Ash Eliot

I also bought a teddy bear last weekend. It was a gesture of over-the-top nurturing to go along with the other extra care involved in my Discount Psych Ward. My social phobia and anxiety have made recovery group meetings and such more of an ordeal lately, and I thought having something to hold onto during the meetings might help a little. So we went to Build-a-Bear and I chose the softest one they had.

On Sunday, I took him to one of my regular meetings with me. I got some odd looks, but that was fine. I also got many smiles and a few requests to hold him. The willingness to be childlike, or even foolish, in recovery is important enough to me to have written about it before, and this was just another example.

But my new friend did more than comfort me during a meeting. He also made me think more deeply about poetry, what it means to me, how I feel about wanting to write it, and my spirituality.

How, exactly, did a little teddy bear manage this? Well, I’m sure you are dying to know.

Someone asked me what the bear’s name was. I told her I named him Ash Eliot: Eliot because my favorite poet is T.S. Eliot and Ash because my favorite poem by him is called Ash Wednesday.

“Well,” she said, “I was never into any of that intellectual stuff.” Or something like that. I didn’t know what to say. I felt awkward and ashamed, as if I’d somehow insulted her or acted superior about having some knowledge of literature. I felt other. The meeting started, and I tried to put my feeling of awkwardness and hurt behind me. But I didn’t want to let it go like that; I wanted to be understood.

Yes, and I’d also like a pony. We all want to be understood, but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen. St. Francis was right to advise praying to understand instead; it avoids any temptation to make our lives contingent on someone else’s ability to see.

But if I could, I’d like to communicate more about how my love of poetry has nothing to do with intellectualism. I’d like to be more “out of the closet” about it, and be accepted for this among my peers of all interests. In this fantasy world, everyone would realize that it’s simply one of my roads to spirituality, as necessary as water, as vital as warmth. I’d feel free to talk about poetry in a meeting that same way someone else might talk about Jesus if that’s his or her particular road to the divine.

Ash Eliot–and that fact that I chose that name in the first place, that a poet was the loving companion spirit I wanted with me–made me think about all of this. Today, in the library, I sought comfort from a book by the poet Mary Oliver, and found words of understanding there. She writes that poetry “…carries one from this green and mortal world…lifts the latch and gives a glimpse into a greater paradise.” She writes: “Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost.”

Sounds spiritual to me. If poetry is one’s thing, then it is spiritual. Why should I question it? And why should I be ashamed? It’s just another part of me, and being honest about it is just another part of presenting myself as I am. Let it be one of my distinguishing traits, even if it is awkward sometimes. That’s the one who is dual diagnosis. That’s the one who brings a teddy bear to meetings. That’s the one who is really into poetry and writing and stuff.

If it makes me other, then I need to trust in the idea that there will be friends out there for me that are okay with, or even attracted to, this flavor of other. For this flavor, this mixed seasoning of the meat that is my self, is the only kind of nourishment that will never fail me.

4 responses to “Ash Eliot

  1. I’ve put people off for acting too “intellectual,” but I refuse to dumb down my vocabulary or hide my interests. I prefer to be myself, regardless of whether or not people like me. You are a poet and a lover of poetry, and paradoxically find the ineffable in carefully chosen words. You have no choice but to be yourself, teddy bear in hand.

  2. I hate getting shut down like that. I don’t know why people do it. If they are not interested, surely they can be polite at the very least. Don’t take it personal, it is not about you at all. Poetry is fantastic, lyrics in raw form, needing no accompaniment.
    I like your bear, too. I got myself one once because I needed it in the car, as my husband had frequent road rage and I needed to be able to stay calm. They help.

  3. Damn drunks. 😉

  4. I don’t know quite know why but this got me crying. I guess whenever I read posts like this where people talk about being otherized it triggers in me feelings of isolation and low self esteem I’ve felt in childhood, some of which I still carry. I’m seeing my therapist tomorrow so I appreciate your post as it made me think and feel of some things I haven’t been fully in touch with in a bit in my busy life and which I would like to process more with my therapist.

    I love the idea of poetry as spiritual as I deeply connect with that as someone who has been writing it for 10 years! I also love the teddy bear idea! I think a parallel thing I have is just hugging myself tightly and caressing the back of my neck. I just like to feel like I’m being held tightly and that I am deserving of love regardless of how low my self esteem may be.

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