I waited a few days to post this after writing, because I have a general philosophy that I shouldn't post anything involving other people when I'm mad, and I was definitely mad here, and wanted to read it with cool eyes first before hitting the button. I ended up not cutting anything, but I did fix a few grammatical mistakes. Here, future-self! A TL;DR braindump from Tuesday night!
I've got a pent-up rolling fireball of something stuck inside me, and I can't run, and I can't play the piano, so I'm going to let my fingers do the running for me. Anyone looking for actual content should stop reading this post right now - this is me frustrated and angry and trying to let it stream out so I can figure out why, and then maybe do something about it.
It's gonna be long.
Start with the easy part: scanning for the state I'm in. It's 5:30pm, I'm sitting in my car (MY CAR! It's going to take a little while before the little joy-explosion triggered by those two words wears off, for which I'm glad) in the parking lot of a random office complex in town; it's dark and raining and I have music playing VERY LOUDLY. Something with a strong beat and a lot of bass, some kind of rap, I don't particularly care. Just something with a pounding enough rhythm that will force my brain to follow it. It gives my mind something to ride on until it's got a pulse and it's not flailing any more.
There's a sort of choking through my throat, and the beginning of a knot in my gut, and my muscles in general are in a state of slight tension; I am mad, or at least in fighting mode. My hands want to pound faster and harder than I'm letting them, but I've decoupled them from the tension and they're tapping and floating lightly over these keys. Taking deep breaths to relax; my brain won't generally get anywhere until I'm relaxed physically, and I'm flipping the radio over to the classical station to try and help with that. It's some piano concerto I don't recognize, but it's nice.
Once I name something, I can generally control it, and I can feel the tightness melting down out of my throat as I describe it. I'm not all relaxed yet, but it's getting there - enough that the violins can help, enough that I can kind of bring down my brain back to the place where I can analyze it. This is how I keep my hot temper from getting me into fights and trouble; I've learned how to be angry at myself and only myself, to pull that rage inside and work with it in isolation and containment until I melt it away (away, not just pushing it down).
The alternative would be extremely bad. I'm a human catalyst, and I can use that for good or for ill. If you think about how contagious my happiness and my excitement can be, and how it would be a Very Very Bad Idea if that happiness were rage instead, then... you get the idea why I wired myself up in a way that only lets me explode with it's with joy. I only want to be passionate about the right things, and so I also grew these meta-thinking habits to make continuously sure I check that I'm not blinded by that passion.
All right, now I'm not angry any more. Now I can look at why I was.
This has been building up since I left Singapore; that's when I switched from living in a world in which I'm Mel to a world in which I'm Mallory, and that's the way I'll describe these worlds here. The first is the name (and the life) I chose for myself, the second is the one I was given and what my family - and only my family - calls me. (These descriptions are unfair; I know I'm tagging my given name with all sorts of little negative triggers in my mind by doing it, but I need words to use and as long as I know what I'm doing here I can undo it.)
I can stand in the first world and interface with the second perfectly fine; I'm coming from a place of strength there. That's my turf, and I share it with a lot of folks who care. There are also plenty of folks who care in the second world - I've never felt like I wasn't loved by my family - but sometimes it's the kind of thing that feels like a hug that crushes you until you can no longer move or breathe. And when I stand in the second world, sometimes I don't feel like I'm coming from a place of strength or freedom or abundance. It's not that I can't do things, or that I don't; I'm stubborn enough to do them anyway. But the difference, I think, is that when I'm a Mel, I just do things. And when I'm a Mallory, I'm allowed to do things. And to me, that's a tiny difference, and also a big one.
It comes up repeatedly in the "so when are you going to get married?" conversations, which apparently start in your late teens and continue exponentially intensifying until you capitulate and get hitched. I say I don't know, there are all these other things I love, and I describe them, and I get excited. And then the older women in my family look at me with sad and amused smiles and say, you think your husband will let you do that? And I always tell them it's not a matter of let. I'm not going to marry someone who will let me do things. (I mean, I might not even get married, first of all.)
It's not that I will be allowed to do the things I'm going to do - it's that I will do them, and... yes, there's flexibility and there's give and take in that, and things have to go both ways, but I need to know it's going to go in the other direction too. Whoever is going to share a life with me (if anybody does) has to understand that it isn't a let, it's a will. And I'll understand that it'll go the same way for them, and that we'll both make compromises and sacrifices for each other. I just... don't want to assume culturally set defaults by default. I might make the same choices, but I want them to come as individual choices, not as a fixed package deal.
Enough about that.
My schedule since I got back from Singapore has been something like this: work in the late morning and through afternoon with interruptions. I've started working from outside the house in order to stop the interruptions for the past 2 days, but found I interrupted myself - mostly with anger for having been interrupted before, and not having "caught up" from that as well as I wanted to. Then dinner with the family, which is great; that's time I clear for them, that's time I've agreed to clear for them, time I'm happy to clear for them and time I love spending with them. These are the times I relax as a Mallory, and now more and more they're also times I can relax as a Mel. And that goes through the evening. And then I wait for everyone to fall asleep, and then I alternate between working with blissful lack of interruptions, and relaxing as a Mel. Not necessarily doing anything - just reading or thinking or being alive, even - as me. And I do that until the sun comes up, and when I hear the first stirrings of other people in the house, I sleep.
Basically, I am nocturnal again. And it's not jetlag; I landed Wednesday night and was fully switched back to US time by Thursday late morning, but I decided to revert again on Friday. What's going on? Same thing that started happening when I was 11 and started sneaking math books in the middle of the night. I'm not nocturnal because I don't want to sleep at night. I can't sleep at night because I want to do things. And if I sleep at night, I will not get to do things, because it's hard to do them during the day.
Because when I am sleeping, nobody interrupts me.
Because when they are sleeping, nobody interrupts me.
I like not being interrupted. I like not having to choose between jerking out of my flow state and needing to spend 5 minutes getting back in gear on writing something, or continuing and finishing that task and then getting chewed out for 10 minutes for ignoring somebody, or (now) heading to the library and turning off my phone and working as long as I need to and then getting in trouble for being unresponsive when I get back.
I need larval mode. I need it badly enough that I'll give up sleep to get it; I can push things down and wait until night, but at night, I have to have to have to run. I learned to make that tradeoff in 6th grade, and part of the reason I live in Boston is so I do not need to make that tradeoff any more.
It's a crappy solution, and I haven't contained the crappiness of that solution to myself - I know this tradeoff is unfair to my family. I know this makes them seem like the bad guys, and they're not. I just make them out to be because I needed a space to grow up in the way I wanted to grow up, and the world my family was in just had Too Much that was Too Complicated for me to grapple with and learn the things I wanted to learn at the same time. So I wrapped it up and locked it out and tagged it with a DOES NOT WANT beacon that's overly simplified and really not fair to them, because I wasn't smart enough or strong enough or non-selfish enough to deal with that. And I can look back at the lonely little kid I was when I decided that and go yeah, I do forgive that choice.
It's easy to forgive my 11-year-old self for that; still pretty easy at 14, even 17 when I went off to college. Still possible when I turned 21 and graduated and was burnt out and needed to take that space I'd fought and saved for (part of the reason I worked multiple jobs through college was so I could finance my own gap year, because I needed it). Harder to forgive that selfishness in myself now. Then again, it's been that way for years; when I was 15, I could forgive my 11-year-old self, but not my 15-year-old self. And maybe when I'm 25 I'll be fine with what I'm doing now. But I want to find a way to bring that peace to the present more consistently as well.
What's there to forgive? These two things: first, splitting my life into two worlds, and second, choosing to live in one over the other. I have to either forgive it or fix it, because I don't want to accept it; that would be a compartmentalization I don't want. It would mean I've stopped hoping that there's a way to be both and love both at the same time, and I refuse to do that.
And I've continued to be selfish enough to want to grow and still not deal with that even now when I have, finally, theoretically, everything else going deliriously well. I'm working on the things I love to do with teammates I totally adore; I'm seeing the world, I'm talking to people and learning things and being pushed in a way that energizes and refreshes me. Squalor is optional; I can buy a sandwich and take the bus at the same time, I'm not choosing between walking for a couple hours and being hungry for a couple hours. Heck, I can get a really nice sandwich now, and a milkshake, and take a taxi. I mean, this is great.
And for some reason I can't just sit on my duff and just enjoy that for a while. I do enjoy these things; I love my life. And I also have a well, you know, you should do this too, you should do better, you should go back and try to help and fix this also going in the back of my mind.
It's hard, going back home. I need to turn around all of the running-away I've done over the past 12 years. (More or less. There's not a defined start or end time, but if I had to pick a date range, it's 12 years.) I need to find the defense mechanisms I set up a long time ago when I was very young and clumsy at putting them in place and sometimes didn't realize what I was doing, and make sure things are such that I can switch them off (or make things such that I can switch them off) and switch them off and then dismantle them completely. I need to make the way I want to see my family more than the only-slightly-better-than-a-cardboard-cutout thing I've simplified a lot of it to. Because people will become what you expect them to become. And I should know better now; I can set better expectations, and I know more now how about to shape the world with patience, over many years, to grow into that.
This is not a dramatic start; it's just a note of its continuation. I've been waiting to go back and do this for years, and in a way I have been doing it for years. I am tired. But good tired. I am thankful that I can be good tired.
I'm not mad any more; I gave myself my freedom back. Now I can change stuff - or rather, keep on changing it.