Feb 28 2012

Without the Wreck

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

            -Adrienne Rich, “Diving Into the Wreck”



It was difficult for my students to see the extended metaphor in Adrienne Rich’s poem, Diving Into the Wreck.  (Read the full poem here.) 

But then I saw the proverbial light bulb over one seventh grader’s head.  She realized that Rich might not really be talking about exploring a sunken ship, but in fact her own soul.  Gretel* understood that the human character is just as complicated, just as damaged, and just as wondrous as something that’s been lying at the bottom of the ocean, perhaps following a storm or a cannon battle or an act of sabotage.

“Without the wreck,” Gretel tentatively proclaimed, “You wouldn’t be able to see the beauty!”

I’m the first one to admit that my students regularly raise goosebumps on my arms with their insights, but this is one of the few moments when it was hard to fight back the tears along with the chills. 

…we are the half-destroyed instruments

that once held to a course…

Regret is a tricky thing.  If we don’t make mistakes, we don’t learn.  Without the stumbling and the slip-ups, we’re simple, uncomplicated people.  We’re less interesting and more tentative, like a team going into the playoffs with an undefeated record.  (There’s so much to lose when you’re perfect!)  Allison and I often play a game in which we joke about what we’d do to erase certain missteps from our lives.  You know, “Would you let a dozen cockroaches crawl all over you for 60 seconds in order to remove that lower back tattoo?”  That kind of thing.  (No, I don’t have a lower back tattoo.  But I do know a girl…)

Anyway, the point is, it’s a hard game for me to play.  Because even though I’ve made some huge errors in judgment, and I do have regrets, those mistakes add to the tapestry of my life.  They’re part of my story.  And when I look back, I want to see them as beautiful patches on a huge, intricate, multi-textured quilt. 

Now I’m just mixing metaphors, so I’m going to stop.

Bottom line:  Gretel is right.  If you didn’t have those glorious errors and terrifying blunders, you’d be a completely one-dimensional person.  And you wouldn’t know yourself or your capabilities.  If you didn’t have the hard times – the battles and the horrific sinking that follows – you wouldn’t appreciate the victories and the triumphs.  You would skate by on a cloud of safety and denial, under-appreciating the splendor and the brilliance all around.

…We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way

back to this scene…

I’ve had a stormy year, and I’m not going to kid myself; it’s been hard.  I mean, devastatingly, outrageously challenging.  Sometimes it still is.  But it’s left me feeling stronger and more fearless than I ever could have anticipated.  I’m diving into the wreck, learning more about myself every day.  I’m reveling in the good days and the joy in my life…because there are so many good days and there’s so much love.  Far more than before the mess; before the destruction.  Every morning I wake up excited for the day, looking forward to seeing or talking to someone.  And what’s more, I’m lucky enough to recognize that.  I’m not taking it for granted for a second.  I’m thankful to be mining the hidden, uglier parts of myself.  And I know that if it hadn’t been for the storms – for the wreck – I wouldn’t be able to find them at all. 

…the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth…

Feb 7 2012

Loneliness is an Art

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Sarah (a.k.a. “Slev”) prefaced her gchat message.  “But I thought you might appreciate this.”  And then she attached a link. 

I braced myself.  Hmm. 

Take it the wrong way?  What a loaded way to introduce a little YouTube video!  Would it be something illicit that I shouldn’t open at work?  Was I on the verge of learning more about Slev than I ever hoped to know?  Something that, perhaps, she believed we had in common?

Sarah moved to Austin this summer, and I already felt like I knew her through a network too complicated to explain here.  (Let’s just say that it involves one of my college professors, Sarah’s roommate, and a former Austin Ultimate player who now resides in Richmond.  Yeah, it’s that kind of tangled web.  In a good way.)

But such is the nature of our friendship.  Just days after her arrival, she and I traveled to Houston together for an Ultimate tournament, and there was never a dull moment in our conversation.  I already felt like I’d known her for years.  (Or, at least, a few solid months!)  Despite being roughly ten years my junior, she had insight about [my] life well beyond her age.  I was impressed…and appreciative.

So in truth, I wasn’t worried about her link.  In fact, I anticipated that it would be thoughtful and unique.  Which it was:


How to be Alone.  Such a basic message, like a  …For Dummies  book.  Things that few of us would ever consider, like dancing publicly when you don’t have a date or a friend, broken down into terms we can understand and identify.  Interesting.

But it isn’t the simple element of the piece that interests me – the idea of starting with small practices of being alone, like visiting libraries and coffee shops.  It’s the directness.  The artist’s conviction that there is beauty in aloneness.  Which, of course, there is.  But not when you’re idly checking Facebook on your phone, or tearing through recordings on your DVR.  The true magic of being by yourself comes when you embrace the moments; you take stock and look inward, appreciating who and where you are.  Celebrating it, even. 


“Lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it.”

Sometimes we just need permission.  We need someone to say that there’s wonder in the ugliness; meaning in the emptiness.  Here, it’s almost as if the speaker is making it okay to be not only alone, but lonely; to savor the sweet agony of time with no one but yourself.  She makes it less painful and more empowering; tells you to find strength in the dark and hollow places of your heart. 

Darkness may be the absence of light, but it’s also filled with glorious shadows and complicated hieroglyphics hidden on the cave walls.  You just have to find a new way to illuminate them; to look without seeing.

It is frightening to envision being alone forever.  Even the most contentedly single people I know have expressed that fear to me (much to my surprise).  But it’s far scarier to be lonely in a room full of ‘friends’ or sitting at the dinner table with the faux company of an empty relationship.  To be happily – or least comfortably – alone is the best of both worlds.  To consider yourself company enough.  In fact, that may be the highest form of self-love.

“The conversations you get in by sitting alone on benches might’ve never happened had you not been there by yourself.”

When you remove the fear of being alone, you access opportunity and joy in all kinds of unexpected and inspiring ways.  You see things that you may not have noticed before, like the wisdom of a stranger or the kindness of a new friend; the pleasure of dancing by yourself or the release of sitting on the back porch with a cup of tea (or a beer, for that matter) to watch the squirrels scamper across the yard. 

Being a writer requires time alone.  Even when I’m with a group of people gathered specifically to write, I’m more productive when I set aside time for quiet, solitary craft. 

“Maybe being a writer, you just can’t worry about other people’s needs right now,” my friend Dallas said to me this summer.  I tend to be a bit of a Mama Bird, taking care of others and worrying about them incessantly.  But Dallas is right.  I need to know how to be alone, and sometimes that means actively choosing graceful isolation.  They (those writerly folks, that is) say that ‘God is in the details’.  Maybe that’s just another way of saying that he/she is found within; something you need to coax out to play now and then. 


“If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.  There is heat in freezing.  Be a testament.”

My heart has been bleeding quite a bit lately.  For myself, for others.  For the gorgeous, acute pain of love and loss and change.  I had a lot of time alone this summer, and I was making the most of the mess.  The blood was pouring over my hands and into my writing like the rain after a Texas draught.  But I’ve been pretty crowded lately – in classrooms filled with middle schoolers, at workouts with groups of girls, at shows teeming with people and at meetings piled high with discussion and action items.  And I’m grateful for these communities, these flashes of insight and these wonderful muses.  But the moments that I’ve had to myself (sitting beside my Christmas tree, curled up in the covers of my bed, bent over a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning) I’ve turned to my journal or my laptop for company.  Does that count as being alone?  Does my art make me, somehow, less lonely?

I have to believe that it doesn’t.  I have to believe that it’s my art “needs practice,” and that I should “stop neglecting it”.  My writing isn’t my friend, it’s me. 

Although maybe those two things are, in fact, one and the same.