– Dealing with the getting-old blues –
The devil take it all
I’m not the type who is always completely comfortable in his own skin. I admire and envy people who are. I deeply wonder who I am, certainly in a philosophical way, but often also in a direct experiential way. But to continuously question your own identity is a tricky attitude. It can save you from building the wonderful house of your self-image on sand, but it surely can rob you of the very foundation to build anything at all.
Identity is a mirage. We have one, whether we like or not, it is what others see, and we try to change it because we are not quite happy with it. Not that this is so unusual. Although I’m rarely conscious of it I sometimes want to be different. The desire to be different holds a guarantee for endless suffering because it cannot be done, it’s intrinsically impossible. Most may know this as the most trivial fact imaginable, other poor idiots, like me, need to find out. However, the hopeless wish to be different contains the question who you really are. And, for my defence I’d like to say, this is the real question I have in mind.
I think the essence of wanting to be different is the deep longing to be who you really are. And by investigating who you are you only too often discover that you are actually busy all the time pretending to be somebody else. So the real desire to be different is the dream of giving up pretending to be different.
This summer my body felt like a stranger. I felt miserable and sick, and it wouldn’t end. Objectively, as measured and observed from outside, not much was wrong with me. But it was as if I didn’t know this guy anymore who claimed to be me.
A summer had somehow gone awry. And when, after a short autumn, winter descended in late October already, when I found myself permanently cold to the bones, no matter how close I crept to the crackling stove, bored, grumpy, and depressed, when I was about to get really carried away with my old endless story that was dripping with sentimental depth and mind-boggling complexity, when things relentlessly kept changing, quite naturally and predictably but not to my liking, when I was gradually sinking into the black hole again, feared like nothing else in my life but hopelessly attractive like everything we are deeply afraid of, when sitting with myself and doing nothing left me depleted and exhausted – I saved myself with dancing.
Parvin triggered it. She, who can drive me nuts sometimes like nobody else but who has actually saved me from really going nuts so many times with her wisdom, with her deep “wordless” knowledge of the great mystery of the body. She has this old habit to dance her own blues away, sometimes, when it sneaks up on her. It works for her, I know, but I probably had too many thoughts about it to follow her.
I used to love to dance when I was younger. There was a time when it was like a drug or rather like a medicine; it made me happy. That’s why I understand Parvin so well when she does it. But somehow on the battlefield of adolescence it all turned into rigid awkwardness and strained aversion. To speak through your body and let it say whatever it wants, oh yes, but then there were suddenly rules and norms and observers and judgment and at the same time this first huge surge of self-consciousness, of uncertainty who the hell this really was, “me”. I found it all ridiculous and phony.
My body yearned for it though.
Some time later I reinvented it in skiing. When I had finally grown out of the seductive adrenaline rash of heedless mogul-humping, technical skill, and mere raw speed, I – almost against my will – rediscovered the intriguing pleasure of rhythm and the unobstructed flow of motion, the joy of unspectacular swinging.
In my last years of skiing I would leave behind all the bone-breaking effort of always mastering the hardest runs, of taming my body like a circus horse, and instead dance down the steep slopes, usually without poles. I would spread my arms and glue my skis and knees together and let go and dance. The rhythmic hiss of the snow was the music. In a way I didn’t do much, there was no will, no task to be accomplished, just one carving swing leading naturally into the next, it went by itself, the body following along this fine line between falling and blissful flow, effortlessly moving by itself. It was heaven!
Well, that doesn’t work anymore. My right knee is in ruins, still good for climbing and walking but no more torsion. Skiing is passé. In a highly emotional, theatrical act I threw my skis away one day.
This one night when my head was smoking like never before and my heart was aching, I saw Parvin put on her music and go into her room and let it fly. And before I could think twice I got up and started moving too. It was dark, she didn’t even notice it. I had the whole living room to myself.
At first, only for a very short time, it was awkward and clumsy. Then I kind of stopped watching. There were surges of pleasure and avalanches of emotions, but I didn’t care or rather didn’t hang on to them, I just let them fly too. Her music was quite simple and kind of made for this purpose: drums and a little background, nothing hopelessly contaminated with memories. I don’t really know what I did, it was dark and I had my eyes shut most of the time. But my body danced. There were flashes of thinking, of course, and phony clichés: Like Zorba the Greek, I thought. Well, ‘the devil take him‘, why not! – And I stumbled and sometimes hit the furniture too, and it wasn’t only pleasure and perfect flow. But it was authentic, it was me, who ever that is. I’m not even sure that I enjoyed it right away. I think what I really sensed was that I was out of my mind and in my body. I was panting and sweating, the glasses in the cabinets started ringing. I know that Parvin in her room had noticed me by now, and I was sure she was smiling knowingly.
We do this often since then. My getting-old blues is not gone, but it looks different. I can feel it in my fingers, in my feet, and on my skin. I am inside of my skin and watch it from there, and it’s interesting, not devastating.
Klaus written and revised between the 1990s and Dec. 2010