Two months ago, I said I’d write a post a day until this was all over.
Fool that I was, I think I expected that it would be clear when it was over. At this point, “it” remains confusing and variable and unlikely to be entirely over any time soon.
I’m not even sure what I think “it” is: the pandemic? The moral imperative to isolate if possible? Stay-at-home orders? Nonessential businesses closed? These all will have different end dates, possibly multiple end dates, and—
Friends, I just can’t post every day for that long.
Fortunately, I checked the tapes, and despite remembering that I said I’d post daily until this ended, here’s what I actually said: “I will be posting something here every day until…someday.”
So, today is someday. Two months in, I’m tapping out. I’m going to keep posting here a few times a week, but focus more on Book One and Book Three with my writing time.
This has been an interesting experiment. It’s taught me, maybe, that I can trust myself to have ideas and to write stuff, but also to understand that I won’t necessarily do so precisely on cue, and that’s okay. Some days posting was very hard, either because I had nothing to say, or a lot to say and no energy with which to say it, or because I felt so strongly that I was yelling into a void that prefer I stop. And some days, posting was easy. Not to worry either way, I guess.
It was also interesting to watch which posts people seemed to like more than others. What I learned: I have no idea what y’all want. And the bigger lesson there, of course, is that I should just let go of trying to please others and do what I want! Whee!
But yesterday I simply did not post, because I was busy and/or did not feel well, and it was kind of great. It was what I wanted.
In that spirit, what I want right now is to finish this tea, go for a walk/run thing (fingers crossed that this won’t take me to migraine city), and then get on with most this amazing day.
i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any—lifted from the no of all nothing—human merely being doubt unimaginably You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
In March, I started walking almost daily in it. There was no sign of spring yet, just brown and gray hillocks clustered with bare trees.
It took weeks for the small weeds clustering the floor to leaf out. This made me ecstatic. Tiny signals of spring. Little neon fingers of yellowest green began peeking out at the tops of the trees, in time, but I could still see straight through the forest to the sky, through the park to the houses.
I don’t know when it happened but the forest changed.
Maybe I walked in it less frequently for a few weeks in April, or maybe April zipped by me while I napped. But this week, I got lost several times on paths I came to know well in their brown phase.
Curious signposts were all I had to anchor me in the riotous expanse of green that was just yesterday an austere expanse of brown. A tree cut off about ten feet high, its stump shredded like a Troll doll’s hair, was my surprising signpost yesterday. I’m here? And there I was. Without that tree I would have thought I were a mile away from where I actually was, because all the other trees are masquerading as strangers. Or maybe their masks are off, now. I’m not sure which.
I’m not a parent but this must be what it’s like to watch your child grow up. Day by day, minute by minute, change is imperceptible. Then all of a sudden, the infant is running and speaking in full sentences.
Change is like that.
Today I walked six miles in sandals, which I don’t recommend, but in fairness I didn’t plan it. Once I got to the trees I turned the wrong direction on purpose and kept going. I needed it.
The wind was sowing pollen everywhere like snow, and it was gusting every which way, a mercy in the sudden summer heat today brought. Whenever I am in the trees and I feel the wind, I think of Elijah:
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13
The problem is, I stubbornly remember this passage wrong. The Lord was not in the wind, it says, but I think he often is. He’s in the silence too, and sometimes the earthquake and the fire. Wind, definitely. The Lord is in the wind. So are allergens. It’s all part of it. Having a humble, sneezy, blister-footed body is part of it.
The creek was calling to me, and I’m usually in too much of a hurry (officially running, officially walking, must get back, no time to spare!) but today, not so much. I bushwhacked a few yards and sat on a rock to soak my feet in it.
God’s in the creek, too.
The last several miles were through neighborhoods, where kids biked around in swimsuits and neighbors sat on many stoops drinking and talking at a distance. Men armed with spatulas and spray cans of OFF faced their barbecues. Groups of friends sat in large circles on lawns.
It’s coming to seem as though socializing outdoors is a lot safer than we’d thought, and indoors is more dangerous than we’d thought. The rule of six-feet doesn’t apply evenly because of airflow. Indoors, you might have the same sickly air passing you by for hours. Outdoors, it all circulates globally and winds carry it in all directions, and it’s hard to get to a dangerous concentration.
There’s something poetic about this, although I’m wary of ending with a trite, privileged optimism. But I can’t help it: I love the idea that we can all, maybe, sit outside together, even this summer, under the trees. Golden summer can still happen.
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
I really want to go somewhere right now. Basically anywhere.
Alas, we cannot.
Instead let me take you on a tour of the apartment complex. And I’ll tell you about Mary,* while we’re at it.
As you get close to the building, you’ll notice a certain wildness on the sidewalks. This block has been described, not at all accurately, as the Times Square of this otherwise subdued city. There are lots of people milling around, hanging out in biggish groups despite everything, and engaging in all kinds of commerce. Sometimes there are other gatherings, too: book sales, religious revivals, heritage festivals, ad-hoc playgrounds for children, farmers markets,** etc, all happening in front of the more traditional commercial storefronts (your cellular companies, your ice-cream parlors, your nail salons, your fried chicken, your megabank).
Today we’re talking about baking. Specifically, sourdough.
Yeah, I know.
In my defense, I was doing it before the pandemic (although not, I note for the record, before it was cool.) I have the marks against my TSA record to prove it from all the times I flew back and forth to Michigan with my little sourdough starter baby in a jar in my carry-on.
“That’s a gel, ma’am,” they’d say, unscrewing the lid after testing it for bomb residue.
“No, it’s my son, and you’d better hand him back right this minute!”
I lost my son somewhere in the chaos of 2013-2014 and I hope he’s happy out there, wherever he is.
Anyway, now I’m starting again because there’s time, and I fucking love bread to an Oprah degree.
This new son is named Stanislav. From his conception until today, he’s been confined to a too-small jar due to a severe jar shortage. Every time I fed him during his growing phase, he would overspill the top by morning. I’d wake up to find Stanislav having crested and overflowed his bounds.
Today, a few examples of a linguistic phenomenon that delights and vexes me, which I am calling “euphemism drift.”
Full disclosure: when I sat down to write this post, I thought it was an original idea. But Google corrected that impression. So here is a Wikipedia segment that is more or less the topic. And apparently Steven Pinker has named this concept the “euphemism treadmill.”
Still, I think being deterred by unoriginality is a coward’s game, so on I press.
For the record, this post is going to use the “r word,” but not (as I hope you’ll find) in a derogatory way. In fact, I want to show that the word has never been the problem.
But let’s start with a fun example first. “Happy hour.” Now, what is happy hour? To take it literally, it’s an hour that’s happy, or more likely, an hour during which people spending the hour are happy. But we all know that’s not what it means. No one talks about “pre-dinner drinking time;” instead, we have chosen the euphemism “happy hour.”
It’s coming up on two months of posting “content” daily.
Friends, why did I say I’d do this until it all ended? We still barely know what it is, and when it will end is…
Danger thoughts. Don’t go there.
In any event, I know the answer to why I did this thing to me: it was mid-March, and every hour brought some fresh surprising hell, and I woke up one morning feeling like hot compost and a little inspiration hovered before me glittering like a diamond: I could write more. I could escape the black hole that threatened to swallow me by giving myself a new project. A little structure to the day. And how hard could it be?
The answer, seven or so weeks in, is: not that hard, but also, somehow, quite hard, in sheer terms of time I could otherwise be spending on other things.*
(The other major reason I did this is, of course, I was such an idiotic boob back then.)
The problem is, trying to post every day means I’m always running.** This doesn’t always result in the best content. (I mean, it probably usually does, but just not always.)
It doesn’t allow me time to let the thoughts sit and marinate, as they used to do when I was posting about once or twice a week. (This is largely because the time I optimistically allocate daily for brainstorming and free-writing, 7-9am, tends to turn into just sleep-in time before the harrowing commute from the bedroom into the living room office.)
Writing time, whenever it occurs (right now: quarter to 11pm, which is to say, past my brain’s daily expiration date) is either very slow, very scattered writing (every fourth day or so), or else depleting the ol’ partially-written post archives, much like eating through all the emergency beans in the emergency bean cabinet (the other three days).
On that every-fourth-day when I somehow write a lot, I meander back and forth between twelve different ideas, popping in little details here and there in a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of an outline that I know future me will be able to clean up.
Future me never seems as certain about what past me meant as past me was. But she was enthusiastic; I can give her that.
The end result is something like having several different stews cooking on various burners, and I’m spicing them occasionally, often forgetting which one was the curry and which one the sour broth, and then I hear a bell and it’s dinner time and I grab one of the stews and serve it up to you.
And some days, like today, right as I’m about to serve it I take a look in the bowl and go, hmm.
*Ironically, the most time-consuming part is all the posting and cross-posting to Instagram and Facebook and occasionally Twitter, each of which demands a slight reformat and various buttons to be pressed from various devices. I guess I could just stop doing that, but then I’d really be shouting into the void.
**Not literally. Although I also feel like an idiotic boob every time I run.
If you’ve been on the internet in the last five years, you may have noticed that all of a sudden, “content” is everywhere. There’s new content, great content, content overload, and there are content creators keeping the whole operation going.
The word “content,” of course, has many meanings across all parts of speech, but the one I’m referring to is the third noun entry here: “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”
Let me concede off the bat that “content” in its internet usage is a “real word.”*
In case you’re new to them, how shall I describe them? Perhaps I’ll say they’re a technology for many humans to try to talk at once, and somehow simultaneously also for no one to talk for quite a long and awkward time, from different locations. They’re also quite possibly the greatest-ever advance in human boredom-creation technology.
If you’re a conference call veteran, then you’ll know the feeling of awkwardly announcing your presence, then waiting for fifty-five minutes absently refreshing your email while someone explains something in great detail that one other person on the twenty-person call needed to know, and then pretending to have enjoyed the experience when you, with a vast sigh of relief, say “Thanks, everyone!” and press the big red button just in time for lunch.
Now, introducing: conference calls in the time of COVID!
Who among us can say that they don’t get really mad when people refuse to use their brains properly? Especially strangers on the internet. There is an irresistible temptation to shame the person into thinking better, often by trying to show them how their actions or beliefs or words are harmful or hypocritical or just intensely moronic.
But how often does this work, really? Basically zero percent. People often dig in even deeper, finding that the attempted shaming proves their original point.
Here’s the thing: shame is externalized guilt. That’s why it doesn’t work to convince people to change their minds. Allow me to explain.
When I regret that Ian has no more Oreos to eat because I ate the last one, I feel guilt. But when Ian goes “Wow, how could you do such an unkind thing as eating all the Oreos so that I have none to eat?” I feel shame.*
For shame to work, I have to agree with the premise. I have to be guilty about the thing and then have someone else also reflect that guilt at me. I have to agree that it would be good for Ian to have any Oreos, and I have to agree that it was unkind of me to scarf them all down in one sitting. (As it happens, I agree with those premises. For now, at least.)
If, on the other hand, it is my firm belief that the Oreos were mine to begin with, and he deserved none, and it was actually right and good for me to eat them all less than 24 hours after the biweekly grocery shop, then I would simply toss my head back and laugh at his attempt to shame me.
See the problem? I have to agree with a premise before I can be shamed by it.