Relaxing at Lake Pleasant

People have asked me how many readers read this blog. How many hits do you get, they wonder. Once I looked it up, only for the life of me I can’t remember what it said. After that I decided I didn’t really want to know, I want to write, pure and simple, and I worried that if I start worrying about what people like or don’t like, what they want more of or not, it’ll get too complicated.

I think I got what I wished for, in spades. We’ve had big tech issues with the blog so that those who subscribe to it directly aren’t getting it, it can only be accessed through Facebook or on my website. I’d hoped it would be resolved by now, the redoubtable Silvana has tried to export a big list of names into WordPress, only to find that WordPress has locked up the subscription tool, so everyone is consulting with each other in an effort to work things out.

And me? I get to write to an emptier universe than usual, remembering the existential question: If there’s no one in the forest to hear a tree fall, did it fall or not? But fallen trees don’t need human validation, they make a big difference to all the neighboring critters and flora, they have for millions of years.

And if my blog falls? I think of writers I’ve known who decided not to seek publication but rather write (or paint, or photograph) for its own sake. I think of the many people who do origami, the Japanese paper-folding art, either giving away their creations or keeping them private.

Not everything needs to go public. Some things do, like the back-to-school supplies list I’d like to put up to help children from poor immigrant families get what they need for school opening in September. I’ve always bugged Jimena to get me that list earlier, and this time, when she has and I have it all organized, I can’t post it till the subscription is restored.

Going public/staying private. A lifelong push-and-pull for this writer who yearned in her early years to bury herself in books and writing her entire life, a female Philip Roth, only to find life going in very different directions.

I’m thinking about what Simone de Beauvoir said: “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.” But is that what gives life its value? It makes us awfully reliant on others, on relationships, on interactions, on keeping that social web around us going however we can.

I think of Bernie after his stroke, when he spoke with difficulty, often slurring his words, when his hearing was bad (unless someone put his hearing aids in for him), when he could no longer rely on constant travel, meetings, and phone calls. Our own dinners were often cut short when he’d look at me, smile, and softly say: “I’m tired, I have to go upstairs,” and slowly he’d make his way up and into bed. Did his life no longer have value?

Instead, I think of the poet Maya Angelou’s answer to Bill Moyers when he asked her once: “Do you belong to anyone?”

She answered: “More and more I belong to myself.” And then she added: “I like Maya very much.”

Wow, I thought upon reading this, what does it mean to belong to yourself? And what does it mean to like yourself very much?

I think of Zen practice as a way of belonging to myself. Not the constructed Eve who walks the dogs, visits a grieving friend, teaches this or that, writes a blog (that right now very few access), talks to her family, reads, studies, and sits, not that one at all. That’s the one who relies on her interactions with others to feel alive, to feel that that constructed image is real, is actually who she is.

Daily meditation has taught me that that is not the case. That this person, constantly changing in response to an interactive world, can’t be locked up in any of those stories or social constructs. Impermanent as she is, she is absolutely herself and belongs to no one else. There’s no reason to look out there for definition or validation (unless I’m looking for stories, which in certain circumstances is a valuable thing to do, not in others).

But can I say that I like Eve very much? Not yet. Yes, I can look over my life and think: Not bad, kid. Did a lot, loved a lot, had fun, lived a life you never dreamed of. Only I don’t believe that liking myself depends on that. Maybe it depends on feeling no lack in me.

I’m reminded of how the doorbell rang one day, the dogs going crazy. I open the door to a shy young woman standing on the steps. She extends a brochure towards me, saying: “I’m here to invite you to a memorial service.”

“A memorial for whom?” I ask.

“A memorial for Jesus Christ. He died for all our sins,” she says.

I look down. The brochure is from Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I admire Jesus,” I tell her, “but I don’t see myself as a sinful person.”

“Still,” she says, “the least you could do is come to his memorial.”

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