I wore myself out writing a political post last week and answering subsequent comments. Then I read that Antonin Scalia died. Liberal pundits are off their nuts trying not to do a happy dance. I feel uncomfortable with this. To celebrate anyone’s death seems tasteless, if not unkind. I did not like his rulings or his beliefs, but he was interesting to listen to and had a level of integrity that I appreciated.
I’m glad one conservative is off the Supreme Court, but I wish it were Justice Thomas, who has never struck me as someone who has political or personal integrity. He can shove a copy of The Fountainhead right up his arse. Yeah, yeah, people are complicated.
Today I am starting David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, because my reading has become too facile of late, with relatable characters and interesting story lines. I realized that there’s no way for me to expand as a writer, if I don’t continue to expand as a reader. I read James Joyce last year and while I found it a long slog, I came away with pages of notes about literary devices, made-up words and scene development. I’m keeping my notebook handy for Jest.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. I bought myself a bouquet of tulips and thanked my husband with a smirk. I gave him some new swim goggles and my daughter got a gaming gift card. Romance is subtle in our household. My daughter made us sweet cards and then we all plugged into our devices, shows or books and promptly ignored each other. Love means letting each other be whoever we are – until dinner time or someone needs a ride.
For writers everywhere, or just me, I’ve written this in big letters on my whiteboard: “Never hope more than you work.” (Both Rita Mae Brown and Beryl Markham have been credited with some form of that quote). It really explains why my novel re-writes are not done. Hopin’ and wishin’ and prayin’…that somebody else will do it.
Stinging bits of snow pelted my cheeks and my eyes watered. I could feel a burning sensation on my legs as the wind cut through my jeans. It was 2°F/-16°C with a wind chill factor running 20 degrees lower. I decided a 3 mile walk to the library would be the curative for cabin fever and listless writing.
I spent most of the walk thinking about the nature of discomfort and how I’d forgotten why it is a necessary thing. I live a comfortable life and I have reasoned, at times, that I’d earned it. That I’d had so many periods of difficulty and misery and struggle, that perhaps it was okay to have soft landings.
Here’s the funny old thing about my tough times. They shaped me. They taught me resiliency. They forced me to critically think and problem solve. They made me power through, overcome, and challenged every aspect of my being. They made me hunger for more knowledge and skills. In the end, they made me see the world in a broader context and made me, for all my failings, more compassionate towards others.
I walked against the bitter wind, trying to keep my footing on ice-covered sidewalks. It reminded me of all the other times. The years without a car. The rain. The baking sun. The ache of carrying groceries or book bags. It reminded me that I did my best thinking when I walked, that all the physical challenges gave a pinpoint focus to my brain.
One of my visiting college professors told me I had the душа, the soul of a Russian. Dostoyevsky wrote that the soul of a Russian was the spiritual need for suffering. I thought it was a compliment. When I started reading Buddhist texts, it seemed less of one. It made me seem like a masochist.
So I began the steady path towards only watching, reading and listening to things that I enjoyed. I ate only the food I liked, worked only when it didn’t feel like work, dressed to excessive comfort, didn’t push too hard during workouts, only hung out with friends who didn’t irritate me and only when I felt like it. Cocooned, safe, precious and ensconced in my own navel.
It’s true that life is short and that there is value in spending time how I want to, but at what point do I stop growing? At what point am I willing to stop reaching beyond myself and my small corner of the world? At what point do I become so static that death would seem an adventure?
It reminded me that at 48, I was still hearty enough to carry my own weight, to put in the miles, to lean into the discomfort. I was reminded of how important and nurturing my connection to the outside world is – that observation and the senses yield so much. And when I returned to a comforting home and a warm cup of tea, my gratitude was expansive.
Every day is a new possibility – I hope your day is a good one.
And if Valentine’s day bugs the crap out of you, feel sorry for all those people getting shitty Whitman samplers with the chocolates filled with spackle and toothpaste. Pity all the lost hopes for marriage proposals that just turned out to be dinner at Applebee’s. Shake your head at all the grown-ass women getting stuffed animals and itchy lingerie. Roll your eyes at all the men shopping desperately at Targets and gas stations at this very moment…
And get yourself the good chocolate. It will be on clearance tomorrow.