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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, March 30, 2007

On Battles

Everyone, I read, strives to maintain a positive picture of oneself. I was thumbing through a book that was determined to teach me something about myself. Although I distrust books like this, I paused to think about what it was telling me. Outside the window the manzanita shook in the wind, the light was crisp and lemon-yellow. And I thought: No. It’s not about the positive but the consistent. What we really struggle to do is hold on tight to constancy. We don’t want to change. So I say, in order to ground myself, that I am disciplined, that I am a good daughter or a bad daughter, that I am impulsive or that I am generous, neurotic or curious. I believe that this or that person hates me because hatred is easier to bear than uncertainty. I make a map of myself so that at night when the suspicion that the center doesn’t hold seizes me, I can find my way back to solid ground, to what I know for, more or less, sure.

I’ve believed with such fierce childishness that one day I’d have my life figured out. I would find happiness at last, or become at peace with unhappiness. I’d get along with my mother and make my father proud of me. The insecurities I’d have would be trifling, easy to overcome. Perhaps it would take me my whole life to get there, but I will get there. And then I’ll be able to rest, even if it’s only for an hour before my death.

This is how I know heaven doesn’t exist. It cannot exist simply because I, or everyone else, desire it. Besides, it is the easy way out. Hell is too, though it holds a different kind of comfort in its jurisdiction. Dichotomies are solid ground in a universe that has no solid ground. Everything changes all the time. Very few things are just this or just that. I’ve changed in myriad ways just from yesterday to today. The strangeness of being what I was yesterday and being what I am today suddenly struck me this morning. It’s not only a matter of mu cells dying and being born, of shifts of matter inside my body, of the ebb and flow of gases in my lungs, but of my state of mind, my mood, my thoughts. There is no way to relive yesterday exactly as it was, or to predict what will happen in the next hour or the next day. There is no way to get a hold of what’s ahead and shape it so that it doesn’t startle or frighten or exhilarate me.

Not that I don’t try. I make schedules, endless careful lists of things to do. And only once in a while does it occur to me how pointless all of this is, what a ridiculously fragile web I weave in which to rock myself to inner peace.

I don’t quite know why this piece of advice from the poet William Stafford keeps popping up into my head lately: “Lower your standards.” He intended it as advice for writing, and I follow it when I’m at the end of my rope and nothing else will get me to pen and paper. But there’s another side to it, and it’s contained in the word “standard,” which refers not only to quality but to a flag, the banner of an army regiment. So what I hear, other than keep writing, is to stop fighting. To give up struggling and defining myself in opposition to things. To be active in a different way than with bayonet and the cry to battle.


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