Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
– From The Hollow Men, by T.S. Eliot
Art by Stan Jimerson
I find the brouhaha surrounding New Year’s Eve and its celebration as asinine as your average misanthrope. Who needs the sociopolitical construct of a calendar named Gregory to decide when they should wear sequins or start their new workout regimen, am I right? But, “to make a end is to make a beginning” and something in us craves demarcation; a place to draw a line; a place to pause; a time to begin again. Even I and all my facetious cynicism cannot but capitulate to the temptation to be reflective on New Year’s Eve (even if it has been New Year’s Day in Oz for several hours).
I spent today talking to one of my best friends about aloneness…and darkness. While the rest of the world dances under the scintillation of strobe lights and to the soundtrack of clinking glasses ablaze with bubbles, some of us will more feel alone today than any other day. When one feels alone one is reminded that each being is his own minority, so enshrouded in one’s own skin that it is near impossible to connect one’s soul to that of another; that even when one opens one’s mouth to communicate, what comes out is no longer what I said, but what he heard because we each dwell in a world that is our own self, where an intersection with the orbs of other’s understanding can feel next-to-nonexistent.
(“We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. if we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy… As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly met someone. ” – Muriel Barbery, from The Elegance of The Hedgehog)
That is aloneness: floating in that frigid and pregnant interstice between “disjoint sets”, outside the womb of the venn diagram. Not floating so much as rolling, I think. Personally, when I feel most alone, the emptiness fills me, rolling within my core like a brewing storm that never sublimates into rain. It just rolls and rolls and rolls until it finally dissipates in energy and jolts to an unfulfilled halt, quietly awaiting the next spark to set the bilious boiling in motion again.
Still, as I look back on this year and all the moments I have felt the most alone, the vista is punctuated by all those moments in which I have felt the most connected in a long time (and of course, flashes of Saint Tropez and Cabo San Juan del Guia– it hasn’t all been gallant gloom). There was my World Cup Rant — my most read and shared piece– which proved to me that I could connect to people through my writing. And then there was reading Muriel Barbery’s “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” in which I saw the redness of f my own heart expressed in black and white, bringing to mind — and creating a sort of fugue-like myse en abyme– these words of Alan Bennet’s which I heard for the first time this year:
― from The History Boys
Literature (both the reading and the writing of it), music, art often remind us that we are not alone (Milosz reminds us as much as well, though in multiple senses, here, defining writing as “feeling from the inside out”). If our imagination, hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations can be so limpidly expressed by a stranger, we cannot possibly be as strange as we may think. And even where we do perceive ourselves as alien, there is always companionship in beauty. The issue, therefore, is not that one is a lunatic, but that one must find one’s moon. Or as my mentor puts it, you simply have to find your tribe. This may be the single most important lesson I have learnt in 2014: to go, as Dominique Browning states, where the love is:
Don’t try to make people love you. It can’t happen.
Don’t beat your head against closed doors behind which sit people who don’t understand, or can’t see, or won’t see, what you have to offer.
Don’t waste energy trying to convince people of your worth, when they can’t see it in your work; they don’t want to see it, either because they’re intimidated, or have a conflicting agenda.
Don’t bury your star–and we all have stars, and all of our stars sparkle with so many different talents, abilities, traits, qualities–don’t bury yours among dark-minded people, where it will only tarnish.
Don’t keep trying to detoxify poisonous situations. That’s my big problem. I’m always the Pollyana, always believing that better is just around the corner, and always willing to fight to get there.
Sometimes better isn’t around the corner–and the fight only depletes precious inner resources. Sometimes the only way to end a bad situation is to walk away.
And go where the love is.
2014 was the year of shedding a mask so tightly glued to my being that I did not even recognize its features as not my own. I came to the realisation that what I want to do with my life is to write. This is where my love is. My eyes opened to this reality when sitting across a brunch table on Mother’s day, during my first meeting with an acquaintance who would become my mentor, I uninhibitedly expressed my despair and she reflected back at me my gifts and an understanding of my motivations. “It is so obvious you were put here to create and inspire,” she cooed. Obvious to all but me, it seems. As quickly as I decided to focus my efforts on writing and fashion rather than in the sciences as I always thought I would, I have been forced to redefine what success means to me or rather to understand that I had never actually defined it for myself. But, once I began to be surrounded by creative and encouraging people (and to realise how creative and supportive some of the people already in my sphere are), I began to feel like less of a lunatic alien: they see my star even when I cannot and ask nothing more of me than to honour myself and that which I love. They are where my love is.
Choosing to go where the love is as it relates to career choices and even more-so in terms friendship and relationships means doing what you love and going where you are loved but it is not tantamount to treading only where one is not challenged, not questioned or never negated. On the contrary! The love may be hard and exacting but love never actively seeks to hurt. Like Browning, I have often stayed too long in toxic trenches, fighting it out to prove some point to myself about my loyalty and grit, burning at both ends the unrenewable fuel of unreciprocated emotional energy, leaving me thus depleted and deflated. I am still learning how to be loving enough to myself to extricate myself from this sort of venom and to choose to fight only for those who love me. As I am still opening my eyes to the light of kindness to oneself, I am opening my ears and heart to the clarion call to recognize and honour the gifts that I have been given. Thankfully, I do not have to do this alone, as I continue to find my tribe.
One such tribemate is my mentor’s mentor, B. B is a woman of remarkable accomplishment: a war correspondent, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a fishing fanatic and a hilarious storyteller. We both like puns and well-constructed literary conceit and we both consider ourselves to be positively zany. Yet, it was not until a few nights ago when I told B about my current state of loneliness, that I came to find out that we have even more in common. She wrote back to me my own emotions. Had her email not been characterized by her pithy phrasing, I might have thought I was writing to myself. Here, again, a reminder that I am not alone. She was there. She’s been here. She is here…with me. And so are many others. So, to those of you who tonight, or tomorrow or the day after, might feel the weight of aloneness as I do today, know you are not alone in your solitude. Besides, in the shadow too, there is love. If we can learn not to run from the darkness, but to search through it, we will be taking strides to that place where the love is for, as Rumi reminds us, “night travelers are full of light”. Like “Birdwings“, the tension between our personal night and light keeps us suspended in flight, riding the winds of life like Hopkins’ “Windhover“. The darkness before the the day has so much to teach us, and, at dawn, where the two meet, the brightest hour of our enlightenment and the most rhythmic dance of our understanding may reside. So, here is to the eye of the stormy void and seeing (and dancing) in the dark as we career toward that place where the weightless light of love floats. As Pope Gregory’s proverbial curtain hangs, poised with all its potential energy to drop upon this stage with the delicate poignancy of dawn’s dew from verdant a leaf’s tip, may we remember all of this year’s loves and each find the courage in this next act to go gracefully where the love is, whatever our endeavour. Here’s to brilliant flashes of ecstasy in 2015! Camellias all around!