Archive for March 20th, 2015

Woman on Thinkabout

So here I go reclaiming this space, my only real refuge for creativity, productivity, creating agency for myself. Yes, apparently, we are back to that: Agency. The very thing I was actively seeking to create for myself when I began my driving walkabout five years ago.   Unfettered by harsh limitations—mainly just the ones in my head—I had done something radical by conventional social standards, and even got a little guff for it initially. But claiming agency was the most important thing. The stories of my past had to be plowed beyond, and for once I was fired up to utterly claim my future for my own. Despite having no plan.

I learned long ago that plans are for idiots and the entitled (bless them), and now, fettered by harsh physical limitations, I am struggling to locate a sense of agency while doing something that has been not only not my choice, but has hit me broadside and cut me off (unwillingly) from conventional social standards. How does one begin to re-claim everything one has always taken for granted, yet lost? You know, the ability to walk, breathe freely, talk, sing, jump, skip, flail one’s arms about in wild gesticulation? Never mind travel, work, socialize, explore the world—both the planet and humanity… How can you claim them back, when you never chose to give them up? All of which has led me to the question: What happens if you take the “walk” out of walkabout? What happens when you can not walk anywhere? What happens when you spend insane amounts of time alone, too weak to even converse, too weak to even sit upright for very long? What happens when your thoughts melt into such incoherence that all you can do is watch the same movies on cable in a seemingly endless loop? (One season—winter? summer? who knows?—it was “Eat, Pray, Love” and “The English Patient” for months on end.)

In this society, like it or not, we are what we do. Much has been written on this topic elsewhere, much of it rather brutal in its honesty, and since this is my blog, I’m not required to cite references or footnotes. But it is a brutal truth I’ve been staring at a lot these last few years. We all know it, whether we like it or not.  And, especially if I’m not to identify with my illness, if I don’t do anything, then who, and what, am I?  If I do nothing, I officially don’t exist. Except, if that is true, then who is this person, in this mess of a body, suffering so mightily? Am I the proverbial tree, taken out of the forest, where I can not functionally make a sound? If I fall outside the forest, what then? Sound? No sound? Tree/not tree? Yes, it’s crazy-making. That is rather my point.

When I first moved here, I used to gaze from every possible vantage at the Flatirons (Boulder’s emblematic massive rock formations), and joke to people, “See that giant question mark hanging over the Flatirons? That’s my future!” It was a future I couldn’t see at all, and I used to wonder with rapt curiosity where out in those hills it would all take me, never dreaming it would force me inward. Because it turns out, that is where you go when you take the walk out of the walkabout: You go inside the mind, the heart, and the soul. You go into the very essence of humanity, which is that most permeable and ineffable of named things: The soul, the spirit. Like love, which has yet to be captured, measured, and quantified, yet which even the staunchest physicist would argue exists, the spirit, or soul, the very quintessence of a human life, without which said life is officially extinguished, is also unmeasurable, yet universally acknowledged to actually exist. Yet if we are reduced down to just that little spark, just a fragment of a flame of spirit, unable to act out or upon that soul’s whims, desires, or wishes, does that soul then cease to exist? What, then, is its purpose, its raison d’être? In short, how do I justify my existence in a world that clamors for physical, quantifiable accomplishment?

Much of my psychospiritual reading would respond that the part of me that asks the question, and is aware of that little flame, however tiny, is the indestructible “self.” But I have to respond, in turn, So what? What of it? If I can do nothing, what’s the point? The gurus would say no justification is needed; existence is its own justification. “I think therefore I am” you say? Insufficient!  As a good friend bitterly notes, “Truth is action.”   And as long as I’m alive—however barely—I must abide by the rules of this corporeal world, which leads me back where I started.

Yes, my friends, these are the sorts of questions I have slammed up against as I face the devastating interiority of going on thinkabout. Because that’s where I’ve been compelled to go as my body’s capacities crumbled. Do I have answers? Fuck no! I’ve always said I’m great at asking questions, and utterly suck at answers. If you have answers, I’d love to hear them. (Skip the platitudes, please.) All I know is that despite feeling like I was truly on the brink of disappearing, that my diminishing spark of human essence was on the wane and facing imminent extinction, a) these questions rattled around in my head, plaguing me (thus proving I yet lived), and b) to quote Monty Python, apparently I’m not quite dead yet.

Ever since this ordeal began, I always believed that something was on the other side of it—that, somehow, I was poised to crash over a waterfall (in a good way!), with the “meaning” or message clear on the other side, something that will clarify my purpose, snap the rest of my life into focus. Person after person told me this, or agreed with me when I expressed it, but everyone also told me I’m going to get well, and soon. But each timeframe has been wrong so far. So why would I even believe the rest of the story? I keep waiting to get well, keep waiting to clear that waterfall, for my life to snap into focus, but…I begin to wonder, really? I’m middle-aged! What if this is all there is? What if this is as good as it gets? The new question I’m asking is, if this is as good as it gets, how do I build a life here, within that? How does one build a life on this maybe-80% quicksand that still precludes making plans, keeping one’s word, physical exertion, traveling, or even staying out past 7 o’clock?

Spending the better part of three years lying on the couch, yet unable to actually do much sleeping (day or night), provides ample time for rumination, both fevered and regular. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to come up with, ask, and ponder into near-pulverization all sorts of topics. And maybe finally getting them out of my head, and starting to toss ’em out there, is the only way to stake a claim within my present existence. It feels like a rather pitiful agency, if it’s even that. But it’s gotten way more crowded than usual in my head the last few years, and just as opening the windows in my house today allowed some early spring air to stir into the stagnant winter space, now may be the time to circulate these thoughts beyond the confines of my head, and trust to the alchemy of oxidization.


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