I look back over what I’ve written and I know it’s wrong, not because of what I’ve set down, but because of what I’ve omitted. What isn’t there has a presence, like the absence of light.
You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn’t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labelled bones.
No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.
These were my two first mistakes about honesty: I thought it meant relentless self-flagellation, and I thought it could redeem everything. I believed there was nothing self-awareness couldn’t save. My readers taught me otherwise: They often read my self-awareness as meanness or self-indulgence or delusion. It didn’t endear me to them at all. It didn’t dissolve the flaws it confessed.
I stopped biting my nails six weeks after I moved here, breaking a twenty year habit. There have been other shifts, too, more in two years, I sometimes think, than in the previous twenty-four of them combined, but the one I’m most interested in today is what it’s like to be with someone who can only know the you that you are now, none of the hints or symbols or details that are revealed from years of knowing, from exposure to your real pasts, not just pasts recounted through the filter of narrative, what seems most true or fair in the moment that you say or don’t say it.
For instance, I could say, “I vowed four years ago not to cook a meal again for anyone I’m sleeping with,” but though this is true––the vow, not necessarily that I kept it––it is strange to say that without also saying something about the years I made quesadillas every Thursday night and how a few months after I stopped doing that I tried it again, same ingredients but different kitchen, and it went so terribly there were tears, some texts to China about not being able to go through with it, with any of it, again. This is an anecdote where the sheer volume of back story is tiring and also not terribly interesting, and that it seems that way now means it is no longer a story worth telling, no longer one it’s necessary to know about me, not important anymore at all.
It’s strange, I long for a central privacy, but also feel terribly isolated. I go to bed hoping the next morning won’t have that tinge of dread…
To make it better I imagine a fire and a good feeling, and new snow in the morning, of eyes that don’t itch and burn, swimming in cooling water, standing on big rocks overlooking the ocean, seeing birds, and the possibility of reaching out to the soft skin of someone for whom no amount of closeness would be enough.
Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
There’s no method. There’s no formula. If you really proceed a sentence at a time, if you pay attention to the sentence you just wrote and look to it for the clue for what to do to the next sentence, you can inch your way along to what may be a story. This wouldn’t have occurred to me starting out, for example, when I thought you wrote one sentence, then just looked out to the world trying to snag the next one. That’s not how it works. You look back at what you gave yourself to work with. Sharon Olds said something beautiful about sometimes thinking of her poems as instructions for how to put the world back together if it were destroyed.
Olivia and I were talking about how I can be more compassionate. Olivia says to think a good thought about someone whenever I have a bad one, but she said it, as she always does, in a way that sounded better and meant much more. I told her that empathy for me is all tied up in sadness. When people say, where does the sense of loss come from? the answer I want to give is, from being human, but what I mean by that is, probably, the heart. If I give in too often to empathy it will flow inevitably into sadness and so it is easier to be cruel than to be kind, or to be silent rather than speak. This is a position that you’d think someone well versed in the particular histories I am well versed in would not want to take, but it’s where I stand for now.
I have long suspected that my restlessness is simply a futile wish to escape not this job or that apartment or the other city, but my own circumstances, my own intolerable skin.
I have never thought of your constancy and contentedness as a punchline. I have always found it deeply enviable—no, admirable.
Where did I learn this thing, that all the pieces of myself that are different are the pieces to be hidden or forgiven or escaped, not treasured? It was not my mother, so heartily a snorer. Not my sisters, joyful and beautiful and serene. Maggie said to me the other day, as I ate my second chocolate bar of the day, “I like that you’re always eating chocolate. I think it says something about your personality. Like, it’s indulgent.” Something in there somewhere, if I can unravel it, something about loving yourself just for being yourself, the way you love your friends and family for their exact selves.
limbs move slowly, knowing there’s no other way to move. heavy airs dampen ability to respond, and there is not enough blue when i look outside to calm these aches.
there is not enough blue when i look outside to let the tiredness overtake me, belly where it belongs — pressing against the floor or bed. i want the promise of being taken care of by surrendering to whatever is happening inside me, but —.
now when i see someone with a red nose i feel sad. so, so sad.
it is so hard to rest here. my eyes, they’re dry and sore from all the salt kept secret inside. i don’t know how to get on with things like i’m not waddling through air made of thick jelly.
i blame this arbitrary slowness on my body’s irrational preparation for a winter — cold to wrap me in four layers of clothing before venturing out the door, chill to remind me where all my bones are, grey skies to parallel with the greys inside, the need to cup and touch all the warm things around me, darker nights for easy sleep. i’ve never missed winter as much as i do now.
there is no winter here. this place will never work that way.
before this i could have sworn i was getting used to these hours and monotony, but then i started to think i’m waking up in the wrong bedroom again.
after recalculating the years and events to wear off the shock from waking up today, i thought, how long more will i be jet lagged from the past?
i will always be jet lagged from the past.
and from all the loss and losing that brought me back here.