A Thing I’m Slowly Figuring Out
I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.
I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.
But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.
Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.
I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.
Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.
I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.
I think my expectations, perhaps, have been unreasonable. Every time I’ve walked a little further before falling, I’ve thought, “A-ha! I’ve figured it out! I have THE Strategy! No more falling off the bridge for me!”
And then, of course, I’ve been shocked and frustrated at the next fall.
Maybe it’s time that I accept falling off the bridge, now and then, as part of the picture. Maybe, for me, it’s the price for being granted exceptional creative faculties and a solid dose of physical talent. Maybe it’s just, like, what it is. Either way, maybe accepting it and just learning to live with it isn’t the end of the world.
Silently, secretly, I’ve long felt that accepting the precarious nature of my own mental health was tantamount to accepting defeat: no one, I have been telling myself, will ever hire a dancer who is likely to crack twice a year, minimum; who is going to spend a week more or less inert after every show. No one wants a writer whose process is riddled with fallow periods.
The only answer, I kept telling myself, was to figure out how to stop falling off the bridge for good.
But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe that’s part of what keeps me fighting against myself, beating down the fragile parts instead of meeting them with compassion.
Maybe the first step is to accept that falling off the bridge from time to time is inevitable, and to understand that I can work around and even with that reality.
Western culture demands constant productivity, but constant productivity is impossible even for those with the stoutest mental health. Even the Bolshoi takes lay-offs. Even the greatest bike racers lie around with their feet up during the off-season.
Why do I expect more than that from my own fragile brain?
To be blunt: fuck constant productivity. Fields should lie fallow sometimes.
In retrospect, I see that I’ve been trying to bargain with the gods instead of living into my own dispensation.
The thing is, we mortals have nothing to bargain with. At the end of the day, sometimes the answer to a prayer is, “No.”
Moses at Sinai argued with G-d, saying, “Lean on some other guy; I’m a mumbler!”
G-d probably smiled and said, “Don’t you think I already know that, Moshe? No, no, I’m quite sure you’re the man for this job.”
Nowhere does the book say that G-d turned Moses into a silver-tongued orator. Presumably, the poor guy had to get by using whatever other gifts he had been granted.
Even then, he kept screwing up all the time. Like the rest of us, he didn’t know how to live his life because no one had done it before. He had to figure it out as he went.
So maybe I need to stop fighting so hard to try to lay hold of a gift I haven’t been given in order to better steward the ones I have.
This is not any easy thing.
I write all this with tears in the back of my throat. That is hard to admit.
I don’t, of course, want to accept this any more than Frodo Baggins wanted to march into Mordor carrying the one thing the great Enemy, Sauron, desired most.
It is difficult to give up the belief that absolutely everything can be fixed if you just try hard enough. It’s hard to accept that, possibly, you weren’t tasked with fixing this, but with living with it.
The Western approach to solving problems usually involves eliminating them. Pesky river screwing up your street plan? Re-route it. Danged natives preventing you from manifesting your destiny? Relocate, convert, or kill them. Irascible protestors making your policies look bad? Shut them up (but first, make sure to make them look bad in the press).
So choosing to live peacefully with this thing hasn’t been my first instinct.
I want, of course, to control the outcome. Didn’t we talk about that when I was at Pilobolus’ intensive? Jeez.
So it is with trepidation that I say (probably not for the first time), “Maybe the answer is to stop trying to control everything. To stop trying to make this go away. To accept that this narrow bridge is what I’ve got and stop praying to be air-lifted to a broad, green pasture (where I’d probably die of boredom).”
I’m not making any resolutions or predictions, other than this: I’m going to keep screwing up. I don’t know how to live my life because no one has done it before. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll forget, sometimes, about the lesson of accepting that I live on a narrow bridge and fall off sometimes. I’m pretty sure I’ll still get mad at myself and at the world and at the Divine with all its many faces. I’m pretty sure I’m going to screw up.
Maybe, though, in the midst of screwing up, having written this, these ideas will return like a “check engine” light.
Meanwhile, today I’m going to read and play games and rest, and then maybe go buy some respirator masks and a carpet knife so I can begin cleaning up the leavings of the not-so-great flood.
Posted on 2017/11/06, in adulting, bipolar, compassion, healing, health, history, ID-10T errors, life, life management, mental health, mistakes, mitzvot, work and tagged #BadAtYoga, accept & transcend, accept but maybe don't transcend, adagio cantabile, adulting is hard, the not-so-great flood. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.