It’s hard to get up most mornings.
It’s not that I’m lacking those proverbially-incentivizing “reasons to get out of bed.” It’s that my body says no, most days, and I force her out of bed and into the workday anyway.
I feel like I’m doing myself violence. It’s not a great feeling.
What, indeed. Whatever it is, it’s real. I’m paying attention. I’m also still going-going-going—acknowledging, and then pushing through, the clear message that it is time to stop. That all the rest I think I’ve been giving myself is not enough, is not the right kind of rest. That I need to recover.
Recover from what? Life?
I don’t want to walk, lately.
I know it’s actually true that I love to walk, need to walk, so most days I do it anyway, first thing, and sometimes later too. Switch the phone to airplane mode. Gather keys, camera, mask, stick. Place one foot in front of the other, slowly.
If you’ve ever walked with me, you know I take long strides, and I tend to move fast, or at least steadily. I’ve slowed over the years from what my mother calls “mountain-goating;” I’ve let go of the drive to constantly break a sweat, push a little harder up the steepest slopes, devour the miles. But I still walk a mile in about 20 minutes, easily.
Lately, my walks are snail-paced. I can’t tell you my mileage or my time because I don’t care about them. Slow—that’s what I know. About the pace I recall from mountaineering in the snow and ice: step, rest. Step, rest. It’s as fast as I can move, some days.
There is—I hesitate to say there’s a silver lining to something that sounds a great deal like depression. But there is a good thing about this going-slow: so much of what I physically encounter, I notice.
The mind can wander from flower to flower, alighting and observing—like a bee, I was going to say, but it’s not like a bee, because a bee is organized, purposeful, and getting her job done. I’m just walking. I’m walking to stay tethered—to season and light and weather and place, to my own body. To attention itself.
This morning, my favorite bit of sidewalk—not the usual concrete, but made of big flat flagstone slabs, with gravel between—was bordered with huge bearded irises, in their prime. The light of an-hour-or-so-after-dawn was topping up their cups, and I stopped to watch. I sort of got stuck, staring at one in particular: yellow and cream and gold and luminous, glowing inside several shades of purple. I thought, for a moment, I was watching the dawn again. Sunrise, but disguised as an iris.
I smiled at this incredible moment—making an effort, faking it so I might make it. The insincerity felt insulting; I quickly stopped. I felt something in that moment, but it won’t be facilely harnessed in the service of self-help.
This feeling-something is a big deal, because I don’t seem to feel much lately. (Or I’m feeling everything; there is no in-between.) Now is a season of incandescent beauty: the first bloom of summer; the deepening of deciduous leaves from spring-green to alert maturity; chilly mornings, with purple clouds breaking up to blue-gold afternoons. I have always felt the seasons, they’re a major lens of my life—but this one, I’m just walking through. When I look for how the day feels, I don’t know.
After this morning’s iris, I turned to poetry. The recently-completed Memory Book Project has given me a number of new companions. I like to memorize while I’m walking, but that’s too much work just now. I carry dozens already, and the right ones are no work at all to retrieve. Like friends, they’re right there.
Choosing the filtered light beneath some overhanging oaks just leafing out, I thought of Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees. She says:
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world, but walk slowly, and bow often.
I thought: here I am, walking slowly, bowing often. Just now, to the sunrise-iris. Just because it is all I can do, doesn’t make it less.
This is not the way I have usually understood the line. It was aspirational, I thought. Today it’s made a virtue of a limitation.
Poems are good for advice. Usually it’s delivered obliquely, but sometimes it’s a style of blunt I couldn’t even hear in this state, if a human friend said it. Molly Fisk’s Against Panic said to me this morning:
Oh friend, search your memory again. Beauty and relief are still here, only sleeping.
I did not have to explain to Against Panic why I didn’t react to its very necessary reminder, why I felt nothing. Why certainly I did not feel relieved, as it would like me to. But I knew the poem was right, and it knew it was right, and we walked along together, knowing a thing I could not feel. A thing that is sleeping, for now.
I feel stripped right now, to the basics of my identity. I’m someone who walks, someone who writes poems, someone who lives for the changing of the light.
I am not discovering these things about myself. They’re on my Twitter profile and in my author bio, and all over my published work. But it’s a relief not to need, now, to go searching for who I am. I don’t need to find something to hold onto. These identities hold onto me. They ask very little of me. Like friends, they’re right there.
This is a very specific version of letting your creative practice be your anchor. Walking is not my creative practice, nor is watching the light—although, in another sense, both of them are, because I would not have my creative practice without them.
Nor would I know them for anchors of my identity, without my creative practice to seat them there. Before I had a creative practice, I did not know who I was, nor what I needed.
I am trying to imagine navigating this stripped-down season, without these certain knowledges to hold me. They’re like a container, and currently I am liquid; without them, I think I’d be everywhere and nowhere.
Instead—going through the motions, sure, but the motions matter—I’m still here.