Fragmentation

There is something addictive about being frantic. I can draw connections among all of these experiences and behaviors I have had and exhibited that involved this frantic, holding-breath feeling.

When I got home from being a civilian in war, I was about to turn 14. A few months before, I was riding my bike down hills and listening to John Mayer. Life was hard but I was kind of rugged and hearty anyway, always outside, flipping off the abusive forces in my life by just kind of disappearing all the time. But when I came home from war, I didn’t know how to do that anymore in the same way. It was too heavy. Life was permanently overcast with tornado-dark clouds. I began to read a lot of detailed information about the Holocaust, school shootings, kidnappings, and torture. It happened just like that.  A lot of the times, my eyes moved so fast across those websites that I was kind of skidding across the words, skipping a lot of them. Vacuuming in the information, trying to get closer to death, trying to understand cruelty. I think the way I moved my eyes changed a lot after the war. They moved faster. I couldn’t take in information fast enough for some reason, so I kept moving faster, trying to overcome time. Simultaneously, my memory was failing. I used to remember more, and more quickly, and that earned me attention from adults at school. Now the only stuff I could remember was about how high-school kids in Columbine pretended to be dead and hid their white baseball hats from the shooters. My mind couldn’t track information smoothly. It was jagged and interrupted every millisecond by intrusive thoughts or fears. I couldn’t remember if I ate lunch or breakfast half the time. I couldn’t remember where my stuff was. I couldn’t remember memories very well from the year before. But I had to know a lot about violent events. It was soothing.

I remember when I began to spend a lot of time critiquing myself because I really just didn’t like any of the curves on my body. I wanted to look like a little boy. That began two years after the war. The energy I brought to this monitoring process was really similar to the energy I brought to reading about devastating violence. Frantic, no breathing, very rapid thoughts, darkness, self-hatred, hopelessness. How could I go on being, how could I keep on walking through the fire, if I had a butt? I know it sounds strange considering I had survived a war two years prior, but really, that was the thinking. If I have hips that are a woman’s hips then like….how can I concentrate on my schoolwork? How can I go outside? How can I have sex comfortably? How can I feel okay? I tried all of these superstitious solutions to solve this issue of having a female body. I tried to dehydrate myself so I would shrivel and have a less round face. I tried to eat only a certain kind of food, and I tried to run but not up hills (I don’t know either….magical thinking is weird), and I even thought at some point that if I could control my thoughts a certain way, my body would realize it needs to secrete more testosterone or at least some neutralizing agent to make me look like a child or a boy. I shrank myself. But nothing really helped. I was still a woman.

A few years later, when I was 19 and trying to find something actually beautiful to obsess about, I decided I would take my moderately high skills as a pianist and become a master. Now, there is a huge difference between being a moderately accomplished pianist that didn’t practice enough growing up but really liked the release and wanting to actually transcend your limits and have total artistic control over a medium. I practiced for 5, 6 hours a day suddenly. My body hurt. I did this for three years, and then I realized that my fingers and arms would never do what I wanted them to. I did well, and my professors loved my playing, but I couldn’t ascend to pure artistic freedom like I wanted to. The same way I superstitiously thought I could transform my body into something else through sorcery and incredible levels of persistence, I superstitiously thought I could will myself to be the pianist I just wasn’t. And I thought this would save my life. It would hold all of my pain. It did, sometimes. It kept me busy during a dark time. But I brought a very fragmented, desperate energy to the whole piano project, just like a lot of my other habits and projects.

Radical feminism has been the most fortifying body of knowledge I have ever had access to. It has enveloped almost all of the grief in my life and helped me heal it from the roots. The process of finding this information began gradually. I just woke up one morning about a year ago and decided to learn more about feminism, and I just happened to check out a book at the library by the radical feminist Mary Daly. This was after leaving the school’s LGBT group for vague feelings of being let down and censored. This was after my partner and I fought last February about my desire to go on testosterone (we’re still together by the way! praise be.). I had walked a long road and felt lost and numb. Some little mystical bird must have whispered in my ear to go seek what I needed.

Her book unleashed a beast within me. I never had felt that strength before. It was the kind of strength and anger that can only come from long overdue lucidity about something painful. Lately I have been frantically reading radfem posts on Tumblr, vacuuming them up kind of like I used to do with websites about genocides and shootings. I want to fight with people online about my discoveries, which I know would just lead me into a dizzying rabbit-hole of tit-for-tat that I would barely remember a week from now. And I just need to find a way to release this pattern. To heal. To put down this sticky fucking relentless trauma and fragmentation that feels like it is physically woven into my software now. I am just tired of being in pain and in confusion. Perhaps I need to place limits on how much information I can read a day and what kind of material I read. Perhaps I can connect with radical feminist ideas by accessing these womens’ poetry and their take on the world’s and womens’ beauty/strength along with their take on the world’s misery and injustice. I’m not sure. I just know that today I have needed to collect my thoughts and redirect. The confusion has never worked before. The idea that I can obsess my way into a better reality just isn’t correct.

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7 thoughts on “Fragmentation

  1. Wow, your journey with the piano really resonated with me. I think I was trying to do the same thing with my art. If I could just master this one thing I could *be* that and not have to worry about everything else I was – or wasn’t. I had turned that idea over in my mind – very timidly – once or twice in the past week or so, but your experience really just rang that bell. Wow. It kind of really explains to me why “good enough” was never good enough. Maybe we were always seeking freedom through artistic freedom, which isn’t always the same thing as real freedom, if at all.

    That desire to be anything but a woman after your experience with war is very powerful as well. I’m beginning to believe that so many women are kind of blind to these issues because they haven’t had direct, traumatizing experiences of misogyny. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but at the same time those of a more radical mindset tend to be some kind of survivors. Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating when others, from their relatively comfortable experiences, refuse to listen. It’s like you want to show them open wounds that they don’t believe exist because they’ve never felt them themselves – or, if they have, they refuse to look at their own.

    In the end, I’ve been leaning towards using all the radical feminist perspectives to bolster myself as much as possible in order to live as the best example I can. When I think of what brought me over, it wasn’t “the discourse” – it was just words on the screen. Quotations, explanations, experiences – never arguments. I don’t think we can gain much ground by trying to reform hot dogs into hamburgers. But we can keep producing a lot more hamburgers.

    Sorry for the weird food metaphor, it’s just picnic time around here.

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  2. I think that is why I was so intense with the piano and composing. I felt degraded and my mind was chaotic, but if I could be a “pure” musician, in perfect union with my mind’s ear, then that would overshadow everything else. I could escape into music heaven. I gradually realized I felt tortured, and I stopped believing the pure transcendent day would arrive. You know, though…when I let go of that vision, I think I actually experienced more carefree, innocent, liberating artistic moments. Maybe you can let the art or music be your garden, but you cannot literally become it.

    Yes, I feel suffocated by the problems not being seen or understood. I hadn’t thought about the connection between radicalism and being a survivor, but it makes a lot of sense. It really does.

    And your food metaphor is on point. Haha! It’s so helpful. I think you articulated what I have been feeling today. I knew that fighting wasn’t a compassionate thing to do to myself, even if the anger was there, so I needed to hit the pause button and figure out why.

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  3. I can relate to feeling like I need to be busy all the time, although you’ve had it much worse than I. It’s hard to let go of feeling like you need to be always frantically moving and to just let yourself be still. I took a meditation course and it really helped me to learn how to sit quietly and just exist, and not expect anything of myself. It really is very freeing to accept the way you are in that moment, without judgments or expectations. I hope you can experience that, too.

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      1. It hasn’t stuck for me either. Most of my emotional problems could be helped by meditating more, but even though I know this to be true I still don’t do it enough. I think the negative feelings can be addictive and we want to keep feeling them.

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      2. Ugh. Right? We’re attached. Like if we don’t represent our pain, someone will take away the validity of our story and the realness of others’ bad behavior, so we have to wear it all the time. That’s one of my interpretations of why I’m addicted.

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      3. That makes a lot of sense. I really want my pain and anger to be noticed and to matter, so if I give up feeling them, they won’t be validated anymore. It’s hard to figure out how to process feelings without dwelling on them unnecessarily.

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