Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Bliss of Nada

I have never been one to sit on my butt. Most days, I’m up and (fueled by bowl-sized cappuccinos) running by 7am. Not as early as my first writing teacher Frederick Busch who used to be at his computer in his office by 4:30am, and not coincidentally, wrote book after book after book. Nor as early as the garbage men outside my bedroom window who haul away the trash with as much cacophony as possible at 5am. And then, of course, there are the kids who start their kicking and rolling and giggling around 6:30. A niggle in the small of my back, a tug on my hair, a kiss on my cheek. Okay, okay, I’m awake. Really. 7am it is, though it may seem indolent in comparison but the following 15 hours are filled with a flurry of activity—lunches to pack, breakfasts to make, showers, then classes to teach, and kids then to pick up, more papers to grade, and dogs to walk, four miles to run and weights to lift, dinners to bake or grill or sauté, and dishes and dishes to clean and put away, kids' baths (separate these days), reading for class, then bed (kids) and tea (me), then bed. Repeat. Repeat again.

My life generally takes the form of a breathless run-on sentence. I’m not complaining. I have trouble sitting still. Some form of personality-based restless leg syndrome? Also a possibility: the low-grade mania that always dogs me, often referred to as hypomania. This less psychotic sister of mania is characterized by a decreased need for sleep or rest, an increase in energy (i.e., life lived in the exclamation point!!!), an elevated (or irritable) mood, and a flight of ideas. This is the baseline state at which I have lived most of my life. Rather, I should say, charged through my life. Hypomania tends to dispense with the inconsequential, which in ITs jagged angle of vision equals reflection. Meaningful reflection, the kind that needs the pause, the silent beat, the deep breath. Of course, all that excessive energy leads to rumination—which is all about relentless circular thinking that leads only to obsessing over what has been lost, what is imperfect, what is now impossible.

Enter Negril, Jamaica. IT tried to come along. In addition to my swimsuit, I packed my running gear, intent on getting up, if not with the crows, then with the Caribbean dove, and pounding out my four miles up and down the white, sandy beach, IPod attached, volume way up to drown out the cat calls from the insistent hawkers of papaya juice, carved chickens, and ganja. And surely there’d be some sand-free spot where I could do my 300 sit ups. To which IT said: But that is not enough. There will have to be speedy walks up and down the beach all day long if you have any intention of eating anything other than coffee. If you do intend to eat, fruit all day, one meal at night. And there are the 3 books you must read before you leave in 5 days. And no napping. Absolutely no wasting any second of this vacation. Does this register, soldier?

But here’s the thing: the first day I made a feeble attempt to raise myself from the lounge chair to go on one of those punishing walks. But then Christopher showed up with a fresh Banana Daiquiri (virgin) and I fell back into the torpor. But this word is imprecise because torpor suggests a sluggish inactivity. And while I may have been sluggish, I was anything but inactive. Idleness is the word better suited for what happened to me. I ate pineapple and papaya but I never had to move to get it. The Fruit Lady would sashay past my chair, a basket of fresh fruit on her head, hand holding a long knife, and she’d carve up a pineapple for me at my feet. And then the Juice Man would wander by with his cooler of rum bottles filled with fresh squeezed orange, carrot, and papaya juice. There was the frequent re-lathering of sunscreen. A hand raised to tip back the sun hat. Oh sure, I made forays into the water, which itself was not taxing as you could walk out 100 yards and it still didn’t hit your hip. And Christopher and I strolled down the beach in search of vegetable patties for lunch and a jerk hut for dinner. Okay, I moved more than I’m letting on. My eyeballs diligently drifted back and forth across the pages of my book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before the new collection of Alice Munro stories). And the beach was 7 miles long, so our woozy-headed strolls became Daiquiri-inspired saunters. And then there was kid-free vacation sex. Whenever we felt like it. As long as we liked. And we liked it a lot. No problem, man. No problem.

Which brings me to Nada. What I did on my vacation. I dozed and dreamed and dallied. I would normally say that I earned it, but that would be IT trying to stake a claim. Earn—ITs lie that I have to earn my keep, my food, my rest, my peace, my place on this planet. What do you have to say to that? IT demands. With a wave of my newly tanned hand and the assurance that I swam well, ate well, sunned well, and loved well, I say Nada.