Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Crossroads is a Field

I knew a guy growing up who was kind of on the margins. I remember being friends with him but he and I didn't particularly stick together, if I remember correctly. I met him one day years later; we happened to take the same public bus home from school. So we started chatting, and both got off the bus at the same stop, and kept talking. The way home from the bus started off through a field of weeds. The sidewalk ended and he began to trudge through the thickest part of the grass. Of course he'd done this trek many times, but I pointed out the well-worn trail made by thousands of feet. His response: "I prefer to make my own path".


That response stuck with me. 


I've been in a bit of hibernation. I have let this blog go fallow. I stopped tweeting. I suppose this is in keeping with the deep work I'm currently doing. I'm in DBT to work on skills I believe will help me. I am tapering off medication that I have been taking since 2005 and which has dulled my senses and my feelings. I am mourning lost potential, ruminating on current challenges, and so uncertain of my future that I feel I could grind my teeth off in a single fit of war with the unknown. 


[I think I've been reticent to post blogs and tweets and even facebook updates because I feel so opposite of "hey look at me!" I don't want to be seen, I don't want to stick my fingers into the jarring machine of other peoples' attention. As the holidays approach, which I associate with one of my first conscious experiences of being marginal (Christmas), people are all wanting to connect; have potlucks, have parties, send cards; and I experience more soundly how much I don't feel in sync with what everyone else is presumably craving: togetherness and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My winter holiday will be in mid-January, and I will retreat to the mountains, hike deep into the woods where there is no running water and no people.]


In the midst of all this holiday alienation and personal exegesis, my dear friend-I-met-only-once-in-person-but-we've-known-each-other's-souls-like-forever, Sharon da Vanport, shared Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's Dec 2 post. Her writing, as always, is such a strong reflection of what I'm struggling with, despairing in, yearning for. 


The path of least resistance seems so often the path of conformity. It's supposedly easier to fit in and ascribe to common notions of power and prestige. For those not living on the margins, I guess that could be true. But if my very being is on the margins, the path of least resistance isn't conformity. To take the path of conformity means to contort myself into ways of being that don't work. It means disavowing my real experience in favor of an illusion that would make other people more comfortable. 


I will never feel at home in that world.


Rachel writes, "The only time I didn’t feel on the margins was when I happened to cross paths for awhile with other people on the margins. Then the world felt like home". I have also had this experience. It wasn't like those people had to be marginal in ways that I was marginal. It just had to be a mutual recognition of how, whether that experience made us sad or scared or angry, meek (as I was) or hard around the edges (as I was often drawn to), being marginalized meant that we shared a knowledge of each other that made us feel less alone. We found power together, in mutual recognition of that experience -- of standing outside the collective illusion that everyone else shared. 


I'm less concerned with how false the collective illusion is. In some sense it isn't an illusion, and it isn't as collective as I'd imagined it. It is, however, a well-worn path. It isn't questioned. It becomes Reality because of some collective agreement, and the margins become a blurry no-man's land, they become unknowable and the people in the margins become unknowable, their silence being a function of living outside the collective dream.


Choosing to walk the path of marginal means working to unblur those lines, and in doing so, point out that the center isn't really the center, and the margins are all over the place.


Rachel is doing something so important that it prompted me to post myself. When I read her work I feel my own potentiality stirring. I see her blazing trails and I feel compelled to speak because the more people who stop being silent the more the voices from the margins speak, the more we create a world in which we exist, the more the world isn't a simple place consisting of "inside" and "outside", of center and margin, but it becomes a multi-faceted world of many margins. So many margins that the picture is beautiful.










I have always known who my people are, and I’ve fled from them, afraid that if I threw in my lot with them, I’d have to give up this mad craving for acceptance, for approval, for the mythic safety of “normalcy,” for the dream of what people once led me to believe was my destiny. And that fear has cost me dearly — physically, mentally, ethically, and spiritually. I’m only beginning to understand just how dearly.
It’s an awful thing to be at war with oneself. It’s an awful thing to keep fleeing and arriving at the same place, over and over. I can’t do it anymore. I won’t do it anymore.
There is no shame in being on the margins. There is only shame in believing that I am too important to be there.  -- Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


Rachel inspired me to look up some Audre Lorde, who was the first (along with Ani Difranco) to teach me how much power is possible with poetry and how much damage fear and silence can make, and how many people, when I reach into that darkness, are there waiting to hold my hand.


Possibility is neither forever nor instant. It is also not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy. We can sometimes work long and hard to establish one beachhead of real resistance to the deaths we are expected to live, only to have that beachhead assaulted or threatened by canards we have been socialized to fear, or by the withdrawal of those approvals that we have been warned to seek for safety. We see ourselves diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of non-universality, of self-centeredness, of sensuality. And who asks the question: am I altering your aura, your ideas, your dreams, or am I merely moving you to temporary and reactive action? (Even the latter is no mean task, but one that must be rather seen within the context of a true alteration of the texture of our lives.)
The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. -- Audre Lorde


If you are on the margin, however silent or small or alone you feel, know that you are really none of these.


There are voices in the margins whispering poetry. It is the verse of possibility on the verge of the truth that none of us is really free, or powerful, or loved, until we all are.






4 comments:

Sharon daVanport said...

So now I'm six ways of happy because you dusted off the blog!

I'm completely moved by the Audre Lorde quote you chose, it ties in perfectly with how your flowing thoughtful intent.

Most timely for me today were your ending words, "If you are on the margin, however silent or small or alone you feel, know that you are really none of these.... there are voices in the margins whispering poetry. It is the verse of possibility on the verge of the truth that none of us is really free, or powerful, or loved, until we all are."

So happy you peeked out today, Karen.... a source of delicate inspiration at just the right time.

Rachel said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, Karen. As is the case for so many of us, I relate to all of it.

Karen said...

Dear Sharon,
I'm happy too! I really want to keep writing. Your encouragement is so helpful in that. Love!

Karen said...

Dear Rachel,
Thank you for coming over to read and comment. I was so moved by your post (not the first time). Lately I've been thinking a lot about grad school and the master's degree I didn't finish. The way you defined some of your choices -- that instinctively you knew it was the wrong path -- I can relate to that.

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