July 25, 2015
Not since the days of sitting down to school homework, have I felt such dread of writing. In both instances it has to do with feeling not up to the task and of being, in some way, un-teachable. Then, it had to do with an inability to comprehend math and the sciences not to mention the horror of history and all those dates! Now, it has more to do with feeling unable to learn whatever it is I need to learn in order not to succumb to feelings of worthlessness and the cycle of depression followed by the same old pain. And to think I believed that at a certain age one would no longer suffer from either acne or the past! Not for nothing then that I also have a pimple on my face this week.
The weather here has been oppressive for nearly a month. Stultifying heat with temperatures of 110°F (40°C) which blasts you when you open the door so that to step outside feels disorientingly like stepping inside….a furnace. I’m sure my being English doesn’t help; I really do prefer the feel of drizzle on my skin to ozone-free rays beating me into submission.
When I used to snort coke, I used to stay up all night painting, balancing a few lines of coke with a few sips of cognac, my fucked-up theory being that if I got the recipe right I could actually stay up all night for the rest of my life without blowing out my heart or my liver. A life spent in one eternal night was what I craved. As if only alone in the night could I hear myself and in so doing, find my voice; a voice not in the least interested in communicating verbally with others, but deeply with myself and the painting I was working on. It felt as though if I could just commune deeply enough with the paint and the canvas that I could break through to the other side, where the muse resided. I was, still am, all about becoming one with the muse.
Inevitably, around 4:30 in the morning I would feel the light begin to shift and with the coming of the day dread would arrive; a problem I would solve by making myself a hearty breakfast in the futile attempt to avoid hangover, before popping 10mgs., of Valium to ward off the day.
These days, because of the heat, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 and going out into the cool, sweet dawn to water the garden, listen to the joyous music of the birds and just generally revel in the beauty and tranquility of the landscape. Then around 7:30, the air still cool, Joel and I breakfast outside, maybe read a little, and for a while I pretend that we can hold time still, stop the clock at 8 o’clock and stand peacefully on the threshold of another day, instead of actually having to live it.
Yet live it I do. And sometimes the living ain’t easy, as my dear friend Scout wrote in response to my email to her yesterday, in which I only partially admitted to what I was feeling; telling her I’m a bit of grumpy bitch these days when really, the truth is I’ve been barking mad trying to avoid the hairball of agony that, like the weather, had been gathering pressure as it headed toward the storm.
And what, you ask, exactly is the hairball of agony? Funny you should ask; I’ve been asking the same question, thereby adding to the agony by coming up with the same tired answer: agony is the old feeling of worthlessness, of having no purpose, nothing of value to offer, and worse, nobody wanting what it is I have to offer.
So yes, I suppose I am un-teachable, because I don’t seem to want to learn that I set myself up, over and over again. Yup, did it again. Let myself be seduced into giving the manuscript to “just one more person” who promised to send it out to 2 big agents he’s buddies with…blah, blah, blah. Of course, he hasn’t. But damn it, I believe in this book. Of course I want someone to publish it. Why wouldn’t I? Isn’t one supposed to stand by one’s work, like the captain of a sinking ship? The real question is: am I courageous, or stupid? Or just a human combination of both?
My friend Scout says she tells her children it ain’t easy being her because she, like me, is one of those sensitive souls. There’s a word for you: sensitive. A word that has unfortunately, in our era, taken on a judgmental tone as in, “The problem is you’re too sensitive.” For which I now reply, “And what’s wrong with that?” Well, nothing is wrong with that except that it comes with a shit-load of pain sometimes. And this is what I have dreaded putting into writing, the very thing we sensitive souls don’t want to be true, but which is: pain does not get better with age. It neither diminishes or becomes easier to bear. Whoever says different is still taking Valium.
Finally, yesterday, as the outdoor furnace stoked itself, turning up the thermostat to near combustion point, I began to rant and rave and bawl and shake and despair and plead until I lay spent. And then the wind came, hurling itself at everything, bent on self-destruction as much as destroying nature’s beauty; whipping the electric line like a skipping rope and ripping branches off trees. Up next, heat lightening followed by thunder roaring overhead and howling into the distance and finally, mercifully, the rain; sheets and squalls and lashings of it.
For the first hour the sunbaked earth refused to accept it, sending rivers of water gushing into ditches and gullies. Then, in the second hour, as if understanding that such an outburst is hard to take, the rain softened to a steady, straight-down rhythm and we watched as the earth softened; watched as the rain reached the roots of suffering trees and plants; the roots soaking up the heavens, the foliage becoming plump and upright, the air cool and kind again, the house breathing in the sweetness through the pores of opened doors and windows. And so evening arrived, cleansed and calm.
The real lesson to be learned? Pain is unavoidable in a life fully-lived, but pain, like a storm, passes.
This morning I slept until 8 o’clock and over breakfast did the NY Times crossword. The clue of the day: 38 Across: “Experience catharsis, in a way.” The answer: “Bawl.” Amen to that.
photos by Joel Meyerowitz