Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lessons from the Body: Paper Boats, Poison Oak, and Kites

Cover Image: Pluto and Persephone
by Tennessee Dixon
The early splitting off of the body in order to survive is revealed in midlife in body/soul work and dreams. The Ravaged Bridegroom: Masculinity in Women by Marion Woodman

In midlife, for the first time, my body is beginning to talk. Literally. In a quiet voice, when I least suspect it: physical sensations from a past I don’t recognize. I’m not even sure they belong to this lifetime. As a mother, I rarely feel much beyond the orbit of responsibility for my three children. I don’t mind, the life I live is worth living (I have tremendous support) and on an average day it goes something like this, in reverse order, on day 10 of 14 of my husband’s frequent absences on business:

5 am: The sound of the garbage truck jars me awake. I’ve forgotten to take the trash out, again. At bedtime I’d remembered midway through Curious George just as we read the page explaining precisely how to fold and make paper boats. I could neither put down the book nor coerce my 9 year old son to come with me as he often does in the pitch dark, one flashlight between us, barreling down the pocked and rocky driveway at breakneck pace goaded by fear and the toppling weight of the cans on wheels.

A second surge of adrenaline fuels our return trip whether I keep the orb of light trained behind us to pacify the sneaking fringe of night or whether I train it just ahead on our pumping knees. Two backs to the night are far better than one, so I thank my son every time.

2 a.m: The paper fleet sails in its perfect spiral to the center of its smallest fate, 36 boats long, folded before dinner by the hands of my children, Grandma, and Grandpa and arranged from biggest to smallest vessel across our kitchen table that is five planks wide from trees long since milled, over the dull blonde floor, also of trees (from a different forest, delivered, I imagine, by boat across the sea).

The blue light of the moon silts the hills. I’ve come out of bed for this, words that won’t leave my mind: “the paper fleet sails in its perfect spiral…” and with it, some small part of me. Gleeful, as if I took part in the folding, while truly that night I couldn’t sit and fold--dishes to do, my daughter’s homework to witness, Mom, please sit with me on the couch, emails to compose in my head to my writing students strung across the states, their questions blinking across the miles my way and me longing to answer.

The kitten strolls in the dark ahead of me, the black spoke of her tail against my bare shins as I stoop to pick her up. So weightless, the pink bean pads of her paws on my shoulder, the frail sluice of her whiskers. Down she hurtles, hunting moths, licking the floor, eating the remains of spilled dog food.

Beside the tiny fleet, I take out my journal and write my way to peace, tracking the body memories that surfaced during a half an hour when the kids and husband left me to rest earlier in the month. I floated in liquid state, trying to let go and hold fast, to descend but not disappear, to allow but not relent, to release but not evaporate, to ground but not split, to center but not centrifugally, to calm, to cry, on the far side of my husband’s business trip. When he’s gone, we fill the hours, as all solo mothers do, with joy, with sparring, in equal measure.

3:45 in the afternoon on a school night:

My son’s begging me to fly the kite he just got for his birthday. I’m gauging how much of me is left to parent, navigate bedtime after an ocean trip, etc. I’ll need all of me, for unbeknownst to me, facing me the next day: Kaiser for my daughter’s face, puffy with poison oak skirting both of her eyes. “Prednisone for ten days”, the young doctor orders. “Oh,” he adds, “If you get poison oak again, let’s say a spot on your hand, it’ll reappear in sympathy in all the places you had it before. Your body remembers.”

 Then he warns that prednisone causes irritability. “We come by that easily,” I say and ask if there’s any hope for a homeopathic effect. He stifles a laugh on my girl’s behalf, moves smoothly on. The remark is not lost on my daughter; I get the look of death I deserve. Given my husband’s absences we are all on edge. All she wants is time, love and 100 percent from whoever she’s with, and I’m craving the same from my husband, at deficit, and praying for relief.

Back in real time, my son asks again, please, let’s fly the kite. Can I refuse? To the ocean we go for the last hour of sunlight and the intermittent wind. For ten minutes there’s no getting the kite off the sand. “Use your body,” I finally say, having only recently returned to inhabit mine. “Your face. Where does the wind push strongest against it? That’s the direction you run towards to lift the kite from the ground.”

My writer self skims peripherally beside my mother self, any self, I occupy during the day. In the void of parenting mostly alone, I can’t see if I’m doing a good job or not. Against it all, I take hold of the metaphor: flight in the case of a kite requires opposition. Might the same be true of the star of my little family? I’m heartened by the thought and suddenly the drive at this dusk hour redeems itself, if only for the kite’s rippling whip as the ocean air pushes taut the dragon’s wings and the happy face my son dons as he grips the yellow spool of string.

In the sliver before sleep, I mull the body memories, but not overmuch. There they bloom, like sympathetic patches of poison oak, full of itch, scratch, myth. So what. The riddle remains to be lived. What kind of God would spell it all out for us? I would hate to find the “great and powerful Oz” behind the curtain after all. I still believe.

And dear body, I’m listening. Just remember I have kids to raise in the meantime. And many hours to walk in the sun.

Further Reading: The Ravaged Bridegroom: Masculinity in Women by Marion Woodman, Inner City Books (out of Canada). I’m only half way through this amazing book, in which Woodman calls women to be responsible for understanding, healing, and loving their inner male in such a way as to empower not only themselves, but to encourage shifts in the power balance of the outdated patriarchal model we still can unwittingly fall in love with reacting blindly to and blaming for our problems as women. She weaves a powerful discussion of poetry and myth with very detailed dissection of client dreams. Another favorite quote so far, “Transformation takes place through metaphor. Without metaphor, energy is trapped in repetitive patterns…” I recommend her to women poets in particular, but to anyone, male or female.

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