opinions & essays
March 18, 2021 | Portland Press Herald
Out of My Head and Into the Dirt
It’s the year 2020 and the world might really be ending this time, but I can’t be certain of that. I don’t have a job and, truthfully, I don’t want one because there’s a deadly virus spreading rapidly across the globe, killing off tens of thousands each day. The government is trying to make us go back to work and school - c’mon, do it for the Economy! - but I’ve got about $4,000 and some vegetables in the yard, so I think I’ll hold out a little longer.
I’ve been hunkered down for months in a cabin in the woods of Maine, oscillating between manic anxiety and numbing depression. On the up-swings, I resolve to USE THIS TIME to LEARN NEW THINGS and MAKE THE MOST OF IT! On the down-swings, I stay in my underwear, eat cold pizza, cry in the shower.
So here I am, trying to learn German, teach myself ukulele, cultivate the best garden that no one will see, and become a “good” writer overnight. I throw myself into these endeavors like it’s the last summer of my life (which, to be fair, has never seemed likelier). At the outset of each productivity burst, I promise I’m going to follow through this time, make myself a schedule, get HEALTHY, and become SUCCESSFUL by sticking to a ROUTINE!
Within three or four days it starts to feel like someone is turning the dial up on the earth’s gravity. Okay, well maybe I’ll just put this weed-whacker down and go practice my instrument…
Man, I just don’t have the energy for strumming. I guess I’ll go read…
Wow, this book is pretty heavy, and sitting up is overrated... I’m going to lie down for a little bit.
So here I am, lying on the ground outside, wishing I’d been incarnated as a tree instead. The summer wind is blowing and the leaves are making that water-rushing-over-rocks sound. I’m thinking it might be enjoyable to be firmly rooted to the ground, stretching up and out, just absorbing sunlight with my hands and collecting nutrients with my feet. I imagine it would be a nice break to be a living thing without a brain. Maybe it’s just the self-awareness that’s bogging me down. A tree knows what to do with itself always: grow as much as possible while the weather is good, batten down the hatches when it starts to get nippy, survive winter, try again when it’s warm. Seems like the right way to live, but then, they’re not in debt.
I shift my gaze further into the sky and squint defiantly toward the sun. The clouds are hurrying past, saving up their rain for a gardener further inland, so eventually I’ll have to get up and water the poor plants I summoned into this hot-and-getting-hotter world. I wonder if my wilted lettuce enjoys the moments of reprieve when a chunk of cumulus darts in front of the sun, bringing the temperature down a few degrees. I like to watch at the thin edges of some clouds when you can just make out the perfect glowing circle of our star without frying your retinas. Then I slam my eyes shut as the light and heat explode through a break in the haze.
Maybe it’s the permanent bright spots burning behind my eyelids (or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of an increase in cortisol from the chronic stress of living through these times), but I’m suddenly gripped by intense vertigo. The inexorable, perpetual movement of everything pins me to the dirt like the g-forces on a carnival ride. The trees are swaying back and forth in front of a flowing current of clouds. The layers of earth beneath me are flexing atop tectonic plates that are sliding on an ocean of magma that is swirling around a twirling molten core. The typical sensation of looking up into space is gone, and I’m now acutely aware of the planet simultaneously rotating, orbiting, and tilting on its axis. Not only that, but I know the star we’re revolving around is also rotating and orbiting. This means we’re actually doing a sort of corkscrew move through the Milky Way, which is being stirred by at least one central supermassive black hole. And who knows what unfathomable galactic drain that’s circling!
My cell phone rings. The screen says, “Potential Spam,” so I silence it. I peel myself up and go inside to make a sandwich.