Contemplate the patience it takes to birth a being
The first time I heard Nina Simone sing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” I had just returned to work after becoming a new mother. I felt as scooped out as a gourd and was still deeply bruised by the process. Everything fragile and good seemed to hinge on keeping this new flame lit as it flickered through a myriad of impossible variations. None of my friends had babies yet and I could sense them falling slowly away. I was lonesome and in love and sleep deprived and foreign to myself. I sat at the compound with Lesley McKinley and Marye and Katie came by. For hours we listened to music and talked and took turns dandling my daughter. I had one glass of wine and then another. That persistently frightened self within myself began to leave off its chatter. I left and drove down Indian School. It was warm but overcast, and large, sloppy drops of rain fell on my windshield. Nina Simone’s faraway voice, with its spread out stillness and its subtle snags of sorrow, sang “who knows where the time goes” and then repeated it because it matters that much. At the light, on my right, a very pregnant woman was struggling to wrangle a toddler under the bus shelter. She was young and lovely and also alone. We are accountable to every single thing we create and the burden of this fact may very well be our undoing. I began to wonder as I watched her. And then Nina hit a note with such shimmering determination I thought the whole street had leaned in to listen.
I open up my heart chakra but insist on referring to it as my “Chakra Kahn”
“The fourth center, the cardiac, at the heart, is of a glowing golden colour, and each of its quadrants is divided in three parts, which gives it twelve undulations, because its primary force makes for it twelve spokes.”
A few weeks ago, as I labored over a decision it turned out I needn’t have, my friend Steve said, “It sounds to me like you haven’t made a big mistake in a while. Maybe you’re just due.” Along with the Jeanette Winterson quote “What we risk reveals what we value” and a memory of my friend Marni looking back at me on her bicycle and declaring, “I’m going to go over this curb with no hands and I’m pretty sure it’s going to hurt,” I used Steve’s advice to construct a dubious ladder out of my wintry pit and began to look forward to getting wrecked by a thing in pursuit of a moment of joy.
Even as my own heart stuttered forward Marye Margaret’s was being crushed to death beneath the weight of an affair that had run its course. She was ravaged and frenetic, caught in that familiar obsessive loop of picking apart each moment to search for clues. It was painful to watch. We spent hours talking about the trajectory of attraction and its inherent sorrows when we should have been ordering books and building spreadsheets. I did a little half-assed yoga which inevitably devolved into just laying there, sighing. Oh, lucky me! Wasn’t the universe providing me with a cautionary tale? I wasn’t going to let what happened to Marye happen to me. Then again, isn’t the pursuit of happiness kind of our last great political “fuck you” in a culture cobbled together by broken systems and unkind faiths and peppered with violence? It’s my civic duty, then, to keep trying. What to do, what to do? Marye started running again. I took long, meandering walks. She threw herself into surfing. I grew too restless to read. We both jettisoned our winter weight. But the only conclusion I arrived at is that choosing not to feel sorrow will never be the equivalent of choosing to feel joy. Choosing not to feel sorrow is tidy with clean lines. It’s an absence of a thing. The desire to feel joy is a messier matter altogether. And once I’d allowed it to move down from the back of my brain, where I’d stowed it as a matter of self-preservation, and into my torso, where it promptly overthrew the government of reason, I couldn’t gather it back up anyhow. It was a slick little thing with liquidy tendrils and no other goal but to realize its full potential. And I wanted it to because I loved it. I loved it the way I love every other monster I’ve given birth to.
In a moment of daughterly optimism I told my mother an abridged version of all this over the telephone. After one of her characteristically long pauses I cautiously added, “I suppose it would just be better if I kept my heart in a box,” to which she responded, “I think that all the time. Believe me.” And I did believe her, my poor mother who’s mourned her lost love for nearly 20 years. But even as we spoke this old coot, who must have been at least seventy, roller skated past my window at a breakneck speed. Clad in a bright orange hunting vest to protect himself from oncoming traffic, he looked ridiculous. Just completely insane. But he also looked deeply happy. I decided right then, if what we keep when we come out on the other side of this all wrung out and raggedy are anecdotes and memories then I’ll have the crash, please. With a hearty, hearty side of burn.