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Breakage by Mary Oliver

Let’s try this again.

The truth is, I was confronted with the fact that the space I have created for myself is not invincible. It is a thing I had to digest for a while. I had thought myself under the radar, which was foolish. I spent eight years leaving this door open—I should have expected that what happened will happen, in whatever magnitude. I had left myself unprotected, is what I did, is what I’ve overlooked.

The truth is, I allowed it. Who was I kidding, in the end?

So what happens now? I will echo Louise Bourgeois: I do, I undo, I redo.

A quarter of my life was spent believing things I’ve been told I should believe. That was problematic, as I have an unnatural habit of asking questions at a young age. I suppose it was because I am a curious creature, but also because I was a child with an unnatural persistence (read: pesky). The how and why of things is important, and if people can’t tell me the answer, then I will endeavour to find out. I will gnaw at that bone until I am satisfied.

This quest, in the next few years, have brought me necessary grief, but also an unhealthy expectation for answers. Not having answers put me in a spiral of despair when I was in my teens. I was uncomfortable with the not knowing, for a while. It was supposed to be simple and quantitative: here is a question, and here is answer. I accept this, I don’t accept this.

It took me a long time to realise that the reason why I was getting all my answers was because I probably wasn’t asking enough questions. And when I started doing that—ask and ask and ask—my discontent multiplied tenfold. But so did my understanding of myself, my life, the world. (Is this too much to talk about at the beginning of the year?)

It was in the process of asking that I came upon a truth: that the unknown is an answer. That there are answers upon answers, and sometimes no questions at all.

Mostly, these days: I am unlearning and relearning. Mostly, these days: there are things I rely on, and people, too. And then there are things that I don’t know, and probably will never know, and that’s scary, but okay.

I am perhaps everything I’ve done and believed in, and not done and not believed in. You know?

So what happens now? I am thinking if the time for anonymity is over, and if I should start owning everything I’ve written here.

What have I got to be ashamed of, after all? Nothing, probably.

What have I got to lose? Some things. I think.

What am I afraid of? Oh, everything. Still.

There are things to consider, and think about, and it’s taking me some time to make up my mind. I mean: I contradict myself. It’s probably a matter of multiple selves arguing for a better position, a caucus that is difficult to please. So it might be a while before I finally decide what to do with this place (I have some ideas) but I have finally ran out of reasons to not write.

What happens now: I am trying this again. I might also move, but you’ll know about it. Or maybe I’ll bring together all the places where I am currently writing in, and just let you be pleasantly surprised.

(Or unpleasantly surprised, you never know.)

It’s not that I no longer care about keeping quiet in a corner undisturbed. Only I am thinking—perhaps my concerns eight years ago do not matter as much. That maybe—just maybe—I can say hello and you’ll say hello back.

It’s a new year. I have changed and I haven’t changed. Does that make sense?

Mostly: I believe in a lot of things. Poetry. The inside of a wrist. Mostly: I believe in little things. This place. You.


Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
       full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

from Why I Wake Early: New Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2005.

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