Something terrible happened to me recently: I forgot what I had ever loved about writing. I’d had to wrap my heart in gauze and I forgot to cut away holes so it could breath. I had a dark night of the soul; I had to ask myself, Is this something you can truly let go? My body responded with a kind of shock. The answer that came was no.
So I’ve been gentle with myself, and tapping into my sense of curiosity. What is bringing me back? (so slowly, but like awakening from a dream):
poetry. images of dark things. yoga.
The other day I had one of those moments where I had to keep pulling things from the shelves. Hamlet! That moon book! Plath! The tarot deck! The perfume Adrienne got me that smells like a fairy tale! I love when that happens. When all of the sudden we are reminded everything is connected by a web of poetry and art. I place little jewels on each strand and write things into notebooks that I will maybe later incorporate into a novel.
I am moving slowly these days. Savoring.
In college, I had an assignment once to partition off a square of earth and spend an hour peering into it. I was given a ruler, some pin-sized stakes, and a bit of string. I don’t remember the dimensions, but the space was about the size of my two hands, stacked thumb to pinkie with both hands showing. What a luxurious gift to be given. I was eighteen years old.
I hadn’t been an imaginative kid. I didn’t build fairy houses or have tea parties with my stuffed animals. I stayed indoors, reading books, writing lists into notepads. I was terrified of spiders and other bugs, and I didn’t like playing outside. Anyone who knows me now would probably be surprised to hear this, as nature is my temple; I have for many years worshiped Grandmother Spider and have even come to a place of peace with ticks and tomato hornworms, but in those days, there was a fear I can’t explain.
So my childhood memories aren’t of lounging on the grass, watching snails and birds. They aren’t of me sitting and letting my mind fill with ideas, as if in a meditative state. When I was sitting, I was reading, or I was in class, or I was making a list.
Now I was being offered this quiet, delicate time. No distractions—this was in the day before cell phones and iPods. It was me, my partitioned piece of earth, and a notebook, in which I had written: Lab #4.
In high school I had a similar assignment, I realize now. I was taking Chemistry in summer school as the result of having had irreconcilable differences with my sophomore year Chem teacher and dropping his class halfway through. Summer school happened to be pretty fun—I met some great kids from neighboring schools and the teacher was interesting, captivating, and, unlike her predecessor, not a racist. The first day, she gave us an optional extra credit homework assignment: watch a candle burn. So we were to light the candle and observe it for fifteen minutes and take notes on what we saw.
I remember writing about the flame: how it went from orange to purple, and the way the wax pooled and dripped…
And now I am reminded of another college assignment…
I don’t actually remember the name of the class, but I remember the teacher. She was smart, a feminist, and she liked to lead conversations regarding racial stereotypes in advertising and popular culture. One day she brought a bag of Hershey’s kisses to class. The assignment, essentially, was to learn how to slow the fuck down. We were each given a chocolate, and we spent a good ten minutes examining it, still in its wrapper. Then we were to smell it. Then unwrap it. Then smell again. Probably a half hour passed before we were invited to put the chocolate on our tongue. We were being asked to experience the chocolate. And if you could spend so much time on a Hershey’s kiss, imaging how much time you could spend on a walk around the block, or observing the weather?
I am grateful to these teachers, to their assignments. I am grateful because I learned that the mind does not always have to be racing, rabid monkey to the next thing. Sometimes the body needs something else. A book of poems. A square of earth. A candle, lit, in the dark.