The Worst Thing I Ever Did To Myself

I crawled out expecting the cave that once sheltered me to shelter me still.

I waited for the world within my mind to match the one without it.

I expanded in my own skin but painted it to match my mother’s eyes.

I waited for men who had the audacity to claim to know how to love me, try.

I beat my skin raw and offered it up to the sun in submission only to be burned black, too rubbery for even the foulest of mouths to chew.

I waited for permission that would never be granted, to exist as I needed to be.

I imagined a hundred lives and was a victim in almost every one. When I woke up, I was 82.

I became water, then ice. Malleable at first, then unyielding. After countless failed attempts to flow, to touch every nook and cranny, fill every space with my presence but remain see-through, I froze. Stunted, I became an amalgamation of rigidity and determination. I retracted and expanded silently within myself.

I am soot, gravel, clay. Molten lava on your back. I was tossed into the ground and commanded to grow but I became embedded into the sole of your shoe. Over six thousand miles of land and ocean, I leached. And for decades I survived in a barren land until what was whispered for years was finally shouted: I waited.

Every time the sword perforated an organ, blood gushing and oozing to coat the perpetrator in guilt – red on metal – I waited. For absolution, for freedom, for acceptance.

But today, the fat lady sings.

© Leila Chammas, February 9, 2017.


Burmese Marionette

A genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings. Wooden and hollow, submerged in waters thick as molasses. Looking up towards the sky to see 52 soles, tapping, moving. An entire world exists on a plane that it cannot reach. A complex marionette, lower than the Shakespearean stage overhead. No amount of blood or entrails stuffed into the doll’s hollow corpse could coax life into its carcass. A leper, for all intents and purposes. Its movements, mechanical, controlled by another; every gesticulation an exorbitant effort, wading heavily through a deceptively clear coagulation.

It is solitary in every way possible. If you were to look at the stage, you would see 27 Burmese marionettes but the mind of one radiates far below. Deep into the Mariana Trench, spanning the distance from Providence to Wichita where faith in God only exists in the face of tremendous fear. The people it loves are no longer enough and it has lived through hell a dozen times over in its mind. Stripped of purpose and a sense of safety to the point of suicidal ideation, wood can set itself on fire. Some of what it wanted, needed, was given then mercilessly taken away, some never given at all. Redemption curled up and died in its palms. Hope withered when it forced its arm out in a feeble, yet courageous, attempt. Love weaved through its hair like a gentle breeze only to fade into oblivion, without explanation.

A genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings, exists on another plane. No number of strings could elevate its mind, no puppeteer skilled enough to recognize the mind has separated from the body, slipped away, giving the puppeteer unconditional control of a cadaver.

It exists simultaneously above and below, on land and under water, in life and in death, in reality and in its mind, on earth and in hell. It is a mummified, genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings, but certainly one around its neck.

© Leila Chammas, January 26, 2017.


Red Light Existential Crisis

We are born through no effort of our own, with a mind and body we have neither chosen nor own. And, all of a sudden, this thought begins to morph, slowly, into a worm that wriggles its way through the crevasses of the mind. A magnificent organ, soiled effortlessly.

It may not be an existential crisis worthy of the philosophers I studied but it is an angst that quietly gnaws away at my consciousness. Long, grey nails on a bony hand picking away at the chipped paint on my walls. Tk. Tk. A soothing activity for the hand, I’m sure, but I am experiencing exposure and vulnerability.

I’m waiting. I know exactly what for but I will never tell. I know that some of what I wait for will not come to me and I cannot simply go out and grab it. So I slowly and painfully let it go. A mourning process of sorts ensues. If I were a fisherman, I’d release my line into the ocean to disintegrate where I know the spool will accomplish more in death than it ever would in life for me. I learn, and I let go.

Still, I have not begun to live. Twenty-eight years of life and I recognize that the vast majority was spent waiting. Subtly, but still very actively, waiting. Herein lies the crisis, bringing the basis of my existence into question. I have existed for years, created without permission, plagued by a feeling of needing to earn the right to… well, exist. Something about being given what one did not ask for, whether good or bad, creates a sense of responsibility over what has been given. What do you intend to do with it? How do I laugh with Sisyphus, look Nietzsche in the eye and say, “Yes, I would live this life over”?
The angst this creates is almost unbearable – I am chained yet free. I am nothing and everything all at once. The world I have envisioned is not the one I am in. I can either disregard or honor the difference. I am both an idealist and a realist.

And then, when the feeling finally subsides, I emerge from the depths of a murky lake. Baptized through my own suffering, the feeling of near-suffocation dispels the impurities in my lungs. Breaking through the water’s surface, breathing in deeply and urgently, I realize that I will never be loved by another more than I love myself. The fault may either be mine for loving myself too much or another’s for not being capable of loving me enough. And yet this all may not be entirely true. Either way, I am often at a red light, irritated yet unphased. Curious and anxious. The waters of my own reality splashing around me, taunting me mercilessly with the thoughts that while I may very well be Poseidon, these waters may very well be godless.

© Leila Chammas, January 18, 2017.

On Emptiness

Yesterday, I felt like a jar.

All of a sudden, for a few moments, I felt utterly empty. Gutted out clean. Not a morsel of my being left, even if only to serve as a testament to what used to be. It was as if every disappointment and every loss I had ever felt was imposing the weight of what could have and should have been onto me. A vacuum, declaring its presence not by its substance but by the absence it creates.

I am suspended on a string in space. I have nothing. I am nothing. I am nowhere. It were as if the apex of an existential crisis exploded in my lungs and settled in particles and pieces to rise again unexpectedly, like surprise confetti.

For a few painful minutes, I felt like a jar. A glass jar. See through, empty, full of potential but no fruition. For a few painful minutes, what lay dormant in my lungs rose with a vengeance to remind me of its existence and then settled… like dust at the bottom of a jar.

© Leila Chammas, November 30, 2016
Photo taken 11/30/16

The College Myth

We were told that if we walked this path we’d get to where we needed to go.

We were unleashed, wild and hungry, into an economy that had shriveled and tightened like a dried up sponge.

We graduated (like we were told we should) during the Great Recession. We threw up our hats and the stock market came down.

This has happened before. Yeah, we know. It doesn’t make it any better. If anything, that makes it worse. History exists partially as a reminder of what not to do, doesn’t it?

Anyway. We lie in the bedrooms we grew up in, lamenting our stunted growth.

We went to college, majored and double-majored in everything and anything. We even got advanced degrees thinking the extra time would help. It didn’t. We racked up debt that came back to collect too soon. So we offer up what we have, emaciated and bony, teeth clenched and nails bitten. It’s just enough to keep it at bay until next month.

You can tout whatever progress the economy has made all you want but the employment-population ratio is… well, it was better in 1998 and counting someone with a master’s degree who is working in retail out of sheer necessity as ‘employed‘ is kinda sorta skewing the numbers, dontchya think? To your favor, I’m sure.

We take jobs, often more than one, where we’re offensively underpaid and underemployed. Yeah, we get it, work is work and there’s no shame in a job but pride alone isn’t going to pay back our loans. We were told getting a degree would somehow increase our value, even if the job we ended up getting had just about nothing to do with what we studied. This is the game, these are the rules, we played.


© Leila Chammas, November 18, 2016

Part 2/2: The Art of (Never) Explaining 

2. ‘Never Explain’

I’m much better at this than at not complaining but I’m working on this one too. As the article explains (haha), explaining presumes culpability so, long story short and turned into advice, be careful who you explain yourself to.

I’m working mostly on not offering unsolicited explanations. Oddly enough, I find that I am more likely to offer a gratuitous explanation for an action of minimal significance than I am to offer an explanation if asked of me if the situation in question is one where I do not see that an explanation is warranted.

It takes practice to be able to confidently discern when you do and do not need to explain yourself and to whom, regardless of whether or not you are being pressed for one. The type of job you have also comes with its own unique level of responsibility to others and its extremely frustrating when someone does not seem to understand that. Take, for example, a politician who doesn’t bother explaining his policies to constituents in a satisfying manner or responding to concerns when he takes an unfavorable action. That politician would be an atrocious one. An artist, on the other, doesn’t need to explain why he’s chosen black over pink in any way that implies accountability in answering; any explanation offered would be purely informational, not absolving, in nature. (Art that is controversial due to its use of subjects and mediums is a different story).

Before offering up an unsolicited explanation, I make sure the explanation is valuable (i.e. it could help preserve a friendship, for example) and who I’m about to explain myself to. When asked, I keep in mind the same things.

© Leila Chammas, November 16, 2016.

Part 1/2: The Art of (not) Complaining

I often remind myself of the British adage, ‘Never Complain, Never Explain.’ I was first introduced to this concept by this article, which I saw on Reddit. I have a few thoughts on each of the two parts of this adage, which I’d like to share here in two separate posts.

1. ‘Never Complain’

We’ve all done it at some point, and some like doing it a whole lot more than others. What exactly constitutes complaining anyway? I think the line between making an observation and complaining can be crossed in at least a few ways:

(a) By making the same observation multiple times without making any discernible effort to remedy the situation (assuming, of course, that there is one).
If you can do something to fix the situation, kindly do so. But what if there is no remedy? Maybe you’re bothered that it gets dark at 5 PM in the fall but it doesn’t quite bother you enough to motivate you to move. Well then it’s not really a problem, is it? As French cartoonist Jacques Rouxel once said, “If there is no solution, it is because there is no problem.” So, people who repeatedly remark on the sun setting early are either making small talk or complaining and both can be extremely annoying.

(b) By making the same observation multiple times to the same audience.
Regardless of whether or not there is a solution to whatever someone is “discussing,” being repetitive is just… bad. We’ve probably all encountered someone who seems to have the same problem(s) year after year and still feels the need to paradoxically update you on a situation that has no new components to it. Tsk tsk.

(c) Having bad energy.
I’ve encountered a few people who, no matter the situation or topic of discussion, just have bad energy; you could talk about adorable puppies and you’d still feel the weight of their plight. These are people who bring an unnecessary level of heaviness to a conversation either by one-upping someone else with their woeful stories or consistently failing to reciprocate enthusiasm (Text: “Hey! How are you?” Response: “I’m ok.. you?”). These aren’t people having a bad day or going through a rough patch; for whatever reason, they’re just heavy most (if not all) of the time. This is a form of indirect complaining; their tone says more than their words do but the message is still pretty clear.

I’ve been thinking about why people (myself included) complain and I think there are some valid philosophical/psychological reasons:

  • Expressing discontent regarding a shared experience is a way of connecting to other people:
    Ranting about the things that piss you off with someone who is also pissed off at the same things ironically seems to help us reduce stress, at least for a little while. It may not be the best coping mechanism but it’s hard to deny how satisfying it can be to go on a tirade about something and have someone acknowledge and validate your sentiments.
  • Expressing discontent can be a subtle plea for help:
    We can change some situations ourselves but others, although fixable, are in someone else’s hands and/or require the concerted efforts of multiple people to successfully enact a change. So when someone starts complaining about something to someone else, a part of them just might be reaching out, saying, “I think this is a problem but I know I can’t fix it alone – do you agree and are you willing to help me change the situation?” When someone agrees with the complaint and joins in on the complaining, it implies that that person may be willing to help change the situation. Oftentimes, however, this ends up being false hope because, in reality, enacting change often comes with consequences that not everyone can afford.

I’ve been more conscious about complaining – what I complain about and to whom – and I try to think it through: Is there a solution? If not, why am I complaining? Am I just connecting with people or am I running a fool’s errand and creating false hope? If there is a solution, is it something I can do myself? If not, am I willing to put in the effort to reach out to others to initiate a positive change or support someone else trying to make a change?

It takes time and patience to think through these questions but it also helps me become more conscious of myself and whatever situation I am facing. I have not mastered the art of not complaining just yet but I do think twice before voicing discontent and, when applicable, use my dissatisfaction as a platform for constructive criticism.

© Leila Chammas, November 14, 2016