Tonight I am writing in an owl nightie, granny panties and a vintage blue puffy vest with a large orange and white chevron that meets at the zipper. There are limits to self-love.
I remember once, as a child, refusing to take a bath and running instead into my room to dress in a leotard and then into the yard to dance in the driveway. I pirouetted until I was dizzy and then lost my balance and split my left ankle open when I fell. I still had to take a bath. Tomorrow I will still have to wake at the sound of the alarm and shower and dress and dry my hair and drink my coffee and get in my truck and drive to my job, where I will sit and do what is expected of me until I am allowed to go home. Self-love will make solitude thrum with joy, but it will never remove the sequential responsibilities of daily life.
On the mantel in our living room is a selection of knick-knacks that have touched hands very different from my own: a Masai ankle bracelet, an antique pocket manicure set, an arrowhead, a piece of coal from Appalachia, and thread bobbins from my great-grandmother. Too, a slab of granite with a white quartz vein I picked up beside a railroad while walking with an old friend, and on top of it, a smooth and flattened penny from the rail. Above these hangs a gun runner’s list from China, passed down by Tye’s continent-skipping ancestors. And on the wall opposite hangs two barbed wire sale samplers from my family’s own storied past.
I like to collect antiques and artifacts not out of some nostalgia for a better time, but as an exercise in approaching the variegated human experiences that might be possible in a given life. When I hold an object once loved or discarded by another person, known or not, I like to imagine that the totem itself might teach me something of what it means to get up and live and breathe in another place, another body, another time. Maps are as effective in sending me into wonder. What would it be like to wake up, now, in Sierra Leone? To have always awakened there, with the obligations and habits of a woman among her family in that place? Or in Siberia? What of southern Peru? Or even, I wonder, about life on my own street, with its own dramas and closed doors. What is it like to wake up in the duplex beside the Minit Mart? What worries live there?
Behind all my wondering is really an obsession with trade, as though one frustration, if not mitigated, might at least be traded for another. I am always looking for new frustrations, and considering which frustrations are easier borne or abandoned. When I have the chance to change one job for another, or to live in a new city, it is the new frustrations that I most anticipate, and it is the old frustrations that I happily leave behind. These days I relish the uncomfortable humidity of Savannah with the same fervor with which I never miss the alternate side parking of Crown Heights. It would be thus if I could trade a whole life with another—one inconvenience or horror magnified, one diminished. There is no escape.
This evening at a traffic light, I turned to Tye and said, “Adulthood is so ongoing.”
He laughed. “Yes,” he said. “It’s the longest part.”
I turn 34 on Saturday, and I do not fear getting older so much as not knowing, really what is in the past and what is in the present. Little from this year feels completed. I may have moved, but my ties to New York are still strong. I may be a little rounder in the hips, but I still pretty much look the same. If I have left anything behind, it is the belief that getting older means progress, or that the kind of life I want to live follows a particular path. The point is the accumulation. At least that’s what I’m telling myself before bed. It’s my gift to me.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore:
- The Streets Are Full of Blood
- On Vice(s)
- What Gets Missed
- Low Country
- A Dark Graceful Wilderness
- Before and After
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love