“Come by, we’ll have some dinner,” said my friend, casually. Dinner? Me? Alone? Spontaneously? Sparks of misfired neurons: does not compute, does not compute. I raced to his house to see if this was yet another product of my imagination. No. There it was: pasta, tofu, green beans and a quiet patch of porch. His little boy whirled ’round until he was affectionately hanging from my neck. It was so innocent and pretty, the opposite of what I’m accustomed to… Z’s water usually spills into my plate at some point, someone is always bursting into tears, at least one person falls out of a chair, the toddler-boys routinely throw food and cups at me. It looks like an uprising at the monkey house. Monkeys swinging from the rafters, screeching, howling, throwing fruits and vegetables at their keepers. But I was with one civil child and two adults, and we were conversing. It was sublime. And it makes me realize how conditioned I’ve become to utter madness.
I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity… It involves food and shelter; meals, planning, marketing, bills, and making ends meet in a thousand ways. It involves not only the butcher, the baker and the candlestickmaker but countless other experts to keep my modern house with its modern “simplifications” (electricity, plumbing, refrigerator, gas-stove, oil-burner, dish-washer, radios, car, and numerous other labor-saving devices functioning properly)… doctors, dentists, appointments, school, school conferences, car-pools… What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now! This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul. – Ann Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 1955
This book was directed at women of the 50’s, but speaks to those of us who regularly burn the candle at both ends, especially the stay-at-home parents of today. It’s a meditation on the basic human need for solitude and how important it is for us to retreat and recharge ourselves for weeks or days ideally, but hours or even minutes will do if that’s all we can manage. This summer I’ve had Monday mornings and Fridays to write. My time has a desperate quality to it. I rarely take a deep breath or even eat during this allotment. Instead I rush to Stumptown, set up camp, grab a latte, two glasses of water and write, write, write, fast and fevered, before time expires and it’s back to dodging tomatoes in the monkey house. September is closing in. Back and back to school, to teaching, to the rituals of blustery autumn and sleepy winter, glistening rain and less time than ever. The river pulls me along. I break the waves and hold on for dear life. We’re in this vessel together for such a short time. My babies, all four, are growing up too quickly. It’s hard to not attach every fiber of my being to them, but there’s always a cry for freedom from within. I suffocate without a room of my own and yet so rarely do I have one. I’m the kind of woman who goes to Burning Man not because I’ve always dreamed of going (which I have), but because now with so much to lose, going actually scares me. It will be the mark of solitude for a new age. After nearly three years of a word here, a line there, and then three short months of regularly writing ten hours a week, the first draft of my play is done. Between last night and today I feel transported to a strange new planet. I think I’ll stay.