1. A New Idea
What we want is never simple. – Linda Pastan
This morning, I read you a poem by Sharon Olds called “Topography.” Earlier, I’d snoozed the alarm – 10 more minutes, 15 more minutes, 5 more minutes. Pressing my back and bum into your rib cage and bowl of belly, our bodies sealed together just like the bodies in the poem forming one country: I am east, you are west, and we close the space between by remembering the dream that remembers us and living it together, even on days when one of us is off-kilter or ragey, hormonal or achy.
We take turns holding and being held, and I wonder if what we want, in some way, is simple. Maybe it is time for what Mary Oliver calls “a new idea.”
What I want is something that for so long I trained myself not to want, as if I had an “override” button and pressed it so many times that it stayed in a permanently depressed position, no wanting allowed, only gratitude for what I already had. But that wasn’t the whole truth, never was. I wanted so much and it was bigger than the container I’d contorted to. No wonder I ached.
But I do not want to write about the past. I think I did dream the dream last night, where if I ached it was for so much stillness and spaciousness, the kind I still clutter with too many tasks, too many physical objects and things that want me. Our bedroom is cluttered and what I want once again is a kind of emptiness. Empty room. Empty time. Not empty as in meaningless, but empty as in space for meaning to actually arise in its own time, space for feelings and new ideas and long, slow breaths I don’t realize I’m desperate for until I stop and allow emptiness to fill me.
What I want is to live from the center of a dark summer pond. To float, to feel resistance as delicious, as my own strength pushing though water, the water that is me meeting its environs and a meeting of bodies and a meeting of minds and a meeting with time that’s unhurried, where I’m not holding my breath in my upper chest but taking it into that hollow place and following it through windpipe and nostrils into lungs and belly.
What I want is beach and a long stretch of sand. What I want is wordless. What I want is to listen closely for the sounds of songs that have never been sung or written down.
What I want is trust, to trust time to be long and kind. What I want is to a beauty magnet, a bastion of worldly success, a haven for hurt, and a beacon of light. What I want it to quiet the judging voices with such harsh opinions of me, so discouraging.
What I want is a year under the Tuscan sun, a year in field of barley, of glory, or lavender for miles. What I want is a living painting and a poem that can breathe underwater. What I want is two feet on the ground and a nervous system that’s only rattled by true emergencies.
What I want is simultaneously severing and healing, severed so that the healing can happen, and I don’t know how to be in the between that catches behind my eyes like feelings entangled in nets and frantic to unhook.
Breathe. A slow, steady, bright, balanced unfolding of days.
What I want is peace in my heart, for the water to run so clear in my heart you could drink it unfiltered from clean, cupped hands, you could splash it on your face, cool and awake. What I want is for what I want to be really that simple.
What I want is simple: To be calm. To belong to my life. To love well, to parent well, good enough mother, good enough not to disappear. I want to live inside of the mandala of justice turning wheels, to meet people’s eyes and to speak and write in ways that matter.
What I want is this: Quiet room. Color. Stillness. Books and blank pages. I want to stay and stay and stay until something moves me to move. I want to wait and wait and wait until instinct or inspiration say “go.”
I want to weep and break and then be so loving with myself in the after space of open and exposed. I want to make art out of postcards we collect on the road and to make my letter to the world before I go. I want to die just to see what it would be like.
I always used to say I wanted it all. I still do. The difference now? “Everything I need is right here in my hands, right here in my hands.”
2. Kindred Spirits
“Kindred Spirits” is a phrase that has stayed with me since single digits, on a rock in a field at a camp in Connecticut, where barefoot we danced and under a lunar eclipse a counselor told me what this meant.
“Kindred” is a word I loved right away. Something even in my child self knew this to be my home, sitting on a rock in the night in the company of women. This is how I know life is here with me, has never once abandoned me. This is how I know I am here with myself.
Kindred. All those years of missing in action really not lost at all but seeking the kindred spirits I could know and call my own and call my home. Now I am my own home, an she is my kindred spirit – just look at how in the photograph those two delight in each other’s company.
What I want really is that simple then, like that butterfly there, fluttering around them: To allow myself to change and evolve and transform in the company of another, on a dark summer night in a field teeming with fireflies and cicadas, the pond a flat mirror of moonless sky, the earth a shadow passing over and eventually, morning comes and with it, light.
To be kindred in this lifetime, nothing missing from this moment? I see as if for the first time the gift of taking delight in another’s presence. I hear the truth of it – how this is the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking. The question I was living and living into.
When you feel lost, come back to this rock, I hear her whisper. And I’ll be right here, waiting for you.
3. A Series of Small Confessions
Confession: I used to be a slacker. I wrote poems at work on hidden Word files and mastered the art of looking busy. Always a good student, I knew how to play the role of hard worker, but secretly I scoffed at anything remotely bureaucratic or institutional, as if I was somehow an exception to the rules. In this way, I learned how to doubt myself.
Confession: The other word I remember learning is “privilege,” on the front porch of 378 Crescent Street in Buffalo from my middle sister, who didn’t have a middle name and made fake homework for me when we were 5 and 9.
Confession: I am afraid to make things. I wanted for so long to make a living by “just being myself,” and now that I’m doing just that, the space between creating and working has collapsed and I am groping again for the space between. The empty space. I know it’s here somewhere.
Confession: I am online almost all of the time, or so it feels. I feel some shame about this.
Confession: My wife keeps offering to help me make a schedule. Taking her up on this would surely open up wonders of psychic and creative space and help me be more, not less, present with the many people I work with. (Whereby I confront the notion of “stuck places.”)
Confession: I have this recurring fantasy that someone will give us a gorgeous house, and we will get to live there, writing and loving.
Permission: To start experimenting more. To write down what’s working and what’s not working. To shake up shitty habits.
A New Idea: Try something new.
4. Saying “My Wife”
If I knew everything was going to be ok, the greatest sense of ease would flood my body, as if all of life was leading to this moment. I’d live and work slower, not fill all the waking hours. I’d leave some pages blank. Sit. Blink.
In a blink, everything would change again. And again after that.
“Your hands feel nice,” she said this morning as I stroked her hair back from her forehead – not like a cat or a child but like my one and only woman.
Confession: I felt shy saying “wife” when we first got married. Not embarrassed or ashamed, no, it wasn’t like that, but just shy – new – a bit tickled and incredulous. Saying “my wife” was synonymous with saying “everything is ok.” And saying “everything’s ok” was an admission that I could exist and take up room with the signature of struggle I thought was my name.
I changed my name then and started trying on a new one: Ease. Easy. It was strange and enticing and a bit scary and wonderfully not-dangerous. In the dark, I’d whisper to her, to my wife, “Is everything going to be ok? Really?” And she’d reassure me that yes, not only would it be but it already was.
Just like that, I practiced believing her. I started leaving this “what is everything falls apart” question at home more and more often. Am I really still afraid of the thing that already happened?
This is my new definition of trauma: Fear of what already happened.
Some young part of me stays scared of getting in trouble, of being scolded or called out or caught. I want to surround myself with beauty and shields and strength and light. I want personal bodyguards. I want to hold hands with the night herself. To be crescent moon and muse and wind and storm and place where ocean and sky touch without fusing.
If everything really is ok in this moment, there’s no good reason to believe it won’t be in the next and the next. Why do our thoughts love catastrophe? I want to be a lover and a fighter – only her lover and only a focused fighter, not flailing and exhausting myself in shallow water, waist-high, where I could just stand up if I knew. If I was new. And if you knew, too. If we stopped with the falsehoods, stepped out from behind the convenient covers of drama. Easy things do not have to be hard. What if we saved struggle for things that are actually struggles? Yes, let’s.
I want to hold knowing and not knowing gently, like I would a small bird, not squeezing or entrapping. Some things fly away and other stay close. Stay close.
It always comes back to this: Your reassuring voice in my ear, my hands in your hair, full circle to sealed bodies, stamped with each other’s new names. You do? I do, too.
Whether we have a week or six months of fifty years to live, what difference would knowing make and where is the pivot point between patience and urgency? Can urgency be calm and easy or is that a paradox?
Would it matter if we knew? It might, it might not. It’s too many questions. My answer is here in the here and now in the now, knowing and not knowing like birds on a wire.
5. Future Self
I am 62. Fully grey. My hair is short again, a halo of curls. All is well.
Little by little then all of a sudden I shed the last layers of living in fear. There is a simplicity to our days here, an easy balance.
I need to know where everyone is, especially my kids. They are 33 and 30. Parents in their early 90s. I don’t know who has died. I don’t know what I’ve written or what Mani has written or what we’ve published or whether there are royalties. I don’t know so many things, only that we are coming up on our 22nd anniversary. We are planning a trip, as we do every year. We love our home. It is the home we dreamed of for so long, but even better.
Money is not a problem; we comfortably give away more than 10% of our income, help all the kids, and skimp on nothing. I teach and coach small groups in our beautiful home and host retreats here, too – everyone loves the pool, and the ocean so close by, and the bliss of connecting and creating. I lead writing workshops in the nearby homeless shelter on Monday afternoons, and thrill every single time someone I’ve worked with publishes a poem or an essay or another book or discovers some new dimension of her voice.
I love this life.
What began as a hustle slowly became as solid and soft and lived-in as a quilt made of so many threads and patches and images and by so many hands, hands from all over the world, hands of people we’ve met on our travels, friends from long ago, and people from so many parts of our lives.
The future started so long ago.
The future was a breath away and then it wasn’t, then it was already gone, but where? We say “behind us” but turn to look and there is nothing there. Noting but memory. And then an idea of what might be, and all along, the DNA of our imagination is unfurling and there’s no way to know what will become and what will decay.
We ache that time is passing and step all the way into its mighty current. We fall asleep and wake up in so many beds, in so many buildings and rooms, always looking straight away for each other’s faces, eyes, lines of familiar songs running through our heads like hands through water, nothing sticks, we are fluid, solid, dark, light, hungry, sated.
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