the light inside the dark

More moths. Not every day, but at least once a week. I’ve taken to leaving the light on in this lady 24/7, because the moths like the dark.


It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t photographed her with the light on since last year’s great moth-proofing effort. So there she is: several layers of acrylic fabric stiffener over felted wool, over doilies crocheted from fingering-weight yarn, over rusty wire, with an 11-watt compact fluorescent lightbulb hanging in the middle. More than the sum of her parts (as we all are).

I just finished reading The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant, and I’m feeling inarticulate. I had to take a break from the group I was reading it with. They weren’t having any of the seventeen conversations I wanted to have, and I felt unable to start the conversations myself.

Maybe I already said a lot of what I could say about that book anyway, before I even read it, with this sculpture.

Maybe words are overrated.

Recently I seem to have become the kind of person who’ll dance in public, and not necessarily in a polite and sedate way. “With some people, you can tell they’re holding back,” someone said to me last night, after the music had stopped and we were getting ready to go home. “But not you.” Old Me would have been deeply embarrassed. New Me shrugs and says maybe I’m old enough to start experiencing the Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.

Tarrant says:

We need the patience to bless even our weakness, this odd weakness that seems to come not when we are helpless, as it does in the darkest night, but when we are full of strength and rising.

Last time I saw E, I cried for half an hour before I was able to say anything. She said she respected my bravery. “You’re the only person in the world who ever says anything like that to me,” I complained. “What the fuck is wrong with you? What are we turning me into? How am I supposed to be in the world like this?”

“I love you too,” she said. I hated her so much in that moment.

I am a hot mess, but not so most people would notice. I put on my boots and drive my car to the supermarket or the bank or the hardware store. I stand up straight and I smile, and it’s not an act because I really do feel pretty good a lot of the time.

And I also feel shitty and toxic, and I wish I could explain how it’s possible for the two states – light and dark – to exist at the same time and in such close proximity, and not cause some sort of explosion.

I feel like I outgrew the loneliness I was born with, and traded it in for a bigger loneliness. I’m constantly tripping over its hem and discovering odd things in its pockets: a blue bug, a red car, a long-forgotten granola bar, the sound your mother made when your head popped out of her.

the edge of the known universe


Before I got sick, I had been talking about doing a sculpture for someone else: a large hand-shaped wire basket. I remember thinking it would be an interesting technical challenge. I remember being excited about collaborating, and about the idea of a project that might be a little less emotionally fraught than my usual thing. I remember thinking it would be easier to talk about than most of my work.

But then I was explaining the project to someone and she called it “a cheap solution.” Ouch! And then I got sick.

And now that I’m finally starting to recover, now that I’m able to spend more than an hour in the studio without needing a nap, I’m not so sure I want to do this project.

I hate feeling indecisive.

All of the stuff I was excited about is still true, but it’s not the whole truth.

This year has been incredibly disruptive. I’ve taken to calling it “The Year of Pestilence.” I had an infestation of clothes moths in the studio (a disaster for someone who’d been working with wool as much as I had). I had shingles. My house was full of carpenter ants, and mice built a nest in my car and peed all over everything and it took me months to get the smell out. It’s been a lot of work. It has eaten most of my year.

Being middle-aged and being sick have made me really think hard about what’s important to me and how I want to spend my time.

In my morning pages, I wrote that the Hand project was like being at the Edge of the Known Universe. I was about to do something I didn’t know how to do. It was a fun place to be, that place of not-knowing. When I’m there, that’s always when the best things happen for me in the studio.

But the truth is: my work is almost always a technical challenge. I’m often not sure how to do it. Sometimes I’m not even sure it can be done.

The truth is: learning how to live with disappointing people is Edge-of-the-Known-Universe stuff too.

The truth is: I am always at the Edge of my Known Universe, always in a moment I’ve never been in before. While I’m still breathing, there’s always a chance to consider that maybe I don’t know how to do it and to choose differently this time.

There is no right way to live your life. There is only the right way for you today, and the knowledge that everything could change tomorrow.

I’m not finished making wire ladies yet. Not by a long shot. I don’t have time to be distracted by hands.

Today, like every other day, Sam wakes up stiff as a board

Across the river, I wake up (like every other day this week) with my right arm in an invisible gom jabbarIt may be that other parts of me are stiff. I wouldn’t know. I am reduced to one flaming arm.

As I wake up more, I remember that the gom jabbar is not the Box of Pain. The gom jabbar is the poisoned needle held at your neck while your hand is inside the Box of Pain. It is supposed to be a test of your humanity. Will you pull your hand out of the box, or will you remember the needle and endure the pain?

Last night, having watched Judith Blackstone talk briefly about inhabiting the internal space of our bodies, I decided to spend some time inhabiting the arm. Why not investigate? In the arm, heaviness became vast space punctuated by nebulous blue and purple clouds of pain. It was actually quite beautiful. I remembered all the people who love me and have been brave enough to stay in the room with me and the crummy story that I’m not quite ready to leave behind. If the arm was full of space, there was room in it for their love. For a few minutes, my arm became a sponge and a Love Magnet. Afterwards it felt better for a while.

This morning the arm is a heavy burning log again. I can’t find much space in it. I wonder if it will be like this forever. Just as I am starting to feel the edge of despair, I hear the voice that sometimes comes to me from the place where there is no Inside or Outside. “You are a bridge,” it says.

A bridge, I think, is a useful thing. I am grateful for this piece of information, and for the sleep that miraculously follows it.

When I wake up again, it occurs to me that I can make an appointment with a physical therapist. I have not wanted to see a doctor. I have been thinking of the two possible outcomes of such an encounter:

  1. They could refuse to take me seriously, which would make the visit a waste of time and money.
  2. They could take me seriously, and there might be a series of expensive and time-consuming tests. The tests might or might not reveal anything useful.

Either way, they might start using words like fibromyalgia. Which sounds to me like another way of saying: “We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Please shut up and take these pills.”

No thanks.

But, as so often happens, it turns out that I have been catastrophizing just the teensiest bit. There is a third possibility: they could suggest physical therapy. I don’t actually need a doctor to tell me that sometimes physical therapy works; there is ample evidence of that in my back and my knees.

Meanwhile, the pain is fascinating. It is different every day. One day my hand gets involved, the palm feeling scraped and bruised as if from a violent encounter with a sidewalk. The next day my hand feels fine, but there’s a stabbing sensation at the rubbery junction of breast and armpit.

It feels somehow inevitable that something like this would happen. It is my bad shoulder. I sprained it, and it has never been the same. I was sexually assaulted, and that was the first place he touched me, and it has never been the same. The whole right side of my body is always stiffer than the left.

And yet: in the middle of all this stiffness and pain, there has been a kind of loosening too. My brain feels soupy and unformed. There’s the pain, yes, but there’s also that vast space lit with purple and blue. My brain is Bridge Soup, made of blue lights stretched across an impossible distance. What’s it connecting? Who knows?

another kind of soup

My arm is a Love Magnet. This is just as true as: my arm is trapped in an Invisible Box of Pain.

The sexual assault was not so much a punctuation mark between two crummy sentences as a comma in the middle of one longer crummy sentence. A comma, connecting the twin horrors of Before and After. That sentence seems to have ended. While I try to make sense of it, a new one is beginning. Once upon a time, it starts.

Once upon a time. And then what?  There was a cranky sleep-deprived middle-aged woman?  There was a bridge?

Sometimes I imagine that I can hear the river below me. Maybe that accounts for the ringing in my ears.

I am here in this excessively bright and hot room, writing with Julie and Sam, being stabbed under the shoulder blade. Or am I? Let’s say I am. My hand aches. I think I can hear my brain quivering inside my skull. I have been feeling feverish. I have been bleeding, on and off, for four weeks.

I should be in a red tent somewhere. With a dirt floor. Bare feet. Stirring a soup that smells like blood and potatoes. Maybe I am. Maybe I am simultaneously here in this bright hot library and in the cool red tent mixing up bridge soup.

My hand has stopped hurting for now. At least there’s that: a small loosening.

How many times this year have I been stuck on a bridge between Vermont and New Hampshire, feeling it shudder beneath my car’s tires or the balls of my feet?  A bridge is not a static thing. If it were, it would shatter. It expands and contracts so as not to dump all the dusty travelers into the river.

It stretches and shrinks and creaks and groans. And so do I.