I don’t think there is a big picture…

Search for Gestalt. What a funny title. Funny being peculiar, or strange, or particularly amusing due to a sense that things line up just a little too well, or because I’ve found a particular angle to look at something that causes a twinge in my chest – like bewilderment, like a bemused, blank stare that’s trying not to gaze too deep but unable to comprehend what depth means. It means I’m looking for some unnameable whole made up of all the bits of pieces that make me feel this vague and fathomless confusion.

Perhaps I don’t mean anything by it at all. It was a pretty word I read in a book once, explained as a way of perceiving something as a whole that is greater than just the summation of its parts. Something that takes on a life of its own beyond its component pieces.

Consciousness is a collection of neurons firing and communicating with each other, signals and feedback loops and glitches and energy. A lot of science is about taking these grand, almost incomprehensible ideas – consciousness, repertoires of behavior, odd coincidences, repeating patterns – and parsing them down to their most base forms. An atom is the smallest unit of matter that cannot be broken down by chemical means. But what is an atom made of? A nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, orbited by electrons. But what is a proton? A proton is, by my understanding, a unit of positive electrical charge. An electron, a unit of negative electrical charge. A neutron, a unit with no electrical charge at all.

What the hell do I mean by unit? A bit of matter? A current of energy? What’s smaller than these little electrically-charged bits? Quarks? Little “strings” that somehow bind everything together? Units of energy vibrating so fast and so frequently that they attract and repel, attract and repel, until some form of physicality begins to just… happen?

What the hell do these details even mean? I am no chemist, no physicist. The closest I get to science is being aware that fats cut gluten strands and thus make for more delicate baked goods. But these little details catch a snag in my mind and I keep reeling them back in, long after I’ve decided to live a life where such matters are ultimately unimportant. What are neurons? Why do they buzz? Why do they transfer information on to other neurons? Why do billions and billions of these neurons and the connections they form within my brain cause me to be aware? Are the individual neurons aware? Am I simply the combined perception of every single one of them?

If there are enough people in the world, all communicating with each other and passing information back and forth and reinforcing each others’ perceptions and behaviors with feedback loops, do we create some kind of unified consciousness ourselves? If you really parse down the behavior of the neurons that create our consciousness, don’t you see something somewhat similar to how we ourselves behave?

Why do these questions seem so important to me? What does it matter when I have bills to pay and tests to pass and a job to find? What’s the practicality in such impractical questions?

Why are scientists studying the possibility of physiological components to spirituality? Why is there such a chasm between concepts of the physical and concepts of the mental, emotional, and/or spiritual self? Why is the idea that somebody could look inside of themselves with such rapt attention and focus that they can sense the flow of energy within their bodies and map it so absurd to a culture that believes it can map that same flow by monitoring it from the outside?

Why is that person capable of looking at a flower and then transferring that visual information into lines, shapes, space, and shades, but this person, looking at the same flower, can only see the word flower and map, perhaps, a basic three-petaled representation that means flower but bears little resemblance to the actual plant? Both have in their minds a gestalt idea – a whole idea of flower that is more than ‘rose’ or ‘dandelion’ or ‘stem’ or ‘petal’ or ‘thorn’ – but one of those ideas can reproduce a detailed, accurate drawing and the other idea is… abstract. It has nothing to do with what’s visual, with what’s sensed.

Why?

Why am I neurotic? Paranoid? Spacey? Selfish? Why am I all of these things, but also capable of selfless thoughts and loving actions? Why do I dissociate during harmless social situations but pay full attention to my surroundings when I’m on a long stretch of freeway, capable of thinking clearly and making plans and remembering minute details in the landscape as it flies by at 70 miles an hour? Why am I only at my clearest in thought-processes when I’m alone, away from all potential of sharing? (Even writing takes away some of that clarity. It doesn’t bring on as much fuzziness as interaction with other people, but it still brings some.)

Why do I still, after five years, believe that the answer to all of my doubts and fears and inquiries lies in one simple, yet astoundingly mind-boggling idea:

If you take the perspective of a beam of light, you are everywhere you are ever going to be. There is no time. There is no space. If light were in any way conscious, it would be omniscient… and it would not exist at all.

 

(The cat is simultaneously alive and dead. You are simultaneously full of meaning and absolutely meaningless. You are a good person and a bad person. You are worthy of love and you are not worthy of love. This is the right thing to do and this is the wrong thing to do.

I know you completely and I do not know you at all.)

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aaaaaaand… the answer is relative.

I am interested in too many things. Starting projects might be one of my greatest talents. Finishing them… well. My dad bought me a shirt that says ‘I never finish anyth’ and it is without a doubt my best self-defining shirt.

 Image
 
This would be the second best.
 
Recently, I’ve been cross-stitching, and reading Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies, and contemplating using beer as the yeast in my next homemade bread. I’ve been thinking about buying a brew kit and learning how to make my own beer. I insisted on making and decorating my own wedding cake and crafting my own centerpieces/favors for the wedding. (My favorite thing about the wedding – the actual wedding, not the after party – was wearing the dress that I watched Jon make me over the course of a couple weeks.) I have an incessant itch to learn how to quilt. I want to start a garden and grow tomatoes, chamomile flowers, lavender, peppers, basil and garlic (and that’s just to start out). I’m obsessed with books about Tai Chi, alternative healing, philosophy, and sociology. I want to learn massage therapy. I’ve already detailed some of my travels into the realm of computer programming and theoretical physics is basically my religion. Fantasy and science fiction created my morals and drive my passion for travel. I’ve crocheted, attempted to knit, obsessively studied abnormal psychology and dreamed of majoring in everything from creative writing to mechanical engineering to equestrianism. I love building things with my hands – one of my proudest achievements is contributing to the construction of a horse shelter. I taught myself how to draw (although I can’t really draw so much as copy black-and-white photographs in graphite) and study shadows and colors and space. Someday, I want to be a yoga instructor. I want to own a bakeshop. I want to pick up my violin and relearn music I haven’t played in well over five years and join a bluegrass/jazz/Celtic metal band. I’m in a technical writing class right now and I truly believe I could make money from the skills I am learning. I hope to become a major part of my dad’s business, which films conferences all over the States (and some of Europe) and posts them online.
 
I fucking want everything.
 
And this is part of the reason why I never finish anything. Because as soon as I’ve started on one thing, I become terrified that that thing is going to prevent me from all of the other things I want to do. So I have to go do something else. Sometimes it’s a matter of consciously giving up what I’m doing in favor of something else. Other times, it’s simply a matter of attempting to juggle too much at once and having bits and pieces fall by the wayside. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve stopped doing something I love for months or even years, and when I realize it’s gone… I freak out and need to start doing it again. But then something else falls away. My life can often look like it’s in shambles, and the people who know me know not to take me too seriously when I become obsessed with yet another thing. Because it’ll fade out. The more intense the obsession, the quicker it goes away.
 
Some things stick. Some things come back again and again. I have to learn how to manage my time.
 
There’s never enough time.
 
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Oh goodness.

Oh goodness. I’m that writer. I say I’m going to do something, and then trail away. Fortunately the internet lives on without me. If it didn’t, we’d all be screwed.

This has been a wild time for my household. Jon and I are married now – not that we don’t already have the old-married couple routine down pat, but it’s official. It’s all legalized and stamped. Now I’ve got a million thank-you letters to write because the people we love are the most awesome people ever and deserve to be showered in all the happy.

Today, I want to write about Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t know how well I’ll be able to collect all of my thoughts, but Asperger’s is something I’ve been reading about and researching a lot in the past few weeks. It’s something I do; it’s something I’ve always done. Special interest. It means you become… obsessed or… entranced. I like the word entranced better. I’ve been madly entranced with psychology on and off since I was fifteen. I’ve done as much reading on anxiety and mood disorders as any undergraduate psych major, at least. And this from a lady who could not handle the four-year university track despite being uber smart and an incredible test-taker. I just could not do it; I wish I had let myself realize that in high school, before I pushed myself in a direction that only caused me misery and doubt. (But it lead me to where I am today, and for that I am thankful. This husband of mine would not be mine if I hadn’t gone through all the misery and doubt, this life of mine would not be mine… so… yeah.)

Also something I’ve done with these special interests is attempt, a million times over, to self-diagnose myself, under the unbearable weight of a feeling that’s plagued me for as long as I can’t remember. I’m different and there is something wrong with me. So when I read about depression, I decided I must have that. When I read about manic-depression, I saw my reflection staring back at me. Obsessive-compulsion disorder, attention deficit disorder, gender identity issues, sexual orientation confusion, anything to make sense of who I am and the mistakes I have made and the weird thoughts that jumble about in my brain.

And I’m still doing it. I read blogs by people with Asperger’s Syndrome and think to myself, yes, of course! I’ve done the same with all of the other “problems” so many times, that at this point I feel lost. If none of these things describe me, then who am I? Because there’s always just something that doesn’t fit. I can see parts of myself reflected in the diagnosis criteria, in the blogs of those who are diagnosed, in the stories and in the very voices of those who speak.

Jon calls it my hypochondriac streak, and will humor my rambling because he knows I need it to cope. But he encourages me not to put too much of myself into seeking a diagnosable label and to put more energy into simply being the most Wendy version of Wendy I can be. Only I really want to find a reflection of myself out there somewhere and I can’t not do this. I try to curb the way I draw connections between what I read and what I think and feel about myself, but it’s impossible. When I read about depression, I became depressed, because at least that meant I could belong to somebody – a group. Only the most debilitating of my so-called “symptoms” are, actually, under my control, if and when I decide to work on them. When I saw that being depressed had actually turned me into a horrid person, I successfully turned it off. I may still get depressed sometimes, but I do the things I need to do and it’s perfectly possible to put my life into perspective and find the energy to do those things. I was never chronically depressed. I just needed to feel like I was to cope.

Cope with what? Perhaps if I knew the answer to that question, this blog post wouldn’t even be a thing.

Anyway, I am still drawn to my study of Asperger’s Syndrome because I see my reflection there so clearly. (Narcissus might be proud, if he’d ever look away from his own reflection.) It is soothing to read stories about just not getting it when it comes to social situations and having the urge to walk around on tip-toe or twirl or jump over things or flap your hands in excitement. But there are other things I don’t quite grasp – the whole “theory of mind” bit, where supposedly people on the spectrum have a very difficult time understanding other peoples’ point of view. That’s not a … huge … problem for me. So the label does not fit like a glove. It’s more like a really beautiful corset that’s just a few inches too big, even at its smallest.

And asking for a diagnosis of any sort seems… wrong. Like I’m avoiding trying to actually work on the behaviors I need to work on in order to be the person I want to be in favor of finding an excuse for all of the reasons I can’t be that person. On the other hand, I feel like if I could just have a label, a label that other people share based on traits and behaviors they also share, then I will be able to find that group of people who can help me, instead of the group of people who, well-intentioned and affectionate as they are and as much as they love me, simply make fun of me for being absent-minded, socially inept, overly anxious, and downright weird. 

How can I be so weird? What did I do that made me so odd and spacey, when really I want to be bright and friendly and on-the-ball?

So. Anyway. I have to go cut my hair, and try not to blanch at how offensive this post may have come off.

I am embarrassed by positive emotions

 It’s OK. You’re allowed to look at me funny. Whoever heard of somebody who’s embarrassed to feel happy? Who will start blushing at the thought that she’s given the slightest indication she likes you. Who hides her smiles and can’t seem to figure out how to say thank you or I miss you or I love you.
 
I love you so much that I imagine our future life and feel giddy, like a child. I want to dance.
 
I want to smile. I have to control smiles. I want to express gratitude. But I fear you’ll laugh, or lord whatever it is I am grateful for over my head, or you’ll think I’m silly for thinking that what you did is something that I should be grateful for, when clearly you did it for these other people who deserve it so much more, or you did it out of social obligation, or…
 
A dawning realization, taking hold again and again, each time enlightening, each time promising to save me from myself and make this awful paranoia/distrust/fear/ungratefulness go away. Now, now that I know: this isn’t normal, I can fix it. I can fix the way I think. I can accept your gratitude and show you that I care.
 
She said, I like your dress. I looked at her sweater. Wanted to compliment her. Pretty sweater. Said nothing. She saw me look at her sweater deliberately and not say anything to return the compliment. Now she thinks I think her sweater is ugly.
 
This is madness. Help, please.
 
Another girl gave me a gift. Simple gift. A gift card. She doesn’t know me that well and I’m not that easy to get to know. But I’ve been eyeing that pair of red faux-velvet gloves for weeks now, and the gift card is exactly the amount of money I couldn’t afford to spend on them. Now I can express gratitude! Thank you! She can see how excited I am. I’m showing something real. Excitement for a new pair of beautiful gloves. So soft and thick and warm. So deep and rich in color, so elegant in form. Great. The only time I seem to express a sincere emotion and it’s about receiving a gift. How selfish can I be? Thank her one too many times. What is wrong with me? It’s just a gift card. A gesture. A gift of obligation thanks to secret Santa. So embarrassed. Try not to dwell.
 
Sometimes, a sense of contentment: do not dwell on yourself, child. Count your blessings. Focus on them.
 
Write your grandma. It’s not what you write, it’s the fact that you write at all. Sit down with a blank page, write a thousand words. Put it away. Find more paper. Write thirty words. It’s not so embarrassing. She’ll appreciate it just the same. I’ll send this. Sometimes I find letters I wrote to my grandma years ago, buried away in an old notebook, heartfelt and longing. Then I write another short note.
 
I’ll send this later.
 
But never send it. She’ll hate me because I’ve never written.
 
She won’t hate you. She can’t hate you. She loves you. You’re her first grandchild.
 
My letter will just remind her of all the times I never wrote.
 
My letter will just remind her that I was taken away from her without so much as a goodbye. (But that’s not true, we’ve gotten plenty of goodbyes in since then.)
 
Or worse. She never really noticed I was gone. (And isn’t it awful of me to feel that that’s the worse of the two options? That her feeling pain is somehow better than her not feeling pain?)
 
Being taken away was not my fault. Never finding a way to return… that is.
 
Sometimes a blog post just needs to be personal and chock full of whine.
 
Oooh, we finally have cheese again.

see Dee maudlin

I have not seen The Hobbit yet.

In December of 2001, my life changed forever. I’ll admit that there wasn’t much in the way of a life to change – at eleven years old, I was more or less guaranteed at least a few life-altering events in my future. I just don’t think I expected one of those life-changing events to be the release of a movie, the first in a trilogy that would come to shape how I saw myself as a person. Fantasy became more than just a genre for bad puns (Piers Anthony) and teenage wizards (do I really need to specify?). It also became, for the first time in my life, a foundation on which to make friends, instead of merely an escape from the world in which I had none.

In short, because I watched Fellowship of the Ring and subsequently read the trilogy, I became friends with a girl named Krista Haman, and not just friends, but best friends. We changed each others’ lives irrevocably. We’ve had the kind of friendship that is the reason songs like For Good become cliche.

A couple weeks ago I visited my parents in the town where we both went to high school, where she still lives, and we saw each other briefly. She mentioned that she’s been attempting to write out the story of our friendship. I did not know what to say. How do you tackle so many years between two girls who simultaneously built each other up and tore each other down? How do you write that, when all of the memories are tangled in nostalgia and happiness, anger and guilt? How do you even begin to fathom where to start?

It would take hours, days, weeks or longer to sort out where the strongest veins of truth lay, what were the moments that defined us, that brought us together, and that, ultimately, tore us apart and turned us into two girls who barely know how to talk to each other. And that would be before I even attempted to summon the courage to write a single sentence of it down.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

But I carry with me this sense of having no idea who I am sometimes and I feel like it’s not having Krista as a sounding board that leaves me floundering for any kind of sense in my own thoughts. It’s not understanding how to be a person without her, when for so long, she gave me a sense of meaning, she provided a foundation upon which I could be assured in myself. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always a healthy friendship, but for at least six years, she defined me. That part of the relationship has more or less been over for quite some time now, but I still feel like I just can’t quite figure out who I am without her there. It’s not that she ever told me who to be or that I didn’t have the self-confidence to be myself – not entirely, anyway. It might just be as simple as the fact that when I told her my thoughts and feelings, she found a way to repeat what I had said in a way that made me feel just a little bit better about myself.

It feels like this kind of friendship either happens to everyone, or no one. If it happens to everyone, they’ve learned all of the lessons; where I am blind, they see. Where I flounder for answers, they smile knowingly and nod; they say, ‘You just have to figure it out for yourself,’ as if there is some kind of secret, some kind of answer that, upon being smart enough to figure out, sends you to an exclusive club for People Who Know Better. And I don’t want to admit how much I crave access to this club and I don’t want to reveal that I’m not a part of it.

If friendships like this don’t really happen, if people haven’t been hurt by someone they love, if people haven’t committed atrocious acts of cruelty and viciousness against those very same people, if no one has ever found themselves floundering to figure out who they are after the petering out of a long and intense relationship, then, frankly, I’m pretty sure my entire understanding of the world is incorrect.

I have not seen The Hobbit yet, and for me, this is loaded. The idea that it’s out. That it’s been 11 years since that fateful December afternoon when I was introduced to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, and that, throughout all of this, the woman who connected my love of stories with the sense that I could actually have friends who loved them too is a couple hundred miles away, and might as well be several thousand, for all the good it would do to call her up and ask her how she’s been.

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Semester in Review

These past four months have been some of the most intense, hectic, stressful, and occasionally boring months of my life, up to this point. Short bursts of intense activity centered around keeping our heads above water, feeding ourselves, getting to class, and paying the bills, followed by long periods of hunkering down with minimal resources and an increasing set of demands – it’s enough to drive anybody a little bit crazy. It’s also enough to give even the most weak-willed, spoiled person a sense of perspective and help them tap into reserves of inner strength they might never have known they had.

I have learned a lot this semester, not the least of which is the information and skills of my new major. In baking, not only am I learning about gluten development, the life and times of yeastly critters, or how to vary the same eight to ten ingredients enough ways to create an unlimited number of delicious baked goods, but I’m learning how to work in a group. I’m learning when to take charge and when to step back, accept somebody else’s superior skills and knowledge, and do the butt work for an hour or so.

But some of the most important lessons, the moments that shine the brightest or throw me into what can feel like the darkest of abysses (that seems like a word which should never be plural), are not about school, although it is through having stepped up my game and making school my absolute first priority in life that has led me to them. Here is some of what I have learned, in list form, because transitions suck:

1. I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that everyone I ever meet is judging me harshly and deeming me unworthy.

It is possible to step outside of your own brain and attempt to interpret what other people think of you, but more often than not, they’re not thinking of you. They’re thinking of the stressful day they’ve had, or the dream they had last night, or the hours they’re not getting at work. They’re thinking about what they’re going to do when they get a moment to themselves, or about how silly or awesome they feel, or the dentist appointment they have next Tuesday.

You’re the one thinking about yourself, and if your thoughts are centered around the idea that other people are thinking awful thoughts about you, that means you’re thinking awful thoughts about you. It’s important to be kind to yourself, not only because it decreases your stress and makes you happier, but because when you’re kind to yourself, it shows. Other people might not be thinking about you, but they are affected by your moods and your attitude.

In a similar vein, doing something that you think is awesome makes you awesome because you recognize it. When somebody else doesn’t see that or praise you for it, that doesn’t mean they’re blind and incapable of seeing how nifty you are. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t as awesome as you thought and it doesn’t mean they’re judging you. Be as pleased with yourself as you like, but don’t expect other people to worship the ground you walk on. It can be hard to admit to being so self-centered as all of this, but it’s true, and the people who are most at peace with their self-centered emotions tend to be most at peace with other peoples’ self-centered emotions, and end up being incredibly loving and peaceful people.

At least, that’s the theory I’m going with these days.

2. No matter how screwed you feel, you still have room to be happy and relax.

I finally got a job late in November. Up until this week, I’ve had between 4 and 8 hours a week (thanks to covering a sick co-workers shift, I got twelve hours this week, and am officially scheduled for 18 hours next week, so things are definitely looking up). My roommate, Metcalf, is in about the same boat, and Jon still can’t find a place that will give him an interview, much less hire him. We’re lucky in that we’re friends with a woman who owns a farm and has irregular work for him to do. Still. We’re behind on bills. We’re behind on rent. It seems like every time we get a little bit of money, it comes in one hand and goes right out the other, and despite the fact that we don’t see it long enough to recognize it’s there and it goes straight to necessities, we’re still in debt. We’re still behind. It’s still not enough.

People around us are unhappy, depressed, and making stupid life decisions left and right. People we care about are behaving self-destructively, and a lot of the time, there is nothing we can do to help them. One of our friends was about to make an incredibly healthy decision to go out of state for help with her mental illness – it was a move we were so proud of her for making. And her insurance ended up not working out at the last minute, and now she’s taken what seems to be a nosedive into destructive decision-making. It’s hard to be angry at and worried about somebody at the same time. It’s hard to be angry on their behalf and at them at the same time. Digression aside, the point here is that…

I am very stressed. Jon is very stressed. Metcalf is very stressed. Hera is stressed because the apartment’s not big enough for her energy. We let her outside as often as possible, but it’s still not enough and it’s not what we want for her. If you can’t tell, I’m stressing myself out right now writing about how stressed we are.

It could, of course, be worse. And counting my blessings is certainly a method I use to relax. But there are other things, too.

We still find time and ways to laugh and joke around, to enjoy each others’ company and enjoy the company of our friends. In high school, when I was stressed, I was stressed. I was obsessed with being stressed, and would find the littlest of reasons to sink into weeks-long bouts of unhappiness and moodiness. At the slightest provocation, my life became a tragedy of the most epic proportions. In short, I wasn’t very pleasant. But it took me an embarrassingly long time to see that, to get my head out of my ass, to even realize that’s where my head was to begin with.

I guess I really like the comfort of my own internal waste system, because I still find my head in my ass quite often. This life, though, has made it a lot easier to recognize the smell of excrement. Despite my brain soaking in a hot-tub of cortisol, I am one happy camper. I am in love. I have incredible friends, an incredible major, and an incredible family. Nothing helps you see that more clearly than some time in the pit of poverty.

3. Being in love and effectively loving somebody are two entirely different things.

I have been in love a couple of times. In high school, I loved Tristan Butcher with that aching intensity that makes you think, what with your head being up your own ass and all, that you’re the only person ever who has truly loved anyone. Then, I loved Krista Haman. I learned the taste of unrequited love and became so enamored of it that, quite frankly, I lost sight of my best friend and drove a wedge between us that is still there to this day. Later, I loved Devin Webb. I bought him everything. I spent so much money on him I could have fed a family of four for a year and a half with his gifts. After that, I loved Jon.

I was with him for a year and a half, though, before, with wide-eyed naivete, I began to think to myself, Oh, I love this man. Maybe I should go to extra mile every once in awhile to think about his point of view and try to figure out what makes him happy.

So, yeah. Sometimes I think about what might have happened if I’d never come to understand the difference between being in love and actually expressing love effectively. My inability to understand this concept for so long has distanced me from numerous family members and friends. In trying to make up for it, I am sometimes boggled by the immensity of the task before me. The damage I might have caused had I not opened my eyes, the damage I might still cause just because habits are so hard to break… it’s mind-boggling.

And it only takes a simple thing to make you learn the lesson. We’re dead broke, but Jon’s childlike happiness and ability for immense joy in his hobbies and activities led me to genuinely, truly, always want to see him happy. All it really took was that special gleam in his eyes, and my whole world-view changed. (Actually, that lesson was sparked just a year ago, but the ramifications are still reverberating throughout every area of my life today, and have been especially important these past few months.)

4. Every decision you make will cause you doubt. There is no path you can take with 100% certainty – definitely not when you’re a person like me.

I used to think that if I searched hard enough for the right passion, that if I tried enough things, that I would someday, eventually, find the pursuit that would be my true and lasting joy. I still don’t think this is a bad idea – but to me, the way I believed I would know the accurateness of the path would be the absence of doubt.

I’d take up a new hobby, switch my major, wobble back and forth over whether or not I was with the right person or had the right friends, over whether I was going to the right school or eating the right way or dressing the right way or… whatever, and I’d believe that someday I’d come upon the perfect combination of activities and methods of life and I would stop doubting anything, ever again. (At this point, I ask everyone to take a moment of silence for anyone who has ever loved me – these people are brave and amazing in so many ways. That they have put up with me for so long, while I’ve been so blind and childish, fills me with warmth and the desire to give them everything. There are no words to express how incredibly patient and tolerant these people must be. xD)

Of course, this isn’t true. Especially when my ‘doubts’ come at just about every moment I don’t do something 100% perfectly. I gave up writing for a long time after somebody told me something my English teachers never had – that I had a shit ton of room to grow. I was used to being told I was the best in the class. So the first voice of reason stopped me in my tracks, and I threw away writing like it was a grenade in my hand. I doubt myself in baking when I have to throw out the creme anglaise and start again – creme anglaise having an incredible precise temperature range. I doubt myself when Jon and I have a fight, and our lack of perfection as a couple punches me in the face. I doubt myself when I’m not 100% sure about somebody’s tone.

In short, I’m one of the most highly sensitive people you will ever meet.

I can’t change how sensitive I am. However, I can work on being able to tolerate doubt, and move forward in spite of it. I doubt, often, that I am going to get out of Ohio, or that I am going to find any semblance of a life in which I am happy. But the thing is, I’m happy now, and if I can be happy when I’m under this much stress, I believe I am capable of learning how to be happy in any situation. Maybe that’s a big claim considering life could be a lot worse, but I do believe it. And when I have doubts… well, I can tolerate a little bit of doubt.

It just comes down to making a decision and sticking with it.

So that’s a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about this semester. I’m not great at sharing details and stories from my life, but this semester has had such an incredible impact on me, I thought I’d at least try. So, I guess the main thing to carry away here is…

Try not to live with your head up your ass. It gets lonely up there.

Edit: Oh jeebus effing Christ on a stick. I tried to post this, and it was GONE. I spent about five minutes wibbling at the screen, then another three researching to see if there was anything I could do to save it. Thanks to WordPress’s WONDERFUL ‘Screen Options’, I was able to find previous drafts that had been autosaved and save the post. So, thank you WordPress, for not putting one hell of a damper on my afternoon. : )

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In defense of a gross habit.

I am a smoker.

If nothing else, it’s a conversation starter. Sometimes people fling abuse at you – smoking is the perfect habit if you want strangers telling you you’re disgusting, because somewhere inside of you, you know they’re kind of right but it’s downright irritating nonetheless – and sometimes people ask you why you smoke, or when you plan on quitting, or how many times you’ve tried, or they try to give you advice. They’ll tell you stories about people they know who quit cold turkey and how they really respect those people, and they’ll throw passive aggressive comments about will-power and absolutely anything you think to say gets thrown back at you as ‘just an excuse.’

My favorite response is, “You know that’s bad for you, right?” Because I totally didn’t go to grade school in the U.S. in the ’90s and have D.A.R.E shoved down my throat like everybody else. If you want to know what’s bad about smoking, you don’t have to look very far to find out. And, for the most part, a lot of the horror stories are accurate.

My teeth are a little yellow. I lose my breath quickly and easily. I smell like a smoker and you do not want to be around me before I’ve brushed my teeth in the morning. I do have a voice in the back of my head that tells me to quit and I come up with about four different plans a month for doing so. I’ve seriously attempted it once and I couldn’t do it.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the good I’ve gotten out of smoking, because yes, there is some good. It can be hard to hear, and hard to listen to, and I’m not advocating that anybody start smoking. I would advise against it, but that would make me a hypocrite. What I want to say is this: smoker’s smoke for a reason. It doesn’t make them lazy. It doesn’t mean they lack will-power, and it doesn’t mean they didn’t pay attention to the warning on the label.

I started smoking around the middle of my freshman year in college. I was going through a rough patch. My grades were horrendous, I couldn’t stomach food, I couldn’t seem to find it in myself to make friends and I was incredibly depressed. It’s a period of my life I don’t like talking about, or even thinking about, but it happened, and I started smoking during the worst of it.

And I started to claw my way out of the mess.

Some of the benefits of cigarette smoking include a reduction in stress levels and an increase in short-term memory. Before becoming addicted, these two benefits markedly improved my life. Because I couldn’t smoke inside, I got out more. Not having friends, I spent a lot of my time at the local coffee shop simply doing homework. Smoking helped me concentrate on school work, and smoking helped me learn to socialize.

You see, that’s another benefit of smoking – other smokers. You can always bum a cigarette from a stranger, and you’re always happy as a smoker (at least I am) to have someone sit down and ask for a smoke. Maybe you talk for a few minutes, maybe they simply smile and thank you and move on. But either way, it increased the smiling in my life. It increased pleasant social interactions and took away the anxiety in talking to strangers. I felt more relaxed than ever before.

By now, three years later, smoking has become an addiction. As an addiction, the calm I get from cigarettes is no longer totally relaxing, but merely a way to stave off an artificial irritation with the world that I would not experience so frequently if I hadn’t started smoking. A lot of the time, I don’t notice a cigarette.

Sometimes I do, and sometimes it’s lovely, and sometimes I still get the nicotine buzz. It still helps to relax me around strangers and it’s a good way to get to know co-workers a little better. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s not something I’m ashamed of, either. Cigarettes were the cornerstone is my struggle out of depression, and for that, I can never judge another smoker, and I work to ease the judgment that they face in the eyes of non-smokers.

But the main thing I love about cigarettes, the main thing I have always loved about them – as far back as I can remember, even when I was a little kid, watching my grandma smoke in her apartment – is the smoke itself. In fact, that’s why I started writing this post.

I have a dark curtain over my window in my bedroom, because waking up to bright light gives me a migraine that will last all day. A little sliver of light does come in, though, right over my computer. Right now, I am smoking a cigarette and watching the way the smoke catches in this light, swirling and dissipating as if on a flat screen. The tendrils of smoke are graceful and fascinating. They catch my eye and hold my gaze and remind me that there is beauty in the world, wherever you look. It’s hidden behind the ugliness and frailty that is so easy to focus on as a human being. It’s everywhere, if you open your eyes.

I can’t make any sweeping declarations about quitting. I used to do that a lot, and if there’s anything that smoking has taught me, it’s humility. There are certain weaknesses as a person that are not so easy to overcome, and those weaknesses are no reason to be harsh. Harshness does not help them to go away. Smoking has taught me to look closely at what I am capable of, and has taught me the true meaning of will-power.

So that is my defense of smoking. It’s doesn’t take away the reality of how unhealthy the habit is, both for me and for those around me. It doesn’t take away my fear that I will never be able to quit, or the voice in the back of my head that is constantly telling me I should. But it’s a plea for everyone to acknowledge that gross habits don’t make gross people, and sometimes the only way to deal with a fault is to be gentle with it and try to understand that, no matter how unappealing it may seem, that fault is a building block of how a person has learned to survive a harsh and beautiful world.

So, yes, I am back to blogging.