Rattle & Pen is a biweekly column exploring the liminal space between raising children and creating art.
Here we are (finally) at the dawn of spring. Equinox. Thank heavens.
This winter has been brutal for everyone I know – a season of too much darkness, hardship, and heartache. Between cancer diagnoses, job losses, sick kids, professional disappointments, broken relationships, and the relentless stream of hatred coming from the White House, we’re weary. All of us.
But spring is almost here, and with it will come (I hope) some measure of restoration and the regeneration of joy. With it (I hope) I will feel something other than the darkness of this winter.
The turn of every season retains for me an element of the magical, the holy, that ancient people invested in these markers of time. On this day (as on the autumnal equinox), our hours are split equally between light and dark. I can’t help but infuse that with meaning, especially this year. Since November, I’ve been out of balance, the darkness of the larger world like a fog through which I cannot see clearly. I am still waking now and then with a start, panicked but unable to say why. I am still periodically paralyzed in the midst of my daily tasks, hit out of nowhere with a wave of despair that makes me want to drop to my knees and weep.
More troubling than this, though, is the way in which these months of darkness (both literal and metaphorical) have stripped me of the ballast of my creativity. My words are incompetent to the task of overcoming my grief. And when I open my mouth now, my voice only shakes.
This feels shameful, honestly, in a time when there is so much to scream, to protest, to bear witness to. My inability to write at this moment is another kind of grief, another kind of uncertainty, and in the midst of it I have been (no—let me be truthful: I am) disoriented, destabilized.
You see, writing has always been for me an act of faith. Maybe that sounds naïve, but it is my truth. To write, I have had to believe in the inherent meaning and beauty of the world. Without that belief, I’ve thought, why would a person bother? For twenty-two years now, I’ve seen writing as an act of gratitude and reverence and hope. Making art—to me—has been a holy act of faith in us (humans), in the communities we build together, and in the beauty of our world.
But this winter, the darkness has overwhelmed me, drowned me, dropped me low. And let me tell you, my faith has never felt so thin.
Some of you are surely shaking your heads at this point and dismissing me. I’ve been privileged. (Yes.) I’ve been blind. (Yes.) I’ve been missing the point all along. (Maybe.) I hear you, and I don’t disagree. But what now? I’m listening now. What now? What now, after the sky has shattered and the ground has opened up, and yet we’re still here? We’re still fucking here, I think with anguish most days, and how do you write about that?
This morning I stood at my kitchen window looking out at my garden. In the absence of writing this year, there has been dirt. On days when in the past I might have been at my desk, this year I have been on my knees in the mud, trowel in hand, planting bulbs and seeds and tender green starts. The tête à têtes my daughter and I planted have finally sent up their shoots and are about to burst open. The peony plant I thought for sure hadn’t survived the winter has sent up the odd, red stems that mean it will bloom again this summer. The wildflower seeds I set one-by-one into thumb-sized trenches have sprouted the threads of stems. They’re waiting for spring now. They’re waiting for the incessant rain we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest this winter to taper off. They’re waiting for more direct light and for warmth and for longer days. They’re waiting—on pause—but they’re going to grow.
Standing at my window, looking at the determined green of my garden, the words of William Carlos Williams’s poem “Spring and All” materialized like a prayer in my mind:
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken
And so today I’m waiting for a little light. I’m hoping for growth. I’m listening and watching and standing—for a day—in the balance.