See the Cripple Dance: On the urgency of writing, borderline dreamscapes, and feelings hidden behind the prolific

Every now and then, I have a desire to go into a form of hiding.

It sounds ridiculous when I’m still recovering (and will never be fully recovered) from the isolation of being disabled and housebound, but I imagine a different kind of hiding: the kind where I can quell my need for external validation, for the short-form writing of tweets & notifications and the memory-erasing vibe of endless churning of essays read &  shared but unabsorbed, blogs glanced at & forgotten, re-tweets posted & buried.

Sometimes I think (well, I know) the reason I’m such a prolific writer is because this is how I cope with a lack of intimacy in my life. At some point, the word ‘prolific’ began to feel like a form of invalidation to me. It’s not meant as an insult, I know, but I’m not sure if it’s a compliment either. ‘Prolific’ only means ‘a lot’. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’. And it erases the motivations behind the writing: the loneliness, the rage, the mania, the illness, the loss.

Between my diaries, my zines, my blog, short stories, poems, this column, the second novel I’m finishing, and yes, all those forgotten, buried tweets, even ordinary emails that I will never catch up on – I write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. A minimum. And I read several books a week. And I do tarot readings for myself and others. Quite often, people ask me how I manage to write and read so much. My first (sometimes angry and reactive) answer is, “um, I’m alone a lot.” One can get a lot done without the distractions (and companionship) of sharing space with other humans.

But no matter how much I write or read, it never feels like enough. And I don’t mean in a capitalistic sense, in a doing sense – but in an emotional and spiritual sense.

So, what’s missing?

The word ‘intimacy’ used to make me cringe (actually, it still does). But when a particular word makes me cringe (and there are a lot of them!) I know I have work to do.

So intimacy, yeah, that’s one thing that’s missing. And a feeling of effectiveness, of appreciation – I know that my writing does make change, and I (sort of?) know that I exist when I’m not writing, but it can be difficult knowledge to hold onto when it’s not tangible, when I have a severe mental illness that still, after all these years, gives me those chronic feelings of emptiness, lack of object constancy, depersonalization, paranoia (they’re gossiping about you! they’re stealing your work! they want you to fail!), fear of being forgotten, fear of forgetting myself.

The Six of Swords is one of my grief cards. While it’s often portrayed as several figures in a small boat, protected or weighed down with swords, one person paddling while the others rest, shrouded in scarves and their shoulders hunched; in Thea’s Tarot, one person lies in bed with their cat. To me, it feels like a distinctly different kind of rest or retreat than that in, say, the Four of Swords or Eight of Cups. When I drew this card a few days ago, it reminded me of the kind of afternoon nap that gives me an anxious rapid heartbeat and churning guts.

Sometimes I take a sleeping pill that makes me hallucinate if I don’t fall asleep right away.

One of the most relaxing hallucinations I’ve had on Zopiclone was that my bed was a boat, and I was gently rocking on the waves as I drifted off. It felt like a houseboat; cozy walls keeping me safe, water everywhere else – or maybe it was the exposed boat of Pixie’s illustrations. Sometimes I try to bring the hallucination back. It’s a lovely way to fall asleep.

Other times, the opposite happens: I dissociate and cannot remember which bed I’m in. My eyes are closed, but I’m picturing the walls around me, and I know I’m seeing a bedroom that is no longer mine. For a few minutes, I’ll flip through my bedroom-memories like a messed up dissociation-brain Rolodex until the correct bedroom appears. Then I’ll look around me and make sure that’s where I really am.

With these two cards together, I see the Six of Swords as the process, with the Queen (or Daughter) of Swords being the person experiencing the process, or the person one might become in a later stage of the process.

‘Prolific’ is a word I’ve always associated exclusively with writers, very productive writers.

Productive like Anaïs Nin, Jack Kerouac, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Sexton, Francesca Lia Block, Michelle Tea – writers whose work you can barely keep up with. But when I looked it up, the word, of course, described plants first: producing foliage, fruits, flowers. If, like me, you’re fascinated by etymology (the study of the origins of words and how their meanings change over time): from Latin, ‘proles’ (offspring), mixed up with Medieval Latin, ‘prolificus’ (prolific us!), and English, ‘proliferous’ = Prolific.

It makes me imagine flowers growing through typewriter keys.

For I pray that my typewriter, ever faithful, will not break even though I threw it across the hospital room six years ago.

– Anne Sexton, “O Ye Tongues”, The Death Notebooks

‘Productivity’ too (another one of those words that makes me cringe) is associated with work, art, and plants alike. ‘Bodies’ too (synonyms are fruitfulness and fertility; antonyms are sterility and barrenness). It doesn’t make me imagine flowers, though; only endless to-do lists, how-to-be-productive blogs, tasks with little meaning. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to start talking about producing art as giving birth.)

I am somebody who doesn’t understand what writer’s block is. I don’t remember what it feels like. I haven’t stopped writing for years. I am unemployed, I live alone, I have most of my groceries delivered, I don’t go to school, I rarely hang out with friends, I don’t go to shows, I haven’t been to a party for a decade, I’ve been sober for six years, and I still can’t find the time to write everything I need to write. It never ends.

The Six of Swords, in this re-imagining, made me think of my sometimes-desire to quit everything and just go to bed. I could do that. I could get away with it. I could go to bed for months at a time, refuse to respond to messages, log out of everything, refuse to create anything at all: that is an available, accessible, affordable form of protest to me. It is one of my biggest fantasies.

But I’ve done that before. That’s what much of my teenage years looked like, when I was agoraphobic, and my early-20’s, when I was incoherently depressed and often-drunk. And although my understandings of the potential political meanings and dimensions of mental illness and chronic pain were barely formed in my young and isolated mind – it did not feel like a protest. It felt like avoiding the world because there were no other options available to me.

Staying in bed is a form of protest, yes, it is always – and whatever was growing, percolating, incubating in my crazy-brain all those years wasn’t mould or waste or rotting garbage after all; it was those impossible blooms. The ones I see on the keys now, wrapped around my pens and my wrists – their underground process hidden by that damned word: prolific. With room for petals, leaves, and thorns too, because of that damn lack: intimacy. So I think now of the hidden process of the growth and regrowth of plants, the hidden process of the meds I take flowing through my brain and my blood.

It pleases me that the figure in the Thea’s Tarot feminist re-imagining of the Six of Swords is alone but for their cat. And that they’ve kept their swords in bed with them! I love that they’re in a corner but do not appear trapped or confined! That’s me, with my head on my memory-foam pillow and fuchsia pillowcase, an open notebook and uncapped pen on the other pillow, my diary on my nightstand, my dream dictionary on the floor under two or three more books I’m reading, bottles of pills and tinctures and essences lined up.

When you’re in bed, what do you dream of? Who do you dream of? Do the dreams differ at night vs. day? What walls or bodies of water or other objects and landscapes do you envision around you? Do you know who or where you are when you wake up? What would you write if you logged out? What were you thinking about before you went online, and what do you think about after? What pain have you carried to bed? What knowledge? What did you learn while you were sleeping? What does it feel like to have a room of your own? What does it feel like to embody change while remaining in one place? Who do these swords belong to?

What forms of intimacy are available to you, and which are not? Which ones do you wish to experience, which ones do you miss, and which ones are you content without?

Do you have a white noise machine? With various settings? If so, turn it on and sleep with the Six of Swords under your pillow.

P.S. There’s more to say about wanted and unwanted intimacy. In a future column, I’ll continue explorations of access to intimacy, forced intimacy, and more – for all my disabled lonely cripple crazy witches.

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2 comments

  1. Julie Reeser says:

    My bed and I. *sigh* My disease requires a lot of lying in bed. A lot. I get about four functional upright hours a day. I have to choose very carefully how I use that time. My PTSD makes sleep a dangerous place. Yes, I’ve wandered that flip-book of rooms. My brain works overtime gnawing on memories and impressions and fears and worries. It’s constant background noise, and I find writing and reading keep that noise just quiet enough. The less intimacy I have with my family, the louder all of that gets, no matter how much I write or read. It’s a correlation I’ve only discovered in the last few years, but an important thing to know about myself. Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts and giving me good questions to ponder.

  2. dctarot says:

    I think my issue of intimacy has a lot to do with being scared of appearing vulnerable. I try to hold in when I feel unwell, physically and mentally, from my partner, hoping it will pass and usually I end up acting bitter and angry because I am withholding the reason for my real pain and distance myself. I make myself even more anxious with fear and untrue thoughts than if I just spoke up. If I wasn’t scared to admit how I really felt, I am sure things would be better for myself and it would be easier to get the thing I need (rest, doctor, quiet, etc…). It’s not that my partner is uncaring, actually the opposite–they want to help and sense my emotions very well. So the fear to share these things must come from a place of myself where I am judging myself? Or want myself to suffer? A lot of interesting things for me to ponder here…and I will go look at these cards in my own deck. Thank you, Maranda.

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