Just want to brag about my super hot and sweet boyfriend who not only bought me a giant Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie cake for my birthday with my name on it in blue and yellow frosting, but who’s also sponsoring a much-needed post-winter spa day for me and a darling friend next month. He also let me complain all evening yesterday about my feet hurting because I wore terrible shoes to a concert and still offered, laughingly, to carry me on his back all the way to the car. He makes me happy every single day and I won’t take it for granted or shut up about it. I won’t.
The great American myth is the hero who leaves home to remake himself in another place: James Gatz leaves North Dakota to become Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island; Robert Jordan leaves his teaching job in Montana to fight in the Spanish Civil War; Huck Finn took a raft, Dorothy flew off in a tornado, Sister Carrie rode the train, Jack Kerouac hitched rides—and so forth—but in my experience the Cities have been quite roomy enough for a restless, impulsive person to live his life. I never felt stranded here. Sometimes I felt the pull of the roads going west, Highway 7 out of Excelsior and Clara City toward South Dakota, and Highway 212 through Chaska and Granite Falls, and Highway 12 through Litchfield and Willmar and Benson and Ortonville. And now and then, just for a taste of freedom, I’d drive out west late at night through the little towns and stop around 2 or 3 a.m. at a crossroad and get out of the car and walk around in the dark for a while and then head back to do my 6 a.m. radio shift.
After the university I spent part of a summer in New York City, thinking that a young writer ought to be there, but squalor did not appeal to me. I met an artist who painted by night and drove a cab by day, was hooked on marijuana and LSD, and lived in a tiny fourth floor walk-up with a wife and two little daughters. I decided that Minnesota was a better place to be poor. You can go to your mother’s for a huge supper, and even if she doesn’t approve of your life, she’ll send you home with a big bag of vegetables from her garden. Also it was a better place to be original—behind the scrim of Midwesternness, the myth of the placid, backward hinterland—than in ferocious Manhattan."- "There’s No Place Like Home", Garrison Keillor
My apartment has four windows, and all of them face north. In the morning a tiny strip of sun reaches in as far as the edge of my sill, then moves back out onto the street. I actually like the dim, but other living things tend not to agree. I brought a basil plant home one day last summer and it withered in two days. My jade tree didn’t grow and my orchids dropped their petals. I’d all but given up on indoor vegetation when I caught sight of a squat houseplant in a corner of a nursery nearby. It has heart-shaped leaves and long trailing arms and it has doubled in size, even though it gets mostly shadow and I forget to water it for weeks on end. I’ve draped its vines over books and lamps. It’s still growing.
I like to think of it drinking all my carbon dioxide while I sleep. What a job it is, to be a plant; to purify the air, and grow, and drink, and grow, and sleep during the winter when the light is weak. There’s nothing romantic about it. Its beauty is practical, secondary, a result rather than the reason for its existence. It is unlike its cousins who live for a day in the sun.
I’ve been having some trouble writing. I feel as if I’ve been saturated: given much, that I might give much, yet tightfisted. Last week I got rid of all my social media accounts because I was tired of noise, tired of information, tired of opinions, tired of words. I’ve left myself nothing but my own thoughts, and for a moment I held my breath as if in a void. It might sound dramatic but there was a moment where I really wondered if I’d cut myself off from everything that mattered. From connections, friendships, and news; from opportunities and networks; from art, and beauty, and life. Then I took another breath.
We don’t all grow the same way, or need the same things; it’s a mistake to believe that we’ll all be nourished by the same stuff. I’m sure it’s possible to read all these channels and feel nothing but love and sunshine and roses, but I’ve felt more than a normal share of disappointment, insecurity, anger, jealousy, and hurt. Almost as if I’d been subsisting on a diet of sugar, cigarettes, and caffeine. One minute pure adrenaline — the next, a resounding crash.
I don’t mean to say that it’s all bad or that there’s no reason to be part of it. I’m not sure it was absolutely necessary for me to give up Instagram — after all, it’s pictures — but now that I’m not searching through my phone in the morning on the train, I’m reading a book or I’m looking at the woman across the aisle (surreptitiously of course) who looks like she might have gotten into a fight with her best friend or had the best night of her life.
It might be a while before this quiet I’ve stumbled into turns into anything like an essay or a story or even a sentence. For the moment, I’m stretching out a few vines in each direction, looking for water, for good soil, for the inch or two of sunshine I need to grow. They never went away, you see, while I slumbered during the cold months; they’re still in the embrace of friends and the late-night conversation and the unbearably beautiful space between the two covers of a beloved book.
Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say ‘going through the motions’—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word"
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice.- Excerpt from Ash Wednesday, T.S Eliot