Roaming

Hard up for reading material, I get my 15-year-old to drive to Craftsbury, where I raid the free book pile on the porch.

In this village, we see no one, not a single human soul, only two geese flying overhead. It’s late Saturday afternoon, and she keeps driving on the dirt roads, heading by the Outdoor Center where I worked many years ago, and then by the summer camp where she spent happy summer weeks.

The road crests by the old farmhouse where our friends lived for years, and where we spent so many happy hours. She slows, and we look carefully. The house has been freshly painted and glows a pale yellow on that green hillside.

In one of those strange twists of fate, my former husband and I had also considered buying this house before our friends — who were not yet our friends — did. At that time, the farmhouse hadn’t been inhabited for a few years. A couple with two children had lived there, divorced, and the house had been snarled in the divorce.

In one bedroom, in place of a headboard, pillows had been stapled to the wall. I remember thinking, Who would ever think that’s a good idea?

I ask her to pull over on the side of the road. I get out for a moment and walk into the field where I stand looking at the ridge of mountains in the distance, the house on the hillside, and all that sky overhead.

A pickup pulls up beside my daughter, speaks to her, and drives off. I walk back to the car and asked what happened.

She says, He asked if I needed help. I told him it was just my mother.

She puts the car in gear, and we roll forward, picking up speed along the road. She glances at me sideways and says, I didn’t tell him you wanted to see how far along the tree buds are. That would just be weird.

 Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

David Foster Wallace

Why I Hate the Corn Maze

Ever read the late David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again?

Okay, that was about cruise ships. My supposedly fun thing was a corn maze which began as lots of fun, driving along maple-lined dirt roads, past hayfields, laughing with the kids about the mist we kept entering and exiting, apparently in the middle of rural-Vermont-nowhere.

In this amazing corn maze, hard-packed dirt paths wound between immensely high corn. An hour in, actually beginning to wonder if we might not get out, I dredged up what limited survival skills I might possess, and ordered the kids to follow “the rule of right” and only make right-hand turns — as if that was the key out. Even smarter, perhaps, we tagged behind a cheerful grandparent-ish couple who practically ran through the maze and got us out.

So much for fun mothering experiences, these few hours that seemed, honestly, a little too close to the marrow, a little too near my life — wander around and conjure some savvy to get out.

Much later that Sunday evening, picking up stray socks and library books and putting away laundry — getting ready for a working week — I realized I failed that metaphor for life: enjoy the journey. Take note.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

— David Foster Wallace

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The Better Part of a Day…Kid Land

Driving to pick up my daughter at basketball practice today, I kept thinking about David Lipsky’s book about David Foster Wallace, and Infinite Jest, which I can’t wait to read. Am I nuts? When am I going to fit in a 1,000-page plus novel? And yet, David Foster Wallace is now my current favorite three-word combination.

At school,  pleasant and convivial as my fellow parents may be, the finer part of a day is not talk about how legislation winds down all the way into our kindergarten classes. So much of this adult world is talk, talk, while the deeper issues that lie in our lives are often poverty – material and spiritual.

After basketball practice, the girls discovered hidden doors under the stage and crawled deep into the dark underbelly of their school. I crouched before the open little door and listened to their voices, young and female, problem-solving, figuring out the lay of their land, navigating obstacles. This, I thought, is what the adult world needs: a way to the look at the familiar world and find a hidden door, to look at our own world in ways we’d never imagined, from deep down in its guts, to see what holds us together.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?

David Foster Wallace

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Hardwick, Vermont