how to know what is important

Sometimes, not matter how tired I am, I cannot make myself go to bed. I will do any number of meaningless, unnecessary tasks to avoid it- stare at myself in the mirror, walk back and forth, straightening things in my obsessively tidy apartment, look at blogs on my phone that have not been updated in days. I have class in the morning, early, but I have already decided not to go- the week is spinning around me already, so full of objects like furniture in a hurricane, wizard of oz style. If I do not go to my chemistry lecture I may have time to write my paper for biology. If I do not go to biology lecture I will have time to walk my dog, run the errands I desperately need to run, and read my chemistry book. I am robbing peter to pay paul.

I know that this does not sound like such a terrible situation. School is something that thousands of people are doing all of the time, quietly and without complaint. I have been transient for years at a time, sleeping in guest rooms/camper vans/forgotten stands of trees next to the highway. I have lived for long periods on extremely small amounts of money. I have ridden a freight train through Montana in a snowstorm, with nothing but my terrible menstrual cramps for company. You would think that school would be easy for me, a relief. I’m smart enough, although it is extremely difficult for me to concentrate. I live close to my school. Student loans take off some of the pressure of surviving in the very difficult job market that is Portland.

But I want to tell you, that having no money and no place to live is much easier than going to school. Wanting nothing is so much easier than wanting something. Wanting nothing is like enlightenment, in a way, it is like freedom. And because of everything that has already happened, there is a part of me that believes in nothing more than anything. And when you believe in nothing, wanting something is like beating yourself in the head with a piece of wood every day. It’s stupid and it makes no sense.

There are other, compounding factors, that help to make me feel overwhelmed and, simultaneously, stupid/weak for feeling overwhelmed. Why do things feel hard? I ask myself. My life is not hard. I must be stupid/weak/lazy. I must be a waste of human space. A heaping cup up self hatred, flung like a pigeon into the tornado.

I am moving this month. I am moving and I have too many things, things that I never wanted to acquire, because responsibility, even for inanimate objects, fills me with panic, but I did acquire, because my apartment felt empty without them, and I did not want my apartment to feel empty, did not have the guts to live a monk’s existence, to face the blank walls every day until my money, inevitably, ran out, and I was forced to move. They are cheap things, things I got for free, but I have polished them, and they are heavy and beautiful. Now I am moving and they are like children, dragging at my ankles.

My relationship may or may not be ending, and, as my relationships go, that means that the other person is angry with me and most likely will not want to see me for a period of time, and, as my relationships go, I have isolated myself during the relationship, hanging out with mostly this one other person (which, of course, ultimately feels suffocating, hence the end to the relationship) and so when they no longer want to see me (for a period of time) I find myself alone, unmoored from the world around me like a dinghy torn loose from the shore (in a hurricane). This, combined with moving (I have too many objects), financial stress (student loans are not enough and I am terrible with money anyway), and school (I cannot focus/concentrate/I never learned how to be a student/I cannot accept the irreconcilable contradictions of learning institutions/I am taking too many credits this term/I become discouraged easily), makes a hurricane of emotional objects which tears up the small, ramshackle villages of my health (I cannot digest things/I cannot relax/I have no energy/I feel discouraged/I am constantly irritable). And all of this is compounded by the fact that I am deeply ashamed of having feelings/needing help/I tend to self isolate when I’m having a hard time. And of course, while I am being a little dinghy, drifting alone way out at sea, it is always good to remind myself that I have no safety net. I love that my friends have families, parents in the suburbs, strange, tenuous relationships with people with whom they do not agree on things. Ties that go way back, something that transcends their “chosen family”. I love that sometimes, in spite of everything, this is still the case. But I do not have this. I have a brother. I love him but we see each other maybe once every few years. He is in Afghanistan right now for six months, and neither of us is good at writing letters. It’s been fifteen years this month since I last saw my violent, abusive, schizophrenic mother. And I never knew my father.

In moments like these, I am at a loss about what to do. My instinct, of course, is to run- to drop everything- I’ve fought-or-flown my way through life so far. But quitting is not longer an option. When I was younger, sure. When I could sleep outside and eat nothing but dumpstered bread and my eardrums could handle the deafening roar of the freight train. But my cerebral cortex, at twenty-nine, is exhausted, and if I expect to live at all, at this point, it has to be done on different terms. There has to be consistency, and consistency requires responsibility, and responsibility is something I never learned how to have. There has to be commitment, which is a concept that fills me with an awful, black and bottomless fear, and which has always felt like a trap that I must chew my own arm off to avoid. Because to commit to something, you have to trust it- you have to trust that it will not hurt you. Or that it will do its best not to hurt you. Or that it does not explicitly want to hurt you. And every cell in my body is built on the idea that success in life means never, ever letting myself be hurt again. And of course, if you are not willing to be hurt, ever, then there is absolutely no-one, anywhere, that you can trust.

I do not know what any of this means. I do not know what the answer to any of this is. I have my dog, thank god, who flings her little paws backward in the air when I get home and who licks my face with her small bologna tongue. At night she spoons me, pressing her tiny self against my back, making a little pocket of heat. I sleep badly but in the morning I sit in my reading chair and watch the sky lighten, a mug of green tea on my lap. My dog is still in bed, and the tick of the electric heater fills the room. I have a memoir I have been reading and it has been comforting me. I pick up the memoir and I remember how writing comforts me, how writing is the only thing, sometimes, that comforts me. I remember how writing can be the only thing that matters, how something intangible, that you cannot hold or see or rely on, can be the only thing that matters. I wonder if I am living my life or if I am being one of those people who pass years but do not live their lives. I think about the regrets of the dying. I remember that my credit card bill is overdue. I think about the rhythm of sentences, and how in the memoir I’ve been reading the sentences are perfectly balanced, as though the author weighed each one out on a scale, and how that calms me, seeing that kind of care, like watching the ocean beat against the shore. I think about the rhythm of tangible objects. I remember how, many years ago, I was in a samba marching band in North Carolina, how we practiced every sunday next to the railroad tracks. The unsung brilliance of my friends, they way they wrote new beats at night, in their dreams. They way it felt to play drums with people that I cared about. Like dancing. At the time, I thought that those moments would last forever. I wonder how everyone is doing now. I remind myself that I am a bad person because I do not keep in touch. For making close connections with people and then abandoning them. I remind myself that if I write a book about it someday, I will feel better about the whole thing. About not keeping in touch. About not letting the people that I have grown close to, and then drifted away from, know how much they mean to me. How important their presence in my life has been. How much I need them.

4 thoughts on “how to know what is important

  1. wow, thank you for sharing. you are quite a talented writer, and indeed i felt drawn in to your memoir so very much. i say the revelations you have had / are having a really quite potent. keep in touch, though! with your brother. its a big decision to be dedicated to keeping in touch, but i think its really important.


  2. I have to echo the previous commenter and say: Wow. I think this is one of my favorite pieces you’ve written, and as I considered this I realized that I first started reading you when I lived with three strange dudes, three years ago. A lifetime! Anyway, just wanted to say that a lot of this really resonated with me, not only in your writing but in the truth in it.

    It seems like you’re at an impasse in your life and are unsure where to turn. When I’m in such a situation (like, right now, in my own life), I relieve my anxiety by focusing on the fact that the Universe has a tendency to work itself out. And for the rest of my life, there’s going to be something bad…and then something great! Followed by mediocre things. And then amazing again! And then probably sad or shitty or boring. Forever more. I’m sorry if none of this helps, but I’m hoping it does for you! Much love, Carrot. You’re awesome, don’t forget it.

  3. thanks carrot. i hear myself in this piece (feel like i’m being instructed by my body to commit and take responsibility and i am not there mentally and don’t know how to) and it was helpful to read.

  4. You write well. You should write a book and sell it as an ebook. Just an account of your life.
    Also have you ever tried EFT? Good for issues ppl get when they have abusive mothers 😉

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