|Helena Fitzgerald||Jan 4, 2019|
happy new year, griefbacon subscribers. a few housekeeping announcements before we get started with 2019.
first: in the ongoing, clumsy, awkward quest to figure out whatever the thing of a paid newsletter is, I’m going to have one free letter per month this year (this month it’s this one. hi!). There will be four letters a month, one a week, and one of those (probably the first one each month) will be for everybody. This month there’ll be a few more subscriber-only letters to make up for December (including at least one over this weekend, which will probably be the draft about the holidays I wrote and didn’t send because of internet access issues during said holidays). Speaking of which: I’m so sorry for the unannounced hiatus in December, I had way less internet access over the holidays than anticipated. I’ll be better about announcing hiatuses up front in the future.
also: the first round of yearly subscription renewals are coming up this week, so be aware if you’re a subscriber who signed up at this time last year that you’ll be charged for the next year sometime in the next few days. If you can no longer afford the subscription but want to keep reading, please email me and we’ll do our best to figure something out. As ever, please feel free to screenshot this letter on any and all social media, post about it, forward it, recommend it to everybody, tell your friends and enemies and family and crushes. hi. happy new year. x
The week before I went on vacation for the rest of the year, Matt sent this poem by Ada Limón in pome (you should subscribe to pome if you don’t already). I felt the whole thing so deeply that I was angry other people related to the poem, and angry that the poem existed at all. “Every time I’m in an airport” says Limón,” I think I should drastically change my life.”
Sometimes the only place where I still feel hopeful is in an airport. An airport after security and before boarding is, at least to me, the last place where every verb is only in the future tense. I used to love flying, but the more I have allowed myself to care about things, to show up for the people I love on the promise that they will do the same for me, the more flying, in all its uncontrollable variables, scares me. I have lost the ability to hold my life lightly in my hands, to shrug that I could lose all this and it doesn’t matter, who cares, the way I once did, when I was willing to bargain anything else against the threat of accumulation, against the looming avalanche of kept things.
An airport, on the other hand, feels like I have never kept anything. An airport is the feeling of standing up unencumbered after having walked for a long time carrying something heavy. It convinces me, like Limón, that I could start over. The veil feels thin between who I have settled into being and all the other people I could have been. In an airport I almost believe I could just slide my shoulder under an invisible border and fall sideways into some other version of myself.
Limón imagines she would “set fire to the clutter and creep below the radar like an escaped canine.” She envisions a cleaner and more beautiful self, all surface and presentation, casting off the messiness of love and promises, the dirt-climbing-up-the-walls feeling of going home to the same place again. Instead she would be “cable-knitted to the hilt, beautiful beyond buying.” I too have though that my chance at beauty ended where my caring for something began, that I have become smaller, uglier, and less noticeable, awkward and un-illuminated, as I chose a way through life and a person to share it with, a dust-gathering home to which to return. Maybe it is possible to want the things you have; I don’t know. Or rather, I know it is, because I know the jealousy that cuts through me like the first cold wind out of the door in the morning when I see friends who seem to want the same things they have, who did not depart from the wanting immediately upon the getting. But an airport stays forever out of reach, suspended in the moment before the thing happens, the weightlessness before anything lands.
An ex said a grad school professor had told him that airports, like poems, are about beginnings and endings. Airports offer the start of something, the place where all the roads beckon. A certain kind of conventional cynicism talks about the beginnings of relationships in a similar way. Much widely accepted wisdom says, to put it as crudely as possible, that relationships are only good at their beginnings. The first three months, the first six months, the first year. This initial giddiness is only novelty, the thrill of the new; we do not really know each other and therefore we are easy to love. It is why the same accepted wisdom counsels against moving in together too soon or getting married too quickly. Wait, hedge your bets, see what happens, find out how you feel when this person beside you in bed becomes familiar, monotonous, a part of the fabric of waking and sleeping, of the churn of each next expected day. Romance and passion are about novelty and they fade; when we first think we love each other all we are really feeling is what we feel in an airport.
Maybe this is why some part of me is always reaching back toward loneliness, always trying to be more alone. Loneliness is always at least partly in the future tense. Sometimes I miss when everything was messes and beginnings, nothing settled and nothing chosen. Loving no one yet means living in a thousand first paragraphs. Being with someone in the early days is all about loneliness. The first phase of a relationship is mostly about not being with the person, about their glorious scalding absence and the longing within its circumference. Anticipation is the easiest way in the world to carve out wanting - out of not having, out of things kept just out of reach. What a terror it is to have chosen one route and be driving on it, to have chosen one destination and already be there, to get on only one plane and go to only one place, and have to accept whatever it is that happens next.
The new year is an airport, that buoyant sense of nothing being carried over, that belief that we might scrub ourselves clean and begin again new. But what we arrive at is only the same self, the same life, again. To find hope in a new year is the same project as to find novelty in old love. It is figuring out how, again and again, to love someone when loving them is coming home, and sometimes coming home is like the day when all the Christmas trees are out on the sidewalk in the morning.
At the end, Limón’s poem turns back on itself, an arrival rather than a departure. “Then I think of you,” she says, and the poem has an object, a locational point that anchors her, “home, with the dog, the field full of purple pop-ups—we’re small and flawed, but I want to be who I am, going where I’m going, all over again.”
“The remarkable thing about coming home to you,” starts a Mountain Goats song I used to listen to every time I went to visit Thomas when he still lived in Georgia, “is the feeling of being in motion again.” Airports are as much endings as they are beginnings, but an ending does not have to be static. Long love is at least as strange as new love. Look at us, coming home to the same place, to the same each other, again and again. What a weird trick, what a wild thing to do, to keep choosing this, against the odds, the accepted wisdom, the chaos of a pair of dice landing on the same numbers every time.
Our plane landed just before midnight on New Year’s, in the pouring rain, with one million babies crying as it bumped down onto the runway and all our ears popped. We gathered up our bags and shed our vacation selves on the long walk back through bureaucratic tunnels to baggage claim. The airport spit us out into the city, into our own well-worn lives again. In a cab through the rainy night, we watched the numbers change on my phone and at midnight we kissed in the backseat as though nobody else was there. The cab driver told us happy new year and we told him happy new year. All the cars swept plumes of water across each other’s windshields over the bridge. As we got closer to home, the world fell back down to its familiar pictures. Here we are again, the same filthy place, the same doorway, the same neighbors’ buildings with their wet little mysteries unsolved in the middle of the night, the same drunk kids stumbling down our street between the subway and the bar. The same challenge, the same new year, the same feeling of being in motion again, getting up in the cold and the dark in the morning but getting up anyway, trying again, making the old things new.