I read Annie Dillard to wake up.
Well, first, there is the slow realizing that I must pee, and soon. I pull on the grey cashmere sweater on the floor, head downstairs to pee, let the cat in, and get back in bed. The cat sits on my blanketed body as I consider reading Harry Potter….no, that will put me back to sleep.
I pull Annie Dillard close and read and, wake up.
Her ferocity, the fact that she is called again and again “awake” by her readers. And not awake in the way I think the word has come to be in 2020, fueled by either injustice or transcendence. Well, she’s probably partially fueled by those. But mostly, it’s fascination. Awake to the ibis. Awake to the clattering desires within her.
“I was a barking dog between my own ears, a barking dog who wouldn’t hush,” she writes of her adolescence, her teenage years where her sense of self now needed to be reckoned with.
I read Annie Dillard and my own sleepy dog wakes up, and starts to bark. And bark. This dog wants me to write something that begins with “I read Annie Dillard to wake up.” That’s how my dog barks, often, repeating a phrase like it’s the head of a baby crowning, again and again that phrase, until I sit down and let the head out, the body follows.
But first, I’m thirsty. Morning tea, which is half a lemon’s juice, hot water, and an overflowing spoonful of honey. And there’s the banana bread I made last night, scattered with chocolate chips. I cut two big slices and put them on a plate, each with a quarter inch of butter covering the top. I take a bite. And decide I must first swing.
I chew my first big bite and sip the tea I’m carrying with me as I walk the half-block to the park. My feet are bare on the grey cement sidewalk, the sky is all white with cloud, a mother and child walk in the same direction, faster than me, on the other side of the street. I’m filled with quiet joy as I see that nobody is at the park. I feel an even bigger joy when I see two kids getting out of a car at the moment I approach the swing set.
As I swing, and in my post-Annie-Dillard’s “American Childhood” morning, I see the swing as a metaphor for my approach to life. I feel the way I use the weight of my butt, I drop myself onto it and it carves a smooth path down that rounds up. It’s like how the feeling of ease, of relaxing, releasing, actually takes you higher. I think of the book I’m writing, about my journey across the country based on an intuitive whim of a conviction: I must go to Maine. I trusted that like I trust my butt, I fall back onto it, I put all my weight on it, and instead of falling, I curve easily, joyfully, eliciting squeals from the playground kid: “She goin hiiiiiiigh,” and her younger sister simply says “Hiiiiiiiigh.”
I start to feel tired, and slip off the swing, smiling to the older girl as she runs over to the swing, she’s yelling to her dad to push her as high as I went.
You know the swing-fling? The move when you and a pal are both on wheels: bikes, skates, whatever, and you’re holding hands and one of you swing-launches the other forward, and the tug between your hands then pulls the other forward. And you can dig in, when you’re the forwardest person, as your buddy evens up with you, where you can then reach into your muscle and zoom them up ahead of you a bit, and then your hands tauten and they dig in and zoom you forward. It’s filled with laughter.
Annie Dillard does that for me. She swing-flings me into my day, and maybe somehow in my invoking her spirit in my writing, I swing-fling her forward, too.
I swing-flung the little girl who now wants to swing as high as I did. She swing-flings me right back, into this writing, wanting to bring her excitement into the party on the page.