Yesterday was a weird day. I spent too much time in my head, trying to finish up my memoir contest entry. The laptop was on the dining room table while the stock for the turkey soup simmered. Going from writing to cooking gave me a respite from my growing headache, and I managed to get a meal on the table and a satisfactory rewrite done by the end of the day. But the best part was taking a walk after dinner. After the sun set, there was a silver sliver stuck in the bare branches. My favorite decoration. We muttered and grumbled about Christmas stuff already set out and spewing neon, and ached to have a fireplace of our own so that we could keep the passing woodsmoke high going. “When are we going to move out to a rural homestead?” Steve asked. It’ll happen. Someday. Meanwhile, I am practicing my skills. I won’t get any contest results until March, but here are the results of the turkey soup and the chocolate chip bread pudding.
For some reason, I kept this word in my head all night as a blog idea. ‘Proximity’. And now, I’m not sure what I was thinking about. Keeping ideas close by seems to be more and more difficult as I age. I am working on re-writing a piece for a magazine memoirs contest. I have bits of a puzzle, snippets and scenes and questions from the past that I’m trying to work together in 1200 words or less. How do I keep an idea near at hand in this maze? I started humming a song while doing the breakfast dishes. My mind is fixed on a video of Mandy Patinkin in Sunday in the Park with George singing “Putting It Together” — Having just the vision’s no solution/everything depends on execution/the art of making art/ is putting it together.
Here in proximity floats my past, visions of Jim and the kids, emotions of fear and sadness, questions of destiny and salvation. I have to escape to the present occasionally, get into my body, do something ordinary like make a meal. I am making turkey stock right now. The bare bones simmer away with chunks of onion and carrot and herbs. Is this how I will write my book?
Margins, edges where things come together, are rich places of biodiversity on the earth. Wendell Berry writes in Home Economics:
“The human eye itself seems drawn to such margins, hungering for the difference made in the countryside by a hedgy fencerow, a stream, or a grove of trees.”
I suppose I am hungering for the differences in life, longing to live in proximity to those places where life happens in all its majesty and danger, and aching to observe and record some epiphanies. Not that the recording matters. The living is what matters.
…and so many writers. I was preparing shipments for our online book business (Scholar & Poet Books – available on Amazon, Alibris, ABE and Half.com books; pardon the Christmas season advert, but it might help!) this morning and thinking about “being a writer”. I am planning to enter a Memoir/Personal Essay contest at the suggestion of my teacher. I had a dream that probably relates to this idea a few nights ago. I dreamed that I was in a dance studio with gym mats on the floor and a wall of mirrors. I was in line to attempt a splits leap. I had a press photo of David Hallberg in mind, and I wanted to see if I could look like that. Of course, I know I can’t, but I wanted to try. So I got to the front of the line, and all the others are turned to watch me go, and they totally blocked the runway. I kept asking them to move, but they were still in the way. And then some of them started pulling up the mats. “Hey! I still haven’t had my turn yet!” I was trying to put the mats back and move the people and all chaos was breaking loose, and I woke up. So I told Steve about my frustrating dream and how I just wanted a chance to try, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it well. He responded, “You know who those people are in your way, don’t you?” Of course. Everyone in your dream is you. The people getting in the way of me attempting my big leap are…me.
So I’m going to submit an entry, and I’m going to call myself a writer in my mind because that’s what I’ve been doing since my last birthday: writing. And I’m aware that I may never make any money doing this. I look at the book jacket photos of writers and handle their wares on a daily basis almost. I read blogs by published writers. I still have a feeling that they are a different breed. They have degrees in writing; they have ambition. I have thoughts. I am dreamy and lazy and I don’t “work”. And I’ve never lived in New York. It seems like any “real” writer must have lived in New York at some point. Too bad. At least I can get out of the way of my own runway and give it a shot. I am old and not too flexible and I’ve never been able to do the splits. But it might be fun to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I go leaping by. It’ll probably end with me having a good laugh.
I hate shopping. It’s eerie to come home from a cozy, loving holiday weekend and find news that the larger world has sunk into madness. While I was enjoying a two hour Swedish massage in the comfort of my daughter’s home, others were dying to obtain merchandise. Fighting, heart attacks, assault with weapons and overnight exposure to the elements remind me of wartime conditions. Are we at war as consumers? Where’s my flak jacket?
Good grief. I’ve never celebrated Christmas in a very commercial way. As an Episcopalian, I tried to focus on the sacramental aspect of the holiday. I spent a lot of time in church, singing in the choir, rehearsing the Christmas pageant and taking my kids caroling to shut-ins. We made Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, wrote Advent letters to friends and family and donated money and gifts to charity in each others’ names. It was never about Stuff. As a kid, I made presents for my family. My kids made presents for each other. One year, Becca just wrapped stuff we already had. My toaster, with crumbs, surprised me into a fit of laughter. I could get sore about not being appreciated with a gift, but I took it as a joke on the whole scene.
Perhaps this is just my personality. I am gift-challenged. I’m not very good at giving or receiving them. It’s not one of my Love Languages. My husband truly enjoyed giving gifts. My eldest daughter is a very creative, inspirational gift-giver. They have a knack for finding grace and meaning in Things. I have trouble with that. I probably have an aversion to Things, actually, and definitely an aversion to shopping. When I was about 9 years old, my mother took me Back to School shopping at a huge discount department store called Zayre’s. It was August. It was hot and humid. Our station wagon had no air conditioning. The store was not in our village. It must have been somewhere in the Sahara. It took forever to get there, forever to get the job done, forever to get home. I was sick with heat stroke. I remember my mother putting me in the bathtub and bringing me bananas to eat. Sitting in the cool water, eating bananas was like heaven to me at that point. I couldn’t imagine why I had been made to endure the ordeal that brought me to that state.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about Christmas this year. I don’t go to church anymore. I don’t think about Jesus in the way I used to. I do love to celebrate with food and family and lots of love. I like appreciating others and being appreciated. I’m not sure how I want to embody that, though. I always write a letter to my children for them to read on Christmas morning, a letter of hope and pride and blessing, I guess. There are ideas I want to give, but not things. However, William Carlos Williams keeps whispering “No ideas but in things” and I keep trying to understand. Shall I give everyone trees this Christmas? Or soil? Or double helix shaped jewelry? The sun? Words?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you….The Universe! Applause, appreciation, celebration, Holiday. Think I can pull it off?
My daughter is a certified massage therapist. This makes visiting her an extra special occasion. Not only do I get the pleasure of her company and hospitality, I get a 2 hour massage as well. As I lay there thinking about my body, my cells, and the amazing things going on just under my skin, it occurred to me that the whole process that I call my biological life began exactly half a century ago. Yup, I figure I was conceived Thanksgiving weekend, as my parents celebrated with joy their gratitude for life. Not that they ever divulged so private a story to me, mind you.
I marvel at how life is sustained over time. I mentioned this to my kids as I was sipping my post-therapy water. My youngest piped up, “Yeah, well, half a century is nothing when you think about how mountains grow and change.” Touche. I have to get better at taking a longer view, getting a bigger perspective. I look at my kids bustling around in the kitchen preparing food together, all grown up, and a second later, they are playing a patty-cake game from their childhood.
We are all still so young on this earth; we are such a blink. What kind of impact will we have on the bigger picture? What will be the most lasting legacy of this family whom I love so intensely? The trees that we’ve planted? The children we beget? The words we pen? The votes we cast? The ashes we give back to the soil? I can’t say for sure. It could be the love that we circulate, although it would be impossible to document. I am just grateful to have been a part of it, a crinoid in the limestone, among thousands of others.
Today I go down to Illinois to visit with my 4 children. I am looking forward to seeing them and having some serious conversations about how we want to live on this planet. They’re all in their 20s now, ripe for pointing their canoes toward the dreams and goals on their horizon and spending the rest of their lives paddling away in the directions of their choice. I am also at a juncture of my life where I get to decide how to live out the rest of it. So, what will we make of it? Will we have some goals in common toward which we can paddle together? I hope so. We’ll see. Family Summit Meeting 2011, here we come.
Oh, yeah. More food and fun and cuddles all around as well!
One year ago, my house had been up for sale with no offers for 8 months, despite making huge drops in the listing price. We celebrated our last Thanksgiving in the home we had occupied for 20 years with two of my daughters, my eldest’s First Mate, and two college friends of my youngest. We filled the place with warmth, laughter, good smells and love. Two days later, I got the offer. Closing date was January11. Without hiring professional movers, except for the baby grand piano, Steve and I moved out everything in the house, basement, patio and 3-car garage. Numerous trips in the van distributed the contents to Madison, Chicago, Harvard, charities, storage and Milwaukee. We had help from the First Mate’s dad and fireman friend for the couch and a super-heavy TV, but the rest we managed ourselves. I remember trying to corral the cat after everything else was gone. She had nowhere to hide, poor thing, and she refused to get into a cat carrier. Steve agreed to drive the van with her in the passenger seat in the bottom portion of the carrier, top removed. He petted her and talked to her soothingly as he drove the two hours here. I drove Jim’s car, grateful not to be distracted by her.
Steve’s place was stuffed to the gills with boxes, furniture, books, and cat. I marvel at how he made room for us. He’d been living alone for about a dozen years, five years in this place. We lived, worked, played, loved and engaged in our relationship intensely, doing the dance of supporting, caring, giving and taking. There were many tearful times, there was a 4-week adventure on the road, there were late-night Summit Meetings and many long walks through the countryside. I woke this morning and began to think of giving thanks. I looked at him sleeping next to me, and my nose prickled. A quiet stream leaked down my cheeks. I am so lucky to have a best friend, someone who truly loves me. I am so grateful to be here, to have a life I love, to be at home again.
For all of you, whatever your situation, I wish you Godspeed to your home. Welcome.