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?