How It’s Been

A to-do list full of eight different links with "Blog this" written in front of them.

This is a fraction of the items currently in my to-do list app, which functions more like an underpass covered in graffiti tags these days than a tool for productivity. I’m passing through, jotting down names of people I meet, frantic reminders of deadlines, books to read, errands to check off. The chaos of it gives me shivers.

As my dad loses access to words, memories, faculties, ranges of motion, I lose access to inspiration, strength, sensuality, executive function. We mirror each other. My losses aren’t from infirmity, but from emotional exhaustion. Caregiving life is often a life of attrition, and the marathon is taking its toll. I got away for four days last month and came back with a deeper awareness of what’s actually been happening. There’s the kind of burnt out where you can still write about it, and then the kind of burnt out where you can’t. There’s no paper trail from these last few months. The calendar, the blog, my Patreon, my newsletter: all blank. This is how it is sometimes, but it can’t be how it is all the time.

That break was a full breath—an influx of oxygen that look me from 2% on Low Power Mode to a wedge of green battery. Not fixed, but functional. Maybe 38%. Enough to catch little pockets of joy with. Enough to open the “New post” tab and not just want to take a nap.

marlee grace says “I think Summer plays its cursed trick on me to speed me up when I want to go just as slow as October reminds me to.” It gives me chills to read that, because my body feels that way too. In summer I need stillness. The heat and the light and the chaos push me to overextend, when what I really need is five deep breaths face down on the ground, forehead to the earth, painfully aware of the size and shape of my nose as it mushes into the carpet. In the winter the studio is cold in the mornings and I want to dance and I love to dance and it’s not so hot that the idea of riding my bicycle makes my eyes water. But when I’m as tired as I am from a summer of doing Too Much, the movement is hard to come by.

Back to School energy is real, but/and it’s not the same as summer’s altogether-too-brightness. I’ve written here before about how school was often synonymous with spacious, silent mornings that stretched on forever. I can have both the stillness and the movement. I’m chipping away at the space for it. I am trying. I know my body remembers the moment I give it space to do so. (I feel like this is all I say these days, but it’s still true.)

I just saw a punchcard someone made for saying “No” to things the other day. I need to make one.

There. I made one.

It’s Fall and I’m Different

“I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.”

— Georgia O’Keeffe, in a letter to Russel Vernon Hunter, from Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters

I’m not sure what type of Seasonal Human I am.

I have friends who grumble and sweat their way through summer, yearning for the day when the leaves begin to turn. “YES,” they cry, the minute the mornings get cold, conjuring a cocoon of woolly sweaters and bobble hats out of thin air. “THIS IS MY SEASON.”

Do I have this? I don’t think so. At least not consistently. This year saw a huge uptick in interpersonal energy around the Summer Solstice, but it was frenetic and surreal and overwhelming. It left me dizzy. I wanted to return to the gentle rhythm of work; going to the studio every morning and having enough room to breathe. And I got that for a while! But then there was another social energy surge in October? That’s not so common.

Martha Graham spoke of not using an emotion to generate a movement, but rather letting the movement return the emotion to her body. I wonder if seasons work this way, too.

Brace, Ebb, Theft

On a call with some of the folks from the Wayward community the other night, someone shared a conversation they’d had with their therapist about emerging into 2021. PTSD, the therapist pointed out, doesn’t generally rear its head while soldiers are on the battlefield. It comes later, when things are supposedly “safe” or “better” and everyone around us is celebrating or relaxing and we’re only just beginning to experience the full impact of what we’ve been through.

It hit me like a pile of bricks.

I feel so far away from my creative self right now. The only thing I keep finding comfort in is learning that a lot of other friends are in the same boat—that maybe a majority of us are actually grieving the loss of whatever creative spaciousness or clarity we’d managed to eke out in the solitude of Quarantine. Or maybe we’re all just braced for the next wave of closures and infections and losses, or finally feeling the full weight of the closures and infections and losses that have already come and gone.

My first family COVID deaths happened in quick succession within the last two weeks—far past the peak of the Pandemic. What does that mean? How am I supposed to feel? They lived in another country, separated by oceans and continents and the 17 years since I saw them last in person. But they were family—a community I struggle to feel connected to at the best of times, even though I yearn for it desperately. I’m vaccinated. My parents are vaccinated. Nothing quite like thinking you’re “safe” and then realizing grief can still snake its way into your circles, no matter the care you take.

I’m thinking, too, about the way I keep brushing off this mental and creative slump in conversation, waving my hands and explaining to friends that “it’s just a phase” and “things will feel better as soon as I get stuck into my next project.”

“This always happens,” I say. “I always pull through.”

But something I didn’t account for is living in house alongside my dad, one of my primary sources of creative inspiration and cheerleading growing up, who genuinely has lost contact his creative self. Dementia is not the seasonal cycle that I usually comfort myself with when I think of the ebb and flow of creative embodiment. It’s a far darker and more linear decline. It makes the threat of permanent loss in these low tide seasons feel more real.

It’s not to say that I’m over here worrying about imminently losing all my marbles. More that…I don’t know. Maybe that I haven’t been making enough space for the enormity of everything. When I make light of this season—either because I’m afraid of it, or embarrassed that it’s happening to me, or something else—I rob myself of the chance to feel my way through into whatever comes next.

Perfectionism, Process, Patterns

[I’m going to start cross-posting the weird captain’s log audio updates I’ve been doing on Patreon for the last couple years here on my blog. If you’d like to take a spin through the whole archive, I’ve made a page for every past episode here.]

Okay, so! A Ramble. Typically when I share these on Patreon I try to keep it simple and just throw up a list of links to things I talked about, in case folks want to follow up and read what I’m reading. I still don’t know how to approach the practice here. Ironically, this particular Ramble is about the relative ease of talking compared to writing for me, and how the pressure to “get it right” in text is so much stronger.

I recognize that this is probably diametrically opposed to how a lot of people feel about any kind of public (or semi-public) speaking, but I think by talking, and my best thinking-talking usually happens when I’m addressing people who get it. Sometimes this is specific friends for specific projects, but there’s a reason this practice came into being on Patreon. My Patrons have bought into the weird, non-transactional structure I’ve built for my page, which means they’re probably the people I trust the most with an imperfect, non-linear audio snapshot of whatever I’m thinking about at the time.

On a practical note: I talk so much faster than I write. My guess is that a transcription of each Ramble would feel like an insurmountable slog to read through, but as a 20-minute audio snippet it’s a relatively small ask. You can do other stuff while consuming it, which I know people do because they comment and tell me about it! How lovely to imagine a friend or stranger doing dishes or puttering in the garden while we spend twenty asynchronous minutes together. It’s the best.

Every Ramble also comes paired with a photo I took while recording it. This started because I was too lazy to draw a cover for the first one, but it’s become a really important part of the process. It creates a visual touchstone that reminds me of the season and the weather and the moment when I was thinking these thoughts. Seeing them all together feels like a form of cyclical time travel.

Anyway, here’s today’s:

A moody photograph of a skyline at sunrise. There are black buildings and telephone poles silhouetted in the foreground and a streak of orange against slate-grey clouds on the horizon.
December 8th, 2020

This Ramble felt like going to therapy on a week where I think nothing in particular’s been going on, but find myself reckoning with the unseen weight of countless stressors from the last three days alone within five minutes of opening my mouth. Except I should replace “stressors” with “stuff I’ve been thinking about while reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” to paint a more accurate picture.

And because I do think it helps, here’s that list of links to things mentioned:

So that’s that. These come out roughly every 2-3 weeks, or as the mood strikes. Don’t set your watch by it.