It's ironic, a bit, settling in to an old blog that chronicled an entire journey of my life to write a brief memoir for a current class I'm taking. There's a Lazarus effect. There's what was laid to rest here rising in me.
((I don't know who's going to stumble across this. Just know why it was written and let it be at that.))
This blog was my ramblings as a young twenty something. Moments of presience, triumphs, yearnings.
Like water, I was always chasing love. It eluded and confused me for a long time, but I diligently and hungrily searched. I learned that sometimes what you need, you can only give yourself. That when it's real, it isn't questionable or unstable.
But I didn't learn that the pragmatic, light bulby way reading the words now clarifies so simply. No. I went into the woods, over the hills and far away.
In 2011 I was at the end of a thing. A heartsearing thing. I'd been embroiled in a bit of a lovemess over the winter prior. Mostly mess, some strong love of the friend variety, anxiety, and a shit ton of blind hope / intricate delusion that wove a complex tale. I was in a fit of unrequited passion for the idea of someone who was also a lifeline at the time, a friend who shows up when you need them and fills your flailing heart with something to dream about. The season before had been a wash with a romantic prospect, as the tide of that receded, awareness, pain and want were littered on the shore. The connection sort of lit up the driftwood, took the sea rime off the bottles and trinkets, energized the whole picture. But, it didn't mobilize anything. I kept feeding the flames, but stayed on the shore as mist grew thick and clouds formed, waves raged.
Alaska has always called me. Always. I've answered twice thus far. Once as an independence-craving teen, and the year I was 24. I stood up on that beach of misery and strange burned objects, and said, my life is my own. I need new perspectives.
Something about moving on feels like dying. But when you're young, healthy, somewhat robust and prone to resilience, it's merely fire for the phoenix. You rise from that shit. But first, you have to send it up in flames. I wanted that reset. I knew it. I was building tinder for months.
I was a river guide of many seasons, the post I assumed in Denali National Park as my mode for making the excursion financially doable. I spent the last money I had in the airport and hadn't even purchased a return flight upon arrival. Initially I was the only female guide. Those suntouched nights, the baritone voices of my comrades, the waves of a visciously cold and violent river changed my current. I rowed mightily, oars drenched in glacial silt. I stared in the eyes of a grizzly, alone in a boat while it pawed at the shore one morning. I hiked miles and miles alone, amongst unknown eyes in the woods of the park. I connected with someone else I fell in friend-love with, she led me up mountains and endearingly let me be her Bear Bait. She was delicious and uncomplicated and heard my stories with a full heart and simple, encouraging responses. I remember so many times where I was preoccupied with thought staring out at immense, boundless Alaskan landscapes. The mind does that. You look at one thing and see/feel something imported, from somewhere else.
Part of going to AK that year was reclaiming myself from conditioning of a lifetime of gender polarity and women's roles that I could neither fit into nor identify with. I was strong, not always soft, but soft too, depending on who was asking. I was independent, stubborn and willful, wanting for connection but also to define it on my own terms. I'd been raised more or less Mormon, the daughter of a strange pairing. By the time my mother and father divorced, she met her long yearned for goal of going through an LDS temple for her Endowment, an experience that I knew was sacred for her in earnest. My father was able to withhold her from going for years and years; as a married woman, the church's rules and patriarchy at large obligated her to comply with his wishes. His esteem for the Mormon church was at best derisive, mostly antagonistic as their own views on the church tore them further apart. I've heard each of them blame the church for their divorce in their own way. It always made me sad. Some part of me internalized that having a picture perfect Mormon forever-family was The Thing I'd missed out on in my youth and should secure for myself in adulthood. Except, that wasn't who I was. As I set out on my own career/academic path, I was anything but traditional. I wanted some of the traditional benefits - generosity, kindness, community - with none of the hangups, such as misogyny, patriarchy, inauthenticity.
Love as a search warrant I had out in the universe was, indeed, my unmet need to make peace with a turbulent first family, to construct one of my own that would be bulletproof where what I started with was broken. It was a role I created and subjected my ideas of a few men in my life into, like playing paper dolls. Here is the vision of what I need. Here are the ways in which I can selectively honor aspects I genuinely love in you, while forming the rest to fit. It wasn't conscious at the time. I became conscious of it only through two things: one, revulsion when anyone treated me the same way. It was so much more obvious. The guy I'd dated for years and not-quite-waited-for while he was serving an LDS mission once said to me "Jenn, when we get married (yes he said when, not if) - I expect you to give up skiing. I don't want the mother of my children in a wheelchair at 40." Immediately I sensed the confines and conjuring of what he wanted for me, and how it was out of sync with my true self. And yet, the breakup process was months.
The second thing that clarified my methods was that relationship I mentioned earlier, which by the end of the term in AK led to having that person I loved, and I did love him, tell me in his own slowly delivered way that I'd created him in the image of my own needs as our friendship had deepened and he had relied on it for his own well being - until I supplanted something else into it entirely and it became damaging for him. Now, there's a lot that went into that major mixup. A LOT. And in any relationship, each party can and should only own 50% of the story. His lot in it was poor communication; trusting me with all sorts of deep secrets, but not openly stating simple facts. Mine, well I've been telling you about it this whole time. And, I only own 50%. As does he.
So after one thing that cracked open Pandora's proverbial box, to worshipping an effigy of my own hopes and dreams to reconcile a lost past, loosely based on a friend, I set about that summer to actually do the thing by chasing my own dreams and identity, differently this time. The further I got, the less I could hear / think / feel in the same ways that created past climates. And part of me simply forgot, and has chosen to never fully remember. Just recognize what did/did not serve me well in the process, and build on that in future endeavors.
I'm still writing the story of my half of all my relationships, and my whole story of who I am. I've given up religion, for good. There's no ambiguity in that statement. What I have found in its stead is that its benefits do exist in this world without tradeoffs and abuses. That gender is malleable, mine a little queer at times. Confining a self to a storyline is restrictive. Sometimes we need to construct some shelter for ourselves. Sometimes, always... we construct the whole world in our view. Sometimes those view(s) serve us and others, sometimes they don't. Sometimes, they enable abuse of ourselves and those we claim to love.
In all my years writing this blog, I didn't disclose the full value of my religious wandering. I didn't disclose my own struggles with gender identity and sense of self articulately. It's my style to suffer undercover until I either explode and have to change my life/surroundings as was the case with that summer, but typically things resolve, get pretty again and I can talk about them with composure. I wish I'd talked sooner to a few people, in the maw of it. I wish I'd parsed fewer words and exposed more raw wound, and active healing. Because we're all out here on our own, and our shared fallability and humanness is what keeps us real and honest with each other and ourselves.