I haven’t bought a house in twenty years, and I’ve never sold one. In my teens and twenties, I lived in all kinds of places, from a tipi to a trailer to a string of apartments, but my daughters have lived in this rural house their whole lives.
House hunting in Vermont’s February means walking through empty houses with the heat off and the windows frosted: an exercise in imagination. The younger daughter sizes up where she would put her bike and trampoline, how her bunk bed might fit in a room. I crouch down and study plumbing, pick at linoleum with my car keys to see what wood lies beneath. Like approaching a piece of writing, I gnaw over mechanics – plumbing, roof, how to heat, affordability – but I’m also listening to the house. Does it sing to us beneath the layers of other people’s living? Where will the moonlight shine in? Can these rooms fill with our living?
My older daughter argues. Later, I realize she outdid me at what I was doing: she and her camera sought out beauty.
Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is what’s right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life.
Meghan Daum, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House
In the morning, driving along the Lamoille River and its flanking snow-buried farm fields, my daughter and I note the river’s ice buckled across its serpentine surface and speculate about its thickness. With this year’s early insulating snow, the fire department posts warnings about treacherously thin ice.
These days are long, beginning in darkness and ending in darkness, arcing over the eye of grayish light in the middle. Last night, our windows filled with spinning snowflakes, while my teenager and I held onto the day, talking, talking, our words swirling around each other, sharing our worlds.
Later, as the wind howled over the house, I read from my library book Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times – irresistible title.
Poetry is like the sawdust coming from under the saw
or soft yellow shavings from a plane.
Poetry is washing hands in the evening
or a clean handkerchief that my late aunt
never forgot to put in my pocket.
Last night at our little local library, a high school student told his story of visiting a falconer. The falcons, he said, have one primal force: to eat. He described feathered creatures who will sit for hours, waiting for a mouse to appear – almost sure prey at a hole – rather than using calories to fly randomly and seek the unknown.
The world of training these regal birds, the teenager relayed, centers on one primary object: a morsel of London broil on a leather gauntlet. That is so not the human way. Perhaps in hunter-gatherer days, single-minded patience and determination dictated human action, but it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine when the human terrain of desire – for food beyond sustenance, sweet, salty, and spicy; for silk and myriad dyed colors for fashion; for adulation on a small and great scale; for the comfort of coupling in bed, complicated or not – hasn’t constantly jumbled up civilization.
Aggravating, infuriating at times, this world I inhabit, and yet this morning, waking in the dark with a child murmuring in her sleep near me, what a wondrous world, too. Not far from my desk, a mouse scurries in and out of its tiny hole, busy with its own rodent variation of London broil. More generous this rainy morning, I think, Go about, little one.
Even from my front porch
the rusted sewing machine
yearns for golden thread.
Sometimes I think, what a raw deal my daughters have, with a writer for a mother. The writers I know don’t check out and take days off. Writers are likely to be trying to read your to-do list you’re holding while waiting in the grocery check-out line.
But then there’s this: Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage tells how, when she dragged herself back to her mother’s house after the collapse of her marriage, her mother insisted that, yes, indeed, Ann was yet the heroine in her life’s story. Although I never use the heroine word with my daughters, I’m keenly aware I’m raising them as heroines and not as princesses. The difference is distinct.
While clearly I want to stave off the wolves of hunger and cold at our door, I’ve never intended to garner ermine cloaks or a palace for my girls. I’d prefer for the girls to know themselves neither in need of saving by prince charming, or required to save that somewhat dubious character, either.
As a teenager, I read a great deal of Joseph Campbell, and I’ve returned repeatedly to Campbell’s hero quest. I remind myself at moments of keen doubt – what am I doing as a parent, anyway? who let me lead this drama? – that doubt is a key element of any heroine’s path. Embrace, and move eagerly on to the next phase.
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.