I had no idea until last year how much I needed semi-anonymity in order to keep writing; no different than the editor hovering over my shoulder when I’d try again and again to write a memoir– even if I’m scrupulous at turning the lens back and back to myself there is always the risk that in your truth lies another’s pain. I’ve never been a great advocate for myself and in fact the only real recourse I had as a child was to feign invisibility. I keep thinking of that image of Sylvia Earle at the ocean’s floor — submerged beneath what storms rage above. We never really change — the people we were as children. I see it in Z, or think I do, there is an open approachability in her — an open-heartedness that doesn’t expect rebuke or rejection. A flicker of concern passes her face when, at a play date, the other two girls play exclusively without her — the two other mothers (neighborhood acquaintances) tending to the younger siblings — both boys a year and half or so — and I worry, of course I worry. She’s a noisy advocate for herself though — she admonishes with hands on hips and wagging fingers if she needs to. In this case she just bulls her way into the too-small kiddie pool and watches the others walk away. She plays alone then, watching them, idly filling up a water gun and spraying it across the yard. Later she and one of the girls will recline in the small ball pit — laughing and nestling into the space together. The reconfiguration of social lives that will happen her entire life. I wish, for a moment, she had been born a boy — their social lives seem cut from a different fabric — free of the kind of dramas and intrigues of girls — but then I remember how when our son approached the fourth grade how we could see the mask of masculinity descending — the vulnerability replaced by the face he thought the world expected of him. I have kept my word on this blog — writing little about my blended family or the challenges there but for those of you who have read my blog since the beginning you can imagine the challenge as we enter a new phase. W has made the choice to live with his mother full time.
Today our neighbors are finishing a high cedar fence on the south side of our property to keep their Rottweiler from menacing us. We lost our pines on the north side — and then our neighbors — in order to put up their fence — razed the fifty year old corridor of ash and mulberry, the tangle of lilacs — it is nothing now but a hole in the sky and my shade plants burn and wither — gone are the ideas I had of a shady tunnel lined with flagstone and forget-me-nots –in a matter of days the whine of the chainsaw takes this lot back to its charmless start.
I’ve been reading my Tricycle Magazine, a buddhist publication, at night. Last night I picked up Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness. Everything is impermanent. Alicia’s death. Our trees. Our very family structure — all subject to flux and change. Z starts preschool next week and I am focusing on that so I don’t feel the emptiness of the house or begin to project on her the grief of family reconfiguration — last night I couldn’t help but remember that I was her age when my middle-brother left our home — and that I would see him only sporadically for the rest of my life — and how I howled with grief when he left, begged him to take me with him — how that shapes and changes you. I try not to spend time obsessing over my many failings and how things might be different had I just. What? Been a different person. That is a life’s song I’m ready to stop singing now. The mulberries won’t droop over the yard making it impossible for the grass to grow. The dog won’t gulp them greedily and laze around with regret, the squirrels and birds won’t make themselves drunk with the fermenting berries. There are no more boughs and less chaos — the grass will grow and the wild tangle of underbrush I’d let go will have to be pulled now — looking errant and untidy instead of wild — like a mountain girl in hiking boots and long scraggly hair standing in the middle of hipsters — the world around you has shifted and changed and you no longer belong there; where you once looked a part of the landscape you now stand apart from it. The fence line maybe will become like every other suburban fenceline — mulched and gardened in particular patterns and it won’t be what I dreamed of but it will be okay.
I looked on my other, long-defunct blog for a post about step-parenting — I didn’t have much as I inadvertently deleted it all in a panic last year — but I had kept this one — and I remember it for a few reasons — one of them is that it connected me to one of my blog friends, Nancy, who has died now. It was a post when my stepparenting blog-friend — Lou was still alive — but she died of Melanoma years ago now.
Plum in the Snow
Plum in the Snow
From Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s North to the Orient
The chair hits right at the sweet spot between the back of my knee and mid-thigh, alone, swaying above the snow laden trees and the sun is hidden today, the sound of the ice, the green posts, the cable, the chairs hooked along it, the wind. How many times in my life have I taken this trip – the glacial valleys of the midwest, the short and icy runs of my childhood, my mother humming to herself in front of me, following in her snowy wake, the sunniest days at the bottom of the hill, skis propped in the snow, face titled up to the spring sun, layers shed behind me. I watch G. & W. a few chairs ahead of me, W’s snowboard off to the side, G’s arm around him. It is all so familiar to me, my body is at home — this is the constant love of my body and the snow, and the ache looking up at the run not taken, the hunger. I’d forgotten the hunger of something you do well — something you could do for hours and hours and never tire of it. It may be the only pure thing left me.
This is one of those incongruent things about me — my mother kept me tied to the life she’d lived — skiing, sailing, horseback riding — summers at the lake — stringing our lives out paycheck by paycheck, but always, always giving things far beyond what she could afford.
At my mother’s place in the U.P. – ‘The Falls’, we slept in the larger loft of the ‘A-frame’ — W tucked in a trundle, G fallingasleep on the firmer bed above him, the dog and I slept in the old brass bed with the sagging mattress. My mother lives with a friend in the cities, but this is her primary residence — the place she hopes to retire to, the place that’s utterly her own. Our old record cabinet from the apartment that I used to sit in front of and pour through her albums – Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Kingston Trio, The Essential Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles (my favorite). She has the wicker chair from the cottage — the sort that languished on summer porches in the twenties — wide broad back and arm rests, a footrest that slides out. My grandmother found it in some junk store ‘up north’ as they said in Michigan. There are the black and white pictures of my grandfather on the seventeen, main sheet loose in his hand.
On the sloped wall of the a-frame there’s a black and white photo of me. I studied it while G & W snored gently to the Cars dvd. It must be 1979. Our second summer after my father’s death. In the blurred background there is the lattice against the stucco of the garage. I am sitting on the picnic table that was in the small backyard of our duplex, the deep red slatted fence that separated us from our neighbors, and my best friends. It was a double bungalow — a living room and kitchen in the back — a narrow staircase that led to a small bathroom, my mother’s room and mine. It was the first place we lived in Minneapolis. I remember the old gas stove, the brass doornobs, the worn windowsills, the wood floors. I remember dimly my mother’s crying at night. Patricia and Mark lived in the other side of the duplex. They had a black cat named Stella and naked photos of one another that they’d taken laying around on side tables, small square photos of Patricia in her stark whiteness, the darkness of the hair under her arms, between her legs. I wasn’t shocked particularly, but I understood that they wouldn’t like my looking at them. They were students at the University I think. Mark took the photo of me.
I am sitting on the picnic table, my hair is in two braids, coming out enough so that my eyes are hidden, you see my face in profile, the slope of my nose, my torso is twisted, as if I am setting the table, something in my hands. I notice the perfect proportions of my shoulders and arms, my legs, well muscled, but rounded. On my sockless feet are dark unlaced tennis shoes with snoopy on them. I am wearing a tutu. It has seen better days. I am about to turn seven. I got that tutu from my grandmother the summer I was four. There are pictures of me in it — I am on the brick patio of their house on Goldengate — a tiara on my head, my grandmother in her alligator shoes — I am twirling around with a smile on my face, her hands in mine. It is pink with netting and sequins.
On the picnic table I am lean, and the straps are off of each shoulder, the netting sagging and, I remember, dingy. It is a picture that is both unbearably sweet, and incredibly sad. I want to sweep that little girl off of that picnic table — hold her in my arms and tell her that her mother doesn’t mean the things she says in her rages, that she isn’t herself, that she can’t make anyone else happy — that it is only herself that she must make happy. I want to tell her something to keep her from the years that come when those voices will echo in her head for the rest of her life, and the bittersweet love between her and her mother — the only person she has left — a woman who loves her more than she can love herself.
On the lift the next afternoon W. looked back to me, smiling, happy. I thought with an ache that maybe this was what I was put on this earth for, to be who I am to this little boy.
I have been struggling with my own journey through the questions of assisted reproductive technology — which is strange in ways because it isn’t out of any kind of ideological stance — rather I am all about technology — but somehow there’s this hesitance in my own heart. I keep wondering if I am not meant to give birth to my own children. Is this some remnant of dormant religious upbringing of mine? Or more accurately has this decision, of seeking reproductive help, brushed up against my own cosmology – the thing that I have had to tell myself to make peace with my own life — which is that everything happens for a reason — all of it is to some purpose, somehow. I have something to learn, something to make peace with, something to resolve before I move forward.
At The Falls, on my mom’s bookshelf I found an old copy ofNorth to the Orient — Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s reflections on the exploration of the air route across the Yukon, Alaska, into Japan and China that she and her husband take. Its cover blue, silver font scrolling the title on the binding, a beautiful, simple etching of a float plane from above on the center of the front. It has surprised me in the beauty of the prose and her close observation of the land beneath her. My favorite chapters so far has been her chapter on Japan. She says that in every Japanese there is an artist – in the kimonos, the parasols opening in the rain, in the dishes for everyday use. When they arrive at their host’s home they are ushered into a room with scrolls of autumn grasses on the wall. They hold small blue teacups that fit in the palm of their hands. They listen to the trees brushing against the porch and the cries of the boys in the park below. She has left her young son behind in Maine with her parents. I’m struck by the next moment when after watching the boys chase dragon flies with long pointed bamboo sticks her host asks if she knows the Japanese poem about the mother whose little boy has died:
How far in chase today
Has gone my Hunter
of the dragon fly!
She writes of her reflections after witnessing the Tea Ceremony : If only I could stay here long enough, I thought, going home in the rain, I would learn to see too. And after minutely watching the surface of things I would learn to see below the surface. I would see the essence of a thing, what it has in common with other things; that is, I would learn simile. I would see that a certain wet stone (as my Japanese friend said) was wet as a new-peeled pear. Then I would learn metaphor and see in my little boy “My hunter of the dragon fly.” And finally I would learn symbolism. “The bamboo for prosperity…the pine for long life, the plum for courage”
Thinking about how I feel on the ski slope – so much myself. How I feel with G. How I want to be able to be fully myself before I give my entire self over to another being. That is the courage of the plum tree, I think — to blossom in the snow — the spring is coming, the thaw has begun, the snows receding — and its blossoms break open in anticipation of the warmth to come. To come back to yourself. The beauty in every moment. To see that essence. To remember it.
I bought a book on triathlons. Now, before you begin crowing in disbelief out there I have to say that its written by Sally Edwards — a woman who’s spent thirty years as a professional athlete. She makes an excellent point. She asks you what it is you are doing it for. The difference between the amorphous ‘exercise’ — and the goal-oriented training. I have always exercised — but I have never really trained. I am terrified of running in a crowd, let alone swimming. I have a goal with my writing — and I felt that in order to live the life I want to live I need a physical goal as well.
Von muses about the interconnectedness of it all for her own life — in a beautiful post about embracing one’s own spirit — and that in recapturing our spirits — the life we’re meant to lead unfolds.( ** Sadly, Von’s wonderful site, “Murphy is a Bastard” has long shuttered its windows.. and so the link no longer works –.but it was a great blog)
Happy New Year to us all!