Since I was a teenager, I have aspired to a practice of creating art and then burning it before it can ever be seen. The image of a writer burning her pages every night, but continuing to write in the morning with the knowledge that the words will not persist, that there will be no record, that no praise will ever come, there will be no reward, comes forward again and again as an artistic ideal. This is connected to a belief that the essential is found in the act of creation itself, a specific interaction between the self and something vast, and that the results should be abandoned. There is also a mistake in this though, because it isn’t the art that needs to be burned, but the artist. Results themselves are not a problem, but the hope of a particular outcome is.
Hope of results leads to anxiety and paralysis. My ideas about the effects of my actions, the very ones that I use to justify non-action, are oversimplified and mistaken.
Often I find myself keeping everything hidden, even from myself. If something slips out of my grasp, I try to hide the evidence, shoving it out of sight. I’m afraid to look at these little fragments. They’re stashed in corners, scrawled on the backs of envelopes I happened to have in my bag. They’re in undated, truncated text files with odd names that will make them hard to identify or search for. They’re thrown away and forgotten.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in painful confusion, surrounded by people who could have used my help, but unable to reach out to them, holding myself so far at a distance because I was so certain of my ability to infect. Usually, but not always, I’m aware of my own confusion and desperately want to erase it or at least hide it. I’ve closed myself off in a tiny box because I believed that was the best way to protect the world. I’ve assured myself that silence is a virtue, because I was so afraid of being wrong and misunderstood. I’ve submitted to inertia and allowed precious connections to fall away. I’ve refused to listen to anything else but a listing of my offenses played on repeat. I have wasted so much time indulging in guilt.
In times like these, I often have the thought that I am not alive, not hooked into my own experience. It’s as if everything is dulled and obscured, both memories and present experience of the world. The inability to recall details of my past is even more noticeable to me than my lack of attention in the present. And there is also a sense of being erased from the future. In order to preserve this illusion, I cannot speak, cannot take action, because that might prove the existence of who I am. This should be an lesson that past and present and future are also simultaneous, they all collapse together.
I have a sense that something has been ruined, and sometimes it seems that the cause is familiarity. Once a space has become crusted over with habits, I can no longer see it, I cannot move inside it. The same applies to my own body — How do I delete these extra layers, or at least stop adding new ones? New ideas about what cannot be done, new reasons for doom. I build the boxes and insert myself in them, folding myself up smaller and smaller, with a goal of total disappearance. I cannot remember that I must be beyond the box in order to construct it and to see it, and therefore the thing in the box cannot be all of who I am.
The stories I have the greatest desire to tell all deal with secret things, with love, and sex, and violence, moments of pain and vulnerability and death, with seduction and abandonment, with fragile worlds that disappear. I’ve argued for the value of trauma and suffering, that the path can be found in the very mess we hope to be lead away from. I think this is true. But the line between mysticism and masochism, if it exists, is thin, and my obsession with the intersection can pull me away from reality.
When it becomes a memory, even lightness takes on an incredible weight.
Standing, again, at the threshold, I am filled with terror. I am afraid that, this time, I will simply decide that door is locked, so I will not have to open it.