It feels like I've been away a long time. Two trips with a mad dash of work in between, and now I'm finally home. So yes, I've been gone, but I've also been hiding out a bit.
I couldn't tell what was happening a few weeks ago, I just felt really crumbly. My current of tears ran close to the surface and didn't need much provocation to overflow its banks and flood. I was ready to retreat from public view while I came unglued and then tried to figure out why.
Vacation seems like a good time to find refuge, to be in private, to hide out. But if one attempts to do so on a trip with more photographers than she can count, who are eager to upload their hundreds of photos from their time together on Flickr, I have now proven this plan to be less than sound.
Any understanding of what was happening evaded me, but I started to develop these funny symptoms, like wishing every photo of me online hid my face like this one, which is one of my favorites by Tracey Clark:
Or having fears about privacy and security that bordered on paranoia. I can't remember the last time I felt so anxious, fragile and exposed. Without a safe place to fall apart or figure it out, I just kept holding it together and make it through one moment and then another one after that.
I berated myself for my irrationality. Objectively, the things that were aggravating me were unobjectionable. But my body was tense, my thoughts were murky and my nerves were raw. Whatever was wrong was only getting worse.
Finally, I pulled it all into focus. I saw the whole year as a mural in my mind. I saw myself starting to tell stories on stage, and preparing over a dozen stories for the stage since. I saw myself pushing the limits of my comfort zones to grow into a new place in my marriage. I saw Fortunes, my most vulnerable work yet, being born and making its way into the hands of readers around the world. I saw the blog posts that bring me to the edge of terror when I hit "publish". And I saw my new project, in which I'm putting myself out in the most imperfect and unedited manner yet, making its way to the printer.
Together these things and others formed a giant vulnerability snowball that was getting bigger and bigger and moving faster and faster all the time. No wonder I was feeling crumbly. No wonder I was feeling tired. I'm working constantly at the edge of my capacity for vulnerability, pushing and stretching it relentlessly. It's in my work life, it's in my private life. It's hard to find a refuge left, a place where I can just be wordless and unseen. A time in which there is no force driving a forward motion.
I don't talk much about what it costs me to do what I do. Partly, it seems to me that the near-terror I sometimes feel must surely be dripping from every word or screaming out from every photograph. (I am told this is not so.) It also seems in poor taste to complain about a life which I have chosen, and I wouldn't want to appear to be complaining. And, if anyone suggested, Why don't you just stop already and do something else?, I might respond violently.
So please, allow me to be clear (or to at least make the attempt): This work that I do costs me something, something that I have not yet distinguished. This is not a complaint, but a confession. I delve the depths of my life and my mind like a hungry explorer, and I battle all kinds of silencing forces that are fixtures of my inner geography. I have an innate drive to live as if I am perpetually enrolled in the Advanced Course, and I don't know if the wiring on that bomb can be defused or not. It's certainly under examination.
I need to ground myself in some kind of balance, though. For all the risk-taking, I need some security. For all the vulnerability, I need to be revealed on my own terms, and not anyone else's. I'm just beginning to learn how to tend to these needs, and in the meantime I'm remembering the power of simply acknowledging my experience.
Telling the story helps.
Even if it takes a hard journey to find it.