Ask Jenny

being safe on the road

June 10, 2021

when i was drawing some wireframes this morning, i found myself writing suddenly in the margin of the page: “why am i motivated by fear?” i don’t know when the intrusive thoughts began to die down, but they haven’t appeared for many months, like mosquitoes that disappear when the temperature starts to fall. when this thought interrupted my flow this morning, i was surprised.

my mom is on a road trip with selva. they’ve stopped in phoenix, the city where i was born. it’s a different place for her now obviously, 24 years later. even though she doesn’t really remember it, they’re driving around the city, looking for her first apartment and all the old personal landmarks—both hers and mine.

she sends photos from the road. i consider my origin story. it’s messy and lighthearted and i feel exactly 24 years-old.

over the last two weeks, i’ve had to sustain conversations with more new people than i’ve had to all year. “what are you up to?” why is this so unbearable to answer? i find myself describing the focuses of my work, but then i’m not offering enough of me, so then i tell them how i feel about it too. but the feelings aren’t easy or pretty. i hand them messy lumps of my nerves. but then i instantly regret it and feel annoying. and then i become suddenly aware of what i am doing at the park, at the new apartment, at the dinner table. what does anyone do with a lump of nerves? why don’t i have nicer presents to give?

i was emptying my tote bag today when i noticed that my light blue nail polish was open at the bottom, completely spilled and dried up. the whole inside was stained, and the outside too. i felt guilty because not only did i waste the one shade of blue that i liked, i also ruined my tote bag. when i showed nick the stains, he smiled and said, “oh, it looks like patina, when a work bench is painted and corroded intentionally!”

nick reminds me that i am alive and safe. some nights we can’t fall asleep so we stay up and play speech improv games in bed. there’s one we play called “fortunately, unfortunately.” one person starts a sentence with “fortunately,” like “fortunately, the road ahead is clear.” the other person replies with a sentence that starts with “unfortunately,” like “unfortunately, you’re on the wrong side of the road!”

why do i think i am motivated by fear? these nerves will latch onto anything. i deactivated my twitter as a precaution. i read quotes from the book “the courage to be disliked” on goodreads last night because i could feel my body sinking into some impending anxiety. i can’t remember any of the quotes today, so i guess they weren’t so meaningful to me.

i have been thinking about the same vision for over two years now, and i still feel like i’m only 25% of the way there. the amount of detail i care about takes so much time to express. this is what i care about, and this is an artifact of my understanding of the world. i say that it’s valuable to work hard and be patient. i give myself breaks. no sigh of permanent relief, not yet, but breaks are allowed, breaks are important.

some good news is that my eating disorder is pretty much a thing of history now. i eat consistently and don’t fret when i eat too little or too much. having a partner who encourages me and doesn’t make comments about my body helps. some days i actually feel quite pretty.

fear is a consistent narrative in my life, but not the only mainstay. i am also excited to play most days. not every day, but on the afternoons that i’m genuinely light, fun, and sweet with my work, i feel honest. i am accepting and whole, and safe to take criticism. i consider my origin story and feel exactly my age.

this morning when i found fear, i saw all my playful afternoons, too. when i was five and shy, i loved to intently watch the teachers play the card game of speed at the after school daycare. i remember ms. leah’s long fingers and nails. she would shuffle the cards and i swore it was magic. when i got home, i cut pieces of paper and drew on them to look like ms. leah’s playing cards. then i would rehearse the game of speed from memory, playing by myself while my stepdad prepared to leave for night school.

in addition to fear and play, i am also motivated by anger. there is a lot of anger, actually. i’m angry that people still think that some human lives are more valuable than others. i’m angry that i don’t move fast enough, and that some times i only have enough energy to take a shower and sleep. i’m angry at how the world is, because it’s clearly not working for many people. who decided this? who’s maintaining this? i’m angry that magic doesn’t appear to be real. i taught myself how to shuffle too, as part of my card game afternoons, but i couldn’t replicate the feeling of enchantment i felt when watched ms. leah shuffle a deck for the first time. i’m angry that i sprint through my life and often run head-on into the bars of a cage. i’m angry at my identity labels. i’m angry that songs are so short. i’m angry that my dad had to go to school so i couldn’t play cards with him on those lonely afternoons. i am motivated by fear and pain and turmoil in my heart, but also, my anger frequently tickles itself into silliness, a colorful patina. i say that it’s good to play and believe in magic. on these days i am actually ready to change the world. my work is like dancing. the intensity comes from the same place as the grace.

finally i feel like the narrative that connects my life, the products, the research, and the community is crystallizing. of this i’m proud. the paint is supposed to corrode a little, like how a challenge is supposed to come with a few nerves. this crazy project i’ve embarked on has a sort of form now, so the origin story ensues. i am alive and safe. the days aren’t any longer or shorter, and they’re just as filled with emotion, but i can see more clearly what’s ahead.

unfortunately, the road is still quite long. fortunately, the road is still quite long!

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