"Job, there is a great irony in what I said yesterday and in what happened yesterday to me. To remind you what I said, I stressed that I had concluded that it didn't really matter to me how and if you were restored because I have abandoned the belief that your life might be normative, in some way, for me. Ok. Clear principle. Study your book in order to enrich my language, to know better the folds and whorls and grief, to see how hope might arise (but without being normative, of course!), but don't look at it for "guidance" in my life.
But then, yesterday I had a loss. It must seem very insignificant from the perspective of people of the world, but I didn't do well in the Oregon Senior Spelling Bee. I wasn't in a good rhythm; I misspelled a few words early in the written test, and then it was downhill from there. I know I didn't get in the top three or four finishers, but I don't know how badly I did.
What was interesting to me was not just to lose after I had placed high (2nd) last year both at the state and national competition, but to see my reaction to it. It confirmed in my mind, once again, Job, that I am absolutely inconsolable in loss. I knew that about myself several years ago, and kept opening myself up to experiences of loss in those days, but I thought I had "gotten over it." That is, I have in more recent days tried to limit my expectations and hopes, limit my "exposure" to loss so that I might not be so devastated when it came. I don't know where this goes back to--my inability to handle things that come into my life, but it happened to me yesterday. The only "consolation" I have in the loss is that there is the national competition in June, and I have a chance to "redeem myself" there. I have a method to do better, which I am going to begin on April 22, and I hope to do better there.
But when I suffer a loss, in an area having to do with the intellect (and I think I have limited that possibility elsewhere now by not allowing it, by writing on whatever I want, by posting whatever I want, by not working through others who might pick over my work like pigeons over carrion), I become inconsolably sad. I withdraw and become more remote than the University of Idaho. In fact, I don't want human touch. I don't want any kind of human consolation. I cannot and will not accept it. It is as if things have become shattered to such an extent that any words of hope, any words of humanity are words that bounce off me like a basketball off the backboard. Indeed, I become hyperpolite, as if to say, "Yes, you are being very helpful to me in my loss. Thank you for putting out the effort. It is appreciated greatly."
But in fact, Job, I don't feel that for a moment. I feel that I don't want to talk to the person, don't want ever to be close to another human again, don't want to read the news or gather information about the world. That is, I shut down emotionally and intellectually. I only feel the incessant pain of having not won. I feel shamed and humiliated, utterly undone. I know there is no one, no thing, no words, no promise, no act of friendship that can draw me back one inch from the whirlpool of distress I feel.
After a while there are dual reactions I feel. On the one hand, the inconsolable grief continues. 40,000 babies could be slaughtered right in front of my eyes and I wouldn't feel worse for their families than I feel for myself, so self-absorbed am I. I am as impervious to anything coming in as Leviathan's steely back was to God's getting a handlehold on him. I become this unattractive [Or maybe there is a beauty in my darkness which I, by intellectualizing here, make unattractive]. Then, on the other hand, when I have passed through the most wrenching parts of the distress (after about 4 hours in this instance), I just begin to look at the dictionary and say, "Ok, I just have to learn you," and I spend 4 more hours, going late into the night, studying 45 pages of it, writing down a few hundred words that either I don't know or I might not know, writing brief definitions of these words, learning them and then putting them in a file. I have to turn to other activities in the next days (my "routine") because I still have two weeks to teach and even I in my self-absorption will not miss deadlines, but I resolve to get back to the dictionary. Of course, the resolution I made before the contest (see Spelling Bees II and III in 2005 Essays) still stands. But last night I put the resolution in sneering terms. That is, I said, instead of doing 15 pages a day (which I thought I could do until I saw I had miscalculated), or 26, which I know I have to do now, I will do 100 tonight--when I am exhausted after a long competition. I actually worked through about 47 last night before I decided to sleep on the couch--removing myself to bed at 2:32 a.m. I think I made the "sneering" resolution because I am punishing myself for losing. I solemnly swore that I would give up all pleasure, all human contact, all forms of self-enjoyment or meaning gathering outside of mastering dictionary words until the national contest is over on June 18.
I think I will relent from this a little, Job, but maybe not too much. In the long run what am I doing? Living in utter futility, don't you think? Oh, I may do well at the nationals. I better, or else I might just turn to the OED and try to do the same kind of mastery (with supplementation from some unabridgeds that have words that the OED doesn't have) as with the wimpy version that we use in the contest. But as for now, Job, I feel unattractive, uninterested in peoples' affairs (which is unusual for me), not desiring affection or "closeness" with people, bereft, small in my understanding and capabilities, in a bit of a daze as I walk in the world, utterly unconcerned with the plight of anyone else or any other thing.
In short, my irony now, Job, is that just when I needed some good words about your restoration being "normative" for me or for people who truly seek to imitate your life, I have abandoned any such belief. Thus, I am cast on my own sea of uncertainty, and the billows simply wash over me.