Last night while I was taking my make-up off, it occurred to me that I was so obsessed with Call Me By Your Name—I mean I’ve seen the movie and will probably buy it, I’ve read the novel, I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times on Spotify and just bought it, and now I’m listening to the audiobook, in case you were wondering what I mean by “obsessed—that I should write an essay about it. I started pondering it again in my journal this morning: “… that’s what people do. They take that thing that keeps hanging about and investigate it on paper. But one needs a great deal of courage for that and it’s unclear if I actually have coraggio!”
(Says the woman who’s been obsessively writing poems about her dead father.)
I, of course, then quickly changed the subject.
Then out fell this:
I am scared of writing an essay about Call Me By Your Name because I’m scared of being wrong about it. I’m scared of missing some essential point. I’m scared of making a mistake.
It is somewhat frustrating that I don’t trust my own voice. One wonders how I have ever written poems and sent them out into the world. But I’m realizing now that because I’m a confessional poet and I am intimately acquainted with myself (or at least getting that way), I can’t actually get it wrong [in my poems]. There’s no one to say that my truth is flawed. Well, people can say it, but i feel an authority when dissecting myself. It’s when I think about weighing in on something in the public realm that I get shaky.
I’m realizing it’s why I don’t write more current event poems. I don’t want to be called out for having the wrong POV or missing some crucial fact. I don’t feel the same way in conversation, just if I commit things to paper, possibly because I’m reportedly an expert on putting things on paper.
Or maybe it’s as simple as that kind of writing somehow feels the same as doing my homework as a kid, in the sense that it relied on knowing “outside’ information. And deep in my subconscious, unless I’m in a state of flow (which takes more laboring toward if I’m writing prose), there’s my mom being relentlessly unforgiving if I make a mistake.
Mistakes are a sign of sloppiness not of the act of learning. Erasures on the page of homework are unacceptable; you must throw everything out and start again. Erasures earn scorn even if you have indeed arrived at the right answer.
Today, still, with near everything except maybe the poetry, making mistakes just cost me too much. I have to restack the bricks of my self-esteem. Yes, I keep coming back to: how can you move forward as an artist without risk, without discomfort? You can’t always depend on your subconscious taking over and bulldozing you through whatever it is you have to say.
I am also realizing as I write this that walking around like an exposed nerve when I’m knee deep in the poetry is not just about being vulnerable to the feelings I’m experiencing by examining my wounds and scars. I am also vulnerable because of the act of committing those things to paper. I’m showing you my homework.
PS Not sure what the next steps are but it’s time to start making some. To more fully commit. Stay tuned. (Stay tuned?)
Sometimes I congratulate myself on what I’ve managed to accomplish despite the shaky ground under my feet. I have a masters degree, and I have published literary work in respected journals. I have published two poetry chapbooks, and have been told by numerous people how my poems and other writing have moved them. I can pay my bills and feed myself. I have not ruined myself with alcohol or drugs, and despite the fact I weigh more than is socially acceptable, I’m mobile and active in the world. Instead of congratulate, I should say I marvel at myself. How can I be so broken and still accomplish so much?
That question originally read “feel so broken” instead of “be so broken.” I changed it because I don’t feel broken day after day. It’s more that I observe the way I react to situations—a certain look from a coworker, a father and daughter interaction between two strangers, my day dreams—and that tells me, yes, this wound or that wound is not quite yet healed. There are days I do feel broken—when I’m depressed or manic, when every interaction, even the kind ones, feels like a lash against raw skin. But brokenness for me is about more than my emotions; it’s about seeing the patterns of behavior that are reactive, that escape from me into the world unbidden. In some ways, brokenness is a habit that I haven’t yet been able to give up entirely though I know its no good for me.
The brokenness that comes from emotional abuse is not a clean break. It’s a series of fissures that seem to never completely heal. Some of the wounds become less painful; some even appear to scab over completely. But my wounds are like a lake that you might presume to be completely frozen over, given the look of it. Yet too much pressure in the wrong place and you are plunging down down into the icy water, which steals your breath and—if you cannot resurface in time—steals your life.
Or brokenness is like lava flowing under what appears to be solid, ancient rock, bubbling to the surface with such force and such heat that the rock melts instantly, and there is the wound you thought you’d so assiduously and carefully dressed, screaming red and splintering you into a puzzle of jagged pieces you’ve no map for putting back together.
In movies before the icy surface gives away or the lava breaks through the rock bridge you’re fleeing across, you always hear the splinters forming the moment you accidentally step on the weak spot. But it’s not like that in real life. It’s more like that time when after you sit in your therapist’s office, sobbinb, you head home, with perhaps a stop for ice cream or a bottle of wine, finding solace in the fact that you have dug into a particular wound without permanently injuring yourself. Until you find yourself at work the next day, an ordinary day filled with ordinary tasks, and there you are suddenly in an empty office around noon, shaking and wailing uncontrollably, repeating to your (panicked) co-worker over and over, “But my mother didn’t love me.” Brokenness likes nothing better than to flash a big smile and greet you with a big sucker punch.
I don’t know how to end this blog post. I’ve deleted this last paragraph several times and can’t quite get to the end of this particular story. And perhaps that’s the truest metaphor of all.
The scar from my abdominal surgery is six inches long, snaking vertically upward from the top of my pubis, listing left diagonally across the twin fatty folds of my belly, just missing my navel before petering out. The skin is puckered, that dull shiny pink of new scars. On either side of it, my belly fat hangs misshapen, one side hanging much lower than the other, a graphic ghost of where the tumors used to be. The incision itself doesn’t hurt, though the areas around it seem always on the edge of soreness. Still, it’s sound. I’m all knitted together and no longer in danger that lifting the wrong thing, or stretching too high will undo the surgeon’s work. True, when I overdo it, I do get sore inside, but it’s uncomfortable not outright painful.
I’ve been thinking about this scar a lot. How, somehow, my belly has knit itself back together. Sure there has been help from the surgeon, rows and rows of stitches inside me, and surgical glue to hold the very top layers together, but within this scaffolding, the cells have known to grow back toward each other, not the same as before, messy and not pretty, but whole. I can’t help but think of other scars, the ones made by harsh words, broken promises, all those that walked away or refused to show up. We all want to “return to normal” after these wounds, but I’m realizing that every wound permanently scars us, and some show more than others.
But though we may have scars, we don’t remain broken. We may not always be pretty at the wound sites, and there may be residual pain, but—with God’s grace, with the willingness to be scaffolded by the love of those who persistently show up—we can, like our bodies, return to whole.