It is springtime, I have springtime insomnia. I become furiously excited and then, it rains, and I wilt, and my excitement turns to cold fear, and I lay in bed and pick apart my brain, wondering what I am doing wrong and how I can fix it.
This afternoon, while standing over the sink in my trailer, drinking water from an old blue mason jar and watching the rain, I came to a realization-
There is always the same amount of suffering. If I lived in the forest, in a tree- if there was no electricity or plastic and I got to walk barefoot, all the time, in the forest- life would not be awful in the ways it is awful now, but it would be awful in its own, special way. Maybe this sounds obvious to you but I often tell myself that life is hard just because I am in the city, and blah blah blah, if there were enough people living on enough land I would live there and life would be so much better- but then today, drinking water from my jar, I admitted to myself that this is not true.
One year ago I heard the saying “One happy thing is every happy thing” and it struck me like a bell, and made me feel less fidgety. And then this afternoon I realized that one awful thing, too, is every awful thing- that there is no hierarchy of awful, there is no escaping awful.
The past three days I’ve been a little sick, and also depressed, I think, and I missed class and I walked my dog to the library, through the beautiful neighborhood with the huge trees leafing out and snowing blossoms everywhere, and I checked out Craig Thompson’s Habibi, and then, back at my trailer, that is what I did, read Habibi, for three days. Habibi is overwhelmingly beautiful, and if you haven’t read it, you should. It is expensive but if you remind yourself that the library exists, then you remember that life can be easy, too. Also, in my trailer, with the rain coming down, I read James Baldwin, and I started the Grapes of Wrath again. Then today I did writing exercises with my friend Sweethome, in her kitchen, and for our second prompt we each made a list and then exchanged lists, and wrote from that. In the list we had a dead person and I had put James Baldwin in mine, and Sweethome didn’t know who James Baldwin was, so in her piece she had James Baldwin dying on a rocky plateau in Russia, mourned by a boy with wheat-colored hair. I thought it was appropriate. Sweethome is a magical, shiny yoga teacher who makes me feel calm and who appears, as yoga teachers do, as though she will live forever.
I keep thinking of moving to the desert but then I think of the loneliness, of leaving all my friends behind. I think of a wind-swept expanse of cracked earth and just myself, alone, slowly going mad from the solitude. I tend towards hermitism as it is, here in this teeming city of extremely likeable people. There are so many friends I already do not see often enough, and I live less than two miles from most of them. I beat people back with sticks until they forget about me, and then I can approach them on my own terms, like a feral cat. I become overwhelmed, for some unfathomable reason, when people actually want to make plans with me. I don’t know what I am afraid of, but just thinking about it makes me want to lock the door of my trailer, turn up the space heater, climb in bed with a stack of books and my dog, and not leave for many days. I am, as you can imagine, the absolute worst person to get into a relationship with. And of course I tend to date people who want to hang out constantly. And I am always disappointing them, and they are forced to psycho-analyze my behavior in some attempt to find the “pattern” so that they can figure out my “intimacy issues”, as if existence were a tapestry woven neatly of tidy little threads. And the people that I date, the ones who want to hang out all the time, and be married, and have babies, forever, also tend to date people like me, who mostly just want to be by themselves. I don’t know why this is except that it’s the way that everything is.
Speaking of friends, my friend Madeline is moving away this summer and it makes me very sad. Madeline is my oldest Portland friend and also one of my closest friends. For nearly a decade our lives have been parallel, coming apart and then together again, like a braid. When I lived in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula she was my only friend out there, aside from the stars and the elk, who would huff, just beyond the yellow circle of my porchlight. That was a hard year for Madeline, and she spent much of the winter weeping in the pile of blankets that was her bed, on the upper floor of a hundred year-old farmhouse on a dark country road in the middle of the forest. I would visit her, and pet her cat, and sit in front of the woodstove. Her housemates would have made chicken soup and biscuits and the kitchen would be filled with steam. On sunny days Madeline would go to the barn, where a trapeze hung from the rafters and she would swing around and around on it, like a monkey.
Madeline and I met in 2003. I was twenty-one and we were both staying in a small peaked house that got so much traffic from overly-eager anarchists like ourselves that it felt more like a community center than a house, and the FBI would occasionally visit, which I thought was really, really cool. It was summer and Madeline wore short-shorts and a leopard-print top that she’d freeboxed. She was really tan and her hair was wild, like she’d been electrocuted. She carried the skin of a housecat with her everywhere, she’d found it in the road and she was slowly working it with her knife, to make it soft. That’s how we all were. There was nothing subtle about any of us. I, for my part, was just beginning to use freight trains and the fact that I could live without money to prove, once and for all, that I actually had an identity.
Of course young anarchists are the foot-soldiers of gentrification, and so it was no surprise when it turned out that our house was at the very center of the newest hip neighborhood of rapidly gentrifying Portland, like right at the exact intersection of the very center of the most desirable new neighborhood (where, of course, the black people have always lived). And so we were all evicted so that the landlord could sell our dilapidated, one-bedroom shotgun shack (that was never meant to house eleven people), and it could be painted a cheerful green, and it is now, somewhat inadequately, a storefront.
Madeline was also the inspiration for my story Madge and Pansy, which some nice person then made into an audio recording which you can listen to on your computer, part one and two. She’s the inspiration for a lot of my writing, actually.
Madeline is moving to Bellingham, which is a place I know nothing about except it’s rainier than Portland, and much closer to Canada. And I have a cousin who lived there once, and he would smoke pot and drink coffee and go to the beach and have epiphanies. I want to say that I’ll visit Madeline in Bellingham, in the moldering old mansion where I imagine her living, but it’s hard, right now, to imagine going anywhere that is more rainy that this. I don’t, actually, want her to move to Bellingham. I want her to move to New Mexico with me. I want to take all my friends to New Mexico with me, in a caravan. We can gentrify a neighborhood somewhere in the desert, and start this process all over again. Or we’ll go out into the desert and build our own neighborhood, from old trailers. We’ll have chickens and goats and there will be babies and feral kittens and lots of life and death. And none of the trailers will have mold in them, because it will be the desert. In the desert, objects last forever. Here in the rainforest there is a vicious beast called Decomposition, and she stalks your houses, your buildings, your objects left out in the elements. She injects them with her seed, which is small droplets of water. Small droplets of water to feed the moss, the mycelium, the primary decomposers. Powerful forces to tumble your house of cards. Decomposition thinks that cities are just unruly leaf piles, she works her magic to turn them back into forest floor. We hammer away, prop things up, tie things together with twine. We are faster, more nimble, but still it feels almost impossible.
I am talking about the moss, of course, growing on the caulking that seals the outside edges of my trailer. This summer I will scrub my trailer, and paint it, but for now it is slowly being eaten.
One awful thing is every awful thing, and now, I think, I can sleep.