I am sitting in the main branch of the Erie County Library. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a library, in person, with a stack of notebooks and my laptop computer. It feels wonderful. The quiet is exquisite. But this room is not silent – there is the distant hum of a machine, the rustling of papers at the reference desk, the tap of my keyboard.
Earlier I chatted with friendly, elderly German at the gift shop. We started talking about a German comedy show (Last Man Laughing), then humor in general, then spoofs on 1970s variety shows. From there the conversation moved to HEMA, world politics, WWII. We discussed the lack of pens for sale in the gift shop (he loans me one). I ask about the German word for cheesy. He thinks for a moment, then answers “kitschy.” Yes, English uses kitschy too – or more accurately, absorbed it from the German.
You might say I’m on vacation, of sorts. It is the first week of May, the coldest I can remember in decades. There is rain. Temperatures are nominally above freezing. Wind and gray skies. Snow flurries.
But I want to go outside, and so I do. A short, frigid run from the lakeshore cabin where I’m staying to the main street of my hometown. Past the tiny beach, with the sign indicating that no lifeguard is on duty. Past the old cemetery with 19th-century graves and their old-fashioned names carved into the stone. One of the markers, I remember, bears the words, “Killed at Gettysburg.” I run past the trees with new leaves, over a scattering of pink dogwood blossoms lying on the damp sidewalk. I dodge puddles on the pavement.
In times of transition, I return here. To my roots, as much as I have any. I return to incubate myself in the familiar.
On another afternoon I walk along Lake Erie, the wind blowing my hair in crazed directions, the waves roaring as if I am at the ocean. No one else is on the beach, aside from a single pedestrian with a dog, off in the distance. I turn away, walk so that I can face the breakwaters and tide, look at the water hissing out over the sand as it is drawn again into the lake. I am in solitude, I am alive, and the moment is mine alone.
I think of how rooms of books light something in me. Smells of spring light something in me: the rain, the leaves, the soil, the blossoms. Being next to water and tides lights something in me. Despite the cold, I run May-mad.
A day’s agenda might look something like this:
Back to bed.
Eat. Watch a loon swim. Allow myself to be surprised. Allow myself to be unproductive.
I read an article on social media and banking risk, then another on the US Constitution and presidential pardons. I browse Pinterest. I am both exhilarated and quiet.
In the sense of linear trajectory, I’ve come to a stop. I’m in between jobs, having been let go after the end of a lengthy contract. And for Americans, being out of a job is synonymous with being without purpose. Without value.
But I cannot believe that this interval of time, these days, are wasted. I am simply paying attention to other things.
From my cabin I have an excellent view of wildlife. Herons, a pair of eagles, loons, geese, goldfinches. A muskrat that popped from the lake early one morning to chew vegetation along the water’s edge. I smile at all of them, glad to be back among wild things, glad even, in a way, for the wild weather: it makes the roof, the heat, the warm bed all the more precious.
If there is a lesson anywhere, it is this: I am learning how to live in the in-between spaces. I fall to pieces. I fall into peaces. Slowly, I let myself fall into place.