We live in time; we understand ourselves in relation to it, but in our culture, time collapses into an ever-present now. How do we pause when we must know everything instantly? How do we ruminate when we are constantly expected to respond? How do we immerse in something (an idea, an emotion, a decision) when we are no longer willing to give ourselves the space to reflect?—David Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading
This is the crux. When I read David Ulin's piece today, online, I realized that the pinch in my stomach is trying to tell me there isn't enough time to be all I can be. I've spent the last year, after having ditched my ownership and partnership in the small publishing company that was alternately edifying and terrifying, in search of a balance between the demanding state of now and the more meaningful and fulfilling state of quietude. I waste hours trying to keep up with everything in the book world, in politics, and with the ever-churning statuses of my friends and family. It's a treadmill, a hamster wheel, and yet also an improbable comfort. Surely if I know about everything, I'm part of a cure? Yes, do keep believing that until it's no longer helpful.
Maybe I'm looking to hard for recurring symbols, secular runes that could help me make sense of discordance. Many of the novels I read carry strands of my prevailing mood--how the world seems to teeter on the brink of drastic and probable decay. Ian McEwan's Saturday, Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply, parts of Lev Grossman's The Magician, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger--each of these books builds an underlying grief about what we're losing, or what we think we're losing because if we are honest, half the things we thought we had, we didn't. We've allowed illusions and the ever-powerful hum of our American Dream to steer us everywhere but inside, anywhere where mirrors have been transformed into fantasy projectors broadcasting a weak-chinned bravado.
Last year, I was sad about the breakup of my partnership and so I purposely avoided the fall. I didn't go outside and breathe the thin blue of our high-altitude sky or let my eyes drown in the beauty of leaves turning; I avoided gatherings; I kept to myself with my anger and regret, turning out instead a confident online voice that hid every true faultline. But that virtual cocoon isn't real. I must put one foot outside and straddle between worlds.
Fall is the best place to mark a turning. New Year's Eve might be traditional, but for me, newness belongs to autumn. This September, I'm going to lose a cat to cancer. I'm going to let go of my obsession with the now. I'm going to write more letters, allow myself some space to write a short story or poem or essay that might never be read. I'll prepare my high school girl to find a college and her own beginnings in a world beyond the safety of home, be a nicer wife, keeping singing to the cat, and build my own quiet path to something resembling peace.