a pandemic year

Posted April 18th, 2021 No Comments »

62 weeks ago I saw Parasite in a movie theater. It was glorious. Superb film, packed house, rapt audience. If we never go back to the movies again, I’m glad that to have that as my last theater memory.

59 weeks ago was the last time I touched another human being when I hugged my friends after our annual birthday bowling party. The lunch we had together was the last time I ate in a restaurant.

I don’t know another person who has been completely alone this year. I am sure they’re out there. Most of my friends are spread through other parts of the country, all with some combination of kids, partners, roommates, pets, pods. 

I have plants. They seem to be mostly alive though not due to any particular skill on my part.

I go into my office every third workday, which feels like an event. I like the change of scenery, that it takes more than ten steps to get from one spot to another, and that there is a porch where I eat my lunch next to an orange tree. I am still alone on these days, but am endlessly thankful and relieved to have the work I do.

I eat 99% of my meals from a big stoneware ramen bowl and alternate through my plates for the other 1% so none of them feel forgotten. I’ve anthropomorphized everything in my small studio.

Construction on a new apartment building across the street started two days after the first shelter-in-place order, so the sounds of cement mixers and jackhammers have been constant companions. If my apartment had any outdoor access I would probably be more irritated by it, instead I am now well-acquainted with every tree and bench that are any approximation of ‘park’ within a 5-mile radius to which I escape when I want to touch grass.

When I am feeling positive, I tell myself that while nearly everyone I know is occupied with other people, other obligations, I have free rein to dive deeply into things I love, to gather varied interests closer to my heart–and I have so many interests. I feel lucky to have never been bored, ever at all, surrounded by my books and projects and the tools of several trades.

I have made five dresses, three jackets, four shirts, one pair of awful pants, one quilt minus binding, three hats, one spiderman scarf, two potholders, one enormous wall hanging, one pillow, eighty three disastrous paper cutting experiments, many vinyl stickers, two pairs of mittens, 19871329147 masks, three box bags, three pencil cases, two cowls, 4.75 sweaters, two of which were fingering weight and finished and then unraveled because I am not currently subscribing to the ‘done is better than perfect’ theory and they’re going to be perfect, one giant 75lb floor pouf stuffed with scraps, practiced paper piecing, learned pojagi piecing, remembered why I’m not that into macramé, done some vegetable dyeing, and probably some other stuff I can’t remember that is forever lost to the sands of time.

I’ve blown out my wrist a few times in our ongoing war of attrition, but can’t bring myself to knit English instead of continental.

I’ve read a lot, of course, but haven’t kept any track of what. While skipping all over the place, across genres and forms, I am retaining so little, which makes me feel less like myself than anything else.

So, since language acquisition strengthens neural pathways and long-term memory it has made perfect sense to keep practicing hangul and conjugating latin verbs, neither of which is immediately useful in any capacity at all.

Relatedly, since sustained focus is increasingly challenging when the contours of each day don’t change much, I almost exclusively watch subtitled things that require fixed attention and my algorithms are flexing gloriously in response.

I remind myself I have this site and could always write more. I don’t, but I could.

I put on my big headphones and have a dance party in my kitchenette while I make dinner every night.

I was doing a ballet barre every day, but recent consistency there has been somewhat cyclical. I try not to think about the petit allegro I miss, or having actual floor space to cover in a turning sequence. 

For a while I kept a daily log as both a writing exercise and because it was actually a bit frightening to not be able recall full chunks of time. August, February, where did they go? Like the daily barre, my efforts here have become sporadic of late.

Though for years I have often stayed up until wee hours for bangtan broadcasts, the communal solidarity of virtual cheering has been especially comforting this year. Converting time to different time zones is weirdly helpful in feeling connected to the wider world amid the why am I still here what am I doing should I have moved to seoul after all somewhere else anywhere else I still could go why did I make such a hard professional pivot how would I move leave again etc etc etc of this apartment at 3am. Sleep, like everything else, been sometimes fine and sometimes impossible.

And that’s the list, the shape of last year, paragraphs of II…I… because it’s just been me here, all the time, in this small world where once-distinct solitude and isolation and loneliness blur endlessly into each other.

Perhaps most significantly, the last year has accelerated and deepened the slow fading or erasure that perhaps all single people experience at this age when so many cultural norms and modes of recognition center on partnership and kids and families. A perception that has been expressed to me more than once by well-meaning people is that I must have so much time and energy to do so many things. This is usually said with some wistfulness as if single adulthood must surely be like living in a gloriously suspended eternal youth.

There is rarely any follow up question about what it actually is like. Reader, I will only say here that it is not the same as being 22 and going to house parties on weeknights and never sleeping and living on coffee and day-old pastries or however your halcyon days replay in your memory.

A few weeks ago, a married parent friend looked at me and said this has been hard for you, too, in very specific ways we can’t fully understand and it was so unexpected but oh how sustaining that one moment of being clearly perceived has been.

I have read and heard so many stories of parents, of families, of groups navigating this time, and virtually nothing about people like myself, mostly entirely by ourselves, at a strange intersection of the privilege of living alone at the cost of a social community built on time and proximity, just hanging in there as best we can. So, here is me shouting into the void saying I’m here too. Just me.

But see, I’m also not sure I want to be loud. I’m getting rustier at articulating things to the outside world and words are sliding around in my brain. I’ll read this word barf tomorrow and cringe because this year has been about so much more than these details of my little life. While this has been a global situation, we have all been living through our own individual pandemics, all different and singular in their own ways.

My neighbors are strangely quiet tonight for once and the silence is sort of delicious and pulsing around me. I’ll linger in it.

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I would like you to dance

Posted March 7th, 2021 1 Comment »

I turned 39 last week.

It was a very quiet birthday that, to be honest, not many people remembered. It encapsulated so much of what the last year has been like.

Rather, what the last year has been like for me specifically. If I were more of an extrovert, if I were more invested in having an online presence, if the telephone weren’t so fraughtly-connected with expectations from earlier parts of my life, perhaps I would be better at being visible.

Instead, I took the day off work and went to the beach where I read and knit and drank Lapsang and wrote letters. I got takeout from a little place in my neighborhood, bought a slice of cheesecake from a local bakery. I watched the Shea Stadium, Apple rooftop, HYYH Epilogue, and Wings Final shows. In short: I did little bits of all my most favorite things, alone.

I have serious decision fatigue, especially now. Yes it’s nice to know what makes me tick and how to do those things, but what is it like to be surprised? To have someone else make plans, to have something unexpected dropped in one’s lap? To have the mental and emotional space to make the larger and long-term decisions that are just a bit beyond my current capability, taken up as it is with the simple day-to-day?

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my memory long

Posted November 22nd, 2020 No Comments »

There’s a strange disconnect as the outside world is changing rapidly day by day in ways that are unpredictable and long-term while the interior of my small studio is the same and the days are a blur and I find myself searching for ways to mark time so it doesn’t just slip away.

I’m relying on my memory now, to walk me through places, days, memories I love, that echo inside me still. To remember how the air circulates during the unspoken dance of bodies occupying a space together. 

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on guernsey

Posted October 29th, 2020 No Comments »

I dreamed about Herm last night.

It’s not a place I think about often, much less visit in my subconscious, so today I’ve wandered back to prod at the edges of my memory of that single perfect day.

There are bits I can’t remember. There was a ferry, and something about the tides that meant we were dropped off in a different spot than where we boarded later, but the boat itself is gone. I can see the lighthouse in the harbor and the other channel islands in the distance as we passed, but not the railing I was leaning against.

The blackberry bushes, those are vivid. The covered the island on the flattish northern end called Oyster point, and because it was late September they were full of ripe fruit.

Shell Beach, which is exactly that, and a breakfast of cheddar coins, apple cake, and weak tea in paper cups where we sat and talked and planned with nothing but a full day stretched out ahead and only the last ferry to catch.

The way the teal ocean, greengold hillocks and piercingly blue sky met was like Orkney but warmer and more saturated. Paths crossed the archaeological digs along the island’s spine, and wound the cliffs at each end, with no guardrails or fences, just an open expanse of sea and sunlight.

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you say it’s your birthday

Posted August 13th, 2020 No Comments »

The opening lines of the song spring day are something that translates loosely to I miss you / and in saying it I miss you more which is so simple… and yet.

I don’t remember ever saying “I miss you” out loud to the memory of you, Mom, until today when sat at my desk and cried while a vague and unformed feeling tried to sharpen those words around me into something that still isn’t clear after 22 years. I don’t think it ever will be.

I can’t say it’s you I miss as much as the idea of you. As much as what I’ve been told or imagine a mother is or can be. To miss the mother I haven’t had for so long is to miss an absence, to try to imagine something other than a void to miss in the first place. 

And in the imagining I become the 14 I was when I last saw you, which makes for a weird suspended animation of tweenage memory loop. I find so many of those last memories untrustworthy, tainted by an emotional and spiritual pathology I wasn’t able to challenge then and has caused me to doubt ever since.

Now, the only thing I can say and trust is true is that I had a mother once.

I’ve been told I look just like you and I wonder what else of you is in me. I wonder what shape my memory void would take if I could fill it with the experience of having really known you.

Still, I miss you, and in saying it I miss you more. Happy birthday.

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if I defer the grief I will diminish the gift

Posted April 27th, 2020 No Comments »

Eavan Boland died today.

There are so many poems, of course. But I am picking up Object Lessons, her memoir and rumination on being a poet, on being a woman, that feels especially suited to this moment when everything has shrunken and sharpened into the immediate and daily:

At the age of seventeen I left school. I went to university, and I wrote my first attempts at poetry in a room in a flat at the edge of the city. That room appears often in this book. I can see it now, and I have wanted the reader to see it. It was not large. It looked north rather than south. The window beside the table was small and inclined to stick on rainy afternoons. And yet for me, as for so many other writers in so many other rooms, this particular one remains a place of origin.

But one thing was lacking. There were times when I sat down at that table, or came up the stairs, my key in my hand, to open the door well after midnight, when I missed something. I wanted a story. I wanted to read or hear the narrative of someone else–a woman and a poet–who had gone here, and been there. Who had lifted a kettle to a gas stove. Who had set her skirt out over a chair, near to the clothes dryer, to have it without creases for the morning. Who had made the life meet the work and had set it down: the difficulties and rewards; the senses of lack. I remember thinking that it need not be perfect or important. Just there; just available. And I have remembered that. 

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monet’s waterlilies

Posted April 3rd, 2019 No Comments »

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

.robert hayden, 1970.

 

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let the river roll along

Posted September 9th, 2018 No Comments »

Daddy was a mover and a gold creek miner,
never had a dollar or a hard luck song.
Mama ran off and he’s never gonna find her,
went down the river, she’s a long time gone.

Daddy taught me everything he thought
we needed in the world just to get along.
Brew a little feelgood, cut a little cordwood,
sing a little tenor on a gospel song.

Can you see me? Daddy, where the river went wrong?
It ain’t easy, high and dry and the memory’s gone,
I’ll settle down and let the river roll along.

Misty midnight huntin’ by moonlight,
one-shot rifle and a one-eyed dog.
That was Sunday, looks like Monday,
Daddy kept a bible in a sycamore log.

Lonesome yearning, kids keep turning on
never saw a woman I could call my own.
What’s to give running on a river,
sleeping in the gravel like a rolling stone.

Can you see me? Daddy, where the river went wrong?
It ain’t easy, high and dry and the memory’s gone.
I’ll settle down and let the river roll along.

 

Daddy Was a Mover is track no. 9 on The Dillards’ 1973 album Tribute to the American Duck. It’s also track no. 9 immediately following Pinball Wizard on dad’s favorite (only?) mixtape, Otis’ Anthology of Greatest Hits of the 70s. This cassette consists mainly of CSNY, Poco, and Tommy,  I have heard it approximately 8 million times over the last 36 years, and I found myself playing it very loudly all last week. 

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“stay angry, little Meg…you will need all your anger now.”

Posted January 7th, 2018 1 Comment »

The Latin complicare means to fold. I love the tactility inherent in folding: it requires some pressure, some movement, some shaping. I love that this tactility assumes a degree of control while still allowing for chance and surprise. Folds might be knife-edged and precise, or loose and haphazard. Folding might be a deliberate and premeditated action, or in sudden reaction to a losing hand.

Complicare also begets the English to complicate, which is a relationship I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If folding is complicating, unfolding is…simplifying? No, not really. Paper must be smoothed, stitches must be unpicked, space in which to expand must be found. All these take time and effort. Some folds can’t be undone; some complications are permanent; some visible lines remain, no matter how faint, of whatever the initial fold once was.

I’ve been thinking about the permanence of complicated experiences we fold up into little pieces and wedge into interior corners. Are they pulled out and examined occasionally? Do they lie hidden, tucked away because the density of a folded object makes it at once easier to manage and more difficult to fully comprehend?

Here’s one: I was a manager and he was my boss. He convinced one of my staff members to text him surreptitiously-taken photos of me. He responded to these texts with suggestive remarks and opinions. Sometimes he requested specific photos.

This truth is frustratingly haunting just now, one I’ve been unfolding to try to see more clearly. Writing these sentences holds my memory to the light at different angles, as if perhaps there’s a pattern in the creases I haven’t yet discovered or didn’t know at the time.

I don’t know how many pictures passed between the two of them, or for how long. Weeks at least, months maybe, before I knew it was happening, and when I finally saw the text thread it was with a horrified non-comprehension. I still remind myself that it was real, that the texts and photos were there before my eyeballs.

My discovery happened the day before I was scheduled to go on vacation; I spent my time off weighing what to do and who to tell. I eventually went to HR, filed a report, and gave multiple statements to multiple people. One particular woman I’d considered a mentor asked me, with a hint of exasperation, why I’d given the photo-taking employee a promotion with a degree of responsibility a few weeks prior–how did I not see this coming?–conveniently forgetting she’d approved the promotion. 

I felt myself shrinking when HR called to tell me that both the boss and the photo-snapping employee had given notice so of course there was no real action the company could take. I compacted neatly under the implied pressure to let it go. I don’t remember what I said. I hung up the phone. I laid down my losing hand and never went back.

I was and am unsettled by the ease with which the entire situation just …evaporated. I wonder if I will ever like having my photo taken. I’m still, years later, dealing with the financial ramifications of leaving a job without a real plan B in place. I can count the number of men I trust to have my best interest at heart on one hand. 

It’s there in my pocket, complicare. I unfold it occasionally so I don’t forget, so I remember that this was a thing that happened. I unfold it to remind myself that so many carry these things in some form all the time. I tuck it back in place to live adjacently to all the other complicares being female in the world provides, as we carry ourselves and our histories in manageable, portable form.

I have complicated, contained what I now know is a deep and steadily-pulsing anger that took a clearer, sharper form the moment ‘grab them by the pussy’ became part of the national lexicon. I’m not sure what to do with this anger, not yet. I have smoothed open these folded moments repeatedly over the last year in the hope that putting something down in words might help. It feels futile, even amid my ferocious joy at monstrous men falling like dominoes, because of one particular man still out there, maybe preying on another unsuspecting woman. It feels futile because of so many still in situations where they cannot speak out, where livelihoods are at the mercy of men who may never be held accountable for their actions. 

Postscript

Wise, beloved friends have the gift of special perception, and a few weeks ago one sent me a simple thinking of you text that included a snapshot of a  Rupi Kaur poem:

i fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. draw the match. cremate the unnecessary. the light of the fire warms my toes. i pour myself a glass of warm water to cleanse myself for january. here i go. stronger and wiser into the new.

I can fold up the good and carry that as well. Burn the unnecessary. Stay angry. In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s anger fuels and solidifies the power of her love. May my anger do the same. 

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pilgrim souls

Posted December 9th, 2017 No Comments »

how many loved your moments of glad grace.

is a particular alliteration that is one of my favorites in all the literature I’ve ever read.

Glad grace.

Grace is a concept central to Christianity, of course, but I probably-quite-consciously avoid faith-tinged definitions in both my reading and use of grace as a concept. I prefer it literal–this glad grace–as a learned, cultivated quality of consideration for others, of awareness of what is beyond oneself.

The transitive verb form is nice as well: to confer dignity.

And in both senses to be glad: to be willing. To be willing to look outward and extend to someone else a thought, a care, a consideration.

And perhaps all we can aspire to are moments. Glad grace as a perpetual state of being sounds exhausting. But a moment? Doable. I’m looking at my arm as I think through this one, which reminds me of Wallace, which reminds me about caring for others in petty, unsexy ways day in and day out. Glad grace.

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