When it ends.

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I lost a friend this year. She didn’t go anywhere, as far as I know, but she exited my life just the same. Like with any ending there was a bit of strife beforehand. So when she split with me, in an email on my birthday, I was able to get out one breath of relief before the heartsickness hit. And then my friends brought out a coconut cream cake and I blew out 29 candles while they sang. The months since have been similarly surreal. I wake up each morning in my own bed, next to the woman I love, surrounded by my belongings in their rightful places. I drive the same commute, I knit and sew and bake bread and make dinner and I eat. I go to the same bars and cafes and grocery stores, I walk the same sidewalks. And all day, everyday, I feel the crushing, nauseating, weight of a breakup.

What do you do with a broken heart that doesn’t actually touch the daily stuff of your life? How do you grieve this? In death we make small altars, we whisper memories in the dark, and we have become grave visitors, putting a hand on the grass in greeting. I don’t know what to do now, so I’ve limited action to what feels right. Knitting for the necks and hands of people I’m learning to trust here. Extra care for the plants, extra kneading for the bread, extra stitches in this quilt. Silence in lieu of music, wine instead of beer, tea most days. Last week we removed the dregs of this friend from our walls and hung up ladybugs. Small things are gathered in a box and archived.

What you do is wake up each morning and try to revel in your lover’s hair spread across the pillow. You notice the kitten in the neighbors window, you see it notice you. You pull the brown leaves off the spider plant and you pull the future towards you one breath at a time.

Into October

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October is a month of grief for me. It started in 2006, when my friend Julie died. I was newly 17, which was traumatizing enough, but it was a particularly fraught time for a number of additional reasons and then Julie died and the earth stopped spinning. My body and mind have wrapped that ache up like a broken jar, brown paper over sharp edges. I had known other people to die before Julie, but she was the first person who I loved wholly and separately from my family and I felt the loss of her love keenly. I can remember now just how it felt. After Julie there were other October deaths, so early on I began to believe that October was the month when my people die. At first I dreaded it, but over time that has changed. Of course, over time there have also been a lot more deaths and I’ve amended my former belief to the much simpler “people die”.

There has been a lot of writing about grief lately- I think because we have a lot to grieve these days, the biggest and most obvious being The State of Things. This past month I learned that there are people who look at grief with scorn and shame and it may be naive, but that surprised me. When I talk about grief I am not talking about the immediate days after a loss, when the rest of the world gets inked out and time warps and your skin hurts, though that is surely grief as well. When I talk about grief I am talking about what we all carry with us every day, the dead whom we have loved and now miss. How do you survive in a world where grief is shameful? There is sadness in grieving, yes, but there is celebration too. I don’t have the option in my belief system of imagining my loved ones cavorting together in a place of eternal light (though I can appreciate the comfort in that). Instead I imagine them where I know them to be- all together in my heart for as long as it’s still beating.

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An anecdote about Julie, while she is on my mind.

I came out to Julie before anyone else in the world. I was in her classroom, after school. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but she was cleaning desks when I told her and she paused and asked me to come over to her. She pointed at a desk, where someone had written “Mrs. Caldwell is a lesbian” and said to me “I’m going to leave this one here because it’s a compliment to me”.

Into September

Working alone can sometimes feel like you are hurtling through space, ricocheting from idea to idea, eyes forward. When you get a moment to pause and look behind you the trajectory has already faded from sight and you are just there, wherever you are. After some months of traveling life in that manner I am starting to slow a bit and put down markers. As someone who has spent a lifetime bucking structure, the need to instill it for myself doesn't exactly come naturally, but it has revealed itself as a need nonetheless. Monthly essays will be one small step towards making a habit of reflection. A handhold, a record, a repetitive motion. A monthly newsletter as well. One looking forward, one looking back. 


 
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September is my birth month and so a new years of sorts. I go into each September with resolutions and a deep, deep, LL Bean catalogue, back to school craving for plaid. Writing here is one of my September resolutions. 

Some weeks ago a friend asked for insight on balancing a work life and a creative life. It was a timely question- I had just started working very part time again and was wondering how everything would shake out. My initial reaction was to say to her "I don't know you just do it!!" which is honest and really... not helpful. 

Creative work (and, I think it's okay to call it work, because work does not mean anything bad) has been a part of my days for as long as I can remember. When I was very little I would stumble out of bed and plop down at my art table next to the kitchen door and get to work. These days I've more or less returned to that habit. I roll out of bed and wander to the living room/studio where I try to remember and write down all of the good ideas I had as I was falling asleep. I knit before breakfast, I pull out fabrics and I get busy in my head. Then I wake Tavi up and she makes me coffee. When I was younger I worked full time away from home, sometimes at two or three jobs. For those years I crammed my creative work into every other waking hour: I knit before I walked to work, I kept a sketchbook and drew constantly, I focused on portable handcrafts. I wasn't terribly social and I didn't do much else besides work and work. I was industrious and I was younger and I had something to prove and I was mad a lot. Maybe the best advice I could give is "get mad", but that will rot your stomach eventually so it's not a lasting solution. The best thing I did for myself in those years was save money for the future. I didn't have a plan, but 8 years later I had that money to live off of when my source of income dried up and I am thankful to that mad kid who cashiered at the co-op 7 days a week for minimum wage. 

Maybe the trick is recognizing that your life won't look like anyone else's. I've never had a lot of qualms about that (although, funny enough, I find myself pausing now and then as I watch my peers have children and buy houses and I can clearly see where my life's trajectory splintered away from that tract). You might work jobs that aren't your career, while your career looms un-named in a basket next to the couch (and your parents panic as loudly or quietly as they are inclined to). You might learn to cook instead of eating out with your 9-to-5 buddies. You might eat a lot of rice. You might wake up at 5AM to work before work, you might work while your friends are going out or while your lover is sleeping. You might work on the weekends, you might always and forever be the only one with Tuesdays free and zero other spare time so you just work on Tuesdays too. You might be investing in expensive new materials while your peers make down-payments on houses. You might live in an unconventional space and you might live there a lot longer than you anticipated. You might not make any money for a whole month, and then you might make double what you need and blow it all on Lithuanian linen and wind up just as broke (ahem). It's okay. The trick is knowing that you can quit anytime, become a dental hygienist or work in a bank, but the trick is also realizing that you can't really do that, that you won't survive this life if you do, and no one knows if you'll get another one.