An eddy in my brain

I went this weekend to our soon-to-be new college town home. New group of potential friends, new set of anxieties. Who shall I be there? The wife of the new hire in a prestigious position, along for the ride, adjuncting fall term and ostensibly hoping for something better when the chance arises. I am oh-so-very fine with that.

I am actually hoping this year to be free, to release the bindings I’ve felt tightening around me since December 26th 2006. JJ’s new colleagues, my sort-of new colleagues, keep reassuring me that I’m welcome in the new academic community, that coming along for the ride might mean a bit of a ridiculously low paycheck, but that nevertheless everyone’s interested in me, in my work, and in my professional success. Which leads to the eddy in my brain.

I keep first stridently asserting, then timidly trying to explain that I am happy to have this chance. The “voices which [I] hear in solitude” tell me this is an opportunity to become the literary artist, the writer, I have always wanted to be but that claim “grows faint and inaudible as [I] enter into the world.”* Of course I worry about my career. Of course I worry that, after years of graduate school, I could lose my chance to make my work matter. What I worry most about, though, is confessing my hopes to those around me, who barely know me. First, because I could fail to write anything anyone else will read. Second, because if I don’t care and they believe me, they might stop considering me a worthwhile member of the academic community.

Which leads more closely to the eddy in my brain, and this is where it gets strange. The site in my left eye is bad, very fuzzy. Technically, it’s an astigmatism. Emotionally and intellectually, the lack of focus which constantly plagues that eye is a veil. When I look through the veil, my mind wanders. It’s like jumping into a river. My mind wanders and bumps through my thoughts, and the further left I go, the more emotional and personal the thoughts. If I don’t fight it, I can feel my focus, my thoughts, my brain veer to the left, sharply, quickly. When I was in grade school, high school, college, this veering to the left would mean I stopped paying attention to the teacher or professor, or to my friends if they were talking. Only when I read a book could I look straight forward. If I gave into the leftward pull, I’d be writing or imagining a story, or drawing the infinite (and bad, there’s no Van Gogh in my fine motor skills) portraits of the characters and their worlds that used to populate my childhood desk at home. Now, if I want to teach well, or speak with intelligence and creativity to colleagues, I also have to give in to the leftward pull a bit.

In the past 3.5 years, the leftward pull has been populated by so many feelings, largely oscillating between intense joy and pain and grief. I’m sad. Not clinically so, but simply in an undercurrent. If Baby Man is around, the tide of my emotions feels turbulent, but clear and joyful. If I’m around friends and family who know about Natan, it feels a bit muddied, but calm and comforting. If I’m around students, I’m learning to float above. But if I’m talking to friends or colleagues who don’t know about Natan, I’m constantly feeling yanked towards it, yet pushing myself away. It traps me, and I can’t think or speak. Natan’s death feels like a binding on me, and I want to break out of it.

Why? Natan’s death is no longer the most significant event of my life. Baby Man’s life is. But Natan’s death is there, always always trailing me. He’s always in my conversations, but most of the people I now talk to don’t know that. There’s always something missing in the dialog as I narrate my life and my self. Normally, this doesn’t matter. But when I discuss my career and my plans, it does. I’m not sure if that makes sense. But it seems to relate to my identity, my career, as an intellectual. And not just any kind of intellectual, but an intellectual whose project is about the intellectual, emotional and relational lives of historical others.

I write about imaginary relationships between people–between celebrities and their admirers. And I spend a whole lot of my time in what is essentially an imaginary relationship myself. I think this is why the pull of that eddy remains so strong. I still haven’t figured out how to resist it, or when and where to give in to it, and who to bring with me.

* Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance” (1841)

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5 responses to “An eddy in my brain

  1. My darling, you will never be “just” anything. You are too complex and too special to be categorized. Your currents result from your character, brilliance, and sensitivity. Though uncomfortable, they both reflect and create what you are. If you were a lesser human being, you wouldn’t be tossed and pulled in many directions; you’d be content to just be. But that’s not you.
    As for your writing, it’s truly beautiful. Beyond your sheer talent for expressing your thoughts in a clear but poetic way is the fact that you have ideas, significant ideas. I firmly believe that what you have to say will affect many of your readers in a positive way. There are others dealing with grief and uncertainty who will be heartened by your courageous struggle. It’s easy in our world to doubt–but don’t doubt yourself! You have always been, and will always be, truly special. Please consider turning your blog into a book so that more may share.
    I love you always, Nancy

  2. Thanks, Nancy. We’ll see. I never edit these things, at all, it’s all stream of consciousness….I’m a bit more timid re: print….

  3. Tuesday night

    “But if I’m talking to friends or colleagues who don’t know about Natan, I’m constantly feeling yanked towards it, yet pushing myself away. It traps me, and I can’t think or speak. Natan’s death feels like a binding on me, and I want to break out of it.

    Why? Natan’s death is no longer the most significant event of my life. Baby Man’s life is. But Natan’s death is there, always always trailing me. He’s always in my conversations, but most of the people I now talk to don’t know that. There’s always something missing in the dialog as I narrate my life and my self. ”

    So what you describe here – is the best articulation of something I have experienced, coming out of a very different experience. The year after college, when I moved home, my Mom became extremely depressed and after months of intense conflicts between us, and in the context of some brutal divorce drama, she tried to kill herself. Everyone knew, everyone I knew knew, and it changed the way they related to me, in some way.

    And then I came to grad school … and no one knew! No once knew my mom was “crazy” – this was how my brothers and I talked about it at the time – no one knew about the “episode” and her “stay” in the “hospital.” But I also felt this overwhelming need, as I created new relationships with total strangers, to tell them! If I didn’t tell them about this intense event that at that point in my life I felt defined my life, circumscribed my confidence, my sense of myself as a woman, as a daughter, if I didn’t tell them, they would miss out of a crucial piece of ME. But I also didn’t know how to tell them. I didn’t know what was and wasn’t appropriate and I didn’t want to appear to be dramatic or self-aggrandizing. And I didn’t know if it really mattered.

    As time passed I learned when and how to share this piece of me, but as time passed it ceased to become as immediate a piece of me, and now I feel almost normal, as if I can pretend this thing never happened, no one needs to know. And after all, it isn’t really my story to tell, although it is and continues to be a crucial piece of me. But whenever I get afraid about my future, or I feel lonely or lost as a woman, I get sucked back into that panic and shame, and that fear that no matter what I do, I won’t be able to throw off this chain, that I will wind up being the same kind of woman as a my mother.

  4. “Tuesday night,” I assume I know you in person, and yet I don’t know this part of your past. I’m sorry. I’m glad you feel almost normal now, and sincerely hope your self awareness about your mother’s experience will keep you safe and healthy.

    I bet there are traits of her that you’ve wound up with that are wonderful, and will make your life so.

  5. Reading your writing inspired me to write about it and made me want to share that with you.

    Writing is so good for the soul! 😀

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