When I began I had considered myself as being in a liminal state. But what I’ve come to realize is that there is no other state of being. There is no good reason to think of life as a series of stasis points with periods of growth – or with periods of decay – between them.
I’ve hiked for days once before. And I stopped caring whether my socks matched. I stopped looking at every hill as something to be gauged and conquered. I put one foot in front of the other and kept an eye out for grouse in heather.
What we leave behind us after a long journey is one thing, what we take with us is also important.
I have been walking so softly – for almost half my life now – that I am a brittle presence in the world. So obsessed with belonging, with not belonging, that I’ve sprouted protection. “Don’t touch me.” All the while sending little coded messages into the world, in the form of poems. In books that no one can find. I have competing desires. (If fear isn’t a form of desire, self-protection is.)
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 dragged myself out of bed this morning and ran 6K on a sore ankle. The marathon is in 11 weeks. At this point, I really need my mind and body to make friends. Although right now, in the bibliotekette, with the space heater blowing on my ankle, the rosemary oil burning, and the red curtains pulled, I am peaceful. Optimistic, even. The sun will be up soon, and the skies are clear. There is a sparrow calling outside the window now, actually. Which reminds me that I need to check the feeder on the porch. The magpies eat from it. Greedy bullies.
The problem is, I’m thinking I need to purge again -to get control over all the “stuff” and clutter that is a disturbing white noise.
I imagine selling the house and moving into to a simple cottage, with a garden and a stream that flows just a stone’s throw from a sunny porch. I’ll get rid of all my costume jewelry and buy leather bracelets. Ditch the tailored clothes for paisley caftans.
I imagine a whole list of things I could acquire to successfully simplify my life. I could get up and leave.
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.
My favourite photo from the wedding is one that doesn’t include me. Or E. or the boys, actually. It’s the one that shows several of the people in my life meeting across social groups, so to speak. Colleagues, and friends and relatives – some who’d never met before – in a moment of joy. I feel privileged that those are the people I know and love, the people who love me (and E., of course). You captured something wonderful. It’s the photo I’m most grateful for.
It became one of those jokes that becomes a joke because you just keep returning to it.
Pointlessly, yet with such great effect.
This weekend, I realised that, in light of the social climate in the United States, and as a woman who will always be the “trailer park girl” (despite a solid education and liberal political view), I thought it was necessary to speak up:
To remind these historians of the fact that education is a privilege – and was even more so 200 years ago when less than 50% of women in New England were could read. That spelling is not an indication of intelligence, and that the assumption that it is looks like class discrimination, and feels like contempt.
The arctic ground squirrel, on the other hand, does hibernate. Her body temperature drops to as low as -2.9 Celsius. Her heart beats less than once a minute.
She loses bone density. Her teeth fall out, and parts of her brain die.
Then she wakes, slowly.
She builds new bone cells, new teeth, and new neural connections.
She is reborn in the spring.
Like listening to the birds in the park without trying to identify the calls of the individual species. There’s something rather meditative about that, about not putting things in boxes, not categorising, not judging. Just sitting in a teeming civilisation of birds – or humanity – and listening to the music. And then dancing on your own.
I fear that psychiatrists might call that parallel play and diagnose me with some kind of anti-social disorder. But then, authenticity is about rejecting arbitrary boxes, isn’t it? Like I tell my students every year: “Pity the Platypus”, who doesn’t fit the man-made categories. But we should all be the platypus.
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.
Yesterday I went to a friend’s theater production downtown. It was an evening of storytelling by seven women, from seven countries. So, I thought about you.
Some of these women were war refugees, some economic migrants, and some came for love.
There is no one left to ask who it was that read to me. But someone did. Someone must have held me close, and helped me make all those neural connections between books and comfort.
Books are the one, safe place to confront your fears. A book is a therapist office. A confessional. And the stories sprawled over the pages offer absolution for being human.
The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?
In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).
But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.
Poetry is a “made thing”. But it’s not just a pleasant rhyme, not a pretty little story with tidy conflicts and a reassuring resolution. Poetry demands a representation that somehow conveys living consciousness. It’s transcendent of its own artificialness. And it is necessarily awesome, in the sense that it is also tinged with fear; if something conveys a true sense of life, it must also convey a sense of mortality. Poetry, as an art form, is not escapism. It is a confrontation with our truths.
She recovers slowly. Then asks about the weather. A single, careful sentence that costs her.
E. tells her that his mother had remarked earlier that afternoon that the day reminded her of apple-picking. His grandmother smiles and nods. She stares at the blue sky through the window. “An autumn day,” she says.