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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The (un)Real World

Well, here I am, back in NJ after three beautiful weeks at a residency program. (The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.) Back to the real world.

But as I move about here, I am struck over and over by the unreality of it all. Walking to get a blood draw, thinking about what the fuck to do about this reconstruction shit, I'm confronted by this:

At the eye doctor after work, my one appointment which should have nothing to do with the C word (the other one) the optometrist says, "the breast cancer was last year?" I smile and say yes, but obviously, no. No, it is now and it was yesterday, and it is in five minutes and five years, or fifty.

At night, on 14th street, a cello swells from underneath me. Then it is gone, then it is back again. I am walking over subway grates, and a subterranean cellist.

For three weeks, I didn't see a single doctor. A record, since diagnosis. I had a couple of anxiety attacks, certainly. But that's what feels real, not being in this soup of my actual life.

On the last day of the residency, I saw a gathering of manatees. I, and a few others from the residency, had assembled an unassuming bank near a playground to try to see them. It was the kind of place you'd have to know about to find. The kind of place without an address, just a "hang a right at the liquor store shaped like a sombrero" kind of thing. Someone told me it wasn't so exciting to see them, that they just look like rocks.

I could never see their whole bodies at once, but I loved them. Their peaceful presence, their quiet curiosity. And while they were mistaken for magical beings once (Columbus thought they were mermaids), when I saw them they were scarred and muddy and full of the murk of real life.

One showed me the pink scar on her back, and I felt like she was saying hello to me. I wanted to sit all day with them, but there was a schedule (promises, and miles to go, and all that).

There is something about my life that makes me think of fumbling around in the dark, in a room with other beings. We feeling around, everyone asking "Am I okay?" and then everyone answering, "You're okay." Am I okay, you're okay, am I okay, you're okay. You are okay.

I felt like she said it to me, when her scar was up above the water. And I believed her.


  1. So beautiful, Emily. I miss hearing your writing out loud! I was especially moved by your words about the optometrist ("it is now and it was yesterday, and it is in five minutes and five years, or fifty") and by your description of the intimate experience of seeing the manatee's scar. (I have tears in my eyes.) I wish I was sitting in the library loft writing with you this morning--sending a big hug your way. -D.

    1. Thank you D! I so miss our mornings writing in the little crow's nest.