Still. Something is missing. Something is off. So, how fucking spoiled am I, then? How fucking broken? What is wrong with me that I can have everything I could ever want and have ever asked for and still wake up in the morning feeling like every day is a slog?
In Becky Chambers’s first solarpunk, A Psalm For The Wild-Built, Sibling Dex had everything they wanted — they were raised in a farm, by parents who didn’t scar them for life, and they left behind a comfortable, safe life to become a tea monk, to hand out many cups of tea and to listen to their visitors lament about the death of their marriages breaching the surface after their cat passed away or worry about dogs who wouldn’t stop swallowing socks. Sibling Dex did what the tea monks were expected to do: travelled, parked their wagon, set up a cozy spot with generous amounts of quilts and cushions, served tea with herbs to let the restless minds stay still even if it’s just for brief moments, and let the routine spill from one day to another. Was that enough for Sibling Dex? No. Somewhere crickets were chirping, and Sibling Dex wanted to be there where the real sound of real crickets could caress their being. The device in their hand, eager to please as ever, could emulate the sound, but Sibling Dex knew they left the city to listen to the real, urgent conversations of crickets. The harder they tried, the worse they felt about the purpose that flickered like a mirage. Who brought solace and wisdom for Sibling Dex and told them that they were wonderful as they were and that it was enough to marvel at life for what it was? Not a philosopher spewing dense text about the purposelessness of life, but Splendid Speckled Mosscap, the robot.
You’re an animal, Sibling Dex. You are not separate or other. You’re an animal. And animals have no purpose. Nothing has a purpose. The world simply is. If you want to do things that are meaningful to others, fine! Good! So do I! But if I wanted to crawl into a cave and watch stalagmites with Frostfrog for the remainder of my days, that would also be both fine and good. You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live. That is all most animals do.
Sibling Dex’s crickets are my writing. In the last two months, since I published my last book review here, I engaged with art in many forms: books, movies, shows, essays, music, artworks with which I followed many cycles of my breath. Fragments of my reflections about those appeared as vignettes here and there. Family visited. Good food was devoured. Loved ones healed. I took a long stride on my own path of healing, too. Oh, and career has been in the eye of a storm, but it’s going to be adventurous and rewarding, I hope. Invigorating conversations with friends take place everywhere, online and offline. I am there for people, the ones in flesh and bone, the ones blinking as cursors on white screens everywhere, the literary ones, and above all, myself. Like Sibling Dex, I wake up with prayers and gratitude for this perfect-in-its-own-way life, and I still hear a voice swimming to the top and settling like bubbles in a drink. ‘Something is missing.’ That ‘something’ has always been writing. And it’s not like I call, leave voice notes, languish in circle-back and low-hanging-fruit and leverage entirely. There is writing. There is an atom of my writer’s heart left in all the places where I leave my words. But this year should have been the one for fiction writing, discipline, and some structure in life to make room for more words. Life is refracted, however, the rainbow — the writing — doesn’t appear on the other end. My crickets are chirping somewhere. I can’t hear them.
When Sibling Dex was a child, their father took them to a monastery, where the tea monks treated Dex like an adult, where Dex witnessed a stream of people — people with, what Dex deemed as, important jobs — pour into the monastery to do nothing but only to enjoy a cup of tea offered by the monks. The monastery was like a waterbody, like birdbaths, springs, ponds, where animals cooled off, quenched their thirst, and found the strength to start the next leg of their journey. People with important jobs relished mugs of tea and short respite, and moved on with the pressing things in life. They found the strength to do both — to do the important job and to rest. When Sibling Dex shared that memory with Splendid Speckled Mosscap, I felt like I was offered a mug of tea by the book. As Sibling Dex realised that the yin and yang of rest and work could endlessly follow each other, that one could find the strength to do both, and when Mosscap finally declared that everyone is wonderful as they are, somewhere near Sibling Dex, crickets gently chirped, and I am here writing this piece and collecting the courage to dream about writing more, captions or stories or blogs or reviews. So long as the chirping goes, that’s good enough.
Becky Chambers dedicated this embrace of a book ‘for anybody who could use a break’. I have never seen a dedication on a book more personal and generous as that. A Psalm For The Wild-Built is also an answer to the question why we read and write — to lay stretched out on quilts laid out by writers and to draw strength from words handed out by them like mugs of warm tea.