Awake and Asleep: Joy and Discovery

car emerging from tunnel
Photo by Martin Fisch, flickr’s creative commons

You arrange to meet for coffee, to come over and watch a movie, to play games. You are invited to the party and you have a few threads for the person next to you, a few yarns for the whole group, a few revelations to give and receive. You go to the dinner party and you pinch the dumplings closed before shoveling them into your mouth, laughing with three friends across the table, three good friends from across the world.

You page through your journal and realize that these memories are underrepresented, that more painful ones take top billing, that you’ve written about the same hard things over and over again. It was something you needed to do, you admit, but your life this January, this February, holds more than that.

Don’t forget today, you tell yourself. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning, but you are high on life and you don’t care. Somehow, you don’t think you’ll regret lying on your back, holding your brand-new memories lightly, because they are light. There is nothing rough mixed in, no desperation to clutch every word as if it were the last of its kind.

And it’s not just today.

You eat ice cream on what was then the coldest night of the year, wearing pajamas you borrowed from your friend. You prop up your head with your hand, flattening the pillow under your arm, and talk until the snowplows scrape down Genesee Street.

You are leaving campus when you see a friend of yours sitting at a table. You stop and say hello, and before you know it you are in a coffee shop sipping a chai latte, lingering until closing time, and not just to avoid the wind. You didn’t realize until now how much the two of you have in common.

You stop by the office for a moment and stay almost two hours, until you absolutely have to leave. You pick up the threads of a conversation that started months ago, your favorite sort of conversation, comparing notes and reminiscing about the children’s stories that no one else here knows, the questions that have answers and those that do not.

You drive on two-lane roads to what must surely be the center of the state, two hours there and two hours back, but even though it’s a cold, rainy night, you are in no rush to be home again. You can’t remember the last time you talked this freely for this long without knowing in your bones that it couldn’t last, that it was too good to be true. “I could talk to you about anything,” she says. You believe her, and you agree.

It’s 4 o’clock now. You plug in your headphones and play the old Mozart piece “Rondo Alla Turca” on your new digital piano before finally drifting off to sleep.

Continue Reading

Awake and Asleep: Depression and Loss

Bridge over a creek in winter
Photo by Mike Christoferson, Flickr’s creative commons

You wake up one morning feeling the weight of the world, or the weight of your world. Maybe it was a dream that made your eyes snap open, made your heart sink, but you can’t remember. It’s your first time being rested in days, but you don’t feel rested.

You haven’t been taking care of yourself the way you promised you would this semester, and not just with the whole sleeping thing. Your kickboxing gloves still lie, dusty and cold, in the back seat of your car. You only have microwave dinners and you aren’t reading the library books that promise escape or introspection or both.

You are writing, though, I’ll give you that. You’ve produced an impressive amount of pages in a short amount of time, pages in your journal, pages in the word processor, more files than you can count on two hands, but at this point, sometimes, you feel like you’re just going around and around in circles, as sad music plays and you’re forever swiping left past the faces of Central New York men who couldn’t interest you less.

You are also seeing your friends here more often. That’s big, you remind yourself, these late-night conversations and round-table dinners and coffee-shop confessionals. It’s more than last semester. Maybe you’ll be sad to leave Syracuse after all, 100 days from now.

You have been rising in the ranks. Your name is attached to more projects and known to more people. The future is still hazy, but there is a distinguishable hue to it now. You don’t say, “I don’t know” anymore when people ask you what the plan is after graduation.

But you wish you cared a little more about what is happening here than about what you’ve left behind. You spent so much of your winter break dreading the return, only to find yourself displaced in the places you’d once called home. A lot can happen in five weeks, and a lot did happen in five weeks.

Melancholy can be a comfort when you can see the arc of loss and tell the story and point to a specific person or event, to a before and after, and you can almost believe in the healing passage of time. But that nameless lethargy, with no beginning or end in sight, is less sexy. Depression has no juicy details. It is the difference between felt pain and the absence of feeling, between the past and the present, between being awake and asleep.

It is winter in America’s snowiest city, and you are awake and asleep.

Continue Reading

Day 25: Public Speaking and Other “Performances”

speaking at my high school graduation
Speaking at my high school graduation. Back when the fear still dominated.

I’ve had so much trembling fear as I’ve stood in front of people.

I was 14 years old when I started going to a “real” school after a lifetime of homeschool. That first year, I was in a Bible class where we each had to memorize and then recite a Bible verse every week. We also had to come up with an application for our chosen verse, though that part didn’t have to be memorized.

I would always say my verse and application fast. One day, someone decided to race me, and so the competition was on, and oh what fun memories I have of stopwatches and rapt attention and a friendly rivalry.

The reason I started saying them fast in the first place, though, wasn’t because I was trying to set a record. It wasn’t even just because I was nervous. It was because I didn’t want people to listen too closely to my application. What if my application was dumb? So I would read it as quickly as possible so people hopefully wouldn’t be able to fully process what I was saying and, thus, wouldn’t be able to judge me.

I didn’t believe my words had worth.

I’ve done the same thing with creative writing assignments in school. Especially when I know I’ll have to read them out loud. Panic would lock up my creative process and I would struggle to bring a word, a sentence, an idea past my freaked-out filter and onto the page. They’ll think this is terrible, I couldn’t help but think, and there would be no enjoyment in the writing.

So much of this fear of mine can be traced back to viewing my words as performances instead of as conversations. I wrote about this on Wednesday, but today I’m making it more personal.

In performances, you can’t mess up. In performances, everyone is watching you and no one’s talking with you and there’s no us, only a very separated you and them. In performances, it’s all or nothing.

I was insecure, and I believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough and my words weren’t good enough.

In school, even preparing for a speech days in advance was enough to fill me with fear. During and since my life-changing trip overseas with YWAM, though, I’ve felt a strange desire to do the very thing that had so terrified me. I spoke at youth groups and church meetings a few times in Asia, and even though I was always nervous right before going to the front, I was able to prepare without fear. There’s something exhilarating about stepping way out of your comfort zone, but it’s more than that. I think speaking and I have some kind of future together.

Anyway, since then, I’ve taught Sunday school regularly, co-preached a sermon in a Mexican church (complete with a translator!), given a toast at a wedding, and of course been on the radio. Sometimes I was still nervous, but I was almost always the one eagerly volunteering to speak, and I never regretted it.

What changed?

My identity changed, in ways I can’t fully put into words. I believe that I am someone worth liking, worth loving, worth listening to. My words aren’t in competition with anyone else’s words (though I do need reminding of this quite often). I can speak or write and not know everything and even make mistakes and it doesn’t make me a failure.

Some people will never enjoy speaking in front of big groups. It’s just not who they are. But I’m beginning to think that I’m not one of those people (two years ago, I never would’ve believed I would be saying this!). I’m beginning to see that speaking and teaching don’t have to be performances; they can be conversations. And I like conversations.

Wedding toast for a friend
Making a toast at a friend’s wedding last month. When the fear no longer dominated.

This is day 25 of 31 Days in the Word.

Continue Reading