Digging

I start digging, using my hands like the front paws of a dog until they become the front paws of a dog. Brown earth rolls in clumps around me, soft wet brown, darkening the deeper I go to bring it up.

I heave the earth out of itself again and again; sometimes in the dark my paws hit something other than earth, something hard like bone, sometimes round and indeterminate, sometimes soft, pulsating and shot through with veins, like the flesh of a worm, but without the wriggle.

When I hit such things, I pull at them until the earth lets them go, and I throw them blindly behind me, away from me.

They are things I do not need, do not want to need, and there are handfuls of them. My claws rip them from the earth, I cannot help it. They come up, but I cannot deal with them now. I need to see them disappear, and I keep digging as they fly over my shoulders, trailing a heavy veil of earth into the dark behind me.

Rip them out. Rip out the parts that want my attention, that glisten with seductive gloss, splaying the flesh that needs more from the world than the tired earth can give.

I dig and my paws are numb with earth, with what the earth does to them.

You, past person person past, lie expectant in my wet black earth, your traits mummified and meaningful in a way they never really were. I dig into you, through you, send parts of you flying: I know that if I look too closely at you I will slow myself down, slow my digging, and I will think that everything I dig out of us is something that I need.

What I need is to keep digging, to dig for the part of me worth saving, worth uprooting and moving into different soil. The part of me that will agree to live and grow in different soil.

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Seventeen – A Year of the Artist’s Tears

A Word-Doodle for Eight.

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You are a writer and you feel sad: you’re not an artist. You’re useless at wielding paints or plasters or colours. In general, you are prone to tears; in German, they say you’ve build your home close to water, which makes sense, which atones in some way for the guilt you feel for crying so often, and so abundantly. It must simply be where your bodily home was built – a matter of infrastructure reacting to environment.

Past boyfriends –the ones who were aspiring artists and academics– have told you that crying is useless: a waste of minerals, and the quickest way to drive someone out of your home, our of your life.

In a single month, you use up around three boxes of tissues, family-sized. Your eyes have a permanent pink rim; although blue, your irises begin to look green in the mirror. It’s basic colour theory.

The things that make you cry are manifold, but mostly you cry about the sound of yourself, about things that seem poignant leaving your mouth, your own voice revealing things about what feels like your true self. Anything that sounds like a key to your fundamental self, no matter how straightforward, has the power to make you weep.
Or anything about children reconnecting with their parents.

So you are a writer, and you wish you were an artist because the things you are not always seem easier, more rewarding. Being an artist looks to you like a way to express yourself more fully, more directly, without having to trip over language, this loaded thing. But the thing is: you have stuck with language and learned to express yourself in this medium, not another. And it might not matter, because there is another problem: you don’t feel worthy, worthy of ease and reward, worthy of attention or respect. Long story short, what do you do? You cry.

I’m not an artist, you sob into your tissue. I can’t come up with anything that feels or looks like art.

You forget to think that this might be something many others sob about. It might be the main propellant behind many other ounces of snot and fluid. You didn’t go to art school, so you focus on this as a regret. Not going to art school, as we all know, bars you for life from producing anything not the art world won’t laugh out of the room at first sight.

Even writing now feels like a foreign language, which, you suppose, it is.

When you cry, it’s all about what you’re supposed to do, what is right and what is wrong. Because those concepts are confusing and never lead to happiness, you cry.

You get your box of tissues and you fill each sheet with snot and wipe your stupid tears and you sit there feeling sorry for yourself until it feels like something has been lifted, like an idiotic valve has opened to release the pressure, and you crumple up the three-four-five tissues you’ve used, some wet with snot to the outer edges, some dryer as the phlegm ceases to come out, and you line them all up in front of you, little white nests sheltering your body fluids, the ones we link to sadness.

You’re done crying but you don’t throw the tissues away.

You put them aside, in a drawer; the next day you feel bad about yourself again –something, something, always something– and you cry and empty the contents of your empty knee-jerk sadness into a tissue again, and this becomes a kind of ritual.

You begin to milk the fluids of sadness from your body every day, as a kind of hygiene. Something healthy, you tell yourself, like Medievals covering themselves in leeches once in a while to clear the blood. Except this is like Medievals collecting the leeches in small jars afterwards, leeches filled with their ‘bad blood’, so as to hold on to what was removed from them; it is like someone collecting their nail clippings to remind themselves of this process of mindless growth that will continue until a few days after their death.

You collect your snot-filled paper tissues, wondering sometimes if this is just a less upsetting version of collecting your discarded bodily tissues –like skin flakes, hair, nails– and at the end of the year you line them all up on a large wooden plank in a warehouse somewhere. You don’t remember the specifics of how you got access to this warehouse, or behind which dumpster you found the plank, or why the walls are white and wide enough to encompass large crowds; you simply line up your tissues on the large wooden plank –roughly 10m long, 2m wide– and an assistant hangs a little plaque on the wall with your name and a title:

A Year of the Artist’s Tears.

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Five

What is so surprising about life, and what also kind of constitutes its grace, is that our minds can be so pleasing to us. The way they use and remember and combine data is exciting, all of it so lovely if we let it, if we don’t cripple ourselves with anxiety, if we accept that alongside our brilliance also lies a lot of necessary darkness and unpleasant impulse.

What I’m trying to say is that some days I am struck by the fact that our minds exist for us, that they deal with the world, our dwelling, in a way that can be pleasing only to us as a species – our art and language games and music cannot evoke for anyone but us what we value in it. Our minds are and function for us, not for dolphins or aliens or dogs but for us, the humans that we are, and that, to me, is extraordinary.

 

Our minds and the universe – what else is there? […] In our marginal existence, what else is there but the voice within us, this great weirdness we are always leaning forward to listen to?

Mary Ruefle – Someone Reading A Book. In: Madness, Rack, and Honey. Collected Lectures

 

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