Talking to Myself

Somewhere in the forests of my mind there is a place I go to meet with myself. The trees are tall and hang lazily over a dirt road, lined with a white fence. It could be spring or fall or summer. Perhaps it is some season that does not exist here. The sun shines overhead but it is not too warm or too cold. It is quiet, a sense of peace surrounding it like a church early in the morning, when the sun shines through stained glass and paints the floor brilliant blues and reds and greens.

The first time I met myself here, it was brief but startling. She looked like me, but there was something about her. It was as if she was somehow more there. Unlike me, she didn’t apologize for taking up space. She seemed unfazed by what others thought of her and felt, to my amazement, no need to defend that. She had such a strength about her, as if she could tell you everything you ever needed to know by just looking at you. It was a gentle strength, a quiet fierceness. She wore light colors, a flowing white blouse, and looked so calm, so at peace. She looked unworried, unafraid. Her eyes showed joy, as if all she had to say and do would be a glorious act of praise to the King of her heart. She knew who she was. She knew who her Father was. She is the only one I have yet to name.

But I am not her yet. I cannot yet speak with my eyes.

I tried to bake a loaf of bread after I met her. I imagined that her little home would smell like baked goods and that sun would stream though the windows over perfectly growing plants. I wanted so badly to be her. I burnt the bread. My plants are mostly half dead and my basement room might as well be called a cave for all the light it gets. I am not yet this version of myself and I can see now that I am not meant to be. I cannot just stop being where I am now. I am a work in process; I cannot skip a step, or the outcome will be altered. I suspect I must be many Harley’s before I can be her.

In a different wood, a very real one, I stood before a turn in the road. Unlike the Frost poem, the woods were far from yellow and snow melted beneath my feet. The trail to my right was clearly marked, the way everyone would tell me to go, the path that made sense. The trial to my left was clearly a trail, but there was no marker. It was a clear option, but one I would not receive approval for. As I stood, staring at the sign, I heard a rusting. Turning, I saw the whole expanse of the woods open up before me as it never had before. Do not be afraid to leave the trail, a voice seemed to whisper. Suddenly the woods themselves were an option, and I ran, leaves crunching beneath my feet and marked trails forgotten. I was free.

And so as I make yet another choice about where I will go, what I will do, who and I will be, I return to the wood in my mind, where the air smells sweet and the sun and shade dance together on the ground. This time the version of myself I meet is different. She is the one who takes to marked path, who does it all and gets it all right. She wears a button down and slacks, tans and whites and browns – the mustard yellows and bright blues of her earlier days are gone. She stands tall, self-assured, confident, but her smile does not reach her eyes. She tells me that the best thing in her life is her work, her research – how she knows so much. She uses long words and technical jargon. She forces herself to go to church because she knows she should, but she has long felt like they do not care. She feels lonely a lot, like people have forgotten her, or, perhaps, she has run a way from them. She feels like something is missing. She asks, “what if?” She remembers the adventure, running into the woods, promised, that she never took. She tells me that she is constantly trying to prove her worth, her value, her intelligence. She looks exhausted. She tells me to remember that I have nothing to prove. She tells me to find what I love and chase it, even if people are already doing it, even if it isn’t academic, even if it doesn’t get attention, prestige, or money. She is the one who gets it right, who does it all, who meets and surpasses all expectations. But too long and she will become a shell. She will forget adventure and the pull she once felt to do good, that there was something she should go for. Her life will be good, but there will always be something missing. Find what you love, she repeats, what you cannot help but do, what feels like breathing, not because you want to be a certain way, a version of yourself or someone else you like the look of, not because someone has told you to do something or a standard has been set, not because you like an aesthetic – but because you are. Set aside the preconceived notions for a bit – who you want to be like, what you want your life to be like – and just see what you do. No rules. No expectations. No fear. What will you be led to if you stop trying to be what you are not? It can be what you’ve always done or never dared. But it must come from the very innermost part of your soul. Let it take over. Let the pre-frontal cortex, the ego, the voices – whatever it is, let them rest. Let it all come out, she finishes. What would you change, I ask her? She pondered. Defy gravity, she told me with a smile that for the first time reached her eyes, as if just the thought of it sparked something in her. Something dead coming back to life…

I call her Kyoiku-mama Harley. In Japanese, it means “a mother who relentlessly pushes her child to academic success”. I do not give her this title because my mother did such a thing but rather because this Harley relentlessly pushed herself because of the mountain of expectations she perceived. She is, thankfully, not that last me I met on that road.

Luftmensch, Yiddish, a dreamer, an air person.

One morning as I sat in my kitchen, I found myself back in that familiar wood. This time, the version of myself has her hair chopped short, messy in a neat sort of way. She wears my blue polka-dot button down. The broken button still hasn’t been replaced. She smiles and joy instantly lights up in her eyes. She tells me briefly of her accomplishments, the same, in many cases, as the last version of myself I met, but to this Harley it is as if they are unimportant. She tells me that she took a different way. I followed the voice calling on the wind, she said, I’ve had more adventures than I can count, there have been ups and downs, yes, but I have confidence. I have trusted. She looks like she has been many places, like joy was forged in her eyes the hard way, inside dying stars and broken hearts. She has lived. She had the adventure and got everything else thrown in. When everyone told me to go forward, down the marked path, she said, I darted off into the woods after shadows they couldn’t see and voices they couldn’t hear. But they were real to me and I trusted myself. But I stopped blaming them for seeing differently. I trusted that they wanted the best for me, and I trusted God, knowing that he would always catch me. It’s going to be okay, she told me as she faded away. If you feel crazy, you’re probably on the right track.

But as much as I want to be her, I am not yet. A friend told me that it sounded like the answer to who I need to be now, what I need to do, was already in what I have just recounted. I think I see now. I do not need to be accomplished. I do not need to have a house that smells like fresh baked bread. I do not need to know every adventure that is ahead of me. But if I want to be the versions of myself that I liked the best, then there is only one clear thing that I must do. I must be willing to run into the woods, even when everyone and everything tells me to go forward. I cannot make myself into them. That is not my job. My job is to be who I am here and now -- to be the Harley of this present moment. Unlike who I have been, she is fearless, she runs, she is strong in her vulnerability, she chooses to trust even though she is terrified, she goes with her gut, she is willing to take the route through the trees when there is a clearly marked trail in front of her. I call her Dangerous Harley. And she is learning to be fearless.

I cannot be who I am not yet. I cannot be who I was before. I can only be who I am right now. I cannot skip past this moment; it is a gift from God, even if I do not like the wrapping. But slowly and surely, step after stumbling step, I can feel myself becoming. I am willing to give up who I think I need to be, the Harley who does it all right, to chase voices and shadows no one else can hear or see. I am, of course, still learning, but I am willing. And that is who I need to be right now.

So, I hang fairy lights in my cave to remind myself of the sun dancing with the shadows, the light from other places that I can bring with me, and I close my eyes, listening for when the voice, quiet and intoxicating, whispers to me my adventure, and tells me to run.

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