The house didn’t get cleaned because I was going after the anxiety, playing a lot of solitaire, re-writing the list, looking ahead at the calendar, considering my next move, wondering if I’ll need hiking boots and a rain coat for New Mexico, wondering what it will be like to sit on the poop bucket in the middle of the sage brush on Mark’s property, letting the wind come through me, letting it all go.
The house didn’t get cleaned because when you repeat a habit it becomes a pattern, which is why I’ve started noticing the comfort as well as the whisper of worry when I peel back the bed covers at night and slip in on my own. How after a pandemic and a true break from the world of men, it’s possible you can forget what it’s like to share a bed with someone, a bed that suddenly looks too small to share with anyone except a child, or my mother or a friend – someone who won’t expect anything but simple comfort.
How did I used to do relationships? What was that dance move like? Is the life of contorting myself over?
The house didn’t get cleaned because I’m on the move and have needed to keep the list short: pens, paper, poetry, and to write things down like, find the notebooks, don’t forget to collect driftwood at the beach for the art project, make some notes for that class of post menopausal ladies in the UK, run by a woman named Pip* – and which was really wonderful because even though I didn’t know any of them, just the thought that I might be sitting with my own kind, women who were:
Fairly sleepless, who has a history of feeling overwhelmed, but had also begun to let it all go with a healthy wallop of fuck it. Middle-aged women who confronted their aging, lined faces in the mirror each morning, and who might find relief in my writing instruction to write as poorly as possible and let your bellies hang – like, finally – an invitation to not reach for the stars, but to land where we are, on our asses, in our pajamas in the middle of a perfectly fine day and say yes to what’s coming.
As I am beginning to do.
The house didn’t get cleaned because I was curious about the dream I had before the big Zoom class last week, how in the dream I was about to teach in some packed lecture hall, but my voice couldn’t be heard above the beautiful music being piped into the hall. In the dream I left the podium to locate the rickety turn table, found a leaf stuck in the needle as it played, and even a bird standing on top of the turn table watching the record go round. I lifted the needle and went back to the hall even though there were only minutes left before the talk was over, and so I said a few things, and then goodbye, hoping they got something from this small, interrupted offering.
This is just what Dan, the tennis coach had said to me last month, “do less,” he instructed, because I was making my forehand swing so much more complicated than it needed to be.
Do less, he recommended.
The house isn’t clean because I’m doing less, and not jamming my days. Instead I’ve made a nest here on the couch with poems and paper and books — some solitaire – and definitely music – so much good music – occasionally looking up to watch the squirrels in my yard rooting around my plants, reminding me to drop a few of those garlic balls by the roots, which repel, but don’t kill.
I don’t want to kill anything – my work, my friendships, my relationship with my grown children – who are struggling in the way everyone struggles in their 20’s – and how it takes everything for me not to tell them what to do, or to do it for them – as if I could. I was a mess in my 20’s, and it’s amazing I’m alive with all the dangerous shenanigans I got into. Now it’s me keeping my mouth shut and trusting the timing of things.
Especially as I follow my 86-year-old mother, Suzy, down the sandy path to the beach, and that part of the walk where she needs to take my hand because there’s a tiny incline that would have been nothing for her two years ago, but which now warrants my support, even though she tells me when she’s alone she gets on her ass and crab crawls down the hill, which I admire. The gal isn’t afraid to get dirty, or squat to pee, which she did at the farmer’s market up the mountain last week. “Did you find a bathroom?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “but I found a tree.” She loves to remind me that she’s only 23 years older than me. “Yes,” I say, “I know,” as I watch her plant her feet solidly on the beach path because one small stone could take her down.
The house didn’t get cleaned because I’m haunted by that movie with Julie Christie called Away From Her, where Julie Christie is cleaning up the kitchen and chatting away to her husband, as she puts the frying pan in the freezer because she has early dementia and that’s where she thinks it goes. I can still see the smile on her husband’s face as he watches her. He’s concerned, he knows, but he doesn’t want her to be concerned, which is why, when I was looking for the cardamon powder today, I looked in the refrigerator, and when I couldn’t find my wallet I looked in the freezer.
The house didn’t get cleaned because there are so many things to let go of:
The inadequate goodbye to my father, and how I was still performing for him when he died.
The worry for my children that is none of my business
Whoever I think I am in the world. Let go of that.
And getting a good night’s sleep.
And that curious dream; the bird, the leaf, the music.
:: In Wild Writing, we use poetry to turn us around, to pull us off our axis, so that our own stories might do-si-do with the magic of the poem and free us up as we write. This piece was inspired by a line from Linda Graham’s poem, Take All The Time You Need.
Listen to Laurie read the piece aloud:
** Middle Years Monday – a wonderful group of post-menopausal gals in the UK.