When I stopped fighting the snakes with my freeze and my flight, they taught me. This isn’t a metaphor. I mean actual snakes.
When I didn’t prune the bushes, the birds came. Also not a metaphor.
Let what is coming come.
This thing of middle age, of being in the middle, is a prism that splits all thought and emotion into facets I couldn’t see until I shone light through it. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a metaphor because I was a poor student.
And I’m in the hamster bubble filled with the miasma of my buried middle school trauma and aging parents and puritanical shame and increasing hunger and I bounce up against you in the grocery store or in a virtual space (it’s virtually a space!) and you’re in your bubble and we’re both too polite to mention we’re floating around in our miasma and whatever assorted fluids we’ve accumulated over this life.
I would very much like to know who first called middle age a sandwich. Sandwiches are delightful. They’re straightforward: Put together a few things you like to eat, wrap some sort of edible container around them, experience satisfaction.
Middle age is no sandwich. Middle age is sedimentary rock cooked in the furnace of time and weather and motion. The fore generation is metamorphic, the core and foundation. The aft generation is igneous, lava newly birthed and hardening around my edges. And I can’t be certain — in part because I’m generally uncomfortable with certainty and in part because as noted before I was (am) a poor student and got this passing understanding of geology from a Science-for-Kids website — but it’s my understanding that each stratum evolves through the phases, propelled by other strata and (perhaps?) gravity (which, in the case of this metaphor if that’s what it is, might be time?). The metamorphic will become igneous and the igneous will shift to the sedimentary and that which was sedimentary will be compacted into the metamorphic and I believe that compacting begins with cleaning and sorting your parents’ belongings, sitting in a water-damaged basement deciding which of your grandmother’s typing certificates and grandfather’s letters to his postal workers’ union rep and mother’s letters home from college and father’s resumes from the ‘70s and your own flaking and musty preschool art and clear-eyed high school papers on world peace you will keep for your child to eventually weed through and which will be tossed into a landfill where they will enter another unending cycle of evolution.
Let what is coming come. Meet it when it arrives. Wave as it pulls away. And repeat.
That the mass was circumscribed was a tentative positive. That the sun was circumscribed was a looming negative. A day in the balance between cancer and wildfires.
“Tongue-tied and twisted just an Earth-bound misfit, I.”
And I’m meditating and yoging and walking all the steps and using too much plastic no matter how I try and mindlessly tearing leaves from stems as we hike the preserves. And, even in unemployment, there is not enough time to meditate and yoga and walk the steps and cook healthy food from scratch and arrange my life to be free of plastics and be mindful enough to never tear leaves from stems and keep the house clean and play the instruments and do the writing and read books and sleep and be profoundly present to every person (human or otherwise) I encounter. Or maybe there is enough time but there is a leak in the time container and it steals away in drips and trickles (and episodes of Antiques Roadshow).
That I’m feeling more divorced from reality initially alarmed me but now seems like the only reasonable path. We can’t alter a context we can’t see outside of. Anything other than the present is pain. And sometimes the present is pain. Everything passes through the present and changes, even pain. Change comes in drips and trickles and oxygen molecules and oceans, and pain doesn’t stand a chance against oceans.
Sometimes anxiety dreams come in the form of your partner of 25 years leaving you for no other articulated reason than “It’s time” as you sob “I’m not ready” while your boss from 20 years ago looks on from the hearth of a glowing fireplace in benign curiosity and sometimes anxiety dreams come in the form of you wearing a floaty ball gown (with pockets!) that does the spin lift better than any dress you’ve ever worn and has a jeweled broach in the design of a fried egg while you run all over a warehouse with your old friend so she can help you find a dozen eggs so you can be Egg Queen for the costume parade and sometimes both of those dreams come in the same night while an electrical storm is happening so you get to wake up and read about the crumbling of the empire intermittently while light bursts and crackles outside and your immobile partner snores and your dogs tremble and burrow deeper into your limbs over and over and over and over and over again.
It is the time of the goldenrod and soon will come the pokeweed. I feed the last caterpillar of our season as the rest are in chrysalides or have launched. We go to the woods to offset fear and dread, to take into our eyes and noses and ears as much life as we can before the light wanes. We have had to grow through these six months, but that was made easier by the world greening and blooming around us. Now we begin to smell the sweet rot of decay on the trails and life yellows to brown out. We will need to make our own light, increasingly, in coming months, to burn the brush.
And then these thistles in transition remind me of cotton and I’m a goner.
Because every time I think of the fact that there’s a Senator whose name is actually Cotton who is working to be sure that The 1619 Project — US history that centers the legacy of the enslaved and their descendants — is not taught in schools that leads me down the path to the fact that the POTUS is a guy whose name is actually Trump whose entire platform is winning and domination and that lends a hair too much credence to the theory that we’re truly just living in a simulation and I can’t believe a simulation this advanced couldn’t hire better writers. Cotton? Trump? Hack shit.
I have started listening to 1619. I put it off for a year because
I know White supremacy is real.
I know White supremacy was and remains brutal.
I know it pervades every part of our society.
I know individuals participate passively by claiming innocence.
I know I participate both passively and actively. (Let me count the ways.)
I know there are parts that are mine to fix and parts that are not mine.
I know, I know, I know.
Knowing is its own goal, the trap. When we think we know something, we feel we can set it aside. Whatever is set aside we have neither impetus nor duty to dismantle. And that’s when stopping at knowing creates an unbearable stasis of complicity.
When I try to think I know White supremacy, when I try to think I can draw its reach and its edges, when I try to define my part in it, it becomes an ever shrinking web around me. The more I struggle to understand, to learn, to grow, the more enmeshed I feel. And then on a walk I’m stopped by the radiance of the goldenrod in the golden hour and I notice the thistles are turning and I think of cotton and Cotton and thistles are brambly and the intractable grip is like being caught in the brambles and the fight to get out pulls us deeper and what does that remind me of? What analogy from my childhood perfectly describes that feeling? And it comes back to me that it’s the tar baby in the briar patch and BOOM: The hand of the programmer. We don’t know anything. We were made this way, and the only way to unmake is to not know.
I need to not know so that I will be open to learning. I need to not know so that I can build my awareness and compassion. I need to let not knowing radicalize me and break me of the hand of the programmer, break me of supremacy. I need to not know so that there is somewhere to grow.