Sometimes physical pain is a nice metaphor for emotional hell.
I’ve spent most of the morning doubled over with cramps. I tell myself it’s only 15 years to menopause, and pray it’s my mum’s x chromosome that’s gonna guide the ladybits. Please. I’ve survived nearly 25 years of monthly bleeds, I’m more than half way through the marathon of female fertility. Endurance. The first 5 years were kind of cool, and then I started getting migraines. Cerebral endometriosis anyone? Maybe it’s just hysteria. In my twenties, my cycle turned into a 21 one day high rotation. Millennia of fecund Irish peasants coursing through my veins. Breed, breed, breed! It eventually slowed down, but now, in my 30’s I’ve got a clock ringing inside. Most of the time, I find myself aching for a child the way I ache for sex. Weird. And each month, each uterine shedding I find myself gripped with pain. I’ve named my uterus Bridgett, after Bridgett La Fontaine; a scary French chanteuse with some freaky song called “I am god’s nightmare”. Bridgett; La Cauchemar de Dieu. A shedding waterfall, screaming at me for not implanting a seed. Making me pay for every last egg lost.
So last night I curled up in bed and sobbed myself to sleep. Didn’t know what was stronger, heartache or lady pain. Something woke me up in the middle of the night. A phone call. Anna’s Dad, sounding chirpy and chatty. This does not happen very often, so I chirped and chatted back and mumbled evasively when he asked if she was there. “oh not far, she’s at the neighbours, send her a text and she’ll call you back’. God how I wished she was in the next room. Or beside me even. I wish the nice “grande soeur” role could assuage my feeling of abject bereftness. It won’t.
So today, I’ve been slow and messy, and listening to Johnny Cash and reading Dorothy Allison. Crying again and moaning at the cramps inside. At least I haven’t got a migraine today. Menstrual migraines are very intense but kind of cool. Well, not cool, and not fun at all actually. The pain is so intense, the head throbbing, almost trippy intensity of aversion; to lights, smells, noises. Being doubled over, stricken, prostrated in hell. And its all totally harmless. There’s nothing to be done except to lie still and deal with it. One of the reasons why I’ve neve lasted long in full time jobs has been the inevitability of having to spend 1-2 days each month locked away somewhere. And that’s when I’m healthy. When things are bad – I can spend months in a daily cycle of dread, numb, nauseating hell. Day after day of throbbing, noise averting, tense, debilitating, irritated distraction. It’s one of the reasons why I try to avoid summers now. Heat makes it worse. Lethargy, warmth, inertia, insomnia. In winter, I can go for a stroll in the cold with no hat on and my head cools off and throbbing calms. And one day in bed per month, isn’t too bad. Maybe that’s a lesson from modelling. Endurance. Calmly enduring pain. Lying there and taking it, being filled with it, reducing yourself to flesh. Drink water, piss, sip water, retch, piss, breathe. You can breathe. Breathe.
But then sometimes, the migraine spread’s further, and I get a ghastly stomach cramps. Sometimes it’s from undigested painkillers, but sometimes it just happens. My stomach lining is irritated, but not destroyed and not malignant, so I’ve taken to attributing it to another weird flow on from whatever migrainey neurotransmitters are floating around on my insides. It happened yesterday morning at 4am. I’m used to the vice on my intestines that has characterized my new single self, but this upper body blow, a nasty knife twisting at the fork off my thorax is something else. Not the spiky jabs of a gall bladder attack either, and much nastier than the almost exhilarating throbs of a migraine. This kind of pain is dreadful, dread filling, debilitating. I dread anyone seeing me in such a state, crouched over, moaning if I’m lucky. I panic. Get up wordlessly, swallow whatever I can; milk, slippery elm, water, anything smooth. Swallow, pass something over it, smooth it down. If this fails then I try the other direction, vomit whatever I can, remove, purge. Complement the moans by retching. I’m almost always so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Forcing myself to get up and be vertical , stay vertical, stay calm. Eyes shut. Don’t fall asleep, stay upright. I had mild little spasms all morning yesterday. I bought a bottle of milk and sipped it during the tutorial. Amazed that I could teach. Amazed that I could talk. My performances were bracketed by nasty silent sessions doubled over a toilet bowl. Thank God there was a ‘ladies’ near my classroom. This brute bestial existence takes my mind off other things. Even Abel ceases to exist. Everything ceases to exist. Abel has seen me in such a state, and her distress and impotence was so irritating I could have killed her. Some things are so isolating, that they are best endured alone. Some things no one can help.
Afterwards, I returned to myself, and the sadder comfort seeking ache of menstrual cramps. I feel like a child, I want comfort, cuddles. Someone bigger than me to take the pain away. Of course this has never happened, and never will. I’m grown up now so I grab a book, sugar, painkillers, warm milk. Go to bed with low expectations. Unfortunately I grabbed the wrong book. I decided to explore the realms of chicklit at a remainders sale and got “the bride stripped bare’. Every phrase is permeated by a gloomy drizzle of doom. Gemell’s voice has the eerie monotony of a 20 year old English undergrad reading poetry. I imagine one of those slender quiet bright young things I see scuttling around the sandstone, and drearily conclude that they probably are plagued by the same sexual emptiness as Gemell’s heroine. When I observe the cold contained smugness of bright-boy baby academics, I have a horrible vision of their self conscious coupling and a depressing sense of the failure of imagination. This is sex as a massive lacuna where thanatos rushes in to fill the gap unplugged by the dry restrained fumblings of selfish polite people. Desire as descent, sex as loss. Am I so naive to believe that sex is something basically life affirming and good?
Maybe because I do spend so much of my life in pain, and in isolation, I can’t eroticise suffering and can’t see the point of carrying this experience into the realm of sexual relations with other people. For me, sex is about interchange, exchange, movement, communication, life. I have had dreary deadening encounters; where nasty holes of longing have opened up and all I could feel was my own emptiness and despair, but they’ve mostly been quite rare. Most of the ‘bad’ sex I have had –has just been maladroit and a bit embarrassing. Most of the sex I have had has been like dancing – unskilled and silly, but basically incredibly expressively delightful. Dancing is one of those things that make me smile involuntarily with delight. Despite being pigeon toed and having no sense of rhythm, I love moving, being filled with movement and music, from the inside out. Movement that is pointless, based in the present, and incredibly playful. It’s little wonder that my favourite dancing friends are other artists. We spend our lives engaging in pointless delightful play so it’s not foreign territory for us at all. But I’m still amazed to see how many people on dance floors don’t enjoy dancing.
My last encounter with booty heaven was at a large party with lots of well dressed twenty somethings who weren’t moving very much. The best dancers were gay boys and I realised why straights are called what they are. But I try not to be closed minded about such things. Unfortunately my art-school friends were too wasted to even stand up, so I was dancing alone, prancing around interpellating random strangers. Trying to not too much like a newly single sleazy thirty five year old. Probably failing. One young booty queen said she had to go outside for a cigarette. I now realise I should have followed her, but at the time, I was too immersed in my own selfish needs of smoke avoidance. Bugger. I was intrigued by one guy who was almost good at dancing. When I say almost, it was as if he’d start dancing, but then have a sudden fit of self consciousness and stop. Not stop moving, but stop engaging. After a few hours of this I had him picked as a certified mills-virgin. One of the bright things that like to be associated with creativity, and feels it, but then is scared of their own vulnerability, and can’t lose control. Part of me wondered if he’d be the same in bed so I attempted conversation. As he spoke, Neitzchian ‘ressentiment’ oozed from every pore. He said he was a poet. His use of words was frightening, humourless, neurotic and I moved away rather quickly. The following week I recognised him at uni. I imagined his feminine counterpart; most likely small, pretty, insecure. I imagined them in bed. Not connecting, not communicating not engaging, challenging. Not losing their cool. Sex as a bland substrate for abstracted neurotic intellectualising. No surprises there.
I hope I’m not making some sort of insinuations that intellectuals are crap at sex or that artists are good at it, because this is not what I believe at all. I’m just scared of the point where intellectual engagement becomes a type of carapace over the body, blocking the possibilities for dumfounded surprise. Writing is a refractory neurotic process, and one that is often founded on a denial and escape from the body and its sensations. Why am I writing this, now? I’ve spent most of the morning in physical and emotional agony and telling nice stories is a nice distraction. I sit forwards, pressing my lower abdomen against my desk. Holding my arms stiff as I type. The rest of my body freezes into inert numbness. It’s not here, I’m not here. I don’t notice anymore. The carapace of pain opens itself up to a stranger alchemy of words, ideas, stories. Maybe it’s just lies. Maybe I should be playing music and dancing as I write. like I do when I paint. Ahh paint. When will I paint again? How is it possible to write with my body, instead of away from it? Maybe it’s not possible. Pain and sensation at their most present, make it very hard to form words, to construct sentences, to write. Although sometimes I find narratives running through my head. Magic, magic moments. Crying and composing. Someone said that pain is that which destroys language, but now I’m not so sure. I think horror is that which is outside of language. And some pain is horror-ful. Horrible, literally filled with horror, and it exists beyond language – and all there is wordless dread. But lots of pain is more prosaic, and is populated with language. It has its own modulations, it’s own affective registers. The ecstatic pain of intense fucking, the exquisite pain of physical effort, the banal pain of sore blistered feet, the consuming thuds of a head cold, or a hangover, the pulling drags of menstrual cramps, atavistic twitches of wind, the full bodied process of a migraine. Moving with, holding, releasing, denying, negotiating pain, is all part of how its immanence and all connected with language. So maybe words are not so empty after all. Maybe this has meaning.
Nov 11: Giving a reading at Naked Heart Festival
2 weeks ago