getting lost *is* my journey
When your life, which essentially ≈ your creative life, is a series of (what I’ve come to call) “projects”, sticky social situations often develop when a project ends.
For instance, I ‘came out’ as “genderfluid” to various family members. Perhaps luckily, most of them did not respond at all; one responded in a strangely hostile way.
Now that I’m no longer calling myself “genderfluid”, do I contact these people again? If I did, what would I say?
If they didn’t want to talk to me in the first place, why would they want to talk to me now?
And I think I understand, at least in theory, why talking to me about anything, at this point, probably feels dangerously destabilizing.
Gender isn’t my first “project”, after all.
My ancestors on both sides of my family, going back 100 years at least, except for one tiny exception, are all Roman Catholics. I was born and raised Roman Catholic.
Being me, I had my own take on matters of religion and spirituality. I don’t think I was ever actually a monotheist; I’m pretty sure I was always a henotheist — that is, I believed that other gods existed, but, while Catholic, I focused on the One God I was supposed to be believing in. I didn’t find God the Father at all engaging or personable, though. I thought Jesus was pretty cool; we probably could’ve gotten along in person, I thought. I loved Mary, so-called Mother of God. Not because she was a mother, but because she had been a girl in a man’s world; because her life had been turned upside down by other people’s choices; and because she seemed like she might be kind.
By seventh grade, when I began receiving instruction in my Catholic school to prepare me for the holy sacrament of Confirmation, I knew I was not ready to be confirmed. That I might never be ready. There were so many things that Confirmation was going to require that I endorse that . . . made no sense to me.
I would have infinitely preferred to just not do it at all, but that wasn’t allowed. So I wanted to delay it for a while. That wasn’t allowed either.
Probably my school could have gone along with it. Yes, I would have been a social pariah at school, but I already was. Yes, the most emotionally abusive teachers would’ve had a field day, being even more emotionally abusive, and encouraging the other kids to be even more emotionally abusive, but that wasn’t new, right?
No, the real problem was . . . my mother. (Of course.)
My mother said people would ask questions, her friends would ask questions, she might be a laughingstock. Therefore, I was going to go through it. Period.
I countered, somewhat incredulously, wait, so what you’re saying is, you are forcing me to undergo the holy sacrament ceremony that makes me an adult in the eyes of the Church? You are making me stand up in public, in front of God, and the Bishop, and everyone we know, and lie to everyone — including God — because otherwise you might have to answer some questions that might be uncomfortable? Questions that it’s very possible no one will even ask! And if they do, you don’t have to answer! The issue is between me and God. (Or possibly, me and the Roman Catholic Church.) But it’s absolutely, positively, not between you and anybody. Jeezus.
If only I’d known it, that central dilemma encapsulates my entire relationship with my mother. All 39 years of it.
Anyway, I did in fact get Confirmed. The whole time, I was talking in my head to God, saying things like, “well, you know how unreasonable parents can be! Because You could be kind of unreasonable, back in the day! You can look into my heart; You know I don’t want to be here; You know this is a big lie, dammit! But if I don’t do what my mother wants, Hellfire & Brimstone have got nothing on what will happen to me. So here I am. Ugh, how long does this thing go on already?!?”
Some 6.5 years later, I “converted” to Paganism. My boyfriend then was sure I was just rebelling against my parents, and that I would return to the Roman Catholic fold in due time. I knew he was wrong; that, no matter what else ever happened, I would never return. So far, I’m right, and he was wrong. (He’s long dead now, so I can’t tell him.)
I was pretty happy being a Pagan, for 25 years. And then . . . both quickly and gradually, I realized I . . . wasn’t a Pagan anymore. Things often happen this way for me: quantum leaps but also incremental baby steps occur simultaneously. Which ones were decisive? Well, they all were.
In 1986, when I became a Pagan, I don’t think I’d even heard of “conceptual art”. I considered myself an artist, but I’d been blocked for years — I had no idea if I would ever make art again. I certainly had no awareness of how I would later tend toward immersing myself in lived experiences, through “projects”. I think, perhaps, because I hadn’t yet begun doing that.
The first project I’m sure of, that was entirely my own design, occurred in 1988 when I was 22. I could characterize it as International Travel, with Just 1 Other Person [not the whole family] 1.0. My mother and I travelled through the former Yugoslavia, for approximately 12 days (iirc). It was a resounding success! So much so that I tried Version 2.0 the next year, with my sister: a week in Cancún, Mexico, with a couple of day trips elsewhere. That was . . . a total mess. Yikes. I didn’t travel again with one other person until I was married.
If I’d . . . realized . . . the “project” mindset, I might’ve figured out sooner than 24 years later, that what I really wanted all along — what Versions 1.0 and 2.0 were ways of working towards — was to travel by myself. So much time wasted, aaarrggggghhhh.
In the last year, though, I’ve made up for lost time; I’ve taken solo trips to Philadelphia, New Mexico, Annapolis. I’ve planned trips to the Eastern Shore, Alabama, California, West Virginia, and Puget Sound (all still theoretical, so far). And I’ve started thinking about going back to Europe, by myself.
10 years ago, my highest professional ambition was to work for US EPA, in Washington DC, a goal that seemed so lofty it was completely out of reach. I applied for federal jobs for 12 years; I never received even a nibble of interest. (I don’t think I actually applied to US EPA though.) I have never come close to working for any federal agency.
And yet, I now live in the same MSA as Washington DC. I’m learning what truly matters to me, by doing everything I can think of that I might like. I don’t have a job working for anyone, but I do write about environmental issues, because I want to. My life does center, in some strange way, around Chesapeake Bay. I’m travelling by myself. I’m writing poetry. Hundreds of people from around the world have read things I’ve written here.
In what universe is my grand ambition from 10 years ago not immeasurably less than what I have right now?
To people whose lives revolve around their jobs, though, my life since 2009 (when I lost my last job) has been a series of failures. And at pretty much no time in the last five years could I have told them what path I’m on, what kind of path I’m on, what the hell I’m doing and/or why.
I don’t know anything anymore. My life is all about questions, not answers. It’s a lot more interesting and engaging and potentially-havoc-wreaking-but-in-a-good-way — if I could go back to my life 10 years ago, with my steady job, a wide circle of friends, doing a little art on the side, and perfect health? I wouldn’t. I’m not even tempted. I had no idea what was possible for me 10 years ago.
Most of the people I knew 10 years ago, friends and otherwise, have dropped out of my life. Since moving to Maryland in 2008, I haven’t made any friendships that have lasted more than a few months, if not a few weeks.
Since 2011, members of my family of origin have visited nearby, and I’ve spent time with 9 of them. I never felt like I really understood them, but now that I’m a Marylander, I almost feel like we’re of different species. I have not found anything remotely-personal-to-me that any of them are interested in hearing about. They don’t seem to be going through similar journeys themselves. We have . . . nothing . . . in common.
Which could be cool, because I deal better with strangers, but instead it’s just been . . . unsettling and kind of sad.
Maybe I’ll never have new friends. 3 years ago, the idea filled me with terror. But now? Well, I’m kind of living it right now. And the world hasn’t ended. In fact, arguably, I’m happier and more creatively productive than I ever have been. I have more interesting thoughts; my thinking and writing are more insightful. None of those things seem like they can be coincidental.
When I meet people who . . . are not on a journey to an unknown destination . . . we don’t have much to talk about.