Meditation on Limbo

Limbo is a dance, one I have never been good at. Limbo the dance requires one to be limber–supple and agile, able to bend and balance in ways that life does not, for most of us, often require. Even as a child, when I was at my most flexible, I never liked doing the Limbo, with its awkward backward bending in front of an audience, its requirement to pass beneath a pole without touching it. Now that I am a thickening adult with a constantly stiff back, I am sure that if I were to attempt the dance I’d be eliminated in the first round.

Limbo is also a part of Hell. Although raised Catholic (for the most part), I never gave it much thought until I read Dante’s Inferno. Home to unbaptized infants and virtuous pagans, it seemed the best place I might hope to land, if Dante’s vision of the after life has any basis in reality. I rather liked his architecture of sin and, apart from the bits about unbaptized babies and those who died from suicide, generally agreed with his hierarchy of evil.

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Like the Tom Hanks character, sure I will get to return at some point but with no idea of when, I find myself needing to think (and be) differently today than I did a week ago. The power company has a map that suggests power could be restored today, but yesterday the kind (and understandably weary-sounding) PGE lady I talked to told me that it is an estimate, not a guarantee. Something in her voice and words told me I shouldn’t count on that map. She was sorry, but she really couldn’t tell me when I might be able to return. The estimate map, she told me, was so that I could plan, but she couldn’t promise anything.

“How can I make a plan if I can’t actually know when the power will come back?” I asked.

She said she was sorry she couldn’t help me more. I was, too.

This morning, however, I realize that she has, in fact, helped me develop a new plan, which is only this: To live in the day I am in, and let go of plans with agendas and timelines and notions of home that aren’t serving me well in the place I’ve found myself. As I let this plan settle over me, it occurs to me that maybe I’m not traveling deeper into hell, but into some place that is its opposite. Maybe we all are, those of us who have weathered one event after another that has upset the apple cart of our lives and found ourselves scrambling to gather spilled fruit, grateful to reclaim even those that got bruised in the tumble.

Time will tell.

Who better to teach me how to live in the moment?

Fire and Ice

The past ten days have been a week, y’all.

Let me give it to you in numbers:

1 dose of Covid vaccine

1 Covid test

1 dead car battery

A diagnosis of 3 likely sleep disorders

1 referral to a sleep specialist

4 laxative pills and 2 jugs of Gatorade and 1 bottle of Miralax

1 binge-watch of the entire first season of Imposters, in 1 (literal) sitting

1 colonoscopy

1 power outage

1 power restoration

1 power surge

3 loud noises from 3 different major appliances, simultaneously

1 more power outage

2 phone calls to the power company and 1 honest service rep telling me that because my snapped wire affects only me, it will be days before it is repaired (because there has been nearly 300,000 people without power)

3 (and counting) nights away from home

2 days of school closure (reminding us all that while our schools might be in distance learning, they have been, in fact, “open”–and if you don’t believe me, read the comments on the district’s FB page from those angry about the closure)

4 (of 9) school buildings in my district closed to staff for the rest of the week because of storm damage

0 devices at my disposal capable of supporting a Zoom call

<24 hours before I need to work again

After the power went out again, and I packed my suitcase for a second time to go stay at Cane’s place, and my school district announced its closure for the next day I found myself feeling what seemed to be unreasonably fragile and angry: I had heat, water, electricity, a warm bed, and no expectation to work the following day. I was better off than many of my fellow Oregonians—not to mention my Midwest friends dealing with sub-zero temperatures and, I guess, the entire population of Texas. (How does one manage with freezing temps, no power, no water, and frozen sewage pipes?)

And still, teetering on the edge I was.

It’s all just been so much, hasn’t it?

I have a “normal” post in my drafts folder, almost ready to share with you. “Normal” means on a topic that has nothing to do with climate change, freak and life-threatening weather, political insurrection, contested elections, wildfires and toxic air quality, or pandemic. It just doesn’t feel like the right time for normal, though. Maybe by the weekend, or next week.

So, this is just a check in from the dumpster-fire of the past week (year?). By the numbers. (We all like to be data-driven now, right?)

Things aren’t good, but they are good enough. Somewhere in the midst of power going off and on and off again–maybe on the day that ice rained from trees and power lines like gemstone bullets, trapping us on one side of our windows–the hyacinths on my kitchen table silently stretched into full bloom.

Stay safe out there.

Of walls and hitting them

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

In the next 7 days I’ll be getting my Covid vaccine, consulting with a doctor about my (what I now realize are serious) sleep issues, and prepping for and getting a colonoscopy. I’m grateful beyond measure for my access to health care, but it feels like a lot. On top of the usual. So, I spent Saturday not writing but physically doing and preparing to do. I meal-prepped and grocery-shopped and house-cleaned. I walked almost 9,000 steps and took a nap. I made a good dinner and cooked up some dreams with Cane for a major project we’re starting.

After trekking to our convention center and getting vaccinated later this morning, I’ll be using what’s left of my weekend to retreat, rest, rejuvenate, and take care of myself. I hope you’re able to do whatever it is that heals you and fills you up (or just keeps you in mostly one piece) as we enter into another week of life in pandemic America.

#currentmood