Saturday, October 6, 2012

Singing the Body Electric

I was on Facebook earlier today and came across a post by my niece, who is 19 years old.

Like me.

'"It hurts to become,"' her status said.

It was a quote I recognized but didn't. I didn't know who had said it this way, in these words, in  language that spoke to this girl, but I knew the sentiment exactly. And I knew who had first captured this particular nuance for me-- the exquisite edge of metamorphosis, laid bare on the page.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
“I wept because I could not believe anymore and I love to believe. I can still love passionately without believing. That means I love humanly. I wept because from now on I will weep less. I wept because I have lost my pain and I am not yet accustomed to its absence.”

I was 19 then, in real years. 19 is when metamorphosis stops being something that is happening to you forcibly, too fast or too slow or against your will or in spite of it, and starts to become something you're doing, with pleasure and pain and purpose.

Or it is, if you're lucky. 19 is a magical time.

I shared these quotes with my niece, who understood them at once, of course, in the way that 19-year olds can-- better than the rest of us because they are right there in it-- and she shared with me the source of her quote: Andrea Gibson, "I Sing The Body Electric, Especially When My Power's Out," which I will now pass along to you.

Because WHOA!!!


She says, "I said to the sun, 'Tell me about the Big Bang.'/ The sun said, 'It hurts to become.'"


Yep, that's the one. Metamorphosis: the kind that hurts coming and going, the kind that wakes you up to the fact that avoiding what's painful isn't really the point. 

I remember that. I also remember feeling it the way Anais Nin described: no longer feeling as raw and innocent in the world, and mourning that self even as I welcomed my new-found worldliness. 

I remember knowing that even though they had been so hard to get through, those youthful sorrows, the loss of them was the end of something I'd never have again, and that thing had been precious even though I hadn't known it at the time.

It was the first time I ever noticed that I was leaving part of myself behind, and it was heartbreaking, and it was wonderful, and it was terrible and right and true.

She says, "My mouth is a fire escape/ the words coming out cannot care that they are naked."


This is my struggle now, the metamorphosis I'm striving for. One of them, anyway. This one is about the freedom to write. To Say my Things. To let go of judgment and self-censorship and restraint, and just write what is true.

I have been at this point before. I am back here now. This time, I hope to make it through.

She says, "There is something burning in here/ when it burns, I hold my own shell to my ear."


This is the way, she seems to be telling me. 

When it happens, and it's always happening, this is how I do it.

I listen. I listen to what my body is telling me. I listen to what my body already knows; what is carried in the rush of the blood in my veins; what is already true, somewhere inside; what has always been true and is waiting for permission to rise to the surface and become what the world sees.

Metamorphosis is less about transforming into something new than I thought it was at 19, and more about becoming what has been inside you all along.

In that way, I have always been what I have and will become. I have always been whole and damaged and near death and alive, alive.

What will it look like to unfurl and bloom, a friend asked in the comments after last week's post. How will it manifest itself?

I think it will look a lot like it looks now: struggling to listen to the power within and to say without fear what is true.

It strikes me suddenly that unfurling and blooming is a continuous process, and it will never really be over. I hope that someday soon I will trade my present challenges and sorrows for different ones, and mourn their passing from a different vantage point.

And I will see more from there, and know more and feel more and understand more, and that will help me take on the metamorphosis to follow. And the one after that. And the next, and the next, and the next.

I think maybe it won't be that I suddenly reach a new plateau, and everything will be different and I'll be a new person and everything will suddenly make sense. I've been hoping for that. I've been thinking that was the way this had to go to be considered a success.

I think it's more likely to be an ongoing evolution; the continuous process of becoming who I've always been. I am changing now, trying to change, trying to leave some things behind and embrace some new ones and move further down the path and be somewhere else, late to arrive or not, who knows, but somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere new. That's the only way it's ever been done.

In which case, the future will probably look a lot like the past, and a lot like right now. Searching, learning, leaping. At 19, I felt that exquisite edge and got interrupted mid-launch. 

Now I'm back here again, experiencing it without some of the innocent romance of the first time around, perhaps, but fortified by the wisdom of my years and ready for the flight.

Andrea Gibson says:

Some days, I call my arms wings
Well my head is in the clouds, it will take me a few more years 
to learn that flying is not pushing away the ground, but safety 
isn't always safe
You can find one in every gun. I am aiming to do better.
I have always been capable of this. I will always be on the brink of a better understanding of myself. Metamorphosis is constant, if you allow it. Launching and re-launching, each time landing somewhere new and more and better than before, because of what you've brought with you and what you've left behind.

I stepped off the ledge at 19, and I think am only now coming in for a landing. And with that landing comes another ledge. It's not the landing that really matters, after all, but whether or not you're willing to take the leap.

I was. I did. I am. I will be.

Safety isn't always safe. I am aiming to do better.


  1. "Just write what is true." That really speaks to me. Thanks, Kate.

  2. Maya Angelou said something to the effect of "life is nothing but a constant struggle to open your heart."  I guess at some point the struggle becomes more than just the point, it becomes the blessing.

  3. This is a wise, thoughtful post.  Reading it reminds me of reading "Letters to a Young Poet" at about age -- you guessed it -- nineteen.  There's that same emphasis on the search for truth and the hard task of becoming more fully oneself.

    "Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition."

    I think you're doing this:  learning to trust in what's difficult, and trying to be yourself at all costs and against all opposition.  Here's another bit of Rilke that reminds me of you:

    "Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, 'I must,' then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity."

    I really like your comment, "This is my struggle now, the metamorphosis I'm striving for. One of them, anyway. This one is about the freedom to write. To Say my Things. To let go of judgment and self-censorship and restraint, and just write what is true."  Later, you refer to "struggling to listen to the power within and to say without fear what is true."  I definitely hear truth in your work.  Like the guy in a Tom Stoppard play, you're saying your things.  So the only part left to master is doing this "without fear."  

    I secretly think fear is a good sign when writing.  It means you're pushing yourself, being as honest and open and raw as you know how to be.  Fear's only a problem when it's paralyzing, right? If there's paralysis here, I'm not seeing it.  You're on fire.  

  4. KateTheGirlWhoLived20 October, 2012 15:04

    You hit the nail right on the head (as usual, dear Mirith) with the thing about fear. "Without fear" is probably not the best phrase to use, ever. The presence of fear is utterly beside the point. So many of the best qualities-- courage, confidence, persistence, creativity, integrity, for example-- are basically about facing and accepting your fears and reservations and then doing it anyway. 

    I have learned many lessons about this very thing from my husband, who is building quite an impressive career and creative life by simply refusing to let fear enter into the equation. 

    He is a marvel. He makes it look easy.

    "What's your biggest fear?" he asks me. "Acknowledge it. Put it right out there on the table, first thing. Then you have removed its power over you."

    It works, when I do this. I am trying to remember to keep doing it. I forget a lot.

    I love those quotes, the second Rilke in particular: "Ask yourself this: must I write?"

    I could answer this with an unequivocal YES for a long time, and then I couldn't for a long time, and now, with all of this having come around full circle, I'm beginning to think I was right the first time.

    I haven't known that, as an adult. It seems an unimaginable luxury, to say yes to it now. But the ideas keep coming, and so do the words, so I'm going to type now and ask questions later, I think. ;>