You’ll never know unless you try

I would like to write something incredibly human and empathic here today, the emotional and essayistic equivalent of bringing people servings of warm peach cobbler after dark. But instead what keeps coming to mind is a list of things I am currently tired of (reading interviews in which people say brilliant things which have all come to seem basically the same; getting a new ache in my body and not being sure if it’ll go away on its own; some TV but not all TV). In my defense, I did actually bring people cobbler last night, so I’d say my empathic ratio is 1:2.

Why is it so easy to come up with complaints? Right now, my body is kind of achy so I suppose I can blame it on that. I slept poorly for a couple of nights and had a headache; I was probably tired, but also, Paul was snoring, and you can’t get mad at your dog for sleeping peacefully at night. Now my headache is gone, but my ribs are weirdly sore, probably from twisting around playing pickleball with Dave, though really, who knows. Bodies, man.

We got an enormous and unexpected storm on Sunday afternoon; the news had been predicting an end to monsoons, the weather app had been saying sunny skies and increasing temperatures (yes, it will probably be 90-100 degrees here until Halloween, so enjoy your latte and sweater season, everyone else, you monsters), but while I was working in my studio that day, the wind picked up so much I became alarmed and shooed Paul back into the house with me—a dubious strategy, really, given that we have a large eucalyptus tree looming over our house, and not over the studio. Mostly, I didn’t want to have to carry my laptop through the rain if it began raining.

And it did—not just a heavy rain, but a long one. A forceful rain, the kind where the water bounces back up off the ground when it hits, and makes you wonder, Was that hail? The wind was so strong, too, that the rain was being blown off the roof, as if being swept by a vigorous broom. I sat at the window and watched the yard fill up with water; watched the streets flow with water; watched the sky, so heavy with water it tipped and poured over, and over.

I have no complaints about this storm.

Is it human and empathetic to want to be human and empathetic? This is the kind of thought process I’d try to cut or subsume in fiction, hiding it within incident, so the feeling was evoked, rather than the words being used to label those feelings. I’ve always felt that was a better way, for me: that the creation of a character, a situation, a world; the use of that world as a metaphor for my own inner world, was somehow a straighter arrow of communication than simply talking. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.

But the wanting: this has been a year of anxiety, of not knowing what I want or how to get it (how, after all do you get an undefined thing? Get a nothing or an obscure something, a nebulous and free-flowing concept, how do you get at it?, you don’t, is what my experience suggests). It has been a strange year.

I realize now that I haven’t even mentioned that my grandmother died this week. She was ninety-seven and a half. Her name was Ewa, which is why my older sister’s middle name is Eve, which is a name I’ve always liked, Biblical implications notwithstanding. Ewa, my grandmother, was a special person, a fiery wit, a survivor of many acute dangers during World War II, a woman who lived in the world, and who has now gone to the afterworld, the other world, the wherever it is that we go (how do you get at it?) and hopefully has met her husband Tadeusz there. My father was with her in Munich when she passed. I’m happy he was able to be there. I’m happy my grandmother was able to live so long and so gracefully, and that I knew her even a little, and that her stories have inspired me, and will continue to do so.

Yesterday I was thinking, in fact, about family stories as I walked the dog, wondering how my own life mythology would translate to a child the way my grandparents’ did to me (variously: parachuting into occupied Warsaw; floating down a river with a broken back through similarly occupied territory; moving from Poland to China to America and starting life over and over again), or my father’s stories about living on a sailboat with a cat named Skipper. I thought, at least I owned a horse once, that’s something. I was drugged in a bar in Russia. I’ve been a place or two.

When you’re reaching for the story about how you were drugged in a bar at age twenty-one, you’re no longer sure what you’re reaching for, I think.

Anyway. It rained. It’s muggy now, and the insects are breeding and bizarre. My ribs are aching, or something between the ribs. All the trees are getting new shoots of green as though it were spring, as though renewal were constant, and after all, isn’t it?