[above: Cece’s least favorite reason for waiting is that I’m on my phone. What made dogs grumpy before the advent of the smartphone?]
When I was 12, I started reading Cosmopolitan magazine. In retrospect, how I managed to convince anyone to buy such junk for me is beyond all understanding. Nothing was ever expressly forbidden in our house; derision was the main form of deterrence for most everything my mom deemed inappropriate. Yet, somehow, the magazine made its way to me each month. Occasionally I would read it as an activity in and of itself, but more often than not I read it while I dried my hair. It was something to cut the boredom of daily grooming, although I am sure it cut deeper, to places I can’t see even today.
On mornings that I do still dry my hair (which are far fewer than in my salad days of styling products, curling irons and speciality hairbrushes), C’s Rolling Stone subscription is what occupies me in between glances over to the bed. There at the foot, I have an audience. Too suspicious of the noise to come any closer, our normally boisterous pup camps out at the edge, her snout between her paws, looking up at me with her mournful Beagle eyes, waiting.
Of the many things the voice of my mother says to me in my head, one of them is a fuzzy recollection of a brief moment that is now more feeling than memory.Sometime in the early 90s, perhaps even coincident with my Cosmo & blowdrying habit, mom was struck by something she’d heard an author say in an interview, which she then repeated to me. She did not repeat the exact words, and so I do not have them now, but the gist is this: that women are born to wait. We wait for our periods to start, we wait to lose our virginity, we wait to meet our mate, we wait to be pregnant, we wait to meet our children. I do distinctly remember at the time finding her fascination with this concept distasteful – reductive and demoralizing. Whether I had the vocabulary or not, something in me revolted at the thought. I would not be someone who waited. I would not let my life revolve around the what-may-be. I was not so weak as she that such a concept would resonate with me at 40. By then I would be beyond waiting, I would be doing.
Waiting, however, is now a significant part of my life. For starters, since C travels for his job, there is the ever-present, never-predictable game of bus and plane arrivals, departures, diversions and complications. The rhythm of my life is dictated by the tour – nothing can be reliably planned, expectations are dashed as regularly as summer mosquitos. But since Cece joined us, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the word itself. With Cece, there is no “stay”. We have flat-out failed at “stay”. “Wait” is as far as we’ve gotten. “Wait” somehow works for her, and – like all her vocabulary of commands – I feel the most satisfying victory when she complies.
Perhaps it is that I am alone more often than most people are. Perhaps it is that I am prone to anthropomorphisation of my surroundings in general. Either way, I’ve found that the way to be most successful with helping Cece learn to live with us is to talk to her as though she understands the logic behind what I’m saying, and we talk a lot about “wait”. It is her job to wait. She waits for me to get done sitting at the computer, for me to get off a phone call, for me to finish showering, for me to come back from taking out the trash… whenever she is left alone in the house, she waits in her crate, listening to NPR… and, when C is out of town, off somewhere far away doing the sort of things they write about in Rolling Stone, the two of us snuggle under a quilt, watching post-apocalyptic TV, waiting together.
This morning as I dried my hair – more for warmth than vanity, as is frequently the case as I proceed towards 40 – I read this week’s Rolling Stone interview with Madonna. Never having been much exposed to 80s & 90s rock – yet another thing derided as not worth my time – I have no Madonna baggage. There are no recollections of vogueing or like-a-virgining that pin her to any particular place in my personal history. But I do have a remote nostalgia for those years – years I was turned away from the more shocking aspects of pop culture towards a steady diet of 60s & 70s folk rock, NKOTB, and Babysitters Club books. The time I spent ignoring the prevailing culture leaves me now fascinated by what I missed. Who might I have been had I a larger view of the world, a taste of rebellion, a sense of the messiness and freedom that music of that her kind celebrated? Of course I started reading the Madonna interview. What lost piece of myself might I find by knowing more about this woman?
The article itself opens with a narrative of a show rehearsal, and then moves to the ambience of the interview setting itself: her home, her clothing, her physical presence. As Madonna and the writer settle into interview mode, each turning on their own small tape recorders. Madonna excuses her obvious exhaustion, saying:
I was doing yoga earlier… and I literally fell asleep in corpse pose. But you know, yoga is preparation for death. Yogis get to a point where they can literally slow their heartbeatsdown. And then as they get older, they go into the woods, and they sit in their loincloth or whatever it is, and they choose to stop their heart. Anyway, that’s what yoga’s all about. It’s not about twisting yourself into a pretzel. It’s about preparing for death. Detachment from desire.
I haven’t yet read on beyond that paragraph. I’m still stuck on the idea that all life is merely preparation for how we will experience its end, how we will detach ourselves from what we’ve spent so much of our time waiting on. Is that what I am doing here – drying my hair, stretching into half-moon pose, answering emails, washing dishes, snuggling with the dog – practicing my patience, detaching from desire, preparing for the end?
Of course, there is also the possibility that there is no end. The origin of the word apocalypse is from ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις, from ἀπό and καλύπτω meaning “uncovering”; translated literally from Greek, it means a disclosure of knowledge, or a lifting of the veil (thanks, wikipedia). Perhaps my appetite for The Walking Dead and The Hunger Games is less a mechanism to cope with the wait and more a practice for the end, detaching from a desire for those things I wait for by reminding myself that, beyond the end, there is another beginning.
I can say this, though: despite all my practice, I have not found the emotions to have lost any of their flavor. The gore of splattered zombie blood, the desperation of Katniss’s rage, the longing for C to return home to me… they do not lose their emotional intensity with repetition. Yet, I continue to practice. I talk to myself as though my desires can understand the logic of what I’m saying. As though at some point I will have perfected the ability to simultaneously inhabit my desires and be at peace with whatever comes.
I have been practicing yoga for 14 years. My reason for it has never extended much beyond the fact that my body loves it. It feels good from stem to stern. I had never thought to turn that practice into a spiritual one with any seriousness, but the words of a talented and exhausted woman are calling me to that.
I am thankful to have my little furry companion in this preparation, as I am thankful for the few days I spent with her sister. Cece and I, we are practicing together. We are learning to hold on lightly to the gifts life gives us even as we clamp down tight and wrestle our days to the ground. We are not passive in our waiting; rather, we are dedicated to it. Let the what-may-be come as it must. We will strive to make this waiting an art by doing while we wait, stretching because our bodies love the way it feels, faithfully practicing our detachment from desire.