I’ve been as afraid as anyone else to confront daily realities. More afraid than many. Because in confrontation is danger, a feeling, however slight, of possible death. Particularly when you don’t feel you have a safe retreat or an army at your back. The moment a dissenting comment passes through the lips becomes charged with threat. The battle lines form, opponents prepare to send out their champions. But maybe you have no champion. You made the statement spontaneously, without considering the context or consequences. You were relaxed before the words emerged; they were an expression of ease. You trusted.
If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life....
– Adrienne Rich (1)
In my most confident mode, I’m told I have a manner of expression on a spectrum from authoritative to confrontational. Tone of voice, maybe, well-formed sentences, the actual presence of aggression (though not always directed at the present company). I can be incisive and intutively ‘right’, certainly, and I am versus civilization in many issues, but my views change and transform, as I better inform myself on the subjects. Behaviour occurs anyway—conditioning, old habits. A strong front, a ‘face’, was required in my family. Speaking opinions was required, as long those opinions fundamentally complied and didn’t rock the edifice. Double dealing. There was no chitchat. But I don’t know whether this is why chitchat has never seemed worth much, whether it’s because of the content, or the feeling it generates of being caged in a small environment, stilled. Maybe they’re all bound together.
I link to streams of ease.
No one fails here.
Nothing intrudes of the knife and barb.
– Máighréad Medbh (2)
It is enough to say that man hardly ever knows what he is actually doing—at least he does not know for sure.
– Stanislaw Lem (3)
Feelings are unreliable. According to Joseph E. LeDoux, an emotion is “the process by which the brain determines or computes the value of a stimulus”. (4) This process can produce blatantly incorrect assessments if the computation is influenced by traumatic memories or agitated body states. My fear reaction when a whole company looks at me in shock, my retraction when a decent but censorious man slices through my assertion with a cursory dismissal, are, I think, disproportionate responses. I’m not going to be killed here. Same thing when my heart becomes a battle drum in a narrow mountain pass at the prospect of meeting a lover I want to break with. If he were violent I’d hardly be in more dread. I’m dreading the disapproving eye, the self-protective silence, the cutting remark that will close the gate on contact and leave me abandoned (“alone again, naturally”) in a cold cell, nothing for company but those inalienable ghost-dogs of self-criticism. That I am unkind or ungentle is not the point. It’s that I can’t summon up a good reason. To be right would be army enough.
But how can anybody be right? How can I set myself against any person or view with total certainty of solid ground? Every question comes to us down billions of years, with all that debris, and every person is made of the same mutating, perspective-dependent, context-dependent, specific-to-our-universe material. How to begin, let alone alter, when alteration is the norm? The floor has been taken from under us before we form an opinion.
Let each imagine losing what he or she loves
without recompense and then try to make do.
– George Szirtes (5)
Pretend a floor then. Aphorism has been criticised and loved for this. Produce an answer while the question is still checking its fishing tackle, and see if you have a lily pad or a rock. At least it’s a place to begin. It’s the acceptance of something—like the fact of your existence—and I’m convinced (right or not) that acceptance is the first step in the process of change.
There is no body,
only breath and push.
– Máighréad Medbh (6)
The neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga suggests that the language centres in the left hemisphere of the brain produce a constant stream of verbal explanations for our behaviour. There is, he says, a ‘human tendency to generate explanations for events'. (8) This doesn’t mean the explanations are right; they’re just ours.
I empty to the outside.
I, perfect as puppies.
– Máighréad Medbh (7)
One could, as Marcus Aurelius suggested, stand with knees bent so one sways with the uncertain ground, be flexible as in the martial arts, be the Body-without-Organs of Deleuze and Guattari. This is the ground below ground, the molten magma. It’s the molten magma people have seen in my sudden eruptions, and then quickly, the attempt to cover it all with a concrete slab. Uncertainty contained. Either way, they will hold their own ground, police their preserve, and I will do the best I can to trust what I can’t prove, because it is what I have.
We create our universe, which in turn recreates us in its image of our image. Synchronicity is essentially the result of a feedback loop between the psyche and the physical universe as the psyche perceives it.
– Robert Hand (9)
We contain each other. If it weren’t so, why would we feel such anxiety and fear at the risk of rift or change? Should I evict the others? Or accept how their presence restricts then liberates, life being a function of contraction and release?
Out of my tumult
out of my tumult,
the finished song.
– Michael Hartnett (10)
I sat opposite a woman on a train this week, whose eyes were dead as coffin nails. She didn’t read, register anything or even stare, although her face was turned towards the window. She had less animation in those eyes than any animal I can think of. Eventually, she slept. All the while her husband read from his Kindle. Was she drained? De-passioned? Beaten down? Never curious to begin with? A life yes, but what does change mean to her? Either terror or nothing at all, I suppose. The universal flux might be just passing her by. How much does this matter?
I am retractable membranous,
hooked on the world’s will.
In particular, intent to express through time
what expresses itself.
– Máighréad Medbh (11)
Action matters, because it's possible, just like Everest is climbed because it’s there. There is no ultimate why. Better to set a goal and try something than to curse vicissitudes and the delicate nature of one’s sensibilities. The action changes us and change, whether it means death or not, is the essence of life. To act while in a state of fear or pain might not transform the feelings, but it does give them a different complexion. Take on board the inconvenient thing. Allow for a new set of explanations and things will change of themselves. Death is relative.
There is no one
To talk to in the psychic underground
From which your face is waiting to emerge.
– George Szirtes (12)
With every felt event
I unfurl and comply.
Tremors dissolve in allocutive
– Máighréad Medbh (13)
1. Rich, Adrienne, ‘An Atlas of the Difficult World’, quoted in Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose, selected & edited by Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Inc, 1993, p. xii/xiii.
2. Medbh, Máighréad, ‘Act’, unpublished poem from a new collection entitled Imbolg.
3. Lem, Stanislaw, Summa Technologiae, Kindle Edition.
4. LeDoux, Joseph E., Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. Penguin Putnam, 2002, p. 35, quoted in Denise Shull, ‘The Neurobiology of Freud’s Repetition Compulsion Disorder’, Annals of Modern Psychoanalysis, Vol. 11, No. 1.
5. Szirtes, George, ‘Minimenta (Postcards to Anselm Kiefer)’, Bad Machine, Tarset: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2013, p. 89.
6. Medbh, Máighréad, ‘Act’, opus cit.
7. Medbh, opus cit.
8. Gazzaniga, Michael S., quoted in ‘Honest Liars’ by Maria-Dorothea Heidler, Scientific American Mind, March 2014.
9. Hand, Robert, Essays on Astrology, Rockport, Mass.: Para Research, 1982, p. 158. Quoted in Maggie Hyde, Jung and Astrology, Aquarian Press (imprint of HarperCollins, London), 1992.
10. Hartnett, Michael, ‘Tao’, Translations, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2003.
11. Medbh, opus cit.
12. Szirtes, George, ‘Demi Monde – after Brassaï’, Bad Machine, Tarset: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2013, p. 67.
13. Medbh, opus cit.