it seemed to me to be half sadness and half fury

I bought this book while shopping with other people, but though I’d finished another book and could have started it then, I didn’t, laying it aside. I’d picked it up and read the first few pages and wanted it immediately (and I didn’t even love Housekeeping, which I bought years ago for its American paperback cover, which I still wish I could find in a print form and hang on my wall), but I wanted to wait until I was completely alone to read it. Where no one could stop me and ask why I was pausing or looking thoughtful or whatever. Your choice then is either to demurr, which can be off-putting, or give up your thoughts half-formed, and in doing that you mangle them. Good luck sorting it out later, once you’ve already exported your muddled musings as something finite and solid. It’s like concrete; once you’ve poured it there’s no re-forming it, barring a jackhammer.

But now I’m alone and can read this. I know there is always some resentment about the Iowa school (vs New York) and I don’t care. I am only interested in what this books says to me…what this old man advises me, as his son, to whom he writes this letter. Because in life people don’t do this. I tried to get my grandfather to do it before I was old enough to realize how rude it was to ask. And my mother too, though it wasn’t rude then, because she asked if there was anything I wanted from her before she lost her mind, and I said if she could write to any unborn children I might have, I would be grateful, because I loved her and they’d never get to know her.

I don’t think she managed it, and that’s okay. Even if she had, my father threw away so many of her things in a fury over her illness that I don’t think it would have survived anyway.

But I will take the imagined advice of a fictional old man invented by a real woman hailing from the broader world of academia for which I hold little love, because I will take such kind words where I can. It’s not that I don’t think people mean to tell their loved ones these things, usually. They do. But they wait too long, or become too shy, or convince themselves that what is unsaid is understood. Never assume that. When I do something or doubt something and wonder what my mom would think or do, I know the answer because she talked to me. Not just about her hopes that panned out but those that didn’t, and her fears. If you don’t say anything, your ghost will be frail and silent in your absence. And whatever you think of yourself — maybe you think that’s for the best — the people you leave will miss you all the more, for having so little to cling to.

Anyway. Gilead. Given how much better The Finishing School was than all Gail Godwin’s endless minister books, I had laid aside Reverend So-and-So Talks About Life-type books for a long time (~20 years). I don’t know why I’m drawn so immediately to this one. Maybe because he’s dying. Or because he hasn’t yet turned his regrets into a sermon. Or because he’s stuck at an observational distance from everyone around him — “they want you to be a little apart” — and, like with Amergin in Morgan Llywellyn’s Bard, I’m embarrassingly attracted to that, because the description of that kind of a life reads to me as a kind of forgiveness. Even if I somewhat obviously am neither of those things.

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like the road to solitude (but much, much warmer)

Today, in honor of Skyrim’s switch release, I walked 13 miles to the sea, laid down my pack for a pillow, and slept.

Along the way I assuredly literally and not remotely poetically got trapped in the angels’ gated community, and I was so frustrated at being stuck that I stomped back across the ridge that had dumped me there and turned south toward the sea.

I figured it was a very Skyrim thing to do. An even more Skyrim thing to do would have been to grab a mead at the end of the trail, but a.) although I enjoy mead, they don’t here, and b.) in an effort not to be constantly checking the location of my wallet in the backcountry, I left all my IDs at home. Alas.

I did bring appropriate music, though. I suppose it is in poor taste to repost a commercial, but never has a commercial’s music choice more adequately expressed what I seek to gain out of their product:

random music fridays : gather your pub

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Last week Geek and Sundry’s Gather Your Party show did a Gather Your Pub edition. They drank and played public domain Irish drinking songs, and Erika Ishii rocked the everloving fuck out of the fiddle.

I was wrapped in blankets in front of an open window, alternately roasting and freezing to death, in the grip of a terrible head cold. I couldn’t see much of the stream because my eye kept watering. But I heard it.

When I lived in Japan, I used to put the Sims on across the room, just to hear people going about their lives. It didn’t matter, obviously, whether I heard what they were saying, since Sims speak gibberish. I just wanted to hear people.

This would be that, except it’s so much more, because it was startling and delightful as fuck-all to see people taking real joy in a thing I’d only pursued as an exclusively solitary activity for pretty much ever. Who, after all, likes Irish fiddle music? Not a soul I know. I don’t even have friends who like mixed drinks. And yet here was this raucous group of people, many of whom hadn’t known each other before this segment, having a damn good time singing and drinking and playing music together. It was the best, best thing to listen to when lonely and sick. Or when healthy for that matter. It was fucking great.

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the briar patch of your heart takes too long to traverse

There are people to whom you know there is more. Whether they’re just bad at hiding this fact, or you know others who know it to be true, doesn’t matter. You know it’s in there. You can see it sometimes, in a word or a gesture, running under the surface like live fish under ice. But between you and that living, tender person you might actually like to get to know, there is a brash, brazen exterior that is just…too much trouble to hack through. When you already have people to whom you are close, whose more troubled waters you’ve already waded through, doing it again, even for the coveted crown of friendship, is just…too goddamn much to ask.

I hate that this is the case. And I hate that in each of the examples that spring so easily to mind of this character type, it’s men putting up these idiotic exteriors, and it is, as far as I can tell, specifically the fact that I’m not a man that sends these exteriors up like hasty scaffolding. It’s infuriating.

Like come on man, who are you? Mike Pence? You see a book I’m reading that you recognize, and I know you know it, your eyes bounce to it and open your mouth, and then you say something dumb about being mistaken, about the book probably being lame, and snort and walk off. Who does that? In their thirties no less? I hear you talking with other men. Whether you’re my husband’s friend or chatting with your brother when you’ve thus far failed to notice me. And what Sooper Sekrit Guy Things are you discussing? Just the state of the world. Or the book you are reading. Or, you know, the things everyone else talks about, and which your whackjob code of gender conduct forbids you from discussing with me.

And I know that popular and sensible logic says to discard such people as lost causes, and move on. And I do that, it’s true. But not happily. Because it’s…it’s such a waste, you know? How many people are there out there who give a shit about the same things you do? Who read the same goddamn book series or devotedly followed the same persalities you did, since you were eleven?

Not many! The answer is not many! For the number of things we can be passionate about in this world are infinite! And to find people whose interests so closely align with our own is a thing to be treasured! But the minute your eyes light up — the minute the sharedness of this information is made clear to the both of you — poof, it’s gone. Wrapped up and stored away on a shelf out of reach. Behind a briar patch of foolishness. These are people who say “the wife,” as though she were a chair or a gas tank, and not someone they sought out and loved and continue to love. These are people who describe lives they do not live as their own — work, kid, sports team, bed — subtracting all the concern and care and quiet moments of observation that you know are in there. These are evident in the way they approach the world, and allow themselves to be seen approaching the world, when they do not know you are there.

God, I hate it. Our best man was one of these types. I know he cares about more than football. I know he has stood at the edge of the ocean with my husband when they were kids and said what they wished they could tell kids of their own. I know he defended my husband from people who bullied him about his stutter, the same as my husband defended the other boy against people who bullied him about his seizures.

And yet, I’m never going to meet that guy. Not ever.

I don’t know why. Is it that you think there’s not enough of you to go around, so you must parcel it out only to a select few? Is it that you worry if you show yourself too starkly, without enough gauzy curtains to duck behind, you won’t be able to retreat again?

How do you end up coming to a point where that is necessary? And once you’ve found someone who loves you, as he has (as they all have) — why in hell do you keep it up?

See, I ask things like that, but…I know it’s selfish to want to dig up the real people behind those damn briars. If they’re happy back there, it’s not my business. But again it’s just…frustrating, and sad. And a waste of what could have been friendship. If I were a guy I’d be their goddamn bro. But I’m not, so instead all I get are “but YOU know how catty women can be, amirite?” jokes. Which, come on. I know you don’t think your wife is some harpy, so stop acting like I’m supposed to chummily agree that why yes, we ARE all bitches, thanks for asking. Are you not allowed to be in love, in this worldview? Does everything precious to you have to be treated, outwardly, as some annoying obligation, lest anyone see you care about anything?

How is that an acceptable way to live out your life?

And yet I know even being frustrated by this withholding is something to point to and say “that’s why, moron.” The idea that I feel myself entitled to someone’s true feelings just because I carelessly fling mine around like grass seed. And if I were to stop and explain why, it would be no better. If I were to catch you in the middle of our D&D game, at the bar at a family gathering, in the middle of a song playing on the speakers in a checkout line and say yeah, this does matter; I’m not sassing my way into sarcastic dismissal here, because I don’t have…time…to pretend about this song, this story, this collapse of a public figure, a hero to some and now a sorrow to many, doesn’t matter. I’ve seen what I get to become. Everything that matters — the ability even to recognize that — gets taken away. And not within the privacy of a coffin but in the grossly public spectacle of clinics and management facilities, years spent dragging everyone I love through the shit with me.

Do you think, with this lurking in my future, this rug waiting to rip out from under me and dump me on a sea of spikes, I have time to bullshit around? To pretend everything is a joke, or that everything I hold dear is just an obligation? A weight? When, if I could, I’d clutch that weight — if weight it is — to my chest, like everyone else gets to, until it pushes me down and down into the depths of somewhere dark and peaceful, trailing only bubbles and not destruction?

I worry, sometimes, that loss has made me dour, and that this more than anything is why people withhold themselves from me.

And it would be fair.

But that’s why I’ve been careful here, on what feels like the other side of the world. No one knows how sad I am. No one knows what I write or even that I do; every sad sack paen to my dead mother, to my depressed father, to places that I love and people that are gone, they’re all hidden! I’ve been so tidy and conscientious with people! Cleaning up after every lonely mess; making sure no one steps in anything unsightly. And yet still they won’t let me in.

Only once, in a boisterous chat room of internet idiots, did one of these types unbar the door. And only because I asked about his kids. He mugged around for a bit, regaling us with tales of temper tantrums and diaper fiascos, until I finally type-growled what I’d never say in person, that he drop the bullshit and tell me, with his mom dead and his family crammed into too-expensive, too-small a space, was it worth it? And he retreated from the disinterested jeers of our sort-of friends, into a PM, and said yeah, it was, and his heart was never wrung with more joy than when watching his two girls tug each other down a path in a forest, and he never regretted it, not ever.

And that was it, bam. Back up went the drawbridge. Only carefully-plotted rejoinders from there on out. And I know it’s greedy to want more. To expect — to demand — that people lower their defenses enough to be honest with some fool on the internet. More than the once that I got. But I wasn’t a stranger. I knew him for a decade. And I wish…I wish that felt as long to everyone else as it does to me. With my limited shelf life. I wish they understood that. Wish they’d be willing to see my impatience for the lonely sort of panic that it is.

I’m not trying to run off with a part of you, you jerks. I’m trying to fill myself up to the brim with as much that matters as I possibly can, before all of it is drained from me like a marsh, unwillingly giving way to muck, until that too dries up and it’s just flat and featureless; no better than a freeway.

And I know my problems aren’t yours — it’s not my flat blank future you’re staring into — and that you won’t have to say goodbye as soon as I do. But I wish you’d say hello beforehand.

As yourself.

And if it’s vain (and it totally is) of me to think I’m the only one with some messy damning medical future ahead of me — if you’re looking at that same thing looming — doesn’t it make that much more sense not to live behind these briars? How are you ever going to take in enough to feel full, surrounded by all your thorns?