“What returns, what finally comes home to me, is my own self.”
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
I have a hard time writing this. It is difficult for me to write what I feel yet do not understand. A tension grips at me because there is so much I want to say that eludes the words I know to use. Writing as release, writing as escape – these are well-worn cloaks. What of writing as (unwilling? unavoidable?) obfuscation? A governed word-choice, a regulation of theme and tone – these deny me as author the chance to truly own my work. And it is work. It is – or at the very least it becomes – this creative production as a birth that affirms my life and my body and my chance at agency and freedom. In this sense, writing is not a rejection of the un-chosen, a rejection of the paths laid for me before I arrived to walk them; rather, writing becomes for me a reclamation project, a journey to my pre-existing desires that I might bring them to the surface. I write in order that I do not have to be what I am to the world, and perhaps I may discover what I am to “my own self”.
(I hope? I pray?) We all have this incredible, interesting, humanizing – humanizing distinct from civilizing – undercurrent in ourselves. And this place is authentic and scary and bewildering and resonant. Maybe it’s where we keep the things that we truly feel, the things we need, the things that we understand without trying but that we could never articulate to others or even to ourselves. And it is a dark place, not dark because it is evil or wrong, dark because it is unexplored. Modernity constructs a boundary between our ‘lives’ and our unexplored depths, a contradictory barrier that invalidates abnormality at the same time that it lionizes bold explorers of what lies beyond.
There are these moments, explosive and intimate moments, where we tear up the cobblestones that prop up what we know we should think and how we know we should act and what we know we should want. When we destroy even a single stone of this barrier we are presented with an opportunity to tunnel – not to burrow, because we are not hiding – into our labyrinths. To tunnel is to explore, to find out where it is that we can go and what it is that we are. I write to find these moments, to attempt their capture and to envelop myself with them. Can I write myself a map to this inner place? Map in hand, can I hold my fear and still make the journey inward? And is there a thread that I can leave in the hands of a lover to ensure that I will return from my maze?
I have drawn twenty-one shapes, figures, imagined tattoos on my body. Stars and sunbursts and entwined forms and geometric nonsense. Wait, I lied – twenty-three. I forgot about one on my knee and another on my foot. Of course being right-handed they’re all on the left side of my body. Every pen-stroke stimulates an unrealized awareness of the licentious balance of hurt and joy. My skin is raw and red and screams stop, but I won’t. Even as the pen digs into my dermis, I rejoice in escape. Maybe my skin was meant to be marred, maybe it was meant to say more. I wish to make my skin a guide, my chart of what I might explore within myself, mapped to my own body and dependent upon it. The ink is a breach in my body – images bursting forth from within, giving shape and form to the un-thought, but also runes – prayerful inscriptions by which I reclaim my body itself without guilt. Absolution.
My body becomes the channel, the highway to desires both corporal and intangible; my mind cannot be this conduit. My mind is trapped by the logic of definable concepts and propositions. The cobblestones live in the mind, governing and limiting thoughts, dictating the self and constantly judging deviation. The body gives expression to that which undermines the bounds of the mind.
I recreate my body as a surface for erotics and poison and passion. In these I find self-definition, a truth of myself. In these, I destroy the cobblestones:
Those moments where you surrender yourself to your own body, surpassing thought: the orgasm at the top of a sneeze creating an utter disassociation from sensation; the overwhelming, unbearable wonder of pressing every surface of your body into every surface of any other body. This surrender is not a retreat from the consciously thought but instead is a victory over all thought, a triumph over the tyrannical articulation of thought that forces the transcendent to follow the rules of grammar.
Those substances that destroy the definitions, the categories, the absolutes that place limits on how and what thoughts are allowed, are possible. These are the toxins – traumas – polluting and disrupting the tissue and fiber of the body. And while these are killing the body they are also creating the pathways of transgression in the mind. Drugs and alcohol, mind-altering as they are, bring the mind closer to death and freer of its chains. In the disruption of the consciously thought, space is created for the unconsciously felt. Anything becomes possible.
Those imaginings discovered in the tunnels within yourself brought back with you to the surface when you return from your journey. These are the art and the writing and the dancing and the revelry and the music and the inescapable need to re-approach oneself, free from fear and free from limits. Passion is the scream to the world that escapes the binds of any words used to describe your shout into the ether.
Why do I write this? True, the catharsis is real and revelatory. But do I indulge in hubris, faking transcendence and import? Is this the construction of a map without landmarks, a meandering route futilely etched in waters? Perhaps I write to find the starting place, the last vestiges of sufficient articulation. Perhaps I write to simultaneously obscure myself as author and also to approach the world with a different perception and a different manner of being without performing. I write to avoid the pain of being what I am; and in writing, perhaps I recapture an unmitigated sense of what I may one day be.
Where do I go from here? I scrawled that question on this draft as I edited. Hemingway, knowing full well the uses of poison, advised, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I enjoy that advice though do not, as now, always follow it to the letter. I appreciate the liberation and the creative injunction, but I am dismayed by the solitude. I am at my desk listening to “Violin Concerto no. 2” by Phillip Glass. And I am moved past vocabulary, past any words I know; but for not, as in this moment I have no one with whom to share this feeling. Even as I chase through a labyrinth of introspection, I become ever painfully more conscious of the – necessary – fact that there is no one holding the other end of my thread.
Yet. And yet. A redemptive undercurrent whispers in my ear. The loosing of my thread erases my passage down into my maze; when I return, when I come back to the surface bringing with me artifacts from my own dark and quiet places, it will be by a new path. I will not trod the road my other selves have taken, will not follow a map already drawn. Everything will be new, nothing the same.
And so the long journeys into the self are lonesome travails. And yet, to discover what I am, my own self, I cannot help but transgress categories and sunder limits in solitude. And having broken the cobblestones and tunneled to my interior labyrinth, my redemption lies in my return, in my new path back to the surface carrying with me that which I have reclaimed within myself. And upon reaching the surface, the exteriority that is both my world and the worlds of others becomes different. My perception now changed, I approach with a quiet clarity informed by an entirely new journey through my life.
And so, where do I go from here?
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