I feel like everything is getting worse, but that thought brings this reminder from the Buddha:
It’s all contextualized.
And from Anne Lamott (paraphrasing): If you can do nothing else, write.
But then there’s this:
Sunday morning, 1 am and later. I’m driving back from Seattle where I’d spent Saturday, mostly to watch the Dodgers play, and lose to, the Mariners. My first major league game since 2012. I had a great time at the game despite the outcome, but then I had to drive back to Portland.
I’ve never been a good night driver, mostly because my eyesight is poor. As I get older, my eyesight gets worse. And what I found out driving back is that I was fine in lit areas but as soon as I got to places to where all I had was my headlights, panic began to creep in.
And on the curves, the panic did its best to take over.
As long as I could clearly see the stripes curving one way or another, I wasn’t too bad. But on stretches where the stripes were worn away and the reflectors on the barriers were not clear, the panic became almost too much. Twice, I hit the brakes for no other reason than I was too afraid to keep going at the speed limit. (A benefit of late-night driving: no cars behind me to worry about.)
Thankfully, the bad stretches were relatively few. There’s one last stretch before Vancouver that not only is dark for most of the way, but it also meanders as it follows the Columbia River and the hills alongside it. That was where I had the worst moment and did not just brake, but slammed them hard. Again, yay for no cars behind me.
Panic did not use to be a thing for me. It’s not a frequent thing even now. But I am beginning to recognize the various levels of panic I can go through. For example, we’re trying to rent the third room in this house, and my latest craigslist ad got a bunch of email replies. I needed to answer these, let them know how to make arrangements to visit, etc.
I gave up halfway through because I could not face the task of sending a cut-and-paste reply – and I could not face that task because if I sent the replies, I might have to make arrangements to meet people and show them the house. I couldn’t do it. A different kind of brake, but I brought down my foot hard.
This morning, it’s lethargy – or at least that’s how I’ve thought of it in the past. I found out Friday that Providence terminated my health care at the end of May. With no notice beyond a single “pay or else” email that had no follow-up. So I am facing showing up at therapy in an hour and being told to go away. This kind of shit is a sure-fire way to undermine my ability to do anything.
Except: I can write. Sit down, open a new document, and hit the keyboard. This I can do. I understand what the Buddha meant: what I’m feeling now is the result of the insurance problem, the failure of the appliance company to show up yesterday (and the fear that my landlord lied about even ordering the new stove, which he’s put off for months since he doesn’t cook so it doesn’t bother him that the oven doesn’t work), the air quality that makes going outside with my asthma problematic, and the Dodgers letting this season slip away.
Context is everything for a Buddhist. A week from now, with the insurance and stove settled, and perhaps a good winning streak from the Dodgers, I’m likely to be doing a lot better. Or something else could strike. Shit happens. (Noble Truth #1.) Something else will happen, of course; it always does. The trick is to not get stuck in the context of the moment. For me, as I rarely remember, the best way to do that is to sit down and write.
Because the secret sauce that is writing, and which I did not realize until this very moment, is this:
You cannot think and write. You can do one or the other. To write is to do, and to do – anything – is to step forward and not get trapped in the context of the moment.
And I never feel panicked when I’m writing. This is the safest place I know.