April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
--TS. Eliot, The Wasteland
“(Panic is) rooted in “I know where I’m going to go, but how am I going to get there?”
--Julia Cameron, Walking in This World, The Practical Art of Creativity
A few weeks ago, I put a thank you note in my window-artist neighbor’s door and she made me this incredible gift. Since then, my kite has been the only thing in her right window, floating on its own in a blue cloudy sky above a green patchwork of fields. It’s one of the most life-affirming things that’s ever happened to me, and emblematic of this weird, magical time I’ve been floating through for the past couple of months.
On the best days, I am a kite, soaring and sure I’m being carried to the next right things. A lot of the time, I have a central sense of calm sort of like an inner snow day—a “Well, can’t do much just yet, might as well enjoy.” I go along like that almost all the days, completing pleasant/tedious tasks at the bookstore, working on my memoir and assorted other projects, basking in the glow of the most amazingly game and generous poets on Tuesdays. I’m able to accept invitations I always had to turn down during teaching, and so I’m starting to feel like a better friend and part of the creative world again, coming back to myself more and more each day.
But sometimes, kiteness seems to fail and urgency elbows its way in. Last Sunday at church there was a very April-is-the cruelest-month sermon, reminding us that we’re all going to die but that life is so much more powerful. When I was living in the short springs of Upstate New York, I used to have a yearly mortality panic every time the lilacs bloomed, they were so beautiful and their season was so short. I have to say I haven’t missed those particular panics, but in their own way, they’ve served me very well.
I’ve always had an annoyingly acute sense of the shortness of life, and it’s not altogether helpful when I’m still in the midst of recovery. Part of me wants to jump into the next job, the next mission, to force purpose and meaning (not to mention regular-sized paychecks!) back into my life, but the fact is I still have to be slow, it just takes time.
Anyway, the sermon, combined with reading Cheryl Strayed’s gorgeously sad and cathartic Wild, triggered a flood of grief and urgency. I had to collapse for most of a day, take to bed like I did at the beginning of this breakdown/breakthrough. I dragged myself out of bed and walked through the miracle that is the budding Wissahickon trees, crying like an ungrateful idiot. Sadness just flattens me sometimes and I guess it always will but there are days when I just re-realize that I’m damaged, I’m healing, I’m slow and shy and some days just have to be like Bambi learning ice.
It didn’t take long for work and poetry class to rouse me from my grief attack, and I’ve made plans to visit those Upstate lilacs, maybe fill the car with them. I’ll pile in some family visits with some perfect mortal beauty all at once.
It’s time to quit the bookstore before too long. Last night I dreamed of summer camp and whether or not to get dropped off there, and I applied this afternoon, but there is the melancholy wonder of whether it’s safe to return to teaching. I both miss it and don’t miss it at all. I wonder if I might be meant for a different life, one that is for myself. That idea seems both selfish and true.
During the panics (the ones that come from the bad school, not from the lilacs) I feel like everyone who’s ever laughed at me was right, and is still with me laughing, that the principals and teacher-blaming discipline lady and my bullying class are all still with me and were all right, that I’m nothing, that trying to be something is stupid and futile. All my life I’ve carried those derisive voices within me like a parasite. I’ve found so many outward ways to confirm and reinforce them, to treat myself as though they were what is true.
So I want to protect myself from acting out those fears again, from any other self-annihilating life decisions. I want this to be the time I find and honor my real self, or I’ll keep feeling over and over like I’m going to die, like I’m not real.
Here’s what I know so far: Read a few poems every morning. Work on the memoir when I can. Make art as often as possible. Thank poetry class for being amazing. Do work that doesn’t hurt. Take pictures of flowers. Love cats, family and friends. I don’t think I have any choice but to live as a kite, but I’ll do whatever I can to help the wind.