Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix, duh) has this quote I love so much…

“There’s something that is funny about the magic trick of creating something out of thin air, and then using that thing as this handhold to pull yourself forward.”

I think she’s exactly right. I felt it when I was making Masks, and I felt it even more profoundly with The Hallowed Wide.

Building The Hallowed Wide gave me space to teach myself some lessons I desperately needed to learn, and opened the door to a new chapter I’m currently trying to find my way through, labyrinthine as it seems to be…

I don’t journal in the traditional sense, but I HAVE been writing monthly essays/reflections for several years now, and I find it’s often useful to look back over old writing to see if anything I was puzzled by in the past feels any clearer in the present.

Recently, I took one of these little forays into the past, and was struck with a bolt of irony reviewing my fall 2022 declaration that my next work would center on the theme of chaos. 🙈

I mean, I stand by it. I remember feeling ready to give up some control, to explore my identity (and the world) with a new freedom, to bring a greater authenticity to my relationships, to embrace more spontaneity, to think less and BE more.

And my current artistic interest is still very much pointed in this direction. So many questions to ask! So many experiments to take on! So many ideas to swim around in!

But…it’s ironic, of course, because 2023 forced chaos upon me like bathtub-full-of-spiders style exposure therapy. And listen, I know we’re almost a quarter through 2024, but I’m processing at least six months behind. 💃

Anyway. Yeah. I had honestly no choices but to give up ALL sense of control in the wake of that blasted knee injury. Then, about a year ago, my brother and his family cut me off with no warning and no explanation. My remaining siblings (and extended family) have responded as though this act of egregious emotional violence is perfectly normal, acceptable, and understandable (for the record, it is not normal or acceptable – shame on everyone who continues to protect this disgraceful behavior). Anyway, I’m…super fucked up about it, tbh.

Further, Andrew and I finally took the plunge into couple’s therapy to try to deal with our unique blend of trauma+faulty-programming (#mormonproblems). It’s a bit of a rug-out-from-under situation (if necessary, and increasingly freeing for both of us). And there was some pretty emotionally-heavy work stuff last fall that really knocked me on my ass when I already felt my tank was completely empty.

Oh. And I have been doing EMDR.

My therapist told me yesterday that people have been known to check themselves into the emergency room after EMDR, the psychosomatic fallout fucking up their bodies with overwhelming turbulence. Trauma resurfacing, making a big scene, and finally [hopefully] working its way out, a bit at a time.

I’m a fairly energetic person, but these past few EMDR sessions have left me with so much fatigue, I’ve twice now been CERTAIN I had covid, strep, flu…body aches, that feeling where your skin hurts (just me?), brain zap weirdness, apathy, dissociation.

But god, I can almost feel it opening up new neural pathways. I am looking things head-on that I hadn’t even realized I was ignoring.

Several years ago, I asked my dad to mail the photo albums containing pictures of me as a child. I was feeling really panicky about the increasing rift between me and my family, and desperately wanted something tangible to anchor me in my own life.

My dad said no. Who knows why. Garden variety meanness? A punishment for my having gone off-script? In any case, that refusal filled me with a dread I didn’t know how to handle. It’s been sitting like a rock in my belly ever since.

About a month ago, I started to feel that old panic rearing up again. With incredible fear and desperation cloaked in self-protecting nonchalance, I asked Andrew to text my dad, suggesting simply that we could digitize the photos, and send the originals back. When Andrew told me my dad had agreed to send them, I went full blast into a panic attack. I think I’d been holding my breath for days (maybe even for all these years). I was so, SO scared he would refuse a second time.

My previous therapist helped me understand that the real harm of my childhood abuse was the extent to which it dehumanized me. I wasn’t allowed feelings, I wasn’t allowed imperfection, I wasn’t allowed expression, I wasn’t allowed individuality. The fact of my individuality (my inability to enmesh completely with my family’s disfunction) was what made me unsafe.

My parents hated me so much – I couldn’t give less of a shit what words they’ve said in polite society; their behind-closed-doors behavior meets every definition of the word. They told me I was ugly, a bad child, a liar…that disagreeing with any of the above was selfish, that defending myself in any way was selfish. They told me nobody would ever love me. They screamed at me until I couldn’t breathe. They told me I was the worst thing that had ever happened to their family (cutting me out of it, even then).

My humanity filled them with rage. There was no love for me, no empathy, no patience. My only purpose was to take on the insecurity, immaturity, and cowardice of my parents. I have been a garbage bin for the whole family, really. They poured their emotional and behavioral dysregulation into me, and I did my best to hold that poison inside my tiny body.

I absorbed an incredible amount of disfunction, just to survive. It’s what children do. Children work with what they have. And I participated in my own scapegoating as much as my little body would allow. It was the safest option for me.

My work as an adult is pulling those injuries and maladaptive beliefs out of myself, one by one.

Along with them go the last remaining shreds of hope that I might ever be loved by my family of origin. The healthier I get, the more unbroachable that distance becomes. It threatens to swallow me whole. I feel the full weight of familial disenfranchisement. This excruciating severance. It hurts. I feel it in my body. My primate instincts are ablaze in panic, in desperation, in heartbreak. The isolation devastates me. It makes me feel not real. Disconnected into utter abstraction.

But…I did get the photos. It’s been odd looking at them after easily 15 years. I’m genuinely surprised to see a darling child—not hideous or unlovable in any way. My 35-year-old eyes can see exactly what it is.

The problem is, I have no practice within this worldview. It hurts to be in this worldview. In so many ways, it’s easier to believe I am unlovable, than to try to comprehend what actually happened, what’s actually happening. It’s horrible to confront the idea that I deserved to be loved, but simply wasn’t. It breaks my brain (and my heart) on the daily. It’s extremely tempting to remain in the garbage-bin role they set out for me (and to designate myself the garbage-bin for new relationships, too).

But I’m trying! I’m trying to belong to myself. I’m trying to give myself some safety, some space to explore.

This is part of the research I’m doing. I want to be more wholly and effortlessly in this updated worldview, to be able to write and create from this updated perspective. At present, I see glimpses of it, but it remains difficult for me to keep that vision in focus. It takes daily practice, thought exercises, play, exploration, etc. I’m building the medium as I go! 🧚‍♀️

I’ve found that one of my favorite ways to explore my own wholehearted belonging is to commune with friends who love me.

Beautifully, all three of February’s Artifice guests are wonderful, sweet friends. It was such a gift for me to listen back to these conversations. These friends each shared wisdom I’m finding so helpful in the present.

Brittany is one of my soulmates. We met as teens, and just understood each other right away. One of those wavelength things.

I LOVED talking with Brit about her experience with both rock climbing and physical therapy as creative mediums. Throughout our conversation, we broke down these mediums into their essential components—what they require of, and gift to the practitioner.

Much like musical performance (or really any collaborative art), rock climbing includes communion with authentic and open others. Climbers unite mind and body in a focused endeavor, they work toward a flow state. They plan, practice, and prioritize the skills that allow the medium to exist. They build muscle in a specialized way, and work toward keeping [performance?] anxiety in check. It’s about discipline, problem-solving, people, permission, spirituality, ideological exploration…

Like many other mediums, rock climbing can become an ethics practice (access to public lands, environmental protection, etc.). It can encompass an entire moral philosophy. It can be a means toward an ethical life.

I’m here for all of this. But my favorite thing Brittany shared about climbing is the way it helps her “recenter her gut instinct.”

I think I like it because we often talk about listening to a gut instinct, but we don’t often question whether that gut instinct could use some adjustment.

When we’ve been abused in really any way, that gut instinct goes off-kilter. It’s acclimated to the abusive situation, and starts responding to the whole world in that same abusive pattern. And I think Brittany is perfectly right that we need to find ways to recenter that instinct, so we can trust it again, or trust it for the first time.

As Brittany suggests, it takes some authentic exploration to teach your body/mind/gut a new pattern, a more sustainable pattern, a properly-anchored set of values—joy, vibrancy, creative ebullience, safety.

It’s looking for practices and environments that allow us to be the full expression of ourselves. It’s discovering and creating the bespoke playground for what each of us needs to express, or to learn. It’s finding the resistance that makes you feel powerful! Resistance that leaves you with more than it takes. It’s finding ways to stop doing whatever leaves you with less. It’s finding, and aligning with purpose.

These are all strings I’m pulling on in as many ways as I can think of.

Darling Aaron. I’m THRILLED to have captured a few stories of his mission-impossible-ish creative delinquency. What an absolute delight!

The drive and willfulness of his youth is right in line with Aaron’s present-day smorgasbord of projects, outlets, and visions. He marches to his joyful drum as a mater of fact. No pussyfooting, at all. It’s wonderful to see.

As Aaron puts it simply, “any effort that pits yourself against your world or reality in a way that isn’t energizing ends up being unsustainable.”

He adds, “upon taking more of an inventory of how I operate, and building my own self-awareness, I realized that I got a lot more joy, energizing, and function in my life when I let my self do what feels good most of the time.”

I think I’ve always had a little inkling of this values system (I did start going off-script in subtle ways starting in my early teens, and increasingly into my adulthood), but I think, more accurately, I’ve actually been just splitting myself in two.

I’ve been getting joy, energizing, and function in the parts of my life where I follow my interest (do what feels good), but I’ve been trying to balance that with nearly equal amounts of behaviors and investment toward doing what keeps me in good standing with my community and family of origin.

With great injury to myself, I’ve kept one foot in the other door. It’s maybe only been within the last 18 months that I’ve honestly considered closing that old door (the one behind which I have only one option, which is to be an emotional dumpster for two families’ generational trauma) for good.

To be clear, there are no easy options here. Familial severance is a lifelong injury. Of course, so is staying in a family who requires your dehumanization as a condition of “belonging.”

But I know Aaron is right! We can only be the gorgeous individuals we are, ever-changing as we may be. We have to let ourselves work within that essential paradigm.

So, we have creative exploration, authentic expression, finding the resistance best-suited for your being, aligning with your interests/purpose/desires…

And Jennifer, a borrowed-parent, a truly dear friend, an artistic inspiration comes in with another crucial ingredient.

I knew Jen was a badass, but hearing her story from the beginning was such a thrill. This woman has taken on THE WORLD every step of the way. Her entire identity is “yes I can!” And yes, she can.

On top of it all, Jen is brilliantly kind. To everyone! Of course, I’m especially grateful for the love she’s shown to me. She constantly tells me I am loveable, valuable, worthy. She believes in me! It means more than I can ever properly express.

So. Jen’s crucial ingredient? …It’s experience.

Like all skills, belonging to oneself takes practice. It’s not enough to understand these things in the abstract, you need to live them to become.

As Jen puts it, beautifully, “confidence is not handed to you; it is earned through courageous acts.”

First of all, put this on a mug.

I know it’s true. I feel little tingles of it, flickers of vision. Each courageous act gets me a little closer to knowing I belong in the skin I’m in, that I’m loveable as my full self, no contortions or disappearing-acts required.

Finally, here is a picture of me doing the 5th grade Civil War Reenactment at Hermosa Vista Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona.

Bathtub of Spiders

In the ever more-frequent moments during which I manage to clear a path through the broken worldview of my youth and young adulthood, I see that parenting this inner child is a dream. She is the easiest to love.

The end.