When your particular brand of certifiable insanity causes you repeatedly to hurt the people you love, the self-loathing can get so deep you can’t even dream of digging yourself out. In recent months, I’ve felt evil, and I’ve felt hopeless, and I’ve felt very genuinely like everything would be better if I could just muster up the guts to kill myself. (I’d rather not qualify this with disclaimers, because it’s just true that sometimes people are suicidal and I don’t want to freakify it, but: guys, don’t worry. I am stable and okay.)
Getting dumped largely because I’m not getting uncrazy enough fast enough for my partner’s capabilities to endure and support didn’t help, to put it mildly. I respect Nic’s reasons, and I am very proud of her for finding the strength to do it despite her love for me. But it’s a monumentally crushing experience, especially with Borderline Personality Disorder and its rejection triggers. There’s this cycle of irrational emotional outburst to insecurity to excessive demands of reassurance and soothing (which the brain often won’t accept as logical anyway, so trying to provide these things is ineffective and thankless, which leads) to more irrational emotional outbursts. It’s incredibly self-destructive, because it leads to such profound hatred of the way you are. Why can’t you handle anything yourself? Why can’t you just treat your partner respectfully and calmly all the time when you want to and you know it’s right? Why can’t you ever predict when shit’s going to go awry due to a sudden mood shift? Why can’t you just fucking get over it already? Why are you such an awful partner and friend and sibling and daughter?
You do not have to be good.
Shut up. Stop asking yourself those stupid questions. You do not have to be good. Sure, you have to try. Sometimes, you’ll succeed. But if you fuck up, it’s okay. Because you do not have to be good. I originally discovered Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” on Sugarbutch Chronicles, in Sinclair Sexsmith’s post on Choice Feminism & Compulsory Gender Roles, about two years ago when I was devouring the archives like someone starved for gender theory, hot sex, and the combination of the two (which, at the time, I suppose I was). Last week I made a timely rediscovery of “Wild Geese” while idly browsing Karl’s friend’s tumblr. Its overwhelming power to soothe stopped me in my tracks.
I could blather for ages, geek the fuck out and delve into the repetition, the second-person address, the declarative punctuation, the subtle use of concepts of family and home. I think this poem is stunning because of its simplicity, its deft use of the ordinary and overused and familiar to create something invincibly beautiful, original, and serene. But Cuntext is about the practical, and the practical use of this poem is as crisis plan in code, where the code makes it more intelligible to this text-oriented mind of mine, so incapable of normal comprehension when mired in the above cycle.
My recognition of this poem as crisis plan is also partly thanks to a post on Sugarbutch, which recommended Live Through This: Creativity and Self-Destruction (ed. Sabrina Chapadjiev), and partly thanks to Bonfire Madigan‘s piece in that anthology. She included a photo of her handwritten wellness/crisis plan, aka “what to do when the negative feedback loop is saying I should die” (181), and wrote about how it worked. With that fresh in my mind, it was clear what Mary Oliver’s poem could be.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Match the poem to the following steps:
- Pause. You do not have to be good. So if you aren’t, that doesn’t make you terrible. Don’t beat yourself up.
- Come home, back into your comfortable body. What does it need? Yoga, food, a shower?
- Articulate the problem, at least to a piece of paper if not an actual person.
- Put it in perspective. Other people have felt this before. Isn’t the world still turning?
- Be inspired by that perspective, by the widening of your vision to include the multitudes of pretty and good things around you, from the infinitesimal to the colossal.
- See yourself among those things, because even if you are not good, you are one of them and they are there for your enjoyment, too.