I am in the weeds.
Each day, I sway one way or another depending on the voices that call me. Voices of despair. Voices of hope. Voices of doom. Voices of anger. Voices laying blame. Calls to action. Confused calls asking, “How did this happen?” Calls that say, “How could you not know?” Calls to say, “I told you so.”
They each pull on different dimensions of who I am. Hero. Victim. Savior. Pawn. Writer. Father. Citizen. Worker. Dreamer. I lose myself in the jumble of roles I’m asked to play. In the various ways the world wants to name me.
My mind wants to find the name that makes me powerful and safe. I want to identify myself with the ones who “get shit done.” When we get control, we’ll make everything right (again? forever?), and that certainty about our singular name and aim justifies whatever we do, including dehumanizing any in our way.
But I become most dangerous when I try to understand and control any aspect of the world without first and always trying to name myself accurately. Otherwise I can easily damage myself and all around me, the same way a toddler lashing out in a tantrum—not realizing where their turbulent inner sensations end and the world outside them begins—becomes dangerous to themselves and anyone else nearby.
Suffering comes when I choose to refuse to see reality about myself: that I don’t have control over others; that alone I can’t make things the way I think ought to be; that I insist on clinging to various visions of myself that I’ve been fed. I don’t mean that I can’t change the world; I only mean that I don’t know whether I can.
The decisions I make in my dialogue with existence will sum up my life. At the same time, I need to recognize that I possesses more inside than the things I choose. I need to be honest that I contain 10,000 elements, and to live the truth, I have to accept my complexity.
Every pain I’ve felt, every hope I’ve clung to, every reaction of disgust, every act of love or trust or hate or disdain—all of it belongs to and needs to be seen by me. Everything. Only after that can I start to sort illusion from truth. Until I begin that work, my every intention—good or bad—risks turning into ashes in my mouth.
I can pick a path through this tumultuous self and call that path my name, but I can’t flee the rest of me. Whatever I try to leave behind only grows more powerful by absorbing the energy I spend avoiding it. I can’t dispatch my fear; I can’t reject my depression; I can’t excise my anxiety. They’re all blended together with the rest of me, with my courage and my joy and my sense of possibility.
The attempt to parse myself into “good” and “bad” only leaves me in pieces; I have to swallow myself whole, every bit in its own way sacred. But I can choose the parts I’ll occupy. I can call the whole city or nation I live in “home,” but that doesn’t mean I dwell in every street or neighborhood. I’m tied to them all, but some I drive by or pass through; some I return to regularly. I accept the entire community as mine, but what particular places become the center of my life?
The epidemic has demanded that I pause to decide what’s primary. It challenges all the names I call myself, and with that my illusions of control. That’s why, even beyond the dangers of sickness and death, it unsettles me.
What’s essential to my identity? What will I call myself now? I don’t fully know. I only recognize that I need a better, more comprehensive name to help me dwell with myself and others in this reality.
“Words in a Word”
And now for today’s word play. To review the rules, you begin with a starter word containing 8 to 12 letters. Then you use any combination of the letters to make many words as you can. You can only use each letter as many times in each new word as that letter appears in the starter word. Here’s an example:
respect ire tire seep
peer prise sire steer
ripe stir rite tic
pert seer sect eve
veer sieve sip piece
pipe tip pit spite
spit steep site evict
sprite pet step rep
pest trip rip tripe
peter spire peep pee
pep prep perp épée…
If you’re so inclined, you might even come up with a poem or short bit of writing, using as many of your derivative words as you choose.
Today’s starter word: interrogate. Or come up with your own (remember, 8-12 letters). You can share your list and/or poem here or @mar_de_palabras on Twitter.