What happens next?

Beginning again. The early days of November compared to the end of May. Last week in New York I could see the tops of the trees turning yellow from the room where I write. Here in Massachusetts it feels like fall is just about over. There's a frost in the morning and many trees are nearly bare. Wally and I went apple picking, but we had to walk for ten minutes or so before we found any apples still clinging to the trees. Then maybe there'd be one or two dangling out of reach. Wally happily picked rotten ones off the ground and stuffed them in the bag.

In pop (and maybe real) psychology circles,  it's said that the greatest resistance comes before breakthroughs. And I can see how that would apply to this moratorium I've had on writing. By sharing experience--what are we looking for? Connection, understanding, a future informed but not defined by the past. "Are you learning? Are you growing?" Eli's mother, the one who asked, "Why is that important?" (a question I find to be so comforting now, so vital) also insisted on knowing whether her daughter was in fact learning all the time, as did my parents, trusting the process more than the outcome, resenting the teachers who took off full credit for careless mistakes. I do feel that I am learning, growing, trying to make sure the things I spend time on are important. But sometimes having the process mapped out feels inhibiting. Like I'm trapping myself by being so open to change, by being open to so many people's reactions to that hope. As if I've taken away the opportunity to rewrite the story, to revise it based on what I later think or want to remember.

And there is also the problem of real world stuff going on, which I somehow feel I should be reporting on, when I write most every day. Like, who are you to think you can just go on about 5th grade reunions and reading Goodnight Moon when "there's a battle outside and it's ragin'"?

The election was terrible. Disheartening doesn't begin to describe it. And yet I have to admit to a feeling of distance, an unreasonable sense of "Well fine, lose your health insurance, then. Lose your houses. Lose your jobs." I keep thinking of the line from A River Runs Through It and sadly I can't remember whether it was in the book too, or just the movie. It was about Brad Pitt's character and it was something like "You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped." I've been feeling that same sentiment towards people close to me, towards myself. Asking repeatedly, "Why does X do Y? Why do I keep....? Why do you keep...?" Why do people keep doing things that aren't what they want? Maybe, like my niece said a few years ago in one of her many existential insights, a takeoff on the Stones-- "You don't always want what you want." Or maybe not doing something we think we want to do (say, music) satisfies something else more, our anxiety, or maybe ability to hold onto a dream. You only have to really let go of a dream if you actually give it a shot. Sometimes people, my former shrink, or my dad (who also happens to be one) grow impatient. "You're asking, why don't people do what's best for them or what they say they want?" As if I shouldn't be stuck on something so widespread, so deeply rooted in human nature, so obvious. But I am still. Like not going to bed earlier if you're always so tired to take just a really simple one. Or always agreeing to do too much and then feeling depleted and resentful. Staying in jobs that aren't satisfying, relationships that aren't working, keeping bad habits, losing good ones. I'm wondering, basically, about the problems we have that we want to keep.

My resistance partly has to do with the photo at the end of a blog entry a few weeks ago, the one of me with Eli and Heather. It was at the end of May. I know for sure because it was my birthday. I think I had a party the next day, but that night my parents were taking us to see a musical at Theater Three. That picture was taken right in the middle of that fragile triad, that felt so wonderfully safe and complete but of course could not last. The first part of my childhood was spent inseparable from Heather (she really was that "part of the family" friend, with a little bed right next to mine) and the second part inseparable from Eli, and even that night was maybe part of the swan song of that impossibly balanced high-wire act of three best friends. At the time I was carefree and careless -- like Icarus, not stopping to think what I might be giving up by trying to have too much.

I spent Halloween this year with one of those friends --Heather-- up in New Hampshire where her two boys and Wally dressed up and ran around the school playground and in a corn maze collecting candy which they willingly handed over to us. The grownups drank hot chocolate and tried to keep up with them and laughed at the surreal, spooky image of ghosts hanging from monkey bars. My parents, Wally and I stayed in Heather's family's lake house, one where I spent many summer days and nights. Yet as she wrote about in the comments recently, Heather and I also spent many years apart. We are now beginning to return to some familiar way of being, aligning with those early frequencies, hoping our boys will make up stories and sleep side by side and dive into the ice cold lake together. And yet in writing about returning to our friendship, remembering our own last American childhood, Heather said, "Maybe I am just regressing."

Eli does not live nearby, though I am lucky to get to see her a lot. Recently she told me she'd been reading my blog and had the sudden thought that I was fading away, becoming this sort of fragile, dreaming person, lost in the minutiae of my own world. In her mind she likened me to Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire. Then maybe a day later on my blog, I quoted The Glass Menagerie in reference to her world being lit by lightning. She asked me what I meant exactly,  although she knew the line "Blow out your candles, Laura, the world is lit by lightning" and found it uncanny that we'd both conjured up Tennessee Williams to describe the other within days of each other. 

At first I could not say what I meant by it, other than a vague sense I'd had for the past decade or so that she had removed herself from the friendship in some way. That she--once equally intent on archiving and remembering and rehashing as me--did not value the past or our shared history as much as I did, as much as she once had. Finally we settled on a single scene, in a bakery on the Upper West Side, in the summer of 1999. We'd been working on a joint novel/autobiography we called The Parts I Haven't Read since graduation. That day we ordered cafe lattes and rugelach and she said she did not want to work on that project anymore. It wasn't a priority. 

Mesmerized by the physical properties of molecules, Eli went onto pursue a bigger dream. I took those painstaking pages and buried them in a box somewhere, always intending to one day still write those parts we hadn't read. That was it -- that single incident had colored my entire view of the friendship for 11 years and made me feel I was holding onto something she'd long since let go.

At times I did ask myself if they weren't read because we hadn't written them yet, or because the memories were too dark and too precious to ever remember accurately, or because they could never be separated from the memories of what came after.

Even in my post last week -- I stumbled over tense, "What happens next" or "What happened next"? The blog is perpetually present, by definition. Written and posted today at 10:17 PM EST, and then a new one for a new today (right now, still tomorrow), and so on. I was happy with having at last a record that went chronologically, that was not mixed in with recipes and phone numbers and to-do lists, that's all in one place, that is legible because typed out. But I'm also wondering if the essential question is What happens next...now, in 2010, or what happened, years and years ago? Both equally important, both pressing, and perhaps most mysteriously -- both uncertain, both subject to change, both, in some ineffable way.

 "What will happen?" looms out there in the future, like the autumn that where I live (you do live there now Rachel, you have for 11 years) is only just beginning. And that goes back to the resistance. I am only now finding out what happened 11 years ago, when I just moved to the place I still cannot call home. I found out with one friend, partly, but with the other I've spent two decades with a secret and a problem that I want to keep. It's not the events themselves that matter, but how we interpret them, or what we imagine them to be. That is still raveling out. That could change again tomorrow, if we're open to it.

I am caught now on this high-wire act of my own making -- a faith in accepting all that the past has to offer, all that we still have to learn -- and a fear of being stuck, of regressing or fading into myself, of still wanting in some deep, unfathomable place to be a child, to be one with Wally, to not only write about our childhoods in parallel, but in some strange, impossible way to experience them that way. To, I suppose, stop time. Which is maybe what I want most acutely out of writing. And the continual frustration, the continual setback, the great promise and great letdown, the unendurable fury is that it's not happening. I've faithfully written, so many days and nights, yet I haven't managed that one essential task. 

Birthdays will keep happening, for a while, if we are lucky. But they've always been mixed. To say I felt safe and complete when that photo was taken would tell only half of the story. I always felt horribly torn about birthdays. Going back to when I was turning seven years old, maybe earlier, but that was when I began writing in my diary. So I can go back now and read about how awful I felt to lose that year, to give away something I'd never get back. Maybe by writing I thought I'd do something to stop the end from coming. But it's not working. I don't know why I cannot stop quoting Dylan, but the springtime turned slowly into autumn, no matter how many days' activities I recorded. 

That's what I realized, that's where I fell off the narrative arc. Fell into suspension. If I don't read the pages in front of me, before me, behind me, scattered out in every direction from other Rachels, from other years, if I refused to see them, then they won't be read, and that would mean they wouldn't be written, hadn't been written, and that would mean I could still live out my days in the space of the until that was in truth already behind me.


  1. Wow, Rachel, what you write is so powerful and universal. I am finally commenting on this post because of something you said to me when we reunited after your 5th grade dig....you said that we had had a big falling out, and didn't I remember? Something about birthdays and leaving people out, etc. I asked my mom if she remembered and she didn't because she never remembers anything, but it's stuck with me because I was so struck by how differently people can remember a shared past. Being able to reconnect with old friends through facebook or other means is so comforting in one sense because it means that all was not lost but then bits and pieces rise to the surface about why you lost touch in the first place. Maybe it's a sign we should share our feelings more when something's important or maybe it's just a second chance to set things right. I do hope you continue to write because I LOVE to read your thoughts!

  2. Tessa -- thank you -- so many things to say but one is this -- that lesson that I'm learning again and again (which I guess means I haven't learned it) -- the importance of speaking up. The birthday thing of yours I remember so clearly: it marked the end of the friendship with you, but it was never discussed. Which is kind of ludicrous, I guess. Similarly Eli asked why I hadn't said much of anything when she pulled out of our shared writing project. She would have done some other project, she said, just not that one. But because I didn't let on that it bothered me all that much, we just kind of let it go.

  3. Just wondering if Orpheus has read any of the parts you haven't. Strange timing on that one, no? Same year as certain other things in history...Hey, what if I insisted on saying "ourstory" instead? Awkward. Reminds me, I love your what-ifs, your hilarious hypotheticals, told for entertainment at parties. I love to throw out ridiculous what-ifs to new people (if their eyes glaze over I know I must move on) and think back to you doing such antics at parties circa that same last year of last century. I'm so glad I could bring a century in with you, (though weren't we both gone the moment of?) in the city that never sleeps. It's only right that that's the city we still long for even while we're encased in it, mummifying ourselves with 1's and 0's, burying ourselves with petty particulars, when we have so much to say that it's still unbearable, it's so not okay to not deal with the Real Things. And we don't but at least we know we don't. And then come to think of it maybe we do. So just two more things: please don't stop quoting Dylan, why would you ever do that? And please keep the narrative going, it is truly the Real, and it is bigger than all of us, it's sweeping us out into and under the river where we were meant to be, with horses and corpses all around, and we can't breathe, no, we can't, and it's okay, the words gave, are giving and will give us life as they did in Mississippi and in Norwich and in the Broken Land and of course, now in Miriam's home above the trees, which you claim with all the trepidation that we claimed this city upon first stepping into it and daring it to hold us close, daring it not to chew us up and spit us out, not to let us go, not to forget us, never to forget, never, never, ever.


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