When I was a young woman, I immersed myself in experiences — live in a tipi, race an old Saab on an interstate, travel around the country sleeping in the back of a diesel Rabbit — but all as experience, without a context. Maybe that’s one of the main things I’ve gained as a parent — how to see the years-unfolding shape of our lives, the pattern of habits, the emotional tenor. Where are we weak? Where do we flourish?
Now, as my daughters — one exiting adolescence and the other entering — step into claiming their own lives, I watch the shape of the lives they’re creating, different than mine, and yet inseparable.
Late PrayerJane Hirshfield
Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby--
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.
When I was in college, one of the houses I cleaned was for an older woman who usually had me set up a square table for mahjong. Three of her also-elderly friends arrived around that time — one hobbling in with a walker — and they were always so darn excited about this game. I laid out a wooden box of tiles, coasters, a cut glass bowl of cashews while one of the husbands made drinks.
My 12-year-old, lover of games and puzzles, studies instructions with our tiles, piecing together patterns, possibilities, in what can only be described as our unique version of play. Need four players? We’ve bastardized that, too, and make do with the two of us.
Across the table, the bridge of her nose sparkly gold from a friend’s shared paint, her eyes glow mischievously.
Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind.
This February reminds me, yet again, of how rapidly our world changes: nearly 70º degrees yesterday, with my daughter reading on the back porch and eating a turkey sandwich, to this nearly colorless day, where the younger daughter and I slide over the ice around our house, tacking to the neighbors’ bare patch of ground beneath her pines.
Early today, I drove to Greensboro, pausing in my few spare moments to walk on the frozen beach at Caspian Lake, a soul-spot for my girls and me.
Scene of innumerable sand castles, swimming lessons, watermelon slices, of cold, wonderfully clear water, and the legendary wind that rushes black thunderheads across the water.
Sure, some of days parenting young children I’ll let go from my memory without a tinge of sadness, but I’d keep every one of those beach days. Every last one.
I think one of the primary goals of a feminist landscape architecture would be to work toward a public landscape in which we can roam the streets at midnight, in which every square is available for Virginia Woolf to make up her novels.
Home early from work, I walked to the post office with my daughter, in what Vermonters know as sugaring weather. Streams ran down hillside streets. Birds sang in bare-branched treetops.
This is the first winter I have lived in town in many years, and I’d forgotten how the melting snow recedes, leaving a pointillistic, 3D mosaic of dirt. With her bare fingers, my daughter picked up little bits of snow and tossed them at my knees, and we made a game of kicking those icy bits ahead of us, walking, as she offered me a few little bits of middle school life.
Passing the elementary school with its mountainous banks plowed to the edges of the parking lot, I remembered my own elementary school, where I walked on those ridge tops in an unbuttoned wool coat, mittens swinging from the knitted cord my mother made, tying the mittens tightly to the coat.
My daughter dug her fingers into a snowbank and threw a handful of ice, soft snow, and dirt over our heads.
Learning to trust the possible and to accept what arises, to welcome surprise and the ways of the Trickster, not to censor too quickly — all are lessons necessary for a writer…..Attentiveness may appear to be nothing at all, yet under its gaze, everything flowers. ‘Awakened,’ Dōgen wrote in a poem, ‘I hear the one true thing —/Black rain on the roof of the Fukakusa temple.’
— Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
When I was vacuuming tiny gold stars from the library’s rug yesterday, in the hour when the tired after school kids were getting picked up and before the adult readers appeared, I noticed the carpet, hard-worn when I arrived as the sole employee, was even more shabby. A splotch of yellow paint, snips of pink yarn, dog hair that perpetually sloughs off a few small patrons. The carpet has been used by all sizes of feet.
The walls are covered with kid art, colored paper chains hang from the ceiling, donations for the pie breakfast book sale line the walls.
Although I was so tired I considered lying down on the floor before the reading group, the adults arrived with incredible enthusiasm. The kids made popcorn and kicked a soccer ball in the other room, with a strange sound like someone banging her head against a wall I (futilely) tried to ignore.
I heated water for tea. What do goals mean in a lifetime, anyway?
Here’s one of mine: heat water for a thousand cups of tea in this one-room library.
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
This week, I interviewed an author who had written what seemed to me the odd choice of a childhood memoir-in-verse, but she explained she chose that form because memory comes and goes in bits, not separated into blocky and linear chapters and paragraphs.
I kept thinking of her words yesterday, separated from a sunlight-sparkling autumn day in a second-floor opera house theater, as I listened to trains whistling through town. The warning calls punctuated a very adult conference about children’s literature, and my attention kept straying to those mournful sounds as the trains chugged their slowed way through town. Like a fishing hook, the notes pulled up my memories, reminding me that the last time I had been in White River Junction was three years ago, myself and my family riding through on Amtrak, looking through the windows at this brick-building Main Street and wondering who lived here.
At the conference’s end, impatient to leave and return to my own life, to hurry home along the interstate flanked by maples turning red, a woman read aloud a children’s book I had heard as very young child. I put down the sweater I was knitting and just listened to the words, familiar from long ago. The train whistles kept calling: a collage of memory.
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.