Some author quoted or misquoted on the internet claimed that no true writer needs to be told to write. This makes me feel like crap.
I would like to say that I have been very busy, that my kids keep me running, that my other work overwhelms me, but there are no excuses. I have not put the words to the page, I have not written. It is not writer’s block, it is a drought, a writer’s desert, and I found myself on the fringe of it. Then I sat at the keyboard and noted that I am sick of myself and sick of this age, and with that I wandered from the fringe of the desert to its center, my body becoming like sand.
I’ve thought often of Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer:”
When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
I want to sit in front of my window. I want to watch the light shift across my yard until the horizon fills with color, silhouetting the trees. I want to wonder at the moon and not google anything about it at all.
I treated the coming winter like I was ocean-bound. Obligations, in these times, feel like stones in the hems of my clothing. I gather so many, and then someone else comes along and needs something. I think, I can’t. I’ll sink. I want to run, or rip out the hems, for fear of drowning.
That’s why I asked someone else to manage the details of my writer’s group. It was a preemptive move; I planned to be absent; I was sharing the weight before the waves broke.
So how was it that I found myself standing before them, unshowered? I confessed. I told them the truth: I need drops of mercy in the form of assignments, assignments in the form of emails, creating an obligation.
What is it about obligation, that it can have the power to both oppress and free us? Maybe it isn’t obligation, maybe that’s not the right word. All I know is that I’m not in the ocean. I’m in the desert, and I need to find water.
I know how I found myself at that meeting. A desert wanderer knows that an area with life can give life.
I am blessed with friends. If you met them, you would marvel. One loves football and loves to make her house a beautiful place. When the call comes to hang out with her and learn how to make pretty things, I say yes. I’ve never dreamed of doing this, but in this dry place I have to say yes, I have to embarrass myself. It is time to take that dreaded first step and try something new, be the fool.
The pretty things will be edible. Cakes. We will take classes and decorate cakes. It comes easily to her, mostly, but I stumble along in a cloud of powdered sugar.
She may feel bad for me, but I don’t. I’m happy to do something hard. It’s satisfying to make food, yet food is temporary. A cake will not be my legacy.
It’s good to remember what it’s like to be a learner. I worry about the narrowness of our current culture, the way the internet tries to present me with more, more, more of what I seem to be interested in knowing. It absorbs the bit of me it knows and calculates, offering me days of shoes and sports scores and theatre ads. I will become a micro-market instead of a person, eyes trained by algorithms and SEO, unable to see past what I know.
Our class makes flowers. Roses, lilies, violets, apple blossoms, daffodils, carnations, poppies, daisies formed of buttercream, royal icing, fondant, gum paste. I’m not always pleased with my work. The teacher says no flower is perfect, not in the way you’re thinking.
The assignments come. How did I meet my husband? Have I ever written a haibun? Try it. What do I think about this video game theme song? Write a setting that suits the song “Hurt” as performed by Johnny Cash.
From dry ground, shoots of green. Words.
It is better to be in a house of mourning than a house of mirth, the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes. I attend a funeral honoring a man I’ve never met. It is Saturday, the day before Easter.
He lived to be 93 years old, the grandfather of another dear friend. This friend has relationships with her parents and grandparents and sister and extended family that spill over onto all of us. She invests. Because of her, because through her I have learned what love of family and friends looks like, I go to the service.
They tell stories of his good humor and his quiet faith. I learn he was in the Navy during World War II. Underneath the surface of his card playing and travel and love for his family, underneath this ordinary life, he had been a part of bigger things.
We stand and watch the men from the VFW hall fire into the afternoon air. Someone plays Taps. A flag is lifted from the casket, folded, and presented. It gets me every time.
Obligation, I realize, is the wrong word. Relationships don’t have to be like that, work doesn’t have to be like that, as if they’re burdens. Being part of the whole, contributing, sacrificing, grasping hope of a future full of people and promise, these are the things I’ve forgotten.
I have two assignments yet to fulfill. One will be about my daughter and an imagined holiday. For the other, I will send this, this story written from an oasis in the desert, the air moist and starlit, the sand quickened. He asked me to write about endings.