I have come to this space a few times and not known what to write. Or maybe just not known where to begin. Like all of us, I was swallowed whole by this last year or two, then spit back up in a new form, not totally sure what shape it will take. We have all been in the belly of the whale, and the timing of our emergence is different for everyone. But finally, here I am, 17 days before the summer solstice, on my couch writing this line, listening to rain fall outside with an open window and a breeze in the curtains. Just here, alive and steady.
My last two years: a major job change in fall of 2019, a very sick kid for the first four months of 2020, Covid explosion, Covid worries, then overcoming Covid itself as I watched last year pass into another one with a thermometer and a pulse oximeter, a long and dark few months of winter when it was hard to tell up from down, and in any given moment, I couldn’t even articulate how I was feeling, then I turned 40 on a Tuesday. Then May came along, another job change. And finally a pause and a long look in the mirror to find that I’m half dead.
I have made my own recipe for a post-pandemic rebirth, and I’m just hoping it works. It goes something like this: Delete all social media from my phone. Walk miles with my kids on the neighborhood nature trail. Swing with them on the playground. Read more than I’ve read in years, the way I used to read, devouring books like candy. And when the kids are gone, hiking alone so early that I pass only three others on my way to the summit. Then come home to read in my shaded hammock until I don’t even know what time it is or where I am. Water the flowers and watch them grow taller everyday. Write messy lines in my journal every morning in a quiet house. See my closest friends in real life, not just strings of text. Show up for my writing group. Show up at the page everyday. And some boring things, too, like drinking loads of water and getting eight hours of sleep. Let my nervous system settle again so that I hear a symphony or a harmonized chorus instead of a high-pitched buzz. Look for the bass note in everything, and know it’s there, under the surface where I can feel it in my belly.
I ran across a description the other day of a word I hadn’t thought of in ages. Palimpsest. In the fifth or sixth century when paper was a rare commodity, writers would scrape clean a page to make space for new writing. The palimpsest would be the manuscript left behind. The one where we can see the new work and also feel the traces of something else underneath, barely legible, barely seen. I imagine a writer with words in his head waiting to be written somewhere, holding the tight animal skin in his hands with a story already there, then scraping clean the soft page to make new lines.
My life feels that way. Scratching, rewriting, scratching, rewriting. Scraping clean what doesn’t work and rewriting again.
I haven’t written a line here since November, but know that I have spent the last few months writing and rewriting, scraping clean what doesn’t feel right, trying to find a glimmer. I rearranged furniture, bought some new houseplants, put fresh combinations of my own clothes together, took a different route to a new grocery store, wore a different perfume. I have been changing all of the little things to bring something new to the page, but what if it’s something big that needs to be scraped clean and rewritten? We are so quick to move all the little pieces around and always so scared to change the bolsters of our lives, scared of the earthquakes that inevitably follow.
I think what is weird and scary (and also amazing and rich with potential) about this moment of post-pandemic transition we are in is that we all know we will emerge on the other side as something different, but we don’t know what that will be. It is too soon to tell. My only goal this summer is to rewrite what joy feels like, watch what creativity can do for me when I let it move, to erase the numbness that has been sitting on my chest like a boulder for a year, reset my nervous system and let something new be born.
I have written a bit. (A recent publication online if you haven’t seen it yet!) And I have read more than I have in ages, devouring books in huge bites. First The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, then How to Do the Work, then The Midnight Library, and now I’m deep into The Book of Longings, finding myself caught between this world and that one, thinking of the characters as I stood in line today at the store. There are so many searing lines in this novel that get caught in my throat when I read them.
When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.
Each of us must find a way to love the world. You have found yours.
Return to your longing. It will teach you everything.
It speaks so eloquently to that unnamable, untamable place that exists inside all of us — wildness and longing and joy, and alongside of it, immeasurable sorrow too. After a year of numbness, I am ready to embrace all of it again.
I guess I am just trying to say that I am coming back, slowly, like an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve spent so much of the last two years in survival mode because of one thing or another, and even if I looked for joy in those places, it feels almost impossible to put your hands on it for any length of time when you are just trying your hardest to keep your own head above water while carrying a stone. This week, finally, I feel the tension evaporating a bit. I feel the space inside growing larger, large enough to contain growth and joy and creativity and contentment.
I’ve tried so hard to find moments of contentment this last year and lost them every time, like water through my fingers before I could even hold it. But today, on the hammock, I was alone and reading. A few rain drops began to fall, but I was under the canopy of a tree so I could only hear them plinking on the leaves, one drop after another. A breeze was blowing, and I put my book down across my stomach to look up at it all just for one minute. Clouds and sky and a world that is still turning, still moving me onward to whatever is next. That space inside growing larger, finally making room.