In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 31.
I was going to attend four much-anticipated readings this week. I was going to dive in and bathe myself in language and the love of my community of writers, finally meeting some of the people I’ve only known on Facebook. They were readings by writers I deeply admired and writers who’s work I was eager to explore. The audiences were certain to be filled with joyful faces. It all sounded so lovely when cloaked in perfectly curated light.
But I didn’t go. And I didn’t go. And I didn’t go. Because the light was gray and filled with rain. And my head was foggy. And my body was tired and craved nothing but sleep. These were my excuses. They were familiar. I’d been here over and over before.
In the hours before each reading, I roamed around my head thinking about the pre and post-event socializing. I didn’t have anyone to go with so if I were to meet my writing tribe in real life there would have to be interruptions and introductions and the very unsettling phenomena of knowing both too much and too little about a person. I might know about the death of one person’s mother or the anxiety about another’s son or the bad date someone had last week as well as the name of their cat and how they felt about Bernie Sanders. I could know all these things and not know the sound of their voice or how tall they were or even what they looked like without a pink “I Support Planned Parenthood” film over their faces. In return, they might know nothing about me, might wonder how this person whose name didn’t even ring a bell was uncomfortably asking them about their trip to Hawaii or how their broken toe was healing.
Of course, I’d be anxious about all this and thought about just sitting alone, arms crossed and not talking to anyone. I might pretend that this is what I preferred. Then the words from the writers I’d gone to hear would skim in and out of my brain and I’d lose track of the stories and find myself staring blankly at the clasp of the necklace on the woman in front of me and mentally jabbing myself in the ribs for both being a chicken and giving up on my not-quite-right therapist who was supposedly helping me with this shit and, jesus, get over yourself you middle-aged woman with minor social anxieties and a truly beautiful life.
Yeah, that’s been my head lately. Embarrassing, but true.
And yet, when my anxieties weren’t gnawing at me, I had a pretty kick-ass week. By grabbing an unexpected opportunity, I expanded my new career path and plucked up a position offering massage at a continuous care facility. All my client visits this week hummed a little brighter as the confidence that has been in my hands for ages finally spread to my brain. And most importantly, I loved and was loved by all the good people in my life.
Last night, I even got out to the last reading I’d been hoping to attend. The topic was one a non-writer friend was interested in and so I asked her to join me. Turns out, most of what I want from all that writer community longing and anxiety is to simply have a shared experience. My friend and I sat through the reading then walked back to her car. What did you think? I asked. We talked about it as we drove through the rainy streets. There was nothing profound about our comments or analysis. The exchange itself was all I needed. A fellow witness. Someone who could hear my gratitude.
That exchange last night made me think of this Anne Sexton poem. It’s one I’ve been fond of since I was a teenager. Apparently, the need to share never goes away.
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,