April

The wind chimes on our back porch tingle and clang all day and all night long. Spring pushes in not just with purple and pearl and gold crocuses, but with birdsong. 5 a.m., when I step out with a bucket of hot stove ashes, the robins are at it already, mating and nesting, busy with robin family-life.

I lie awake thinking of that window of time when my daughter contracted Covid, imagining when she might have let her mask slip, rubbed an eye with her fingers, the slightest of gestures she’ll never recall. Then I imagine the hours when she was contagious, before this gorgeous healthy teen said, My back hurts. I’m tired, and I closed my laptop, looked at her carefully, and began to worry suddenly, in earnest.

With my own two negative tests, the virus has (at the moment) passed over my body.

Snow falls, all day, on April first. We sleep with the windows cracked open, and I smell the particular damp scent of snow in the night. I lie there, thinking of the practical, mundane things of my world (as a single parent, could I get with it and write a will?) and the visible and invisible mysteries of this world. How I’ve tarnished and sullied the prayer of my everyday life, distracted by things that mean very little, while all along our days are unfolding, one after another, in their finite number.

The cats insist on breakfast. I stand at the back door, drinking coffee, watching snowflakes drift in a gray dawn, listening to NPR and a courtroom in Minnesota.

It’s another month. Despite the snow, spring edges in.

You’d better get busy, though, buddy. The goddamn sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I’m talking about. You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddamn phenomenal world.

— J. D. Salinger

Seeing & Writing

A rare epiphany today. Sitting in on a grade school math class, I listened to children figure strategies to determine the precise number between 28 and 43.

Like that, I saw in the sunny classroom the mistaken path I’d taken in my novel’s rough draft. So intent was I on constructing the whole that I’d overlooked the necessity of knowing each particular piece – the unknown that will carry me from 28 to 43. Is it merely that I feared to lose sight of the whole? In each of my characters – as in every one of us – there’s an empty place, a yearning of trembling hunger.

After school, sprawled on the dim staircase while the kids practiced basketball, I wrote my own variation of strategies for those missing pieces – about the teenage boy who lost the lucky rabbit’s foot he had stolen from a corner store years before, while his uncle argued with the cashier about a lottery ticket. As stolen contraband (and girly pink), the boy had kept the rabbit’s foot hidden. Through coincidence, a woman finds the broken thing ground into an icy road….

In the handful of those classroom moments, I realized these pieces might form the schematic of this novel yet-in-the-writing, and while amorphous destiny hides from us, the coincidences winding us unwittingly together are a misplaced rabbit’s foot or a sweater left on someone’s chair.

… over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are. To eat a banana for the thousandth time is nothing like eating a banana for the first time. To have sex with somebody for the thousandth time is nothing like having sex with that person for the first time. The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes. This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack.

— Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

IMG_0500