Instructions for Walking Through Walls

Anita Sullivan

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“The two of us had not spent more than 4 or 5 hours in one another’s company for the last 20 years, and our occasional telephone conversations had been an ordeal for both of us. The only way we were each going to survive this searing initiation into a new relationship was for each of us to spend a lot of time walking through walls.”—Anita Sullivan

On The Other Hand

By Anita Sullivan

The Women’s March, Portland OR (Photo: Will Coca).

The Women’s March, Portland OR. (Photo: Will Coca)

Anita SullivanEUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—May 2017—In walking through walls, you cannot go swiftly forward. Although the substance you are up against is in the act of changing its core identity from being “a wall” to being “a so-called wall,” nonetheless it will not ultimately attain any more fluidity or transparency than that of a very thick dust. And this dust will not conveniently morph into fire or rain as it gives way before you. Thus a wholly different set of skills and body parts is needed from the ones you commonly employ in simply—walking.

And, in fact (to temporarily lapse into the technicalities of this operation), you must move forward by virtue of a gradual tilt away from active and towards passive behavior. Something begins to occur in conjunction with—but not directly caused by—your focused intention. We might call it a constant realigning of proportional valences. This will present itself, eventually, as the re-emergence of one of many probable phylogenies that have lingered, dormant and redundant, somewhere in your body all your life. It’s a natural part of your shadow-self, an inflatable emergency raft under your seat that can be activated if you carefully read Paragraph 3-b on Page 17 of the instructions conveniently squashed into the bottom of the seat pocket in front of you.

In other words, humans have always been capable of walking through walls, and sometimes they find themselves, out of rare necessity, remembering how to do it.

(Hint: You can practice ahead of time, for example, by repeatedly pressing the bent second joint of your pinky finger very gently against the front side of a closed piano keyboard.)

I had no time to practice. In late January my chronically homeless, 46-year-old son needed emergency dental work and the only way he could get it was to come and stay with me in my tiny duplex for five weeks. The two of us had not spent more than 4 or 5 hours in one another’s company for the last 20 years, and our occasional telephone conversations had been an ordeal for both of us. The only way we were each going to survive this searing initiation into a new relationship was for each of us to spend a lot of time walking through walls.

Morning: I wake up at my usual 5:30 and politely lie in bed for an hour before I pass quietly through the living room where he is lying asleep on the sofa, and begin to grind coffee in the kitchen (no door to block out the noise).

He gets up off the sofa without a word, goes into my study, shuts the door and lies down on the floor to grab an extra few hours of sleep. He usually stays up until 2 or 3 in the morning, high on caffeine and energy drinks, while I normally go to bed shortly after 9:00.

Thus begins our daily dance. It’s January in Western Oregon, which means it’s raining outside. Aside from trips to the grocery store, and a few damp hikes in the rain forest, we are stuck inside a 690-square-foot house together, day after day, waiting for the Medicaid-funded clinics to grind through the process at their own pace. When I come into a room, he goes into another one. When I sit down to dinner, he waits till I’m done. He goes through a loaf of bread and half pound of butter per day. He makes endless cups of coffee and tea, which he leaves on flat surfaces all over the house. He listens to my phone conversations and gets angry if I talk to his father. We switch places at my computer desk, hour by hour. I cook endless meals; he helps with the dishes if I ask him, but never thinks of it on his own.

But he also pulls an enormous stack of books off my shelves and piles them on the end of the coffee table by my rocking chair, where he sits reading and taking notes. Sometimes he asks me a question and we have a spurt of conversation that lasts half an hour. I almost never mention an author or a book that he doesn’t know something about. He has gotten much of his recent education from browsing Little Free Libraries all over the city of Portland, which he has walked from one end to the other, day and night, carrying his sleeping bag, backpack, and a smaller bag for his camera gear.

A week after he arrives, when he has had a root canal and temporary crown, we drive together to the center of our city to take part in the local version of the Women’s March. I had no idea in advance what his politics would be. But he says he voted (I had mailed his ballot to his usual general delivery address), for Hillary Clinton. It’s obvious there will be no parking anywhere near the beginning of the march, so we walk about 2 miles before we even begin “marching.” Neither of us has a sign. We blend in easily with the crowd filling the street in both directions as far as I can see.

“Wow!” I tell him, “This is way bigger than all the other marches we’ve had here. Must be at least 1,000 people.” The newspaper account the next day said there were 7,000. The largest demonstration our city has ever experienced.

Then, when we were standing in the rain chanting and singing with the other people, including many children, all of them peaceful and smiling, polite yet determined, I suddenly remembered the Vietnam War march in Washington DC in November, 1969. Again, the streets were filled with people on all sides, as far as we could see. It was bitter cold, but we were hugely motivated.

I turned to my firstborn son with a grin. “Do you know, this is the second demonstration we have marched in together,” I told him. “You came along with me during the last one, because I was pregnant with you!”

He thought that was cool. We walked through another wall together.

The image above derives from

To order Anita Sullivan’s books, Ever After and/or And if the Dead Do Dream, click on the book covers below.

Sullivan Ever After

Sullivan And if the Dead Do Dream

Anita Sullivan

About Anita Sullivan

Born under the sign of Libra, Anita Sullivan cheerfully admits to a life governed by issues of balance and harmony. This likely led to her 25-year career as a piano tuner, as well as her love of birds (Libra is an air sign), and love of gardening, music and fine literature (beauty). She spent years trying to decide if she was a piano tuner who wrote poetry, or a poet who tuned pianos. She traveled a lot without giving way to a strong urge to become a nomad; taught without becoming a teacher; danced without becoming a dancer; and fell totally in love with the high desert country of the Southwest, and then never managed to stay there. However, Sullivan did firmly settle the writing question–yes, it turns out she is a writer, but not fixed into any one category. She has published two essay collections, a novel, two chapbooks and one full-length book of poetry, and many short pieces in journals. Most recently she published Ever After, a novel that takes place after life but before death, mostly on the Greek island of Ikaria. Every incident in the book happened to her in a slightly different form: she always writes from direct experience. Even more recently (November 2016) Sullivan published a chapbook of poems, And If The Dead Do Dream. True to her Libra roots, it has a theme of parallel worlds.
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3 Responses to Instructions for Walking Through Walls

  1. Will B says:

    Anita, you do always find a way into my heart with your writing, but this time, you found another path – and this one into my soul. Thank you.

  2. diana says:

    I agree with Will, Anita. This left me with unched (unshed tears).

  3. Anita Sullivan says:

    It means a lot to me to hear this from my truly esteemed colleagues. It is hard to write of these things without tumbling into various abysses such as sentimentality or abusing someone’s privacy to allow you to look good. Thank you both!

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