This week, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild in three days, though the word read is really a euphemism for, say, the word devoured – the act of devouring. I gorged myself, reading well past any reasonable bedtime hour and though I paid for it with fatigue over the next days, I was like a child with coins in a candy store: I handed them over gladly, well aware of what it was I was purchasing.
A week before that, it was Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind, a storytelling masterpiece that flung me through the depths of not just the first World War but of human nature itself.
I put these books down, stunned by them, thinking about them for days, disoriented by the way life went on despite what I’d just been through. Lady, sweet lady, how should I know if I want any cash out? How on God’s green earth am I supposed to know how much money there is in my purse? Do you not know that Sophie has just had rocks pelted at her in the back of a filthy truck while getting transported to a German concentration camp? And that before she was taken, her hands were peeled from Edith’s – torn from them – while that little girl stood in terror, her eyes wide with grief and panic, watching Sophie being dragged away, unsure but sure of her fate all at once?
I put these books down, stunned by them, thinking about them for days, and then when I go to write I think: What am I even doing here? What is there actually to say? What could I possibly have to say? And, also, why does it smell like wee?
There are a million different things that block me from my creative self, and many of these million things spring from the amount of time and energy my children pilfer from me. They take mostly everything I have, these kids, during this season when they’re young and attached. It’s not a complaint so much as a fact.
Not only that, I fall into the trap of believing that stories worth telling are the extraordinary ones. The ones in which a woman drags her bleeding and blistered body across the Pacific Crest Trail for a hundred days, overcoming the demons of her past and present.
The thing is, extraordinary stories, while hugely engrossing, are entertainment. They are escapism. We know we won’t ever walk the PCT but for a short while, we can escape into a world where someone else did. We can feel the punch of their story slap us across the face – the face we hover above the toilet bowl while scraping it clean, and the face we peer from to wipe the smeared vegemite off our kids’ cheeks. This is to say, extraordinary stories elevate us beyond the monotony with which we live our lives.
When it comes, however, to ordinary stories – ones plucked from daily life – their power is not so much in how exceptional they are, how much they remove us from the monotony of our lives; their power lies in the chance they afford us to rethink the monotony with which we live our lives.
I’ve seen Boyhood. I know how fast it goes. I know I, like Olivia, will cry at the kitchen table when my last baby leaves home, angered by something I can’t even place. Myself? How I could have been more present to my children? My desire to go back even though I’m not sure I would’ve done anything differently? Time? How simply THERE it is, ticking away like a ruthless dictator? Life? How it simply churns through and spits out, independent of your position in it?
Filled within this fleeting life we’re granted are ordinary stories — ones embedded in our daily lives waiting for us to pay attention to them. There’s this line in Boyhood that goes something like, “Any fool can take a photo. Art though? It takes something else to make those photos art.” It got me to thinking: Any fool can wake up and live a day. But to make something of it? To turn it into something? To give a spin on it that only you can bring to the table? That’s where it’s at. That’s where things get interesting. That’s where stories and art can be unearthed, as ordinary as they start but as extraordinary as they end up.
I blow through my entire reserves every single day. Every single day I reach the end of the Parenting Finish Line, sometimes my body literally pulsing from fatigue, from the relentlessness of it all, from the guttural experience the whole thing is some days, until I’m completely emptied out by the realization of how so very much I have to give.
I think of Cheryl Strayed and I realize that perhaps, she and I aren’t so different. That her and my story aren’t as worlds apart as I thought. That although I’m not peeling scraps of flesh from my feet away as I remove my socks at the end of a day, I know about the way a head can flop down each night, weary against the world, spent, used up to every last drop.
The thing is, though we grumble about it, there’s something inside us – Cheryl and me – that knows this intensity will be something we’ll miss when it’s over. That blowing through our entire reserves each day, hard though it is, is actually the best way to live. That by reaching the width and breadth and depth of ourselves is always better than it is not.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.-Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Fuel Yourself Friday post coming Monday, because we Red Tenters are wild and reckless and like to throw good old-fashioned routine out the window when it suits us.
Happy Friday you wild, reckless things.
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