It is odd for me, whose face is transparent glass for all to see though to my emotional mind, to say that I doubt I would ever write a memoir.
Blogging is a sort of living memoir for some, especially those who use it like a diary of daily moods and events, but the actual details of my life are not worth the effort to record. It is my thoughts that I want to translate here, not the events that inspired them.
The events are mine, and uneventful, really.
I spent most of yesterday, and much of this morning trying to find a way to tell a story about my sister (it is her birthday today.) But I have found that I shall not share her with you. My sister is mine to have and to hold to love and cherish. My memories of events past and future are not for sharing. Not like that. I may use bits and pieces here and there for flavoring, but never as the meal.
And, of course, she is already here. She has been here since the beginning, sprinkled about in every post, in every thought and idea. My best work and words are inspired by her words and work. All of my life is what it is because she is there, sitting right next to me, in contrasting clothing.
Wise and witty, full of
Tempestuous moods and
Brilliant as you are
Beloved friend, my
I love the word ennui. It sounds the way it feels. I don’t love the way it feels.
I’m reading “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham, and it is filling me with despair. A journey without ending, a life without meaning, without brilliant success or everlasting love. It is just a life, punctuated by the odd good conversation and minor triumph.
This is what I believe life is. Just a chance melding of bits of DNA and the trick of self-awareness to make it seem personal. But just because it is what I believe, doesn’t mean I want it rubbed in my face.
The main character reminds me of several young boys – other people’s children – I’ve encountered who’ve developed this sense of the ‘futility of it all’ at a very young age. It is off-putting and sad, and makes me feel like there ought to be more red meat in their diets. More scrappy fisticuffs in dust filled playgrounds. These boys seem to have all the ‘boy‘ ripped out of their souls. Where are all the snails and puppy dog tails?
At a party this past weekend (Doctor Who!!!) I hit the wall early. Exhaustion settled into my bones before I finished the first conversation. I found a quote by Shirley Manson (Garbage), “I’ve got a lot of stamina and I enjoy people, so having lots of people around doesn’t freak me out.” This is the opposite of how I feel. I have no stamina for strangers. I can’t smile and listen and put my odd thoughts into sensible words all while trying to maintain eye-contact. It is just too much work.
In a past life, I would solve this problem with flirting. Find the most likely man in the room and save my moments of eye-contact for him. I’d make the party into a game, a conquest, a story, one worth telling later to my diary. (But not worth retelling – the stories are just creepy now.)
Will not, should not, can not, would not ever behave that way again. And so, the problem remains, I find myself in a corner, a fake smile plastered on my face, a half-empty (full?) glass of something in my hand. I have also used alcohol to solve the problem in the past, but alas, the pain of a future hangover is no longer worth the false sense of enjoyment alcohol brings. And I don’t seem to get drunk the way I used to anyhow. That black haze of ‘anything goes’ has softened into a gray cloud that only reminds me of rain and does nothing for my inhibitions.
Ennui is a part of me. (I like the way that sounds too) A part of being born with poorly functioning lungs. A part of growing up without a lot of physical activity, and with my head stuck in a lot of books. But there was one time…
‘Jill 2000’ they called me. (In 1999, it was the thing to call everything new something 2000) They, my friends(?), confused by my transformation into a living Energizer Bunny, needed a temporary label to explain away the stranger I’d become. Nine months earlier, a co-worker dragged me with her to a kickboxing class. It was the right time, the right place, the right music, the right group of people. Something clicked. I started going once a week, then twice, then thrice, then, uh, four times a week. (arg – that was a crappy sentence) I would have gone every day if they offered the class more often. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, I was in really good shape.
But that’s not the point. The point of that story and of this whole essay is Stamina (or, how to conquer my ennui). The side effect of all that muscle I gained from those forty-five minute long dance parties four times a week was stamina. Lots of it. More than I could ever imagine. I could out walk, out talk, out think everyone. I turned into the person I thought everyone always wanted me to be, but all I did was frighten them. (but don’t worry – I got really sick, and after a week in bed – I was back to my old, listless self.)
So here I am, flopping down on the couch, the back of my hand to my forehead, sighing at the futility of even getting dressed.
Or writing an essay.
But then…. COFFEE! yay!
I’m on the back of a galloping horse, flying along a narrow path bordered with cacti, I can’t even scream because all I can think of is, don’t fall off.
That moment etched itself into my brain. It will be there with a few other indelible memories, some good, some bad, not all nearly as exciting, until the very last seconds of my life. A memory I can instantly recall, and almost re-live, because while it was happening, nothing else was happening.
My boyfriend and I were in Aruba, riding horses on the beach. A ranch called Rancho Notorious ‘rents’ horses to the tourists and lets them ride on the more wild side of the island. They also rehabilitate abused or mistreated horses, as we learned from our knowledgeable and talkative guide.
Our guide was the happiest man I’ve ever met. He had bright eyes, dark skin and an easy smile. He loved his job, he loved horses, and he loved Aruba. He told us stories of being a kid, sneaking up on wild donkeys, leaping on their backs and riding until the donkey could knock them off or got too tired to run anymore. He warned us that you can only sneak up on male donkeys. The females were too smart and would kick, hard, before you could get up on their back. He swore those smart lady donkeys knew exactly where to kick a young man as well.
He rode his horse with that beautiful grace that you only see on the horse-riding extras in the background of movies. Where the motion of man and animal blurs into a single movement. He also controlled the other horses, the ones my boyfriend and I rode, with his voice. I found myself utterly in awe of him.
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault- because I would not take the trouble of practising…” Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen.
As with most skills I admire, I feel horseback riding is skill I could also acquire, if only I would practice. Another skill our Aruban guide possessed that I admired even more was his mindful happiness. He took such joy in the ride and in the beauty of the day, even along a path he, and more obviously, the horses had ridden a hundred times before. He was not simple-minded. He had a great deal to say about Aruba, the tourism industry, about desalinated water, about the rehabilitation of rescue horses. But you could see in the way his eyes roved the landscape, and the way his hands and legs guided the horse, he was also totally involved in the moment. The honest joy that shone through him belied any potential worries his life might also contain. I’m sure he had family and friends and the stress and heartache that accompanies them, but right now – all that concerned him was the three horses and the entertainment and safety of his guests.
How do you practice mindfulness? I practice writing by writing everyday. I practice drawing and painting* and sewing and crocheting and gaming by doing those activities over and over. Sometimes, while engaged with those creative activities, I enter into a sort of mindfulness. The world around me fades and I am utterly focused on a single stitch or word or challenge. And that is when memories form. That is when my skills in those activities increase.
Meditation bores me. I dislike it the way I dislike baths. I find taking a bath enjoyable for about a minute. But as soon as my body relaxes, my mind is asking, well, what now? If I’m not actively doing something with my body or mind, I might as well be asleep. I like sleeping, I’m very good at it, I’ve had a lot of practice. And sleeping is not wasted time like meditation or bath taking. While I sleep, my mind takes those moments of mindfulness and turns them into memory. A solid, long-term memory I can use again.
The real trick to mindfulness, for me, is to decide to do whatever it is I am doing, and not feel like there is something more important that I am neglecting. That is what I envied about the guide. A man as happy and kind and mindful as he was? you know he has a wife and kids somewhere. You know he had bills to pay and other obligations to fulfill. Back at the ranch he had other, less pleasant, chores to do. But while he was with us, none of that mattered. He wasn’t being irresponsible. He wasn’t wasting time, he was living the moment he was in.
That galloping horse forced me (via fear of death or dismemberment) to live entirely in a moment. I want to try to live that way all the time. To do what I am doing. To not muddle the now with the then. My plan: I will schedule a time of day to do what needs to be done, the bills, the shopping, the interactions with family and friends. I will trust my future-self to take care of all that, then. So that right now, I can focus on writing these words, and experience the joy in this moment of creation as it is happening.
(And then go back and edit the moment, of course – I am a writer after all, not a performance artist.)
* Painting tangent – I need a word for “painting on the computer.” I’m using MS Paint and my finger on a touch screen – the picture attached to this post is my latest creation, based on a picture I took while riding that horse – but is it really painting if there is no actual paint involved? Is there another word to use?
I’ve lost my fear of failure, and I’m in no rush to replace it. I’ll encounter failure again, in dark alleys and low lit corners, but I will see it as only a friendly former foe with an age-crooked back and dull, flaky claws.
The rejections arrive as sleeping breaths, inevitable, slow and deep. They lost their ability to cause pain, like the hair I pluck from between my eyebrows. After twenty-odd years of yanking at the same patch of skin, there are no nerves left to harm.
They don’t like my work, but I do. I think it’s brilliant, I can’t get enough of myself. So, I’ll keep it all and stop this farce of sharing.
My body of work will go into the grave with the body of its creator. All buried deep into the wet organics with the dead leaves and rot and revolting decay. (Revolting is a word I don’t use often enough. It has a lovely mouth feel, full-bodied and rich on the tongue, with undertones of a midden pit in mid-summer.) Or into the fiery furnace which would be, in fact, my preferred method of disposal. The potential for mistaken living-burial is reduced by the consumption of mind by flames. Only reduced though, we know not where the sense of self lives after all. If it is in the bit of skin behind my right knee, as I truly suspect, instead of just behind the eyes as most believe, and if, perchance, that bit is not consumed in the fire, my nightmare of being trapped in this world and unable to interact with it will come to pass. Trapped, motionless, still. And then won’t I be sorry.
Failure is a still life. A life without motion or movement, not of the hand or foot, but of neuron to synapse and the vast spaces between yours and mine and theirs and ours, is as dead as death could ever be.
Death scares me to death, now that I understand what life is for. It is not for submissions and rejections but for the creation of the items to submit. For the conversations and songs and art and words and the birds and the food and the lovely, lovely wine. For this apple and lemon and orange, in digital form, life stilled by pixels, and for these lines and curves, shapes and symbols in digital ink, that let me move these hyper-active thoughts from my mind to yours.