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Still Life

I cannot ascertain if not writing is a form of moral and aesthetic penance or fear.

My thoughts now are largely mundane: I’ve no money. I’ve a job a loathe. I bought a house I love. I cannot afford the house. The children start school. My husband-0f-no-more hates me, how is it possible to hate a woman one has observed giving birth, to one’s own children no less, and both dead and alive? Where are my keys? Why did I lease this car? Where is the money? Why did I buy that dress? And that one, and that one? Oh. I am a minimalist in thought only. Clothes are an addiction. If only I were skinny clothes wouldn’t be an addiction but I cannot tell you how I reached this certainty. Are the children happy? Will we burn in the fires? 

My teacher Richard Freeman is quite good on language. Not as a creative exercise but in explaining its function as being one of paradox: it is a primordial need. It is also an expression of the deepest ego, and must be quieted, perhaps even silenced, to move past spiritual and intellectual adolescence. I think about this contradiction all the time: language as need, language as an element, within the scope of a fully lived life, to be in some manner expunged or cast aside like so many costumes.

There is a blue cottage on a quiet street. Old trees have grown up and around the house. It is a fairytale. In the back of the house is a large patio. This leads to a small forest, truly wild with cottonwoods, strawberry bushes, families of rabbits who have nested under a large shed, painted blue like the house, and hawks and coyotes whose whimpering and unearthly whine I occasionally hear at night from my wide open bedroom window.

Because I love water and birds, particularly peacocks and swans, everything in the house is teal or navy or deepest green and the lines of the few pieces of furniture I own arc and curl like waves. Or the neck of a bird.

One morning.
A bath.
The bath is huge, deep, outlined in a rich pale quartz the color of dry sand. The wall facing the forest is glass, confidently private, so that one may bathe with the window open and gaze up at the tree leaves grazing a turquoise sky.

Under water one finds a silence that is deep enough to hear the heart. I sink my head, my hair, my weary eyes, into the water.

This body. What constitutes its essence now? Fatigue. Not beauty, not practice, not love, not even yearning. Exhaustion. An exhaustion so encompassing that to take the bath is itself an endeavor. It has been two years since this body knew a real home. Two years as a friendless mother, casting about in ever increasing chaos for answers that do not exist but must instead be invented, like an ill prepared magician hired for a last minute show.

This mind. It has arrived at a state somewhere beyond unhappiness or joy or even the avoidance or craving for either. Flatline. This is an image I both love and intimately know, and one can see the knowledge in my eyes, in the set of my jaw.

Briefly the memory shifts to the late winter. A long and gorgeous night spent with a beautiful troubled young woman, illicit substances, and conversations more intimate than sex. “I see you all the time,” she whispered, “and I think you are sad.”

How romantic, to be called sad by the beautiful blue eyed cocaine addicted writer down the hall. These are moments one embraces, holds fast to a heart one suspects is deadening from alternating neglect and abuse.

When does sad become… lifeless?

Thoughts drift easily in water, watching the constant and subtle waves move up and over chilled knees into the eddy of thighs, hips, groin: tide after tide washes over this exhausted body, limbs afloat like branches in a deep stream.

The water brings rest. Scent of damp lavender fills the morning air, the punishing sun begins its ruthless high summer ascent. Wrists float, the neck sinks, clavicles rise and descend with breath.

Why do I not write?
I have… nothing to say.
And how can I express that this honesty, the simple fact that the overwhelming and constant events of the last months silenced me to a state of mere survival, someone raw and strong and half dead or more, all at once and all the time – how can I express what relief this brought to me without shifting into metaphor, words, paragraphs, grammar, structure? Language? Language and all her lies.

In Zen sesshin one is not allowed to write, to journal, to engage in the prakriti of creative motion. Stillness. If there is any aim, it is stillness.

My stillness, for months, has had no intention. It has been the terrified reaction of the forest creature about to be hit by a truck.

Now I live in this blue house, on this quiet street, with a forest and a river for companionship. My son told me we are “finally home.”

And so we are.
I do pray that the stillness that arrives now has movement, enough even perhaps for language to creep through from time to time, and that like the old trees surrounding us we might find a way, long though it may be, to plant and rise, slowly, to the sun.