I’m sitting in my new studio at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, working against the soundtrack of the river rushing by and wind buffering the eaves. I used to hate that phrase. To me, buffering was the impatience of a little, rainbow-colored wheel on a computer screen telling me I had to wait for the next song, the next video, to play. But here, it makes sense. The roof wolf-whistles back at the wind as she grinds against him. It’s a furious, frustrated romance.
My body provides a more subliminal soundtrack, one that drowns out the roar of the wind when I tune inward. When I listen to the complaints that are white noise to everything else. That will make white noise from everything else, if I agree to vibrate on that frequency. We all live in a physical world and the temptation to let our physicality define us is ever-present. It can be difficult to let ourselves transcend the material manifestation of ourselves, especially when the rest of our personhoods are so intrinsically linked to the parts that keep us grounded.
As I sit and type, I can feel the anxiety of the written word in my body. My knees ache from too much time in one position, or the flights of stairs I climb multiples times a day to get to my studio and my room, or both. I can feel the tension I carry across my shoulders like a yolk, like I am a beast of burden tilling a field rather than etching out thoughts on a keyboard. It is amazing what we notice, when we think about ourselves as bodies. And when I lay down to sleep, I meditate that consciousness away and imagine myself like a marionette, my limbs unhinging, dancing, collapsing while I sleep into a pile of sawdust and strings.
My doctor’s words from two weeks ago still echo in my ears as I type, as every keystroke sends shivers up my wrists. Little electric sparks that I half expect to see shimmering on my skin, a cosmos of wires and signals, as if we could repair a human being by tweaking her motherboard. As if humanity were a cadre of machines, like we so often pretend we are.
“You’re too young to have this kind of pain. I’m out of ideas.”
“She meant well,” thrums in my solar plexus where I keep the thoughts I don’t believe. But good intentions are for priests and liars. We expect more from those designated to help us.
“You’re going to call me if this works,” she said, handing me a prescription for the steroids that didn’t work last time. “Or else I’m going to have to come up with something brilliant.” Her lack of confidence didn’t inspire mine. The pills didn’t work, like I knew they wouldn’t. Like she did.
Last night, at dinner, a girl apologized for shaking my hand when she noticed the braces I had wrapped around my wrists, to protect them from the assault of writing, driving or working with my hands. I told her it was ok and we laughed about it, but what I wanted to tell her was that she couldn’t hurt me, that her handshake would have to be Hulk-strength to do any damage through the aluminum planks that insulate my palms. And I thought about that: about what I’m keeping in, or what I’m keeping out. How the guarded insensitivity the devices lend me seems to heighten my own emotional sensitivity.
I didn’t intend to write about pain. To examine the pain of interaction and how we all insulate ourselves from one another’s buffering around the sharp corners of what constitutes ourselves. But now, I’m thinking of the pain of adjustment to the refraction a new place imposes on the body and the self, or the new state of being in a new place with a wholly unfamiliar purpose. I didn’t start out today to think about the way we all break down, ourselves and one another, in order to find our new reality, every moment we interact with the world like the wind shapes the snow bluffs forming on the riverbank outside my window. I wasn’t going to write about the wind. But I write what comes out of my fingertips when I sit down to write something else. So here I am.
The wind, my body, and words.