It’s all connected. Your art. Your expression. Your fear. Your love. Your lust. Your sin. Your addiction. Your joy. Your power. Your beauty. Your friendships. Your lovers. Your interests. Your dreams. Your shame. Your needs. Your wants. Your voice. Your visions. Your escapes. What you hide. What you share. What you offer. What you deny. What you withhold. What you study. What you focus on. What you value. What you worship. What you believe. What you refuse to accept about who you are. The illusion is that you have to choose. Your soul comes not in pieces, but whole. The secret is to open your heart and mind and being to all of it. To swallow it whole, and accept and accept and accept. This is to heal. This is to recover, which can also mean to reclaim, to re-discover, to reveal, to uncover, to get back all of who you are.
“Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”
― Rebecca Solnit,
As I move through the days, I realize more and more that I feel desperate for a world that is more thoughtful, contemplative, aware, awakened, transformed. Desperation, though, is not anything I can work with, this wishing for a different kind of world, as that is not within my control. What I can work with, however, is myself. So I am taken recently with the idea of doing inner work with myself in a way I wish society and the outer world at large would take the time to do before emerging from this gruesome pandemic. You see, I don’t want to go blindly back, I want to move forward transformed. And my fear is that too many people want the former even as I am starved for the latter. I am hungry for a transformation of some kind to take place both within and around me.
I have admired Rebecca Solnit for so many years I can’t even recall when I first was introduced to her work, save to say it was a long while ago. But I had never before read her incredibly eloquent, insightful book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It has come into my life just a few days ago and met me exactly where I am in my -sometimes/often rattled- mind and soul. (Incidentally, the irony of a book about being lost finding me where I am in the dark right now is not. . . ahem, lost on me.)
There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I find quite poignant: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,” that resonates very deeply and profoundly with me in this present moment, some nine weeks into isolation. In a sense, I do feel I have lost the world, lost connection to it, not completely of course, but very much so in many ways. And I find it such a gift to have this extended period of time to turn inward, to take the journey into my own heart and mind and ask the big existential questions. What is most important to me in my life? What is my purpose here? What will I do with my gifts, interests, passions, ideas, thoughts, visions? What do I want to explore moving forward into a brand new phase of life, expression, creativity?
I am privileged to be able to spend time inside of myself with very little outside stress. I am safe, many are not. And I cringe every time I hear someone say “We just need to get back to normal.” I physically wince inside as though I have been struck because I am afraid of the grave mistake of going back to the old idea of normal. The idea that we need to rush to the end of a major global catastrophe and quickly forget it ever even happened. Well, I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to rush out. Not out of my house, not out of this moment in this one precious life of mine when so much is being revealed, our weaknesses exacerbated and our strengths tested at every turn. I want to sink inward and search for what I need to find, what I need to understand about what this experience is teaching me. Turn toward what is calling to me to be still and listen, to learn, to be made new. I want to be changed. Opened. I seek answers. Revelations. Insights. Discoveries. Magic. Mystery. We are all lost right now. We are surrounded by the unforeseen, the unknown, and the unknowable. Isn’t this where rich art is born? Out of uncertainty? Out of the searching for the secrets within? Out of being lost, and found, by ourselves in darkness?
In a beautifully elegant passage from A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit writes:
“Edgar Allen Poe declared, ‘All experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.’ Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word ‘calculate’ which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with ‘the unforeseen,’ that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” (emphasis mine)
For me, this is the very essence of the creation of art of every kind. A collaboration with chance, with the dare, with the unknown, the unseen. An acceptance, and even a welcoming, rather than a rejection or denial of the unforeseen, the incalculable, the mysterious force with which we interact in order to transform and be transformed.
“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (emphasis mine)
We have, in a sense, lost the world, lost contact with much of it. Lost control of much of it. Lost the illusions of a control we thought we had but in truth never did. We are experiencing grief, rupture, disintegration, decay. I don’t want to have gone through all of this mind bending upheaval and have learned nothing, to have nothing to show for it, nothing to emerge with when we see each other again. I want to find the gifts of this moment in time, brutal, surprising, breathtaking, and honest as they may be. Through all the heartache, I need to know it was worth something. That there is something in me I can still give, and a place within me which is still open to receiving.
The truth is, there is no going back, there never is. And I wouldn’t want there to be. I want to move forward, to be transformed into a new person, a new being with deeper awareness and intimate insights and renewed perspectives on everything. I want that for myself and I want it for the world. But I can only take care of myself. So I start in my own mind, my own body, my own spirit, my own soul. I read about getting lost and more and more, I am finding the deep abiding wisdom which can only be revealed in silence, in isolation. I cling to the hope of my soul’s voice, as wide as an ocean, wild, powerful, roaring, steady, ancient, shimmering in the dark.
Tearing through my shredded mind in an attempt to calm my nerves enough to get even a few words down on the page, I feel the claws of my thoughts peeling back my insides like piercing the fleshy innards of a ripened fruit. I don’t know what the substance of the mind is made up of but in this moment, for reasons inexplicable, I imagine it pliable, fragrant, seeded, slippery, and sweet. Blinking back tears which never seem to fall, screens flash all across the neighborhood, the shriek of bloodshot cartoons, the absurdity of protesting mobs, blue and orange charts, plots, graphs, curves measured out on dotted lines meant to quantify the exact number of and projected increase in the local, regional, and global death counts. Real tears break in real time in a fake panorama world. Sun rise, sun fall. There is a cruelty in the air which shoves the bones of the trees around on my block, I listen to the expectant green leaved branches rustle and sway in submission from my upstairs window. Tell me to kneel. Tell me what you’ll do to me. When you tip my chin back, I spread my legs. The sky rolls in dark and heavy, threatening clouds thickly pregnant with a coming torrential rain. I want it so badly. The storm, the wetness, the rhythmic assault upon a soft yielding earth. All day long my body craves relief from a feeling I am unaccustomed to, a feeling which teeters somewhere along the culminated edge of dissatisfaction and rage.
I have too many books going at once. I have too many media feeds, too many lines interrupting my concentration, lines remembered, lines yet to be written, lines in hopscotch patterns chalked on the pavement. People crowd my dreams in lines threaded through one another. Waiting. Fidgeting. Waiting to board a plane, a train, a bus or some kind of transportation which never actually arrives. I shuffle in with a crowd, realize I am missing my shoes, or my bag, or some such thing which I misplaced and try desperately to remember where I left the item while weighing in my mind whether or not I can fetch it and make it back in line in time to board the aircraft. Or whatever vessel we await to move us out of here and over to there. Safety in a storm. Your massive hands upon my minuscule waist.
Suddenly, a shrill voice pierces the chaos over an intercom, announcing the name of the destination country, which I do not recognize enough to place, only just enough to know I should be afraid. How did I get here? What am I doing in this crowd? Face coverings, covering, covering, covering mouths, panicked eyes in skulls devoid of tongues. But somehow I wake myself, remove myself from the nightmare of the dream to feel my own eyes wide open to the darkness gaping all around me in a silent worn out room. Beside me, my lover sleeps soundly, as my sight adjusts to the bare thin traces of light around the edges of the window. The silver sliver of the moon meets my gaze, hovering high, a weary yellow eyelid nearly closed. As if to remind me of my lowly place among nocturnal things. This carousel of madness. Around and around this mirrored stem we go.
Reaching an outstretched hand into the future by attempting to let go of the past, I light up a cigarette while contemplating the strangeness of living within the confines of these four dusty sun drenched walls for weeks on end. It’s as if within me I can feel the heavens spinning about in outer space without relent, without a feeling or care about the turmoil we find ourselves mired in on this tiny ink blot below. Humans are ignorant creatures, for as much as we’d like to congratulate ourselves there are countless instances where we miss the mark entirely and never so much as come close to picking up the pieces of the shattered lives we leave behind. If you pay too close attention you will exhaust yourself which is likely why I feel so tired all the time. I take a drag of my smoke and sip hot black coffee while eyeing up the jumble of tangled words on my screen. I’m a mess as is this room but what is life if not chaos, if not disaster tossed around inside little flecks of hope. The afternoon light is coming in slanted from the side of the window, landing in soft patches upon the plants, the little tables and statues, lamps and books, and I think of the way you turn me on my side in the early light of morning. Trailing your rough hands along the bare curves of my body as you sigh with audible delight. We are only light and shadow, sun and moon, circling. Shaking my head in order to return to the writing which seems to so easily elude my jagged brain riding it out upon these choppy hours, it occurs to me that anxiety burns just beneath the surface of my skin. The room is silent, save for the sound of little birds fluttering by and the single drone of an airplane as it moves lazily overhead. The wings of the little butterfly clock on the wall tick softly as I curl deeper and deeper into myself. I once knew a man who only wore black. He lined his eyes in charcoal and could write poetry that would cut you clean in two. Just the thought of him now ignites my veins, tears at the feathered cage of my ribs, grasping in my memory for an image, a line, a motion of his body that used to collapse earth into sky. What I wouldn’t give to write just once sentence in the way of the brilliance which twisted and glittered in the secret patterns of his hallway mind. He would open his mouth like opening a doorway into a land promised only to the sacred, only for those who worshiped the darkness of his razor sharp tongue. Most of us are corrupted and we spend our entire lives trying to hide it from everyone around us. But some of us. There are some, very few, who hold tight to their wicked and wield it just perfectly so, to make it shine.
As I walk through the center of town sipping my coffee, I can see the screaming blue sky reflected upon the tall glass buildings as the furious wind pushes ominous dark clouds across the wide open expanse. The days move quickly and yet they drag on like a conversation you’re dying to get out of but can’t. To be locked down is to be made very present, very apparent to yourself. There is no where to go and no where to hide from yourself and this in itself is exasperating. Scrolling through Twitter I see it’s the same cesspool it always is, only now made much worse because people are dying by the thousands every day and the more everyone talks about it the more despondent we all become. Yesterday I colored a rainbow on a piece of cardboard and hung it in the window. It’s supposed to bring joy, hope, and comfort to those passing by. We do little things like this in the face of big impossible terrible things because we feel small, we are aware now how small we actually are. Everything turns in on itself and points back to the place inside that hurts the most. I try to get out of my own head, that is one of the hardest things to do these days. I read novels to pass the time. There’s a girl on Instagram who posts pictures of herself everyday looking made up and sexy and I wonder where in the hell she gets the energy. I cycle through a daily uniform of hoodies and stretch pants and couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t remember what a bra even is or why I would ever wear one ever again. I can’t bear to think about ever going back to the office. Big corporations seem like giant monsters looming out there in the cold hard distance waiting to swallow us up again and remind us we are nothing, headed nowhere. Life feels suspended in a way I have never experienced before. I go to write but a fog rolls in over my brain and thick clouds of listlessness bloom through my chest and limbs. Black coffee. Chocolate. The Guardian. Slate. Vox. CNN. Washington Post. The Skimm. Late night comedians. Andrew Cuomo. Numbers. Faces. Ventilators. Curves. I have finished My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, about a fifteen year old girl who gets into a sexual relationship with her forty two year old English teacher at boarding school. Devastating, harrowing, brilliant, fascinating, painful. haunting, intimate, impossible to put down. It is fantastically well written, her debut novel. Took her eighteen years to write the thing and it is absolutely stunning. The story crawls into your veins and pulses through you days after you’ve finished reading it, it has a life of its own. Next up I will be reading Hiding In Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior, who spent her career studying the mechanics of the way authoritarian governments take control of democratic countries. I’ve only read the intro, but it all makes perfect sense. The fringes get pulled to the center, anything and everything is up for grabs. The law gets re-written to serve the desires of the wicked and corrupt. I don’t know how we get out of this. I don’t see it being pretty or easy or soon. For now, we go to the grocery store and scan the empty aisles, it’s like there’s a blizzard coming every week and the panic looks like rows and rows of white glossy shelves with nothing on them but orange price stickers announcing the cost of things you cannot buy. In the self check out lane there are trash magazines and gum and Lysol wipes on the counter. High above in the rafters there is a voice on loop over the radio waves: Help us keep our customers and essential workers safe, maintain at least a six foot distance between yourself and others at all times. The feminine voice is calm and detached. A young cashier watches me load my credit card into the machine, her eyes look tired, like they are asking me a question none of us can answer about hope and fear, almost pleading, as they smile at me from above her mask.