A Kingdom of Unordinary Time
on pandemic life
In recovery and in waiting, there's always this period that is coming, coming, coming - which can make it borderline excruciating to sit still and embrace the banal swaths of time when nothing miraculous appears to be happening. I believe that depression and grief are both forms of waiting; for deliverance, vindication, or a sudden onslaught of meaning that fails, devastatingly, to arrive. Waiting is a manipulation of time—it is a haunting, an "enchantment," as [Roland] Barthes writes, a spell that stills and silences its victims—and its antidote is to make time pass at the usual rate once again. Of course - that antidote isn't about ruling or even managing time - it's about embracing it, with all of its tyrannical quirks and strangeness. Time has never abided by any constraints or rules we mere mortals attempt to cast over it.
Marie Howe talks about this in her poem "Prayer":
Every day, I want to speak with you. And every day, something more important calls for my attention - the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage I need to buy for the trip. Even now I can hardly sit here among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside already screeching and banging. The mystics say you are as close as my own breath. Why do I flee from you? My days and nights pour through me like complaints and become a story I forgot to tell. Could you help me? Even as I write these words, I am planning to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.
I find myself perpetually in a state of seeking moment-by-moment peaceful joy and attempting to move forward, at any cost, at the same time. One thing I've learned in my 30's is how to embrace the quantum mechanics of my soul. Truths that conflict can dually exist, and I don't always have to pit them against each other. More and more, I feel that the sacred is happening right now, between you and me, instead of what might eventually happen one day. I've lost count of how many times I've said "when" this year. I still find myself investing/betting,/working for a future that may never arrive. What a terrible pitfall that is, and I keep falling into it.
November, historically for me, has been the cruelest month. It's when I was sexually assaulted (raped) in my bed during an Ambien blackout in undergrad. At age 25, I tried to hang myself in treatment and ended up in a psych ward that Thanksgiving. Six years later, I watched the person I loved most in the world become unrecognizable and permanently left Vancouver at the end of 2016. Even though I'm 35 and those experiences are literal lifetimes behind me, the month is still a string of C-PTSD symptoms and panic attacks, and often minute-by-minute DBT skills. Fortunately, I have the discernment and experience (thanks to nearly a decade of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to know when I'm experiencing psychological distortions. So I don't act out of them anymore. That is to say - the tidal waves are just as high; I just know how to breathe underwater.
Shame and grief can be terribly destructive and we have to emote them, at some level, to process them - otherwise, they'll eat away at and rot our soul. Do you know what's therapeutic for me? At least more therapeutic than staring at the ceiling desperately trying to exorcise the past, channel the dead, posting when I'm emotionally compromised, or reading another "self-help" book that has more of a vested interest in capitalizing on my insecurities and traumas so that I have to purchase all its sequels and online workshops? Crying where people can see me. Weeping on the train. Dancing in a graveyard. Carrying around a 70lb dog like it's a puppy. Breaking the dishes. Pouring kerosene on the flower bed. Pulling down the shower curtain while listening to Britney Spears sing "Lucky" at 2 am, and then waking up to go trail running in the mountains even though I know it's going to rain. Taking care of myself is rarely glamorous, especially when my options are incredibly limited in the middle of a global pandemic.
This is such a Scorpio trait, but there is an eroticism to waiting: Sexual fulfillment hinges on urgently desiring what is necessarily, torturously delayed. Like certain shades of pain, Romantic waiting is delicate enough to hint at future gratification but never too terrible to ruin it. Still, at a certain point, gratification has been so thoroughly warded off that the waiting itself becomes unbearable. And yet, especially this year, what is there to do but continue to wait in that agony? Just breathe with me; we can hold this position for another 30 seconds. Then we can move again.
Any yoga or ballet instructor will tell you it takes far more strength to hold a position than it does to go. Our souls don't learn to arabesque in a single day or year even. There is a terrible, bruised, messy side to grace that always, always includes falling over and over again. So I am simultaneously rising from that chair, falling, sitting in it to engage with you - rising and falling again. It's bloody and somehow incredibly human, so I think there's a merciful beauty hidden just beneath the surface, even in our failings.
I don't know if I'm ever going to get it right, but I'm going to keep asking this life to dance even while it keeps stepping on my holy feet.
I hope, but mostly - I pray that you'll continue to rise with me