Sometimes it all has to fall apart for it to feel whole. It’s when you have nothing—nothing in the way you’ve been previously conditioned to value your worth—when you realize how much wealth you really possess. Sometimes it’s in the breaking that you finally heal, in your heart, in your sense of loving yourself or at least truly accepting yourself for all that makes you, you.
When I fell in love with Guo Jian, it felt like a quiet and sneaky science trick sending air to slip under my feet and elevate me into a suction of spinning wonder. It was at once pristine and grotesque. Although I was the one spinning, I actually felt still for the first time in a very long time, and I seemed to be just watching from the centrifuge as my world spun around me. The faster the acceleration, the lighter I became and I was floating to the top of it all, completely at the mercy of fate. I watched the weight of change clang and clamber for balance as it scattered and teetered, but all I could do was watch it. I was trapped in the spin like an innocent test tube. I was right at its center.
We were eating dinner one night basking in the lightness of love, in Yunnan (Southern China), in those last few days before I left China for the second time in late 2007, when suddenly I just couldn’t eat. I put down my chopsticks. I was seized by a sense of what the admission of this love would do to my existing world, by the grotesque reality of it like a tornado moving slowly towards me but now just perched on the horizon looking, well, simply awesome, as storms do from afar. And I must have looked at him with that frozen mix of fear and fascination because he asked me what was wrong but didn’t wait for an answer. He was up and around the table and sitting beside me before I knew what was happening. He held my hands. He was telling me everything was going to be okay, not to worry.
I choked out, “my music, my house, my relationship, my life!” and because I couldn’t say ‘it might all fall apart,’ I could only say that it “might break” and then I punctuated it by breaking one of my chopsticks in half and he calmly removed the shards from my trembling hands and said, slowly and calmly, like they were the obvious words:
“You are a wind. Wind is powerful and can do wonderful and terrible things. But it is not at fault. It is just being real, being itself. You’re being yourself. We are all just wind.”
I heard him, but I hadn’t felt the words yet.
“But after, I will have nothing!”
“You will have everything. You are everything. You are already everything. You don’t need music, a house, a relationship, chopsticks” (and his face sneaked a dimple at that but he didn’t skip a beat with his words,) “to be you. It doesn’t matter what you do with your life and where you live and whom you’re with. You’re still a wind. You’re still strong.”
“No one will like me,” I squeaked out, in a quiet voice, still not quite absorbing.
And what I really wanted to say was a tumbling of panicked words like this:
“Everyone will hate me for falling in love with a man. I will be judged and rejected and misunderstood by my community, by my fans, maybe even by the woman I love, and I am petrified of that backlash. Who would willingly choose to just stand back and watch the destruction of so much that seemed so right? That’s how it will appear, I’m sure, like I’m actively calling a tornado forth with just a flip of my hand. Who could be so illogical? Who could be so unkind? Think of the impact on the band! The fans that will refuse to support the shows! Think of the fact that wanting to come back to China regularly will mean less work for everyone and everyone relies on me for their income! What kind of person am I? They will think terrible things about me. How can I claim to be ethical? (etc. etc.)”
And he must have heard those extended, tumbling thoughts because he ignored the pathetic squeak and said, “You were not happy before you came to China. You told me. You said you were tired. You said you had been sad for a long time. You said you wanted something new. You said you wanted to follow your dreams. Now you’re happy, here. If they don’t like you for being happy then they’re all assholes.”
Always the class act when it comes to throwing in the expletives, I suddenly felt myself coming together, knocked back into place by his simple but poignant words. I knew I had panicked, descended into old habits of caring what people think and wanting to somehow control that, as though anyone can control these uncontrollable things known as other people’s minds! And funny enough, that old habit had all but vanished when I came to a new country and had no one to impress and, more importantly, no interest in impressing anyone. Just now, though, it had snuck up on me in a threatening rush and placed a calloused, gnarled hand firmly on my shoulder. It had snuck up on me not unlike my departure was sneaking up on me.
Because the spinning was just beginning.
It’s interesting to me now that the word “wind” in English is also pronounced with the long “i” vowel sound to create the verb “to wind,” as in “to wind up a spinning top.”
When I got home and was honest about my love for him and my desire to return to China and then had to face my partner’s lack of desire to stay in a relationship with me under those conditions, and then my agency’s subsequent lack of a desire to stay in a relationship with me under the condition of my frequent absence and dissolved working relationship with my partner, and then had to face the fact that my partner wanted me to leave my beloved house and find another place to live, and then face the fact that if I moved to China that I’d have to start again with everything—my career, my love life, my entire financial portfolio, my social community, not to mention staring myself down regarding identity politics as a queer woman who had fallen in love with a straight man and wrapping my head around that while simultaneously being digitally slammed by livid fans or, worse, ostracized or ignored by some who I also had considered friends, and still having to stand on stage for six months with all of this destruction at my heels….
Well, let’s just say it gained acceleration daily. Now I think I understand what tornados do to the physical reality after having experienced what they do to the emotional.
But there I was after I got home to Canada when the tornado really arrived, standing still. Pefectly still and at its mercy. It was there that I discovered that through crumbling comes wholeness, through chaos and loss comes knowledge of how much we truly have. Even when I was selling off or giving away all of my possessions, walking away from a home that I had renovated and fallen in love with for four years and that was once my only retirement plan, and struggling with enormous debt and an absentee gig future, I felt that I had somehow uncovered buried treasure that was more worthy of value and attention than anything else had ever been:
I finally found out that I am wind. I am strong. I can take care of myself. Even when I have nothing, I have everything because I am intact. I am me. I am here on this planet in this moment. I am.
And that’s got nothing to do with anyone else.
As I look back at that conversation Guo Jian and I had in Yunnan, one of the things that I so appreciate is that he didn’t say, “You have me and I love you” or, “We have each other; I’ll be there for you” or, “You are strong because of our love.” He said nothing cheesy like that. If he had, I may have puked on his shoes for starters, and then things would be very different today, I’m sure. It wasn’t about him and he didn’t make it about him. He got it.
It was a pivotal moment, perhaps the very moment that change began. I was reminded that because I am a wind that I can take my wind and wind myself up. In the spinning, I could and would uncover the real truths.
And in the discovery, everything was going to be okay.