There were two items I recall my father buying at Willow Hardware: light bulbs and white, butcher twine he shared with my mother, the family’s chef. Light bulbs because his four daughters and one son consistently left the lights blazing on every floor, especially in the bathrooms. And the twine? To tie down any home improvement project that couldn’t otherwise be nailed or glued, including the vines of his ever-blossoming tomatoes.
A new year rolls in and I am reminded of that twine as I sit across from my writing partner, Tina. After a brisk stroll at dawn on slippery sidewalks, we are lounging at a hushed Newport Roebling Coffee and Books. Last week, I gifted Tina a beeswax candle with pressed purple flowers. This week, I unwrap a lovely writing journal from her. Across the cover, a woman rests peacefully alongside a cloudy polar bear beneath the title The Silent Unwinding. Tina thought it might be one of those books to pull out when I’m at the Oregon Coast. She’s right. It’s the only place I know how to unwind myself.
I must learn to unwind into all my spaces, not just the favorite ones.
I do a quick search on unwind and see that its first known use was in the 14th century. What happened in the 14th century, I now jump to? The beginning of the 100 Years War. The Peasants’ Revolt. The Great Famine, the Great Cattle Plaque, and the Black Death. Not quite the inspiration I was looking for. After contending with so many precarious issues, a proper unwinding would be called for. One can also imagine needing it in present day.
Tina and I are discussing our writing goals, such as how to keep this Substack going every week (by relentlessly pushing for you to subscribe)? How to restart teaching workshops when the stoppage time was a blessed gift for our writing? How do we balance the duality of writing with social, familial, and community commitments? How do we live with our two selves?
While our talk centers on publishing, teaching, crafting, and reading, our eyes subconsciously land elsewhere.
Surrounded by a dizzying array of book titles, when we stand up to leave, each realizes we’ve been staring at and absorbing the words of other authors. Tina has had works of fiction by Ruth Ozeki or Amor Towles in her sights. I scan the bookcases opposite me where titles run the gambit of the non-fiction world, including Judson Brewer’s Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind (I’ve wasted my promised 800-word count on 16 words of a subtitle).
Yet, there’s that word again. Unwinding. Typically, I’m not an anxious person, more so prone toward bouts of depression, built-up anger, stress-eating, or pacing unless I get my long walk in that day.
Unwinding is the path I want to meander down for the year. Should it be yours? Most of us are busy wiring our brains (perhaps it’s hot wire job) with work, children, volunteering, learning new languages, amassing home improvement and home refresh lists. I’ll add a novel in progress where unwinding becomes a motif, a theme of a character, represented through a spool of twine.
I like the idea of unwinding. A release from whatever has tied us in place.
My father bought those spools of cloth twine in threes, tossed them on the front seat of the Chevy Suburban. At home, with box cutters in hands (box cutters could solve so many problems, they could be their own motif), he would shear off strands of those cottony strings, run them through his calloused hands as he tied the tomato plants to their stake, the minty smell of a nicked leaf permeating the air. The empty coil of cardboard, a stalwart having completed its duty, would be tossed into the trash.
I can only locate a roll of twisted sisal in the house, and prop it against my desk lamp. I’m not quite to the place of tying a piece around my fingers to remind me to unwind. But the prickly edges of the string nearly splinter my hands and make me feel alive as I unravel a piece, cut it off. Unravel, cut.
The dualities we face as writer and humans are represented well in this metaphor of twine and core. There is so much to untwist, untwirl, and even more to lop off.
Every time I get tangled in drama heavier than my weaker self can handle, I have this spool of twine to unwind and cut away a strand, and that last dangling thread of who I am will remain at the core.