Fiction: Plunging Into Myself

This morning I am feeling willful. No longer do I long for the singing birds of poesy to stir my heart and soul. No. This morning I will begin to understand myself through the power of will.

I have waited too long for no one; Now I seek myself; I pray I do not find no one.

I will not rest until I understand why I suffer from this invisible gaping wound in my chest. What is it to wait for no one? What does it mean? Is no one God? Is God no one?

I cannot stand any of that babble this morning, and I cannot sit here and spew it. I am disgusted with it all, and I am most disgusted with myself. Yet I will be myself.

No one will take that away from me.

I will be myself by creating myself. In creation, I will find myself. My self will find itself. No one can stop me, or only no one can stop me. But who is this no one? Did I not say I was done speaking of it?

Now I speak of someone: myself. But of whom do I speak of when I speak of myself? Is the self the invisible gaping wound, or is the self that which heals the wound through visible forms of willful creation?

Can the self heal its own wounds? I must be able to. If another tried to heal me, I would not accept it. For this is true: what the other believes is healing wounds the self like no other. I would spurn the other, even if it were the blue-haired sea-creature I once let bandage and hold me. No. I must hold up these wounds to the light and let the darkness heal them.

I will understand all that ails me and I will heal all these ailments through knowledge, through understanding, through passionate understanding and through intense personal knowledge.

I will not stand back from myself and heal myself like a doctor from the outside. I can never heal myself from the outside. For this is true: to try and heal oneself from the outside is to wound the truth of the self within.

Instead I must plunge into myself to meet what explodes out of me.

Longing For No One Still

A whole multitude of birds part me from sleep this morning. They sing me awake but they cannot sing me to stillness; still, I do love to hear them sing; for a few moments I give myself over to the listening. I do not want the sun to rise but would like Time to stop moving so I can remain in these moments that flee from me as the sun finds its way into my room. When the sun rises the people also rise, and whatever peace I had felt within me will turn to conflict, what clarity I had felt will turn to confusion as surely as the day begins, whatever light in me the darkness had helped to rise will fall again with the rising sun. But perhaps I will have a few moments shortly after the sun has risen when the other light lasts past its usual time. That is all I can ask of the other light this morning. Then I will willingly return to the darkness from whence I either came or willingly walked into one time, having heard that only there is one truly lit.

And who was it I heard that from? Someone who had been lit then burned and then finally cooled? Or someone whose burning slowly grew and was not extinguished? Was it someone at all who told me that? Or did no one itself tell me that?

I can be told nothing by those whose passion, though it does not have to be visible and outward, I can nevertheless clearly see has cooled or whose fire has extinguished completely. Would you believe that I can be told nothing by most people? For instance, would most people tell me to “wait for no one”? No, they would tell me instead to “seek out someone to love, seek out your soul mate, find happiness in love, find satisfaction in work, spend time with others, get out of yourself, pursue your desires and your dreams, live in the moment, do not think of the past or future, sleep well, eat well, work hard, hold on, be free, be still, find comfort and shelter, keep moving, be moderate, let go, dance with pretty young women, talk with wise old women, laugh with women always somewhere from ten to seventeen years older than you, and above all do not wait and allow all opportunities to pass from you. Above all go after what you lack, do not wait for it to come to you.” But I lack no one, and how can I go after that?

Would they harass me to speak before I am ready or would they allow me to be silent until the words arise out of me on their own accord? When finally I find someone who will tell me nothing, then I will be willing to listen. This is why I am waiting for no one. Someone is always telling me something. I have the feeling that only when no one can find me will I be told nothing. I am always listening closely to be told nothing, and that is why I wake up early when only the songbirds are up. They sing of nothing and I listen closely to their song. They tell me nothing and if I could listen to them telling me nothing all day and night as I wait for no one, I feel I would soon be given all the wisdom of the ages, which I would keep within me until the one I wait for, who is now not a one, finds me and in doing so becomes no longer no one but also still not someone.

Still I am not sure if I am even someone at all, and moreover I am not sure if I want to be someone, if in being someone I no longer wait for no one. Actually, I am quite sure I do not want to be someone. “Sure you do,” I hear from those ones who are always telling me something, “Use your talents, go after success, receive the credit due for the work you put in, give people hope, give them a reason to live, inspire them to greatness, inspire them to be someone as well. When people say to you, ‘now you are someone,’ then you will know you are someone. When people say to you, ‘you have given me the freedom to be someone, and who I have become has provided security and certainty in my life,’ then you will know you’ve done what you were put on this earth to do.”

But still I say I was not put on this earth to do anything of the sort; I was not put here to inspire anyone but rather to wait for no one. Certainly I was not put here to provide certainty for someone! If you do not understand that, you are probably someone yourself, hoping to be provided with certainty, which may well be the end of all hope, which I am not certain even exists in the first place. You’re probably always telling me something you’re certain is true. When I say I wait for no one, I am not telling you that. I am telling no one that. Remember that no one is my audience. Remember that I hope (oh yes!), yes I hope that no one reads this and comes to meet me in the place we decided on before it was decided by all those not me that I should become someone—like them. Then I was still no one; now, still not yet myself, I wait here for no one still. I feel like I’ve waited for many years, even when I did not know I was waiting. I have been waiting for no one long before I was told to be someone, and I will wait for no one long after everyone has given up on me, convinced I will never become anyone at all. By all means, I would say to them, go on being someone; I will continue to wait for no one.

I used to think I was waiting for someone. There were women I thought I longed for. Perhaps when she returns, I thought, I will be able to be myself again. She let me be myself, she loved me for the whole of who I was and also for the splits within me. If she returns I can again be the someone I no longer am. But although she brought out the someone in me, when I was with her I was no longer waiting for no one. I would forget about no one in her presence, forgetting also that before my search to be someone began I had been waiting to meet with no one, who was absent; I had been waiting for no one until I was sure I could meet it everywhere.

When I was with her, everything seemed indeed to be all that I had dreamed of and more; it seemed she was the one I had waited for, though she was not at all no one; she was someone, and someone as beautiful and fleeting as the purest snow falling in the night before the desert sun melts it the next morning. If I could not be with her while still waiting for no one, then I could not be with her at all. But it took me some time to understand the longing, time I spent longing for some woman, or other, time I did not yet know what I truly longed for, which I came to understand was for no one, in time. But how I still long!

Unable to be Moved—a Fiction Vignette

I need to write how I feel though it rarely makes any difference. The birdsong, the calm of Sunday evening, everyone in their homes, the loss of light as night overcomes the day: none of it moves me. My own unhappiness moves me least of all. It disgusts me. I went to a place where people who sometimes move me get together, but my heart did not stir. I flipped through books that had moved me before—to tears, to adventure and the road, to longing, to love for wildness and people great and small, to love for quiet and peace within me. I tossed each book down again. None of them could move me. Oh, but I would not be resigned! In the morning before the sun had risen I got on my bike, rode up in the direction of a mountain to the south for 15 miles up a steep grade. I made it to the top and flew down. But to move oneself is not to be moved, to feel oneself moving closer to some destination is not to move closer to oneself. I could see the trees pass by in a blur on the side of the road; it could not make clearer the blurred confusion within me. I moved my body but my soul was left unmoved.

Knowing I could not simulate the love for people I didn’t presently feel, I moved myself into the simulation of anger to see if that emotion could change my mood. I riled myself up. People? I despised them. Always smiling, unconscious or unable to allow themselves to feel their own suffering. It was all pretend, a never-ending game of Risk that ends with each player being dominated by the world, except in this pretend game people were stabbed for their shoes and thrown into gutters to die with rats. And me? I was experiencing my anger about people faking happiness and about the injustice of things in a superficial, fake, non-genuine way, without the compassion and sadness that I knew were deeper than the anger. That only sunk me deeper. I could not think of one happy moment.

Just two nights before, I had danced to funk, soul, and rock and roll. I could not hold the memory in my mind. It flew from me into unreality. Dancing—when I felt most myself, most able to express the truth in my soul—did nothing to me. Its restless, self-abandoning and self-revealing movement was only a way to escape the inability to be moved. It was no better than riding a bike. It was nothing but a last ditch effort to rid oneself of burdens that, at the end of the night, would come back with unforgiving vengeance. It failed like all other futile efforts. I remembered with greater clarity the visceral feelings that came into consciousness after the dancing was over and the glow from it gone: unable to sleep, pummeling the keyboard like I always do, trying to approximate in writing the feelings I get from dancing, and failing there too.

It was all failure, and success was the greatest illusion and entrapper of all. I had never succeeded, though perhaps nothing is more fortunate than this. I had lost jobs, lost prestige, lost relationships that had not even begun. No one had lost anything for me. I had lost them all the way I prided myself on being: alone. But none of those outward losses bothered me as much as the inner feelings: my felt sense of deficiency; my inverse and hidden grandiosity, the distance between who I was and who I felt like I could be; my loneliness yet my barely unconscious shattering of all possible opportunities I had to moderate that loneliness with a long-term romantic partner. But what good did that do? How could someone else take the loneliness away? It was not possible. The loneliness was there, and all I could do was understand and express it as best I could. A partner would only put temporary distance between myself and what I could not be parted from.

I could lose everything as long as I could create a work of art that expressed all the pain of those losses and the much greater pain of which those losses were only a symptom. I could not do it because I didn’t even feel any pain, only apathy and a frustration I felt would engulf me from the inside. I suppose I cannot say that I did not feel pain, but my greatest pain was being unable to express the pain I felt. Everything I wrote was inadequate. Only dancing provided an immediate and full expression of feeling. But the expression of pure and complete feeling possible in dancing was inadequate because inarticulate. Energy without meaning. I could dance and express the truth in my soul, but what was that truth? What did it mean? What good did it do after the fact? Nothing was left on the floor, though everything had been propelled out and onto it. It was depth brought to the surface with nothing that remained after the cessation of movement. Nothing that explained the contradictory feelings of overwhelming nothingness and unbearable passion impossible to keep down, the feelings that had caused the restless movement in the first place.

Soon all the feelings would plunge back in and down, become invisible, practically non-entities, as insignificant as the empty dance floor in the closed dive that only moments before had been the site of such forced exuberance. The feelings would be sucked in like dirt into a vacuum, the only thing to show for their existence and expression the fading neurotransmitters that would make it difficult to sleep for a few hours at least. And in the morning a hangover as psychologically painful as that from booze, though the night had been spent without the suspect benefits of that wrecking substance. The extreme ecstasy that dancing can bring at its most intense moments does not lead to long-term happiness and the comedown is just as severe, just as strong as that from any intensely enjoyable experience, whether naturally felt or artificially prompted. It is important to find the center, but not if it precludes the dancing, not if it prevents the soaring. Let monks and spiritual titans experience that grounded, centered equanimity. I know nothing of the center. It is as alien to me as I have become to myself.

The 90-year-old Dancing Woman

The 90-year-old woman used to protest in the streets. She didn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t that there was nothing to protest; it was more that there was too much. There was everything to protest. There were walls everywhere she wanted down, but in the end the walls would stand. One would fall, another would be raised. Hers was an unknown protest, but I found out about it at the end.

I was walking past her house one day when she chucked her T.V. out on the lawn. I was a senior in high school and would graduate in a month. My gated private school was in the poor neighborhood so I walked through where she lived every day. I saw her before she saw me. She was getting ready to swing a wooden baseball bat down on the T.V. She looked back at me, her eyes were tiny dancing balls of strangely disarming rage. I had never seen someone so old so mad. It seemed to me that old people never really got mad, only irritated, which was boring and irritating to me. But madness, true madness, in every sense of the word, was rarely boring, especially in the old. I stood staring at her like that for what must have been five minutes.

As she stared back, the madness slowly ebbed away, though not completely, and her face started to flow naturally. It was an interesting face; it seemed to express everything all at once. It was ironic but not detached, open but questioning, almost ecstatically joyful and at the same time deeply sorrowful. It was not an old face. She was old, her face looked young; when she was young, I got the feeling her face had probably looked old.

After the longest time I’ve ever stared into the eyes of a 90-year-old woman, she asked me what my name was.

“Brad.”

“What are you doing, Brad?”

“I’m walking to school.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re staring at me.”

“Yes, I’m staring at you.”

“Come in, Brad.”

I walked in. The room looked nothing like I would’ve expected it to. Then again, I had never thought about what a 90-year-old woman’s room looked like. But if I had I wouldn’t have thought of this. There were nudes on the walls and countless bottles of wine and gin on the floor. There was no bed, no furniture, just a thin light blue pad on the ground, a desk, and a typewriter. So this is what the house of an ascetic alcoholic 90-year-old writer looks like, I thought. The window looked like it had been recently busted open with a bottle; from outside I could hear birds singing and cars honking.

She asked if I wanted some gin, and I told her I didn’t drink. She asked again, and I told her again.

“I think you should have some gin, Brad,” she said.

I watched her as she poured the drink. I didn’t know anything about drinks, but I could tell this was a strong one. As she poured it, I wondered how she was still alive. I thought of trees after storms and shores after hurricanes. She practically forced the drink into my hand. I took a sip.

“What’s your philosophy on life, Brad?”

That took me by surprise. I had never taken Philosophy on Life; my school didn’t offer that. I took another sip and prolonged the sip. No answer came to me, so I answered honestly.

“I don’t have one, I guess. They haven’t taught me that yet.”

“No, they wouldn’t. What have they taught you?”

“Oh, all sorts of things. I’ve learned about the founding of America, I’ve memorized the periodic table, I know about trigonometry and calculus and biology.”

“That’s good, Brad. Br is for Boron.”

“Wow, that’s right.”

“I’m not a moron, Brad.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“I’m going to die, Brad. I’m 90 years old.”

“Yes, I suppose you are. This drink is good.”

“Yes, it’s a good drink. Before I die, I want to teach you what can’t be taught.”

“Alright, teach me.”

She laughed. I laughed too because her laugh was infectious, although I didn’t know why she was laughing. She had a wild laugh. There was something courageous about it.  It came from deep within, and was let out slowly, building up into a raucous climax that seemed more like a beginning than an ending. It brought me in, allowing me for a few moments to experience the world together with her. We were over seventy years apart; we had just met. It didn’t matter. Her raw, joyful laugh connected us like deep sorrow. We were intertwined and I understood that so were sorrow and joy.

I had to go, I was late for class.

“Come back tomorrow,” she said.

The next day from outside her door I heard symphonic music coming from inside. I walked in and she was dancing. Dancing! I couldn’t believe it. She moved with rhythm, every part of her in synch until there were no parts, only unity. She didn’t notice me; her eyes were closed. She whirled, tiptoed and twirled; she swayed; the music seemed to enter her and she held it inside, letting it out slowly, letting it out as she took it in, taking the music in fast as it sped up and then letting it out at the same speed. The dancing was passionate and powerful like the startling lucidity of a dream that grabs you and shakes you awake. It felt real because I felt alive while watching it. Just because a thing was dream-like didn’t mean there was no reality to it.

The dancing was all the more powerful because of the expression on the old woman’s face. It took me a while to define what exactly she was expressing, not just with her face but also with the movements of her whole body. Perhaps what she expressed resisted definition and definitive analysis. Her movements went along with the movements of the symphony. When the symphony became calm, and this was rarely, there was something in her slow swaying that made me think of the swaying of a lone tree on a mountain just before an earthquake or an avalanche. The tree struggles as uncontrollable forces around it threaten its life with their power. It is the only tree left and it is strong, it will go out on its own terms. It will die when it is ready. It moves so as not to be moved, it sways so as not to be swayed, it holds on desperately to its roots by letting its branches shake wildly in the wind.

That’s what it was, if I had to define it. She was expressing desperation but without any corresponding despair or anxiety. Her desperation came from a celebration of life rather than a fear of death. The tree is calm when all is calm toward it, but when threatened from the outside, it reveals its strength. It becomes resilient, unmovable. When threatened with death, it shows how much life it has left. It is ready for the end, but the end is not ready for it. It has too much of beginnings in it, too much of spring. Winter shudders to look at it.

I realized that my schooling up to this point had been hopelessly inadequate. You could not be taught how to dance like this old woman because you could not be taught how to be this alive. What truly mattered was to be alive; you couldn’t be taught what truly mattered. Was this what she had wanted to teach me?

The music stopped. She opened her eyes and looked at me.

“Come close,” she whispered, her eyes dancing.

She was lying on the blue mat now. I went over and kneeled down.

“What is it?” I asked. “What do you want me to know?”

“Nothing, you already know. Now you just have to find it.”

“But how?”

“Some gin, Brad.”

I poured her a half-pint glass, straight. She drained it in one swallow. Then she launched the empty glass at the window a good 15 feet away with what seemed to me to be impossible strength, shattering the glass and laughing. Was she courageous or was she insane? She looked at me again. She was no longer smiling, on the outside at least, but her face was not hard. Nor was it resigned or complacent. There was that same expression: a celebration of desperation without fear or despair.

You could go out feeling secure, you could go out feeling resigned, you could go out feeling helpless or hopeless. She wasn’t going out in any of those ways. She was going out desperately. It wasn’t the same as helplessness or hopelessness. I knew nothing of her life. Her experiences were her own, but she had loved them. She had grown from them all, good and bad alike. I could see that; I had seen her dance. Like the tree, she was holding on to her roots by letting her branches go. And her branches had always gone wild. She motioned me to come still closer. I leaned in. She looked at me once more.

“Find a reason to dance,” she said.

I watched as her eyes, dancing to the music of Death I could not hear, closed for the last time.