Smash Your Stories Or What I Did On My Summer Vacation

journalsI follow Astrology. I am open-minded and feel there are many paths to greater mojo, so I like a lot of variety on the spiritual dial. I pray (aggressively), I meditate (poorly and not often), and I check my horoscope forecast (daily). Forecasts are pretty sophisticated with a lot of information about planetary energies that do something called “transit” or sometimes “retrograde” in your chart. I still have little idea about the science behind this (“degrees” is another term that gets peppered into these writings, which tells me I would never make it as an astrologer because MATH), but what I do know is that energy is real, it’s felt, and it matters. These past couple of months my planetary currents have run swiftly, beating over my psyche, pushing me to dig deep and uproot patterns and belief systems that no longer serve me, if they ever truly did. I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose pressed close to the pages of my Moleskin journal and have a few souvenirs to share.

Stop Dancing, Monkey. It’s easy to fit yourself into someone else’s idea of what you should be or do. It’s kind of convenient, actually, because it lets you off the hook from having to forge your own sense of self, from having to take risks, and extend yourself in ways that force you to cozy up with vulnerability and pain. I’m reporting back from the front lines: not worth it, this plan is more ill-fated than the next Adam Sandler movie, go back before it’s too late. This whole business of contorting yourself into categories that you did not choose, of living up to standards that are not yours, of chasing after purpose that looks sparkly and sexy and so-totally-doable-except-for-the-fact-that-I-hate-(insert thing you hate here) is such a waste of precious time and energy.

As a graduate student, I couldn’t wait to hone in on a research project because it would finally give me the contours of an identity that I craved. It would finally anchor me to a specialty that would encompass my being and become fused to my soul. It would make me feel like I belonged. This is not an exaggeration. Grad school is one continuous head trip lasting anywhere from four to six years. Worse, you’re expected to live through it mostly sober. The problem: I was in an interdisciplinary program, which meant we were encouraged to Frankenstein a project based on all kinds of areas—film, literature, performance, economics, sure! Throw it all together in the research stew! FUN! To complicate things, I was under the influence of a very powerful, high-ranking academic mentor who we all wanted to please; we all wanted her approval and to feel singled out for our brilliance, not because, we were hacks. I am proud of my work, which I later turned into an academic book that I am also happy about. I am less proud and less happy that I also Frankensteined pieces of myself to fit in, to stay in the good graces of my mentor, to be someone else’s version of me, and to follow a road that, in the end, was not where I belonged at all. I had to learn this all over again recently, which felt a little bit like losing a tooth when you’re 32, uncanny in its familiarity and grossness. Message received: Decide you’re done being anyone’s—a boss, a parent, a partner, a cheerleading coach’s—dancing monkey and groove to your own rhythm in your own way.

Control Is Not Your Bitch. We spend every Christmas Eve with neighbors that live across the street from my mom. The Regans are a fantastic second family whom we dearly love. Also, it’s nice to have a break from your own dysfunction and there is alcohol. Everyone wins. Two years ago Mr. Regan had some serious health issues and had to spend the holidays in the hospital, but the family was able to spring him for a few precious hours on December 24th so he could still be with all of us. Everything felt floopy and out of sync. We were all overly cheerful. We stuffed our faces too enthusiastically. We aggressively avoided all subjects related to health or hospitals. His wife was particularly upset by the entire situation and even as we all reminded her that some time together was better than none, she said, “I know, but I hate this. I just want it how I want it.” Ooof.

If I learn nothing else in my lifetime, I want to master this: no matter how bad you want it, control is, well, out of your control. The pressure you exert on manipulating situations, on bending people to your will, on figuring out how to build a time machine and course correct every crappy thing that’s ever happened to you could be better spent performing one, simple gesture: opening your hands. Release. Relinquish. Surrender. Do this fortyteen jillion times a day. Control is laughing at you because it knows how futile your sad, earnest attempts are to make someone care about you who doesn’t or to sail through your career unscathed or to miraculously undo the 65 years of racism Uncle Steve has under his belt. You have a better chance of seeing a unicorn than you do of trying to control that business.

I was out on a hike this summer mentally gnashing over all the ways I scrap for control, admitting that it’s ruinous and stupid and becomes like walking through one of those amusement park house of mirrors—you almost always end up where you started. From time to time some kind of higher-self decides to make an appearance and I heard, “Why do you want all that responsibility? To be in control of everything all the time? That seems like a lot of work.” Oprah’s genteel term for this is an “Ah-Ha!” moment. I prefer, “Holy shitballs!” Truth is truth and that was truth worth swinging on. It also explains my persistent, low-grade fatigue. Letting go is an effort, but it’s more like the same kind of intention you put into exercise, you might not love it, but you know it’s good for you and worth the results. At least this is what I’m banking on. I may already be over the fortyteen jillion mark today alone.

Smash Your Stories. We love those happily-ever-after stories, don’t we? We love it when the Whos hold hands singing while the Grinch’s heart swells. We love to see the villain get her ass kicked and the underdog to win and the puppy to find its way home. Those stories are zero calorie, guilt-free chocolate cakes made from the best stuff there is—love, justice, compassion, kindness, joy, laughter—bloating us with hope and positivity. But those aren’t the stories we tell ourselves on the regular, are they? The loops running in our minds begin with, “Once upon a time there was a girl who was sucking all over the place;” “There was this unlovable disaster of a girl who;” “Here’s a story about this girl who spent her whole life screwing up everything that was good..” I love reading Stephen King, but I am pretty sick of him hanging out in my head spinning these dark, twisted tales of fiction. I have spent a sizable chunk of my relatively short life hardening a bunch of lies into truths, etching stories that don’t serve, that only scar, that have been distorted and mangled over time into stones of truth. Fuck. That. Noise.

I developed my appetite for books early on as a kid. I was like a seagull gorging on whatever I could stick my beak into. One of my favorite types of series was the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I would haul a tidy stack of those from the library and disappear for hours. Sure, I admit cheating, peeking ahead to page 52 to see if I wound up falling down a mine shaft or escaped the creepy ghost town with my treasure. No judgment please. Many people say that life is one big choose your own adventure book. I say, let’s start smaller than the whole of your entire life. Let’s start with chatter in our heads, let’s start with the stories we tell ourselves every damn minute of the day. Let’s remember that we’re the authors of these tales and if they are overwhelmingly riddled with pain, darkness, and toxic sludge then it’s time to smash those stories. You get to skip ahead to page 52 and fill new volumes with stories that honor your real self, that speak your truths, and that make you the kick-ass hero of your own life.

There’s no way to wrap any of this up with fancy ribbon and tuck it neatly on a shelf. If that were life, we’d all have luxury closets bursting with boxes and bags of issues labeled “DONE,” “SOLVED,” and “OWNED THAT SHIT.” I know I will have to keep smashing my stories and releasing my junky-like need for control. I know I will have to be the steward of my own being and becoming, and that’s okay, because I also know I’ve got the stuff of galaxies on my side.

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