Apparently you can’t teach an old photo-blogger new tricks, or maybe my taste in imagery hasn’t changed at all over the past two years. How else would you explain why yesterday I snapped a nearly identical photo of the same pile of rocks I’d blogged the last time I was in Bar Harbor two years ago?
Oct 4, 2004
Last week I received an updated copy of my car insurance which reflected the seemingly innocuous fact that my 1993 Subaru is now registered in my name and Chris is no longer listed as a driver of that car. And there in black and white I saw it printed for the first time: “Lorianne Schaub. Marital status: separated.”
On the one hand, “separated” is such a mild euphemism. When I first phoned my mother to tell her of Chris and my decision to divorce, I couldn’t bring myself to say the dreaded “D” word. “We’ve decided to separate,” I explained calmly. “It’s an amiable split, but things are understandably awkward.” It was only after my mom pushed for specifics–was I referring to a trial separation, or had the die been cast–that I made the situation clear: no, it’s over; he’s moved to Vermont, and the paperwork for a divorce has been filed. Even with my mother, though, I stumbled over the “D” word. In my head “divorce” equated with “failure” whereas “separation” evoked an image of an amiable parting: here we’ve come to a juncture, you and I, and I will walk this way while you go that.
On the other hand, though, “separation” is a jarring and even violent term. Whereas “divorce” can refer to a coldly clinical legal procedure (sign the papers, pay the fee, and you’re outta there), thinking of oneself as “separated” evokes images of body parts lying bloodlessly detached from one another: here’s an arm; over there’s a leg. “Separation” sounds almost surgical, as if the act of divorcing from one’s partner of nearly 13 years is a kind of dismemberment, a cleaving apart of flesh and bone that had improperly knit.
This latter image of separation seems particularly apt. At times over the past two months since Chris moved to Vermont, I’ve felt emotionally dismembered, as if my head is in one place and my heart in another. On one level, I live and work and interact like any other normally functioning person; on the other, I feel like I’ve left a limb or two somewhere, but I can’t remember where. How can people talk and interact with me normally: can’t they see that I’ve been cloven in two, half of my limbs and nearly all of my heart having disappeared, severed? At times as I go about smiling and chatting as if nothing has happened, I feel like a magician’s assistant: my head is smiling, my hands are waving, and my feet are dancing…but each of these parts is neatly segmented into its own clever box, a benignly bloodless dislocation.
Some while ago, Andi described the experience of breaking up with a partner and then moving to Korea as feeling like an unaesthetized spinal transplant: suddenly the very thing that held you upright has been ripped from you, and there you are trying to navigate a foreign airport as if nothing ever happened. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the precise permalink to Andi’s post, so you’ll have to rely on my paraphrase.) Although I’ve never had spinal surgery nor have I ever moved to Korea, I know that during that week when Chris moved out, I felt like I’d been enviscerated, like I was walking around town with a huge gaping hollow where my stomach and guts used to be. I couldn’t eat nor did I want to, and I felt oddly detached from my own body: somehow it didn’t seem real that I could function like any other normal person with a brain that was spinning from an onslaught of “what if’s” and “if only’s.”
The metaphor of divorce being a kind of unaesthetized envisceration works on several different levels. As I mentioned, I’ve never had spinal surgery, but I have had my appendix removed, and several years ago my father had both his colon and bladder removed not long after doctors had riven his ribcage to repair a long-abused and direly blocked heart. I know what it’s like to be bent double with abdominal pain; I know what it’s like to lie abed without the energy to stand much less walk while nurses exhort you to get up and be moving. I’ve seen my father slowly recover after doctors literally severed his insides to keep the rest of him alive: I know the mixed emotions you feel toward the bastards who stole your father bit by bit in order to defeat the damn Cancer that had been eating him, unaware. When you see a man brought to the brink of death then back again at gloved and masked hands–when you’ve felt the press of those same hands as you lay on a gurney, pain ripping your insides as you clawed at your own IVs, madly animalized by pain and fear–you don’t know whether to thank medical science or excoriate it. Those bastards cut open my father after he allowed them to cut open me, and neither one of us would be alive today without such goddamned and bloody intervention.
The deepest irony of describing divorce as unaesthetized envisceration, though, lies in its agency, for I acknowledge that I am both helpless patient and goddamn bastard doctor. This separation is one I both asked and pressed for; when Chris has asked if there’s even a chance of reconcilation, my rational half (my inner surgeon) has said No. Even as I walked the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine several weeks ago, pencam around my neck as I snapped one reflective picture after another, visual proof to myself that I Am Standing and Will Survive, an unexpected cell phone call from him brought the pain of separation immediately back, unscabbed. Was separating difficult? Yes. Did I regret the decision? No. One of the oddest parts of self-surgery is the way you can simultaneously feel yourself lying strapped to a gurney, your guts splayed and splattered, while another part of you stands logical and detached, overseeing the procedure. Really, this must be done: truly, to save the life of the patient, the cancer and contiguous organs must be removed.
Thus I live with an odd paradox. Although I both regret and lament the pain of separation and I’m staggered at the thought of my own relational failures and my cognizance of how this split has broken hearts other than my own, I never once have regretted the decision that led to divorce. Yes, I’ve had moments of loneliness since Chris moved out; yes, I’ve had moments of depression and even despair. But none of these lonely moments is as bad as the loneliness I felt in a mis-matched marriage; never have I felt so depressed that I wanted to curl up and die, which is something I felt too often while married. This current pain feels like healing: it hurts, but there is a reason and an end in sight. The pain that led up to separation felt inexplicable and never-ending, the kind of pain that simmers and seethes and ultimately destroys. This current pain won’t kill me; that other kind surely was.
Unexpectedly, I’ve found moments of simple joy amidst the pain of separation: the joy of a quiet house, the simplicity of a single grocery bag full of enough food for just me and the dog. Even when the pain of separation was the greatest, I found unexpected, grounding joy in tangible objects: the caress of a broom on a well-worn floor, the warmth of newly dried laundry. The silent pictures I snapped in the aftermath of Chris’s move were my way of telling the world (and myself) I was all right, that as long as milkweeds still sprouted from sidewalk cracks and vines coiled from shattered factory windows, I too would persevere. Separation is a painful and difficult process–at times your heart and your head seem entirely detached, never to reunite. But underneath the pain lies a promise, a hope that one day I will awake to find myself no longer riven, but entire.
I snapped all of these reflective photos during my recent trip to Bar Harbor, and I’ve posted three of them to the Mirror Project. I am fully aware of the irony that the girl who avoided looking at herself in the mirror as a teenager, terrified of the Ugly Duckling she’d see reflected therein, suddenly feels the need to slap pictures of herself all over her blog. I’ve found, though, that taking and posting these pictures–a visual act of independence and acceptance–is more fun than therapy, and cheaper.
Sep 20, 2004
Comments Off on Day 3: Bald Peak & Parkman Mountain
The clouds in this picture of the summit cairn atop Parkman Mountain say it all. Yesterday’s weather was as fickle as a proverbial woman’s heart.
Both Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain are mere hills by New Hampshire standards: whereas a modest New Hampshire summit like Lovewell Mountain is 2,473 feet–a moderate morning leg-stretcher–both Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain are less than 1,000 feet. The numbers are deceiving, though: the challenge of hiking is all about vertical rise, the amount of “up” between start and finish. Acadia’s hiking trails start nearly at sea level, so most of the “less than 1,000 feet” to the top of Parkman Mountain is up, up, up.
The Parkman Mountain Trail to Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain is largely rocky, and yesterday featured intermittent rain (drat!) that made for slippery hiking conditions. So even though hiking Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain should have been a walk in the park–and even though I originally planned to hopscotch from Parkman to Sargent and then Penobscot Mountains before stolling down to the Jordan Pond House for tea and popovers–it was challenge enough to make it to Parkman Mountain and back again, the sideways-falling rain convincing me to turn back toward the car at more than several points.
One of my dissertation chapters talked about the “Zen” of mountain climbing. In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, the Zen approach to climbing a mountain involves renouncing all conscious attempts to “conquer” it. All three narrators approach their mountains with serious expectations–Pirsig wants to reconnect with his troubled son, Kerouac wants to impress his friends by attaining enlightenment, and Matthiessen wants to get over his wife’s death by seeing a snow leopard and attaining enlightenment. In all three cases, these seekers fall to achieve what they thought they were looking for, realizing instead that spiritual maturity is about accepting the hand that the Present Moment deals you.
Early into yesterday’s hike when the rain was falling sideways and I decided it was too dangerous to continue rock hopping on my own, I burst into tears right there on the trail to Bald Peak. Damnit, why wouldn’t the weather cooperate? Didn’t the Universe understand that this hike was Significant, my attempt to make a New Start after reaching the nearly simultaneous end of both my dissertation and my marriage? Somehow in my mind the challenge of Peak Bagging was connected with a desire to prove myself: I can climb one or even several mountains, damnit, without the help of any man. As I stood on a slippery slope with rain and tears streaming down my face, I remembered a passage in The Snow Leopard were Matthiessen too found himself inexplicably drawn to tears…and then to laughter as he imagined his deceased wife’s response to the image of him wailing for lost love on the top of a mountain.
The challenge of any mountain climb, of course, isn’t measured in mere elevation nor in vertical feet: these are spiritual summits, not merely corporeal. Looking over my shoulder at a summit cairn I’d just passed, I noticed how its wooden signpost looked exactly like a cross: of course! Any pilgrimage involves both joy and pain, and even Christ slipped and fell three times on that rocky road to Calvary. Sometimes hiking is a matter of Peak Bagging, the attempt to cut as many notches into your walking stick as you can physically manage. Other times, though, hiking is about Monogamous Mountaineering: instead of bagging as many peaks as you can muster, you bag one well and lovingly. It took most of yesterday to reach Parkman Mountain and back again, and I never made it to the Jordan Pond House. I’ll leave Sargent and Penobscot to some other day, some other lifetime…or not. Right now, the sun is out, my bags are packed, and there’s enough time for one last leisurely stroll (perhaps) before I drive 6 hours back to New Hampshire. There’s always a certain degree of disappointment when you head down from the hills back to your mundane life, but Returning Home is also a necessary part of the journey even though no signposts point the way.
Sep 19, 2004
As luck would have, it rained all day yesterday. Not content to view the Mount Desert Island shoreline by car, though, I responded in my usual all-obstacles-be-damned fashion and went walking anyway.
Again, these photos don’t do Acadia justice: the rocky shoreline between Sand Beach and Otter Point is much lovelier on clear days when the sunlight glints off pink granite slabs. But given the choice between walking in rain and not walking at all, there is no choice. Ocean Trail is an easy walk, so on a clear day it would be packed with walking families. Yesterday, though, I had the path–and the rocks–virtually to myself.
Although I’m waterproof, my clothing and camera are not. Typically I don’t mind a good soaking as long as a warm car, dry clothes, and hot food (and appropriate beverages) are waiting at trail’s end. To shield my camera more than myself from the wet, yesterday I walked with an umbrella, taking all of these shots from under it. As funny as the image of me rock-hopping with an umbrella might be, keep in mind that none other than Henry David Thoreau often walked with an umbrella: when he explored Cape Cod, in fact, he used his umbrella to shelter himself from both rain and sun as he strolled the shore with an open book in hand. If walking with an umbrella was good enough for Thoreau and his books, surely it’s good enough for me and my digicam.
Yesterday I talked about Victor and Edith Turner’s notion of communitas. Another concept that found it’s way into my Ph.D. dissertation was the Turner’s notion of liminality: the way that some places inspire a threshold experience wherein seekers cross from one realm of existence to another. The liminal space between land and water, I argued, is particularly evocative, as is the liminal space between heaven and earth. When we stand poised on a shoreline or a summit–or, even more magically, on a place where heaven, earth, and ocean all three meet–we are particularly reminded of our properly liminal place on God’s green earth, balanced between the natural and the supernatural, the here and the hereafter, the now and the not-yet.
Acadia has both ocean shores and mountain summits: the geography of my dissertation made actual! The other thing that Acadia has–the other thing that shores, mountains, and my favorite earthly places share–is stone. In case you haven’t noticed from previous posts–and in case you haven’t read of how I learned to meditate from a rock–let me assure you that I have a Positively Pagan appreciation for stone, Mother Nature’s own bone.
And in case you’ve ever wondered where the Ancients got the idea to paint images on rock, I think I’ve found the answer on the shore of Acadia National Park. Is there anything prettier than the sight of yellow lichen on pink stone?
- Today, at long last, we have a clear day here in Bar Harbor! So after spending a wet day yesterday walking the shore, today I’ll spend a dry (I hope!) day scaling some summits. Here’s hoping for better, brighter pictures tomorrow!