002. two contradictory truths can both be true and both be lies

On Friday, 27 April 2018, at around 1330, my sweet grandmother left this life. She was peacefully asleep, morphine dripping into her veins to dull the ache of broken ribs and failing organs. She was surrounded by her four children, her husband, and many of her grandchildren, all of whom had been sitting vigil in some capacity since Sunday, when she was admitted after a terrible fall in her home.

On Friday, 27 April 2018, at around 2030, I performed as part of the Dallas Poetry Project’s Common Language event at Arts Mission Oak Cliff in Dallas, TX. My poem, “A Guide for the Visitors of Solovetsky Monastery,” was selected as one of the top ten winners of the Writer’s Garret’s 2018 Common Language Project. A free anthology of the top thirty poems can be found on the Writer’s Garret’s website in a downloadable PDF format.

Mercifully, my poem is not about me or my emotions – though it is about grief, and the past, and walls and waves. Having the performance gave my mind something to focus on, a pinprick of light haloed in Gaussian blur. But once I was finished, and returned to my place in the audience, pain crept into my spine and knees, and my mind drifted into the salt and sand, the rush of crushing surf. I am still there; it leaves my skin chapped and scraped, eyes red, every curve touched in some way by the ebb and flow.

How do I reconcile my joy with my mourning? Are either my true state of feeling, are both, are neither? Does their contradiction say something about who I am, that both live in me at once? Are they even really contradictions, or are they two halves of my whole, codependent? Must I know one to know the other? Must my mourning only be tears, and sadness, and darkness? Or can I know my grief in the light, in the celebration, in the blessing?

I struggle to not feel guilty, even while knowing she would being taking me to Red Lobster right now if she could, that she’d never want me to ignore this good news to live in my loss of her. But how can I not live in my loss of her? This woman whom I spent many summers living with, even as recently as 2016. This woman who was the apex of all of us, the center of this familial universe, a sun in a red dress. She introduced me to mysteries, watched hours of Murder, She Wrote with me, played Mexican Train and Scrabble until the sun came up. She would make me bacon in the mornings, treat me to crab legs after school during my senior year, let me sleep in the “kid’s room” (as she called it) when my mother and I didn’t see eye to eye. I could go on and on and on — and how dare I not?

In some ways, I feel like I am defying the laws of physics, for I am in two places at the same time — the bright, warm world of personal success, and the quiet grey of lament.

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001. levity, like gravity, but less, but more

It is the sixth of February, and approximately 10% of 2018 now lives in the past. This should make me feel something, but alas, alack.

Somehow, I have read 13 books since New Year’s, and only four of those are graphic novels, so I sort of feel like champion of the year? I am aware that this is wildly delusional, but cognizance and acceptance are two very different things, hence the difference in their spelling.

In less fun news, I have seen two specialists in two days, both of whom insisted that I wasn’t special for being referred to them, to which I suggested they change their job titles. Future sufferers of broken and confusing bodies need not enter their offices with any preconceived notions, nor should these poor doctors be burdened with the responsibility of bursting such delicate bubbles. I’m looking out for everyone here.

In all fairness, both doctors seemed nice. I’ve only met them once each, and I was exhausted on both occasions, but both seemed willing to accept that (a) my suffering is real and (b) they could do something to help, which is more than I can say for some of the physicians I’ve subjected myself to over the years. Then again, the Hippocratic Oath does not obligate treatment, except where it actually does, but who even reads anymore?

This post has become much more ridiculous in tone and vocabulary than I originally intended. I think this is what some psychologists would call a “coping mechanism.” When sharing news of my declining health, I usually default to detachment, compelled to minimize the seriousness of the situation lest listeners sympathize with my plight. Leaning on levity to convey my utter hopelessness, on the other hand, feels like expressing myself in a foreign language. It is kind of magical, but kind of terrifying, like seeing Nessie rise from the lagoon, only to realize that you are seeing Nessie rise from the lagoon.

(Actually, wrapping my tongue around norsk is more comfortable than this painstaking analogy. I hope you at least thought about typing “lol” in the comments, regardless of whether you really laughed aloud.)

Comedy can be its own kind of indifferent pretense. Laughing at the prospect of a doctor injecting a “soft needle” into my spine to flood my nerves with steroids gives others permission to do the same. Or, maybe, to make jokes about how I “need to get this straightened out,” or to call me a cripple, or to quip that I walk slower now that I use a cane. Except, all of those have already happened, when I wasn’t laughing at how much it sucks to be a 28-year-old who has lived with some mysterious chronic pain for 15 years. At least, if I tell my story this way, bad Scottish analogies and all, I get to laugh a little. Which I know you aren’t supposed to do, but riddle me this, sparky – why tell a joke if you don’t yourself think it’s funny?

Off the rails or not, the above rambling is what you can expect of this blog – sometimes books (because they are all I have to keep me sane), sometimes health talk (because it consumes so much of my life these days), sometimes musings on the use of humor in healing (but not much, because I am no expert, no matter what I say). As long as you don’t expect any quality of content, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

No promises, though.

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