I've been housesitting for the past week at a place that feels to me like paradise. The house is full of plants and cats and the colour blue, and there are giant wooden surfaces to sprawl notebooks and pens over, plentiful options for caffeine. It's quiet, in the kind of sleepy suburb I know only from television and childhood, where neighbours say hello to you when you take out the trash, maybe even engage you in conversation about commutes and city councils. Amenities include central air-conditioning; a luscious late-summer garden full of tomatoes, melons, peas; and most importantly, a pool.
I can only with difficulty explain what swimming means to me, because I've only been fulsomely experiencing that meaning through its overall lack during These Times. I thought I knew; I grew up five minutes' walk from a river, and have often said at different points in my life that I couldn't imagine living happily in a place without one. But as the panini's pressed my brain this past year and a half, as cognition's been something of a bruise I keep gingerly probing the edges of, the shape and urgency of that need have shifted. I need the water in ways it hurts me to articulate. The difference in me before staring at a river and after staring at a river is overwhelming. The difference between me longing to swim and me having swum is the difference between an empty glass and a full one, between being a cramped room overcrowded with furniture and being a person.
So: I'm in a kind of paradise. I can swim at any time, I can bask in cool air or hot as my inclination dictates, I can read, I can cook, I can write. But in my first couple of days here I found a distance existed between me and the possibility of those things, a distance between potential and action, that proved tricky to navigate. I've become aware of an anxiety around using this time well, not squandering it, making the most of it, and perhaps even more ridiculously, feeling ashamed and not deserving it--right alongside the more typical anxieties attendant on looking after your close friends' home.
("Just keep the cats alive and don't burn down the house," said Jenn, and I laughed, and immediately started feeling the horror of those two jobs press down on me. The cats are elderly; the house is flammable. One night I stumbled into bed outrageously tired and smelled burning; it turned out to be a fly self-immolating on a lamp.)
But there came a point when I relaxed, and while several overlapping factors contributed, I think it was the dishes that really did it. The first few days here I'd been washing every dish and utensil immediately upon using it, unwilling to sully the pristineness of the place with my presence. But at some point I let them pile up: now there were dishes, a pan, a colander, a truly ludicrous number of teaspoons. I put on a podcast, and I washed them all, and there it was again: the sink empty and clean as I'd found it, even though I'd let it fill up, and something clutched tightly in my chest just let go.
I've asked before what makes a place feel like home to you after a move, and I think this is that question turned inside out: what makes you feel like you're finally, truly, actually on vacation? Are there small things that you've done while staying at home that bring the vacation-feeling to you? Have there been trips in your life where the need to make the holiday be the best holiday ever obstructed the holiday itself, until some small knot of tension unwound itself?
Wishing you all ease, restoration and nourishment in these last days of August,
- A couple of weeks ago, I joined Tochi Onyebuchi, Petra Mayer and Glen Weldon to chat about SFF for NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. We talked for an hour about genre, Tolkien, and some top books, and the editors heroically condensed our conversation into about 20 minutes! (They also mercifully cut out most of the noises of me sliding slowly to the floor as Tochi shared his recommended book.) You can listen to it on Apple, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcasts. This was a collaboration with Life Kit, so you can hear it there too!
- Big Red Machine dropped a new album today called How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?, a frankly breathtaking lyric from the album's first track, featuring Anaïs Mitchell and called "Latter Days." Mitchell's the reason I know about them at all; I will always go wherever her voice leads me, and wreck my heart on the rocks of how she sings the word "brother."