Circles

Writing feels useless. And stupid. And lonely. 

But I hate disappointing people, or even feeling like I might have disappointed someone. And I hate to quit. Well, I hate being a quitter. At least I’m stubborn. At least I have that going for me.

So in the hopes that this will end up being something sort of meaningful to somebody, maybe somebody I don’t even know (which feels even more lonely than anything I’ve said so far), I’m going to talk about circles.

Last weekend I spent a long weekend at my brother’s, with his girlfriend and my boyfriend, so we could see the total eclipse. Macon was experiencing a 95% eclipse, but for just 4 hours of driving, I could see my brother and introduce our respective significant others, and see a bright circle in the sky. The circle I’m referring to is the corona, the white circle of the sun’s atmosphere visible around the moon in the three minutes of a total solar eclipse. There is no corona at 95%, in Macon. I had only ever seen photos, and the Heroes TV show logo, and I wanted to see the sun’s corona for myself. I’ve talked before about how much I love space, and after three terrible weeks at work on top of three incredibly busy weeks in my personal life, and after a week of being sick, I wanted my boyfriend and my brother and interesting space things to all be in the same place at the same time. 

However, much as the moon and the sun only seemed to occupy the same space at the same time during the eclipse, my weekend didn’t go to plan. Not just because I was exhausted and recovering from a bad cold, but because of unmet expectations and my inability, especially while so drained, to recognize how my supine personality was working against me. When this happens, I find myself struggling with the same things I’ve struggled with in the past. You’d think what I learned would have stuck better than that. I look through past journals and prayers and blog posts and constantly tick off a box in my head for lessons I must now relearn. 

I thought of this phenomenon first on the drive to my brother’s as I told Tyler about the movie “Letters to Juliet.” It used to be one of my favorites, but I noticed a pattern. I would watch it, enjoy it thoroughly, and hate my life afterwards. It’s a movie about traveling, and writing, and love, and each time I watched it (the last of which was two years ago), I was pining for all three. I wanted to be traveling but wasn’t. I wanted to be writing but was struggling to finish anything. And I wanted to be in love but had never been. As I told Tyler this, I had to force back tears. I wish it was because I was so thankful for him, and that after so many years of learning to be lonely but happy I felt the gravity of the blessing of being in love and happy. No, I fought tears because once again I am not traveling and not writing.

I don’t need to see the movie again to see the circles I’ve drawn in my life. Just as I knew two years ago when I last watched two people fall in love on a road trip to a Tuscan Winery with Vanessa Redgrave, I know that this is a wholly unrealistic situation. I also know it prompts me to make an equally fictitious summation of my life. There are so many things I love about my life, including the fact that I have traveled. A lot. And written a lot. And loved many, many people. I knew this two years ago, and the year before that, and every second I have let myself lie about my life. I know these thoughts are based in fear, including my old nemesis the fear of missing out, and not in fact. I struggled, even as Tyler sat beside me and held my hand, to relearn the lesson and view my life more frankly.

You know it’s bad when a more frank perspective of yourself would be more compassionate of you.

Since the three minutes I saw the corona, I’ve wanted to write about the eclipse. I enjoyed telling my co-workers what I saw, how the air felt, and inadvertently convinced my boss that he should travel to experience the total solar eclipse in 2024. Yet to write it down, when we are inundated with images and accounts from countless other people, what can I say? What use could it be? And how can I encompass my experience of those three minutes? Three minutes which I regretted being gone the moment the diamond of light appeared at the cusp of the moon’s top right quadrant. Three minutes which I now want desperately to experience again in 2024.

What can I write that hasn’t been written before? What can I say that will mean anything to anyone anywhere? Ageless questions, ones I used to spurn as being from those who had not committed, or fully committed if I was being charitable, to the life of writing. And now I’m asking these very questions. I’ve circled back.

Here’s to breaking a circle. Even if it’s stupid and useless and lonely.

The corona was “a ring of pure and endless light.” More pure than anything I’ve ever seen. It was easy to forget that there’s the moon between the sun and me, easy to forget that this isn’t science fiction. With the sunset in every direction, a loop of gold around our dimness, and with the purple and blue and pink thunderheads on our periphery, it was easy to feel both chosen and insignificant. In the dim, identifying planets and noting planes, we looked at the white-silver atmosphere of the star that keeps us alive. How little light was needed for the world to seem normal. And now normal was gone, replaced in the sky with this unearthly beauty. And silence. I felt like angels should be singing arias around us and over us and through us. But there was nothing.

Well, not nothing. There were the crickets, and the birds swooping to their nests, and all the summer sounds of twilight that were out of place in this dim not-night. People we couldn’t see shouted, and I think we did too, at the moment of totality. People on a sandbar in the river behind us, people in the apartment complex’s pool, people on their balconies, people with lawn chairs in the parking lot. If it weren’t for those shouts, it would have been easy to believe it was only happening to us. And in those shouts I felt the tremble of alarm and surprise echoing backwards and forwards throughout human existence. We knew it was coming. We’d seen photos of past eclipses and live videos of this same eclipse experienced in Oregon and Kentucky, and still we shouted when the lid closed on the jar and we were in darkness.

The moment of totality should have been as gradual as the rest of the eclipse, but it wasn’t. The streetlamp came on beside us, a disorienting LED surge at the moment of dark.

Though, it wasn’t dark exactly. It wasn’t like night. It wasn’t like twilight. It was like the pantyhose filter used to film “The Fiddler on the Roof” had been dropped over the world. Or, I suppose, it was like an Instagram filter. Everything we could see was dingier, a kind of brown, except for the sky.

Three solar flares were stretching our yellow sun’s atmosphere in pure white shoots. Nothing appeared yellow about our sun in that moment. Nothing appeared familiar. No feature of our moon was visible. It’s dark side was absolute and temporary. I wanted to watch the corona for hours. I wanted to see the solar flares change the corona’s shape. I wanted to look into the vivid sky, wave at Jupiter and Venus, and peer 360 degrees around me at the strong sunset.

I took four photos quickly, immediately, including one selfie. I used my Sky Map app to identify the star and planets we saw. We noted a drone and some planes. The frenzy of all that newness began to subside. I said I wanted to look at the corona for hours. I glanced at the tree below the streetlight where we’d looked at tiny sun crescents earlier.

“It’s ending!” my brother’s girlfriend cried and my soul shouted “No!” Frenzy took me. I looked up, and the diamond on the ring of light was growing. I couldn’t see the flare shapes in the corona anymore and my eyes stung. One percent of the sun reemerged and we fumbled for our eclipse glasses. Even one percent was too much to try to look at without protection. The frenzy was chased by disbelief, regret, and finally resignation.

I would have liked to have stayed there, watching the crescent sun grow back into the disc I’ve always known, but my life’s cares had rushed back with it’s single percent of light. We wanted to get ahead of as much traffic as we could. We stood up, walked back inside. Tyler and I shouldered our last bags and tucked our eclipse glasses inside my writing notebook. I drove the four hours back to Macon thinking about circles and regret and how my next chance to see the corona will be in 2024, I considered how much farther away than a four-hour drive the totality path will be, and how I’ll need to take more than one day off work so I can spend more time with the eclipsing moon and inconstant sun.

I hope I can. It’d be a good circle.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

2 thoughts on “Circles

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