My Personal Disaster Management Act of 2007

Let's play at ill-fitting analogies. If my break-up with J. is a hurricane, then I'm FEMA. My friends are the Red Cross (and other concerned citizens) who sweep in with assured competence and blankets, rescuing and comforting. But FEMA--what a mess!! Having seen this one coming on -- it's not like there weren't warning signs, and we all knew the levee was vulnerable in spots -- FEMA should have been more prepared. FEMA should have been able to do more pre-emptively, pro-actively. But this wasn't recognized as what it would become when it was just a little thing brewing on the horizon -- there are so many types of tempests, after all, even those in a teacup.

FEMA has had certain caveats written into its policies that have taken on nearly magical powers--for example, the belief that communication is the key to all problems, i.e., that communication leads to solving problems. The thing is, FEMA (I) took on the role of the little girl with her finger in the dyke (levee?), pointing out possible flaws in the system while believing that the recognition of such flaws makes them manageable. They are, after all, not structural, but accidental. And accidents shouldn't be binding for an entire system. They can be fixed, patched, renewed. But there's too much belief in management. Disasters can't be managed until they become disasters, and then, it's already clean up time. By then the buzz is about disaster preparedness. But you can't be prepared for a break-up. You can read the signs, put your wetted finger in the wind, use all manner of oracular predictions, but to those in love meteorology is an art--and a black art, since one believes that one can manipulate it, change the course of the winds rather than just chart them.

The disaster of the break-up is partially the sad fact of meeting a cliched and hypostasized version of one's self yet again. The break-up you is unique only in its instantiation this time, in relation to this person, this loss. And the break-up you relies on all the old tricks, whether they work or not. Sleep, a supposed remedy for the spasmodic pains, is, in fact, more of a pharmakon (poison/remedy). "Dormir, dormir, Dormir plutot que vivre!" wrote Baudelaire. Yes, but upon waking, the experience of is renewed, re-invigorated; the weeks or days or hours of suffering flood back in all at once. It takes a moment to settle into that limp skin, to re-align the bones to match limbs, and the eye holes to the eye sockets, like dressing a flayed doll. Waking is a diagnostic ritual: here is where it hurts in general; here is where it hurts today. But waking is not one moment that dissipates into a day; that feeling of waking, awakening, lasts through all states of consciousness (which is why sleep, in the end, is nonetheless a kind of relief), and you are always on the verge of drowning. There is no forgetting, there is only remembering differently. It's like a ... and thus begins a series of narrative gambits, a litany of metonymy. Such as: it's like a feeling of physical illness. It's like living for hours, days, weeks, in those moments just before you vomit--the involuntary cramping, spasms, shaking--and then the surge, during which your body shouts "no, no, no!". Then the few placid moments after, the release, through which your body still whimpers "no, no, no", and the beady sweat of peace is a sour promise of more to come.

My personal disaster management act of 2007, then, is about finding a different way to deal with the extreme anxiety and pain caused by facing a loss that I don't want to face, and that I believe is not inevitable (if I thought it were inevitable, I would have been ripping the fracture into a full-on break). It's fighting myself for control, fighting to understand (him, me, it), and then lying about graceful giving in to grief. It's not graceful, even when it's resigned. Analysis of the situation is, of course, a way to distance one's self from the emotion being felt; it's an underground refuge, like sleep, and just as futile. There is a need to describe the process, to narrate the inertia felt, and again, to control through manipulation, this time aesthetic (or at least, verbal, written). In honor of my disaster management act, I took a day off to dwell only on this -- to face this loss down like an old crusty sailor stands on the deck, clinging to the wheel, riding the storm through. (Also, in my version he pretends he's not visualizing the anchor, not dreaming of an end to the withstanding).

But the management act is never to go into effect for this particular instance; rather it is forward-looking. It tries to prevent the future disasters from being so disastrous. And it is perhaps the biggest folly to think that such guidelines for preparation can come in the middle of the weathering through the disaster that led to all the little bureaucrats calling for change, for better preparation. Bureaucrats of the soul, tired of toothaches. But as Eliot pointed out "a toothache, or a violent passion, is not necessarily diminished by our knowledge of its causes, its character, its importance or insignificance." And I would add -- its duration.

So, about this loss, I say: "if this relationship is going to be, it isn't now." If I must make preparation, if I must consider management strategies or techniques, if I must stand here and look forward, let me do it in hope rather than in anxiety. If I must face the horizon of this (or any other) possible future passion, let me choose a new skin. This post can't be finished, because nothing can be finished in this state. It is contrary to all guidelines, but it is true nonetheless, that a new kind of hope--one conceived in the middle of the emergency--may signal the end of the disaster itself.