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Of bath tubs in the snow, long nights of scotch, and the wonders of taking a breath: My week in VT

Jan. 10th, 2013 | 10:31 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative
music: Azure Ray, "Sleep"

Every year the family takes a vacation up to central VT right after the new year. It is strange and contra-intuitive tradition but one of the best we have. While I love the holiday season, and Christmas is my favorite season of the three high seasons, after all is said and done I need a break. I need to not be planning, baking, cooking, meeting, laughing, greeting, going, seeing, or doing. I just need to be.

So we drive past nowhere and take a left to a cabin at the edge of a pine forest. It's a cabin in all the right ways, not overwhelming but still spacious and with views out almost every window of the Green Mountains. I sat on the sofa for an hour today and watched the sun and clouds play shadow games over foot hills and mountain peaks.

It is restful to be away from the city. Even when I don't pay attention to it, I can still feel the buzz of the city vibrating under my skin, making my brain keep wanting to turn to keep up with the never-ending pace. But out here, in the middle of nowhere, it's just me and the wind whistling past, creaking the beams over my head in the middle of the night and making me cuddle even further down into the flannel sheets.

Part of me loves it out here. I sometimes wonder if I could make it full time outside of the city. There is something in the simplicity, not simplistic that has always drawn me to the outside edges. I know that the hamster wheel does not lead forward and that the most important things in life are not measured by meaningless titles.

One of my favorite things to do here is take a bath. No quick 10 minute city shower here. I turn the hot water way up and sink down into the tub, till my face is parallel with the water, just my eyes and nose above the surface. And I just breathe. Sometimes I stare out the skylight above me that is edged in snow and marvel at how any sky could be that bright blue. I stay submerged for an hour at least, until my skin is so wrinkled that the towel bunches itself in my hands.

It's sometimes the hardest thing to do to be gentle with myself. I know everyone does the comparison game, but still it can be frustrating to feel like I am standing still while everyone else is running around the bend. Sitting here I look back at the past year and I don't see any major goals accomplished. But nothing major has fallen apart. The center has held, despite all the crazy that has slammed against it. I am doing the best I can with what I have been given. I will improve on what I can, but I must count the victories, each and every one, even if no one else sees them.

My brother commented that I seemed to be handling the stress better. And in a weird way I think it is because of this. I have let go of trying to make sense to the outside world. I have let go of the expectations of what my life is supposed to be and I am trying to live the life I have. I sometimes wonder what it's going to feel like when things do calm down, when I don't have to have at least three back up plans every week for all the things that could go wrong. Will I even know what to do with all that extra brain space;)

Right now, I am taking a break from packing up. It's strange to see all our little bags littering the counters in preparation for our early morning departure. Tomorrow I return back to my life with its deadlines and expectations and people who need things from me and people who are supposed to have things ready for me.

I wish I could I blog and respond to y'all more, and maybe I will this year. I miss the conversations. Know that I pretty much read everything that you post. And I hopeful that in a month or two I will have some very positive news to share with you.

And even if those don't come through, it's going to be okay. Out here in VT, I can see that. Life is good if I just stop and look at it every once in a while. I wish you a year full of peace, joy, and love.

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The Last Thing He Wanted

Mar. 8th, 2012 | 02:11 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative
music: Joni Mitchell, "Last Time I Saw Richard"

I just finished reading my first Joan Didion book last night. Yes, I know, it’s taken me a while to get to one of our modern geniuses’ in American literature. But I made it and the book lived up to the hype.

The Last Thing He Wanted is a devastating book. Devastating in the exact way art should be devastating: true, deep, encompassing, open, and overwhelming you with emotion from your own life. And ironically this is done not with what is on the page but where the story leads you. It is as if Didion took fraught real human lives and let just the raw facts hang there, making the reader connect the dots and pull the emotion out of the text. Or that the emotion exploded once the connection was made.

Didion is beyond a talent. The one thing I kept thinking as reading this book was the concept Delaney lays out in the The Jewel Hinged Jaw (so need to finish that book).To paraphrase, a novel is actually one word that is then modified by the 69,999 words that follow it. I literally felt my perception about the story change with each sentence, sometimes each word. I love that feeling.

I won’t lie, most of the time I read fast. And by fast I mean I don’t register every word, especially if the work doesn’t demand it. Sometimes I can skip entire pages and miss out nothing because the story goes exactly where I thought it was going and no new information was conveyed.

(Aside: this frustrates me and my tolerance for it is going down like a Sugar Ray punch. Really writer, why would you waste an entire page with being exactly predictable and just going through the motions? I mean I understand that not everyone is capable of crafting intriguing text on the sentence level, and sometimes a paragraph is needed for a transition. But a whole page? You couldn’t work in a least one other aspect of story besides the point you have been banging about now for the whole chapter? Really?)

But Didion was able to hold me to every page, every paragraph, every sentence, because they all linked into each other so tightly that they could not be separated without losing the integrity of the story. Genius.

I did, however, have one issue with the novel. Actually, it’s an issue that I’ve been having now for a while and not unique to Didion. But I think it’s because everything else was so perfect for me in this novel, that this one issue leapt out. Simply put, why does everything have to be so fucking depressing? Why?

I mean seriously, I get it. Life is full of suffering, and we are imperfect creatures living in a imperfect world, and all these imperfections can rub up against each other and produce pain. But, and this is such a huge but, there are also moments of grace and beauty and happiness in this life. Why do these experiences get marked as not as real or deep, not as universal as broken people breaking even more?

Yes, I agree that treacle is awful. But you want to know what else is awful? Hopelessness. Change is possible, change is always happening and while things are lost, things are also gained, and there is always the possibility that things could get better.

Taking it down another level, I want a work that speaks to the truth of the injury. I don’t want to read something that denies that injuries happen, or if they do that they are just scratches that can be brushed off with a few right words. But I also don’t want stories that teach you that you carry the wounds forever in stasis, like a fly trapped in amber.

I want a story that teaches me how to heal, how to take the misfortunes in my life and through hard, persistent work pull out of them something transfigured and beautiful. I want to know that just because my life isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth living and that I can find some measure of happiness. I need to know that people die, but that people live, and its in that balance that real stories occur.

I need to read that it, I need to breathe that, and I need to write that. It’s the underlying hope that the world is not unremitting darkness. First I have to figure out how to find it.

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