Over the past two days I’ve had three different conversations about my life in Scotland. By the time I got in my car to drive home, I was deeply homesick for it, mostly the friends and coworkers I miss, but also mundane bits like Christmas Eve in Waitrose, random herds of curious horses, learning how to ride the bus in a foreign land, and frost-covered moss. I was thinking of that moss when I encountered the frost-dusted leaf in this photo.
Homesickness is generally expressed as a one person, one place phenomenon, but I have experienced waves of homesickness for every place I’ve ever lived. I even yearn for Alabama from time to time, especially the late afternoon summer thunderstorms that shake the magnolia trees, all slick green and heavy cream. Does it make me feel fickle sometimes? Sure. Someone once excoriated my use of the word “favorite” because, in his words, “They can’t all be favorites.”
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Trains” by Poppy Ackroyd.
I don’t mean to eavesdrop on the breakup. My earbuds are in but I’ve woken up with a start, and the podcast that I was listening to has ended. I don’t have noise-canceling earbuds, so if there isn’t anything playing I can hear everything going on around me.
She’s telling him a version of “it’s not you; it’s me,” and it is long-winded and involves a mention of her “journey” and I get whiplash from cringing so hard.
He sits there and stares at his trainers on the rubber ridges of the bus floor. (Getting dumped on a bus is pretty bad; getting dumped while sitting in the sideways seats is worse. Every movement of the bus is shoving you into the last person you want to touch.) Occasionally he turns to her with a tearful glare but he cannot look at her for long.
She keeps talking, mostly too soft to hear. She reaches for his hand, and he does not move away, but his hand is prey, playing dead, while she swoops and takes.
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Take On Me – 2017 Acoustic” by a-ha. Sometimes I miss taking the bus to work.
About that writing offline I mentioned yesterday …
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with notebooks. The first notebook I remember loving so hard that I wore it down to a floppy nub was spiral-bound with an orange cover. In my notebook I wrote down a lot of facts that I thought Encyclopedia Brown would need to know if he ever needed my help to solve one of his cases.
Now I carry two Traveler’s Notebooks: one for work, and one for creative projects. I like having this separation between the two worlds. When I switch between notebooks, I feel like Mister Rogers trading his jacket and dress shoes for a cardigan and trainers.
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Spotify’s Winter Classical playlist.
Sometimes when I stroll through the circulation workroom of my library, a book cover catches my eye but because my to-read pile is already unreasonably large, I will merely nod respectfully to it and keep walking.
Recently my attention was snagged by “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I was really digging November’s meditations on acceptance. This month’s meditations are on mortality, and they are more challenging. Example: December 1st was “Pretend Today Is the End” with this quote from Seneca:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. . . .The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
–Seneca, Moral Letters, 101.7b-8a
I expected this year’s Holidailies to be about how horrified I am by American politics. But when I considered the meditation, I didn’t want to write about that anymore. I’m no less horrified, and I will continue to combat the forces of darkness, but writing about it online is not how I want to spend my remaining time on the planet. (Writing it all out offline is a different story, and has kept me sane this year.)
In the interest of postponing nothing, here are things I want to tell you today:
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Follow the Leader” by Foxygen.
Face-down on the operating table, I’m not yet numb. This part had escaped my meticulous mental preparation — not so meticulous after all — and when I realize that the numbing portion of the day’s festivities will involve injections of lidocaine, the familiar effervescence of panic travels across the backs of my arms and into my scalp.
I lose track after the twelfth injection. And you know how I love to count things. I have experienced lidocaine injections before, for dental work, and once for a cut on my finger that required stitches, but nothing compares to the precise, bee-sting pain of multiple injections. My breathing exercises work to a point, but it takes a lot more than breathing exercises for me to sit still while someone hurts me. I wish I had something as cool as Sherlock’s mind-palace. There isn’t even a tropical beach with swaying palm trees waiting for me in my mind. Visual imagination is not a strength of mine, so where I go in my head is a facsimile of a rundown, cramped office of the psychiatric resident I saw twice a week while I lived in Alabama.
I take a deep breath. The nurse says, “You’re doing so well!” and she sounds surprised. “Most people really hate this part.”
I really hate this part, I think as I exhale. But I am also my parents’ daughter, and I know how to put on a brave face when I think my discomfort might put someone else out.
When all of the numbing has taken effect, the part I still can’t fathom happens. It is a routine procedure and yet a piece of my skin is being removed, and my brain hamster-wheels as it tries to square these two things. I feel tugged at in a way that I did not expect; maybe I expected it to be more like opening a handbag, pulling out a glasses-case, and snapping me shut again. My eyes have been closed most of the time but they pop open as the surgeon calls softly to the nurse, and I see him pass a piece of my flesh over to her, settling it gently in a jar of clear liquid. Suddenly I picture a long line of glowing specimens in jars at the Museum of Science and Industry.
“O,” I say, louder than I mean to do.
“Everything okay?” the surgeon asks. He is at least ten years younger than I am.
“Yes,” I say, and it is, and it isn’t. The panic has receded, replaced by boring old nausea.
“We send this off to the lab for tests. To make sure,” the surgeon says. He does not need to finish the sentence.
Pain peels back my manners enough that I ask for more lidocaine during the sutures. It takes so much longer to sew me up that I feel like a sock that is too worn through to be darned, every stitch opening a bigger hole. Eventually the surgeon places a waterproof bandage over the site. My arms and legs are starting to shake when I slowly sit up.
“It’s the lidocaine,” the nurse explains. I’m wound up like a mechanical toy, limbs paddling air, waiting to be let go. She has a piece of me in a jar in a plastic bag. It seems rude to leave it behind but it’s not mine anymore.
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Cave” by Future Islands. The surgery described above happened two months ago; I’m already healed and everything was benign. Still processing it, apparently.
I hear a piercing cry from somewhere in the house. It’s a small house, but sound carries and bounces and hides. I do a full circuit, glancing in all of the usual places, and get halfway around again before I hear another cry, this time from upstairs.
“Zen? Zen?” She can’t have gone far; she’s almost twenty-one years old, and “running” isn’t in her repertoire anymore.
I reach the top of the stairs but she is not in sight, so I walk down the hall into the bedroom. No, nothing in here. I walk back out and she is standing at the top of the stairs, gazing down.
For a moment, I watch her contemplating her own existence, or staring into the middle distance — it’s not always clear which is which, with cats or humans. But it’s not long before I can help myself from saying, softly, “Hey.”
She looks at me and makes the different sound, the purr-trill that I’ve come to know as, “Where were you?”
I scoop her up and carefully descend. She’ll settle again for a little while, until a chill or the wind or a bad dream or existential dread will rouse her from twitch-ridden sleep. Like she is mourning an old friend, Zen’s cries will rise and slide up the wooden bannister until I, bleary with my own bad dreams, will go and find her again.
Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: the low hum of the space-heater. Welcome to Holidailies, a free community writing project that promotes sharing your writing and other online creative endeavors during the winter holiday season.