“…am not at all the sort of person who attracts attention, I am an anonymous presence against an even more anonymous background.” –If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino
I have returned to the land where cutting grass takes hours unless you have a machine (or person) to do it for you. Almost a pity to see the grass disappear, clipped in the prime of its wild life, robbing various animals, birds and insects of their hiding places.
Meanwhile, I hide in the overwarm, artificial darkness, thinking about how one can scythe away the debris that clutters life … to tear away the scabs of permissiveness while retaining some kinship with compassion?
I wrote to one of my darlingest people this week, when she caught me at the strangest moment, the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a disembodied nothing state, something like:
“You catch me today in a strange frame of mind. I have been, as you know, for all of this year, relaxing and engaging in individual, cerebral activities (for the most part). I have been reading nonstop, taking walks, sleeping a lot and focusing on health and a kind of mindful emptiness. Since late winter, I have not become too tangled in complicated emotional things, in fact feeling almost completely free of all such entanglements lately. Not in the sense that I feel nothing but just that there is no negative association, or worst of all, dread, questioning or angst connected to any of it.
But at the same time, I also feel almost as though I just don’t belong in this … world. Or on this particular plane of existence. Not that I don’t want to be alive – it’s nothing like that at all. Suddenly I feel disconnected at the same time as being completely connected. I can’t find ‘passion’ or ‘fire’ for anything like anger, impatience, annoyance, elation – but not in a bad way. It’s just that what had felt a bit like laze and malaise has transmogrified into a centered contentedness. Nothing to say this won’t pass, as most things do, but it feels like it has been slowly emerging for months… and here I am feeling perfectly well, content, not in need of anything, not in want of anything, not seeking, not suffering. Just a serene nothingness.”
I wondered later, in rereading these paragraphs if it were a crafty and self-deceiving form of … self-aggrandized importance (i.e., as I wrote to my friend, “sounding as though I am completely up my own ass”) or ascribing traits to myself that I have no right to assign or name. But I could not change that I felt every contradiction in perfect balance (and counterbalance): I felt as though I were seeing everything for the very first time but that I had also seen everything a million times. I wondered if this nothingness would lead me nowhere – or everywhere. Had I been sleepwalking and hibernating all along?
“A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.” –Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
I had certainly been living a life in my head, retreating more and more into the lives of books, fictions, histories I have never lived, less and less in contact with or seeing people, as though I were prematurely preparing for a departure. We never know when we will go (literally or figuratively), and while some reach out and expand into the life that surrounds them, I found solace or comfort in retreating into what was left of my life, without remorse or regret. Again, this is not about literal death, but the leaving behind a form or way of life… or a moulting of skin.
I wonder now, as I prepare for a next, but undefined, step, if the starkest change could be the will to exert real effort. The truth is… I don’t try very hard. At anything. I never have. I sometimes feel guilty about this, wondering what I could do – or could have done – had I truly applied myself. But nothing has seemed interesting enough to press myself that deeply into it. I have always felt it to be too much like pressing one’s own flesh through a sieve. One’s own essence and pulp taken away, leaving only the juice – the minimalist nectar of a diminished selfhood. This self I have hidden and selfishly guarded, wanting to be “an anonymous presence against an even more anonymous background”. I never wanted or needed to be the best – at anything – I just wanted more. To see more, do more, learn more.
With all of this in mind, I wondered if I had ever felt determination, a no-nonsense tour-de-force of self raging through me, wanting to win or compete, to fire people from my life rather than coddling, enabling and understanding them, to get things done aggressively, as though knocking down physical obstacles in my path, to punch in the face the presumptuous, disobedient and manipulative tricksters, hucksters, fuckers and just plain pathetic shitheads who pop up to block the way? The idea of all of it is violent … and a far cry from the woman I have always been, and the person I have been particularly for the last half year or more: retiring, cerebral, and above all, patient.
Suddenly I realize: There is very little I can do with violence, and there is nothing I can do without patience; patience is valuable, and I will have endless patience, never able to deny compassion, wherever my next incarnation leads.