“It’s important for a writer to know what’s going on in her mind,” Erica Jong told the New York Times reporter. The feature is “Sunday Routine,” and I was reading it in my pre-getting up cell phone reading, which is NPR stories, the NYT, WaPo, and perhaps CNN.
I mean, that’s fine for Jong to say.
It’s so easy to shame me.
I was emerging, a bit, from a new position at work, a new school year started, and then I had a new landlord, and the new landlord unexpectedly cut down and hauled away every piece of greenery surrounding my beautiful home.
I paced in the living room.
My sister came over.
She took me for the traditional Walk of Oh Shit. Though I felt like stabbing myself and bleeding to death on my bed, instead we walked south, one of my usual walks that might not any longer be my usual walk.
My landlord is a cartoon villain.
When I realized the chainsaw noises were coming from our yard, and that my front balcony was about to be a naked mole rat of a stage overlooking a parking lot rather than a cocooned treehouse of safety, I texted him, “Are you getting rid of all the trees? They are one of the main reasons I moved here.” He responded by sending me a letter that said, “Because of your feelings about the work I am doing on the building, you will have to move out.”
I panicked again. I’ve only lived there a year. I’ve painted almost every wall, lovingly replaced plastic light plates with beautiful new bronze beaded ones, painted cabinets and laid pretty fabrics and papers inside of them, papered my dining room with a hundred old maps, hunted down perfect green and white curtains for my bedroom, a deep green rug for my living room, new pulls for the kitchen, painted the stairs, two ceilings, hung paintings, parasols, musical instruments, and a cuckoo clock.
My hope was in, I make my home anywhere. The cats go with me. (I’m a tyrant.)
My fear was that I’ll never feel baseline safe again. Every year, a move, a new job, a political crisis, a pandemic, a sick family member, a dead family member.
Over 40, it’s probably true.
My primary focus has become so narrowed, narrowed to, just don’t let anyone die. Don’t let anyone drown in despair, or lose a job, or their mind.
I kind of forget when I steered my life by, what do I want?
I feel deep, continuing grief at how I no longer trust. I don’t trust a church to keep its members safe. I don’t trust people to seek the truth and reject lies. I don’t trust people to reject Nazism. I don’t trust people to not laugh at the suffering of others.
I used to think this of right wing Christianity: I disagree with them about almost everything, but at least they are people of conviction, who take morality seriously. Which isn’t to say I’m better, or admirable.
It’s to say that I feel a great, burning fear.
Mostly work saves me. A lot of teaching is grounding and it can use my energy up very cleanly.
One day, though, I finally had to fight hard with one group. Well, with three students. They were not late to class, you see, they just weren’t in the room when I shut the door.
Oh, they were angry. I was angry, too. My teacher shell acts deeply calm, divorced from all emotion. The shell is diamond hard. You’re not coming in here until you’ve been silent for 10 seconds, I said. You will not talk to me that way in my classroom.
My boundary had been crossed, and in a sense I had lost it, but in another sense I was fully myself, and myself was like NO.
When class was over, my heart was beating too fast, and I could feel the adrenaline pushing and pushing.
Instead of going to the meeting I was supposed to attend, I stayed in my classroom.
I cleaned desks, wipe by wipe.
I had to choose myself. At work, maybe especially if your work is “women’s work,” like teaching, if you do not choose yourself, work will kill you. Emotionally, for sure, but maybe physically, too.
So much meaning from teaching, but also such great grief at receiving more responsibility and no more time and no more money or help.
I daily search the websites for apartments. I pack slowly. My art room first. It hurt, but it’s the only room I could pack up and close the door and live pretty much the same.
When I move, it hits where my parents’ breakup hit. Going from a home to no home happened when I was 10. I don’t like it.
This time I’ve tried to think more of my aunt, whose death anniversary approaches. She was a military daughter and a military wife. She moved and moved and moved. I don’t recall her speaking of it as particularly traumatic. Though maybe it was.
I can think of myself as nomad. I pack up camp and can make beautiful camp anywhere.
I don’t want to.
I’m angry that at a moment I was beginning to feel stable, I have to deal with another great change.
I bought two canvases and painted our building. I put all the trees and ivy and flowers and bushes in. No one can take them away from the paintings.
I’ll give one to my neighbor.
And that’s what’s going on, Erica Jong.