Lately I’ve been writing less and sleeping more. Nighttime arrives at my house and my children, naked from their baths, chase each other around the house. They are full of joy and it’s my job to curb them. I must wrestle a diaper on Stump. I must remind Smoke dozens of times to brush his teeth. I must say things like “Please do not engage your brother right now.”
By the time we climb into bed for books, it’s been dark for at least three hours. I read a book or two or three, or sometimes the same book three times and then I turn out the light. “Tell a story,” Stump says, and Smoke cheers as he climbs into his top bunk. They listen while I make up some string of events about dragons or sharks or Sponge Bob that only counts as a story if you’re applying the loosest possible criteria. One thing happens and then another thing happens. At some point the things stop happening and I begin to fade into sleep. “Tell rest of the story,” Stump whispers. I wake up enough to continue by stringing on yet another random event. I pause again, but Stump is insistent. “Tell rest of the story.” As far as Stump is concerned, the bedtime story is never over.
The story is never over, but at some point I’m off the hook because he’s tired enough, or because I tell him “I don’t want to talk anymore.” And then I do something that I wouldn’t have done a month ago. I lie there, and it’s so warm beneath the covers, and I can hear both of my children breathing, and I just can’t imagine getting up. I don’t want to read my own book, or write a new blog post, or watch something grown-up and funny on TV. I just want to lie there, half asleep, and give in to how tired I am.
I was twenty-three when I decided that writing was a thing that I wanted to do. I bought a computer and set up a desk in a small heated room in our shed. I picked out a color for the walls—tangerine—and Kellie painted the room for me. Every day I sat down to write and about five minutes in, after I had my tea just so and my document open, I would be hit with a sudden wave of fatigue. How could I possibly write when I so badly needed to nap? This sleepiness felt so real that at first I took it seriously. Was I getting sick? Did I have an immune disorder? But over time, I came to recognize it as a friend—the kind who drops in uninvited at an inconvenient time. That friend’s name is Resistance.
Here’s the thing. I wanted to write. I wanted nothing more than to write. It’s just that also: I didn’t want to write.
For Thanksgiving this year, we were planning to drive to our cabin. For weeks I looked forward to it. Getting there would be a bitch, it always is. Packing for a weekend away from civilization is daunting. Driving for seven hours with two kids in the back seat is daunting. Imagining days away from phones and internet is daunting. But I know from experience that we get there and start the fire and make the beds and watch the sky and very quickly it all becomes worth it.
Except this time, this Wednesday night as I darted from room to room putting things in bags, I found that I could not keep packing because I was crying. Nothing in particular was wrong. I just had so much to pack and my brain couldn’t focus. I would go to pack the toothbrushes, and start to worry that I’d forget the flour. I couldn’t imagine being finished, and I couldn’t imagine waking before dawn and hauling my children into a cold and unlit truck.
“Do you want to not go?” Kellie asked me.
“I want to go,” I insisted. I wanted mountains and snow and quiet. I wanted all of my life’s screens and beeps and notifications to go away. And besides, our friend Dee had left this morning. She’d be waiting for us.
My phone rang. It was Dee. She had driven six hours, had made it to our dirt road in the dark, had driven over old snow for the first half mile and then attempted to drive up the first steep hill. Her wheels spun. Her car slid backwards. When she regained control and caught her breath, she turned her car around and drove to safety. The ice had directed her to move with gravity, not against it. She would spend the night in a hotel and drive home in the morning.
That settled it. I unpacked all of the grocery bags I’d accumulated over the course of the week. I unpacked the brown sugar, the can of cranberry sauce, the six yams, the bag of potatoes, the sharp knife and the peeler that I’d wrapped in a towel.
I remembered what a friend had told me earlier this week: “It’s okay to take an out breath every once in a while.”
Because Dee had come home for Thanksgiving, and because we’d never left, Dee suggested a walk to a nearby waterfall. I pictured something quaint and underwhelming. We parked in a friend’s driveway and walked on a private trail through the woods. Smoke cried because Dee’s dog kept stealing his sticks. Stump was tired and wanted to be carried. I heard what sounded like two small chirpy birds but turned out to be two bald eagles in dialogue. They were perched in nearby snag, talking about salmon, about how many there were and how far they’d have to fly to reach them. I still hadn’t seen any water, but I was starting to hear the rush of it. “When will we get there?” Smoke asked. “Listen,” I said. Twenty feet later, the ground opened up. Water spread like fingers and spilled over a hillside, a trickle for the first twenty feet until it gathered and rushed and plunged into the reservoir below. Gravity, again.
“I never even knew this was here,” I said, as if I had assumed all waterfalls, all natural wonders were public, were advertised on brown signs with white arrows.
I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase giving in to resistance. I’ve been thinking about the word giving, as in offering. How is giving in to resistance different from caving or folding?
The bigger question is this: what can I give? Sometimes the giving in means giving up, allowing the force of resistance to guide me. Dee turns the car around. I unpack the things I packed. But sometimes resistance just requires a nod. “Oh, Resistance,” I used to think when I sat down to type in my orange room. And then I kept typing even though I was sleepy.
Lately, all of my weekday mornings end in a crisis. Smoke falls to the floor on purpose and then insists that he cannot get up. He is so tired, he says. He literally can’t move. Though he doesn’t fool me, he seems to fool himself. “Do I need to make an appointment with the doctor?” I ask him, “Because even if you’re exhausted it’s not a normal thing to be stuck to the ground.” “Yes,” he tells me. “Call her.” Meanwhile, Stump kicks so hard and so fast that I cannot get a diaper on him. Before I was a parent, I might have thought that if you needed to you could force a young child to get dressed even if he was determined not to. Now I realize this isn’t so. Sometimes Stump holds still for just long enough that I can get him in a diaper, and then he immediately removes it.
I ask what I can give to this particular resistance? Because what I give now is not an offering. I storm away from my children. I make demands. I threaten consequences. I ask them why they do this every morning, even though I know. I know why. They don’t want to go. They don’t want to step out into the rainy cold world. They don’t want to sit beneath fluorescent lights in rooms full of people. I don’t want to either. And yet there I am, the sinews in my neck bursting with tension. In these moments I cannot stand myself. I cannot stand my life.
Our Thanksgiving walk ended a half mile upstream from the waterfall, where hundreds of salmon had come to die. We stood on the muddy banks—Kellie, Dee, Stump, Smoke, and me—and took in the whole scene: giant silver fish lying still on their sides in the shallow water. If you bent over and looked closely, you could make out the eggs, small orange orbs mixed in with the gravel. It didn’t quite smell like death yet, but it smelled wet and fleshy, bodily and dank. Some of the Salmon weren’t yet dead but were dying. Though they lay still you could tell them from the others; they were green instead of silver and occasionally, amidst all the stillness, a single tail would rise up and then hit the water, making a tremendous splash. The fish would then wriggle in place for a minute or two, and then resume the work of succumbing. There was nothing more to do. They had hatched in this creek and journeyed to the ocean where they traveled north along the coast. They swam away from killer whales and sea lions. They avoided trolling lines. At some point they turned around and guided by scent memory they swam hard against the current and returned to the place of their birth to lay eggs of their own. They were dying, but also they were home.
image credit, chum salmon drawing: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank
This is so beautiful, I think I needed to hear your message. Thank you.
Thank you for reading; I’m glad it resonated.
Jennifer, this is a fantastic piece of writing. It flooded me with memories of my own children. Your world, despite the rigours of being a parent and a writer, sounds beautiful. Keep on writing!!
Thank you–it is beautiful; I’m so glad that came through.
It makes my whole day to see a post from you in my reader feed.
Oh my. Thank you! ❤
This is an amazing piece. I empathize and want to help, but don’t know how to. Those salmon are symbolic for your theme of resistance and then overcoming it. I often have similar resistance when I embark on a project; I call it the “I don’t wanna” mode. Once I recognize it and express it out loud, I can eventually begin to embrace the task. But how to overcome children’s resistance to leaving a warm, comfortable, loving home is a tough one to ponder on!
That’s funny–at some point I thought about titling this “I don’t wanna.”
This made me really cry. I don’t have to do many things I don’t want to do any more, but sometimes they’re too hard for me, and I want to GIVE UP these things I decided
I wanted to do. I want to GO TO SLEEP. I want someone else to do these things FOR me.
And tell me a story. I guess this doesn’t go away, huh.
This is an amazing piece
I wanna to know what is in the photo, something like snake?
It’s a salmon. 🙂