domenica, dicembre 20, 2015

Books in the dark

So, thanks to the Economist and the books it reviews, shortly before the miscarriage I was introduced to this, which looks like this:

And this book about it was reviewed in the Economist.

Directly after the curettage on Friday, I had a massive energy boost, from some sort of hormonal realignment, I guess, and from no longer being pregnant. It was very welcome but one side effect was sleeplessness - not usually something I suffer from. For awhile the sleeplessness was welcome as a way to process what had and was happening but eventually it just got silly. So, I got the ebook to read in the dark on the phone. And the chord this has been striking with me is enormous.

The big deal about malambo is who does it, how they train, where they do it, and how they stop. Unlike so much professional sport and dance, it isn't a middle-class activity. It's a traditional dance normal people suffer to do professionally; a herculean training regime has to be combined with some sort of working-class lifestyle. The top competition for malambo is in Laborde, and the winner of the solo event at Laborde has to retire; if he competed and lost at another competition somewhere, he would be tarnishing the reputation of the Laborde competition.

The author of Dancing For His Life was fascinated - as was I - at the idea that winning the competition ended a career. Within the small world of malambo, you are covered in glory, and assured of a professional future as a teacher able to charge three figures for an hour of class, and since your retirement from dancing is enforced, suddenly you get four hours of your day back that you had to spend training before. But that's it. You put in a herculean effort for years, and then you are done. It's fascinating altogether, and as the Economist review highlighted, the book is a really engaging exploration of what authenticity is. But it took me a few days to figure out why it was ringing in my head as a subject so much.

The morning I went into hospital was the last time I breastfed Godzilla. I didn't want to stop even though breastfeeding had become fucking penitential. We had got to a point where we were intermittently trading a candida infection back and forth. Between that and pregnancy sensitivity, it was starting to hurt - more than it ever had since the beginning of breastfeeding. It was making me cross, and extra tired.

But I didn't want to stop. I stopped because I needed to get my estrogen levels back up after the curettage to get back on a normal cycle and help avoid scarring. Otherwise the plan had been to keep going until he stopped asking. I cried when I realized we were at the end of the line. And my body has been protesting too. After a whole week, my left boob was still sore and leaking. Godzilla caught a cold on Friday and listening to him snuffling and snoring and not being able to breastfeed him through it - which I was sure always accelerated him getting over colds and sicknesses in the past - was like a fucking knife in the heart.

But you know who hasn't been protesting? Godzilla. He is fine. He is finished. He still wants to cuddle and touch them, but he isn't asking to nurse anymore. Today he actually explained to me why he couldn't nurse anymore: "you went to the hospital, and now we can't nurse anymore to help you not get sick again." He is sleeping well. He is falling asleep faster and without fussing. He is done. Those three years got us past the finish line. We have won at nursing. And winning at nursing means never doing it again - with that kid, at least. That is fucking bittersweet. And I think that is why the whole malambo-winning-retiring thing is striking this crazy chord with me right now.

It's not just breastfeeding, of course. It's so many important things in life: winning, if it means anything, means finishing. Backing off, letting go. If we are good enough parents to Godzilla, someday he won't need us anymore: first he won't need us to take care of him, and then he won't even need us to be alive; he will be able to bury us, or feed us to birds, or whatever, and then continue to have a happy life. Writing a good book means that once it's finished, it isn't mine anymore. It belongs to the people who read it. If I have an intractable problem with someone (cough-inlaw-cough) I don't win by being better than them at fighting or being better at being a shitty person; I win by resolving my own problems with the relationship and leaving the conflict in the past.

This experience - the miscarriage and its aftermath - is teaching me something - I'm not sure what - about control, and specifically about not actually having it.

I think it is this: I cannot control the most fundamental aspects of my or anyone else's existence. No one can. If they try, they either become destructive - since choosing to be destructive is something we can control - or they close themselves in to a tiny and highly regulated world, and it still doesn't work. I can prepare for what my best guesses are for what the future will hold, and I'd be insane not to. But even the best case scenarios in a good life, in the right kind of life, involve so much surrender of control. So much acknowledging that complete control is not the best outcome. It's not even a possible outcome.

Like a malambo champion: winning doesn't mean you're the best forever. It means you're the best at one moment, and then the rest of your career, at best, is helping other people be the best. Being a good parent doesn't mean that you are the centre of your child's world forever - the person who permits them, or a lodestar whose disappearance would throw an expedition into chaos. It means loving someone enough to give them the equipment they need for their own expeditions. After awhile you're not even the base camp anymore. You're the person who taught them how to build a base camp.

And I'm starting to feel like this - thing - this lie that we tell ourselves over how possible and how desirable control is - is at the heart of the worst aspects of human society. You can find it all through history but we're at some sort of apogee now. This is how we got sold rugged individualism as an ideal life - this big fucking lie that the great truth of life is that our fate is in our own hands; that misfortune is a result of some sort of failure of will - of people not controlling their own destinies properly. That control is happiness.