Tag Archives: isolation

DANCE, PUPPETS

14 Oct

My performance as an artist and an individual is something that has evolved over an extended period of time. As a young child, I fell into a social role already established for me by my parents and their religious community. I was supposed to be a sweet girl, respectful of authority and quick to obey with a smile. My early artistic endeavors were indulged as a kind of play suitable for a little girl. I played my part with sincerity, believing that I was “being myself” despite having had little opportunity to construct much of a self.

Adolescence and a growing sense of emotional separation from my parents, fueled in part by newly divergent ideological positions, shifted my awareness of my place in my family structure. I became a much more cynical performer in the presence of any audience which included a family member or fellow congregant, as I neither believed any longer in the front under which I was operating nor felt able to express a truer version of myself around anyone with the exception of close friends. At times when I attempted to drop the pretense and answer questions honestly, talking about my actual interests and goals, my audience would note, alternately amused and suspicious, that it’s “rare to meet a conservative artist.” My inability to admit to being different, even as I failed to conform to the expected formula, led to an anxious and short-tempered manner that belied my accommodating appearance and eventually to a great deal of poor communication, resulting in frustration for everyone involved.

Claiming more emotional and functional independence over the course of the past few years has enabled me to address aspects of my own performance and to begin to alter it until it feels more honest. I can now give people sincere answers about my beliefs and my goals; I can dress eccentrically (as artists are apparently “supposed to” do) if I choose without my “modesty” or gender presentation being policed–or not, if I don’t feel like it. I am free to devote a large amount of time to furthering my artistic pursuits and to take part in impassioned conversation about the value of art to society without once being demanded to financially justify access to the arts in the midst of a recession.

Yet setting still plays a large role in the ways in which I interact with people. While physical distance from my family affords me the freedom to present myself as I am, or wish to be, most of the time without fear of immediate repercussion, I find myself relapsing into the role of cynical swindler during routine communication with them, subconsciously censoring everything from the ideas I want to share to the language with which I express them. In a way, this continued self-editing often affects the rest of my everyday performance, causing me to revert to old habits of secretiveness, despite believing that such suppression is neither healthy nor necessary.

Self-fulfilling threats of isolation.

23 Jan

“You think you’ve got issues? Adding a boyfriend* into the mix doesn’t solve anything, it just means you have triple the problems to deal with now. Your personal crap, his personal crap, and an entirely new class of problems that crop up as a result of your relationship. Don’t even consider the possibility of a significant other until you can stand up all by yourself.” That’s the message pushed onto youth in the Christian bubble by respected evangelical leaders, everyone from [female] purity-obsessed heart-throb Chad Eastham to Shannon Etheridge, coauthor of “Every Young Woman’s Battle.”

*because everyone is cisgender and heterosexual hahahaha

So you can’t turn to lovers. And you have to be careful with your friends, because they’re fallible and could lead you astray. Christian friends are susceptible to gossip and exclusivity, and you should take particular care to avoid becoming close to any “nonbelievers.” You should always be primarily concerned with maintaining a good reputation. Your parents are necessarily your parents, not your friends (and not both). People in general will fall, will fail you, will leave you empty and broken and needing more. Where can you go?

The answer, obviously, is Jesus. Jesus is your one and only, Jesus is your best friend. Jesus will heal your hurts and give you strength and be your refuge. In fact, Jesus is the only one who can do these things for you, the only one who can meet your needs. The only right answer, whatever the question. Whoever you are.

You know what, if you find purpose in the Christian tradition or another religion, that’s wonderful, good for you. If the promises of Jesus offer you some comfort and stability, okay. But taking those very personal experiences and applying them cart blanche to everyone isn’t just absurd, it’s harmful. I remember countless Sunday mornings spent studying the congregation, wondering how many of them actually felt the connection they claimed they felt, and how many of those actually had one. Because I tried, I did everything I was “supposed to” do, and it was never there. Jesus was never my friend and confidant, he never answered my prayers, and he never gave me peace. He never made me feel less alone. The religion never came alive for me as it seems to do for some. Jesus was a dead end. Jesus is dead. Talk about high expectations.

Instead of beating it into kids that no one will ever understand them or love them as much as a controversial philosopher from an ancient age, can’t we just teach communication skills? Can’t we teach our children how to value themselves and each other? Yes, I realize that hooking up with someone or making new friends can’t fix all your broken parts. (I’ve never heard anyone outside the evangelical subculture even hint at such an idea.) But how is anyone supposed to learn how to stand up or grow at all without trying and making “mistakes”? How are we supposed to ever be ready to love people if we’re trained to mistrust the love and acceptance other people have for us? Pair my stunted self-awareness and connection to others with a sense of the utter deadness engendered by the failure of the only “legitimate” vehicle for finding meaning and happiness, and all you get is separation. I can’t escape the deep, dark isolation by tunneling down even further.

No, one person can’t fix me, but loving and being loved is healing, especially since so many pains originate from being loved too little or too poorly in the first place. Even the shock of realizing that other people consider you lovable goes a long way. If I wait to form bonds with people until I know how to stand up by myself, I never will, because it’s the relationships I’m forming now that are helping me figure everything out. A little scary, yes. With all the stops and starts and false alarms and plot twists you’d expect in human interaction, I guess. But I’d rather try and incur the occasional damage than never gamble and never, never win.