Selves Made of Smoke

One thing I did not expect about my twenties is how many times I would have to break up with versions of myself. The fantasies of the future that are only possible to paint on the walls of Plato's cave, that evaporate when the light shifts, keep dissolving. From what I understand, this process is not going to stop any time soon.  


For example, I went through a terrible and painful breakup over the last year or so, regarding biological family. Despite being raised as far away from them as possible without requiring a passport to visit, and despite my parents’ intense and intentional efforts to raise me in ways antithetical to their own childhoods and (in many ways) polarized from their siblings’ decisions, I somehow entertained the fantasy that I had a self that got on swimmingly with this group of people I share genetic predispositions with. Unfortunately, along with a tendency toward shoulder injuries, addiction, and a youthful appearance that I am told will serve me well in twenty years, I share an inability to sit on my hands when things seem not-right. Not even necessarily unjust or fundamentally wrong in some cosmic sense, but plain old “not-right.” And somehow, this fantasy survived until I turned 22, the day that President Donald Trump was announced President-Elect of the United States of America. That was the day my self and the self I imagined began to burn at each other, lighting little fires in the forest to see which one was composed of only smoke. The family-self I had so carefully sustained evaporated. I am left with a bloodline, and Facebook posts. 

It was fourteen months later that I discovered that someone I loved deeply was (in a cosmic, not biological sense) my literal sister, and everyone who’s ever met both of us threw shoes of affection at our heads (mostly mine).


And then there’s the artist I imagined I would be, or would not be. For someone so fiercely dedicated to writing everything all the time, it took me a long time to put two and two together, that if there is no leaving this thing behind, I should perhaps not only bring it along, but let it lead. Instead, I nursed the fantasy of being some kind of actor that, when the fantasy was enacted, would begin to eat away at my soul. The last several months have involved me breaking out my matchbook, lighting candles and praying prayers that I would learn to put the damn cup down, since clearly, God is not the one asking me to drink it. Thankfully, he’s the kind of Good Father who will smack your little hands if you keep it up with the poison. But that’s a goodbye so painful and tender that I don’t know what will replace it. What I do know is that I still love writing, especially when I do it all the time, and acting can feel like salt in the wound.

As a writer, of course, you want to write serious things, and when I try, my sense of humor comes through (so I am told) and my narrators seem to be very tongue-in-cheek, licking the teeth with cavities to see if they still hurt. That particular self doesn’t feel so uncomfortable, because I am growing into something different than I expected, but at least I know what forest I'm in. In literary terms, I might be less like Tolkien's elves and more like Keebler's. 


The dust of the woman I thought I would be sticks to my fingers, not because I cannot live up to my expectations, but because I have surpassed them in ways I didn't know were possible. And there are moments, especially during this period of my life where I am single and independent (and, on occasion, speechlessly lonely), that I wonder if perhaps her voice to be someone I am not and have never been, would perhaps make dating easier, more likely. There's something about being high-functioning, high-achieving, and constantly balancing on a mental high wire that I have nicknamed "stable" that just feels less-than-appealing. Also, I just don't like so many of the things that seem to mark womanhood, no matter how arbitrary. 

And yet, the reason there is dust and not her in my hands is because I was never going to be the person I thought. I was never going to stop the balancing act; there is no version of me that learned to knit. And its in the moments of tension that the wire is safest, when I accept the push and pull that is existing, and stop asking the potter why and start allowing for fullness, breathing in, breathing out, watching fires die just in time for the sun to come up. 




Photo by sören sandbothe on Unsplash