I go back, a few weeks before I leave for school in Scotland, to the coffee shop in the university town--the coffee shop I lived in, perhaps payed a modest rent in by way of generous tips. The cappuccino mugs have changed. They are brown with saucers too big for the cups. The handle for the toilet, too. It was a silver lever and is now a thick, gleaming block. The statue of St. Francis beside the register--which I fought for three years of my life to never have adorned by signs--remains, I breathe relief, unadorned. If I have made any true contribution to this space, I think the unadornment of St. Francis, the perpetuation of his quiet, apolitical position on the brim of Love and self, is my most significant.
But I am caught by the changed things. I am alerted, in a way that I had not been before, to the changeability of a space in time. We are meant to keep mementos to remind us of the happy times, but I am inefficient in this habit. I have three corks from bottles of wine that, in turn, were some sort of significance for me. I have a styrofoam cup with a kindness written on it. There are cards, a box of them, in my closet. There is a seashell, a painting or two, a wooden block.
These should be the remembrances, the conjurors of glad times lapsed, but I have curated them as an exercise in stasis. I have made a collection of the objectified present. I have tried to preserve the goodness in the fullness of that moment. I have made the vessels of conjuring the vessels of perpetuation. The wine corks are for bottles that were never finished, the styrofoam for a coffee never drunk, and so on.
This awareness of self comes as fright.
Hadn't there been a weightiness all summer?
Perhaps mid-June, I woke and could not get out of my own bed. There was the Sunday I didn't want to go to church. There was the afternoon I forgot my phone in my car and didn't notice until the next day. (I noticed, but I pretended not to. I climbed into bed and read The New Yorker and in a moment of theater fought to breathe.)
In the mid-60s the term was quarter life crisis. We use it still, though I have never found it adequate. Perhaps it's the postmodern or millennial influence in me--we are never not that which we come from, no matter how hard we strive--but I want my tension to have a kind of uniqueness. I would extend the same consideration to you: your moment of heaviness, your curling up on the bed and ignoring the phone, would not be termed.
I was talking about cappuccino cups.
I am alerted to this condition of myself, this desire for things to remain just so. I read somewhere a description of borderline personality disorder. I do not, along with the label of a quarter life crisis, believe that I have such a condition--not from pride, but awareness--though I am struck by a particular symptom: fear of being abandoned.
I wrote somewhere, once, about orphan prayers. I wrote that sometimes we pray and it seems that they brush vault, scrape at ether, all but connect with the throne of God. I am unable to abide the loss of people I love and I love with a quickness that has no wisdom attached to it. (A fault. Do not be fooled into think I celebrate this.) Somehow these things seem connected to the same symptom, the disconnected prayers and the loss of presence, these are part of this fear of being abandoned.
Change--the cappuccino cups, the toilet lever--feels like abandonment.
the cursed animosity of inanimate objects
Ruskin wrote that. I stumbled upon it one summer in London, sitting at a table in the Tate Modern, drinking a glass from which one of those three saved corks would come from, reading something by L'Engle, and I thought it had to do with tangled cords behind the desk or when a new CD couldn't be opened. I had no idea, at the time, that it was the wine cork sitting on the table that I was to save in my pocket the afternoon when I would receive the email that would begin the process toward my first book publication.
Everyone adores you! What an awful thing!
(That was Sondheim. Company may be the best musical ever conceived.)
Somehow, irrationally, this alertness to my desire for stasis, for the happy times and the filled tables and the things those small mementos represented to stay in the perennial, informs me of the heaviness, of the day I didn't want to get up, the hiding from my phone, which was essentially and ultimately a hiding from those I love and the obligations of work.
Fear of being abandoned.
The heaviness, the hiding, was indicative of the parts of myself that had been misplaced in the transitory state between graduation and starting over. I had lost something of what I had considered my graciousness. I had lost something of what I had considered my hopefulness. I am, at present, folded into self, repeated until the paper of being could no longer stand another fold, and somewhere in the folding is concealed those old aspects of self I have admired in the past.
Here is the troubling bit, at least the bit I fear most: you can love for so long out of a kind of intellectual obligation to do so. You can muster the gracious response and repose from the bounty of knowledge that good things need doing, blessing must be a given thing. But after a time, you can't quite bring forth that sort of goodness anymore. The intellect can't sustain it and the heart is in atrophy from neglect.
I held too tightly to the hope that things would remain unchanging. In my fierce grasp, everything changed while I attempted to not. I preserved myself as I had been and when I looked up from the fierce work of trying to contain self, I could not fathom that the rest of the world should have gone on.
It's ridiculous. But we are ridiculous creatures.
Notice: I have conceded recognition, I have conceded alertness, but I have yet to grant unfolding. Perhaps I am unsure how. This is the state of things at present, which is I suppose perhaps the best you can offer at times.
How do you unfold.
Statement, not question.
Another prayer that reaches out. Another petition. Another brush vault, scrape at ether. A prayer that perhaps does not quite make it.
I spend most of this summer praying these prayers. These prayers I'm uncertain are making it. But I pray them, nonetheless.
This, in a way, is also fear of being abandoned.