“We yield to this slow flood.” It says so much that I want to hear.
BY LAUREN CERAND
Sometimes it’s okay to take a swan dive into the unknown. I find myself, a few weeks into a very necessary period of reflection and renewal, reminding myself of that evocative maxim constantly.
Our culture is built on the search for the source of creativity and inspiration, and how to tap it, exhaustively and for profit; so little is devoted to learning how resources might be replenished.
I knew that taking time off would mean giving up an extraordinary amount of financial security and stability. As a freelancer for more than a decade, I survive on only what I make each month. Yet somehow, as days, weeks, months and then years went by, and I continued ceaselessly working on weekends, holidays, and going out most evenings to further my professional connections, the cost of not taking a break became noticeably higher than I was willing to bear.
I left my lower Manhattan apartment on July 1, and with the exception of one evening when I came back to participate in an event organized by friends to relaunch the 1956 coming-of-age classic, Chocolates for Breakfast, I’ve been elsewhere –– primarily in rural Ithaca, New York, where my family has a place I can stay, and, in Austin, Texas, where I have family as well. In fact, if I were to have most everything I could wish for, I’d divide my time between the two, although I think like the vistas, burning stars, and small civilization of West Texas best of all.
In the past three months, I’ve let go of an astonishing number of relationships, circumstances and expenditures that didn’t have a place in the new life that I wanted to create. While I’ve always prided myself on being the “better” friend, and the “more devoted” lover, I prize equality now.
One of the most harrowing aspects of the life of the independent creative professional is coping with, and managing, the bone-deep certainty that anything can end at anytime. It’s good practice for living, though, and after all these years, in some ways, the idea that I can still make it in New York and enjoy what I do sounds like strolling out onto a tightrope with eyes shut and a teacup balanced on my nose, focusing on the necessity for all things to simply coexist, lest we fall. Step away or break concentration, and there’s the void, beyond the net, inky darkness without border.
My biggest concern, besides going broke –– which could happen, and if it does, I’ll deal with it –– was that I’d have too much time to think about decisions I’ve made, and that I wouldn’t like the path I’ve created for myself, and that I’d be stuck. It’s only been a few weeks, and I’ve had exactly the opposite experience: the distance, by contrast, has been an immensely valuable tool for evaluating which aspects of professional life serve my needs and desires now, as opposed to things I’d done over and over out of habit, or continuing sacrifices made to attain old dreams.
While it feels like this period of my life, this summer, is a big question mark, I’ve learned to stop wondering where it will all lead, and enjoy the moment. In Ithaca, I’ve fixed up a house that no one had lived in for a long time, and it now has only the basics for life in the country, a fact that brings me joy. For fun, I swim in a gorge with a waterfall. My one indulgence was shipping up four boxes of books from the city just before I left. Another happy discovery is how much slower I read now. Because I read so much for my work as a literary publicist, I find that I can easily put away a book every night. For the past two weeks, though, I’ve been poring over and circling back to consider just a few pages of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I markedly resist writing in books and this one is covered with my notes, starred passages, and one sentence copied on the next page, to let it remain: “We yield to this slow flood.” It says so much that I want to hear.
Funnily enough, I am in Texas this week and staying at the hotel I once dreamed of visiting on a snowbound night in Ithaca. I think I’d read about the San Jose in a travel magazine, and hoped to travel around the country a bit on my own when I graduated (as it turns out, I took a job in Washington, D.C., that began the Monday morning after commencement because they promised to send me to San Francisco on an assignment, and I’d never been). It seems poetic, while on this journey of self-discovery, to fulfill a small flicker of a dream I’d let go. The idea that I’d check in for a week, and that talented, fascinating writers, artists, publishers, critics and intellectuals would be dropping by to visit in the shady courtyard with me would have been beyond belief.
And so here it is, and I enjoy and appreciate it with the soulful delight of an unexpected gift. I arrived at the hotel as rain poured onto the tin roof, and discovered a poem by John Ashbery pinned up in my room. My favorite section goes, “it is necessary to write about the same old things/ In the same way, repeating the same things over and over/ For love to continue and be gradually different.”
Each morning I have breakfast delivered and eat on the veranda outside my room, where I read the strangely enthralling local paper, which employs the phrase “casual martinis” in an obituary, while my horoscope opines “a little darkness is good,” and the classifieds have thanks to a saint. I think of my long-ago wish to be here, and which of our countless wishes in life will be fulfilled. And, of course, about searching for meaning, or just searching: is it the human condition? I only know my own condition, and how I personally relate to history. I’ve always been drawn to more.
I’ve been alternating between the cool, extreme air conditioning of the room, and the intense heat once I open the door. I usually retreat right back, like a lizard, and the boundary reminds me of the belief in folklore and magic that doors are pathways between worlds. (Everything feels imbued with meaning, and I collect a couple of small totems that pulse with significance beyond words, like a shark’s tooth ring at Prize, and a lapis bib at Kendra Scott.) One morning, there was a pair of birds speaking their own intimate, impenetrable language, and just beyond, trees rustled with their own –– why shouldn’t they? I wrote. Here I am, I noted, trying, in this labyrinthine way, to discover my own truth. Next to it in my diary, I wrote, It always feels a little dangerous for a woman to admit that she’s a lone wolf. But I don’t feel that way now. I’m just me. I am.
The Waves, page 118: “Things quiver as if not yet in being.”
Lauren Cerand publishes notes on living at luxlotus.com. The team at Sparkle would like to wish her a very wonderful birthday month.
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