What Dreams May Come

October 22, 2014

I’ve been thinking about dreams lately. Where they come from, how we interact with them, how we can allow or block them, depending on what we need at the time.

Even the grandest of dreams are simple at their core, stemming from a desire for connection, creation, love, healing, impact. Most dreams, when you tunnel down to their essence, land on this Venn diagram.

Dreams can get blocked. For a long time, I thought I could wrench myself into productivity. But I’m learning that when things aren’t flowing or my energy is low – that’s a message. I can try to blast through the message, placate my brain’s need to make things happen with new systems or schedules. But that never works for long – a few days, or a few weeks at the most. In the end, if I want to get where I’m going, I have to listen to what’s coming to me.

My body gives me information. It’s a brilliant tuning fork for my emotional and spiritual state. If there’s some feeling I’m trying to repress, my body won’t let me go anywhere until I figure it out and process it. If there’s a lesson I need, everything will conspire to take me down until I learn it. It’s a marvelous and deeply annoying system. It’s marvelous how profound it is, when you peer into it. Marvelous that doing what my body and spirit needs has been prioritized over impressive achievements or success or any of the other things my ego finds desperately important.

But when I look at it from a larger perspective – one that doesn’t pay any mind to my own admittedly arbitrary goals or schedules – it’s a beautiful, shifting network guiding me where I ultimately want to go, passing up things I thought I needed or wanted so it can take me toward what will truly fill me up. The world is a brilliant system of information and if you trust the random influx of messages that come to you, they can lead you like fireflies in the dark toward what you most want. But you have to trust what comes and, most of all, you have to trust yourself.

voice of a wild thing

Last week, a woman on Twitter wanted a book. I read her tweet and thought, “I can afford that. Should I do it? I should.” So I did. I got this in the mail from the author of the book a few days later. Twitter is its own brand of magic.

Dreams will reshuffle and reform. My dreams center most around love and creation. If I try to force those dreams, they skitter away.  But if I sink into the messages that my body and my soul and the world around me send, I am pulled onto a path I didn’t expect but feels bigger and lighter than any path I could have dreamed on my own.

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Fear is the emotional equivalent of termites. Find a tiny sliver of fear stashed away somewhere and suddenly your house is full of it.

When I talk to people who fear things I used to fear – spiders, economic collapse, glitter eyeshadow – I start to get worried. Fear breeds quickly and discussions of Terrible Things That Should Make Any Sensible Person Very Scared kick up my dread of being sucked back into that sticky black mire. Like being sent back to stormy Kansas after tromping through the Emerald City. I’d prefer to avoid tornadoes, thank you.

Fear itself doesn’t scare me much – it’s mostly visceral. It feels like a blow to the solar plexus that shortens the breath. So if you just remember to breathe, it will pass.

Oddly enough, that’s also what excitement feels like.

Maybe it’s possible that fear is really excitement. Maybe it’s possible to rewrite fear as opportunity. I have to look at what I fear and what that fear is calling me toward. More action? Less action? Rather than just breathing through the fear, rather than just surviving it, transform it. What wonderful things are waiting beyond the sticky black mire?

When I look at today’s episode of fear, I realize that I fear not following my own self-knowledge. I fear letting other people’s beliefs sway me. I fear that the world will prove to be as grim as all the news outlets are yelling it is. But if I allow myself to trust my response and my knowledge and my choices, then I can start to see the opportunities. Opportunities to let go of old stories that came from a father who would rather bury his money in the woods than trust it to a bank. Opportunities to allow myself the space to do what’s right for me, opportunities to recognize that there is no right or wrong, there’s only what feels right in the moment. Opportunities to follow what makes me feel good and inspired, because feeling good and inspired is the only way I can hope to affect the world for the better.

When I do this, the weight in my solar plexus starts to resemble a bird – a bird with strong wings that can pull me up out of the tornado.

 

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Crushing, soul-grinding doubt seems to be the legacy of humanity. We doubt our worth, our contribution, our ability to meet the standards that society or we ourselves have set. I spend a reasonable chunk of every day convinced that I’m not doing enough, feeling enough, living enough, earning enough, being enough. Why on earth would I do that? Why on earth would I pour so much of my finite energy into a sticky black pit of doubt? 

Why isn’t it enough to be breathing every day? Why isn’t it enough to wake up, put your feet on the ground and think, “How can I help today?” Or wake up, put your feet on the ground and think, “How can I have fun today?” Why do most of our early morning thoughts begin with, “How can I survive today?”

My tiny-fist-shaken-at-the-sky rhetorical questions crop up whenever I find myself in the unconscious loop of work and budgets and doing all the things I don’t particularly want to do in hopes of one day being able to do what I really want to do. I have a bad habit of feeling like a victim of my own life rather than its creator. But work and budgets and doing things you don’t particularly want to do right this very minute aren’t bad. Sometimes work and budgets and things you don’t want to do right this very minute really are a good idea. It’s not so important what you do, as long as you’re being conscious and kind to yourself as you’re doing it.

I don’t believe we’re here to eke out whatever small life we can manage. I prefer to think of us as wizards of our environment, whisking what we most want out of the ether the way Dumbledore presents hundreds of thirsty adolescents with jugs of pumpkin juice. We’re here to make what we want to make and do what brings us joy and spend as much time as we can in the midst of things that light us up – whether that’s music or writing or knitting or running through dewy grass or eating that expensive granola that you feel bad for buying. (STOP FEELING BAD FOR BUYING THE GRANOLA YOU ACTUALLY ENJOY.)

Creation beats sacrifice. Joy beats doubt. Picking up a stick on your morning walk to wave like a found magic wand while pretending to be Dumbledore and yelling, “I shall conjure up time for more writing and plane trips to visit friends and also better breakfast cereal!” beats just about everything.

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In my perfect world, the world I’d like to create for myself because I am an almighty god person who can mold her environment to her every whim, I get to spend all my work hours writing about things that mean something to me. And “all my work hours” cap out at about three or four hours a day.  All the hours that come after that get to be spent picking cherries in a sunlit orchard or something. My time is mostly spent having adventures with my favorite people and taking care of my family, including one or two moderately well-behaved children. Living life, then turning around and writing about it.

What trips me up is what I think I need to get this life. As I dive into the How To Make Amber’s Dream a Real World Thing, I enter an uncomfortable space. To get a book published you need x, where x = brilliant idea or ready-made audience of a hundred thousand or some unspecified brand of magic. To get an essay published somewhere people have heard of, you need to have a book published. To make money at any of this you have to be a wizard of many disciplines, and my brain has mastered only whimsy and baby animals. I build up insurmountable roadblocks in my head until I wind up going in aimless circles.

I don’t have a clear roadmap and that makes me uncomfortable. Even with roadmaps, I tend to get lost. Even the omniscient voice of the GPS deity can’t account for every variable and all it takes is one off-kilter message to send me twenty minutes out of my way on a ten minute trip.

What I want to do comes from a good place – writing brings me joy and helps me learn more about myself in the world. I want my writing to help me feel more love – for myself, my people, and the world; and I hope it does so for others as well.  I want to transcribe my soul so that maybe people can learn to see theirs in a new way. It’s a little grandiose, but hey, if you don’t hand yourself a purpose, who will?

I don’t like posting this. I don’t feel comfortable saying, “I want to be published. I want to write books that sell to a lot of people. No, more people than that. Just go ahead and double the most outrageous number you can think of. That’s what I want. So I can write a few hours a day and spend the rest of my time with my family.” Because to this day – despite my belief that if you really want something, you have the capacity to get it, despite what I would say to anyone else who approached me with this problem – I still think, “Who am I to want that? Who am I to think about getting that, when so many other people want that too?”

When I think about Publishing and Audience Building and All The Things You Need To Make That Life Happen, I just want to open my closet door, arrange my shoes and sweaters into a nest, and curl up in the dark for a week or two. I stop writing and start focusing on what I think I need to do in order to write. Which doesn’t make any sense.

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So I have to trust. Trust that my work will find its people and its place. Trust that I can live the way I want to live and spend my time doing what I want to do. When I twist it up in my head because I don’t know how to make it happen and spend my time worrying and not doing, I learn what trust is. Trusting that the path leads where I want it to go even though I don’t know what that path looks like.

What I want is actually contained in a very simple process – create and share. Create and share. Write, finish, ship, repeat. No matter what the fear in my head sounds like, the answer remains the same. Meaning, the more I write and the less I tangle myself up in what it feels like I have to do, the happier I am. Because writing is all I ever wanted to do in the first place.

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A New Frequency

July 16, 2014

Most of my writing is heavily influenced by my brain. It’s for me. It goes up on a public domain, but it’s for me to process my stories, my life, my sometimes incomprehensible emotional space. I write to discover how I feel. To discover what I need. To discover what pieces of my psyche require attention. To find out who feels the way I do, especially when the feelings make me wonder if I’m all alone out here. That’s what writing is for me – healing, comfort, connection.

But this new kind of writing works differently. Writing this way is like tuning my brain to another station, another frequency. Instead of mining my thoughts and history for patterns and clever ways to share them, I have to abandon my brain altogether. Blank it out and listen to something else, something bigger, something brighter. Channeled writing requires listening to you.

If you’ve found your way here, you’re probably extraordinarily sensitive in some way – to yourself, to other people and all their moods, energy, emotions. You may walk into a room and feel bowled over by the power of all the other humans in your immediate vicinity. I spent a lot of years doing my damnedest to block all that out so I could function in the world. But now I’m learning to relate to it in a different way. I want to be open to it, rather than walled off. I want to be able to access that energy, that power of feeling, in a new way. By treating this connection to everyone around me as a gift rather than a burden, my life feels happier, lighter, and I’m able to tap into my own feelings in a new way, a way that guides me rather than hinders me.

We all know what to do. We all know what we need. Every one of us carries all the love, perspective and wisdom to have the experience we want to have. But the world is big and scary and exhausting and many of us don’t know that part of us even exists, let alone where to find it and what to do with it when we get there. Our world doesn’t often value instinct and intuition. The part that nudges you to bring an umbrella in the morning – ignore that nudge and you get wet. The part that nudges you to leave a relationship – ignore that nudge and life gets progressively harder until something cracks and your life shatters.

The more I open up to my intuition, the more I can open up to yours too. When I turn my attention to myself, I can find what I need. Now, when I turn my attention toward you, I can also open up to what you need. Because what I need and what you need all comes from the same place – somewhere everyone can access. I’m learning to use that piece of me that I wanted to ignore for decades, the piece of me that I thought was making life harder, but may just make life infinitely easier. Because feeling what others feel, even when it’s draining, can be a great gift.  It reminds me that none of us are alone. Different stories, same experience. 

Emotions are our most profound guidance system – they will unerringly point us toward what we need. We just need to learn how to interpret the message. It’s like learning another language. After spending years being buffeted around by my emotions before getting heartily sick of it and learning to interpret them, I’ve chiseled my own Rosetta Stone of feelings.

Now that my emotional space is clearer than it’s ever been, I can find that different frequency. The interpretation is simple, as long as I keep my brain out of the way. I think of this new writing as transcribing what your soul wants you to know, in this moment.

I think of it as a love letter from your soul. 

If you asked for one of these way back in March and haven’t received it yet, I promise I haven’t forgotten you. This particular learning curve has been a roller coaster and I’m still working my way through the list. If you didn’t and you’d like to be my guinea pig as I practice with this, leave me a comment or send an email. 

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The more I take care of myself, the more I see that self-care is the golden ticket.

On June 11, I declared it Be Nice To Amber month. Because I enjoy making grand pronouncements that don’t mean anything to anyone but me. I encourage you to try it – bonus points awarded for grand proclamations made while wearing a paper crown and wielding a scepter made out of a broom and tin foil.

In the past, these types of pronouncements have required massive lists of things I probably wasn’t going to do, so that I could feel good and terrible when half of it didn’t happen. This time, I just set the intention. I was going to be kind to myself, deeply kind, in a way I’ve rarely been – whatever that ended up meaning.

Here’s What That Ended Up Meaning

Listed here because one of my favorite things on the internet is reading about what other people do and how it works for them – and maybe you like reading about that too. 

Not Dating: Dating stopped making me happy, so I stopped dating. Easy. When I stopped dating the way we date these days – constantly prodding my dating apps and spending my days in a daze of hopeful despair over some random guy or another – I started feeling good again. Like all the pieces of my power and self-worth that went on vacation with Hot Guys #1-27 could come back to me. Like I could go about my life feeling whole and happy and not wondering if Hot Guy #16 – that day’s favorite – was going to text me back. The energy that brand of dating sucked away from my work and my life and what truly makes me happy was immeasurable. I’m becoming very aware of the energy leaks in my life, and dating is a leach (and a leech – hi, fellow word nerds!) that’s simply not worth it. Besides, the internet isn’t the only delivery system for a mate. Certainly not when you’re poking at it like a cocaine-addled lab rat in search of its next hit.

Stopping with the List Making: My lists expand into any media on which you can write words. I have lists on my phone, lists on my computer, lists on paper, lists on post-it notes, lists in my head. My lists have lists. This is exhausting. Draining. Lists are the Dementors of my life. So I gave them up – trusting myself to know what I had to do and trusting myself to actually do it. My happiness quotient jumped by a factor of a zillion. I would nap when I needed to nap, write when I had something to write about, work when it was time to work. Easy.

(Note: I started panicking and making lists again a few days ago. The lists are far lighter and more realistic than they used to be, but I can still feel them pulsing in the corner of the room, ready to suck out my soul at the first misstep. I’m thinking about walking over and ripping them up. Obviously, my relationship with lists is still in process.)

13 Minutes a Day Toward a Personal Project: Just enough time to get something done, but not so much time that you stress out about it. I always feel better when I’m working on the thing that’s been squatting in the back of my brain for a year, throwing a bottle at my skull every so often to remind me that it exists. Not ignoring projects > ignoring projects.

Real Food: This one isn’t so unexpected – I’ve known for years that if I eat more veggies and fruit and 90% less processed stuff, I feel better. More energy, more mental clarity, no worry about stuffing my thighs into denim tubes. But sometimes life happens and suddenly you’re eating pancakes made with chocolate milk three times a week. When I started taking care of myself – looking at what truly makes me feel good and give me energy and what doesn’t – the shift back to eating things that grow in the ground was effortless.

Bye, Bye Black Beans: Giving up coffee, yo. In all the dietary changes I’ve made over the last four years, in all their rises and falls, coffee is the one thing I could never bear to abandon. But suddenly I just didn’t want it any more. When I experimented a bit, I realized that it fuzzes me out in a way that stunts my creativity and my connection. Nope.

Yoga with Candles: God, I’m such a girl. But Lanny told me about the Yoga Download app and instead of watching episodes of Frasier until I fall I asleep, I’ve been doing 20 minutes of yoga before I go to bed and when I wake up in the morning. My spine sounds less like bubble wrap being stepped on and my rest is better. 

No Glowing Boxes Before Bed: Yeah, yeah. Everyone tells you this and I’ve always meant to do it. Really, I have. But there’s something so comforting about sleeping with your phone right next to your head, isn’t there? But then I wake up in the morning and instead of getting up to be a productive, happy human, I start jabbing at my phone with my index finger and then I’ve been in bed an extra hour for no good reason. Yoga cured me of sleeping with my phone like a teddy bear. After I’m all stretchy and glowing, the last thing I want to do is turn on the blare of a screen.

One Decadent Thing a Week: Massage. New running clothes to replace the hand-me-downs and ancient t-shirts. Reading Harry Potter on the deck with a peach. Decadent doesn’t have to mean expensive – though in the case of the running clothes that’s precisely what it means. (Being adorable during exercise does not come cheap, it seems.) It just means something I wouldn’t ordinarily do for myself. Something I really, really like.

With every passing day, I feel better and more whole and like I am worthy of the fundamentals that I believe everyone deserves: work they adore, enough money to live the life they want (it’s just lucky that I don’t want a tiger on a gold leash*), a home that nurtures them, and to feel and radiate love every damn day. It all rolled out naturally, born of a desire to be good to myself in a real way. Deeply kind, not “I want to do this thing so now I’m going to do it because that’s being nice to myself, right?”

* On second thought, A TIGER ON A GOLD LEASH SOUNDS AMAZING. Sign me up for that too.

My Be Nice To Amber month ends on July 11. Which also happens to be my birthday, if you happen to have a baby giraffe to unload. (Please note: Now accepting deliveries of baby giraffes.) All of this has changed the way I feel so significantly that I’m going to keep right on doing it. Especially that part about the massages.

I’ve taken care of parts of myself in the past. But I’ve rarely taken care of all of me – mind, body, spirit, emotions – all at the same time. This month, I’ve been happier, I’ve gotten more and better work done, the brain hamsters are all asleep in their hammocks, and I feel energized and peaceful. Well, okay then.

Your Turn 

What’s the nicest, most deeply kind thing you could do for yourself right now?

You don’t have to answer here – although I’d love to know what your answer is – but give it a few minutes of thought. It’s shifted so much for me in just one month that I want to walk up to people on the street and shake them and yell, “ARE YOU BEING NICE TO YOURSELF? IT HELPS! IT REALLY, REALLY HELPS!” Maybe while wearing a tin foil crown and riding a baby giraffe.

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Fairies Welcome

June 26, 2014

If your life needs some magic, may I recommend a five-year-old?

You don’t necessarily need to birth and raise this five-year-old. You can simply invite one over for an afternoon. Cheaper, faster, and far less mess.

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Wombat and his father.

Take a five-year-old to a redwood grove near your house and he will discover a gate in a chain link fence, a gate you never saw, despite multiple trips to this exact spot. Walk through the gate and you’ll find a path under ancient trees. Follow the path and you’ll find a hobbit door.

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Walk through the hobbit door and you’ll find a place you thought only existed in Victorian children’s literature. A secret garden. A Narnia, once summer beats back the ice. A babbling brook winds under the redwoods, with bridges leading to giant mushrooms and dinosaur ferns and wooden benches surrounded by riots of violets. Sun filters through the leaves to hit the flowers and warm the water. It’s perfect.

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Knowing it exists in the world means you can walk there almost every day – and I do.

Once you return home from your adventure to feast on potato chips, you realize how small your house is, when filled with a family of four. One room, with a bed under the eaves, a tiny kitchen at the back and enough seating for three people, if you pull the chair off the deck. So the children will occupy themselves by jumping merrily on the bed, tiny faces smashing themselves into your pillows as they hurtle themselves through a profound experimentation in the rules of gravity.

Soon the eldest will notice a small pink and green bowl on a stack of books. In the bowl are two tiny pink silk pillows, one labeled “create” and the other “joy.” He’ll arrange the pillows, find a cloth your mother used to wear around her hair in the ’70s, and tuck it in with the pillows. He’ll add a sparkly multifaceted ring from the cup of jewelry in the bathroom and, as the crowning touch, a potato chip. This, he tells you, is a fairy bed. The sparkles to attract and the potato chip to entice closer.

The next morning, after they’re gone, when you’re prosaically clearing away the potato chip because ants, you’ll look up. Etched into the window, above this tiny bed, is a fairy wing.

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Magic.

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Let it hurt. Because the more you feel it now, the less you’ll feel it later. Keep breathing. Keep air cycling through your lungs and let that breath reaffirm your life when you feel like you want to die. Care for yourself physically when your emotions are battered and exhausted. Drink water, nap, exercise out the pain and the anger. Keep breathing. Keep feeling. Care for yourself the way you would care for a wounded pet or a beloved child. Know that the shattering of something you wanted is clearing the way for something more, something better. Not a better person but a better fit, a better match. 

Know that you are loved, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Yes, your heart has been tossed onto the funeral pyre to go up in flames, but the old heart must disintegrate before a new heart can be born.

If you feel like your heart is a blackened, charred cinder of nothing in your chest – congratulations. You tried. You opened up. You exposed your tender bits and even though it feels like a tiger just ripped out your jugular – you won. Because you were brave. Because the only people who find victory are the ones who are also open to taking a beating. Letting someone near your tender, easily bruised heart is the ultimate act of courage.

So lick your wounds and keep letting those emotions rise to the surface because the power of that hurt, that anger, will keep walls from forming, will keep the arteries to your heart from hardening. That means that when the time is right and the person is right, you will get what you always wanted. 

Trust that whatever happens is leading you toward something better, something more suited, something more beautiful. The old and broken must dissolve before the new can sidle in. If you feel that you are the one who’s old and broken, allow that to disintegrate too. Because you are as whole and perfect now as you were on the day you were born.

Yes, you loved that person, for their beauty, their foibles, their unique humanness. Of course you did. But they were not the source of that love you felt, they were only its mirror. That love came from you, when you decided to focus it on them and their beauty, their foibles, their unique humanness. Once you’ve grieved and felt all the painful things we’d prefer not to feel, once you’ve realized that feeling those feelings makes the feelings dissipate, even if it takes longer than you’d like – that’s when you can open up again to the next gorgeous, foible-filled human who catches the strings of your heart.

Love is not limited to one person, one life, one source. Begin to feel love in everything that surrounds you – a home you love, a pet you adore, books that make you happy, the movement of the leaves in the trees. It’s everywhere and the more you see it, the more it will find you. Because you were born to be loved and that love surrounds you, even now.

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X = Me

June 18, 2014

Solving for x is astonishingly easy, as it happens.

If I am the x factor, then the x factor is me.

Simple, right? Almost brutally so.

What’s particularly brutal is that I’ve known this for years. My brain understood. People told me, books told me, my reasoning skills parsed it out. But just because you understand something doesn’t mean you know it. Just because you know something is true doesn’t mean your heart or your emotions have any idea what that big gray lump in your skull is prattling on about.

I am the x factor. Not because I’m the reason dating hasn’t worked, but because I need to focus my attention on me.

If I am the x factor, that means I get to put all of my time and attention into things that make me happy, instead of going out on first date after first date in a time-consuming attempt to play the numbers and manipulate the system into giving me what I want. I get to put my energy into what feeds me on a deep level, rather than spending my time trying to create some safe, loving space for someone else because I thought that if I make them feel loved, they’ll make me feel loved.

Pro tip: That doesn’t work.

Trying to force people to feel something – even if it’s something we all want to give and experience – is a really bad bet. Good intentions, poor execution. People can feel it when you’re coming from a place of need, rather than a place of “here, I have so much that I would like to share it with you.” I can’t name that place because I haven’t found it on the map yet. I’m still looking.

In my efforts to find me in this new map, I have claimed this month. All of it. All of it is mine, henceforth to be known as Be Nice To Amber month. You don’t have to be nice to me, but I have to be nice to me. Being nice to me means no dating. No online suitors, no constant checking of the apps, no wondering when he’s going to respond. Unless some epic romantic comedy kismet slams into me at the grocery store, I will go on not one single date. Instead, I will focus on what makes me happy, rather than on what someone else is thinking or feeling. A month of fixing up the hobbit hole and going to yoga and reading Harry Potter in the fairy garden that was recently discovered near my house. A month of less caffeine and no self-recrimination. A month of things I rarely allow myself, like manicures and chocolate bars* and afternoons at the beach.

* Lies. I always allow myself chocolate bars.

My month began on June 11 and will end on July 11, my 36th birthday. Everything feels better already. Lighter, clearer, like I’m more me than I have been in a long time.

Maybe the best way to date is not to date at all.

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Solve for X

June 16, 2014

In five years, no one I’ve dated has lasted longer than six weeks. They slide out of my life like water down a windshield, droplets that leave shadows of themselves behind long after the liquid has evaporated. I am romantic teflon. 

My brain looks for patterns, because that’s what brains do. 

I sleep with them too soon and they disappear. I show too much emotion and they disappear. I ask for something and they disappear. I try to deepen what we have and they disappear. 

I am the x factor in all my relationships. Since I’m the only common denominator in my experience, I need to figure it out.

Solve for x.

But solving for x feels heavy, exhausting, full of self-recrimination. If not full-on existential despair than at least a solid dose of melodrama.

But when you want something enough, you will brave what you’d rather avoid. So I dig through the layers, sorting through my psyche and its tender bits like I sort through my books, hauling some to Goodwill but picking most of them up and then putting them back down again, not sure if I still need them. Maybe this book will help me some day. Maybe this book will be the answer to a problem. Maybe this was meant to be mine. So I continue to haul heavy boxes of books between apartments like I drag along the ghosts of past relationships.

Solve for x.

I’m scared of losing myself.

I’m afraid I can’t have what I want.

I’m too much or not enough. Either way, I’m not right.

The specters of my past experiences continue to rise, lighter, gray like smoke instead of sticky black tar, but still rising: the idea that emotion will frighten people away, that communication will make everything go bad. The idea that I’m not enough. Or that I’m really just too much and who has time for that? Either way, I’m not right.

But then I begin to wonder if maybe I’m looking at the wrong piece of the equation. If I solve for x, I get a relationship with someone I adore. But maybe I need to be solving the equation that will lead me to myself, rather than to the idea of another.

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