Constant Thoughts #2:

trauma and interface

A series of writings dedicated to things I can’t get out of my head.

I often wonder about the myriad ways that our past is consistently interfacing with our present, influencing decisions and metamorphosing the very fabric of our mental and emotional realities. And this is to think beyond just traumas and their obvious effects on one’s ability to cope with a world which has ideas about normality; how one moves smoothly through a world. What I’m thinking about is all of the causal effects that stack together to create a physicalized expression of time compiling. A body. This is to think critically of the body as an interface. It is to also think critically of the face as an interface. And it is to question ideas of possession of those modes.

In September my dad finally sold my childhood home. My siblings’ childhood home. His and his siblings’ childhood home. A house obtained by my Pop Pop in the early 20th century. I don’t know by what means or how he got it, but I have a memory of it having to do with the military. Connected to that suburban boom, to that Fort Monmouth that always hovered in my childhood periphery.

That home was my introduction to violence. That home was my introduction to marital strife. That home introduced me to what my life would and could be. Memories of traumas overtaking what could have been those positive moments that had the potential for remembrance but were subsumed by the negatives ability to flood. Like my constant childhood nightmares of tsunamis at the shore always overtaking me, unable to run fast enough off of the ever growing width of the sand.

To think of my childhood home is to think of its possession and how it changes hands between my parents. First there was my dad who left, and my mom stayed. She kept living there because me and my siblings kept living there. My dad got an apartment, I eventually began to shuffle between the two. Then my dad “came home” and my mom got an apartment. The house was renovated, changed. A constant oscillation between chaos and order. Stability never a precondition of order. There was nothing that could be simple, staying in one place, having one home. There was no space for an absolute outgrowth of an identity of my own, always hidden away for fear of emotion and judgement. Fantasy games overtook any interest in cultural engagements. Experimentation with who I could be was eclipsed by a desire to elide judgement, of whatever kind that may be. Who I was could not be fleshed out in a meaningful way. My body was not one to be inscribed upon. That was ignored in favor of imitation of others and a blending in so as to avoid any markings made by others, punishing or otherwise.

I did not possess my body. That which was provided to me stayed in a general sense. I had no desires, no dreams, difficulty was avoided at all costs so growth could not occur. As if my small frame could not hold all of those elements which would present stress. Only enough room between my skin and bones to hold a fragility which no amount of taunting and teasing could strengthen. I look back at my constant thoughts of times absolute snail’s pace, as if the world I dreaded would never end. The fear of the darkness that came with dreamless sleep at night for its void qualities mirroring my own voidish personality. Sincerity and anything resembling vulnerability were not so much stricken from the record, but disallowed due to a certain sensitivity which pervaded my entire being. Like my emotional nerve endings were so exposed that if I could, I avoided that which would activate them. Positive and negative alike. To be authentic and genuine with my own wants and desires was to ask for the wrath of other’s judging why I would want or desire something. I quit so many things when I was younger it felt disingenuous to pursue anything else.

To think of all of these “allergies” to emotion, vulnerability, and desire is to think a body that was both traumatized and guarded. Like an immune system that keeps out all the wrong things, and lets in only that which you tried so desperately to avoid. This raw reality so antithetical to the one to be occupied. An odd suburban reality that is safeguarded by overactive maternal instincts removing the possibility for damage, just to make any damage taken that much more severe. Perhaps this should be my answer when others ask me why I have such soft hands. Thinking back to this insulated world that could never prepare me for anything outside of it.

How then could I ever truly be in a world? An incomplete interface. A face and body without a face and body. Simply a mass of trauma and underdeveloped sociality. A life half-lived.

This isn’t a woe is me story. To try and remember a reality and put words to it. An attempt to possibly understand what went wrong, and to rethink what wrong means is a difficult one. I think back and I know there was constant pain and inability to engage with the world around me. But it was the lack of meaningful support that caused this cave in. A reciprocal closing off of the possibility for this building. When we consider those series of time based events which comprise a present body, a present face, it is to consider less the actions themselves that comprise the events, but the whole of the events. What is it that was done wrong? But also how could a shift in reaction have affected the outcome? To consider and reconsider these things again and again, from different angles, different vantage points. When we access our traumas do we simply play them again in our heads? Or do we allow ourselves the kind of imaginative play that lets us put them perhaps to rest, or to better use? This is a constant that must be dealt with again and again. A vagueness in my approach to writing it down here is perhaps not the best, but I am no Maggie Nelson. I am no Patti Smith, and I certainly am no Marcel Proust or Allen Ginsberg or James Baldwin or any of the other numerous writers who so acutely mine their pasts and presents to create a new schematic for engaging the future.

This is the impossibility of my recollection that I must work through. There is no madeleine to bring rushing back all that I have forgotten, the notes were never taken. Considering one’s possession of their own body, their own traumas, is possession truly the way through? To claim ownership of all that has come before as their own, or to understand it as always already shared within the interdependent necessities of our lives? All of these threads compiling, stacking and weaving upon themselves. Our lives so wrapped up with those of others. The intersections being where all of the violences and engagements and necessities and intimacies occur, especially when these are with yourself.

All of this comes in the wake of certain therapy conversations I have in which I think through (with my therapist) the implications of the language we have around our nonnormalities, especially within the therapeutic communities. It is to think what it would mean to consider myself possibly neurodivergent (sans diagnosis for now) and how that reorients the entirety of my past. To consider that certain tools and formulas for engagement were never handed to me. The idea that there is a world built up by capital and norms and it’s not that I don’t work, but that a system is working against me.

These ideas are not easy to grapple with, especially when you wish to put the onus on yourself, perhaps because it is easier to challenge the self than the world around you.

Everything I have written so far also requires heavy concretizations. There are nebulae of constellations which encompass events, relationships, actions, moments, thoughts, ideas that swirl in the muck of the past of every individual which is constantly interfacing with every other individual. There are certain impossibilities to the process of figuring out “what went wrong” with yourself when that is what it feels like happened. Networks of innumerable variables constitute what has become my life, and my brain(self) seeks to make that all make sense. My therapist has asked me at least a few times if everything really needs to link up with everything. And I really don’t know if it does anymore.

So much of what I do to myself flies in the face of what I think about generally in my writing and my work, which is to avoid the essential, the binary, the gesamtkunstwerk of identity and body. Even to do this writing, to try and use it to make sense, even as I have utterly failed (thankfully), creates complexities I do not know if I have the tools to account for. Who knows if I, or anyone, ever will.

Perhaps the best way I can end this is to say that I join in the chorus provided by those who follow Glissant’s idea (that I would almost call a maxim) “to consent not to be a single being”, and will try and stew in that. To let that childhood home lie, now that it is sold, to give it away in the mind. Not that this is an easy process, and perhaps it will be one which I participate in until I die. But it is in this, perhaps, that I can find a glimmer of hope that works for my dispossession of my trauma body. This hope that allows me to begin to articulate these challenges to normative modes of possession, but also normative worlds which structure the impossibilities of my psychological movements, against the possibility for me to have a rich emotional life. I believe to think critically of one’s own singularity is to find the criticality within the body and face as interface, in so far as the ways that they operate as always interfacial, as intersubjective, is to remember that one’s relationship to others is always the starting point. A radical, and always radically shifting, sociality.