The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.
-Elizabeth Bishop, “Four Poems”
My therapist keeps telling me to stop trying to figure out the answer and instead, to be still, be silent, let it come to me. I suppose I have a lack of faith in It, in whomever is in charge of sending it down. Or up. So much of hearing It is believing It is speaking, that there is an It at all.
Three and a half years ago, before I moved to this town, I heard it regularly. It was there with me on my prayer mat as my heart was lifted above my head, as I pressed my palms together, as I crouched like a child with my head by my knees and cried among the supplicants. I went to night school on Sutras, learned about attachment as my dearest loved one slipped out of this life. Into what? My teacher would have me believe her spirit or energy is still bouncing around this world, or some other. While some other, more positive thinker, maybe someone who wears a lot of color and makes paintings of teal and magenta or reads the tarot, would say that during this time I was connected to the spirit, on a higher plane, my memory of it was this: I’d hit rock bottom and was so bitter about my life, I was willing to throw it all away in exchange for some (any) other one. I threw a spiritual dart at the wall and it landed here.
Some wise part of me knows that I saved my own life. Sometimes you plant a healthy plant in a spot and, for whatever reason (soil, sun, various other factors), it dies. When you dig it up to throw it away, it pops out of the ground easily, and you see that its roots never exceeded the hole you dug, but maintained the exact shape they’d formed in the pot. It had simply failed to thrive, had been virtually dead since the moment you put it there. This is how I was before I moved here, and though I wasn’t dying there, I was dead. Living in a world outside of it. Free, but caged within my own constraints. I needed a change, I got low enough to be brave, and I took a risk.
Postcard from the front: Things have improved in certain areas, certainly. The constant terror of poverty. The constant hustle to make all the seams match up. The related scheduling and time use issues. General physical safety and neighborhood. The temperature and humidity level, overall bodily comfort. Sexuality and sex. Alcohol and its uses. My hair.
But there are some things that remain a problem. One is my career, and since I’ve written about that here recently, I’ll avoid going into depth about that for at least one blog post, but this one is my biggest grievance. While it’s great to have health insurance and a competitive salary, I had to go in to work yesterday (a Saturday) to work on a project to sell weapons and ammunition to the government. At my interview for this job three years ago, my boss asked how I’d feel about working for a defense contractor, and I said that I didn’t know.
People are going to buy and sell guns and use them to blow up other people, and I can’t stop that. But I don’t want to be a part of it.
I’m also struggling to move forward in my creative practice. I have drafts upon drafts of poems, essays, ideas for blog posts, art projects begun and abandoned. I haven’t liked a poem I’ve written in years. I have considered within the last month, for the first time in my entire life, not writing. Quitting. If I took the pressure to create art off of myself, what kind of happiness could I enjoy? So much of my unhappiness is due to a sensation of never having accomplished what I thought I wanted to accomplish. What if I just removed that requirement?
My mother once gave me a book called Women with Attention Deficit Disorder. I read some of it and recognized myself instantly. The book discusses in detail what it’s like to be a woman with undiagnosed ADD, and some of symptoms really resonated, like when your head gets so full of ideas that you can’t get up off the couch to do any of them. This was surely me. Then I gave the book to Goodwill and brushed it off as the medicalization of personality and the modern struggle to focus in an over saturated world. But the more time goes on, the more I think I should have kept the book. Maybe there’s something to the ADD diagnosis. I watch my friends and acquaintances make decisions and follow through on them while I just watch the thoughts flutter around the room like birds.
The most terrifying part of all of this is that the book really chronicles highly intelligent women with all kinds of talents and capabilities who never make anything of themselves because they just can’t focus. This is my biggest fear for myself, followed closely by the other-coin-side fear that I’m not actually highly intelligent or talented at all.
But I’m reading Big Magic. Like everyone else. And what I’m being reminded of, for none of the ideas in the book are new, is that these fears are normal, and that many people have these same exact thoughts. They are not unique to me in any way. And not only is that totally boring, but it’s totally useless. How will I ever know the truth about whether I am intelligent or talented? What societal benchmark could I possibly use to tell me I am that would ease my mind forever? I can imagine nothing would do. (A McArthur award would go pretty far, however.)
I will never be able to ascertain an objective truth about this subject, though I could probably make some judgements by comparing myself to other individuals, which would be destructive. I’ve done that my whole life and it has only ever made me feel like shit. Given this, I might as well keep on trucking along and keep my eyes on the road. (But there are so many distractions!)
The above Elizabeth Bishop quote at the beginning of this post really spoke to me this morning for a number of reasons. I am going through an extended period of feeling tumult in the heart, of crying in church, crying in Elizabeth Gilbert’s reading, crying in the shower. I’m in a bad spot, that’s for sure. But I also love how she describes the voices in the head, indistinguishable from one another. Its these voices I’m trying to sort out in making decisions on a daily basis, like what jobs to apply for, or whether I should focus on going back to school or starting my own business, as well as what creative projects to focus on, and, more granularly, what decisions to make within each project itself. Like this particular blog post.
Here’s the rest of the poem:
Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;
until a name
and all its connotation are the same.
Yes, Ms. Bishop. That is exactly how it is.