1. Escaping. I got back a few weeks ago from another sojourn at VCCA — I’m on the home stretch of my novel revision, and damn it feels good. It also felt damned good, as it always does, to escape from the demands of everyday life, go to this gorgeous, tranquil place, immerse myself in my work and be in the company of talented, creative, simpatico folks. It always makes me feel more alive to be around other writers and artists.
I don’t know what it was, but I felt more detached than usual from real life on this particular trip. Maybe it was a sense of release after a difficult year, psychically speaking (Trump and co., and the attendant social unrest, has been a constant hum of hopelessness and loss, underlying even my happiest moments), in the midst of a particularly busy stretch of day job. Being untethered from all that, free to enjoy the clamor and the mysterious group-think of starlings in the trees and the sight of bats diving in the dusk and rabbits bounding around like…rabbits, and the mist in the blue ridge mountains out my window in the morning, and reading short stories on lunch breaks in the sun outside my studio and taking solitary walks in the borderline creepy woods and trying to get koi to nip at my fingertips — it was salutary.
Or maybe it was due to the particularly social and stimulating and altogether cool nature of the cohort of other fellows there this time, and the sometimes giddy fun of that. Maybe it was my envy of their freedom — so many of them kidless, either younger or older than me, with so much more time to pursue their work. Maybe it was the sense of reconnection with my pre-family, pre-mortgage, pre-cancer ordeal(s), writing-focused, freewheeling, slightly reckless, globe-trotting self (the ridiculous thrill of just being in airports, alone! Stressless!). I miss that me sometimes. Or maybe it was just the excitement — and fear — of coming close to the end of the first mega phase of this project, nearly five years in the making.
It was all of that. And it was good. But not. A little hypomanic, maybe? Hypomanic is fun, but dangerous. I feared a crash when I came home, but it didn’t come, blessedly. I miss the escape. I miss the freedom. The quiet. But still: rooted reality, the people and life I’ve chosen and that I wouldn’t trade for anything, is its own kind of relief to rejoin.
2. Retreating. I have been tuning out the news more, dipping less frequently into social media in that regard, for the sake of my own psychological and emotional wellbeing. I am frustrated with liberals and conservatives alike, and their refusal (or ill-advised approaches) to try to bridge the divides between people and ideologies in our polyglot of a country. Too many people are tribal, intolerant, intransigent. What’s the point? The Democratic Party’s inability to present a coherent message and vision is driving me apeshit — as a marketing professional and a moderate Democrat. I’m sick of useless, indignant outrage on social media. I’m angry and weary and sickened by gun violence and greed and bigotry and lack of compassion. I think Trump is a sick, stupid man, and every time I hear his voice or read his words I feel affronted.
I don’t think it’s responsible or right to disengage entirely from current events, or the work toward building a more just world — even though that work is really an act of faith, futile on some level. I know this. But I am feeling the need to withdraw from that maelstrom right now. Nurture other parts of myself and my life. I’m sorry, resistance. I’ll be back.
Dangling. Some people are able to unhook their brains and be purely present with meditation or yoga or knitting or running — things like that. But there is only one time, I find, when I am 100% in the moment, no monkey mind or distraction. (OK, two: the other one is jigsaw puzzles, which I rarely do, except on vacations, but should do more.) It’s rock climbing. Gym climbing, specifically. I haven’t made it onto real rocks yet, sadly.
I haven’t written about this before, weirdly — I keep meaning to, apropos of detachment specifically — but for going on three years now, I’ve climbed twice a week, almost every week, at an amazing rock gym in Everett. Mostly top-roping. And I adore it: the mental and physical challenge is addictive, and I’ve got biceps like concrete. When I’m climbing, I’m never distracted. My mind is totally in the moment: How to make it to the next hold, getting the right grip or crimp or angle for mantling, putting my feet in the right place and positioning my body the right way. I’m not thinking about work or groceries or money or mass shootings or anything else. I’m just there. No matter what my mood, I am content when I am up on those walls.
It brings together the body awareness and flexibility I have from years of yoga (and dance, from when I was younger), the cardio fitness I manage to maintain by running a couple of times a week, the agility I’ve honed from hiking, and the competitiveness (with myself) and resolve I’ve always had. Wow, I sounded like a jock just then. I guess I’m kind of a jock when I’m in there. But rock climbing jocks are different from team sport jocks. We’re cerebral and a little geeky. Wiry and independent.
Funny that when I’m dangling from a rope tied tight to a harness, suspended in the air, clinging to a 40-foot wall, relying on the strength of my body, I feel so free from other constraints. (See how I got all poetic there?)
Drinking. I’m sorry; I know this isn’t a good way to cope. But I’ve definitely upped my vino consumption a bit this past year. I don’t drink every day, or to excess, but I appreciate a couple of glasses of sauv. blanc or French rosé way, way more than I have in the past. It’s Trump’s fault.
Immersing. What’s funny about all this, is that I’m actually someone who is mega-engaged, I think, with life, and the world. I feel everything deeply, to a fault sometimes. I love earthly beauty and pleasures — art and music and good food and nature and all the rest. I’ve never been an ascetic or a dreamer suspended a few feet over the ground. The song “Imagine” always bugged me. (I don’t want to imagine no possessions! I like possessions! Books and clothes and family heirlooms and weird random stuff! Roller coasters, dammit!) I’m a nut. I’m hungry. I’m tenacious. I’ll never be satisfied. (Dorky hat tip to Lin Manuel.)
But maybe it’s this very hyper engagement, (combined with the existential weirdness of being over 40?) that is tiring me out and making me want to be more monkish of late.
Note: Some monks drink a lot of wine.
How’s everyone else doing out there?