Do you know how sometimes you find yourself in a mood, clutching your childhood sock monkey and weeping because you feel guilty about that time when you were four and her rhinestone eye fell out and you put the errant “eye” in a Kleenex for safe keeping and your mom, thinking it was just a snotty tissue, threw it out, and so then Monkey had only the empty eye socket? And then you keep crying because of the “scar” on Monkey’s arm—a tear that was stitched up with black thread, leaving a garish mark? And then you cry some more because Monkey has been there for you your entire life, a gift from your retired-nurse-babysitter and come to think of it, Monkey never felt like all of your other stuffed animals. They were your babies and required you to mother them and not show favorites (though you had favorites, oh yes you did), but Monkey in her cap and red-checked dress has always felt more like Mary Poppins in sock monkey form—an adult. Even though you recently had to ask your mother for Monkey’s pedigree and hadn’t remembered that Grandma Sowers, the unrelated retired-nurse-babysitter (who got hit by a car crossing the street when you were two, RIP), gave her to you, it makes sense that Monkey has had that role in your life of watching out for you and was the only of your original stuffed animals to make the trip across country when you moved 12 years ago. And yes, you were 42 when you made this trip and maybe you should have come with no stuffed animals but Monkey was the only member of the family you could get in your suitcase.
Anyhow, you don’t really know why you are crying on Monkey’s red checked dress. Nothing is particularly wrong and you almost never cry anymore anyhow (thanks, Lexapro), but you can’t stop yourself and don’t want to anyhow. So you cry about her scars (her less vibrant eye, a replacement your stepmother made so Monkey didn’t have to wear an eye-patch the rest of her life), how her dress is beginning to split, how you used to love the rainbow colored pom-poms on her hat and wrist, but those disappeared after a moth frenzy of some sort years ago. And then because you feel like you are not done crying, you grab at anything you can think of that will keep the tears flowing: how you miss home in Indiana, how you miss Zimbabwe and Z’s family, how you feel like you might die if you don’t get to Ireland soon. Then because the tears are starting to dry up, you move on to more global things: the people sick and dying of Covid and other terrible things, the homeless encampment down the street that you feel ill-equipped to do anything about, how you sometimes don’t hear Z’s stories because you get distracted by a bird flying past the window or some rambling thought about Medieval castle living or an imagined conversation with someone and have to say to him, “What was that?” Why don’t you listen better? And on and on and on.
You have those days, right?
When I originally wrote the above, it went on for four more paragraphs in excruciating detail…all the things I seemed to not be crying about, and then even I got sick of myself and deleted it. The tears dried up eventually that day, but I was still flummoxed about what had caused them. Monkey was there looking on while I was at my desk writing, not bothered at all by my storm in a teacup. Her smile which is three-parts love and one-part encouragement and benevolence as she watches over me, which in turn reminds me the two holy cards I keep on my desk: one of Joan of Arc (listen to your intuition and strength to your sword arm and all that) and the other of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who is always in my line of sight when I write, perpetually helping.
One of my favorite things of the Pandemic (aside from embracing a new hairstyle reminiscent of a combo between Endora on “Bewitched” and Marge Simpson without the blue) has been the group of introverted intuitive feelers I write with daily on Zoom. We just had our one-year anniversary of meeting each other. Every day we Zoom for a couple of hours, talk for awhile about our lives, our shared personality aspects, our creative work, and then we spend an hour creating together but separately. We call ourselves the NFers because we are all introverted, intuitive, feelers. All of us write in one form or another, but we also do other things individually: craft, paint, compose and practice music, or, if we are feeling tired, one of us might choose to read.
I’m not usually a lover of group activities or even this much group chat, but there is something magical about the combination of us. I can even imagine a day when I’ll be grateful for this weird time in the world because it brought us all together virtually. I’ve grown. I’m writing more. I’m taking better care of myself. And twice now despite my inability to do most practical, sensory activities, I have channeled my maternal grandmother and fixed two lamps that quit working after they were mishandled by movers last year when we came to Oh La La. (My next project is to entirely rewire a lamp, but Z is dubious and thinks we might need an electrician to do this! Or firefighters standing by.) Change is afoot.
Also, I’ve fallen in love with all of these women. We feel our feelings and share the things we’ve been thinking about or something we just learned or a book we happened upon. We share bits of our selves and allow ourselves and each other to be the kooks we were born to be. If someone doesn’t show up, we worry a little. When we’re all in attendance, there’s an extra layer of excitement. There’s no commitment—other than time—and yet I feel fully committed to these five people I didn’t know 13 months ago. I want their projects to go well, I want their relationships to flourish, and I want them to live in contentment.
After the sock monkey induced weepies, I mentioned to this group that I’d been a bit sad, and V who has kept the Zoom candle lit for us the last 12 months—getting up before even the roosters in her part of the world—suggested that the reason for the sadness and the clogged up creativity might just be that I’d been in a holding pattern for awhile and it’s hard to work towards the next thing when you are hovering between places, between here and there. And it’s true. I’ve been waiting on some things. Some test results. An “all clear—you can visit other humans again!” message. Next year’s lease at Oh La La where rents have been hiked. Some writing that’s circulating out in the world looking for a home. And so on. Just life stuff. But still…a holding pattern.
In one form or another, all six of us are in a holding pattern for one reason or another, and when you get right down to it, everyone (who believes the Pandemic is real) is in a sort of stuck place between Before and After. No wonder people are out of sorts, behaving oddly, and generally not mentally well.
Though I’ve flown a lot, I’ve been stuck in only two holding patterns that I remember, both times circling over New York. The first was only memorable because a small plane wasn’t communicating with the tower and they had to keep the commercial flights away from it until they made contact. Later, it would have seemed scary, but because this was pre 9-11 it was just an annoyance. All I remember is that we circled around and around and the only reason I knew we were going in a circle was because I kept seeing the same school bus on the ground. In my memory now, it isn’t a small plane causing trouble with the control tower but that the school bus was some how holding up our landing.
The second holding pattern was on a flight destined for London for a layover on my first trip to Zimbabwe with Z to see his homeland. There was a blizzard that shut down Europe between our take-off from Detroit and when we got over the coast of Nova Scotia. It’s the only time I’d ever been bumped up to first class on an overseas flight. Z and I had just had a fancy meal with wine and were settled in for a pleasant flight with the big earphones instead of the crappy earbuds back in coach. We had the free internet, the real flatware, a leg rest and an ability to recline significantly, comfy blankets and, I don’t know, maybe there was caviar and slippers or a small pedigreed lap dog to keep us company (there wasn’t), but it felt like we’d won the lottery.
And then the pilot’s announcement that we weren’t actually going to our destination because Heathrow and Gatwick had both been closed and Paris wasn’t far behind. JFK had agreed to let us land there, but only after we burned off the bulk of the fuel so the landing would be safe. So we circled. For five hours. Despite our accidental luxury in first class, the flight got increasingly more uncomfortable as we circled and circled, changed altitude multiple times, and the engine slowed down and sped up.
Though I didn’t want the oceans befouled, I started thinking, “Just dump the fuel already and let us land!” I found it impossible to sleep. There was nothing we could do to arrange some other flight that would by-pass Europe and get us to Harare for Christmas while we were still in the air, but our brains wouldn’t quit spitting out possibilities of us spending the holiday trapped in an airport, eating peanuts and trying to build a sleeping fort out of our carry-on luggage. My feet puffed up. My stomach turned with each shift of the plane. Five minutes felt like an hour.
Finally we landed and, though it took an age to get re-booked on a flight that went straight to South Africa and then on to Zimbabwe on Christmas Eve, we managed it. But now we suddenly had three days to kill before our departure. For two nights, we were in an airport hotel in one of the only rooms left and for a third night, we stayed with Z’s cousin in Connecticut. One day we took the train into Manhattan and after a lifetime of wanting to see NYC at Christmas, I finally got the chance.
We met friends of Zs at Union Station, had a meal with them at a diner where I learned about an egg cream, and walked around looking at the windows at Macys and the other stores I’d only ever seen in old movies. When they took their young daughter home, Z and I continued poking around the city, seeing Rockefeller Center all lit up and skate-y, peeping into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, trying to pretend the light sweatshirts we were wearing for summer in Zimbabwe were big winter coats warding off the freezing temperatures. It was chilly, but magical.
We were still stuck in the holding pattern—between leaving home for a holiday in Zimbabwe. We weren’t anywhere we’d planned to be, we weren’t dressed for it, it wasn’t really comfortable, but still, there were moments in those three days of waiting that I wouldn’t change (including my putting bubble bath in the jacuzzi in our room and Z having to rescue me by flushing bubbles down the toilet before the entire bathroom was overrun).
The thing about a holding pattern is you never know when it’s going to end. That’s why they’re so tedious. You could be circling for five minutes or five hours or forever (or, you know, at least until you run out of gas).
Oh La La is right on the flight path to SEA TAC (an airport I’ve never had to circle). So when I’m writing in the office—which juts out of the building and hangs above the sidewalk nine floors below—I feel personally connected to the planes and the crows and the clouds and the distant boat traffic on Lake Union. On days when the writing isn’t going well if the planes are especially low, I check the tail fin to see if it is a commercial flight or if it is headed for the even closer Boeing Field where cargo planes land. At night with the blinds up in our teeny bedroom, I watch the late night flights arrive and wonder who is coming home and who is arriving for business and who is brave (or stupid) enough to be a tourist right now.
Though it’s been two years since I’ve been on a plane, I can imagine being in one that is passing by our building, waiting for the landing gear to drop down, checking to see if it’s raining, wishing I’d gone to the bathroom before we’d been restricted to our seats, and mentally de-planing long before wheels down. I imagine being greeted by people who love me as I get off the escalators in baggage claim, collecting my suitcase, standing in line for the taxi or Lyft that will bring me into the city. I even imagine that moment on I-5 when you crest the hill and see Seattle in the far distance, lit up and sparkling like Oz. I’m here, and yet I’m a little homesick for that sight.
It’s snowing today. It won’t stick in all likelihood because snow rarely sticks here, but it’s a happy sight on a Midwinter day. It feels like 34 out and I’m wrapped in the shawl that G knitted for me this fall. Monkey is watching me from the guest bed with her one good eye, smiling encouragement while I write, wondering when this post will land.
What am I circling around? I don’t know. A little self-compassion. A lot of compassion for everyone who is struggling because of the virus or separation or the season or because they feel stuck. Some joy because winter can be cozy: a stack of books, a cup of cocoa, a few days off from work, a little chocolate and though I didn’t arrange any this year, a dollop of maple candy that melts in your mouth and is too sweet by half—even for me—but that tastes the way magic must taste. (It comes right out of a tree! How could it not?)
And hope. Hope that all that is wrong in the world might get righted, that all that is wrong in a head or a heart might get soothed, that there will be more light than darkness, more love than hate, and some goodwill. These are the things I need to believe in to make any holding pattern tolerable. The winter solstice seems like a good time to tap into that.
My wish for you is that your solstice–however you celebrate it—is exactly what you need. Whether that is a tree blazing with lights with family gathered around it or a benevolent sock monkey from childhood helping you through the doldrums, may it bring you, and thus the world, a little bit of peace.