It’s the end of 2017, and I’ve been very much in that looking-back, looking-forward kind of mindset. Incidentally, it’s been more than a year since I successfully completed a piece of writing—a startling realization. I would not, in years past, have hesitated to excoriate myself for the lapse, particularly since my writing rhythm was hard-won, ox-shouldered over many devoured hours into established habit.
And then in November 2016 I let the whirring stop. Not to overblow it, but last year’s American horror story election shat and has continued to shit on my mind, heart, and soul. It knocked me off my complacent axis, and it’s been difficult in the shadow of it to summon the audacity required to put fingers to keys, particularly given my writing’s belly-buttoned concernments. These words from Howard Thurman, passed on to me by my dear friend Kate, have helped:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
With a solipsistic whiff perhaps, but hopefully tapping into a deeper moral thrum. Whatever the ethical verdict, this is the writing I am currently capable of wholly and truly doing, and there’s no question writing again has enhanced my existence and enlivened my mind.
Despite the whys, and bypassing the outmoded rut of self-reproof, neglect is cause for regret, and writing is all about the grind. It’s the dogged inglorious pegging away through the inevitable slog-days of un-inspiration that capacitates you, on that fine morning the singing thing makes a perch of your shoulder, to greet it with a brain maintained, an agile mind limbered to fling itself into the acrobatics of electric thought, to translate the lit filament into a written discipline. Fitting the lightning into the limits of language is the work of the conduit, and this ability is grounded in practice. None of this is to say you by means emerge with the next Great American Anything, but hopefully you’ll manage something with enough flow it doesn’t read like you were moiling to milk a lump of quartz.
The older I get the more clearly I see the centrality of certain things—one is the value of sustaining a practice. I’ve always been a fits and spurts kind of person, long struggled with a perverse, willful resistance to perceived personal “shoulds.” These tendencies have happily mellowed in the last few years—I have succeeded in eliminating much of the procrastinatory drama simply by re-casting the “shoulds” as “wants.” (This really only works for fun stuff like going on runs or moving through my self-assigned reading list—with boring biz things I’m still not great, but I bear in mind it’s infinitely more energy-consuming to dread and not do the dull-as-dirt thing than it is to simply buckle down and get ‘er done.) Though I’m vastly improved I still struggle with consistency. Back in the day my ex had told me about this Rudolf Steiner exercise to cultivate will, where every day at the same time you perform some small task, something as simple as picking up an object and putting it back. It sounded maddening to me. It still does. Maybe it’s my Taurean bullishness rearing its blocky head, but I hate being told what to do, even by myself. I am starting though to apprehend the significance of cumulative dailiness.
A few years back I Christmas gifted myself and a handful of others those five-year one-line-a-day journals. In fact you're allotted five small lines per diem, six if you push it (I always have, and into the margins). I haven’t kept the book up, though want to again, but I can clearly see the massive rewards that can be gleaned from the humble exercise of nightly (or more likely for me, next-morningly—I’m more of a conker than a night owl) jotting down a few lines to sum up a day. At the very least it helps you keep track, but beyond that it creates an trippy time capsule of minutiae, minor notes that over seasons will swell together into symphonic meaning. The small accounts through time collect themselves into sweeping narrative arcs, logs of sea changes, yielding at their completions priceless bound gatherings of our endless numbered days of the good flesh continuing. It’s poignant, the passing of time, and beyond that it’s something worth honoring, another something I am seeing more clearly.
…and what to do but face that way
and praise the kingdom of the dead, praise the power which we
have all kinds of phrases to elide, that none of us can worm our way out of—
“which all must kneel to in the end,” “that no man can evade,”
praise it by calling it time, say it is master of seasons,
mistress of the moment of the hunting hawk’s sudden sheen of grape brown
gleaming in the morning sun
I love more than ever keeping a sharp eye on the seasons and their singularities and the changing of them (within years and over them—though I’ll save the climate change convo for another day). Rama and I speak much of the weather—natter on maddeningly about the clouds and the clock and the feel of the air and the nagging lack of rain or the lovely glut of it—and don’t get me started on R’s monological interminable disquisitions on oceanic conditions, feat. a plenitude of graphs (mandatory viewing). For my own observances I loosely but enthusiastically catalog foliage with my camera, chat botany with Ramz (my own personal naturalist—reach out touch plants) who agreeably schools me on how to “enumerate the vegetation.” I deck my house with pillaged boughs and fill it with jam-jarred weeds and flora. We also seasonally forage for some edible things, and reap bites from our bit of (transitorily en-potted) horticulture lite. (A major tenet of Future Dream Life is a booming veg garden replete with fruit trees, peppered throughout with uninhibited inflorescences.)
Holidays are a societal way of marking time, and my family’s always been very celebratory (in blessedly love-fest, low-stress ways). As our lives get bigger, and our families do, I am learning the flexing fluidity of tradition, how what’s time-honored can in the flow of it shift and luster and widen and deepen and rarefy and grow.
I think it’s partly the ritual and the dailiness that’s been intriguing me about the so-called ten-step Korean skincare regimen. I was informed about it by Emma, who has a hip finger on the pulse of the people, and who also has beautiful glowing skin she is keen on preserving. Now we’re on the right side of thirty we must reportedly beware the ravages of time and stave off and smooth away dread wrinkles with the application of copious nostrums—mystery elixirs, miracle lotions, and priceful ointments. I’ve heretofore been pretty negligent with my visage—I literally wash my face with hand soap half the time and have failed spectacularly in my life to moisturize. Even eye cream—my mom and Maddy are its priest and acolyte—has cameoed only sporadically in my toilette. I’m okay with sun protection, because I have to be, though given the amount of time I spend outdoors I’m not nearly zealous enough, and there’s no doubt I’m frecklier than I should be. Anyway l’ll probably spring for the K-skin starter pack.
On the topic of ritual, another consequential thing in my 2017 (not such a thumb-up-the-bum year despite the paucity of bloggities): Rama and I got married (!). And not in a sweet-and-easy-as-pie kind of way (which would also have been lovely), but with a kind-of-casual but still totally gnarly capital W Wedding. Despite my bridal ambivalence (re: weddings—marrying Rama could not have felt surer or more right), that shit hoovered me for months, and while I’m still a little shook by the aforementioned (yet deeply wonderful) gnarl of the day, I feel proud of the celebration we (with humbling plenitudes of loving help) created. I’m working on a long piece (a likely two-parter) about our wedding and my matrimonial notions, so I’ll not get more into it here. It’s one of the huger things that has happened this year and in my life, and I am reverent of its gravity.
And of my good luck. Gratitude is another big thing that’s coming to the forefront for me, and hand in hand with that has come a humble heart. I used to smell on power the whiff of ruthlessness; there was a cutting invincible edge to my triumphs in my younger days, a heady blade in the dark feeling. I’m now as happy as I’ve ever been—ushered by gobsmacking good fortune a door opened in my life and I entered. A missing component was introduced, a switch was flipped, and I feel more put in place and set to motion than I ever have before. I’m sitting pretty in the proverbial catbird seat, positioned to make strikes, but I don’t feel smug or overmuch gunner-ish. There’s some measured plodding progress and some plotting (making plans really does cringe my poor “tim’rous beastie” heart, pitches me into the terror of “feel[ing my] future dissolve in a moment/ like salt in a weakened broth”). I’m not strutting swaggering rampaging godly invincible—rather, I feel as excruciatingly, porously human as I have ever, raw to and caught up in the tight-spun cloth of the “innocence of all the suffering on earth.”
Maybe it’s because it was a hard fall (most closely to me: fires, catastrophe in the life of a longtime and loved co-worker, health-scary hospitalizations and surgery with my dad), but my heart has felt as open, and consequently as broken, as ever before. I am beginning to perceive that as communal humans our final word is kindness, the annihilating, soul-growing bottom line of it—kindness received, and exponentially more devastatingly, kindness given. A couple random and mortifyingly minor acts of it performed by me this autumn practically smithereen-ed me—the molecule-shuffling magnitude of it helps me see why Emma holds a glow of hope for our poor species.
Kindness may be integral to our existence as connected selves, but there’s (as ever) another angle. I do not know what our individual floor is, but I imagine it’s more of a trapdoor that flings us out into infinities. It’s been said suffering is based in an over-identification with our separated struggles. Despite my analytic slant I’m emotion-prone and am easily swept up into swells of feeling; I know though I am most “myself” stepped back and contented in my own beautiful blip-ness, melted into “the incandescent radiance of the complete expansion into perfect wholeness… [of] the reality of a universe dancing ecstatically in the animation of its completely perfect divinity.”
I hope in 2018 to be both humble and bold. I adjure for the capacity to cast myself out on a light vessel into the truly endless realms of possibility, but to in my heart never leave home.
I am so thankful for today: it consisted of a whatever work shift but was otherwise utterly gratitude-inducing, arv passed tidying the yellow-lit, fragrant-scented home I am privileged to share with my husband and sister and since-first-grade bestie, not to mention the best-ever pets. I traded texts with soul-pals and had a his-and-mine writing phone chat with my dad while Mom in So-Cal cooked up their New Year’s din and Rom did ours (pepper-crusted salmon, shallot-topped collards, salted boiled taters, plus a buttered slice of “dumpster-diven” walnut bread).
It feels grubby to reach for more, but I pray this year for the grace to be both rooted and free-wheeling, anchored as well as expansive, to strike for all the many mutually-suspended symmetries. And to write.
The Netflix-streaming Didion doc (which I loved) concluded with these words from Joan:
See enough and write it down,” I tell myself. And then some morning, when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write…On that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there. It all comes back. That is always the point.
To see and to say, “in balance with this life, this death.” Amen.