I am not going to read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday.
Never mind that he’s on deck for a Monday evening book group at the Unitarian church right up the street. And I have two full weeks until then, which is more than enough time. And it’s an opportunity to talk ideas and raw human family concerns with like-minded, world-eyed liberals right here in my community.
And that I want more than anything to disrupt this aching lonely purposeless robotic toil-consume-pick up-drop off-sort-pay-do-it-all-again-tomorrow middle aged existence by weaving myself into a project bigger than me, and attending this group is one simple step towards a richer life.
Because that’s a lie.
I want other things. This I want, yes, but only as much as other things, not more than. Maybe even less than, if I’m really honest.
My 7am Zumba is a few notches higher. That’s why, instead of reading past 11pm, I turn off the light and quiet myself down.
Also higher on the list? Long, meandering walks through the neighborhood with Noodle.
Making my own hummus from scratch is up there too.
Drawing crayon doodles on the envelopes into which I fold letters to Bug at camp. And scritch-scratching in my journal. And tip-tapping here: All higher.
Also whirling through loops and riding over soft plateaus in nighttime phone conversations with My Mister. And deadheading the basil. And transplanting the peppers. And mining the deep vein of creativity when the tough tasks come calling during my 8 hours.
Lunchtime yoga. That’s higher too.
If I really want that book club and the currency I imagine it carries — I mean, if I really want it — the choice is simple. Kick Jared Diamond up to the top of the list. Let something further down fall off.
And here I am, standing at the local library about to wave my key-card under the scanner. I look at what I’ve got. An Alice Munro collection of short stories, a thin volume of poetry exercises, a Stewart O’Nan novel called Last Night at the Lobster.
And Jared Diamond.
I think, What would it hurt to just take him home? Maybe if he’s there on the bedside table, I’ll pick him up. He might enthrall me. Just imagine how edifying, how engaging that discussion group! Fourteen days? No problem.
But why do this to myself?
Why this relentless work to repair, mutate, improve?
Somehow, I still fear the call chorusing through me is a siren’s song. The desire I drive so hard to override must be Peter Pan at the window, stunted id and stars for eyes.
Somehow, I am still trying to get this growing-up thing right. And still doubting that the woman right here in this skin is actually enough.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
— from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”
I’ll do better (because doing better seems to be so damned important) if Jared Diamond makes his 512-page case somewhere other than my bedroom. I set his down on the re-shelf cart.
The moment I do, two quick but powerful currents rush past from opposite directions. The first says, Rock on, Girl! You’re free of that pointless assignment!
The second one is harder to decipher, but I still manage to catch its gist. It says, There goes another chance to be a person of substance. Have fun playing in the shallows, my friend.
And because my father earned a PhD, lists dozens upon dozens of publications on his CV, and spends a good chunk of his weekends reading not only the entirety of the Washington Post but a good portion of the works of nonfiction reviewed in its “Book World” — because of all of this, I am forever falling short of the mark.
That mark written on the bones of ghosts.
That mark mapped in disappearing ink.
I beep through the library checkout with only poetry, short stories, and a novel. As I do, I take a deep breath and tell myself the true small truth. This one has nothing to do with Jared Diamond.
It is this:
I will never be my father.
The heart shivers, resists, cries out for the comforting lie.
Then lets go.
I carry home my works of fiction and image. I walk my dog, slice peaches and cherries, talk on the phone with My Mister, then come here to write.
(So much closer to nonfiction than anyone let on.)
Something alights outside my bedroom window. It calls softly.
This song, I’m learning.
This song, mine.
10 thoughts on “69. Things I Can Tell Myself: One Small Truth”
I found myself skimming through much of his book. Let your kids burn themselves in the fire was maybe a piece of advice that I gleaned. But then we keep a jungle of aloe plants on the west window just in case. And here I am commenting again. I promised myself I wouldn’t – but then you wrote about Mary Oliver and Jared Diamond and fathers all in one post…
Thanks for the cliff’s notes version. . . maybe I can attend the book club and just fake it.
for myself i think that coming to grip with the limits (tragic as they may be) of what we have any real influence over has been vital to my learning to focus more on doing what i can to make life as humane as possible for those near and dear to me.
really if i can make it to the pillow and have been a bit kinder and more understanding in my daily interactions that’s something noteworthy as i fail in such efforts more often than not.
Out for a walk tonight,
the dog is throwing all her weight
against the leash, lunging toward
the fat tomcat
licking his black ankles
with a delicious, solemn attention
at the top of the neighbor’s steps.
Because this is what the dog
was made to do.
Because for some lucky animals
the space between the body
and what it wants
is all there is.
“Late Summer” by Carrie Fountain
I really appreciate you sharing this glimpse into your experience. Coming to grip with limits… that’s a tough one, but so necessary.
ah well you have made that kind of space here, it’s better than setting myself up (again) to expect people to be able to come together in new ways that might make a difference, but not easy to bear the weights of the world and just bear witness, can’t imagine being a parent these days with all that’s going down.
Can’t ignore it, though. I’ve got to leave this kid something at least healthy enough to try to save.
indeed, we do what we can
From the measure of beauty that you put on a page you are a person of substance a million times over. Without question.
Wow, such kindness! You brightened my whole day!
I’ve shivers from joining you here on the journey to your song – as I hear my own outside my window this morning! Thank you for scratching beneath the surface of your moments. marga