Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Universe University

"I do not intend to tiptoe through life, only to arrive safely at death." 

They say ("they" meaning the new teachers, the modern-day buddhas who write self-help books for the masses and whose words mean something for a year or two before being dropped for the next buddha)--they say we are each here to learn something, that we can ask the Universe for the knowledge we want and it will respond to our requests.  That we can even ask for the things we want--money, possessions, power, career success, love, family, physical and emotional health. We must believe we are going to receive these things, and then we will receive them, in spades.

But I think I screwed up somewhere. I've always believed--always known, somehow--that I was here on this earth to learn about love. Not how to get money, power, family etc. but how to love better, how to be a better person, how to lay aside the ego and give of myself.  Not just in romantic relationships but every relationship. So I asked the universe, years ago, for that: please, teach me about love. I thought I was humble then but I was just barely beginning to know what humility (humiliation?) was.

I might as well have said Please, Universe, teach me about excruciating, searing pain; teach me what it feels like to know loss, to know death, failure; to feel abandoned, shat upon and chopped into little bits. It's like asking for patience.  You don't magically become patient overnight. You learn patience through being pushed around, whined at, poked, bossed, sniveled to, vomited upon by your children and then asked to put on your best dress and serve dinner to your husband's direct supervisor. Whose salary you earn for pocket change. (I'm really glad I didn't ask for patience.)

Bottom line is, I think I'm changing my mind. These love lessons are bringing me down like a lion brings down a gazelle--they are tearing into my heart and brain and haunches and spinal cord in ways I never anticipated. And is the meagre payoff (more knowledge about love, ha!) really worth it, for a person who is certifiable several months out of the year anyway? So my proposal is this, Universe: that I switch life-lessons in midstream. Because if all those self-help books are right, I get to have anything I ask for. So my new request is this: I'd like to learn about humor. Yes--about laughter, and finding the funny in everything. Like some kind of laughing saint, I want to learn about how great it is to yuck it up at absolutely anything, including and especially oneself. Show me the saintliness in sarcasm, the holiness in howling with tears of comedy at my own mishaps. That's right--I want to learn about laughing my arse off when my life goes drastically, insanely off the tracks. Why not? Here I am, a person who has always detested routine, bound to a daily ritual of pill-taking, early bedtimes, early wake-times, forbidden alcohol or caffeine (if I want to be healthy--and I don't, not always) or sugar (sugar--!). In essence, asked not to fully live, but admonished against committing suicide. Is my life going to go off the tracks on occasion under this sort of regime, out of sheer rebellion? Yes--resoundingly, yes. If that's not funny, what is?

My reasons for the switch in life lessons, natch, are completely selfish. Because disappointments and failures in love (for anyone, but let me wax narcissistic here, again--surprised?) for a bipolar person are particularly excruciating.  We take everything to extremes. Everything is very, very important; very, very passionately and deeply felt and meaningful and powerful and when we make a decision (such as to be, or not be, with someone) it is fiercely defended up until the very moment where we (just as passionately) change our minds about it. If we do. And I'm not saying we will; but we might. And unfortunately, we believe nobody has the right to get mad/hurt/upset at us for changing our minds about things. Well--that's where the love lessons get particularly searing; terrifying; even nightmarish, for all concerned. Bipolar people will turn inward and spiral into depression and suicidal ideation; they will spike up into mania and hurl themselves onto train tracks--or cut off their ears and mail them to their beloved; they will go numb as fear in the headlights and cease to respond to any stimuli, any helpfulness on the part of friends or family. They will die over complications of love more frequently than anything else. Love gone bad is worse for a BP individual than Stage 4 cancer.

Which is why I'm switching my life major at Universe University to Humor, beginning with Laughter 101. Laughter 101 is where you first begin to learn, when pain announces its throb at your very heart, to find something or someone that makes you smile. YouTube is a good place to start, until you can drag yourself out of the house. Ruminating over the past is not a good place to start, and will lower your grades in Laughter 101. The past is not where you live. And PS? Five minutes ago is the past, sucker--this is the present. Right now. No, now--get it? Go forward. Go into that unknown--where fear lives--one moment at a time, one present, laughing, irreverent moment at a time. Tell fear that you own this moment now; and this one, and this one. Tell fear to go kick rocks. Or as a friend just said to me today: "If you're going through hell, keep going." What have you got to lose? You're already in there. Might as well get up, get going, get through. And let hell's ears ring with the maniacal laughter on your lips.

Laughter 101, lesson 1

KB © 6/30/2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Wilding Night

Tonight the wind changed and I smelt the sea.
Salt tang and seaweed, fish brine and mudflats.
It smelt like freedom
like sails come undone, unfurled and
finally arching loose in a southbound wind.

There is a sweet bitterness in the air.
The trees are spreading and opening
and ripening into themselves, they
are speaking in whispers
like the things that people say
to one another beneath unfurled sheets on wilding
summer nights.

I crouch on the lawn and pee
next to the dog, who looks askance
amused perhaps at my intrusion
upon his nightly rounds of the hedge.
And there are strangers in cars
driving past unseeing
for at last it is dark out, it is dark
and this is my street and my yard
and my house so like a quiet ship
waiting to sail me into sleep.

Only the sound of the wind in the trees
with its bold and briny smell
fit to make a sailor blush; yes, only
the wind is here to see me off to bed
in my little house so like a ship under its own
half moon
on a wilding night in June.

KB © 6/29/2013

Monday, June 24, 2013


There is a parallel universe
on the other side of town
where you say you don't live
but still do.

When you leave my house
you fall into a time warp
and come out the other side
where there is a family
and there are sports
and schedules
and busy things to do
like save vicious dogs
and other families
and people you don't like
and people you do.
In your universe I do not exist.

Over here, in this universe, there is a house
that I clean and a bed that I make
because you have so quickly left it
and I can't stand to see the place
where your body has lain
next to mine
and I can't stand to be the woman
making the bed
and waiting for the phone to ring;
I was never that woman
before you were that man.
This is not the universe I want--
not the universe I created.
This is someone else's universe
and somehow
I must find the right one,
the one that is mine
and reclaim it
which means evicting the sad actress
who has somehow taken over my life.

Out with you, actress.
And you--you in the parallel universe
on the other side of town
with the busy family
and the thousand choices to make
which do not seem to include me
or this sweet house
or this messy bed
or this beautiful life--you
stay where you belong this time.

There is only room for one universe
on this side of town.

KB © 6/26/2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Drunken Monk

This is the power you don't know you possess:
to say
I am weary of this reality that I have created for myself
and for my next trick
I will slam-dunk it into the trash and create a new one.

This life I've carried around in my head
it is old
and I have lived it so many times
over and over
always following the same steps:
once this happens, then do that
and these predictable results will follow
a familiar pit in my stomach will result
or something, some part of me, will break
and have to be put back together by someone
I don't trust, don't understand how to love, and who
doesn't know how to love me
but we will lie to one another with the skill
acquired by years of practice.
This is not why I am here--to spend my days
tangled up in teary pillows and silly fights
or teary silly pillow fights
or fighting of any kind; look, there is so much
I could be learning that does not have to do
with tears or pillows!

Here is what a divinely drunken monk once told me:
You must practice saying no
to the ones who say they love you
but only throw you back on spin cycle
washing your pillow cases and crying
the same old tears you cried
the last time you had that same old fight.
You must practice saying no
to your ego, who longs for love
and seeks it outside the realm of your own heart
outside the boundaries of your own skin.
Be comfortable in that skin
learn to wear it like it's yours
for who else lives there?

Make a new life inside your head.
Tell yourself you aren't a sad person
a bad person, a crazy person
and it will be so.

Say to yourself,
I am lovely. I am sweet
and full of the juicy goodness
that comes with a rich, beloved life
a life that is beautiful to behold and better
because it is filled with love, with well-earned joy
(and fewer pillow fights).
Turn your darkness into light
and your nightmares into friends;
find someone who loves you, and let that someone
be you.

KB © 6/9/2013

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I dream of a cure.
One day I will wake
and not feel the weight of the infinite
yet somehow delicate paw-prints of gravity
making their way across the bed to settle
in their customary place upon my chest.
There will not be this unspeakable stone lodged
somewhere between my mouth and my lungs
so that breathing becomes an unnecessary chore.

KB © 6/5/2013