Sick day. Despite my goal of not taking any sick days this year, to make up for last year, I am home today, and like so many days in the last twelve months, I am humbled by my body. And despite having drunk the Norwex koolaid, and wiping the whole goddamn house with my homemade vinegar cleaner, I couldn’t sanitize away the stomach virus that my kids had last week and that woke me this morning in its rolling grip.
I believe I’m on the mend though. Sorry to make you read about vomit. I wish I had the poetic power to make you feel this nausea with your guts. That’s not to say that I would wish this feeling on any of you, I want to make you sick with poems! but it would be amazing if my words could evoke visceral reactions with that kind of strength. Only a very few authors make me feel physically ill, and they are the true masters. Anna Akhmatova is one. Ralph Ellison is another. Invisible Man is a strong punch to the midsection. Dostoevsky is another. Give me The Brothers Karamazov on an evening, in the winter, with a fire. That’s a good stomachache.
Who are your favorite gut punchers?
There’s material in our sicknesses, I believe. If nothing less it teaches us how much control we absolutely do not have. When the body is fighting, we go with it, and it’s not of our choosing. Nausea is an interesting symptom, because it is almost like the universe confirming our worst fears about life. If I think too long about the world, about its poverty and its suffering and its injustice, the sick feeling comes naturally, so to have an attack of nausea is almost like the universe saying “See? I told you so. Shit’s bad. Here’s how bad it is.”
That way of thinking is no use, though, so we must create doses of hope like a strong bone broth, healing ourselves from one disease while millions of others lie lurking. I believe I just wrote a cheesier adaptation of “Poems are my Chicken Soup!”, but whatever. That’s how I feel.
I’ve perfected another trick, too, just now, called “The Walk-Away”. Sometimes when the ideas aren’t converging and I feel nearsighted (which I am, extremely), it helps to walk away. This trick works best if you walk all the way outdoors, but even removing yourself from your workspace long enough to get a cuppa can be enough. When I walked away to retrieve my puke bucket, I got distracted by the Ooh Shiny (Do read Lauren Zuniga’s poem “Prayer for the Ooh Shiny“) and began reading Maria Popova’s article on BrainPickings :”The Ego and the Universe: Alan Watts on Becoming Who You Really Are”. Her review of his book “The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” is fascinating, as are his thoughts on the self and the universe. Essentially his argument is basically that we are not separate, elementally, from the universe, and that knowing this could eliminate the fear and loneliness we have about being “isolated egos inside bags of skin”. He writes,
“We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”
This jives with my feeling that my stomach virus might be the big pink cloud of the world’s woes touching down on my for the day, so I’m going to go with it.
On The Mend
So many days this bag of skin leaks, spilling forth the bile of the world, and I take the betrayal personally.
Me and my banana skin ego nurse the hurt, wondering at the fault that brought this punishment.
What wrongdoing brought this virus, how have I slighted the universe? And how will I make amends,
to this great mystery?
So many days I extend my palm to it, beckoning sorrow. Reading Requiem on an afternoon in January, checking the wind in the heavy tempest of news, inviting domestic worry to tea.
Maybe, though, it helps to believe that we skinbags hold worlds, tippling in galaxies. In the new physics, the universe has no end.
That solves the glitch, of where did the material come from before the bang?
It is and has always been everything,
and so have we.
On so many days when we crawl, humbled in the face of our sicknesses, maybe it helps to think that we’re just on
the walk away, taking small sips of strong bone broth, gathering the strength of our fabric.
Whew. That last line was a struggle. But whatever. I’m sick, and it’s done, and I’m going to go sit on the couch and watch people shop for apartments in different countries. What are you guys up to? Happy Monday!