I was away,

The words "I was away" followed by a comma, printed in orange on a white background, on handmade rag paper

I was away,

Since when?

For the longest time I’ve been focused on 2014—the year everything went to hell. And surely crafting a usual story from “partner gets cancer while child enters teenage years” is eminently reasonable. Yes, I went away, gathered the horses, receded, armoured up.

Perhaps 2020, when Catherine died? Briefly untethered from the crush. But then the pandemic. We all went away for awhile.

Recently I’ve been revisiting my deeper history, trying to locate, in the forests of my 20s and 30s, the wellspring for prioritizing containment over aliveness. When did my younger self, shellshocked by challenging human relationships, decide that I should follow the emotional path of the armadillo?

All of those time scales are true.

Where was I?

Mark Rego writes, in a 2022 Psychology Today article, about a question clinicians can ask their patients:

The question applies to any disorder, and everyone immediately knows the answer: “Do you feel like yourself?” After working hard trying to figure out what may be wrong, or if the treatment has had a positive effect, I have asked this countless times. In each instance, both the patient and I knew where things stood.

If the answer is “no,” the follow-up question makes it easy for a patient to focus on what is bothering them. After a “no” answer, the follow-up question is, “If you are not fully yourself, what is missing that would get you back to feeling fully like you?” Because the person’s mindset has already been focused on the universal feeling of being oneself, it becomes easy to say why they are or are not fully at their usual baseline. Things like “I am still very tired,” “I still feel blue very often,” or “I feel better but still have no sex drive,” come immediately to the patient’s mind.

This is as good a description as any of where I was, “not myself.”

Rego continues:

Feeling like yourself is like having a jacket that fits perfectly. Only you can tell that every inch of that jacket conforms to your body, and you know as soon as you put it on. Feeling like yourself is similar in that every inch of internal being feels just right and normal.

I have not felt like I’ve been wearing that jacket for a long long time. Which is not to say that my person has been completely compromised, or even a little compromised, all of the time. But the jacket hasn’t been fitting perfectly for as long as I can remember, longer than death and longer than illness.

Faced with that knowledge, what to do?

Phase one was horseback riding, improv, opening myself up to love, lowering some protective shields, seeing vulnerability as an asset not a liability, starting to take maintenance of my physical body seriously.

Phase two involves a lot of reexamination of what my friend Ton calls “my usual story.” What are the tales I’ve long told about myself (to myself, to others), what are the ways I’ve come up with to describe my choices, the events as they played out, the ways I am. What are the habits that I’ve developed to allow me to live the way I’ve lived? Can I change them? What am I afraid of? Am I actually afraid of the things I say I’m afraid of?

I have help to do this, and it’s been challenging and revealing.

I feel energized. 

And I feel like the jacket is starting to fit a lot better.

I was away, was printed on my Golding Jobber № 8 letterpress in 24 point Bodoni Bold with fluorescent pink ink on handmade Papeterie Saint-Armand paper. It’s the first piece I’ve set and printed in seven months, the longest I’ve been away from the press since I acquired it.


Olle Jonsson's picture
Olle Jonsson on November 10, 2023 - 21:48 Permalink

Thank you for this.

Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on November 13, 2023 - 01:59 Permalink

A great post Peter, thank you. And much to chew on.

Paul Capewell's picture
Paul Capewell on November 13, 2023 - 03:36 Permalink

As others have said: thanks for this, Peter. A typically spot-on and very candid piece of writing. And loads to think about.

Paul R. Pival's picture
Paul R. Pival on November 16, 2023 - 17:55 Permalink

Adding to the list of thanks for your writing, Peter. I have a new question to ask myself, and my family members.