It’s been raining torrentially all day- this morning we took the dogs to kelly point park, the superfund site where the metallic Columbia meets the sewage-filled Willamette, and big cold drops began to pelt us as soon as we stepped from the car. We walked along the path through the woods, throwing Emy’s ball before us. The poplar trees, huge overhead, swayed ominously in the wind from the oncoming storm, and we watched in wonder as limbs broke off, now and then, and fell in slow motion to the ground. Let’s go to the beach? I said. A tree might fall on us? But the beach was too exposed, the wind beating us like a newspaper and the rain splatting us and the lights from the grain barges on the river. Back in the forest, we watched the trees. Woo woo, they said. The air was grey with condensation. Along the trail nettles grew hopefully, taking up nuclear waste from the soil.
Now I’m in my trailer with the space heater up too high, and it’s still raining torrentially. Earlier I tried to study, laying in bed with my big floppy biology book, watching the water run in rivulets down the little trailer-window, but I fell asleep instead. Before I fell asleep I’d been trying to focus on the disputed kingdom Protista, but instead I was thinking indulgently about summertime, and houses I used to live in, and meadows I have known.
I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately. Maybe because it is the wet end of the wintertime, maybe because I have been in the city too long with only crowded backyards and superfund sites to retreat to. And it’s funny, because when you finally let a thing go, sometimes years after you first realize that you should be done with it, you never think that it will come back all draped in the soft colors of nostalgia. But that is how I feel today, tonight, about all sorts of things- and I am thinking of them longingly, here in my little driveway-house full of warmth with the rain pounding on the aluminum roof.
Where do they go, these things that happen? Our experiences, our disembodied stories? Apparently there is a compost heap in my brain where they are recycled into magic treasures, more whole then they ever actually were.
I think of North Dakota often, it is one of my muses, if I am using muse in the correct sense, if a muse can be a thing other than a person. Also my friends are muses, people I have known, mostly old friends who cannot get their shit together, who are propelled helplessly through life by their own irreconcilable contradictions, who are moved about as if by mystery. Who do not use logic. Who are painfully beautiful. Who always seem more alive than other people but also more ungrounded. Which is maybe the same thing.
And North Dakota. North Dakota from a freight train- the train goes fast, because north Dakota is wide open. The train could be said to hurtle. On both sides of the train, the soft gold grass. Bent at the tops, like an ocean. The native prairie that grew back after people fled to the cities. Just the grass and the train and above you, the glass observatory of the sky. Now and then a broken down barn, melting into the grass. A stone fence, half-finished, built from stones fished from the ground. A shiny ribbon in the prairie is a stream, flat and clear, like you could float down it on your back. Wind, and sometimes clouds, charging from the east. Lightning.
I used to do whatever I wanted. Travel all the time, move back and forth. I ate dumpstered birthday cake and slept outside under forgotten clumps of trees and that was ok, because I was young and needed nothing. I thought that everything was too fucked up to invest in anything, but then investing in nothing made me feel like I was already dead, and that made me wish that I was, and that feeling was confusing because I had no reason to want to be dead. It was like I wanted to be free so bad but then when I was free I realized that there was nothing else. Like when I was little and I would try and play the video games my brother liked so much but all I cared about was finding the edge of the world, moving my little man into all the corners of the screen to try and find some place beyond what you could see. But there’s nothing else, there’s just the tunnel or whatever, and it’s all set up for you, you’re supposed to jump and get the coin and stomp the mushroom and it’s supposed to make you feel good.
When I was younger, I never thought about what would happen. I figured that the world would just end soon so there was no point in thinking about it. The world felt old, tense, used up, on the brink of something. Everything felt so extremely precarious, like if I touched it it would fall over. It didn’t make any sense to me to put my efforts into something that would just end anyway. I didn’t know then that things that fall over build themselves up again, over and over like magic. It took me a long time to see that.
I used to not need anything- not money, not a home, not any specific food. But there’s a lot of stress in that lifestyle, and loneliness, and eventually your adrenals get worn out and you wake up one day and your body hurts and you can’t do it anymore and you need things. Or you throw yourself off a bridge, because the world hasn’t ended yet and you can’t keep bluffing.
I’ve been in Portland for a year and a half straight. I used to leave for about half of every year. Also notable- I’ve had my dog for a year and a half, I’m starting my second year of undergrad next term, and March 18th is my one-year anniversary with Seamus. I turn thirty this year, and I’m so grateful that this shit is getting easier. And it feels sweet, this nostalgia for the way I lived for so long, tonight, sitting in my trailer with the rain coming down- memories, dreams, popping up like treasures from underwater. Sometimes I feel anxiety about it- like I’ll never be able to travel again, because I won’t have the money, and my body can’t handle the way I used to travel, for free. Waking up on the freight train, sided somewhere in Minnesota, watching the dawn bleed into the sky. Shoplifting grapefruit and sardines. Spending days in a bramble thicket, reading Steinbeck. Walking for miles in the dead of night, looking for water. So many moments of feeling so alive- stacking up on top of each other, making the universe hum like an electrical current. Like it was just me and the universe. The universe moving through me, like I wasn’t even there. Have you ever felt that way? Like you can actually forget yourself enough for the universe to go about its business right in front of you. Like in any Farley Mowat book, when he’s been in his canvas tent in the snow for long enough and the wolves decide he’s just a bunch of lichen, and they start playing with each other and acting out all their wolfy dramas in front of him. Like he’s found the secret place at the edge of everything, where there’s something else that no-one knew was there.
I haven’t been working on my book for a while. I took too many credits this term, and I moved, so I haven’t had time to write. And I hate being really busy. It gives me big fluffy piles of anxiety. Too much of my brain is devoted to thinking about stuff like colors and shapes and patterns of light and very little is devoted to time management and schedule planning. So I sort of freeze up if my life gets too complicated and then I can’t do anything. I need large blocks of time to stare out the window and think about sea creatures. I need to be able to accidentally fall asleep while studying. I need to be able to be ten minutes late for everything. I may not actually be ten minutes late for everything, but I need that to be ok.
I wish I had another three month stretch to work on my book. It’s my ladder to the moon– I need it to climb out of here. But you need a really strong ladder to climb out of one way of life and into another one, and it takes a long time to build a ladder that strong. Right now I’m doing undergrad to prepare to go to school for my master’s in Chinese medicine, because that’s my other dream, besides writing. But when I look down that road I see full-time school for the next five years and then after that, working full time to pay off my student loans, and then working forever until I die. And there’s no time for writing in that anywhere.
How do you do it? How do you be an adult. How do you want things hard enough to make them real. It’s like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed. Or I woke up one day and realized where I was- in this body, on this ground, with this rain coming down everywhere. There’s no place at the edge of everything, and yet there is. And I can want both worlds, but so far, I haven’t figured out how to have them both at once. And that’s painful, but pain can be good. A motivator. Soothing, even. I feel pain, therefore I exist. This sucks and I want something else, therefore I exist. This sucks this sucks this sucks, I exist I exist I exist.