EXCESS

EMMA SHEINBAUM

I believe every fear I have. They all feel inevitable. I have a compulsion that doesn’t let me leave any notification unopened. The man who was assigned to prepare me for my bat-mitzvah had a hole in his throat. He said it was because he smoked too many cigarettes. His voice sounded mechanical, even in singing. When he said my prayers and my portion I would listen to him but not watch. The only time I prayed and believed it could work, I was fourteen and in my bathrobe. It was when the family kitten broke her neck in a reclining chair accident. It was the m’sheberach, it was supposed to be the prayer for healing. It did not work and I felt embarrassingly human for thinking it had the potential to. I am often tired but rarely sleepy. Going out to dance often ends in crying. It can all be overwhelming, so much movement in so much swinging light. Looking over the room like I am treading in a sea of complex bodies. It can all be overwhelming. The first thing I do when I arrive anywhere is look for the bathroom. I do not take long to choose what I want to order off a menu. My knees shake when I order. So does my voice. If I am in a food store alone, I still feel like I have lost my mom somewhere in the aisles. I have always and will always use the doggy paddle technique despite having had swim lessons. I am a sinker. I almost drowned once, the first time I went to the Jersey Shore. I was five and my ankle was taken under a tide, like it was looped onto a rope. Daddy tried to grab me while he was holding my baby sister, and they were taken under too. My mom watched from afar and thought she lost her family in a wave. All I remember is dark water and pressure and rushes of ocean through my nose. Like I was watching from somewhere below everything. I do not remember a sound. Hydrangeas remind me of home. I do not know their scent. The pear tree on our front lawn, in bloom, smells like fish.

I once spent an entire afternoon and dusk smelling the roses, alone in Portland where I knew nobody. I went back for more and for longer the next day. The garden an experiment, the garden a test. When I have to make the call to leave my grandparents, I freeze. I am always afraid this will be the last time I say good-bye and it will have been my decision. It is too much. Most days I feel like I am turning into my dad. Our resting face looks angry. We are often asked, What’s wrong. We bounce our legs under tables. All my family are restless bodies. He can be harsh without meaning to when you ask for feedback or the truth. So can I. Feedback and truth can be harsh without meaning to be. My dad has learned to ask me if I want feedback before providing it. I still need to learn this, too. When I repeat every thought in my head aloud, more than once, I feel I am turning into my mom. Also when I ask others to repeat what they have said, which is often. I am ashamed about doing this because I get annoyed when others ask me to do the same. I am angriest when someone tells me something is not true when I know it is, or vice versa. Anxiety did not get me to tell my pediatrician I needed help, anger did. I sigh deeply often because I forget to exhale often. I wonder if people think it is passive aggressive, or think about it at all. Anxiety makes me a self-centered person. As in, my thoughts are centered. As in, my fears are projected. As in, I am projecting forward. I am trying to be psychic.

I have to swiffer my bedroom. I have to vacuum the rug. I have to do my dishes. I have to take the dirty laundry off my floors. I have to put them in a basket. I have to remember not to walk naked across my living room. I have to tell the people I love I love them. I have to learn how to do that. I have to learn how to do that without feeling scared. I have to feel scared or else. I have to feel scared or else does anything matter. I have to feel scared or else I will be afraid I do not care. I have to see the irrationality of being scared or else being scared or else being scared or else. I have to think I’m doing something wrong. I have to try not to think I’m doing everything wrong. I have to wonder what will go wrong. I have to wonder what could go wrong or else will it all go wrong. I have to wander so my mind doesn’t. I have to wander because a body at rest is a mind restless. I have to rest because isn’t this all so exhausting. I have to ask isn’t this all so exhausting for you too. I have to ask. I have to ask are you mad at me. I have to ask did I do anything to upset you. I have to ask are you upset with me like I am upset with me. I have to ask so I don’t have to wonder so I don’t have to so I don’t have to. So I do not have to hate myself for no reason. I do not have to hate myself for a reason. I do not have to hate myself to make self-deprecating jokes. I do not have to ask permission to laugh darkly. I have to ask do you love me do you love me enough to let me ask you that? To let me ask you that over and over do I have to ask. Do I have to ask if what I am feeling is true if what you are feeling is the same? If you are feeling anything? Do I have to wonder? Do I have to speak in code? Do I have to act in implicits? Do I have to make myself explicit? Do I have to know which one is harder? Do I have to ask what’s new or will you tell me? Do I have to ask what you want or will you tell me? If I have the stories in me? Do I have to have the language?

Sometimes I do something mildly dangerous to feel less alive or further from myself or have some control over danger. Like walking between subway cars when they are not moving. I only meet the expectations I have for myself if I surpass them. I am constantly disappointing myself. I am constantly proud of myself. I am constantly caught between. I feel I am too intense for anyone’s good. I feel guilty all the time. So does my body. I feel I am not enough for anyone to stay. I feel I am going to be found out. I do not know exactly what they would find. I feel too efficient or too lazy, narcissistic or undeserving. Like I am only ever bragging or I am complaining. I wonder what the fuck is wrong with me. Or what the fuck is wrong. Something is, has to be. I am always wondering about everything. I am always anticipating. I am always unsure and sure of everything. I am decisive but cannot make a decision. I know what I want in the big ways—to write, to live where I am living now, to adopt a cat. I am immobile in the small choices. My parents used timers at stores for me to count down how long I had to make a decision. I always asked for more time. I am lonely but enjoy spending a lot of time alone. I am never doing enough I am never doing enough I am doing too much. I feel that I am never doing enough and that I am doing too much. I do not think I am selfish, but I know I can act selfishly. I try to do everything I can to feel safe, to feel protected. I know that will never ensure either. I know it will never assure me. I know I say I know a lot. It has been a reflex for a long time. I say it to my mom when she reminds me to bring something. To my friends when they show me how to do something. To myself, especially when I do not think I do. I need to believe I am prepared. I get so anxious about getting sick I think myself physically ill, ill with feeling. I am convinced I was not doing this to myself. I was convinced I needed to feel it. If I say something enough times will people leave me. Is that why people have left me? I write in floods which is not the same exact thing as flow. I cannot stop. Is this a compulsion or self-preservation? Are those things mutually exclusive?

All of my grade school report cards say I have a hard time sticking to the main idea. But they do not say my thoughts are disorganized. They do not say they are excess. Even when I do not know, even when I do not want to. I am just afraid of being unprepared. I did not know how to hold a pencil correctly. My first grade teacher Miss McDonald kept me after school to teach me. I still do not know how to hold a pencil correctly. I hold it in a way that leaves a forever callous on the top knuckle of my right ring finger. I have always felt it had to be this way. My handwriting looks confused, randomly writing print and cursive letters together inside words. I know how to write print neatly. I know how to write script neatly. My handwriting just cannot stick to the main idea. I do not know how my hands choose which will be in print which will be script. I do not know how to draw well. I want a self-portrait. I want it to be so unlike a photograph that I do not recognize myself in it. I only want to know because of context that it is me. Do I want to unlearn myself. I feel I know myself but I cannot. I want to hear what other people might think it is, or who it is of, if it looks enough like a person. I do not always want to know but I do always want to feel safe. I have been sitting most of today but my heart is racing. Running up a few flights of stairs helped it slow down. I tend to run up stairs. If they are carpeted and small, I find myself crawling. When I am panicking and cannot breathe, my chest feels like it turned to sharp stone. Like I am also under sharp stone. When I catch my breath again, it feels soft, almost spongey. When my sister has panic attacks, she says she gets angry. Even though this one will stop I know they will keep coming back. When I get panic attacks, I tell her, I sometimes wish I was angry. Maybe I would know what to do with that, at least more than this hopelessness and endlessness. This spiral, this fugue, this deluge. When I feel ill or physically hurt, I believe it will never end. I believe this will be it: either death or forever. I say it aloud. I believe every pain I have but I doubt myself all the time. I am not enough or I am too much, I am not enough and I am too much, or at this point ors weigh like ands. 

My dream is to be the funniest person someone has ever met. Maybe I am that something to someone. I talk to my therapist about my competing thoughts and resolute feelings. The friction gives me migraines. Can I be both rock and hard place? What is that phrase even trying to mean? I only want to see all angles of everything is that so much to ask for, so much to try for. I am racing to think every thought and think it twice. I want to start listening to music at night more, not just while transporting. I somehow am too scared to eat brownie batter again but I remember loving it. I no longer use two particular forks because they remind me of someone in particular. Now I use them without thinking. One of those is a lie. I liked when adults called me mature for my age but old soul felt sad. Tired, even though I am. I have a habit of staring. A best friend who deeply believes in astrology says it is because I am a Scorpio. I think it is because I do not know how to be uninterested. I do not know how to turn off, I only know how to distract myself. When I get caught, when I catch their eyes. I close mine and keep them closed as if I fell asleep. If I want something badly enough I am afraid it will run away from me. If something happens that is good enough, I anticipate it will have to be balanced out. And soon. I am a lot. Or everything else is a lot and I am holding it all. I fixate on the past and future because now is too overwhelming. We do not give ourselves the patience we expect from others. I do not give myself the patience I expect from others. Do you not give yourself the patience you expect from me. After I have a meaningful or emotionally enlightening conversation I wish I recorded it. Every time a close friend enters a relationship I feel shunted, less of a priority, like a loss. And guilty. I fear I am clingy because I grow so attached to people. When space between us fluctuates, I get seasick. Every time I return to Ithaca I feel like I can breathe, like I have time, faraway. I continue to miss it even when I am there. When I watch driving scenes I am always nervous that they will crash. I always expect that they will. 

I am angry at my body. For collecting kidney stones. For holding me hostage with them. For not even giving me a reason. I am mad at my body. For taking away my appetite when the sun makes me feel warm. For taking away my weight when I rest. For withering under migraines, under covers, under ice packs and heating pads every month. For telling me physical pain is forever, convincing me each time. Most days I am persuaded by my fears. My piano teacher would be endlessly frustrated by my habit of playing too fast, my rush into knowing. 

I can feel like a lie. I can feel like the only true thing. My demisexuality is met with isn’t that just how it works, isn’t that just everyone. I am not lying when I say I know who I love and why, and when I don’t. I am not lying when I say I am caught in between many things, without and within. I am trying not to think myself into feeling. I am trying just hold feeling. I will never sit in a chair like kids are asked to. I will squat or curl up or stand on or fold myself into the seat. I associate sleepovers with tastes of strange toothpaste. Unfamiliar tubes when I forgot or decided not to take mine. The nervous twisters in my stomach before knowing where the night will go. Dreams or late night talks. Staring at the ceiling I cannot see because of how much darker other people’s bedrooms are. Darker than mine always because I would always keep the light partly on. Too much night kept my mind moving.  

I feel tired most of the time but I rarely feel sleepy. I think I already wrote about that. I hate how I can write such good shit while I feel like shit. Because of the times when I feel like shit and that is all. Because there is guilt in gaining something from something shitty. I want a picture of my aura to be taken maybe mostly for the metaphor. I want to be told what it means. To maybe disagree with much of it but feel strongly and cling to some of the analysis. I just want to be analyzed in a different way. I just want to feel more subjective. I want to be characterized by color and mood. Or maybe I am just attracted to colors, how they make me glow. 

I have always gathered journals to diary in. Have always started on the first entry, finished it, then never opened the journal again. The feeling of a lurking audience in my mind. A judgment, untethered and faceless. I was giving it voice. The white lined pages, asking for a prescribed amount of lines. A trap in which disappointment in myself is the only way in and out. When I bought a journal with off-white paper and lineless pages I was able to journal. Was able to end a page before the end of a page. Was able to jot as I felt wind under my pen. Was able to strap it closed and keep it tucked away without countable blank lines blaring. It felt quiet and casual and soft, and so doable. I get quiet in cars and trains and buses. Consumed by moving while still, everything appears to move from me as really it stays. I fear it is a cliché to love van Gogh and Monet the most but it is their obsessions. It is their externalizing of idiosyncrasy, of fixation, of their on-fire brains, their fire brains. Maybe they are of the madness, maybe I am. Maybe that is why I feel mad to love them as much and like I do.

I fixate. I fixate on people and who we are to each other, our flows and ebbs, each ebb a quake each flow a swoop. I fixate on songs and only listen to them for months without ends on repeat. I fixate on feelings and feel them change shape. When I return to them I still listen to them on repeat, the feelings and the songs. They never feel tired. I considered writing this in the second person. To place intimacy between reader and the person I am illustrating myself as. I did not because I am placing intimacy between myself & the person I am illustrating myself as. I think I say I feel like too much. I feel like I say I think too much. I am drowning in the possibility and impossibility of everything.

I am taking care of my body because I want a body now. I mean I want to feel my body. I mean I want to be in my body. I have written, I am comfortable with my body but not in my body. I have written about wanting no body when my body is in pain. I am eating a mandarin in the morning now but it takes so long it turns into afternoon. I am climbing rock walls without harnesses but I don’t mind the falling onto flat cushions part. I am letting a hand go for longer between holds. I am letting my hands rip open slightly from holding. I am taking my time taking time. I am chewing time without eating it.

I feel like my stomach is sinking into itself, chewing, eating itself. No one is easy to read. Everyone and I always think we can. But no one thinks they can be read. I feel like I am rushing into the future when I am clawing into the past when I am drowning in the present when I am trying to hold all of it. I feel like I am fighting against a current of predictive thinking. It’s just as exhausting to give into its pull as it is to push through it. I’m sobbing semi-consistently on the subway ride home. I thought about taking a cab but that felt too intimate to cry in. I took the subway. I feel like it’s a performance. It feels like being alone but not being isolated. I think my breath smells after crying. It feels good crying. It feels bad to cry. It feels good to be underground for now. Inside sharp rail scratches and sparks. Inside flashes of a hidden staircase that leads up to more underground. Being pushed through without being pushed through time. Stationary movements and scenes thrown into relief on the way, said like the silence or unseenness or unlightedness was suffocating them. These flashes like breaths. 

Emma Sheinbaum is an essayist and poet. She is also Co-Founding Editor of the genreless literary journal A Velvet Giant. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Juked, TriQuarterly, Metatron Press’s MicroMeta Series, BARNHOUSE Journal, and Theta Wave, among others. Emma lives with her kitten in Brooklyn. Find more here.

TINY SPILLS
  • Your sign: 
    Scorpio
  • Favorite lyric:
    from “Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple:

    Every single night
    I endure the flight
    Of little wings of white-flamed
    Butterflies in my brain
    These ideas of mine
    Percolate the mind
    Trickle down the spine
    Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze

  • Sweetest thing: 
    When my cat, Maple, chooses to cuddle with me. She is so warm, soft, and sweet! She even tucks herself into my spot in the bed when I’m not in it.
  • If you had to brag about yourself:
    My hilarity doesn’t tend to come out in my writing, but I’m a humorous person. I laugh and make people laugh a lot. Despite the resting bitch face.