work and pray

“None of us is leading quite the life we were at all prepared for.”
     – Renata Adler, Speedboat


People are starting to come back, but they are not the right people. People are moving away, but they are not the right people. I hover here. Am I moving forward or am I moving back? 

It is possible that I am like that frog in the pot of water, heating slowly, unaware of my plight, too foolish to cry out, too dumbfounded to protest while the temperature rises and the water begins boiling and liquifies me from within. 

And then I am finished. I have used up all my chances. I have burned through all my virtual lives, my health meter is blinking red. I fall from a great height. I plummet to the sea. I burst into flames. 


We ate and drank in our work clothes and we laughed. We were all canaries in coalmines and birds in the hand. I have used up all my metaphors, too. 

Anyway, my point was. Anyway, this was my point. 

We grew up poor. Spent our days on beach chairs lined up on the blacktop, thumbing through drugstore magazines. Lives lived on the poverty line, but look at us now! Look now. 


I am waiting for the water in the teakettle to boil. I am waiting for the mail to come. I am waiting to pack up my skirts and sweaters in boxes and drag these boxes to the curb. I will hitchhike to the desert. I will ride the trains to the ocean. I will scale the sea-soaked cliffs, clinging with naked fingertips. 

Nothing ends. I mean, everything ends and nothing does. You would call this a paradox. I would call you a horse’s ass. 


I took the turn too hard and scraped the side of the car on some guardrail or low wall or some structure that was meant to keep cars from turning too hard and when I pulled into my parking lot, the attendant there, Steve, shook his head and clucked his tongue and said you should get that fixed right away. Look, it is starting to rust already and he made me get out of the car while he was still standing there, pointing, still shaking his head. You see it? Can you see it already? I can get you the name of a guy he said, and I smiled and said OK and waited while he wrote down a name and phone number with a pencil on a scrap of paper. Tell him Steve sent you and I smiled some more and shook his hand, but I just wanted to get to my desk so I could put my head down on it. 


Some mornings, it all takes more enthusiasm than I can muster. Some mornings, I have given up before the sun has had a chance to rise, dragging myself down the stairs and to the kitchen. Some mornings, I have bounded down the stairs like a young springbok. But not today. 

Ora et labora, my friend tells me. Work and pray.


Dear lord, deliver me from reductive simplicity. Forgive me my taglines, my slogans. My self-help quotations written on squares of paper and taped to my desk. Forgive us our branding and re-branding. Our metrics. Give me fifteen minutes in this day where my only strategic objective is to stay upright and to listen to the breath move through my body. Or maybe even less than that because sometimes, I like to lie down. 

I am weary. I have been building this causeway for years. 


A friend tells me I seem happy and I scowl at him, say: How dare you call me that? And we laugh as if happiness is a relevant area for inquiry. As if the very notion of it – beyond one particular glittering moment at a time – is not the cause of our distress. 

I am reminded of the author who read to us this summer. She was talking about titles. She said that the title of every short story written could be: “The Day I Was Sad,” and we all laughed. I cannot remember who said this. Or what she read. Or the title of it. There are so many things I can no longer remember. I find myself telling stories over and over and I can no longer remember which parts of them have happened and which parts have been embellished for dramatic effect. And I wonder does it matter and why. And I wonder what matters and why. What I will remember and why. And if that is the way I remember it, is it still technically a lie?

And how many times do you have to tell yourself a lie before it starts to be true? 


Don’t talk to me about your glowing cities. How the fog rolls in and shrouds the bridge in mist. Or how the light slices across the damp grass in the late afternoon and you stretch yourself out on your back and offer your belly to the sun. Don’t tell me about your museums and your coffee shops. Your observation towers. Here I am: wooden table and bar glass. Here I am: fountain and fire. Here I am, growing older by the hour, one life firmly planted on this solid ground and another drifting so far west it becomes the east again. Bury me in the city where I was born.  Another city I will one day call home.