On not summing up my life
Dispatch #10: Against a narrative thread
There’s this Toni Morrison quote that often tumbles around in my head: “At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.” This feels somewhat foreign to me, a Zen aspiration, a hands-off approach to being here on planet Earth. Yet, I think it tumbles around precisely because it is so anti-will-power; because against our destructive, ravenous capitalist background, it suggests enoughnness.
Let’s pair that quote with cartoonist Lynda Barry’s recent story post on Instagram, where scrawled on a small note paper she wrote: “DRAWING TO HAVE AN EXPERIENCE - RATHER THAN MAKE A THING THAT IS GOOD OR BAD.” What Barry suggests, at least to me, is also a sense of enoughness. What if we put aside good or bad & let ourselves go, grow, explore, wonder, fuck up, explore, experience? At the core of Morrison’s words is a similar invitation: experience. Not to catalogue, narrativize, bisect into Good or Bad, but to feel enoughness.
When I was growing up, my Mom had a saying: “It’s the meaning you make of it.” She meant that it’s important to notice what meaning we ascribe to the events of our lives. She meant that there is always a fork in the road where we can choose our response, our interpretation. It was empowering to her & I could always see why. I’m a writer, after all.
Making meaning is the writer’s impulse. But there are positives – & drawbacks – to making meaning.
The positives, well, folks, so many of you writers out there know this by heart & practice. By making meaning of the events in our lives we can confront our shadows, fully feel our joys, investigate our scrambles, untangle memories, connect to ourselves more deeply, & if we’re lucky, connect to humanity at large. Heck, if we’re knock-it-out-of-the-park-lucky, we can connect to Divinity. Whatever that may look like for each of us.
Those are some yummy positives. What are the drawbacks of a mind that is busy making meaning? That is the tender territory I have been occupying. Lately, in wanting to overlay a transparency of meaning over certain events in my life, I find myself exhausted & humbled. Meaning withdraws like a turtle into its carriable cave. What am I left with? Uncertainty. Questions. Murk. One drawback of a mind that is making meaning is an air of conclusion. I find that lately I’ve wanted to walk in the rain, just to feel the rain. To I’ve wanted to feel sadness (or confusion or doubt) fully, without prescriptions or self-help or by roads. I’ve simply wanted experience and enoughness. As some of you know, I’ve named 2023 “The Year of Touch” & it’s for a reason. It’s because I’ve been craving these two e-words a lot over the years (ahem, over the decades). I want touch, to enter the tactile, to center living over summarizing.
I am so proud of how far I’ve come. Of my story. I’ve embraced Bipolar Disorder, written a book that’s a love letter to my medication, steadily gone to therapy, rebuilt relationships, taken vast creative risks, started a portable creativity school - the list goes on!
But then there are some days, some nights, where I need to put my story down. Don’t we all? I need to put meaning down with it, like a suitcase, & take a good look around.
There is nothing to “photograph, paint, or remember.” There is only the battering rain against my eyelids, my own tears, & the desire to experience it.
This week, in the spirit of Morrison, under the guidance of Barry, I found myself called to collage. It started with junk mail. I spotted the bright colors of a catalogue & whooooosh! in came an odd impulse: rip these up, put them together again, put your analytical brain down, have fun. I didn’t have all of the materials - double sided tape, a glue gun - so I trotted over to Walgreens & bought them. When I sat down under the desk lamp’s glow, my aim was to abandon all notions of Good or Bad. To keep it low stakes. To move paper around until it gave me a feeling. To enjoy myself. To taste color. To relax. As I collaged, I jotted some notes down on precious textured paper that Angel gifted me before I left for MacDowell. Notes, or permissions. Let this be an experience, I thought, jotting down “against a narrative thread.”
& That was that, dear reader. I invite you to do something equally anti-conclusion this week. To live inside a color. Or sound. Or feeling. I’d love to know how in your life you already carve out time & space to just experience. Let me know in the comments! May we collect ways, together, to foster enoughness.
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• In Surreal Life has a few more spots open! Nominate a Surreal Scholar today (yes, you can nominate yourself) or sign up to play in our playground for the month of April
• I love watching actors talk to actors about acting, especially when it’s these two. So many gems here.
• A late night stumble across this song has lead to obsessive replay.
• This is not a delight, but a fury. Fury is a feeling I’ve spent time with this week, an activation point, a point of entry toward action: “What we’re seeing is something that 3 years ago I thought would have been unimaginable."
Thank you for being here. In this digital space, yes, but also in the world at-large. I’m sending you ease on the breeze, & colors, colors you can sink your teeth into, colors you can taste.
With ample maple syrup,