“I don’t know how to love myself, so how can I love you,
the way you want me to?” -Priorities
I wrote those words four years ago now, guitar in hand and tears in my eyes. I was a graduate intern posted up in a dingy little dorm room at UC Santa Cruz, and had reached a breaking point with someone I had been dating. When I wrote the song, I had imagined it from her perspective as a way of trying to understand what she was feeling, but the song was about me. It has always been, and still is - about me - this need to get my priorities right. I wish I could say it was a new lesson, or one that I won’t struggle to learn even now and in my future.
Years before “Priorities,” I was nineteen and heartbroken (for the very first time) when my mom first told me about the spiral. I was distraught over my first girlfriend, who had lied to me and cheated, but I was also frustrated with myself for not moving on faster. “When it feels like I’m over it, I think about something else I’m right back to where I started.”
Mama explained that I wasn’t “right back” where I started - but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t still hurt. She said that it’s like a spiral, you start at one point and come back around to the same point, but further away each time. You may be coming back around to the same lesson over and over again, but you have more perspective each time that you make it back around. That has stuck with me every since as one of the most important pieces of advice she has given me (not to mention a beautiful visual metaphor as well- she’s a writer like me, after all).
The origin of the spiral for me, the lesson that I always loop back around to, is: I must learn to love myself and see myself as worthy and deserving. Not only are fruitful relationships destined to fail without me actively valuing myself, but my very own happiness is at stake. I’ve gone round and round with this lesson for what feels like forever, so the prospect of it being a lifelong lesson feels exhausting to me. But I’m not going in circles, ben when it feels there is no progress. I’m gaining knowledge, experiences (scars), and perspective that moves me further from the source of my hurt and closer to embodying the root of the lesson.
Now, in my late 20s, I will embrace what feels like stagnation and realize how far I’ve come and how much growth is left to come. I will be tender to the younger parts of myself that are closer to the original wounding, and give them the love and attention that they deserve and need. And from that place - fulfilled, self-nourished, and grateful - I grow and thrive with love for others.
“How can I hold myself completely?”
By realizing truly and deeply that I am my own starting point, that everything else I do depends on the strength of my relationship with self. By soothing the pieces deep down in my soul that are in need of healing. By living in radical, unapologetic, loving truth of who I am and who I want to become.
By allowing myself to grow. And spiral back around with fresh perspective and deeper self knowledge.
Nothing sexier than that vein bulging out of your neck because a Prius cut you off. #52Essays2017 Day 9
I don’t know what changes. I don’t know what it is about climbing into that moving, metal container of space that makes me more susceptible to demonic forces, but I suddenly turn into an unrecognizable version of myself behind the wheel. It’s something that I’m consciously aware of when I’m not in the car, something that I know is bad for my emotional health and the health of those around me, and yet it feels almost impossible for me to get a handle on.
It started off as road irritation - a simple smirk or sigh when some other diver did some idiotic thing - but now it’s graduated to a full-fledged, demon-possessed, road rage.
I’m blaring the horn (though, to be fair, only when someone is in danger of hitting me); waving my hands in some desperate attempt to clear slow drivers out of the way; flying around people who make it their personal mission to go 60mph in the left lane; and talking/yelling at other cars as if they can hear me through the windshield. Shit, it’s gotten so bad that I’ll start fussing at people when I’m not even driving - just a passenger - and my loved ones can attest to that.
But today I hit a new personal low in the road rage records: sensing that someone was going to cut me off because they were in the wrong lane, I slammed my foot on the gas pedal and let them get within inches of my car before giving up the fight and letting them cut in front of me. Now, despite the fact that the person intentionally cut me off because they didn’t feel like waiting to get over, I felt out of control with how pissed it all made me and continues to make me. I haven’t gotten to the point of following down my window and screaming at people because I don’t think I’ll like getting shot, but in my own head and my own car I was calling that person all kinds of names I don’t even believe in saying. Bitch-ass, pussy-ass, I feel better when I scream at you-ass.
All to say - I’m pissed when I get behind the wheel because I’m pissed in other areas of my life. Pissed at the state of the world and the entitlement washing over this here Bay Area. Now, my being pissed at the world doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be accountable for turning into an animal behind the wheel. But when people feel important enough to go around everyone who’s waiting and cut them off like they’re better than all of us, well, I’m going to make it my personal mission to leave them no stretch of road to do so. (…I don’t think this is the type of “defensive driving” I learned about in school).
The thing is, I know that none of it matters. None of it is going to matter. That “bitch-ass” that cut me off ain’t thinking about me, and really could be a lovely individual who believes in smashing the patriarchy as much as she believes in smashing cars. And not only does it matter that other people drive like dicks, I’m doing my own self a disservice by letting it get to me. And I know all of this on a conscious tip. We’ll see what happens tomorrow on 35th street before the freeway, where no one seems to know which lane leads to which freeway because they drive for Lyft.
I don’t put all of this out there because I need strategies on how to manage road rage or clear out the negative energy in my car - I’ve already read those self-help articles. But I write this as a reminder to myself of what I value in my life, and what stresses me in my life. A reminder to myself to relinquish control and focus on my own behavior and my own choices. A reminder to myself that toxicity breeds more toxicity, especially in a four-door, sealed, metal container. I may suffocate myself with all that negativity.
I’m not going to stop my demonic road rage tendencies all in one day, but I’m drying. Deep, deep breaths. And at the very least, I’ll stop listening to Knuck If You Buck while on the road.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.