Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Rise and Shine
Tuesday night I met with two women from last year’s memoir class. We shared reading and resources for writing. We also spent twenty minutes writing on a prompt of our choice from The Moth in Seattle. (The Moth is a radio program out of New York but also has venues across the country where storytellers gather to share stories on a theme.)
I chose the theme “Rise and Shine” because the exhortation, pretending to be cheerful but really just the words of an early-riser bossing around a late-sleeper, makes me vibrate like a dentist’s drill: not painful in my teeth but painful in soul.
The words remind me of my Grandmother Edwards, whom I loved at all times except first thing in the morning. When she stayed with us kids and tried to rustle me out of bed for school, she would sing, “Rise and Shine” in a falsetto, and when I simply groaned but didn’t stir, she would lift the bottom of the comforter and pull my toes: not torture, I recognize, but not endearing, either.
Megan, Sarah and I wrote for 20 minutes, each on a different prompt. I was on my computer and copied some material from previous writing and then continued. Afterwards, we read our pieces aloud to one another. We did not criticize one another’s work. We merely said what we liked. Here’s mine:
When my partner Ann wakes me from my deep fog of sleep, I struggle to remember who she is and who I am, and labor to pull myself from sleep’s dark pull. My first line is from Roethke's great poem, “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.” Then, I wail a countrified bastardization of the Grease classic: “Waking up is hard to do.” Ten minutes later, I rise to my elbows, and I sing a line from The Muppet Movie: “Movin’ Right Along.”
I also sing Tom Petty’s “Time to move on. Time to get goin’. What lies ahead there is no way of knowin’.” (If you think there’s no way I could sing all of this in the morning, check your assumptions. It takes me a good half hour to rise: in the first ten minutes I rise to my elbows, and then I take the next twenty minutes to put my feet on the floor.) The poetry, part of my daily routine, is my favorite part of the morning.
When I finally rise, my lines are from Maya Angelou’s poem, “And still I rise.”
Once I stand, my legs are still wobbly with the shock of the morning, but I try to adopt a go-get-‘em attitude. I say to my legs, “Inaheed” or “Vamanos.” My legs speak both Amharic and Spanish, so they know this means, “Let’s go.”
(Poets must struggle with waking up, too, since John Donne in his poem “The Sun Rising” calls the sun a “saucy, pedantic wretch.” That’s my favorite poetic insult. I like it even better than Falstaff’s “you bull’s pizzle.”)
In this routine, I remember my days of such fatigue and depression when I worked to lift my body and spirit to face the dark winter and this dark time in my soul, but I slipped into an emotional fog nonetheless. I made it through each day, and I think only Ann saw my struggle, but at night I was so weary that I could not sleep. One sleepless night, I wrote a letter to God, an almost desperate prayer:
Are you there, God? It’s me, Mary. I feel bone-weary and soul-sad. Where does this depression come from? If this sadness could talk, I can imagine what it might say, “I’m here because I’m always here, and I’m as old as time. I rock like an old woman endlessly knitting in her chair. Whatever you do or feel, I rock on. I am the pain of human suffering, caused by human cruelty or the whims of weather and tide. I am part of what it means to be.” I hear the sadness, God, but I don’t hear you. Where are you?
I read in le thi diem thuy’s novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For a poetic passage describing a dying school of fish. I wondered if my sadness were like that school of fish just before it dies on shore—darting in the darkness, luminous in the shallow water with the moonlight creating a mesmerizing, melancholy beauty.
I felt the fish shifting in the sea of myself, knocking my ribs, tightening my throat, bumping and turning in a synchronous bounce from my stomach lining. I wondered if they would ever rest.
I wondered what must die in me, what would turn its white belly to the moonlight from the sandy shore.
In these difficult days, I talked to God, but I didn’t hear a response. I grew heavier and heavier, and I wondered if shining must be part of rising. Maya Angelou sounds so heroic in her poem: she is the hope and the dream of the slave. I was just tired. Ooff. Air out of a tire tired. Body as a sack. Head like the clapper in a bell. Chest thud. Tired.
One of the delightful surprises since my brain tumors is that, though the fatigue has deepened, the depression has not returned, and I am learning to make peace with my sluggish self.
I wonder if people who rise and shine go on in spite of this fatigue, or if they (and I) are a different breed. Maybe I’m not of the shining sort. Maybe I’m just a moaner.
I also wonder how others perceive me: do you see this exhausted person, or do you also see me as a lively spirit, as a survivor in spite of hard times.
Do you think I’m like Maya? Did Maya experience this fatigue, too? I remember that after she was raped as a child, she didn’t speak for seven years. Seven years of silence. Likewise, Elie Wiesel after he was released from the concentration camp Auschwitz at the end of World War Two, an experience his father didn’t survive: was silent for ten years, during which he wrote a biography of over 900 words. It’s title (in Yiddish): And the World Remained Silent.
Do I need this time of silence? Though I had brain surgery, where surgeons saved my life, rather than suffering the cruelties of Nazi Germany, perhaps I too need to give myself time. I need not Rise and Shine. I need to take my waking slow.
Though I often know where my writing will begin and have ideas of stories and details I will include, I never know where a piece will end. In this piece, as so often happens, I discover new ways of being and thinking as I write. In this case, I come to a kind of peace with my fatigue and my slowness.
Writing with and for others helps me learn and heal.
Thanks for this.