I am currently counting down the minutes of my deadline as I start this column. My brain is taxed because I’ve recently entered an intense MFA program, which is a lot of words to consume and regurgitate, not to mention the original prose I’m expected to dream-up. It left me stuck for my column this month, probably because I’ve hardly been outside, hardly spoken to anyone.
So, I turned my notebook sideways, because sometimes, to get started, you need something totally new, out of the ordinary.
What’s interesting, though, is what came out as I started doodling and scribbling, was contrary to that notion. It was something very familiar. I was ruminating on school, my current reading list, a.k.a. the only thing taking up space in my brain. As I read through the works of celebrated and brilliant authors, it is my job as a student to draw connections between the books and craft, to find common, connecting threads throughout the text that teach us something greater about the art of writing.
We find the same connectivity in the real world—or at least I did before, when the real world was a place I went—when I didn’t just live in my books. It’s in nature, in our governance, in our way of life. There’s connectivity in our own bodies. Damn it, we’re all just cogs in the great Circle of Life. (Enjoy singing “Lion King” for the rest of the day now that I’ve put that into your head. I know I will.)
This is never more apparent than life in a small town. It’s bumping into my kid’s former kindergarten teacher at the store and then her following us practically all the way home because we live within a mile of each other. She probably would rather I not know where she lives and she might have gotten tired of waving back at my kids her whole drive home.
It’s knowing that thing you said about me, even though you thought there was no way it would ever get back to my ears. It’s finding a reason to be thankful for having to wear masks in the grocery—like if I also leave on my sunglasses, maybe I can hide from all three people I happen to know in aisle five and just get my shopping done. It’s the being careful who you flip off at the stop light because it might just be that person you know from church.
I think all of us (and this humor columnist is most guilty) find reasons to despise the connectivity of small-town living, and in an age where we’re hardly ever going anywhere (even if you’re not currently an MFA candidate), it’s as if the connections are closing in.
Still, as I work my way through Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” never tiring of her connections between man and nature, between a desperate human and a lonely monster, between pain and joy and all of the emotions in between, I feel gratitude. Small-town living brings us closer to humanity—our neighbors’ and our own. Mountain living brings us closer to nature, to the communion of all living things. We have, in our connectedness, greater opportunity to be constantly awakened to all the best parts of life.
Reading for an MFA is different than reading on the weekend (although my weekends are now also just reading) because you have to pay attention. I force myself to write in the margins, to record my revelations so that I stop, notice, digest. There’s no getting lost in the story for fear of losing my awareness.
Living in a small mountain community is just like this. Bumping into my yoga instructor at the post office reminds me that I have her class later this evening. If it weren’t for that yoga class, I’d never have met the woman who diagnosed my carpal tunnel—and without having it diagnosed, I might not be able to type this article! I’d also never have met my acupuncturist, whom I started seeing so that I could sleep again, and who, through rebalancing my hormones to heal me, also cured me of chronic sinus infections. I had no idea those two afflictions were related. I’d never have started attending classes at that yoga studio had my husband not bumped into the owner at the brewery. Which, if you think about it, means that if my husband didn’t like beer, I wouldn’t even be writing these words! I’d be sick in bed with a sinus infection, pondering what to do after a career-ending injury… as a writer.
The threads weaving us together are endless, and just like I paused reading on page 11 of “Frankenstein” to write down, “ …for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye,” so do I want to pause, with purpose, on these moments that bind us together, that conjoin us with nature, with each other and with ourselves.