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Posts from August 2017

My Eclipse Experience

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Totality: the sun is hiding behind the moon and clouds.

 

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Totality: I think the white dot is Jupiter.

 

My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.

Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.

First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.

But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.

The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.

While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.

But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.

All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)

I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!

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Green Pond Landing, SC: A little while before the eclipse

Not Married 32 Years

Guard Dog in Old Town Alexandria

 

August 1985. Married.

August 2007. Divorced.

August 2017—

Still using checks with married name and

PO Box (that hid my intentions).

 

A reminder each time I use one

(crossing out last name, PO Box,

writing in maiden name, my home address),

To note the difference that time makes.

 

Ten years since the decoupling

Has dulled wrenching tears into

Unwelcome, unfocused remembrances.

 

I am past dwelling

(is that a reason I shy away from men—

no desire to re-live

when exchanging histories?)

Though cynicism lingers.

 

Twenty years of marriage:

They can be perplexing to recall—

What tone do I take that

Hurts the least, yet respects

The years together?

 

Ten years of divorce:

A bridge between then and now—

Always shifting.

 

The pain of living with wanting to forget,

But not wanting.

Disappointment in a cancelled paired-vision.

Regret in decisions and directions taken—or not.

 

Failure removes the sheen of romance

That had been vibrant.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to see the pairs, always pairs.

Even if their grass is not green, there is still

Something about those ten twenty thirty years together

That I have lost.

 


A Week of Not Thinking

Night on the Potomac

I took off a week from my working mind. No classes to teach. No writing to mull over as the background music of my days. I became a version of myself who filled her hours with chores and errands, volunteering and chatting, reading and watching. It went well. Very well. I finally did my will. I bought a rose bush and some other flowering plants for my balcony. I rearranged furniture and organized my space. I finally decided on a paint color for my bedroom (painting to be done with younger daughter next week). I ate healthy. I swam and walked.

Yes, it went well.

It wasn’t that I was bored, because I wasn’t. I had things to do and I did them. There was a stillness to my mind which I could probably get used to it, but I don’t want to. It was strange to be me on the outside, but not on the inside. I was only concerned with what I was doing or going to do; there were no threads of thoughts to follow beyond the moment. It was as if I was living at noon with no shadow to follow me around.

Who am I without that shadow self? How can I simply be the woman who buys a shower mat, and not the woman who absorbs observations and readings, thinking about how to convey and develop her thoughts in writing.

It was an experiment. And it succeeded. It made me realize that to be mentally absorbed with my writing is essential for me to be fully myself. That immersion is my identification. A final piece of writing is not so much what defines me as does the ongoing internal discussion that culminates in that writing. It is, I assume, the same for someone who is absorbed in any activity or topic of study: that process of focused thinking is necessary to feel whole, capable, hopeful. Inspired and inspiring. 


Sleepless with My Cellphone

 

Trees outside my window
Trees outside my window

I might not have a man in bed with me, but, boy, is my bed ever crowded. Nightly, I get into bed, ready to read literature—right after I catch-up on my phone-reading of the newest sputtering from / or mockery of t- and his horrific administration, and the r’s and their persistent betrayal of the basic norms of decency that I might have missed in the previous update, an hour ago. I exhaust myself with 30 minutes, okay, an hour, of being a witness to the unrelenting ignominies. Then, determined to maintain my commitment to reading about something other than the destruction of American Democracy and people’s persistence to not be thwarted by their elected officials, I charge my phone and finally open my book. But within minutes I start nodding off.

Why is outrage “easier” to read than a novel?

Perhaps it’s the immediacy: the shock that dystopian fiction is coming to life, the fear of where it will lead, and the need to be alert to the latest treachery and its real-life implications. To be a witness. To be prepared to resist.

A few hours after I fall asleep, I wake. The requisite trip to the bathroom is not enough to ease me back to sleep. I try looking at the trees outside my window. I try emptying my mind. I try closing my eyes and unclenching my jaw. But thoughts settle in for the night unbidden. I don’t want to relive my day or the outrages that seep in. I want to go back to the oblivion of sleep. Once up, though, it won’t happen. Surely, I am a lousy meditator since I barely give myself five minutes to attempt to ease into my breath and the now. I have hours to go before I re-sleep.

Staying like that, thinking about the thoughts and conversations of my day, inevitably leads to some level of disappointment. It’s like watching repeats of programs that weren’t very interesting the first time around. And if I add to that thinking about our reality, my jaw re-fuses.

Stupidly, I take to my phone. A form of self-flagellation. There’s nothing new, for the writers and analysts are asleep, attempting their severance before starting all over again in the morning. Still, I seek out commentary I may have missed. By now, my mind is both numb and abuzz, and my frustration with myself and the world cannot be soothed simply by putting the phone down. So I turn on the radio which plays BBC after midnight. I go in and out of sleep for hours, getting updated on what’s happening around the world, hearing in-depth analyses of all sorts of problems I didn’t know existed. There is pain all around. Hearing artists and writers speak for a few moments of calm. Finally shutting it off when soccer scores come on. Will a new pillow help?

I wake when the grey sky outside my west facing window signals that morning has finally come. I take a few minutes to be in the moment, often succeeding in resisting the phone. Daybreak, savoring the moment: the calls of the birds, the sky in its grayish blue hue, the brightening leaves on the trees, the sensation of air on my body.

And then it is time to get up and face what I may have missed in the past hour or so.