Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Side Effects

Mania's not as fun as it sounds
sure there's that pop
of pure bliss at the top
of the roller-coaster, and the wind in your
hair's indescribable
and you fail to give a logical shit
about what's waiting for you back earthward--
you: up, up with no safety harness while gravity
falls away beneath and you are weightless, yes
flying, yes
and the earth: sullen and extant
refusing not to be there when you pancake
against it at high speed.

You could say
madness is a side effect of gravity;
the crash is of course inevitable
you hit every steel strut post and branch on the way down
agonizing over every. single. thing. you've ever done
felt said imagined thought or attempted.

Now begins that little voice
winding up to a screaming pitch
while the rest of you goes limp:
you're no good, you're nothing, there's no one left
who believes you're any good including you.
You could say
worthlessness is a side effect of depression.

You swear you'll be good and
take your meds as prescribed!
you will accept the consequences
side effects and all:
weight gain hair loss fatigue
dry-eye sexual dysfunction loss of appetite
tremors seizures panic attacks flat affect
drooling shaking lack of sleep too much sleep
nightmares daydreams delusions

and when you've run
that gauntlet to claim the prize: stability!
well the world becomes so strange
you are suddenly dropped into first gear
Sunday-drive gear
normal gear.
This is the ideal
this is how you're supposed to feel
you can walk from one end to the other of "normal"
and back again at a nice, easy pace in about 7 minutes tops.
There is no roller-coaster here, no neon lights, no circus
and you will dearly miss the tigers, the elephants
the monkeys in top hats
the ladies on horseback.

Here we have sadness--but not too much sadness;
we have happiness of a muted sort
there is anger here
but its teeth have been removed.
All the other Sunday-drivers welcome you back
with caution at first but soon you're having brunch
with the few friends who haven't
completely crossed you off as looney-tunes
or worse, hate you for whatever you did
back there at the top of the roller-coaster.
Brunch is nice. Comforting.
Also it's excruciating and exhausting and you
duck out early to catch up on sleep
and stare at the wall
and cry into the dog's fur.
You could say
comfort is a side effect of normal life.

Goes without saying you can't live that way for long
some of the crazies jump the fence and hightail it grinning
back to the roller-coaster, meds flying out of their pockets
all the way to the top and then it's pancakes again.

But for the lucky ones who stick it out a new life emerges.
They throw off comfort's smothering blanket
you won't see them at Sunday brunch
but the carnival rides are over.
They leave out on the road tripping
who knows where arriving who knows when.
Some go with meds in hand, trading side effects
for lesser side effects:
a few clumps of hair in exchange for a sane brain
a few extra pounds in exchange for a living body
sexual hyperdrive in exchange for a few good friends.

Others go naked into that new morning
no meds no alcohol no caffeine no drugs.
Either way you must recreate yourself
and creation is born of dreams and nightmares
hard work and tears and chewed-up fingernails
these are all yours, you made them and you own them
so take them with you
dip the pen in your hard-won sweat and
sign your declaration of independence.

You could say
suffering is a side effect of freedom.

© KB 1/26/2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Impressionist

Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.  --Evelyn Cunningham

It's an unexpected interruption on a day
when you are hard at work mastering the lovely
piece that is your life, its nuanced colors and shades
the way the light and dark balance one another
and he enters quietly at first, failing to wipe his feet.
It's such a minute error, so small
you could almost ignore the smear on the canvas
if it didn't keep nagging at your eye.
It's as slight as the way he looks at you
that squirm when he touches you without asking--
deferentially almost; apologetically.

And certainly you say no
when he tries to paint himself into the picture
of your bedroom: the antique mirror glowing softly
the sweetly arranged shapes of you and the dog
beneath the down coverlet
the friendly book on the night stand.

No, you say, I'm not comfortable with that
and when he asks again a brush-stroke later
the answer is still no
but with an awkward smile
which he accepts as surrender.

Perhaps there is a rare man
a kind, experienced
and unhurried man
who understands that a smile is not always
a smile
an implied yes is not always really yes.
This is not that man.

Later on things become more complicated
you are worn down to a different kind of consent
there are words involved, forceful words
that paint the picture with darker colors:
you decide fleeting pleasure is better
than starting over: the arduous drawing of
that will then be crossed
battled over
crossed again
destroyed again.
Whatever anyone calls you after this
it will be dangerously close to slut
or just as sad, willing.

Here you must paint over your mistakes.
First impressions are vital but you
have taught yourself to trade them
for the confusion of camouflage:
the way he respects or does not respect
each line you draw, the way he loves
or does not love
the shapes that define you.

You accept every other impression
drowning the first in hopeful hues
all that color running down a saturated canvas.
You decide on impulse to paint with your
eyes closed
finding his dark weighty presence if not comforting
then at least a counterpoint in a sea of light
which holds everything down
keeps you from spinning out
into a backdrop of ambiguity: you tell yourself
whatever anyone calls you after this
it will not be victim. 

©KB 1/26/2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Wrote This for You

I wrote this for you
during a thousand hours with my two hands
pressed against your pain.
You find me, eventually
tired and hurting
your body tight as hardwood
gnarled into shapes you can't escape
no matter which way you push and stretch.
You have forgotten how to walk
how to run
how to breathe
You have forgotten how to fall
into a sleep natural and trusting
as a child rocked next to the beating heart
of someone who loves it--
but you are ready to learn.

You don't see your own perfection
but it is there
I see it
curled like a bud in your belly
your furled palms and corded forearms
the small of your back where it's tight and guarded
the arches of your feet that ache and ache;
perfection is there
I see it.

You belong to you; this beauty is your own
day by day you will stand taller
breathe easier
release the tough coiled ball at your center.
You will not be hard and hurting but pliable and strong
a thing that floats
a body that breathes
a being that knows, loves, believes.

I see you someday, soon, moving with ease
along a crowded sidewalk
a smile curling your lips as you float
from curb to sidewalk to street corner.
Your form is pure grace, strong and light
proud as a tall ship
the breath in your lungs like wind in sails
bellying you onward: now exhale--now inhale--
do you feel the waves pressing you forward?
Can you hear the beating heart of love?

© 1/6/2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Black Holes

"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe." --Joanna May

I didn't know you, not really; I called you a friend but you weren't, not really. You were a face, a constant presence on my peripheral vision. You were the friendly conversation I could always count on. You were the smile that was always waiting to catch my eye if I glanced in your direction--that made me a little nervous because it was always ready, always lit up, and I thought you wanted something from me. Maybe you did. Warmth, touch, chat, companionship, alliance against the dark that closed us into a cave every winter and the light that sent us too high every summer.

A few times I opened to you--in my braver moments--and we talked for far too long: life, love, dog mushing, travel, the holes in the universe that lead to the unknown. We didn't know where we were going and on those nights we didn't really care. You were a good person. We were two good people who had plenty to regret, and we met on that common ground. Regrets. Love. The great unknown. Black holes you can fall into and never look back.

And then the next time I'd see you, we'd have forgotten. Back to being strangers who knew each other once, just that once over a beer at a bar that felt like home. I moved away and never thought about you but once or twice; a mutual friend would mention they'd seen you, and I'd think, uncomfortably, of that connection that lasted no longer than a breath and didn't lend itself to my understanding.

Last night I read online, from an impersonal distance, that you'd taken your own life. Not discreetly, in a moment of private anguish, but publicly, hanging yourself from a tree in the middle of town. Why would anyone do such a thing? but I thought, suddenly, of a Tibetan monk setting himself on fire in protest of a situation that is unlivable, unthinkable, untenable. This is public, visceral, frightening, sickening. It tears our hearts out. It leaves us numb. It is a statement of abhorrence of the Thing That Should Not Be. No one can live like this; no one should have to. Isolated, alone, no help on the horizon. No matter the appearances on the surface, no matter how many friends, acquaintances, warm alliances you have--this dread solitude at your center, this maelstrom of demons that stole your mind--they occupied your inner territory, claimed it for themselves. You had to get out.

Now I understand. This is what we had in common, and this is why your presence made me so uncomfortable. I was looking into a mirror. I think, though, that you were better than I was back then. You reached out. You tried. You made friends, chased adventure, gave your heart, fought to live. It just got to be too much. A decision had to be made: live in chains, or set yourself on fire and hope someone saw.

Well, someone did. We all did. You are mourned. You are loved. You will be missed. No one, no matter what the demons say, is ever alone. Not you, not the Tibetan monk burning to death in a pillar of fire. We are all everything. We are all connected. Go back to where you came from; discover the secrets of love, black holes, time travel, your place in the universe. Go on and on till you find the place you were meant to be. Find peace there, and ease. Gather a team of eager dogs and mush them down the spine of the universe. Let their laughing mouths guide you to freedom.

© 11/18/2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wise Woman

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it.        --e.e. cummings

It was years ago and yesterday
You clambered up into my bed

Wearing your fuzzy footed jammies
With a book in your hands that needed reading.

I don't remember the book, there were so many:

Jabberwocks, Care Bears, Alice in her Wonderland.
The point of them was us telling stories
Funny lively stories in the morning
Scary keep-you-up-late ones in the night
Stories that lit up your green eyes
Made you ask questions
Made you trill with laughter and sometimes
To my mingled pride and shame, made you cry.

I was twelve and 
angsty and still a child

Skating on the edge of a grown world;  
You were five and followed me endlessly

Soft yellow-duck hair haloing your head
Ticklish feet, bitten nails, a penchant for Rice Krispies. 

How I loved you--fiercely, furiously, a love that wrapped itself 
So tightly around my adolescent heart I felt at times 
I'd have to scream to get it out. 

Sometimes I did and it scared you a little. 

Sometimes I protected you from others who screamed.
I tried to warn you about the world so you wouldn't get hurt
The way I was already hurt--all that made-up wisdom
I thought I possessed but didn't, all the stories I told
To scare you into not growing up.

I wanted to toughen you but you wouldn't toughen
You insisted on loving openly

You trusted, you laughed, you were real and warm
As only a child can be.

Much later, when the world finally did hurt you 
It tore me open all over again
The way it does every time
The way it feels watching someone 
Take a punch in the gut and having
No power to punch back on their behalf. 
These are the simple equations of love:
I carry your heart in my heart. When you hurt I hurt.
When you are glad I am glad.

But I am beginning to learn from you
(I see you were the wiser woman all along):
It is always worth it.
To love, to hope. To keep loving. Keep hoping.
To fall down and get up and love again, hope again,
Returning to the path you've marked for yourself.

So you don't need my raging adolescent protector.
She can keep her mouth shut while she holds your hand:
You've got this, you will make it, sister--
She can give you center stage
To love openly, to trust, to find your laughter again
To be real and warm
As only a grown woman can be.



Sunday, September 14, 2014


“You have to give to the world the thing that you want the most, in order to fix the broken parts inside you.” 
Eve Ensler 

Shame to give it away
this iridescent thing inside you
rooted in your being
the thing you can't express
no matter how many poems paintings
works of art new colors you invent.
It was always going to mean death
to get it out; like the quest for the human soul
this one requires that you spill blood
open the body cavity
eviscerate everything in the search.

Shame to give it away
to find the words for it and hand them over to
some stupid boy in a campfire-lit moment
that he will not remember
and if he does, will not understand
nor care about.
He was merely listening because
he thought wide-eyed attentiveness
was the gentle crowbar
that would prise apart your legs.
When he found you were naively pleased
to have an audience he grew impatient
did the prying by force
and this is how you learned:

Pinned down, screams clenched between your teeth
silent chaos, cruel intimacy--
ultimately these become fuel
for the flame at the center of your being
the thing that makes you you: an alchemist
that takes every evil indelible moment
and transforms it into light.

Shame to give it away
but shame is a liar: the thing itself
can never be taken, it is you
and you are here
and no one gets to say how, or why
or in what form.
So spill your blood. Pry yourself open.
Tear it all apart until you find you
and hold yourself high
this being human, this human being
this thing made of light and hate and love and fear.
Show us. Light us up, be truth, heal for us.

KB © 9/13/14

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monkey at the Wheel

I've never had a great relationship with my brain. Does it seem weird to tell you that? Yes. It is a strange thing to say, but it's true: my brain and I never really got along. I have learned, slowly, that just because something consists of my own flesh and blood; just because it is mine, or is me, this gray lump encased in hard bone riding around on my spindly neck; just because I feel its weight every time I nod my head yes or shake it no, does not mean it has to do what I tell it to.

In fact for most of my life my brain was doing pretty much the opposite of what I wanted. While I was a kid, busy climbing trees and getting in trouble and riding horses and flunking math, my brain was a space ship traversing the galaxy. I'd space out in the midst of whatever I was doing and come back a few minutes later to find a teacher, a parent, a friend or a bully staring at me in confusion, as if I'd just arrived from another planet. In most cases I'd been in the middle of an interaction with these people: a lecture, a game, a fight; and blip! gone. My brain had just done the equivalent of stepping out for a smoke break without notifying the boss--ostensibly, me. I had no idea this was happening, and it was usually awkward. My high school history teacher wrote me up for "humming in class." I was unaware I'd been disturbing his lectures with my musical predilections; my brain had let my body hang out on its own, and my body decided humming in class would be a fun thing to do. 

As I got older, the blips became less amusing and more worrisome. I became a master at "stepping out" of my body. I practically majored in it in college. When my best friend was killed in a car accident two weeks before the advent of my freshman year, I took it relatively in stride. She was gone, and so was I. Off to school went my body, off to the galaxy went my brain. I don't remember very much about being at university. I made some friends but didn't retain many of them. I think I did alright in my classes; I found a major I liked, and one or two professors I connected with. I learned some things but most of them had nothing to do with academics. Mostly, I was depressed. Whenever I bothered to check in with my mind, it hurt; so I didn't check in very often. I got married, then finished school, then got divorced. The pain worsened, so I fled to Africa, a continent of pain, and I drowned myself there in other people's injuries. 

Over the years it began to feel like my mind had special rules that I wasn't aware of. It was a sensitive thing, a high-revving, shaky, frighteningly unpredictable machine. It was a Ferrari with a monkey at the wheel: in hyperdrive one day and the next, mashed into a ditch. I started having delusions. I started seeing a therapist. I didn't know I was having delusions and if the therapist knew it, she kept it to herself. Telling a delusional person that she is delusional is a tricky thing, obviously, but it does fall within a therapist's job description--so maybe she just didn't know. And I wasn't dangerous. I think I was probably just sort of weird. Well, weird and funny and tragic, from the outside. And internally, I was a wreck on one hand and rather enjoying it on the other. I fancied myself a writer and would stay up late some nights, sipping whiskey and emoting on my laptop. Other nights I went out to bars and shows, and danced myself into a dark, frenzied place that felt panicky and claustrophobic. It was those times that I'd feel like something inside me was trying to claw its way out: this deeper mind, this animal brain, this souped-up monkey-driven Ferrari. It couldn't get out, of course, but it did some damage trying. Scars began to appear on my arms and legs. I burned and bit, cut and carved. These were calming activities, they took the engine down a notch, kept the car on the road.

But ultimately there are only so many roads. So many red lights and blind corners, so many tanks of gas burned up circling the same few blocks. Over and over I did the things that had failed me before, hoping this time--this new relationship, this new job, this new residence--would be the right one. Circling that block with manic high speed and razor-sharp turns didn't work, and neither did dragging around the same block in low-speed choked-up depressive reverse. One night in the middle of a new relationship and a promising new career, having just bought my first home, I gave up. Found myself in the bathroom with a bottle of pills and a crazy person in the mirror. Brain: checked-out. Stalled. Gone off the shoulder of the road, in free-fall.

It didn't really come back from that night. Not that brain, not that person in the mirror. I didn't die, but monkey-mind began to. The free-fall lasted eighteen months, and when it was done that car hit bottom and blew up. My life as I knew it died in the resulting fire. It wasn't a quick death, but it was thorough and permanent. I didn't think I'd ever see the road again.

It's weird, though, what can happen after you give up. When your hands are taken off the wheel, by choice or chance. Because of that night I received a new name: Bipolar. It was, I see now, only one name among the many other names I have taken for myself: Writer. Rolfer. Maker of Mistakes. Woman. Lover. Healer. Destroyer. Student. Teacher. Friend. Because of that night I received help, in the form of family and friend support, medication, and therapy. I began to see my delusions for what they were. Now, they are my comedians, a source of laughter in a world that appears to be ever more unaware of its increasing delusions.

And my car is back on the road, at last. It's not the same car. It doesn't do flashy turns and go from zero to sixty in .001 seconds, but it's fast as hell if need be. It's got meds in the tank and love in the headlamps. It's a sweet-ass Cadillac circa 1959, with hot-pink fins and zebra stripes and a set of moose antlers bolted to the grille. This Eldorado is all about moving forward, high speed or low, smooth and quiet, the whole world plastered to the windscreen like it's smiling for a closeup. I'm at the wheel now, most of the time, but there's a tiger in the backseat and every time I gaze in the rearview to try to guess what I might have left behind, his toothy grin reminds me: You got one day to live, lady. Do it. Do it now.