The Two-Headed Snake

Talking with a friend, I admitted my writing was more aligned to constipation than anything else, each word embedded in the dark tunnel, a reluctant turd to squeezing through any gap into the light, almost squeamish with the thought. This is where Russ accuses me of talking about shit incessantly, the barometer extolled for anything that lacks boundaries and context, or circumvents expectations in the outcome. It really boils down to laziness, which I doll up by christening it utilitarian, or Ockham’s Razor, or succinct, but in all honesty, it is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. (Lazy…again.) Complaining, I said to him, “The words that finally shoot onto the page look as if a ‘bot in the box’ wrote them.” This is true. I dig into my toolbox, only to retrieve the wrong tool over and over. The hammer does not fit the head of the screw, try as I might.

I’m reading a lot: Tracy Guzeman’s “The Gravity of Birds,” and Joan Didion’s  “The White Album.” Two entirely different styles, yet their sentences roll off the tongue like warm caramel, despite kernels of sand caught in the drip. It’s the grit that comes with painful discourse. Like a gifted architect, the beautiful lines drawn word after word, allows the range of emotions to pour into the reader as if the authors were softly squeezing a warm sponge over the crown of our head. I can’t help but drink it in, almost revelling in the pages, not unlike facing the characters on the Broadway stage. I wonder when we will get to do that again. We go to laugh and we go to cry. We show up to feel something that is an extension of what already lives within us, untapped and brittle.

Tomorrow I begin a writing class, once a week in the evening, for the next six weeks. This is my first “investment” in writing and I hope it serves as a bridge off the floating patch of glacier trapping me like a forlorn polar bear. I peer for any sight of the promising continent, the lifeline to what is next. I am dubious, because of course, I believe you either write well or you don’t, in the same way you are born to play basketball, or not, or you are born to be a financial aficionado, or not. I register the variants in between, but standing contrary is the truth that the relentless effort granted by some, chasing whatever it is desired, is often humiliated by the lack of a single conciliatory bone in the universe’s limbic system, absolving us of our limitations. We either accept the fact we are our own worst malady in this pursuit, or we must choose to chase an alternative diversion.

I define middle-age as the realisation that “do-overs” are a gift no longer on offer, bestowed only to those with more time before them, than already spent. Tracy Guzeman says it much more eloquently:

“He’d reached the age when his possibilities were no longer infinite; what he had now was all he was going to have. He could detach his personal satisfaction from his professional…what? Disappointment? Too strong a word. Averageness, perhaps? To his mind, the personal and professional were seperate; one did not diminish the other….

Within these rooms, he was blessed to be the most important man in the world [to his wife]. Outside of them, his success had been limited. He was not destined for accolades; there would be no superlatives conjoined to his name.”

Pivoting away from the horses, five years previous, was more challenging than all the lessons I learned throughout my entire riding career. However, I credit the lessons, in the tack and otherwise,  for bolstering my transition. Hitched together like a bundle of cordwood, the lessons were my only insight in a future coloured opaque and unknown. But it is only now, aided by the humourless pedagogue, often referenced as hindsight, do I realise the attempt at conversion, back to the point of origin, would be an impossible challenge now, bordering on tomfoolery. It was really hard then, but there are things unknown now that are harder still, even if inconceivable.

This is my epiphany of what it means to be middle-aged. 

I enjoyed all of my riding lessons. The best ones weren’t when nothing went wrong, try as I might, but the ones ushered in with pain and frustration. It’s not uncommon to resist straying from the comfort of what is familiar. Often a hard push off the gangplank unceremoniously into the chop of the sea is necessary to spur any real changes in a person’s life. I remind myself caterpillars endure the chrysalis every year, only to emerge with rainbow dust on their wings. Pain, effort, shedding, friction are just a few of the ingredients necessary for growth, whether moving forward, or with reluctance, backwards. One does not always know which is which.

My friend wondered if I critiqued my writing much the same as my riding. The answer is yes. I would rather be a barnacle trapped in a tin of sturgeon roe, than to be the predator swimming amongst its spread in open waters. I never minded being enmeshed in the stratification of the east coast Eventing scene because there was always room for more. The runway was without end, an indefinite journey beckoning my heart to continue.

Now on a different path, at a different time in my life, I question whether this choice, this reconciliation of logic, with its dizygotic image fallacy, is a faithful servant after all. Is this new journey worth the toil with no results to tally, or at the very least, not a token of improvement?

I don’t dwell in this way with the newly-adopted snowboarding, where the law of diminishing returns prevails. Why does this question only torment my application to writing? 

When I rode, it was impossible to detach the personal from the professional. They were entwined together like a two-headed snake. Eventually one suffocates the other, the irony being, of course, it kills them both. Despite writing not being my profession, I hold it close to my chest, and wonder if the torment it brings is none other than the serpent in the wicker basket waking from its slumber, daring me, threatening me for trying so hard, for my audacity to push past my limits and survive the journey. 

Does my writing diminish me, highlighting my averageness? Am I my own worst malady in my pursuit of excellence? Which direction am I moving? I do not know. I lift my arms, reaching for the words.

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