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April 22, 2012

On Coming Back to the Breath

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:44 am

I’m bad at caffeine. I started bleeding today, so I took a lot of preemptive Excedrin to stave off the inevitable incapacitating cramps. This worked like a charm and I henceforth plan to do it every 27 days for the rest of my reproductive life. Also, now I can’t sleep. I’ve tried all the tricks I know — which, admittedly, isn’t many — to get my brain to spin down but I’ve been tossing and turning for over an hour now. Since the boi sleeping next to me has to catch an 8:30am Greyhound home tomorrow, I didn’t want to keep them up with my fidgeting and twitching and repeatedly flipping myself over like a pancake. So, finally, I gave up and here I am. I’m trying to come back to the breath.

Last weekend, I went on a mountain retreat where I read a bunch of Sartre and spent several hours each day trying to meditate. I had varying degrees of success. (Although, if I understand correctly, meditation isn’t really the sort of thing at which one “succeeds”.) In any case, I learned several things about myself while trying to focus my attention on each individual breath. First, through sitting very straight and very still for extended periods of time, I learned that it takes a huge amount of core strength to actually support my breasts; much more core strength than I currently have. I had never felt my spinalis erectors before. It was cool to realize I have layers upon layers of muscle and also difficult figuring out how to stretch a muscle that deep in.

Second, the most prominent thing I discovered about my thinking is that I’m projecting into the future constantly: planning, daydreaming, drafting, visualizing, expecting, explaining, worrying about. There are some advantages to this. Fantasizing is fun. My philosophical training has certainly taught me the value of thought experiments. It allows me to generate far more great ideas for projects than I’ll ever be able to follow through on. And it’s comforting — in much the same way that, when I feel awkward or nervous in a conversation, I’ll default to talking about logistics. This is often unnecessary. We probably don’t need to confirm again, for the third time, that in two weeks we’re having coffee at 3pm. But it’s inexplicably soothing to latch onto something concrete and make plans and agreements about dates and times and places. I regularly found myself committed to far more coffee dates, meetings, and conferences than I actually had time for, until I realized what I was doing. (Now I find myself over-committed for other reasons.)

Living in the future is also distracting. It takes me out of the discomfort, awkwardness, boredom and uncertainty of the moment. It takes me out of the sweetness and complicated richness of the moment, also. My difficulty being present doesn’t discriminate. Tonight, it took me out of my bed, curled up next to the warm, soft, sleeping body of a person I’m in love with on their last night in town and onto the Internet.

I don’t know a lot of tricks for quieting my mind because I don’t usually try. I take a bit of perverse pride in my mildly manic hypergraphia, probably because the fact that writing is a bit compulsive and uncomfortable for me makes me feel like a “real writer” in the face of constant self-doubt about my creativity. I suspect this sort of “professional inferiority complex” plagues most writers similar to the way that feeling “not queer enough” haunts many queer folks. That, in each case, the sheer presence of the doubt is proof of its unfoundedness — and that knowing this doesn’t make either one go away. So, when my thoughts get to whirring out of control, chemically-aided or otherwise, I typically just grab hold of the ticket with both hands and take the ride.

There’s a fantastic, funny, emotionally complicated Philip Lopate essay called “Against Joie de Vivre” that, of course, I can’t find the full text of online anywhere right now even though I swear I had a link to it a month ago, and the book it’s from is in New Mexico, probably among one of the precarious piles of thesis-research materials stacked on the floor of the cozy, cluttered bedroom to which I’m sending my lover home tomorrow. In any case, curmudgeonly Lopate criticizes cultural inducements to constantly “live in the now”, arguing that “the now” is mostly depressing and tedious and that having to live in it all the time sounds like a curse. (He also lambastes dinner parties, patronizing old people, sex in the Sixties, and his own secret judgments of others. This is a man I would like to have lunch with.) In any case, I’m with him. There are many ways, admittedly, that being insensible to my surroundings is obviously detrimental to my writing. Self-indulgent midnight rambling on my blog, regardless of whether it’s “bursting out of [me] in spite of everything”, is less likely to facilitate the development of solid social theory than paying more attention would. Still, for the most part, what’s going on in my head is usually much more interesting to me than whatever’s going on in the physical world at any given random moment of my day. So, while I don’t relish the fact that I’m fairly inept at focusing on the here-and-now, I don’t worry too much about it either. Most of the time.

And then, I find myself with my arms wrapped around the sleeping form of someone I want to build a life with and who I won’t get to see and touch again for weeks or months, and all I can think about is…KinkForAll. Conference talks. E-mails I need to send. How cool it might be to take a long roadtrip and serendipitously run into people I know hitchhiking. And then without warning — probably because I just spent a weekend in seclusion reading Sartre — it hits me that my love is going to die. And that’s not all. Everyone I love is going to die. Some of them might not die until after I do, sure, but at some point over the course of the next few decades, either I will be grieving each of them or they will be grieving me — grieving the loss of our relationships maybe or, if our relationships are “successful” in the traditional sense, then grieving the loss of our lives.

I’ve been thinking a little bit, lately, about the way that having the extraordinary number of intimate, meaningful, emotional connections I have is a privilege. And it is. I have a lot of advantages of people who have fewer mutual interdependencies than me. The flipside of that coin, however, is that loving more people also means, eventually, having to watch more people who I love die. It means having to live — to the degree to which I’m sensitive to it which, some days, is very — with the spectres of their inevitable deaths. And, because of the particular ways in which so many of my loved ones lack privilege, it means living with the spectre of their potentially violent deaths, too. With suicides and murders and slow shreddings through self-destruction and cancers too expensive to cure. And every moment that I spend with a lover while distracted by something else becomes one of the too-few moments between now and the end of our lives that I spent with a lover while distracted by something else.

Suddenly my inability to focus on the moment, on this moment, on this last-night-for-who-knows-how-long together doesn’t feel like a cute, curmudgeonly personality quirk. It feels like a fucking tragedy.

I’m going back to bed now. I’m going to wrap my arms around them and press my nose against the downy light-gold hairs along the back of their neck and, if I still can’t sleep, I’m going to lie there and feel their skin against my skin and focus my attention on every single breath until the sun comes up.

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4 Comments »

  1. for the most part, what’s going on in my head is usually much more interesting to me than whatever’s going on in the physical world at any given random moment of my day.

    I find that really paying attention to stuff – any stuff – outside my head greatly enriches and expands what goes on in my head.

    Comment by corvinity — April 24, 2012 @ 11:15 am | Reply

    • > I find that really paying attention to stuff – any stuff – outside my head greatly enriches and expands what goes on in my head.

      I believe this is true for me too. But that’s honestly a little scary to me. There’s already SO MUCH stuff going on in my head at any given time that I feel totally overwhelmed trying to keep track of it. I don’t know that I need more input all the time. Did you know I stopped reading philosophy for years? Because every time I picked up a new book, it felt like I would just absorb it and suddenly transform into a totally different person. That’s cool, but it’s also a lot to deal with. Sometimes I just want to be still for a minute.

      Comment by thirdxlucky — April 24, 2012 @ 11:45 am | Reply

    • Ohh, sweetheart! Did you just transcribe this whole thing?! I love you so much.

      What do you think of this essay, btw? There were definitely some sticky points for me but I love how emotionally complex it is.

      Also: I had not seen so many of these blog posts! I don’t know how I missed all this that you’ve been writing. I’m going to WordPress Follow your blog and see if that updates me when you post. I’m so sorry I’ve been missing all the feelings you’ve been sharing. 😦 I am caught up on all of it now and I love you intensely. ❤

      Comment by thirdxlucky — April 26, 2012 @ 2:25 pm | Reply


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