“Of course, the point at which I began to write the story is not the same as the point at which the story begins. You can’t live and write at the same time.”
-Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother?
Well, certainly—and yet I do seem to try to, don’t I?
I recently came back from a visit to my family in California. There are plenty of things that’re oof about living 2,000 miles from people you love, but there are things that’re helpful, too: for instance, when I visit and then have to go, there’s a shortened time frame in which I’m reminded to reach out. Living close to someone, I can get caught up in the idea that there’ll be time—more time, and more time—to be there, to say the things I want to say, to listen and make space and stay in it. Having to go reminds me, now.
That timeframe can be a good push forward. It can also be a distraction. If I’m sitting on the couch, thinking I really want to be connecting right now, I’m not connecting. I suppose one ideal might be to let the push move me forward, and then let being there take over; right now I’m looking at the example of trying to do two contradictory things at the same time. Bechdel can’t write about her relationship with her mother and live her relationship with her mother at the same time. The second (usually, at least?) is back-stepping, it’s an attempt at sense-making; the first is just making, or being. It doesn’t have a pen in its hand. In the same way, though you can move from one to the other, I’m not sure wanting to be available to connect is the same as being there with someone.
On New Year’s Day we went to the beach, toes in sand and a cold wind blowing, and jumped into the Pacific. Like I was fourteen again, I spent a long time (I’ve no idea how long, really) building a big windbreak for our group to sit behind. It worked pretty well. There are so many wonderful things about wet sand, but the one I’m following here is what it’s like to build with. I needed stuff for my sand wall. I could pick it up in handfuls, or push it over, but I needed to pile up lots of sand, messy and flying, somehow in my smiling teeth, somehow in my hair. Then I needed to pat it down, shape it, compress it so it stayed in place. Maybe some master sand-castler will one day tell me a simpler way, but conceptually, I like those two stages: the moving, and the firming up. The coming together, and the settling. The collecting, and the shaping. Sometimes I try to collapse them all into one step, I try to create and understand all at once, to raise and pat down in one motion, but it doesn’t work very well. Of course it doesn’t. You can’t live and write at the same time.