Tag Archives: letting go

re·cep·ti·bil·i·ty

The Fantasy

The Fantasy

 

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The Reality

 

 

re·cep·ti·bil·i·ty  n.  the quality or state of being receptible.

 

re·cep·ti·ble  adj.  [LL. recptibilis  <  L. receptus, pp. of recipere] able to receive or be received.

 

re·ceive  v.t.  1.  To take into one’s possession (something given, offered, sent, etc.); get; accept; acquire  2.  To encounter; experience: as, she received much acclaim.  3.  To undergo; submit to; suffer; have inflicted on one: as, h ereceived punishment.  4.  To bear; take the effect or force of: as, all four wheels receive the weight equally.  5.  To take from another by hearing or listening: as, his confession was received by the priest.  6.  To apprehend mentally; get knowledge of or information about; learn: as, they received the news.  7.  To accept mentally as authentic, valid, etc.  8.  a) to let enter; admit; hence, b) to have room for; hold; contain: as a cistern receives rain water. 9.  To give admittance to or greet (visitors, guests, etc).  v.i.  1.  To get, accept, take, or acquire something; be a recipient. 2. To receiveguests or visitors; be a host.  3.  In radio & television, to convert incoming electromagnetic waves into sound or light, thus reproducing the sounds or images being transmitted.  4.  In religious usage, to receive the Eucharist.  5.  in tennis, etc., to return or prepare to return, a served ball; be the striker.

 

 

On My Mess or Life Refuses Containment

 

 

I have a confession. Every now and then when I’m at the drugstore or the supermarket, I pick up the magazine Real Simple. Pretty much everything about that magazine appeals to me. Its clean simple font, its crisp lines, its excess white space. The title indicates what the magazine promises: how to make your life not just simple but real simple. The cover guarantees ingenious organization techniques you’ve never heard of before, how to do more with less, how to add color and light and beauty to your home. Really, it is the same exact magazine each month with slightly altered material.

 

I buy it and I read it, but the magazine never satiates me. On occasion, reading it when I am in a mental or physical space of disorder actually has the complete adverse reaction of what I want: I feel like even more of a mess when I finish reading than when I start. I look at the smiling ecstatic faces of the “after” homeowners (who own their home, unlike renting me) beaming after the clutter experts have come in to declutter their homes and with every fiber of my being I feel this thought: my mess is unredeemable. Read: my life is utter chaos.

 

Most often, however, I close the last page and feel absolutely nothing. Or perhaps nothing twinged with slight disappointment but not an unexpected disappointment. I have come to this magazine for answers on how to fix my life and the answers are not in this magazine. The only one who has the answers: me. And not all at once, not right now. Over time, the answers are delivered and sometimes the time frame feels achingly slow.

 

Author and social work researcher Brené Brown said in her TED talk on vulnerability that she comes from the social work community, a school of people who say, “Life’s messy: deal with it.” Whereas, her way of being for most of her life was more: “Life’s messy: clean it up, organize it, and put it into a bento box.” “But,” she says, “it doesn’t work.” Any attempt we make to impose structure on our lives fails before we begin because life is not predictable, life is not organizable, life is not neat. Life spills over and out of the containers we have so carefully made for it. Life refuses to contain itself in the parameters we have set.

 

Last week, in a moment of desperation, I called out to facebook friends for advice when I was in the midst of trying to clear space and get rid of stuff in my house. I was sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by stacks of paper and files and books and all kinds of other ephemera and, overwhelmed by the barricade of stuff surrounding me, I found myself wanting to pour a glass of wine and watch Netflix for hours instead. The responses were ones of solidarity and suggestion. People offered their own struggles or ideas of what works for them. And I was very grateful for everyone’s input. But one particular piece of advice, offered by several people, was unexpected to me and jolted me back to my intentions. Several friends suggested I scan old notes and photos so I could keep them in digital form and let the physical copies go.

 

While I’m sure this works for many folks, this mere thought raised my degree of anxiety and panic. My goal is to become less attached to these things instead of changing my form of attachment. Even in digital form, these objects and items would continue to fill my psychic space. I don’t want them to change material form. I want to let them go.

 

I want them to go because I feel like there is only so much I can contain internally at one time, although I am constantly working on growing more space. There are more experiences to be had, more words waiting to enter, but if I hold too tightly to the ones that have led me here, there is no room for the new to rush in.

 

When I lived in San Francisco, I worked for a nonprofit agency serving low-income and homeless citizens. There was a woman who came to our dining room who was working with someone from our agency to clear her home. Deidre had fallen off a bunk bed when she was a young girl, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury and one of the repercussions of that injury was her impulse to hoard. She couldn’t bathe because her bathtub was full: of clothes, old recipes, newspaper clippings, canned goods, books, old correspondence. Magazines and newspapers were stacked up so that she had very narrow pathways through which to navigate her small apartment. This coworker Ben befriended her and gained her trust and slowly she began to allow him to take things out of her apartment. At some point though, the process stalled. She stopped returning his calls. Letting go was too threatening.

 

My Maw Maw was Cajun and lived through the depression. She and my Paw Paw ran a general store. He died first and when she died, our family found enough stuff inside their home to start up another store. There were stacks of tube socks in cabinets, dozens of canisters of shoe polish and boot leather stuffed in drawers. There were knick-knacks and glasses and cleaning products and pajamas. She had Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life, but it was clear that this process started much before. She needed these things, just in case.

 

While these are extreme examples in comparison to my own desire for order and inability to clear away, I think they reveal something about our humanness. Our compulsion to hold onto objects reveals our desire to concretize life. If only we have these things, we think, we will be protected, okay, safe from death. If we take all the right steps, maybe that will ensure our security. If we can control what we have, we can control who we are. If we can control who we are, we can control whether or not we get our heart broken, we can control whether or not our body is injured, we can control our own death.

 

In an episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia becomes addicted to shopping at bulk store Shopper’s Warehouse. She buys 10,000 toothbrushes. “Half blue, half pink,” she says to her daughter Dorothy. “So you and your brother won’t have to fight over your inheritance.” At one point, she says to Dorothy, “Say you have ten cases of sardines—” Dorothy interrupts saying, “This better be hypothetical.” Following the revelation of the situation’s reality, Dorothy becomes infuriated and asks her mother why she would do that. Sophia says, “It makes me feel immortal. You think: God wouldn’t make me waste good sardines. He’ll wait until I’m done with them to let me die.”

 

We have seen time and time again that what we possess has no bearing on what choices or challenges life will bring us. Appliances break down, cameras are stolen, computers crash, photographs burn, old letters are flooded underwater. Even our bodies, the vessels that carry us through life, betray us. Muscles tear from bone, vessels burst, bones break.

 

I think less important than the things of life themselves is our ability to receive them and let go of them with a degree of understanding that these things do not ultimately matter. One of the great lessons of my life in relation to this was when my childhood home flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Was it awful, seeing so many of my family’s memories underwater? Do I wish had my childhood journals to look back and see who I was at thirteen and what I thought was important during my study abroad days when I was twenty? Of course it was. Of course I do. But the fact that my parents were able to rebuild their lives and that we have lived without these things that made up our lives for so long  reveals to me that what is most important about life is retained inside of us. If we have connections with the people in our lives, we can rebuild the collection of our memories together. And these moments of connectivity allow for even more memories to be made.

 

What if we were to let go of our old definitions of order? What if we were to care less about attainment and containment? Would this make room for us to better receive the words of the loved one sitting across from us? Might we learn better how to be in touch with the sensations in our own skin?

 

In her Letter in the Mail for The Rumpus, Lidia Yuknavitch wrote about hands and death and dying. She wrote, “Well here’s the deal. We die all the time. I think maybe we are supposed to. I think when you let yourself fall all the way into art that moves you, for example, you experience a little death, and yes I know the other meaning of the phrase ‘little death’ so it just makes even more sense. Maybe if we stopped being scared to talk about dead things and hands we could get somewhere beyond the nonsense and violence of cultural poisons–capitalism and the cult of good citizenship and car ownership and house ownership and fame and money and image culture and rape culture and kill the planet culture and conquer culture and erase the indigenous and ‘insert your poison here.'”

 

I love that she says nonsense. I love that she says violence. Because these ways of being are both: violent and nonsensical. They take away from our own authority, and they drain us of what it really means to be fully and deeply alive, in all its messy and beautiful glory.

 

Is it possible in acknowledging our own mortality and our own vulnerability that we could truly see one another?

 

That we could allow ourselves to receive one another?

 

That we could allow ourselves—as we truly and fully are, without control or expectation—to be received?

 

 

 

 

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plot

 

1plot \`plat\ n.  1 :  a small area of ground  2 :  a ground plan (as of an area)  3 :  the main story (as of a book or movie)  4 :  a secret scheme : INTRIGUE

 

I have been going by the house for years now, every time I am home for a visit. It was just a shell of where we lived but I felt compelled to visit every time I was back in New Orleans in the years following Katrina. A few months ago, my mom sent me an email to tell me that the house had been razed. It’s just river sand now, she wrote. She said she picked up three pieces of brick (one for her, one for my dad, one for me), a small piece of wood, a small piece of latticework—the traces that were left behind. She said she wanted to lie in the sand and make a sand angel, to place her body on the earth itself, but a truck drove up so she just pretended.

I knew, then, what to expect when I went by 3324 Vincennes Place, and yet, I was surprised all the same. I was taken aback by the shock of green grass usurping the plot. I had expected river sand, but since my mom visited, there had been time for old seeds to sprout up. To fill this hole, this gap, this absent space.

I thought: how odd to witness so clearly an absent place that is so full, this place that occupies so much space in my in my memory. The lot looks enormous without our house on it (hadn’t my mom mentioned that in her email as well?). Just one small block of green. It was hard to imagine all those rooms, all that our house contained.

I pulled out my journal and tore out a perforated page. On it I wrote: THIS WAS HOME. This (space). Was (past tense of “to be,” as in is no longer). Home (a place where families are born, where dreams are dreamed, where mornings break and evenings are put to bed). I took pictures of the sign resting in the grass in front of the plot. I took portraits of myself with my arm extended, holding the sign. I walked around the perimeter and traced the word HOME with my finger in the river sand. Then I took a stray stick and signed my name in the corner of the plot before tucking the stick in the back pocket of my jeans. Three trees stood as sentries at the back of the land and then there was just the span of grass and sand and the neighboring fences on either side.

 

 

The sidewalk had 3324 spray-painted in orange, over a version painted in white. This now marks the address since there is no longer a house to mark the space. Addresses are random numbers and letters we assign to places to make them ours, to make them home, to tell people where to find us. While I was sitting in the car across from the plot where our house was, a mail carrier, mail in one hand and a bag crossing her body, walked by the empty lot on her route.

I scanned my body. I felt tears behind the lids of my eyes—held, not held back. There was a sort of soft gnawing in my belly. I didn’t feel sad really but rather vaguely numbed out.

This was a place I had been saying goodbye to for years. A place I came to visit as one does a deceased family member in a cemetery, over and over again. Our home died to us and now the traces of it, save a long thin piece of wood with blue paint that I found and took, are gone as well.

And although this moment felt like it should be the natural point of closure, the final goodbye, I couldn’t imagine stopping my visits: even if there was a new house there, even if there was a new family in it. In the movie version of my life, we might end here as the protagonist bids farewell to her childhood memories and her childhood home and steps off into her very bright future. Maybe there would even be a flash-forward to her home-to-be, complete with husband in the doorframe and children eating breakfast at the kitchen table. So why do I feel its not over for me and this land?

It’s not a compulsion, this desire to visit. It’s more like coming to sit in silence with an old friend. There’s a kind of peace that comes from being there—from remembering what was and seeing what is real now. I can sit with all the fond memories and the painful loss of this place. It feels real. It feels authentic—this mix of beauty and joy with grief and sorrow. This house taught me how to live life and bear it all: how to grow, how to be nurtured and to nurture, how to love and also how to unexpectedly and without warning, let it all go. To say goodbye. To unhand expectations of what the space you rest your life in looks like.

 

 

I feel I owe this land so much—the place I was born into, where I took my first steps and read and wrote my first words, where I learned how to embrace and be enclosed in the arms of somebody who loved me. I learned to cry, to mourn and to go on, still and always, with the movement of life. I learned about the richness that lies in details—in the shape of a sill, in nicks, slants, the flaws we perceive as such or the ones we find charming. I learned how to observe and how to write those observations down.

It occurred to me as I sat across the street from my childhood home that while I thought I had been coming back to grieve and let go, I was also coming back to honor and pay tribute to the home that held the space for me to become who I am, to the sacred spot where my mom, dad and I became a family. I realized I have continued to come back, all these months, all these years later, because I am so deeply grateful.

 

 

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di·u·ret·ic

di·u·ret·ic /dī’ə-rĕt’ĭk/ adj. : tending to increase urine flow—diuretic n.

[NOTE: Okay, seriously, dictionary gods?!?!?! Last week, “reins” and now “diuretic?” These last two words were really the first ones that I have felt pretty stumped by. I mean, what does one really care to write about “urine flow.” I can answer for myself, nothing, nothing at all. But rules are rules. This was the word I landed on this week. I could try to fool y’all and say I landed on the word just below it, which was “diurnal”: daily; of, relating to, occurring, or active in the daytime. That would be pretty easy to write from. But that wouldn’t be honest. But no matter the word, I will not subject you to talk about my own bathroom habits. So please don’t be concerned about that.]

This is maybe going to sound silly or too big of an analogy to make here, and you have every right to think that and to stop reading. But I think sometimes about bodily functions, our response to these functions and what they have to say about the ways in which we move through life. For example, I think about the sensation of having to go to the bathroom when the situation becomes urgent. It requires your entire focus. You can’t imagine a more uncomfortable feeling. You are going to explode. You are literally going to die.

And then the moment you go, you feel that instantaneous relief. It is hard to conjure or even imagine the feeling of hopelessness and anxiety that existed a mere thirty seconds before.

I feel that way about life sometimes. This is especially true because right now I am in the midst of one of those “gotta go” moments. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of brokenness I have experienced and witnessed in the last few months (and even more so in the last few weeks)—broken relationships, broken engines, broken windows, broken words, broken trust. Everywhere, everything is broken and I’m not sure what to do. It feels silly and naïve to just pick up the pieces: almost like, what is the point when something else is bound to break again? Why not just live in the battered shell? Why not just abide in the wreckage?

And it is hard for me, in the midst of these experiences, to have any comfort in the idea that relief will come. When? For how long before something else happens? For how long must I endure this feeling of powerlessness or the deep desirous need for relief whose arrival I cannot predict? I don’t know. And I don’t have a ribbon with which to tie up this post or answer these questions. These feelings are very real and palpable to me.

I am someone who believes in redemption and repair, and yet in this very moment, all of this feels so far away from reality. The only thing that gets me through moments like are the little things that are not broken. The phone call of a friend to check in. The offer of a safe place to stay or a car to drive. A compassionate embrace.

And these little gestures, these moments of connectivity do not do away with the brokenness. The pieces are too small to fill the cracks. But they do help clot the bleeding. They do hold back the dam from bursting further. They stop the cool air from rushing in.

Someone once told me that a religious leader was talking about the beauty of a broken heart. It had to be broken open, he said, so that more love could pour in, could pour out. I have definitely experienced moments of brokenness in my life that led to more fullness and beauty than I could have ever imagined. But that didn’t make the breaking nor the putting back together any easier. That didn’t make me know that relief would someday come. Maybe there is something about the intensity of these moments, their never-ending quality and the feeling that we might not make it through them, that makes us truly love the act of letting go.

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clench

clench (klench), v.t. [ME. Clenchen; AS. –clencan (in beclencan), lit., to make cling, caus. Of AS, clingan (cf. CLING); akin to OHG, klenken, to bie, bind & G. klinke, door latch; IE. Base *gleng(h) <  *gel- ; see CLIMB-]  1. to clinch, as a nail.  2. to bring together tightly; close firmly, as the teeth or fist.  3. to grip tightly   n. 1. a firm grip.  2. a device that clenches.

I tend to hold on tight. Whether that be to people, to possessions, to places that are important to me. I sometimes misinterpret this closeness, this tightness, for connectivity. If I can only hold on tight enough to these things or people, I won’t lose them. If I grasp hard enough, what I have created around me will remain stable and secure. And it is in this holding, this clenching, that I am most prone to lose the things and people that are important to me.

The same thing that happens in my mind and heart sometimes is also reflected in my body. I carry around knots and tension in my shoulders that I seldom release. When I am doing healthy things for my body, like going to yoga, the tension dissipates and my body feels more at peace. I feel healthier and more in touch with my own feelings about what is happening around me. But with this kind of fluidity comes openness and vulnerability.

Clenching is often used in reference to anger: clenching teeth, clenching hands. When I think of the word clench, I get images of fists with knuckles turning white or teeth held tight in a grimace. But I think the act of clenching is less about anger than it is about fear. When we are in situations where we feel unprotected, where we feel the potential—real or imagined—to be harmed, we clench. We try to bring ourselves in as tightly as possible to arm ourselves from what we fear.

As much as I think that we need to protect ourselves, I wonder how much clenching we do that is completely unnecessary and that actually dramatically limits our experience. If we are always closed off, our hands balled up, we have no way to receive the good things that are presented to us. Then, we have a choice. We can unclench in that moment and trust or we can stay clenched. We can let go and present ourselves unarmed, or we can remain armed and stuck exactly where we are.

Within the past week, two of my friends gave birth. One of my closest friends gave birth to her first child in a pool of water, surrounded by those assisting her and her husband. Within the next few days, a dear friend’s dog will give birth to puppies. I have found myself thinking about the process of labor, the process of birth. In order to give life to something else, there is first a time of preparation. Then, there is contracting. But ultimately, this giving birth is an act of letting go. The baby is released and begins to participate in the world as a creature all its own. The baby, of course, needs the nourishment of its parents and the community around them. But as I understand it, the act of being a mother really means one act of letting go after another.

Some of these acts are little, like letting your child choose his own clothing. Others are big, like letting them leave the house alone or watching them move far away from you. By bringing another being into the world, you are also accepting the responsibility that this being will grow up, will have its own aspirations and dreams and will go off to pursue them.

And just as it is with people, this letting go is something we must do over and over again in our lives. When we have produced art or writing or music, there is a time for letting it out of our hands and into the world. When we move from jobs or homes or cities and towns, we let go of the identity we had there, of the people who we spent so much time with, of the places that have become familiar and comfortable to us.

Letting go, even when it is what we want or what we need, is never easy. There is something in us that wanted us to hold on, and when we let go, we feel the thing slip through our fingers. We feel the absence in our palm. There is nothingness for awhile before something else comes to fill that space. And sometimes nothing comes to fill it.

Although it is often used in a negative context, I don’t interpret clench in a negative way.  To hold closely, to grasp tightly to things or people is not always a bad thing. I think of holding onto family heirlooms or cultural traditions. I think of couples who have experienced breaches of trust who choose to repair and hold onto their relationship because they want to be with each other, because they love each other too much to let go of what they have together.

For myself, it’s a matter of awareness of how and why I hold onto things. Only when I’m conscious of these reasons can I determine when it is time to hold on and when I need to open up and just let go.

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