? Are you safe? Can I come with you? Come back to me.

Sometimes, I'm stuck. I shut down. I wonder why I am where I am, why I've allowed myself out of the house...when clearly I'm in this ridiculous phase during which I'm a complete basket case who, admittedly and with much chagrin, cannot feel safe even in completely normal situations. I feel as alone as I am inside. I feel outside. I do not feel real; I am not real. I curse this ball-and-chain body that is weighing me down and preventing me from simply dissolving into the dim light and the barstools and the thick air.

I don't exist. I can't exist. None of this is real.

And looking at the rest of the picture, it's glaringly obvious. I'm scared of everything right now. 

I'm terrified.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumnal Adaptations, or How I Learned to Be Okay

If I am permitted for a moment to be ethereal and other-worldly, I'm going to do that. Although I suppose that there are not many things that would make me want another world; I quite enjoy my pale blue dot. It is perfect in its statistical unlikelihood, its divinely timed evolution, its pristinely non-poisonous atmosphere, and its ability to move and change and uplift, among other things.

Even though I know these things, I'm still surprised by them at times.

I've been taking myself on mini self-care trips lately, up to the hills that I'm going to miss terribly, especially in the middle of this sunny late-October. Before now, I'd only lived in Carolina during the summer. Upon moving back, I had mistakenly thought that I'd miss out my Midwest autumn in exchange for Octobers and Novembers in the soggy sunshine. On the contrary, I seem to have stumbled upon an autumnal wonderland whose resilience trumps that of any Michigan maple. And I am basking in it, soaking it up as much as I possibly can.

Today, I went up to North Carolina for a spell. As you probably are aware, I am a hoarder of roads; I have an incredibly insatiable addiction to asphalt. And right now I can tell you with nigh absolute certainty that Route 178 through South Carolina and Route 64 through North Carolina are now two of my absolute favorite roads, ever. Everything in the sun, under the sun, was on fire as I twisted my way through...each scene more lovely than the last; each turn, though, requiring that my eyes stay on the ribbon road, somehow.

Eventually, I made it to Gorges and a trailhead that took me to a waterfall. One would think that I'd be a bit more timid around waterfalls considering my altercation with the one at Hippie Hole in the Black Hills not too long ago, but as I've professed many times this week, I do not live in fear. I am incapable of being anything other than a feral weirdo when I'm alone in the forest, anyway. And when I take myself on these dates, I want everything. I want to let myself hear the leaves crunch beneath my feet, acorns falling to the forest floor, birds either singing greetings or screaming warnings-I'm never sure-as I pass. I want to let myself see every color of everything that absorbs and reflects light in the wavelengths that my eyes can perceive. I want to let myself breathe the thin aroma of soggy dirt and foliage set to ripen at 65 degrees. I want to let myself feel the tree branches and trunks that I gently graze, the waxy greens that brush my face, the pine needles in my hair, the water caressing rocks below. 

And the waterfall is no different. I made my way to the top and looked over, sitting on what I thought was a dampened rock. But when I laid my hand on top of it, it was completely dry...just miraculously smooth. 

And it was then that I realized: waterfalls can change. 

Of course they can change. Nothing in our planet's geological history suggests that they've always been or always will be. Come to think of it, the Blue Ridge has had a lot of time to grow; months ago, my crossing the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide at 10,000 feet and then today, my crossing the Eastern Continental Divide at just 2,000 feet could tell me that. But my sitting on a smoothed-over, water-cut slab of rock brought this truth directly to my fingertips, literally. Running my fingers over the rock, and looking down to watch the water rush over the rock below, then looking back up to the rock on which I struck me to realize that I was sitting where this very waterfall used to flow. Over the course of some amount of time unknown to me, this waterfall had changed course and left its fingerprints set in stone that would later serve as a resting point for a wide-eyed dreamer on a solo hike.

More than the fact that the waterfall had changed, though, was the glaring reality that something as mighty as a waterfall can change and still remain a waterfall. This holds tremendous implications for me. Even the strongest things, the things that can carry away and erode and shape and carve mountains, can change. They change, and they do not cease to be what they are. They adapt. They press on. They remain.

I was not rendered speechless today. I had plenty to say. And I don't remember many instances during which I had more honestly, desperately, deeply from the bottom of my heart thanked the Lord for giving me just a glimpse of the brand new waxing crescent moon stunningly situated above the sunset layers, above the silhouetted hills. I needed today. I needed to see change without imagining ruin on the other end. I needed to bring myself back to nature where I belong, and I needed nature to show me an example of what happens when you decide to be brave. Be brave, and adapt, and be okay.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Cómo Comunicar

I'm sitting in Santiago de Surco, south of downtown Lima, at a reasonable distance from an open window.

I say this because, long story short (a story which is both agitating and funny in equal parts) my phone is without a functioning LCD screen at the moment. And if you want to know, I can rehash the story of that event, and Juanita's patio, and my unbelievable lack of reflexes. Just ask.

At the moment, I'm trying to ignore the fact that I probably won't see the southern night sky down here. I knew it was a possibility, but now I know that it's quite a substantial probability. It is soggy here on the magnetic equator, and dusty up in Jicamarca, and Lima demands to be lit. Everything here is golden brown, like a ripening carambola; or hazy and conglomerate, like the pictures being sent back from the Curiosity rover on Mars. 

It's surreal. Beautiful in its resilience, its day to day trudging on.

Every morning, I and the others from the south of Lima ride to Jicamarca in a 15 passenger van. On the ride up, Lima is bustling with people going to work and sitting in roadside cafes; hijitos on their way to school dressed in immaculate uniforms to please the immaculate Santa Maria, no matter how much dust is stirred by the busses and taxis.

However in the evening on our return that almost takes twice as long as the ascent, Lima is everything. Lights from the auto district brighten the darkening haze, fireworks explode for whatever reason, excited stray dogs and people like sardines crammed onto walkways and into vehicles at a standstill on the road (a word which here is used very loosely), pointing in every direction, having reached that inevitable impasse. 

Here is where my perspective changed, permanently. See, I thought that I was a pretty good driver. I thought that it took an expert level of skill to drive 18 hours out of the day by oneself. Now, I won't discredit myself; that's pretty good; but that's driving endurance. Here in Lima? This is driving agility.

The champion who drives our 15 passenger van operates that boat like it's a motocross bike. Weaving in and out of three-lane highways sometimes with five cars side by side, dodging motorcycles and annoying taxi drivers, and then there's me. Me in the very back, finding my face mere feet away from the front corner of a semi truck at times, not ever needing to feel unsafe. Lima bumper to bumper, with vehicles still in pristine shape; people holding onto each other so that nobody falls out of the busses, people looking out, people taking care. Things here are handled with such enormous care, and it's reassuring to me that this whole world hasn't gone straight to hell just yet.


Before I left, I was thinking about human connection and how deeply it runs. Something that I've noticed over the past few weeks of mayhem is my ability to find serenity in feeling the essence of a person surrounding me, even if he or she isn't physically near. And now I'm laying on my bed in South America, thick golden Lima air rushing over me, and feeling pretty much at home. My first day here, I realized that there was a huge communication barrier between myself and my host family, as my Spanish is awful. However, I'm learning so many different ways by which we otherwise communicate as humans. One of the first things my host mom did was to braid my hair as we were sitting outside in the garden. She dances, she animates, she fixes the most remarkably delicious food, and she ties a scarf around my neck when it's cold outside. And we recognize each other as humans.

My Spanish is still terrible, but my Human is growing a little more every day.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How a Conversation about "Tampon Run" Turned Into a Commentary on Academia

Because nobody should ever settle for just Temple Run, two high school students have developed a new game called Tampon Run. Basically, the player shoots tampons at enemies (who steal tampons) and must collect extra tampons so that she doesn't run out. If she runs out, it's game over (ain't that the truth.) The point of the game is to normalize female reproductive health rather than gun violence, which I think is pretty neat, at least. 

My friend Laris sent me a link to the above article this morning, and then several Snapchats of her high scores. Then, we started brainstorming ideas for improvements, creating the opportunity for a real-life, estrogen-laden menstruation gaming experience:

As per usual, that escalated quickly. Navigating our own bodies is one thing; navigating academia is another. I actually ran into something similar to that last situation a few months ago at my current graduate institution, when I received what I believe was supposed to be to be a high compliment after a perfectly mediocre (in my opinion) presentation. I was congratulated on my ability to speak in front of a room full of (here, I would have said "experts," but what really was said was:) "males." And then I was immediately confused, because I had apparently stepped into a time machine that transported me 200 years into the past.

If anybody is capable of coding the ingenious upgrades to Tampon Run, it's Laris. She can code much better than I can. But since she's a bright girl capable of designing her own future, she decided to pursue Nursing instead of Engineering. And after I told her about my ridiculous encounter with a well-intended "compliment," she told me that as a nurse she is commonly encouraged to behave timidly when interacting with doctors. Basically, she's been told not to display a sense of confidence, and to speak apologetically because she's probably wasting the valuable time of the "he-doctor" as a lowly "she-nurse." And yes, those gender pronouns are actually used in her courses. This begs the question: why would an educator ever perpetuate a culture of gender-based insecurity in the medical field, especially with nurses? Nurses, who of course are female as well as male, are invaluable resources to doctors, who of course are male as well as female. I asked her if she laughs it off like I try to, and she said that it pisses her off, but she doesn't say anything. That's generally how I feel. I'm not in imminent danger, so it doesn't seem to be worth an uproar.

Now, at my current graduate institution, our Title IX investigation has been completed, with training now required for all employees. Apparently, we did "pretty well." My male colleagues, struggling to understand how one could perform "pretty well" on something as heavy as a Title IX investigation, asked me what I thought it meant. I stated, bluntly: "Quiet women." We all laughed, of course, but I think it's true! Speaking for myself, I feel relatively safe in the lab (I mean, as safe as a woman with a decade-long struggle with PTSD can reasonably feel.) I'm not complaining. Unless somebody is in danger, I won't; my style of advocacy is private and personal until somebody's well-being is at stake.

As of June of this year, 64 colleges and universities are under investigation for Title IX violations; namely, the improper handling of sexual violence cases. In light of recent popular support of the feminist movement, I've been finding myself feeling a bit like a "feminist hipster" (feminipster?) of sorts. Like, I was totally feminist before it was cool, because I was handling these sexual violence cases at my Big Ten undergraduate institution before it became socially acceptable to discuss them. It seems silly to think about how much things have changed over the past five years, but they have. And, for the better, no less. 

I was never much of a protester. I'll be honest; while my friends from the MSU Sexual Assault Program were protesting our basketball team because of rape allegations against two of the players, I was in the Izzone praying to our basketball deity that they would sink their free throws. I had to separate the two. I couldn't handle them in tandem.

I think that's how I deal with things like this; I compartmentalize my life. My undergraduate experience was pretty fairly split between physics and advocacy. My friends in our galactic astrophysics lectures, for example, knew what it meant when I had two phones with me; one was my phone, and one was the "rape phone." If I had to slip out of class, it was because somebody needed the resources that I had to give. On occasion, my late nights studying at IHOP were interrupted by the medical pager and an ER visit. Because my course load was so heavy, these instances were rare; however, they remain to be such a huge part of my life.

This is why, I think, I'm often caught off guard when people ask me how I navigate being a woman in my field. Oddly enough, the MSU physics building was a place where I felt very safe as a female, and as I mentioned I feel just as safe at Clemson. This isn't the case for all institutions, and I certainly can't speak for all female scientists at Michigan State or Clemson, but it is the case for me. I have found that my handling of sexual violence cases on campus has very much diluted the off-handed and infrequent remarks of my male colleagues. I could laugh them off. I could roll my eyes. I could out-compete them for research positions.

But that's another thing, isn't it? How did I really land those research positions? My mother seemed to think that part of it was due to my gender; that these institutions somehow needed a quota of women in order to keep their funding, or something. Title IX and Affirmative Action and, basically, another back-handed "compliment" that made me feel like I'd cheated an impostor who didn't actually deserve the position. 

I learned loads of things during those positions, though. I disappointed nobody (except perhaps myself) and I've fostered my network that I now treat as my central nervous system. There has been no shortage of hard work, mistakes, falling, getting back up, and personal growth. I sat down with Jocelyn Bell Burnell one evening, and unraveled all of my insecurities over a cup of tea. I told her that I didn't feel like I deserved my success and she responded by laughing, calling me a "typical woman," and telling me that I was doing it all right. 

I hope I can believe her, soon. I also hope that academia evolves into a place where one's minority status is simply irrelevant. We are here to learn. We are here to do the work. We are here to advance the field because we want to advance the field; not because we're male or female or otherwise. Certainly the female experience is different from the male experience in life, but they are even more certainly permitted to run parallel to one another. What academia needs, what we need, is more grace. More encouragement. More collaboration. If we as a scientific community (or any community) would focus on the work being done rather than the minority status of the worker, then maybe the work would actually get done. 

Everybody, just let it be. And let us, no matter who we are, keep learning.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What I've Needed

Disclaimer: an exorbitance of deep thoughts, perhaps some possible former secrets, and definite over-sharing are to follow. If you're not cool with lady anatomy, spiritual sensuality, a few four letter words, things that feel too much, or candid discussions of mental illness, then have an awesome night and I'll talk to you later about some other stuff, another day. But today, while I'm riding this wave of unadulterated joie de vivre, we're talking about it.

September 3rd, 2014: the day that my V tried to convince me that I am, in fact, a real actual person.

I couldn't have come up with a more feministy sentence in my life, even if I were criss-crossed on a yoga mat on top of the third Flatiron on the front range of the Rockies in Boulder, tweeting about something topical and filled with #womynpower, eating raw organic kale and sipping herbal tea out of a Diva Cup. 

But nonetheless, V spoke up today. Her name, I decided some time ago, is Luna (for oh so many reasons) but she hasn't been all that vocal lately, up until now. Now I'll admit, this is a little difficult to explain or write at all, because this is some deep, personal stuff. And you won't be privy to all of the details (because this is pretty much my naked soul we're talking about), but it's worth saying: I think she's tired of, I'm tired of, feeling less than.

Less than human, less than worthless, less than useless.

Sexual trauma is a ridiculous fucking thing. Healing from it is such a wild ride, for which I never really realized I'd signed up until now(ish). It outlasts. Outlasts relationships, outlasts diagnoses, outlasts the time it takes to earn two B.S. (that's Bachelor of Science, not so much bullshit) degrees, at least. It makes me feel so, so behind. Underdeveloped, and shame on shame on shame on shame compounded continuously, without the benefit of a hefty cash-out.

So there's me and my V, cobwebs and all, figuring out how to be 23 (almost 24) and basically, I mean, feeling like I'm already knocking at the grave, wasting time. And while I'm figuring these things out, I'm full of self doubt as per usual. My life is embarrassing. It's obviously also remarkably full of vibrant, wonderful things, but still. Sometimes it's a little embarrassing to be me. I'm insecure about the ways by which I still need to grow; the things that have been restricted by my trauma don't seem to be blossoming into anything worthwhile. And it's been a decade. How much time does a person need?

She needs as much time as she needs. That's how much. And I think that's why my V yelled at me today. "Hey! I work, I exist, I'm real. So are you."

I remain unconvinced. But then again, it's been one hell of a week, because admittedly I've been a little (extremely) unstable (I mean, I'm literally talking to my vagina here. And that's the most sensible thing that has happened.) And truth be told, although right now I am happy, I am so, so scared.

I am afraid of my instabilities and of my tendencies. I don't trust them. I feel out of balance and almost out of options; rather, I'm not sure what my viable options are. And I feel these things so out-of-control intensely that, to carry myself away from the train tracks behind my house, I ended up sprawled out on my friend's (soulmate's, really) daughter's bed on Sunday night...wondering what was going to happen and why for the love of everything had I waited so long to ask for the most minute speck of advocacy?

Advocacy doesn't cost a damn thing. I give it freely. But still, I don't feel entitled to it at all, ever. Nonetheless, it was given to me this week over so many dimensions and in so many ways. My little episode seemed to be bad enough such that lots of people know about it now, but I really don't mind. Instead of feeling like I'm by myself trying to fight these things that I don't understand, I'm surrounded by a network while I'm trying to fight these things that I don't understand. There's a thousand worlds of difference between the two. And I wouldn't have ever taken myself to get this help by myself; I was taken, loudly, by my total soulmate who apparently loves me, loudly.

I love loudly, and people certainly love me loudly as well, carrying pieces of me as I do, them. But this time, it's different somehow. This time, I found a piece of my heart with a person who has the clarity of mind to drag me to get help. She knows exactly, exactly what to say, miraculously. While my heartbeat cries out for comfort, her heartbeat radiates it. She took my scariest nightmare and literally turned it into a Disney movie; something so ridiculous that I didn't even consider a possibility. This horrifying memory I've carried around for a decade that used to make me shut down and feel powerless, will now always make me laugh, because she took that shadow and turned it into a puppet, the goofy kind; something that I can now control. 

They don't make thank-you cards for shit like that. But that, ladies and gentlemen, is what it feels like to be incredibly, inexplicably loved. And known, to your core. And loved, even so.

I've often written about the ways by which I haven't been getting what I've needed, and how I don't necessarily know how to find those things. But life gives me the best people. I have, right now, exactly what I need.

This is real life, and this is ridiculous grace. Even though I still have nights during which I'm spent like my paycheck and burned out like my gas tank, I'm not doing this alone anymore. And that's home, for this wanderer. That's home.

Monday, August 18, 2014

23, Once Again

Twenty three, you are a trip.


But now and for the rest of my life, I want to say that when I was 23 I went off the deep end. And survived.

Also, literally.

Like, 6 weeks ago I actually, literally, voluntarily went over a waterfall and absolutely broke myself on a rock after a 20 foot free-fall. As I type this, I'm in that whole ice-and-elevate situation after driving 4,000 miles over the past two weeks and sinking down into the soggy Everglades and letting myself swell up like an aggravated elephant leg; prolonging and making impossible that healing process that my body wants so very badly.

What a fucking beautiful metaphor.

Because what a process it's been, it is. This has been the year of burnout and medication and therapy; of trauma, stress, dizziness, nausea, chaos, growth disguised as stagnation, forgetting to breathe, and loving everybody in the loudest, most out of control way that I never thought possible.

Loving. Loudest love for everybody else, so that I don't have to remember that I don't feel entitled to love. Not yet.

And I'm freaking out because I can't find my red Sharpie that I use to trace the roads on which I've driven, caffeine and taurine racing through my veins and Chicago, Atlanta by day and Miami by night. I want to see that progress. I want to color in those lines myself, etching them onto my map and then my heart. I want to dream some more, of driving the entirety of US Route 1 and finishing that last bit of I-75 and of my ninth and tenth tattoos. I hate driving through construction as much as anybody, but I owe my life to its completion. Forever indebted to Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Roads, like rushing rivers, taking me somewhere, anywhere, anytime. 

And I'm also freaking out because before I'm done being 23, I'll do this whole Soulfire Calendar thing. Freaking out seems appropriate, as the photo shoot will be held almost exactly over my tenth assaultiversary. It seemed easy enough when I decided to do it, because it'll be so good for me; but I forgot about a lot of things. Things like the fact that although we want the photo to be fiery and fierce like we are, nobody in the universe can fit my awkward weirdo body into a dress that isn't made out of t-shirt material. And this is way too important of a picture to cut corners with that polyester blend bullshit, seriously. Nothing feels right, yet. It'll come to me. It'll come to me. It'll come.

First, I needed to realize a couple of things about myself. Besides the fact that I am frightened, and I am broken, and often aloof, and frequently in an inexplicable kind of pain; I needed to realize that I have to stop comparing my healing process to everybody else's healing processes. "Everyone else rocks at healing except for me," cries broken Becca on a sad, sad night. But I don't know that. I can't know that. 

The only things that I know are the things that my heart longs for, and even if they're things that make no sense, my heart wants what she wants. She wants the relationships that she's found. She wants comfort after every strained pulse; beat, beat, beat, breathe. She wants a mother's arms and a lover's embrace. She's a little behind. She's in pieces.

But she recognizes those long-lost pieces of herself everywhere that I go, and I always want to recognize that fact. It's one of the things that I love so much about this difficult journey. When I find a piece of my heart waiting for me inside of somebody else, somebody beautiful...I can't stop the turbulent vortex of entangled, entwined, intimate connection that follows. It's deep, deeper than I can comprehend. So deep that I often feel like I need to quench it, hold it back, reroute myself, stop myself before I explode all over everything.

But my heart wants that connection. She wants to feel together, like she belongs, like she's allowed to be loved.

So from now on, I'll let her. Let's see where this goes; let's see what radiant things happen.

Monday, July 07, 2014


I'm really quite exceptionally tired.

Too tired to do any of the things that don't absolutely have to be done in a reasonable amount of time, lest my world explode or something far more dramatic than necessary. More than that, though, I'm too burned out to really actually remember why I like to explore and learn. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is complete dissociation from myself.

So understandably, it's easy to feel like I've lost faith in damn near everything. But, grace still exists and I know that I really haven't. In that spirit, I want to do a little therapeutic exercise and I'll request perspective and patience from my readers; I'm processing. That's all.

23 Things in which I've lost faith:
1. Arguably too literally: organized religion
2. People who cannot read maps
3. My possible Master's degree
4. My ability to remain in academia for the next 10 months
5. My desire to learn details
6. My ability to remember details
7. People who wear flip flops on rugged terrain
8. People who think that we can see a solar transit of Saturn from Earth 
9. Western Christianity
10. My status as a human versus a corporation's status as a human
11. My financial situation
12. Related: the IRS
13. My mental health at large
14. Congress, obviously
15. My ability to fake it 'til I make it
16. My healing process
17. My ability to recognize personal growth
18. My ability to just be nice
19. People who lean on telescopes
20. My capacity for wonder and awe
21. Mosquito repellent
22. My communication skills
23. Being an adult, ever

23 Things in which I've not lost faith:
1. Mountains
2. People who are seeing Saturn for the first time
3. The Sun's ability to create Earth-sized sunspots
4. Aurora Borealis
5. Flying on airplanes
6. Driving on interstates
7. Singing about things
8. People who want to tell their stories
9. My ability to recognize the ways by which I can change for the better
10. My ability to seek out options
11. My curiosity
12. People who graciously let me process this life
13. People who remind me that I have strength as a survivor
14. People who remind me that I am quick to point to joy
15. My ability to network
16. The resiliency of this planet
17. Beautiful things that require heat, pressure, and time to form properly
18. Community
19. People who appreciate nature
20. Related: the NPS
21. Germany, for some reason
22. My immune system, knock on wood
23. The future, even if I'm unusually unsure and scared

Everything is balance. One pro and con for every year of my life. I am equally anxious and excited for the big things coming up...well. I hope they are big. Big enough for me to recognize and appreciate the magnitude. Big enough for me to notice why they're happening. Big enough for me to stop feeling ashamed of where I am on all of my journeys. Big enough for my big, bruised, wide, pulsing heart.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Surprises, Past and Future

I think I underestimated the effect of leaving my therapist and most of my friends in one fell swoop. I thought, you know, that the land could be my therapist this summer. And my friend. I always think that, and it's a giant mistake. I mean, it works to an extent...but it doesn't work all the way. It would work had I been created an introvert, but alas, I am an Extrovert with a capital E and the land does not talk back to me. 

I've been having lots flashbacks, lately. Fortunately and a little bit surprisingly, they've been good ones! Lots of fond memories that I hadn't thought about for quite some time. Like the time my parents dressed me up as a fire fighter for Halloween in Kindergarten. All things considered, for small-town mid-Michigan in 1995, that was pleasantly progressive. Props to you, mom. Props to you.

And then that time when I was 20, the last stop on one of my many solo road trips; sipping champagne on a rooftop with new friends and old, basking in the yellow glow of a Chicago skyline. I didn't have a whole lot of fucks to give, then. I'll bet you anything, though, that I thought I did. And that got me thinking: when I'm 26 and stressed out about life like I am right now, how will I remember this season? Will I shake my head at the moments that I am, right now, currently wasting away with worry? Will I wish I were back here?


For brief volcanic moments this past week, I have become very angry. Angry, and sad, and anxious. I am stressed out and restless, unable to sleep well and in a daytime daze. I am out in the middle of beautiful, and I'm absolutely incapable of escaping into the beautiful because I can't figure out how to forget that I have to go back to Clemson in the end...and for some reason, it's killing me.

I hate that I have to go back, but I will make myself go. I will earn a lousy, meaningless piece of paper at the end of this go around. I will not mess it up. I will not sever all of the ties. I will smile, and be nice, and be submissive, and try to make myself care because deep down under the burnout, I used to love this. And I'll figure it out.

But I'm finished with jumping through hoops. Finished. I do not "hate my life," as so many of my colleagues seem to wish to project; I hate that we're in an environment that is so terribly dehumanizing. I ironically and affectionately call our building "my own personal hell," but let's be real. I'd readily prefer my imagined (albeit diluted) interpretation of hell. In hell, the rules don't change overnight, every night. Things are pretty goddamn absolute. I'm tired of people who only value things that are valid in academia, as if it is the be-all end-all of society. It's certainly a highly important institution, but it's not at all an accurate representation of how the real world functions. One has to, you know, do basic things like communicate in the real world. And seriously? I'm very over being judged by my superiors for taking a few spare weekends to spend time with my family, when they have the opportunity to go home to family every single night. Your high horse is dead. Get off.

Being the anti-miserable person that I truly am, it seems like the ultimate betrayal of self to go back. And to think, a year ago I was excited for this! It's because, of course, I expected difficult; not impossible. Not unreasonable. Not nonsensical. Not wishy-washy. Not disastrous. And I have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, back there in 2 months.

Truth be told, I will be so happy to be back. Things will probably get better, and by the grace of everything, I'll remember why I wanted this. But I am so unsure of myself. I feel so unqualified and unprepared, awkwardly stumbling my way through my "life plans" whenever visitors ask. I have less of my life figured out than ever before. So, whatever happens...will be a surprise.

I hope it's awesome.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Anxious Girl's Prayer, Or Incoherent Rant

I think that I have about six hours left before these meds finally wear off. Or is it ware off? What is ware even used for? Or, for what is ware even used? Grammar.

I can't even spell. Or use proper grammar. Or stop thinking. I'm so tired, and I'm wide awake. My bed right now feels like Christmas. A few minutes ago, a moth fell onto my keyboard because it wanted the light. It startled me, but I wanted to watch it anyway. 

By grace though, even when I'm stoned out of my mind on Alprazolam, I can still do my job. I can help you plan your trip through the Badlands. I can show you Saturn, and tell you about the ice geysers on its moon Enceladus. When my mind is preoccupied with those things, it forgets that it's dizzy. I have to breathe because I have to speak. If I don't have to sit still, I can forget that my tee shirt collar feels like a noose.

And it had been almost two and a half months, so I'd forgotten how bad anxiety days felt. No trigger, just a bad day to drink coffee. I'm okay with it, though. I told myself that I wouldn't hate myself for taking medicine if I needed it. That's what it's for.

I am in, possibly, one of my favorite places in the universe. Badlands National Park is a saving grace and a graceful savior. And I'll say that it's beautiful right to its face, but as the poem in the Visitor Center says, the land will not flatter me back. It's too harsh and it's too real...but what if those things are exactly the things for which I'm searching? In that sense, I am flattered. I'm flattered that I can sit atop the most uncomfortable formations and feel rightly at home. Tough recognizing tough. Survivor acknowledging survivor. A land and a girl who both know that nothing is guaranteed and few worthy things are easy. Both being shaped by literal and figurative tempests; wind and rain and hailstones to end all windshields. In their seemingly woeful tales of erosion, though, both still wide open to the elements and willing to transform. Both knowing that change requires growing pains.

Both enduring, as long as the process allows. 

Monday, May 19, 2014


Brace yourselves; I'm about to get all mid-2000's on you.

It's for a good reason, though. Off and on throughout my adolescent and adult life, I've visited and revisited the brilliant works written by Alice Sebold. For those of you who don't recognize the name, she is the author of the best selling novel The Lovely Bones. I read the book for the first time about ten years ago, and honestly haven't really had the courage to give it a thorough re-read; but I refer back to that and to her memoir, Lucky, whenever I need some careful encouragement. 

I say careful because she has a brilliant gift for addressing the layers and the seasons of traumatic stress in wonderfully delicate yet brutally honest ways. She wants to walk with you through every single beautiful terrible step of this healing process. She understands the ins and outs, the dynamics, the pieces, the scope of trauma. In The Lovely Bones, we meet fourteen year old Susie Salmon just before she is raped and dismembered by her neighbor, George Harvey. She remains alive for the reader in her heaven, though, watching her bereaved family attempt to realign their lives as best as each of them can...and learning how to let go herself. 

Peter Jackson's adaptation of the book for the cinema was...just so extremely well done. Although the gruesome details of Susie's rape aren't quite as in-your-face as in the novel, and there is really no mention of sexual violence until Susie encounters Mr. Harvey's other victims in her heaven, Jackson's interpretation doesn't negate or minimize the trauma that she suffered. Each frame seamlessly weaves together the ways by which people deal with tragedy; the ways by which we learn how to survive. It is as delicate and honest as Sebold's novel. It is so much more than just a story; it is a masterpiece that respectfully exploits the emotions for which we don't particularly have the language.

I'm not writing this simply as a review; I don't really care about that. The reason I felt like writing about this film is because every time I watch it, it does something to me. The first time was in the cinema with friends, and I left feeling so happy to gently hold the life that I have, and the people in it. The next few times were in my home, by myself, sometimes feeling the need to distract myself from really watching the screen because I don't want all of the feelings all of the time. Because miraculously enough, this movie feels exactly the way that trauma feels. Exactly. It doesn't miss a single step. Everything. Anxiety, fear, grief, loss, paranoia, nightmares, self-hatred, flashbacks, anger...all the way to community, healing, closure, some nuance of justice. 

This is why the film is so important to me. I encounter lots of people who have survived sexual violence, but I also encounter lots of people who are co-survivors; people who are vicariously impacted by someone else's experience with sexual trauma. For co-survivors who haven't directly experienced this kind of trauma first hand, it's often difficult to empathize because the burden can be enormous. 

There are so many things that can cloud a person's perception of somebody working through this healing process; sometimes, survivors don't particularly want to talk about the way they're feeling, or can't quite put it into words. We can be confusing, because we're confused ourselves. We can be flighty, forgetful, irrational, emotional, frightened by the smallest, triggered by the slightest. We can get very, very angry. We can lash out at people who are only trying to help us. We can also lash inwardly at ourselves. We can cry for hours, we can shake for days, we can be hazy for weeks, we can lose entire months. We can go numb sometimes, and other times, we feel as intensely as a person can feel. 

But with this depth of emotion comes the ability to see the contrasting beauty in the world. Because we have felt so deeply, we have developed a better idea of how to feel deeply. We know how to recognize community. We care excessively, obsessively for one another. We try to learn how to care as well for ourselves.

So if you are a survivor looking for validation of your journey, one small step towards self-care might be simply taking an evening off to watch this film. If you are a co-survivor searching for ways to understand the complexity of the traumatic stress being experienced by somebody you love, I encourage you to watch this film. It is a tiny glimpse into a healing process that takes many, many years. It is, not at all intending to be reductive, a PTSD sampler. You will feel such a rich variety of things, and you may become so tense that you need a massage by the end (I actually have one scheduled for next Tuesday, and can hardly wait!) but if the intent is to begin understanding the journey of a friend or even to find solidarity during your own journey, then by all means, you will find these things in The Lovely Bones.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Decompression, etc.

I'm irritated, and I am not easily irritated. 

However, it isn't just another bad semester coming to a head; this semester wasn't bad. In fact, it began as a vortex of high-anxiety and no direction and panic attacks and shaking and nausea and confusion; it ended in a much clearer headspace. 

I needed direction, accountability, and affirmation. I have myself, my friends, and my therapist to thank for my recently acquired ownership of those things. 

But now, to attempt some flighty form of self-care, I'm going to list the things that are making me irritated.

Irritating Things:
1. Obligatory and likely relevant biochemical data point: it's pretty much just about that time of the month. 
2. I'm hungry. For cookie dough.
3. Somebody tried to break into our house, and I'm not there to fuck them up.
4. I'm sitting in a conference with collaborators from the University of Illinois, and for the first time in my life, I'm realizing that I can't make myself care about my research project.
5. I don't care about this research project.
6. Remember that time when I told my research adviser that I wanted to learn more hands-on experimental skills in the rocket lab, and instead he gave me a giant radar data set to analyze and cry over?
7. I can't even with programming right now. And I never have.
8. I can't handle another 11 hours in the car with my adviser. Dear sweet baby Jesus. This is why I travel alone.
9. I need my tax return. I need it in order to survive. Help.
10. Again: somebody tried to BREAK INTO OUR HOUSE, and I'm not there to FUCK THEM UP.

So until further notice, I am opening my mouth only when necessary and constantly checking my resting bitch face. I need to be fed and watered, and I need some me time. I need to prioritize. Most of these things can absolutely be fixed, and I believe that they will be, soon. It's frustrating, though, that I have to write this sham of a Master's thesis before I can revise my life to align with what I really want. Everything will be alright. I know this. I know this. I know this.

And in general, my loves, things are bright and getting brighter. Back to the Badlands soon, and fresh air, and wide open spaces to diffuse my infinitely condensed matter. Driving by my goddamn self, forever it seems. Riding this out. Loving it, probably, in my own strange and beautiful way.

Soon enough.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Music and Mathematics

What is it that makes music so much like a prayer? Why is it that a single bass line or a root chord can form just barely intangible foundations? My colleagues and I understand the mechanisms behind this; the solutions to the wave equations, the Bessel functions, the spherical harmonics, the Fourier analysis, frequencies, amplitudes, everything that goes into the physics of sound...but that's just the heart of the mathematics. The heart of the matter, or rather, the heart of what really matters, is something far more complicated and extraordinary; something incalculable. Something that doesn't always make logical sense, and yet, it persists.

This is personal. It's also uncomfortable, I suppose, but it's necessary because this is how we express the things for which we do not have the language. These are the tears of frustration and brokenness that fall down my cheeks as I'm trying to explain the things for which my heart breaks and can't; I'm simply repeating words and movements until I realize that this isn't just a habitual motion as much as it is a dance, and this isn't just a story as much as it is a song. Because I can't feel the convective cycle of my soul until I realize this, and ride the chaos all the way down to my core.

And, to yours.

The people with whom I make music are the people with whom I share my spirit. I become transparent through my vocal chords and piano keys and guitar strings, and this is why singing is so terrifying. We aren't afraid that we're "not that good" as much as we're afraid to expose our spirits. Music is one of the most difficult, beautiful, honest things that a person can do. It moves us in directions we didn't even know existed. It exposes all of our vulnerabilities and repressed emotions, thoughts, feelings, hopes, prayers. It requires collaboration and connection. It demands that we let go. All of the things that we find so hard to do in each of our individual journeys and healing processes, all of the things that take so much time and therapy and medicine and community and grace...these things are mandatory to create music. 

So, I forget sometimes. I live in academia and when I feel sad, I can find another academic with whom I can sort through the logical flaws in whatever has gone awry. I can solve some mathematics and physics problems. I can find energy eigenstates, without recognizing the state of my own energy. But until I realize that simply doing these things will never be enough, I feel as if all of the dark energy in the universe is sweeping me through empty space at relativistic speeds with no real comprehension of what is really going on. Because I stretch much deeper than the textbooks can tell me. I reach farther and I feel deeper. I notice. I want something genuine as a foundation without the possibility of a random scattering state throwing me off, somewhere. 

And the thing that I find to be the most genuine is my music-loving soul, the one that finds enough gumption to sing its way through every trauma and terror and mistake and failure of my life, whatever that looks like. I can do the work, but I'd rather feel it. Mathematics may be musical, but music is not only mathematics. Music is my prayer. It is my first language, it is my first love. It is how I find courage, and it is how I find community.

So let's make some music. And mean it.