I’m typing naked, an exercise in “wildness”. It’s not really doing it for me. I used to work as a massage therapist at Osento, a bathhouse for women in the Mission, where nudity was the norm. I’ve seen thousands of naked female bodies, and been naked myself, for hundreds of hours. It feels pretty normal.
Wildness, though, has come up in recovery, in therapy, in my writing program at SF State. For me, it’s a state of mind not a state of body.*
One exercise (from Eric Maisel’s Fearless Creating) asks us to draw four pictures of our own “wild faces.” I can’t draw to save my life, so I sought images that reverberate for me.
Sharing this feels very personal, and I debated doing it. But I want these articles to be a record for myself, so here goes.
A huge, excited, outward, social flinging, orbiting exciting people and ideas, desiring to be a center. Gets to feel overblown, impossible, too many expectations to handle, and swings into…
…depression and self-isolation, sometimes mild, sometimes not, like this past September.
I have always struggled with relationships. In alcoholism I did it unconsciously. In recovery and therapy, I learned that I need people, that allowing oneself to need and be needed is good for us, and that trying to help others get their needs met is how we show love.
It’s like Lesson Three of being a human being, I know, but when I drank my mantra was “I can do it myself,” and I went about my life emotionally alone. Admitting my need for other humans, my need for touch and attachment, was hard. I thought it was easier to stand strong against pain when I didn’t have any soft spots to weaken me.
Maybe now I understand that the soft spots are like the rollers under tall buildings in earthquake country, the soft spots that absorb the shock and keep us standing. It’s good, in this moment, to be reminded of these things. I’m not sure I think of them enough.
Outer glory, being outside, dirty, sweaty, digging, planting, mulching, harvesting, pruning, walking, doing, making, getting rained on, forgetting time, getting sunburned, developing blisters, leaping into the creek, drying in the sun, resting, sitting in shade, drinking water, getting dirty again, going again, accomplishing something.
It’s as if some part of me comes more alive. I think more clearly, I recognize priorities, I think through, I plan. I also tune out, stop worrying, enjoy being in my body. And I don’t think I do this nearly often enough.
Inner glory. The feeling inside of me I’ve called “god” since I got sober. The sinking into self and glowing, feeling strength, aliveness, excitement, sheer energy, drive to do, desire to create, yearning for a home, reaching for what’s just out of reach, stretching my abilities, wanting to be more, feeling I can be. Satisfaction.
I felt this when I was young, and called it “the magic.” I lost it in alcoholism, and rediscovered it in sobriety, in AA, when I was working the steps and searching for a “god of my own understanding.”
It’s hard for me to feel these things where I live right now, because I don’t feel safe. I mean, I’m physically safe, but the environment is untrustworthy.
I live in a giant cello, the walls vibrate and transmit every sound. Anything from my neighbors getting ready for bed to the most disruptive bullshit can come through the walls at any time, disturbing thought, disturbing sleep.
It’s distressing because it’s noisy, but also because I want to be on good terms with my neighbors. I understand that they’re human, doing human things, socializing, having friends over to celebrate. But they drive me batshit.
Writing about these feelings is disturbing in itself, which I suppose is the point. What makes us feel what we need to feel in order to be creative? Are we getting that? I’m not sure I am, but then I wonder if that’s just me being my cantankerous self, if the grass is really greener in Scotland or Chico or Coarsegold, or some other place I haven’t dreamed of moving yet.
Wherever I go, there I am, and same limits of time and body apply to me as they would in San Francisco.
*Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote an interesting book on women and inner wildness, called Women Who Run with the Wolves. Highly recommended. May have another go at it myself.
For a full list of all articles on art and self doubt, look here. At this point, the list is short.
Painting, Patchwork Poppies, by my college roommate, Brenda Higginson. Brenda, your work has always stunned and moved me. I’m privileged to own two of your paintings. They make me very happy.
Photograph: Of Patchwork Poppies and granny squares, by curvylou.