He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
I’ve been pining.
Every day, I wake and think of some distant thing to lash myself too: PR events related to the paperback release of Rough Beauty (radio and print interviews, new website and blog, readings); an end of summer celebration with sparklers and tents; and even summer itself.
It’s been a strange spring in Colorado. Across themountains and along the apron where the Front Range meets the plains, there has been one late snow after another. All through April and then into May and June, the snow kept falling. On the first full day of summer: snow and 34 degrees and my newly planted pots covered with landscape cloth. This year, we’ve had fires in the stove through June, even though I turned the heat off weeks ago.
Through it all, the story I keep telling myself is that “I’ll be happy when…”: In warmer days when it feels like real summer; after the hoopla of book tour; in the cozy the image I have of what success looks like. And it’s precisely this pining, binding contentment to a condition or circumstance instead of a state of mind that makes the days sweep one int the next, the rush of time like the roar of a river.
Blake was right.
Summer on the mountain is already half gone and I’ve missed it. It’s one thing to be busy; it’s quite another to rush through the list of things needing to be done without really paying attention to what’s passing. Plainly put, I have bound myself to the conditional and lost track of my joy.
As someone who lives in a fire zone, my state of mind might be counting the blessing of so much precipitation at a time of year when the mountains can be a tinderbox, instead of insisting on 78-degree days. In the same way, I might remember that I cannot control the life of Rough Beauty no matter how hard I work. In the end, books sell on a numinous blend of buzz and luck.
But this book had its own mystical origins, thanks to my mother. She had been in a hospice bed for years in a nursing facility before it was all said and done. Near the end, I surrendered myself to the idea that she was actually perfectly happy not leaving her bed for two years. I didn’t need to fight so hard for her any more. Our relationship shifted. I let her love me. One day, she said to me, “I wish I could go back and raise you over again—you deserved better.” Those words are one of my most precious gifts.
Later, I began joking with my atheist mom. “When you get to the other side,” I said, twirling my finger at her, “can you work some magic for me?”
“Okay,” she said, twirling her finger right back. She died not long after.
Three months later, the New York Times accepted a piece of mine LINK quite out of the blue. A day after that, the woman who would become my agent wrote to ask if I had representation. Eight months after that, I sold my book to Scribner.
My story is the stuff of myth and joy. And I’ve had it all along.
Time to remember to “kiss [each] joy as it flies.” Elvis taught me this. I just needed a reminder.