Karen Rivers

shopping carts.

Karen Rivers

Lately, I've been overwhelmed by how much of everything that there is (except for time, never enough of that).   I go online to buy a thing, a thing I've talked myself into needing, and then the site pushes suggestions at me, and I think, oh, yes, that's true, that would be nice if my lashes were longer and my brows were browner and my skin was fresher and my hair was smoother and I look in my basket at $125 worth of things I didn't want or need and I delete it all and I go outside and I try to remember about breathing and how that works and how I need to do it more slowly and then I calm down.   I think of all the things I've put in internet shopping baskets and I want to cry for my bank account, for myself, for a world where the water is both rising (the oceans) and receding (everywhere else) and the weather is broken and people are being killed at the Macy's make up counter and people are being killed because they're not white and people are being killed because everyone has a right to have a gun -- it says so in the constitution, amirite? -- and people are being killed everywhere, all the time, and Donald Trump might be president so it must be the Apocalypse and I'm over here self-soothing by putting things in my internet shopping basket, click-and-point, click-and-point, let's make it all OK, and really, yes, if I had fewer wrinkles things would be looking up.

Only I made a decision -- a conscious, actual decision -- to buy less this year.  Not nothing, just less.  Less and less and less.  I want to become smaller and smaller and smaller.  I watch Tiny House Hunters with envy.  My own house is pretty small.  But the mortgage isn't.  To be free of that!  A loft bed!  Well, I have one of those now in a regularly sized house that is full of things I've put in internet shopping carts.   In August, I live in a tent, every year the same, me and the kids and camping beds and sleeping bags, and I love how there is so much more time when you have so much less.  It's a trade, don't you see?  I see it so clearly, sharp focus, the obviousness of it.   The less you have, the more time you get.  What a wonderful world.   Those tiny houses are getting so fancy now.  I'd build mine in a forest somewhere.  No lawn care required.   Trees everywhere.   Like now, but less.  Fewer things in the cupboards.  Why do I have so many baking pans?  No one who never hosts dinner parties needs to own 20 plates.

I abandon baskets recklessly.

I picture myself running through real stores, throwing all the things -- so many things! -- into actual shopping carts, the world is a Target, careening down the aisles, things falling in my wake and then somehow escaping, the basket tipped, wheels spinning, me outside, running and running and everything around me getting greener and wilder.  I heard on the radio the other day that the smell of soil is proven to elevate the mood of people.  Then I listened while a man described the weeks when he decided to live as a badger, blind, and snuffling through the dirt.  He must have been the happiest man in the world, I think, albeit probably awkward at dinner parties.  I don't like dinner parties, as a rule.  Eating in front of other people seems so uncomfortable to me, like showering with an audience.  Is that really how you rinse your hair?  

I probably sound unhinged.  

I'm writing a book about a friendship.  I don't know how much I know about friendships, at the end of the day.  I love my friends but I'm probably not very good at being one.  I hoard time to spend it alone, badger-like.  They say that two hours of silence every day is -- important?  imperative? I've forgotten which word it was.  Facebook is very informative, good at telling me what I want to be true.  I like silence.  When the kids aren't here, I turn everything off.  Sometimes the birds fill up the spaces with their noise and I try to explain, "Look," I say. "They're only gone for one night, pipe down in there."

I had a best friend, growing up, all the way through to my mid-twenties.  One of those intense friendships.  We were in each other's pockets.  We were in each other's heads.  Sometimes, the lines between us blurred.  We did it on purpose but then it got bigger than us somehow.  We were too close and not close enough.   Toxic, my therapist said later.  But was it, I wonder, or was that just how I told the story?  We were intertwined like ivy, growing over and around each other until where one stopped and the other started was irrelevant.  And now we're not anything.  We haven't spoken in years.   "Why aren't you still friends?" my kids ask.  They need to know everything.  The truth is, I can't remember.  "Oh," I tell them. "There was a thing."  There must have been a thing.  I can't quite put my finger on what it was.  It seems impossible that we could simply have chosen to stop.   I'm writing about that friendship, but it's not about that friendship, but it is about that friendship, too.  It's about intensity and blurred lines.  It's in its fifth major revision.  I think, all along, I was meant to write about that friendship but I also haven't wanted to do that.  It's obviously fiction.  You'll see.  Anyway, I've been circling it, remembering things, remembering what it was like to have someone who is an extension of you, a stretch of your arm, a shadow, a cliche, a vine that's both embracing you and strangling you at the same time. 

Is there a guidebook for all of this?  For friendship and shopping?  I know how to do the other things, how to breathe, how to be outside, how to write a book, how to sit still with myself and be fine, be OK.  But friendship and shopping, those things are harder than they first appear on the surface. Don't get me started about love.   It would be possible to buy everything by mistake, to find yourself amongst so many things that individually look so imperative, but when listed together, all remind you of how advertising works so well on you.  What if we've all been sold a bill of goods?  Snake oil for everyone, my friends! 

I've been looking at photos from my past, old friends old loves old homes old holidays.  I can do that.  I'm not saying I don't cry when I do it.  Bittersweet, all of it, a life accumulating behind me, and I'm a leaf on the river floating through it all.  I can't find a lot of the photos although I know they exist.  I lost ten years to an ex.  We had two photo albums, as though the entire time we were planning to separate sooner or later, but somehow he got both copies.  I don't know what happened to my teens.  Selfies weren't a thing, but there must be pictures.  Even now, I have very little evidence that I was here.  Maybe that's why I write so much down.  Maybe that's what this is:  I was here.  Look at me.   Ask any writer.  That's definitely part of it.

I have an image in my head of all of us, anyway, as just leaves in the river, clumping up together sometimes, other times on our own, sometimes carrying other critters, mostly not though, mostly it's just us in the water and I suppose eventually, we bump up against the end of it, the end of the river.  We'll think about our trees, sure, and how we miss what we had then, but how this is also an adventure.  Isn't it interesting?  At the same time as really having very little to do with us.  We don't have much say over the wind or the current.   Maybe the end is the place where the river flows into the ocean, or maybe the river beyond the bend has dried up and it just stops, peters out in a dry river bed somewhere, the earth cracked, the fish dead and us finally blown around, or soggy and composting.  Composting sounds macabre, I know.  I don't mean it in the sense that you think I do.  I mean, as leaves.  Becoming something both less and more than ourselves.  Analyze it if you want.   Does anyone read blogs anymore?  What does it all mean?

Someone once commented that they thought my blog was just an echo chamber of my "low level depression" and I laughed out loud when I read it because it was such a gentle reprimand.  Me, with my low-level depression!  How dare I!  I mean, go big or go home, I suppose.  The thing is that I'm not depressed.  I have a certain love for melancholy, but I'm content, in the big picture.  I love my life.  I like being in it, a part of it.  I understand at the age that I am now about how it all clicks together in spite of our best efforts.  My life is all the things I love the most: my kids, my dogs, books and words and trees, always trees.  The maples are my favourite right now with their enormous bright leaves that are starting to lose their green, framing a sky that's fading from thick blue to a thinner autumnal grey.  I go out into the woods and I walk and I walk and I try to notice things and the way they are and the way they change and cycle and exist and exist and exist.

But there are always shopping carts, full and teetering, decisions about when to click and when to run.  I'm just a human being.  Maybe it's an echo chamber of my humanity or just, like I often say, a little flex of the writing muscle, a way of spilling words onto the page that aren't part of something bigger at all, they're just themselves, just this one snapshot of what I left in the shopping cart:  a tube of mascara, two bottles of shampoo, an eyeshadow palette, a foundation designed to make me blend in, to blur me into the background, so I look OK, I look fine, I look like part of the landscape, just one more leaf the same as all the others in the river, the sun glinting off the ripples in the moving current, dazzling diamonds of light all around us, moving us towards what we can only hope is the sea.   Think about it:  the sea!   All those possibilities, all that space, and so much time, an expanse of time, all the time in the world that we need so that we can be, we can just be.