Thursday, January 20, 2011

"magical thinking"

So I went to see a one woman performance called the year of magical thinking the other night. I went out of curiosity. I saw the blurb on YouTube, Joan Didion herself reading from her book, about her experiences with grief and loss and death. In the book, she wrote about losing her husband - she wrote that book in the first half of the year after his death, while her daughter was recovery from "septic shock" is what I understood. During summer of that year, her daughter did not recover and also died. That's not in the book, because she wrote it very quickly after her spouse's death. I suppose when someone close to you dies, you do something to fill those empty hours, the loneliness, the missing. She is a writer to begin with - apparently one that made a good living to be able to fly back and forth from Pacific time zone to Eastern time zone. And that's the exact excerpt in her piece that caught my attention, when she spoke about him being dead in eastern time zone, but not yet in pacific that made me go see her piece. I happen to be looking at the performance on YouTube when all sorts of things like this crossed my mind. Didion calls it magical thinking because she says, according to her own past anthropological research, different societies' thinking about death operate on a magical or folkloric type of thinking such as (my own): "if I don't pick up the phone, then it's not really that call that I'm getting" or "if I just support my wife hard enough, this won't actually end badly" - yes I had magical thinking as well: for both the death of my step-son and the death of my marriage. (And yes, the divorce books I'm reading now talks about divorce as a sort of death, one that's swept under the carpet by all except those that have been through it- they say in death people send best wishes, warmth, support, but not in divorce. Just what I felt all last year-see below).

And here's the thing, I'm quite aware of that magical thinking - to the point that I didn't really want to accept how over my marriage was last year that I didn't read any of my divorce books that I equipped myself with. Well, now I am and I'm realizing that had I read those books sooner I would have done things differently: not to save the marriage, but to save myself more heart ache in the interactions I had with my ex during the spring/summer. That attempt at friendship would not have taken place. And there's that magical thinking again: if we waited to build on a friendship, would we be speaking today? Who knows, but maybe. The thing about magical thinking, I think, is that it's classic denial. We go through all sorts of 'ifs, ands, buts'. Some people say that's characteristic of the bargaining stage - I would agree to a point. If you're bargaining, you still haven't acknowledge what is - potentially. It's just my opinion. But this is what my lived experience tells me. It's what I see in my job. When a client lost their wife a few weeks ago they walked around in a daze for a week - even though this death was months in the making (illness). Lots of magical thinking there: if we went to the right specialists, if we caught it earlier, if...

Either way, when I listened to what Didion had to say about losing her spouse and then losing her child in the same year, I could only think of one other person that would understand: my ex. so I invited her to the performance, as an act of good faith, as an act of goodwill with no motive and despite all this time and all this work I got no response back (not even a polite no). Yes a year and a bit later and she's still using silence as a weapon. Thing is it no longer hurts me. This wasn't for me, but to share in the humanity of the lived experience of death, grief, loss. With no motive. The silence no longer hurts me - I'm not the one that losses out.

So I enjoyed Didion's piece anyway. If I had time I would even read her book. But I don't have time, and I don't think I could revisit the description of the waiting and pacing and waiting, all over again. It was a treat the other night - to witness the humanity as grief - as she says you don't really know grief until you meet it. And you will, because this too will happen to you - the circumstances and details will be different but it all turns out the same: someone you love will be ripped from you, your life, this planet. I think that's what I've been writing about all along to remind people and myself that life's journey WILL end in death: not "if I die" but when. We cannot escape mortality. No matter how much imagining, magical thinking if you will, I do, I cannot imagine where I'm going, how it will happen or even when - no matter how hard I try to control the outside circumstances. And that's one thing I completely related to Ms. Didion: her need for absolute control - which also came through "magical thinking". It's that description of her saying "if only we were at the good hospital, our hospital" or "after scouring all EMT records and learning all the lingo and realizing they could have done..." or my own magical thinking that goes something like this "call so and so, then call so and so, then my heart goes here, and don't call those people and..." all trying to control beyond life itself.

And then reading about some TA's who are in their 40s and still alive. Thinking and calculating: if I save energy (my mom would say that so much) can I bank it and add it to my life - to give me more time.
That's my magical thinking.