Postcards from Charlottesville

My daughter and her friend dug into boxes of records and gleaned out The Beatles, set up the stereo and record player in our barn, and cranked up The White Album. They hung up the hammock, strung lights around the walls, and then – needing a disco ball – smashed a mirror and hot-glued shards on a soccer ball.

While I wander around the edges, moving from chore to chore – nothing egregiously awful, but edgy and dissatisfied, preoccupied with I’m thinking – the girls are in the barn, creatively busy, smiling, wanting only a break to go swimming and eat ice cream sundaes.

Later, in the dark, I go for a walk in the adjoining cemetery, familiar enough with these paths that I can walk both by the scant light and my memory. The crescent moon rises in the black sky, over the mountain ridge and our house, where I see the girls’ string of Christmas lights shining. I pause, noting the moon’s hue. Tinged amber? Faintly orange?

Then I wise up and just stand there, shivering a little in my sweater, admiring this slice of moon, autumn creeping near.

… I have been there all along and this, I suddenly and certainly know, is motherhood; this mere sufficiency, this presence. With every cry she has tutored me, in what is plain and hard: that my affection, my silly entertainments, my doting hours, the particular self I tried to bring to my care of her, have been as superfluous as my fury and despair. All that is required is for me to be there….

– Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother

My sister, Tanya Stanciu, who lives in Charlottesville sent these photos.

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Transit

Despite the snow, marigolds are blooming in my cobbled-together greenhouse, their scent still a sharp tang. I carried a handful with me this afternoon to my Woodbury library job. With the light ending early this days, it’s the Vermont reading season.

My bookseller friends at the Galaxy scored me an Advance Copy of Rachel Cusk’s new book, Transit, a novel title I love: what else is our lives but transitioning from one moment to another, so constant, perhaps, we’re hardly aware of the unbroken undulation and flux of our lives. Transit, transit. Going about my day, I murmur that word.

Around me, the natural world mirrors this movement: golden leaves shower from trees, the sunflowers have laid down and pressed their wide faces into the ground, the river is slate gray, cooling down and readying itself for the coming of ice.

I said it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief. It wasn’t, in other words, perfection that sustained them so much as the avoidance of certain realities.

– Rachel Cusk, Transit

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October, Woodbury, Vermont

Fear of the Dark

I wrote my novel Hidden View in bits and pieces, in notebooks, on a computer, in endless rewrites on the back of printed pages. I began this book during my daughter’s nap time, those golden hours when I could sit down and breathe creativity in the solitude writing demands. I wrote for no one but the novel itself: to write as well and truly as I could.

This book has joined the world. It’s out there, for the taking and reading. When I think about what made this book, I took what I had at hand: a ball of yarn, imaginary rabbits, Vermont’s exquisite and desolate winter, a house both a solace and a menace. But equally driving the book are three forces. One of these is mothering. Like the ceaseless gritty wind in a canyon, my children have formed and hewn me, in a multitude of ways I never could have imagined. My children are my anchor, the physical weight that has pinned me to this soil and forced me to know the world in an expanse I never could have imagined.

When my older daughter was a baby, my husband left the state for work, and the baby and I remained. On a 100 acres, our house is surrounded by woods. At that time, I was afraid of the dark. When the baby slept at night, I had to walk down to the unlit sugarhouse in the dark, by only the thin light of a flashlight and the stars overhead. Those months were late fall then, around this time of year, and the nights were cold. The rural dark in Vermont is so profound I have held my hand inches before my face and yet been blind to my own flesh. I forced myself to go out in the dark, because I knew every journey would lessen my fear. And I knew I could not mother this baby, in this house, in this agricultural life, if I feared the dark.

Of the dark, at least, I am no longer afraid.

The true self seeks release, not constraint. It doesn’t want to be corseted in a sonnet or made to learn a system of musical notations. It wants liberation, which is why very often it fastens on the novel, for the novel seems spacious, undefined, free.

–– Rachel Cusk

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Milkweed Seed/Morrisville, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.