Living with a Stranger

I’m not dumb.  I know that many parts of modern, civilized life separate us, either by design or unfortunate byproduct, from ourselves.  It was not many years into teaching that I developed one of my many “famous” sayings: eat a brownie, save a child.  But what did I ignore behind that emotional eating?  I recently turned off my cable and went to Netflix, and although I can’t guarantee that I watch less TV, the new silence in my house is astounding.  What might I have said to myself all those times I flipped on mindless re-runs or reality TV the minute I got home from a long day at work, or a beautiful long conversation with a friend?  And to have God do all the heavy lifting in life once upon a time, all I had to do was sell off my body and my intellect.  I see them even now in writings of young me, pitching fits to try and get back to me.

I know these things happen and yet every time I see another layer I’m shocked.  Most recently it occurred to me that even my clothes can obscure me from myself.  Walking Steven’s Creek Trail on the night of Christmas, hunting the full moon, I started to feel the familiar sense of nerves from being out there so late.  Even though the full moon made enough limeade colored light to read by, I startled with every branch crackle, and swung around every so often to make sure I was not followed by man or beast.  As I started to wonder again about these baseless fears, I asked myself where I could feel them the sharpest.  The answer was swift: the bottom of my shoulder blades.    “Huh, wonder why that’s the first time I’ve been able to figure that out.”  Answer again, swift: you are not wearing your bra.  It’s probably one of my many TMI’s in this lifetime, but lets just say I get a little loosey goosey with the undergarments when I’m on vacation.  As I considered the implications however, it made perfect sense.  On a level just below consciousness, there is awareness of where and how our clothes lie on us.  The space between these garments and our skin may be infinitesimal, but it’s one more layer of work to get to ourselves.  The same is true for me with many other clothing choices.  Even my best pair of jeans, which granted is from Old Navy, minimizes hip awareness and makes my curves seem cumbersome.  But dress for dance on a Monday night?  I have instant relief and copious love for all the roundy parts of myself.

I know a global outbreak of nudity is probably not feasible (although if Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy wants to disagree with me on that I am available to debate), nor is simultaneous demolition of all movie and television studios a strong possibility.  Religion and brownies are definitely going to be around for a while as well.  There are going to be distractions, and I think it may even be okay.  They are a way to practice integrating our meatbound existence with the fact that we are truly connected to everything.    But here’s the real question for me that arises from this train of thought:

Are we really so powerful when aware, that so many things would work to deny us that awareness?

That’s scary to me in two ways–first, the responsibility and personal vulnerability of stepping into such a great force.  Reading Obedience to Authority last night, this passage jumped off the page to me:

“While structures of authority are of necessity present in all societies, advanced or primitive, modern society has the added characteristic of teaching individuals to respond to impersonal authorities. Whereas submission to authority is probably no less for an Ashanti than for an American factory worker, the range of persons who constitute authorities for the native are all personally known to him, while the modern industrial world forces individuals to submit to impersonal authorities, so that responses are made to abstract rank, indicated by an insignia, uniform or title” (Milgram 86).

Simply put, if I choose to step in, and I mean all the way in, the authority is personal because I am staring at her in the mirror.  There is no shunting of the blame to any bloated, inefficient system.

Just as real however is the fear that I would miss such an awesome ride.  In the last two years I’ve been able to taste it, circle it, poke it until I understand some of its possible contours, and all I can say is DANG.  If I accept separation, my life will still be happy most likely.  I will still work, eat, love, and play.  But I will know that something else was possible.

Sometimes I swear I can feel my neural pathways squeaking and groaning in the last few years as patterns seek to redirect.  I think it may be part of why I’ve felt so defiant this week, had such a rawr in the belly.  It’s easy to pan it off and say it’s just extra vacation energy, but I don’t think that’s it.  I think it’s more: fuck you thieving fear.  I defy you separation.  I will get closer to me, just watch.  I will not live with a stranger.

I wrote the piece below in the same spirit last night after dance.  Enjoy, and may we all stay strange, but not be strangers to ourselves.

Defiance
I defy you
with my hips —
how is it they haven’t been used
for this before?
I guess seduction got boring
when I found out
I could move the armies of fear,
bring them near
and say, eye to eye,
I defy you —
With my breath.
The roots that gave
till nothing was left,
will go back to the earth
and never leave,
expand my ribs
so I can keep up

the will to defy you —

With long muscle fibers,
limbs flung wide
like gauntlets —
there will be no survivors
when I come to defy you —

With five fingered hands
that articulate plans
for growth and destruction,
I keep my reaching heritage
open
when I come to defy you,

with sweat,
with twirl,
with goddess roar motion.

I will swallow the earth
when I come to defy you.

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Motion sickness…

Motion and speed, boundaries and directions.  They have always confused me.  How do you use these life principles to end up somewhere between hopelessly stuck and drifting out in space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity?  I’m sure I’m not alone in my confusion, but let’s go to the examples Vanna!

When things are fast, I want them to be faster.  In my last relationship for example, it was maybe two weeks in before I was buying him a toothbrush to have at my house and wrapping it up all cute.  Too soon?  Nah, because, “I AM GOING TO MARRY THIS BOY!”

When things are slow, I also want them to be faster.  With seven school days to go before vacation I’ve already cleaned the house, bought myself presents, and turned off my students voices in my head so they resemble a mute version of whac-a-mole.  I can’t wait, and so I don’t.

When things are going to be slow, I want them to be faster.  “Who the hell wants to dawdle in the Valley of Transition?” has been my attitude until very recently.

When things are fast, I sometimes want them to slow down or stop.  After sitting on an interview panel last night for a new teacher I had the petulant thought, “But I don’t want another teacher.”

“What do you want?”

“To freeze everything else in place till I decide what I want to do so no one can wreck my new pretty curriculum.”

“So no one teaches Language Arts at all next year?  Do you hear yourself Delaney (I often call myself Delaney when I’m being unreasonable)?  You gonna add the 8th graders to the construction crew during that time?”

“No.”  I proceed to pout and kick rocks on the way home.

All these examples, and countless more, have some things in common:  for me motion has been solely linear, forward is good, and backwards is bad.  In this model I’m either missing something, avoiding something, or anticipating something.  Now becomes a stepping stone or sink hole, and my presence is the deciding factor in whether movement has happened or not.  If I stop, I miss something, probably something good.

Fast forward in this vida de la linea and suddenly my intestine level attraction to dance makes perfect sense.  WHAT?!?!?!?!?! You can move two things at the same time in conflicting directions and a black hole doesn’t open up and swallow you?  WHAT!?!?!?!  Nothing stopped working while I was here being present, fully present?  I’ve gone from few options in the last two years, to endless options.  This is both overwhelming and thrilling.

In this light it also makes sense that I’ve found so much solace and instruction in the labyrinth.  My 30 days has taken almost 60 as I near completion, but I’m strangely okay with that.  I feel something in my habitual responses attempt to rearrange as I walk.  Circular motion, not better or worse than linear, but I can see many points of the journey from wherever I stand.  None seem better or worse than others because they’re all leading the same place.

A few weeks ago, when returning to the labyrinth after a few days absence, I felt shocked to find that it was still there.  As I followed that reaction with curiosity, twisting and turning toward the center I thought: “The journey you’re supposed to be on doesn’t go anywhere.”  I am taking it whether I’m doing so consciously or not.  The expression of it may look different surrounded by different people, geography, or times, but purpose or mission is not a track that lies parallel to everyday life.  I’m not sharing time between one and the other, just hoping to do both some justice.

Why does it matter?  Why have I spent the last few weeks thinking about motion and the last few hours writing?  I am not a hundred percent sure to be honest.  It’s one of those topics that I feel I’m writing my way towards. However,  it occurs to me that the things I love–dance, water, poetry, fiction, children, art, nature–have always moved freely, in a variety of directions and layers.  My hope is that as I learn to do the same and am less afraid of now, it will settle the confusion.  With that energy available, I plan to launch explorers from my port in every direction to bring back enough magic to create the things that need creating.