Dew Drop

My abiding faith in the possibility of self-transformation propelled me from one therapist to the next, ever on the lookout for something that seemed tormentingly out of reach, some scenario that would allow me to live more comfortably in my own skin. For all my doubts about specific tenets and individual psychoanalysts, I believed in the surpassing value of insight and the curative potential of treatment — and that may have been the problem to begin with. I failed to grasp that there was no magic to be had, that a therapist’s insights weren’t worth anything unless you made them your own and that nothing that had happened to me already could be undone, no matter how many times I went over it.

I plucked this paragraph just now from Daphne Merkin’s multi-page piece, “My Life in Therapy,” in the New York Times Sunday magazine. I read – or rather, skimmed – it online, having stopped paying for the Times to be delivered last year. Some neighbors donate theirs, but it’s usually a week after the fact. To be honest, I don’t miss it all that much. When the Times is lying around on a Sunday morning – at my parents’ house, say – I must admit I pour my coffee and dive in not to the headlines but the Sunday Styles section. After reading about some hipsters doing something hip, I flip to the weddings and entertain myself with the indulgent descriptions of pedigrees and advanced degrees and how-they-met stories and pithy, optimistic one-liners like, “The fact that one of them is a woman of science and the other of religion is not an issue between them.”

But I digress.

In 2007, the magazine published a piece by Daphne Merkin on depression that I found uncanny to read. I was awed by her ability to describe depression. In fact, it prompted me to broach the topic on my then less-than-a-year-old blog, something that at the time (despite the fact that my oldest sister was probably my only reader) felt more than a little exposed. A subsequent piece by Merkin, “A Journey Through Darkness,” appeared in the Times last year, and apparently, she is now “working on a book based on an article she wrote for the magazine about her struggle with chronic depression.”

I’ve heard it said that all writers keep writing the same thing over and over again. I suppose this could be leveled against a writer as criticism. Or it could note a writer’s ability to keep moving into new aspects of old territory. Isn’t that all we can do, really? Keep exploring and learning ourselves? How can we possibly achieve this without repetition? Hopefully this isn’t simply a redundant process, but one that spirals open over time. I have to believe that something iterative happens when we keep showing up, even when it may look like mere “repetition” to the untrained eye.

At the moment, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable to the notion that I simply keep repeating myself. That I’m not “getting” anywhere new.

But I don’t buy it. I just don’t think we can always see the change we are smack-dab in the middle of until sometime later, when it will inevitably appear as clear as the dew on the grass in the sun early this morning in the Northeast Kingdom, where I woke all creaky from sleeping in a tent.

I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, but I wish I had that phenomenal ability – for which I have such deep admiration – to write about things like music, books, and movies – with the poetry of a reviewer. (Another aside, but how do they do that? I find it strangely thrilling to read a good review.) I often have a gut response to something but trouble articulating why. Maybe I need forty more years of therapy to figure it out. But I doubt it will take that long. After all, there’s no magic to be had, and I have to learn how to trust my own insights. And right, I mean write, them down, for that matter, with or without poetry. Quick, ask a therapist: was that a Freudian slip?

This may mean that I, like Daphne Merkin, will keep writing the same thing over and over. The same poem, the same blog post, the same chicken-scratch scrawl in a journal that I’ll re-read someday, marveling at the fact that there I was again, writing about the same goddamn thing. OK, take out the “goddamn” if you want an iota of self-love here.

Which I do.

I also have to believe, as my own muscles affirmed last week in Dr. Ken’s office, that some emotions actually have no “original event.” Some experiences simply stand on their own. Unprecedented, seminal, and life-changing. Facing such a moment is not for the faint of heart. But other than succumbing to fear and depression, the only way past is through. Merkin may be right that nothing that has happened already can be undone. But what if not everything is about something that came before? What if some feelings, some events, some discoveries, some encounters, some things happen for the very first time?

It can be disorienting not to have the past to compare to. And God knows it can be helpful to come full circle, to heal old wounds, to understand how one has changed. But maybe the past isn’t the best roadmap in every case, and there’s something to be said for bravely inhabiting that liminal space between lifelines, the space that requires you to “live the questions,” as Rilke wrote. (And probably more than once, at that.) And if you have no idea what I am talking about, hopefully you’ll find at least a droplet of water on a blade of grass here. Something brand new and beautiful, reflecting the morning sun.

I posted this ditty almost three years ago, not long after that first Merkin piece came out. It’s a little embarrassing to read now, but I can’t help but sense its sincerity. I think at the time, it even had a little tune. Feel free to make one up of your own, maybe even something you’ve never sung before.

Your mood is up
your mood is down
and it’s always you

Your income’s up
your income’s down
and it’s always you

Your weight is up
your weight is down
and it’s always you

Your life is up
your life is down
and it’s always you

Euphoria, anxiety
enough neuroses for the masses
You sing a song
and you walk along
This moment always passes

You judge yourself
berate yourself
for your inconsistencies
Then you remember
(gentle now)
the forest through the trees

It’s hard to hang out
with yourself
when you’re feeling down
Loving your smile’s the easy part
but can you love your frown?

You want to smoke
can’t take a joke
You say mean things that aren’t true
So take a break
hang out alone
Call someone from your crew

You, you
You, you
You are always you
We teach our kids
to love themselves
even when they’re blue

So my advice,
Oh sister self
Go easy, do what you can
Remember this
if nothing else
You’ll always have at least one fan

5 thoughts on “Dew Drop

  1. Meg says:

    Jena,
    Please keep writing it over and over and over again, allowing, “love to continue and be gradually different”
    xo
    Meg

    Late Echo
    By John Ashbery

    Alone with our madness and favorite flower
    We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
    Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
    In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
    For love to continue and be gradually different.

    Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
    And the color of the day put in
    Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
    For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
    Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

    Only then can the chronic inattention
    Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
    And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
    That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
    Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

    Like

  2. Karen Maezen Miller says:

    Those who observe the obvious are called geniuses: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Einstein.

    Do something different, however, and then observe. You’ll see your own genius.

    Like

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