Until now I’ve started these essays without an idea of what I was going to write. I begin and then follow them for an hour, giving a little time to give shape afterwards. But it just comes out as it is. This time I have a topic. An idea. A dream and some frames of reference that have been marinating with me. I have talked about them with everyone who could give me time for intimacy over the past two weeks, even sometimes intentionally steering a conversation toward it. I’ve been writing about them in my journal, and I’ve been turning them over in my mind. My drawings have been tracking them. My therapist got an earful. I just didn’t feel like writing anything else this week.
I need to write about the words “just friends.” How it lowers, and stoops and drags the big, beautiful word into a small one, into a concession. I need to write about two dreams I had. And I need to write about what it means to me to be thirty eight years old and single, having been unattached for more than six years, and to have never experienced a long relationship.
I need to write about the husk that is falling around me, its dry hairy threads, its heavy smooth concave insides with its multiple layers of brown texture. I need to write about the seed. Its minuscule monopod of pale yellow-green just sipping its first taste of the world.
I dreamt about my upcoming show, but instead of the wonderful little black box at the MAI it was in a stadium of thousands of people. And on stage, one after another, everyone I knew was getting up to make a statement. My brother’s was “There is no literacy without the soul. So who is reading?” The audience roared. After everyone had said their phrase, there was going to be a film. But first they showed the trailer. No one liked it. Not at all. It didn’t make any sense. But then the film itself showed and it all made sense. It was gorgeous, timeless, world-making. But it also was an innovation in film narrative. I could feel the huge audience behind me all get it at once. The only image I remember is a woman in yellow crouching on ice, and a ring of black-and-white men around her.
All year in my drawings I have been seeing a basket of eggs. Egg egg egg. Today, this evening as I was drawing, one of the eggs has hatched.
I was talking with my friend Doug about the dream, about the trailer. Why did we hate the trailer, but love the film? Maybe because a useful trailer uses the aspect of anticipation. It builds up a storyline without giving you the end, but enough for you to think you know what is coming. I guess a film of any interest messes with that expectation, but only to a certain degree. Here, in my dream, the young filmmaker had done away with any possibility of anticipation, because she had created a new kind of narrative arc. Instead of the hero’s journey, the overcoming of a series of obstacles until the hero is changed, and then they return to where they first came from with something to give, to share, to show for themselves.
What is a different arc? My mind grasps immediately for the opposite. Since this conventional narrative is what I’m used to it makes sense that its opposite would at first seem to be the only way that I could conceive of something else. But there is more. There is so much more.
The place that narrative, the leading-to-somewhere, grow and develop, transformation narrative most haunts me is in my relationship to love, and the lover. I don’t think I’m alone in this, am I? Other places it is quite helpful like in planning my day, or writing, or in my work as an educator and facilitator. It’s good to set up a problem, work hard, have a crisis, resolve it, reflect on it and then be done, changed. It makes many things work in order and toward often quite good ends. But in love, it’s different, isn’t it? At least for me. I’ve spent maybe thirty two of my thirty eight years wishing that this magical lover would come into my life, to protect me and to receive my heart I want so much to give away and to love me forever. I have. It’s hard to admit, but there it is. I’ve wanted this cave of warm feathers, and the uterine beating heart, and the endless, eternal ocean. Love. I wanted that conventional arc. It never has come. It’s always been something else. A different narrative. Full of surprise, and wonder. Full of luminous sets and riveting costumes. But impossible to anticipate. Nothing foregone.
Set against this but not as an opposite, more as a compatriot from other world like a shadow or a ghost or a historical figure, something that is absent-present, is the quality of my friendships. Intimate. Romantic. Fierce. Steadfast. Streaming-forth. Instigating. Stimulating. These are my places. These are the sites and sets and scenes of my most faithful love. When the words “just friends” come up, it usually happens in relation to the lover who doesn’t want me. But sacred friendships have been so much to me all my life. Have guided and protected, influenced and challenged. I could never name them all, these crowning, laurel, pearly bonds. In a way it doesn’t matter what the names are, though each one is so precious.
I suddenly feel lost in this writing. I have that dark constricting ring of self-judgement tightening around my abdomen as I write this. I imagine you see through me. You think I have conceded. I hear those words, old spinster hag, and they settle on me. I feel like talking about the love of my friends seems like I’ve lost the big game of life. Like I’ve lost in some vital, important, way of being worthy. Someone chooses you, that’s how you know. No one has chosen me. That’s not something I can control. I’ve spent enough time praying, crying, wishing, complaining, internet dating, reading, counselling, and actively seeking in every possible way to know that I cannot control this. There is no path of self-enhancement that will lead to the place where I can make someone choose me. Maybe someone else could, but I can’t. But I could choose myself.
Last week my friend Jarrett was visiting and he reminded me, when I don’t get what I want, I’m not being punished. When I do, I’m not being rewarded. I’m not single because there is something wrong with me, because I did something wrong. It’s more humble than that. It’s more just what is. It’s the universe making space, and filling it up and emptying it out again, in its wonder blue-whale lunglike capacity to whip a dragon’s bright energy around the infinitesimal-colossal universe into the womb of the cow of time and manifest a Life. A LIFE. My life. It is so unlikely, so impossible, so tiny and, from the only point of view I can access, so monumental. Utterly ubiquitous and encompassing. Life.
To control it into a narrative seems unlikely, but of course to control that narrative is the control of the planet, economy, education, motivation. This is what it means to be human, they preach at us from hollybollynollywood. But for some reason, some ancestral wish shooting at me in a glittering spray from the future where they go to wait, this narrative isn’t working for me. Instead, I am thirty-eight, gainfully employed in work that inspires me, creates positive energy and increases joy for others, have a fecund and compelling arts practice that is wholly mine – in multiple disciplines -, a sunny little apartment, a healthy family, a sweet, beautiful body to steep my spirit. Instead I have a story that is impossible to anticipate. I’m in it.
It seems pat, when I write it, somehow. But from the inside it is so huge. I feel sad. Tears of loss, to let my fantasy go, that fantasy that had absorbed my focus for so long.
I had the second dream a few days ago. I dreamt that my friend Erin and I were in her attic costuming studio (she doesn’t have one) and I suddenly said to her, oh my god! I’m not pregnant. And when I was writing it down I understood. I’m not expecting. I no longer know what’s coming. I’m not waiting for that birth, that emergence of my life when the lover comes. I am in it already and the lover is here. I look at the stemless wine glass full of water on my gray desk. It has been sitting all day, and the sides are covered with tiny bubbles. Each one contains a rainbow. That water is pure and filtered. My body needs it, and it is there, available and waiting to join me, intimately and forever. To nourish me, nurture me, sustain me, partner with me in endless communion and transformation. Then I turn my head to the other side, where a white pleated shade lamp with a ceramic blue and white base crouches on a gold hinged arm. I have two of these. They bring me so much joy. They came from Simmy and Pardeep, who made the Bombay Street Food birthday party for my dad. Every time I turn them on I remember that I am loved, and that in that love I have what I need. I feel that way when I see the pottery my mom left here, the portable record player from Andy upstairs. These things that whisper to me, your happiness matters to your friends. But there’s something else about the lamp as I look at it. It’s the light. Light. Light from the sun, the moon, the fireflies, the lightbulbs, the fires, the candles, the light light light. Like the water, there it is, available at my arm’s reach, matches, lighters, switches, flashlights. Dispelling, uncovering, offering the world to my eyes. This is it. This is the lover.
Now you really think I’m cheesy. You think I’m just making up a story to soothe myself. You might be right. But the story that I had before, the pregnant one that said just wait. Your lover is out there, waiting for you. They are looking for you. They will find you. And then you will be loved forever, and you will be protected forever. That story was missing something that I’ve been trying to express here. But even with all this talk about the world-as-lover I’m still stuck with this question:
If I don’t live to wait for love, what do I live for?
Again, I’m so embarrassed to write this. How can I even consider myself a feminist, if I am so married to the IDEA of a partner? How did I get this far like this? I’ve been stalked by this awareness for a year but only now, after more than six years of intense investigation of my own psyche, my own complexes, though all kinds of methods, some more extreme than others, I am I think ready to finally let it go. To turn around and say, like my two-year old nephew when we traveled on our magic carpet to our imaginary Mars, “Stop alien! Stop biting me!”
It’s terrifying. What happens now? I let go of the desire for love, and what happens to my time? In the past two weeks I’ve had a lot of time. I notice how much of my mental and emotional energy bleeds and dissolves into this fantasizing. What will replace those sticky, yummy fantasies? Art? Work? What could be so good that my mind would constantly return to land on it? Food? I don’t know. I really don’t. I feel like I am in a long, narrow, scorched kind of gully. I don’t know what’s on the other side, and I can’t go back to where I came from, and I know that what’s coming has to be better than what is, because I can see the trees. But what is in those trees? What lurks there in the night? What secrets does it dance in the streaky dawn? What if that forest is too dangerous to be in alone?
All of this is a kind of wet worry that I’m dousing my future with. Can I just let each day unfold as it is? Let each day slowly dry in the sun and give up its sweet essences? If I could, would it be full of surprise, or would it feel empty and clammy like a new block of clay? Or would it soften as I work it?