Monday, April 8, 2013

this is the new normal~

Many people who suffer from physical or emotional pain, or both, spend much of their lives wishing to return to "normal", as if it were this magical place they could get back to with a click of the heels...When understood this way, normalcy is almost always destructive. Not only does it delegitimize experiences and people who live outside the norm, and label much of what we don't understand as deviant; it sets up a standard profile that no one fits. The only concept of normal is an individual one. If you can find your normal and live within it, that's recovery. 
It's hard to remember or even imagine (and isn't all memory really an act of imagination?) what it was like not to be the way I am.
-Swimming, Joel Peckham. 

I admit that I have often used my desire to find some semblance of that ever ephemeral and tenuous hold on "normalcy" as a point of reference in my life for what I can only describe as Feeling Safe. As if I were on some long journey without water and come upon a spring and it should quench me, only to discover that it is a mirage. I thought I was trying to get somewhere, and that's where I went wrong in the first place. There's no going back. Because there's no place to go back to. 

I used to treat life like a linear diagram. I really did. As soon as I graduated high school and signed my life away on that 30-page contract with the U.S military, over and over, repeating my initials on it until I wasn't even reading what I was initialing anymore, I went on my linear journey. Or so I thought. I had it all planned out. This then that about summed me up. Oh, and do not deviate from The Plan. Ever.
Then I started noticing in my twenties how I kept circling back around to things I'd thought I'd dealt with and was done with. Why did they keep showing back up in my emotional inbox? Better yet, why did that pile just seem to be getting higher and higher? 
So it hit me that life was not linear but circular. We keep revisiting our pain---even our joy---throughout our lives. The stories will mold and reshape themselves, providing new meaning along the way, at every new phase of life, much like the cycles of moon: no end goal. Just gently waxing and waning, moving on and on. Each time a little different than the last, but comfortingly familiar. Most of the time.
Later, I started reading about things like quantum physics and neuroscience and it hit me that there are dimensions we will never see or comprehend---that life indeed is neither linear or circular, but both. And there are no measurements for that. You remember graphing polynomials in math class? No one ever emphasizes the fact that those little shapes you're graphing---those linears, quadratics, the constants, the godforsaken Zero---they all keep moving down the graph; you're only seeing a frame of it in a millisecond of action. They peak and then ultimately plateau, only to climb and dip again. Numbers. Never ending. And yet we think of numbers as answers, as final. Our lives are moving forward and backward, around and around, and ultimately finite yet infinite because we are privileged to be alive and then die and our cells break down and become food and circle back around again. It's all so complex and mysterious and mind-blowing and simple. And yet not one of us will ever be able to wrap our brains around it. Is that the space where the magic sits? 

I remember the first time I ever tasted cilantro. I was twenty. I honestly had never, ever tasted it. It was an explosion on my tongue. My mind began searching for a point of reference; it was so new, so strange, so delicious. I couldn't even describe it in order to ask what it was that I was tasting. I didn't even know where to look in the food to find it. To this day, it is my own personal example of what it's like to realize there are things outside of our comprehension---things we will never see or taste or touch or understand. That there is more. So much more than this---all this that we worry about and wonder over. There is no normal---this is the new normal
Can you imagine it? Colors you have never seen, shapes that don't exist in our dimension, tastes that you have no buds for, sounds our ears did not evolve to hear. I'm talking about how there is no beach without trillions of grains of sand, and each of us is but one grain of sand---and this fact should be comforting but also put our ego in check. It's overwhelming. The uniqueness of all of life--- how a lack of normalcy is precisely what ultimately creates. Even ourselves; especially ourselves. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

any other name~

This may seem unbelievable, but my name has always bothered me. Here, on my profile, you see it as my birthname, Reem. But I'm talking about my adopted name, Emily. My "real" name. The name on my social security card, my license, my [new] birth certificate, and someday: my death certificate.
But it's more that my name never felt comfortable. On the outside, to be sure, it seems a trivial issue---one that many of us deal with, saying, Oh, ya. I don't like my name much either. But it's more than that because I never actually told anyone this fact.
I didn't hate it. I still don't. I actually find it quite lovely. I enjoyed often being one of only a handful of girls with my name. Nowadays, every other little girl I meet has my name.
But I used to lie about my name a lot. I would make new ones up. A story within the story:
I had a very distant cousin on my adoptive father's side I had just met and was playing with at a wedding once, when I was about ten years old. I told her my name was Keza (I have no idea where I came up with it) and she and I ran around and danced all night at that wedding in our excitingly frivolous dresses to things like Paula Abdul. She called me Keza the entire time, a bit confused by it. She would call my name from across the dance floor and run to grab my hand so we could shimmy across it, sharing more cake and those little balls of cantaloupe from the fancy fruit salad. I answered to this name every time. Was I lying to her? Or had I found a way to be more myself? Who are we when we're ten that we need to be more or less of?
The exact opposite of a xenophobe, I was obsessed with All The Other People In the World as a child. No one had yet told me I was half Saudi, though I knew I was adopted. Where did my obsession come from? Looking in the mirror, I knew I was darker than the other girls. But a lot of people just thought I was Italian. A catch:
The only boys who ever had crushes on me growing up were the sons of immigrants or black. An east-Indian I carpooled with from school, a gorgeous black kid named Allan, an Asian named JimLon. They saw something. When I became a teenager, it didn't matter as much, but when you're a little kid, as far as crushes go, I think most go with what they know, which is by default, similar to oneself.
When I couldn't give fake names anymore because I was getting older, I proposed using fake names with my penpals. One became my best friend, who, to this day, has all the dirt anyone will ever need on me. She understood how the game worked; the only person to ever one-up me in the Create the Most Ridiculously Intriguing Name You Can Think Of and then address each other this way on the envelopes moving swiftly between homes. We spent a lot on postage back then.

All those years, having only my non-identifiable information adoption papers, I thought my birthname was Marie. I addressed this in a previous blog post here. There was something simultaneously shocking and relieving in finding out that it wasn't. Marie seemed even more off. But I accepted it for the longest time. When I found my birthmom and she told me in a flatly shocked voice, "Marie's not the name I gave you"; the breath went out of me. Layer upon layer of surprise after surprise. I simultaneously felt like the world's oldest and youngest onion being peeled back, my skin crunching at every new pull; my skin softening, avoiding the resistance, lest I be torn unevenly, too deeply. Too late.
I think I'd already known, all those years, that my name was wrong. That as much as I felt different, looked different, acted different, my name was different, too.
At first it was just another name. But lately, as I come into contact with more and more of my birth family and their friends, people who so comfortably let Reem roll right off their tongues, it's hit me like a crushing wave that that is who I am to them. Just as I am Emily to so many others. It's not even something I can change, even if I wanted to. And what do I want? A new identity? A time in my life that I can't get back? No, I'm not so naive as that. That time is over. We can never have it back. But there's a vestige left, a screaming child inside me who is scraping the walls of my lungs to get out. And that person's name is Reem.