Songs

This is how I feel about a lot of people right now.

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This is how I’m afraid I’ll feel one day. I don’t yet, but someday I may.

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I like helping people, especially people I care about. It makes me feel better, for a variety of reasons: My friends’ happiness makes me happy; it reassures me that I’m a good person; I no longer feel like I’m trapped in my castle, unable to feel the rest of the world, unable to understand or sympathize or make a difference. Every time I’m able to make someone smile when they’re sad, it erases a little of the frustrated rage at never being able to protect anyone. Every time I help someone keep going, even if I only make the tiniest difference, the world becomes brighter. The future becomes brighter. My hope for my friends becomes brighter.

It wears me down. Of course it does; how could it not? Life wears you down, one way or another. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My life is filled with joy and ease and peace. I’m lucky. I have options for my future and love in my present. I have so much. I’ve had my issues, like everyone else, but I was lucky to have them all be inside my head. The world wasn’t actually attacking me; I just had to learn to deal with the harsh, dangerous, crazy thing we call living. I do recognize that my life is blessed – well near perfect – and I do know that I don’t have anything ‘real’ to complain about. I’m not trying to belittle myself, don’t worry. I’m just.. apologizing, sort of, for all the fuss I’ve made over little things. They felt big to me.

I’m grateful for all I have. Truly I am. And all my life, my parents have taught me that when you have something in any abundance, you have to give it to others. Good fortune isn’t meant to be jealously hoarded, but shared with as many people as you can reach. Finally I’m old enough to try, and I’m trying as hard as I can.

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This song used to make me cry.

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My mom doesn’t get it. Or maybe she does, but she can’t stand seeing me in pain any more than I can stand seeing it in my friends, and it makes it hard for her to see why I need to do what I’m trying to do. She doesn’t want me to give of myself so much that I don’t have enough left of me to live my own life. I agree with her, but I don’t want to stop giving of myself. I have to find the balance, yes, the lines I need to draw between my life and other people’s so that my life won’t drown; but I don’t want to draw lines that are too thick just because I don’t know yet what I’m doing. I’d rather draw lines that are too thin.

Pain is a lesson, if you let yourself learn it. It’s like falling down. When you’re little, you run around at top speed, tiny legs hurtling you forward as fast as you can go, until you fall down and skin your knee. Then you wail at the top of your lungs as if your whole world had ended, because you’re not used to the pain. Fast forward a few years: now when you fall and skin your knee, you get up and keep running. You’ve learned to cope with the pain.

Parents want to protect their children from every pain in the world. They all have different ideas on how to do that, but most of them are forced to recognize that sometimes you have to let your children fall down and get hurt. A lot of knowledge and wisdom can be passed on from parent to child, but some lessons need to be learned from falling down.

I’ve stopped telling my mom about my friends’ problems unless they’re so big that I need to get them out immediately. I’ve stopped telling my sister. I never told my dad much, but now I say even less. It’s an automatic response, I guess: if sharing what’s going through my head makes them and me more unhappy than happy, then stop.  It feels like a very teenage thing to do, though I don’t know if it is. It leaves me with fewer people than ever to talk to.

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Sometimes it feels like this song takes what I’m feeling and wraps it up, like thread wrapped round a bobbin, so it’s no longer messy and confusing and impossible to deal with.

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I don’t want to be rescued. I don’t want to be saved. I’m not in any danger, and I’m not trapped. I’m not suffering any more than I choose to. I just want someone – someone who knows, who understands – to give me a hug. To hold me while I shake with held-back sobs, just for a little bit. Not give any advice, not tell me what I need to do or how far I can go or that I have to stop. Just hold me. I just want someone I can go to who believes I can do this, that I’m strong enough and smart enough to do this right, and who will give me a hug. That’s all I need right now. A hug.

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Sometimes this song calms me.

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A Slowly Kindled Light

An old diary entry, probably from April:

“You don’t have to be nice all of the time.”

I was Crash who said it. I don’t remember when; I dont’ remember what I said to prompt it. I just remember his voice saying it, and the force with which the answer rose from within me: Yes I do! Yes I do, or I might forget.”

I didn’t say it, though. I didn’t know him well enough at the time, and even now I don’t know if I would have. No point ruining a cheerful moment, and I suppose it would be a bit selfish – kind of making it all about me, and forcing everyone to deal with my issues without any warning. Not very fair.

I wanted to. It didn’t just rise up within me; it boiled up, scalding and bubbling and fluidly unstoppable. It’s been a part of me for so long, the knowledge that I have to be nice, that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’m not sure why it erupted just then, so violent and anguished. Perhaps because I’d started daring to believe that with them, I wouldn’t have to. Perhaps it was before I dared believe it. I don’t remember when it was, so it’s hard to say.

When seeking a name for my recent troubles, I once called them ‘a crisis of identity’. That’s not what they are, but it’s a decent name. In a way, what’s been happening has forced me to reevaluate the way I view myself. I don’t know if I’ve changed a lot, or if I’ve changed a little but only now noticed changes that have been happening for years; one way or another, I have to redefine the way I build my relationships and the way I protect myself.

A few weeks ago – maybe less – all this got me thinking about the last time I had what could be called a crisis of identity. At first it was just for comparison: “I haven’t been this confused and upset since I was twelve!” (Later, “I haven’t been this upset since I was twelve, and now I have even more in my head confusing me.”) But then (I should have seen it coming), I started worrying about the things that worried me then.

Or, well, not quite. Some of it really is settled and done. Back then I’d decided – or come to believe – or something like that – that all people are born with a certain amount of good and evil in their souls and, based on evidence, been forced to conclude that I was born more dark than light. By nature I am selfish, proud, vain, condescending, inconsiderate, egotistical, lazy, irresponsible, forgetful (even when it’s important), suspicious, bossy, unforgiving, arrogant, and apt to think that everyone should adapt to me, especially when I am having problems. This is not indicative of an abundance of goodness, and well I knew it (and still do). Indeed, a lot of the anguish and confusion I was feeling at the time left me when I finally admitted it to myself: I am not, by nature, a good person.

I don’t remember how I came to the next conclusion, the one that eventually saved me: I may not have been born bright, but I can strengthen the light within me. Nurture it gently, teach it to shine, hold back the darkness with all of my might. One thing I do remember clearly is a day on which I was walking a lap for P.E. and musing on this. I was disturbed by the realizations I was only just coming to. I was thinking on Septimus Heap – I don’t remember the connection exactly – and on how, if I hadn’t been raised by the family I have, I could easily have turned into a terrible person. I have the potential for good, which they have managed to bring out in me, but I have the predisposition to be very, very bad.

I distinctly remember the thought, curling through my mind, wrapped ’round a story as so many of my thoughts were (and sometimes still are).  I remember the frightening and inescapable weight of it. How hard it was to face.

I don’t remember any attempt to run away from it – I think once it had manifested itself so clearly in my conscious mind, I could never pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t remember it even being an option. I suppose the weight of its inevitability was so great that I knew it was true.  All evidence backed it, and so did my gut feeling. It hurt and it scared me, but it was true.

So I was born dark. Undeniably, irrefutably. Fine. I didn’t have to stay dark. If my family had changed me this much, then they would likely continue to do so, and I could further the process myself. I knew what I wanted to be: good. I had read enough books to know what that meant: compassionate, respectful, selfless, understanding, not a burden to others, and appreciative of the abilities of everyone. All I had to do, then, was work at it.

I did. It was hard. No surprise there, really.

I had to keep a tight clamp on any feelings of superiority, which half of my erstwhile classmates were making rather difficult. The real problem, though, was my mom, who had responded to all of their teasing by, basically, telling me I was awesome. When she realized how sarcastically I received this praise, or perhaps for some other reason that I just dont’ know, she started telling me in earnest that I am smarter than most people my age. More intelligent. A better brain, or at least more efficiently used. And all this while I was trying to be a better person and not look down on anyone.

I eventually realized/decided that I might be more intelligent than most, but that didn’t make me better because everyone had some talent or skill at which they excelled – everyone was better than me in some way, so it was okay for me to be better than them in this way. And besides, ‘most’ didn’t mean ‘everyone’. There were and are plenty of people at least as intelligent as I am and often more; if I kept that in mind, it kept me humble.

I learned to keep down my darker tendencies; to be constantly in control. Sometimes I would start feeling comfortable around someone and forget. Luckily, I only felt that comfortable around people I liked and respected, so I was never (as far as I know) accidentally nasty to someone; but sometimes I would catch myself being condescending, and sometimes I’d notice some deeply selfish thing I was doing or assuming or saying and not know how to stop myself.

Time is the greatest teacher. I eventually figured it out. I learned to think of others, to not say anything unless I was sure it was safe, and to not look down on people. I’m far from perfect, though. I still act selfishly, even if I’ve learned to think more kindly. I recently discovered that the reason I think so well of everyone is that I just don’t hold them to the same standards as I hold myself. That is hardly non-condescending, and it limits my pool of friends back to what it’s always been, because I can’t truly be friends with someone I hold to lower standards than myself.

This doesn’t actually bother me too much, even if it should, so I’ll deal with it when I’m not so preoccupied with so many other things. But it is proof positive that I’m not as good a person even as I thought I was. I have to keep at it.

So until I’ve become good, or until I’ve found another way I want to be, or maybe forever – God, I hope not forever – then yes, I do have to be nice all the time.

Sharing

Most people will only show their true thoughts and past to the people who matter to them and whom they trust. To the rest of the world they show those things which do not affect them too deeply, and keep everything else locked tightly inside.

I’m the opposite. I’m backwards. My walls and my armor aren’t built around my thoughts and past, but around my heart. I try to show myself exactly as I am, because most people can’t hurt me if I don’t let them. Not really. If someone dislikes me, even if they sneer and snarl at me, I just close the gates and decide not to care. It’s not foolproof – I can be taken by surprise – but it’s effective enough even then that I don’t particularly worry. Usually when I don’t tell people about myself it’s either because I want to protect their feelings (“the truth is, you’re just not nearly as important to me as these other people” is not a nice thing to say to someone who hasn’t asked for it) or simply because it doesn’t come up in conversation. I don’t usually mind otherwise.

Then there are the people who matter to me. The people who could actually hurt me if they tried, or even if they just thought ill of me, or sometimes even if they simply didn’t bother trying to understand me – if they decided it wasn’t worth it, for whatever reason. It is much, much harder to show myself to them. I try my hardest to keep on being myself and I think I succeed, but when my inner thoughts and secrets come up I have trouble telling them. When I think I owe them an explanation for the way I’ve been acting, it’s hard to give. Even when I just want them to understand me better, I have difficulty getting myself to actually tell them. I’m scared that they’ll think I’m strange, that they’ll think I’m whiney, that they’ll think I’m petulant and self-pitying and that I should stop trying to hide my short-comings behind flimsy excuses.

I don’t trust easily. Once I do, it takes even longer for me to believe that my trust was wisely given. Until then – and sometimes even after – I can’t stop worrying about these things.

Most people will only show their true thoughts and past to the people who matter to them and whom they trust. To show these things is a sign of the strength of their friendship – an offering they give to the other person, saying “Here is my true self and my weakness. I offer it to you so that you may understand me better and so that we may grow closer, and I trust that you will keep it safe and never use it to tear my heart out. I offer it as proof of how important you are to me.”

But I’m backwards. My willingness to share my self isn’t a sign of how close we are, but of how close we aren’t. The more I care for you, the more I fear sharing my self, because the more I know you can hurt me with it. I’ll still do it because of the first part – the strengthening of a friendship, the growing closer and the greater understanding – but I’ll be afraid to. It won’t be as easy to share with you as it would be with some person I happened to fall into conversation with while waiting for the bus.

I worry sometimes that my friends might see that I am more willing to share things with others than with them, and that they might take it to mean the opposite of what it does. It’s hard, but I try to share with them as much as I can – I try to be myself around them, after all, and that is part of who I am around others. I try. I hope it works. I hope they understand.

Loneliness

A year ago I was in the school play. It was a musical – a translated and abridged version of Across the Universe – and the cast consisted mostly of third-year students who already knew each other and were confident enough in their friendships to be loud and expansive. I had fun watching them, and I was pleased to find that they were all welcoming and friendly (not to mention entertaining). Shy and reserved as I am around strangers, it took me forever to even start talking to them, but I really enjoyed their company.

We performed four consecutive nights, the last one being a Thursday. Friday morning everyone arrived at school at ten to clean up, after which most of us adjourned to McDonald’s. I don’t even like McDonald’s, but there’s one just down the street from the school which, by virtue of being open 24/7, is the standard Place to Go after school parties and what-have-you. We hung out there for a while, and then the people I was sitting with all sort of agreed that it was time to go. I got up to go as well, in a go-with-the-flow sort of way, and left. I considered joining the other table-full of people, but then I had made it out the door and it was a bit late now, wasn’t it? I shrugged with mild regret and went home.

I arrived to find that my sister had a friend over. I quite like this friend, but I didn’t feel like joining them (or intruding), so I went off to the living room and worked on a puzzle which we’d had sitting on the table for the previous week or so. I sat there, putting the pieces together, feeling sad and confused.

What?

Why? I wondered. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that I was lonely. This surprised me. I realized that I didn’t remember ever having been lonely before – ever missing the actual presence of specific other people before. When I was younger, whenever I was sad I would pull out a book and immerse myself. This would distract me and comfort me, and when I was finished with the book I would either have gotten over it or regained my composure enough to deal with the issue, whatever it was.

This time, though, a book wasn’t good enough. I wanted people – these specific people, too, because joining my sister and her friend wouldn’t have cut it. I didn’t know what to do – it was too late to go back, and – well, I’d never had this problem before. I didn’t know how to cope.

It was surprising. I am tempted to say shocking. I was, in any case, left in a state of some disbelief and wonderment at the fact that I had, to the best of my knowledge, never felt true loneliness before.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. I think my main point is that I’m not used to the presence or absence of other people having any effect on my happiness, or at least not an effect I can’t brush aside, change or ignore. More broadly speaking, I’m not used to other people having the ability to determine my happiness. It leaves me a bit frightened, which I have mostly gotten over by now because I trust the people who currently have power over my happiness; but it also leaves me a bit lost, because I don’t know what to do when I start missing these people. I don’t know how to cope.

Something just occurred to me. When I moved to Denmark, I left behind everything I knew. The pain and confusion was immense. I yearned for what I no longer had. I threw myself into any book, tv show or anime I could find because I couldn’t bear to be out of them, to be in the real world, in a rented apartment filled with nothing. That was loneliness – I just never called it by that name. I used stronger words, like longing, homesickness, sorrow, desolation. And the whole “a book wouldn’t help” business didn’t apply because I knew that it wasn’t going to fix the situation but also that nothing would; so the best thing to do would be anything that would numb the pain. Stories are my escape from reality whenever I need them to be, and I flung myself into stories.

The pain was something within myself, which there was no (viable) cure for; stories gave me distance from myself. This loneliness that I feel nowadays is different: there is a viable cure, and it is simply to be around my friends. To be amidst and among them, to be surrounded by them. That’s really all it takes, and this time we actually are in the same city (not to mention on the same continent). This isn’t a pain that I expected, one where I knew that the only option was to just learn to deal with it. The cure for this pain is not so impossible to reach, so I am always tempted to go after it even when it’s impractical and/or selfish. (Not to mention it still blindsides me like a ton of bricks every time, so I’m left confused and uncertain on top of being lonely.) Stories may still give me distance from myself, but when I come back I find myself in the same mess as before.

Out of Control

I am such a wreck. It’s annoying me. I’m used to being in control of myself, or at least of having some amount of control over whether I’m happy. This doesn’t mean I can flip a switch and be engulfed by endorphins, it means that most of my truly serious problems – the ones that leave me depressed and doubtful for days at a time – come from within. This means that I can personally change the circumstance or situation that is depressing me. It may be hard, it may even feel impossible, but it’s within my power and no one else’s.

I’m not used to not having that power. I’m not used to depending on other people to change the circumstance or situation. Not that I’d get mad if they did – it’s just always been an internal problem, not external. I don’t let external problems affect me that deeply.

I do mean ‘don’t let’. I don’t allow people to get hold of my heart. It’s not some violent angsty business of pushing away anyone who tries to get close to me – it’s just that I’m a private and reasonably self-sufficient type of person to begin with, and every time someone important to me let me down, I carefully solidified my defenses a little more. By now they’re so strong and well-built that I can show all of myself to the world – all of myself, craziness and flaws and boring bits and all – and not care what they think, because no one can get past my defenses unless I want them to.

Or unless they, like these Mao-people, manage to sneak through without my noticing. I still don’t know how they did that. But now here they are, and though I do my best to still be myself around them, it matters a lot what they think. They each have a piece of my happiness, and they can each break my heart a little if they try. I just have to sit back and trust that they won’t, and it rankles. I don’t like other people having power over me like that.

Worst of all, though, is that I’m not doing anything about it. I’m just taking it. I’m not a person who takes things graciously. Especially because there is a solution: kick them out. Push them away. And I’m not going to, nor will I ever. I’m going to placidly stand by while other people have power over me, and instead of taking it back I’m probably going to give them more.

This is the true reason I’ve been so depressed lately: I don’t have control over my happiness anymore. Not as much as I’m used to, anyway. A couple weeks ago, when I told my friends I was leaving, I saw just how far past my defenses they’d gotten and I was surprised. I realized that leaving them would hurt more than I thought, and I thought I’d dealt with that – so why was I still so upset? On Monday Crash told us that he probably wouldn’t be coming to the school’s end-of-the-year party, and I’d been painting happy pictures in my mind of that party. I spent the rest of the day – the rest of the day – depressed, to the point where I nearly cried when I got home. I was even deeply unhappy throughout all of Tuesday. It was only spending a few hours with my friends after school that cheered me up.

I felt like such a wimp. Such a weakling. Such a frail, useless blob of jelly, totally incapable of getting a grip on herself. And I realized, eventually, that it’s because I can’t do anything about it. I can’t make Crash come to the party – he’s going to be in Sweden that weekend with his family, and I get the impression it’s not something he can change – which means that all my happy pictures have crumbled to dust, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s infuriating and it’s confusing, because I don’t know how to deal with it. I have to somehow convince myself to accept this loss of control, and I have to do it fast or I’m going to start getting really irritated with myself.

“Somehow” being my problem.

Leaving

As a rule, friends tend to disappoint me. They do something, or don’t do something; they aren’t there when I need them to be. Sometimes it’s my fault: sometimes I just don’t find them interesting as I once did, and maybe sometimes I’m the one who fails them and I just don’t know it. Regardless, it’s taught me to take time before growing attached.

I haven’t taken as long as I usually do this time. These Mao-people . . . I started playing cards with them, I started having fun, and all of a sudden I trust them with my happiness. For a person who’s always in control of herself even if of nothing else, it was almost frighteningly sudden; but I hardly noticed, and by the time I did it was too late. I was caught. That was when I started worrying about being disappointed, left behind, cut adrift once more; but in no time at all, that stopped too, and now all I’m left with is the total joy of spending time with people who understand me, matter to me and are more fun than I get with very nearly anyone else. Certainly what I have with them I can’t have anywhere else, and I’m not afraid any more that any one of them might take it away.

But I’m going to lose it anyway. I’m going to lose them, and it’s going to hurt more than it ever has before because this time it’ll be entirely my fault. I’m going to leave them, and there’s nothing I can do about it but hope against bitter hope that they’ll understand, that they won’t feel as I feel every time it happens to me, that they won’t subtly relegate me to the outskirts of their friendship. I don’t think they would, but it might not be conscious – and if it isn’t, then I am truly doomed. I can’t convince them to change their minds if they aren’t aware of what they think, and then I’ll be left alone, crying in the dark because I’ve lost my joy and this time it’s my fault.

I tell myself to stop worrying. I tell myself I can trust them. I can, I know I can, but it’s hard to convince myself that I’m right. Part of me hisses, cruelly, “You haven’t even known them for that long. How can you say you know how they’d react? You don’t know for sure. You’re letting them down. You’re disappointing them. Of course they’ll leave you, and it serves you right.”

I do trust them. I’m just not used to giving other people this much power over me, that’s all, and part of me thinks I’m an idiot for doing so. That part of me will just have to get over it, though. The price of friendship is trust, and it’s worth the price.

The part that hurts most, though, is the part I’m resigned to. Or, well, not yet. I know I’ll have to resign myself to it, but I’m still at the phase where I beat my fists against the inevitable and refuse to back down.

Thing is, even if I’m right to trust them and they don’t let me down, I’ll still be leaving. I have to, because logic and reason tell me that I’d be better off leaving, and anyway it’s too late to stop it even if I truly wanted to. We made the decision as a family; we’d have to unmake it as a family, and that’s not going to happen. But for an entire year they’ll be together and I’ll be an ocean away. They’ve even been saying, and I don’t know how serious they are but it’s not just a joke, that after gymnasium they’d like to share an apartment. That means they’ll be together and I won’t. I know this sounds like I’m jealously wishing that they’d be torn apart by time too, but that’s not it. I just want to be here too. I want to be here as we grow closer, not watch from afar as they grow closer. I can’t bear to let go of what I have.

Logic and reason tell me that I must go, and it’s not like I have a choice anymore. But my heart is so confused.

Stronger Than Fiction

According to my mom, I was a bit slow to start reading. My sister started when she was four, but I only learned after I’d left kindergarten. I caught on pretty fast, though – I started reading Harry Potter when I was six. Barely a year later, I read 172 pages in a single weekend. (I was very proud.) I devoured books like chocolate. I went on hundreds of quests with hundreds of adventurers. I learned important lessons about family, trust, loss, friendship, sorrow, love, betrayal, duty, and the importance of being true to yourself. I learned the value of magic and the strength of honor.

I learned to see the patterns. I saw the shape of magic and of stories, and the intricate workings of the fantasy worlds I traveled. I learned to understand the way enchantments were woven and curses were cast. I learned to recognize from a look when two characters would fall in love, and to grasp from one spell the rules of an entire system of magic.

In other words, I understood the world of fiction. I understood it as I had never understood my own world, because in fiction the author will explain things for you and the characters will follow the rules. And finally, after many, many years, I learned to understand the world I’m in. I saw the patterns in fiction, and once I knew them well enough I could see their reflections all around me.

Authors try to make their characters realistic; if they fail, the stories are no fun. So even though the people I read about were battling dragons and dealing with fairies, they were people. They reacted to the hardships and the joys they faced as real people would. I understood fictional people as well as I understood anything; and fictional people are modeled on real ones. It took a while, but I finally saw the shimmering patterns I knew so well echoed faintly in the people around me. Because I understand characters in books, I actually have a shot at understanding people in real life.

I know that authors exaggerate, and I know that going to school every day is not as conducive to dramatic emotions as discovering your sister killed your brother to get the throne. All things are relative, though. Friendship and love aren’t as dramatic as in the stories, but they’re not as clear-cut, either. Things are messy and confusing. Time passes in days, not in chapters. People don’t follow the rules.

So the echoes are faint. I can just barely detect the pattern. So what? The fact that I can see it at all – the fact that I actually understand people, even if just a bit – is more than enough for me. The fact that I am (very) slowly but surely getting better at this is just awesome.

I love that fantasy has taught me to understand reality. I love that flying to new worlds has taught me about the one I’m in. I love that I can still see the magic in the life I live and in the people I know well.