“And how bewildered is any womb-born creature
that has to fly. As if terrified and fleeing
from itself, it zigzags through the air, the way
a crack runs through a teacup. So the bat
quivers across the porcelain of evening.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke (from The Duino Elegies, 1923)
This section of a poem in The Duino Elegies is one that I keep coming back to. I was drawn to it at first for its absolutely striking imagery. Lately, its meaning has been resonating with me. It’s particularly relevant to me today since tomorrow is my birthday, a time for recognizing that I’m a womb-born creature!
Besides when I was literally expelled from the womb back in the day, throughout my life, there have been times when I’m in more secure, womb-like situations and times when I’m set loose, unbound, and often terrified like the bat. When what I seek is a smooth, porcelain evening for sipping prosecco on a patio with pals and then drifting off into undisturbed slumber, that’s not always what I can get.
I’m currently in a transitional period of my life for personal and work-related reasons--this period started about a week and a half ago and hasn’t been easy. Being suddenly flung out of a comfortable routine has definitely sent me quivering across the porcelain. In my agitated state, I’ve made some rash decisions, spent an entire day cleaning and organizing (during which time I came across several random items which included a cat-shaped mirror and a bag of sand), made daily visits to my heron friend at a nature sanctuary in Brookline, broke down a few times, went to the doctor for sharp pains that she immediately attributed to anxiety, watched the entire fourth season of Las chicas del cable in two days (good Spanish practice, at least!), and went on obsessive Wikipedia/YouTube research frenzy about polygamy. None of these are normal activities for me, and all are ways of grappling with my newfound lack of womb to hide in.
Now that I’m starting to come to terms with my lack of womb, I’m calming down a bit and letting myself think about what it is I actually want. For the past two years, I had a daily work routine, and the rest of my life neatly fit around that routine. I made myself a container of overnight oats with berries every evening and then added some granola to the top in the morning before work, brought it to work, snacked on it while teaching (not during a lecture, obviously, but while students were doing activities), came home from work, exercised, cooked, paid bills, saw friends, etc. Every day was similar to the last. The predictability was comforting, but it gave me perhaps too much comfort, to the point that I stopped thinking about what I really wanted.
My next job (also teaching) will begin in a week, and I could easily crawl back inside a routine-womb. But before I let myself do that, I’d like to try and establish a new norm, which is that I have no norms. I know that doesn’t exactly make sense, but what I’m trying to get at is that, although terrifying, I want to keep zigzagging. I’m going to be 29 tomorrow--that’s almost 30. As much as I still feel like a kid ( for example, I constantly experienced imposter syndrome as a manager/teacher), I’m simply not a kid anymore. I don’t have time to waste letting each day pass without necessarily doing what feels meaningful.
And what is it that actually feels meaningful? What is it that I want? Well, 28+ years of routine imposed by school and jobs have dulled my ability to 100% know the answers to these questions. There have just been too many days in which I simply set out to get things done: get my homework/work done, check the items off my to-do list, exercise, sleep enough, etc. (And I recognized my privilege here, as some people have no choice but to work way more weekly hours than I ever did, something I can’t even begin to imagine). Obviously, my family and friends are meaningful to me, along with traveling, spending time in nature, and caring for others. Those are givens. However, in this past week and a half of transitional time, when I didn’t feel completely terrified, I was able to sit down and get in touch with myself. This let me realize that in order to feel more whole, I need to put aside solid time to engage with literature, both the reading and writing of it. Despite all the uncertainty and angst in this transitional period, I’ve also experienced intense joy, joy that stemmed from suddenly having time to immerse myself in the activity I most love: writing. When I’d had so little time for it, I’d honestly forgotten how alive it makes me feel.
I love teaching, but it’s not my sole purpose in life. If I’m going to have a career as an educator, it’s crucial that I make time for writing--if not, I won’t be true to who I am. There have been too many days when I didn’t prioritize writing because I was so caught up in my job and in all the duties I needed to complete in order to stay healthy and on-top of things. But I often forgot that writing, for me, is a crucial aspect of staying healthy.
There’s value to some womb-time, some routine, some comfort. But if I get too absorbed in it, I’ll have no motivation to write, nor will I experience anything to write about. The writing that’s worth reading comes from the zigzagging periods, the messes, the transitions, the flights across stormy skies. Rilke’s bat is “fleeing from itself” when it’s zigzagging. But of course, you can’t find yourself if you’ve stayed put the whole time--the fleeing periods might eventually lead to self-discovery.
I’m starting to recognize that the only time I was truly in a womb was pre-birth, and all of my comforts and womb-like situations were really just shields from reality: the reality that life is totally unpredictable, and it can end any time, and therefore, to state it simply, I must constantly step out of my routine in order to do what I find most meaningful. I’m using “I” and not “we” here, but I imagine I’m not alone in this.
So that’s more or less what I’ll be thinking about tomorrow, when I commemorate my very first escape-the-womb day.