That time has come and I am done. I have given everything that I have away. I am depleted and everything aches, especially my heart. I question how I will ever return to the world, with coherent thoughts in my head and thoughtful words on my tongue. How will my legs hold me, propel me forward. How will my hands create, my fingers find letters and fresh perspectives. How will I be brave enough to rise with the sun and do it all again?
I was born in the spring of a new decade, to a slightly tipsy mother, wearing all pink and hoping beyond hope that I would not, in fact, have a penis. She got her wish. The world was upside down.
I entered seven minutes into the fifth hour of the fifth day of the fifth month.
I arrived between the 61 shots fired at Kent State and the release of the Beatles final album; I took my first breath in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, under the watchful eyes of my pediatrician father and my third-times-a-charm mother, and against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the trial of the New Haven Nine. Within two weeks, nearly one million deaths at Treblinka and Sobibor would be insufficiently vindicated by the imprisonment of Franz Stangl, and sleeping students would awaken to gunfire when forty Mississippi State Police released 150 rounds of ammunition into the rooms at Alexander Hall women’s residence at the predominantly-black Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi. By the end of the month, a catastrophic earthquake would take out almost 100,000 people in Peru, although a circus outside of a village would save lives by inadvertently drawing families to higher ground just prior to the event.
I stayed in Cincinnati until just after my third birthday, when my father was recruited to be the sole pediatric nephrologist in central New York. Bringing me, my two brothers, our dog and my mother along, he reestablished our life in snowy Syracuse, New York, far away from family and my mother’s best friend.
The next fifteen years would see copious amounts of denial and delusion spread over our large, five-bedroom colonial like a heavy, weighted blanket. And while I eventually crawled out from beneath that problematic and complicated warmth, the draw to return has always been strong.
My brothers and I fled to expected lives along college tracts, all the while uncovering our own unique pitfalls and pathways; likely we were pushed along too quickly to something we didn’t even know was a choice.
After college and before I knew what knowledge really meant, I sank into what could have been my destiny: drinking, smoking, “questionable partnerships” and beneath-my-boots, bottom-of-the-barrel, shitass self-esteem. I credit my survival to serendipitous genetic configurations and soulmate worthy friendships. That, and plain old dumb luck.
I woke up from this hazy phase to my father’s life-changing stroke and the excellent excuse to leave behind a life in New York City for the familiarity of home. Almost instantly, I faced truths and found my own.
Years slowed down after that, found some form, and I emerged from a very long chrysalis into this almost-fully assembled adult that has the audacity to impersonate a fifty-two year old middle aged wife, mother and teacher.
Conversations With My Father
Conversations with my father happen all the time. Well, I guess I can’t call them conversations because there is really only one voice. My voice. Alone in my head. I wish there were actual conversations; I wish that I could actually sit and talk and hear his voice and get the answers I am desperately seeking. The answers I have convinced myself belong only to my dad.
What would he say? How would he answer me, now that I am over fifty and parenting teenagers and married for almost twenty years? How would he answer me, after Donald Trump’s presidency and George Floyd’s (state sanctioned) murder and the polarizing anti-conversations surrounding masks, vaccinations, race and the state of the un-united states? What would he say about me teaching through a pandemic and amidst persistent, relentless, systemic racism? How would he advise me about the complications that inevitably arise when two people share a life and bring three kids into it?
I thought that I could try to write out a fictitious conversation between us, making my ghost concrete, playing out the musings on the page to work through whatever is perpetually blocking me. I tried. I failed. I am still left with the questions and I am still convinced that he is the only one with the answers.
The voices carry over the constant din of the not-kitchen in the Barnes and Nobles cafe. A group of students sit nearby, not my students, but definitely a familiarity of existence based on their clothing choices and the conversations about We Were Liars and the top ten books at the public library. I pause to love the fact that these teens are spending their Saturday talking about the top ten books at the public library.
You are sitting across from me, searching through home magazines and books for the promise of distraction that comes with dreams of remodeling our tiny home. The same home that we have always had a three to five year plan to leave, in search of a small homestead in the outskirts of our smallish mid-sized city. The three to five year plan has persisted for the past almost seventeen years. I wonder how long it will continue.
The computer battery blinks at me because I have dropped below 5%…clearly the starts and stops of the half dozen writing pieces have zapped what little energy was stored in the machine. I can’t help but think about the clear parallel between the resources in my laptop and the resources in me.
A woman has sat down directly behind me and is loudly lecturing her companion on the need to be quiet and not distract the other patrons. Her companion is barely audible, but she is loud with her admonitions to be quiet and with her actions. She is moving chairs, adjusting the table that is already too close to my chair, all the while continuing to explain the necessity of being quiet, like a library. The disturbance is enough to make me smile and try to catch your eye, hoping to share the irony of the moment.
We are here, escaping into a brief vacation from our life in a pre-pandemic tradition of afternoon coffee at B&N. It’s all the same as it was in the past, just not quite. The kids are home alone, not with your parents for babysitting. The patrons are distracting and worthy of quiet side-eye snickers, although my amusement is your annoyance. The coffee burns my tongue and the books are pushed aside in favor of my computer. I try to capture this Slice and know that the real story is just out of reach.
How many languages do we really speak? Yes, there are the words that spill from our mouths purposefully and, sometimes, without much purpose, and the words that fill our thoughts with all that is never said aloud. There is the physical communication that we use, knowingly and unknowingly, whenever we move our body and limbs just so (a constant concern of mine when zoom became the modality of necessity and scrutiny became a ubiquitous pastime for so many). We speak through music and art, through shared love and collective disdain. We communicate volumes through our choices: where to live, work, play. We communicate volumes through our choices: how we vote, how we spend money, how we make–or do not make– eye contact with strangers throughout our days. We communicate volumes through our choices.
When the boat begins to sink, it’s not real obvious. Water pools at your feet, but this can be justified. You are on some large body of water, so it wouldn’t be unusual for some to get into the boat. Maybe the oars splashed a bit, or when you brought your hand back from lazily dragging along in the wake, you also brought in some water. Maybe the shoes you are wearing soaked up some on the dock and squished out when you stepped into the boat. Regardless, a little water on the bottom of the boat is not typically cause for alarm.
But then the water becomes harder to ignore and if your feet had been dry, they are now becoming uncomfortably wet. Perhaps you kick off your shoes or try to prop your feet up on some unencumbered edge. At some point, you will begin to try to get the water out of the boat and back into the lake or ocean, river or stream. At some point, you will begin to calculate the distance to shore and quickly scan to see what needs to be purposefully salvaged. At some point you will acknowledge that the boat is, indeed, sinking.
In the end, you survive. Maybe the boat does, too. You find yourself back on dry land and you assess the damage. You have no choice but to learn from the disaster, especially if you plan to go back out into the open waters. Of course, you can opt to stay on terra firma from here on out, but you will have to reimagine what that kind of life would look like…
Small Things Are Big
I spend a lot of my time thinking about the Big Things. Wondering about life and death, the spaces in-between, and the meaning of it all. Those are the biggies that take up a lot of my headspace. Sometimes, I am able to pause and focus on the small things, the moments that are happening right now: the quick conversations and the warmth of the March sun. That is the stuff of which mindfulness is made. Often, though, it seems like I am just vacillating between the two, never fully committing to one or the other. And in the end I am left with the mushyness of both… I am left with no clarity.
Looking through these two lenses, simultaneously, feels like trying to count the stars to understand the universe. The stars, whose light is from the past –with some light coming to us from stars that no longer exist– are there for us to see when we pause to take that time, but they are already gone; the universe (and beyond) is so vast that it defies complete understanding and it is continually expanding (much to the dismay of Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer). It is a sisyphean quest that only the philosopher scientists will accept. It is like trying to hold water in your bare hands. It is like so many realities of our existence that force us to ponder our very existence. And then, in the pondering about the wonder, I am stymied. It all begins to make my head hurt, literally and figuratively. Mostly figuratively.
So, either it is all about the Big or it is all about the Small; it just doesn’t seem to be possible to hold those two things at once, although I have tried. God knows, I have tried. I have thought that perhaps the small things are big or that the big things are really small (medium does not seem to exist in my dichotomous brain) and I have thought that if I can just figure out which determines the other, then I will be able to take the next step, whatever the direcion.
But until then, I am stuck and unsure. I am stuck on the Big and I am stuck on the small. I am overwhelmed by the number of stars and I am in awe of the vast universe. I am exhausted and in danger of escaping into a myriad of likely unhealthy escapes. The questions about questioning are beginning to press down and I am even second guessing this…this word, this sentence, this paragraph, this post. But, like so many other moments and days (and yes, years), I will move forward, slowly, because that is really the only direction that is viable.
Not for the faint of heart.
I want to climb inside. Literally. I want to stand up from this seat and step one foot first and then the other into the screen. I want to shrink down so that each word needs to be hand constructed Each word requires the lifting of each line, of each letter balancing them adding to make them whole. (The dot above the “i” would be the respite, a moment to lift effortlessly.) I want to build line by line curve by curve dot by precious dot the words and lines that will make meaning. I want to feel the construction in my muscles and bones so that I can move out of my head I want to feel the construction in my muscles and bones so that I can move away from the others I want to feel the construction in my muscles and bones so that I can stop hearing my own thoughts I simply want to feel the construction in my muscles and bones.
Lost In Music
I sit down to write this morning. It is quiet. My people are gone from the house; it is just me and the dog. Of course, I put on music. Instantly, I am gone, consumed. Streaming Mimi Griswald’s Sunday morning iconic show The Blue Moon Cafe and hearing my life rewind. So many artists, songs, riffs, lyrics…I am lost and found in the music. Always.
Music is that incredible shared language that is also extraordinarily isolating. You and I can hear the same song, love it to our core, and have zero common connection to it. I can stand in the middle of a hundred or more strangers and share an unnamable and pure understanding of a single moment. Our individual experiences are so personal, they cannot be articulated.
So today I am setting aside my own words in favor of those far more adept than I. The ones who have guitars in their hands, not on their walls. The music makers, who somehow find a way to communicate the ideas that live deep in our souls. I don’t often attempt to write about music because it becomes trite and always (always) falls short.
Forgive me. I’m signing off to tune back in.