Inspiration, of a sort

I promised someone dear to me that I would continue to try to write more here, so, as it’s been a few weeks since I last did, I figured I’d give it another shot today.

A particular word has been lingering in my mind since yesterday evening, and part of me wondered whether the one in a million odds of WordPress’s daily word challenge corresponding with it might come into play, but of course they did not. However, the word that was assigned today ties in with it, at least slightly, or enough that I can excuse using one word to segue into another. So, I’ll count this one as a response to the daily prompt, because: why the hell not?

The word that’s been on my mind since last night is¬†cherish.

Per dictionary.com, “cherish” means: (1)¬†to hold or treat as dear; feel love for; (2)¬†to care for tenderly; nurture; (3)¬†to cling fondly or inveterately to.¬†

There was a plan in place for last night, and basically nothing went according to it, naturally. I didn’t leave work when I expected to (though that ended up being a good thing), I began feeling dizzy and unwell on the Metro, the bus didn’t stop where it should have, we ended up on the wrong side of the damn river. And yet, despite everything managing to sort of up and go to hell in a hand basket in less than an hour, my dear friend sat across from me on the bus on the ride back, put his hand warmly on my knee, and said, “I think you’re wonderful.” Clearly we were not meant to brave the headache of a bunch of strangers for some downtown theater performance piece; we were supposed to stay in and recharge each other’s batteries instead. As we did, and I drifted in and out of a doze, and watched his pulse jumping delicately in his throat while he dozed off, too, hearing it under my ear, that was how I felt: cherished. I think it may be one of the best feelings in the world that anyone can gift another. I would trade any hectic, headachey, roundabout bus ride — and a whole lot more — to earn it, and keep it.

What the hell does this have to do with the actual word of the day? As Fox Mulder might say of a suspected vampire’s untied shoelaces: I’m getting to it.

To cite dictionary.com again, epitome means: a person or thing that is typical of or possesses to a high degree the features of a whole class.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of occasionally blogging about specific memories, after spending so much time sorting through old artwork and photographs. Something like a visual thought exercise; discovering as I go what certain images and memories might prompt me to write. (There are other photographs I would like to write about, such as a small, semi-successful, semi-disastrous, black and white street series I shot this past winter, though for the moment they feel too personal to broach. And while there is plenty of material I continue to store up in my head and squirrel away in my notes about a series I plan to shoot about people in the bizarre little worlds of their cars, and how that relates to California and growing up in and being inescapably a part of such a predominant car culture… I have to actually shoot those photos first. So.) One I could start with might be this one.

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Let’s go fly a kite…

This photo epitomizes the idea (ideal?)¬†of a southern California childhood, I would think. I am four or five years old in it, very small and mousey, and very blonde and sun-kissed in appearance. I am standing on the beach, learning how to fly a kite, in a sundress. What you can’t see in the frame: my maternal grandfather is there with me. This is the last visit he will make to my hometown, along with my grandmother, that I have any memory of (the only other was just after I was born) before they will both die, less than a year later, before I turn six. Both my father’s parents already deceased before I was even born, this meant I grew up without much sense of what the typical extended family was. I only had my parents and myself. The kite, of course, has Ariel on it.

I remember my mother tying my hair into pigtails like this often. Apart from her occasionally snipping off a few split ends, I didn’t have it cut properly until I was 12, meaning it grew very long and wavy, eventually reaching my waist, and she was always trying to find ways to keep it out of my face. I remember the ties she would use; little elastic bands with big, round, multicolored plastic balls on the ends. Pinks, reds, blues, and yellows haloing my head. I remember her hands gently pulling the strands back from my face as she swept it up to twist between them, behind me, where I couldn’t see. I remember that cotton sundress, that it was one of my favorites. I remember which part of which beach we are on. The sand between my toes, almost too hot to stand on, my grandfather’s hand on my shoulder, teaching me just the right amount of slack to feed the kite so it would stay in the air, so it could climb higher. The kite flew so high that day that my father took a picture of it, and even with the lens fully zoomed in, it’s barely a speck in the sky.

And so… the photo: the epitome of a California childhood. The person I wrote this for, apart from myself: the epitome of someone I cherish, and who cherishes me. (I told you I’d get there eventually, didn’t I?)

Under the Influence of Heroines

Going back through tons (boxes and binders and teetering piles) of old artwork over the past few weeks, it’s been much more illuminating than I anticipated to see the works of my younger self. I had almost completely forgotten just how many “epic” stories I attempted to start, but of course never finished; I have been a terrific non-completer of “books” for as long as I can remember — the incredible prevalence of plastic spiral-bound¬†(and even more¬†rudimentary staple-bound) reams of lined paper containing the first few to, at most, dozen or so pages of my Next Great Story, among all this old work, is unintentionally hilarious to recognize as a larger pattern now. Once I got older, there were a few I even gamely stuck with across a few years; in grade school I would start and stop them within single volumes and quickly move on to the next concept, but once I hit junior high, I began to obsessively plot out and outline, often in astounding levels of detail (considering how little actual “book” ever followed all this preparatory work), to sketch out in fuller detail characters and concepts. I would enter periods where I would draw nothing else, in which these worlds became as fictionally real as I imagine any writer’s do. I would sketch scene upon scene from some great work that would never be anything more than disjointed pieces, with no serious concern for how I might stitch it all together later. All of that was already somewhere in my head, even if I would never draw most of it.

This “style,” if it can be called that, even spilled over¬†into my writing. I started playing around with fanfic at around the same age, and on into high school; when writing it, I always gravitated toward scenic stories, rather than anything deeply plotted. (To this day, there’s still a huge Word document sitting somewhere on one of my backup hard drives, containing the thousands of words of all the X-Files¬†fanfic snippets I ever wrote, which I added to randomly whenever inspiration struck. It’s essentially just one huge collection of post-episode vignettes, which was far and away my favorite thing to write. At some point, I had a vague but¬†grand vision of connecting it all together via some large, interactive art piece and some creative coding.)¬†My preference for this style was so great, I even once created¬†a new formatting style on LiveJournal, incorporating small graphics — via plenty of extra CSS code — into a story, purely as a means to add a visual element to give the disjointed nature of this type of storytelling better flow for the reader. It won a community award, and was even mimicked by a few other writers for a time afterward, though I don’t imagine anyone knew what my real reason was for doing it: I’m just a heavily visual thinker. (But mostly,¬†I’m just a huge nerd.)

In revisiting all this old art and all these old stories I started, the theme that connects them all is as obvious a sign of my influences as anything anyone that young creates: badass (often magical, though not always) ladies. Why was this? Sailor Moon. Obviously.

I was introduced to the series by a friend just around when I was turning 13. I can’t imagine a¬†better time to be indoctrinated into the magical girls club. At the time, the only way you could read the original source material — Naoko Takeuchi’s beautiful (highly stylized) manga series — was Mixx (which would later become TokyoPop)’s English translations. They were poorly bound, and even more poorly translated. It took my nerdy ass roughly three months to figure this out. What did I do then? I bought the manga in its (much more finely bound, as tankouban¬†have always been in comparison to American comics) original Japanese format from the Kinokuniya bookstore at the local Japanese market, then sat in my room and stared at the panels, attempting to figure out what the symbols in them meant.¬†Considering I had never attempted to learn a foreign language before, looking back at the notes I made as an adult — and as someone who eventually did study the language formally for three years in high school, can still read and write it well enough, and was for a time conversationally fluent — I’m rather amazed at how much I was able to figure out entirely visually, just¬†from trying to read a comic book. A note, in one margin: my poorly written (not having studied Japanese calligraphy yet)¬†kanji¬†for “senshi,” followed by its¬†hiragana counterparts. Next to it, I wrote, “must mean ‘soldier’ or ‘scout’.” This is essentially correct (senshi¬†indeed¬†means “soldier”); the Mixx¬†translation of¬†Sailor Moon¬†(and dubbed Toei anime series) opted to refer to the girls as “Sailor scouts” rather than soldiers, but I was apparently astute¬†enough to recognize where and when this character would appear, and what its context must mean. I had several sheets covered with such inferred word usage investigations I undertook on my own.

This was an understandably slow process, and entirely based on making educated guesses, with no one to correct any mistakes I might make. So, I next rode my bike to my neighborhood Barnes & Noble, sat on the floor for an hour in the language section, and picked out a Japanese¬†language guidebook. (The selection was overwhelming, and ultimately I picked the one co-written by a woman who shared my first name, because that’s as good a reason as any to choose one book over another when you’re 13 and wholly ignorant to the nuances of translation. Fortunately, it turned out to be a very good edition. I still have it, with all my old handwritten Post-Its stuck in.) By the time I started to study Japanese formally in school, at age 15, though much of my self-taught calligraphy stroke order was a bit backwards, I had a fairly strong basic understanding to work from. (Along with trying to read through comics, the first full anime series I watched, which will always be my favorite,¬†Tenkuu no Escaflowne, is a series heavily concerned with the concept of fate or destiny. The word is discussed so often during its run, I realized at around the same age what unmei must mean. This applied to iinazuke — “fiance” — with Ranma 1/2, and its plot’s comedic obsession with rotating engagements, as well. As I picked up more, I also gained an appreciation for Japanese humor, which — being heavily pun-based — does not translate easily, and on¬†which you can blame the ridiculous title of this very post.) All of this work, almost entirely thanks to the power¬†of magical girls.

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Sailor Mnemosyne (left) with her sister, Sailor Lethe (right).
© Naoko Takeuchi

My years-long obsession with Greek mythology was deepened¬†by this as well, as the original manga¬†series of¬†Sailor Moon features a rich, heavily Greek-inspired mythology, and almost all major character names are tied to it directly or indirectly (apart from the majority of the villains, whose names are largely tied to gemology). I’d spend hours on library and school computers — for at least half of high school my only means of accessing the adolescent Internet — poring over all those quirky old Geocities fan sites, soaking all of the character dossiers up, learning how everything tied together. (The one character I briefly considered cosplaying as a teenager only appears in a single chapter of the manga, and her name is Sailor Lethe; she appears alongside her sister, Mnemosyne, and they are named after the rivers in Hades. Their names’ connection¬†to forgetfulness and memory in mythology tie in directly to their powers and actions within the story.)

I’m old enough now to look back on old works and see their obvious — and even some of their less glaring — influences. It’s easy for me to laugh at how heavily I matched so many of the same notes from that series (c’mon now, younger self, did you really think no one would notice?), but it’s hard for me to find fault in it. I can only view Sailor Moon‘s affect on my younger self as positive. But what was it that made it so special to me, exactly? To answer that, I looked more closely at my longest enduring creation; the character I worked hardest at, to develop the most fully, and drew for the longest period of time.

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Kaea’s early character design concept, from my high school notes, circa 2000-01. Heavily manga-inspired in style.
© Eleanore Studer

Her name was Kaea (an obvious crib from “gaea,” alternately “gaia,” and all the Greek mythological and¬†Escaflowne-inspired — the fictional planet just near the moon, where most of that series takes place, being called Gaea — carryover that implies). She far outlasted any other character I ever conceived. She first began to appear somewhere midway through high school, likely in my sophomore year, but she can still be found as far on as in the margins of my latest notes in college, up to eight¬†years later, and possibly even a bit later than that. As my style evolved with time and more extensive art study, so did she.

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Kaea’s design evolution, from one of my college notebooks, circa 2006-07. A much more hybridized style between Japanese and American influences.
© Eleanore Studer

Originally she was far more obviously Japanese in style, but as I grew older and studied graphic novels more broadly, she took on a more hybrid look somewhere between Japanese and American styles: still large, though not as large, eyes; more prominently defined nose and lips; a less pointed and angular, smoother face; less spectacular hair, in both color and length. She also aged with me; in early drawings she is clearly intended to be a teenager, but once I was in college, her face had elongated slightly; she seemed to have become older, too.

Looking back now, though I didn’t realize it as I conceived¬†her, she was everything I wanted to be. In many ways, her creation and sustained presence through my creative development and life stands as the most protracted and intricate example of escapism for me.¬†She was, like me, a tall girl (my same height, in fact, because if things aren’t completely on the nose when you’re young, what are they?). I attended a high school with over 4,000 students, and was probably only the same height or taller than a dozen of them at most, and thus stuck out everywhere I went like a sore thumb. In her story, she had a male love interest (something I would never have) who was — unconventional in any shoujo series, and against the typical¬†Hollywood romantic comedy archetype — shorter than her, as all the boys I knew then were. (He was originally¬†named Seki, though I suspect I may have changed it to something else at some point. I wish I could recall my thought process in choosing that particular¬†kanji,¬†considering its meaning is, oddly,¬†“blame” or “to condemn.”) Kaea had long hair, like mine, but it started off wildly, ridiculously colorful, unlike mine (and a few years before I would finally dye mine, as I had wanted to do for ages). She dressed somewhat similarly to me; a bizarre¬†hybrid of tomboyish baggy pants and more girlish, fitted shirts, or skirts at times. I’m sure I even drew her a few times in a long, black trench coat, which was my own lone signature clothing item throughout high school. She was more beautiful than I could ever imagine I would be. She was also braver and stronger than me — the tough one; the rescuer and aggressor — but simultaneously¬†a loner with few close friends, just as I was. She had a strange, tragic backstory to explain her unusual personality and various neuroses, which I had (and still have) no such convenient excuse for, yet almost longed for, in that shameless self-mythologizing manner of children (which is why, among other reasons, I’ve always suspected so many children’s stories are focused around orphans — from Dickens to Mary in¬†her Secret Garden, through¬†Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, and the Boxcar Children, and the hundreds of others in between).¬†Like me, she was bitingly sarcastic, and fond of raising one eyebrow to intimidate or communicate bemusement. She had secrets of the sort we all wish we had, rather than the secrets we live with. She may have been a strange outsider, but — unlike her perpetual misfit creator, who fit in nowhere — she had a destiny, and when you are a young dreamer with an overactive imagination, that is everything.¬†Some incarnations of her, at various points in her ever-growing mythos, had wings (another aspect that can be equally blamed on¬†Escaflowne).¬†She had weapons: originally a gun, until I grew a bit older and more uncomfortable with them, which was later replaced by a sword, but then replaced yet again by, ultimately, inevitably, some form of staff, tied to… magical powers. Why? Because: Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon is still extraordinary to me, whether viewed as a product (or an outlier) of its time of conception, or on its own. Created by a woman, it describes a universe almost entirely composed of women. Powerful women. Soldiers. Badass ladies guarding, fighting for, saving the goddamn universe. The main male love interest is the one who keeps needing to be rescued (constantly getting brainwashed and/or kidnapped), because his own powers are both what might be considered traditionally feminine (healing, psychometry) and significantly weaker than his girlfriend’s. When I drew one of my longest standing favorite images of Kaea and her own fellow, she is the primary focus; he is standing behind her:

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Kaea and Seki, still in the early (heavily Japanese-styled) design stages, right down to the friggin’ cherry blossom petals. (Boy, did I have way too much fun with that hair.)
© Eleanore Studer

Thanks, Sailor Moon.

All women. Strong, diverse women. (Jupiter was my favorite, because I saw myself most in her: tall, tomboy, perceived as intimidating but secretly big-hearted and romantic, loved to cook and bake, fiercely protective of her loved ones.) But really, you and your friends could find at least one girl in that series you saw yourself in, if not several, because there were so many to choose from. We made a game of it, my five core female friends in eighth grade and me. (Which Sailor Scout are you!?) And the series itself, despite being considered primarily shoujo, had everything: action, drama, comedy, romance, intrigue. Gender swapping, lesbianism, implied pre-age of consent sex, asexuality, destiny. There are even arguments to be made that Sailor Moon was — particularly during its later, nightmare-centric SuperS and galaxy-wide hit squad-focused Stars arcs — a horror series.

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Sailor Chi, acting as an agent for the dictatorial Sailor Galaxia, murders Princess Kakyuu by impaling her through the back with her staff. Sailor Moon never shied away from blood, violence, or horrific imagery, but this panel always stuck with me personally as one of the most brutal and shocking of the entire series.
© Naoko Takeuchi

It did not shy away from lending immense power to its female characters, either. Sailor Moon is the ultimate power source in the universe, but her protectors are total badasses in their own right.

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The Sailor soldiers, outer and inner planetary squads (left to right): Pluto, Uranus, Moon, Saturn, Neptune; Venus, Mars, Chibi-Moon, Mercury, Jupiter.
© Naoko Takeuchi

They were gorgeous — one of my all-time favorite things Takeuchi ever said was that she just loved to draw “beautiful women” (who doesn’t?) — but¬†they could, and would, beat the shit out of you. (Kaea’s story featured, of course, three support soldiers, complete with obvious element-inspired names. HMM. Apparently young me genuinely believed that if I assigned her three of them, as opposed to four (or nine), no one could possibly know where this idea came from.) The anime may not have liked to overtly depict much death, but in the manga, the soldiers behaved as soldiers typically do, and did often kill their enemies, whenever they were found to be beyond redemption. Sailor Pluto’s lonely duty guarding the gates of time alone meant she could stop time. Sailor Saturn? Her single power was to come in when everyone else had irrevocably fucked everything up, lower her scythe, and¬†end the entire goddamn world.

Of course, in my drawing, growing up with these women, the woman I drew would stand in front.

The ultimate lesson of the series is arguably that pain and struggle, suffering and loss are inescapable, but love and friendship are worth living and fighting for. Sailor Moon chooses to live, despite the chaos of the universe — and the temptation to end any future conflict by throwing herself into the Galaxy Cauldron to be destroyed — because of her friends and those she loves. She will not sacrifice their existence simply to save herself the burden of forever fighting. Her greatest power throughout the entire series, but particularly by the end, is the strength of her heart, her ability to accept and love anyone, even her enemy.

For all these reasons, and probably plenty more, Sailor Moon permeated everything I wrote and drew for many years. As all young, developing artists do, I began by copying favorite panels, before eventually developing my own style and characters. (Coming across many samples of this through my recent trip down memory lane has been pretty entertaining, too.) The themes of her story bled into any I wanted or attempted to create, helped feed my creative drive. And while I can initially laugh at that transparency… the more I consider it, the more grateful I am that — of all the series I could have fixated on during my most feverishly productive artistic years — I found her and her friends.

Disordered

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Sunset at Balboa Park, San Diego
26 February 2016 © Eleanore Studer

I spent probably the entire first half of my twenties, or at least close to that, depressed. I did not recognize this, directly, until I had entered into the latter half of them. I recognized it enough, indirectly, to know I had to escape where I lived, because a great amount of that depression was situational, and I knew if I didn’t make a place for myself somewhere, anywhere else, my hometown might kill me. (Not in the literal sense; I’ve never entertained suicidal ideation. But figuratively, I knew it could make a shell of me, a husk of a person that held nothing. That’s a kind of death, too.) I resolved, at some point in that haze of darkness, that I would not allow it to destroy me. This fall, I will turn 30.

I first fell in love with Los Angeles when I was 21. My first visit to it, in which I was fully conscious of being¬†in¬†L.A. (a couple of childhood trips to Disneyland don’t count, and not just because that’s technically Anaheim), and which was made entirely under my own power, was in the¬†late summer¬†of 2007. I was just beginning to realize my college major had nothing to contribute to any future I could envision wanting for myself. I was definitely beginning to chafe against the notion my generation was still raised on; that once you finished college, you got a job and got the hell out of the house (and simultaneously starting to recognize that this was going to become the first big hurdle my generation was forced to clear, with no real help from anyone, and the guilt that would inevitably be attached to the extreme difficulty of making this a reality). I was young, and had been stuck feeling more so even through college, as well as feeling very separate; I attended community college, in a program no one else entered directly from high school. I was 17 in the beginning, while most of my classmates were in their 30s and 40s. I worked full-time, and in later years, after college, had to work two full-time jobs to continue to survive, and continue dreaming of that elusive escape.

I was less than a week away from my 22nd birthday, driving alone in my car, my camera gear in my trunk, so early in the morning the stars were still out. I hadn’t slept the night before, knowing I would have to leave San Diego around 3:30 to reach my destination in time; being young, reckless, and an insomniac, this didn’t strike me as much of a problem, nor a challenge. I was driving on the PCH for the first time so far north, which wound ahead of me, dizzily unfamiliar, on into looming hills in the darkness. I didn’t have GPS then, only a Thomas Guide I had glanced at and attempted to plan my route from hours before. But it was early and dark, and I was unsure of myself. I was heading out to shoot a triathlon at Zuma Beach in Malibu, and once I came up behind a car with two bicycles hitched to the back, I simply followed it with a flood of relief I could feel down to my toes.

I reached the beach by about 5:30, as planned, just as the sun was beginning to scrape away the night sky with bruising purples and pinks. I knew no one there, and no one knew me. I parked and walked out onto the sand. I grew up in coastal San Diego, but I had never seen a beach so beautiful in my life. By the following summer, I had spent enough time exploring the city proper, over the course of a week spent with a vacationing friend from out of state who knew it better than many locals do, to have fully fallen in love with it. Every time I set foot on the streets within it, I felt as though I was walking toward something. Where I came from, I felt nothing but endless, fruitless, circular motion toward nothing. The energy in L.A. wrapped itself around my heart like a fist, with a grip that only grew stronger whenever I reluctantly drove back home. I knew with a certainty reserved for little else in my life that I had to get there somehow.

It took me four more years to manage it, and even then, it was by the barest scrape of my teeth, and I came so close to not managing it, it’s no less than a small miracle that I did. I had a very lucky hiring at just about the last minute, and that was the only thing that saved me. My bigger stroke of luck came through there; I met someone wonderful, who showed me not only how to fall in love with — not the dream of, but the reality of — the city, but how to make my home there. I’ve seen enough people come and go in my nearly four years here now to recognize the small miracle of that, too. If you are very lucky, someone will open their arms to you and show you the way to truly be here.

It was only once I made a home here, and left my hometown, that I could look back and truly recognize: I had been depressed. These days I still deal with bouts of it that come and go, but back then, I lived entirely within it. That’s the sort of thing you can only recognize once you have stepped back from it.

That does not mean I’m not still a mentally ill person, of course. I labor under what can best be described as “mild” paranoid personality disorder pretty much all the time, which goes hand in hand with often acute impostor syndrome. Only in recent years, too, have I gained enough perspective to recognize that, for as many wonderful memories as I may have from my years¬†being primarily raised by my (stay-at-home, self-employed business man) father, many of the darker aspects of his personality (and my mother’s) were passed on to me as well. He is eternally dissatisfied with his life, no matter the circumstances. I know that I do not suffer from this exactly, but I do know that this is largely where my dissatisfaction with myself stems from. His pride in me has always been vocal, but that did not keep him from questioning every decision I made, attempting to subtly control everything, asking me to justify every action. I may be happy with where I am and what I’m doing, but he will question every aspect of how and why. In his mind, there is always something better just out of my reach, and he wonders why I’m not trying harder to achieve¬†that forever elusive next thing. Happiness in the moment is never enough. This leaves me often struggling with accountability. If I fail at something, my brain demands to know why, assumes the fault is entirely mine, and is harsh and unforgiving. (The primary difference between us is likely that my father applied this ideology to everyone. I internalize everything; I treat only myself this way.) All the anxiety — and there is more of it in me than I can possibly list here — meanwhile, comes from my mother. So, too, does my instinctual need to give my best to others, through some fear of abandonment, leaving very little for myself.

I had a long conversation with my dearest friend today, who is the only person who will read this, though as I am in some way writing it for both of us, that seems appropriate. It was a difficult conversation, because I am headstrong in many ways, both good and bad, and am struggling with the fallout of some experiences this year that have called out all my worst trust issues and self-doubts from where they like to hide, to all parade around the forefront of my mind instead. It makes me difficult to be around, let alone to love. It makes me crave the company of those few I do trust, while simultaneously distrusting any desire they may have to be there for me. (This, naturally, causes a conundrum.) It makes me fearful of losing anyone else; makes me certain that if I do, it will be my own fault. It blinds me to the gratitude I naturally feel for being where I am, for having gotten this far, for the people around me, for where we are going next, for what I am capable of, for having survived.

But I am grateful for that conversation, as I am for every conversation we have ever had, because (among many other reasons to be grateful for anyone who can know me so well, and not only still love and trust and cherish me, but to do so because¬†of this) it gave me some further illumination, on top of what I reached with the help of another friend the other day. I often say that I’m difficult to love, and while that may be true, I think I’ve often been blind to the fact that this also means it is a struggle for me to love myself. If those who love me can choose to be patient enough to do that, then so can I.

So, I made myself a list. I typed it out in my favorite list app in my (slowly dying) cell phone, so I can carry it around in my pocket. It’s a list of reminders of things to do every day. Things that I don’t need any reminder for on good days, but often let fall behind me on bad ones.¬†The list reads…

Reminder: Every Day…

  • Exercise
  • Eat something!
  • Make time to read
  • Take a photo (even if it’s just on your phone)
  • Sketch something
  • Stand up straight
  • Look pretty for yourself
  • The emotions, desires, and hopes you struggle with do not have to cripple you. Use them to act as though you are still trying to win them back in return, but from yourself. Others will see that positivity, too. Let those emotions, desires, and hopes beautify and empower you. Remember how they felt in the beginning, carrying you forward to something new, frightening, overwhelming, and wonderful.

A pretty short list, but as they say, you have to take one day at a time. I got myself here. I got in a goddamn U-Haul on Carmageddon II weekend like an insane person, and I might have nearly had a panic attack after 11 that night, knowing that, in that moment, I knew no one in the city, but I fucking got here. I came here; I fell in love.¬†I didn’t do it alone, but I did pull myself together to survive and make myself a home. This city is my home. I made it mine. I was able to do that where so many others have been unable and moved on elsewhere. I dreamed of belonging here, like countless others do, and now I do. I am strong enough to do that, and so I am strong enough to do these things, and more. And I will.

I have a lot of good ideas that I can be too adept at thinking myself out of. (A favorite dark joke of mine is that my greatest talent is wasting all my others.) I tell myself I don’t have the resources, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not talented enough, I don’t have enough time, the end result won’t be worth the effort put in. I tell myself I will fail, because making your worst fear familiar is strangely, horribly easy to do. I think maybe we tell ourselves that if we keep fear close; if we let it sidle right up next to us, we can rationalize it away, and ultimately it won’t make victims of us. But maybe that’s the most insidious thing about fear; maybe it tells you this, and that’s secretly its most effective way of crippling you. Fear gives no fucks about knifing you in the back if you invite it to stand right behind you. I’ve thought all these things about ideas I’ve brought to fruition, and they seem silly in retrospect, with the final product in front of me. The ideas I have yet to realize are good, too. I can make those real, too.

This photo is from one of the most recent¬†days I can recall¬†being purely, simply good, from waking until sleep, a couple of months ago. It took place in my hometown, though it is no longer my home; we were simply visiting. I have a lot of lovely memories tied to that day. My wonderful friend was with me. As the sun was going down, we walked through¬†the park with our arms around each other, and were just happy to be there, together. I think if I stick to this list, maybe we can go back there, and make more memories like those. I hope that we can. If I remember that I am strong, that my fear only owns as much of me as I allow it to, to be kinder to myself, that my friends — particularly the one reading this now — are here with me… I know there will be many more good days here in my new home to carry me through until¬†then, and after. One day at a time.

Sliding scale of value

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Sunset on Vermont, East Hollywood
December 2015 © Eleanore Studer

Had something of a revelation today, while texting with a lovely and supportive friend (and hopefully not distracting her too much from actual work in the process). I already can’t recall whether it arrived in mind because of something specific she said, or just came as a result of having an illuminating conversation that allowed me space to see things I otherwise have trouble seeing about myself; perhaps it was a combination of both.

I’ve spent a long time — possibly my entire consciously developing life, since leaving the relatively carefree period of childhood ¬†(pretty early, as most gifted and overly intellectual children tend to do) — struggling with self-worth. I will be harder on myself than any other person apart from me could possibly ever be, and criticize myself more harshly, too. It’s a big part of what gives me so much trouble forgiving anything I do or say that I perceive as a mistake. I’ve tried what feels like countless ways attempting to combat this, and re-frame my way of viewing myself. But when messaging¬†with this friend today, I had a new thought that seems quite obvious in retrospect, but is nonetheless an angle I’ve never tried for handling this issue.

We were talking about our issues that we can be most sympathetic with between each other, due to whatever similarities they might have, and when she mentioned being a “caretaker” and having to learn to divorce her own self-worth from the concept of that burdensome “job” she assigned herself with people, I countered that I tend to view myself in terms of “usefulness” (e.g. if I find ways to make myself of use to people, they’ll be less likely to abandon me when I really need them). Guilt has all ways of finding me, and “Maybe I didn’t do enough” is a familiar refrain of that same old song of mine. (“You can never do enough” is what it turns into when things get much worse.) We moved on to discussing learning to recognize and acknowledge negative thinking and self-criticism; learning to call yourself on it, even if, for the moment, you’re not able to correct it, and recognizing it is the best you can manage… And I guess that got me thinking.

Maybe, as opposed to attempting to attack low self-worth head on, it’s a problem that needs to be approached in a more roundabout way. Maybe that makes it easier to work through, or at least less daunting and seemingly impossible. I realized suddenly how easy it is for me to view things I do for others as worthwhile, but how hard it is for me to accept any time I spend on myself as the same. I always frame my own time in terms of usefulness, too — did I get enough work done? did I get the work done I wanted to get done handled the way I wanted? was I productive? — and if it feels as though it wasn’t useful, that can make me feel like a failure. If I were to assign a visual to the value of my time, it would be a sliding scale, and most of the time, the way I see things, time spent on myself inevitably falls to the bottom. Maybe I need to try going at it almost backwards. Instead of fixing self-worth first, and judging how I spend my time less harshly as a result… maybe learning to value myself better can start, among other things, from learning to view whatever time I spend on myself as valuable, regardless of how productive (or not) it is.

I realize this will still be hard. None of this comes to me naturally or easily, and it can be exhausting sometimes. It won’t stop me from a genuine desire to do for and give my best to the people most important to me, because that’s one of my instinctive, natural ways of expressing love and care. But maybe trying to learn this concept of framing my own time and its value might be at least slightly less difficult than what I’ve tried for myself in the past. I suppose there’s really only one way to find out.

I’d say, “It’s a start,” in order to wrap this up, but that really isn’t true of a process you’ve been struggling with for over two decades. Maybe all I can say is, “It’s¬†an idea,” and for now, that will have to be good enough.