Things I know

Lists are my safe place. In two weeks I turn 34, and I am thinking about my life, each chapter, the pages rustling in the wind.

There are two types of people, internal and external organizers. Those who organize internally can have a messy room but know where everything is. They can go quiet and think through a solution to a problem. They can go inside themselves and see clearly what is there. I marvel at these people.

External organizers, like me, must witness with their own senses to make sense of reality. My room is tidy so that I can find things. My stories are written in journals and told to friends so that I can understand my own thoughts. I sometimes talk to myself out loud. Inside myself is a dark place, a room with no lights. I bump my knees. I fall. I avoid going in there. I’m scared.

I stand at the door and use a long stick with a hook to draw things out of the room one by one. I lay them out and dust them off and look at them. My thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs, my desires. My senses land on them as I handle them, moving them back and forth between my inner and outer worlds. This transitional phase is when I can connect with them, with myself. I form a feedback loop of seeing and being seen. I then move everything back into the room, but now I know what’s in there.

Until the next time when I find I’ve forgotten, or things have shuffled around, or there’s been an earthquake and everything has moved, though the items themselves are often the same.

A list is the most structured, most safe thing in the world. A strong container that can hold anything you want to put it in it. Anything at all.

These are the things I, a 33 year old, on this day in April in Shenzhen, China, know:

  1. I am for the first time in my adult life prioritizing my own personal goals and passion projects over career goals. And I love it. I may not ever be a career oriented person again. This is genuinely spoiling me for the pursuits of capitalism.
  2. Learning a language is incredibly rewarding. I feel at once as though I am in a virtuous spiral that will never end and also that I am doomed to be a beginner forever and will never become fluent. But, I felt this way learning ASL, and I did learn it, eventually, so I know I can do this. What would it be like to learn another language after Chinese? What bold thoughts. What language would it be? I already have my answer. Spanish — of course.
  3. I am for the first time in my life taking responsibility for my own happiness rather than relying on someone else to give it to me. First, my caregivers, then, my relationship partners, and now, finally, me. I feel as though I’ve had free tickets to my own life in my pocket for the last 30 years and am just now cashing them in.
  4. I can do whatever I want. I can do (say it with me) whatever I want. Thank you to my parents for giving me life, what a gift, now mine to use however I want. For the longest time I felt I was leasing my life, making sure to follow the rules and do what was expected, not straying too far, playing it safe. I finally feel like I fully own my life. It is mine. I can do whatever I want with it.
  5. I identify with earnestness. I am forthright to a fault. I will absolutely tell you how I’m feeling. I am more likely to overcommunicate than undercommunicate, and more likely to regret the things I’ve done than the things I was too scared to do.
  6. I’m a do-er. I do things. I hate feeling helpless, and I will err on the side of being proactive, even rash, rather than sitting and waiting idly for fate to decide. I get myself in trouble sometimes with this approach, and I often find myself pleading with myself to cool my own heels.
  7. I am stubborn. Self-control, determination, and will power are fun party drugs to me. I like to feel in control, powerful, settled. So it’s no wonder that the things that can sometimes trip that wire, that pull me off my center (food, relationship issues, insomnia) are my biggest struggles in life.
  8. Short term relationships have no less value to me than long term relationships, and I will absolutely allow myself to invest fully in an experience without fear or regard for the heartache that will surely come at the end. This is perhaps my proudest girl scout merit badge. A friend once told me relationship love is like a band-aid, it’s only sticky the first time, then it doesn’t stick so well. She’d had her ups and downs with her husband but she made it work, vowing never to say the “D-word”. In comparison, my band aid surely has no sticking power left at all. It’s just that, I don’t see it that way. I’ve had the chance to be in love so many times, to experience different types of love with different types of people, and a chance to find my strongest center and stand on my own two feet. I may never settle down with someone (though who knows), and I am (surprisingly, to my younger self) so at peace (even excitement) with that.
  9. I firmly believe that life gets better and better. Every hour on this planet is a gradual process of learning and growth. As my life experience accumulates I figure out myself, my relationship with myself and others, my relationship with the word. I used to be so afraid of “getting old”, but now I realize, though the outside world values you less and less, inside, my experience gets richer and richer. I think coming from a background of adverse childhood experiences helps with this process. There are few rosy childhood experiences to look back on. Coming out of the dark place of childhood and into the light of adulthood and independence has been an exoneration of the spirit for me, and I am nothing but grateful.
  10. And, finally, I’ve come to realize there is no savior for my problems. I wanted someone to fix my knee, or tell me exactly what to do to get better. The physical therapist, the surgeon, the trainer, the massage therapist, in the end no one could help me. I recently messaged yet another person claiming to help with chronic pain online, but this time, when he said “how can I help you?”, it gave me pause. I replied “I don’t know, honestly. I think I need to take responsibility for fixing this myself.” Two years into this, I have enough data. I know which muscles need to get stronger, more connected. I know which joints are misaligned, and the basic principles of how to start addressing that. There’s no amount of money I can give to make this better. It’s down to me, down to my daily dedication and effort. The same goes for learning Chinese, becoming a better friend, teacher, interpreter, lover, relationship partner, and human being in the world. There is no magic pill. I have been alive long enough now to know what needs worked on, and I alone have the power to do it.

Ahh, nothing like a good list. Much better.

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