Quiet Lessons

April 22, 2020
April 22, 2020 AllisonM

Quiet Lessons

It is so quiet these days. Must be a welcome silence for some people, an ominous one for others. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m as appreciative of the forced changes as I can find ways to be — I walked outside last night and thought that I’d never heard less industry and more nature, which was fascinating and wonderful if a little eerie — while just as simultaneously afraid of what it means. But I wonder — does a forced fallow season produce at its end a better emergence of some kind, a great harvest, like a natural one does? 


Maybe this is a natural one. Maybe it was time for us to go inside, so to speak, to sit down and shut up and have a good, long think. 


It isn’t as if I’ve had a ton more time to do that — I’ve always worked at home and still am, obviously, and maybe even more so as I scramble, like everyone else, to figure out how to make a living now. But I’ve also changed how I’m doing that work, if in just small ways. I’ve had to. Y’all ever try to do things like write books and songs around homeschooling a special needs ten-year-old through zoom sessions and embedded ABA techniques? I have no choice but to throw up my hands and just go with it, whatever it is, most days. So I find myself in a looser mood, unable to be so concerned about every little thing at a time like this when what really matters has slapped us in the face so very forcefully. I’ve also become more interested in the natural world than ever — maybe that’s because it’s what I crave, maybe it’s because I can’t really go anywhere but my yard. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing — I grew up in the country and feel more and more connected to the rhythms of the seasons and I’m thankful we haven’t figured out how to manipulate them yet. Maybe it’s because that’s where my mind is — on what is natural, on what is not forced, on what feels right, on what is allowed to move in the way that it wants to. One of the things that I’ve learned during this time is that there really is a way to have more balance. Sure, I miss going out to lunch with my girlfriends, but I don’t mind so much sitting in my backyard during that two hours. I also miss going out to dinner or to shows with my husband, but I don’t mind so much cooking or ordering in and sharing the quiet and calm time together that we missed so often in our former lives when we were both here, there, and everywhere. 


I’m sure we will return to some sort of semblance of what was, but I hope we take what new balance we’ve found with us out of this. Some things just seem unnecessary now, don’t they? I certainly needed more balance and was always searching for pathways toward it, still am. I had a hard time saying no to anything, and because of that, didn’t ever have time to fit in everything I wanted to fit in. Now that some of those options have been taken off the table, I feel freer, not the opposite.


I watched a snail crawl for at least ten minutes yesterday morning. I’d gone out to baby the new ferns and hostas I planted in the bed around the tree in the front yard, and while bending down to get a closer look at them, I spotted her — tiny, greyish-mauve, with a glistening neck and antennae — she’d stretch her head forward over a piece of mulch and pull her (relatively) giant shell along with her. I thought of what might be the equivalent weight of her shell for my body. A refrigerator? A coffee table? How would I get along if I had such a thing strapped to me and it was my job in life to haul it around to use as a house when I needed it? Sounds sort of convenient. It also sounds heavy. Either way, she needs it for protection, otherwise she’d dry out and die. 


Then I thought, Oh, but I DO have to do almost exactly that, don’t I? I have a shell that I drag around and retreat into, even if it’s only the metaphorical kind, and it goes with me no matter what. I also have the kind that is constantly given to me to wear on my back by the outside world — the incredibly burdensome one of expectation. I stretch my neck past its limits and go forward, only to have it catch up with me every time. That snail I watched yesterday morning needs her shell. But I don’t need mine. The characteristics of the shells a human being creates for herself — egotistical, vain, selfish, weak, proud, brilliant, loving, strong, tender, complicated, protective… The ones of the shells put on us by the world — perfection, perfection, perfection…


The dear Sarah Buxton posted on her Instagram account the other day a brutally honest detailing of the results of a lip filler injection gone wrong. She almost lost her bottom lip, or at least parts of it, due to an errant needle which hit and blocked an artery. Now, I haven’t ever gotten any kind of filler put into my lips or under my eyes or into the labial folds on the sides of my nose or any of those things we’re told were supposed to be doing by the age of thirty-five, but I HAVE been getting Botox, or ACTUAL BOTULISM, injected into my forehead and crow’s feet for the past almost eight years to ease the worry wrinkle in between my eyes and to lessen the crinkly lines around them. Superficially, I think I look better with fewer wrinkles. And I like to feel like I look good. Who doesn’t? And it’s not wrong to like feeling like I look good. It’s not even wrong to go to whatever lengths one wishes to feel like they look good — that’s a personal choice. On a deeper level, it has helped with my headaches because the paralyzing effects make it harder for me to make “the face,” which, for a worrier like me is too often the resting position. But I am starting to feel like an idiot for paying someone to put a toxic liquid into my face, so I am considering (I said considering) not ever doing that again. Botox blocks the signals that run between the nerves and muscles which prevents the muscles from contracting. Should I be blocking my nerves from telling things to my muscles? Why can’t I just sit down and rest when I have a headache? Why can’t I just run my fingertips over that spot in between my eyes that contracts and makes “the face” to soothe it instead of just outright killing its ability to do what it’s supposed to do? Now — I don’t want to make any grand statements here and say I’ll never do this or that again or I will do this and that no matter what — I reserve the right to keep poisoning myself out of vanity or doing whatever it is that I feel like doing. But it did occur to me yesterday, as I watched my new gastropod friend, to ask myself on what I’d rather spend ten minutes — watching her cross a piece of mulch and reveling in the natural world for free, or getting really painful injections of shit that can kill me injected into my face so I can try to convince myself that people don’t know what a damn near forty-eight-year-old woman looks like and paying a lot of money for the pleasure of such?


My ninety-three-year-old grandmother never got botox. I’d rather look like she does right now than a piece of shiny, fake plastic. I’m not sure she ever stopped moving for long enough to watch a snail for ten minutes, but I’m sure she’d tell me that’s a much more worthwhile activity than the other thing I’ve mentioned. 


I made a video of myself singing a song at the piano yesterday. I miss my sister and wanted to commune with her in a way that only music allows, so I sang a song that we have only ever performed together. It was emotional, and rightly so. Before I posted it to social media, I noticed that the angle provided a pretty good view of my jawline and neck, which are both beginning to sag. No, I didn’t like it. Nor did I have a talented camera operator to set the angle differently so that no one would be able to see the beginnings of my sag. But I didn’t ask myself what I could run to a plastic surgeon and have done about it. I told myself that yep — you’re almost fifty, honey, that’s what happens, as shocking as it is. And I posted it anyway. I’ll call that progress, though I did notice the sag very much and hated it with a purple passion. Then I thought about what that jawline has done, and how many times I’ve set it just so and endured or prevailed or conquered or did something someone told me I couldn’t do. One more heave of my shell across a piece of mulch.


I guess times like these put everything in a sort of perspective. I did not want to be forced to stay inside my house for a month. I did not want anyone to get sick and/or die from a horrible virus. I did not want our world economy to be destroyed. I did not want people to lose their jobs, businesses, homes, schools, and services. I did not want families and friends to be estranged. I did not want any of what we’re experiencing now and it’s scary as hell, all of it. But if we can come out of it a little smarter, kinder, and stronger, especially to ourselves, because that can only grow outward, we will have used our forced fallow period as wisely as we could’ve. 


I don’t know what I’ll ultimately decide to do about the “beauty” question. But at least I’m asking it. This is a perfect time to do so. I probably wouldn’t have done that without the gift of Sarah’s honesty and the gift of the quiet time to watch the snail and plenty of other things do their work, quietly, humbly, and diligently. I’ve decided, mostly, to be grateful for the blessings that this all brings and there are some — for with every loss there is some sort of gain. What those things are, are yet to be seen. But I may let my hair go completely grey and it may be the best head of hair I’ve ever had. I may not. I may embrace my wrinkles and say to hell with chasing some ridiculous standard of beauty and decide I’m beautiful because of who I am, not because I meet someone’s expectations. But for today, I’d like to think that one of the blessings is that I’ll become more comfortable with life in general, that I’ll stop from time to time to watch a snail in the flower bed, and quit worrying so much about that shell of expectation I’m supposed to carry around on my back. 


Peace and love and happy Wednesday,