Awake versus asleep

Everyone wants to be happy. That’s the goal, right? In life? To be happy? Do what makes you happy. Are you happy? Is this making you happy? And if you’re not happy, you’re failing at the big goal in life which is (did you forget?): BE HAPPY. What if that’s wrong. What if, instead of happy versus unhappy the dichotomy is awake versus asleep. And instead of trying to be happy all the time, we can just be awake for this life — whether that means bliss or pain — and instead of thinking of ways to make the chaos go away, let’s rejoice that at least we’re not numb, missing it all, as good as dead and gone.

The holidays are for merriment

I have yet to achieve a steady state of “merry” and am stuck instead in a cycle… moments of radical clarity and stretches of okay-ness punctuated by moments of truly un-fine. The way I’d imagine it feels to be attacked by zombies… you’re brushing your teeth like usual when suddenly four of the undead are bloodying your doorstep and busting through with a hatchet and you’re like: I WAS JUST BRUSHING MY TEETH.

But overall:

Seeing old friends has been rejuvenating in all the right ways.

My dad has taken up cooking in his retired state, and so elaborate and butter-filled dishes grace our table each night.

My mom got us all snuggies (I’m lowercasing it!) of the highest caliber; essentially sleeping bags with head, arm and feet holes.

So. Things are ok.

In D.C.

Snow, more snow, in drifts and swirls, a million armfuls tossed from a million rooftops. The next morning we watched from the sixth floor window as a woman and two kids, bundled to the hilt, cleared off their car in the parking lot. I didn’t realize at first that they were using kitchen implements to de-snow this car. I thought, you know, they had three snow brushes. But I couldn’t stop watching the little girl in the yellow coat and pink hat. She must’ve been three or four, and she kept flinging the snow from the hood of the car onto her head. Still she kept swinging her de-snowing implement, which I soon realized was a spatula. Swing, fling, swing, fling. Her little brother had another spatula, and so did the mom. They chipped away at it.

The little girl kept falling over, getting stuck in the snow, wandering distractedly over to the neighboring snow-capped car and taking a few jabs at that one. Finally she just gave up and flopped backwards into the snow, swooshing her arms and legs to make an angel. She’d chosen a spot that was already trafficked in footprints, and I can only imagine that she stood up looking for the perfect imprint of her angel and just saw a muddle. But pretty soon the whole family trekked out to the clean part of the snow and I stopped watching but I hope they made more.


Today I got the splints out of my nose. I will say very little about this process except that it means I don’t have plastic in my head any more. You can imagine how fun it was to experience this removal of plastic. But what did strike me is that all I said was, “I’m feeling really dizzy” and in an instant the doctor had tilted the chair back, shut off the lights and put a cold compress across my forehead. Then he told me about a bad bike accident he’d been in, in his 20s, where he got huge scabs on both his palms and had to douse them in betadine. He said he nearly passed out every time, and said that it made him frustrated — he knew he could handle it, but the blood drained from his head and he couldn’t stop the dizziness. Then the lights came on, the cold washcloth came off, and the chair straightened up.

May Your Life Be Shaped

The best advice I’ve ever received came to me in the form of a wish. When I graduated from high school, I received a card from my great-great-aunt Helen. Arriving from my mother’s father’s sister, whom I’d forgotten meeting when I was a toddler, the card made me feel connected to a family out there somewhere, as if a larger world wished me well. I’d grown up moving, having been in more than twenty schools by the time I graduated from high school, and the experience had left me with a profound sense of isolated difference.

Inside the card’s embossed exterior, my great-great-aunt had written not the usual sort of advice that attends graduation cards, but only a sentence: “May your life be shaped by what you love.” The phrase struck me, and stuck, somewhere within me, resonating. Like a small lodestone, falling from the sky, that lodges in the earth and generates a magnetic field, and is taken to float on water, turning toward true north, the phrase became not only a wish but a direction.

My life has been profoundly altered by that wish; my work, my sense of myself, and even my body have been shaped, altered, by what I love, and sometimes unpredictably. The wish itself set me in a direction that was often against the tide, for our culture values the life shaped by the mind’s architect, ambition, considerations of means and ends, rewards and long-term plans. Yet what true resemblances there are between my interior and exterior realities are the fruit of that wish. It is only the failures of love that I regret, those times when I did not give myself so generously.

–poet Rebecca Seiferle

Various moments of status

Missing, sleeping, drinking, missing, sleeping, reconnecting, uncovering, thinking, dreaming, wishing, planning, missing, consuming, resuming, unraveling, re-raveling, losing, finding, itching, burrowing, scraping, sleeping, missing, dreaming.

Where I am staying

I’m staying with my friends Kate and Joe for a week or so. I moved out of my apartment with K. And I am adrift. But Kate and Joe’s house is full of food and rest. And I found a new place lickety-split (thanks Medill listserv!!). My objects were moved in by an army of packers and carriers. Mimosas took the edge off.

I submit again the couch poem, circa 2004, based on real experiences in furniture moving and in love:

they say love is hell
maybe love is a couch
a used couch from craigslist
that’s comfy and striped
and looks good when you
buy it from geeky-man roger
and good in the back
of your rented green pick-up
but which starts looking bad
when you can’t fit it past
your apartment door.

and you find yourself

at your roommate
(your partner-in-couch)
from opposite ends

of this monstrous THING.

you are stuck
and you know it
so you measure the angles
and even the windows
and you pray and you reason
until finally you face it
and call geeky-man roger
begging please take it back.

roge lets you sit
through the world’s longest silence
and at last says okay
though it’s 10:30 pm
so you do it –
you unwedge her
and drive back across town
and then haul her inside,
pallbearers, embarrassed,
leaving perfectly arranged
covers and cushions
taking your fifty bucks

from roge’s fist
and pretending that all this
never happened.

which it did,
of course,
and you go home
and sit on the floor
and stare at the doorframe
and remember how you really
almost had it.

More snippets that spring to mind:

“I daydream about a paradise planet where everyone lives forever, and their primary pursuit is falling in love with each other and then saying goodbye for a million years. They’d say the saddest, sweetest so-longs. In fact, saying goodbye would be this planet’s most popular art form. Then a million years later, they’d meet up again and, you know, it’d be great, and people would spend a few thousand years catching up.”

“Maybe we eternal souls experiment with lifetimes the way high school kids experiment with bad acid. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Maybe there was some cute eternal soul I was trying to impress by coming to earth. ‘Are you sure you want to go to Earth? I hear it’s pretty hardcore,’ she may have said. ‘But baby, I’m pretty hardcore.’ And now she’s watching me timidly pick my way through this life, wracked by fear and neuroses, scared out of my wits, and I bet she’s not too impressed after all.”

— Bill Brown, Dream Whip No. 13

Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken – those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies