Shelter in Place

sap boiling

My husband and I take turns sleeping in everyday. He is careful not to stay up too late on nights before his wakeup day. He’s like that.

Our littlest climbs into bed beside me around 6am. He takes most of the pillow.

By 6:45, our oldest wakes and wants a bath or a podcast. Today I roll under the covers like a bear and sleep on while my husband tends the children.

Sometimes mid-day I wonder if I’ve already drunk my coffee. I want more of everything.

Outside I feel more alive.

in the woods

My children find certain things exciting: a paper airplane they fly into a bonfire, a documentary about the wolf pack in Yellowstone, ice cream with maple syrup they boiled in a pot on the bonfire.

We are bracing for the death of at the least 100,000 of us. Probably more.

So far, most people are in the denial stage of grief.

No one panics anymore because it’s too exhausting. We’ve acclimated.

During online AA meetings people complain about work or grocery shopping.

Showing our homes to each other feels like a shameful exposure.

I watch a video of the author Glennon Doyle saying, “This is grief.” I find her intimacy difficult. I find intimacy difficult right now or maybe always. Maybe I just find her difficult.

But it is true. This is grief.

I’ve eaten chocolate covered coconut bars every day, sometimes two a day. They were a gift from a friend. But I just ate the last one. Now I’ll eat the chocolate chips. I think my husband has a bag of oreos hidden somewhere.

The president is mentally ill. I shouldn’t write this. It’s offensive to those of us with mental illness. Daily we get a report from him on how well he is doing. What a great job. It’s embarrassing. I don’t watch.

Here is a secret: I rarely cry because I’m on an extremely high dose of antidepressant medication. I don’t really like my therapist. I have felt stuck in my life.

Today I’m listless.

Only five students show up to the online Zoom checkin for class. Seven in the second class. I don’t blame them. I did say it was optional. But I miss their faces. I miss their thoughts and jokes and complaining. I miss their stories.

We make bonfires here. Today we’re burning brush. The smoke billows. Last week we boiled sap for the first time. I love the smell of campfire. I love fire.

Burn it down, is a phrase we once used: patriarchy, capitalism, rape culture, racism, homophobia … fear, I suppose we were talking about the way fear gets manipulated or used against others in greed. Or the way greed destroys everything that is good here, including people. The way some think they can take what they want but their wanting consumes us all.

We may know this. But we can never agree on how to change it. So, now we have a dictator and a pandemic.

I’m not saying it’s someone’s fault. But it is.

Every day the children spread their toys across our home. In every corner of the house a pile of toys, pillows, peed pants freshly stepped from, dirty socks, pajamas, towels, cracker wrappers, empty cups… it’s unreal the spread.

Mostly I hide in my room or go for runs. Avoiding work.

There are two sweaters splayed on the floor beside the closet, one on top of the other–arms outstretched but also piled. They seem to be making love. The rusty brown cardigan kisses the nape of the deep rose cowl neck, my current favorite.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, worrying that the children would die, thinking of their small bodies alone in hospital beds. How I wouldn’t be allowed in to see them. Every other death pales in comparison.

Yesterday, at my desk, I saw my little boy gallop by the window. The older one followed, giving chase: a wolf hunting an elk. I don’t see the wolf take down the elk, wrestle it into the grass, pretend to devour… but I picture it and know this is the best part of the game.

I’ve always wondered what it was like to live through a pandemic. It’s not as scary as I imagined. As movies and TV imagined. Not yet.

I stare out the bedroom window at the field, the dead tree standing, the forest of pines, and gray sky. Soon spring will arrive and green will rise up like a god.

How is anyone getting anything done? Only what’s necessary.

How many will starve, lose housing, die by the hand of abusers, overdose, work themselves to death? How many? What do these numbers mean? I keep a running tally in the back of my journal.

In the middle of the day I fall asleep. It is the kind of half conscious sleep that feels delicious.

Greif exhausts us. I will not feel ashamed for sleeping.

sleeping child

I wait for night. The long dark beauty of sleep. The Netflix, Hulu wash.

I listen to birdsong. Follow the mourning dove through the field. Chase a flock of starlings that swarm the trees. We find the stream. My son falls into it. We tromp home to take a bath.

War games are their favorite.

An old cabin in the woods beside the stream leans earthbound. Inside, a floor covered in droppings, walls torn and insulation shredded. A photograph of an old man holding a little girl lays on the floor. I pick it up but do not take it.

My husband disassembles a shed in the woods near the cabin. The work makes him sweat, his muscles sore, his heartsong red like a fierce hawk, a warrier.

We are all warriors now.

I run up the hills in the woods. Up the mountain. I run out to Black Pond and Half Moon State Park. For days I run and then, suddenly, I quit. I don’t want to anymore.

It rains. Then the sun. It’s cold then not. We can’t remember what day it is. We can’t remember what we had hoped for or planned or what we had worried about before now.

I wish I had a thing of beauty to offer you. I’d lie it down at your feet and weep.

The geese collect in the sky, long bodied and fluid on their return migration. The water rises in the creek. The frogs awaken. We are close to the earth now. We are waiting. She’s calling us back. Calling us forth–resurrect yourselves, transform or I will shed you, she whispers. Her love like that of a womb where we wait quietly in the darkness, unknowing.

Bless you all.

On Home & the Project of Becoming

So much has been written about home: landscape of memory, guardian of the lost. We are actuaries of our homes (I mean our first homes, our childhood haunts) calculating risks v. benefits of returns. Shall I move back there? Will it be the same? Will it be different? My mind runs over the landscape of this home as though tracing a path, a sort of traveling through. I collect specimens: the smell of pine, the heat of the sauna, the wet cold of a snow covered lake, the crunch of snow under my boot on a cold night, Orion’s belt in the sky.

We are close, my family and I. How this came to be remains a mystery. But perhaps it is the fact of five sisters and one (youngest) brother. Or something to do with tribe mentality, wanting to be a part of and fear of abandonment. There are, of course, variations on this closeness depending on the moment in time.

Home has always remained a function of my imagination, my creative mind, my ability to manifest thought, feeling, action in whatever way, unconsciously and then not. Right now, I think most of running when I think of my childhood home. I imagine a long line that unfolds before me, my legs growing strong, my mind clear. I see my brother, fourteen years my junior, running in front of me through the August heat, sprinting hard against the quandary of the body. I hear my breath, feel the beating organ pulse, push on, push on.

Photo by Josh Hild Minnesota, USA

Back in Vermont after three long weeks home with my two boys, I am finally alone. Silence folds in on me, a stillness everywhere punctuated by the solitary flight of a bird above the mountain.

I’m trying to get back to my writing mind, trying to dig down deep beyond the layers of fear, the raw anxiety of financial issues, the unknown.

We keep our lives in squares these days. I could show you mine: a lovely log cabin, a snowy wooded mountain view, a sun splashed table. But these images have become a commodity now and we are selling each other (and ourselves) our lives. What is wrong with that, you ask? It is not about ugliness but about the illusion of who we are. The covering over of fear and the inner life of the mind with stuff. The richness of our lives is always, as some say, an inside job, which means no amount of square, glossy beauty can make us happy.

And so, I have decided, this is the year of my becoming all the ways I need most: holding fear like a baby to my breast, giving her the comfort of words, the comfort of believing. I am at my best when things fall apart, as underdog and chaser of wild things. This is the year of justice. We are moving towards apocalyptic power, we are AOC & RBG, we are becoming. Long before Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming (amazing and def. worth a read!), back in my Julia Kristeva days, I fell in love with the word becoming–with the line of poetry I wrote in a cold Minneapolis cafe, watching the snow fall into the river and feeling my life scatter there at the surface: I am always becoming.

This is also the year of honest finances. I have to stop avoiding money and take a hard look at how I make it and how I spend it (ouch!).

And though we know a lot about a lot–intellectually– becoming is the practice of the moment and of making a different thought from the old, well-loved thought we have rubbed clean for years. It is making a different choice in the moment whenever you can. Our thoughts become our feelings which become the actions that shape our lives.

My car is dead in the driveway, my job is probably ending, I owe a lot of money in a lot of places — never-the-less, I am becoming.