Here’s the thing: I’m overwhelmed. And you most likely are, as well. That doesn’t make either of us special. As Galway Kinnell writes in “Wait,” “You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.” We’re too busy, too stretched. The old pains are too familiar. The new dangers don’t feel so new.
Are getting nowhere.
It’s not particularly helpful to know that everyone’s in the same boat. Instead of comforting me, it makes me ask, What the hell is wrong with us? What are we even doing?
What’s it all for?
I definitely tend toward existential dread, so those questions don’t surprise me. But what I don’t understand is how nothing changes (or why I change nothing). Obligation and responsibility win out each and every time my philosophical, soulful side raises a red flag. Instead of pumping the brakes, I keep going.
Well, I throw myself to the ground and kick and cry for a while (my M.O. since I was a child), but then I get up and repeat the cycle. I don’t feel as though I have a choice.
The only explanation I can come up with is necessity (food, shelter, etc.), but that’s only part of it. It’s more accurate to say that my conditioning kicks in.
My S.O. and I were talking the other day about work ethic and how deeply ingrained it is in us. We were raised to be industrious. Great value was placed on labor. Laziness and leisure were suspect. To work hard, more often than not, meant you were a good person.
But work hard at what?
Because that’s what people do isn’t as satisfying an answer as it used to be.
And then there’s this: exactly what are we working hard for?
* * *
Like many of you, I turn to books and poetry for this kind of thing. Poems nearly always show me the pearl. And when they don’t do that, they describe the irritant so clearly that I understand better what I’m up against. Reading the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing Magazine recently was like putting on a mood ring: the poems reflected back to me what I was feeling; they showed me what I was up against.
You must lift your own tired selfYou Must Lift Your Son’s Languid Body by Oliver de la Paz, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
beyond the threshold of the door
Here’s how it goes: We commute, we work, we commute. We shop for dinner, we cook dinner, we clean up after dinner. We watch the evening news and search our brains for the right questions (on Jeopardy, of course). We read things and text people. We scroll. We lift heavy things at the gym and run in circles around the neighborhood. We shower, dry, dress, brush.
Literally and figuratively, the days lather, rinse, repeat.
… Let’s be more specific.(Eve) Talking to Herself (Mother’s Day) by Amy Dryansky, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
You’re restless. Let’s be direct. You’re unreliable.
You shift. You’re itching to get back to that dark, leafy spot
where you trampled the grass, culminated your heart out,
crossed innocence, that narrow divide.
… Who wouldn’t ache for something new?
You keep busy. You count all the beasts, catalogue
every flying, crawling, swimming, wriggling, curled-up,
unfurling you can find. You’ve got books, big ideas.
But you’re forever cleaning up …
Even if the meals we prepare fill bellies, those bellies empty.
They need more.
And when we survive the work day, employment requires us to do it all over again.
It needs more.
And there’s this: we sound like ungrateful brats when we flinch.
You can’t keep tellingNo Begatting Ensues by Amy Dryansky, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
that story. Everyone’s shifting in their seats, desperate
for the exit. And you say fuck too much. It’s unbecoming,
Yup. Inherent in these routines is the well rehearsed story about the routine. We know our lines. For example, here’s the part where we are compelled to speak directly to the audience to reassure them:
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful.
… But howIn the middle of Metro Manila’s water crisis, my mother posts a picture of my siblings in a swimming pool by Kabel Mishka Ligot, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
do you portion blessing?
I do know that much of what piles on my shoulders comes from abundance. Tending to people I love means I have friends and family. Going to the market and cooking means I won’t be hungry. Having an oversized workload means I am employed.
The trouble with this part of the story — especially as the “joy” of holidays is upon us — is that it can seem a little bit like code: Are you ACTUALLY grateful enough? Maybe there’s something wrong with you. Why can’t you just go with the flow (or be in the holiday spirit) like everyone else?
Here’s why: As much as I like pie and spiked egg nog, I have, as they say, “seen this movie before.” I know how the weather turns and the light recedes. I know how the shopping goes and the pretty paper gets balled up and tossed. I know how we spend and spend and still, when it’s all over, need.
Isn’t heartache sweet? It tastes of everything you ever wanted. The rain-soaked lilacs I pressed my face into as a child, knowing, even then, something I needed was there, unreachable.Because the Moon Is a Cliché & Not Exactly Steadfast by Amy Dryansky, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
Doesn’t that cut to it? Haven’t we all understood that from the time we were kids?
Knowing something I needed was there, unreachable.
* * *
It’s all so much Groundhog Day, and each of us is Bill Murray (reliving it and reliving it and grasping frantically for ________ and fucking it all up in the process). Strangely, we aren’t allowed to acknowledge any of the other Bill Murrays. Instead, we’re expected to operate in the world like the Andie MacDowell character, unnerved by those who seem agitated at the current state of affairs.
His life flashed before his eyes, which is to say, heMammoths by Margaret Zhang, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
was seeing the end of the universe. A girl was
weeping in the corner of that universe. She was
weeping because nothing would be the same again.
I was weeping because everything would be the same.
So it goes.
So it goes.
* * *
In high school, this kind of angst made me a normal teenager. Now, however, with arthritis in my knuckles, reading glasses on my nose and crepe-paper skin around my knees, this kind of angst just makes me stuck.
“At my age” there is no good time to be paralyzed by exasperation. And that includes now. My boys are 16, 18 (nearly) and 20, and we are all being tested. Their decisions and actions (driving, dating, investing in/borrowing for education) are of consequence. Has my guidance along the way been helpful? Is what I have to offer them now meaningful?
We have the opportunity almost daily to see if what I’ve tried to teach them holds any water at all.
What is parenting but a prayer for one’s young.Insomnia Poem by Angela Narciso Torres, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
May they be happy.
May they feel fulfilled.
May the world not crush them.
* * *
One of the most difficult things for me to see is when they get overwhelmed. And they certainly do. They have their own day-to-day pressures. They feel the weight of what’s required next. And they see, certainly more than I ever did, what’s happening all around them: a vulnerable democracy, a flawed capitalism, a deeply unjust power dynamic, a damaged planet.
Outside, the world burns“Bronchitis” by María Esquinca, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
apocalypse. Deportations and decapitations.
Our bodies, two commas locked
I know — and they know — they’re shielded/buffered to a large degree. I’ve tried to instill in them an understanding of their privilege. And with that, of course, comes a responsibility. They feel that, too.
Not all pressure is bad. I don’t seek a totally stress-free life for myself or for my sons. But I would like to know what we’re working for. And what the real trade-offs are for getting there. And what difference it makes.
* * *
I was sick on Friday, and as a result, ended up with a slower-paced weekend than I’d planned. While I missed out on some things I’d been looking forward to, it was probably what I needed.
I’ve struggled with this blog post over the last couple of days. I kept resisting its two possible outcomes:
Wrap it up in a nice bow with some kind of commitment to figuring out an answer to that question (what are we working toward/for?), a lesson about worrying less and being in the moment, an announcement that I’m packing everything up in a van to zigzag the continent searching for that one thing.
Frame it as a moment in time and predict that I’ll get my head out of my ass soon enough.
Neither of those feels right, and so the post has languished. My mouse has hovered over the “trash” button many times. Who wants to hear another person whine and talk in circles about being dissatisfied in her Very Good Life?
We sound like ungrateful brats when we flinch.
And so I’m going to rely on one last excerpt from the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing to close it out.
Because we’ve got to use our mouths for something.No Begatting Ensues by Amy Dryansky, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019
Kissing, if possible, whistling, if not, which keeps us safe
in the dark. (They say.) (From well-lit rooms.) Calls the faithful
dog back to us. The one who stole the bone, buried your heart.
O the heart, you knew you’d end up here. Fuck. Sing something.
Even as we struggle, may we be loved.
Even as we flounder, may we be safe.
Even in darkness, a loyal companion and something to treasure.
A voice that needs no particular melody.
And fuck as the most precise and succinct way to say the thing.
* * *
Note: The title for this blog post is a line from (Eve) Talking to Herself (Mother’s Day) by Amy Dryansky, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019.