insane ringing in my bones I fell out of sync with the bees I stared down into a hole in myself a hollow space age mistake disconnected from the heart outward a lost butterfly floating in a heat mirage.
savage depression take me in shelter me from what I cannot fix protect me from what I cannot feel lest it shatter my heart into slivers and shards. dearest friend who is always there for me the only one who always understands never minimizes or denies or tries to tell me smile! cheer up! be thankful! when I'm barely able to draw a breath chest anchored to the bottom of the ocean drowning in a black truth foreign and incomprehensible to those who spend their lives dwelling in the busy rhythm of the surface.
A little background on this post: I originally wrote this entry on 02/28/13, but was feeling a bit too vulnerable then to share it. I read through it again this morning for the first time in over a month and felt a bit sorry that I hadn’t posted it. So here it is, a bit out of sequence in terms of specific time and feeling, but still relevant in terms of my motivation for writing it.
I’d like to thank everyone for the encouragement and supportive suggestions shared in response to my blog post from yesterday (“Caught between the road and the sky”). I’ve been struggling with the issue about which I wrote for a very long time. It has deep roots and there are times (like now) when I feel as if I will never resolve it.
I know I’m not alone in having longstanding core issues that challenge and confound. Unfortunately, I still often find it far easier to extend my patience, compassion, and understanding to others with their own issues than I do to myself with mine. Try as we may, sometimes we simply cannot see ourselves and our own situations fully and clearly. At those times, we need others.
I learned to survive during childhood by internalizing everything I could because my perceptions and feelings were not welcome or safe, and by relying on myself because I couldn’t trust others to be there when I needed them. Old habits of survival learned and practiced under decades of duress can be hard to shake.
I still expect, much of the time, that if I open up about a problem or share a fear or weakness, no one will be there. I still tend to expect that the help I need will not be there when I need it, and that I’ll have to go it alone, because that’s been my experience for so much of my life. I also learned, very early on, that any help, support, and attention I received typically came with a price. Receiving help, support, and attention meant paying up now or owing a debt. Most of the time, I paid by giving up part of myself, as that was all I had to give as a child. I’ve not shaken this pattern fully either.
I do my best to be brave and clear in both my life and my writing, but sometimes, despite my most heartfelt efforts and intentions, I feel weak and confused instead. I aspire to freedom but find ways to trap myself. I am sometimes as stubborn in my desire to quit as I am in my refusal to quit. I’ve been experiencing all of these states lately in some very deep ways, and I’m frustrated with myself, with my inability to be smarter, to make better decisions, and to solve my own problems.
For all of these reasons and many more, I appreciate the fact that I have allies, witnesses, and supporters out there (most of whom I’ve never met) as I continue to make my way forward in what mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the night sea journey … where the individual is going to bring forth in his life something that was never beheld before.” It’s a long trip, often lonely, sometimes dark, and it’s good to know that you’re with me.
Photo credit: David Jewell. Used by permission.
I’ve created a playlist on my YouTube channel (rickbeldenpoet) for the video readings I made a while back of poems from my second (still unpublished) book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within. The seven poems included in the video series are:
- lost man
- falling through
- wild cactus dancer
- secret children
- tired of being a bullet
- use everything
- face my ghosts
You can watch me read these seven poems in sequence using the player above, or you can click here to select and play individual videos directly from the YouTube page for the playlist.
PDF versions of these and many other poems from Scapegoat’s Cross are available on the “New Book” page of my website.
When I was younger, I used to spend this time of the year making all sorts of commitments and promises to myself about what my life would be like a year later. Every year I’d promise myself that I wouldn’t spend another whole year of my life without love and that I’d finally find a way to support myself with truly meaningful work. I dutifully identified goals and objectives, and wrote them all down. I prayed and visualized. I applied myself in every way I knew how. But the things that mattered most to me, love and work, have never changed.
My last relationship ended over sixteen years ago, and it wasn’t even all that good. The one before it was even worse. Sometimes I feel incredibly sad, irritable, angry, and dissatisfied and I’m not sure why. Then I remind myself that I’ve been without love for nearly two decades. What was for many years an open, gaping wound in me that was always at the forefront of my consciousness is now so buried under years of coping, pattern, habit, and routine that I’m barely aware it’s still with me, but it’s there. It doesn’t howl as loudly and as often as it used to, but it makes itself known to me in other ways if I pay attention.
The holidays have been difficult for me this year in ways they hadn’t been in several years. I’ve felt that familiar wolf bite of loneliness, that old cold emptiness in my chest, more acutely in the last couple of weeks than I have in some time, and familiar questions about how I could ever possibly do anything about it have been trying to seep into my thoughts. I learned a long time ago how to push them away, to keep myself pointed forward and living with what I’ve got, but like that gaping wound of lovelessness, they slip into the background of my psyche, but never really go away.
As for work … work never really changes. The work that matters to me is what I share here, on my website, and in my books. The work I do for money matters only for money. I do it because I have to. Up until recently, I still had illusions of somehow translating what I do because I love it into what I do for money. That seems increasingly unlikely to me now. I’ve been working non-stop for the last 5+ years to make that change and I’m no closer to it today than I was when I started.
My first book, Iron Man Family Outing, will be going out of print soon, probably within the year, and without some help from who knows where, there’s no reprint coming. It’s also looking less and less likely to me that my second book, Scapegoat’s Cross, will ever see the light of day. I completed the manuscript in September 2009 (right before I broke my right wrist and shoulder in a fall) and I’ve made absolutely zero progress since then in developing either the art needed to finish the book or any sort of satisfactory scenario with regard to publication.
Sometime within the next few months, I’ll undoubtedly (and hopefully, if I want to keep eating) return to my standard anonymous schmuck in a cubicle routine, and the luxury of autonomy and devoting my days to what truly moves me will once again be a memory, maybe for several years. Maybe for good, given my age and finances.
I used to feel like I could change anything in my life if I really wanted to do it and really applied myself. That used to work, too. It’s a good thing it did because that’s how I survived a pretty bad childhood and made a life for myself as an adult without the kind of help a lot of kids receive when starting out. The conviction that “I deserve better and I can get it” has been the fuel that’s kept me going time after time when I’ve found myself abandoned, betrayed, disappointed, and pressed to the edge of oblivion by people and circumstances.
That conviction is still there in me, but it’s been muted by years of learning, very reluctantly, that commitment, desire, will power, and the willingness to go all in don’t necessarily get me what I want and deserve. Maybe this is yet another unwanted lesson that comes with being an involuntary passenger on that sinking ship known as aging. It would probably be a good topic of conversation with a trusted older mentor who’s some years down the road from me in time, but I’ve never had anyone like that in my life either.
So here I am at the beginning of another new year, wanting to make the same old promises to myself: “I won’t spend another year alone. I won’t spend another year wasting my life doing meaningless work.” It all has the vague feel of some fairy tale I can’t quite recall, something about someone who’s been entranced and is doomed to repeat the same promises and patterns year after year after year. Every year he returns to the mirror, sees himself another year older, and repeats the same promises. Promises he once meant and believed with all his being that are now nothing but dim remnants of fading hope. Promises, once held high like torches on a dark path, that now slip through graying heart and hands like the last fraying strands of a life, however deeply felt, that never was.
I wish I could remember how that fairy tale ends, if it even exists at all. I don’t want another year of empty promises. They may be all I have, but promises I can’t keep are promises not worth making to anyone, least of all to myself.
A little over four weeks ago, I finally completed a contract job that just about did me in. I wrote about it a few months ago (“Being what I’m not”) and there’s no need to rehash the entire saga now. Suffice it to say that things got a lot worse before it was over. This wasn’t the first meat grinder mindfuck I’ve ever been run through on the job, but it was one of the worst.
I was probably more relieved than excited to punch out of that situation back in early September, but I also knew that I was emerging from it pretty damaged. For several months, I’d been telling friends that I knew I was just about gone, but I don’t think anyone really understood what I was saying. I didn’t really know myself until it was over.
My re-entry into my own native time and space has been a rough ride. In the absence of the furious daily insanity to which I’d become accustomed at work, I found myself experiencing what I can only describe as a form of withdrawal. I felt like I was trying to come down off of some form of psychic smack. Being alone and quiet, which is nourishment for me, felt disorienting and sometimes even terrifying. Not being “productive” at the speed of light all the time made me feel extremely anxious. Not being engaged in frantic activity non-stop made me feel like I was going to jump out of my skin.
This anxiety, this junkie energy, was almost more than I could handle. For the first couple of weeks, I was all over Twitter, trying to push up my follower count and get more eyes on my work as a writer. Some of that activity was productive, but most of it was fueled by a powerful feeling of desperation that nothing could satisfy. I was wired and unhappy all the time. Nothing was enough. I felt like a black hole on legs, and I finally began to realize just how far away from myself I’d gone (or been pushed) to survive that job.
I’ve settled down a lot in the last few weeks. At a friend’s recommendation, I left the Austin metropolis for a couple of days and stayed in a small town about an hour away. No computer, no social media, no Internet. I won’t say it was easy. I felt anxious most of the time being alone in an unfamiliar environment where very little was going on, and I had some whopper terror attacks that really shook me up, especially the ones that came in the dead dark of the early morning hours.
Uncomfortable as I was much of the time, being out of my usual environment was still good for me. The best part of the whole trip was spending about 45 minutes on the afternoon of the second day sitting on a porch quietly scraping dried mud out the soles of my shoes with a key. That, I realized, was the level of activity that I needed to restore myself to sanity again.
I’ve been doing and feeling better since having that experience and the realization that came with it. I’ve made a lot of changes since my return home from that trip to support my return to myself. Letting myself sleep and dream as much as needed. Allowing myself to feel bored. Sitting with hunger. Resting when tired. Allowing my body and feelings to “interrupt” what I’m doing. Feeling and sensing the energy of the moment, within and without.
None of these changes have come to fruition for me immediately. It’s not like flipping a switch. This is not an act of will, but a commitment to an intention and a posture of openness to myself in the raw vulnerability of each moment. It is also a function of time. I’d turned off much of my sensory perception, and I’ve had to bring it back into my awareness gently. Doing so all at once, even if I could, would simply be too overwhelming.
I’m still scared a lot. My future is uncertain (absence of income is always a concern), but this is the work I have to do right now. I’d become little more than a collection of autonomous patterns, an angry sleepwalker, a hyperactive mesmerized maze rat. Coming out of that state of mind, thought, and body is hard to do and it’s not pretty. Most of it has to be done alone and I doubt there are many people around me who’d understand what I’m doing even if I tried to explain. It can be gut-wrenchingly lonely, frightening, and difficult at times, but I’m doing it, minute by minute and day by day.
The other day, I almost … almost … spontaneously cried a little. I can’t even remember the last time I cried. For me, going months and months without being moved to tears by anything is a sure sign that I’m in trouble, so even the hint of a tear in my eyes is an indication that I’m coming back to myself again.
I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.
I'm so busy I'm so busy I'm so busy wanting something to happen. I can't be here I can't calm down I can't come down I can't be here. I'm somewhere else I'm nowhere else I'm nowhere. I'm a muscle that needs to stretch a sore muscle a sore loser a loser I'm not a loser I'm a laser a loose laser a loose cannon a raw burger a bitch in heat. I'm an ax murderer an irs agent a storm trooper an aging hooker a windblown traffic cop a four-wheel drive heart attack. I'm a hunting rifle I'm a target in pursuit. how come I'm a redlight how come I'm a hothouse. I'm a secret hothouse asthma attack I'm a cartoon farmhouse I'm a shack. I'm a boarded-up outhouse a pile of old bottles a rusted-out barrel a muddy horse field a black + white fairy tale. how come I'm a dumptruck how come I'm a mousetrap. maybe I should leave maybe I should stay maybe I should eat something shout at the wall take a walk pull the plug get a job slam some doors take a shower. maybe I should give myself a good thrashing maybe I should clean the house maybe I should stand in the lunchtime traffic + howl at the sun. I don't know how to stop this sometimes it goes on + on for days. I'm a slideshow channel changer zombie I'm an accident that fell out of my head I'm a sleepwalking comedian in the backyard nobody gets it where am I.
I want to be left alone I want to be anonymous I'm tired of standing out. I don't want to be in the spotlight anymore I don't want to be recognized I don't want to be seen. I don't want to be seen as a "brain" or a "genius" or a "head" anymore I don't want all the pressure to be "the smartest" anymore. I don't want all the expectations anymore I don't want all the responsibility anymore I don't want to be a leader anymore I want to drop out and be left alone. I'm tired of everyone else's plans and expectations for me I want to be free I decide that the only way to be free is to reject what everyone else wants me to be walk away from everything and start over. I will show my contempt for the system by rejecting everything it offers me I will have no support other than myself I will have to struggle to survive. I will do whatever it takes to show my friends that I'm cool. I will do whatever it takes to show my dad that I am a real man. I don't expect to live past forty and see no reason why I'd want to.
I don’t feel very strong these days and I’m having a hard time convincing myself that I actually know who I am and what I’m doing. A few months ago, I wrote:
Every day I’m getting better and better at being what I’m not.
And so I am. The current corporate gig, like every one before it, forces me to abandon the best parts of who I am on a daily basis, to substitute someone else’s agenda for my own. Over time, I become what I must become in order to function in an environment that is hostile to my soul and my psyche. I repress what I know, what I feel, and who I am. Anyone who does that over a long enough period of time becomes someone else. It’s inevitable. People often tell me “you are not your job” but we are what we spend most of our time doing. It forms us like a mold and fires us like a kiln.
I’ve barely written anything for months now. I still get ideas, but I don’t have blocks of open time and space that are sufficient to develop anything to completion. Two weeks ago, three new poems suddenly popped out, my first since this one written in January at the end of my first week on the current job. The new poems came on the heels of an epic meltdown during which I shouted obscenities into the sky until my voice was almost gone. I was hoarse for close to a week afterward. I nearly lost one voice but regained another, at least for a few days.
That’s what it took for the best and most essential part of me to focus and express itself in my current circumstances. It didn’t last long. Now that part of me has gone underground again, or I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I’ve forced it back down so I can “make a living” (as the expression goes) as one more anonymous drone in the omnipresent corporate culture that increasingly and systemically defines and dominates the life of the typical American worker.
There is no ebb and flow in corporate culture; there is only surge and consume. Corporate culture is inherently ruthless and mechanical. The only integrity that is recognized and valued is the integrity of the machine. Patience, compassion, generosity, and truthfulness are anathema to the corporate model, not virtues to be cultivated but liabilities to be eliminated. Those who ascend the corporate hierarchy must be willing to exploit and sacrifice anyone and everyone on the altar of ambition and self-interest. The entire corporate model is deeply flawed at its core. It’s a rotten system that requires the people who run it to act rotten.
Most employees in corporate culture (the ones who aren’t part of the elite circle at or near the top of the pyramid) are required to surrender their personal autonomy, individual authority, and inner knowing on a daily basis to keep their jobs. It’s no wonder that so many Americans spend their days feeling dazed, dumb, hungry, confused, passive, powerless, depressed, and desperate for escapism. People who’ve been forced to forego and forget their own power are going to feel that way.
I hate myself after work nearly every day. I hate myself for wasting yet another day of my precious life sitting in a cubicle grinding through one meaningless task after another. I hate myself for being too stupid, after more than twenty years of trying, to find another way. And then I spend the evening trying to recover so I can do it again the next day.
People are often mystified that I’m mostly unable to write under these conditions and they’re quick to offer advice. Get up an hour earlier. Write in the evening. Write on the weekends. Maybe some of those tactics work for others. They don’t work for me. My writing doesn’t come to me on command. It comes when it comes, and if I’m not available to it when it comes, it’s gone. I’ve written about this before (here, here, and here).
This idea that I can’t coerce what is an inherently organic, self-directed process with its own life and its own energy into a mechanical schedule by sheer force of will seems to be hard for a lot of folks to understand. Lately I’ve been likening my writing process to a wild animal or plant species that requires a minimum amount of territory to survive. It can only adapt to and tolerate a reduction in that territory up to a certain point, after which survival becomes impossible, not because it isn’t trying hard enough or isn’t sufficiently creative or committed or resilient, but because its very nature is incompatible with the constraints and impingements on its environment.
There’s still stuff I’m burning to write, but I know myself and I know my process. If I don’t have the time and the space to follow the direction I get from within to its natural conclusion, I needn’t bother. Some things take hours and some things take days. Whatever the time required, I have to give myself to what’s moving through me and immerse myself in it until it’s done with me. Anything less than that is pointless, and the results will be without integrity, quality, or value.
I’m only writing now because I woke up at 3:00 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I certainly wouldn’t say this is my best work. I’m not even sure it’s worth reading. But I guess I needed to write it, and maybe now I can get an hour or two of sweet, blissful sleep before the next forgettable day begins.