The Archive of Self-Absorption

full-back tattoo of a crane
“To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.” ― Dogen


That didn’t happen.

On Tweaks and Wonky Widgets

I finally tweaked my website into a shape that I really liked. Then a widget went wonky and the support person tells me my theme has been retired. No fixing the wonky widget. I need to choose a new theme.

I have a new boss at work. We have new routines. I will have another new boss in August and I am sure they will bring their own tweaks to the routines.

They are interviewing new colleagues. They’re looking for someone I will likely be working with for the next decade (we tend to sit tight on these jobs). The devil you know, the devil you don’t? Rumors abound.

And I am thinking… whatever.

I’ll live. I will set off an afternoon to redesign my website. I will follow the new routines. I will work with the new colleague. These things are out of my control. I can accept that and set those facts aside: “Move on!

It’s this new medication. My jaw isn’t clenched. For the first time in several years, I don’t feel like I have to control everything. Set all the stories right.

I am not filled with disappointment and shame when I look in the mirror and see all the changes I haven’t been able to stop. I don’t feel that I have to justify the space I am taking up while sitting in the lunchroom with other people. I don’t feel like I have anything to proveGood enough. And even a bit of “so what?

It is frustrating that a little pill can accomplish in one week what I have been trying to will/exercise/force/meditate my way to all this time.

My head is quiet. Not numb, but rather as though it’s safe to be quiet because there is something else good just up ahead. Worth all the energy that I have been wasting. In the meantime, I go for a walk and do yoga on my lunch break. Laugh at E.’s dad jokes.

I do have a tiny worry in the corner of my mind. Will I crash? Is this lightness and this quiet “normal”? I ask E. We fall back into that truth that we can’t really ever know what is going on in someone else’s head. What something is “like” is still only relatable to one’s own experience of the metaphor’s vehicle. It is like we are all closed loops when it comes to language. We try. We make theater. We write poetry. We paint images.

But facing this sense of the futility of trying to communicate exactly, I am feeling puzzlement instead of despair. Being puzzled is kind of fun.

The effort is fun.

I had forgotten that while chasing something I was trying to make meaningful – a durable artwork. What a waste of energy.

Saturday I will revamp my website. I tend to curse a lot when I start messing with code and tweaks. I also enjoy it a lot, when it all fits together like a solved puzzle.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Statistically, I am rising now in terms of the great U of happiness. I hope so.

Bipolar, CPTSD, likely ADHD (no childhood data for a definitive diagnosis). No shame.
On and off medication as necessary these past 35 years. Functioning member of society: teacher, artist, mother, wife – with all the normal strife. It’s not all good, but it is all worth it.

Theater of Cruelty

Well, not exactly, and I apologize to anyone landing here who feels misled.

But these past 9 days have felt like a minor ordeal. Every moment that’d been expected to bring a catharsis was just left hanging. I was sick as a dog last week, though my lateral flow tests were negative. Monday I felt well enough to go back to work, only to relapse yesterday (which, weirdly. seems like so long ago). Now I’m testing positive for Covid. I must have had it all along.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… eventually. In one way or another. I went to a fortune teller once (only once) with a question about a then-upcoming show I wrote and directed: will it be a success? She answered, “Yes, but maybe not in the way you expect.”

Safe answer. And it would have been a very kind, counseling kind of answer was it to have landed as a fiasco? “Hmmm” (I could say to myself). “But she said… so: In what way was it a success?”

As it was, it wasn’t a fiasco or a success. Just, meh. Like the production this week. But sometimes meh is fine. Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.

The Artifice in Made Things & the Pleasure in Dis-Order

I’m home today with a nasty cough and a slight fever. And I am thinking to lie on the sofa in the studio and watch inspiring films while drinking tea that I really can’t taste.

So I google “films about poetry” and what comes up? A list of films that are love stories. A list of films about poets’ dramatic love lives. Read: sex lives. One particularly disturbing story seems to directly equate a very young woman’s sexual desirability with artistic talent. The trailer is shot full (pun intended) of perspectives dictated by the male gaze. I get a very “let’s ogle her while the kitten searches for true love” vibe.

I am cranky again. I am being very judgmental and unfair. And I have used the word “cranky” a lot the past few days.

I suppose one could scrounge up a dozen reasons to explain my frustration now, but one of them is actually related to my current exploration of “what poetry means to me”. Whether poetry and lyric are inexorably linked. Whether the “exuberance” of the lyric is inexorably linked with desire and other aspects of interpersonal relationships. Or whether the mechanism of “art” truly is open to expressing any aspect of what it is to be human. A human was here. Love, sex, grief, yeah. But also other unnamed things that we recognize without “knowing”.

The asemic.

I have experienced exuberance for no reason. I have felt a swelling in my chest and tried desperately to “remember” the cause – was there something new, did I win something, was I anticipating something: What!? I usually start worrying about my mental health. Exuberance without a dramatic cause – a story – a rationale and justification – is just (hypo)mania, right?

Unjustified emotion is a sign of mental illness. Or hormonal imbalances. Or some other dis-order. Dis-order.

What if everything we tell ourselves about why we feel a particular emotion at any given moment is nothing more than another story we’ve learned to compose as a way to soothe ourselves? To control one another and keep the world predictable?

Kids wake up happy without questioning their sanity or looking for the reason for it. I know there are some adults who do this, too. I have heard people talk about them and rationalize it by describing these adults as “simple-minded”. Or “special”. Unexplained cheerfulness is definitely anti-social behavior. It makes us giggle nervously. I’m not sure if it is a named archetype, but it should be. (Note to self to look it up when the headache subsides).

What if all art is just an act of unlearning? Resisting. And that our ideas of what poetry is can get in the way of that? What if art should start where we are familiar and then chisel at it until it leaves us speechless. What if instead of giving us more stories related to our own stories, it tears down every story?

What if it is the “made thing” that shows us the artifice in all made things? Even our own stories?

I watched a really good lecture about Alfred Jarry’s work the other day. I have no idea if my thoughts are at all in line with his. But I am wondering…

Mid-week, Mid-life, Mid-project Stalling

The sun is already shining through my little library window. I was supposed to see my shrink today to get a new solution, a new hope etc., but she’s ill. So I comply and take the prescription that is not working. I know a sudden realignment of the salts in my brain can damage my memory more than it is already damaged from that time that the factory in Mexico that made the time-release pills burnt down and I went cold turkey.

At least that’s how I remember it. I was in my mid-twenties and already divorced and nose-deep in the drama of a new relationship: barely breathing. Two years of salt and sex and adrenaline and really good writing. And not the lyric kind, but out-of-the-box, authentically articulated, outward-looking work produced with a drive – confidence – that slipped away. The emerging artist aborted in a way. Balance is difficult.

So I sit here, disspirited, feverish, and frustrated. Compliant.

But the sun… it is shining through my little library window and I do have hope. And little else right now. I am eating fish for breakfast and doing yoga and reminding myself that these ruts always end.

I remember the shrink back then who told me that my life would be chaos until I was settled – and by that he meant finished with university, working a nine-to-five with a rote, gender-appropriate, middle-class American lifestyle with minivans and PTA meetings, and I think he’d never even heard of Ballad of Lucy Jordan. I don’t think he understood that not all trailer trash aspires to be WASPs. In fact, probably very few of us do. I didn’t aspire to be him. What does mentally healthy look like? Maybe the more important question is: What does mentally healthy feel like?

So I could have done worse. I have been to Paris. And I giggled when I saw a cabriolet pass by with a middle-aged driver. I was thinking of Lucy Jordan. I always figured the song was about an acid trip. So, yeah, I definitely could have done worse.

I think this thing I am making of myself is more of an abstract sculpture than a portrait. And I can pick it up and keep working on it as long as I live. There’s no rush. And no rubric or model for the finished work.

I did finish the sextain – sestina with an extra metered foot that repeats in its own rotating pattern. It is the text that I’ll print on the paper corset. Waist corset, neck corset.

And now on to the next set of constraints. Because there is a way to squeeze really exciting work out of the tightest of constraints. Hell, they might even be necessary.