Sitting in a coffee shop organizing the chapters of the new book I am writing, I feel a sense of excitement; the thrill when pieces fall into place, and the book takes shape before my eyes. For some weeks now I have been feeling despondent, flailing about without a focus. When this happens to me I immediately spiral downwards, descending into an abyss of self-loathing. It takes no time at all before I find I am castigating myself for all manner of imperfections. The ancient script kicks into place even before I am able to notice what is happening. This time, though, the recovery is quicker than usual. I am able to sense that these feelings come from a time and place that are no longer relevant for me, and I even laugh out loud to myself. I think: "Well, hello there, old feelings – old voices and castigators who hang out on my left shoulder buzzing insults in my ear – you are no longer needed here. In fact, you are offensive, and more importantly you are holding me back!" Before I know it, they melt away, and all that remains is a slight twinge of muscle ache close to the left side of the base of my neck. Even that remnant becomes insignificant as I smile to myself knowingly. I am able to conjure up an image of the coming days with a stream of writing.
This reminds me of the day, seventeen years ago, when I completed the first chapter of my dissertation. Life Partner and I had rented a small apartment in Ithaca for a month while he taught a summer class at Cornell. I had moved my small, old Apple computer into a corner of the living room. In the mornings, Life Partner went off to the university to teach, while I began writing my thesis on a little table surrounded by piles of books I had brought to help me along. In the afternoons, we would meet up for lunch, play a few games of tennis at the community park, and then visit the pool to read at the edge of the water, or swim laps. Evenings were dinners out or the occasional movie.
One morning earlier than expected, I completed the first chapter of my doctoral dissertation. I stood up and stretched my arms to the ceiling. A feeling of excitement overwhelmed me, and in order to calm down, I decided to do some yoga asanas. While I was bending and stretching through the salutation of the sun exercise, I suddenly had an image of the future; of graduation day when I would walk up on the stage to receive my Ph.D. degree, and true to the tradition, be hooded by my advisor. The image was graphic, clear, bright. Immediately as I saw myself walking up towards my advisor, a flash of light shot through my brain, and suddenly I was blind, unable to see half the living room where I was doing yoga. It was as if lightening had struck. In that moment I was terrified of some type of imminent danger. Indeed, I felt I might die. I went quickly to the bathroom and ran water into the tub. As I immersed my body into the warm, comforting water, I realized that ancient voices in my brain were warning me that I was not allowed to feel this type of accomplishment. I had entered turf that was not mine to have. I needed to stay outside of that area – it belonged to others – not me.
Still feeling partially blind, I dried myself off, dressed, and then walked slowly and tentatively up toward Cornell, hugging the stone wall that flanked the sidewalk, until I arrived at a small cafe at the the top of the hill. There I sat drinking a cup of hot tea gathering strength and comfort from strangers as some conversed softly among themselves at different tables in the restaurant. Slowly, the partial blindness dissipated and I was able to see clearly again. I had managed to ward off the chorus of my old life script. When I met up with Life Partner at lunch I described the events of the morning, as he listened quietly, supporting me as I processed what had transpired.
I look around the coffee shop now, where I am sitting typing this post, and realize that the memory of that traumatic incident years ago came back to remind me how my old life script had been in the way of writing my new book. But it feels quite different now, for there is no sensation of imminent danger. There is only the slightest twinge, a small, dull ache in the left corner at the base of my neck. I am standing solidly on turf that belongs to me. I am on the inside looking out – not cast out only to look longingly in like before. I shed a small, warm tear of joy and relief, and allow myself to feel accomplished and exuberant that my new book is starting to come together.
I think I am going to enjoy writing it!
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Family ties