Postcard From A Parking Lot

One cool thing about being a writer is the liberty to do ‘research’ in the face of teenager sensibility. Honestly, though, curiosity often leads us into fun – or at least the unusual. In the middle of Maine, the kids and I walked along a highway, wondering who lives here, and why, then the 12-year-old discovered a squishy patch of asphalt which took our footprints for moments before they disappeared. In a field behind a parking lot, toadflax bloomed at one edge.

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

–Anne Lamott

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Suddenly Summer!

One of the sarcastic and not-to-be-imitated jokes in our family is the phrase “Love Wins,” overused by a few people we know. Sitting on the stairs talking late last night, we mutter at each other Love wins.

What’s the battle anyway? And who are the footsoldiers?

Already passing the solstice, Vermont summer is cacophonious around us: the rhododendrons shed their petals as the iris beside them blaze up in violet splendor. Pulling into the driveway after work yesterday, the 12-year-olds leap on the trampoline, laughing, hair static-splayed.

Summer’s desire – love of summer – rampages. No winner and losers here, the season spreads on, with curling morning glory vines, Budbill’s ubiquitious day lily, robin’s eggs sucked dry by a predator. These dewy, sunny mornings.

…This (lily)
is coarse and ordinary, almost harsh in its weathered beauty,
like an older woman with a tough, worldly-wise and wrinkled
face….

David Budbill, The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July

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The Adult Contingent

The summer I was 19, I worked in a nursing home in Brattleboro, swing shift from 3 to 11pm, arriving at the hot and busy part of the day and leaving in the generally cool and always quiet night. Being 19 and filled with endless energy, I often worked a double shift, and left at 7 am when just about everyone else in Brattleboro was heading to work.

A few young residents lived in that nursing home – a woman crippled with arthritis, a young man irreparably injured by a drunk driver – but the older residents were there either because they had dementia or suffered an illness, or were simply old and had nowhere else to go.

One evening, my favorite little old woman rang her bell. I remember she had a small bedside lamp and a handmade quilt. When I appeared, she was polite, but she said clearly, Honey, I want a grownup.

I hurried to get the charge nurse, even though it was my job and maybe I should have stayed. I was very young, and the woman was very old – a territory wholly unfamiliar to me.

Early last Sunday, in the last push of moving, I desperately wanted the adults to arrive. I love kids and teenagers dearly, but there’s a time for adults, too. The adults arrived in force, moved us and stayed, and put our house together again, too. They ferried us down the mountain and over the river and up a hill, and took the younger daughter swimming, too.

Eternal thanks.

A camellia
dropped down into
still waters
Of a deep dark well

– Buson

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And Even Heavier Lifting….

Not two white knights, but two women in Subarus showed up at my house last night to move cardboard boxes of books, wrap dishes, pull pictures from walls. My troops arrived, complete with olive bread and cheese, with enthusiasm and laughter, with encouragement for my daughter who is graduating today from high school.

No woman is an island. Could I remember this more frequently? I could not have moved in these handful of days without your help; I’d be moving boxes and beloved pieces of kid-made pottery for weeks, like a solitary ant toiling, moving sand grain by grain. Thank you, again, for reminding me of the steady earth behind my feet.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent…

– John Dunne

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Hefty Lifting

In my first pregnancy, I developed a fear of the transition phase of labor. Even without experiencing labor, I knew that would be my point of trial and terror. As it turned out, that so dreaded transition was but a moment or two. I had my single place of easy breathing. I looked at an analog clock, the time of 3:14 pm lodging in my memory. Sunlight streamed through an enormous window.

Moving, as Ben Hewitt once told me, sucks. As usual, Ben is succinct and dead-on right. Moving is the transition phase I dreaded in labor, the leaving one place and not-yet-in-another.

In days of acute stress, like the times my former husband was arrested, I wrote notes to guide myself through days – call this person or buy coffee, but also fragments of dialogue, or the state’s attorney’s ironed, lavender shirt – anchoring those moments in my notebook, hungry writer that I am, to return to that time later, when the miasma dissipated, and glean.

I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see.

Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth.

– Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

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Searching by Starlight

Three summers ago, we returned from a three days long Amtrak ride – Lamy, New Mexico to Albany, New York, and then a three-hour drive home – and I ran into the garden through the car headlights, before coming into the house. The hydrangea had spread magnificently; the tomatoes lay tucked in their leaves, heavy, ripe.

We had been gone for most of the summer, nearly six weeks, first to stay with my sister who was not well that summer, and then on the only trip I’ve taken with both my daughters to the southwest, where I was born. Under intense pressure that summer, by our return of the four of us, it was clear our marriage was fissured.

Nearly three years later, I was in the garden by starlight last night, the fireflies flickering so high in the surrounding treetops they merged with the constellations. Even in the dark, my feet know this path intimately.

After midnight, I finished Alice Hendan-Zuckermayer’s book, about the willing and unwilling moves of her family, driven by economics, which I know so well, and by a world at war, which I have been so fortunately spared. Why read anyway? You might as well ask why think? why desire? why LIVE? In my midnight garden, with the bursts of dandelions already going to seed, it was me and Alice. She ended her book with these lines from Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…. a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time lose, a time to keep…

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Why I Love Vermont

Saturday evening in June….

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak….
From Jane Hirshfield’s “For What Binds Us”
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Elmore Mountain from West Woodbury, Vermont

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