Our neighbor of 31 years died in February, followed by my godfather in March. They each meant very different things to me, but both occupied an archetypal permanence that’s hard to reconcile with death. And all grief is linked, isn’t it? This thread pulls on that one and so on and so on until the tapestry unravels and you’re left holding a mess of snotty string.
The last two weeks of my wall calendar are utterly blank. I’ve learned to read these gaps in my paper trail as markers of total emotional exhaustion (although sometimes they correlate with the thrill of a new relationship). In this case, I know the data is missing because I’ve been too tired to track whether I wore my mouth guard, too forgetful to know if I attended a Zoom meeting, too frazzled to write Morning Pages. Too much. Too much.
Last night I finally turned my phone all the way off and threw it behind the bookshelf. I buried my laptop in the couch cushions. I hid my iPad in the closet. I hucked all this technology out of my room because I was drowning in it, trying to get away from everything.
Instead, today, I walked. Not for long, but enough to remember what my legs are for. Enough to see how everything has changed from storm after storm of rich rainwater filtering into the hillsides since January. You can stick a finger in the earth and water pours out. Every divot in the trail is a spring.
Last year I took a photo in this spot on April 11th. Happened to end up here again today while I was talking on the phone with Nia and realized I should do the same thing again. I lay in the grass under the valley oak at the bottom of the hill, stroked the velvety neon leaves unfurling at the end of every twig and branch, and thought about coming here in 5th grade after endless games of Predator/Prey in the groves further up the Saddle.
If the grass is still this green in April I’ll be very surprised, but I’ll take a photo that day and see. We had early rain this year—a rich rush of green. Maybe it’ll hold on. I’m still becoming acquainted with being here for a full year’s cycle.
I’m an inveterate thrower of clothes on the ground at the end of a long day. Always have been. If I’ve gotten sweaty or messy enough to huck them straight into the hamper, great, I can do that. But the truth is I usually wear things more than once before putting them in the wash, and so I throw them on the ground instead.
All days have felt like long days lately. This means I find myself wading through more and more mess as the weeks drag on, until I have to dig myself out over the weekend and return to some form of sanity.
Living in Portland it used to be easier. Or rather, I had a lot more floor space to fill up before things became untenable. But now I’ve moved my expansive Portland life back into to my childhood bedroom and there is very little wiggle room in either floor space or desk space. Things devolve from “slightly untidy” to “Death Star Trash Compactor” in very short order.
A couple weeks ago, when I found myself preparing to cast yet another t-shirt onto the ground in the desperate rush to get flat, I stopped. For no apparent reason, I thought about how putting the shirt away would be a kindness to Future Lucy. A gift.
I found myself thinking: “I want to care for this person.”
I wonder if this has something to do with becoming a caregiver for my dad. So many nights I find myself exhausted and ready to be unconscious, but I rally to do physical therapy with him, or make his smoothie for the following morning, because I love him and want him to be healthy and cared for, and also because he isn’t able to do those things for himself.
There’s a certain amount of distance I need in order to extend compassion to myself. Future Lucy isn’t here. She’s hanging around tomorrow morning, readying herself to face the day. I want to make it easier for her.
So I’ve started putting shirts away—although not without a certain degree of attitude. Usually I am muttering to myself, but I’m muttering about how this is a gift, and that it’s one I want to give because I love the version of me who’ll show up and do all of this all over again tomorrow.
A good day to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: shifting monthly donations from Portland-area organizations to ones in my hometown. The Pandemic has had me thinking a lot about the movement of capital, and how focusing my efforts on redistributing resources on a hyper-local level often feels more productive and meaningful that flinging money into national programs. Then again, there are many issues that transcend my immediate bubble, so I want to keep a certain amount going farther afield. I haven’t figured out an ideal ratio, really, it’s just been on my mind.
I grew up in schools that acknowledged the history of the Chumash people in this region, but didn’t go so far as to emphasize the full impact of settler-colonial violence on their communities—nor to focus on the crucial modern-day work of reparations. I’ve admired the Shuumi Land Tax program in the Bay Area and Real Rent Duwamish in Seattle, but hadn’t heard of a similar initiative in Ojai.
It turns out Ventura County doesn’t have an exact match, but we do have the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. I’m excited to become a recurring donor there and start to learn more about the programs they’re working on.
Piper Haywood wrote one of those very good posts last week—a cross-section of personal interests that manages to be both minutely specific and widely resonant. It was full of thoughts about female furniture designers I’d never heard of and Joan Didion essays on notebooks and ideas about the distinction between personal blogs and…whatever else it is that we do to try and share ourselves on the internet. I loved reading it. It also reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about here.
It seems silly to say, but I wasn’t prepared for just how often I’d come face to face with the things that made me now that I’m living at home.
My dad never taught me about Commonplace Books or Zibaldones, but he kept one religiously.1 He was always hunting for quotes and anecdotes to fold into his teaching or add to his column in the local quarterly magazine. He also inscribed them on the collaged, abstract bookmarks he made for everyone he met. A great deal of his creative expression boiled down to this magpie tendency—a delight in gathering raw materials and mashing them together into something new.
Piper shared a quote from Didion where she talks about the notebook as “bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.” This certainly seems to have been the way my dad approached his pocket-sized collections. His penmanship makes every page feel like a work of art, but I don’t think they were primarily made to be shared—at least not in this form.
And yet below every quotation about children or parenting there’s a note:
There’s no way he could’ve known I’d open to this page, having just read Ondaajte’s poetry for the first time last November. Having listened to Aimee Mann in college. Line after line, I see so many names and themes that have showed up in my own obsessive collecting.
When Didion lists the kinds of people who keep notebooks, she closes with “children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” It makes me shudder in recognition.
Growing up, I was all too aware that my parents were the age of my friends’ grandparents. My extended family weren’t down the road, but scattered throughout England and South Africa and Canada. I didn’t have siblings. I’ve been bracing for as long as I can remember to try and make sure I’ll be able to survive on my own. (No wonder I placed such a high value on independence in my career.)
I think I felt that keeping my parents had to be an act of willpower—one I could fail at and therefore had to approach with constant vigilance. But when I see these notebooks, something shifts in me. These words are confirmation of something I’m trying to learn in my bones: I couldn’t lose these people even if I tried. Their patterns made my patterns, at least in part, and as long as I pursue those patterns, I carry them forward in the world.
My inheritance is ubiquitous.
1. I don’t know how to do tenses with him. He doesn’t do these things anymore, but to speak about any of it in the past tense makes it sound like he’s dead. He’s not dead, but vast parts of him are no longer present. How do I talk about that? I don’t know. ↩