I’ve been thinking about saltspray roses, rugged and adaptable, clinging to dunes, strengthening coastlines, hardier than their blossoms suggest. I’ve had trouble writing, lately, because I don’t want to expose myself, don’t want to publish anything that I might regret, and yet (for me) writing demands vulnerability. I turn my flaws to the light, hoping that I might be human, and so I’m always risking regret when I write. It’s impossible to stay safe. I risk it, though, because writing carries possibilities of alchemy and growth, of salted flowers in unexpected places. I see writing as an ecotone, a liminal space in which it feels possible for anything to change, all violence and fertility, elemental and charged with flux.
My favourite outcome of alchemy is intimacy. I am motivated by the conversations, the relationships, that build through writing. In isolation, though, connection is intangible, and there’s strength in staying quiet, protecting oneself. I was, when I was younger, guarded and resilient, like a sea wall, made of stone, but I’m trying, now, to be sustainable, integrated, like a saltspray rose, gathering strength through entwining roots with others, leaning into the wind. It takes work to stay tender.
I’ve found other creative activities, though, that soothe me. I’ve been learning about tarot cards, shuffling them so often that my thumb has a small blister. I sleep with a sachet of lavender, wake up clutching amethyst, and write down my dreams. I blow on the stems of my indoor plants so as to simulate the air outside, dye my hair with honey and beetroot. I’ve remembered, like many, that I’m good at cooking. These practices emphasise process and intuition, rather than a finished product, and this feels healthy.
I don’t know, when I list these things, if I’m romanticising domesticity. I am lucky to have the time and space for such activities. It feels heartless to witness personal growth against this backdrop of devastation, but it’s disingenuous, when asked about creativity, not to acknowledge it. I won’t credit it to coronavirus. I was, right before the pandemic’s scope became apparent, finally learning to accept loss and uncertain futures, changing in ways that surprised me. I can’t separate my response to this pandemic from everything that preceded it.
I’m still trying to write on the edge of my own knowledge, to stop sand from slipping into water. I don’t want to soften things with simile, with saltspray roses, and yet we need beauty, or we will. We’re at the beginning, still, and I’m expecting grief, anticipating so much loss that mourning is subsumed, death left unprocessed because it’s quotidian, everywhere, affecting everyone. I don’t feel good. I could write of how the world might change, but trying to smooth the passage into the future can destroy our capacity to cope with the present. I’m struggling to write, but that’s fine—growth is difficult, but saltspray roses manage it, in their wild ecotone, and all I need to do is stay inside.
—April 13, 2020