There’s this episode of NBC’s This is Us where Randall, Sterling Brown’s character, tells Rebecca, Mandy Moore’s character, that he’s almost scared to run for the Senate because if he does, he will win—that’s how powerful he is. Sure it’s conceited, but what even is conceit? Is it still conceit if it’s true? Are we any less powerful when we perform humility? Isn’t power almost like the antithesis to subtlety?
I ask because I feel that way sometimes. I’ve felt that way for most of this year: that if I just declare my desire for something and just work at it, my greatness is an inevitability. I should probably stop here and define greatness. Because I don’t mean it in a looming large kind of way. I think I just mean formidable. Formidable as in inspiring awe or wonder. Which even as I type this, sounds contradictory because I generally don’t like being perceived. Most days, I’m perfectly happy just to be in a dark room by myself, not having to perform my existence. Funny, I know because existing just is, no special effort required. But it’s kind of where I’m at at the moment. My aliveness doesn’t feel fixed. My awareness of my existence is fleeting and my sense of self is ephemeral maybe, like a cloud of smoke I can’t grasp. But not in an interesting, mysterious sort of way. It’s more of a constantly chocking, on the verge of tears sort of way. So when I’m around people, I feel like I’m masquerading my personhood—like existing is something I have to actively act out, otherwise I just might become insentient.
I still have this desire to be seen. A lot of it is contained in/projected onto my writing. I think if I can just get everyone to read my shit and be awe-stricken by it, then it would fulfil that desire to be seen. It’s an impossible, twisted standard. One that I use as a substitute for what I actually want: to be seen as a person. To be really seen, to be completely known, and to be loved because/despite of it. I think for now, most of it comes from how lost and fragmented I feel. And I almost wish someone would just hand me a bag of skin stuffed with wants and desires and values and history and life and joy and all of the things that make people human and just tell me, “hey, this who you are” so I can believe them and stop looking and flailing and failing. I think I want to be seen cause I’m having a hard time seeing myself and I’m hoping others will do it for me in the meantime. And because of that I think if I have to choose one thing that people will see and love, I’ll pick my writing because I think I do that well and my whole life, I’ve tried to be really easy to love; to make it worthwhile. Like, I don’t person well at the moment, so here, take my writing, love it for me.
- Why do I think people can only love one thing at a time? Why do I feel like I have to make that choice?
- Why do I conflate loving my writing with being awe stricken? It’s as if I think tenderness is out of reach, so I settle for fear and try to make it pretty.
But back to the feeling powerful thing. It really is just a safety thing. I think I spent the last six months in a house where I feel safe and valued and truly seen and cared for. Like I could chose to be anyone or anything and it wouldn’t be a deal breaker. And when you feel safe, you feel capable, and when you feel capable, you feel powerful. And so for a while there, I felt like water, that if I just kept moving, I could eventually break down even the hardest of rocks. For a while there, everything seemed possible; that it was only a matter of time. For a while there I thought, all I have to do is write my heart out, everything else will fall into place. For a while there, I didn’t doubt it, not for a singe second. Isn’t that power?
So it’s kind of scary that I’ve lost that in less than ten days. Kenya really is where (creative) dreams go to die. Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe this country is soul-crushing. Maybe I am just tired. I’ve been jet-lagged, I’m barely sleeping, I’ve gotten so many rejections these past few weeks(#thatwritinglife) and they’re getting to me. But I think more than anything, I’m back to a place where I’ve been heartbroken and disappointed so many times, I’m especially feeling the loss of that sense of possibility and care. Maybe that’s all there is to it: there’s been a change in environment and I’m not adapting as well as I hoped. The first time, I was travelling back to Kenya, my cousin told me, “I hope you don’t revert to being the Clarie that you are in Kenya.” and every time I travel, he echoes that sentiment. And every single time, I disappoint him. I think sometimes we play the roles we are cast in; that when we enter a space, we become who we think we’re expected to be in that place.
Most of my life in Kenya, I’ve had this prevailing sense of scarcity. Not of material resources(I’ve always had my basic needs met) but of everything else really. One of the first lessons that I learnt in love was that I was too much and that there just wasn’t enough love for all of me; that love was a trade off—that the only way to get some was to give something up. It’s funny cause I don’t know when or where I learnt that specifically, but it’s something that I still struggle with, this idea that if I want people to love me, I have to do something for them, I have to be a certain kind of person, that I have to take what I can get, that I have to make it easy to love me. So I take that and I apply it to everything: for people to love my writing it has to be exceptional; for my dreams to come true, I have to be the greatest to ever do it; to be happy, I have to take some pain with it, to be loved, I have to sit in a corner quietly and not ask for too much. So every time I come here, I become the person that’s terrified to be myself, terrified to hope, to dream, terrified that if I so much as shift a degree in the wrong direction, I would be deserving of every misfortune. And it’s exhausting because I hold myself to these impossible standards while simultaneously blaming myself for being the kind of person that shit doesn’t work out for. And I don’t know how I did it for so long without dying because now that I know that I don’t have to do it, I find that I’ve lost my capacity for it. So I’m in this weird in-between where I am hurtling towards desolation but I feel like it’s what I have to do to belong here.
I know running away is not the answer, but I don’t think I’m brave enough to change dynamics, to cultivate different ways of being and relating. So I do the only thing I can do: write my heart out and trust that it will forge a path for me out of here, if not physically, then mentally and emotionally.
Because I’m still powerful even when I don’t feel like it. My writing is still worth doing even when it keeps getting rejected. I am worth loving even when all I do is lie in bed and forget that I am a person.
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