18 February 2016

"Of restlessness and vague desire"

The title of this post, from Edgar Lee Masters' poem "George Gray," is the phrase that keeps cycling through my brain. I can't describe the ominous feelings that keep haunting me. I don't know why I have been so on edge, why I often feel like crying in the middle of the day or get so angry over something small that smoke might as well be streaming from my ears. I keep trying to explain, and yet all I settle upon is a line from a poem, a supposed epitaph in the town of Spoon River to commemorate a life not really lived: "restlessness and vague desire-- it is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid."

Restlessness and vague desire-- what does that mean? I know what it looks like, but what does it mean for me, for the day-to-day? Sometimes I catch myself twisting my face into contortions, grimaces, and I don't realize how awful I was feeling until that moment, until a co-worker catches my eye and worriedly asks if I am "okay." And when I respond with "No" and am regarded with a quizzical glance, I don't know how to complete the thought and provide a reason. I am a fragment, or a misplaced modifier-- something grammatically incorrect and incoherent.

I was reading an article today, "40 Words for Emotions You've Felt But Couldn't Explain," and while I still don't have a non-vague vocabulary to capture the scatterplot of twitches in my brain and heart, there were at least a few words and definitions that resonated.


Avenoir (n)-- the desire that memory could flow backward. We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way… 


Monachopsis (n)-- the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach—lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you’d be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home.


Fitzcarraldo (n)-- an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.

Or even:

Rigor Samsa (n)--. a kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties, but always ends up cracking under pressure or hollowed out by time—and will keep growing back again and again, until you develop a more sophisticated emotional structure, held up by a strong and flexible spine, built less like a fortress than a cluster of treehouses.

I really need to invent a word that combines all of these, that provides a method or framework to articulate the nervous buzz that I cannot explain to other people. The last two, in particular, could offer some explanations if combined. I think that I have cultivated an exoskeleton of sorts that instead of fortresses or treehouses is formed more out of something like clouds or veils of mist, something insubstantial because it doesn't exist. A "wild and impractical vision," maybe "smuggled inside a book [or a song or a face]," that I have latched onto as a way to cope, and in the process I've partially convinced myself that it is actually real. I doubt any of this makes sense, and I think that I need an entirely separate post to try to work through the castles my brain has built to keep me safe(r). I speak vaguely because I feel vaguely. 

Have you ever invented a fantasy and convinced yourself that it was true because that was what you needed? Like you go to bed with the dream of a reassuring presence and partially expect him to materialize in the night, like a benevolent cat-burglar? My mind has invented stories and people, a particular presence that is, with the face of a beautiful man, in the last week because I feel like I need that narrative in order to exist peacefully; I need someone who is good and kind and earnest and grounded, who reminds me of the me I've lost, and because he cannot be real right now I will invent a lie and convince myself that it is true. I will delude myself because I need that delusion in order to avoid snapping and spiraling. I will settle these delusions onto a particular person and his image, one who is real enough but not in my life, and I will think of him as the almost-graspable solution to all of my foibles and fears. He will be the target, the locus, the solution that exists but does not exist at the same time. And he will hold me and kiss my clasped hands and speak to me in the angel-voice of a man who only lives to let me grasp hold of healing and living and being known. He will regard me with kind eyes and implicit understanding. And then he will disappear into the ether because he's not actually here and he therefore cannot offer me redemption, and then I will feel lonely and insufficient and dream him into being again to form a nest with his arms and let me rest, supported from below. And so the cycle continues: bereft, deluded, aware, bereft, deluded, aware.

None of this makes sense. I am aware of that as well. And as I try to put it into words, the shame over substituting a fantasy for reality-- seventh-grade girl style-- is all-encompassing. And yet I continue to ask: Why is this seemingly what I need right now? Why is it, if I close my eyes tightly enough, I can feel a strong sinewy hand grasping mine and holding me steady, down to earth, as our pulses throb in syncopation? 

16 February 2016


I'm having a minor crisis because I got my carpet cleaned today.

I needed that gap here, that white space, to send myself the message about how ridiculous that sounds. But as I touch my toes to the still-wet carpet, I cannot help but think that this was what I expected all along. I knew that I would get my carpet cleaned. And I knew that I would feel empty and lost because of it.

Here is the thing about grief that seems obvious but that people don't tell you: It lurks in corners, beneath couches, and under rugs. It wafts upwards like skeins of smoke, from candles that have sat unlit for months. It involves one step forward, then three steps back, then another four steps back because you feel guilty about the initial step forward. And also, because grief is so personal, being around other people often makes you feel preemptively misunderstood, even before you have tried. It isn't rational, and because of that, it is hard to share. It is easier to hibernate, memorize the knots in the floorboards and scratches on the door, the afterimages that linger under chairs and tables, and yes, the spots on the carpet that were so omnipresent that I could play connect-the-dots with them.

These were not happy stains. These were not like a ring of red wine from a party. These stains were marks of illness, fear, pain, and loneliness. These stains told the story of our year of sickness, stains that became so much a part of our fabric that it was difficult to see where they ended and the rest of the carpet began. It was difficult to tell whether a mark was, in fact, a shadow or a more ominous penumbra: vomited bile, for instance. These stains represented so much suffering, from me and from little Pip; so why am I paralyzed now that they're gone?

This new, clean, ever-damp carpet seems to suggest that a clean slate is possible, and I resent that. I don't want to wipe Pip away, like he never existed. He saved me in so many ways. Literally, we saved each other, escaping from rubble and fire that resulted in a carpet far more stained than this one. We survived that. I don't want to have to face a world where nobody else can see the ghosts that still haunt me, the memories that rise out of this room despite its pristine ivory covering the floor. That mismatch between what is observable and all of the memories I harbor is excruciating.

In an effort to force myself to be social, I just got together with a friend of a friend of a friend and her girlfriends, and while they were lovely and a nice distraction, I still felt like they had a cleanliness that I lack. They were young and innocent, while I felt prematurely old. They walked in wearing their yoga pants and ponytails, faces scrubbed clean and earnest, and I, in my black dress that could probably use a washing, felt this great divide between us that went beyond age or experience, although that was a factor as well. (I probably have about seven years on these girls, at least.) And I was reminded why right now I don't want to connect with anyone who didn't know Pip. I don't want to have to explain why the clean carpet is ill-fitting, or what was lost when my carpet was scrubbed within an inch of its life. I want even less to have to explain the strange identification I felt with the carpet that looked like a relic from a crime scene. Yet so it goes, and so it is.

The ground is still wet, and because of that, I have furniture and knick-knacks piled Jenga-style in the other rooms of my tiny apartment. I have a tower of record albums in my bedroom and a booby-trap of floor lamps in my kitchen. Who knows how long it will be until something falls, something cracks, or I get caught in the tangle. Who knows?

22 January 2016

Comfort in poetry

A little Pablo Neruda has me sighing, "This. This. This." His poem "You Will Remember" raises so many questions: Who is the "you?" Under what circumstances must that person remember? Are these instructions in memory, or reassurances? Some people might see this as being a poem about the afterlife; others might think that it is a very literal recollection of a beautiful, meaningful place. To me, though, it is all about the power of memory after a loss. "[N]othing is waiting" there because the individual, or at least the individual's body, is gone; however, in that place of emptiness, in the images that resurrect themselves from love and longing, we do find "everything waiting there." We find a way to hold on. We find our footholds, and we return to each other.

You Will Remember

You will remember that leaping stream
where sweet aromas rose and trembled,
and sometimes a bird, wearing water
and slowness, its winter feathers.

You will remember those gifts from the earth:
indelible scents, gold clay,
weeds in the thicket and crazy roots,
magical thorns like swords.

You'll remember the bouquet you picked,
shadows and silent water,
bouquet like a foam-covered stone.

That time was like never, and like always.
So we go there, where nothing is waiting;
we find everything waiting there.

21 January 2016

"so I lie (eye to eye)"

There's something about this blog that seems to lead me to make hollow promises. I've promised to return twice now, and I've lied twice now. I wish that I could be more of a truth-teller, but that concept eludes me, and yet here I am with arms outstretched.
Again, the reasons for my absence, my falsehoods, are the same. The time and effort it takes to string words together, like beads on a necklace, when my words are more like worry-stones. The need to preserve anonymity. The rising-phoenix quality of sadness when I rehash it in words. And most of all, the guilt of airing the tornado of thoughts inside my head when some people would doubt that I have sorrows at all, OR insist that I live by compare and contrast and realize how good I have it, OR believe that I'm perpetuating my own struggle by not forcing myself to "snap out of it." Or all of the above. Some part of me believes that my thoughts are not worth airing because they will be accompanied by judgment.
The reason why I return to this blog sounds so stupid when I write it: My dog died.
And yet.
My dog died, and it's as if a piece of me is missing. It's like I've lost my best self, because the best part of me was the part that cared for and loved him. It's like I've lost the joy-filter on my life, for he was the one who so often taught me how to slow down and see the world's beauties: a warm breeze, a blade of grass, dappled light through a window shade. It's like I've lost the purest love I've ever known.
This more figurative emptiness comes along with a literal emptiness. My puppy-boy took up so much space in my home-- a home that has never entirely felt like home except for him-- that it now seems like my entire apartment has become negative space, an absence that only serves to emphasize what used to be there. I look at my carved wooden desk chair, and instead of ornate wood and the woven rug below it, I see the silhouette of my boy on the rug, below the chair, with him the only light spot and the rest cast into dark. A photo negative. Time has become relative. Last Sunday is now "zero hour," and I measure days as distance on a flattened timeline that started in the vet's office after our goodbyes. I lost my best friend, and I am heartbroken. I am worried that I will forget. I am both comforted and disturbed by the ghosts that linger in this place, this not-quite-home, the expectations of being greeted at the door and the head on my knee and the sudden alertness when the television sounded its chime upon turning off, when he realized bedtime treats were imminent and scampered to the bedroom door. It's a response-less stimulus, now, and I am left waiting for something that won't happen. Those responses are the spirits that waft through the air, their absence becoming as tangible as the dog toys and pill bottles that I had a neighbor place in a cabinet while I was at the vet.
I know my dog was not a person, although I frequently referred to him as my favorite person in the world. I know that this grief is bound to be seen as excessive.
And yet.
Yesterday I had to admit to myself that I am not okay, I am far from okay, and that, in what may be the most incomprehensible thing of all, a large part of me doesn't want to be okay right now. Being okay (note: I hate that word, and yet look at me overusing it now) feels like a betrayal of my puppy boy (my little man, my baby boy, my mister, my Pip) and the role that he played in my life. I don't want to admit that life can and will move on, not yet that is, because a life without him doesn't feel like a life at all. I don't want to see the silver lining right now-- I only want to see the clouds that followed a sunlight so glorious that everyone marveled in its wake.
My dog died, and he was only five years old. My dog died, and I am not okay. Maybe saying it is part of the process. Maybe I need to let the cracks stand in relief right now so that one day, not soon but eventually, the light will have a way to get in.
"You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and-- somehow-- the wine."
~Billy Collins, "Litany"~