I think I can distill anything I ever wanted in life down to one simple thing: to feel pretty. I was never overly ambitious in the looks department. Beautiful wasn’t on my dream vocabulary list. Just pretty. I wanted to be pretty. And I have tried desperately my entire life to learn how to feel, look, be that elusive thing, to become that pretty self, that self that I can picture in my mind but so rarely see in the mirror.
I wish I could comfort the younger version of Megan and tell her she would one day feel pretty all the time. Really, really wish I could.
Nope, can’t do it. Reality is that as a matured woman it is incredibly rare that I feel pretty. I don’t feel pretty often, partly because of the illnesses, because my body is always trying to power itself down, I suppose. But it’s there, the pretty is there. It’s just incredibly rare and fleeting.
But I have studied myself a lot this year, and I believe I have figured out the secret to feeling pretty:
Let me begin with what prettiness does not depend upon: Whether or not I showered that day; if my hair is done or even brushed; if my clothes are fashionable or fitting, or even on; my weight; whether or not I’m on my period; if my nails are painted; if I’m in a relationship or single.
Nope. None of it matters. The pretty magic only happens when….it’s so simple! I’m with someone who engages me, draws me out, sees me. Someone who gets it, who understands that life is just a shit show of pain and then a curtain drawing. Not kidding. Sounds a bit dull, right? But it’s the truth: That’s the only time I feel pretty. For example, when I found the refugees, I felt pretty. Soooo pretty. I can’t tell you how pretty Fatuma made me feel when we would work on her handwriting together. When I found the migrants, I felt pretty. Graciela? Gosh, she made me feel so pretty, while we were doing all those dishes. When I talk to my best friend Beth, who loves movies the way I love movies and listens to music the way I listen to music, I feel pretty. When me and Sufjan are sitting on the couch six hours at a time, figuring out how we would establish peace in the Middle East, gosh, I feel pretty.
So pretty has absolutely nothing to do with how I look, even how I feel that day. It is based entirely upon the ability to connect with another. When I feel that connection, I feel pretty. If I don’t feel the connection, I feel alone. And that feels anything but pretty.
I have to continue and bring you up to date, though: I cannot begin to describe how lonely the past year has been. The past 32 have been pretty lonely, but this one–it blew all the others out of the water. Maybe it’s the diet–I don’t know anyone in person who follows it as I do. Or maybe it’s the fact that I have stopped my human rights work. Or maybe it’s just that I have withdrawn so much in my daily life and just have more hermit time than may have been normal in the past.
Whatever it was or is, I haven’t felt pretty at all. I have felt only shame, this shame that suffocates all the sinners and molds all the saints. But I don’t have the energy, honestly, to seek out that connection. I can’t do it. I’m so tired, so burned out. It has just….I have ceased to want to be pretty. I don’t know if that’s the terrorism talking, or if it’s really me–maybe it’s all the trauma?
But I don’t feel pretty, and I don’t feel any ambition for it anymore. Not even close. I keep waiting for it, for some surprise. I wait for God’s gracious desire for prettiness to show up underneath my pillow in the mornings–fall asleep leaving my shame underneath and wake up nervous and excited, like a kid eager to see if the tooth fairy has come or not. I want him to exchange the dry bones for some petty cash, something useful, like prettiness. But it’s empty underneath the pillow. It’s so empty.
I know I can’t leave this little essay with just that, so I will add this: When I was young, I prayed God would make me pretty. Now I pray that God would grant me the ability to connect with others, with him. Forget the pretty. The world can keep pretty. I just want the connection, nothing more.
I did it. I deleted my social media. I’ve had some form of social media since about 2006-2007 (Myspace counts, right?). It’s the day after, and I feel quite grievous. So much of my social life is via social media, isn’t it? Or is it not? I guess that’s why I did it–I don’t think it’s healthy at my age, with me as hermit-ic as I already am, to blur those lines. I need to know people, in person, love them and experience them loving me.
I’m thinking back on what spurred it on, and I realize now it’s all the diet changes this year. I did this long water fast in December of 2018–21 days on just water (hadn’t learned about electrolytes yet, highly recommend adding magnesium, potassium and salt to that regimen). I took that same amount of time, 21 days, fasting from social media (deactivated accounts, etc.), and when I got back on I became aware of how much my anxiety increased, how many advertisements there were, how eerily Instagram was reading my mind/ listening in on my conversations (yes, that’s a thing, when you “enable microphone” to post to Stories, you’re really enabling it). This year I’ve still used it…but with more hesitance.
The fast itself spurred on other diet changes in 2019. I eat a very, very minimal diet, the same food every day, and after seven months straight of just having that one food, I have realized just how many foods I don’t need. I go to the store now, and I don’t even walk the aisles anymore. I just beeline to the butcher, then leave. It’s simplified everything for me, and I’m better for it. Maybe the same could be true with my digital footprint?
I have to hand it to social media, though: It has created some really great relationships. Well….ok, in truth, the “entirely” digital ones it originated are few and far between, but it has kept me up to speed with my best friends in Colorado when I couldn’t have been otherwise. I have remained connected to my Iraqi field researchers, to beneficiaries in Sinjar, to friends from all over the world. But I am starting to let a lot of that work go, to let those times be those times–and am moving on. Without social media it really takes someone having my number and being able to text me to feel like they are a part of my life. (I made sure the most consistent international friends have my Whatsapp number, so they can text me)
Social media has also provided me with work–I’ve managed accounts for businesses and gotten paid for it. But I never enjoyed it. So much is based on metrics. You’re always trying to encourage engagement, and if people don’t engage, you feel like a failure. I don’t miss feeling like a failure. And I don’t miss engaging, really.
The problem is, I’m an artist at heart, and I want people to be exposed to what I’m doing, creating. But I haven’t created in a long time. A lack of social media cuts out a lot of the possibility of people seeing what I have created in any way. But I’m willing to let that go, to be invisible in the middle of the desert.
So here’s to a new year, social media-free. I wonder if I can even survive? And if I do, how my life will change?
Yesterday I went to the mechanic to get a car check-up because I knew I would be driving to Phoenix. My car is twelve years old, and I didn’t want anything happening to me on the road. There was an excessive heat warning in Arizona coming the next day, a high of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
It all overwhelmed me. The heat overwhelmed me, the appointment itself, but even more so than that, the thought of driving up to Phoenix just…it always sucks the life out of me. When I lived in Colorado, I used to love to drive–hours and hours, days and days. I had a five-speed (I still do), and climbing around the Rockies in 3rd gear never got old. But there is this space, this empty no man’s land between Tucson and Phoenix that I find eery, haunting, depressing. For ten years I’ve avoided driving it. For ten years I’ve had to for various reasons. The blankness of it makes me feel alien and strange. The cartels have more ownership of it than we Americans do. Immigrants die in that corridor every year and there’s a lot of movement of coyotes (smugglers), etc.
But I had an appointment–I had work–and it had to be done. So I drove. I got up there, safe and sound. I completed the interview, no harm done. I walked out of the Department of Economic Security back into the heatwave and thought of how lucky we have it down in Tucson (it’s a few degrees cooler). Then I got in my car, turned the ignition, blasted the A/C. But all I got was hot, hot, hot oven air.
I gave it a few minutes–life isn’t that cruel, right?
The hot, hot oven air only got hotter.
The compressor was broken.
What is it about life–when we do our very best–plan ahead, prepare as much as we can for the worst–that we end up only getting hot oven air blasting out of our car on excessive heat warning days?
I stopped at a gas station on the way back and picked up a bag of ice and held it on my lap while I drove. I thought of my Yezidis, trucking through the desert in 2014, after the invasion of ISIS, how many died of thirst from the heat. I thought of the illegal immigrants who have died along the very same route, on foot. I thought of all my work the past six years in the Middle East, how it has all seemed to amount to nothing–the terrorists shaved their beards and went back to normal life. The Yezidis are still in camps. The refugees are still as much in their communities’ cocoons as ever. And as I thought, sweat dripping down my back, I got so overwhelmingly lonely–the loneliness felt hotter to me than the heat itself. The loneliness was so excessive, so high, so intense, I thought I was going to suffocate from it.
I got home, forced myself to eat a little and drink more water, took some ibuprofen and crawled into bed.
Excessive heat warnings. There’s never enough warning, is there?
I was a sophomore in high school when I first stumbled upon Jane Eyre. From page one I was enthralled with that novel. So enthralled, in fact, that by chapter three I was eating only one meal a day of purposefully chilled gruel and begging my mother to send me to a spiritually, emotionally, and physically abusive private school (she said they were too expensive). By the time I got to the part where Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love, I was making eyes at any man eighteen years my senior (mostly my teachers); and by the end I was asking these elder male authority figures if they wouldn’t mind purposefully burning/blinding themselves and marrying me (they said they couldn’t cause they’d get fired). #punintended