After some people and I taught each other things today I drove to a medical place to get an X-ray of my chest. For work. Some official people needed to know I didn’t have tuberculosis, and I’ve had reactions to those terrible pricking skin tests, so they said: chest X-ray. Which, honestly, sounded kind of nice. It feels nice when people are interested in your insides.
There was a metal square, a target, to stand against while my chest got irradiated. ‘Move to the right,’ the technician said. ‘No–to the left.’ Then she instructed me to press my heart into the cold metal, and left the room.
When I was real young it got into my head that the soul was shaped like a butterfly and the ribs grew around it, that’s why they looked like that, they accommodated the soul’s shape but also caged it in so it wouldn’t fly away. I asked to see the X-ray and the woman raised her eyebrows but let me duck into the little room.
The backlit image was life-sized. Beautiful. Symphonic twirls of white smoke, swelling build of a steady ship, soaring buttresses of an opera house. Feathery bellows. Perfect. My soul’s house is a fucking crib, man. I looked for my heart but saw only my liver, which appeared to be very assertive.
That heart may be hidden, but it’s in there. Boy, is it ever.
I’ve been kind of weird lately thinking about how much of my insides have gone unseen, how much energy I’ve put into that hiding. Bracing myself, always, for the piercing tip of some invisible scalpel waving overhead. An always-imminent dissection. How the surgeon’s brow would crease as he sliced neatly down my middle; how I’d die of shame. Once I’d kicked it, he’d call over his shoulder to a nearby medical student. ‘Hal, come over here. See this? Yes, that bizarre incandescence? This is what we call a case of the rainbows.’ His eyebrows would wiggle. Meaningfully. ‘Always fatal.’ Yep, I guess you could say I’ve been a hoarder. Of rainbows, and other evanescent experiential stuff.
But something happened. I guess you could say that’s life, love, loss, good old-fashioned gittin grown, however you like to put it. Whatever it is, it’s become super clear to me that the way the morning breeze nods through the juniper outside my window, the way a friend’s laugh becomes a deafening bark on a long-overdue phone call, the way the desert heat and minerals can brush you all over with sweat-salty animal feel, the way those twelve tiny butterflies are flitting through the blooming rosemary hedge right now, the periwinkle of those blooms, the way the beating of my huge human heart must rumble like a great bass drum in their lil bodies–each of these ways is just that: a way. It moves and goes. It’s not for keeping, not in a way you can see. But the being there and then the not being there, the having and then letting go–that is the thing I get to keep.
Because I’ll do it again. And again. Then practice losing farther, losing faster…
Sometimes, when I’m really grounded, giving and losing start to look real similar to me, to the point where it’s kind of hard to tell the difference. And man, I dig that feeling: open to the ebbs and flows, really seeing time for what it isn’t. (Maybe a good way to distinguish between a gift and a loss is: a gift’s abundance is readily apparent, but the abundance brought about by loss takes a minute or year or eight or lifetime to really register.) But a lot of times, I’m not there. And one of the toughest spots for me with this hoarding thing (cause that’s what I’m talking about, see–if I hoard to keep from losing, it follows that I’m keeping myself from giving too) has been, like, art. The toughest spot in all art? Writing.
Writing for me has always meant hoarding. Being a writer is, like ‘being’ any thing, problematic. And then it opens this can of legitimizing worms: what do you have to do exactly to be a writer? Is it enough to just write? We all know those posers who say they’re writers or directors or CEOs of their own major whatever and in reality they’re not doing much at all except ‘networking’ and watching TV, and that feels icky, I don’t want to be one of them. So what legitimizes, socially? What sanctions a person’s process so that the Person is now an Official Engager In That Process? Does one need an M.F.A. to truthfully identify as a Mother Fucking Artist? Socially speaking, I think: well, yeah, kind of. And I think that blows.
Is blogging the answer? Hell no. But it’s fun. It’s open. It’s not waiting for anything, just me to sit down and bam! direct line to… whatever moment of writing, of reading. There’s something real healthy about that.
We’re alienated from our rainbows. If they aren’t the right shape, the right color, coming out of the right cloud and beaming at the right angle up the right adjudicative ass, we hoard ’em. And then we fear our incandescence, and our shame, and the scalpel. But we’re in bodies, in real expressive time, in our own legitimizing heart soul liver blood soup. The cage is also the instrument. However humble, however dorky or awkward, it’s made to sing. And so it should.