Thursday, March 23, 2006

"What words break you?"

Last week, I read at the MCCCA with a dozen or so other poets. The theme was ostensibly poetry about Africa (sponsored by Africa Without Borders) but there were many stripes of poetry and poets there. I was honored to follow on the tails of professors like Daniel Kunene and Roberta Hill Whiteman, Doctors of their craft and veterans of three hour readings like the one we had. I met great new faces, and afterwards, the younger contingency hit the Angelic, wiggled to reggae and shouted out ideas at each other - talk of poetry community was strong, about bringing together community and university, about bringing together our own and each others' words. Unity. I was overwhelmed many times in the conversations - so much sound, all evening long, from quiet, isolated words, to escaped hollered expression, to blaring live music backbeated by other, random, social conversation. Many times I found myself in a corner, beer in one hand, someone else's hand in the other hand, straining to listen to just the content of their speech - their history, their ideas, but I felt overcome by it all. This time of year marks the time I was in Vermont, and I am so hungry for writing community I am beyond hungry - so hungry I had forgotten I haven't been eating, forgotten that the bread of poety is supposed to nourish me.

Breath is what breaks me.

I went to a dentist for the first time in years earlier that day.

Ok - I have to stop for a funny side story here...

Earlier on in the day, I had gone to the dentist for the first time in over three years. Even three years ago, all I got was a cleaning, and even that was a three-day cheap MATC training cleaning. There's a classic side story here - I've even written a poem that alludes to it, so many of my friends have heard it, about how due to some weird bureaucratic miscommunications before my cleaning, my attendant got interrupted in the middle of it to be told by her supervisor that she was cleaning the wrong woman. What made her supervisor think that? They had somehow mangled my name into Muaim Han (presumably "asian", though who knows which country) and so she was shocked to see a white woman and worried they had scheduled the wrong one in.


Back to the breath story... entering the clinic last week, I was horrified to quite clearly hear every tool in its chip and scream action in the whole joint. I thought, my god, I never used to hear THAT at my childhood dentist. I'm leaving! But it turned out later to be a rhythm for my breath. See, my childhood dental assistant (because its about the assistants, not the dentists, big surprise) talked too much and with bad boundaries. So when they asked me what I wanted in order to be comfortable, it didn't take me long to realize I wanted to try silence. "Silence, please". My assistant looked surprised, and she had to stifle some of the normal chit chat, but eventually the rain and clinking of tools let me be with my body, be with the pain, and it was the breath I was best to be with all along. So when a new friend, a poet, at the bar or afterbar after the poetry reading asked me "What words break you?" I struggled, but underneath I knew, I knew it was a boring and also glorious buddhist-y answer - its breath, it's the moment before words become words. Chogyam Trungpa talks about this a lot - mostly with photography, but also with words, in his first book, Shambhala Path of the Warrior. I am stunned by it again and again.

Let's face it - who *doesn't* think they hate the dentist? I went through 4 years orthodontry, with my scary white and skinny doc and all his pert, fuckable assitants. My overly invasive hygenist. I can't help but think, now that I've seen what silence does for me, that so much of it was the dread of attempting to avoid pain. What breathing allowed me, as it always has eventually in the last few years, is silence. Silence to recognize as the pain would come and go. In some ways, I see all of this as part of the joy of getting older and being ok with asking for what I want without inhibitions. I think Buddhism is a major catalyst, though. That, and that my new dentist's first name is Golden. As he also followed my silence request, I watched the snow outside and was able to imagine my grandfather and the tiny window he lived with for years, telling the temperature by the temperment of the local squirrels scurrying past the tiny section of sky he could squint to see. It was contemplative dentistry. Go figure. Breath, you win one more point. And you break all.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Quality, not Quantity

Ah yes. What a boring, trite old cliche. And yet, how true.

I have two months and change left at my day job. Part of me is thrilled to bits, mostly over a concept of liberation, of my days becoming free, of shaking up my basically 9-5 schedule. An equally balanced portion is absolutely terrified, probably of the same thing. Oh that, and finances, of course. We've decided to take on another housemate, which will help a lot. A ton, in fact, financially. Running a house ain't cheap. And in fact, I will need to take on some kind of piddly PT job to help pay for my teaching, until the practice takes off more. I strangely find that a comfort, only the main reason I can figure it is a comfort is because I look forward to repeating the same numbing habits I can do at my current fuller-time day job, only, not as well because I get interrupted. Control. Expertise. Solitude. I am working with a job therapist of sorts to help me figure out how to turn these back into the skills I need and thrive on, from the sort of sick obsessions they have distorted to at my current job.

Part of it is just owning that I am me. This job hasn't "done" anything to me that another job couldn't do, if I keep up the same habits. I am less likely to keep them up now, I know, but I am also wary to take them into teaching. My teacher told me that for her, it became a rut, a deep deep space which was both comforting and damaging. I suppose my aspiration is to never get there - or to get there, but to recognize it. I am being careful not to try to "prevent" anything, but that in itself is a statement of control.

I laugh. I spent the whole weekend meditating, and it was stunningly easy to relax. I was so worried about my back, which has been quite tender since beginning chiro, but it was perfect all weekend - better than normal. In the meditation training I have been doing, we are now reinserting ourselves into the world, and the world into our meditation, and it feels like perfect timing for me. I am taking all I have been doing and shooting it out into the world. The key factor I see everywhere is just how to not burn myself out. I am a huge flaming star a lot of the time, full of vibrancy and enthusiasm, and their dark star equivalents - aggression and judgement. Birdfarm has gotten to the point where she can hear a turn in my voice that signifies which way - which quality - the weathervane is pointing to that particular day. I appreciate the friendships I have cultivate, and continue to cultivate, as I open further and further.

And gentleness. For so long, thinking no quantity of gentleness could ever match the quality of just getting the fucking job done, for instance. If anything has taught me this, will teach me this, deeply, its my back. When I tense up and panic, it hurts. When I relax and laugh, it laughs with me.

And finally, love. Shocking again to see how much jealousy, anger, possessiveness appeared when I sat for 18 hours over two days. And yet, I was able to look underneath and see that the real deprivation was coming from me, toward me. Talk about discursiveness; a tight, trapped little loop. Henry Rollins has a great quote, I will paraphrase, on his spoken word cd "Hating Someone's Guts": that when you hate someone (I'll insert here, feel any kind of aggression) it's like asking *that* person to give *you* a pile of shit, and accepting it, and saying "thank you". It comes back around - in fact, often, it never even leaves our little world, just dumps right back on to us. Some quality, eh?

Piece by piece. There is no goal. But this sense of gentleness, I am starting to get the idea that its legit. That I can live here - not in a pile of shit all over myself, but in gentleness. Step one. I figure if that is the one thing I can learn from leaving this job, the next choices I make will be ok. It doesn't matter if I'm sweeping floors or shelving books or what. Just put me in charge of only myself, only my gentleness, and I'll work it out. It's a faith in change, which is itself a change, from my fear of change. Healing is some powerful learning.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Damage Without Pain

I have held for a long time to the belief that if it's not broken, you don't fix it.

My grandfather, bless his dead soul, was a big adherent of this one. His other big one was French: Laissez cet endroit aussi propre que vous aimeriez le trouver - Please leave this place as clean as you'd like to find it. That's a pretty good one. Buddhist even. Advice is mixed. Some works, some works for a short time then not at all, some should have never worked at all.

I am here to tell you that it doesn't have to hurt for it not to be working.

I have now gone through three weeks of very intens(iv)e chiropractic care. There's a lot more to do. I can feel all I have held for so long shifting around inside of me, up and down my spine, in and out of my organs. My body is holding out its strongest defenses - skin, lungs, spine; all in the form of pain. I don't know which is sadder/more compassion-arousing for me to see: that my body hurt first to avoid hurt from outside, or that I ignored that pain again and again and again, just as I ignored pain from the outside, too. All I know now is that it hurts a lot less to be present with it.

I am not here to eliminate pain. I am here to learn about suffering. Pain is inevitable; torture, at least for me, inside my own head, within my own box and bounds, isn't. This is all I know today, and I had to say it, out loud, so my body would know that I am listening.

Friday, March 03, 2006

There's Always a Syren, Singing You to Shipwreck

-from "There There" by Radiohead

Two nights ago, a good friend, S., who lived in Madison for many years and is currently in North Carolina, called out E. and I on a barhop whirlwind visit. We got smashed at Jolly Bob's, and oblivious to the obviousness that it is not June outside, we stumbled from friends' house to friends' house in far too few clothes, egging on everyone to come out with us.

We finally got an old sage friend , Y., of ours to meet us on our way home "Just meet me at the WISCO when you are stumbling home. I'll catch us all a nightcap", and sitting around the table, he gave his predictions. Y. has been known to expect, to predict and to create situations which are far from seeming possible, and yet, when it all happens, it turns out Y's right. That night, Y said that the one woman at the table who seems to long for freedom most, my housemate, E., will marry first. (It really was like a tea reading, only with rum and coke glass ring reading) That I and S, the other woman at the table, will wander, that we won't settle soon, that we won't settle at all. Ever. For the first time in a long time, always the one to long for a relationship; even in high school, always the one everyone thought would marry someone, anyone, first - for the first time in a long time, I saw that Y. was right, and I thanked him for it. I have so much to do. I heard a great story the other day, another friend, about a woman who ran a plane company in Tanzania for twenty years, then had a whole 'nother exotic, fulfilling, excellent career, then, at 60, found love.

There is much to unlearn, is what I wanted to write just now. But then birdfarm's last comments, as well as Prayas', combined with a very thoroughly challenging and intriguing conversation about "unlearning" in the writing class I teach last night --- all of that lead me to reconsider. Maybe I have learned everything I need. It's all right here. I keep wanting to pitch it all - babies, bathwater, the lot. However, the same syrens are sirens, the same calls to crash are calls to know where crashing will occur, and, thusly, they are clues for me to find other direction, safe directions, places where I won't crash, or crash in a new way.
And I am. Finding other direction. Lots of it.

I agree with Y. It will be awhile. The more time I spend alone, the more I am connecting to my body. To myself. There are a lot, really a lot, of people out there who have tried to reach me over the years, only to leave disappointed because they hoped to get closer to me than I even am to myself. Tonight, after E's reception at Firecracker Studios, I chose to not go out to another party, and instead, come home. I started sewing, thinking about the blog, thinking about predictions and expectations. I am happy to be with myself. I cannot tell you how rarely that occurs. How ready I was to pitch myself out with the bathwater. Nothing suicidal, just self-neglecting. Recently, a lot of chiropractic work has brought up so much about myself, and my body, that I have long felt separated from. I am ready for it now.

I am here.

There's always a syren, singing me to shipwreck. And I will sing right along as I sail off in the other directions.