Friday, June 01, 2007
Part I - Icarus"...When at last the work was done, the artist [Daedalus], waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air...." From The Fall of Icarus by Thomas Bullfinch (courtesy of Wikipedia):
I am in New York for the Booksellers Expo. I am wearing only one hat these days: writer. I am spending some good money to do this. But it's worth it, I reasoned when I made the plans. I'm spreading my wings. Tempting myself from the lofty nest into the air.
The thought of the trip coming up nearly killed me this week. I was sure that, like Icarus, my desire to fly would end in disaster. That I would fly too close to the sun, my wax wings would melt, and I would plummet to the earth, cured of my desire to soar once and for all.
The only other time I can remember feeling such anxiety in preparing for a trip was when I took myself to Iowa to research a novel I was currently writing. Then, too, I was beset with violent feelings of sadness and impending doom. I could not look at the world without feeling a wrenching regret that I was leaving all of it behind in order to pursue some stupid misguided idea that was going to inevitably and irrevocably ruin my life.
This time the anxiety had a physical component. For three days before the trip I was crippled by a severe migraine, one that had its iron fingers deep into my psyche. I was clobbered with images of death, loss, unrelenting self-loathing, and a powerful urge to quit writing and traveling and somehow become "normal." It felt like spiritual and emotional and physical nausea. There was nowhere I could go, internally or externally, where there was relief.
Thursday morning I called my friend Cindy, the sculptor, just to get her take on the situation. "It’s the curse of the artist," she said matter-of-factly. "You never think you’re good enough. You always want to just give up. But you can’t."
She told me that she can manage to do things that will forward her passion for her art if there is an obvious business component, such as a show, involved. But if she wanted to go to Europe "just" to research another artist, "just" because she has a deep compelling inner urge to do so -- oh no. She could never do that. She would be just as mortified and barfy at the idea as I seemingly was with the BEA.
Relieved (and now encouraged to vent my anxieties to everyone who would listen), I wrote to another friend who responded with equal understanding:
You betcha I get so sick of my internal chatter that I just want to barf.
You're resisting the trip: EVERY single time I have to make travel plans and spend money and pack a bag I fight it like crazy. Just like you: it's a trip you want to make but you're rebelling. I dunno: maybe it's the threat to the status quo…maybe it's fear of success…maybe it's just free-floating anxiety. It's all those things, actually. I usually blame it on my cat: I don't want to leave Buster.
Wow! I was not alone! Apparently other people also experience some form of sadness and fear at the thought of engaging with the absolute core of who they are.
I can't explain why such integration would provoke such sadness but there's something vaguely sexual about it. It's a profound vulnerability to the essence. Getting that close to the essential is like tickling a dental nerve; the instinct is to recoil, protect, chatter to distract.
But unlike the dental nerve, this is a nerve of the soul. This is a root that craves to be touched, begs to be seduced as often as possible – and should be. Not only is this a good nerve, it's an imperative one.
Given that this quest for the core truth is so inextricably bound with fear and guilt, what really are the choices? You can’t quit. You can't give up. You motor through it.
Which I did. I continued with all my closings up and lists and doublechecks. I got my stuff together and packed and plowed through the pain of the headache and the intermittent nausea and just kept going.
On the red-eye I was graced with a seatmate who was funny and smart and kind. I was graced with a good conversation before starting the long struggle to find the perfect position of head and neck and little blue pillow. I slept fitfully with hallucinatory strains of "I am the Walrus" commingling with Gwen Stefani's "Sweet Escape" on full volume in my head. The seatbelt light flickered on and off through the very short night and scenes from Lost played in an endless loop as I dozed, the visual component to my goo-goo-goo-ju soundtrack.
And in the morning I was roused by a bright beam of light coming in through my cabin window. I rubbed sleep out of my eyes and stretched my back, peering out to the horizon as we started our flight into the morning sun.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:17 PM
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