Check in, check out, check up

It’s been a year since I’ve written in this space. I had good intentions (like we all do) of writing more often, of making something out of The Waterfall Project. I had one more post to go last year, one more adventure to write about.

But I didn’t write it.

I wanted to talk about water and baptism and Julia Kristeva’s essay “Stabat Mater.” I have notes. I have drafts. It didn’t go anywhere.

But it is still scratching at me. Ideas about giving birth, abandoning my Catholic upbringing, feminism, and the way art and nature and motherhood connect and disconnect. I want to explore the connections between art and the eternal, the similarities in creating art and creating humans. I want to unpack the lyricism of Kristeva’s essay- why it made me cry, makes me cry. And how much the physical space between her analysis of the Cult of the Virgin Mary and her own experiences of birth and motherhood feel like a cavern and also like a comfort. A visual break of the two halves of a mother/artist.

What is it about the water that makes me want to write about birth? What is it about seeking these waterfalls that makes me think about language?

Why does this epistolary project pull at me so strongly?

I am putting words back in this space for the same reasons I started. For motivation. For archive. For exploration. I hope these posts, the ones that get finished, will someday be a place for S to understand…what? Love.

*****

Dear S,

Today you started fifth grade and so yesterday we said goodbye to summer by doing all of our favorite summer things in a row. A hike with the dog, a swim in the pool, a sunset stroll on the beach. (There it is again. Water.)

It was lovely. A perfect day of us.

And then I broke. You didn’t see it, I don’t think. But my ribcage cracked wide open on a sandbar in the middle of Long Island Sound.

We walked far out together, you chatting about Warrior Cats and me listening. You carried the water bottle and your flip flops. I held the towel, my keys, my phone. And then you dropped what was in your hands and stopped talking about the books and asked me if I would watch your stuff because you wanted “to venture out to that other island” by yourself.

Fifth grade marks the end of elementary school. You used the word “venture.” The sunset poked through the thick clouds in a way that made part of the sand look pink, even though most of the sky was grey. You are growing up and sometimes the world is beautiful and it is all too much.

Water. Birth. Change.

S beach island

On John Donne and Fish Pedicures

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In an earlier post I mentioned worrying about landing a job. (I think I’ve written about worry in every blog post, but I won’t in this one!) I am grateful to say that the Fear of Unemployment ship has sailed for me. I landed a job as an adjunct, teaching one section for now, at the school where I did my BA, so the whole thing feels a little like coming home. With the remaining weeks of summer, I am sifting through the stacks and stacks of books heaped in the tiny room that will one day have shelves, and making long lists of poems and short stories and essays and maybe even a novel that I will teach to a classroom full of freshmen to spark their curiosity and make them fall in love with the written word. I hope.

I’m late (again) on my internal deadline of one blog post a week, but this time only by a few days. I have been working on an essay, which is finally finished and has been sent off to three literary magazines in the hopes that maybe one will pick me. I recently read this article about embracing rejection letters and I am going to try for a hundred, too.

Yesterday, S and I went to see a friend who is renting a beach house. An up-on-stilts, ocean-in-the-backyard, all-tile floors-to-easily-sweep-the-sand-away, beach house. They live in this town, so the rental is like a hybrid staycation/vacation. They can go home to feed their cats and don’t have to stop the mail, but they sleep with sliding glass doors open to the sounds of the waves crashing and hang soggy towels off the veranda to dry in the sun.

It was high tide when we got there and the view from this side of town is completely different, so we went for a swim. S and my friend’s niece joined us. It was late afternoon, when that pink beach light makes everyone’s skin look luminous.

We waded in waist-high and I was telling my friend about my new job while we watched the sun-baked kids with their primary-colored buckets and swimsuits try to catch the transparent little bodies of minnows swimming around us in schools.

The tiny darting fish reminded me of the fish pedicure trend that I read about a while back. A fish pedicure, or fish spa, is a treatment that involves submerging one’s feet into a tub of water filled with Garra rufa fish, also known as “doctor fish,” and then allowing the fish to eat away the dead skin.

The CDC website lists seven reasons why some states have banned this practice. The third reason is that the Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish, is often mislabeled as a Garra rufa and is then used in these fish spas. The problem with this mistake is that the Chinchin grows teeth and can draw blood, which is not only terrifying, but also increases the risk of infection.

With my mind on both flesh-gnawing fish and syllabi, I am reminded of John Donne’s “The Flea.”

 

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,

How little that which thou deniest me is;

It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;

Thou know’st that this cannot be said

A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,

 Yet this enjoys before it woo,

    And pampered swells with one blood made of two,

    And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, nay more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;

Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,

And cloistered in these living walls of jet.

    Though use make you apt to kill me,

    Let not to that, self-murder added be,

    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?

Wherein could this flea guilty be,

Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?

Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou

Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;

    ’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:

    Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,

    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

I wonder then, in the parts of the world where fish pedicures are practiced, are the Garra rufa like Donne’s flea, mingling the dead skin cells of strangers in their bellies in a way that some might say is like an act of love? Are the poor souls (my apologies for the pun) who accidentally dip their toes into tubs of Chinchin fish anything like Donne’s seventeenth-century young couple? There is no lover in these spas, I guess, only the starving fish pedicurers and the rough feet of the pedicurees, but the grotesque intimacy is there.

And as I edit this post and fidget with all of the open tabs on my computer, I receive an email from one of the journals I sent my essay to. A rejection. My words squashed between the fingers of an editor.

Only ninety-nine more to go.