This is a story about slipping.
Considering last week’s musings on artists and the sympathy card, what I’m about to write may fall a tad to the ironic side of the line. However, I want to be honest about what’s on my mind grapes, so here goes….
A few weeks ago, I almost died.
I was walking home from the subway late one night. It’s been a snowy winter in Philadelphia, and the sidewalks were patchy. As I came around the corner onto my home street, my foot glanced across a spot of black ice. My legs skidded one way and my upper body flopped the other. Frantically, I wheeled my arms in hopes of preventing gravity from winning this round, but it was futile. I began to go down. As my head fell, I had a flash realization that “down” might be for more than the count, because my temple was on a high speed collision course with the jagged corner of the raised concrete stairway next to me. Hitting it would certainly have knocked me out, leaving me to freeze or be found according to the whims of after-midnight foot traffic. There was even a chance it would do more: striking just right to flip the ol’ permanent cutoff switch.
Obviously, since I’m writing this blog post, and I’m neither ghost nor zombie (brainssss), the worst-case scenario did not play out. I managed to pull myself out of the slip before hitting the step. How? I have no rutting idea, since falling seemed like a sure thing. Panic-fueled adrenaline? Latent superpowers? Deus ex machina? Your guess is as good as mine. When I close my eyes, though, I still see that concrete corner barreling closer.
Since the near-death almost-splat, I have been experiencing another kind of slip in my life. It’s not as dramatic as life-threatening hijinks, but you may have noticed it nonetheless. I’ve been been slipping on this project. It’s not that I’ve fallen flat. I mean, one month into DrawDown, I’ve made more than thirty drawings, shared genuinely felt words, gotten exercise and eaten a few more than usual of those weird green things that taste all healthy and crap. I’ve even managed to lose some pounds. Keep that up for eleven more months, and I’m a happy panda.
So what’s the problem? It’s the ominous glaze on the heretofore clear DrawDown path. In the last two weeks, drawing posts have been late, writing posts have been melancholy and my weight has been a nervous jack russell terrier vibrating up and down in the way little dogs do before whizzing on the carpet.
And this ominousness carries over to the rest of my life. For the first time since starting graduate school, I find myself looking for excuses to skip the studio. Watch the entire first season of The Carrie Diaries on Netflix? Clearly, that is a crucial duty trumping all others (seriously… I can’t believe I did that). When I do manage to work, I find myself fidgeting more than artmaking.
I also seem compelled to make abrupt justifications to people. MFAs are an observant bunch, so surely some have noticed I’ve been the kind of there that’s not the last couple weeks. I can’t imagine they care, but I nonetheless feel guilty and driven to leak unsolicited explanations. “I-don’t-know-what’s-wrong-with-me,” I blurt. “I just have no motivation.” And, yes, that’s true, but why am I telling everybody, their brother, their Great Aunt Maud and now you?
Although the night of my slip on the sidewalk coincides with the start of the metaphorical slip in the rest of my life, it wasn’t the cause of it. Another ice walk was necessary to see what was. You see, I lost a friendship recently. Hmmm… that’s not exactly it. As inappropriate as it seems to use the word “residue” for human relationships (or perhaps it’s very appropriate considering), what I lost was the residue of a friendship. Residue-friend was my person before I left for Philadelphia to attend graduate school, and we continued to talk after I moved. For my first six months here, his was a familiar voice when my life was otherwise full of strange and lonely.
About the time I almost whoopsie-footed myself into concussion, the connection with residue-friend also slipped. No explanation was given for his abrupt disappearance, so I’m not sure what happened. Perhaps reasons don’t even matter, because, regardless of the whys, a valued presence is gone, leaving me as dazed and void as any blow to the head.
The thing is, I didn’t really let myself acknowledge this. In fact, the last two weeks have been a constant exercise in numbing myself: Facebook, Netflix, studio chats, drinks, dinners. It hit a crescendo yesterday when I found myself sending silly texts to various contacts in an attempt to lure the tiniest hint of human connection: anything to fill the void for a moment…. come on… come on…. give me more! Perhaps this is why it’s been so difficult to work in my studio. In there I am alone with thoughts I would rather not face.
So why am I facing them now? The other night my hike home took me on glazed sidewalks even more life-threatening than the one I near-missed on a few weeks back. For more than an hour, I hobbled along step by baby step. It was the first time I have been completely and utterly alone in ten days: no visitors, no cell phone, no internet… just me and my head. As a result, I found myself taking long-overdue stock. I saw the void and I saw at least one reason it formed. It was a sad realization, but, oddly, I also felt better. At least by acknowledging the thing, some of its crouching-in-the-back-of-the-mind power melted. It’s not that I’m magically cured, but the sense of loss doesn’t haunt me like its denial did.
It’s funny how things in life coincide, isn’t it? Physical slips and mental slips and emotional slips, but also the lines of thought in our life. This is worth realizing… worth paying attention to, because tumbles happen easier than most of us want to admit. One quick slip and our stability is gone. Grab the handrail, folks!