All the Stuff and the Stillness

Good morning, Mr. Henshaw.

It’s been so long since I’ve written that you probably think I’m dead. It’s not true. I’ve simply been involving myself in a series of busybusy tasks. Some of them are great; others feel treadmilly/mouse wheelly/insert your Sisyphean metaphor here (I like this one). But all of them, funnily enough, take up time. They include but are not limited to:

1. Working at radio station, creating stories and doing other sundry production work

2. Teaching two English Comp courses

3. Running the superfun reading series

And then there’s been new stuff added this fall.

4. Writing a book proposal

5. Walking and dog-parking the dog. You’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it turns out it’s this huge chunk of your every day. I used to run, but LulaDog, for whom a regular walk means “Squirrel Patrol,” takes a run to mean “Crazy Ambulance Squirrel Patrol!” I’ve tried to run with her on more than one occasion, and on more than one occasion she’s successfully yanked me into busy streets—busy streets on whose other sides a squirrel sat quietly under a tree. We don’t run any more.

6. Planning a wedding. I think we’ve made the natural progression: from 1. dreaming of a Superwedding (which, mind you, didn’t involve like, a chocolate fountain or rose petals or horse-drawn carriage rides) to getting the quotes from vendors for said superwedding and freaking out (Well, I freaked out,) to 2. imagining the BareBonesUltraDIY Wedding which entailed Marshall enlisting the help of friends to actually build a tent from a tarp in our backyard—This somehow made me despair—The happiness of our hundred guests would become my sole responsibility if it were at our house; I knew this and envisioned the puddle in the middle of homemade tarp breaking through, drenching everyone and my restaurateur’ing relations shaking their heads in disapproval at Foolish Me and finally, 3. taking the Honeymoon out of our wedding budget and realizing a do-able Actual Wedding. I am pleased and actually excited again. Meanwhile, we’re totally accepting donations to the honeymoon fund.

This is everything I have time for. When I’m done with these things, all I want to do is watch The Wire and eat frozen pizza. I know there’s got to be a better way. I do, after all, miss writing. I miss yoga. I miss having a social life and being creative. I’ve tried to figure out a way to do it differently next semester, but I imagine it’ll only be worse. Let me know if you have any ideas, Henshaw. I’m open to ‘em.

Here’s the other thing that’s true. I am uniquely good at keeping busy to avoid thinking about things that concern me—and to avoid dealing with real issues, and sometimes, especially perversely, to avoid doing things I really want and need to do. It’s my special talent.

In September, my grandmother died. We were really close, Nona and I were. I’ve written about her a lot. I don’t want to lump her death into this numbered list of things About Me as if her life and death were just about me. What I hate is how I’ve let all of the above put reflection about her loss so far back on the stove that I don’t really know how to retrieve it anymore.

At the memorial service a week after she died, her house was crowded with relatives I hadn’t seen in years or decades. A lot of time was dedicated to catching up. Then there was the one relation who cried constantly whom we all comforted and consoled and the other group who turned on football the minute we got back from the church. In general, there wasn’t much room for reflection.

Then, over Thanksgiving, Marshall and I drove up to her house to collect a few pieces of furniture for my sisters and me. I was really counting on this to mean something emotionally, but it mostly felt like stress because of some family miscommunications and because the dust in her house provoked a three-day allergy freak-out in Marshall. I tried to stand in every room and feel something, but with no one to talk about Nona with who really knew her, the numbness remained. Underneath it lurked a growing panic, a sense that I was missing out on something crucial and fleeting.

I wanted a poignant moment of catharsis that didn’t come. Nona’s ashes weren’t even present at the memorial service, but I don’t know if it would have been better if they had been. Still, some part of me wanted and still wants a poignant, stabbing moment to drive it all home: She’s gone. I feel like I understand better now, why some people get memorial tattoos, why Victorian ladies wore that scratchy crape or painstakingly crafted jewelry out of their loved ones’ hair. It’s not even the finished products—that many among us would call morbid—that I’m talking about, it’s that these tasks are tough. They make grieving tough, and I want toughness. I don’t want life just to go on so smoothly.

I loved her and had such great times with her when she was in good health. I fretted so over her decline, so surely, there must be some equivalent actions and feelings to balance out the scales in these months when she’s freshly gone. There cannot be just this emotional absence.

Someone told me the other day that the sense I mention above—that I was missing out on something crucial and fleeting—is bullshit. We carry the dead with us for the rest of our lives, she says. The tough part that you have to get ahold of is just that life does go on. She has conversations in her mind with her late mother even now. It’s never over, she says, and that’s okay. This is what I have to believe, I guess. It has to be okay because it’s all there is.

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