Dear Ren —
Remember the girl I said I’d found? The poet-warrior? She refused to stick around. Just as likely these days to be collapsed in tears as to be hitting the pavement or busting out a new poem. Let’s call it “the remains of winter.” Let’s call it “Trump administration.” Let’s call it #$%?!@*!! She runs and stretches and lifts for about a week and a half and then forgets all about it for 2-3 weeks. As you might imagine, with a ratio like that she’s not feeling very strong. In fact, she’s feeling worse carrying the extra 20 pounds gained since the election.
The election. The days since the inauguration. A tragic — and scandalous — disregard for what it means to be part of the human family on this wounded planet. In chatting with a friend recently, I likened it to how a whale can rest half its brain at a time. Something like sleep is occupying half my brain space at all times. Except it’s not sleep. It’s a grinding sensation, and the sound and feel of it is painful. Part of me, somewhere in the background, is always working out the problem. What haven’t we thought of yet that will break the grip this idiot has on the presidency? What will break the spell?
I know that moving my body and sweating it out helps tremendously, but most days I just cannot muster it. The grinding burns up energy that I’m not consciously giving it. I imagine that it’s akin to what a detective experiences, constantly wondering what is it that she just hasn’t put together. She’s convinced if she considers the clues from all angles she can finally solve the crime. Except that she has to do things like cook meals for her kids and flip the laundry. She has to shovel snow and drive to to lacrosse practice and prepare her eldest to leave the nest. And so the pain of what can’t be worked out churns in the background. A constant.
In the movies, she has a VOILA moment. She vindicates someone. Or she nabs the bad guy. I keep hoping America’s “gotcha” moment is coming, that the extent of 45’s treason will finally be revealed fully, that the hatred will finally be deplorable enough, that the loss of money for health and environment and diplomacy and arts will be more than we are willing to bear. *Sigh.* I’m doing what I can to counter the threats (donations where I can, outreach to elected officials, etc.). Others are, too. And that’s heartening. Somewhat. But what if it’s not enough? Maybe America has already had its “gotcha” moment. Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe the only spell to break is the belief that we were making progress toward social/economic justice and peace in the first place. What if the MAGA folks get to sneer at us from now on and forever?
And so it is with only half my brain that I am present with my partner, family and friends. It is with only half my brain that I do the work of writing. I manage to write a couple book reviews. I write a few poems here and there. I revise and submit my work, including my full manuscript. I reach out to publications and presses I love to find a good fit for some volunteer blogging or social media. I go on writing dates, take romantic excursions and plan road trips. And all while feeling as though half my mind is underwater.
I’d like to argue that it’s out of my control and even to a degree outside my consciousness, but I’m just as willing to bet I’m lying to myself. Discipline has never been my strong-suit. Consistency either (see my word of the year). But it’s time. Sooner rather than later, I need to reclaim the brain space. I have a feeling it involves lacing up my sneakers. I have a feeling it involves paying closer attention to what’s right in front of me.
I also have a feeling it involves forgiving myself for flipping the boat in the rapids and just letting the water toss me about. In your most recent letter, you say, “The list of things I am not good at just keeps getting longer.” You say, “I need to learn to really embrace failure, and not “take it personally.” You say, “I believe letting go of false assumptions — about history, about human beings in general, and about myself — frees me to let go of striving. And I can enjoy this life while I have it.”
And you say:
“Now I can move on, and focus on what I am able to do well in the world.”
Outside, the last remains of winter: shrunken piles of dirty snow, the still-bare trees, the wild fluctuations in temperature. We still enjoy a fire most evenings and long for a day warm enough to open the windows or sit out on the porch. But even children know spring isn’t just a date on the calendar, a stretch of time between equinox and solstice, so certainly, I’ve lived long enough to know it comes when it comes.
I don’t mean to imply I don’t have the responsibility to cultivate a greater presence and that requires action, not passivity. What I mean is that in order to step into that room — and every room — I need to shed some physical and figurative layers. And one of the biggies for me is the personal burden of what I’ve done (or not done) to wind up where I am, along with the cultural burden of what we’ve done (or not done) to wind up where we are. Much of my sluggishness is from carrying the weight of what already has transpired.
I will stop hanging onto all that and stop being mad at myself for having held on as long as I have. And it’s coming. I’m getting out from under it. Any day now, fresh, warm air. Any day now, the first green leaves. Any day now, the tight pink buds that mean forgiveness is near.
Forgiveness: not the cluster of delicate petals that hangs on the branch but the moment the stem lets them go and they float.
Here’s to floating, the loveliest of sensations. May we float on the air. May we be light.