an amble

{So what I’d do if I were you is is scroll down to the link under “Harvey Keitel” in this post and open another window on which you can hear Tom Waits croon “Innocent When You Dream.” You might get enticed to watch the video – the opening credits of the film “Smoke,” which is such a good film – but it would be better if you just let the music play while you come back and read this as it all goes together well – like Coke and pizza, sort of. Also, know that I wanted to put photos in here of Hannah and the walks we took around our block. I’ll probably add them yet. But my internet has become so slow that this is impossible. The internet company, it seems, is conspiring to help me better understand this lesson of patience and slowness. Who knew Mediacom was so spiritually wise?}

Up in the middle of the night. Again. But now without the soft snores of Hannah, my dear old dog. We put her to sleep last week. The vet came to the house. The kids were here and Andrew, their dad, and Chris, my partner. It was all very post-modern and all just as it should be. Hannah had three pairs of hands on her as she began to take deeper breaths, her eyes becoming glassy. I’d fretted up to the end as whether it was the “right” thing to do, but when the drug first hit and she released a long sigh – a sigh I think she’d been holding for months – I let go, too.

I’d spent the day with her doing very little. I puttered a bit, read a little, drank tea, did a load of laundry. I spoke to her. Went over and petted her for awhile. Then sat back down at the table. It was a day of slow moving, the kind of day I rarely (ever? never?) allow myself.

I was often impatient, wanting my walk to bring me exercise. To get from A to B. This walk, however, was an amble and a meander.

“Attention is love,” I read recently from one sage blogging friend. Amen. I have been listening to these words replay in my head. Stopping myself from reading while eating. Stopping myself from talking on the phone – the tiny cell phone squinched between my ear and my shoulder in a way that is clearly not body friendly – while cooking or folding laundry. I have been trying to slow down.

There was a time when Hannah was slowing down and I thought she might die soon – by soon I thought months, though it turned out she had way more than a year – that I took my camera with me on our daily walk. She couldn’t go much farther than around the block, and even that took quite a long time. I was often impatient, wanting my walk to bring me exercise. To get from A to B. This walk, however, was an amble and a meander. I knew I needed to calibrate my expectations, even to use Hannah’s slowness to help me come to a new place and pace. Still, I couldn’t resist turning it into an opportunity for a project. And so I’d take my camera with the intention of capturing our daily walks and seeing this block anew.

It didn’t last long. I’m no Harvey Keitel. I just couldn’t see much difference in the alley from one day to the next. The goldenrods took weeks to deteriorate; the neighbor took months to move her dilapidated van.

But I did slow down. I did do my best to enjoy each step. Not to rush her. Or even to walk ahead without guilt but then to stop and wait for her with love. To be with her.

—–

They are fed by fear – fear of not having a project at hand, of not living up to some self-designated label of “writer” and “artist.”

Over Christmas, sitting with my friend Mary on her sofa, we talked about my creative work. I do too much. I’ve been told this again and again but usually deny it or see it as a necessary evil to being a creative person. You have to throw a million darts for any of them to really hit. But as we talked through various projects that are simmering on my 16-burner stove, I saw that hardly any of them are being tended to. Hardly any of them are being concocted out of real love and passion. They are fed by fear – fear of not having a project at hand, of not living up to some self-designated label of “writer” and “artist.” They are fed out of a sense of necessity. And most of them make me feel like I’m treading water and gasping for air.

Where is there traction? Where is there passion? Where is there juice? I thought through all of the kind-of projects, the would-be’s and the should-be’s until I landed on one that affirmed each of these questions. It’s a project that an agent friend told me probably wouldn’t fly, so I’d abandoned it. But in doing so, I see now that I’d given up on myself a bit. Re-embracing this project – even the possibility of it – has let me release the other projects. Or to reassign them in my mind as things that might happen at another time, in another way. And if not, that’s just fine.

For now, I’ll walk around this one project as though I’m walking around the block. I’ll notice the flowers in its cracks and the way the pine trees lean into the power lines. And maybe I can make some dates with it for do-nothing days when I sit at my table and talk out loud a bit to Hannah’s memory. Sip some tea. Fold a few towels. And remember that even when our lives slow down, whether by necessity or intention, there is still plenty to do and even more to appreciate.

—-
{So perhaps the song is done now? I love Tom Waits. Friends in California have their kids at the same school as his. I know, it seems impossible that Tom Waits has a kid-kid – like someone young enough to have parent-teacher conferences and the like. I guess the school secretary saved a message on her answering machine from him saying that the kid couldn’t make his saxophone lesson that day.

While writing this, I got my daily email from The Writer’s Almanac, which ended with this quote by the novelist David Mitchell who awhile back wrote a very complicated book called The Cloud Atlas that I always wanted to read but, well, it just seemed too hard. He has a newish book, which is more straight forward, of which he’s said: “Midlife crisis. Age. The heart gets more interesting than structure. I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, we’re stuck with each other for a while. And suddenly there’s an understanding that this is what life is — it’s actually the mess, it’s the mud, it’s the tangle. It’s not the clean, hygienic … fireworks. It’s the little invisible novels that get written between two people every day of their lives. It’s the subtle power shifts. It’s the love, it’s the less-noble sentiments that make every single day either good or bad or not so good or wonderful or moving through all these things at the speed of West Cork weather. This is interesting stuff. Why go out there in search of extraterrestrial life when it’s already here?”}

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9 thoughts on “an amble

  1. Jennifer,

    Thanks for your beautifully expressed thoughts, from ‘your deeps.’

    I came across a Thoreau quotation recently (from his Journals), and am inspired by your writing to share it:

    “To be calm, to be serene! There is a calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind…So it is with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we were never before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity!”

    Be well.

    Joan

    • So nice to hear from you, Joan, and to know you’re out there in the Midwestern ether reading my words and reflecting. I do like the notion of “the deeps.” Reminds me of swimming in the lake this summer and being certain that I’d see Swami Kripalu floating down there on the bottom looking up at me, imparting something of importance!

      • Those moments swimming in the lake, deep in our thoughts (or in the gaps between thoughts!), did provide some expansive insights and solace.

  2. Jennifer, I love reading your words and thereby your thoughts. In a similar way, I’ve been trying to unplug a lot this year (and maybe forever) which is a sort of way of getting at doing one thing at a time, or at least sometimes doing one thing at a time. Where is there juice? That’s where to go, you’re right. It’s so easy to think about ALL THE THINGS WE HAVE TO DO (especially those we have to do for/to please others or get paid) all in one big ball of stress, and untangling that, even when allowing for the knots that won’t untangle, but being with the knotted thread, is something I want to do more of. I’m not sure that metaphor works. But anyway, thanks for this post. (So glad Hannah’s passing was full of love. So sad for you all.) (And !!! about Tom Waits’ kid. I saw him–it must have been Sullivan–perform briefly in 2008 in Columbus, with Tom, and big brother Casey on drums. Casey also played in their 2006 tour, which I saw in Louisville and Cleveland. And “Innocent When You Dream” is the anthem of the novel–the juicy one–I’m writing now. In fact, the metal and clang of Tom Waits music was one of the early inspirations for this whole novel. So this made me grin.)

  3. Ambler is my married name. At first I hated the idea of wandering without direction, but I’ve slowly embraced it. It’s good for a person like me who needs to feel busy busy busy.
    I’ve also been thinking a lot about multitasking, and love the idea that attention is love. I’m going to remember that one.
    xo

  4. Pingback: Stuck « Mothers of Invention

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