The Privileges and Perils of Snowdays

Pearl wanted to spend the snow day playing over at his dad’s community, and since it was early in the storm, I agreed to bring him over there this morning (knowing that he may end up staying the night). We drove through campus at about 10 miles per hour — counting cars along the way (fewer than a dozen over three miles).

We talked about who gets the day off and who doesn’t, what work places are closed and which aren’t, whether businesses and companies necessarily put their employees’ safety first, and the fact that for people who are paid by the hour — as opposed to receiving a salary — a day like this can mean simply no money coming in.

The weather itself takes me back to my early childhood in Buffalo, New York; this is how I remember winter: swirling, grey, gusty, white, deep, powder, trudge, snowpants, sledding, fun. And I’m happy for all the happy kiddos who get to enjoy that today.

I’m also aware that for many folks, with or without children, extreme weather can be hugely stressful and sometimes dangerous.

I just read a Facebook status that someone’s husband had no choice but to drive to work — from a rural area, no less — lest he lose his temp job.

Another local friend shared a photo in which he seemed to be wearing every item of clothing he owned, as his building was without heat.

Frozen pipes, power outages, elderly folks who live alone, homeless shelters at capacity… I sit here in my apartment watching the chaotic conditions outside the windows, at once thankful for warmth, physical safety, and sustenance and also acutely aware that the growing intensity of storms in every season means loss, instability, and dangerous conditions locally and globally alike.

Sometimes I do wonder what the point is of reflecting on this stuff if I’m not actively offering solutions. It’s one reason I’ve stopped sharing as many news stories; you all know where and how to find them, and my clicking “share” willy-nilly isn’t going to change a thing when it comes to the latest tweet or injustice.

But who am I if I don’t reflect, if I don’t try to make sure my own kids are aware of the greater impact and implications of something as seemingly simple and even fun as a snow day?

And so it comes down to what I perceive as a moral responsibility for anyone living in relative comfort, with the privilege of employment that can withstand the weather and a warm place in which to ride out the storm: To stay awake to the inequities among us, to stay compassionate towards those more vulnerable to the elements, and to identify even small measures we can and must take to support and see each other through.

23/30 Poems in November: Every year around this time

photo-1470165511815-34e78ff7a111Every year around this time
I turn into a small animal,
circle myself into a sunken nest
protected from harsh winds
and conditions too stark to bear.

If you look, you will not see me
there beneath the knee-deep leaves,
nor will I poke my head out
without the cover of darkest night.

When the sun grows so meek,
resigned as a child who can’t win
his own game, the tip of my tail
will reach round to the tip of my nose
and the light will throw itself back
to its meager source.

Here I shall stay, still and unmoving
until some spring day when ice
cracks like battered glass, begins
to flow again as I unfurl, remembering
the other shapes I make, with legs
that run, and tail uncurled.

Then I’ll sniff and see who’s come
to search. I’ll lurch at first on all fours
before my stride returns. I’ll gnaw
on the tenderest greens, call out
to the northward birds and back,
and meet the world again,
after this underground season.

23/30

#30poemsinnovember

What Darkness Does

before-darkLike when you are camping and slip inside
your sleeping bag as night falls, let’s say it’s late
and October brings ankle-deep leaves and hush
of woods behind barn.

Sure, you could turn the lights on in this little house.
Choose instead the rhythm of darkness

as you wonder what verb could describe
its way of moving, if you can even call it movement,
though “falling” is wrong and it doesn’t exactly take
the light away, either.

No, it just comes. A kind of absence of light
we need a name for, and with it, the reminder:

You, too, are an animal whose body would find
a warm hollow, a den, a place to burrow in,
close and curled around her kin.
We are not designed to stay up past dark,

nor is sleeping alone exactly survival.
Oh, but instinct would have you build walls.

Walls to show your love, inside of which you fire
up the stove and stretch cotton blankets
over winter beds. Come sleep with me now.
I’ll wake you with coffee,

I’ll touch you with sprigs of something green,
at the first signs of an early spring.

Fighting Something Off

xoxoxo

I am fighting something off.

It sounds like I’m being attacked. It’s strange when the “attack” is invisible to the naked eye. The only proof of it is in the lethargy of my muscles, the subtle ache in my bones, the hint of a scratch against the back of my throat. And the sleep. Good lord, the sleep.

Yesterday, after a very full week, I took a three-hour “nap” in the late-afternoon. I ate a bowl of homemade oatmeal with brown sugar and a banana for dinner while we watched the Bulls game and cheered them on through what’s proving to be a difficult season. Then I spent a few hours working in bed. We turned out the light around 12:30am and I slept for eleven hours. ELEVEN.

coffeeToday, Mani emptied out the entire contents of our shared closet and dresser drawers– all of which were overflowing — and while I made and drank my first cup of coffee and washed the dishes I was too tired to confront last night, she heaved a small mountain of clothes onto our bed. We then spent two hours sorting every single article of clothing we own, filled two large garbage bags with giveaways, and pared our wardrobe down to one that is both cute, functional, and manageable.

Our room felt much lighter afterwards.

Since then, I’ve done about five loads of laundry, and we have delicates drying flat and hanging  over the backs of chairs in both the bedroom and kitchen. We’re so thankful our landlord bought that new washer and dryer.

I left the house briefly around 4:00pm to deliver our donations to the Hospice Shop and stop at the post office with some mail to deliver, and an hour later, was already ready for a nap. I slept for 90 minutes or so.

Now, we’ve both eaten dinner. My thighs feel as if I spent hours running, which could not be further from reality. It can only mean one thing.

I’m fighting something off.

We didn’t get a speck of snow here. It’s bizarre, to see photos of a blizzard that didn’t make it this far north, and I’m finding myself remembering blizzards in years past, like the one in 2011 when my kids and soon-to-be-ex-husband were on vacation somewhere tropical and I was home–housesitting actually–and shoveling my way out of a dead-end street that was closed to the main road for two full days after the snow stopped falling. Or the ones in years prior to that, when we lived on a different little dead-end street and the kids went rolling out in their poofy snowsuits, veritably disappearing in the drifts. I remember the workout of getting those things on and off of them.

Now it’s just January. My kids can put on their own snowgear, there’s no snow here, and they’re at their dad’s this weekend besides. I’ve come down from the natural high of my birthday and am looking at the landscape that may not appear to change all that much for the next couple of months, reminding myself that it’s always like this, some variation on a theme of pale, dry, tired, dull, and hungry for color, heat, and warmth.

The main difference? The ease I’ve prayed for has begun to settle over our lives in some ways that feel new. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s something like the brick building I walked by the other day in town, with a wall of windows reflecting another wall of windows, so that I could play with my eyes with what was a window and what was a reflection.

And I dream during these long, deep sleeps 1,000 leagues under the sea, of places I used to live and people I used to know and climbing steep, nearly vertical, hills alone to the most beautiful views — crisp, like a living painting: A group of runners crossing a bridge, snow-capped mountains, hills and valleys. It was really special, a vision.

My desk is strewn with things I’ve printed out to read, in addition to the books on my nightstand waiting for my time and attention: An interview with Vivian Gornick in The Paris Review,  a long and important essay by Patti Digh about creating boundaries, and pages by women who’ve entrusted me with manuscripts and works-in-progress that need me to read not only with my eyes and brain but with my heart.

Is there another way?

I need more days, more time. Time is so very fast. I see it in my face and hair these days, feel it in my lower back, and taste it like the elderberry syrup I’m taking every two hours by the spoonful.

I’m fighting something off.

mugI’m tossing the mug that chipped this morning and the shirt that’s stained, both of which carry memories of 20+ years. I’m shelving the unread books and the draining compulsion to try to please everyone. I’m not fighting off age, but I am looking at my kids’ faces and bodies and listening to their stories and voices changing and watching this thing happening called time passing. I’m thinking it’s true, that it speeds up the older we get.

I’m dreaming about babies and beaches and I’m walking past windows within windows. I’m fighting off the urge to wait to write until I have something worth sharing. I’m circling back to where I began, coming here as a place to practice. There is something deep down, and it’s enough, because it’s January, to let it stay curled up like the fox my friends saw when they left my house last Tuesday night after we wrote together.

I hung pink Xs and Os today at the top of our stairs, a cute banner from the Target Dollar Spot and a seasonal demarcation line between the somewhat ratty entryway and our lovely, cozy space. I climbed on a chair and then had one foot on the sill and hoped I wouldn’t slip down the stairs behind me. Then I heated up the defrosted chili and plugged in the twinkle lights and watched a video by Glennon Doyle Melton about “Sistering” in silence because Mani was resting.

You know what? It was beautiful to watch without sound, so much color and love and I wished life always felt like those gorgeous faces and then realized: It kind of does. Sometimes. Except when it really doesn’t. And how both are always true.

It helps to know what’s important to fight off versus what gets admission into your space, your heart, your drawers, your closet, your desk, your days. Yes, Rumi, this being human is a guest house. / Every morning a new arrival.

But frankly, there’s so much we don’t get a say in that I’d argue for some agency, when there is a choice involved, as to who and what get to come inside.

I am fighting some things off. I am letting some things in. 

Might as well make the best of it. Might as well choose carefully and well, when and where we can.

The Best Part of Life by Glennon Doyle Melton from SALT Project on Vimeo. With thanks to Daniel Boylan for sending this my way.