I barely know what day it is, let alone what date, let alone what holiday, but it didn't escape my notice that I would be in Dubai during Yom Kippur, nor that I spent Rosh Hashanah at a TV show taping. I'm not fasting, and I'm not doing all that much formal atonement, not in the way my religion would have me do it. But as I walked along the sand and let the waves at Ocean Beach wash over my feet, so warm and soothing, while the call to prayer sounded not far from me, I realized how clearly the person I most have to atone to and for is myself. That's not to say there aren't plenty of people I owe apologies to, but part of why I came here was to try to get away from, if not myself, since that's impossible, the impulses inside me that lead me toward behaviors and ways of being that don't serve me.
I already had it in mind to come to Dubai, but a few weeks before I booked my ticket, I realized how much I treasure my ability to go anywhere, anytime. I know it's a privilege, not a right, and I know that in the grander scheme of all sorts of things going on in the world, this was a meaningless incident. I would truly much rather forget it ever happened and yet I can't exactly, because it encapsulated so much about a particular time in my life, about consequences and choices. It's not my place here to get into all the details, but suffice it to say, being asked to change plans I'd made wasn't so much a financial hardship as a mental one. My reaction was immediate, cutting and vicious. I felt pretty devastated, so much so that even later, when I realized it would have been the right decision for the most selfish reasons, I still couldn't quite accept that status quo. I'm getting there, but I think that was part of what propelled me to travel almost 7,000 miles away, to go through with what still seems like a little bit of a crazy idea.
I'm not exactly known for my moderation, so tell me I can't go somewhere, and I want to go everywhere. Childish, perhaps, and as I face what feels like a big birthday and try to think about what it might be like to raise children myself, I am working on being a little bit less childish. I feel like this year rather than having a lot of specific, concrete things to atone for, I'm more about trying to figure out what feels much harder and more daunting, which is the daily act of living in a way that I can, well, live with, in a way that doesn't have me reaching for the nearest panacea, whatever form that might take. I had no intention of starting a relationship this year, and in fact pictured my trip to Hawaii as another escape, a respite from all the noise in my head and seemingly everywhere I went, and I have a feeling if I'd been looking for a relationship maybe I would have found one, but not this one. It sortof found me and the thing I fear the most is mishandling it. We've had probably only one real disagreement, and one other silly one about candy, but in that one, I was upset and I was already planning to go for a walk so I just left. He asked me if I wanted to talk and I really really didn't, that was the last thing I wanted to do because I knew I was about to cry, and so I walked and I cried and I came back and I was less upset. But I know that leaving, whether the room or the house or the country, is not a permanent solution to any problem. Sometimes the distance does help, and that's something I've learned about myself. I like solitude, especially when I'm upset. I like it when I'm not upset too.
Today, the water was so perfect and warm and comforting; it was the first time since I've been here that I'd felt the heat break a bit. There was a breeze and waves and people being happy, as they tend to be at the beach. I wasn't so much happy or sad as peaceful. I was a little bit lost, more so than I'd realized, about to walk a mile in the heat in search of the spa that brought me here in the first place, but not having to be anywhere at any appointed time, not having anyone asking where I am or demanding I be or not be anywhere, being utterly unfettered, to stand as long as I wanted and try not to get the hem of my dress wet, was a gift I gave to myself. It was, in its way, my own little act of atonement and forgiving.
I know that I don't have all the answers, and probably never will. I'm one of those people who gets paralyzed by choices sometimes. I want to do X and Y and Z, not to mention A-W, and when I can only pick one, or even two or three, knowing that by actively choosing those options, I'm leaving behind others, feels like such a colossal burden sometimes I would rather not make any choices at all. At the same time, I've learned over and over again, so many times it should be second nature, but every time it feels like I'm learning it for the first time, that I can't be responsible for anyone else's actions or feelings, only my own. For a ridiculously long time, I think I thought the point of "working on myself" was so that I could sortof show off this new improved me and as a result would get these external kudos. I'm not going to pretend I don't care about external kudos, but there's nothing like being somewhere totally new and doing so on my own to remind me that I can and always have been able to take care of myself and that at the end of the day, I'm the only one I have to answer to, and if I can't, what anyone else thinks is so irrelevant they may as well not exist.
That's one of the first things I tell people about writing erotica; you can't have anyone else's judgment in your head, because that will automatically color your writing. Whatever you plan to do with it, your words are yours to do with as you please and I can say that for me, the times I've felt most okay about myself are the times when I've dared to write things that if I let myself overthink them I know wouldn't meet with person X or Y's approval.
While I was waiting for my plane to board at JFK, I read a Frank O'Hara poem and plane travel, "Sleeping on the Wing," and there's a line in there: "Once you are helpless, you are free, can you believe that?" It stood out to me as this perfect description of the thrill of bondage and submission, plucked apart from the rest of its brethren, and I may still quote it in a story, but it also struck me again as those beautiful waves crashed against my legs. The gift you're given when you crash into an uncomfortable situation, an unpleasant reminder, an unwelcome intrusion, is one that sometimes takes a while to process. For me, it was and is a reminder that life isn't always pleasant and that it's up to me to choose how to react and to learn what works for me and what doesn't.
It's now actually the next day, here; I couldn't think of a proper conclusion, nor could I sleep. I do know that constant, daily berating, obsessing over my flaws and mistakes, is not the same as atonement, and doesn't help me or anyone else. I know that those immediate, cutting and vicious reactions are as human as the sheer bliss I felt in the water. I also know how many pieces I've left to die on my computer because I "couldn't think of a proper conclusion." I know some people might think I'm fearless but I actually think the opposite; I have so many fears, big and small, and I'm not going to atone or apologize for them, or anything else that makes me me. I can learn to manage them, to pause and examine and ponder, to figure out why I have those reactions, be they fear or ecstasy or what have you. And yes, I know this is utterly self-indulgent, and perhaps has nothing to do with Yom Kippur, and I'm okay with that. And even if I'm not, I will be.
Labels: atonement, my way, travel, Yom Kippur