Hi, loves. 🌿
On the edge, and edginess, of summer
Over the weekend I woke up at 3:45am in one of those life panics. At 5am I gave up trying to go back to sleep — my mind was looping around all the usual, mundane anxieties of end-of-summer, the colossal list of to-dos I couldn’t, at that hour, make sense of — and got up to read. Every time this happens, I think of one particular morning in Vienna — memorable, surely, because I was up 4am and the baby was not (I wanted to kill someone, anyone, everyone, because every new mother knows that being up in the middle of the night when the baby is asleep is its own red hot circle of hell). I made some tea and settled into our huge green chair — the only piece of furniture in that flat that belonged to us, that we still have from that time — and read the last 100 pages of the first of the Neapolitan novels.
To this day, I remember how wonderful it was, to sit there in my cozy pajamas in silence, in the dark, with my English Breakfast and my book. It was maybe the first time since becoming a mother that I forgot that that’s who I was now. I vowed to do it again, but didn’t until years later, when for a time it was a ritual, this getting up at 5am to read or just sit, but even that feels like a million years ago. Who was the person who could actually manage that?
Now I need sleep desperately, but for no good reason other than that these last few years have drained me of all my reserves and sometimes it feels like getting up at 5am for another day of all this isn’t really wise. Nothing can get me up very early except my kid, a flight, or a 4am anxiety attack about who will drop off and pick up the kid at school every day and bring her to dance and help her with homework and yes I know it’s so much easier with one kid, no need to remind me, and when will I write, like for real write, and how will I prep all these classes and how will dinner get cooked and when will we all get Covid and how much will it fuck up our plans and when will this all end and oh what about Monkeypox and global warming and I need to start making calls for the midterms and on and on. It makes me want to go back to sleep for an extremely long time, but then I can’t, so the other night I read Olga Dies Dreaming (very, very good) until I passed out on the couch as the sun was rising. Oh, middle age. (I am, at least, very grateful for fiction these days.)
This isn’t where I was going with this, but it’s that time of the summer again, at least here in LA, less than two weeks from the start of school (! I know) — that time when everything starts to fray a little. Not in the way I described last week, with grand plans coming to meet their master, but the children seem to be losing it and everyone seems a little tense — or maybe that’s just me? With all the lists stuck in my head that haven’t yet been downloaded to paper and are causing havoc up in my slowly deteriorating brain? The edginess of the school year (two different ones) is creeping in, the taut schedules about to reign us in, the homework and projects and fights, so many pencils being thrown across rooms.
And under it all, behind it all — within it all? — is the continued uncertainty about, well, everything, which — what is there to say about it anymore? The cognitive dissonance of life in extended pandemic times has reached comical proportions by now and reality is no longer one thing. In LA, a mask mandate was threatened when numbers were soaring, then not implemented. In Montreal, most people seemed okay with getting Covid again and again, if it meant being able to live in the interim. My husband reported from Holland that no one was wearing a mask. I see every version of a life on my social media feed and I have no idea what to make of any of it anymore. That alone is exhausting, the feeling that we are all living in separate universes, that we aren’t touching into the same belief system anymore, that no one really knows what that belief system is anymore anyway.
Maybe I just feel worn down by it all at this point, going into yet another school year like this, with seemingly no one at the helm, useless guidelines and rules, no clear right or wrong choices, fights among friends over what’s okay and not okay and who’s right and who’s not. At this point, I said to a friend fighting with her family about visiting protocols, you can only do what feels okay to you. Don’t bother arguing with anyone over epidemiological concerns. There is no winning that argument anymore. People will be pissed no matter what.
Once we got home from Montreal, where my worry for my parents felt overwhelming, and once the kid safely made it to and from sleepaway camp unscathed, I could feel myself relax. But in some ways, I’m not sure how long it will take me to fully let go, to wander in and out of spaces and people’s homes and school classrooms as though the last few years haven’t happened, as though they are behind us, when all evidence points to the contrary. I’ve internalized a sense of fear and dread that wasn’t there before, and I’m not sure what, if anything, will wipe it clean.
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ALL THE THINGS
This week I reread My Name is Lucy Barton and am deep into Olga Dies Dreaming. I’m sure you all saw Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival but did you see Rhiannon Giddens with Paul Simon? I can’t wait to watch this series about Diana, and Bad Sisters with my fave Sharon Horgan. Wesley Morris on Beyoncé’s new album.
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Reading this was like reading my own 3 am thoughts — and I am so glad to not be alone with them now! Relating so hard to every part of this, but especially as a fellow college teacher, the lack of clear guidelines and support (and wow, that’s not even getting into the helplessness of not being able to fully support students with absolutely traumatic pasts, given how the pandemic exacerbated all the problems my first-gen college students were already facing). Thank you for putting this into words.