Paper Thin.

I’ve been praying for mine enemies. Or, at least as close to praying as I get. I think it counts– thinking of someone kindly and wishing on a star and all the dog hair that’s accumulated on the floor that they can feel it. I think doing so while on a yoga mat covers most of my spiritual bases, either way.

It didn’t happen intentionally. I didn’t squeeze my face really hard and think good thoughts. So maybe, rather, it did happen intentionally, but in little pieces along the way like the best of intentions. Like when I told that story of my mother to my in-laws– the one about how she would take my breakfast order every morning before school and serve it alongside a cup of milky black tea with a half spoonful of sugar the way I liked it. Earlier than that, when I started making the recipes she would make and remember the smell of them walking in from school knowing they were made because I loved them. Telling my Someone about how my father loved a good joke– how he’d whittle it and retell it until he constructed the perfect version before moving on to a new one.

This morning, when my parents popped into my mind and a pseudo-prayer formed, it didn’t feel like a surprise. Or, maybe it did, but more of a natural surprise, if that’s a thing. Like the feeling you get when you see the leaves changing in September. You’ve hung around all summer knowing Fall is on the way, it’s the progression of enduring long hot days. But seeing the change is still a surprise. A soft one.

Maybe in the same way a white woman like me craves a pumpkin spice latte at the sight of changing leaves, an estranged child like me craves forgiveness at the sight of small progress. So I moved my weird prayer-creatures to my temporary writing desk and started a list of all the ways I am like my father that I don’t begrudge. It looks like this:

All the Ways I Am Like My Father That I Don’t Begrudge

  1. I am the owner of my own business, and have so far succeeded.
  2. my love for a good joke.
  3. my ability to make a boring story come alive, and a great story transcend.
  4. the twinkle in my eye when I’ve just had a funny or good idea.
  5. my ability to problem solve with efficiency and detail.
  6. my strong sense of justice.
  7. my love of solitude.
  8. my ability to be both the central and supporting character in my own life.
  9. my expressive face.
  10. my inability to resist music I like with my body– fingers & toes tapping, body swaying, head nodding against my will.
  11. my unwavering devotion to the one I love.
  12. my love of a good dinner.
  13. how I get quiet when I step into the woods.

I was shocked at the ease of it. I felt I could go on, but I worried about the risk of sinking into the begrudging– like adding my wild temper, my impassiveness in the face of compromise, the way I narrow my eyes when I’m about to say something dagger sharp in my anger. And once I stepped into that mess, I’d need a lot more paper.

Not that I’m in a shortage of it these days.

My Someone & I landed the jackpot of sequestering at the end of this year. For the last month, we’ve found ourselves in the kindness of friends in a historic house in Opelika, Alabama. The dogs have a big back yard. We have our own rehearsal space. The kitchen has enough room for me to experiment with strange Scottish confections I found on the internet and him to make big batches of sauerkraut & kombucha. And on top of having the opportunity to take an online book binding course, I’ve also had the pleasure of learning how to make paper on account of staying in the house of a paper artist. It’s really taken me. I spend late afternoons before dinner walking across the yard to the studio, swishing around and slapping water, both delicate and nonsensically haphazard, forming sheets with varying degrees of conformity. The process is messy and easily washed at once. It’s the kind of trouble I like to be in. I’ve relished being a novice, experimenting and playing like I used to with Play-Dough, but also feeling very grown up. Like an artist.

The process begins with boiling down bark– stick-like, tough stuff that’s been soaked for hours or days ahead. Then, when it’s been sufficiently broken down, you let loose and beat the hell out of it. To a pulp. Literally. The importance of beating it and not just throwing it in a blender is that you are looking to extend the fibers’ surface area, not cut them up, so that they have more room to latch on to one another in the vat. The vat, where the fibers are thrown in– a big tub of water mixed with a Formation Aid that helps the fibers go where they need to go– is my favorite part. It’s mysterious and murky, and you have to take your hand and churn the water so the fibers go every which way. The vat is a space for chaos, moving every inch of water until you dip your mould & deckle in and pull straight up toward your face, where you confront the chaos immediately– fibers land where they may– to make one sheet of paper. Unless it seems the piece isn’t complete, or is lopsided, or just doesn’t feel right. Then, you can turn the whole thing upside down and slap it back onto the vat in a fashion called “kissing off,” churn the water more, and try again. But when you are satisfied with it, these pieces are pressed and drained and dried in the hours and sometimes days to come. But that part– the chaos to creation that’s pulled up out of the vat and to my face– that’s where the transformation happens.

At least, until a week later, when I’ve formed the paper into a book where I am listing All the Ways that I Am Like My Father That I Don’t Begrudge. Though that transformation isn’t unlike the paper itself. I’ve boiled down my grievances. I’ve beaten every detail to a pulp, late at night, awake with a giant baton, over and over again. These thoughts, this hurt, it had to be beaten that way. It had to expand. I had to get it all out, beat it from every angle. When I’d fully beaten it, I kept throwing it in the vat, accumulating fiber and adding in water– small kindnesses, deep breaths, long walks– to ease the tension. I’ve been churning that vat with my own hands and pulling up that hurt, facing it in a new form, repetitiously.

We almost choked on our laughter at you…

I know you want nothing to do with us, but…

I’m never calling you again…

I press it, then write a new list, then dip my hand in and churn the vat again.

What happens at the end, however, is that if you stop adding fiber to the vat, the paper becomes thinner and thinner, no matter how much you churn. The fibers, since worked over and expanded, can still hold together. Thin, but there. But keep working a bit further, pulling the mould and deckle up again and again, and eventually, there is nothing left but a few misplaced fibers in a tub of water.

It seems I’ve finally thinned my grief to clearer water.

I don’t know what comes after that. Maybe what I’ve been pulling up all this time, piece by piece, hasn’t been complete chaos, but the small intention toward forgiveness. Forgiveness, I think, may not be the washing away of all those grievous fibers, but accumulating them in one place to repurpose the relationship. Forgiveness, in this way, may be paper thin, but durable enough to draft the next chapter. Or at least write a list of things I don’t begrudge.

With a little room in the process, still, to tell it all to go kiss off.

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