Let everything happen to you

Flourish Vol. 31

(Stole this from a Facebook group because I just loved it so much)

I've written about my adoration of Heather Havrileksy's writing before, but it bears repeating, especially now: she has the ability to make the most mundane of words feel like you're reading them for the first time, to extract long lost thoughts and feelings from the depths of your brain like a magician pulling silk scarves from her sleeve.

My mind is so weary now, but Heather's writing manages to make every thought feel brand new, to pour cold water on your nerve endings; a static shock to your synapses. 

This week’s Ask Polly letter revolved around the ethics of breaking up with someone in quarantine (lol can’t relate), and managed to do the absolutely unthinkable in stirring some kind of faint romantic flutter from somewhere deep within me.

"Love is a calamity. You fall in love, and it turns out the person you’re with is deeply flawed. You fall in love, and it turns out you are deeply flawed. You think that means nothing is magical anymore, but it really means that the magic has just begun."

And the previous letter, on the prospect of mentally preparing for a never-ending apocalypse, particularly as someone who struggles with mental illness and, as the writer puts it, a tendency to “start looking for an exit.”

Let me just say that I was nowhere near emotionally prepared for this letter, and may or may not have been crying just a few paragraphs into Heather’s response. It’s a far less sugar-coated version of the “this too shall pass” rallying cry, in which we, the shell-shocked general public, are reminded that things could be a million times worse and still be survivable. That there will be an end to this, even if we can’t see it yet. The only way to keep from drowning in uncertainty, she posits, is to take this fever dream one day, one hour, one feeling at a time.

And yet. There is the absolute necessity of acknowledging that our cloying dread is every bit as valid, if not compulsory, as our optimism. Life is a constant balancing act of the bitter and the sweet – that’s the price of admission, kid.

Heather’s kicker, which references Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, is by far the most beautiful thing I’ve read since this whole alternate reality began. It feels like a spring rainstorm, or a warm fire late in the evening, or those blue moments between sleeping and waking. It feel like your mother telling you everything will be alright. Like blind faith, like the flinty resolve to keep living, against everything.

"You embrace every tiny glint of beauty and every scrap of hope hiding in this small, enclosed life. You surrender to the reality of this 'borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it,’ as Cormac McCarthy put it. You eat this divine silence, this dark longing, this lonely sweetness, this solitary dread. You sit in your quiet garden and welcome the weather, good or bad."

And then there is the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who Heather quotes:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I was only recently properly introduced to Rilke for the first time by way of Jojo Rabbit (a movie I didn’t particularly enjoy, if I’m being honest, but which I will grade on a curve due to its utilization of poetry.)

In not entirely unrelated news, I’ve recently begun the process of tapering off of the antidepressants I’ve been on, in one form or another, for the past two years. I’ve dealt with depression much of my life, and have no qualms about having utilized them during the deepest and darkest throes of it in recent years. They are, without a doubt, the reason I am here writing this today.

Still. I’d noticed as of late that not only was I not feeling the bad, I wasn’t feeling the good, either – I really wasn’t feeling anything at all, even as the world seemingly burned around me. I couldn’t cry at movies, or laugh at my friends’ jokes (which are, actually, hysterical,) or feel butterflies in my stomach or even get angry or frustrated after a shitty day at work or stupid boy or any myriad of things there are to despair about in our current situation. There’s a term for this, I’ve found: emotional blunting. A sort of muting of the volume, dulling of the color. Sailing so smooth you forget you’re even on the ocean.

Of course, I want nothing more than to feel love and joy and excitement again. But I want to be able to feel the bad things, too – something that would’ve terrified me until just recently. I don’t want to be numb to the senseless tragedy swirling all around us now, to all the sad and strange things we’ll tell our kids someday. And between the highs and lows, these peaks and valleys, I don’t want to miss the blue-green breeze and the fresh mown grass, the fuchsia blooms, the sunrise dappled on my hardwood floors. The sound of the crickets at twilight, the smell of lemon and garlic, the way wine tastes on my tongue, the devastating crush of an all-consuming new infatuation. How it feels to move my body to music, to take a walk out into a cool, quiet sunset. I want the good with the bad, the ecstasy and agony of being alive.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

So many days I feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above water, that maybe it’ll take until my thirties to hit my stride. And yet, if you’d told me a few years ago where I’d be today, the things I would’ve fought through tooth and nail, bloodied and bruised, crawling on my hands and knees to reach any semblance of normalcy, I’d never have believed it. Never.

You think you are not strong enough to suffer, but it isn’t a human experience you get to opt out of. Sooner or later, in some form or another, it finds you. And yet you endure. And someday it makes sense. Or, at least, that’s the hope that springs eternal within me.

Sometimes, I think, you can see just a single piece of the thousand piece puzzle you’re attempting to assemble on your coffee table while quarantined. And then suddenly, that piece forms a larger picture you couldn’t quite see until you had painstakingly studied and rotated and moved it – and all 999 others – to figure out exactly where it was meant to be. Or something like that, anyway. Rilke says it much better:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


Rilke’s most famous quote also made its way into a podcast episode I’ve found particularly comforting recently, from Terrible Thanks For Asking. Nora McEnerny’s blunt, bitingly funny approach to life is very similar to Heather Havrilesky’s, and I find both of their takes on the current situation so much more satisfying than the typical “keep your head up and we’ll all get through this together” platitudes. I want the truth, even if it hurts; I want dark humor, because shit happens, and it’s okay to laugh (which also happens to be the title of one of Nora’s books.) “Welcome to the club,” she says to everyone suddenly reeling and grieving our current reality. You know, as in “the club” where all of us lonely and wounded and just a little bit off-kilter people have been seeking solace all this time. Welcome.


Some honorable musical mentions this week, because my god I’ve regressed back into an angsty, nocturnal teen and I can’t stop listening on repeat:

Motel 6, River Whyless \\ Backseat, Charli Adams \\ Henna Tattoo, Field Medic

Do you ever just want to live in a song? Because I, now more than ever, would like to inhabit this one by my favorite ethereal Irishman. Which, in my mind, takes place in the gothic, windswept Scottish Highlands of yore and involves a whole lot of pining and poetry and lush corseted dresses and unresolved sexual tension.

Anyway. Have I mentioned I’ve finally started watching Outlander?

With the war of the fire, my heart moves to its feet

Like the ashes of ash, I saw eyes in the heat

Feel it soft and as pure as snow

Fell in love with the fire long ago

Here’s to falling in love with the fire.

-Olivia