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Back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Chanticleer singing in front of the Baroque Christmas tree, the same trip I have made many Decembers now, a spiritual and centering ritual to start the holiday season. They voice the most beautiful music I have ever heard from human beings -- the clearest, roundest notes that carry out into Medieval Hall, up through the angel wings that adorn the evergreen. Tonight was particularly amazing, from "In the Bleak Midwinter" to "Nowel" to "Suo Gan," a Welsh lullaby that made me wish I was holding my son. Cariad mam sy dan fy mron.
Catalog clothing colors that make me hungry: warm cocoa, oatmeal, bisque, café, green tea, buttercream, java, malt, cognac, currant, wheat heather, nutmeg, paprika, spice, cayenne, tarragon, thyme, basil, berry, grape, boysenberry, key lime, squash, mushroom, merlot, cassis, raisin, port
Catalog clothing colors that make me want to vacation at a national park: expedition, canyon clay, peat, straw, seedling, timber, redwood, willow, spruce, trillium, ash bark, light tortoise, mallard, doe, vicuna, pinecone, cornflower, azalea, blossom, willow, forget-me-not, mineral, adriatic, kelp, harbor, saltwater, lake, Aegean, baltic, brook, seagrass, driftwood, sea glass, marsh, cloud, cobalt, graphite, midnight, meridian, evening, vapor, onyx, slate, carbon
At the end of spring, I took K to our local nature center to see turtles, turkeys, fox; walk the wooded paths. We took a trail in small steps, and soon I heard a call, drawn out and sad, distant, like a trapped animal. After a short time I heard it again, but closer, until I could discern that the sound was from a person. On a nearby trail I saw a woman, tired face, hunched shoulders, walking slowly, looking, waiting for a wailing young man to approach, and I understood. Here he could express himself, any volume, no judgment.
When he parked in the hotel garage he pulled into the same spot he had been in early that morning. As if nothing has changed, I thought, and sat quietly in the seat, looking down to the floor. When I finally turned he was looking down too, keys from the ignition in his right hand. He squeezed them tight and looked into my eyes. His phone chirped, and he took it from the dash. Read a text. They’re all at the Ram, he said. Sent one out. We just left Chicago. Did we, I said, then took a deep breath.
Scarves, gloves, hats well placed, patiently
in the large, dark wicker basket on the
hallway floor. That too-soon winter chill
now here, and I too stubborn to stave it off
properly, taking the long wool coat only
(it has a hood, anyway)
outside the quick nip, at first
I feel vindicated – “see, not so bad” –
but then the deeper bite, my hands
on the hard, black steering wheel of my car
(never warmed up), aching to go deep
in the linty coat pockets, but I’m late,
so grip tighter, tips of fingers,
and wait for the heater thus punished.
Observe a Ritual
The bananas aren't organic this time -- perfectly yellow, perhaps only one brown fleck on the firm, yellow peel. Most of a larger one goes into K's bowl, curved, taking up the whole diameter. A small metal fork works hard to mush the fruit up into a softer, lumpy pulp. The smell is sweet but almost a bit sour, too -- right on that hardly ripe edge. In goes the dry organic oatmeal, a cereal he loved when a baby and still will eat. Then, carefully, a bit of organic 2% milk, just enough to keep the texture thick.
I don't recognize myself anymore when it comes to preparing for Christmas (in other ways, too, but especially in this). In my 20s and early 30s I would already have purchased most gifts by now, had the cards all ready to mail, put all the decorations up, but in the last few years I can barely think of what to buy for anyone, hardly remember to get stamps, easily forget to get my overseas friends' packages out early. It leaves a heavy disgust in my stomach, makes me feel that this month is a chore instead of fun and spiritual.
When the winter Olympics last aired I spent a lot of time watching curling -- the fat, round stone sliding down the ice, the gentle slip of the granite to the house, the sweepers jerking their brooms hard and fast. In our state we have a curling center, and they are offering open sessions next month to those who want to learn the game. It’s been so long since I tried something new, something I know nothing of, that I’m going to force myself to sign up (and pray that I don’t embarrassingly crash to the frozen surface).
At five-thirty in the morning the brain can be a foe. It takes over, putting itself above the leg cramp and the backache.
I am ____
it says, and I listen to it, and I believe it, and it can’t be trusted, so whatever is in the blank can only be a terrible exaggeration or an outright lie, and to acknowledge and agree will drag me back down when I’ve been working to do better. The only thing that turns it off is blanketing it with beauty or amazement -- the planet Venus, huge and bright in the eastern sky.
She walks around each week and is sure she has her feelings and fantasies under control [she must, since she knows herself so well]. She doesn’t think there is one particular thing that motivates her, that causes her to look forward to the time she spends out. She never analyzes it, never looks under what she assumes must be true. But then when she is finally out and one particular thing is different and she feels that deep release of breath and the sadness and a tinge of anger, then she knows she has been fooling herself all along.
I met a woman this year whose first name sounds somewhat masculine. Feeling brave one night and rather curious, I asked her about her name, and she told me that she legally changed it in her adulthood because her birth name did not suit her and, having heard this (more masculine) name (a female athlete’s name), she decided that it reflected who she is. That conversation has stuck with me. I have tried on different occasions to think of another first name that I would like, that suits me better than the one I have, but so far I can’t.
Yesterday we decided that it was time for K's second professional haircut, as he was spending much of each day pushing his hair from his eyes and the long locks were always tousled. He had the same stylist, sat in the same little car, watched the same Thomas video. He cried more, and she cut more off, and he looks like a different little boy now, but cute as always. They sell toys there too, and he latched on to a metal car and so we bought it for him. This is their plan, of course. Then he was happy.
Bundled up, fuzzy red hoodie under brown down jacket under chocolate wool coat, brown leather gloves, thick heather scarf, I step out onto the slats of the deck, crunching snow under my boots, bending my head back to see the full cloud cover, invisible snow pelting my cheeks and nose, desperate to see anything, a slight movement, bright slash through the sky, but nothing. These are the times, so frustrating, when I should pile my overdressed self in the car and head for the wide fields of the college up north, near the mountains, where stars seem to hang out.
There is a small window over our kitchen sink, and as I stand there early evenings, washing dishes or scrubbing vegetables, I can see across to the neighbors' dining room, the space taken almost completely by table and chairs. Their window is always decorated by the kids: paper evergreens for Christmas, Independence Day flags. Sometimes, when their chandelier burns amber and the evening light across the driveway is dusky blue and they sit there eating and talking, I am sentimental, thinking how America is all about this: families sharing ideas at the table, all there even in the toughest times.
Today is my father's birthday. Or maybe it is tomorrow. His birth certificate and other papers list both dates in some places. We say the 15th, no doubt because it is listed on most of the papers this way.
His mother ran away to marry his father when she was a senior in high school. Stubborn and easily irritated (sound familiar?). Interested in music. Not pretty. British descent. His father was 11 years older than she. Attractive. Also British. Adopted by his parents. He left home at 17 to travel. Both were only children.
I wish I had known them.
I think what makes me the most frustrated is this: If I were an acquaintance of our family and I walked into my house, I would wonder why these people can't get it together, put away or throw away this stuff, replace the junky used furniture with better pieces. There are times when I have visited relatives' houses, gone upstairs to change my son in a spare bedroom, and noticed the piles of clothes, the boxes, and wondered how they could leave things in that state, and yet now I live surrounded boxes and piles just the same. So maddening.
I'm waiting. I'm changing. I'm tired. I'm different. I'm wondering. I'm blessed. I'm busy. I'm trying. I'm rough. I'm wishing. I'm bored. I'm stuck. I'm curious. I'm careful. I'm nostalgic. I'm impulsive. I'm deliberate. I'm out of practice. I'm out of touch. I'm scared. I'm lonely. I'm never alone. I'm uncomforable. I'm unmotivated. I'm working up to it. I'm overworked. I'm frustrated. I'm cluttered. I'm clouded. I'm holding it together. I'm creative. I'm capricious. I'm distracted. I'm dreaming. I'm wandering. I'm crazed. I'm hoping. I'm searching. I'm unrecognizable. I'm the same. I'm a resolution in action. I'm thinking. I'm writing.
R picks out a tree at our local fire department, and when he says his brother is a fireman in the next town we get a discount without trying. R unties it from the roof and brings it into the house, tight in red netting, and K looks freaked out (like, what is THAT THING doing in the house?) and no matter how many times we tell him it is a tree he doesn't relax until we quick cut the net and shake it out and stand it up so, finally, it looks like the ones outside, which he loves.
A couple admissions about this holiday season: (a) I have taken advantage of very good sales to buy myself things when I am out shopping. This is because I rarely go out to stores anymore. To get to a store, I need to have all/most work done (rare) and someone to watch my son (sometimes); right now he can hold out patiently in a store only about five minutes. (b) I have been saying I need more gifts for certain people just to get out and walk around a store and see real things and real people. See (a).
So you know when you see someone you know and love doing something he should definitely not be doing and you don’t really want to sound like an old lady and shake your finger, but then you decide that what he is doing can affect you, too, so you do shake your finger and tell him to cut it out and so he actually does cut it out, and then about three weeks later a letter comes in the mail on yellow paper (which is never good, that yellow paper) and then you unfortunately say I told you so.
So it seems that I actually might like pinot grigio better than sauvignon blanc. This is kind of like what I was telling a friend recently, that I once thought that because I am a "girl" I should drink pale ale, the lighter the more appropriate, and then once I started tasting the amber beers and the dark ales, I was like, Wow. Is that what I have been missing? So yes, it seems I may need to change up my wine selection. Tonight it was paired with a tasty rare tuna, so maybe that made the grigio taste better.
Do libraries still exist like the one I grew up with? The card catalog system: beautiful old wood cabinet, drawers that slid gently out to reveal the stock cream cards with faded, typewritten words and numbers, rough against your fingerpads as you flipped through for the right one. Some other titles catching your eye for later.
I doubt it, and that makes me sad.
I also loved the little metal bar within my library card, the deep crunch of the card stamp machine as the librarian punched each rectangle from the back of each exciting book.
The immediate indication that I hadn't been there in a long time was that the Out door was now the In door. When I finally got inside the store, I wandered, trying to remember where things used to be, listening to young men brag about the hardest New Hampshire ski trails they'd conquered, the coldest temperatures they'd ever braved. I looked at the doorway leading to the kayaks, but I couldn't bring myself to go through. Not yet. In the parking lot I checked out the other dirty SUVs with oval stickers. At least my ride looked like it belonged.
When my sister and I were in elementary school, we looked forward to the week before Christmas, when my mom would bring up that familiar, worn storage box from the basement and we would take turns reaching inside without looking to pull out one tissue-wrapped bundle, then slowly unwrap to see which ceramic manger figure we had selected. If the packet was long and heavy, we knew we had a wise man. The two little lambs were often deceiving. Finally one of us would draw the baby Jesus in his cradle, smile victoriously, place him carefully in the stable.
After dinner with the family we cut out as K gets tired and eager to leave, and we both remember that when we were dating we would drive around there each December and see a tiny cape coated with a billion Christmas lights and decorations and crazy flashing things, and we decide to turn left instead of right and check out this house again and show K just how bright and nutty it is, and as we go down the street we don't see anything crazy or bright and are sad and disappointed and hope it's just that they moved.
Here's the thing: I can easily separate my disgust with having a cat in the house from my fondness for the pet we have called Mojo, who happens to be a cat. Schizo, perhaps? I agree, but cats just aren't my thing: the coughing up of things (this one literally vomits at the sight of me), the scratching on anything with fibers (couch arms down, rugs shot, boxspring shredded), the long and pointed nails (cut only when I make a stink). Yet Mojo is wonderful with our son, friendly, playful, funny, very neat, clean, rather handsome. I'll live with it.
It is a helpless feeling when your child is sick and there is nothing that you can do to make it better except be there for comfort and hugs, get more juice mixed mostly now with water, soothe the bright red diaper rash with a thick, white cream. I called the doctor's office and the nurse calls back when I'm in the middle of a tough edit, so I am thrown off, don't remember all of what I wanted to ask and don't answer her questions to me with any clarity. I am sure I sounded completely out of it.
I am tired of thinking that I must write FOR something, that my writing needs to fit into a mold, travel a specific path to be finally and eventually published in the right place and read by some interested people. I have tried to stop "wasting time" writing this one book (when I am supposed to be working on my other, more "practical" book and thinking about the second, more literary practical one) but I love the characters, love the ideas, the settings, the way they feel about each other, and so I keep writing, tiny bits at a time.
She needed to breathe. The sides of the banquet room were 40-foot glass, and outside the huge flat leaves of low tropical bushes reached right to the windows all around, giving the sense that the room was built of the forest. She slinked out a door cut right into the glass toward the back of the hall, the one that led to a short, narrow path into the flora and around to a clearing. In only a couple minutes of careful walking in the tight new heels, she found herself at the opening, taking deep gulps of cool, clear air.
She ran her hands through the hair at her ears, shaking it back, feeling the long tresses tickle the skin revealed below her shoulders. This night had been more difficult than she had imagined. Keeping a polite smile on her face, speaking carefully about the lab and her work while downplaying her decision to move on. All the while trying to avoid staring at him, eavesdrop on him, even talking to him. It was still impossible to her that he would be her boss. Had she tried to plan it from the start, it could never have happened like this.
As she shook her head in disbelief, her hands still in her hair, she heard a rustling behind her, and turned to see him.
“Everything okay?” His brows raised in concern.
“Yes.” A soft tiny word was all she could manage.
“Headache?” He walked over to her.
“No. Just getting some air.” She let her hands fall, allowing a closed-lip smile to come over her.
He looked around the forest, then up at the star-filled sky, placing his hands behind his back. “You have had an amazing place to work. I hope we can give you an equally interesting environment.”
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