Sound

I can hear so many birds.  Can you?  I know it’s because the world is so quiet.  Which is a fact I keep thinking about.  It’s scary, eerie, feels like the entire planet is holding their breath.

But mostly I’m struck by the birdsong.  Matt said he can hear crows calling in a way that reminds him of childhood in Vermont.  I just feel like there are so many birds out, the calls so different.  I remember my father and his later-in-life interest in birds, and wish he was here to talk about the various bird sounds.  When we walk with Mum to Mount Auburn Cemetery we go see what birds have been observed (there’s a chalkboard where people can note what they saw).

The sounds of right now are so particular.  I am outside only to run (early) and to walk (with my family or with a friend on the phone – my version of a social distancing walk).  I feel like I can hear others breathing when they walk by me.  That may be in my head.  I can definitely hear birds.  I can hear a lot of sirens, it feels like.  That sound is jarring, makes me nervous.  I don’t know if there are actually more sirens (though their probably are) or I’m just more aware of them.

I’m going to write about what the five senses feel like in this time-out-of-time.  And right now I’m struck by silence and by birds singing.  Both.  The former is unnerving, though in its own way beautiful, and the latter is reassuring.

What are you hearing?

Holding both poles

I have written about my attraction to the edges of things, to this world’s, and this life’s, borders.  I was born on the cusp as one season turns into another, and I am drawn over and over again to the places were one thing turns into another – darkness and light, memory and the present, water and sand at the coast.  There are a million examples I can think of.

What I’m thinking about today is similar, and feels like a related or adjacent topic, but it’s slightly different. I am thinking about the poles that we each hold as we navigate this life.  Or, at least, the poles that I know I hold.  These days, the world feels so terrifying, so bleak, in many ways.  And at the same time, I’ve never been more aware of its beauties, of its tiny joys.  These poles.  These opposites.  Every single day holds both terror and delight.  I think that has always been true for me, but it does feel particularly bold now, the contrast between these two things.

I read my friend and mentor Katrina Kenison’s gorgeous post on a similar topic last night and haven’t stopped thinking about it. n The whole piece is exemplary, and it was hard to pick a passage to share, but these words, the ones she closes with, are a manifesto for us all:

Given the state of our fractured, imperiled world, it seems safe to say we’re in this struggle for the long haul.  If we’re going to find the strength to carry on and to fight for what matters, we must also continue to celebrate what we love.  To embrace delight, to dance with abandon, to soak up beauty, to share each day’s small gifts and doings, is to take care of ourselves and each other. So, if you should see a tree full of robins or a mackerel sky, be sure to tell someone. Your delight is mine.

In my comment I wrote about Katrina’s piece giving me permission to allow these seemingly contradictory poles of life to coexist.  Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, schizophrenic, the way I can be deeply sad about something and, simultaneously, intensely touched by the particular blue of the sky.  But Katrina’s post got me thinking that perhaps these two extremes of experience are – rather than random, unusual, or something to bear with – absolutely necessary.  Maybe we need both.  Or at least I do.  It also occurs to me that these seemingly-opposed feelings can be effectively mapped onto the bigger canvas of my life, as much as they can also inhabit the smallest moments of my day.

I’ve written before about the months after Matt’s and my fathers both died quickly and suddenly, and about the Robert Lowell lines that “darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life.  So much has come from there.”  I said that that time had both “difficulty and surprising grandeur.”  And that’s true.  And it strikes me that those dark experiences somehow burrow into us, making room for the light. That makes sense on some existential level, right?  Was it Kahlil Gibran who said “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain?”

When I write about “holding both poles,” an image of my child hands holding ski poles comes to mind.  Not sure why, and obviously that’s not the poles I mean.

Regardless.  I just felt like sharing that visual.

It is true that these days – whether that’s 2020 or being 45 or just the particular ecosystem I live in – things feel particularly charged, in both directions. The world feels threatening, unstable, and worrying.  And it also feels gorgeous.  I am so aware of spring being right around the corner, of everything about to burst into life. This tension – this pain and this beauty – is animate in the very bodies of my children, flying towards young adulthood as they both are.  It’s impossible for me to look at them without blinking back tears, some days.  It’s just all so outrageously lovely, and so unavoidably, excruciatingly short-lived.

I think I have a sense of why the world feels perilous and dark right now.  I think often of Dad, who in the months before he died was increasingly speaking about how uncertainty that the United States would stay united, and who I wish I could talk about what’s going on in the world.  It’s less clear to me why my awareness of life’s tiny joys and beauties feels so amped up right now.  Maybe it’s a coping mechanism.  Maybe it’s growing into midlife.  I’m not sure why, but I’m grateful.  I hope we can all hold both poles, welcome life – with all of its heartbreak and its beauty – with open arms.  As another one of my beloved teachers, Dani Shapiro says, “this too.  this too.”

The Alphabet of Right Now

Hello?  Is this thing on?  Sorry.  Life has been a little “full” lately.  But I wanted to do an exercise I’ve done approximately every couple of years … now feels like the right time. Past alphabets are here: 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017.

The Alphabet of Right Now:

Aquaphor – it’s my duct tape: I swear it holds the universe together.  Also: airplanes.

Bombas – Obsessed.  Not only do I wear these socks every day, I give them to lots of folks for gifts.  I know.  Socks don’t seem that exciting.  But they really are that good!

Composting – 2019 was the year we finally started composting!  Thank you to my friend Jess for motivating me.  Also: coffee.

Dad – I miss him every single day, and I always will.

Early – I am an early person.  I get up early, I go to bed early, I arrive places early.  I don’t think this is going to change, and I’m okay with it.

Family – Ground zero, always, no matter what. Also: friends.

Grateful – I am. More and more. For all of it, mess and beauty, darkness and light, every single thing.

Harry Potter – Still one of m very favorite books/series.  Actually, my favorite character in all of fiction (a question I’m asked surprisingly often) is from the series but is not Harry himself.  It’s Dumbledore.

Instagram – My favorite social media site by a mile.  I love how I feel in touch with people just through Instagram (though I also recognize the fallacy of that).  Please come find me there!

Jigsaw puzzles – Still my favorite way to relax.  I find doing 1000 piece puzzles on our dining room table incredibly therapeutic.  It’s one of the only activities where I truly turn my thoughts off.

Kombucha – Our whole family is into it, kids and adults both.  I’ve pondered making our own but an intimidated.

Library – I’m a devoted patron of my local library.  I order books and when they come in I head around the corner.  I love all the librarians, who know me by name, and often have quick talks about what they’re reading.  Honestly, the library is one of my favorite parts of my life.

Maiden name – I use it (Mead) for work and for writing. Especially with Dad gone, it feels like a vital link to him.  In retrospect, I might not have changed my name at all, but it’s nice to have both.

New York Times crossword – I do one or more on my phone every day.  I do Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes Wednesday.  For Thursday-Saturday I go into the archives and do Monday or Tuesday puzzles.  I’m not above using google for an answer either.

On Being 40(ish) – A true highlight of last year (and of my life) was the release of this book.  Our paperback comes out next week!  Cool new cover.  I am biased, entirely, but I think this collection is a great gift (and a great read in general).

Podcasts – I listen to them when I run.  Lately, have been listening to The Baron of Botox and Truth and Lies: Jeffrey Epstein.  I’d love recommendations here!  Also: pajamas.

Qwerty – I type really fast, and I have since I learned in 6th grade.  An excellent life skill.  Correlated: my handwriting has gotten terrible.

Reading – My favorite thing to do, then, now, and always.  It’s kind of weird that someone as type A as me doesn’t keep a list of all the books they read but I don’t.  I probably read 2-3 books a week though.  I can’t go to sleep without reading.

Sleep – As I get older, more and more important.  There’s very little that’s more important to me than getting a good night of sleep, and I’m willing to do a lot to help in that area (turn off my phone at least 30 minutes before bed, meditate almost daily, basically stop drinking wine).

Teenagers – I have two of them.  Yes, there’s occasional moodiness, but I must say that on the whole I love having young adult children.  They are interesting, entertaining, funny, and only maddening some of the time.  How I can have teenagers when I still feel like a teenager myself is something I cannot answer, though.

Useful – More and more, something I want to be.

Vertigo – Probably the scariest health experience I’ve had is the couple of weeks I had bad vertigo.  I live in fear if it coming back.

Whitman – My son’s name, for my sister (her middle name).  I love it.

X – yeah, I don’t know.

Yoga – I’ve been practicing weekly or more for 22 years.  I never, ever want to go to yoga and I’m always, 100% of the time, glad I went.  My favorite pose is Half Moon.  What’s yours?

Zoo – I don’t like them and never have.  Something about all those wild animals in the middle of a city makes me sad.

 

January 2020

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

-Zora Neale Hurston

I think very often of Hurston’s quote.  And, in the last few weeks, even more than usual.

After a series of years that asked questions, 2019 was (at last) a year that offered some answers.  I described 2019 on Instagram as a year “with blessedly rounded edges.”  And it was.  And maybe the lesson was a simple one, one that’s eluded me for 45 years: just let go a little.  Let things come as they may.  Everything, after all, passes.  Both the good and the bad.

I’m grateful that 2019 was a year of relative smoothness, and whose ease offered some answers at last.  I haven’t chosen a word this year, because none has presented itself.  I’m also not a big resolution person.

But I do have Shawn Colvin in my head, right alongside Zora Neale Hurston (remember, years ago, when I wrote about Doctor Seuss and Mark Doty in the same breath?).

Steady On.

That’s what she keeps saying.  So I will.  And I’ll hope for another year that answers questions.  But if it decides to ask them instead, what I know now is I’ll make it through.

 

Thank you

we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Dad died two years ago today.

Thanksgiving is on Thursday.

I don’t feel sad necessarily, so much as skinless, feeling it all – the bright and the painful, the glory and the hurt, the joy and the sorrow.  There is so much of life that swirls around these last weeks of the year.  That’s always been true, but it’s a more emotional time for me now that it’s inextricably wound together with my memories of Dad’s sudden death two years ago.

I have Merwin’s beautiful words in my head, the same poem a line of which I shared the morning of my last Thanksgiving with my Dad (11/23/2017) and through whose prism I have long viewed Thanksgiving.  I just understand them better now.

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

– W. S. Merwin