solstice

Last night I had a one-night residency at the Ace, a Portland-themed hotel in Midtown. (The whole hotel is plastered with slogans in a knowingly folksy tone, and it is like being followed everywhere by a twenty-five-year-old Wieden + Kennedy employee in a beanie and Filson shirt nattering on at you, but if you don’t have quite the baggage I do with Portland I’m sure it’s all very witty and charming. In all other respects it’s a lovely hotel.)

In the spirit of my hotel residency I thought I would spend Sunday afternoon pretending to be a tourist—maybe buy a map and wander about with a bewildered expression running into people and photographing myself on random street corners—but my dignity is tremendously important to me and anyway the day got away from me. But I did forget what street the Ace was on, and wound up walking four blocks in the wrong direction, and so I was disoriented after all when I arrived; and there is something wonderfully lonely and strange about hotel rooms, something about the light and the emptiness and the way as soon as you cross the threshold you feel yourself all at once to be on the verge of becoming someone other than the person you ordinarily are, a traveler or an anthropologist, so that even a hotel room in city where you have lived for years is a kind of passageway into another country.

The Ace is only a few blocks from the office where I once worked for a literary agent, the office where one slow afternoon I started this blog. I used to come to the coffee shop in the lobby every day until all the baristas knew me, although none of the people I befriended have worked at that coffee shop for a long time now. I was so broke then and all my clothes were shabby and it felt as though the future was an increasingly bleak landscape I had little wish to traverse. I did not know that my life was already changing. It is impossible to see those moments for what they are until you are in a position to look back on them, but of course the catch is that it is difficult, when you are in the thick of despair, to imagine that someday you might be past it. The literary agent got me a meeting with an editor who didn’t have a job for me but might know someone who knew someone who knew someone who did, and I sat in his office and looked at all the shelves lined with all the excellent books he had edited, many of which I’d read and liked, and when he asked me what I wanted to do I said Well actually I want to be a writer and he said Why in god’s name are you trying to get a job in publishing then, get out of here and go work in a bar. As it turned out that would be the best advice anybody in publishing ever gave me. It took me a while too see that, too.

Last night was also the winter solstice, with a new moon in Capricorn no less, which means, if you are the kind of person who puts stock in such things, that now is a time not just for planting seeds but also preparing the earth for them, for the labor of both dreaming dreams and making room for their fruition; and if you are not the kind of person who puts stock in such things, that’s good advice anyway. Last night I read my new favorite astrologer, Chani Nicholas, who in addition to being a fine astrologer also has the habit of dropping revolutionary science into her horoscopes—“Reviewing your relationship to power and to how you might perpetuate dominance is apt to be high on the agenda right now”—and who does not shy away from what is happening in the world around us. It is a relief to have it acknowledged that the body with which you plan for your future and go to your day job and think about what you will eat next is also the body with which you write about trauma and loss and light candles to remind yourself of the value of hope, which is not the same thing as optimism. That we can allow ourselves to turn inward, to take the long night for rest and regeneration and making space for the possible, but we are also called to name injustice, to refuse to turn away.

The lessons of the solstice are obvious but sometimes we need obvious lessons. Renewal, letting go of unnecessary burdens. Hope. The longest night is the best night for dreaming; when the morning comes at last, get to work. Last night I went to the hotel gym, scaring the wits out of a gentle-faced man taking out his frustrations on the hotel-gym boxing bag, and ate dinner at a weirdly branded salad bar, too-brightly lit and plastered with meaningless motivational slogans (LIVE BEAUTIFULLY). Afterward I drank my complimentary artist’s whiskey in the Ace lobby and wrote in my notebook and thought about how I had come full circle, quite literally, to the same place I had started in this city, but as a person so different that it was as though I was visiting some new city altogether. But of course that's not exactly true. I am still always and only myself. The city is only ever the city. Any point in your life can become a symbol if you want it to, but it was hard not to read the place I found myself last night as a recognition of all the work I had done to get there, and all the work there is still left to do. Maybe that was just the whiskey.

This morning I woke up early enough to walk the forty or so blocks to my day job, feeling like myself again: less shabby, hopeful, making lists of things to do. Outside the sky is a smeary headache-colored grey that does little to encourage faith in the lengthening of the days, or much else for that matter; but then again, that’s what faith is. Trusting, against all evidence, that the light will return.