Possessions

I’m thinking tonight about how the things that I possess possess me back. Or maybe it works the other way around. Maybe I was first possessed by wayward hands reaching out to grab me from the universe that swirls around, and I’ve returned the favor by attaching myself.

To clarify, I don’t mean just–or even mostly–physical objects. So often I’ve found it easy to blame objects pushed into my lap by expectations and advertising, by shame and embarrassment, by all the inadequacies I wrangle with within.

But now I see it’s the wrangling that possesses me so insistently.

The objects serve as stand-ins, talismans to which I can attach my yearning, an infection of absence that spreads so easily. The most virulent of airborne viruses.

I can’t see the possessions that matter most. More ethereal than microbes, they leave me feverish in their wake. They transform me into possessor and possessed, like the old notions of people enthralled by demons. I’ve been seized: by ideas, by fears, by failures, by visions of future and past.

My possession by these ghosts of myself turn the present tense with the terror of emptiness. How do I exorcise them? How do I un-string myself from these webs that make a puppet of me? How do I break the fever?

How do I make myself believe that I have enough without my possessions?

 

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Some days…

“Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.”

And some days, and nights, not content to get you, he climbs inside your skin and roots around in it a while. He stretches your bones until they crack and ache. He pulls this way and that against your tendons and muscles, bulging your flesh in all the wrong places.

And when the bear feel particularly mischievous, he climbs along the inside of your spine, using your spinal cord as a kind of rope. When he reaches the top, he rifles through the files you’ve stored away there.

He finds the ones about wetting the bed. He makes photocopies of the ones about the girl in elementary school that you had a crush on, and in whose name you used to call the radio station and request Paul McCartney’s “My Love” while everyone else in the house was asleep. He knows how you’d listen on the earplug when the song played on your transistor radio, wondering whether she was awake too, listening. The bear knows you never found out.

The bear ransacks your memories of embarrassment: how you couldn’t throw or catch or dribble a basketball or hit a baseball. How even your own brothers would choose you last when they picked teams for football in the muddy field down the road. How your thick glasses and high water, plaid, polyester slacks marked you (not to mention the brown skin; don’t forget the skin).

But the bear doesn’t have to go that far back to find fodder to use against you. He has video on you losing your temper with the kids, being grumpy with your partner, wanting to hide away as winter settles in. He has all the receipts that prove your loneliness, your self pity, your disappointment with almost every aspect of who you are.

Of course, like all bears, after a while he loses interest (a commentary in itself), climbs back down, and goes away to where ever bears come from.

I wish I could say something profound about the bears and their comings and goings. I wish I could draw some hopeful lesson about life and its cycles and resiliency. I wish I could dispel despair and pretend that it’s all going to be okay.

I can only remind you (me) that there’s more to life than bears and their inconvenient visits. I can only remind you (me) that we’re more than our failings (and more than our successes, too). And for reasons obvious (love, loved ones, friends, small joys) and reasons I can’t even name, I still want to see what the next day—bears or no bears—brings.

Get Up

“Are you going to get up?”

He wrote it on a 4 by 6 index card and taped it to the wall beside his desk.

That’s his question.

Get up from depression. Get up from anxiety.

Get up from the memories of childhood, from the musings of how the course of his psyche and life might have run “otherwise.”

Get up from the expectation–inflated and underestimated–because of his skin or his speech or his test scores or his shyness or the capacity he eventually grew to cover over that shyness. Get up from all expectations, including his own.

Get up out of his own way.

Get up from the mistakes he made, the harm he’d done, the pain he’d caused to others and to himself. Get up from his indictment of himself for being human, for not being better, for not being perfect. Get up from the shame he felt for being human.

Get up from history, from the history of his people, from the history of the nation he’d been born into, from the weight of all that had been taken and was still possessed by the dispossessors. Get up from weight of the silence hovering over past and present, the weight of the stories woven to enforce that silence.

Get up from the way the world names strange his desire to find a way to see himself whole, to face and taste the world whole, not precut into bits flavored to make them more digestible.

Get up to breathe. Get up to write. Get up to learn. Get up to grow.

Decades gone and you gotta get up.

Tears shed and you gotta get up.

So much and so many burned down to the ground and you still gotta get up.

No time to lay down, man. You gotta get up. Can you hear the bell chiming?

You gotta get up.

Get. Up.

Peelings

The progress of my life consists mainly of peeling.

Through long stretches, beginning with childhood, I wanted wanted wanted.

Independence. Money. Recognition. Positive regard. Love.

In my early adulthood, my wants graduated: More money. More freedom. More acclaim. More love.

You are what you can get, I told myself. Not in words, but in urges. In preoccupations. I wondered what I could get; I wondered how to get it.

The peeling had begun by college, most obviously when I dropped out, but even earlier. Sometimes I thought it was the depression. Later—much later—I realized that the depression arrived when the desire to peel and pare down and make space had presented itself but I had ignored it for too long.

Long winter days strung together, I would retreat into a book and stop going to my college classes. The work I was supposed to do would fall away. Walking. Reading. Going to movies in the middle of the day. Drinking in the wooden, peanut-strewn bar I frequented, eating the sub sandwiches they made in the back for dinner.

I treated it like cowardice; I felt ashamed, not knowing. Something in me was trying to clear a path that I kept refusing to walk. And at the end of each cycle of this clearing and then refusal, the depression would rush in on the back of fear and failure.

Decades can slip through your fingers this way. I worked, lived, loved, married, parented, worked. I broke down, then patched myself together, then broke down. Not so visibly. Mostly it manifested itself in a numbness that I instinctively knew how to hide, which wasn’t that difficult because, really, most people don’t want to see it anyway. Calling it “hiding” implies that I had to prevent people from looking at it when, really, they were mostly perfectly content to look away.

But the peeling, persistent, kept returning, and now I listen to it. Or rather, I hear it. I don’t turn away from it anymore. I don’t know that I can answer what it wants from me, but I don’t try to quiet it either. Well, not most of the time.

It sounds like a wind blowing continually, ebbing and flowing. It sounds like a tropical rainy season, weeks of the music of water falling, running everywhere, unceasing. Like the sound of something inexorable.

Slowly it calls me to strip myself clean. Slowly.

Recent Revelations

I don’t believe in multi-tasking, but I’m starting to believe in occupying my body while I let my mind roam around. I’m not sure yet what the difference is.

Discipline isn’t not quitting. Discipline is always starting over again.

Information isn’t knowledge, and knowledge isn’t wisdom.

Pleasure, fun, and happiness are not the same as joy.

Power isn’t the same as security.

Words are not different from graphics. Letters are graphic symbols. I was going to say that letters and words aren’t images of objects, but that’s wrong. Words aren’t pictures of objects, but they are images that evoke objects (along with ideas, experiences, dreams, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum). This seems so obvious to me now that I feel obliged to apologize to all visuals artists, makers of graphs and charts, calligraphers, photographers, and filmmakers.

All writers deal in graphics, all the time.

I realized this because I have been meditating on an almost daily basis for the past several months using a book called Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self Discipline, by Cheri Huber. The book has been shifting me about inside.

I acquired the book through my partner—a wonderful person—who acquired it through this trainer, who, though I’ve only met her once and have never worked out with her, I consider delightful and deep hearted.

Long story short (too late), after the book entranced me, as I searched for my own copy I encountered comments about it on some website or other where people order books and leave reviews about them. Generally, I don’t acquire books online, and I’ve never reviewed a book on those kinds of sites, but as I looked at the reviews of Making a Change for Good, I found a number of commenters criticizing the book because it uses the font Comic Sans.

Three things occurred to me.

First, if you are the kind of person who cannot read a book simply because it employs a perfectly readable font, this book might be essential reading for you.

Second, I wonder whether the author chose that font for exactly that reason.

Third, the fact that, by itself, the shapes of letters on a page can produce an emotional response proves that letters and words are graphics.

I decided to return to this blog because I was recently reading a post on this blog, whose author I also consider a delightful person, and it startled and flattered me to see that she had my blog listed on her blog roll though I haven’t posted here in ages.

And it struck me then how much it matters—at least to me—to voice as honestly and thoughtfully as possible, the way we see and experience the world. I want to underline the “honest” and “thoughtful” aspects. I know that my own view of the world is, no doubt, flawed and limited; I know that I have my biases and have made my wrong turns. But if I make and explore them in the right spirit, even my mistakes can benefit others. And me. I think.

I hope you find the genuinely sacred in something today.

Opus

A once marathoner body has widened
waist thick, scalp shiny under retreating
tufts, jaws drooping, a general sack of man.
over time, he left being desirable behind.
fortune let him dodge the far more brutal
measuring reserved for the other sex,
but the swells of their shapes hold or held
at least the power of making, generating.
all he has ever birthed: a wider belly,
grown only more girth, suckled failure.
and now, mid-50s, he lacks substance in
that place most damning for a man to be
thin, in lists of the done: the climbed, the
overcome, the acquired, the hired or held,
compelled or manufactured, especially the
compensated. contemplating what remains
to be created that might justify a journey
that leaves such slim evidence it happened,
he extinguishes the light, and hopes that
sleep will at least leave dreams in his wake.

 

Good

Heading back to the car she passes the other parent,
morning drop-off acquaintance, who smiles and asks,
“Hello, how are you today?” And in her head, she answers
Same.
Same semi sleepless nights bouncing in and out of wakefulness and dreams
Same morning and evening wriggling matches with small bodies emitting large emotions
Same dishes same laundry same lunch box battles over candy
Same deep chocolate body wider than she’d like surrounded by a crowd semi suburban and thin and white
Same short cut natural hair that some want to treat like Public Domain
Same nearsighted eyes sliding toward bifocals
Same stack of empty pages on a desk mocking her with blinding blankness
Same world burning down same brown folks being buried
Same sitting on the sidelines feeling helpless to affect it because
Same brain chemicals ebbing and flowing on their own schedule
Same ashamed stay-at-home, part-time working self feeling subsidized by a partner’s stress and labor
Same would be rower in the same damp rowboat stuck on the same sandbar buried in the same fog bank
Same staring out the same window at the same faceless backyards.
She sorts through these answers that fill her head,
and her mouth smiles in return and says, “I’m good. And you?”