🌊 Winter Bottleship, 2022/2023
Lessons from the flood.
We're standing at the edge of the bridge, my mother and I, drenched by horizontal rain and shouting to be heard over the wind. The Ventura river, normally a demure stream winding through the arroyo in winter, fills my entire field of vision. Brown floodwaters tear past laurel sumac and white sage. Uprooted trees whirl and bob. There are rapids and eddies and myriad channels converging from the foothills and storm drains to create a creature I haven't seen before in my lifetime. 19,000 cubic feet of water pounding past at every second, and rising fast. It takes my breath away.
In the dark, under the rain that night, you can hear it: the dull roar of the river, crunching boulders on its way to the Pacific. I haven't heard that sound since I was a child. The El Niño year. 1998.
By the time the worst of the storm has blown through and I can go back on my own in the daylight, everything has changed.
Hi. It's me, Lucy Bellwood, returning to your inboxes for what seems to have become an annual newsletter dispatch. Welcome back.
When I sat down to try and start writing this in December, I ended up thinking about promises kept and unkept, about capacities and surprises, about the things we can prepare for and the things we can't control.
It was hard for me, for a long time, to fill out the portion of the reflection workbook I do every year that talks about the future. It has all kinds of prompts like "This will be the year I finally..." which I viewed with great distrust. I didn't want to set expectations I could fall short of. I didn't want to let myself down.
This feeling rears its head when I look back on last February's update. I see a lot of unkept promises; things I felt were just around the corner, but ended up receding into a murky haze of grief and overwhelm. I see them when I look back further, too. "Hold a complete draft of a graphic novel" has been something I've been telling myself I'd do for at least the last five years.
Clearly, I don't always end up where I'm hoping to go each year. Things ambush me. There are, inevitably, surprises. Last year there were joyous things like falling in love and returning to my favorite residency on a small Canadian island and stumbling into a workshop where I imagined my own deathbed and leaping into wild bodies of water, but also devastating things like losing friendships and seeing my dad carted off to the hospital in an ambulance and getting dumped and turning down a dream opportunity I'd fought so hard to achieve.
But I did keep drawing. And against the backdrop of caregiving, which continues to challenge and change me in ways I can't fully articulate or grasp right now, I moved toward that goal. Incrementally. Fiercely. Gently. Indirectly.
I keep promises to myself on a far longer timescale than I realize.
The flood left a wall of sediment in its wake. It filled empty spaces to level capacity, even as it carved new channels into banks and gulleys. The places I've gone to return myself to myself—the swimming holes and gentle tributaries I'm marking here—are now buried under ten feet of gravel and mud.
There was a time I would've returned to the riverbed and raged, furious that this place of refuge had transformed so completely. But we can't always follow the same paths to the well. All the more important, then, to cultivate many of them.
I believe less and less in the kind of discipline that maintains momentum through punishment. Something I'm coming to know in my bones is this: I've come back to what matters over and over again, even when the timescale exceeds my limited perspective. I have every reason to have faith in myself.
By the end of 2022, I'd finished the first rough draft of a full-length, 242-page graphic novel. I sent it off to the publisher, where it's currently awaiting notes and revisions, but before I did I printed it out. I put it in a binder; a binder I can hold in my hand.
It feels like walking the Santa Barbara coast at sunset during the lowest tide of the year, seeing creatures I've never seen in the flesh before, being reminded that all of this is always here beneath us, waiting for the flood to abate, or the tide to return.
It feels, like any promise to myself that I've kept, magical.
See you next time,