10 February 2014
This letter needs your undivided attention. It needs a quiet space to breath. It needs to take a moment to be heard. And yes, you should listen to the above song with the same care.
This letter is the continuation of a letter I am writing in your notebook right now, so when you finally get it in the mail, just turn back to the 10th of February, and you’ll understand it a bit better. But even without that context, I think this could be the most honest thing I have written in a long time anyway.
I am afraid of what I have to say.
In the past, this has been a sequence of self-correction. By that, I mean, this revelation has been covered over by a few repeated sentences: I think too much. I don’t belong here. This isn’t what I was meant for.
Imagine: you are walking down a dark road, with only the pinpricks of stars. You think: I could get used to this as soon as my eyes adjust. You begin to trust the darkness, which is its own type of Margaret Atwood story. You are invested in where you are, which is here, in this darkness, in the middle of the nothingness that is everywhere.
Imagine, next: someone covers your eyes.
What do you do? Stand still, is the obvious choice… the panic setting in about not knowing where you are, or what you’re looking at, or what you’re facing, or what might be out there ahead of you. You try to imagine what you’ve already been through, but you think whatever I’ve known is just a shade of memory, and might not be real anymore. So. Stand still. Take stock. Steady yourself.
Imagine, now: you walk forward, slowly, carefully, attentive to every movement, to every new thing that comes into your awareness. That is a rock. How do you know? Because you can feel it. Because you can move it. Because it is not big enough to take you down. Because it is bigger than a grain of sand, and smaller than a wall. You start to accommodate this strange scenario with your kidnapped senses. Imagine: it starts to feel like a challenge, like an adventure. Try to find your way with your eyes closed, as if you had chosen this for yourself, as if you were the one who started this game.
Imagine: you try to take a path, after finding a balance, after feeling your way around, after becoming confident. This is a good path, you decide. And gently, but firmly, imagine, the forces outside of you say no. There is no correction, there is no explanation. Just: you can’t go this way. This is not the path.
Okay. Reassess. It’s still a game. How far can you go and still be confident? How far can you stick your neck out and make yourself excited about not knowing what’s ahead of you? A few times? Five times? Ten potential paths that you felt ready to take, blind, and hopeful? How many times can you take being told no – no, this is not for you?
What I really mean is: imagine what it feels like to narrow down your choices — and to find a world to set out into — by eliminating all of the worlds that are not possible. I use the word “imagine” loosely, because I know you know what this feels like. It’s a reversal of assuredness: feeling your way blindly, knowing that you are on the right path for as long as you don’t hear something that tells you you’re not.
It’s a strange dynamic, especially when you consider that we all put on our own blindfolds, we all give our own directions, and we all close down our own possibilities.
We are the outside forces. We are the dark path and the night, the hope and the striving.
The Blue Bird
The lake lay blue below the hill,
O’er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.
The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue,
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.
Mary E. Coleridge
We sang “The Bluebird” tonight, which is why it’s my soundtrack on repeat for writing this evening. But it also reminds me of an English class in college where we studied Galway Kinnell. Specifically this poem:
On my hands are the odors
of the knockout ether
either of above the sky
where the bluebirds get blued
on their upper surfaces
or of down under the earth
where the immaculate nightcrawlers
take in tubes of red earth
and polish their insides.
And this poem has its own associations, its own trail of memories:
- There was a time where I tore things apart in the right ways, where I dove in and got my hands dirty because of direct contact with core things.
- We sang The Bluebird in Chamber Singers the same year I wrote this in my Galway Kinnell essay:
The moment of the Jay’s surrender is also significant. A blue jay’s feathers are not actually blue. There is a refraction or distortion of light due to a certain inner structure of the feathers themselves which creates this color. If the feather is crushed, the blueness disappears. In a more Romantic sense, the jay is said to mirror the blueness of the sky. As the hawk crushes the jay’s feathers, the blueness is lost: “He pushes off clutching transversely/the body of the jay, which is like a coffin/made in the shape and color of the dead.”
- My handwriting has changed so much, but parts of it haven’t changed at all.
- The same thing can be said for me.
- The same thing can be said for all of us.
- I have failed to surround myself with people who will deconstruct things with me as deeply as this, because there isn’t enough time, or it might not be interesting or relevant to other people, or they simply don’t give a shit to look at things that closely — and yet, even though I’m not surrounded, I am shored up by those people who engage like this with me. I’m terrified of going through another phase of life without that.
- I want to be possessed by things.
- I am still afraid of my own voice. I am still afraid of what I have to say.
This letter is not melancholy. This letter is surprisingly rooted and certain. This letter is breaking through the last few fears that veil true insight. What is important — crucial, in fact — is that this letter is expanding. This letter is more common, and more likely to be written.