Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sonnet XVII

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose,
topaz or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

“In mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” Johann Von Neuman

I couldn’t get used to Physics in 12th grade. Let’s call a spade a spade, please? Physics is a math class wearing a science team sweatshirt, masquerading as a set of concepts. In reality Physics is another set of formulas containing letters AND numbers, and I’ve kept those at a distance since middle school pre-Algebra. I swear sometimes I’m like Rainman with arithmetic. I can calculate percentages in a flash! This makes people think I’m good with numbers. I suppose that is basically true. I’m “used to” numbers and the basic way they interact. They make sense and don’t defy me. But when they get all theoretical, I’m doomed. I don’t want X to ever represent a number. Angles can kiss it! Don’t get me started on multiplying fractions. You can tattoo a formula on my frontal lobe and I’ll still get the wrong answer. I didn’t get used to math. No, I got used to not using math.

I took the GRE after college graduation, and scored fairly well (by my standards) on the math portion. This was result of a tip I’d read in a GRE prep book and not a secret ability to do trigonometry. Sine? Bah! Cosine? Bleh! Tangent? The only tangents I know are the ones that fly out of my mouth when I’m trying to tell a story. On the GRE (and SAT) the answer choices are always listed in ascending numeric order. Take the 3rd choice and plug it into the formula or equation. If it is correct, bingo! If not, your odds of guessing correctly just astronomically improved. How, you ask? If the 3rd answer is too big, it can’t be the 4th or 5th answer. If it is too small, it can’t be the 1st or 2nd. You’re welcome if one of these tests is in your near future.

Back to high school Physics. Not only was I having trouble getting used to it, I was losing the battle. I needed the science credit to graduate. I had a 3.75 GPA and didn’t want a ‘D’ of any kind on my transcript. So, I dropped out. Dropped right out of Physics and headed to the local Vo-Tech school to get the credit in ‘Physical Science.’ This consisted of visiting the Vo-Tech campus four separate occasions, reading a few chapters, taking the end of chapter quizzes, and passing with an A. Did I give up? Damn right I did. Do I regret it? Never. Taking “Physical Science” allowed me to understand the way Physics works, the “core theories,” without having to prove the theories and concepts myself. I knew then that I wouldn’t ever be a physicist. I was right. I won’t invent a new type of magnet or a better lever. Invention was never a strength for me.

In the fourth grade, my class got the opportunity to participate in a state-wide invention fair. All the students submitted ideas and prototypes. I’ve seen some really amazing things come out of elementary school invention and science fairs. What was my invention, you ask? The Tennis Toe Shoe. This beauty looked like a regular old Keds white lace-up, but hidden beneath the canvas was a reinforced toe block and a flexible arch area. The idea behind the TTS was meeting the needs of on-the-go budding ballerinas who may feel the need to go up on toe whilst waiting for the bus, or to scare away rival gang members. Sometimes you just need to dance. And sometimes you just need to…do ballet? It made perfect sense to me. Nevermind the fact the finished product looked like a smallish water ski or that the floppy arch area made it very difficult to walk pointed OR flexed. I was naively proud of the dance “wave of the future” and felt confident that I had created a winner.

Not only did I not win or even place or even get one of those paltry honorable mention or participant ribbons, I shant forget the looks of bewilderment and pitying chuckles my invention received. Since the fourth grade, then, I’ve made it a point not to get “used to” science, math, or innovation. I suppose it’s possible that I would have felt the lack at some point in my life if it weren’t for the Internet. See, when I’m reading an article in National Geographic that references quantum numbers or thermodynamics, all I need to do is hit up Google, and learn enough to understand the article. I’ve been worming my way around true understanding of these things now for about 20 years. Hey, I never said I was proud.

What Fear Feels Like

A soft, gentle fan-breeze whirring across the peach-fuzz on my face.
A cricket chirp just under the skin.
Both hemispheres of my brain pulling in their respective directions, leaving the middle a stretched drum.
A knowing denial, a willful ignorance.

It doesn’t hurt. It never has, not in the beginning. But the knowing stings. The possibility of not feeling is a unique pain. The knowing that I am not capable of stopping it. No amount of sleep, no relief. It’s a slow moving train, but it won’t stop. A gentle wave with a vicious undertow. How it’s all I can think about, like watching that train. There isn’t a sliver of my brain left for anything else, not even hope. There’s hope on the other side, but I have to wait for the train to pummel me, the wave to sweep over me.

What joy feels like.

A flitter under my sternum, jumping into my throat.
A big, cleansing, yoga breath.
My heart so full it must overflow or burst.
A knowing peace, a gentle reassurance.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Why Should I be Ashamed?

My stomach has never been flat
My thighs never slender
My cheeks, always full like my breasts
My smile, always bright
My voice, always strong
My heart, always full

Just as I am
Just how I should be.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

“When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” –Oscar Wilde

Growing up, I was the girl who wanted to play with your crutches. I wanted to test out the wheelchair. I wanted glasses, braces, and for-the-love-of-god a cast my friends could sign. Band-aids, stitches, scars. Ace bandages, splints. It wasn’t a preternatural obsession with health and healing, but a way to secure attention. That’s what I wanted. Hell, that’s what I still want sometimes. The difference now is that I know the term “histrionics.” I think I visibly blushed when I first read the definition of that word in a psychology class. Nervously looking around, wondering if that truth was a blinking neon sign over my head.

histrionics - a deliberate display of emotion (or crutches) for effect

Pretty simple, right? In fact, I don’t have most of the characteristics of Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), just a few of the trademark attention-seeking traits. My constant wish for an ailment in my youth was an extension of this behavior. I wanted people to notice me, and more importantly, to pity me. If I could get them to feel sorry for me, they might love me by default. They would see right past the glaring flaws to the victim who should be loved and cherished. They wouldn’t have high expectations for me.

Fast forward a few years. I’m a sophomore in college, opened up like a sponge to everything – the books, the music, the people who looked and talked differently from me, the freedom. Living. Learning. Then, histrionics came true. Spring semester of my sophomore year, I started feeling dizzy and disoriented. My eyes were sensitive to light. Black letters on white paper jumped around and I couldn’t seem to focus on things as they moved by. Three weeks and a hospital stay later, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. I could write posts upon posts about my so-far seven year journey with this disease (and I just might), but for now I want to point out the irony of the histrionics-girl who finally got her chronic illness. And so far, my illness is 100% concealable. Let that sink in a moment.

I tell you this now because I don’t want to run the risk of letting the histrionics take over. I could write you a sob story about being robbed of my youth, my opportunities, and my confidence. All of these things are true in part – but none of them represents the whole truth. The truth is I’ve been so damned fortunate that sometimes I can’t wrap my mind around it. We’ll get to that later, too.

So I’m 19, I’m armed with this diagnosis – my weapon against people who would judge me for anything. See? I’m the sick girl. You can’t ask me to fully participate. Oh, I made a mistake? I’m sorry but you seem to be forgetting that I HAVE A DISEASE. No, no, it’s okay. You couldn’t have known. There is no way for you to understand. I admit that I never used discretion in telling people about my MS for the first year or so after my diagnosis. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but in that time it became a tool I used to garner sympathy. I only know now what I was doing because I can recognize that I knew nothing about MS and had made no emotional progress with the diagnosis. I didn’t understand it in the slightest. It was only when I began to understand that I clamped up. This truth is too, too close for me to so carelessly disclose. In that first year after my diagnosis, I wrote journal entry after the next about how I was climbing a mountain. I gave voice to some of the surface fears, but mostly I wrote blueprints on coming to terms with it. I hadn’t even begun to take a step in that direction. I still believed it was happening to someone else.

A couple of years in, I started to see the irony of the whole thing. The attention-seeker in me finally had an answer to that tragically misguided, unspoken prayer. But instead of giving me that free pass to love and sympathy, it instead presented a moral challenge. Did I really want to use this misfortune in such a way? Could I even do it now that I’d made some progress toward acceptance?

The answer, of course, was no. Absolutely not. And since that time I have probably gone out of my way to conceal my MS whenever I could, whenever it was prudent. I recently told a friend after about a year of knowing her. She was shocked, naturally. She’d had no idea. I liked that. Now, instead of the sympathy I could gain from being a pity case, I prefer the shock of revelation. Either way, you see, I’m seeking control, right? So, I’m not perfect. But at least I’m not histrionics girl anymore.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann

Oh, Thomas. Thank you for admitting this, even if it does seem a little pity-partyish. Its truth does not escape me. When I was a freshman in college, learning how to tutor other students in the campus writing center, I learned the term “reticence” as it applies to writing. I learned how to help people overcome this common problem, and fairly well ignored the fact that I myself am quite reticent.

Reticence is the fear of the blank page, but I think it boils down to perfectionism, which boils down to control, the lack of which boils down to vulnerability. Those of us who received writing accolades early on will recognize how the flip side of praise is pressure.

Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” The sentiment is that, like any other craft, writing is subject to the constant reinterpretation of the writer. Sometimes the kernels of truth remain in a piece, and sometimes you want to burn it, erase it from the universe. Once the piece has been read by anyone but you, total annihilation is difficult.

Writing at the computer has one clear benefit to the reticent writer: if the writer can type quickly, the flow from brain to page can reach amazing frequencies. As usual, there is a corresponding disadvantage: the delete key. Unlike its predecessor, the furious scribble, the delete key leaves no evidence of the process of arriving, finally, at the words you choose. The sanitization of the writing process may have created the unintended consequence of lost thoughts and ideas that could later bloom into something worthwhile.

The answer to the reticence problem has always been simple, regardless of the medium. Just write. Keep coming back to the page and leave a little ink (or some pixels) each time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of our adversities." --Sophocles

It wasn’t all that long ago that I declared publicly, foolishly, that I am a writer. It was about eight years ago, give or take a month. I was on the West Lawn at Flagler College, the brightest-eyed freshwoman ever to grace the thick, scruffy grass. The oak trees were retired soldiers, weary of standing post, prone to sagging, weighed down by the creeping Spanish moss on their shoulders. That day in March, or April (in Florida there two seasons, hot and less hot) I reveled in this newfound self-knowledge: twirling, leaping, flinging my flattened flip flops into the air. I could not have been more certain of any other truth. As if it were a door one walks through, into Writerland.

For eight years, I have tried to replicate that feeling about writing, about anything. Truly, I have known nothing with such certainty since that day. Until, maybe, today. This day. I know now that I am my own worst enemy. I’m so smart that I tricked myself into believing that there is something or someone else to blame for the fact that I’ve been idling for eight years. I believed this with such conviction that I justified every inactivity or meek moment on the grounds that I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I was. I am. Afraid.

A writing professor said to me (familiarly, as if I were just like her) “We write because we have to.” So simple, that truth. I want to. But I don’t feel as though I have to. I so desperately want to. But is it a ruse, if I never feel the irrepressible need to scribble? Is that desperate wanting actually a need that I’ve disguised? I am holding myself back. I’m doing it. Not the MS, not the insane pressure of perfectionism, just me. My fears. My complacency. But I realize now that I will always feel the lack if I don’t express myself in some way.

So here I am, and here you are. I don’t want to waste your time, but at the end of the day, this is about me and my quest. I hope you find something worthwhile here and decide to come back. I will try to supply a reason to do so. I am going to try to use a structured approach for a while. I’m a collector of quotations. As a someday teacher I will use these quotes as writing prompts, so I plan on testing that here, on myself. Thank you for staying to read this much.