It's strange--mystifying, really--that within twelve hours of finding out that I've been given a new, vast tract of one kind of freedom, I found myself musing yet again (ad nauseum, I suppose) on the ways in which that freedom occasionally comes to feel excessive. I think back to my excellent novelist friend's response to that empty fortune cookie, back in March: an empty fortune cookie means freedom. Keep refining your plans, says the horoscope on the weekend. Now I have a free pass: go be as fine as you can be. It's not even slightly that I wish away what I have generously received. I know I've received it for a reason, though I don't know precisely what that reason is, just yet.
But this is not the direction I saw coming, a few months ago. I felt the possibility of new roots, a new rootedness, a different kind of settling that would, for once, be no settling at all. A feathering, a fledging. And now I'm being called once more, possibly away from home this time, just when I'm starting to have a home again: these are different wings than I expected. But when you say, "Give me directions. I'll follow them," you're handing things over to other hands. And if what gets handed back to you is not what you felt coming, well, then, you haven't been paying attention to your own maxim all these years. Be careful what you wish for. It may come true in ways you don't expect.
On the other hand, maybe this sign means that I've started getting too comfortable. Maybe it's come this early in my research leave semester so that I have a maximal amount of time and space within which to take the hint: revise your life: clear out the underbrush: go back up the mountain. My beloved Brooklynite once wrote to me, "You've gone up the mountain for both of us." I wrote back, "You're tending the home fire." Someday, I wonder, will I go up the mountain and find a home fire burning there, waiting for me? How many more times will I fall for the false gleam, the light shining in the window for some other person, some other belief?
Today was the day I gave my students the news, the silver cloud and the dark lining: I may not be here; I will not teach some of you again before you leave us. The outpouring of congratulations and of sadness, all mixed up together, is still flooding back; we are tidal, they and I. One side swings; the other side returns. One side calls; the other side responds.
Tonight, at dinner, madcapitude: strange requests from students for whom days here are numbered, for whom fewer holds are being barred, for whom there's little to lose in asking the outrageous. "When's your birthday?" "Can we borrow your vest for a photo shoot?" The latter question, to my poet friend, so much more bold than the former, to me. And these, I thought as we watched one of the stranger performances I've seen in awhile, these are my familiarities. These are the dares at affection that tell me I'm home. Maybe the call to leave them behind for awhile is coming just in time. But why so counterintuitive?
And so, all day, I walk around with my eyes hollowed out, fatigue and worry lying low and liquid behind the bones of my face, those structures that tell who I am. Listen to your heart and your gut, says my flaming-sworded friend. Even if your heart leads you astray, your gut never will. When they speak together, listen. If you don't want to leave home, don't. But what will others think? I say. Who are these others? she responds. And all the while, my feelers are out anyway, and the plans that are in the making would be exceptional indeed. The foot-dragging: natural, surmountable. The worries are mostly just words, the worrisome things mostly the aftermaths of illusions anyway. And I am not ungrateful. I am a pillar of thankfulness today, just querulous despite myself.
I page around in Pascal--the Pensées apparently among the only books in the bookstore I don't yet own, and so my gift to myself last night--trying my fortunes again, too restless to make my own way, too suspended now in what this future should look like. And thence spring surprises:
It is not good to be too free.What?
It is not good to have all one needs.
When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after--as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day--the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me?
The heart has its ways of which reason knows nothing: we know this in countless ways.
I say that it is natural for the heart to love the universal being or itself, according to its allegiance, and it hardens itself against either as it chooses. You have rejected one and kept the other. Is it reason that makes you love yourself?
I'm paying attention. I am. One of the people for whom I was named got wind, late in life, of what she would produce, and she laughed. The rebuke came, severally, and laughter I've always imagined as a little bit snide, in its disbelief, turned to joy. I've learned not to laugh. My eyes are open, and I'm trying to be patient, and I'm going to be brave about it. I am. But loving the universal being: sometimes harder than it sounds. Who put me here? What time and place are being allotted?