Last week I wrote a note in my phone. The weather in Georgia shifted for a few days, and it felt like the scent of Fall. It was so surprising that for a moment I forgot that it was the cause of my mood shift, the part inside me who slumbers, sometimes kicking the blanket past her legs, waiting for a gentle shoulder rub and a, “good morning, honey, it’s time.” It was Labor Day weekend, and I sat with family visitors on my brother-in-law’s back patio. One knee to chin, one cup of coffee in hand, I inhaled the weather changes as though I walked into a bakery dusted with powdered sugar. My note to self for this post was, “do you feel that, too?” Artists of the world, I thought, are you looking up at the sky and nodding?
Monday afternoon, though, became like most of the other days now, a search for motivation to work hard, organize hard, get everyone ready to go hard; I did what I had to do. I graded and planned for 6 hours while the beautiful fall-ish light deepened into night. All I wanted to do was seize the quiet feeling that swirls gently like the ghost of a darwish who also wants to just talk, taste, explore, and be. But I felt I had to strap up for the week ahead and carry the effort of caring about kids’ school experience.
This week my kids’ school county said they are going face to face soon and had us elect whether we wanted to remain virtual or go back f2f. A few days later, my school county said kids are going to be welcomed back f2f the week after next. All I could think was that I’m unable to envision the future and unable to make a decision: do I send them back to school, or do they continue to come to work with me most days? I had just settled into an uncomfortable routine, and once again, another change. Do I trust how I feel, or trust what I know?
Everything feels like it’s on sand and not in a good way. Lately, I’ve seen a few friends more, had a few more kids over, even walked into a TJ Maxx and shopped. I’ve gripped onto what a few months ago would be considered extreme: not eating inside a restaurant or being anywhere public without a mask. To be honest, though, I have to push myself into the effort of being afraid despite the fatigue of all the pandemic consequences. Just tired. Still masked and cautious, but tired. Still super-judgy–and maybe even a little jealous at how they ripped the caution tape– about how careless some have been, but just tired anyway. How strange that the chick who wiped down every last grocery item and didn’t leave the house for months is now playing that balancing act of, “is this decision worth it? Is this decision right?” Checks and balances for every move. I’m even finding myself wanting to seize moments because next year will make this one look…fresh. Don’t analyze my choices these days, because maybe they don’t add up as expected.
So when I clicked “remote learning” for them for the duration of the semester, I knew it was the wrong choice. But when I hovered over the f2f option, I felt that was the wrong choice. I’m carrying a suitcase of every tantrum Zade has had and every oddly emotional moment Layla has had, and I’m carrying another one in the other arm for the inevitable consequences from the new grind of living. Though I didn’t make these conditions, they are my children; their effects are my effects. These days I feel like an old lady sifting through moments searching for the right, and then something sharply bright happens and I think all may be okay, Sam, all will be fine, only for the next decision to come. We have been back at school for 3 weeks, and it feels like a semester has passed. We’ve all learned how independent we can be just as sharply as how dependent we are on human interaction and experience. Teachers continue to be outstanding, their inner hearts beaming as loud as possible, and students’ families are trying so hard.
It’s fair to mention that my decision fatigue is not just anchored in school and socializing. I’ve been trying to be a wife to a Libra. In the spring, Kal was with his mom in Jordan. He woke up to a thousand messages from family and friends urging him to come back. Trump said he was closing down international travel, and at the height of the pandemic fear and this erratic president, Kal got on the next flight home. Since then, my mother-in-law’s condition seems more and more dire, and we’ve faced feeling doubly trapped in limited choices about her health and about whether he can even get to her: does he go back to see her in case things turn for the worst, or does he not? Can he live with himself if he doesn’t track the limitations ahead and be there for when she needs him? Can he ignore his best quality—loyalty? The angst and burden of making the right choice, one that you know may be one thing but feel may be another; this is the analogy that applies to my world lately.
I’ve also been preoccupied thinking about how much has stalled for artists. In my rabbit-hole reading about how the pandemic has affected the arts, I came across an article in The Atlantic from a few months back. So many considerations, so many people whose moment was right now that I hope will still have their time. The article closed on a few sentiments including, “There are flashes of positivity; most theatre-makers describe themselves as optimists. ‘“ Someone right now is writing a really great play they wouldn’t have got round to.”’ Layla and her friend are writing separate books with names like Anna and familiar plots that transcend into their imagination and onto their little laptops. They share links and edit each others’ works, often facetiming and shrieking about the next climactic scene. Maybe they wouldn’t have time for things like this if things were normal. Art endures, right? Zade and I invent stories at bedtime together where he giggles when I sneak in his name; last night he drove off in a McLaren down a beautiful open road alongside a fictional friend he named Leo. Childhood endures, right?
Lastly, I watched a talk with Alden Jones and Cheryl Strayed this week on where both talked about Jones’ memoir. I quickly wrote this down after Strayed said her go-to line about memoir: “The engine behind Wild isn’t look at me this is interesting, I did an amazing thing, or I suffered an amazing loss. It’s that I have something to say about those things.” She says, “I didn’t write Wild because I took a hike. I wrote Wild because I’m a writer.” And being writer has an effect on how you perceive life just like being a physician has an effect on how you view life or how any line of thought that usually governs your answers affects your cause and your effect.
I think all the people in this rip current, this family of storymakers who observe angles of any moment, consistently examines the knowing and the feeling, are the people I wanted to spend that Labor Day Monday with. I think that slumbering person wanting to wake up was tired of decisions though aware of her luck in being able to be part of them. She didn’t want to complain and still doesn’t want to. She just wanted to be thoughtful in a room of her own while her kids felt whole and her husband felt whole and the future felt dependable and there was still some glorious early-Fall light left of the day.