#10

You are special. You are not special.

When I was a little kid, my brother and I watched Matilda together. There were only two things that stuck out to me about the movie: I was disgusted by the scene where that fat kid (Bruce Bogtrotter, yup had to Google that) has to eat the entire chocolate cake until he vomits, and during the course of the film, my brother managed to convince my seven-year-old self that telekinesis was real.

I'm not sure how the conversation went exactly, but it probably was something like this.

Me: You can't move things with your mind. That's not real.

My brother: Oh, it totally is. 

Me: Uh-uh.

My brother: Uh-huh.

Me: Uh-uh.

My brother: Uh-huh. You just have to concentrate really, really hard.

And that was that.

I spent the rest of that afternoon staring intensely at objects, hoping that I could will them into moving. I had dreams that night about making vases float through the air, and later on, moving my entire body at will. It was my first clear memory of a lucid dream, but I didn't know that then--all I knew was that I was awake in my dream, and I was conscious of what I was doing. Surely if I could move things with my mind when I was sleeping, I could figure out how to do it when I was awake. I was gonna be goddamn Matilda, physics be damned.

Luckily, it didn't take me long to figure out that my brother was bullshitting me. But the belief persisted that I was capable of somehow being Other, Different, or Special. I went through similar dilemmas in my early childhood, wondering if I was that one special person who could actually talk to animals, and more specifically, my cat. I wondered if the Matrix was really just a sick joke played by the agents who created the Matrix, and what if this actually is the Matrix? I looked for signs of glitches. I read up a lot on deja vu, and wondered if somehow I was going to be the one to figure out that the movie was someone's satirical attempt to wake us up. I think this was around the time that my entire belief system started falling apart, and I questioned God, another framework that was supposed to make me feel like I was in some way special or chosen.

It wasn't until I got to high school that I realized I was pretty mediocre at a lot of things. My skills in playing the flute leveled out, despite hiring a private flute tutor, and my track coach nudged me away from sprinting into long distance running, convinced that I was in the wrong events. I finally quit the chorus at church after being told that I looked super serious while singing and didn't smile enough, plus puberty had deepened and changed my voice (yep, it happens to women too). I picked up things I was better at, like cross country and editing the literary magazine.

But the belief that a lot of us millenials have supposedly been spoon-fed lies about how special we are persists. It's a lot easier to think that you're not special. At least, you're not special in the grand scheme of things. But you can be special in the smaller ways that you manage your life, like the drive that you possess, the way you prioritize the things that matter to you, yada yada. I have a hard time latching onto these platitudes, even if they are true. 

There's a concept in Andean indigenous culture that really helped me to grapple with this special/not special thing. It's similar to yin and yang, and it's called yanantin. The key difference between yanantin and Taoist philosophy is that yanantin implies (for some) that an unpartnered person is incomplete until they have found their complementary force. This does not necessarily mean a romantic partnership, but any pairing that creates harmony. The individualism of American society really doesn't leave much room for this type of belief. We are constantly asking if people are inherently good or evil, instead of thinking about why we are always neither and both, and pondering further still how neither and both is actually possible in the first place.

The key, then, to getting over my unspecialness was to stop thinking of life in terms of opposing forces and linear timelines. Yanantin does not follow a linear timeline but a spiral, looping back on itself again and again, so that at times, we are catching up to time, and time is in turn catching up to us. When I think about myself in this way and what I'm good at, it's not just about constantly moving forward and getting better at things, but also looping back to the things I was.

A few years ago, I found my flute in my parents' house, and I picked it up and I played. I was surprised to find that I had not forgotten any of the notes. I remembered a piece of who I was, and in that moment I realized how many things I learned and retained despite my mediocrity: I can read music, I can hear notes, I can remember the fingerings even when there is only a phantom flute in front of me. I carry a little bit of sprinting into my running too, my body remembering that being on my toes and pumping my arms faster tricks my legs into moving faster too. Muscle memory is on a spiral, not a line.  

My writing, too, loops back on itself. When I try to think of whether or not my writing is good or bad, I instead think of how it is simultaneously both, because it includes elements of things I've changed and habits I'm still carrying. The last time I packed up and moved, I found my poetry portfolio from my undergraduate years and cringed. There was unrequited love and career uncertainty and lots of naivete about what the "real world" would be like. Despite its linear nature--after all, stories and poems have a definitive beginning and end--writing can embody yanantin in any way it wants to, because writing is not bound by any time except the exact moment when someone is reading it. In this sense, I can find something hopeful in even the most mediocre of my endeavors, knowing that my perspective on something can change the thing itself. 

So, I repeat: You are special. You are not special. 

See? We're back at the beginning, but we're also not. I might not believe telekinesis is real anymore, but I can now see alternate worlds in which it might be possible, and why, and how, and this fiction, I think, is a part of something being neither true nor untrue.