“Besides realizing that two glasses of wine can make you drunk, I have had this revelation: that you can look at something, close your eyes, and see it again and still know nothing – like staring at the sky to figure out the distances between stars.”
– Ann Beattie, Jacklighting
Sometimes when I look at the night sky I find myself breathless, and dazzled, and then, quickly, dizzy. I look around, trying to focus on the stars, but the sky gets blurry and I feel disoriented. This is what Ann Beattie’s words always makes me think of, and it’s how I feel right now.
The days fold into each other, collapsing into a series of moments both transcendent and mundane. Each evening I have a bittersweet taste on my tongue and a vague sense of deja vu – this again? These same demons, these same questions, these same stars blinking in the black sky, inspiring and elusive at the same time?
I consider myself deeply fortunate to have bumped into Bruce from the Privilege of Parenting out in these wild cosmos. His steady, thoughtful support and insightful comments and emails are nothing short of sustaining.
Today he emailed me with some thoughts, the last of which was this:
You are making your soul. It takes a long time and it’s damn hard work, so hang in there.
I love this image. I haven’t thought about the struggle and the joy that I write about so often this way before. Frankly, I’d always assumed the soul is something we’re born with. Maybe, actually, our soul is something we construct. This makes such sense to me, suddenly. My thirties so far have been a journey of letting go of the assumptions – about right and wrong, desire and duty, direction and velocity – that so strictly guided my first thirty years. The single biggest thing I’ve let go of is my belief in the critical importance of movement, the primacy of having a destination.
The map by which I so surely navigated for thirty years somehow broke as I made my way into the summer of adulthood. This was terrifying. Unmoored and lost at sea, I spent several years in the fog. And, if I’m honest, I am still there. I think, ultimately, that being lost is the fundamental state of life, and that my work is learning to be comfortable with that. What I know now is that the landmarks and lighthouses that marked my way were all evanescent anyway.
Maybe, returning to Ann Beattie’s quote, I’m navigating by the stars now. I’m in the territory of the soul, and it often feels perilous and lonely. It’s slow work, soul-making. I think of something I wrote in January, about the ways that life is both linear and cyclical; it strikes me that the making of a soul is a fundamentally non-linear enterprise. For me, who for so long was such a strictly linear person, this is deeply uncomfortable. In the discomfort lies the way forward, of that I’m sure. So on I go, circling and circling, staring at the stars, blinking, trying not to panic at how dark it is and how unsure I am about where I am.