Revision, Revision, Revision
A month and a half ago, after my fall, after I came to on that bathroom floor, I was overcome with this HUGE sense of relief. An all consuming, holy crap am I glad to be back, ENORMOUS sense of relief. I mean, it makes sense that one’s being would generate that sensation after one’s being was visiting alternate universes for a few seconds while lying limp on a dusty linoleum floor, but, really. This might have been the most relieved I have ever felt. It was almost like the faint to end all faints- like my body was SO glad to be back it was making promises to never conk out again.
And after that faint, I had this perfectly miraculous 24 hours of feeling calm. I practically FLOATED through my day. Stack of papers on my desk? No problem! Giant to-do list? Done! Voicemails? Returned. Emails? Answered. Laundry? Folded and put away. Nothing was overwhelming. The to-do lists that usually trail out into infinity? I couldn’t see them. Or rather, I was aware of them, but chose to not focus on them. All they could see was the desktop in front of me. I was concentration incarnate. I was all soft edges and confidence. I knew everything would get done in due time. And it did. I had one of the most productive days I can remember.
Zumba class that week? NAILED IT. Normally I am scrambling to keep up, all flailing limbs and sweat dripping into the eyes. But that night, I was a vision of grace. I was one with the music. I pivoted when pivoting was called for. I clapped when clapping was called for. I didn’t miss a single beat, didn’t jump when I was supposed to clap, didn’t step when I was supposed to jump. And I did all this without thinking about it . That anxious feeling of not being able to keep up (which in turn causes me to not be able to keep up, which causes me anxiety about not being able to keep up which causes me not being able to keep up) was somehow gone. And because I didn’t think about keeping up, I DID keep up. My consciousness was outside my body, floating up above it a little. I was relaxed and limber and coordinated. Terri came up to me afterwards, sweaty and tired, hands on hips, and declared that the hardest class she’d ever taken. Terri, who’s been taking the class for almost a year and has practically mastered all the routines. Really, I asked, because I kinda thought that was the BEST I’ve ever done in class.
And then it all went to hell in a handbasket.
All that ease and lightness evaporated. And it was replaced with this harsh self criticism that would not let up until, like, maybe yesterday. Maybe.
Everything I attempted from then on, from having a conversation to sketching a telephone pole, came out all wrong. I was feeling so bad about myself, I had to pull back and make a list of all the things I WAS good at just to remind myself that I wasn’t a total failure of a human being. Good Lord, that’s the saddest sentence I think I’ve ever written.
Anywho. One of the things I came up with on that list to comfort myself was “cooking”. I soothed myself with thoughts of strawberry-mango muffins and broccoli-tofu stir frys. I concentrated on the one place I have never felt out of place or unsure of myself: the kitchen. I’m so comfortable in a kitchen, in fact, that I take quite a few liberties in there. Swapping out ingredients for other, less intestinally-harmful ingredients is my forte. Most of the time it’s because I’m trying to avoid the inevitable unpleasantness that results from too much wheat and dairy in my diet. But, also, I like experimenting. I like seeing how far I can go with those swaps. I like the thrill of throwing a bunch of stuff into a bowl, stirring, and then applying heat and not really knowing how things are going to turn out until minutes before serving it. I’ve been cooking for a very long time and I’m comfortable in an apron. I know, too, from experience, that it’s all a matter of ratios. Somehow, I’ve managed to see the kitchen as just a palette where I can mix up the colors and not have to worry about the outcome. Mac and cheese has morphed from a gas-inducing glue-forming intestinal blockage to a light and easy gluten free, cheese free affair that involves making a roux and turning powder into liquid. I’m a goddamned alchemist for chrissakes. Sure, there are days when not everything turns out golden. There WAS that one time I added a QUARTER CUP of salt to a batch of roasted potatoes because of a typo in the recipe. I understood that a quarter cup of salt is more suited to a bathtub than to a baking sheet, but I still followed the directions religiously. What the hell was I thinking? To be honest, I was thinking about a recipe I’d seen for salt encrusted fish that bakes inside a very salty paste… and I somehow thought this would translate to the veggies. I was wrong. And I served them to very, very dear friends of mine, who, thank god for their Midwestern upbringing, didn’t make a peep even as their eyeballs were drying out and their joints were starting to fuse.
Anywho. The kitchen. I love it in there. It’s a giant playground with the perfect mixture of sharp objects, liquids, powders, malleable soft things and crispy brittle things and I feel like a sculptor in there. I feel utter and complete permission to serve a quivering heap of gelatinous failure because, like haircuts, I see my failures in the kitchen as only temporary. There are plenty more to be had and all are recoverable. I can make a bad meal and, because we live in America, and because we shop at Trader Joe’s, there is always a frozen pizza on hand if I screw up REALLY bad.
But, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to take this permission to fail out into other parts of my life. My baggage as oldest child (among other things) is that perfectionism has been stitched into my personality. If I can’t master something on the first try, I literally break down in tears. I become a veritable Don Fucking Piano and I slam my head down on the keyboard over and over and proclaim I’LL NEVER GET IT RIGHT because that’s what I actually believe.
Thank goodness I live with a man who, as part of his exercise routine, voluntarily wears a humongous pair of multi-layered, heavy, black cotton pants ON TOP OF a heavy cotton gi. Because, if he learns nothing else while he tumbles and rolls and dodges men and women who come at him with the force of a thousand murderous thieves, he surely understands what it is to be hamstrung by our own circumstance. Seriously. You try fending off attackers while wrapped in wet boat sails. I dare you. Also? He learns that we cannot all be masters of our practices at first blush.
As a matter of fact, it is routinely repeated at his dojo that Aikido is a practice– there are bad days and there are good days. And the bad days do not equate to total failure. They are just a temporary pause in awesomeness. And we must accept them as heartily as we accept the good days.
Back when I used to do yoga, I was told the same thing: yoga is a practice. There is no getting it right or wrong. There is only your breath. And you can’t win at breath. Except… I tried. I tried to master breath. And because I couldn’t, I stopped doing it. This is the cycle I get into. I try something. If I appear to be good at it, I stop, satisfied, lest I mess up my perfect 1-in-0 record. If I suck at something, that is proof that I never should have attempted it in the first place.
Sometimes, during Zumba class, I look over at a woman in the mirror and I see the way she moves with short, evenly measured steps and I see symmetry and beauty. And then I look over at myself and I look like a short torsoed, big footed, red faced beast frantically trying to keep up. Like an orangutan trying to pedal an imaginary bicycle with her arms. Or a 130 pound salami trying to outrun a swarm of fire ants. It’s not pretty.
Burdy has been trying to convince me to practice Aikido for exactly this reason: to help me let go of impossible standards and to just let go of outcomes. He thinks it would be good for me if I could learn to love failing as much as I love winning. Outrageous, right? The nerve of that guy. Trying to balance out my manic nature. Ffft. Please.
A few months ago, I decided to subject myself to further torture and self criticism by enrolling in a short-lived drawing class as well. I thought: I’m going to try to let go with this class. I already know I stink at drawing. I’m going to just let that fact lie there and draw in spite of it. I’m going to let go of outcomes and see if, by letting go of outcomes, I can actually produce something worthwhile.
A few weeks ago, we learned about gesture drawing, a freehand style of drawing that’s usually done with a pen and tends to incorporate lots of big, sweeping lines and general outlines. Gesture drawing is usually the type you associate with napkin sketches. Aha! I thought: I’ve got this one down! If I do any kind of drawing at all, it’s this kind! I’m gonna RAWK this session. See that? You see what happened there? Instead of being a little Buddha about the whole thing and not being attached to whether or not I could practice the technique, I immediately went to I’M GONNA DOMINATE YOU IN THE RING, GESTURE DRAWING! RAAAAAAAAWR!
We were told to pick something in our natural environment to practice sketching, which, given the area, includes things like moving cars, stoplights, and dogs being walked. Moving freaking targets, people. I can’t draw something inanimate. How was I supposed to draw leaves rustling in the breeze? I wasn’t. I didn’t. I drew what I thought looked like leaves. The instructor came by every few minutes and critiqued everyone’s drawings. Usually she gave feedback like “I like what you’ve got going on there with the circles”. Or, “Try to lighten up on your pen here; you’ll get better shading if you start light”. She stopped by my drawing and said nothing. Nothing. Just complete and utter pregnant silence. I got the impression it wasn’t a “I’m stunned by the way you’ve managed to capture the movement in these leaves” silence. It was more like, “Wow. That’s… um… maybe if you had….(shuffling, repositioning head) if you could just… (reaching for pen)… let me just… (slowly pulls paper out from underneath elbows, eases paper into nearby trash bin)…. there we go….”. Yeah, so I’m not a good drawer. That much is clear. Or rather (and this is the point of this whole post): I’m not a good drawer RIGHT NOW. This is a process, a journey. Honestly. I hate to be all Ram Fucking Das about this, but it really is all about BE HERE NOW. When I get all harsh with myself I need to remember to stop, look around, and take a breath. And then I need to remember the following:
1.I have a talent (okay, maybe more than one) I am ALREADY proud of. Can’t I be happy with what I already have? Sheesh! How ungrateful!
2.I have nominated myself into this category of Artists, Writers and Musicians, and as a member of said category, I have put it upon myself to be the master of all things creative. When I fail to compose an opera, AND write a novel, AND paint a mural AND whip up a souffle, all in one day, somehow I count this as abject failure.
3. There is more to being creative than just “nailing it”. I mean, sure, it’s nice to have people come up to you and say things like, “Wow, man. When I saw that fried egg and bacon strip you crocheted… I just… I don’t know, man. I just connected with it. It’s like you totally got into my head and made what I was seeing….”. Truly. That kind of stuff makes my day. Digging up our common humanity and putting it up on display is what it’s all about, after all. But, does every attempt have to yield pure artistic gold? Can’t there be room for hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of silt?
But where is that sort of example in my life? No one puts their junk out on display. You don’t go to the museum and see “Picasso: The Shit Years”. You go to see completed works. And sure, usually you can see many iterations on a theme, and it’s pretty obvious, given the volume of his work, that Picasso didn’t just sit down one day and crank out a boatload of instant masterpieces…. but, still. It’s hard (for me, anyway) to remember that this is a PROCESS. Why is this so hard for me to understand?
This week I am going to try to focus on the metamorphosis. I’m going to see the moments in between the idea and the final outcome. There is so much to be gained from seeing the process. It’s part of why I blog. It’s why I read other people’s blogs. It’s why I ask personal, intrusive questions at dinner parties: I want to know about how all of us, the whole human race, gets from point A to point B. I want to know how we get from sorrow to joy and back again. I want to know how we get from tragedy to triumph, from uncomplicated to complicated, from single to married, from student to teacher. All I’ve ever wanted (all of us, really) is to understand how to get from point A to point B.
Sometimes I get scared that I’ll get all the notoriety and fame I long for as a writer and I’ll lose sight of the journey it took to get there and that my writing will be contrite. I’m always afraid of mounting that hurdle of doubt and then not being able to see behind me.
And then I remember that I have a lifetime of neuroses to draw upon for inspiration. A whole lifetime! So, yeah. If there’s one thing I totally, totally win at, it’s being human, and therefore vulnerable. I totally rock at being human.