Four nights ago I dreamed that my friend K and his daughter were holding my hands as we went on a nature adventure. I woke up smiling without much more to go on. K, who is a painter and musician of some repute, was not leading me on; he was just leading me. I could tell he loves me, though. And while he loves a lot of people, this doesn’t preclude his love for me. Love is love is love is love, said Lin-Manuel a week ago, and he was right. Love is everything and it’s everywhere and it’s never “though” and it’s never “just.” When we forget that, we’re up a creek the likes of which—well, the whole country is up that creek as I type.
I’ve been so lonely lately, a fact that anyone who reads in between the lines of this blog already knows. I’ve always been alone a lot, but in the past I’ve rarely been lonely. I’ve craved the solitude as an antidote to the conversations and relationships through which I slept-walked because I feared I couldn’t take care of myself.
But that was then and this is now. This year, I don’t blame anybody and I’m not getting over anybody, not anymore. I’m just on my own, and I don’t find the air static; I find it stale. Especially since all around me life keeps rushing rushing rushing forth–terrible, brilliant, rich.
A week ago a pair of doves settled on my fire escape to make their family. I knew they arrived as harbingers and welcomed them in this and every capacity. (When doves last showed on my fire escape, it was to help mourn a miscarriage not merely metaphorical.) I named these new neighbors Ruby Rose and Max the Grey as an unabashed homage to the two cats I lived with for the first sixteen years of my adulthood.
Mostly I visit with Ruby Rose, who sits quietly in the nest she made in my herb garden while Max the Grey fetches her food. She’s ruining my basil but it never turns out anyway; I think the sun is too direct out there. So I’ve moved my favorite kitchen chair next to the window and every morning I drink my coffee with only a mesh screen between us. After Grace finishes her breakfast she pads over and watches us both while I scratch her ears: Of course you’re still my favorite. The party usually ends when Max the Grey shows up, flapping his wings: Are you crazy, woman? Do you know what these people can do?
Since I was a kid, I’ve never liked it when the dads have come home.
I think of the four of us as a tiny, interspecial unit right now—as precarious and precious as the eggs Ruby Rose is incubating. I’m painfully aware that our little family is fleeting, though you could argue everything is fleeting, even ancestral lines and our tenure on this pretty marbled planet. Still. I’ve put down less roots than most and it’s not a source of pride or sorrow, just something I live with, like my funny second toe and my big ha-ha-HA laugh.
What remains beyond babies or romantic illusions is spirit—endless formless colorless gorgeously limitless spirit. In the city at least, that’s why art means so much to me. In the art I love best, spirit flies all around, from heart to mind, from sea to sky, from green to gold, from rage to fear, from ice to fire. It’s general, maybe, but also blindingly specific.
Here’s what I mean. Last Sunday, after breakfasting with Gracie and Max and Ruby the Second, I zoomed over to Fairway for my weekly shop. It was early enough that I could take my time greeting the staffers I’ve come to love.
My friend Iris who works cheese was in a great mood. I could tell before she opened her mouth because she was all lit up. “What’s good?” I said, and she could tell I could tell.
“Well,” she said. “My daughter was in a school talent show this week and I did not know she could play so beautifully. She sang two songs she wrote herself and accompanied herself on the piano, and my heart….”
I nodded. She didn’t have to explain about her heart. It was shining like a force field, visible to anyone smart enough to look.
“Then I saw Beyoncé in Philadelphia. My girlfriend brought me. I wasn’t that excited about it, never really felt the fever though I liked what she’d did at the Super Bowl, bringing the black power on TV.”
“I love her,” I said, lest there be any confusion.
“Oh, I know,” she said, waving me off with a gap-toothed grin. (That’s how we became Sunday friends; sisters of the gap.) “But now I love her too. I got spine chills all the way down when she came out and started singing ‘Momentum’ with her dancers behind her, all colors, all shapes. I mean—what Beyoncé has done. Walking through the crowd, I saw a black girl braiding a white girl’s hair and it didn’t even seem….”
“Yeah,” I said. “Beyonce is changing everything.”
She and I were crying now, and her manager walked by, his back a little straighter than usual.
I blew a kiss and said, “See you soon, doll.”
It wasn’t the first time we’d cried together. When Prince died, we’d lost it right there under the grocery store’s too-bright lights. “He was everything,” she’d said. “I know,” I’d said, which is what I always say to her.
Ours is just one of those connections, I guess. Like what E.M. Forster wrote: Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.
Last night, an old friend and I went to see Dolly Parton in Tanglewood. A. and I lead different lives but share strong opinions and the memory of one very difficult holiday season we survived when we were college students. Even the drive to the Berkshires from Brooklyn was glorious: so much green, so much gold. June has been an absolute swoon this year. And words could not capture the incandescence of Dolly herself. She played nine different instruments, sang and told stories for three hours, and dazzled us all with her pure spirit and musicality and silvery spurs and huge huge huge laugh and heart and voice (that voice!). What’s funny is that photographs could not capture that incandescence either. Since she radiates pure light, it’s on brand that she was just a blur, that none of us could take a decent picture of her, no matter how sophisticated the camera or close we stood. It was as if she were vibrating on a frequency so high that our piddling electronics simply couldn’t capture it–a frequency more generous, compassionate, and, yes, bedazzled. A. and I ran into another long-time-no-see dearheart from school and for a second we didn’t recognize each other because we were just so high on DOLLYDOLLYDOLLY. It felt like no coincidence that through her sequins and denim and fringe I could see the trees of her childhood. She was bringing the woods to us all, just like she brought the world to herself when she prayed in the little churches she made in the woods as a young girl. Love is love is love, indeed.
All and all, it was an amazing Midsummer’s Night Dream. On the way home, I silently blessed Mr. Shakespeare for providing shorthands for our heavens and hells.
Today I write you from my friend’s screened-in porch upstate; the crickets and birds and wind are whispering my soundtrack, and green and gold are my sole companions. A. has already gone back to the city. Once again I am alone, but not lonely. I summon the magic of the solstice, the strawberry full moon, the spirits ancient and new.
It’s so easy to feel connection here, so hard to imagine climbing into magic car Minerva and roaring back into Brooklyn, though I miss permakitten Gracie and our temporary roommates. In the city I require art to fuse myself to this world and the next; here, art is the cherry on the sundae, the expression of an ecstasy already in place.
I think of that dream four nights ago: My sweet friend and his child walking me, nothing fancy, everything fine. Over and over I hear Rilke’s words: You must change your life. It is the simplest and hardest thing in the world, this seeking a path with heart.