On asking the Emptiness what she has to say . . .
A few weeks ago, in brainstorming to play with some work challenges, one of the random ideas that emerged was holding workshops inspired by punctuation. I considered a Question Mark workshop to explore the mysteries in life and an Exclamation Point workshop to reflect upon what makes writing and life dynamic and exciting.
I’m not particularly interested in actually doing such workshops, but I enjoyed the process of dreaming them up. Since then, in fact, I haven’t been able to shake ponderings about my favorite punctuation mark: the semicolon.
As I considered what a semicolon event might consist of—exploring what it’s like to exist between two times, not ready to definitively end the first, but rather hanging on to it in order to move on to the second, acknowledging that what came before is connected to what is to come—it all sounded so familiar that I realized something. I know what a semicolon feels like, because I’m in one right now.
It seems to me that a semicolon carries a lot of responsibility. If I were a physics kind of gal, I’m sure I could tell you something about the force the first sentence exerts on the semicolon, the tension created when it pushes back and some kind of magnetism between the semicolon and the second sentence.
But I never have been that physics kind of gal. What I do love are words and symbolism, and at this moment, thinking of my life as semicolonic (terrible invented word, but I can’t help myself, because I like the sound of it) kind of floats my boat, too.
Which I’m guessing might be obvious to those of you regular readers, you who have been present as I’ve sorted through the compost of leaving one coast for another and losing a partner I thought was forever, as well as all vestiges of a traditional job. And as much as I’m embracing this new west-coast, hand-crafted, single life emerging each day, I’m still finding it richly informed by what came before.
I’m still getting my bearings and often feeling fragile and tentative. I’m still finding big lessons in what just happened. I still have anxiety about making sure that what comes after the semicolon will honor what came before it, about making sure I won’t forget what I’ve learned. So I haven’t exactly started a brand new sentence yet.
I’m kind of, well, in between sentences.
And in between anywhere is usually a pretty intriguing, albeit sometimes infuriating and frightful, kind of place. Like the armrest between you and the nauseated lady on the plane, like waiting for test results from the doctor, like the grout separating tiles in your bathtub. It’s empty, but it’s a full kind of emptiness. A capital E sort of state.
So, since I’m here in it, this Emptiness, I decided to ask it what it had to tell me. This is a practice I’ve been using more and more with any fear or anger or whatever comes up for me, and I’ve found it most useful, leading me to insight and often out of feeling icky. I highly recommend asking what unexpected or unwelcome visitors are here to convey. Except maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I think we all know the answer to that one.
So I politely asked Emptiness what she had to say for herself, expecting, I think, to get a riddled Oracle kind of message or a Zen koan or even some kind of chicken soup for the empty soul sort of missive.
But Emptiness answered my question in an unusual way: she told me to buy a pumpkin. And roast it.
How refreshing, how direct. How edible.
It wasn’t a, “get your life together,” or “be more compassionate,” or even, “learn to let go.” Instead, Emptiness gave me a task and an activity. And I love tasks and activities, at least ones involving food.
So I walked to the Zupan’s, and I picked out a pumpkin. They only had the carving kind so my dreams of a perfectly sized and easily transportable sugar pie pumpkin did not materialize. Instead, I ended up with a 17.5 pound orange globe that could have been a magic carriage for a Smurf double date, and I held it in my arms and carried it home nine blocks. Three days later, my biceps still felt that pumpkin.
Once I got it home, I had my way with it. I sliced it and cleaned seeds and stringy pulp and stuck pieces of it in four separate baking dishes and roasted away, and then I did that again with three bakingdishes, because, well, it was a 17.5 pound pumpkin, so it took some time.
And now I have a vat of pumpkin soup in the fridge and eleven cups of pumpkin in the freezer, ready for pie or more soup or ravioli or just pure pumpkin pleasure with a little bit of butter and salt and pepper.
What the emptiness guided me to do was to find something colorful, from the earth, to spend some time with it, and to take it in. The Emptiness led me to embrace the journey and not the destination. And I’m sure glad the Emptiness didn’t put it that way in the first place, because it’s kind of trite, and I would have been much less likely to do it. Or know how.
I guess the Emptiness turned into my own Mr. Miyagi. Wax on; wax off (note the semicolon). Carry pumpkin; roast pumpkin. Ms. E. gave me a specific and tangible activity and let that lead me to insight.
So this is what I think my semicolon time is about: sometimes carrying something heavy, sometimes breaking it into smaller pieces, sometimes putting it through the fire to make it into something else, and sometimes eating it up. It’s just about being in it. Just like the brainstorming. And that sounds like something I can do.
I’m looking forward to starting a brand new sentence, and I think that time is upon me. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping life orange and full of vitamins A & C.
And you’re all welcome to come over and sit in the crook of my semicolon with me. We’ll discuss the messages of your dashes and question marks and if you’re feeling parenthetical. And I’ll make us a pie; it will be large.
Thank you so much for reading. You might notice that I don’t have a space for comments, but I’m certainly open to conversation about what’s written here. If you’re so inspired, feel free to start a conversation with me via the contact form on the homepage of this site.