Opening my calendar this morning I read: Provincetown, with the same thing written for the next five days. Bobby and I have been going to Provincetown for vacation for the past 4 years, at least once a year, twice if we can swing it. It’s a magical place. The farthest tip of Cape Cod where the pilgrims first landed and spent a winter before moving to the mainland. Those people who instilled in all of us the need to move elsewhere.
Obviously, we’re not going to Provincetown this week. We’re not going anywhere. Well, I went to the dentist this morning, had a pressing issue and decided it was more important to brave the potential dangers of the dentist’s office than to brave the potential dangers of not getting my teeth taken care of.
The technician said she had to ask me a bunch of questions before the dentist could look in my mouth. Have you had a cough? No. Have you had a fever? No. Any flu like symptoms? No—I finally said, “I’ve been nowhere for the past 10 weeks. Housebound.”
I’m not a person who’s comfortable being still. All of my mechanisms for survival depend on moving forward. Low to the ground, always spreading out, on alert, onto the next and the next. These shows have been great for having a place to put my energy. I don’t think people should feel they have to accomplish anything right now but for me, and maybe others like me, to do nothing would lead to insanity.
I admire people whose homes are sparsely furnished, the walls clear except for one perfect object or image. Streamlined rooms, with beautiful, simple pieces. Our rooms are filled with objects, color, images, things—not cluttered but full.
I imagine people in those clean spaces as having the ability to be still—like people in Edward Hopper’s paintings but not as sad. Perhaps that’s part of my issue with stillness, the potential for sadness. If I stop moving, will I be inundated with all the things undone, unsaid, never were, never to be?
Wallace Stegner is one of my favorite writers—his most well known novel is Angle of Repose. The title comes from physics—it describes the degree at which an object placed on an incline will remain stationary. Like the point at which a rock will remain stopped on the side of a mountain, for example. Repose is the more sophisticated cousin to stillness, alluding to parlors with women in white dresses laying about reading, summer sunlight pouring in through gauzy curtains at tall windows. It’s a slippery slope from repose to ennui.
I have attempted a meditation practice for many years. I end up using guided meditations because the silence is impossible for me to bear. There are things that we try and try that lead to breakthroughs, and there are things that, no matter how much we try, will never change. I’m not sure but for me, silent meditation might be one of the former. One of the reasons I turn to art and performance, I am forced to stop, to take it in.
A few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine returned from India where she had gone to study Vedic Meditation. She wrote a post about it on facebook. Flush with the experience she was now trained to give these lessons to others. “Message me if you’re interested in learning more.”
I messaged her. We made a time to speak. I was looking forward to connecting.
She’s a wonderful person, an artist whose work we’ve shown at The Secret City. But as I said, I don’t know her well.
These past two months, my days have taken on a structure I like. I have begun implementing some new boundaries to take better care of myself. One of them is to limit phone calls to one per day, if possible. Her call was the call for that day.
The appointed time arrived, no call.
10 minutes after, a text saying she was on another call, she’d call shortly.
25 minutes later—a text saying, I’m so sorry, I need a few more minutes.
I wrote back, “It’s no problem, let’s reschedule, I’ve got stuff I have to get to.”
She texted with apologies, asking if we could reschedule. She followed up again. I’ve been unable to reply. Something fragile had been broken. Stillness makes us vulnerable, The skeleton teeters, bones gently knocking against each other, like a bamboo windchime.
Stillness is not simple—there is momentary stillness; external stillness and internal. We say our heart stood still when we see something beautiful, or the person we decide we’re going to marry some day. We’re so overcome by emotion that the heart stops beating. Stillness isn’t empty—but when we stop moving. there is so much to notice right now, look, listen, take it in. This global shutdown.
The best gift is something you’ve really wanted but haven’t been able to give yourself. Like this gift of stillness: everyday I unwrap it and peer inside, and even if I can’t use it yet, I dream of the day I’ll be able to put it on.