The Courage to Look Inward
and the permission to process out loud
A summer has slipped by. And now the world is changing shape again.
In the mornings, the orange-brown pine needles scattered on the trail
stab at my imagination like a thousand accusations:
You should have used the time better.
Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.
I know some of us are driven by fear. Sometimes I think every choice I’ve ever made comes from a place of darkness: an empty room with cracked vinyl floors; a smooth-surfaced pond, cold currents rising suddenly between my legs.
How many of us can’t remember our heart stopping when we reached up to grab our mother’s hand only to see a stranger’s face staring down at us?
Courage comes and leaves me like the tide.
There is an asphalt jetty on Borestrand that is barely visible this year, the sand having shifted from the summer’s storms. Shifted by the small, continual assaults that slowly, subtly buried a meaningless bit of history alive.
I have seen the beach’s estuaries twist over the years, bending to the southeast one year then jaggedly, doggedly draining westward the next. Maybe time will resurrect the jetty. It means something to me. That is: the jetty means something to me, as does the possibility of its resurrection.
These past weeks I have been having trouble writing. I believe the new chemotherapy plays a role somehow: a kind of crippling, adolescent insecurity keeps biting at the nerves in my arms. It’s impossible to separate a physical and/or a mental disruption to flow. I feel static/electric.
Not in a good way.
Old voices fill my head, like canned laughter: I have been called loud. I have been called opinionated. I have been called self-absorbed. And I have twisted myself in knots trying to address these faults people have pointed out for my benefit. But I have tried to change myself out of fear, not out of ambition.
(What did your stomach tell you there about the word ambition? Good? Bad? In my gut, the connotations churn until I feel sick.)
I have tried to steer my writing toward something apologetic and self-effacing. Universal. Familiar and objective. (I mean, “objective” basically means mirroring back observations we all agree on, right?)
I have tried frantically to cover myself like a spider in the sand.
Still a spider, though. Still here.
My memory is shot. Trauma and medication both played a role. I don’t recognize faces. I repeat myself a lot. A lot.
But I often find myself standing exactly where I am now, looking around the familiar room and asking myself when I will dare nurture my own talents, these tiny bits of half-finished embroideries. It’s safer to toss them aside. Teach. I will be useful and I will humble myself in the presence of others.
How dare I say “nurture my own talents”?
I tell others what I wanted to hear someone say to me. Permission.
Humble is a title conferred based on appearance. A foot on the neck will bow someone into a posture of humility. It’s a good look. Criticism for being too humble is a compliment: a pat on the head for obedience. I pat myself on the head now that no one else is here to do it. I contort myself now to get my bare foot on my own throat, a performance accompanied by canned laughter, now that I’m alone in the room.
There is a spectrum between humble and arrogant—and there is always a middle way.
That’s my humble opinion. Well, it’s my opinion, at any rate, with the understanding of the definition of what an opinion is.
Oliver asks what we will do with our “wild and precious” life. I can’t help but hear the word precious in a wry context. So I feel a tension between the words wild and precious that is difficult to resolve. I long to live a wild life, but I’ve been walking on eggshells in an attempt to devise a precious story of who I have been told I should be.
The word jetty comes from the French jetée, which means something thrown out there. Like the jete leap in a ballet.
Maybe it is my turn to leap, wearing a dress of broken egg shells.
Before it’s too late.
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