Just the Thicket

A zero-to-sixty obsession with Katherine Angel this past week, having never encountered her work before. Just finished Unmastered and a cursory Google reveals that of course it was Olivia Laing who reviewed it in The Guardian when it came out, referring to it as “a giddily joyful book, thicketed with exclamation marks.”

Thicketed!!

I love her. I love that they are peers. I love this game of finding out that people I admire know other people I admire. (See also: endnotes in Unmastered referencing Hélène Cixous.)

This is probably the sign I’ve been waiting for, wondering what book to take when I flee to an island with no internet or cell reception next week. I’ve had Laing’s Everybody, A Book About Freedom sitting on my shelf since it came out, but for some ungodly reason haven’t cracked it. Everything else on my list is a library eBook accessible only via an iPad app and it feels deeply wrong to be reading on an iPad in the wilderness. BRING ME PAPER.

Monday

Surprise outcome after yesterday’s mope: I have rather abruptly returned to being a person who says she’ll do things and then feels capable of doing them???

I’m not saying nature is healing and Portland Lucy has reestablished herself, but the ambient back-to-school energy I’ve been craving is certainly doing something.

This is what it takes:

  • The feeling, however trivial, of control (over my movements, my schedule, my food intake, my sleep)
  • Microscopic movement in the direction of something that’s been scaring me—I’m talking truly microscopic, like moving a pencil five inches closer to a notepad and then calling it a day
  • Letting the dog see the rabbit
  • Securing caregiving help during the week
  • Moving piles of mulch from one end of the property to the other in a wheelbarrow, raking them over the parched earth, watching the ur-heap on the concrete shrink bit by bit
  • Leaving the house at least once every day
  • Asking for help, accepting meals from friends, letting them lighten the logistical load
  • Starting the process of buying a friend’s old car so I can have my own reliable transportation
  • Undergoing a healthy dose of heartbreak
  • Getting in the sea
  • Allowing myself to fuck around in the afternoons because the fact is I feel lethargic and dismal every day after lunch, so if I’ve done something early enough it’s not a hardship to watch Ted Lasso or read a book or stare aimlessly into space
  • Making diary comics again

It’s the shift when weeks of broken promises to myself stop feeling like impenetrable, sticky guilt and instead alchemize into rocket fuel. Suddenly everything is happening and the urge is to ride the wave, tackle it all in one fell swoop, but my most important job is actually to do less. Rest must be just as much a part of this as consistency. The hardest discipline.

I feel so much relief in my body.

Sunday

Everything feels foreshortened today. Hands, legs, heart, head too close to the camera, grotesque. Nothing where it should be, every line misplaced. The disquiet of thinking “That can’t possibly be right,” only to line up the landmarks and learn (too late) that it is.

…After These Messages

I’ve become a person who says I’m going to do things and then completely fails to do them and it feels so intolerable to my sense of self.

In my support group for young caregivers we talk about the emergence of new selves from this season of our lives. How they’re unfolding in real time. How we haven’t fully met them yet, or learned what they really care about. What they’re capable of.

Past Lucy—or Portland Lucy, as I’ve been thinking of her—excelled at Doing Things, but Present Lucy isn’t up to the job. Past Lucy still says “Thanks so much for thinking of me. This sounds like a great project! I’ll get you those initial sketches by next Friday,” while Present Lucy says “Have I already taken his blood pressure this morning? How long has it been since he ate? Will I be able to sleep in my own bed tonight or are his legs still too weak to go up the stairs to his room? He needs a bath today. When did I last cut his nails? Is that the alert system going off? Oh he just got out of bed. The nurse is coming at 1pm. The phone’s ringing—oh shit it’s the lawyer. I was supposed to sign that engagement letter. What did we talk about at the appointment? I can’t remember. It’s already been a week. How long has it been since I ate? I need to change his Depends. Time to take the blood pressure again. The nurse said he shouldn’t sleep too much during the day, but the physical therapist said to be careful not to overdo it on the exertion. Should he be exercising right now? Should he be asleep right now? What’s this check I just found in my desk? Agh, there’s the package I told her I’d mail before the weekend. Last weekend? What day is it? I need to do laundry…”

(and on, and on, and on)

The friend I’ve been doing coaching work with looks at me sternly from our Zoom window. “You need to let go of the idea that you can work in an environment where you’re constantly being interrupted by a medical alert system.”

Okay, so I have to leave. Go to the studio. I’m lucky—so lucky—to have a studio. I just need to get there. To get there I need to have slept enough to get up early enough to go before he wakes up. To get there I need to get the ingredients to make the quiche to bring the food so I can stay long enough to work. To get there I need to get gas in the car to drive across town to be there on time. To get there I need to have enough executive function to put all the pieces in place, and we already know how well that’s going.

“I hope your dad’s doing better after his stint in the hospital!”

I parrot back platitudes, but I don’t know what they really mean. He’s recovering from three surgeries and adjusting to new medications and succumbing to mortality all at once.

He went in unwell and for a moment I entertained the fantasy that he’d come out better. Not cured, just improved on some level. And maybe he is. Maybe it’s hard to see beyond the fatigue and the confusion to the circulatory system beneath. The miscalibrated meds a mask for actual health improvement. But it doesn’t feel like he got better. It feels like he’s just getting worse, and we’re over here pushing so hard to try and stave off something inevitable.

Portland Lucy will be back after these messages.

(But will she?)

(And if not, who’s coming in her stead?)

Coach

I’m taking advantage of a chance to work with a new acquaintance who’s training to be a coach. I’ve never had a coach before! The idea of having someone—ANYONE—to look out for me is really appealing right now!!

But also: I’m suspicious of why I’m doing this.

Some things I know:

  • The way I was working pre-Pandemic brought me a degree of financial stability, novelty, recognition, and stimulation that was deeply pleasing to me
  • The way I was working pre-Pandemic spread me thin, encouraged me to keep playing the hits, caught me in a web of social media addiction that didn’t make me happy, took me away from developing deeper and more intimate relationships with the people closest to me
  • I have a big fat A+ Student complex and a Perfectionist streak a mile wide
  • I have at least five personal projects that all feel like they’re languishing at 89% completion and if I could just get them finished everything would change
  • I have a knack for translating complex internal experiences into stories that speak to people
  • I feel pressure to translate every complex internal experience I have into stories that speak to people
  • Making work that connects me with other people nourishes my soul
  • I used to believe that by pulling off impossible deadlines I was somehow training to cheat death
  • My life as a caregiver (and co-parent-habitator) is so different from any other life I’ve lived before
  • I live in a society that systematically devalues the kind of labor I’m spending the majority of my time doing right now
  • I live in a society that systematically valorizes the kind of career I was building before I transitioned to this season
  • Doing more will not ultimately protect me from the grief of slowly and inevitably losing my dad

I’m sniffing around the idea that I might be using a coach as a taskmaster who will “get me back on track” and help me recapture the cadence of my pre-caregiving life. Do I really want that? Or is it just my best guess at what will give me the good brain drugs, and I’m so hungry for something that feels better than the inevitable decline I live with every day that I’m scrabbling for it with everything I’ve got?

Zip Books

Stumbled onto this page on my local library system’s website while looking for a way to request a graphic memoir about care homes and learned about something magical: ZIP BOOKS.

It does my heart good when I yell about library stuff on Twitter and lots of people share the tweet. The Internet being hot for libraries gives me faith in society. Although it’s also rough that the library’s website is so labyrinthine that I had to stumble onto this program by accident. I wish every library had a website as functional and fancy as a startup meditation app.

(I really liked The Library Book by Susan Orlean.)

Haven’t been blogging because my brain is really excited about thinking in images right now and also I can’t seem to muster the follow-through, so this is one of those “done is better than perfect” posts.

Two EXTREMELY Different Phone Lines

Since launching The Right Number in 2020, I’ve become more and more aware of the ways people are using phone lines in creative projects. There’s services like Dialup, where you can connect to strangers for live conversation, and SARK’s Inspiration Line (a formative one for me), but there are two new ones that I caught this week and needed to put next to each other:

A photo of a hand holding a slip of paper torn from a sign with many such slips on the bottom. It's blurry in the background, but says There are things missing in us all. This isn't one of ’em, but maybe it has the shape of ’em. Call 503-928-7008.

My friend Anis, who happens to be the current Poet Laureate of Oregon, is running a phone line this month where you can dial every day to hear a different poet read you one of their poems. It’s lovely.

For poetry: 503-928-7008

A black and white image of a hand making the "call me" sign with pinkie and thumb extended, beside a mouth with its tongue out. The text above reads bureau of telephone fornication

My friend Shing, who happens to be A MENACE (and brilliant creator of the absurd), just launched an existential horror phone sex hotline. You will definitely not be speaking to any live humans if you call, but you will probably shudder and then laugh and then shudder again. Make sure you Press 8 for aftercare!

For horrible bureaucratic phone sex: 760-993-5828