where it was, there you must begin to be

I meet a friend for a glass of wine after work and we talk about the sadness that creeps in around the edges of an afternoon, this particular afternoon.

Well-schooled in therapeutic language, we ask each other: What are the triggers? What are the strategies to manage the sadness?

We sip our wine. We cannot remember triggers or strategies. We’ve forgotten our tools – the lists we make of ways to keep the sadness at bay. In any case, on this particular afternoon, the familiar tools are inadequate:

Take a warm bath

Take a walk with a friend

Read a magazine or a book that you enjoy

Go shopping!

Where are the lists that say:

Sit at your desk and hold your head in your hands. Weep until you cannot hold your head up any longer. When you hear someone walking down the hall, toward you, mash tissues into your eye sockets. Then stand. Smile. Say: Yes?

It is not as bad as all this. We laugh at our own melodrama. We are offered more wine, but we hold our hands up and shake our heads. I tell her about someone I used to know who – for weeks at a time – could not get out of bed. Could not drag herself out of bed to stand at the counter, make herself tea. 

I have been reading excerpts from the journals and notebooks of writers. I take some comfort in recognizing familiar preoccupations, anxieties.

Where it was, there you must begin to be. There are no depths, only distances. Memory shuffles, scans, forages. Freud’s geological model implies that last year is deeper in memory than last week, which we all know to be untrue. The memories we value are those we have given the qualities of dream and narrative, and which we may have invented. – Guy Davenport 

My friend suggests that it is some sort of planetary alignment. Some planet returns into its orbit, another leaves. I remember hearing this explanation for the strange madness of my early thirties. Every thirty years or so, I was told, Saturn returns. It fucks you up. Great shifts in your life can happen. You can go a little crazy. Again, like the fortune teller’s promise (“a brilliant match”) this idea lodges in my head and becomes its own truth, its own seed of false hope. I want to believe: There are explanations, there are forces larger than us that move us on this path or another. What a relief it would be to know that not everything is our responsibility to determine.

Another friend of mine writes to me about her spiritual practice. About the discipline of wanting less. Craving is a source of suffering, she says. Want less and you will not be unhappy.

I admire this. Yes, I think I really do admire it. But I do not understand it, in a useful, real way.

Dream: Sticking safety pins in my stomach, and then closing them as if it were natural. In China. Everybody leaves houses because there will be an earthquake. Thunderbolts come but fall from the sea. City is saved. Someone tells me Henry is dead. Tremendous grief. I look for him everywhere. – Anais Nin

In the evening, when we talk about our days, I tell M. that I am feeling a bit low, but that I know: not every day can be a day we buy tickets to Paris.

I am embarrassed, baffled by the fullness of our lives. There is something unsettling about having the things that you want, and still wanting. I have already said too much.

Last night, I dream that I am having a dinner party. It begins as a small one, and then suddenly, it becomes larger – thirty, forty people now are coming to my home. We look for chairs – old lawn chairs come up moldy from the basement. The office chair on wheels. Shards of glass are floating in the soup. A man I used to love is wandering through the hallways, looking at the photographs of my family. I am running toward the kitchen, but as I run toward it, it recedes like an ocean wave pulled back to the sea.

Morning. I walk, I don’t cry about my life, but cry because of its fullness. The road is dry, kiln-dried with the glaze cracked or is it porcelain without a sheen? The birds’ flight grows effortless as the drought continues, pulls the drawstring of moisture. In the colorless sky – what is there? – the geologists visit again and I turn groundward from shifting shadows and heats, changing breezes, wafting sounds of another drainage; choke cherries ripening and the grass dying and the squash growing obscenely large in soil that cradles shallow seas and submitted to the ash that fell continuously for ten thousand years…  – Gretel Ehrlich