I sat on a beach the other day under sun so hot I could barely breathe, sweat running into my eyes, the 80-proof sunscreen I'd sprayed all over myself barely working, I'm sure, except for it was there so at least I tried.
Intelligence is sadly hard to find when it comes down to me and a beach, and it was brutal and kind of stupid to sit there in that kind of situation, but I didn't care. I needed some stuff baked out of me.
I watched groups of friends and families, united in that peculiar tribal beach vacation way. Sandwiches. Contraband beers. Rafts and castles, burning-sand running, blown-over umbrellas, fussing and kissing and trying to drown each other, as you do.
I sat in the middle half-reading, half-watching, piecing together in my head my versions of the stories around me. I was jealous of some of the togetherness I saw, I admit it, and some of it made me twitchy and just as happy that it wasn't mine. I travel alone often, and popping up in crowds like this is less odd than it used to be, on this weird trip I'm on of filling in so many of my own blanks. Solitary and solitude aren't necessarily the same, for reasons I can tell you maybe, someday. Suffice to say that I'm learning what I've been missing on some fundamental counts, identifying reasons I've always felt other, how I can fix it, and, the more bummer part, how I can't.
It's not like I'm always alone, though -- quite the opposite -- but some things I have to do for myself so I can set my head straight, so I can come back better, present myself to the people closest in a way that helps them know that I'm working on it, a touch of hands in an odd, odd, relay, and then off again.
I am wearing a bathing suit here. I swear. Also I am holding my arm up so my hat doesn't blow off, not because I'm a toolbag. No photo should require this much explanation.
I'm a strange combination of hopeful and crazed with change, relaxing into true things and nervewracked about others. I'm an open book to a very few people relative to all of the ones I know, major chapters ripped out for the rest, because that is just how it is right now. Have you ever told truth to people after a long time of not, not because you didn't want to, but just because you hadn't figured it out?
It's interesting, and not even anything that remarkable, when it comes down to it. The real truth of our lives is a very quiet thing, really, sacred, if you go for that word. For me it's a shifting in perception, in how I've approached life, in what I intend to do (as best as I can even imagine now) with the rest of it.
It's blowing me away how a person can get to 40 without telling most of her story to herself, even if I thought that was what was happening all along. I think I was hearing mostly Muzak, honestly, with some garden variety self-help thrown in, and in my case an overpowering super ego, the cliched hated darling that I had to partially kill to get anywhere before I cash out in this particular body.
Also? And this is important, so pay attention: everyone else's annotations aren't the main point, but they can start to seem that way if you let them. It is really, really important not to let them.
A group of four intense women played beach football in front of me the other day when I wasn't thinking about any of this deep stuff, knocking each other down with great joy in the water with targeted, fast, balls. At the same time I read the phrase "traveling mercies" in my book, and it brought unexpected, burning sunscreen tears to my eyes and down my nose and into my not-so-much-hot-as-damp bathing suit cleavage, because nothing is ever that graceful in the end around here. I've always loved the idea behind that term. Traveling mercies. It's just in the way it sounds, gentle and progressive at the same time, and in a secular sense that is what I want, what I know we all need to carry us through.
Change is a bitch sometimes, and not in the ways you'd expect. While the surface can stay the same, it's more the tectonic plates of our emotions and intellectual processes that jack it up, which is where I am now, I think. There is so much happening I just think and act in the moment and feel the effects later. Not all of it is stressful, but a lot of it, yeah. But there are some things I've apparently learned that I didn't realize until now, that I'm turning over and over in my mind, that are as new as they are obvious.
Grasping never got me anywhere.
My feelings may hurt and freak me out and make me say embarrassing things and feel completely knocked off my rocker, but they will not kill me. I will not die of the feelings.
This shouldn't be a revelation, I know, as simple as it is, but it is. It took me a really long time to understand it, and I am making very good friends with this idea now in spite of its late arrival, because it's saving me. My friend Debbie said on Twitter the other night, "Our disoriented now is our oriented later," and I liked that too. Basically I will pay cash money for some specificity here.
Anyway, this is all blahblahblah now, right? And the end of the story is that I finally got up out of my chair because the patch of my knee that always burns bright red regardless of how much I spray it or cover it was burning bright red, and it looks really stupid, and I was hungry, and there was just a little too much sunscreen in my eyes for me to handle. I burned my feet on the way to the car, and that was that.
Not all moving is running, and nor is it progress, necessarily. Not all staying is settling, either, although sometimes it's not smart either for a variety of reasons, particularly if your knee is burning all to hell or maybe if you're just extremely bored or irritated, or aren't learning anything, which is an underrated problem. Sometimes when you leave you think you're going to burn off the bottoms of your feet walking across sand to the car, and generally that doesn't happen either. All of a sudden you're driving again and yelling along to some Bruce Springsteen song (his new cd is really good, it's kind of my soundtrack this summer) and you know that on some cellular level and also many others it is all going to be okay. Traveling mercies, please, but anyway, it'll all come together somehow.