The Things That Hold Me Down

I’m not above following a trend. I love superhero movies, quinoa and yoga. Sometimes, what works for almost everyone else will also work for me.

I bought the book. You know the one. That book your friends tell you changed their life. Written by Japanese organizer Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a guide to getting your house in order.

It was on sale. What can I say?

It’s an odd and interesting book. In it, she breaks the home down into categories rather than rooms. She explores the relationship one has with items by asking what, when held, sparks joy. If an item doesn’t spark joy (or serve a need) then you discard it with thanks for what it has done.

I’m not big on the woo. I don’t think my possessions have feelings or that they care if I leave them in a drawer or out to breathe. That said, I wouldn’t have bought the book if I wasn’t feeling weighed down by my stuff.

old-books-stacked-1391968605amg

I may have a lot of these…

I fell in love with stuff the hard way. I moved a whole slew of times. Once I had to leave with just a few bags of belongings. I had little comfort from home, so I built home out of twenty-five cent, second hand novels and piles of hand sewn doll clothes. My mind flies off and the piles weigh me back to earth. I don’t like some things – I like all the things.

Or rather, I don’t know if I like all the things. It struck me earlier this year that I haven’t a solid idea of who I am. I know what I think, but I don’t know what I like. I posit that this comes from living my childhood in survival mode. When presented with options, I generally chose the one that was safest, that was least likely to create problems. I wore what would draw the least attention to me. I read what the pastor approved. I collected the items that little girls should collect, if they want their mothers to look at them fondly. Many of my interests were determined by proximity, availability and expectation. I had no style of my own. I didn’t have a favourite colour, favourite flower or a favourite animal that hadn’t been picked for me by someone else (or that I’d chosen because everyone else had one, so I felt the need to have one too.)

1024px-Pingviner_i_Antarktis_Penguins_in_Antarctica,_1910-1912_(7635391900)

Sorry guys.

It was the realization that I didn’t actually like penguins that shook me the most. I had dozens of them – stuffed, ceramic and plastic. I chose penguins because I’d done a project on them in the third grade and at least I knew something about them. No one should realize, in their late thirties, that they are lying to themselves about liking water fowl. I was determined to figure out which animal I actually liked the best. I spent a long time sorting through them before I realized that I really like pigeons. They can fly. They live in the city. They’re scrappy. They glisten purple in the sun and look like pompoms when they pull their heads in to sleep. I like pigeons.

It was a big deal.

Next I figured out my favourite colour. Grey. (I know. Not actually a colour, but I like it the best.)

I’m still working on my favourite flower. I’ll keep you posted.

13183-a-norwegian-woman-in-peasant-costume-pv

This outfit I kinda like.

The point of all this is that without a solid sense of what I liked, I just got a bit of everything. My closet looked like a rummage sale – the cast-offs of dozens of different folks crammed together in one space. My books were a veritable library of topics and styles, not because my tastes are that diverse, but because I had no idea what my tastes were.

Sorting the first category, clothes, was a frustrating and boring task. I held each item and asked if it brought me joy (a troubling question for a depressive.) In the end, I was surprised to learn that skirts, stripes and scarves bring me joy. I had no idea. I was upset to realize that I had never asked myself what I liked to wear. I had never given myself permission to discern what made me happy.

Next onto books. I used the GoodReads app to track my reactions to the books I’d read. Again, I was surprised. The books I liked best were action/adventure books. Sure I had loved Jules Verne, John Wyndham and HG Wells growing up, along with LM Montgomery and Judy Blume, but I had assumed it was because I like the classics. What I really liked was the rush, the thrill of pirates and devils and monsters and scoundrels and orphans.

Soon I had a dozen garbage bags of clothes and hundreds of books stacked in my living room, ready to go. I was overwhelmed.

I know I am not the only adult to realize that survival made my decisions for me. My personality was determined by necessity. Still, in that necessity, something was lost. My whole life, I’ve been struggling against my own personality, wearing it like an ill-fitting suit. I used to wonder who I would be, if I hadn’t experienced so much frustrating brutality and misunderstanding. Perhaps, by discarding everything but the items that bring me something – even if I cannot call it joy – I will find out.

 

Smile

I usually don’t post two poems, one after another. I try to write something of substance in between. But I am tired after the verdict today and so I am sharing a poem I wrote about our smiles, by way of proxy for our whole bodies. It speaks to how we are trained to behave in specific ways, then punished for those same actions. This poem owes a debt to the song Smile, by Charlie Chaplin. The way he treated women is not lost on me, and also informs this poem. this poem is meant to be read aloud. I was planning to save it for a slam. Instead I am sharing it here. It was tonally designed to be performed, so please forgive it’s visual clunkiness.


Smile

xb7tg8nmcdx57zxprll0.jpgSmile though your heart is aching

“Hey
Hey you
With the hair
What you got
Under there?
Come on
Baby girl
You like when I stare

Smile for me
The kind of sort
Who likes ’em round
And likes ’em short
But only if they
Smile nice
You know I’m not
Gonna ask you twice”

Smile even though it’s breaking

Breaking
This autonomy
Lost to men
Who don’t know me

“No”
I’m blunt

“Fuck you, you cunt”
He moves in close
Like nose to nose

My smile is not a gift I give
My toll to live
Unscathed
It says
I’m ready to erase
Replace
You paint the canvas of my face

“Smile”

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

Smile
Little girl
Smile when he stands
Smile when it lands
Smile at his hands
Smile for your man

If you smile through your pain and sorrow

“Ma’am?”
She shows a picture
Shows a fiction
Shows a fixture
When somebody shouted cheese
When you did the thing we all do
And you smiled
Just to please

“If he hurt you like you say
How’d you smile the next day?
Is this a game you like to play?”

Smile and maybe tomorrow

So you leave
The camera clicks
You duck your head
You count to six
You call it up
The memory
Muscles trained since puberty

You flash a smile
On your lips
It doesn’t reach your eyes

“Smile”
Someone cries

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just –


 

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.