The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Parting with trembling fingers the veil of myself. What to say. What to say.
Where did “the writer” in me go? The man willing to stay up half the night in the service of one sentence? The man who could no more imagine not being in every issue than looking in the mirror and not seeing his own face? The man who found in that face, in those words, something nothing else could give him? The man who loved and hated writing as much as he loved and hated himself?
The struggle isn’t in making the time to write; it’s in feeling truly creative, instead of burdened by a sense of obligation about being a “writer,” or by feelings of inadequacy about how I write. It’s as if the writing time were a church, into which I trooped dutifully every morning, the joy having gone out of the service. How do I keep the passion alive? How do I challenge myself to write in a way that is more authentically curious, more genuinely an expression of my deepest self?
Are the words mine? I make them mine. They rise over the horizon of my awareness, like stars coming out at night, and I name them: Sy and Sy and Sy and Sy.
How hard not to disguise, with such embroideries as language allows, my heart.
Someone writes from Arizona: “The pen name, Mitsujo, given to me by a Buddhist priest in 1973, means ‘secret accomplishment.’ ‘But so secret,’ laughed the priest, ‘you’ll never know.’ ”
I am not this man, eating this apple, staring out the window. I am not his absorption in his writing, his children, his wife, his “inner life.” I am not his face in the mirror, staring back at him. I am not his forgetfulness, nor his remembering, his sudden desire for You, only for You.
I realized today that my personality isn’t a problem I’m going to solve, and that loving myself has nothing to do with solutions: with “understanding” myself, with “getting closer to my feelings,” with figuring anything out.
I know it takes time to heal after an argument, but I resent it, and then I resent Norma, as if it were her fault. Last night, I dreamt of a man standing beside the grave of his dead wife. He had a telephone in his hand. He was waiting for her to call.
What being intimate means constantly changes. What worked yesterday doesn’t work today. As Patricia Sun says, “Yesterday’s ecstasy is tomorrow’s garbage.”
I saw B. today, on crutches. He said a tree fell on him while he was cutting it, breaking his back. “Well,” I said, “you’re lucky to be alive.” He shook his head. “I don’t believe in luck,” he said. “Either it happened or it didn’t.”
Joyce Carol Oates: “The worst cynicism: a belief in luck.”
I remember learning to write, bending eagerly to my wide-lined notebook paper, pencil in hand; happy to be writing; the letters rising, curving, swelling, falling; the writing itself an act of joy.
It’s necessary for me to write, even if the words aren’t elegant. I’m diminished, we’re all diminished, if I don’t. We need each other: our words, our stories, our less-than-elegant renderings of our lives.
I want the words not to come between us, but to join us. Here, and here, and here: all along our yearning.
Can I love Norma more than I love myself? Of course not. But sometimes, I want to believe it. I want to believe our love for someone can raise us higher than ourselves, in the same way a selfless act, a moment of heroism or sacrifice, can bring forth from us something we didn’t know was there. At the hospital, Norma talked to a rock musician, a singer, distraught over his wife’s death. He was stuttering badly. But he always stuttered, he said. The only time he didn’t stutter, he told Norma, was when he sang.
How tired we are at the end of the day, having given the best of ourselves to our work, which gives us back so much, but not us to each other. Norma and I exchange greetings like two soldiers, allies against the common enemy: time. But we fought our best fight hours ago, during the morning we hoped would last forever, during the afternoon that whispered some kind of lie about the night. And here we are, with just enough time for a quick argument, or quick sex, anything to feel close.
Nothing is mine, said my empty hands.
Ice on the brittle branches, the old winds of regret in my heart. Unable to forgive myself for not being more forgiving. How do I remember to stay alive to feelings, not opinions? How do I remember that being innocent and vulnerable is more important than being right?
Buddhists talk of elegant actions, inelegant actions.
Am I willing to bite the hand that just fed me? To challenge the very concepts that once worked for me? To prod and poke at the myth of my own growth? Paul Williams writes: “We have to keep challenging our own assumptions, recognize our attitudes, not so we can live without attitudes (impossible), but so we have the freedom to break through them or push them aside when they get in the way of something more important.” How hard it is to come to myself empty, unburdened by all my impressive knowledge of who I am.
Jim Ralston writes: “My father just underwent a difficult surgery. When I talked to him on the phone, I was stunned to hear him in pain and so vulnerable and scared. I had never heard this in him before, and it just melted me. Why does it take so much pain to reveal ourselves? I see more clearly: the perfected heart is a broken heart. Spiritual bliss must have its beginnings in a broken heart.”
This morning, I experienced a deep and tender forgiveness for my parents. I imagined holding them, as if they were children, feeling their innocence, their sorrows. How I wept. . . . Later, I went out to run, and discovered a magnificent woods in town. Astonishingly, I’d been running right past it all these years. How the inner becomes illuminated! How we find what was always there.
My body is the temple. My marriage is the temple. My work is the temple. So sweep the temple. Worship in the temple. Don’t worship the temple.
I hoist anchor at first light, and with coffee cup and endless enthusiasm, sail into the day. Yet sooner or later, I discover I’m lost: lost in this life I’ve charted for myself, this life I love. The challenge: to admit it; not to pretend. Not to smile absently, and squeeze my hand, and say, “Don’t worry,” convincing no one: not the neglected child in me, not the neglected man.