My daughter Elly is one of my go-to book recommenders.
What are you reading now? I ask
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Okay, okay I get that you like the book, but what’s it called.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That’s the title.
Any book that claims to be a heartbreaking work of staggering genius has to be read, right?
How had I not heard of Dave Eggars’ memoir? Ten pages in and I’m hooked. And for the next many many pages (spoiler alert: it’s a big book) I find myself laughing and crying and sometimes both at the same time.
What struck me most were his epiphanies at the end, what the book meant for me. Okay, no need for a spoiler alert. It’s a memoir; you could look up his life on Wikipedia. And I’m not saying this is the meaning of the book, but definitely what I heard. Or felt. Like a kick to the head from a badass MMA fighter. Here it is…drumroll please…life is hard, packed with suffering, more for some, less for others, and if we don’t deal with our stuff, we go out there and unconsciously manufacture situations to deal with our stuff.
Whaaaat? Makes no sense.
Actually, it does. This is what Bessel Van Der Kolk writes about in “The Body Keeps the Score”. The brain is an expert storyteller. It will tell itself that everything is okay, when it is not. The brain will say this person is okay, when they are not. But, as the title of Van Der Kolk’s book says, the body keeps the score. The body knows. That’s the gut feeling that says, nah, don’t walk down that dark alley at 2am by yourself. Or, maybe you don’t need a fifth piece of chocolate cake. But we ignore that voice so often and so often find ourselves in those same situations, with different iterations of the same bossy boss or unavailable druggy boyfriend or gossip-girl friend. Why?
Because we are trying to work stuff out! Because our body and our brain are actually really smart. They’re just trying to protect us. And they did a damn good job, because well, you’re still here. You’re a miracle. All of us. We are all amazing miracles.
But there is still work to be done. Ah, really? Yes, that’s called—life. The life journey. We’re never done, and that’s actually the beauty of it. More to learn, explore. Endless opportunities for curiosity. I think the place to start is with our secrets. Eventually we’ll get to the secrets even we have from ourselves, but we can start with the secrets we know but do not want to know. Like…really deep down I don’t like Bossa Nova but keep listening to it because my boyfriend likes it and I want him to like me because if he doesn’t then who will I be????? Maybe we can risk a bit and put authenticity out there, say, hey, I’m ok with a bit of Bossa Nova, but let’s throw in some Massive Attack sometimes.
Start with what you know but don’t want to admit. Then, little by little, in the safe places of a therapist’s office or the arms of a loved one or on the pages of a journal, explore the secrets you have even from yourself. They aren’t our enemies. They are treasure chests just waiting to be mined, waiting to unite all the disconnected parts of ourselves. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Throw your loving arms around yourself and treat yourself as the miracle you are.