Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Changes in the Bloodstream

I'll deny being a lot of things. I'll deny being a writer (who me?), a poet (psh…), a musician (definitely not!)…but I've never denied, and will never deny, being a nerd. I'm not totally sure of the technical definition of "nerd," but I'm pretty sure I fit it. I'm not necessarily bursting with nerd pride, but I'm not going to deny it, because it's just that obvious. When kids sat at the orthodontist office playing electronic games and staring at the ceiling (basically being a normal kid at the orthodontist office), I was reading Gone with the Wind. While other kids watched "Saved by the Bell" and listened to the Backstreet Boys, I was finishing Jane Eyre. I think I was born into nerd-dom. It's been apparent and undeniable for a long time.

That said, it shouldn't surprise you that one of my favorite writers of all time is Rilke. I love his poetry and his writing, and my copy of "Letters to a Young Poet" is dog-eared, underlined, full of notes, and parts are copied into journals. I love it. A lot. I read it for the first time when I was 18ish, and I remember feeling like Rilke was writing the letters to me. I love Rilke because he seems to feel things in the same, deep way that I do, and he explains them in a way that is simple and true. He seems to know and feel the same, soul-crushing depths and heights I experience, and expresses them in such a way that I know that he, also, feels in such a way that his soul dies and gives birth, drowns, and is born again. If he was still alive, and looked a little less like a dead Austrian dude who lived a long time ago and a little more like…oh I dunno….James McAvoy or Leonardo DiCaprio, I would probably be in love with him.

Love and Leonardo aside, there are some passages in "Letters to a Young Poet" that I just have to return to again, and again, and again. This quote is the one standing out to me now.

"It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, - is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens."

As I am facing so many changes right now, I find myself struggling—not with the things I expected to have difficulty with, but with the presence that is already in my bloodstream. A year ago, when that unfamiliar emotional presence entered, when everything I trusted and was used to was taken away and I was standing in a transition where I was not sure if I could keep standing, that presence entered my heart, and then, my bloodstream. I thought I knew what it was. I thought I had named it and approached it and avoided it and approached it again. I tried to believe that nothing had happened, but I was obviously and undeniably changed. Like Goldilocks breaking into the bears' home, the guest not only entered my house, but was eating my porridge, breaking my chairs, sleeping in my bed, and most importantly, was STILL THERE. I'm pretty sure the Goldilocks that entered my heart was the antisocial cousin of the original Goldilocks, because she did some serious damage. She created huge changes in my bloodstream that even a blood transfusion wouldn't have helped.

Over the past year, I have waited and wanted and longed for the day when I would be "the old me." I wanted the new presence in my life to be gone. I wanted things to be "normal," and I wanted to be my old self again. As I think about moving, I am confronted again with the fact that the old me is gone. As I try, and try, and try to forget and forgive and move forward, I realize that I can't, because I am still learning the ways that my house has changed. When I try to do something new, I try to act as the old me, not thinking (or ignoring) the fact that the guest had also entered there. Not remembering (or ignoring) the fact that the very life force running through my body had been changed. As transitions and changes continue to occur in my life, I feel as though I can change and transition as the pre-antisocial-Goldilocks me. But as I move forward, I realize more and more that although the houseguest is gone, the house is forever changed. The energy is different. The house has seen different things. The house knows different things. Sometimes, the person living in the house…me…sometimes, she doesn't even think about the differences, but the house—the body—knows and reacts. The house knows there have been changes in the bloodstream.

So as I am moving, and moving on, I keep encountering new ways I have changed. Antisocial Goldilocks is no longer sleeping in my bed, but I find that as I move into certain sections of the house that are a little dusty, that maybe I haven't had to go into before, I run across yet another thing that the guest broke or changed or moved or stole. Every time I find it, I remember again the feeling of the unfamiliar presence entering, and everything I trusted being taken away. When that happens, I question my ability to continue standing. I remember that I am changed, I have been changed, and my house—my mind, my body, my soul—is no longer what it was. When that happens, I am sad, and I hurt, and I am angry, because I didn't ask for this guest to enter my house. I didn't ask for these changes in my bloodstream.

At the same time, though, there is something freeing about allowing myself to acknowledge that I have been changed. Trying to fit the new me into the old me, and ignoring the new me that is living there instead, is hard. When I can say "yes, I had a really shitty houseguest who ate my porridge and broke my chairs and slept in my bed, and broke things and left it all a mess; when I can say that a presence, an event, a "thing" entered my life and made changes in my bloodstream, it makes me sigh inwardly, and one of the pieces of my tightened heart releases. "Yes," I can say, "you HAVE been changed. The change is in your bloodstream, and things will never be the same." For some reason, that simple acknowledgement lets me let myself off the hook. And why shouldn't I say that I will never be the same? I am not the same person I was yesterday, or five minutes ago, or five seconds ago, for that matter: everything changes, and everything changes us. I end every day an older, hopefully wiser, person with new experiences, purely because I lived another day. Why, when something life changing happens, can I not say that I have been changed?

It is also helpful to know, that changes to the bloodstream don't change the person. One can change, rearrange, take away, add to the contents of a house, and the essential elements of the house—the essence of the house—remain untouched. It is helpful to think that, even though I have changed, I am still the same. I am still me. In spite of all the changes, I am still who I am, and no Goldilocks—antisocial or otherwise—could change that about me.

I am certain that, after Goldilocks left the home of the three bears, they must have cleaned their house. They might have changed their sheets. Made new porridge. Put Baby Bear's chair back together. And that takes time. People keep telling me, "take care of yourself." Take the time to clean up your house. Fix the broken chairs. Change the sheets. Put the loving energy that once filled your home back into your home. Self-care is a buzz word that is thrown around by many—including me—and seldom practiced. Most times, I set things up as a double-bind: I can do what is right for me, or I can do what I see as the strong/brave/right thing to do. Sometimes, there really is that dichotomy…but not often. When the choices are pitted against one another like that, I feel obligated to choose the latter over the former. Better to act like the broken chairs don't matter than to take the time to fix them. Better to talk to others with changes in their bloodstream than to pay attention to my own. Better to find a better, new recipe for porridge than to make a new batch of the porridge I loved.

But what if self-care is the brave/strong/right choice? Take away the double bind. Accept that, maybe, the choice to fix the broken chairs is what is difficult for me. Maybe, through choosing to take care of myself, I am engaging in a radical act of bravery and strength.

Maybe…maybe…I am worth that.

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