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February 28-4 (full)
April 18-22 (one spot left)
May 16-20 (one spot left)
You give yourself a break. Time away. You get to feel new ozone on your skin and wander streets that might have you fall between the cracks, and you like it that way. Your life needs more cracks and more possibility and maybe even more danger. Things are too plum, shored, sealed up tight. You need to be sloppy. Irresponsible, even. You maybe even need to turn a heel in a crack and fall. Mostly, you need to bum around and forget about things. You need to stop in a café and have a cappuccino just because why not. You don’t really drink coffee but a cappuccino looks so good. You don’t really give yourself those little gemstone pauses these days and you need to. You need to sit at tables in public and watch the world go by. You need to get away from your routine—all that sitting alone staring at a computer. You need to get away from your list—that never-ending list. You need to get away from that voice which stands behind you with a megaphone, blaring at you all the time and even when you sleep, to do it faster, better, best. And p.s…you’ll never do it as well as you should, or could or were supposed to. And the worst of it: This voice is YOU.
At 4 a.m. you actually sit up in bed and shout, “ENOUGH! STOP! Go away!”
And that’s what you need: you need to go away. Maybe she’ll stay at home and make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches and remember to pay the property taxes on time, and make sure to have a dozen eggs in the fridge no matter what. And write thank you notes and send Christmas cards before Christmas and remember everyone’s birthdays and get the driveway plowed at just the right time, before the storm, before the thaw, UNLIKE you…when you fail to consult Mother Nature, and the whole world is an ice-skating rink, and no one has control over their cars or footing. And it’s all your fault, because you didn’t deal when you should have, could have, were supposed to. In short, you suck. Either way, you suck. So you might as well leave.
Enough! I’m out of here! You stay here and do it all right. I’m going to go get a little, or a lot, lost. There’s an extra set of keys in the little drawer next to the stove. Oh, and the propane bill is late. Hope you have heat. The woodstove is exceptional. But there’s zero wood on the front porch, and the path to the woodpile isn’t shoveled, so good freaking luck!
And lo, you find yourself in Mexico. In a little hill town. Thin, cobble-stoned streets, full of fallen women. Just like you. Divorced. Middle-aged. Artists. Sad. Looking for happy. But in the mean-time…just looking for…looking. They are you and if that’s true, you’ve never looked more hopeless in your life. But at least you’re not at home. Staring at your computer. And at the snow. And at February.
You need to just…sit. And let the world go blurry. Lose time. Have that one cup of coffee be your only goal. And maybe you won’t even drink it. It will just sit there getting cold. You have no commitment to it. You can leave it untouched and it will hold nothing against you. Maybe you order wine instead. At noon. And decide you want to sit in a church after. And then on a park bench. And then take a nap. There’s a weight on your back that you need to shake. It feels like a feral dog and it’s about to grab you, jugular, all the time, unless you keep going and going and going…email by email, buttons– so many buttons, screens, phone calls, gas, bills, heat, groceries, school and sports event after event, parent by parent. Are we all really doing this so well? Is anyone else about to be slain by February? If anyone asked, and if anyone answered, the whole thing might erupt and send ash for miles, across states, to the sea. So no one does. We slog. And we say, “How are you?” And we say, “I’m fine.” Are we?
I had to leave. I had to stop. I had to get off the orbit and float in space. I took a week. I wrote for hours every day in my journal. By day six, the dog was finally off my back. I heard it growling around a corner, but it was growling at someone else. Another person. A running person. I was sitting in a church with wine breath and it decided I wasn’t worth it.
A week of this– no 4 a.m. haunts for seven days. And on day six, I was free. And I was new. For one day. I slept until 11:00. I sat by a pool and read Vanity Fair (my porn). I thought about nothing but whatever was in those pages, like some kidnapped socialite who wrote a memoir, and I didn’t really even think too much about her because she looked okay in her polka-dot dress…until I fell asleep in the sun, getting my last fix of Vitamin D.
And then I got my notice from the airline that it was time to check in. And the dog began growling at me. Not that other person. Me. I warded him off all the way through a four hour wait in Mexico City and nine hours of flights. And I came home. And it was all still there. The very opposite of the green green grass of my vacation. No one shoveled and we had 20 inches. The mail stacked up because I forgot to have it held. The mailbox creaked a refusal when I pried it open. No one set mouse traps and one (or a whole family) have taken up real estate in my pantry closet—seems they really like pancake mix. My truck was dead on arrival with a low front tire, at that. And my homeowner’s insurance is a month late. Oh, the satellite got turned off too. I must have had what Holly Go-lightly calls The Mean Reds. And I don’t feel so new anymore.
I’m up at 4 a.m. again. Sleeping with the dog.
I have a few more months of this, before the birds come back and promise that the world will melt to color again and myself too. I look out at the still-snow, deer paths labyrinthine from my blanketed garden to my blanketed front door, as if they too are sick of it and want to come in by the fire. And I know: I have a choice. I can welcome this last rash of dormancy. I can accept and allow this no thing-ness, this negative space of winter. I can try to take small sips of that getting lost feeling even with my stacked-up responsibilities. I can even try to take the dog off my back and let him run around in my Montana field and get all his growling and barking out of his system, at least for a few hours.
And if that’s not true, if the cruelty that is February this year, is not shakable in my own neck of the woods…then I have learned nothing in my life. And I know for certain that’s not true. I wrote a whole book about happiness being a choice. Thank you, February, for giving me practice. Lots and lots of practice. I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but I do know that the next time someone asks me how I am, I’m going to suggest that we both answer what is really true. And I give us both permission to say, “Not so great. Want to go have a cappuccino? Or maybe a glass of wine?”