Discover more from Donita Reason
A few weeks ago, on a hillside filled with grasshoppers and sagebrush, yellow grass and brittle plants that crunched as we walked among them, Will and I watched the sun set behind the Cascades. Just before it disappeared behind all the granite, we climbed the ridge and watched what felt like the entire world (really just some mountains, a few of them snow-capped, and the rolling hills of the Methow Valley that fall in their shadows) and sky turn dusty pink and lilac, change from blue cotton candy to a fresh bruise. Eventually it got so dark we couldn't see, but it didn't matter because we were on fire. I like living by the water; I need humidity. But after a damp, temperate spring spent sheltering in place, the feeling of warm dry wind on my skin was basically an erotic experience.
It was our last night on a three-day camping trip, the first time we've been out of the house and away from the girls for any significant amount of time since March. We set out with no real plans, just a vague idea of driving along the Grand Coulee. We hiked up steep desert rocks and followed dirt roads, one of which led to a primitive campsite hidden deep in a field of sagebrush. We grilled a bone-in ribeye to celebrate Will's 46th birthday and got ravaged by mosquitoes while we did. Our car and our skin accumulated absurd layers of sand and dirt. We swam ourselves clean in rivers and lakes we met along the way. The whole time I felt wide open and free, happy in a way I have not in a long time.
The girls started back at school in July and they are so happy to be with their teachers and friends again. (Parents aren't allowed past the front door of the building, which obviously I am thankful for, though I miss being able to spy on them through the windows of their classrooms when I pick them up, being able to steal a glimpse of their secret lives.) My desperation to get back to myself and any kind of creative work mitigates most of my anxiety and fear. The deadline for my book, July 1, came and went and I tried to kill every ugly feeling that arose inside me since I basically stopped working on it at 7:30 a.m. on March 12. But these few weeks of childcare have me experimenting with feeling hopeful about writing again (results tbd; online kindergarten starts in two weeks).
My friend Lydia recently published a piece, "What Drives Me to Write?," that set off a seismic reaction in my body, made buried parts of my insides shake with recognition. Like me, the pandemic resulted in her trading writing for nonstop care work & domestic labor. While I have often felt like just giving up and allowing these "unprecedented" circumstances to quash my desire to write, by some miracle it persists.
"I don’t stand in the shower and just yearn to finish this book the way I did before. But I do think that kind of desperate wanting is, to some extent, an artesian well—it doesn’t go away once you have done the thing you wanted. . .That my vocation and my profession have ever overlapped is a gift. What matters is how to keep going."
The emotions here are deeply familiar, and so are the facts. I have two daughters the same age as Lydia's, I am also our household's (unreliable) 1099 to a steady (male) W-2, and we published our first books within a few months of each other (go read The Golden State). I'm sure many people related to her words, but it honestly felt like it was just for me. It gave me a willingness, an ability to say that writing is my vocation, which I have always been too afraid to admit. Anyway, as the kids say, I felt seen!
That night on the hillside in the Methow, it was enough, just me and Will. But there was another couple there too, Sheila and Michelle. They had woken up in Anacortes that morning and decided to head east and just see what happened. We chatted, marveled at how we all ended up here, camping for free on Fish & Wildlife lands that are big game hunting grounds come winter. We sat in silence. There was no pretense of becoming friends, no exaggerated camaraderie, just witnessing each other's existence and love and contentment. I will never forget them. Sheila snapped some photos of us and texted them to Will; he did the same for her.
I miss strangers and their bodies in ways that are painfully obvious to me, mostly the sweat and smell and heat of them as we dance together in a dark studio. But I hadn't realized how much I miss them in quieter ways, their mere presence, little interactions that feel like gifts. Maybe what I miss the most are all the things I will never even know I missed.