So. I’m trying to remember a time when I felt more connected than I do now, and I must admit that was probably a time when I felt least aware of opposition, or least aware of reality. When I didn’t really know how the world worked, how finances worked, how politics and oppression worked, I suppose I had a more or less naive outlook on things. When you’re a kid, you don’t know that certain things are impossible, so you believe you can do anything. Well, on some level…some kids know from the beginning there are certain things not available to them, but still, they jump from rooftops and slide down steep hills because they are convinced of their immortality. That’s an immutable law of youth, I think. When I didn’t understand the politics behind how I got my college scholarship money, I just assumed it would be there. It didn’t occur to me not to ask, nay DEMAND, it to be awarded. There was a lot of dirty water under that bridge, but I didn’t know enough to look down, and presumed the bridge would hold. Naivete’ is a gift at times.
When I felt connected, I guess I felt like I was at the top of my game, at the top of the world. The disconnect started when I felt like the world began telling me no. When I began to see the greater progress of others, but couldn’t seem to get my own canoe off the sand bar. Many years ago, I started to feel that it shouldn’t be this hard, everything shouldn’t be a battle. But it was. Or at least, I felt that it was. And so connection was a consequence of winning, I think. When I felt successful, I felt connected. The world was my oyster and all that happy stuff. But somewhere deep inside, I didn’t quite buy that, and over time, I became convinced there was no pearl in my oyster, that it was all a hoax. Success was a consequence of a privileged life, where one had certain advantages like wealth, beauty, brains, family name. Since I didn’t believe I had any of those attributes, it seemed as though life was just something you survived, something you endured, something you managed to just get through. It never occurred to me that joy, or happiness, was a measure of life, that quality of life could be intentionally varied.
That sounds very bizarre to me even now, but I suppose the point is…I think some of us feel so disempowered, so disconnected from power, that your circumstances are just something that happen to you, not for you. My proverbial “station of life” was not going to change unless I was very exceptional, and when I believed that I was exceptional for a time, I presumed that I would transcend the circumstances into which I was born. The period when I believed that I was exceptional was marked by … family stability, obvious and more or less unconditional family support, family security, a feeling that all was well, that I was well, that no monsters were sharpening their claws under the bed. There were monsters, for sure, but they were not under MY bed and they were likely asleep with full bellies if they were. The monsters didn’t come to be an issue for me until a long time later, but they made up for lost time then. But that’s another story, one of many.
Anyhow, when I began feeling that I really did have limitations, really couldn’t do whatever I set out to do, was a true cross-roads of reality vs. fantasy. OK, I have discussed previously wanting to be a roller derby star, but I could not skate. Those were the days before roller blades and inline skates, but no matter – I had the balance of a Weeble. I never could learn, but…still I kept the dream alive. I figured one of the strong figures I was so enamored of, my roller derby heros, would be able to teach me. Would take me under her strong wing and be very patient and teach me. Then it would be me zooming around the banked track, elbowing other skaters, racing in a blur past still others to SCORE! And the crowd goes WILD!
I realize that fantasy is not so deviant from those of other kids, who dream of being rap stars, or professional athletes, or movie stars. But I thought I was just a weirdo. There was something in me that knew I couldn’t do that stuff. I didn’t know any other kids, girls especially, who wanted to be roller derby queens. My mother thought most of my fantasies were ridiculous and stupid. Come to think of it, I didn’t really know many other kids at all. There was a separation…I didn’t have siblings…I lived mostly in a world of adults. I’m not sure I understood that I wasn’t an adult – somebody had to be the adult in my house, and it was frequently me. I got into all kinds of trouble, incurring my mother’s displeasure, when I thought I was just participating in conversations with adults and it was seen as being sassy, or not knowing my place, somehow disrespectful. Seemed like it was acceptable in my house, survival-oriented even, but outside the house I was somehow expected to understand that children didn’t do what I did. That was confusing. No, that was effed up.
I didn’t go to the school most of the other kids in the neighborhood went to – I went to private school from 6th grade on, and so I was “all that”. There were problems at the school as well, because this was the first blush of being in a racially integrated environment, and I was massively insecure there. So, whether at school or in my neighborhood, I always felt that I was somehow outside, looking in, not getting it. I didn’t know the latest dance (I really am not a good dancer, nor does it interest me). I didn’t run well, and was kind of a klutz. I thought throwing balls and making baskets was fine, but I was fine staying inside and reading books and watching television. It was my mother who sometimes physically tossed me out of the house and told me to go and play. I didn’t quite understand what that meant, actually, but there was usually some nice kid who would hit me in the head with the ball they were throwing and scream “CATCH IT, STUPID!”. So I learned. Kind of. Mostly, I learned that you faked it when you didn’t have a clue, and there were just some kids who always knew what to do, and what the rules were, and I wasn’t part of that group. So, I faked a lot of stuff, and if anyone was the wiser, I just pretended not to notice and fronted with belligerence when I had to. That pattern has persisted, even today., although in my adulthood I try very hard to not be a fake. But, in a pinch…well, sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
So, once I started to swim in a bigger pool, I felt more and more like a little fish. Getting a daily dose of failure, of creed that proclaimed me not much of anything, always going to be a failure, will never amount to anything…and that wasn’t coming from the Church. The chasm between me and the rest of the “normal” world seemed to widen every day. Once I had begun to half-separate from the neighborhood because of the school I attended, I realized that I was already half-separated at the school as well, courtesy of race and class. There were seven Black girls in a class of 64, and five of those seven were the daughters of doctors, dentists, lawyers. Not school teachers. The white girls were daughters of mayors, lawyers, society families. Literally uptown girls. I began to feel very different from, and definitely less than, everybody else.
That was a time of feeling extremely disconnected. Confused. Not right. It was definitely not a time when I felt successful, or secure. That pretty much continues all through high school, as my family situation became even more fragile, and unstable. College wasn’t all that much better in terms of feeling connected, and successful…in fact, that was probably the lowest point of the disconnect. I realized how much of a fraud I actually was, as I failed calculus and computer science quick, fast, and in a hurry. I also failed French, but she was a beyotch, and I had started drinking to deal with her and everything else that was wrong in my world. Self-medication is a time honored tradition for people who know something’s wrong but don’t know what, and don’t know how to figure it out. The world was a big, scary place so let’s just sit on the quad and have another drink where it’s safe and there are no deadlines or rules or demands. Just have fun. Don’t bogart that joint, pass the bottle, and don’t be a downer.
Good times. Yeah. How better to escape reality than making your own? But when the sun comes up on the day after graduation, and everybody has gone back to their respective corners of the country, you’re all alone and you’ve got to deal. So…all of a sudden you’re back in the real world, the one where you are supposed to know how to be responsible and work and all that. And there’s no campus security to bail your ass out of jail if you get arrested (fortunately, I never did but remember that some of my student activity fees each semester were for bail bond service) or academic counselor to tell you how to drop classes before the F hits your record. It’s not cute to be a screw-up anymore…so…it’s only life. And you realize why your parents have that hollow look on their faces most days, because now you have it, too. And you realize what there is to do, and…there’s that obligation thing again…so you just do it. Where I came from, there wasn’t really anybody talking about dreams at that point, or asking whether you were happy. The only positive reinforcement was garnered by going to work every day, on time, and doing what they told you to do. Doing it well, one would hope. Slow and steady wins the race. That’s working class mentality. That’s where I come from, that’s what they came from, and I did what they did. It didn’t occur to me that I could do anything else. Something else was for people way more special than me, so…just remember to set the alarm so you can get to work on time.
At the present moment, right here, right now, I have to say that I feel a bit disconnected from quite a number of things, but I am thinking those are just things, circumstances, maybe even certain people. I just had an experience where I went to a social media group, whose members identify racially as I do, to contemplate an issue in the news that involves a public figure, who also identifies as we all do. I disagree entirely with this person, but wanted to discuss how to remain true to my childhood values, requiring me to not speak ill of other people like me, at least not in public, but rather to accept them as kindred spirits in the struggle. Or something like that. The group, however, refused to post my comments, saying that because the public figure referenced had certain viewpoints that were damaging to the community, and they did not want to cause any further harm to members. I respect their right to make that decision, but I was seeking dialogue about how to navigate the complex terrain of internalized racism, celebrity privilege, and general bad behavior. I don’t have any ill will over the decision to not post my comments, but…felt like once again, I didn’t get it. I was on another beam entirely, not seeing things in the way the majority of the group did, and vice versa. This is really typical of my experience of feeling disconnected. I don’t feel disconnected from my original sentiments, as expressed in my submitted comments, but I do feel very disconnected from the group. That’s becoming less and less an issue these days, though. They don’t owe it to me to understand me, and I don’t owe them…anything. It doesn’t help the feelings of aloneness, though, and that’s why it’s a … thing. So be it. I no longer feel the need to change my perspective in order to fit in somewhere, and thankfully, I no longer associate fitting in with acceptance, approval, or connection.
The point of feeling connected, I suppose, is to feel connected within oneself. In the example above, I maintain a sense of internal connectivity, despite feeling a bit of disappointment about not connecting with a group. I know what my comments meant, and I feel they remain valid. No matter what the group thinks. I feel whole, sane, together. Connected.
There have been times in my past when I was not connected internally, when quite literally, I did not have my shit together. I was a bunch of spaghetti strands, all over the place in the water at the bottom of the pot, and when tossed against the wall, none of them stuck. not al dente, not done. I wasn’t done, I did not really know who I was, and there was no predictability in what I might say or do. This is the point at which I did not trust myself, not a bit. I think it’s gotten better, although I am still very much a work in progress. I can now point to a series of patterns, some of which I’ve gained enough insight to explain. That gives me some confidence in myself as an intentional being, a rational being, rather than some formless and chaotic association of random molecules.
That is exactly how I felt for quite some time, like I was more or less an accidental collection of odds and ends that somehow came together. I did not know who I was, but thought I did. I put up a good front, talked a good game. I can still talk a good game in a pinch, when I’m faking it, because some habits are really hard to break. I would hope that periods of time between those incidents are becoming longer and longer, and that I have begun to have more than a few instances of authenticity. When I talk a good game on the more connected days, it’s not a game – I’m saying what I intended to say, what I needed to say. Authenticity means risk, and vulnerability, though, and some days, truth be told, I’m just not that brave. I’m not up to it and fall back on my default bluster. I can live with that.