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The Pressure to Become

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Last night for my 100 Day Project I took two cards. On one I wrote: nothing changes if nothing changes. On the second notecard I wrote: you too can change.

For me, the magic happens in that shift from card number one to card number two: realizing that I have the ability to change despite and maybe inspire of so much else.

I have felt odd for weeks. I have tried too hard to fit in for too long. I have remained stagnant for too long, stuck in a slovenly depression (is there any other?) for weeks now. But, I’m ready to become. To bring the simple joy of small things back into my life.

Last night, I had the privilege to hear Roxanne Gay speak. Asked about advice she’d give to writers she said, “Don’t wait for permission. You don’t find your voice. You already have one.”

You uncover your voice inside of you. You work your way into your voice just like you work your way into college: studiously with a lot of buildup anxiety for the result. Your voice, I think, is an extension of yourself. The words you speak to others, that’s your voice. Your writing voice, that’s what you hold back, the things you wish you said but didn’t, the feelings you didn’t share, in some cases, the moments you wished happened or worked through in your mind over and over again, but when finally presented with the situation in real life, faltered at. Your voice, I believe, is a second chance, or maybe a first one as the case may be.

Writing is the vein in which I can travel in time. I can go back to that one day in Pittsburgh, the snow falling softly outside, me, reading a novel, while my girlfriend at the time smokes on her deck. We look at one another. But that was at least five years ago. I am in Boston. It is summer. It’s possible to be in multi places at once as a writer, in fact it is our job to do so. We travel back, we are the judge and the jury of any given situation, we investigate and report, adding details and evidence when fit.

There is such a societal pressure to be someone. Do something. Go somewhere. There is no time for peace. Long — periods of rest those are for the dead we most often retort when asked to slow down. Rest is for the dead and everything else is for us…that can’t be right.

Nothing changes if nothing changes. Time knows this to be true. It keeps going even when your world stops. Time stops for no one. It is an infinite continuum stuck on loop of 24-hours. We seek to stop time, but too often time stops us: dark means head home, rest (there’s that word again), noon means lunch (eat, break), dawn means it’s time to wake up and begin again.

The day will continue despite me never leaving bed. But when I do leave bed and fill my days in a meaningful way to me, it is as if no time has passed at all whence my head hits the pillow. But boredom? Time stretches onwards. 24-hours feels like multiple days. We’re forced to contemplate everything from the weather is there anything worse to discuss than the weather?) to the distinct smell of trash wafting from outside the window. The dog barks, the clock ticks, time is a menace.

To be told to change is hard. The doctor tells me you’ve gained 30 pounds since last fall. We don’t want this to become a trend. Move your body. I want to ask this skinny, white woman how she moves her body? Is she ever asked to take up less space? Does she ever face a constant hunger that no food would fulfill? Who is she to tell me this?

Every day for practically years, the years I lived with my mother, people would repeat this refrain to be with abundance: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Oh really, I wanted to say? I am a non-white woman growing up in New York City. I am trying to make myself small and then smaller. I still don’t fit. Also, I am mothering my mother. Luckily for me, my education is on autopilot.

It’s with bitterness I write this, but also wonderment. Did you too go through this horrific thing atop regular life and someone who deemed themselves inferior in the way people who don’t have experience oft do, tell you that you can handle this all? The expectation is that you do.

Suicide introduces such outrage into society. Everyone grasps at their knowledge of the situation. The most repeated question is: why? At least for me. If we know the answer than it’s easier for us to check ourselves, I think. We want to know if we’re immune.

A breast cancer survivor I follow on Instagram writes something like: everyone asks how this happened. They’re searching for the easy way out. Oh, I can just get this test. My family doesn’t have it. I’m ok. What happens when none of that matters and the worst thing still happens?

I think we are only as immune as we shield ourselves from reality. Just because we search for the outliers and then label them as such doesn’t mean we fall on the inside. It’s hard to see similarities where we wish there to be none.

On the first day of a writing workshop (of one of the writing workshops) I took in college I glance at a peer to my right’s notebook: “my worst fear is that I die and no one is there to find me.” Oh, I think. That happened. But, now I doubt myself maybe it didn’t say that. Maybe she wa quoting someone else. Maybe she forgot we were in a nonfiction class. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I can change too but I’m changing at a speed imperceptible to even me on bad days. I can understand why this waiting might become unbearable for someone. The waiting requires that you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But what if you have been proven otherwise so many times? Whose fault is that? How is it selfish at that point?

I am not sure I am comfortable with any of this. Isn’t it my job as a writer to question all of this? Roxanne Gay also said, lose the preconceived notion (celebrated and encouraged by the world) that just because you are queer and/or non-white your writing has to be traumatic. I didn’t even recognize the trauma in my writing until she said that. Oh. Perhaps, this isn’t seasonal depression or anything else. Perhaps it is the subject matter I return to, day in and day out. But it is what I know. Alas, God gave me much more than I could handle, and this is how I do that.

This is how I become.

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