A Girl Dreaming
When I was little, I lived in an environment in which tears were not well accepted; more often than not, they were seen as proof that I was selfishly “seeking attention” or creating drama. As an adult, I was once in a relationship in which sentimentality and femininity were not highly regarded. Indeed, more often than not, femininity was subtly belittled through sarcastic and/or patronizing remarks, ultimately reinforcing the idea that the equation sentimentality + femininity equaled weakness. If one wanted to be respected, she needed to be logical all the time. If one wanted to be strong, she needed to pick herself up and carry on; doing so was the only way to match the intelligence and strength of a male.
While writing has, thankfully, always been accepted, both in my childhood and within my relationships, dreaming has been seen as a frivolous activity with no basis in reality; in fact, dreaming was proof you were a girl and girls were clearly less intelligent, less strong, less than males. While I’ve typically chosen to overcome these philosophies by keeping my dreams quiet until I turn them into realities, the truth of the matter is, I find myself struggling to keep from indulging things like daydreaming or wishful thinking. Sometimes, I struggle to keep memories at bay. Sometimes, I find myself trapped in a whirlwind of sentimentality. Every now and then, I’ll pass through seasons of intense reflection, where I just want to freeze time for a minute so that I can remember things, places, people of my past because the present is just too much to handle. And then sometimes… sometimes I’ll be sitting alone and start crying for absolutely no reason a’tall. It’s not that I try to feel all these “girlish, feminine” ideas… it just happens. I’ll hear a certain song on the radio, as I did today, and my heart will turn to mush. I’ll read an article online, like the one I read yesterday, and instantly be transported to another place and time—sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. There are certain smells that turn this smart, independent woman into a veritable pool of emotional sappiness. There are certain sights, like that of a butterfly or a particular flower, that captures me, freezes me where I am. It’s not particularly strong, but it happens nonetheless. I’ve been known to try and stop it in its tracks—I’ll pull my mind back to the present, force myself to put it in a box. After all, I certainly don’t want my intellect or overall worthiness questioned. I don’t want to be seen as a meek flower; I’d rather be seen as a capable woman. Engaging in such frivolity as sentimental emotions certainly doesn’t help this image; it takes concentrated effort to prove I can handle myself.
But every once in a while, I don’t fight it. Every once in a while, I indulge the period of reflection, allow myself to fully construct a daydream; to pretend, just for a little while; to remember, just because. I almost always feel a need to explain why, to offer justifications for failing to be as superior as those who keep their feet firmly planted on the ground all the time. But sometimes…. sometimes, I’m too tired to explain. On these occasions, I just wrap my arms around my furry pillow named Lambie and indulge whatever emotional, fanciful, illogical thought or memory that comes my way. And, when I “wake up”, am pulled back to reality, I miss the dream. Because I am a girl, after all.
Normally, I’d never be so masochistic as to confess feeling at all sentimental or emotional; voluntarily putting myself through the requisite litany of patronizing remarks sure to come at the first hint of femininity is not something I would ever usually do. Except that yesterday, the girls and I went to the science museum. While there, we spied a cage that had a single white bird in it. The girls were excited but it instantly turned my heart to mush as visions of my character Maelea danced in my mind. I stared at that white bird, and the cage, thinking of my story’s final scene and feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Maelea was eleven-years-old and entirely too strong. Even at the end of the book, she was unable to make any decision that would force her to confront great emotion. Instead, she passed through each day, giving up one dream after another in lieu of survival. Maelea’s strong. But she’s not happy. Seeing the bird in the cage reminded me that I do not want my girls to learn strength as much as I want them to learn joy. And in order to find joy, you have to find peace with who you really are and learn that it really doesn’t matter if you’re strong or weak, sentimental or logical, young or old, male or female: regardless of those variables, you must dream.
One of the things that left me drowning in emotion was a photojournalistic project I read about online. The photographer wanted the world to understand that the effects of sexual assault last long after the assault itself is over. She wanted to show that anyone can be affected by sexual abuse and that it scars them for life. She took survivors of sexual assault and photographed them amidst stark backgrounds. By the time I scrolled down to image four, I was crying. At image six, I clicked away from the site, my heart hurting and remembering. The images weren’t graphic—they were portraits. Had I not read the story and understood the purpose behind them, I would have known by the expressions that something happened to the people, but I would not have known what and it probably wouldn’t have left me in tears. As it was, though, I saw more than portraits. I saw the scars in the way several of the women held themselves. I saw the scar in the eyes of the man. Physical characteristics they can’t alter. And I wondered…. if it were my picture there, where would my scar appear? The answer: in the way my hands are always curled into loose fists; in the head that looks at the ground. Unconscious behaviors I never think about…. but that are there, nonetheless. I went about my day but could not forget the project. I eventually went back, viewed all the photographs and mourned for the fear those people endured, whether it was when they were children or adults. I stared at one of the photographs in particular for a long time, my heart hurting. As I stared at it, the thought occurred to me: how did they survive? That reminded me of how I survived: God’s grace and the written word. The written word is… a dream.
I survived by dreaming. I dreamed up friends, I dreamed up happily-ever-afters. I dreamed up entire worlds in which people laughed, and loved; suffered, and healed. Not only did I dream, though, but God has allowed those dreams to take root and bloom. Another book released, the best sales month I have ever had, e-mails from strangers sitting in the “Readers” folder of my e-mail accounts, checks from bookstores and re-sellers. It’s not just a dream anymore, it’s a reality that supports our lives everyday. Feminine or not, strong or weak, writing is a gift God blessed my life with. More importantly, it’s a gift by which He delivered healing.
The joyful moments of my life, the special people who have enriched it, these are treasures, the memories of which can stir me and carry me through. There are a couple of teachers who changed my life by breaking through enough barriers to convince me they cared. Remembering the warmth of a hug during a time of need isn’t pointless; it reminds me that I have been cared for. Listening to a special song fifteen times on repeat isn’t pointless if it makes me feel pretty or special because feeling pretty and special can give me an added boost of confidence. Crying over photographs of strangers isn’t “proof” I’m “living in the past” if it helps me believe I can be understood.
Christmas is upon us and it is a time of remembrance. A long, long time ago, a tiny baby boy was born of a young girl. The baby’s birth wasn’t welcomed in with a crowd of family; not even a doctor was in attendance. Still, wise men came; gave Him gifts. The baby boy grew into a carpenter; for three years, He traveled, speaking to groups about Heaven and God. He was passionate about what He believed; once, He overturned tables because people were disrespecting His Father. Compassion filled His bones; He sought out the poor, the sick, the “bad.” Ultimately, He was betrayed, arrested, tortured and hung on a cross. While He was dying, my name was written on His heart. All the wrongs I have done, combined with the wrongs of everyone else who has ever lived, combined to separate Him for the first time from God, who cannot be in the presence of sin, even when it was His innocent Son bearing the weight. Christmas is remembering how great the emotion He felt must have been for Jesus to ask God to forgive those who mocked and persecuted and ultimately were to kill Him. Christmas is remembering how Jesus died, fearful that His Father had “forsaken” Him. Christmas is remembering that Jesus was truly, truly dead when He was taken off the cross and laid in a grave purchased from pity. Christmas is remembering that, three days later, the stone was rolled away and His body wasn’t there: He has risen! While that chain of events is not happening now, remembering it makes me joyful. Remembering that He is alive and well and still interceding on our behalf to God, makes me feel humbled and cherished. It makes my heart first constrict with pain and sorrow, then swell with pride and joy. Christmas is remembering what love is, so that we can live tomorrow with grace and hope. The heart of the matter is that Christmas involves the most powerful story ever to be told—mainly because it was real. A story that makes us feel.
That’s what emotion is: feeling. If you don’t feel anything, you’re numbed. Desensitized. If you never give into the urge to be silly or spontaneous, your joy is limited. If you never allow yourself to cry freely then, in essence, you reject the chance to know true comfort. If you never remember your past, then you have no blueprint for tomorrow. If you never allow yourself to dream of the impossible, your successes will be mediocre. See, the worst and the greatest events of life are also the most emotional. If you reject strong emotion too often, you could find yourself on the sad end of being a numbed passerby to life.
Instead of trying to curb it, I’m going to drink in a night of memories and emotion. I might cry or laugh; maybe drown in the warmth of days already passed; fall asleep listening for the twentieth time to the song that makes me feel feminine and pretty. And when the day breaks and I roll myself out of the bed, I’ll be excited for the chance to create even new memories.