Below is my take on this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, put out by WordPress. This week, the theme was “Snapshots” – essentially a challenge to describe a scene in words that you would otherwise take a picture of.
I’ve probably taken too many liberties with this theme; I doubt what I’ve written here really qualifies as part of the challenge now. But I got on a roll and just decided to go with it!
The leaves aren’t colorful anymore. The oranges and reds and golden yellows have given way to brown – just like the sunny sky of earlier today has given way now to charcoal.
Night hasn’t fully fallen yet; this brisk December evening can still be called “evening.” But “day” is hanging on by a thread now. The streetlights have flickered on, showering orange light to the ground. Every car and truck that fills the busy roads of this suburban enclave shines headlights.
I pause at the entrance to the path and aim my imaginary camera, but I don’t see any images worth capturing.
In truth, I’m not much in the mood to take pictures – even mental ones. I’m forcing myself to do this little writerly exercise, to pay attention, to document in a way what I see, not because I particularly want to remember this night but because I need the distraction.
There’s nothing wrong with me, particularly, or with my life; let me be clear about that. I’m not dealing with grief or loss or pain. Nobody I love is troubled in any particularly dark way, nobody is in need of help. I’m fortunate. I know that I am, and I’m grateful for that good fortune.
But yet…something is off. I can’t shake the feeling. I’m restless. I’m distracted. I feel this yearning. For what, I have no idea. It’s all feeling; nothing is concrete.
I’ve been trying to understand this. I’ve been exploring it in my writing (like in this post.) But I haven’t had much luck.
I don’t expect much from this little writing exercise – inspired by WordPress and their current weekly writing challenge. But I can use the distraction, if nothing else. So I’m playing this little game with myself tonight.
I’m going to take some pictures – mental ones – as I walk. Per the challenge, no real cameras allowed.
I step onto the path. It’s paved with asphalt and winds through fairly thick trees to encircle a pond.
Surrounding the pond, through the trees, are various apartment communities – one of which contains an apartment rented by my ex-husband, and where I am spending the holidays, so that he and our two kids can be together through the season.
I left the three of them, the kids and their dad, watching ridiculous videos of cats doing nutty things on YouTube and belly-laughing. The dog was curled up in the big red chair she loves. The other three were sprawled out on the floor (the proper place for all, according to pup.) Everything was happy. Everything was cozy.
As I think about that, I realize that, as my camera isn’t actually a real camera, but only one in my head, I have the ability to step back in time with it. And so I do.
I aim my lens at the three of them (four…I’ll include the canine). The scene is warmed by the golden light of the floor lamp. Big smiles are on all faces (including the dog.)
What I’m feeling has nothing to do with the people in my life. It has to do with ME.
Knowing this only makes it more frustrating.
I feel like there’s something I need to be doing. I feel restless to get going on it – but I don’t quite know what it is. Like I said, frustrating.
The holiday lights make it worse. This yearning…it’s strong.
But for what? I don’t know.
I don’t like not understanding myself.
I want some loud music. Something with some intensity.
I fit my earbuds into my ears with cold fingers. (I forgot my gloves, but I don’t feel like going back for them.)
I hit shuffle on my iPod and leave the choice of music up to fate – because sometimes I’m superstitious like that. I fancy sometimes that the right song will come to me by some sort of mystical ordinance, not the utterly random inclination of the device in my hand, and it’ll give me some sort of insight.
(Though if what fate hands me doesn’t match my mood, I AM switching it; I’m not good at totally giving up control.)
I start to walk…and the song starts.
I decide “fate” has chosen fairly well for my mood and I leave it.
As I walk, gradually picking up my pace, getting into a good groove, my mind starts to loosen, my thoughts begin to flow.
Exercise is good for this. (Maybe I haven’t been getting enough exercise lately.) I think differently when I’m moving – especially when it’s a mindless movement – like following a path.
My thoughts are drifting now, with the song. The song is steering the course of them – and so I’m thinking about life and about how, in some respects, my life has been a search for a fantasy. And of how it feels sometimes (often lately) like I’m “a shell of what I dream.”
I start walking faster. I’m just short of a run now, fueled by the pounding beat of the song, and the on-point-ness of the thoughts it’s taking me into.
I feel, I realize, like some sort of outline of what I believe. I feel like a pencil sketch, without the detail drawn in. Empty.
Of course, when you say “empty” it tends to sound depressed or bereft. I’m neither of these things. I’m not NOT happy.
What IS my problem lately??
It’s this time of year. It does strange things to me. It’s something about the lights. Something about the darkness…and the warm light that cuts the darkness. That’s what produces this yearning; that’s where the root of that lies.
But I don’t even know what I’m yearning for. For some kind of happy ending? Like, in Christmas movies?
The twinkly holiday lights exacerbate this feeling so much. Christmas trees are visible through occasional apartment windows as I speed along the path – and they’re so pretty.
But they make me hurt.
It’s welling up inside of me – this longing for something.
I break into a run, fueled by the song and the lights and the feeling of it all.
Everything begins to speed up, the lights blending now into streaks.
I slow down after a few minutes, and then stop. I bend at the waist to catch my breath and look at the world upside down. My own heartbeat is loud.
The song in my ears has turned now. Courtney Love’s voice rips at me – the tonal quality is powerful in itself, her voice so full of experience, her style of singing so full-on. And then you add the lyrics.
I really liked Hole way-back-when and then didn’t listen to them for years. Her voice from this 2010 album has changed a lot, to my ear, from those earlier albums. It’s so much more worn now. It’s the voice of somebody who’s lived and suffered.
“How did I end up all alone?”
I stand up slowly.
The sky is purple now, purple swirled with black. Way up high, above the black spindly tree limbs, above the reddish glow of the city, the stars are shining.
“Are you down to your bones? Are you down to your bones?” the lyrics sing.
I hurt. It’s coming from somewhere deep inside. I can’t even put into words why I am.
It’s too simple to say “loneliness.” I wouldn’t describe myself as lonely…maybe a little bit. But that’s not all of it. That’s only a tiny piece of it.
I look up – and without even thinking, I take a picture of the little pinpricks of white light in the purple-black. And more pictures. It’s so beautiful.
And I think about that place of belonging that doesn’t exist for me.
And I wonder what it means for me that it doesn’t. Is this a temporary state? Or is this my particular path? (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing…to belong to no one particular place. I just…wonder.)
It’s that hurting place inside that shivers when the cold wind gusts.
I do what I can to warm myself: I tuck my scarf more securely around my neck and I blow on my hands before stuffing them into my pockets. And then I start to move again.
I look out over the water as I walk. The lights are reflecting in the rippling little waves – lights from the surrounding apartments. The stars are meaningless in this very terrestrial place.
The idea of that doesn’t sit well with me, but it seems important.
The music has changed again.
“I don’t want to live my life on one side of an ampersand…” Amanda Palmer sings in my ear.
And I agree with her. I know this to be true about myself. The traditional paths – they haven’t worked for me. I have to make my own. You can’t force yourself into a place that SOUNDS good. You have to find the place that’s right – the one that is uniquely yours.
It doesn’t matter if “unique” looks to others as eccentric or even wrong. It doesn’t matter if “unique” means alone.
What’s important is to find what’s true for you. Whatever that means.
Nothing will ever be really right without authenticity.
And I think this is part of my current feelings. Because these lights are alluring, these holiday lights. The warmth that promises from all of these windows…I crave that warmth. Don’t we all, on some level? A safe haven. The concept of that is so appealing…so alluring.
This season – it wants you to believe in the safe haven. And more, it wants you to immerse yourself in it.
Well, what if you CAN’T? Because it doesn’t exist for you…or because you maybe have other priorities…or for any other reason? You’re going to feel…off. Right?
At the heart of things, the “safe haven” isn’t what I want right now. I do actually realize that about myself. I want something else. Something else. (Don’t ask me to define it more than that, because I can’t.)
But I think it’s up there, what I want. Up – up in the inky night, up with the stars.
The lights that glow in the windows, these lights that beckon with all of that promise of warmth and cozy – when it comes down to it these are facsimiles of what I want.
Firelight and candlelight…that’s closer. They feel more real to me. There’s at least something organic in them, something elemental. The sense of that soothes me.
But what I really want…it’s in the starlight. It’s in that vast timeless sky.
I’ve come upon the little playground now. It’s deserted – like some lost dream remnant of childhood in this light.
I use the jungle gym ladder to stretch – and then I sit down on the bottom of the slide. I lean back and look up.
I settle in to the song in my ears.
“Summer has come and passed. The innocent can never last.”
What is it about this time of year that makes a concept like that seem so much starker? (Is that just me??)
I don’t actually think “innocence passing” is the worst thing in the world. I was such an idiot in so many ways when I was younger. I had so, so, so much to learn – and much of it involved learning (or re-learning, because I think I knew it just fine when I was little) to trust myself and to be true to what I want for myself and what I need. I would never in a million years turn back the clock if it meant giving up this hard-won self-knowledge.
But this time of year…is it the lights? Is it movies and the fairy-tale-ness our culture wants to imbue on this season? I don’t know! But there’s this inherent, painful nostalgia that comes around. It shines through every open window, and forth from every Christmas tree. And it hurts.
And (unlike in the Green Day song) for me it’s not nostalgia for any particular thing. It’s not for any person or any particular memory. It’s for some possibility – something that hasn’t come yet. But definitely still could!
I honestly believe that, that it could – and therein, I think, is why I’m not depressed. I have lots of hope, I have enthusiasm. I LIKE where I am in life right now – I really do. I actually feel, fairly strongly, like I’m poised at the precipice of lots of really interesting living. It’s a good feeling.
And I’ve worked hard to get here – so there’s satisfaction in it too. I’ve fought to find this path. I’ve struggled to get here. And now that I finally am, I’m really excited to see where it takes me.
“Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars. Drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are.”
Why does this time of year bring pain? Because what I’m feeling is coming from the time of year. That’s the source.
If it was here before the last few weeks (and who knows, maybe the kernel of it was), it’s been fanned up a hundredfold by the season.
I hear a snuffling sound – and I’m looking at a dog. A golden retriever with a big grin. Its owner is on her phone and she pulls the dog back, mouthing a “sorry.” I smile and motion that it’s fine.
The dog grins at me again over his shoulder.
What the hell.
(I can’t resist a doggy grin.)
I get up and look around and as I do so my solitude wraps around me again. I step back onto the path and begin to walk.
It’s windy here, and the path is lined with trees. I can see glimpses of stars through the craggy branches and glimpses of reflected stars in the water between the thick black trunks.
In the distance to one side are the traffic lights, like a swarm of fireflies (do fireflies swarm?) The view reminds me of some amazing pictures of fireflies I saw recently, and I snap my own mental picture, enjoying the sense of movement.
Movement ahead…in the distance.
I think about that for a minute.
This time of year is, more than anything, about the passing of time, I think. I’m aware of time passing, and I feel the need to seize the moment and live it – really, really live it.
Does that have something to do with the cold? With the elemental human response to warmth in darkness (warmth as a way of combating the ravages of the elements?)
I do think that yearning feeling, that longing, is related to an awareness of the passing of time. (Why I feel more aware of time passing right now than I do at, say, my birthday in June is unclear to me – but I am more aware of it now.) It’s heightened by the holiday season, too, this sense.
Because it goes away for the most part in January, doesn’t it? At least, it does for me. I hit New Year’s and all this stuff about light and darkness recedes in emotional power. The focus becomes less about FEELING and more about DOING. I have the sense in January, every year, of a clean slate, a fresh start. Potential and possibilities rule.
But December isn’t like that – not at all. December is never like that for me (and this December just happens to be a particularly potent example of that.) December is darkness and candlelight, and the aching beauty of the stars in the cold, purple sky.
It’s a beautiful time, really. Everything about this time of year is beautiful…just like life can be so ridiculously beautiful. And it’s a lonely time too, just inherently, poignantly lonely. Just like life is sometimes so utterly and absolutely lonely.
It’s like, this time of year takes these essential facets of being human and strips away all the layers we usually keep over them – and bares them. They’re exposed – and this can be good or bad. But one thing you CAN’T do is NOT feel.
Is this a necessary thing?
Does the DO, DO, DO that I feel in January require the feeling of December? Does January’s fresh, clean, crispness, its sense of infinite possibility, need December’s emotion to germinate?
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it’s all a part of the cycle of things.
The leaves are swirling now, and night has decidedly fallen. It’s time to go inside.
Ahead of me, back at the apartment, are little kids and toothbrushes and pjs. Then a hot shower and pjs of my own, with candles and lavender tea…maybe some incense.
I’ll do some writing, I think. I’ll try, once more, to make some sense out of all of this.
And then try to get some sleep. This time of year keeps me awake – but the days start early around here, whether I want them to or not.
It’s actually that Hole album (Nobody’s Daughter) that’s been serving as my “lullaby” music the last few days. (There probably aren’t a lot of contexts where I would use “Hole” and “lullaby” in the same sentence…but this is one of those rare occasions!)
I think this might be my favorite song from that album:
Will my life ultimately be a “happy ending story”? Is there such a thing???
As I sit here, with candlelight and tea, and my daughter sleeping in her sleeping bag on the floor beside me, I can’t not ponder things like that.
I guess it’s just a December kind of question.