Just a side note here. I plan to be a little raw about explaining the challenges I face, day to day in life. Things Molly draws from in many ways. I am choosing not to mention any diagnosis I may or may not have because the challenges matter, not the labels. And I’ll thank you to not armchair diagnose me in your comments or your heart. Cool? Cool? That shit is between me, the Queen of Heaven, and my doctor. Cool? Cool.
First, what is Reaching Out?
Reaching Out follows the story of a woman named Molly. In her youth she was marked. Different. Many of us are. For Molly, her marking came from a weird predilection to see ghosts and a crippling empathy. In the novel, Molly is often utterly overwhelmed by the emotions of others, seeing them as physical things she must navigate around. The book presents this all as literal to her. Not hallucination or hyperbole. These difficulties are related, of course, but that’s for you to read more. At the start of the story, Molly is directionless but with a calling. Half-way raised by another marked person, a ‘strange’ uncle with a gift for folk magic and what he calls “the good work.” Most of that work relates to helping the dead and helping the living to deal with the dead. Molly is anchored by her uncle’s guidance, and becomes quite good at the good work from her youth. But as an adult, with only this calling, she wonders about the choices she makes. And examining how she interacts with the world, who is taking advantage of her, and at what point must she choose to take advantage of each other or remain a doormat.
But above all, Molly’s story is about breaking away from the harmful dichotomies of victim or predator as our only options in life. From the book:
I thought about selfishness and how it’s set to the opposite end of selflessness. As if the only two ways to be are giving or taking. That way of thinking, of limiting yourself to greed or grief ignored the simple gray of real life. Compassion existed, and in fact co-existed with self-preservation if you looked at all of it. Sinclair had once called that enlightened self-interest.
Don’t get me wrong. The book isn’t all navel gazing. A lot of it’s crying for the dead, dealing with spirits far greater and more terrifying than your average Casper, and cute punk boys. But at it’s heart, Molly’s story is one of forgiveness.
It sounds selfish, typing it out here, bit please afford me a touch of that in an understanding that this is not take, but give. I need to forgive myself for the things that are wrong with me. Daily. Hourly sometimes. Minute by minute at the worst of times.
I wrote Reaching Out to forgive myself for the things that make me broken and wrong. The things that mark me.
Because those things also make me ‘magical’ within the context of what magical means in our reality.
I feel too much.
If you’ve interacted with me much, or know me in real life, this is a kind of a ‘shrug’ of a statement isn’t it? I feel too much. I’m too sensitive. I do not have a thick skin. All the reasons I should not be, say, a woman on the internet. Or a writer. Isn’t that what they tell writers? You must have a thick skin.
I resist this idea. And I resent it. And it made me feel weak and broken my whole life.
I experience crippling empathy. Maybe not in the folkloric way that Molly does, but that’s all smokey lines anyway. Day to day, I walk away from the internet, the news, a movie, a book, because the intensity of the experiences of others can sweep me away. Sometimes that’s good. When I see friends happy, I literally experience joy. Whole open face joy. Sometimes it’s devastating. I cannot tell you the number of times a week I tell my wife, “Okay, no more politics today.” Because if I read one more story, hear one more outrage, I’ll fall into a ball and die. Or wish I could.
I manage. I’m an adult. I can turn things off to cope when I must. But it eats at me, and gets at me eventually. Most often when I’m trying to sleep. I’ve stopped throwing up over sad movies. But once, I did. It’s not as direct one to one as I’d like either. I go to see a live performance. Almost any. Doesn’t matter. The high raised energy of artist making music, for example, overwhelms me and I cry openly. Not sadly. I’m overwhelmed. (I have family who experience this as well, but I’m not going to out them. I know how the internet can be when you admit what it sees as a vulnerability.)
Sometimes I feel like I’m patchwork of coping mechanism sewn together.
The noise I experience is often overwhelming in large gatherings of people. You know Christmas shopping at an American mall? Can you picture it? Now imagine it, but every word around you, ever thought and feeling, is all aimed at you personally. That’s me. Maybe I’m just reading expressions and body language around me, making all the assumed feelings they’re expressing and putting it all on myself. There’s a lot of very mundane, practical explanations for why I get overwhelmed in large crowds by the ‘feelings’ around me. The mental noise. There are clinical terms. I’m not using those here because that’s my choice not to. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The experience is the same. The feelings of a thousand strangers coming into my brain meat and confusing everything I’m trying to think and feel myself.
These days, this largely translates to me getting confused on train platforms. Don’t get me wrong, I get to work, I get home, it’s always okay. I’m an adult, I learned to cope. But sometimes after a long day of work, I can stand on familiar platform in a station I’ve been through a hundred times and it became an entirely different place. Words and kanji I know are alien, unfamiliar shape. This causes panic, of course, but mostly it comes with soul draining feeling of failure. I know I know where I am. But I cannot process I know where I am, so what sort of fucking failure am i?
You’ll see this happen in Reaching Out. Molly takes the bus. A lot. She’s can’t drive with her condition. And yet, all the emotional noise around her leads to confusion and the familiar becoming hideously unfamiliar.
The thing is. Molly copes with this. I cope with my version of it. And I need to forgive myself, even in the moment when how I am gets in my way.
I wrote this book to forgive myself for getting in my own way.
And I feel like there are plenty of people out there who live marked like Molly. Who don’t always or can’t always forgive themselves for being themselves. I wrote this book for them too. So if you’re someone, maybe, who isn’t always as kind with yourself as you could be, maybe I wrote this for us. If you know someone who isn’t always as graceful toward themselves, I wrote it for them too.
I matter. It’s okay I get in my own way. I’m still good.
Molly matters. She is who she is and that’s beautiful.
You matter. You are you and that’s not just good enough. That’s great.
If I have the time, soon, I’ll tell you another thing I have in common with Molly. I believe in ghosts, and I want to talk to you about hauntology. See you then.
You can get Reaching Out, a San Jenaro novel: