Left of center, off of the strip. That’s part of a Suzanne Vega song I both like and don’t like. Haunting, melodic, irritatingly inclusive in it’s depressive’s view of the world. I recognize myself and I don’t want to.
If you want me
you can find me
left of center
off of the strip.
That’s the thing about pop songs. That’s the thing about anything so here we’re me and self-confirming. Here’s the way the world is, it says. You are just like me, and we are like this.
Yesterday I was remembering a protest sign I saw laying on the pavement at occupy Wall Street, so I googled the text and found that “the heart wants what it wants” is, in addition to a rainbow-background letterpress sign, and deeply gross thing Woody Allen said, a song and video by Selena Gomez. The song is about being in a terrible relationship, knowing it’s time to get out, and yet, the heart wants what it wants. I listened and watched the whole way through, and then read a bunch of comments from young women, saying how much it meant to them to recognize themselves in the lyrics. Is it then a way to excuse sticking around for more abuse? Is it a relief to know someone else is also sticking around to be abused? Not all pop songs have this effect. If I’d been first exposed to Suzanne Vega at a non-depressive, non-loner time in my life, it wouldn’t have gotten under my skin and stuck around the way it has, like HPV or chickenpox, forever a part of the ecosystem, whether dormant, or not.
Left of center.
In so many languages, the left carries the connotation of wrong, outside, minority, dark; while the right carries law, light and truth. This only becomes a problem when we forget that we, all of us, carry both halves. As foolish to identify with the right, as with the left. How are you going to walk without both feet supporting you? I will start a national Republicans Left Foot Appreciation Society. I will remind all Bernie supporters of the faithful service their right foot has rendered, all these years.
This morning, scary news of the right foot: what if, in addition to being a buffoon and a narcissist, Donald Trump were also a tool for dark forces? Timothy tells me Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s emails, and my first thought is, God! Why would anyone give a shit about that? But the answer comes right away: because Trump is Putin’s lapdog. I do not like conspiracy theory one bit, but sometimes it is true that a wound creates an entry point for other diseases to fester.
My friend texts me that her little stepson and his friends held a séance, and now the dog won’t go near the kitchen, and the whole house feels wrong. Kids near puberty are favorite gateways for dark spirits, she says. I don’t know about that, but I do feel, sometimes, as though I am seeing possessed people. Laura Ingraham finishes whatever she’s been saying, turns to be huge image of Trump on the screen beside her, and Sieg Heils, before issuing Barbie waves and victory points to the crowd. I want to ask, What were you thinking? What moved through you? Did you feel it? Were you in that one moment a god?
My friend’s house is possessed by whatever came through the Ouija board, Trump is possessed by whatever causes Putin to scuba-dive heroically for pre-planned treasure, and Laura Ingraham is possessed by whatever brings neo-Nazis to throw their salutes outside the RNC in Cleveland.
Especially important, then, to be as conscious of one’s left foot as one’s right, to keep planting them both firmly on the ground, to keep one’s nose open to sniff out the real smell of things.
I find no joy in opening new wounds or old. I find no pleasure in seeing the madness of the world, no confirmation there of virtue elsewhere. Just, pain. My bones ache, and so do others’. I take up sleeping on a pancake-flat futon, in hopes that it will cure my ills, and my bones still ache, until I decide to get up, write down the night’s flood of dreams, and remember: this is what it’s like. No séance, no charismatic leader, no specialized furniture is going to take away the facts of madness & ground, pain & the space to hold it.
It’s hard, though. Hard not to be disappointed when waking groggy and sore. Hard not to want someone, something to fix it all and make it go away. Hard to remember that the only real solution is to receive whatever arises, without sticking to it like mad. Hard to take refuge elsewhere than in some imagined better time, or place, or self, or other. When was America great? When was the world great? How will they be great again, other than in the old way: by ceasing to demand that they be made in my own image.
I know people who seem like they are being ground down right now, pulped by illness or by loss, by circumstances that don’t readily admit of feeling into the radiant intelligence of being. And yet, they’re mostly not turning to hate, fear, or resentment. Not left, not right, but center. Ground. Homing in on sanity like bare feet finding a sandy river bottom.
I am sick to death of this election’s insubstantial ransoming of my attention and my allegiances. What if there are important questions we are not asking? What if we are focusing on all the wrong things? Well then, we shall have left-foot, right-footed ourselves straight into another grubby reality, always hoping for something better.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now