I first met Ariel on a strange and stressful day during a very strange and stressful chapter of my life. It was on an afternoon spent surrounded by strangers, talking about potentially uncomfortable things, and though we were brought together for a common purpose and it was in fact, a gathering which I myself had initiated and facilitated, I very much did not want to be there. I am not sure if Ariel picked up on that at the time, but as we’ve come to know one another during the course of our friendship, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are one of the few people who just gets it. And is okay with it. And doesn’t judge me or think less of me for being a weird, squirrelly hermit.
Whether we meet up for scintillating discourse on matters of mortality, or deliciously unhinged Gothic cinema; were we to spend an emotional hour together discussing a local tragedy and its personal implications or just run into each other on a busy street corner (yes, this has happened! and we don’t even live that close to each other!) I always know I will come away astounded by Ariel’s brilliant insights, awestruck at their tremendous sagacity and, of course enthralled by their incisive wit–and I am astonished, to be frank, that this incredible human, this one-of-a-kind (in the truest, purest sense) person actually wants anything at all to do with me! But …they do? This makes me indescribably happy and fills me with the sort of delirious, demented joy that I’m pretty sure only other lonely weirdos understand fully. And though we don’t get together often, when we do, it calls t mind Doctor Who meme I sometimes see floating around on Facebook, the one that says “Spend Your Life Doing Strange Things With Weird People.” Except, well. It wasn’t weird enough.
I had to make a version for Ariel and I. Here you go! You’re welcome!
I am lucky to have met Ariel when I did, and that we grew to become friends, and I am beyond thrilled that they are this month’s Ten Things guest blogger. See below Ariel’s Ten Things I Tell Myself to Make Life Worth Living, and I will share with you the same thing I said to Ariel, that I am awestruck and utterly humbled that they would write any of this at my behest, and I feel so incredibly undeserving of what they’ve shared below. It is beautiful and difficult and wrenching and absolutely perfect.
1. It’s Okay to Delay
This is a mantra that I’m just learning. It is a challenge, and by no means am I proficient. And while on the surface this phrase seems to echo sentiments that it’s “never too late,” it means something a little bit differently to me.
There’s a popular rationalization for transness out there that implies that a trans person is X gender trapped in a Y-sexed body. Personally, that is not my trans narrative. I have perceived myself, however, as the hapless protagonist in a cosmic narrative of a Can-Doer trapped within a Do-Little. I am predictably-unpredictably hindered, hampered, prohibited and limited by disabling chronic illness.
I idealize the tenets of minimalism and idolize the gurus who promise that the key to a fulfilling and adventurous life is the process of simplifying day-to-day tasks and purging material objects. The irony is that I live a fairly consistently low-impact lifestyle. I don’t have much to “declutter.” I don’t have an overflowing calendar brimming with engagements. I don’t keep many obligations. I scarcely have anything to write in a to-do list or planner or place in a twee inbox.
When I do accumulate tasks, I embark on a journey of epic proportions to hit all the high notes. When the mania strikes, I start plotting. I scheme out several “appointments”.
And then I hit my nadir.
For me, fatigue, flares and malaise are byproducts of ambition. I quickly become sobered by the humiliation that I have to suspend my schedule. And then I feel ashamed for it.
But then I defer back to what I learned all along from my minimalist icons. I appreciate what has “sparked joy” within me in my accomplishments. I appreciate the effort of taking on days, weeks, even months’ worth of accumulation and pre-planning to achieve. I appreciate that a “rest period” is an opportunity to regenerate. If delaying means reveling in the highs and charting a new course, then it’s okay to delay.
2. Tomorrow is Another Day
As someone who dissociates on the regular, time is an alien and abstract concept. Don’t get me wrong, I comprehend the science of the planetary rotations and the lunar cycle. I understand the guidance of the almanac and the shift of the seasons. I defer to the sacred obligations of my religious calendar.
But I’ll be frank. I don’t follow a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, etc. schedule. I divide my days by shifting between pajamas and civilian clothes, going outside for extended periods vs. remaining indoors indefinitely, or days when my partner is at work or at home. Sometimes the ‘pajama days’ are disproportionately longer than the ‘civvies days’. Sometimes my partner picks up extra shifts or flips his schedule around, and I’m sparked into spontaneity. As you can imagine, these units of measurement do not translate well to real-time deadlines.
Over the course of these ‘days’, I lose huge chunks of time to no recollection with nothing to show for it. And in the periods where I am cognizant of my presence, I’m often unable to project myself into ‘meaningful’ activity.
I still haven’t quite de-conditioned from the stress of a metered week. I used to live a very professional and organized life. I agonized under the weight of timed obligations. I grit my teeth and asked for extensions.
That’s not my life anymore. Maybe it will be again some day, but for the here-and-now, tomorrows might not necessarily be “tomorrow” in a traditional sense. It might be several days from the current day. But every “tomorrow” is a chance to center my presence in the present. It’s another opportunity to push through the fog and orient myself to the novelty of a new day’s offerings.
3. Yesterday is a Thing of the Past
This is really the same face of the Janus coin as the preceding truth. The pursuit of tomorrow means leaving yesterday in the past. This isn’t to say that the past is irrelevant. The past is a hard-packed foundation for progress. But no one can reach for the heavens if they’re wallowing in the dirt. (Disclaimer: this is by no means a diss on archaeologists.)
I have a hard time putting things down. I’m sure I could blame Aries energy. There’s countless astrological interpretations as to why I just won’t leggo my eg(g)o. I’m slowly learning to leave yesterday in its grave by meditating on the Jewish honorific: zikhronam liv’rakha. This phrase translates into ‘may their memories be a blessing’ as well as ‘may their memories be for a blessing’. The meaningfulness of for whom this blessing is for (for the deceased or for the living) may be debatable. In both senses: I am blessed that yesterday occurred, regardless of what happened there, and yesterday is blessed by the fact that I lived throughout it.
4. Forgive, But Don’t Forget
Yesterdays haunt me from beyond the grave with the ghosts of people, events and circumstances that have deeply wounded me. Much of my trauma has manifested into trigger points that are part of my everyday life. When a new mental health professional pushes me to express how trauma manifests, I often find myself trying to suppress the details.
My regular therapist noticed this veneer right away. He also identified what he suspected was going on. I was already re-living the trauma, but I was attempting to protect myself from experiencing guilt, shame, self-loathing, and all the other usual suspects. Most of the people and places associated with my triggers are removed from my life. Rightly or wrongly, in my headspace, I’m the only one left to absorb the culpability of what happened.
I will never forgive the people who did badly by me, partly because I logistically cannot, and partly because I earnestly do not want to (and nor should I have to). I can’t ever forgive the places where I was wronged, because to anthropomorphize a space in that capacity errs too closely to de-burdening humans of their accountability.
I can, however, forgive myself for subjecting myself to my own internally recurring unkindness. And by learning to forgive myself, I can eventually learn to recall my histories in ways where I can continue to practice compassion in my life.
5. Old Dreams Die; New Dreams Are Born
Even though I strive to live a death positive life, I grapple with thanatophobia every day. This isn’t always demonstrated by the anxiety of my own mortality. Sometimes it manifests in struggling to accept that I am not the same person as I have been previously. The current me often feels like an impostor masquerading in the skin of the older me, mainly because I am not fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the older me.
The older me is Oxford-educated and was en route to doctorate status. The older me eagerly wanted to be a parent. The older me was a working professional who volunteered for special projects and promotion opportunities. The older me practiced yoga daily and researched teaching scholarships. The order me sang in the choir and fantasized about the opera. The older me drove a car and had aspirations of being an air-conditioned vagabond. The current me is not a realization of any of these.
The current me, however, is the descendant of all of these. The death of my old dreams was the birth of new opportunities. Those dreams, too, may age out of me in the tomorrows from now. But new dreams will be birthed from those dreams, and so on and so on.
6. Expectations and Standards Are Only as Real as You Make Them
In the words of the prophet Joji: fuck the rules.
At least 30% of my therapy sessions in the span of 5 years have covered my anxieties, my resentment and my wallowing grief regarding my deep-seeded fear that I’ll never produce a life worth the monetary value. I routinely agonize that no amount of expensive surgery or recurring costs of hormone replacement will ever convince the public to perceive with my gender; that no amount of emotional, physical or skill-based labor will equal out the debt of my student loans; that no temple will accept my patrilineal heritage and consider me a worthy investment of “birthright”; that no mounting medical bills or adaptive tools will enable me to maintain pace with my abled fellows.
Every time, I have to re-educate myself that the gospel of ‘Being Human’ is actually an arbitrary set of guidelines inferred from a messy collage.
Some folks over the years have approximated what “gender” looks like and whether that gender’s presentation amounts to being “ugly” or “beautiful”; others have calculated how the “value” of a human being can be measured; some have proposed what amount of competency in one flavor-of-the-victors language amounts to “literacy.”
For the most part, we unconsciously enforce the ‘rules’ of humanity. We make baseless accusations and judgments from precognitions that were taught us by parents, siblings, friends, television personalities, magazine advertisements, history books, religious doctrines, billboards, neon signs, stump speeches, inspirational speakers, etc. We mount these on a vision board that coats our minds’ eye with the color lens of our choosing. Such lenses are ableism, white supremacy, classism, xenophobia, misogyny, heterosexism, cissexism, antisemitism, etc. We may identify these lenses by different shades or hues depending on our learned perceptions (what differentiates ableism from internalized ableism, for instance?), but ultimately, “blood orange” by any other name is just fucking red.
The fact of the matter is that these hypothetical ’truths’ are based on centuries’ worth of tradition, rebellion, assimilation, appropriation, aggrandizing and the existential need to apply meaning to every little thing. It’s a social neurosis that’s demonstrated perfectly in the Garden of Eden narrative: Adam is charged with identifying every animal and plant in Eden, yet humankind is cursed by the malady of sin when he and Eve seek to qualify their knowledge from the tree. Is it our own desire to categorize and define the world around us rather than simply identify and appreciate the beauty of diversity that pollutes our souls?
Who knows? Judging our current human relevance off of archaic presumptions shouldn’t be how we define what it means to “matter.” “Mattering” should be determined by our compassion (however we choose to express it), our presence (however we make it known) and our impact (however we manifest it).
7. We Are the Gods, Now
If everything around us is, at best, subjective, or at worst, built on fakery, lies and creative exploits, then where do we go from there? As Gabriel Byrne-as-Byron once bellowed to Natasha Richardson-as-Mary Godwin in a delightful 80s romp: “We are the gods, now.”
In the context of Ken Russell’s Gothic, Byron, Godwin, her paramour Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, and Byron’s [strikeout]#1 Fan Please[strikeout] biographer John Polidori are questioning their own personas, desires, grievances and dreams. Guilt, lust, heartbreak, grief, insecurity, mortality, anger and fear plague the fivesome when they are imprisoned in a labyrinthine villa by an atmospheric dark-and-stormy night. Godwin herself becomes the Promethean bringer of the dawn when she channels her negative energy into the momentum for her first published novel, Frankenstein: a piece that in real life would see revision fostered by the same manipulation of tragic energy from within her inner circle and drawn from a changing European social climate.
Frankenstein relays much of its explicit religious overtures from English comprehensions of Christian mythology. And from the exclusively Abrahamic perspective, a fallible god that lives, dies, achieves or fails is inconceivable. A god who is driven by passion and by mundanity is unfathomable. But these are the very tenets of godhood in other mythologies globally: the Olympians, the Teotl, the K’uh, the Deva/i, and so on and so on. The winking acknowledgment is in Godwin’s subtitle: the Modern Prometheus, a Titan who is credited in Hellenic literature for both bringing fire to the first people manifest of clay… and for drunkenly mis-applying genitals to many of the clay peoples he personally created (Aesop’s 517th Fable on gender fluidity and attraction model fluidity).
By no means do I want to portray myself as sacrilegious or anti-theistic. Rather, I want to celebrate my status as a vessel of divine power, from wherever and whomever I may have inherited that divinity from. I want to learn to perceive my mistakes as opportunities for vernal growth to replace my ingrained doctrine that successes are the only tales worth celebrating.
8. ‘Failure’ is Another Word for Everything to Gain
If ‘freedom’ is just another word for nothing left to lose, then it stands to reason that ‘failure’ is another word for everything to gain. The basis of this one isn’t very novel. It’s preached in sermons, penned in self-help books, bulleted in business seminars and parroted in virtually every Hero’s Journey that sees the protagonist stumble before they run.
It’s a redundancy because for as true as the statement is, the mantra that ‘failure is not an option’. It’s a phrase that in its popular application is, at best, apocryphal. In practical translation: it’s a fucking lie. It’s a lie that has become a commodity. It is a provocative phrase that evokes fear even in the most humble of practices.
Failure equates to destiny. Failure draws out the possibilities of what were previously sketchy boundaries. Failure identifies goals and stretch goals. Failure articulates purpose. Failure generates motivation.
Every failure I experience is just exposition to my next accomplishment, which may be totally unlike that I initially projected for myself. Taking the path of Ls may lead me to a road that I never would have discovered if I only stayed on the straight and narrow. The terror of being and feeling lost is outweighed by the sublime sights of possibility.
9. You Live Your Own Obituary
I have lived long enough to see my friends die. In the LGBTQ+ and in the disabled and chronic illness communities, it happens disproportionately more often and sooner than in the general population. Not all of them were honored in ways that did justice to their legacies, namely due to a lack of respect to their core identities. But even if their services were all-inclusive, I don’t know if words and actions alone would have been enough to eulogize their memories.
For every grim and sober detail, I have several living memories, anecdotes, recollections and flashbacks. However brief my friends’ lives may have been, they were rich. Like a spectacularly fudgy, heavy slice of cake cut into a deceptive sliver on a comically large saucer. Had they lived longer, how would it shift the narrative of that presentation? Where would my memories trail off to?
Every day that I thrive, I add another chapter to my living obituary. I generate more content for an everlasting eulogy that will be curated and maintained by those who survive me.
10. Your Friends Will Bury You
At the time of writing this, a friend has been dead for several days. My partner and I lived with him for a time. When we moved out, we made plans to stay connected. It didn’t work out. We were on opposite sides of town living opposite lives. When we had the news broken to us, we were told he was living in a group home just down the street from us. That crushed me.
We never explicitly related to each other about living as severely mentally ill people, but it was definitely the baseline of how we were able to be friendly toward one another and respect one another’ boundaries. Our unspoken civility was refreshing at the time. Now it’s a weight in the pit of my heart. I feel equal parts culpable for not being present in his life and equal parts fearful that I could flicker out in the shadows cast by the people surrounding me.
My life has very much been pillared by isolation, loneliness, drifting and severed relationships and by agoraphobia. It is only now, as I crest on my 30s, that I’m forging friendships that are forgiving to my less-than-sociable tendencies and nourishing to my hunger for human connection.
Part of this I can credit to my personal growth, particularly my learned talents of pruning back toxic relationships and nourishing what I’ve managed to germinate within inspiring people and compelling communities. Part of this I want to credit to the fact that as I’ve aged and matured, so have the people I choose to surround myself with. But I feel most confident in and grateful to what emerging technology has enabled me with in order to stay connected to the friends I rarely see and the friends I’ve never seen in the flesh.
Tangential to the above, if I have faith in nothing else when I die, I will have total faith in the fact that my friends will be the ones to memorialize me. Regardless of whether they may be physically present, I will know that they will hold space for me because of how I have pushed myself and how I continue to push myself to hold space for them while we are alive.