The hardest part to write in my last post was the ending. I truly wrote that post as an apology. For a long time I’ve felt that way about my writing here – like I’ve needed to apologize for all the things that I’m not doing. For the countless times I’ve sat down in the green chair at the computer that sits on an old shelving unit that is not-a-desk, only to get right back up again before the computer is fully awake. I apologize to myself, to my blog, to you, each time I do it. And as a result, over time, I’ve come to associate this space with guilt.
I really despise the overuse of “I’m sorry”- it’s such a pet peeve of mine, and I debated including those words at the end. Ask my sister and she’ll confirm it. I occasionally give her a hard time for beginning so many of her questions or statements with “I’m sorry, but…” It’s not that I’m against a genuine apology, I just don’t think it should be a default precursor to any question I might have for someone, or a phrase I use to make up for confusion, or simply a way to excuse my presence. I can be a pretty tough critic of myself, but I think I’m fairly good at not apologizing for my efforts most times – mostly because they almost always force an affirmative response from the receiver. “Oh no, you’re no bother. This is great. You’re the best.” I get embarrassed pretty easily when anyone compliments me so I try to avoid any behavior that makes it seem like I’m soliciting them.
When E was three we went to Hawaii with M’s parents. We have a series of photos from the last day we were there – our flight didn’t leave until late in the evening, and we found a small beach to hang out on not too far from the airport. The sand was mustard brown from a distance, but up close it looked more like ground pepper – flecks of many different colors, and very gritty. The road was so much higher than the water there – there was a huge sand dune that you had to slide down to reach the water’s edge. E had a red bathing suit on that day, and she spent an hour trying to climb back up that dune, but she was rarely successful. No matter how much momentum she mustered, no matter how she tweaked the angle of her approach or ascent, no matter how many times she threw the entire weight of her body forward onto that dune in an effort to reach the top of it, it was nearly an impossible task. There was an invisible elevation somewhere in the top third of that dune where her upward motion stopped cold. The sand underneath her feet would give way, and she’d “surf” on her feet back down to the bottom. She finally gave into the inevitable and learned to turn her body 180 degrees to face the water as she skied back down the slope – on her feet (and sometimes her bottom). When we washed that red suit at home, the bottom of the sink filled with sand. We cleaned it out and washed it again. And again, and again. No matter how much sand we extracted from that suit, whenever we stretched the material out again, more sand came out. We never could remove all the sand, and eventually we gave up and tossed the suit. What seemed like coarse granuales while we were there, turned out to be so fine that buckets of them could hide within the knit of the fabric. On the surface it looked like good dense building sand, but it couldn’t even handle the weight of a three year old’s determination and grit.
I stand at that invisible elevation every day, one third of the way from the top of the dune. I know what that sand looks like from a distance. Good packing sand, the kind that’s just wet enough to hold its shape when you tip the bucket over and tap it gently to release it. I can build sandcastles for days – good looking ones, balanced and symmetrical. I can round up willing volunteers to help me build whenever I need them. They will giggle and play around me, filling the beach with laughter, or they will build silently next to me if I need them to. I am lucky because of this, and grateful.
But that sand is deceiving. It’s tricky and I know it.
I don’t always know what will bring that slide on until I’ve ridden it out for awhile. It’s generally not the obvious things, like everyday stress or exhaustion. These days it’s more likely to be grief, or grief’s residue, uncertainty and anxiety and regret. I’ve tried to explain this before, but it’s hard to put it into words. I have heard the sound of loss, the keening, and it haunts me still. It was easier before to believe that its visit was unlikely. Now, when a kernel of worry sets in, I recall it, and it magnifies everything. I still feel young, like I have so much life ahead of me. This should feel like a gift, but it just feels like an increase in the odds that I’ll hear that sound again. Most days I can push through this, but a part of me is bitter that I know that sound and can’t erase it.
Even before great loss this quicksand was there, and I’ve battled it for most of my adult life. I’ve survived the steepest of slopes after both of my girls were born through talk and medication and rest and time. I’m good at it now – maybe better than I’ve ever been. I recognize it and know it, and most days I’m really diligent about doing the work it takes to keep it at bay. But sometimes it’s still not enough, and everything comes crashing down and I cannot seem to get a foothold in anything.
I stand in the kitchen and try to explain to M why I can’t seem to write anymore, why the words just won’t come out. I’ve crafted this balance of things that work for me – and they work quite well. Standing at my kitchen counter with good ingredients in front of me, parking under the same shade tree along the gravel running path, slipping out of a sleeping house on Saturday morning with my camera and a garden, holding my sleeping daughter for a long, silent period of time each morning while she slowly wakes, walking her to school a short time later no matter the weather (or her temperament), embracing the sweat and pushing myself in tough workouts, losing track of time on a project that takes me into the quiet midnight hours.
They work for me because they are regular and routine and I rarely skip them. And I write about them too, in a somewhat regular way. For some reason that’s gotten me kind of down lately, and I often feel like I’m repeating myself. For the most part I feel really good in real life, but sort of dull and uninteresting on paper. It sounds kind of funny to spell that out – I think it’s more common in this age of social media / oversharing to think the opposite – that everyone is more interesting and with it than they likely are in person. I’ve also been struggling with the issue of writing about the girls – they are getting older, and I try to give them some more privacy in this space. What I find funny and smart and witty might not be something they’d choose to share with the world. But I miss those stories here, and the loss of a free pen is affecting me more than I think I let on.
He tells me to write, but I can’t even see past the end of my fingers for a few hours. This isn’t about writing, it is bigger than that. Write about the bigger then, he says, but I can’t. Pretend we aren’t here, and we aren’t reading, and just write. Write about depression, write about grief, write about how messy things are around the edges of joy, write about contentment and discontentment, write about frustration and paralysis and procrastination and anxiety, write about how good you are at something without worrying about how it sounds, write about how slow some projects are without worrying about a writing schedule, write about this family, about us, about how goddamn lucky we are to find the words that we want to say somewhere within our heads and can share them with each other even when they are loud and messy or so very, very sad. Write because your words are beautiful to you and they matter to you, but know that they matter to me too.
I read all of your notes and all of your emails following my last post, although I waited a few days until I did. I honestly wasn’t trying to be vague or dramatic, and I certainly wasn’t reaching out for affirmation. I do get embarrassed easily, but I also know that you are all friends, and your words were sincere and lovely. I cried when I read some of your emails, and I’ve let those things that you told me sit with me for a few weeks now. It’s a funny thing to write like this, with a largely invisible audience. I know you are there, and I appreciate it when you comment, or when you come up to talk to me at the grocery or the park or at the movies. I apologize for getting a little self conscious about it, but it really does make me smile. And for the most part, so does writing. I just need to figure out a way to get outside of my head a bit and cut myself some slack. I’m overthinking it, and I know it.
I was at a party this past weekend and the husband of a friend came over to talk to me for a moment about my blog. He said that he isn’t a regular reader, but he did read a lot of it a few years ago, and he wanted to tell me that his family could never achieve or live up to all of the amazing things we do in our house. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I honestly wanted to crawl into a hole for a bit and hide. There is a risk in blogging of coming across as someone who’s got it all together, but its very nature is tightly focused and specific and a tiny slice of real life. I offer up nothing in this space as perfect; I am not an expert in anything. It’s just a series of short stories (and a lot of long, rambling ones), with no other agenda outside of the act of recording my thoughts in written words and images. I can’t promise (me or you) that this stumbling block will go away anytime soon. But maybe this space is a bigger part of me than I realized, and just as vital to me as a good, hard run or an afternoon spent in the kitchen. And maybe I need to focus less on the overarching outline of the finished piece, and let the stories fall as they may.
Thanks for listening.