Thoughts on Creativity and Transparency and (I Know, I Know) Shit
Yesterday a friend asked what it is like for me to write so transparently about myself and my life. I said it was both positive and negative and then changed the subject because I had no idea how I felt.
I noticed I stopped breathing every time later in the day I tried to stay with the question and name the feeling. Like: maybe it isn’t really happening. Like: maybe if I don’t breathe, I’m still safely hidden. Like: am I in trouble? Like: do you still like me? Like: I can’t believe I am doing this. Like: what’s going to happen next? Like: this is so cool. Like: I can’t believe I’m getting away with being myself.
I feel like a snail that lost its shell and I’m walking around in what feels like a whole new body and, at the same time, a body that is very familiar to me. These two feelings cause confusion. Did I change or not? Am I still myself? Am I okay? Can I support myself like this? Was I supposed to keep the shell?
I have found that the older I get, the more childish my body becomes. I am able to hide less, process less, fake less. I need regular meal times, physical movement, hugs, storytime, naps, early bed and rising times. I don’t do well with adult things such as caffeine, alcohol, drugs, stress. I don’t do well with sugar, which is really an adult thing but one that has been made a staple in many children’s lives.
When I eat gluten or dairy products or eggs, my body weakens and I am at its mercy. The tube that is me—mouth to anus—feels like it springs leaks and I need to always know where the closest bathroom is. So much energy is spent wondering, Am I okay now? How about now? Oh, crud, what about now?
There is something so edgily vulnerable about feeling like I have to—what? take a shit? poop? go to the bathroom? how can say this without grossing you our even more? —almost all of the time. When this happens, I live on the edge of shame, for at any moment I could lose control of my bowels and become an untouchable. I am so aware of how hard it can be to be a body in the world. At times it is almost unbearable.
My body holds me accountable to my experiences and how I process them. My body holds me accountable to my feelings even, and especially when, I try to ignore them.
The older I get, the more my body reveals to me how I feel about being born to a world that seemed shockingly, heartbreakingly, wrong.
Take away language and the ability to communicate to others and imagine you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and see nothing you have been prepared for reflected back to you. What happens to your guts in that moment? To your sense of place in the world? To your sense of safety?
I don’t know what it’s like to be born and to not see the mother that is still you in your brain, but my body knows, and it has been trying to tell me my whole life (anger, fear, anxiety, sadness seeming coming out of nowhere at unpredictable times—for the rest read my book You Don’t Look Adopted because there are too many things to list here) and, at 50, I finally recognized that so much I had not understood about my body and mind all my life were ways my body was saying to me, Please listen. I need us to be on the same track. I need you to know I am here. I was there. I need you to know who you are so you can stop wasting so much energy trying to be someone else.
Something amazing happened in the 93 days it took for me to write my book: I became a unified tube of energy. My colander-self sealed into a container and I was able to focus, create, and, best of all, finish because I had finally found a way to listen and to live in my body/mind.
I still felt sort of crazy and out of control, but it was in a new way. It wasn’t in a I’m plugged into all these other people and their thoughts and needs and how can I ever help them, show up for them, be who they want? kind of way. I was plugged into the center of myself, the river of me, and was focused on it and to whom it was flowing for writing had become a form of prayer to me, something between me and a loving presence. The crazy feeling came from not being sure this was okay, not knowing other people like me, having no parents or mentors that mirrored me in a way that felt real or true, but I have come to see that this may just be the ocean of creativity, that maybe crazy equals I have no idea what is going to happen next but I have put my faith into process and the universe, so, hands up, here goes!
Three years ago today I was in New York writing my book. I have had periods of weakness since then when I eat poorly, live in anxiety, don’t sleep enough, and then I have to remember all over again that living in a body that experienced trauma at birth requires healthy habits. Pizza may smell delicious, but if, the day after, I have to spent energy living as a colander because my system is punched full of holes, I am not as much living the day as I am surviving it.
All of this is to tell you that the reason I write with as much transparency as I can muster because I love people the most when they are honest with me. I love windows because they let me see both in and out. I love transparency for the same reason. Historically I have been attracted to men who are not available for one reason or another: addiction, marriage, etc., is because then I, too, can hide. I don’t have to risk it all if you aren’t rising it all, either. We pick people who mirror our own state so that we can move to the beat at the same pace, so we can feel safe, unchallenged.
To be transparent with someone who is deep in his or her own shell is like dancing with a sock.
I am actually afraid of dancing! When I go to weddings, I sit and watch while everyone dances. I am the sock!! I don’t dance because I feel like a telephone pole. I don’t bend right. I’ve got no moves. But who wants to sit out when the rest of the world is shimmering? I’m done with all that. I am now officially a dancing stick. Invite me to a wedding! Take me for a spin!
This, I believe, is one of the prices of transparency: you lose your hiding places.
Today on the subway I sat next to a blind man who seemed to find solace? safety? in OCD behaviors. He touched the pole next to him five times, then moved down to another section and touched it sixteen times, then reached under his chair, muttered some words, then repeated the previous actions. I felt like I was next to a flame of a human who was surrounded by coping behaviors. There was peace and love and home next to me in the center of all that activity. I could see the sweetness of him and I felt lucky I got to sit next to so much human-ness.
The flame inside of me dances. I have to remember this. Everything else will work itself out.