It has been almost eight months since my last post. Almost an entire YEAR. I can’t process this information. It’s like I finished the last post, got up from the table to wash out my tea cup, put the laundry in the dryer, spent a couple more (thousand) hours answering email, and now it’s now. I’ve written a couple of partial posts in my head — about running during the time a few months ago when I was running, about the law of 10,000 hours and the tyranny of the electronic medical record, about watching my child learn to read — and I’ve held on to them for so long, for weeks and months, as living possibilities. Then there have been all the many moments that I have felt and observed deeply, deep in my body where language is born, somewhere between the slip of a skipped heartbeat and a quickening between the navel and the knees. These moments could and should have made their way back up through my body and out through my fingers and into the world. But they didn’t.
Annie Dillard said it best:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing… There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
How do I spend my days? How am I spending my life? I care for people and I really love it. It’s my job to take care of sick people, but it’s more than that. I try to care for everyone I meet, as if such a thing were even possible. I try to hold each person I encounter in my hands — softly! — like you would a newly born thing, to keep the bones intact, to keep the predators at bay. “And each body, a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.” Not that I am successful at that by any means, but it is my intention, my practice. That’s one way to answer the question of how I am spending my life.
But there are other ways. Everything flows out of me all of the time. Money, especially. It’s not like I’m buying lots of clothes or flying all around the world. Actually I barely have enough business-appropriate clothing to dress appropriately for work every day and I carry my lunch to work in E’s old Elsa and Anna lunchbox which is way, way too femme for her these days. It’s that one extra minute with E in the morning that turns the Lyftline into a Lyft, riding the wave of one of C’s warm smiles all the way to the Indian buffet for dinner, forgetting to turn in my receipts in time to get reimbursed. I’ve read all the books and I know I’m supposed to be figuring out which gas station has the cheapest gas and maximizing my Roth IRA but I feel like I’m at odds with it on a cellular level, which is no defense. “As for my life, I am always / like Venice: What is just streets in others / in me is a dark streaming love.” Which makes it sound like a good thing but I assure you it’s not. Time works this way too. I fill every 2 units of time with 3 units of activity, and maybe even a fourth thing that has to hide behind the shed in the back to get done in the dark when everyone else is asleep, like a crime. So that’s how I’m spending my days: guiltily. If I could just hold on to anything.
But none of this gets at what I’m trying to express, which is that I am doing so many worthwhile and satisfying things with my days but I’m worried that I am missing my life. The life of words and stillness and sustained attention and the unexpected and the unexplained. The life that can’t be rationalized and certainly not monetized. Is it the life of the mind or the life of the spirit or the life of the body that I’m missing? And if the life I’m in now is not any of these three lives than what is it? The life of the engine? The life of doing. The life of activity. I want to live my life of doing but I also want to live in a small house on the edge of an island and write. And write. And write. And write. And punctuate the long, quiet solitude of writing with a furtive trip to a milonga every once in awhile, to dally. Because in this version of my life, I can dance tango. I can follow. I can be caught off guard. I can take risks.
Does everyone live this double life? The life of doing and the life of desire. The life that is and the life that isn’t.
I traveled to a conference recently which was really a joy for me professionally, the first conference I’ve ever been to that spoke directly to what I am passionate about. As such, while there was a bit of performance involved — I wore a skirt suit for example, and used words like “leverage” and “stakeholders” with conviction — I was by and large being myself there. As is the case with working parenthood, the trip had to be everything: a networking opportunity, a meditation retreat, a return to my youth, a chance to sleep, finally, to sleep. So I stayed at the Zen Center I had visited almost fifteen years ago when I was a more consistent Zen practitioner, when I was way more anxious and way more porous. This time, as last time, I woke at 5am with the wooden clapper and sat in the dark among the monks with their dark robes and smooth heads and singing bowls. I bowed to everyone in the halls. I walked softly. I ate a new kind of high tech synthetic ice cream you can only get in Silicon Valley. I put my toes in the Pacific Ocean. The first night, after the conference, I saw a friend from long ago. Then the next night I went by myself to a tango concert.
For unclear reasons, I have become a accidental fan of a musical genre I understand almost nothing about — tango electronico. Like this. And to a lesser extent this. The first of these links is by a band named Otros Aires and I’m not ashamed to admit this — I am just a huge fan of theirs. Like I listen to their albums over and over again in the secret space between my ear buds. Like I know all the words. I am not even a big fan of tango the dance. The gender dynamics do nothing for me and the dance seems over complicated and then there’s those gender dynamics again. But then maybe I’m a little more smitten with tango than I want to be. In any case, Otros Aires was playing in San Francisco that second night of the conference — all the way from Argentina! What are the odds of that?
I left the conference with my laptop backback and my sensible shoes and my conference nametag on its lanyard and make the long trek to the venue. The website said “Doors 7pm” so there I was at 7pm which turned out to be roughly 2.5 hours from the start of the Otros Aires set. Every other person there was there with a friend. Every other woman there else was dressed in some form of femininia by which I mean either a one-piece halter garment (are these really called rompers?) or really, really high heels or both. Every other person there was drinking a cocktail, but alcohol gives me migraine headaches these days so I was bruisingly sober and alert as recorded tango music started playing and the tango dancing started, equal parts awkward and seductive and, after 2.5 hours, really, really boring. And then Otros Aires started their set.
There was a clear social expectation that only tango dancing would be happening on the dance floor but my body would not, for once, obey the social expectation. I picked a spot in the corner of the dance floor — surely I cannot be begrudged this tiny little square? — and I started to dance as I used to dance, with total abandon. I caught the eye of some of the tango dancers every once in a while and I couldn’t decide if they were thinking: “You go, early middle-aged woman!” or “Disgusting” but whatever it was, I was not to be stopped. I danced through the entire set, though by the middle of the set I found myself up at the front, near the stage, singing along to all the words, interacting with the band members like I’ve heard tell of but never experienced myself, giving them back everything they were giving to us, to me. At one point, the lead singer took out his phone to film the audience and I caught his camera pointed at me out of the corner of my eye and I turned toward the camera and smiled and closed my eyes and danced and danced and danced. I thought to myself, “Who is this woman, this woman who is somebody’s mother, this pediatrician (I challenge you to say the word “pediatrician” and simultaneously call up an image of anything remotely seductive), this women with her uterus poised to at any moment fall onto the floor from all the gyrating?” Absurd. Intoxicating.
At the end of the concert, a gaggle of women of all ages lingered near the door by the stage awaiting the band and I kind of wanted to be among them but also not, because, well, see above re: mother and pediatrician not to mention married and gay. I leaned up against one of the columns at the edge of the club thinking, “Maybe I can just tell them, ‘You guys are my favorite’ or something.” Then they emerged and the lead singer made his way around the room and when he saw me he came up and gave me a hug and said, “Muchas gracias, mi amor, muchas gracias.” And we smiled at each other for slightly longer than a second and then he turned away to talk to someone else and I picked up my laptop bag and called a Lyft to take me back to the Zen temple and my room with the small statue of Buddha on a shelf where I lay in bed and wished for the trip to end right then, to be able to be at that very moment back in my own bed with C and E, the familiar arms, the familiar legs, the sweet familiar smells.
It’s hard to know where to locate this part of a life, this part at the margins but also at the center, somewhere between the slip of a skipped heartbeat and a quickening between the navel and the knees. The adventure. It’s hard to figure out whether it matters or not, once so much else matters so much and so much more. So the life of doing continues and hopefully, I’ll be able to write again sometime sooner than a year from now, from whichever seam of time can be made to yield.