DSC_0384I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.

Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.

When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.

I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.

I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.

Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.


I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.

There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.

And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.


In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.


DSC_0540-2A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.

IMG_20150721_173959When I exhale pain radiates down the length of my arms.
It’s stress.
And it’s comforting in a way, to feel it like this.
Concretely.
I almost believe I could grab hold of it, and pull it out my fingertips.
Strands of sharp tinsel.


When I posted that on Facebook, a friend expressed concern, reminded me that women’s heart attack symptoms are different from men’s. And since there is always, in the back of my mind, a concern about inflammation and the damage done over the years, I went to the doctor. But the EKG was fine.

For all the meditation and relaxation techniques I know and use and teach, I am still completely out of touch with the way my body deals with stress. My mind still checks out of the situation, but the rest of my body takes it on. In January, with a mysterious spots all over my body, the doctor asked, “Are you under stress?”

“Not really.” I’d said without giving it any thought. Without giving the three mortgages and impending bankruptcy a thought. Without considering the other things in my life, which I won’t write about here.

“I’m fine.”

Someone commented recently that I seem happiest out in nature. Maybe it’s the distraction. The aches from the backpack, the sting from blisters, maybe they give my body something else to dwell on. The electric pain down my arms stops. Yes. It’s all in my head: the head bone (dis)connected to the neck bone, as the song goes. I need to take another look at the way I’m meditating. The way I am disassociating mind from body. It’s dishonest.


Flørli
is 4,444 steps up to the top of the cliff.

4,444 steep steps. And about halfway up, someone has carved into the wood, “Now, you’re tired.”

But you have to push on. Because the alternative is going down the 4,444 steep steps, which is a frightful thought.

907000_496790890376612_1299139993_o

So you keep moving.

There are two distinct moments in my life that I recall – where I thought realised: “Now: I am happy.”

It wasn’t on this day.

In fact, neither day was a day where I felt that I had accomplished anything. That isn’t to say there weren’t days where I was overjoyed. Proud. Happy, in my experiences.

But on these two occasions: one, quietly driving home from work, planning dinner for my two small children and my (then) husband; the other, sitting on the couch in my own apartment, my kids grown and living elsewhere, my life comfortably poised for something new – I felt a slow wave of emotion, like settling into a pool of warm water. A conscious pause, halfway up a staircase, looking around and enjoying the view, the breeze, the feeling of muscles slightly torn and strengthening. Realising that, time was not standing still. Things were good now, but they would change, and even that was a good thing. The way things are supposed to be.

This feeling is my definition of gratitude. It involves an element of submission, an acceptance and appreciation. It is lying in Savasana, palms up and open.

And it’s letting go.

It’s about letting go of contexts mostly. Definitions of myself, and definitions of my perceptions.

I have a fear of growing old. Not growing older, mind you. I am mostly fine with that. It’s the rigidness that some people take on with age. They close down on their experiences. Solve the puzzles for themselves (and, they think, everyone else). Form opinions. They stop reading the article after the author gets to a point with which they disagree. They are afraid to push themselves, to tear all those muscle fibers just a bit.

“Now, you’re tired.” It’s a taunt. Keep going. Because it is a really bad idea to stay there, resting until darkness takes you. And an even worse idea to head back down the way you came. That soreness in your legs, is just them getting stronger.

A Freedom is a freedom is a free DOM

Ren Powell (an essay for the now defunct VIDA project Lady in the House).

 

A diary means yes indeed.” – Gertrude Stein

  

Sixteen months ago, the man who abused me for a decade, and who robbed me of my extended family in the almost thirty years since, committed suicide. He drove his car into a semi. I watched a stream of coverage from the local news station, in what was once my hometown, just to reassure myself that it was true.

At that moment, watching the computer screen, I anticipated relief. I expected some part of me to be reborn like a phoenix from the wreckage strewn across the highway, half a world away. Or at least some spell would break, like at the end of a fairy tale. Ding Dong, the witch is dead.

I thought I would finally have my freedom. 

*

In my first semester of college I managed to wriggle my way into an advanced special topics course in Philosophy: Technology & Human Values, 4-oh-something. It was a course that put ethics into praxis through thought experiments. I loved it. All the thinking. Imagining. Writing.

Second semester, I took two big steps back – trying to catch up – and I took an introduction class that covered everything from Plato through Arne Næss at breakneck speed.

I got sick around Being and Nothingness.

And I got married.

And I wrote my first play.

And I burned my first manuscript.

And I got divorced.

And I started taking lithium.

*

In 2005, I was one of three European women to attend a women writers’ conference in Kyrgyzstan. The writers in Bishkek told us a story about a poet who published a book of sensual poems that her in-laws interpreted as evidence of her infidelity. Her husband left her. The translator tried to paraphrase: She says that, if she had lived in Europe, it wouldn’t have been a problem. 

*

Freedom is a fluid and free signifier. Context is everything.

*

Last winter I took an improvisation workshop with my colleagues from the high school. We were partnered and told to give each other small tasks to mime. “Say the first thing that pops into your mind. Don’t censor yourself!”

The first thing that popped into my mind? Masturbate.

* 

Last Friday I saw a performance work that featured an actress with Down syndrome. “Anti-abortion themed Agit prop theater,” I complained. “Not my thing.”

My colleague said, “But she is free to express her opinion.”

When I worked for PEN I came to realize that there is a sea dividing the right to free speech, and the privilege of being heard.

And that no one is free from consequences:

  • I know a writer from Eastern Europe who is living in New York and teaching at a reputable university. He has dinner parties with his respected colleagues, but is not able to return to his homeland to work. Because he exercised his freedom of speech.

And his government didn’t like it.

  • I know of a once-respected writer from Kyrgyzstan. Her colleagues don’t know where she is living today.
    Because she exercised her freedom of speech.

And her relatives didn’t like it.

*

When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors invited me to stage three of my own performance pieces within the larger context of a series of storytelling projects that he was working on for the autumn production. About a week before the premiere, I heard rumors that there was trouble. Another professor in the theater department had asked the dean to stop my work from being produced.

It wasn’t the word fuck that was the problem. It wasn’t the subject matter of sexual abuse. Or even the blasphemous texts. The professor was concerned about the work being too personal. He wanted the university to protect me from myself.

This was the same professor who, in playwrighting class, would raise his voice and gesticulate like a Shakespearean actor, declaiming his slogans: “Write to the Pain”, “Never Censor Yourself”.

*

In 1933, Gertrude Stein published someone else’s autobiography.

*

I have written things.
I have written things that I have lived.

I have written things that I have lived to regret.
My chronology is never explicit.

*

Ask me, while I am staring at a blank page, and I will tell you that freedom is a value-neutral state.