What is there to say this week?



October is nearly spent and what do I have to show for it? Not much that I can point to, that I can hold up and say: Here, this is what I have been doing. This is what I made of these days of colorful leaves and cool winds and squirrels burying nuts in the garden, these mornings of wet pavement and afternoons of weak, beloved sun.

Aren’t we all just holding our breath, wondering when we can exhale?

I wake in the night, every night, sometimes sucking air, sometimes with limbs clenched, always the remnants of struggle dreams floating away from me. Always needing to pee, and then calculating if I can tend that basic bodily need without waking the dogs. If it’s early enough that I know they won’t stir and start barking, I stumble across the hall, not as stiff and unsteady on my feet as old Rocky–but I see how things are starting to go. When I return to bed, I wait for the flash of heat to roll through my body, and then I breathe the way the personal trainer taught me: inhale through my back (1, 2, 3, 4) and exhale through my diaphragm, ribs shifting down and back (4, 3, 2, 1). Sometimes it works, and sometimes I pull up a Times crossword on my iPad and hope it will lull my brain, not unlike the way desperate parents will drive a crying baby around dark streets, hoping the car’s quiet rhythms will soothe it back to sleep.

In a moment of optimism last week I bought two skeins of chunky yarn and cast stitches onto fat needles. I’m not making anything in particular. Maybe a pillow cover. It’s not about the product. It’s about breathing, and movements like breath: in, up, around, down, over, in, up, around, down, over. It’s a thing to occupy my hands and mind at the end of the day while giving the dogs some time on my lap and watching TV that doesn’t require much focus.

I haven’t mailed any postcards, made any phone calls, sent pizza to those standing in long lines for hours waiting to vote. I haven’t even filled out my own ballot yet. (But I will. I always do.) I give my extra resources to work, to procuring and setting up and pushing out materials that might help children who might, in some future I may or may not be part of, make good choices when they sit at kitchen tables and fill in small circles, or stand in long lines, or in some other way participate in something that is or resembles a democracy. Lately, every day feels like one long breath: Swinging my legs over the edge of the bed is the start of a long inhale; my morning routines–feed the dogs, drink tea, shower, dress, read–are how I fill the lungs of it; and then the rest of the hours are a long, slow exhale (4, 3, 2, 1). By the time I pick up the needles, there’s little oxygen left to expel.

Sometimes this breathing feels like a kind of faith. Most days, it feels like it takes all I’ve got to keep that inhale/exhale going. Some days, lately, it’s taken more than I’ve got. (Hello migraine, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again…)

When I focus on breathing in the middle of the night, I can sometimes catch the moment sleep starts to sneak in. The colors behind my eyelids shift, fracture, turn kaleidoscopic. I try not to notice. Too much attention sends it running and there I am again, hamster-wheeling in the dark, wondering if I should turn on the light to read or fill in tiny boxes with letters, or if I should try the breathing again. (1, 2, 3, 4) If the breathing works, I won’t really know until I wake that it’s worked. (4, 3, 2, 1) I can only be aware of success after the fact.

Isn’t that so often the case?

Some days I wonder if the breath of my days has put me into some kind of sleep, if I’m just dreaming my way through this month, this season, this year. (This life? Could that be true?) I wonder if the steady rhythm of these days is lulling me into something without me even really knowing it, like all the babies in the backs of cars whose cries finally stop.

But what can you do? As we’ve been told, it is what it is, and we have to keep things moving.

This weekend I’ll pick up a load of firewood and stack it behind the garage. I’ll take down what’s left of the tomato plants, gather up the onions still nestled in the bed, tuck garlic starts in to the soil. I’ll soothe Rocky when he needs soothing (more and more now), and cook a pot of some kind of soup. We’ll watch a bad movie or two, and think about starting a puzzle (that we probably won’t start). I’ll clean toilets and fold laundry and wipe down the kitchen cabinets, as I do every weekend. I’ll try to catch up on work (or I won’t.) And, if it is all just a dream, I guess I’ll be glad it’s not one in which I need to take a final for a class I never attended, or am somehow living again with people I thought I’d broken free of, or am running through air that sucks at my legs like quicksand as I’m trying to flee something that wants to hurt me.

(Or is it?)

15 thoughts on “Mid-fall

  1. Marian says:

    “Aren’t we all just holding our breath, wondering when we can exhale?”
    Yesterday, as I was sewing something I’m not sure I need or want, I was listening to an episode of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast. They always play a listener’s voicemail at the end of the show, and this particular listener—a non-American—spoke very eloquently about the helplessness she’s feeling as she waits for the outcome of the US election. I teared up and had to stop sewing for a bit. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this election will have profound and lasting effects not only for the US but also for the rest of the world, and I suspect there are many, many non-Americans out there —like that HPST listener, like me—who are extremely fearful for what they see coming.

    • Rita says:

      I know, Marian. It seems wrong that so many who will be impacted by what’s going to happen have no voice in it. I take some comfort in knowing that a strong majority of us want to end this reign of terror. My worry is that those in power have too many advantages with respect to the systems that have put them there.

      • TD says:

        Rita and others, “My worry is that those in power have too many advantages with respect to the systems that have put them there.” That’s exactly my thinking that I’ve had no one to share my thoughts.

  2. Dianne Downey says:

    Thank you for you posts. I always read and I don’t know if “ look forward to them “ is quite the right feeling but they always make me feel less alone and that is a great gift that you have.

    • Rita says:

      Hi Dianne,
      Thank you. I know what you mean. I don’t always look forward to writing them, either. But doing it helps me. I’m glad there’s value in them for you, too.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    “Aren’t we all just holding our breath, wondering when we can exhale?” Yes.

    I feel like my life is in a holding pattern, stuck inside a jet that’s waiting to land at the airport. I know what I want to happen, have done all that I can to make it happen [voted], but now must try to ignore what I want to happen for fear of becoming anxious about it not happening. Like you, I’m focusing on mundane chores and simple projects, just waiting… and waiting…
    Ally Bean recently posted…TGIF: 5 Words To Know + A Bit Of Wordsmithery Fun + A Simple QuestionMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yep and yep and yep. I’m under no illusion that should the result go the way I hope, everything will be all better. What I do know is that no matter how it goes, important things are going to be different after next Tuesday. Don’t know what things or how they will be, only that it will be different. The pandemic also has me feeling like I’m in a holding pattern. Some things are just going to have to wait until there’s a change there, too. What a year, eh?

  4. Kate says:

    I’m counting breaths too. Mine – inhale count of 4, pause, exhale count of 6, pause. Abram is home. The school is closed. He’d be home anyway – in quarantine for an exposure. Breathing as we wait for test results. Breathing as we wait to see if symptoms develop. The school is closed but still having sports practices. I wrote an email asking them to think about their responsibility. Got a firm response back about how I’m the one – THE ONLY ONE- who doesn’t think we should be having sports practices while school is closed. I don’t understand my community. Cases rising and we’re all just going along la-di-da-everything-is-fine.

    I’m scared about the election. Scared he will win. Scared he will lose. Scared that no matter who wins we will all lose between then and January.

    I’m here with you, Rita. Knitting and breathing and waiting for this all to end.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, Kate. I am so sorry that you are experiencing this. This is my big worry with schools opening here; the political pressure to do so is rising again, along with positive cases–which makes NO SENSE to me. I can see that in places that have opened in one form or another that there is constant disruption and uncertainty. And hybrid models are killing teachers, requiring them to double their work. That your district is closing school but allowing practices make no sense to me, either. I suppose if they are outside, there is less risk of transmission than in a closed classroom; that must be the thinking.

      I think everyone has become pandemic-weary, at just the wrong time. And at the risk of sounding like an old, cranky person: I want to tell everyone to buck up and suck it up. Yep, it’s hard. Hundreds of thousands of deaths is even harder. We need to do a better job of distinguishing between needs and wants.

      As for the election…I have anxiety about what happens regardless of outcome, though one outcome fills me with much more than the other. If it is at all close or can be contested, I know I will look back on these weeks that have felt like a hopeful lull with longing. In that scenario, I also fear we’ll all lose. I am hoping for a landslide and for the loser to slink back under the rock he crawled out from.

      Glad you’re here with me. Counting and breathing and knitting.

  5. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I get massive migraines after a massage, after vacations etc. My headache doctor said it’s because of the serotonin letdown and that it is normal. We have been clenching for so long that I feel like that is what this year has been. I wonder if that is what we are in for after this is all over? When will that be? November 4? Or are we kidding ourselves? January? 2024? I have to think positively or my anxiety will take me to dark places. I have mental illness that will take over me and I have to take care of myself.

    I had a dark month in September and because everyone else was also and wasn’t seeing that I was (this isn’t a pity party) I needed to dig myself out. So I am doing that every day (digging myself out) and I know you are as well. I hope that things will get better and that is what we have to keep doing. Hoping. Looking for the good in every day. Don’t let the dark win. Ever.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Homeschooling Myself- Lessons I am Learning While in a Pandemic (Universe-isms)My Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’m getting my migraines lately on the weekends. Every weekend. Which is just killing me, because it means my “down time” is filled with pain/fatigue and life maintenance chores I can manage through the pain/fatigue. (That’s why there was no blog post last week; Saturday was a completely lost day.)

      I think when this is all over–which I don’t think will happen all at once–we are going to have a lot of people struggling to heal from whatever this time has done to them. I think a lot of us are in some kind of denial, which is necessary to get through everything that’s creating fear, loss, and uncertainty. And when the denial can end, we’ll have to really confront what happened and what it all means for us both individually and collectively.

      I have been watching you pull yourself to a better place, and it’s been helping me, too. (Even if I’ve been kind of quiet, I’ve been hanging around in the background.) Somewhere you wrote something about not making others responsible for your well-being, and that one comment created a shift for me that has been profound. I’ve got some things in the works that I’m not ready to write about yet–but I wanted you to know that what you’re doing has ripple effects. I hate toxic positivity with a vengeance because it’s so often used to distract us from systemic issues that are unfair and hurtful and it is a way of blaming victims for things out of their control. But at the same time, we do need to look for what we can control. I appreciate you helping me to do that.

      Keep fighting the good fight against the dark and taking care of yourself. You are worth fighting for.

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