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Things Will Only Get Worse
So eat something delicious
Last weekend I was driving along Big Flat Road, high along the ridge of the mountains to the south of the Missoula Valley. The road borders the Bitterroot River, gaining and losing elevation, sometimes hugging the banks so closely that during spring runoff it seems with just the tiniest surge the muscular water could sweep all the traffic away. At other points the road climbs up high, so that the vista of the valley is spread out far below.
It was late morning and cold enough that all the trees and shrubs were still coated in a thick layer of frost. The sun was bright on a clear day so everything was sparkling, but mist clouded the river's course. As I drove it all cleared and the view was revealed as at the unfurling of a map. I could see below me a bald eagle lazily soaring along, beating her wings a few times, then gliding some more. My foot fell off the gas and I coasted almost to a stop. I was deeply moved by the experience, this kind of observation that I live for and haven't been pursuing nearly enough.
I'm coming out of an illness. Not Covid, just a bad cold, but one that has left me with a lingering cough, sore ribs, and a shitty attitude. Nothing unusual, this is what colds do to me all too often. The difference is is that in today's environment, if one so much as sniffles in the company of other people, let alone unleash a vigorous coughing fit, you might as well be Patient Zero of the entire global pandemic. I have never stressed so much over a cold in my life and the ripple effect it has around me.
Two days prior to the eagle sighting I was driving around Missoula making entirely different observations. There was too much traffic, people were rude, and the city just felt dingy and ugly. I was reflecting that all the places in town I love most—restaurants, coffee shops, a couple bars—were either inaccessible due to Covid, or were out of business entirely, unrelated to Covid. Missoula, with its influx of money and development, is rapidly becoming a city I neither recognize nor appreciate much. Combine that with the state of Montana politics and my mood goes dark with feeling stuck here, living a life nowhere close to what I imagined when I left my old job and committed to a life, if not completely bunkered in here, at least content with it as a base of operations.
A Blackfeet friend who lives in Browning told me that the experience of being quarantined really hadn't bothered him much until the end of July, when he realized summer was almost over.
"Winters are so fucking long here," he said. "And that's how we get through them: we do a lot of shit all summer long. And I hadn't done a fucking thing."
I can relate to that. I haven't been beside a campfire all year. Didn't throw a pad and a blanket on the ground and sleep under the stars. Didn't go to Glacier. Didn't paddle a canoe. Didn't see the ocean. Nothing. The despair was almost overwhelming. I'm prone to periods of living under a black cloud anyway, something I'm sure more of us relate to than we realize, and this goddamn year with its pandemic and the violence and the hatred and the ignorance and the stupid endless election, and people asking for money at every turn, and people adding land acknowledgments to Zoom events and putting them in their email signatures, and now the holidays and people wanting to act like everything is just business as usual and will you wrap that for me and bring it out to me where I'm illegally parked next to the fire hydrant in my BMW ... it wears me out.
The day before the eagle sighting I woke up feeling all kinds of anxiety over the day to day routine. Life reduced to trips between home and town for work. Daily haggles over a rotating menu of about three dinner options Julia and I both are too worn out and uninspired to make. I have fourteen notebooks I generated over a year of writing poems for ten minutes a day, only one of which I've transcribed for editing. That anxiety, coupled with a healthy dose of, "Who cares about my stupid small-p poetry anyway?" meant that if I'd had a wood stove at home I'd have chucked the entire collection into them. Then, as I noted the smoke swirling out of my neighbor's chimney, I was mad that I don't have a wood stove. So I determined to drive to Glacier, find a campsite with a fire pit, and incinerate every damn notebook I've scribbled in over the last few years and say the hell with it. But I didn't do it.
Instead I disabled all of my social media accounts.
What a huge relief. Now I know how Jesus felt when the angel or whoever rolled the rock away from his tomb and he stepped out, saw no one was looking at or commenting on him, flexed his hands, rubbed his eyes and said, "Fuuuuuuuuuuck.... "
I've been here before. I determined to wait it out. I decided Sunday morning to go for a saunter at Maclay Flat and on the way there I saw the eagle. The ponderosa pines near the river were swarming with more Clark's nutcrackers than I've ever seen, creating quite a racket, and I loved them.
I went back to the store on Monday after missing the prior week. The goddamn holiday was still lurking there, but I enjoy the company of my co-workers more than just about anyone else. We laughed a lot and my face didn't hurt. The yoga teacher I adore stopped in and while she was there my son did too. It felt good to feel my heart swell instead of shrivel.
My cough has improved. I got in a couple good writing days, and I didn't set fire to anything. The black cloud has largely dissipated, though it gathers and roils here and there from time to time. I can handle that.
You know what else happened? After days and days of everything I ate tasting shitty and uninteresting—even coffee, people!—I made a cheeseburger. Two of them, actually: one for me, one for Julia. I got the best local beef I could find. I mixed it with seasoning and grated parmesan cheese and cooked it in a cast iron pan floating with melted butter. I toasted the buns in the grease while a thick slab of Swiss cheese melted into each resting patty. Then we ate them. And they were delicious.
What is my point here? I sat in my chair tonight and stared at my computer screen for at least an hour trying to think of something to write. The display shut down, turned black. Then I jiggled the mouse and started typing. This newsletter is the result. This is what life is like for me sometimes, and I imagine it's like this for a lot of you. The constant battle with despair and disillusionment that life just isn't what we want it to be. But it never will be, it will just ... be. The only thing we can control is how we engage with it. Some of us just need to get over our own bullshit. Some of us require medication, some of us require the company of good friends. Whatever we require it's okay to require it, and it's okay to request it. Let's lean on each other. Things are liable to get worse before they get better, and if we can't do it, who can? So let's.