Big things and small things

I look down at my hands, and see
I’m holding the wand of disappearance
I know I’ve wielded it
because everything seems to be gone
but I can’t quite remember
why

I did a weird thing this year. I broke up with my partner of 12 years. I’ve never done anything like that before. It was a big deal. It shook my life to the core. And I find myself in strange terrain – a place that, frankly, sometimes terrifies me with its emptiness.

It’s an emptiness that I asked for, that I sought and fiercely claimed. And now that I have it, I’m – not quite sure what I’m doing here.

(And in the space, feelings arise.)

Trees at the side of a lake

I’ve been told (by Marc David and others) that when one is going through big life transitions – it’s ok to simplify; it might in fact be necessary to let go of a lot of activity. I’ve recalled this advice often as I attempt to navigate this time. Because just processing what’s happening, internally recalibrating to how every every every aspect of life is different now, that takes a lot of energy – energy I’m mostly not even conscious of spending. Then there’s feeling all the emotions: the intense swing dance of lightness and grief, grief and lightness, then swapping partners to do a turn with fear, with excitement, with frustration, with happiness, with anger, with depression, with freedom, with plain old sadness. There’s the struggle with self doubt: this too takes life force, meeting and battling and surrendering and falling and rising up again to face with compassion the old, old, OLD story that my motivations are not to be trusted, or that I’m simply a failure.

Oh, self criticism, self doubt, that bitter couple – and their bothersome neighbor, the Fear of Missing Out (aka, to some, FOMO). This is one of the big places where I always used to punish myself, the gasoline to the spark of jealousy I carried so insistently as a younger person. Fear that I would miss the rich experiences of human interaction that were the main point of life, either because of some unfairness that should be resented and fought against, or more often, because I was simply inadequate to the task of creating them: “Why do I have to be such a loser?”

I’ve worked on this a lot. And mostly I don’t get sucked into this sewer-drain in my day to day life. But you know what can trigger it (I’ve discovered)? Breaking up with someone and seeing them launch instantly into exciting and successful new creative and business projects. Visiting friends whose lives look (sometimes, from the outside) like constant international adventure and shiny metropolitan coolness.

And me being like – gosh – all I really want to do is look at trees. Touch them, sit under them, learn their names and anatomy, breathe oxygen directly as it’s exhaled from their leaves. Lie on the ground beneath them and nap between dirt and sun. Roll over and read a book, or (if I’m feeling really energetic) jot a verse.

Yep. That’s basically all I want to do right now.

And I relentlessly ask myself, is that enough? Can it possibly be enough? Surely everyone in my life will decide I’m an uninteresting nobody, and will move on with their big, important things, and I’ll be sitting alone crying in my twin bed.

Can it be enough? This time of seeking refuge in forests, and clearing old leaves from the garden, and writing tiny poems in pencil?

Maybe what I’m really asking is, can I do this and still be loved? Or maybe even clearer – can I be valued? Can I be a worthwhile addition other people’s lives?

Even if I’m not in three choirs and two boards and spending every evening going to classes and leading Dances of Universal Peace and attending retreats and volunteering with the homeless and rallying for politicians and… you know, all the stuff I normally do?

Because I can’t really, right now. And I hear one voice in one ear saying, throw yourself into service and growth! It’s the way to forget your selfish troubles and find real happiness!

But my body says No.

It says it so loudly and clearly that I cannot force it to say otherwise.

And funny thing: it said “No.” in that very same, resounding, irrefutable tone when I was asking, isn’t it (surely it’s) time for me to buckle down and work really hard, again, on trying to make this marriage a place where I can be happy?

My body said No. so strongly, I knew it was the truth. And I did what it told me. And I felt better.

So maybe I’m in a period of No.

And maybe I’ll lose friends, community, opportunities. Maybe I’ll fall like a stone in a giant lake, my little ripple vanishing in seconds as big important waves continue their unflappable business of going places. Maybe I’ll come out of this time and find I need to start all over, building a life from scratch, because I’ve alienated everyone with my vanishing act.

And maybe it will still be ok, even if all that happens. Maybe I’ll emerge from this night with some piece of self knowledge that can’t be gotten any other way. Or maybe I’ll just be rested. And hungry. And ready.

For whatever’s next.

Wooden bridge and autumn leaves

Unshaped Musics Hovering at the Edges of Songs

I.

A concert. This singer whose thing is profound prayerful words and ethereal melodies layered over subtle and complex looped harmonies laid down by herself – why are these people not shutting up and listening? I feel annoyed. The talking is preventing me from hearing the vocal nuances that my ears are straining towards. I project: is she frustrated with this unlistening crowd, is she efforting to get their attention? Does the container feel strong to her, does she feel embraced and safe to express her living soul? I try to pull my hearing back to the wide range. I’m looking out over a field of bobbing heads, a sea of human sounds, swelling, cresting, receding, growing again. Never still, but not, taken as a whole, jarring. I imagine the singer at the end of a long dock, casting her voice onto the waves, throwing it into the wind, so that it comes to the listener translated, transmuted, laden with other sounds from the seen and unseen realms. Maybe that is how she prefers it. I relax into the ocean and begin to float. 

II. 

A jazz trio – where the drummer is the leader. His coolness fills the room, then his controlled strokes to the shimmering cymbals cause the sun to rise. The concert is about the rhythm he hears, he feels, his heartbeat and the pulse of the cosmos. Between official notes, a competing beat emerges. I’m sitting in the back near the kitchen door and I can hear pots being dropped into a metal sink, rinsed plates slapped into steaming stacks and rattling as the dishwasher slides them down the line. I wonder if dishwashers in jazz clubs are so tuned to the sounds out in the room that their work becomes a form of groove and their motions consciously or unconsciously modulate to fit in with what’s being played onstage. It doesn’t bother me; I kind of like it. For backing vocals, a drunk woman at the next table unable to keep up with the Polite Hush dance that the rest of us are trying to do. I’m unaware until afterwards that dirty looks had been thrown. I’m absorbed in the polyrhythm of real world blues played against jazz, life and art at odds yet inseparable, as always. 

III. 

Modern dance with classical accompaniment, a highbrow performance in a fancy downtown theater. This time the disturbance is inside me. I’m late to the venue and have to wait outside for the first ten minutes. I react crabbily and promptly fill with shame. When the usher lets me in I skulk to my seat, imagining everyone’s judging eyes on me. Taking off my coat I think a skinny person, a more graceful person, would make this gesture less disruptively. My breath is shallow and my pulse is not regular and I’m sure everyone in the vicinity wishes I hadn’t come. As I shift in my seat, the squeaks it makes sound like yells. I notice my knee is pressing the back of the chair in front of me and I hope I haven’t irritated that person, too. I feel like I’m clashing with everything. But I am here, and there’s no leaving now. I try to breathe in the notes coming from the grand piano – far away down there, but the most powerful energetic presence in the place. I force my attention out of my self-critical mind and into my ears. Gradually, I begin to calm down. The music itself twists the tuning pegs inside me until the waves I’m making fall into quiet harmony with my environment. 

… i keep trying to hear how it all goes together … sometimes it’s clear and sometimes it’s not … but i remain convinced that all of these sounds are here for a reason …