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Posts Tagged ‘questions’

It is hard for me to know what it is I want to say. This might be because I have a brain injury, or then again, it might be because I’ve recently gone through a traumatic experience that is hard to talk about. I revolve around this question–is this a brain injury issue or something else?–several times every day.

I didn’t know anything about concussions a month ago, except that you’re not supposed to sleep through the night with one. Only that might not be true because I slept through the night eight hours after sustaining a serious one and didn’t die. Hooray?

I mean, yeah, definitely hooray. I really really really don’t want to die right now. There were times when I was in such bad shape I was asking to make sure someone would take care of Nala if something happened to me and trying to give instructions about reaching my sister, who is off on her annual silent retreat right now and therefore complicated to reach. We (we being mostly myself and my friends Sara and Tony, who are two of the best people I know) tried to downplay it a bit on social media because freaking everyone out didn’t seem like the thing to do, however much I personally was freaking out, but now things have gotten a bit better, I will say things were pretty bad. They are still not great, although I look great and if you have seen me, I might have seemed great, and when I have company to distract me, I am certainly greater than I am the rest of the time.

One thing about concussions I didn’t know is that concussions can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, you name it. Like, BIG GIGANTIC MOOD SWINGS. Like, I am in so much pain and it is very early in the morning and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know who to call so instead I will just cry for an hour straight type of mood swings. Combine those swings with cognitive impairment that makes it almost impossible to engage in critical thinking or make decisions and things get very interesting indeed.

In case you haven’t gotten it, by interesting I mean nightmarish.

Focus in on me that morning, in pain and sleepless in the dark in what felt like the middle of the night but was probably more like five a.m., questioning myself, my life, and the decisions I’d made that had led to me lying there, terrified and alone. What, then, did my life amount to? I suddenly wasn’t sure. It seemed as if every other person on the planet was an impossible distance from me.

I questioned my recent move. I questioned all the time I’ve spent writing books that practically nobody has read. I didn’t question relationship choices, but I did feel terribly sad. All that time and effort fostering connections with other people, and there I was, so confused I couldn’t figure out if there was anybody I could call who would be okay hearing from me at that time of night and in that terrified state of mind. I wanted my sister very badly.

I thought of this blog, and I thought, “That has been some good work, even if hardly anyone reads it.” I thought of Nala and how devoted we are to one another. I thought of integrity and courage–even a faltering courage, which is what I was experiencing at the time–and love. So there was some comfort.

Eventually I did call a friend, cried for another half an hour on the phone, and said I wanted to go to the doctor. Voluntarily. I voluntarily thought it was a good idea. (For context, I hate going to the doctor. I never want to go. Sometimes I force myself because going to the doctor is part of being an adult.) I kept coming back to the panic of knowing I couldn’t do this, and the only answer I could come up with for not being able to do it was to get some help.

When the advice nurse told me to go in, I was relieved. If the doctors could do something to alleviate in any way even one of my symptoms, I thought it would be worth the horror that is Urgent Care when you have a concussion and are super confused and light and noise sensitive and about ten seconds away from bursting into tears at any given point and also have neck and back injuries that make sitting in their uncomfortable chairs a particularly unpleasant kind of torture. That is how awful I felt. When the nurse brought out the needle to take a blood sample and get me started on the IV, I again felt relieved, even though I have a lifelong phobia of needles. And indeed, he had to make two tries to get the IV going because of my teeny tiny veins. Whatever, I thought. It was so worth it. Anything to lessen the pain. Anything to blunt my awareness that I was about to go in for tests to show whether my brain was bleeding and the knowledge, given to me by surreptitious forays into the internet, that if it was, there was brain surgery in my near future. I told Patrick, who was with me during the wait, that if I went into brain surgery, THEN he had permission to contact my sister.

There was no brain bleeding. I want to say thank goodness, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Instead there was me trying to get all the information I needed from the doctor even though I was confused and exhausted and not even with it enough to think to take notes or record the conversation. But hey! I had already figured out how to take cab to Urgent Care, and that had only taken me an hour of dithering.

Even doctors don’t seem to quite get how disorienting having a concussion can be. When your primary means of self-definition is your brain and suddenly your brain isn’t working right, it feels like the bottom has fallen out from under you. Suddenly easy problems seem completely insurmountable and normal stresses want to consume you whole. And it’s not like brain injury is a particularly normal stress anyway.

Today marks the three-week anniversary of my car accident. Like I said, I am doing somewhat better. I have good days and not-so-good days. Yesterday was pretty bad, today is better. I have recovered some of the cognitive function I was missing, which is a relief, although I still become easily overwhelmed with decision-making. I am no longer stuttering or pausing as much between words, and the sound and light sensitivity have improved. I still have spikes of anxiety. I still have sudden weird memory gaps. I still lack focus. I still have frequent terrible headaches. My neck really hurts. When the pain is bad, I become more confused. I’m exhausted all the time, and I usually need an afternoon nap. If I don’t get enough to eat and drink, things can go downhill quite quickly.

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Me today. Turns out concussions aren’t always very visble injuries.

But I am here, and I am very grateful for that.

Next time I am well enough to write, I will tell you about the help I’ve been receiving and how it feels like a miracle.

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“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been re-reading bits of Letters to a Young Poet and then I found this cool site called zenpencils.com that illustrates quotations and poems in a comic-like style, and they recently did this Rilke quotation, and it seemed timely. So here we are. (The latest one they did is a Lang Leav one, which I also highly recommend, especially because I love Lang Leav’s poetry.)

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It’s nice to think about living into an answer, but I think we are always living our questions. And the answers simply lead to more questions. Sometimes life seems to me to be one giant experiment. You can follow blueprints left by other people, some of which are more detailed than others. Or you can strike off on your own and see what happens. But it’s all about questions, starting with the simple “What will happen next?”

I ran into a friend at a party some time ago, and he said he reads the blog from time to time, and he told me how idyllic it seemed, that I got to sit around and ponder the big questions. And I do. That’s exactly what I do. I spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking. So here’s another question for you: Why? Why do I sit around and ponder the big questions? And why do I get to do this? And does it have any outward effect whatsoever?

I’m reading a book about playwriting, and I have learned that the “action” of the play is what the characters want. This idea will be familiar to anyone who has studied any kind of storytelling for more than a few months. (Weeks? I don’t remember, I just remember it is foundational.) So then some of the other questions we live are “What do we want?” and “Are we going to get it?” and “Are we going to keep it?” and “Is it going to change?”

I spent several hours on the phone this past weekend with a friend who is going through a break-up after spending more than twenty years not being single. “Friends aren’t the same,” this person told me. “I feel so alone.” And I felt a jolt of surprise that this was a revelation, even though after twenty years, of course it was. Yes, being single means being alone in a different way. How do we become okay with this? How did I come to this almost benign acceptance of yes, that is really how it is? And then another question: who am I when I’m alone? Who am I when I’m not fulfilling a role that is at least partially defined by my relationship to someone else?

These are questions that have been occupying my spare moments lately. Who am I when I strip everything away? When I put aside relationships to friends, family, a lover? When I subtract job and career and calling? When I suspend my hobbies, my interests? When I forget about my past? When I am no longer concerned with status, power, wealth, influence, and ego? Who am I then?

Who am I then? I am living that question. Maybe nothing, maybe everything. I am present. I am living into answers that will give me more questions, and my curiosity will be my fuel.

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I get asked this question all the time: What is your blog about? Inevitably I flail about, stringing words into somewhat coherent sentences that may or may not have any actual meaning. Sometimes if I’m standing next to someone else who I know has read my blog, I ask them to answer the question instead. It is ultimately more entertaining to watch them flail about trying to explain my blog than it is to do it myself.

I know, I know, I’m terrible (or possibly simply hilarious). But really I keep hoping someone will have a good answer and I will learn something. This has, however, only happened one time, and then I promptly forgot the answer. I tried to get him to repeat it, but somehow it didn’t sound as good the second time, so I think he might have forgotten it too.

But given how much time and effort I give to this blog, it is high time I do my best to answer this question.

During my senior year of high school, a new class was offered by the Senior Honors English teacher Mr. Skinner. It was called Ways of Knowing, and it was an advanced class about philosophy. I didn’t take this class. I’d heard stories of how difficult a teacher Mr. Skinner was, and due to a turbulent home life, I’d barely gotten through my junior year of high school. In fact, I’d ended the year hospitalized for pneumonia. So I was past the point of caring about the philosophy class all the other smart kids were taking. I did, however, hear a lot about it during fourth period independent study AP French Literature, during which my two fellow students were always doing their Ways of Knowing homework while I…read French literature.

When I think about what my blog is about, I often think about this Ways of Knowing class. I wouldn’t say this blog is about ways of knowing. But I would say this blog is about Ways of Living. And these two ideas are linked in my mind.

Nala's Way of Living

Nala’s Way of Living

It has been the work of my life thus far to study and consider Ways of Living, and the roots of this driving interest go back to that time in high school, and even further back. Knowing things is all very well and good, and I was always a curious student, but what I most wanted to know, surrounded by misery as I felt myself to be at that time, was how to live. How to be happy. How to be fulfilled. How to be an artist. And in a world that didn’t seem to value art. How to create connection even though circumstances had left me completely isolated. How to deal with emotions that arose from extreme situations beyond my control. How to deal with that lack of control. How to create meaning, to live it, in a chaotic world.

This is what I write about.

As I got older, I added some interests. How social structures contribute (and sometimes detract from) ways of living. How personal identity plays into both larger structures and personal interactions. The intersections between technology and society and how we live or can potentially choose to live in the future. The question of expression. How the past, and memory, coalesce into identity and how to work with that. The lessons of narrative. How to initiate (and survive) transformation.

This is what I write about.

And always people. When I escaped to college, I began asking questions. So many questions. Here are things I always want to know: Are you happy? Why or why not? What are you afraid of? What gives you joy? Who and what do you care about? What are you looking for? How do you create your own personal meaning? How do you deal with suffering? What do you say you want, and how is that related to what you actually want? How are you connected with the outside world? Who are your friends, your families, your communities, and what do these relationships look like? What did you used to wish you would be doing as an adult, and how do you feel about that now? What is your relationship to work? What is your relationship to the past? How do you see the world? Who do you think you are?

This is what I think about. This is what I write about.

Ways of living. Yes.

This is what I want to know.

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Yes, I have now had the equivalent of a college education in blogging. I am taking a moment to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

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Basking achieved!

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I’ve been spending more time than usual over the past few months thinking about the future of this blog. Should I continue to post like clockwork two days a week? Should I experiment with length? With topics? With styles? What about Tumblr? Should I even continue to write the blog at all?

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My very first post on this blog was “Originality: Having Something to Say.” I spent some time last week muttering to myself: “What do I have to say? WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY?” (Okay, that last wasn’t so much a mutter as an emphatic question.)

I think it’s important to periodically reflect on that question, as a blogger and also as an artist. Even if the answer is sometimes, “I have no idea.”

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I have heard the observation that blogging is inherently narcissistic, I suppose because it requires the belief that what you have to say matters. I’d argue that if you don’t value what you yourself have to say, it is perhaps not about narcissism as much as it is about a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence.

That is not to say blogging is for everyone. It really isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have a lot to say, and that’s fine. Perhaps you don’t want to post what you have to say publicly, and that’s fine. Perhaps you’d rather say what you have to say through fiction, or through visual art, or through film-making, or through Toastmasters, or through running for local office. Perhaps you want to keep your thoughts for yourself and yourself alone.

All fine, and none of it is automatically narcissistic. Since when did having something to say become equated with narcissism? Are we all just supposed to sit around in a state of complete apathy?

No, thanks.

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In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: “Because he’s a good blogger, Noa blogs as he learns….” And a lightbulb lit up for me.

Because this is what I strive to do. I blog as I learn. That’s why I never run out of things to say: because I am always learning, and I’m always thinking about what I’m learning. Sometimes you, my readers, help me along the way with your insights and experiences. And then I get to learn even more.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, dear readers. I don’t know exactly what form this blog will take in the future, but I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to learn in year 5.

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