In a roundabout way, this is where this blog got its start. I wrote this piece early last year when I was just beginning to turn a corner from one of the lowest points of my life. Going through that ordeal and then turning the corner is part of what turned me from “me” into someone more akin to your friendly neighborhood Taoist Biker. Largely it was a matter of learning to express myself, not only to others but to myself. To be quiet and listen to what I was trying to tell myself.
Early on in that process I learned that writing was helpful for me. So after pen-and-paper journaling got to be too slow and too cumbersome, I started blogging around on Myspace. But after a while I was beginning to feel a little more uncomfortable with baring my soul while posting my name, my city, and a handful of my friends and family all together.
Then this spring my wife introduced me to Vix’s blog, the Overeducated Nympho. In the early part of the summer, Vix posted a particular blog about leading a sort of dualized life in which she quoted Sylvia Plath’s poem “In Plaster.” I’d never read it before (first, I’m a guy, and second, my own poetry professor was a tortured ex-Catholic so he tortured us with Geoffrey Hill and detailed description of gingkoes), but it struck me with the similarity to my own writing. So I mailed this piece to her and told her so. Her reply was polite and flattering. And she tagged it with a postscript: “Have you thought about starting a blog?”
I was duly flattered, yet decided I didn’t want that. Nope, not really. I didn’t have enough to say. But the seed had, in fact, been planted, and maybe a month later I told my wife that I thought I wanted to get back into blogging – only this time, to do it anonymously, and hopefully do it better. After doing some more poking and thinking and deciding, I cranked up The Taoist Biker in August of this year.
It’s been better than I’d hoped, actually. I find myself writing from a different place than I was before, which is a good thing. From the looks of it, I’m also reaching a lot more people, which is also flattering, and to those handful of you who care enough to react, that’s the best compliment of all.
Generally, though, I think I’ve usually been a bit too superficial on this blog. I think part of that is because I’ve been feeling generally good about myself for the past few months, so I haven’t had occasion to conjure up the tortured part of my psyche that has always produced my best prose. But lately I’ve also thought that it wasn’t exactly honest…that there’s more to me than a jovial pretend-Taoist ex-Biker. I decided to post this up, I just hadn’t decided when to do it. So, what the hell, I’m setting it up now to post while I’m gone.
Damn. That’s one long-ass explanatory note. Oh well, who cares. I just hope you all enjoy it. And remember, as Buddy from Night Court said…”I’m feeling muuuuch better now!”
PS: Go ahead, Google the title phrase. Extra bonus cool points to anyone who doesn’t have to.
I know I’m broken.
I also know I used to be a whole, whole lot MORE broken.
What I don’t understand is how I still feel a need to deny that I am now or used to be that way.
Someone can present irrefutable evidence that I was, at a certain point in my life, one mixed-up cookie. I can look at it and, intellectually, accept it as truth.
But inside, a part of me needs to fight it.
“No, that’s not true. I wasn’t that way. I was THIS way instead. I wasn’t fucked up at all. Nope. Not me.”
“Fine, so I was fucked up. So what. YOU were just as fucked up as I was.”
Why the fuck is that?
I don’t know. Some psych smarter than me could probably tell me. My best guess is that I feel a need to disown an image of my fractured past self in order to maintain a self-image of wholeness in the present. Another good guess is that I’ve always viewed myself as weak (and believed others perceived me as weak) and wanted to be strong. And so, in the same vein, I must disown any sense of weakness within me. A fractured self is, obviously, weak. *I* cannot be weak; therefore, I cannot be fractured, nor can I ever have been fractured, blah blah blah.
It’s not right. I should be able to look at myself now and respect where I am. I should be able to look at how far I’ve come as, if anything, something to be proud of. To be able to believe that I’ve created strength where once was weakness should bring me a sense of accomplishment and pride. I should look at it that I’ve built myself new layers of muscle and sinew, not as an admission that I once needed armor to protect my vulnerability.
As I type this, I’m struck by a metaphor. This need to deny my past self is, itself, a suit of armor. A rusty, pitted, suit of old armor–rent with battle-scars and opened to the elements in various vital places due to heavy blows from past wars fought. It offers an illusion of protection, but none in actuality. It leaves me open to various cuts and bruises, which the rust then invades and causes to fester.
It is too small.
Far too small. Constricting me.
I can’t grow any more until I shed it.
For ages and ages, I felt too small within it. The armor was bigger than me. It was more important than I was. It loaned me protection, and beyond that, the illusion of strength…a veneer of intimidation. All spikes and angles, with formed muscles and a horrifying, death-grinning mask to frighten away those who would do me harm.
And so I lived in it. Day after day, month after month, year after year. As it crumbled around me. As others learned that it kept me slow and encumbered; they could dance around me and laugh. As others tried to get close, but were repelled by the facade, and the notion…not consciously perceptible but innately palpable…that the thing that was inside was somehow poisoned. The sharp tang of iron oxide slowly mixing with the cloying odor of rotting flesh.
As the person within the armor withered and died.
I began to hate it. And fear it. But more than I hated and feared it, I hated myself. And I feared to live without it. The more I hated it, the more convinced I was that I could never survive without it…
The armor stayed. People in my life came and went. The armor stayed. People took one look at me and never looked back. People took shots at me, took pieces of the armor, couldn’t reach me within it to finish me off. It was becoming obvious to my subconscious that the armor itself could not protect me. But the more the pieces began to fall away, the more desperately I clung to the ones that remained…
The armor stayed. I changed. It didn’t. I felt it pressing into my flesh in places, but I couldn’t dream of shedding it. Not in my worst nightmare. And so, even though I grew in some ways, in others I continued to atrophy. My body never felt the sun except through cracks…and it burned my pasty flesh where it touched me. My eyes screamed in pain; the light was too much to bear. So I retreated back into the darkness with my armor. Only my armor and me. To fester again in the blackness.
I felt that, as long as I had it on, no one could tell that the being inside the armor was a puny, pathetic, shrivelled, naked worm. Nothing to be respected. Nothing to fear. In fact, crushing it would do the world a favor. That was, I felt, the real me. The armor was all that saved me. I had to cling to it! I had to make the armor A PART OF ME! I HAD TO! IT WAS ALL I HAD! IT HAD TO BE ME, OTHERWISE I WAS NOTHING!
I don’t need the armor anymore. I don’t want it. I can feel it. I can feel my muscles and sinews bulging. I feel my legs wanting to run, wanting to run free, being staggered by the weight of this stinking iron carcass. It’s tight, across my arms, my legs, my back, my chest, my throat. Constricting me.
The fetid mask, pressing into my face, molding it into an expression of pain and fear and hate. Pushing my own hot breath back into my face until I sweat. I don’t want that anymore.
I’m in the biggest battle of my life right now, and I refuse to die inside this putrid, rotting thing. If I’m going to die, I want to feel the sun on my body before I do.
And I also don’t want the armor to hold me back. It could cripple me, now. As I said, it does me no good. It offers me no protection. Just a dragging weight, crippling my soul.
I can envision bursting out of the armor. I’m so huge now, and so strong, that I bend at the waist, and flex every muscle I have, strain every part of my body just for a moment. I feel it fight me…I feel it start to give, like a heavy weight that slowly starts to move…then, suddenly, a noise, and the armor bursts apart like a pricked bubble, into a rust-orange cloud that is carried away by the wind.
And I stand blinking in the sun, my body scarred and rust-stained, but free.