By Sara Aranda
As per last year’s birthday post, my intention was to write yet another year-in-recap piece when the time came, but I honestly forgot (my 30th birthday was on the 18th). The food poisoning I came down with also didn’t help. Nonetheless…
On August 25th I wrote:
“I had a dream that I was in Nepal or Thailand; the crowds were thick and the sounds were overwhelming. There was an orchestra playing on a stage. The plaza was full of vendors and chairs. I met young gals from Puerto Rico and I spoke a bit of Spanish with them. I then had the urge to write — I was hit with inspiration; the writer’s block in me had ended. I took out this very notepad and started jotting down the chaos of sound and people … I was being filmed in this context, for a documentary. Strangers would approach me with drink or food; I remember the language barrier and the notion of trying not to acknowledge the camera.”
The theme of the year has been very much about craft. The lack of it. The difficulty of it. The labor of it, from the stress of its absence to the stress of its abundance. After my milestone essay was published with Alpinist Magazine early in the summer, I was unexpectedly launched into a creative depression. A postpartum phenomenon (I can’t imagine what it would be like to birth a novel or a memoir). But what’s more subtly fascinating about my dream is the aspect of audience that seems to constantly reign over my life.
I did go to Thailand the following month for a lifestyle shoot with The North Face. It was very much sound and people, language and cultural barriers, night markets and stage performances. But I didn’t write while I was there. The closest I got was the plane ride to Hong Kong:
“I’m in aisle seat 33C. The plane is wide (two aisles). Ambient spa music is playing and the A/C is whistling. The man’s voice over the intercom is soft, soothing. Like I’m about to listen to his life mantras, or be hypnotized, or flown into psychedelic space. People are plugged in. As in, earbuds, headphones, cell phones, tablets. Must keep the hands and mind busy, the eyes down. Their foreheads all bow foreward, chins nearly against the chest.
This evening started with a cider before the food arrived. Now I’m wishing my bladder would go numb.”
I still haven’t made much progress with new personal creative projects, but I’m atypically content. I’ve been celebrating the small details, the brief strokes. I’ve also been heavily focused on my running this year. From injured to running 30 miles for my 30th birthday, it’s been a rough and invigorating comeback. I managed to snag a podium position at my first trail race this past November, the Dead Horse Ultra 30k in Moab, UT. A week later, Patrick and I ran through Canyonlands National Park. I had a few thoughts that stuck with me that day and managed to write:
“The deer tracks were deep dimples in the sand. We followed them. Tracked through the washes and frozen creek, up sloping banks and between the long, yellowed grasses. The canyon walls rose. From the creek, or us, they rose nearly eighty feet, maybe more. We felt deep and we ran deeply with and into curves. The creek trickled or pooled or dried up and we curved all the more with time. We pressed with our feet. Eventually we tired of the sinking and the sand so we took the steel ladder up a chimney to another trail. A very sweeping and rocky one with small cairns and long sandstone cliffs. Like rooftops. We bounded and hopped; our ankles stiffened against the slant and our shoes scuffed each slow-laid layer of time.
After 12 miles, Patrick stopped at a campground and I ran back to the van following the road another 5. The expanse of red stone was incomprehensible. The backdrop of the snow-dusted La Sal Mountains was otherworldly. I could’ve been in a fiction of a dream. The sounds of my feet were abrasive but my eyes were in a trance and I followed them forward. Sheer wall, arch, tower, teetering densities and desert iron. Wiry bushes scraped my thighs. They took something from me, too. I took the unspeakable. An experience with time across a feathered swath of land. I took the dimples with my feet, every slip of stone I glanced, every curve of the ankles and skyward cliff. I altered and so was I altered, too. Scraped. Skinned down to the rhythm in my veins. The ice in the creek that cracked. The cairn I nearly toppled with my passing specter. The palm prints of sweat down sandy chutes.
And just like the deer, and how the creek left ridges and curls in the sand, did I leave notions of myself, too. Just like that — we take and are taken. // 11.24.18″
Beyond these moments, I don’t have much to candidly report. My creative motivation is still at an all-time low and I’m okay with that. We took a shower at the Moab recreation center after the run and I noticed a street sign: Mi Vida Dr. It made me pause and I centered my awareness on the present. Every year is a reminder of brevity and these small moments ensure I acknowledge the inherent privilege of life.
On September 4th, I had stood in a shower and the white walls blurred. Water hit my back and I stared. The light from a window was soft and I knew it was safe space. Silent and solitary space. A secret alcove to let myself mourn. My face blended. My palms pressed my eyes and my cheeks. And it was all because I felt alone at last (living in a van seems to rid me of this). I was hidden not only from sight but from sound and so I melted. My MRI was in a few hours. To think it had already been a year since the last. The anxiety of reapproaching the matter only compounded the grief. The more time, the older my body, the more likely things become. Ticking, ticking. The day was one of those days that disappeared from any sort of linear timeline.
At the hospital, I was given an oversized gown and pants. The nurse spoke with a strange distance (like he was chatting with a child). He inserted the PICC line into the crook of my left elbow. It was sharp and felt like a hot thorn. I was led into the imaging room. The machine was a capsule, a donut-shaped thing around a long, narrow bed. Ready for me. In ritual. I laid belly down with my breasts free-hanging into an open plastic box. My sternum was supported by a padded strut. My face sat within another padded cut-away. Oxygen flowed near my chin. The room was cold. Ear protection was placed. Classical music played. The imaging technician chattered but I was distracted by my nervous shaking.
She inserted the IV attachment for the contrast dye. This is when I closed my eyes. My arms were stretched forward like Superman; one hand had the emergency ball (to squeeze if I panicked). I felt the table slide back into the machine. I was packed into a pod for future travel. It was lonely there. I was reduced to the sensations of touch, smell, sound. The deep rumbling of the machine was like an airplane. I was about to be propelled somewhere. Flung into myself, perhaps.
“The first scan is one minute,” the technician’s voice resounded into the headphones. And so it began. The piano music was deafened by sudden and voilent knocks, energetic alarm clock drones. And like someone hurling a tennis ball against a hollow plastic wall, the knocks passed through me, bounced back. Air was ever so slightly moved when this happened. Sometimes the vibrations made my cheeks rattle. I clenched my jaw and hung on as motionless as possible. A cyclical awareness took place: to relax the legs, the hands, the breath, then again the legs, the arms, the chest. I was not allowed to breathe deeply (my breasts had to be so still). I shallowed my chest and balanced the dread of not being able to stretch the lungs. My shoulders stiffened and my fingers eventually went numb. In-between scans, the music became an abrupt change. It was so calm and thus startling to remember it was there.
My breasts felt hot and battered. When the dye was injected into my veins, it was icy. Up the arm, across the lungs and into the other arm, eventually. Like a cooling menthol. The smell of alcohol pads filtered through my nostrils. My heart beat against the padded strut and I tried to ignore its heavy persistance. I wanted to meditate, but I was never successful. Losing sense of time was as close as I got. I was enveloped by magnets for 30 minutes with my arms ridiculously outstretched in utter submission.
“I am not a body. I am not this body,” I repeated until it was over.
It’s funny how, in times like these, we act with preservation and denial as opposed to holistic adaptation. Is it instinct to refute the fallibility of the body? Or is it something we’ve learned? I’ve always had issues with body confidence, but this is a new level of self-abandonment that strangely serves a positive shift (distraction?). While I feel confined and reduced to the flesh in such hospital settings, it’s the same dialogue that I navigate in my running, climbing, craft.
The way my shoulders slump with reprieve when I stare at a blank page, how tedious writer’s block can be; the way my leg flares up with pain during my long runs, how it starts with the glute then travels down the IT band and through the knee; the way my chest flutters with shallow breaths when I feel too afraid while climbing, how the wash of tension makes my fingers swell and my head spin; or the way I slowly fold after being stretched across an examination table, stony joints and tepid heart…
The future and my exact position in it is unknown and terrifying. The present pain and discomfort is a process that must be endured in order to reach the other side of it. That is why we place such value on the past, isn’t it? My year was slow-paced, but mindful. Creative in the smallest of ways, but crafty nonetheless. Ending on a stable note, next year will hopefully be a whole new can of worms.
Happy Holidays/Happy New Year.
“1.1.18 // Someone pressed paper over the lake. The feet of geese puncture through. The poet is not a master of language … The poet is the one who watched the geese sink and did nothing.”