Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Derrick Jensen, and "Silencing"

On Wednesday, April 13th, I posted the following on the facebook wall of one of my favorite authors and people whom I consider inspiring and whose voice I feel is absolutely necessary to be heard in the world, Derrick Jensen:
His book A Language Older Than Words was no doubt the most moving of all I read last year, a great motivating factor for my desire to reconnect with nature, escape more regularly from the confines of "Civilization" in downtown Phoenix, deconstruct my upbringing, invite my best friend to bike and camp through the wilderness for two months, and try to understand and overcome the pain I had been carrying around with me for over half of my life.

Derrick speaks of many things in his book that though different from my own life, I felt strong parallels with. From his childhood stories of the abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of his father, to the subtle yet violent "silencing" of our culture that brainwashes us to turn our backs on everyday atrocities in our own backyards and in all we consume, to the curious way a disease can free us when we learn to communicate with it. Writing of a near death experience with Crohn's disease, I find this passage from "A Time for Sleeping" particularly moving:
"I did not die for only one night, but for the several years it took for the lessons of that night to travel to every cell of my body, and for the layers of old skin--formed in an earlier time of trauma, when I had different requirements for survival--to scrape away or slough off and be replaced by new ones."

"When we imprison another we must also place one of our own in prison, as a guard. Likewise, when we imprison a part of ourselves, other parts must move into that same dungeon. Prisons--whether made of steel, razor wire, floodlamps, and observation posts, or a steel will holding emotions and flesh in check--consume a tremendous amount of energy. When as a child I vowed to no longer feel anger, to no longer feel anything, not only did I lose access to banished feelings, but I lost also the energy it took to keep them at bay. Where did those emotions go, what did they do? They did not vanish into the psychic equivalent of thin air. How did they twist and turn to find their way out, as ultimately they must? How do frustrated emotions make clear their need for expression, and how, in the end, are they expressed?"

"...I realized that if I were going to survive this disease, I had better learn to listen. I realized, too, that learning to listen to the disease might not only keep me alive, but might also help to release me from the prison of my own steel will, which I had built as a child to keep the world out, but which I now was finding kept me locked in even more firmly."

A comment someone wrote about me recently on has been tormenting me for a week now. Though I have in my head, made many comparisons to my struggle with dental hygiene over the years to other eating disorders, for whatever reason, even when thinking of my own best friend's intense three year battle with bulimia, and also working in social work with homeless youth every day, I never really put the pieces together to think of my own history of bad habits throughout most of my life as "self harm." A week ago felt like the first time in my whole life it occurred to me that me not brushing my teeth was a "cry for help." Or more appropriately, a cry for love and affection and praise from my "real parents" who never seemed to want to try very hard to compete with the ones who raised me. I always felt stuck in limbo, unable to grow emotionally and overcome my shy, repressed, introverted nature because my whole life it had seemed like no matter what I did my parents would never come out of their own shells for me. They never seemed to take an active interest in anything I truly cared about, they never seemed to reward me for all I had accomplished. And how fucked up is it that so many of the gifts they gave always came in the form of candy and soda?

Growing up, since as early as I can remember, they were both always the two people I knew who had the worst teeth of anyone, yet, why didn't they care about mine? I could never understand. Didn't every parent always want their kids to have a better life than they? How much effort, would it really have took back then to make a difference? Hell, they could have used their OWN mouth as an example, they could have given me the guided tour of their own pain. If I had children now, that is seriously what I would do. I would do whatever it possibly took to get them to brush their teeth, so they would not have to live like I have. I simply will never understand how I grew up this way. To this day, I generally feel much more like a mature adult than I feel they act or live. In a way, I have for years felt like they stopped aging on the day I was born. Why else would they have never taken the time to even share with me their own stories of how they got that way, the circumstances surrounding my own creation, of how they fell in love, if there ever in fact, was a time when they would actually call it that?

I have been wondering lately, how it will affect our communication or relationship or the lack thereof the day this blog reaches them, if it will be a long overdue cleansing wash of perspective over them they have never allowed themselves to hear, or if they will ignorantly try to sue me for "slander" or something, never accepting their responsibility or role in creating and shaping me this way over the years, never learning from the past, never treating me like an adult? I wonder if they can finally, finally after all of this, say that they are proud of me, that they are thankful that despite their lack of being there all those years that all in all, I turned out a pretty awesome, compassionate person with a good head on his shoulders. I wonder if they can ever admit that they are thankful that I have found a way for years to live my life on my own terms and follow my dreams and generally always consider myself happy and successful, loved and respected among my community? I wonder, above all, if they can ever, ever...look me in the eyes calmly and say they are sorry, and mean it.

Looking back now, I can't help but believe that my lack of care for my teeth as a teenager directly correlates to my parents lack of interest in my life, to their lack of support in all my endeavors, their lack of positive reinforcement for all I continually accomplished. It feels like it was my way of throwing my mother's constant guilt trips back in her own face, to become a mirror for all she no doubt secretly hated about herself. Bulimia, cutting and other forms of self harm are rarely about a desire to feel pain or destroy yourself, but a coping mechanism to deal with other forms of pain and abuse beyond one's control. When you feel silenced or powerless to alter your situation,  sometimes you find a way to control the one other thing that seems easier. Something that allows you to feel a momentary release of some kind when otherwise, you would feel nothing. Something that makes you feel like, "I don't know how to fix this, I don't know how to communicate, I don't know how to move forward, I don't know how to be happy, I don't know how to ever be good enough, to ever be sorry enough, but this...this is one thing, that I can do." So you do it. And after a while, you don't even know why you started. You don't know how to fix it. You don't know how to stop. And you certainly, don't know how to fucking tell anybody your secret. And even if close friends may occasionally hear you in the bathroom, ask you about your weight, notice a cut poking through out from under your shirt sleave, or maybe catch a brief glimpse and ask you about your matter how much you might dream of finding that connection that was missing and in all probability contributed to the creation of the problem in the first doesn't mean for a moment that you know how to utter a single word to talk about it to anyone.

Much of my years as a teenager, I felt nothing remotely resembling "love" or even interest or support from my parents. After my grandfather died when I was fifteen and they finally for the first time my whole life asked me if I wanted to live with them, I don't think I could have ever felt more disgusted than I did in that cowardly, decade overdue moment, where they walked me around by the lake for an hour before they could even mumble the words out. I, to this day, still do not believe that they remotely understand why I said "No." But as proud and content as I was to wish to remain with Ma, I could never deny the damage done to me on that day, and for the next eight years by their near total absence from my life all the way through until I graduated college and once again got yelled at by my mother for choosing not to walk across the stage. Similarly, they showed up at my high school graduation after barely talking to me for the past four years and if so, usually just to criticize my choice to be an artist, or talk about my cousin JR's art whenever I showed them mine. I could never understand how after years of silence they would show up with a video camera wanting to film me with my friend's whose names they didn't even know when they had barely even made an effort to actually get to know the real me.

When I think about it now, it feels like refusing to brush my teeth was the only way in my depressed mind that I subconsciously could feel closer to them. The less they were around, the less I brushed, until I really just stopped caring at all. Once I began to get a mouth filled with cavities by the time I hit college, I didn't know how to fix my smile again any more than I knew how to make my parents truly love me. And though Ma and my aunts and uncles always had, there was nonetheless always a divide in me somehow. Their support was never redundant, it was after all, all I had...but I spent the better part of my life trying to simply get my mother to CARE and find an unselfish, unconditional way to express it, that wasn't also served on a plate of guilt. I have waited my whole life to eat a happy, painless meal at their table, with all of us sharing nothing but gratitude for the moment. I have never, ever been granted this wish.


In Trinidad, California when my front tooth broke (#8) and my voice changed considerably, crying later than night on the beach in Pinar's arms, I died. The heavy, old skin I had been carrying around with me my whole life, I left back at the restaurant the day before, like an old sweatshirt on the back of the chair as the last words with my previous voice drifted outside to disintegrate, dancing with the ocean mist. The next week I felt a violence taking place to me unlike any I had ever felt before, my shattered Ego falling to pieces as the shards leapt from my body to rejoin the earth as we pedaled further and further toward the finish line. I knew not what would come next after we finally made it to San Francisco, but I knew that our lives would never be the same. I could feel strongly that change would be coming, that the road ahead would be harder than any hill or weather we would face on the California coast, and I knew that this time, that I would once again, be left to face my next battle without the luxury of a partner. The next challenge, the next chapter, of the year 2011, would be about how I finally found the courage to face myself. To forgive myself for the violence done to my body over the years, to love myself, regardless of what my mouth looked like, but also, to fix it, and be free of pain again, and to find the free and playful voice of my childhood, and smile and laugh again.

Derrick writes:
"I don't believe it would have been possible for me to undergo a meaningful death and rebirth had I been working a wage job. There would not have been time. No one expects a caterpillar to spin a cocoon, pop in for ten minutes, then emerge a butterfly...yet not many of us are willing or able to make the time necessary to begin asking the right questions about who we are, what we love, what we fear, and what we're doing to each other, much less, answering these questions, and much much less living them." 

As crazy as it may sound, I knew that Pinar and I needed two months of time away from our jobs and routines to actually face our demons together. We had planted several seeds over the past months and I knew they would only grow if watered by the mist of the ocean and caressed by the sun untainted by the smog of civilization. Somewhere, in the silence of thousand year old redwood forests, in rain and cold and wind in our faces up hills like we've never walked up, let alone biked up with 70 pounds of gear, we found our truths. We found a way to begin to face our bodies, to begin listening to them, to hear their cries when we punished them for five hours of exercise, to replenish them with solidarity meals of slow chewing, savoring every bite, however long it took, knowing that without which, we could simply not go on. We found a way back to ourselves, back to nature, back to listening when it was time to listen, trusting that we were on the right path. Trusting, that however long the journey might take us, that when it was all said and done, we would march boldly into the next, stronger and more in touch with ourselves and the Universe than we had ever been.

(Note: Though it is not my intention to speak for Pinar in any of the stories I write in here and they all of course share only my personal perspective, I hope that she will agree with me, wherever her path has taken her right now, courageously facing her next adventure. I hope that she knows that none of these words would exist without all of the time we spent together. I hope that she knows that I am with her...)

1 comment:

  1. "I have waited my whole life to eat a happy, painless meal at their table..."