Mornings can have a persistent gauze about them, obscuring all the finer details. There is an underlying restlessness. You reach a certain level of consciousness and it becomes a burden; it becomes something that must be maintained, like everything else, the dishes in the sink, the grease around the stove, the particulate exhaust on the shutters. The mind, too needs its washings, its daily ablutions. My teacher reminds me: "This is what it means to be a spirit in a body."
My mother, too, has said this, and perhaps countless others. So it's an entrapment of sorts, is it? And this is especially true when I have those moments when even my breathing is foreign to me. The ache in my back, the bundled nerve in my left foot that sends up a sharp pain when I swing my legs out of bed; this is the body inflicting itself upon itself. But this is obvious and expected. What is not so obvious is the gauze of the morning, the aberrant yet perfectly normal, mindless mind.
Dillard says this:
The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books inflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or escape back home to any concentration - fanciful, mental, or physical- where you can lose yourself at last.
I am constantly nagged by the thought of writing fiction. And everyday I say I will do it, and everyday I don't, because I am tired, but not physically tired; I am tired from dragging around my consciousness all day, from being bored, trapped in my role as a mother, trapped in this body, trapped and tolerating and oh the energy it takes to tolerate. Fiction is the ultimate escape, the ultimate indulgence, and I wonder if there is a part of me, the ascetic part, that knows this and inhibits me from my indulgences as a sort of penance.
"Nothing could be less apparently interesting, for example, than a certain infuriatingly dull sight I always looked at with hatred," Dillard writes in An American Childhood. "This sight slew me in my seat. It was so dull it unstrung me, so I could barely breathe. How could I flee it, the very landscape, the dull rock, the bleak miles, the dark rain? I slumped under the weight of my own passive helplessness."
The key word is passive. And passive implies that the mind is inactive, bored, helpless. It's a form of short-sightedness. As Dillard eventually finds out through her study of geology and rock crystals, the dull rock is not so dull: "The earth was like a shut eye... Pry open the lid and find a crystalline intelligence inside, a rayed and sidereal beauty. Crystals grew inside rock like arithmetical flowers. They lengthened and spread, adding plane to plane in awed and perfect obedience to an absolute geometry that even the stones - maybe only the stones - understood."
It's a discipline, this looking deeply. It's a harness for the mindless mind, leading it back to drink. "Think!" Dillard reminds herself. Look deeper! I remind myself.
Sometimes I must go in and replace my kids in their beds because they're roaming and ransacking the place. This is after the shackles of the day have been loosed and I have my freedom. By their own restlessness and excess freedoms (they are no longer in cribs), they begin crying after about a half an hour or so, they don't know what else to do with themselves after scattering every last thing they can get their hands on- books, stuffed animals, mostly, and before my husband and I had wised up, diapers, bottles of lotion, the contents of the first aid kit. It can take two or three visits to the room before they fall asleep. I have learned that I can nip the night in the bud and return only once if I sing them a few songs. When I do this, I sing ever so softly (the softer I sing the more manageable and tolerable my voice) and stroke their hair, and they nod off. My daughter looks at me in the diffused darkness and with all color eradicated (she is fair and blue-eyed, I am olive-skinned and brown-eyed), I can recognize the shape of my features in her face. So as I look deeply into her face, which is my girl face, now, in the diffused darkness, and I see her staring back at me with apprehension. I wonder, has the diffused darkness morphed my face as well? How do I look to her, faded, obscured, old, someone other than Mommy? How do I look to her?
They're not just my children, my charges, I tell myself. What else am I not seeing?