Monday 29 December 2014

A "welcoming Something Dance" for the new year

It's been a beautiful holiday so far. Now my partner and I are heading up the coast to celebrate the New Year with his family. I've been thinking about time, as many of us do at the new year. For me it's more pronounced this year, as it's been a time of enormous change for me. When I quit drinking, I didn't really believe the folks who talked about getting sober as the beginning of a process, but it does seem to be what's going on here. Sometimes these days I'm not sure where I'm headed with it. (Except staying sober, which I'm pretty darn certain about!) But I do know what I need to do is to be open to the world, and to myself, whatever that looks like. Primrose wrote a wonderful post on this subject yesterday. And the other day, when I was organizing a bunch of paperwork, (it's not all fun and games and tea and cookies here on my days off!) I came across a poem by Charles Wright that I'd tucked aside a few years ago and then forgotten, and I thought I'd share that in lieu of my own words.

Wishing you peace and joy in the new year. And dancing!


Bedtime Story

The generator hums like a distant ding an sich.  
It's early evening, and time, like the dog it is,  
                                                                                 is hungry for food,  
And will be fed, don't doubt it, will be fed, my small one.  
The forest begins to gather its silences in.  
The meadow regroups and hunkers down  
                                                                            for its cleft feet.  

Something is wringing the rag of sunlight  
                                                                  inexorably out and hanging.  
Something is making the reeds bend and cover their heads.  
Something is licking the shadows up,  
And stringing the blank spaces along, filling them in.  
Something is inching its way into our hearts,  
                              scratching its blue nails against the wall there.  

Should we let it in?  
                                       Should we greet it as it deserves,  
Hands on our ears, mouths open?  
Or should we bring it a chair to sit on, and offer it meat?  
Should we turn on the radio,  
                                                     should we clap our hands and dance  
The Something Dance, the welcoming Something Dance?  
                               I think we should, love, I think we should.

-by Charles Wright (from his book Scar Tissue)

Monday 15 December 2014

Acceptance, again.

I've been struggling with a whole lot of things that I think have to do with acceptance. You know, it seems like I figure some things out and then later I come back and figure them out all over again. Same lesson, just deeper. I guess we all have that.

A number of years ago, I was taking an art class, and I got talking with an instructor who was visiting from the east coast, where I'm also from. She'd always been a good girl: Catholic school, art college on scholarship, career making and teaching art. She'd done everything right in her life. Eventually, she started to feel so shaped by the forces around her who defined what "everything right" looked like that she didn't have much sense of herself. I remember her telling me that it took her a long time to get over needing some sort of approval from the world for everything she did. Needing approval is not the best road to making great art. For a time she stopped presenting her art publicly, and she ended up developing a whole new practice, returning to working with clay--something she loved, but that isn't exactly high status in the art world. By the time I met her, she was making art and teaching and enjoying it all again, and it felt more real to her than it had. She said her turning point had been a conversation with her husband, who pointed out that she was still acting like the schoolgirl who really wanted the teachers to say what a grand girl she was.

Ouch. I feel like that these days. At the time, it didn't much apply to me at all. I'd been one of those high achieving kids, but as an adult I'd quit lots of things that people thought I was supposed to be doing. Even sitting by a kiln chatting with an art instructor, as I was doing that evening years ago, would have been considered a waste of time by many of the people I knew. I didn't care.

But being in school somehow brings a lot of that old approval stuff back again. I love reading and writing and researching. It's interesting and intellectually stimulating, and I feel lucky that I'm allowed to spend my time doing it. But whenever I submit a project to be graded, I feel like I'm waiting for a God I don't entirely believe in to reach out and pat me on the head and tell me I'm a good girl after all. There is no winning this game. A perfect grade means I have to live up to that next time or I'm not so good after all. (And anyway, maybe the professor was being kind, so it doesn't quite count.) Anything even slightly less than perfect has me replaying all the problems in my work.

I'm embarrassed to be writing about this. It doesn't feel like an adult issue. I thought I'd got past this years ago. I guess not. Now I think leaving the whole academic and career world as I did was more like a giant workaround. I thought I'd given all that worldly approval a big old, "Screw you!" and gone off to do my own thing. (It might not be surprising that "my thing" ended up involving a lot of wine every evening.) But it's one thing to keep away from the world of approval altogether, and quite another to be submerged in it and not completely shaped by it. Now that I'm a full time student, I am judged and graded all the time. Trying to be OK with that is tricky. It's pretty darn draining, oscillating out there on the end of some approval system that feels like it matters. And it's hard to talk about, because I don't expect much sympathy or understanding. Maybe it looks like some sort of humble-brag. But it doesn't feel like that. It feels like not knowing my way around in the world, and not knowing who to ask for directions.

And maybe it seems like this has nothing to do with drinking, either. But it does. It's been a bit over 11 months since I quit drinking. The semester was not only my first as a full time student, and my first in grad school, it was my first school semester ever (or since I was 19, anyway, and that seems like forever ago) without drinking to smooth away the rough edges of insecurity and panic. And I did it. I finished my courses and fulfilled all my teaching assistant obligations and sent out my conference proposals for the upcoming year. And I'm doing some interesting work. Interesting to me, and sometimes to a few other people. Honestly, I think that's pretty good. Maybe even great. It's true, I was wildly insecure at times, and many days I came home and wept, sure that everyone in the room had hated me. I think that feeling has to do with the approval thing I'm talking about. Being critical of ideas means taking a stance that's sometimes unpopular, and when I do that, as I do, I am keenly aware of the undercurrents of feeling in the room. And that's uncomfortable. I think I'm managing to stay with what's interesting to me, and that means going against the grain sometimes. So there's lots to be uncomfortable about, and being hyper-aware of the currents of social and academic approval doesn't make it smoother. Not drinking means I don't make it worse for myself, but it also means I don't get to hide from it, ever.

So that's the acceptance I started writing about. I really thought I was a punk rock rebel who didn't care what people thought. I'm appalled to find that I notice every nuance of what people think of me. And I care. Ouch, again. But that's exactly the thing I have to accept. You can't separate yourself from the world and live, protected and authentic and pure. Maybe that's what I thought I was doing, all those evenings drinking too much wine, staying separate from life. It doesn't look like much of a way to live, though. Participating in life means swimming in the wonder and the muck of the world. It's painful, and I don't know my way about in it. But I'm part of it. We all are.

Now it's mid-December. I have a little free time to enjoy here and there, and some Christmas plans (we're cooking a duck!). Then were taking a small trip to see family, which means late mornings sleeping in and reading and days hiking and lovely slow meals and evening fires. I bought some cordials at the farmers' market the other day, so I can mark the festive occasions with toasts that don't need booze to make them special. I'll raise a glass of blueberry-lavender fizz to you, my fellow sober bloggers and readers and lurkers. Thanks as always for your fine company. Wishing you all peace and joy, and happy holidays.