projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 32.
What if this was bigger? What if I was bigger? And if not bigger, then gorgeous. Not lips, hips and hair gorgeous. But grand gorgeous. Splendid gorgeous. Everything as it should be and just a little more. Everything as it could be and recognized as such.
What if I sat on my futon, spread out on the floor of my office? This is the room where I plug in my computer and fold my laundry and light tea lights in front of a photo of Iceland’s ice taken from a plane and a photo of the Mediterranean taken from the Spanish shore. And a spoon made of holes. And a frame filled with dead people. What if I invited you (and you and you) to sit with me on that hard bit of foam and batting?
What if we didn’t speak of your long day or your busy week? And we didn’t speak of your upcoming trip or your bandmate or your car accident. What if I didn’t listen to your body undoing itself? What if I didn’t listen to your body trying to find a way to be a better body? What if I didn’t lock the door or move over or wait it out or hold my horses or smile or keep at it or lay low?
As we sat there, what if you grew curious and I grew brave? What if I was unrelenting and you were strong? What if, with each mistake I made you loved me more or anyway.
What if I was the one that needed and I needed everything and I needed it from you (and you and you)? For an hour. Or a week. What could you give? What could I bear?
The cat always comes to the edge of the futon and cries for attention every few minutes. She opens her mouth and there are no teeth there, but this doesn’t stop her from eating. This doesn’t stop her from crying at me for food. She wants something and says so. I adore her and will adore her for all her cat life. I need to remember this.
You (and you and you) ask for my ears and eyes and hands and heart. More often than not, there is nothing I’d rather give. I am lucky to be a witness and wish to be a better one.
But balance is necessary. My whole body knows this. I can’t only listen, applaud or follow. Bearing witness is not a defense mechanism. Deference and patience are not escape routes.
My whole life I’ve sat at the edges of conversations (and these days, of Facebook posts). I listen hard or laugh or empathize but forget to speak. In my mind, I’ve participated. In my mind, I’ve had a shared experience. But because of my silence, the sharing is unbalanced.
So I have to speak. I have to ask, the way you ask for ears and eyes and hands and heart. And it will be hard.
This week, I made the first tentative steps toward building a new writing group. Instead of falling into an ill-fitted group that already exists or waiting for someone else to make an invitation, I’ve asked a couple friends and will ask a couple more. I will make plans. I will follow through. I will not forget to speak.
And now, as I finish writing this, I have left behind the futon in my office, my fleece-covered massage table, your railed bedside, our regular loop around the park, our coffee in bed, our too-soft couch and the cats I adore. I’ve come out to the coast to remember myself, to fill up with me again. I’ve walked on the beach, eaten a pizza, drunk some good whiskey, finished a good book and written. The phone is off. Social media is disconnected.
Out on the beach millions of sailor jellies have washed ashore. Thick, decaying lines of them fill the air with the smell of dead fish. But in other places, the sand is simply dotted with them. They are scattered along the thin tide line, their sails filled with sunset. I stop whenever I want and take a picture. There are no conversations other than the one the waves have with my body.
Balance returns and a better way to witness takes shape.