No Easy Answers

She was tired. And tired she would remain for the rest of the day.

It was the same most days, but she supposed it was partly her obsession with getting 6 hours of solid labor clocked before she broke for a late lunch, some time after the sun had angled the shadows more or less 45 degrees.

Hakim had been playing on the couch, but he stopped, rested his palm on the strings and watched her.

“You okay?” She looked over and smiled, a grim one without teeth.

“Yep. Fine,” she said.

“Uh huh.” He waited, she turned back to stare out the window in front of her computer. “All right, I mean . . . okay.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was still staring at her. She faced him again.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Really. This is what I wanted, I’m doing it. This is good.”

He nodded, carefully. “Right. Are you sure it’s good for you?”

She opened her mouth to dismiss him, of course it was good—then shut it again. Was it? She’d never considered the question before. It was what every artist wanted: to do their art full time. To make it their job, their career. To fill their waking life with making, and not have the drudgery of a meaningless livelihood. But she was becoming perpetually exhausted.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Art was supposed to energize you, lift you up and give you wings, set your soul on fire. But she was doing it, and she just felt burnt out.

But then, she also felt free. She felt a deep satisfaction with her life and herself. Maybe it was just something else that was off. The scales had to shift.

“I think we should walk over to the lake,” she said. Hakim stood up and reached for her hand.

Morning Magic

It was late winter at the little house in the woods. The snow outside had melted away, except for scattered patches in the shadows of a few trees. Lynn was starting the ritual charm.

She hadn’t known why she called it a charm, there was no manual or instruction to follow, or specify what type it was. It just felt like it fit, and she used that feeling in making this magic. She had laid out the pencil, the pine seed broken from its cone, and the feather all in a row, a line broken by a dot. She waited, listening. There it was, a wood thrush began to sing, four notes and a trill. She placed the four white pebbles around the seed to form an X.

   o           o

  ———-   ~    ----====

   o           o

She touched two fingers to her lips, the top of her head, and the back of her neck. Hakim had asked her, after seeing her do it all one morning when he woke unusually early, “What’s all that about?”

“It’s a morning magic,” she said. Hakim snorted, leaving no doubt of his opinion on the two words being together in any way. Lynn smiled, but ignored it.

“What’s it do?”

“It sets the day in place,” she said. He had shrugged and walked away. But even this vague an explanation was a lie. Not a serious one, she thought, but at least for a time she wanted to keep the truth to herself. And the truth was that the construction of the arrangement did nothing at all. It was magic for magic’s sake. She brought it into the world to bring more into the world.

She watched over the arrangement for a few seconds. Then she went to the kitchen and reverently made a cup of tea. As she wrote, it would sit beside her, steaming, slowly cooling and untouched.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 1: Green

“We were talking about heroes,” said Lynn. She was still standing in the water, small waves oscillating into her legs, making her sway every few seconds. Hakim didn’t look at her. He stared ahead, at the horizon, an imaginary line where sea met sky. The infinite, transparent above and the deep unknown below.

“I thought this would be the catalyst for me, I thought it’d be where I did my work and played with my friends. It doesn’t feel like a place for me, any more. Maybe it’s too big and I need something small to figure things out from. Maybe I can only figure out those answers away from here.”

She went on. “My favorite ones were all ordinary people who felt something. Maybe they’d always felt it. They didn’t necessarily want to answer the call, they just had to.”

“So, this makes you a hero?” He was smiling just a little as he said it.

She grinned, but then stood up straight in the water. “Yes,” she said. “You’re damn right it does.”

They laughed, and looked at each other, and walked back out of the water.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 2: Yellow

“And the bulk of it was pretty easy, even though it was basically no advance warning,” she said. She made her way down the sidewalk outside the park-and-ride lot, still on the phone, but listening now rather than talking. She felt out of breath, not just from having to move quickly, but also explaining herself in a tumble over the last several minutes.

It was the call she’d put off making—her mother, always supportive in principle, but worried and questioning in practice. She wasn’t ever sure how to convey the finality of her decisions once she’d made them. To Mom, every choice was just a possibility, no matter how crossed-tee, dotted-aye, copied and filed away for reference it was.

“I’m not doing this because it’s a sure thing, Mom,” she said, “I’m doing it because it isn’t . . . No, I’m not throwing anything away, I’m making something new. Opportunity isn’t always the way forward . . . No, I don’t think it’s cryptic.”

The sun was halfway to its zenith now. The asphalt beside her was ash-colored in the light, the sidewalk pale as sand. The airport she was walking into reflected dozens of fractured shards of glare from as many steel embellishments. Her plane was fueling, taking on food and pillows and in-flight magazines, soon to rise into the searing sky on its way to Albany and the house in the woods.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 3: Red

She was still sitting on the porch of the house when the day ended. She wondered if it had been the best way, leaving everyone and just about everything she’d known for the last eleven years behind to follow a new path and make this work. Wondering—that was another method of avoiding things she had to do, in the end.

There was room for Hakim, room for his guitar. She missed him already. But she needed to claim the house for herself, first. Get some life worked into its corners before she could share it. She wanted to understand herself again so she could write in her most open way. This feeling of being lost, when her goal had been the opposite, was typical. Her fears were calmed first, as they always were, by questioning what she was doing, and only later by working.

Maybe there are always questions, she thought. Always us telling ourselves we’re doing it wrong, the timing isn’t good, we should hold on a bit longer. Wait, wait, wait.

The sunset, filtered through the trees, was turning everything a light crimson. For Lynn, it wasn’t ominous or anything. It felt like a signal, an alert. She left the quilt on the porch and went to find her laptop. It felt like the moment to finally get on with things. She did.

Thirty

“You’re not old,” he said again. “You have a long time ahead.”

She took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh so long he thought  she might pass out. “I’m just starting out. Again. I mean, who’s going to pay attention to an old—” she caught his raised eyebrows and corrected herself. “Older woman’s stuff, or my opinions. Does it matter?”

“Dunno. Are you doing it because it matters?”

This was a much bigger question than hers. She didn’t want no one to acknowledge what she did, but she had to admit that wasn’t why she wanted to start again. She needed to. The work, her ideas, the raw stuff of creation inside her—it was a fire she simply had to bring forth into the world. If only just to see what it looked like herself. If only to learn how to be better at it.

She got up and let the quilt fall to the floor. “I gotta go. I’ll let you know when it’s ready,” she said.

Be Wrong

They sat at the small table in the corner by the window and sipped their drinks in tandem. She looked out the window and watched the passersby flood across their view, lost in their own frustrations and pressures. It was the first day after she’d finished reading the novel she’d started three years before. She thought it would feel like a triumph, but she just felt drained, as if she’d been at work all day. She shook her head and smiled.

He said, “What? Something funny?”

“Kind of,” she said. She sipped again, still looking ahead. “I just had an idea how I’d feel today, and it’s not what happened.”

He chuckled. “That’s me every day. Maybe better not to anticipate feelings.”

“I guess,” she said. “It’s just, some thoughts are automatic, you know? And for sure some feelings are. It’s just what happens. I think what’s important is not to put any judgment on what we think, just let it happen. Let it be.”

“Speaking words of wisdom?” he said.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Nice, old man.”

“Old bands are always better.”

“That’s what the DJs want you to think. Nothing new under the sun, right? But—it’s better to make mistakes, to try things out. To believe you can find the new thing, or the different experience. Maybe that’s how we can move forward.”

“Like, your routine is you being stale? Moving back in on yourself instead of, you know, on?”

“Exactly. We get comfortable with the way things are, and that’s true of the way we think, too. We get stuck trying to be right all the time and defend our opinions like they’re scientific truth. We’re scared of getting something wrong. But really, we should be, I dunno, trying to be wrong, more. We get more chances to discover things that way.”

He considered this. “Interesting theory.”

“Could well be completely incorrect,” she said.

“Yep. Nice.”