The World You Long For

When I begin to make lists again I know I’ve returned, at least in part, to my previous life. During her nap, the baby sleeps in a wind tunnel of fabricated white noise; she swings in the darkened bedroom above a humidifier. She is wrapped in blankets, snuggled and steadied. I am in the next room making lists with a blue pen that I treasure on a page of notebook that was supposed to contain research on the novel I’m writing but has turned into a collage of lists, reading notes, and Wordle diagrams.

PC: Loverna Journey

In the morning when we rise, I get my cold coffee from what’s left in the french press by my husband and the baby and I sit on the couch together. I look at her and think, what am I supposed to do with you? We coo at each other. I show her a black and white board book. She nurses. I sip the cold coffee. I burp her. She lays on her back again. We smile at each other. Then she’s sleepy and I put her in her swing bed and sneak away to make my lists.

Above my desk I hang things. They shift and shimmy and change like the weather patterns within me. I think of the cross-stitch tracks of birds in the snow. I think of blue skies made abundant by fields. There is a slow ache. Like the melting of ice. A trickle of water returning. This is my weather.

Above my desk three post card prints of artists I bought on a trip to Europe twenty-two years ago hang in a silver frame–I no longer remember the names of the artists. A photograph of my sister Hannah and I at 18 and 16 beside a glacial lake in Canada. Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for. I pause.

I have stayed inside too many days. It’s the middle of winter, but still. My body begins to ache. I think of running and picture the road in summer. I can feel my muscled body slick with sweat and heaving. I can run the entire route in my mind.

Today I nurse the baby and think, I will never do this again in my lifetime. This is the last time I will do this, feed a baby with my body. Love of fierce biology. Desire needled through pressed into the brain like a magic braille.

My sons fight. They wrestle and scream and tease and meddle. It goes on and on. It’s exhausting. We eat dinner like we’re escaping. Fast and silent and with very few manners. My youngest son licks pieces of boiled peas and corn from his plate and calls out, “I’m a cat.” He is jolly like a bowl full of cherries; hilariously absorbed in some other universe that the rest of us don’t understand. We are all shocked that a person can be so full of joy and chipper, singing lines from songs on repeat: I wake up in the morning like pee dee… and a bottle of jack cuz I ain’t coming back.

He doesn’t sing the right words. This is not a problem for him. He likes his own version. Sometimes I ask him questions like, who is your favorite friend? Do you want to learn how to ride a bike today? What do you want to do today? Invariably his response is, I’m doing something or I can’t hear you right now.

Once after he spent hours playing in the field with with his brother and their friends, this son reported to me that he had played a wolf with a tattered cape who had a sword. His brother was a chicken with bull legs wearing a tunic; he could pluck his feathers and throw them like spears or perhaps poison darts. One friend was a retired knight with a sword and the other was part leopard and part human–he also wore a tunic and carried a bow and arrow. When I ask them about it again, my oldest son explains that his wings could also morph into human hands and there was a name for the game but he had forgotten it. I wonder why the knight was retired. But I suppose it’s obvious that if he was still a knight he’d have other work to do.

My oldest son is not jolly. Nothing about him is jolly or full of humor, though he likes jokes. He is sleek and muscled with long strawberry blond hair; serious and tender and now at an age where I feel I must be careful not to share too much about him, not to spill his secrets which, to him, are many.

On the wall above the desk, a photograph of me carrying this son three or four years ago in the sand dunes of North Carolina. The photograph is mostly blue sky and frothy white clouds, our bodies tangled in relief against this gift of sky. I carry him on my back.

The lists create a sense of control, organization, cohesion. What to grade, what to do, buy, complete, create. What if the lists were different. If I could let go of the real world of lists and live in the strange lands of imagination, mother country I long ago abandoned and only occasionally revisit. I long to call out, I’m doing something! When asked questions I don’t care to answer. I am aware of the stiffness of my entire body: jaw, shoulders, spine. Even when I’m swimming in the most beautiful place on the most beautiful summer day — the first really hot day when the water is still brisk and delicious, I am making lists and thinking about what I must do later. This ticking off of time, this parcelling of life like packaged meat, creates a toll that I pay again and again, a rage that creeps in.

Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for.

This rage is a surging river, running through the heat of August, thick like the sweat of the saunas in my north woods home. It is the whiskey I no longer drink, the needles I never used but understand why, it is the gorgeous bodies of our youth exhausted by this world. Not the real world that lives at its seams and breathes and breathes; but the one in which the lists are made, the time quartered and sanctioned, the rungs of a ladder wracked up, and human bodies transcribed in a million tiny rules–consume, consume.

My list would be about building things: cabins, a sauna, gardens, trails. It would be about painting and sitting for a long time, looking out at the field or the lake. It would be about growing plants that healed and inviting people to come to my sanctuary and heal from the fabricated world of rules and demands. It would explain my body: part fish, part wolf, fully human–wearing a tattered cloak and a silk robe, red shoes, sparkly sunglasses in a forever summer. I can breathe underwater and run with the pack.

You can create the world you long for.

Photo by Paulina H. on Unsplash

Happy Christmas Eve Eve

My brain is total mush. The night is a wash of panic & exhaustion. Is the baby alive? Did she fall off my chest? Will she ever stop grunting in the cold, hard box that is supposed to be a bed? It occurred to me the other day that perhaps I depend on other people too much for my happiness. Perhaps the echo logic of my mind: should we move back? should we stay here? what should I do with my life? Has to do with this common human problem of existential emptiness. I’ve been eating cookies and bagels and my second son is hounding me to make mini-waffles with the tiniest waffle maker I’ve ever seen, which was a Christmas gift from a student.

In college I studied philosophy. I wanted to major in everything. I was obsessed with esoteric knowledge — which felt like magic spells made of words and power. I was desperate for approval, survival, and love. After I graduated with a BA in English, I took a French Literature course (in French) and got my first C. I had planned on applying to graduate programs in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, a specialized study of modern philosophy and language, but I never did. I moved to Vermont in January of 2005, migrating to creative writing while firmly establishing myself in what I considered an extremely male-dominated sub-culture of not-yet-woke, pre-hipster hipsters invested in music, literature, drugs, art and womanizing.

That chapter of my life remains ensconced in cold early mornings mopping the floor of a coffee shop bar, listening to the same CDs on repeat (Lenard Cohn, Bonnie Prince Billy), windows fogged or frosted in ice, the smell of stale beer and fresh brewed coffee stuck to my clothing like a fragrance. It was cozy & extremely cold. I loved when the sun set at five and I lit the candles across the room and the hippie-hipsters came in with their huge boots and woolly hats and mittens– long skirts over pants, and sat down to sip mulled wine or hot totties, leaving behind a puddle of melted snow. It felt like I had found a home. But always, the edge, the empty parts remained tender and untouchable.

I drank enormous bottles of beer upstairs in my cousin’s apartment where I was staying until I found a room to rent on Greene Street. Beer that I can still taste in my throat, bitter, dark and delicious. Eventually I turned to wine and that, thankfully, led to an ending.

The baby doesn’t sleep well at night. The snow makes me feel claustrophobic, but also joy when the sun shines and the light is amplified. I’d prefer to give the baby a bottle, a sort of parenting equalizer, but I cannot.

bb & me

All this time since she was born at the end of October, I have missed home and now that it’s Christmas, when we normally visit, I feel the ache of that longing more than ever. I miss the cold of Northern Minnesota, the crunch of snow under my feet; the long, cold runs passed snow covered evergreens followed by the hot sweat of the sauna. I miss sitting in the living room drinking coffee with my siblings and parents, while the kids binge watch TV in the basement. I miss the large Christmas Eve gathering, the chaos of so many beloveds in one home– a place and family built by my mother and father.

The tiptoe dance of one against the other–which place will love me more? will I love more? Perhaps its the curse of having choices to want other than this. Also, the current and pulse of my life–anxious wanting, getting, and feeling the curse of disappointment. But perhaps this isn’t a thing to change, to eradicate with meditations and chants and picked over Buddhist insights; perhaps, it just is, and this wanting, this pulse, is me–fully alive even in this haze of sleeplessness, doughy minded and soft.

I resist the urge to write anything cathartic or merry. I don’t feel those things. Though I feel pockets of joy. Catharsis is to nonfiction as plot is to fiction. Necessary but overwrought.

I’ve become waterlogged in self help-y, self care pause and smell the roses shit and long for the hard edges of logic, which I took instead of algebra or basic math in undergrad. What part of our human brain seeks the cold, controlled contours of this life? Nothing in nature is this way and yet I feel the imposed strictures of commerce and time pushing into everything, pressing and pressing until the skin breaks. The doing-ness obsession. One cannot just sit and look at a baby as she nurses, she must scroll or read or eat or drink more water; she must make requests of her husband, children, mother; or mentally list the tasks she’ll complete afterwards when the baby finally sleeps.

For a moment after the baby was born, a reprieve. The dewy womb of afterbirth, love-panic-exhuastion-love covers everything, a stained glass window / breast-milk squirting out like a hose over everything / the lure of cookies. But then, around six-weeks, its shimmer slips – the feelings of tender hollow angst, the old neuroses and anxieties and lists of things undone returned, and with it the emptiness–the huge God-hole as they say, the enormous crater of abyss, the crying over beauty and death and love and loss and longing, followed by the mean edged desire to win, to get ahead, to be the drone they’ve trained you to be since birth. Don’t pretend you’re above it all, your culture.

But the light pushes through, soft and ever-present, unassuming, self assured. There are other worlds. Worlds upon worlds always, their fingers reaching like the tiny hand of the baby tickling your skin–your sagging, mottled, old skin, well loved, ever so well loved.