Fortunately, I have no idea what’s happening here, and mostly, I’m giving up trying to shape it in any particular way. Mostly. The muscles deep inside my shoulders will tell you that’s not the whole story. Some factions are still desperate to script the whole universe – but they are small, squirrely factions – and nobody much votes for them these days, since, being too crotchety for bearing children, they are losing out on a strategy that works brilliantly for other extremists, elsewhere. No quiver-full of control freaks here – just the old-fashioned ones I’ve been working with for years.
Deep breath. There is something extraordinary in the way things work, once the monkey-paws withdraw their death-grip. In the past, whenever I’ve heard someone extol the virtues of a) living in intentional community, or b) living in a small town, I’ve found it hard to roll only my inner eyes, and not to give away my real feeling of, Holy Jesus help me! Please not that, ever again. Too-small town, too-nosy nuns – recipe for disaster, only relieved by getting out of town. But here, and this Upper Valley where I live, there’s just the right number of humans, cushioned by just the right number of trees, hills, squirrels, bobcats, and deer.
Packing up dozens of lamps with friends yesterday, I came across long, wide bands of lint stuffed into plastic wrappers, like giant non-absorbent maxi-pads. Slotted in-between the copper-finish lamp of the little girl straddling her horse, the vaguely funereal marble lamp, and the ceramic base made by former Czech refugee, the maxi-packers made space. The objects all knew they were in a box together, but they could keep quiet about it.
Just so, drinking hot chocolate with my mother, I see a posse of ladies composed of all kinds of people I’ve never fit together in my mind before. Here we are. My mother and I spooning pudding-like cocoa out of small china cups, as the woman who showed my work, and the woman who lent the sound system for our Refuge Dance spoon their own treats out of cups, next door. We are aware that we are all in the same box together, and it is civilized. Fortunately, we have our own talents. Fortunately, we’re all joined together by kindness. Fortunately, we’re free to come and go as we wish, without the grasp of any monkey-paws moving us around.
Vicky the librarian meets Notebook Club in front of the circulation desk with a biography of John Cheever that she's pretty sure belongs to one of us. She's had it for weeks, she says. She's been keeping it safe. I have no idea, but it's so kind. Fortunately if no one claims it, it can go straight to the maw of the monster book sale and be redeemed. I saw the dump guy last week ripping covers off paperbacks and tossing them in the mixed paper heap, so I won’t do that to Mr. Cheever, even though I suspect that even at the book sale, ripping covers off has to be part of what the volunteers do to maintain sanity in the face of dinged-up boxes full of moldy crossword books.
Fortunately, I don't deal with material donations all the time. Part of me loves it – there's so much richness in people exposing the contents of their attics and basements – and part of me wants to burn everything I own and live in an empty yurt. Repairing, mending, caring for the material things in our lives is essential, and can also be a vast distraction. This past week, when my parents were visiting from Switzerland, was a tremendous stuff-fest. The stuff of food. Three times a day, something specific to eat – something to be transported, ordered, processed, melted, baked. And on top of that, the hospital of broken lamps for refugee households. Every single mis-wired, shadeless, hopeless piece of illumination we’ve been given, or scrounged, brought to the surface for tending. The floor lamp with a broken neck, the white glass lamp with a busted dimmer, the desk lamp that is a perfect tool for setting your house on fire. All of it. My dad is officially a power systems engineer, and yet, here he was, pulling apart wobbly, corroded bits, setting them plumb, putting them back together. My specialty was the gold spray paint that so hopefully conceals years of scarring and neglect. We were a good team, with my mother taking care of de-encrusting the grit and pall of old history.
Was this wise, all this eating, all this lamp-fiddling? Mostly yes. It didn't keep my mom and I from talking about death as we lapped up chocolate so thick two paddles are required to keep it spinning out of solid form. It gave us a door into connection. On the tikkun olam/heal the world front, re-enabling dead lamps to shine isn’t a bad idea.
Fortunately, projects end. Two people wrote to ask me about donating lamps this morning. No for you, and for you, too. Hold on to those blessings. I am done. I will sleep again past 5:30, and begin attending to something else in life.
Fortunately, something else will arise, without my having to go pawing around for it, and fortunately, I don’t have to cook up my own plan for what that will be. I have no idea, fortunately.
The muscles in my shoulders say, Can we please just have some time where exactly nothing is driving time forward? Can we plop John Cheever in a corner, not worry about the missing finial, and read a book? That sounds utterly reasonable, after weeks away, weeks with family, weeks of swimming the strange with-the-stream against-the-stream stroke of intensive improvisation.
Fortunately, I have decided to be the single least-informed American of the Trump presidency. I am opting out. I mean, people can tell me stuff, and I will try to understand why it’s important to them, but I’m not going to make any effort at all to top off my daily glass of hateful nitwittery. My mind-space will be dedicated to whatever is arising on the things I can actually do something about front, with generous pauses for those linty maxi-pads of doing nothing. The dogs are masters of this – sitting around belly-up, or with paws curled around decoratively. Fortunately, they remind me that just sitting around can be done with full attention.
Elliot and Chloe lay in their crates nose-to-thigh, or lounge on the couch with their heads on the armrests. Fortunately no one's enlisted them in an experiment requiring their complete desanguination, freezing, and resuscitation. Fortunately, we don't require them to hunt. Fortunately, we keep the dogs in kibbles, and we keep ourselves in tempeh. Fortunately, there’s no such thing as a canine membership in the NRA, and Elliot doesn’t have the thumbs anyway, so the postman is safe.
Fortunately also, this writing can wander and meander unprocessed and unscrutinized. I will read it out, and it will river on. I feel the tiredness behind my eyes and in my shoulders, but so be it. Fortunately, like a beloved dog, I can simply let it be.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now