dammit Wittgenstein

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein

SO….dammit. Again this needs a very quick writing while I can hang onto it and it’s likely to be chaotic because the whole point of it is that, and dammit this is about losing story but how do I tell that in a linear story? [This post more fully articulates what I was working my way toward in yesterday’s chat.]

Breathe.

About three months after we met

When Marc and I first met, he used to say that Wittgenstein line to me when I’d be thick in the midst of storytelling, and I’d pause to ask him what he thought. He’d say that line and it used to piss me off SO MUCH. Before I met him, I gave a glancing acknowledgement to this line — loved Wittgenstein, didn’t much care for this point but just shrugged and moved on. But oh how he loved it. I used to get so frustrated, because I thought, then where does that leave you?  And in fact that’s Wittgenstein’s point. Still, I wanted to talk, I wanted to tell my stories, and tell my stories I did. Oh how I have told my stories. I’ve told them endlessly. I’ve written them endlessly on this and earlier blogs. If we know each other in real live person you’ve heard them — not endlessly, I hope, but you’ve heard them more than once. I told my stories over, and over, and over. I’m not sure why, exactly; it wasn’t that I wanted people to tell me it was wrong, all the things that happened to me, because I knew that already. And the only person whose acknowledgement mattered, my mother, would never, ever say it. My father is dead and can never say it, and never did during his life. My stepfather did extend a small apology. But it’s her acknowledgement that mattered, and that was never going to come, and the acknowledgement by therapists and people who love me wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve never been sure why I told those stories over and over, but I did. I have.

And at the same time, I’ve also thought and written a lot about our “little stories,” and about chunking, and about the complexity and difficulty of plucking out the story, and the value of shifting frames, etc etc etc etc. I understood all this intellectually. I’ve always been good at the cerebral part.

And neuroscience has shown us that with each retrieval of a memory, it shifts. The purest, most “true” memory is the one that isn’t ever recalled.

And psychological linguistic analysis has shown us that people who recover from trauma tell their stories differently each time, and those who fail to recover from it tell it in a fixed, unchanging way. Just as I have done. You’ve probably had a strange feeling of having heard me tell a story exactly the same way. The same exact sentences and emphases.

And so now. I finally, finally arrive at the point.

This three-dimensional, moving insight I’ve had about my dad — that does seem to be extending to my mother — necessarily extends outward to my stories! How can I tell any of them any more? How can I insist on the certainty of them any more? Not the certainty of whether they happened, but the certainty that that is in fact the story. And setting aside the telling of them to others, how can I even tell them to myself any more?

My mind tilts and the floor is moving, like the deck of a ship on open ocean. What can I say? I had a complicated and difficult childhood. Yeah, I can say that, and that’s that. I survived a complicated and difficult childhood. I adored my grandfather, Big Daddy. I married young and had three kids young. Mister Rogers is my hero. My father died of suicide when I was 23. I started college at 36, when my first husband and I divorced, and I finished a PhD at 45. My first granddaughter died, and I have three grandchildren who call me Pete, as Big Daddy did, and they make me so so happy. My son has estranged himself from my family for years and that’s the hardest thing I have to bear. My daughters mean everything to me. After living together for seven years in Manhattan, my husband and I lived apart for five years and now we have a home together in the mountains, where I am very happy. We have traveled together so happily and seen so much of the world, and learned that we love Vietnam and Laos and Southeast Asia. I’ve been so happy in my life. I’ve attempted suicide twice, quite seriously. I want to live to see great-grandchildren if I am lucky enough to pull that off. I’m very happy. I’m complex. I’m intelligent. I make things. I read. It’s snowing right now. It’s almost Christmas, 2017.

I don’t know what else I can say, any more. It leaves me with just this string of sentences about how I got to this very moment — a singular set, like everyone else’s, but not more than that. Simple sentences, subject-verb. No insight words, no because, or since. I can’t even elaborate on any one of those sentences, they’re tiny spots inside a moving whorl. Now I can only really look at this moment, right now. I can think about what the future might hold. To look backwards is to see the universe. To see so much is to know so little.

And it’s not simply about the ‘stories,’ the events of my life. It’s the interpretation of me within them. Even the one I told yesterday, that “I’m not good at persisting,” well how can that be true? In some ways I give up quickly but I have also persisted for 47 years to figure all this out — there is no “story” there. Or rather, there are too many things happening to say any one thing. To say “I persist” is as false as saying “I do not persist.” Must I qualify and expand everything I say, now? Must every statement be preceded by “Sometimes….”? I guess so.

Our first trip together, to Vietnam. This photo was taken in Ho Chi Minh City. We’d known each other 6 months.

And so I suppose I’ll be a big person and tell Marc he was right all along. Lucky for me he isn’t a gloater, and the best is that he is not one of those “told you so” people because I really hate “told you so” people.  I know one person who has been “told you so”-ing me about one thing for five damn years. NOT FUN, don’t do that. But Marc doesn’t do that, and he was right all along, and so maybe that will be one of my Christmas gifts to him. I wonder if he’ll think even that can’t be said. Probably, knowing him.

And so, to today. It’s Christmas Eve Eve.  <3

life can be such a wonder

One thing they often say in AA is, “Don’t give up before the miracle.” Easy to see the relevance for addicts, scooting so painfully through minutes and hours and days, but of course it’s true for everyone — and I’m so guilty of giving up too quickly. It’s one of my most problematic struggles; I hit a roadblock and throw up my hands, and some particular roadblocks are especially hard for me. I deeply admire those who persist, who keep coming back and trying again — gosh, I admire that so much. I can readily call to mind two friends whose persistence is a source of inspiration for me.

Waiting for the miracle requires patience, obviously, but I also think you have to be able to let be what is, without rushing to force it into where you want to be. I do think that’s one of the secrets of life, and of course I think you’ll only eventually get there if you keep at it. It’s not going to happen all on its own. (Although dang it, sometimes it does, and so maybe I don’t know anything after all. 🙂 )

So here’s the wonder, for me. The miracle. This thing with my dad. This thing with old deep wounds — deep, like a puncture, so they produce an ache instead of a wince. This thing with time. This thing with process. Yesterday I was doing some house cleaning, dancing and feeling so happy with the solstice, enjoying the very bright sunshine while we had it, and my playlist shuffled over to “Christmas Time is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The vocal version, the one that has, for 47 years, punched me so hard in the heart that I couldn’t not cry. I couldn’t not remember, and feel all those old puncture wounds so deep in my heart. I mean really, who breaks up the family on Christmas Eve MOTHER. Seriously.

I believe this was taken a couple of weeks before my mother left my father — we seem about the right ages. And HOW DECEIVING looks can be. We look like well cared-for children, happy kids. I had no idea what was coming, but my life was already sad and awful then…and I just didn’t know that it would get so, so, so much worse. I remember that dress, my mother made them for my sister and me, red velvet. We wore them with white tights and black shoes. And my brother’s shirt was blue velvet, with a blue and green collar. We were sitting on the coffee table with our legs extended out in front of us, and my brother Sam stood behind us. What we didn’t know, then. Grateful for that. I rescued this photo from a dumpster — Mother called me to say that she’d dumped everything that had me in it and there weren’t many photos, but this was recoverable.

And so I paused in my sweeping, and stood there, listening, and it was OK. I smiled. It’s OK now. I remember without the ache. Now I remember, and it’s OK. It makes me feel tender but not hurt.

OK, you might say, for God’s sake it was 47 years ago for heaven’s sake — and so you don’t understand how deep a puncture wound can be, when it’s made at just the right moment in a young girl’s heart.

One of my first Christmases — I was around 2 years old, and apparently very excited about my watch (what??), a pinwheel, a harmonica, a doll, and a pack of gum. Hell, most of that would make me happy today. I still make that face when I’m given a gift, but I no longer wear the Cromwell haircut.

Thank GOD for time and process. At my age, I hadn’t really thought I could fully heal those old wounds. I’ve been at it such a long time. So much trying, always with hope even if it was small. It’s such a wonder to be able to approach these things that have always hurt, and not feel hurt any more. Such a wonder. Such a wonder to feel real peace — not tentative peace, not partial peace, not an idea that I might one day feel peace, but real peace. The peace of letting it be, the peace of letting be what was.

I believe with all my heart Faulkner’s great line about the past: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” I believe that. But what I learned is that even if it’s not dead, even if it’s still present, it can be OK. It doesn’t have to keep hurting . . . what a wonder! What a wonder. Grief can find its place and be OK, really OK. Still there but really OK. One of the puzzle pieces, that’s all – maybe the black piece there at the edge, or even in the middle, but just a piece connected to all the others. Pain can find its place and not hurt any more, even if it’s still in the puzzle. Just, wow. What a wonder.

And now, to shift the word wonder, I wonder if I can use this learning to help me do something with my mother — I’ve never tried to deal with her because she’s been too mysterious to me, but maybe I don’t even have to. Maybe all that I said in my post on December 20 can apply to her, too. Maybe I can just let her be, too. Maybe that was a huge enough insight to allow me that gift.

I wonder. And I wonder.  WOW.

What is it I need?

If you are my Facebook friend, you’re probably at least aware that I’ve been doing little “creekside chat” videos every morning, whether you watch them or not. I started making the little videos for a few reasons:

See what I mean? This is the view from my kitchen window. WOW.
  • My new home is so very beautiful and most of the time I’m here alone and really just want to share it! I sit on my little bench and look around, wishing I could say to someone, “Look at that! Isn’t that amazing!”
  • My friend in NZ, Kirsten Duncan, said something to me that hit me right in the most vulnerable spot I might have — and I mean that she hit me with love, and started the process of changing something for me. My whole life I’ve been so ashamed of my mouth and teeth and she said, in passing, that she loved to watch my mouth move, and friends in Oz and NZ always say they love my accent — so that’s a twosome that wrapped love around the things I feel most vulnerable about. I first just made a tiny video sitting in the car waiting for Marc one Saturday, and their comments were so loving and encouraging that I got the idea to do more of them. They began as an exercise in courage and vulnerability and forcing myself out of that little shame prison.
  • Starting my day saying hi to the people I have in mind when I’m talking has just been the best gift. Whether they watch (happen to watch a specific day, or watch at all) isn’t even really the point. The point for me is that I’m seeing their faces when I talk to my phone, even though the literal face on the screen is my own, and so I get to speak directly to people I love, and share my place with them.
my humble little bench, where I sit by Hatchery Hollow Creek and record the chats

I generally keep the videos at five minutes or less, because it feels silly and self-indulgent to just ramble on and on and on – and since I’m just talking extemporaneously, talking for longer than that doesn’t even really feel possible! Most days I don’t have the first clue what I’ll say, when I’m approaching my bench — I know I’ll start with good morning, but then the rest is a mystery to me.

SO what has surprised me so much is how deeply those brief chats have satisfied my need to talk. I think this is why I haven’t been writing here — I already said what I had to say, and after that I’m content to be here in silence, happily alone with my thoughts. Who’d have thought? Who’d have thought that talking to myself out loud — with an assumed Other — for such a short time is really all I need?

My first husband, Jerry, was/is an almost completely silent man, and not emotionally expressive (at all) and also not very affectionate or connecting. I know I’ve told this story before but it’s so heart-breaking; I told him once that I knew he could be affectionate, I’d seen him do that with the dog. He told me that the dog didn’t demand it, and then later that he could be that way with the kids because they did demand it. It was so lonely living with him. Another time he said there was no point in trying to be that way with me because I was just a bottomless pit, and however much he might give would never be enough anyway. I still wince at the cruelty of that comment. But it turned out that my needs really aren’t that big — maybe I learned to thrive on just a little — and this talking thing is another one like that.

I have the most loving, generous, encouraging people in my life. Dear Mudd has suggested that I create a YouTube channel for the chats, and that’s on my list — in that case I could add them here. At the moment I have plenty of work, and as a starving freelancer, work takes precedence over everything else when it’s available. If you follow this blog and are on FB, but aren’t yet my FB friend, click this link and then send me a friend request! At this point, my feed is generally photography, poetry, stuff about books, stuff about my grandkids, and these little daily chats. I had to stop posting about politics (though I slip once in a while, increasingly rare though) because it was keeping me too angry. So I hope my feed is mostly about beauty, and my little daily visits with my friends.

I’m not saying I’m abandoning this blog — perhaps I’m just in a fallow period, as happens to all of us who blog. This is just a little note of explanation, and a waving to you. <3

You Can’t Escape from What You Are

Vincent Cassel // “You can’t escape from what you are.”
That image came up in my Instagram feed (the account is Nitch, and it’s reliably a source of something to pause and think about) and indeed, the quote accompanying it made me stop and think. It’s the verb he chose — ‘escape’ — that’s really the point, as if (my first thought) who you are is something bad. (I’ll come back to that.) I had a kind of instinctive reaction, a defense of self, and the size of my reaction also made me pause. WHOA, what’s that about. Why you gotta be so mad, Queenie?

So I sat with that for a while. You can’t escape from WHAT you are. Hmm. Not who you are — maybe who is a more socially constructed idea, the roles and parts we play — but what you are, and maybe that’s your essence, your unlanguaged center, the you that perhaps you think is bad, or too much, or too inelegant, or too chaotic, or too wild, or too [fill in your own blank]. Maybe that’s what we try to escape from. And in fact, that’s one thing culture does to/for us. We are tamed. We learn to wait (but we don’t want to wait!). We learn to take turns and share (but that’s mine!). We learn to wait for food. We learn to lie down even though we want to run and jump. We learn the discipline of focus and studying. And we learn the shared cultural knowledge, the stories we agree to believe in, the roles that are acceptable for us as a function of the culturally relevant variables. We learn what’s expected of us. We learn what’s in our realm of possibles. All of that learning is intended, among other things, to shape the what of us. Some of it is agreeable, some of it isn’t, and some we finally decide to reject. But we have been civilized in the process, and our wildness might get the corners knocked off. A bit. (But not permanently, I believe.)

What was I, in the beginning? I was a quiet girl, a serious girl, a girl who only wanted to read. I was an awkward girl, inelegant, clumsy. I was not a girl who made noise, who was rambunctious, who wanted to push envelopes. I did not like to play, and in fact couldn’t figure out how to do that. In part my environment played a role in this, but honestly I also think it’s what I am. Then and now I am a quiet person, a serious person, a person who loves to read, who does not make noise, who isn’t rambunctious, who doesn’t know how to play. As a young girl of 5 or 6 I wanted to be a paleontologist. The disciplines varied, but always I wanted to be a scientist, and always asked for (but never got) a microscope for Christmas. During a brief period of reading the Cherry Ames, Student Nurse books when I was 8, I wanted to be a nurse, but that was short-lived. Too much poop. I always wanted a future in a lab, surrounded by the stuff of science. I never drew or colored or painted; it was science for me as long as I can remember. Books. Lab equipment. Serious conversations. Academia. Not motherhood, ever, but more as a conscious choice borne of my quivering fear of not being able to avoid being like my own parents.

I tried so hard to escape what I was, and did a pretty good job of it. I was a very unpopular girl, in part because I was the smart girl (still not an easy place for young girls) — so I tried to be dumb. I tried so hard to fail, I remember consciously trying to fail in 3rd and 4th grades, thinking then maybe people would like me. I tried to escape my seriousness by making fun of myself and calling myself names, mocking myself, belittling the very things I valued, like my openness to the world. I tried to escape my seriousness by hiding it away because I didn’t feel strong enough to talk back to those who told me not to be so serious all the time. To take a joke. I played the clown, I played the dumb girl, I played the dumb woman. (Sort of.)

And the ‘sort of’ really matters, because it’s not a black and white story. At 36 I started college, and knew that I wanted to go all the way through to a PhD . . . which I did. And never made a single B, the whole time. Not one, and while raising three children. But I didn’t pursue neuroscience, which is what I really wanted (my first wish), because I didn’t think I was smart enough. And I didn’t pursue philosophy, which is also what I really wanted (my second wish), because it seemed impractical, and I had a family. And so I pursued psychology, which felt doable (surely I’d be smart enough) and practical (ha!!!). Still, though, I didn’t allow myself to be serious, and because my performance was so good (I just worked hard!) I blew myself off, minimized myself (I just worked hard!).

What am I, really? What am I, still? What remains of the me I was, what is the me that has developed? I’m winking at my crone years now, my wild woman in the wood years, my white-haired years, and it’s time. If not now, when? Time to quit trying to escape from what I am. My youngest grandchild, my beautiful granddaughter Lucy, turns 1 TODAY. I’ve waited long enough.

blanking

It’s happening so fast I can see it, hear it, observe it. I’m losing words. The worst of it is my inability to speak fluidly, to simply say what I want to say. I’ll be shooting a little video to share with my daughters, standing at the closeby creek, and the many long, long pauses are increasingly common as I hit a blank wall. The most frustrating part is that I can’t get the simple words, like ‘pool.’ “And this . . . um . . . this is a well . . . um . . . still area.” Only more frustrating than that, even, is my inability to speak around the lost word, to find synonyms or descriptions or definitions. I usually can’t even get close, as ‘still area’ is close to ‘pool’ in the context of a flowing creek.

For example. Our well water is so gross — sulfur-smelling, and so full of iron it turns the toilet bowls dark gray-brown — and it also leaves a film on things as it dries. The dishes I wash so thoroughly, that are so clean when I put them in the dish drainer, look awful when they dry. There’s a film on them, and that word ‘film’ was impossible for me to find the other night. I was telling Marc how the floors looked after I finished scrubbing them on my hands and knees three times, and then after a final sponge mop, and simply could not find the word film. Nor could I tell him in any other way what I meant. “So the floors are very clean, but there’s a . . . you know, the water . . . you know, how when it dries?” He tried to fill in for me, “Did the water damage the wood floor? Is it stained?” And I couldn’t even approach my meaning. I said, “There’s a specific word for this, never mind never mind.” This morning I tried to explain something about my big camera on the tripod and couldn’t. Couldn’t even talk around it.

This has been happening for a very long time, but it is getting so much worse. I’m losing my ability to be articulate in speech, and I can’t tell you how painful that is, because being articulate has been one of my self-defining characteristics. It’s the aspect of myself I most enjoy, the aspect that feels most me to me. I can still be articulate when I write, thank heavens, but that’s because I can hit a missing word and pause, go searching for it through Google searches, let it be with an XX placeholder and come back later — strategies that you can’t do when you’re speaking.

And it makes me both scared and frustrated, so I get angry in the moment. I’m angry at myself, at the situation, at this roadblock, but the person to whom I’m speaking only sees the anger, the short temper, the flare. Usually this is Marc who bears the brunt. I feel for him. I try to be mild and compassionate with myself about it, and I’m reassured to feel like I’m still fully there, it’s just that I can’t get words — I’m not feeling like my self is disappearing, I have full connection to my own experiences, my memories, my presence, and I know what it is I want to say in its fullness, in its clear and specific articulation, I just lose the words I want when I try to produce them. Too often I just give up before I even start, I don’t try to explain anything that’s at all complex, like the way the lever on the ball and socket head joint on my tripod doesn’t close tightly enough to hold the camera at a 45-degree angle anymore. Or the way there is a film on the clean floor so it doesn’t look clean, but it is.

This loss is gutting, and just so very personal. I’ve always said that if a terrible accident befell me and I was confined to a chair, that wouldn’t be awful at all. Athleticism, or even physical activity, is not central to my identity, it’s not at all an important element of what makes my life worth living, or enjoyable. But verbal acuity is, for me. Incisive expression is, for me. My thoughts can be quite complex, and my emotional understanding is layered and intricate, and being able to give voice to that has always given me such a thrill, such pleasure. I love words. I’m just so verbal, it’s where my intelligence lies. I don’t have other forms of intelligence, but this is mine, and it always has been. I scored at the 99th percentile on the verbal section of the GRE, and wasn’t even surprised by that. This is my little pocket of gift. It’s all there, in my mind, and I can easily access it except in speech production. So that’s at least a reassuring feeling, even if it adds to my frustration: I’m still here. It’s all still there.

OK, I’m going in.

“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.” —Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Wednesday and Thursday are supposed to be beautiful days — no rain, partly sky, and 76 degrees.  We have the new carpet upstairs and the world seems beautiful and full of possibilities; it’s funny how getting rid of something that’s just so gross and smelly makes everything else feel better. (I mean, we knew it was gross and that it stank, but when they dragged the old carpet out, Marc went outside to get something and saw that flies were swarming it.)

not my yard, but my neighborhood — I’ll probably walk here

So I’m going to do what I’ve been thinking of doing. I’m going to step into the world and just live, just be present to myself, with myself, to the world, just for those two days. Today I will run errands, finish a manuscript evaluation and get it off to my client, do some housework, and make myself a good dinner and do some deep yoga. Prep work, of a sort. And then Wednesday and Thursday I’m just me. I’m silent. I’m here and not anywhere else, and alone. Not online. No sharing a beautiful photo, no sharing a passage from a favorite book, or a poem.

That’s a lot of ‘not’s. Here’s a list of the ‘yes please’s:

  • yoga
  • sitting by the creek, maybe drawing maybe not
  • walking in the woods — mine, and nearby
  • reading, with a notepad by my side (my new book of poetry will arrive Wednesday, Hard Child by Natalie Shapero, reviewed here in The Rumpus) (I’ll also probably read some Anne Carson)
  • lots of sitting and staring, and spending as much of the day outside as possible
  • pushing myself outside after dark, even just in a chair in my front yard, staring at the sky
  • writing by hand, off my computer — not just to keep myself away from online, but also to connect to slow me
  • knitting
autumn is in the air

No Netflix (/Amazon/Acorn). No music, except maybe meditation music, chanting, or nature sounds. So nothing with lyrics, really. I want to be in quiet, in silence, so I can hear myself. Quakers sit in “gathered silence” together because they say you can’t hear God amid the noise. I am not imagining I’ll hear God — wouldn’t know what that would be like anyway — but I am imagining I’ll hear myself a little more clearly without all the distractions I hurl in my way.

I won’t post here during the next two days, and I won’t be on Facebook or Instagram. I’m a little anxious, to be honest, because I’ll have to face whatever anxiety I come up against by just being present with it. I won’t have the agita inflamed by being online and seeing/engaging with everything that our government is doing (and not doing) in the world, but I also won’t have the distraction of “just hopping on.” No pretty pictures, no smiling faces of friends around the world, just me. I wonder how it’ll be. I imagine it will be everything at some point.

But at least it will be happening on lovely new carpeting. Ciao, friends. Back on Friday. xoxox

Thoreau

WHY is it so hard to be me. I wonder this all the time. I halfway (quarter-way) long to be a light, easygoing person, what you see is what you get, only walking on the sunny side (ugh, no, I actually detest that, it would be my worst personal nightmare) — but I do wish on occasion to be an easier person. Most of the time I like the complexity of being who I am, but sometimes I wish I were easier.

this was NOT my poster, but the spirit is the same

In the spirit of my last two posts, I’m remembering that old poster I had on my bedroom wall as a near-teen — the image was so green, a deep forest with a shaft of light piercing through, and superimposed (these were the pre-meme days of the 1970s) was a quote, either Thoreau or the Desiderata, I don’t remember for sure, but I do also remember reading Walden and thinking how swell that would be to go into the wild and confront myself, to confront the bareness of life, to learn whatever that might teach me.

And here comes the complexity, the wish that I were a simpler person. I’m feeling that longing quite intensely, thinking about stepping off the earth, off the public presentation of self, and just being here. Just being here in the wild, lonely solitude of Heaventree… and yet I have to wonder and worry about that, because I know me and my history. Is this impulse a sign? Is this a withdrawing impulse that connects to something darker? I don’t think so, I don’t feel that at all, but I have to ask myself that question. I have to answer that question for people who love me. Are you OK, Lori? (How is mom? Have you talked to her? How are you, mama?) How is it inside you? Are you OK? Really?

That’s my post office. I live 1.5 miles up the road to the left, up the mountain. The white car is Brandon’s. Tammy delivers the mail, but not to me.

Marnie and I talked the other day, and I was telling her about the adjustment, about how inconvenient rural life can be. How Brandon is at the post office between 8 and 10, and then between 3 and 5, and that’s it. How I’d gone to the post office at 2 expecting no mail but just wanting to get out, and found a notice that I had a package, so I had to go home and then return at 3, and when I did, there was a handscrawled note: “In the bathroom, back in 5 minutes.” And so I waited in silence for Brandon, and when I saw him it was notable to be having a conversation with a person. (And I talk to Marc every day on the phone, and text my daughters throughout the days, but a real in-person conversation has become extremely rare.) I went to the Pine Hill library the other day to pick up my library card, and their website said they were open at 2 on that day of the week, but when I got there, a sign said, “Hey! We’ve changed our hours, now we open at 3. Join us for knitting the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, Tina will be here!” True rural life is solitary and inconvenient and dependent on how other people happen to be feeling, whether they’ll be there as advertised . . . or not. And so my one chance to talk to a living person is set aside for the next day. Maybe.

So I gradually become more accustomed to my own company, for days at a time — and I like my own company, thank heavens I learned that in Austin — and I begin to wonder what I might learn, left alone with my thoughts and with the forest. I wonder. I wonder the shape of my heart. I wonder the shape of my mind, my want, my need. When I am fully alone, in silence, whether walking or driving, I begin again to recognize my own mind. I have my own thoughts, my own imagery, my own landscape that’s just nearly unrecognizable, because it’s unlanguaged. And I am so very, very languaged.

Social psychology, my own subdiscipline, takes as its starting point that our very SELVES are social even if the ‘other’ is only implied and not present. That without others, there simply is no self. And so I think about that, not just from an academic perspective but from within my own solitary self, here on the side of a mountain, deep in a valley in the lonesome old Catskills. Who am I without others? Am I, without others? What is that, who is that? I spent my second summer of graduate school reading philosophy of self, and while I began that summer with an almost irrationally angry defense (“Of course there is a self, who do you think is even asking the question?!” I’d say, usually suddenly and mysteriously on my feet and with a red-flushed throat), by the end of that summer academic philosophy had done its thing, and I no longer even understood the terms of the question. Self? What is that, really? Me? Who am I, really?

To summon but shift Prufrock, I wonder: Do I dare?