John Prine died a few days ago. Kathryn called us and I was glad to hear her voice, telling me about her sweet funny friends and their alcoholic social distanced dance parties on a massive porch. We cried a little bit, just a catch in the voice for a minute or two, about John Prine and she told me when her mother died, and she didn’t know what to do or where to go, Whistle and Fish was stuck in her head all that day. She and Aaron got home that night to a dark and empty house and he found the cassette and put it on and they waltzed and held each other and laughed and cried. It makes me proud of him. It can be hard to be tender with mothers, who seem so indestructible even when they’re breaking.
It’s hot today. I’m not ready for summer, but summer doesn’t care if I’m ready or not. I think we have another cool week but I should get my mind right and ready, think of all the cool pleasures in store, popsicles and oily salads and turning the hose on myself or the cats. Watermelon (still don’t really see the point of it, but I saw a video of a turtle eating some and he seemed so viscerally satisfied by it that I will try to be so as well), hot dog suppers, bikini tops and short shorts. That last one. I walked to the pharmacy in shorts and halter and face mask and two different men in cars tried to stop me. I ignored the first one but I gave the second one the finger and then felt both cold and guilty. It is hard to remember the pleasures of solitude when you have so goddamn much of it, but at least the only one there to make you doubt yourself is you.
Aaron has been staying up very late and sleeping until early afternoon. I go to sleep at one or two and wake up at nine thirty, so our bodies are arranging some alone time for us. We don’t get enough exercise and I’m fussy and bad tempered from it.
The garden is exploding. I ignore it for two days, feeling it twitching in the back of my mind, knowing the caterpillars are feasting and the leaves are drooping and then I go out in a crescendo of guilt and tend to everyone. I imagine it’s a little how you feel about your child, loving it, angry at it for needing so much attention, desperately propping up all its sagging corners and hoping it will survive to fruition despite its acquired scars.
There is guilt always in the back of my mind. If I pursue it, the way the therapist taught me, with gentle ‘Whys”, I can find that, like an air plant, it has no roots. It survives on thought crumbs that drift through my head, seizing them and getting fat but staying amorphous and shifty. The origin of the guilt is hard to get at. Something something Catholicism, something something Minnesota. I think original sin is an awful concept that has done a great deal of harm in the world.
I am drinking coffee with the dregs of the cognac in it, even though it is barely past noon. I haven’t been drinking much, it makes mental survival that much harder, but sometimes it’s the right thing. I don’t know if right now it’s right, but I know where that line of questioning leads. Endless doubt, endless questioning, eventually, paralyzation.
Writing feels good. It’s so hard to begin! I wrote a few letters and got relief from it. It’s comforting to know that my diarist hero, MFK Fisher, struggled too to sit down with herself and get the words out. I have been mildly plagued by something that Rilke wrote in a letter to his young poet, that if you are not compelled to write then you should not be a writer. I am compelled, but this shiftless lazy resisting keeps me from it. I wonder if I am not a writer, if I should give up words, but I think words will never give up on me, on plucking at me and whispering, so in my own way I am as absolute a writer as any more industrious person.
Those words look arrogant but they don’t feel so in my body, so I won’t worry about them.
Now that I’m stuck at home, like everyone else, I think about the things I did out in the world and they don’t seem to bear enough weight for how their absence hits me. I went to cafes and restaurants, often alone, often without speaking deeply to anyone else. The small interactions with strangers have a value that, in my worst depressions, I understood and counted, but that when I’m well I tend to forget about. I know, because the sentence remains in my head even when the sentiment is gone, that diner waitresses have saved my life more than once, with their tired perfunctory kindness.
What else did I used to do? Go to bars. I don’t miss that. I was already making some distance from that before the pandemic. It’s too diffuse, too many people scared and trying to achieve connection without exposure. It makes you feel like a flower with twenty butterflies all trying to drink you at once.
Maybe that’s a function of getting older. It wasn’t hard or unpleasant when I was younger but I think now the scope of my attention is more rigid and won’t bend as well to absorb everyone.
I know these always end with, “I will try and write more often,” but let’s not bother. Let’s just say, good job, well done and God speed.