I was standing at the pull-out cutting board chopping garlic. We lived in a lovely ranch home with a koi pond out front (with one koi, which I named Gideon), and lemon, orange and eucalyptus trees out back. They joined an orchard of other fruit trees all in need of being nursed back to life. At dusk, a colony of small bats darted around, hunting the insects waking up from their daytime slumber.
My fiancé busied himself in the den; I could hear the TV from where I stood in the kitchen. I watched the scene apart from it: the garlic, my hands, the well-worn wooden board; Sam passing innocently by again and again as he puttered around, while the switchboard of my internal communicators buzzed wildly each time he came within a few feet of me. We’d been engaged for several months, me and my dark-haired professor. I had wanted this life: a home, a hope and enough to look forward to that I wouldn’t have to lift the lid off the boiling pot inside me and watch the world around me melt immediately from the heat.
I could put down the knife; I could scream PLEASE SEE ME and watch his big dark eyes go wide and afraid and confused — but what would we do then? I’d have to translate it all for him — put it in a language I didn’t speak. I’d been doing that from the beginning. “I feel like you don’t really understand me,” I told him once over sushi. Without a pause he responded, “No I think I do,” and took another bite.
How do we convince the convinced that there is a mystery asking to be opened?
“Everything okay, sweetheart?” he asked on one more pass through the kitchen, startling me out of my silent, secret inferno. I nodded, and he kept walking. I kept chopping.
• • •
I was listening to an episode of Big Magic with Glennon Doyle Melton a while back, and Liz asked her why this whole “creating thing” is so important — why does Glennon need it, why does she do it, why not just… not?
Glennon sighed, and in the sweetest little precious flower-petal-voice said, “I think I just really want to be known.”
And my heart reached out one long-fingered hand and said, Me too.
I ask myself a lot about my motivations for creating. I think it’s one of the ways I keep myself honest, but it’s also one of the ways I stop myself from creating. Sometimes my mind gets so swirly and anxious that, because I can’t choose where to focus it, I become paralyzed — alone with myself, this is a very dangerous place to be. Not hide-the-sharp-objects dangerous. Dangerous because there’s no one around to say my crazy to, to give me The Look, or tell me stop pitying myself.
Dangerous because I have always been a person who watches the world to see how much it loves me before I’ll let myself feel safe. When I was a little whisp of a girl, my mother tells me, I’d be smiles and chubby-handed baby waving to people in the grocery store. “Hi!” I’d announce to everyone we passed. “Hi! Hi! Hi!” — until the one grouchy guy in line didn’t say hi back, and I’d cock my head to the side like a confused puppy, look at my mom, sad and defeated, and ask, timidly, “No hi?”
I feel like I’m still asking this question, but with better syntax.
I also feel like, for its joys and surprising, redeeming connectivity, social medial is toxifying our ability to create without first considering how it will look / seem, or whether or not people will like it, and whether or not that makes us worthy creators.
The thing that keeps me sane in all this is watching how every single person is saying, in their own precious way, Please see me. Please acknowledge that I’m here. Please tell me I am worthy of your gaze. And then they make the art, or say the thing, or love the person through their fear. I’m kept sane by several of my own personalities, too — a few of us are ball-busters, and put the mean ones in their place:
Who do you think you are? A person. A FEMALE person. With a VOICE.
Why bother? Because I want to. Because otherwise I will die. BECAUSE I AM HERE TO SET PEOPLE FREE, YOU MOTHERFUCKER.
I also know that a massive platform does not a peaceful person make; I was in a relationship with a “transformation” guy who had something like 14 million views on YouTube and 120k Facebook followers. People think he’s brilliant — and he is. But he is also a tsunami of hypocrisy and toxicity, constantly announcing I AM ECKHART TOLLE! out loud — I shit you not.
But never mind. My point is that a peaceful world is forged through compassion and the hard grit of face-to-face vulnerability, not arm chair activism and “shares.”
Bae and I used to have a joke for a t-shirt idea: a t-shirt that would just say, VALIDATE ME. It’s become so much a fabric of the way we seek connection now that we don’t realize we’re always expressing and doing things in the hopes of being acknowledged for just showing up. The irony is that this is not really Presence; we are not showing up empty, ready to be filled by the truth of one another. Then when we can’t access each another — because neither of us are empty enough to hold the other — a great big, cold, howling wind blows through us asking, NO HI??!?!?! Our desire to be loved becomes so strong that the fear of not being loved stuffs us inside ourselves so we can’t ever feel the pain of it.
I think we need to feel the pain of not being loved sometimes, and also how badly we wish this were not so. Eventually, I really believe, not being loved becomes a side-effect of being really, terrifyingly, ourselves.
At least it will feel that way, at first. And that’s okay; love is not so much adoration as it is appreciation and allowing. I would rather be free than liked.
• • •
Leaving my engagement years ago was me declaring to the universe that I wanted to be known more than I wanted to be loved. But I discovered something as soon as I left that relationship and moved to a tiny house with truly awful carpet in the mountains: it wasn’t being known that I’d longed for (though I do so long for it), so much as the desire to be free from the constant need to explain myself, which caused me to re-write myself over and over again so that I would be read-able.
I don’t know what the answers are, as humans so wired to connect, to be understood, to be known. I think this is the path of relationship, and why it’s so sacred, and so damn hard: we who want deep intimacy will always be looking for ways to connect more profoundly, with less static and protection between us. It means we are always self-purifying, cleaning up our own clutter, and ask how we’re standing in the way of communion, and loving ourselves into believing we can be loved back.
And. There is power in deciding we will not wipe ourselves clean for someone else.
Liz Gilbert said she heard once that an artist is someone who walks through the world saying, “Don’t erase me.” I think maybe, though, we are people pleading this of ourselves: to not be forgotten, to not be cleaned up or censored. To arrive, in complete absorption and unwavering interest, facing the miracle that we are, right now.