towards the west coast of England. We’re running castle to castle again come February. But still a long way to go before that. The dog is staring at me. We’ve both grown soft on this side of summer and I believe he feels a similar ambivalence facing the prospect of leaving this warm little library…
Dear Richard, That you should quote Dylan Thomas! Last night I watched Set Fire to the Stars. In it, Thomas says something about liking humanity more when it sleeps. I don’t know if he really said that, but I’ve been thinking about it since then: before bed last night, on this morning’s run. It’s too late now…
I’m taking a break from social media, and I’ve removed all the news apps from my phone, save the New York Times and NRK. I get up at 5 and do yoga and meditation before I check the news. I figure, if the world is ending, I will have squeezed another peaceful half-hour of life before it does. I’m not saying ignorance is bliss, but why forfeit all that is good?
Maybe I’m lucky, in that I wouldn’t have back my experience of “youth” for the world. Even if that means I have pain in my big toe, in my knees; bifocals and a tendency to say, “Huh?”.
I’m lucky that because of my youth, I know that the rain that beats on the roof will eventually stop. And that all this political turmoil will pass, one way or another. And one way or another we move on. Regroup. Grow.
Forgive. I guess.
This lover, that lover. I read that women retain the DNA fragments of every man she has been with. Chimeras. Would be nice to think our bodies might be redemptive of those who have done us wrong. Might renew what is good. A kind of homeopathic remedy for the species.
And I think there might be even more to it than that. When we glimpse ourselves in that way, we are unaware that we are seeing ourselves. We are looking objectively at the world (in the best sense), and seeing with the compassionate – or even admiring – eye that we look at others with. When we recognize ourselves, we turn on ourselves. With the conscious “posing” comes the conscious judgement. Or vice versa. We wilt under judgement.
This is why I need running, too. The warrior-poet me moves (and does not think). Like you, she gets out of her head, presses against the earth – gives and takes in a space of quiet. It is time-out from self-analysis, conversation, and the mental struggling I do too often with other people. A rock is a rock, and it has no intention that I feel necessary to root out and interpret. The patch of snow, slick instead of crusty, had no intention to make me fall on my ass. I should probably learn to treat people as I do nature.
I’ve seen my dog summon puppy-like energy to chase a toy rat – just until she gets her teeth on the edge of it. Then she realizes it isn’t interesting at all, and she goes back, circles a little square foot of floor, and lies down again. Disappointed. I think, not as much in regards to her expectations, but in regard to suckering herself into expectations. She knows it tastes like cardboard and plastic. Not rat.
Isn’t there a culture that conceptualizes the future as something that comes at us from behind to overtake us? Maybe they are the only ones to have it right. All this planning, all the mirages we see ahead of us. The clump of earth that should be frozen, but that rushes suddenly from behind to slip into the present, under your foot, in the form of soft and giving mud. And there you have it: the irretraceable moment that is a wet sock.
There is a thickness to the dark. Sometimes the lake will freeze over and in the early morning I can hear the ice churn, as though some invisible hand has thumbed the string of a huge instrument. Cold can catch the wind itself along the shore. There’s no way to take a good photo of the ice-encased shining in the dark, but it’s a haunting image.
It is funny how memories are connected to places. Though sometimes inaccurately. They are free-floating, but put down roots. Like weeds, they will find a way. They will break through the concrete, they will travel over oceans. They tether themselves to whatever they can grab hold of. And will not be excised.
Apparently Saunders had described a moment on one of his journeys when he stopped fighting the wind and the cold; when he gave in to the reality of it and felt (not warm, but) a sudden rush of joy.
While I have not crossed the Antarctic – or even braved a bit of it the way you have – I have stood on the top of a mountain above 14,000 feet in biting wind, and experienced that kind of acceptance. And the joy. People say, “suck it up, and get on with it”. But that’s not it. “Bit i det” they say in Norwegian, but that’s not it either. Both of those images involve a kind of bracing, not a relaxing.
When I look down at my hands now I see my grandmother’s hands when I held them during church services. It’s a strange kind of self-comfort, having her incorporated in my life in such an intimate and physical way.
Although a friend was visiting a few months ago; she saw a photo from the wedding and said, “Oh, your hands don’t look that old in reality.” To be honest, what I was uncomfortable with was how thin my hair looked in the photo – but now I have yet another thing to be self-conscious about.
What I truly miss is letter writing. And I miss the long email exchanges of the mid-90s, when my children were small and napping nearby – I could dig deep, take my time to think things through, but still be in conversation with a real person. Both my boys have left home. They are napping in foreign countries these days. So I’m asking myself, why is it I feel rushed now?
Being busy, being occupied with the ordering of things gives me an illusion of control. Once that flurry of activity is over, the illusion is broken. I feel vulnerable.
I think that is why, content as a I am in so many ways, I have flashes of envy when you share your experiences of arranging your new life. I want to move house again. Which is absurd. Instead: yesterday I decided on a new bookshelf for the living room. So you see, I need a healthy adventure soon.
…and there are my students. I’m not concerned about their privacy, but I wonder how much can they know about my personal life and still respect me in the classroom on a daily basis? Forty years ago students would have to put a lot of effort into dragging their butts to the library to dig up dirt on a teacher. Now they can guzzle Red Bull with one hand, google with the other, and link my name to an article on vaginal prolapse. Yay.
I think it takes courage to swim against the tide as we begin to do about now. When our own mortality comes slowly seeping into our consciousness as a fact of life, as our bones move with less ease and our skin relaxes, and we can admit to ourselves that we really aren’t the person we tried to be.