Happy Birthday, Maya

maya-angelou-hires-cropped

Maya Angelou

When I was 9 years old, my dad took me to Bookmans Flagstaff, AZ, the one whose roof caved in that one winter because of the heavy snowfall. It was my favorite place to hang out as a kid, a close second to the library at Christensen Elementary. My librarians used to let me relax in the big windows during lunch time, even though they didn’t have to. I remember writing stories when I was in head-start at Siler Homes, when I hit first grade, but it wasn’t until I heard a poem read by my third grade student teacher that I realized a real thirst for poetry. Mz. Mac, long black hair, piercings, chains hanging off her well-put-together-teacherly belt loops, and the best handwriting I had ever seen, the aura that I was admiring as queer before that word made sense to me, Mz. Mac read from a compilation poetry book, and I knew something was being born inside of me.

My dad took me to Bookmans that weekend and as he sat talking to the video game dudes in the corner, I browsed sections I had never realized existed before. When I found the poetry section mixed in with the rest of the adult books, it all seemed so much bigger than I expected. I grabbed a step stool and read the names of writers I had never heard of. Where do it start?! How can I tell what one book is going to be about?! What even IS poetry?! I could taste it. An employee walked by me and asked if he could help me out with finding a book. I told him, “I’m looking for a poetry book but I don’t know who to choose.” He said, “Here, try this one. Let’s start with the A’s, and if you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll find you another. She’s one of the best poets around.” He handed me Maya Angelou’s Complete Collected Poems. He didn’t redirect me to the children’s section, he didn’t ask me how old I was. He just helped me out with a book in the section I was looking through. I am forever grateful to you, Bookmans employee.  Our interaction was a piece of the puzzle that is my life. I hopped off the stool and told my dad I was ready to go. I read the entire book on the drive home. Then I read it two more times when I got there.
19 years later, I’ve read it hundreds of times. So much in fact, that people have gifted me with numerous other copies because my original is so tattered and wrecked. After this exposure, I couldn’t get enough poetry, so I bought more of her books, checked them out at the Downtown Library, found more poets, all because of Maya.
I celebrate Maya Angelou today and everyday. I am reminded of the power of words. I am inspired by her entire life story, her strength, her love, her deep connection to humanity, her honesty. Maya Angelou was a poet, singer, actor, performer, director, sex worker, civil rights activist. Every part of her existence has shaped her writing and remembered brilliance, and it’s a shame to ignore any of it. She has molded me in many ways as a writer, and as a person. When I read her work, I am instantly taken back to being 9 years old, I am instantly reminded to live in the present. I am forever growing.
And I can honestly say I owe in large part, to a woman I never met, but influenced the way my pencil touched a paper, my undying love for poetry and the written word, to her.
Thank you.
-a story, a freewrite
maya me

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, my first love

La Virgen de los Sueños

If reality is my cathedral, then dreams are my sanctuary.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – San Mateo Marian Procession Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Aranzazu San Mateo, Rizal October 6, 2007

I was sleeping on the side of the road, right next to the train tracks. It’s the space where I lived but I’m not sure for how long. Maybe it was 100 years, maybe it was a new space to me. All I knew is I was freezing. You buried me in dirt up to my neck. I could smell the ground, frosted, metallic, harsh. I stayed there for what seemed like days, I could feel the sun rise and set, but my eyes were closed for each coming and going.

My children were around me the entire time. I had four little ones running around me while I was buried in the earth, all of them about three years old. Another, the youngest one only spent three months in my womb before I had to give birth to the stillborn. I made the baby a small wooden bed, and wrapped them in lots of cloth. Another, who spent six months in my womb before I had to give the dead birth, also had a small wooden bed, each of them adorned with jewels. Neither of them breathed, they didn’t move, they didn’t grow, they didn’t decay, nor did they decompose. They were still in life and in form, forever trapped in their small bodies. I knew I had to keep them safe no matter what, breathing or not, and no one bothered me. Until you came to bury me.

After days passed, you lifted me out of the ground. I needed to return to earth to become strong again. The planks I was intentionally buried on top of gave me the form of La Virgen.

Carnaval Mazatlán Mexico

Carnaval Mazatlán Mexico

We went to a broken / run down lab on the top floor of a tall white building, the florescent lights flickering on and off, tinging, creating a high pitched clicking sound. The entire place was filled with people I knew, but faces I could not recognize. There were thousands of them, on every floor, looking out the windows at the black and white sun, sitting in corners, just sitting. How did I know all of them? Had I known them from past lives? Had we just met? A person who was actually a million year old star came up and talked to me without moving their mouth. They told me all these people were my children. I could no longer sleep in the earth, they needed my help.

Every few minutes someone knocked on the door to the top floor and one of my children would answer the door. I never saw the person on the other side of the door, but the child would always say, “No, they don’t live here,” and would be handed a small orange slip of paper where they would discard it on a pile of thousands of other orange discarded slips.

Then, I remember being able to walk again. I broke off of the plank and started breaking all the flickering lights. The star person used their light inside of them to create soft light in every room of the building. And then the building became a school. And the school became home to the live children and the dead ones.

Then I woke up.

Templo San Francisco, Tepotzotlan Estado de Mexico.

Templo San Francisco, Tepotzotlan Estado de Mexico.

I used to keep a dream journal when I was younger. I stopped though I’m not sure why. I figured I’d start again and share my dreams. I don’t know much about dream interpretation, and how can you really know, am I right? I do love the imagery our brains have the capacity to create.

A few facts about my dreams:
-I almost never dream in color. Sometimes a color will make a guest appearance. Like in this dream, the orange slip was the only color present. Everything else is always in black and grey scale.
-It’s very rare I see people’s mouths move to talk with me in my dreams. Usually it’s a “thought” sort of manifesting in words. When the star person was talking to me without moving their mouth, that is usually how everyone talks to me in my dreams, and how I talk with other people / things.
-I can lucid dream, I’ve been able to since I was a child. Sometimes I can think about what I want to dream about during the day and when I finally fall asleep, I ask myself to dream those things and it grows into a deeper interpretation of it all. In the general sense of the term, I know I am dreaming most of the time and can control a lot of what happens.
-I have been able to astral project / have out of body experiences, though I prefer not to if I can help it. I feel scared when I do this, usually because I don’t choose to do it.
-I have very intense sleep paralysis and if I do not do things to counteract it, it happens at least once a night.
-I have reoccurring dreams. One of the strangest things to me, is that sometimes I can recreate new avenues within the dream. There is a dream I used to have weekly as a kid, and it would always end the same way. One day I tried to take a new route, to choose to stop doing a thing, or walk a different direction, and the world of my dream allowed me to do it. Then I tried it another way. The rest of the dream was the exact same, but the world literally grew around me, or existed and I was just accessing it. I still don’t understand this thing.
-I believe dreams hold power.

I will post dreams as often as I have them and can remember to post. I want to document these things, I don’t hear enough about everyone else’s dream states. Let’s share.

Disrupting Paranoia

The following includes emotionally sensitive content for anyone else who may experience intense paranoia. I do not claim to be a health care provider nor do I have any medical expertise.

cw: sexual abuse, physical abuse.

johnkeen

Stress / paranoia monster drawn on a sticky note by John Keen. Keen is inspired by childhood nightmares, literature, & folklore.

I’m sitting in a cafe at an hour I wouldn’t usually be awake, maybe it’s 6 in the morning, maybe it’s 11 at night.

I never wear headphones while walking in public. I try and keep my hands free of carrying too many objects. I sit with my back up against walls so I can see everything around me.

I get off of work at 8 p.m., one night I may sit at the bar and have a glass of wine before going home, one night I might go straight home holding my keys between my fingers the entire way there, one night I might go to Walmart and walk around with my hands in my pockets, my keys still laced between my fingers. Just in case someone has memorized my work schedule, just in case someone saw me getting into my car, I drive for 40 more minutes in random directions before pulling into my driveway.

I check and double check that my doors are locked, that my windows are locked, that my closets and showers and cabinets are void of anybody. I hear voices and sounds downstairs. I hear clicks, I hear knocks. I get up out of bed and check the doors just one more time. I have paranoid personality disorder.

john393

John Keen, creating works that feel bigger than I am, creating images that speak to my fears yet comfort me at the same time.

A clinical definition of paranoia is:
“Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there) they might have what is called delusional disorder. Because only thoughts are impacted, a person with delusional disorder can usually work and function in everyday life, however, their lives may be limited and isolated.”

Some of my earliest memories of being a paranoid child were often times brushed off as me being a wallflower or an introvert. When other kids would jump right into playing a game or running off into the wild with blatant disregard, I chose to stay back for a moment, collecting thoughts and images, essentially taking inventory of my surroundings. I wouldn’t jump into something too fast, I always contemplated my safety, my well-being, my survival first. This isn’t to say I didn’t have fun as a child, I definitely did. Though my disposition well-outweighed my years. My parents were always complimented on how “polite” and “grown-up” I was, even at the ripe young age of 5. I was always complimented on my ability to hold conversations with adults, on my capacity to listen, on my intelligence. Essentially on how well-behaved I was. I’m not sure I was as well-behaved as I remember strangers telling me, as much as I was watching the way their hands moved, as much as I was listening to intonation in their voices, as much as I was aware of the where I was in proximity to someone safe, or a safe getaway. When I look back now, much of this quiet demeanor as a kid was my paranoia and my response to a world that terrified me.

I am very similar to this child today. I intake my surroundings like my life depends on it, and it does. I have never been to a therapist for any delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia. I have had this strong opinion that in my past that there was nothing a therapist could do to help rid me of these experiences. And I’m not sure I would trust the person if they tried; too much of my survival relies on my awareness. And too many of my hallucinations have been made manifest in otherworldly spirits, ghosts, the paranormal.

I intake my surroundings like my life depends on it, and it does. When I say this, I mean it. There have been moments in my life that my heightened awareness has kept me and the ones I love from immediate harm, imminent death, rape, murder.

Am I crazy or was it crazy making? Am I validated in my fears or am I overreacting? Do / did my family, friends, loved ones, undermine so many of my experiences that I never got a chance to work through my emotions?

john428

More John Keen, sticky note artist.

As a queer person of color, I have very real reasons to fear the world around me. I have very real reasons to adore the hell out of it as well, but that isn’t typically the voice speaking to me when I’m trying to save myself from what seems like life or death situations.
Without going into too much detail, I have experienced sexual abuse and trauma.
I have experienced physical abuse void of sexual abuse.
I have been on the receiving end of verbal homophobia turned physically violent which in turn becomes emotional violence.
I am within the greater experience of institutionalized racism.
I am within the greater experience of classist racism.
Because of these experiences, I have a very real desire to keep myself safe from all of these outside forces attempting to eradicate me. These are the very real and evident experiences that I believe have contributed to why I am the way that I am. But it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

I’m at home watching Finding Dory, it’s my day off, it’s 2p.m. I hear a car pass by the house. I hear another car pass by the house. I hear another car pass, but in my mind, it’s the same car. It’s the same person. They can see inside the one window to my house that is open. My coat is hanging up on the wall in direct sight of the passing car. That person knows what my coat looks like. That person is memorizing the way I dress, so they know what I look like when I walk to work, memorizing the time I leave the house, when my partner is gone. That person in the car is plotting to break into my house maybe tonight, maybe right now while no one is home, maybe in one year when they know my guard is down. That person is plotting to murder me. I’ve missed 45 minutes of the movie, suspended in time, frozen in fear of so much glass around me. Why do all of the windows have to be made out of glass? Why does my front door only have one simple lock? Why are there so many cupboards and corners? Do my neighbors notice the car? Do my neighbors know the person in the car? Are my neighbors in on it, too? I start the movie over, I eat a snack, I drink some water, I’m okay for the hour and a half of the movie and I cry. I’m not sure for what reason.

This is a typical moment in life for me. Common, typical, but not every day. Some days are better than others. Some days it’s aliens. It’s the never-knowing what other life forms are surrounding us and I am comforted by this thought. Some days it’s spirits, meeting and getting to know them, setting my boundaries with them, being respected, and I am comforted by this thought.

I still read short horror stories. I still watch Unsolved Mysteries. I still listen to true crime podcasts. I still engulf myself in conspiracy theories. I still allow myself to be consumed by horror movies, and art designed to evoke terrified emotions. Why? My parents used to take my sisters and I to Hollywood Video when we were kids. We were allowed two different movies between the three of us. When it was my turn to pick (or G and I would pair up and get one and let R get her own), we would always turn to the horror section. I watched so many horror flicks as a child I probably went through their entire collection. But why was I drawn to these things? I was an anxious child to begin with. Why go as far to make myself even more anxious? Because horror films and stories and art create a different kind of anxiety. It’s more or less outside of myself, it’s giving me a real reason to be scared, because the cinematic panic has left me with a connection to the story, and less of a connection to my actual life. I find extreme comfort in overcoming an awakened terror if I watch a horror movie before going to bed or resting for the night. This is a slippery slope. I might get so caught up, or too desperately want to connect the story to my life outside of stories that the lines are blurred, and I can’t tell which is true and which is fiction. Was something following me last night or was it part of a story I read ten years ago? (This usually happens with true crime stories, or true crime creative non-fiction.)

I am still learning more about this jumble of crazy that is my brain. I’m still actively doing things to grow and grasp what is happening. I’m still attempting to let people in, creating moments with true vulnerability. But every day is a new challenge or the same challenge. I was thinking of ways my friends and loved ones can help me in every day conversation, things to say, things to do, things to be aware of. I often times feel like I’m being judged negatively, like what I say seems so outta this world, so grandiose, so theatrical! that I am hard to believe. I don’t always need to be believed, but I often times need a form of validation for what I am experiencing or else I recluse even when I try not to.

So, here are some examples of things anyone can do around and towards friends that may have paranoid personality disorder. I’m not a doctor, I don’t claim to be a health care provider.

  • Never say, “You are overreacting.” Just don’t, it’s a good solid plan for everyone.
  • Avoid arguing with the person. It’s nice to be heard, but don’t argue. For example, if I mention I feel like that person in the car doing circles around my block is coming to get me, don’t get combative or just straight up say it’s not true.
  • Avoid affirming the paranoia. I remember sometime last year, there was a crew of four people who pulled up in front of my house and started taking photos. They stayed parked there for at least 10 minutes, and I must have been feeling bold because I went outside with a shovel to turn my compost and said to them, “What are you taking pictures of?” In my mind, they now had a clear visual of my face but I also had a shovel, so I felt safer. They said they were taking pictures of butterflies and drove away. I told a few friends about it immediately and not one of them argued with me, but they definitely avoided affirming my wild thoughts about what the people’s intentions were. One of my friends used humor, “Go out there with a spray bottle and start spraying them!” Another friend asked me if my partner was home with me and made sure I felt safe. Another validated my emotions, expressing that it was an unnerving situation, but that I was safe and they would come over if they needed me. These are all great ways of avoiding affirmation.
  • Ask more questions. Sometimes it feels good to talk about it, especially in the heat of the moment.
  • Change scenery. A lot of the time, the paranoia is directly linked with my surroundings. Example: A friend of mine once asked me to go to a Crystal Castles show with them. (I didn’t go.) Alice Glass is a goddamn inspiration in so many ways, her style???? Bitchhhh. There’s one track that puts me in complete and utter chaos mode, and every time I hear it, I feel as if I’m going to die. Maybe it’s connected to an experience in my past and the song was playing in the background, who knows. But every time I hear it, I ask to have it turned off. Sometimes, if it’s too dark and I start to have a panic attack or I see something or someone following me, I force myself to go somewhere better lit, or around more people who I trust.
  • Give positive affirmations. Even though they don’t always work, it’s nice to have verbal reminders, and physical reminders that things are okay. I like these examples: “Even though I feel scared, I’m not really in any danger.” Or, “Hallucinations are scary. Disassociation is scary. Paranoia is scary. Anxiety is scary. Delusions are scary. Mental illness is really fucking scary, and I’m proud of you just for living it.” I’m in the midst of creating affirming messages for my home, because of being so reclusive, I don’t hear friends voices as much as I’d like to. (Baby steps.)
  • Create (or support) healthy habits. Basically we all need good rest, food, water, etc. But just the other day a friend asked me to go to a yoga class with them. Just being in public is often times a stressor, but if I’m with a person I love and trust, doing something with my body, moving, creating healthy circulation, breathing, and making a habit out of things like that (class or not), it will be better in the long run. Creating a habit is pretty hard for me, especially if they are habits that require ritual times. If I want to do a yoga class, or go out running, or go for a hike, I refuse to go at the same time of day every day. Creating a strict schedule but avoiding strict timelines is hard, it’s something I’m still trying to work on.
  • Prepare for crisis situations. I still don’t know what the fuck this looks like but I read on it. Friends of mine do a crisis plan, and that seems to help. But if I already know what’s on the plan, and I already know what is coming, I have adapted my mind to what I know is coming and it doesn’t help. So, I’m finding new ways to create these type of plans.

I’m not asking friends and family to do these types of things for me. I’m not even really sure if I’m bringing complete awareness to this. This is one of the first times I’ve ever really publicly shared this part of myself and I feel scatterbrained. I’m not sure if it’s helping. Because at this point it’s public information now.

But I want to disrupt the public’s belief about paranoid individuals. We may be out of touch with reality often times. We may not always trust the words you say to us. We are always on our guard, it makes our muscles tense, and our brains tired. We sleep a lot or not at all. We thrive with schedules deviant of the norm. We are obsessed with our safety. Sometimes we use drugs and alcohol heavily, sometimes not at all. What better way to make sure you’re aware all hours of the day if you’re: constantly awake and blasted for it, or constantly sober for it? We’re intricate. We don’t always know what is real and what is not. But we’re learning. I’m learning. And I want to be better. I want my muscles to relax. I want my family and friends to feel comfortable with me. I want to breathe easy.

I just heard a phone ring that wasn’t mine. It was in close proximity to me. Is someone on a walk outside my window, or are they hiding in my bushes? I’m walking to work soon. It’s late morning but people are kidnapped in broad daylight all the time. I remember my ancestors. I am safe with the help of them. I never walk with headphones in. I try and keep my hands free of carrying too many objects. I’m safe.

overbefolkningsmonsteret

John Keen

All artwork featured is by John Keen. Every time I see his work, I feel a deep connection with the way it feels to experience paranoia.