anders zorn painting on a red desk

And this seems awful, doesn’t it, to focus on the ephemerality of things? But it’s when we remember, really remember, that this will all pass that we tend to hold what we value most dear.

Listen to me read this piece below:


 

I’ve been asked how the writing conference went. I haven’t written what I meant to write about it because the things that are currently burned into my mind as lessons from that trip, while important, are not necessarily the most important ones. For example, I learned what it’s like to meet a writer I admire without necessarily feeling like a fangirl, which was a Grown-Ass Lady Experience that I will hopefully write about someday. I went to a VIP party. I taught a workshop to a room so full that they needed to open up the room behind it so that more women could pack inside.

But right now what sticks out more than that is, for example, the sick feeling of marinating in uncertainty for half an hour in my Airbnb because I needed to call a cab to drive me three blocks to my own workshop, and I was in Manhattan, where New Yorkers pride themselves on walking five hundred blocks in heels. Or asking the woman at the JetBlue lounge at JFK (which is an amazing lounge, by the way) if I could please have a wheelchair sent to the lounge, because I was otherwise not going to be able to get to the gate. Or wondering, once I got to SFO and another wheelchair was waiting for me, if I was exaggerating my mobility issues; and then realizing one-third of the way to the curb that if they hadn’t assisted me, I would have had to spend the night at the airport, and maybe live there forever, because there was simply no other way that I could get myself to where I needed to go.

This is not what I was like in 2013. In 2012, I was already diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but I was still able to go out at night. In 2011, I was still able to stay up till morning, then crash till 1pm, write all day, and then stay up late again. I say that while trying not to hate my past self through envy, or through blaming her — who knows why the last few years have happened the way that they have. I try not to idealize what I know was deeply imperfect.

 

When I came back from New York, I had less than a week to recuperate before I was scheduled to visit my in-laws with Chris. I was also sick with a virus the day I returned. But I also missed the feeling of family, and of being taken care of, and so I made the trip. A day after I arrived in New Orleans, I was wheezing and short of breath; the Urgent Care doctor diagnosed pneumonia. I’ve been back in San Francisco, and in varying levels of unwellness, since then — depression, a rotated pelvis, and a new chest cold — while life keeps going in other, often exciting, ways. I’m frustrated by physical pain and I’m excited because a magazine I love said yes to an essay pitch; a KCRW show wants to schedule a feature about me and I keep canceling things with people that I love.

I feel sidelined, I told my coach, who specializes in working with people who live with chronic illness.

In a window of less sadness I planned a Sunday Small Gathering, with a guest list and sample menu from Sunday Suppers, which I showed to Chris. It was a sign that I could conceive of a time when I might have another Small Gathering, although I don’t know when that would be, because planning is difficult right now. November and December are also the months when online-based entrepreneurs begin their seasonal launches and to discuss 2015 planning; still, life is unpredictable. We get sick, we get pregnant, loved ones die, unexpected phone calls occur. I think about the adolescent self who had a timeline for marriage and for a first child, and I want to roll my eyes at her, but she is not so different from the Esmé who buys tickets for events and hopes to be with family at Christmas — because I might think about mortality more than many people my age, but I still forget how fragile life is.

And this seems awful, doesn’t it, to focus on the ephemerality of things? But it’s when we remember, really remember, that this will all pass that we tend to hold what we value most dear.

 

Last winter, when I was in the thick of my delusions, I realized while walking home that those delusions — in particular, the one that believed I was dead, an experience that I wrote about for The Toast — were lifting. I could feel the psychosis dissipating as I made my way down the sidewalk. I believed in my own life.

I told Chris this when I got home. I also told him that I didn’t know how long the clarity would last.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“Go to an art museum,” I said.

We went to the Legion of Honor. I’d never been, though I used to study studio art and adore museums. And though I’d picked the Legion of Honor that day because of a particular exhibit, the content of which I cannot remember at the moment, we were distracted by the promise of a special traveling exhibit featuring an artist I’d never heard of, but who was apparently known as Sweden’s national treasure: Anders Zorn.

Our entire visit to the Legion of Honor, in the end, was a visit to see the paintings of Anders Zorn. I chatterboxed about technique and composition and color. A woman nearby, who’d been listening to me point out some detail about the wash on a particular piece, asked me if I was an MFA student.

“Oh, no,” I said. But I was lit-up by the work. I was also, after an hour or two, very tired.

As Chris and I walked through the parking lot on the way to the car, I said, “It’s going away again.”

Because it was. The delusion was coming back; I could feel it settling into me the way that the fog was settling into the light around the tall, thin trees, backlit by the setting sun. By the time we got home, I was lost.

Chris had insisted on purchasing a framed Anders Zorn print at the gallery gift shop. We hung it by my bed, where I spent most of my time, as a reminder of what could happen when something shifts — when we are able to live, through no machinations of our own, and are grateful to be alive and capable of sensing beauty. The Anders Zorn print now sits on my red table, which is also an altar of sorts. The painting is titled, Reveil, boulevard Clichy. In research for this writing I have learned that reveil, as it turns out, means two things: “to make known,” and “to conceal, to cover again.”

We see, and we don’t see, over and over and over again.