Let Me Weep

I am a midnight writer
I am a sole survivor
I am chemicals colliding

Awake late in the night with a baby in my lap, I have turned the tv on low, the mist from the nebulizer clouding the screen. Though the steroid drugs wafting from the machine should amp my daughter up, she is limp across my thighs and sweating damply into the crook of my elbow. It takes twenty minutes to give her a full treatment, until the hissing starts breaking up and popping sounds come from the ampule of liquid feeding the machine. I run my finger down her velvety arm, feel my pulse quicken.

Years later, I find that an afternoon Diet Coke takes me past the edge of hyper over-exhaustion and into sleep. What should stimulate me — caffeine — sometimes helps me rest. I drink it in the bright sun streaming through my window and then lay on the couch, drifting. My daughter and I, it seems, have our own rules about sleep.

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Where To, Lady?

where-to-lady

Today, I could work on this web site or this other web site. 

Or I could spend some time writing that essay or commit to the next chapter of can I start calling this a novel?

There’s laundry piling up, and there are appointments to schedule.

Also, what am I making for dinner?

My life for the last seventeen-plus years has trained the focus right out of me. Continue Reading…

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Roll and Be Rolled

lake-michigan

 

I grew up along this lake, just two hours north of where I live now. When I was a girl, I wasn’t allowed to walk the crumbling wooden path down to the beach nearest my house without an adult, but when I was a teenager, I was given permission to walk just a block further south to the wider, gravel path that led all the way down to the beach and also to what my family called “the overhang.” That was as far as I could go alone, but it was so much better than not getting to see the lake at all. From the overhang, I could see it and smell it, could hear the sound of the waves, and could sit and write my teenaged poetry and sing the songs no one wanted to hear anywhere else. In a neighborhood with nowhere else to go — no stores or parks or libraries for miles around — the overhang by the lake was my sanctuary.

Oh my goodness, those terrible poems were everything to me. I wrote all the things I couldn’t say, shared all the hurts and the unrequited love, the injustices, the overwrought outpourings of a girl who wanted so badly to run away.

Look how far I ran: I took this picture last summer, on the same lake two hours south of my childhood home, less than a mile from the house where I live now. How far did I run? Not far, and very far, depending on whether I count the distance in miles or resilience.

There’s so much I’m choosing not to write now, on a bench near the lake or otherwise. Some things I find myself pulling back from the page because of superstition, worried that naming them will make it hurt all the more if they don’t happen. Some things I know have to wait their turn in the light of the screen, to protect the privacy and the feelings of the people who aren’t ready to have their story told. But even so: I clutched those poetry notebooks to my chest for years — decades now — and few have ever seen or read them. So why not write anyway, for myself, to hold for the decades it will take to free the words?

I’m trying hard not to hold anything tightly. Words trap feelings, somehow, and sculpt fluid images into frozen statues. I could hold a scene in my hand — the expression on her face, the way he held his coffee cup — and pin it to the page, but then when I returned to look at it in a month, six months, a year, it would always be just-so. I would not be able to turn it around in my hands, see it from another angle, play it out with the volume lower or higher. I read that memories are always distorted; we are remembering something only the way we remembered it the last time it came to mind. Our brains keep tweaking it, making it better or worse or more interesting or more dramatic. If I write it, I lose the opportunity to recreate it later.

This year, things will happen to me, just like every year things have happened. I’m trying with all my might to let the events that shape my year wash over me, rock me to one side or the other, and not to pin the outcome — any outcome — to the page. My career could tilt in one direction or another; old friendships seem to be gently falling out of season; shifts are happening in the generation above me; my older daughter will go to college somewhere; my younger daughter reminds me less and less of the frustrated, sick girl she once was. It’s all changing. I don’t know where my life will land.

I’m practicing coating my body with an invisible layer of something soft, something breathable, something cushioned, to protect me from the rocks on the shore, to hold me safe inside as I’m pushed all about. I’m practicing rolling over with the tides and the waves, rolling while things roll over me, being patient with where things settle and for how long.

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions or step-by-step plans. I’m learning to roll and be rolled. I’m listening to the water.


This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com. This week’s prompt was “my word for 2020 is…”

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What I’m Learning, Part Six

library

Someone asked on Twitter last week for their followers to share something good. It was as open and unspecific as that, and the first thing that came to mind for me was libraries.

I’ve always loved libraries, ever since I was old enough to bike the three-and-a-half miles to my public library in Mequon, Wisconsin. Situated next to the municipal swimming pool, it was a beautiful two story, circular room, with children’s books below and adults’ above. It made me feel calm and hopeful, as does my beloved main branch library here in Evanston, Illinois today. The thought that passes through my head as I step inside is always thank goodness. There are so many stories here.

In the end, the happiest I ever feel is when I am sucked deep into a book, fascinated and immersed. All avid readers feel this way, I think – we all talk about it with the same vocabulary of being surrounded, transported, brought inside. It’s such a gift to have both the reading aptitude and interest in books. I’m grateful for it in every season and in every environment.

This year, I spent a lot of time reading books about health and medicine as part of research for my book. You can read the previous posts: about Gavin Francis and Jill Bolte Taylor, Seth Mnookin and Henry Jay Przybylo, Susannah CahalanAtul Gawande and Heather Armstrong, and finally, most usefully, Heather Harpham. As I finished my book proposal, I had to find a few more that closely mirrored the structure or voice or topics of my memoir, and I’ll share some of the ones I liked best below.

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Trigger

triggering

 

She was sitting on the couch facing me when I opened the door to the apartment. In a deep-cut v-neck t-shirt, beaded necklaces dipping into her cleavage, my roommate asked me why I’d put the ironic knick-knack I loved back on top of the stereo speaker.

“Because I think it’s funny,” I said.

“But you know I hate it,” she answered, her fingernails pressing into her thighs.

“I know,” I answered her, clutching my backpack, “but you do a lot of things that I hate, too, and you don’t seem to care. Why should I?”

“So you put it up there for revenge?!” she asked, still sitting. I watched a patch of red begin to creep up from between her breasts into the v of her shirt.

“Basically, I guess?”

“You know,” she said, rubbing her hand along the knee of her jeans, “I sometimes come home at night when you’re sleeping, and I stand outside the door to your bedroom, and I have to force myself not to come in there and beat the shit out of you in your sleep.”

“You’re crazy,” I answered, staring at the french doors to my room, and then at her neck, which has grown crimson to match her chest. “That’s what a crazy person says.”

“I’m not crazy. I just hate you.” Continue Reading…

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