Monday, January 4, 2016

The tiniest box I have ever squeezed into

Four years ago I became lazy. 
Instead of living I chose to retreat into a comfortable charade where I did the barest minimum of motions to pass off as a stock standard, unremarkable immigrant black African female in her mid-twenties. Then I found a man who was equally lazy and together we built a tiny little box, climbed into it and huddled like abandoned mongrels caught in a rain shower. It was a really small box. The air was heavy and thick with the stench of everything that was wrong with us. We were selfish. We were pathetically fearful. We were unwilling to live in the high pressure, high temperature space where dreams are forged like diamonds from coal. No longer was I the adventurous, creative and tenacious go-getter that I used to be. I took a job that failed to engage my brain. I clung to friends that enabled my weakness and gave me excuses to be small. I shared a tiny little box with an individual who was decidedly incapable of relating to human beings as himself, preferring the low-risk route of taking on whatever form he thought would allow him to slip quietly under the radar, just like me. So we huddled in a tiny little box of mediocrity and obscurity, sharing a lukewarm set of lazy "partial-feelings" that we didn't even bother to hold up to the light and interrogate, understand or nurture. We were so lazy that we threw cliches at each other and pretended they were meaningful. We bandied about claims of love "to infinity and beyond" or "halfway across the galaxy and turn left" and convinced each other that "no one gets me like you do." We flung these sayings all over the tiny cramped box and convinced ourselves of their realness as they ricocheted off the equally meaningless but probably more dangerous words "forever," "always," "soul mate,""the one" and "perfect."

As typically happens when unused my muscles began to atrophy. 
My empathy muscle died. My self-love muscle died. My stand for what's right muscle died. My help everyone you can muscle died. So did my you can do anything you want muscle. And my get up and try something new muscle. My colour outside the lines muscle died. My laugh until you can't breathe and you genuinely think you're going to die muscle died. My write a blog post about whatever tickles your fancy muscle died. And the tiny box got even smaller as it turned into a cesspool of gangrenous unused flesh and toxic, meaningless words. Once in a while, though, one of my muscles would give me the finger and flex itself in spite of my laziness. For a brief moment it was beautiful. I was beautiful. I was brave. I was honest. I released destructive people from the duty of helping me to destroy my soul. I fell in love with the stars and the ocean and sunshine and my mother and my friends. I caught myself smiling like I used to. I hugged people for longer than they expected. I challenged myself. For a few brief moments I was me. Then I would realise how exposed I was, how vulnerable, and then I would remember the fact that I had a tiny little box that would shelter me from the work of having to confront my vulnerability and risk a life of potential failure and rejection. I had never failed at anything so it was best not try and risk blemishing such a record (of non-achievement). Then I would fold myself back into the tiny box. Not crawl, run or leap. I would gingerly fold myself squeeze back in next to my lazy lover.

Here is how I felt in the box. 
Needy. Starved of affection, care, support, acceptance, love and most of all, companionship. My laziness to live made me doubt my ability to live even when I decided I wanted to actively participate in life. I felt inadequate and incompetent in every possible respect. Body image? Negatory! Self efficacy to succeed in intellectual or physical endeavour? Negatory! Self esteem? Negatory! I saw nothing positive in myself and relied heavily on others especially my lazy box-mate to feed me crumbs of validation, to tell me who I was and what I ought to be doing with my life. It was like crawling through the desert waiting for someone to spit on me and assuage my thirst. And you know what? He did. Sitting in that box close to me and yet so far away in every way that counts he fed me a sparse diet of disingenuous compliments and hollow assurances. And I ignored the fact that I did not feel the love he claimed to have for me. Then he left the box. Got the heck out of there and proceeded with his life in another box, I guess. Good for him. Except that we were in such a small box that to fit in it our bits and bobs had become very intricately entangled so when he clambered out he pretty much left me mangled and smeared in the detritus of the most foul, ill-advised actions and decisions that two people could conjure up in four unhealthy years. Left alone in that tiny box I made a decision.

I decided not to be lazy
Over the course of a year and a half have been getting on with the general business of cleaning out my tiny little box so I could start to breathe again. I decided to "live aggressively" by a new set of standards. I do not suffer fools. Seriously. I don't engage with people and ideas that I consider to be beneath me. And I decide what is and what is not beneath me and no one else - sometimes the idea is my own and it is beneath me so I give it no airplay or it is a version of myself who I do not believe adds value so I kill her off. I am ruthless. It has left a few people stunned but the amount of clutter this has removed from my box is worth their consternation. I do not suffer sweet talkers and flatterers and I find platitudes highly distasteful. I do not suffer laziness. I find apathy nauseating. I have things that I will fight for regardless of the likely outcome. I have things that I think and care about and I have surrounded myself with similar people, people who are not afraid to tell the world that they love something. I like people who are quietly about something and prefer to get on with it rather than to navel gaze or serve as armchair critics, which I believe is the weakest and most uninspired life one can live. I abhor lack of integrity. I revere honesty even when it is hurtful. I prefer it seasoned with empathy though. I feel no shame. I pity people who need external validation. I will not tolerate hubris in the conversations around me. I admire power tempered with compassion. I am suspicious of people who do not display anger. I believe in grit and passion. I believe awkward and uncomfortable situations lead us to see greater vistas. I love it when acts of kindness and singular accomplishment go un-lauded in social media but are etched in the memories of those who have witnessed or benefitted from them directly.  I respect people who say what they want. I honour people who admit they were wrong and who can apply themselves wholeheartedly to the task of redeeming themselves. I am intrigued by people who are unimpressed by me and call out my hypocrisy but who paradoxically find me utterly incredible and worth the effort of getting to know. I love people who have no time for my self pity, my penchant for melodrama or my fixation with romanticism but who find ways to nourish my spirit.

Times when people have unwittingly fed my soul

Me: I would like to jump on a plane to Cape Town and stab that man for what he did to me.
Her: No, no. You're not going to do that.
Me: I'm not kidding I want him dead. I deserve justice!
Her: Can I offer you an alternative? The Brazilian wandering spider. Its venom causes intense pain and asphyxiation. Moreover, it causes very painful erections that last for hours. We can slip it in his shoes or something.
Me: Best Christmas present ever!

Him: I love you
Me: As in either (1) you care about me deeply and value me or (2) you are in love with me i.e. you have romantic feelings for me?
Him: Both
Me (inhaling as I excitedly prepare to ask a barrage of clarificatory follow up questions): ...
Him (interrupting me): I love you. Don't overthink it.
Me (exhaling): :-)

Her: You're such a strong, caring person and you have a very good heart.
Me: Awww. Thanks mom!
Her: You and your brothers are my best friends.
Me (slack jawed at hearing such words come out of someone often described as a lioness): ...

Her: We were talking about you the other day with so and so (a colleague)
Me (remembering how I didn't fit in any of the cliques at work): Gulp!
Her: And we were like "Yeah, Sandi's basically the total package."
Me (spluttering my drink): ..!

Him (Samuel L Jackson's character in Changing Lanes): "I feel like champagne. I understand the idea of celebration. I see the bubbles in champagne as something good and beautiful. Not part of my soul evaporating but rising with joy. What I'm trying to say is, I don't want champagne. I am champagne."
Me: This is me in 2015!

Her: I want to show you something. Check this out.

(Photo Credits: Asher Svidensky via 
Her: She's a 13 year old Mongolian eagle huntress. For 2000 years only males have been trained to hunt using eagles.
Me: Wow. She's amazing.
Her: She is. She made me think of you. You have her spirit.
Me: Omg.

Me: Ever had your heart broken?
Him: Yeah. More than five years ago and I'm still not over it. 
Me: Tell me about her.
Him: Her name was Mercy. Always makes me think of a song by Switchfoot. "In the economy of mercy, I am a poor and begging man. In the currency of grace, is where my song begins..." Tell me about yours.
Me: His name was Nyasha. It means grace. 
Him: In the economy of Mercy, in the currency of Grace
Me: We is broke mother******s!
Him: #dead!

Him: Hmmm. How would I describe Sandi?
Me: Uh oh
Him: I think Sandi is brilliant and talented but she's frustrated because she hasn't found her groove.
Me (blinking): Whoa...
Him: And she's looking for her groove and she keeps trying all these things and looking in all these places. And she's tired, restless and frustrated and feels like she's running out of time but she can't stop until she finds it. Until she finds her groove. 
Me: Hot dang...

Her: Whatever you do, don't ever jay walk.
Me: How random. Why?
Her: Because I would be devastated if you got hit by a car and died.

Getting out of the tiny box
This morning I decided to get over the failure of the relationship and all the accompanying baggage I accumulated during and following its course and demise.  Yes, decided. Because frankly it's been over for about three years and there hasn't been any actual pain for almost a year and I knew very well I was just holding onto the idea of having been done wrong as an indulgence and a final act of laziness. So today I decided I was bored with being heartbroken. I decided that desperate, disempowered thoughts directed at someone who helped me mould myself into the smallest version of myself were beneath me. Indignation at his continued health and lack of suffering was beneath me. I couldn't even picture him happy, sad, or anything. My heart has disengaged and my brain is fully on board, dutifully failing to conjure up any memories for me to hold onto. When I was still in pain, I forced myself to forgive him. Now I retract that act. Because there's nothing to forgive. We were just two goons squashed in a tiny little imaginary box, never destined to be anything significant together but with endless potential independently of each other. Poor kids. So at close of business today I came out of the box. I didn't kick it down ninja style. I didn't claw my way out. No kicking or screaming. I just unfolded myself because the walls of the box was never real even though it was literally the tiniest box I had ever squeezed into. So I unfolded and unfurled and stretched my limbs like a panther. Easy peasy. And why wouldn't it be? I am a non-jay-walking eagle huntress who is best friends with a lioness, and who is looking for her groove but totally not overthinking it. Also, I am the total package and I am champagne and I conduct myself as such because it just so happens that in the economy of mercy and in the currency of grace I am in fact a very wealthy woman:-)