You haven’t heard from me in a while. What began as minutes turned into days which, as they so often do, turned into weeks and months. It’s been months of no-tee-shirt-underneath-a-bad-wool-sweater-made-by-great-aunt-Erma uncomfortable, too. It’s not as though I haven’t thought about you. Of course I’ve thought of you. You’re all I’ve thought of. I daydream about you at work. I look for you on the street and around every corner. I dream about you and when I wake up, the ghost of those dreams linger. It’s awful. The silence- my silence- bothers me as much as it does you. I’ve wanted to get in touch, wanted desperately to have something to say- some pithy story, some clever joke, some witty anecdote that would lead us down rabbit trails of silly details that no one else thinks of.
Hell, I’d settle for a bad pun if it could make the “and” between you and me smaller.
I’ve avoided you. G-d, I have avoided you. I spend my spare moments cleaning toilets and sweeping the floors and mowing the lawn and doing dishes that I pulled still wet from the drying rack. I’ve learned how to sew buttons on shirts and refinish furniture. I’m trying new recipes and hard-boiling eggs that I won’t ever eat, but might throw to see how far they’d fly. I learned to change the oil in my car. How’s that for avoiding you? I dust, I mop, I floss. I never floss. I collect the branches that fall from the goddamned weeping willow at the slightest provocation, whether a gust of wind, or a bird landing, even the sun daring to shine, and I practice making fires for camping trips that I won’t be going on for at least another month.
It’s occurred to me that I may as well learn how to knit, too. I’m running out of things to keep my hands occupied.
My dog and I were nearly bitten by a very large and very agitated rattlesnake on a hike the other day and I couldn’t conceive of a way to tell you the story. 1st person limited? 3rd omniscient? 2nd! “You are not the sort of person who would be walking across this grassy meadow with your dog and a friend at this time of day…” Should I start the way my grandmother used to start stories? Say “I had to laugh…” and then tell you a story that didn’t make me laugh at all? And isn’t that all very, very sad? Not even a brush with the dangerous and unexpected compelled me enough to say something. The feelings were certainly there. The surprise and overwhelming shock of seeing such a dangerous creature on a trail I’ve walked unsuspectingly hundreds upon hundreds of times. The cotton balls stuffed in my ears so that I could not hear my friend asking what was the matter and what should she do. The heavy, wet blanket panic of watching my dog not see the danger and begin to bound toward it completely unaware. The invisible hands around my throat tightening as the snake rattled again and my mind imagined the randomness of the world lashing out at my best friend and what I would do and how quickly I could get him to the vet and how hollow I would feel should anything have happened to him.
I shouted in my deepest voice for him to sit and, wonderful dog that he is, he heard the agitation in my voice and sat immediately, well out of range of the thing lurking only yards ahead of him. I put up a flat palm and pointed it at him, telling him to stay, and I very slowly moved in a wide circle around the snake and toward my dog who kept his eyes completely focused on me. He didn’t know what was going on, but he knew that he needed to pay attention. I grabbed him lightly behind the collar, my eyes never leaving the spot in the grass where the snake still lay, and I told my friend to make a wide circle on the other side. When we convened, she smiled and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you jump so high before. Or curse so loudly.”
So, I suppose I did have to laugh after all.
For a while, I wondered if we’d become a foregone conclusion. Like so many others who were almost something, who nearly did, who could have been, I was afraid that we had become the stuff of inches. Have we? I watered the garden the other day. I took the red hose- the industrial one, remember?- kinked the end, turned the spigot, and took it around the corner of the house to that garden bed I built a few years ago. The lettuce is already beginning to come up and the onions are doing well. I let the kink of out the end and heard that hollow gurgling sound, but no water came out. I dropped the end into the bed, doubled back and found that it had folded itself near the spigot. The pressure made the hose shudder like a dog about to vomit. An easy flick of my wrist let out the fold and I heard the water rush through the length of it, sighing in relief like a child who’s just held their breath through a long tunnel on a road trip.
Would that we could be like that hose. The blood would drain from our faces and we’d have feeling in our toes again and our chests would heave and we’d say, “What the hell were we doing?” and we would chuckle and the sun on the trees on the other side of that tunnel would be in brighter and more illustrious technicolor, making the green of the leaves voluptuous and the brown bark regal.
It’s all of the other things that have really derailed us, you know. The expectations, spoken and unspoken; the self-doubt and self-consciousness and the little voice in the back of my head that softly whispers, “Are you sure you can say that?“, “Are you sure you can do this?” and “Is it really worth it?”
I spoke with a friend last night- a creative person I admire- and we talked about process and I listened as my friend told me about the work of progress and how elusive creativity really is. That a person can sit down and work all day- whether with a paintbrush or an instrument or in front of a computer screen- and not have anything of much worth be produced at all despite their best and most arduous efforts. Then, seemingly without reason, that swirling sensation comes when you know that you’re on to something. Each line that is drawn seems better and more purposefully pointing toward a larger shape or form; the sentences are constructed and moving like tributaries to rivers to oceans; melodies seem to align themselves into an order that not only sounds pleasant, but begs- urges! compels!- the ears to stand at attention.
As my friend spoke, I could feel that swirling sensation, the blood pulsing like a kick drum in my fingertips. How stupid and foolish I’ve been to let you sit for so long, waiting to hear from me. How many times have I told my students that what matters most about creativity is not the outcome or how much your audience likes what you are doing- what matters most is that you do the work of creativity. What matters is production- good or bad- so that you never stop learning from the things that you produce. What worked about that riff? Why did that word work better in the sentence than the other? Which colors were combined in what quantity to achieve that specific shade?
You haven’t heard from me for a long time, but I’m showing up for work today. I’m going to sit in front of this screen, with all of my feelings of inadequacy and the swath of rejection still pulsing somewhere deep in my gut, and I’m going to slug something out. It may be pages upon pages, it may be a single sentence, but it will be something. That something will lead to bigger somethings and bigger somethings beyond that, and slowly, those feelings of inadequacy will quiet and the pangs of rejection will grow distant and I will remember that I am not writing for comments from readers or adulation or rave reviews or literary fame. I am writing for you.
And for me.