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Things Keep Sorting Themselves

October 17, 2012

I’ve been sitting here, this fall, recuperating from surgery so long that things I usually do are getting done without me. Yesterday I found out that the reason a project I asked a student to finish during my leave from work has not been completed is because the paper I left for her is not colorful enough. That’s the exception, though; the loss of much of what I usually do is not yet regarded as an important loss; it gives a person a frustrated sense of how much time and energy it takes to exert a daily influence. I’m up to only two hours of my usual routine (a little slowed down) every day.

While sitting here, I’ve seen the big tree that overhangs my driveway turn yellow and begin to shower its leaves down. I’ve seen cars pull in and out. I’ve seen my cats incautiously cross the street. I’m still thinking of Prufrock: “in the room the women come and go/talking of Michaelangelo.”

I am different. Although it doesn’t yet feel that way, I am more hollow. This is the poem by Jane Hirshfield that I’ve been thinking about, sitting here:

Things keep sorting themselves.

Does the butterfat know it is butterfat,
milk know it’s milk?
Something just goes and something remains.

Like a boardinghouse table:
men on one side, women on the other.
Nobody planned it.

Plaid shirts next to one another,
talking in accents from the Midwest.

Nobody plans to be a ghost.

Later on, the young people sit in the kitchen.

Soon enough, they’ll be the ones
to stumble Excuse me and quickly withdraw.
But they don’t know that.
No one can ever know that.

My sense of this poem—of the not knowing—was increased by going to see the movie Argo this weekend. “That all happened when I was Eleanor’s age” I said to Walker, and he gazed at the seventies-style glasses and hairstyles with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that I was never young as he and his sister are. Nobody plans to be middle-aged.

Certainly nobody who works at a college plans to be recuperating rather than seizing the day during most of September and October. How many of you have ever had to sit and watch your world sort itself out?

23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2012 11:19 am

    Hope your recuperation goes well!

    I went to see Argo this weekend too. I didn’t like it as much as the book, but it was good. (And really, when do I ever like the movie as much as the book?)

    Finally, not to be insulting… but I spent the whole movie going “Wow, I can’t believe how ridiculous people looked not long before my birth! Did people really look like this when I was a baby and I’ve just blanked it all out?” 🙂

  2. October 17, 2012 11:36 am

    Oh, people really did look like that. The seventies styles amplified some of my awkward adolescent photos. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

  3. October 17, 2012 12:12 pm

    What a lovely poem. I’ve been noticing that the trees just now are on the cusp of that halfway mark, where more than half of their leaves have fallen. This is my favourite season (and I do love winter next) but it’s always a sombre realization that the halfway point is past.

    • October 18, 2012 7:46 am

      I see that you’re in Toronto, which explains why your trees are on the cusp. The ones here in Ohio are at almost the height of their color, before too many of the leaves start to fall. But yes, it’s a sombre realization the day you look up and realize that the halfway point is past. I will be noticing, rather than be taken by surprise, this year.

  4. Karen D permalink
    October 17, 2012 12:26 pm

    me! me! I am attempting to recuperate/dive back in mid-semester, when all but one of my courses have belonged to other people this last month. And you’re right about “how much time and energy it takes to exert a daily influence” as well as the fact that “nobody who works at a college plans to be recuperating rather than seizing the day during most of September and October.”

    With solidarity in discombobulation, exhaustion, and a sense of futility,

    • October 18, 2012 7:58 am

      I was thinking of you, Karen. I find it ironic (this is the best word I’ve found but I’ve been trying to think of a better one) that you and I have been on the sidelines of the academic life at the same time this year while on opposite ends of the reproductive spectrum.

  5. October 17, 2012 1:52 pm

    Your tree is lovely. And I’m sure it is difficult to be recovering this long … but I’m sure you’ll look back when things get crazy and remember this time as being restful. (I hope so.) I heard Argo is really good … I hope to see it.

    • October 18, 2012 8:02 am

      Glad you like “my” lovely tree! It’s at the edge of my neighbor’s yard and drops branches and leaves on our driveway, but it’s so beautiful we don’t mind.
      I have an oddly tranquil sense of fall this year, from all the resting. I think one of the reasons I have not liked fall as a season in the past is that I was rushing through it and it seemed to be rushing towards winter and I wanted everything to stop. Well, now I know to be careful what I wish for, and also more of why fall is some peoples’ favorite season.

  6. October 17, 2012 2:06 pm

    I hope you’re healing quickly!

  7. October 17, 2012 2:33 pm

    “Nobody plans to be middle-aged.” How true. Not sure how it happened at all. Best to you!

    • October 18, 2012 8:06 am

      Glad you like that line. I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath’s poem about a mirror, and how she sees her mother. Perhaps I should find that poem.

      • October 18, 2012 10:16 am

        When I cut my hair short, all I could see was that I look just like my mom. And I was reacting with that statement when people would compliment me. Now that I’m trying to grow it out, I want the short hair again! I should be honored that I look like my mom but I really want to see ME when I look in the mirror! I will have to hunt for that poem. And goodness, SP never made it to middle-age, did she?!

        • October 18, 2012 10:43 am

          I just posted the poem, and was amused to see that it is not her mother that she sees–it’s an “old woman” which I evidently interpreted to mean she looks like her mother!

  8. October 18, 2012 12:19 am

    Here’s to a full recovery.

    My newest tea mug reads, “I’ve measured out my life with coffee spoons,” and I’ve spent many a morning in my garden contemplating this poem.

    I don’t understand. Yesterday I was eighteen. Today I’m a grandmother, and who’s that old woman looking out at me from my mirror?

    • October 18, 2012 8:08 am

      That’s a great line for a mug! (I’d like it even better if I drank coffee.) And I think you might also be in the mood for that Plath poem.

  9. October 18, 2012 4:34 am

    I had to take three and a half years out with chronic fatigue and a great deal of that time was spent sitting around doing nothing. At first it was awful – frustrating, distressing. Then it was miserable and dreary. But finally, I got used to being quietly with myself, which is perhaps something we rarely get to learn, and then I found it uplifting and mindful and grounding. It was something I really needed to learn, and my sense is that things always happen for a reason, although in the moment that reason is impossible to see – as the poem so beautifully suggests (I love that poem). I moved from finding my enforced rest a kind of imprisonment to seeing in it a wholly unexpected gift. It’s powerful to find out how replaceable is our attention to others, and how incredibly necessary is our attention to ourselves. Take care of yourself while you convalesce – in all possible ways.

    • October 18, 2012 8:20 am

      Wow. Three and a half years. That’s a long time.
      I do think the poem suggests a sense of tranquility–that things go on without you, and certainly without your willing them to. It’s been good for me to see what parts of my attention to others are replaceable. Some habits have already been broken.
      There was an interesting moment the day before my surgery when Walker asked me to go over what was going to be happening day by day–his grandmother was coming to stay with us, so mostly he wanted to know about picking her up at the airport and what he and his dad would be doing. I gave him the broad outlines and then said that I was not going to be the cruise director on this particular cruise. Oh yeah, he said.
      It was a pleasure having my mother here for the first week. Lately, some of these long days while Walker and Ron are rushing around from 8 am to 6 pm have been lonely and dreary, as you say. But I am making the time to read some books and do some quiet things I’ve been wanting to do for a while, rather than fritter too much time away trying to do work I’m not really ready for yet, because that’s the kind of taking care of myself I find rewarding.

      • October 18, 2012 9:37 am

        Good for you! It IS a huge adjustment, from being in the thick of life to having that passage of time outside of it. But it can be a very grounding and positive exercise. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things to me.

  10. October 18, 2012 10:38 am

    Goodness, I do so owe you a long long leisurely ramble of a letter, do I not? 😉 One that will take up lots of time wondering about me and how to respond! ha

    • October 18, 2012 10:44 am

      Or another artistic nude. That gives me lots of time to wonder. 🙂

  11. October 20, 2012 12:03 pm

    Your trees are very beautiful! The ones in the parks here have been turning colors but are now starting to lose their leaves due to rain. I don’t understand how it got to be late October so quickly. We just had summer!

    • October 20, 2012 12:32 pm

      I drove up my street today thinking about how it will look through my daughter’s eyes, since she’s coming home later today and hasn’t been here since the end of August. There’s always that little surprise, that things aren’t exactly as you left them.

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