OK. I have been sitting in front of this quote for twenty minutes already.
And I wrote that sentence ten minutes ago.
So half an hour has passed for me, since the Joan Didion quote, though only a moment has passed for you, and if I were a different writer, I’d be starting to worry that I will lose you if I don’t say something interesting soon. Or witty. Or beautiful or insightful.
I’ve lost touch with her though. The one who wants to hit a home run–or run home. The one who would wait for the muse, for inspiration, for brilliance. The one with so much to prove: I’m working hard! I’m worthy! Look, Ma! Look, world!
I Google her name sometimes. She’s not online. I dream about her, too. She was always trying her best and it was never enough, and she compared herself to all of the amazing people out there. Mostly, she struggled.
I’ve lost touch with someone I used to be. Someone who fought reality, a losing battle. Someone who questioned herself at every turn. Someone who tried and tried to get it right. Someone who apologized, left and right. Someone at turns depressed and defensive. Someone longing longing longing stuck on repeat same song different station.
She didn’t do anything wrong. I just realized, gradually, that we were growing apart. As I grew, and grew up, I grew tired of focusing on the past. On what didn’t last. On recycling stories and eyeing the neighbors and obsessing about things like income and life over there, always over there where I wasn’t quite… where my life wasn’t quite right.
I haven’t forgotten her. But whereas she would have waited, I’ve leapt and leapt and leapt again. It is in the leaping that I’m learning to let her lie. Unlearning the lies, that love is this fragile thing that requires great caution. That my safest place is in a clinch with myself in a boxing ring. That memory is a place of safety, when really, it may be the opposite–it may be that memory can also be a cage. That vision is a source of inspiration, when really, it may be that aspiration asphyxiates and stifles the kind of sinking in to What Is that brings relief. I can let down my guard now, with her far away.
Who I was when I began this post , now forty-five or so minutes ago? Am I the same? Are you? What changes, when we arrive to the place where we are actually living? In my case, that place is here, sitting next to my wife in bed, where we are both writing, listening to The Lumineers. Sheets are in the washing machine. I can feel a draft from the window behind my head. The space heater is working extra hard and I’m glad utilities are included in our rent, the rent that is higher than any mortgage my old self had and thought was too much.
If she were here now, she might say things are not ideal. She’d point out what was, what isn’t, what could be, what should be different. She’d sigh questions. Why don’t you have a couch? Aren’t you worried about this, and this, and this, and that other thing?
It’s a relief, to settle into life without talking myself into it. Maybe I am writing the same thing I’ve always written, about being here. It could well be true, but I’m new. Always new. But new and improved? No. It’s just that I’ve come to know choosing.
In the mornings, Mani drives me to work. In the car, we each say five things. Five good things we can come back to throughout the day. Happy kids, the potential for a snow day. Karma. Breathing. Choice. Gratitude. Radical perspectives on things that might otherwise twist us into a tailspin of fear and certain doom. An evening together.
I glance over and Mani’s looking up quotes. She’s listening to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. I’m loving her. I’m loving my life. I’ve lost touch with someone I used to be, who dwelled in fantasy, who created struggle where there was none and swallowed anger to smooth it over when there was.
Hidden, internal, better, different. Her themes, her dreams, her locked-up imaginary never-really-here-but-always-talking-herself-into-presence ways exhausted me. Sometimes, I still have to remind myself, that I don’t have to keep up in order to keep being loved. Life no longer has to be over there / behind the shelf.*
And so I come back after many years to the last stanzas of Anna Swir’s poem, Myself and My Person:
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.
Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.
I walked to the right, she to the left. She kept looking back, but I’ve finally stopped with the Lot’s Wife business.
I look up and around instead, eyes forward, finally seeing where I am, finally not so concerned with where it is I’m going or who I’ll be, when I get there.