And A High Today of -10º

We’re surrounded by cold. Two days of school this week. The air cuts.

The cats have wholly given themselves over to this season, indolently lying on blankets, nestled in cardboard boxes and the laundry basket, wrapped in each other, luxurious in their fur and the warm house.

At ease. Peaceful. Marvelously content, sweet little beings.

Meanwhile, I read Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions.

We need to stop telling the story about the woman who stayed home, passive and dependent, waiting for her man. She wasn’t sitting around waiting. She was busy. She still is.

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October, Vermont

This has been a terrible week in Vermont news, involving brutal violence against young women, their mothers, and their children. I don’t usually write about violence and domesticity, for a very raw reason: I am one of those women who called the state police into her home, not once, not twice, but seven times in a period of days. But my life – and my daughters’ lives – did not end in bloodshed. Last night, I said goodnight to my daughters as they spoke to each other while lying in their beds, with their doors open across the hall. We live in a house where a Christmas cactus blooms profusely.

While I struggle with the usual junk – a too sparse income, a book I’m trying to sell – I consider myself unbelievably lucky. At certain junctures, our lives could literally diverge either one way or another, and sometimes those places may span out lengthily, over days or weeks, or sometimes nothing more than seconds: the driver that swerved and did not hit the child, the plane missed by moments that later fell from the sky.

Those intangibles, in so many ways, drive our lives: I remind myself, over and over, that it matters whether I see the world with bitterness or with gratitude. As my brother once impressed on me, there are things that cannot be undone. Violence is one of those things. In my life, the sage kindness of strangers pushed my life away from an abyss. That’s a debt I owe to the world, and I debt I intend to repay in largesse, one way or another, to a world that is sometimes beneficent and sometimes unimaginably brutal.

Most people are afraid of the dark. Literally when it comes to children, while many adults fear, above all, the darkness that is the unknown, the unseeable, the obscure. And yet the night in which distinctions and definitions cannot be readily made is the same night in which love is made, in which things merge, change, become enchanted, aroused, impregnated, possessed, released, renewed.

– Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things To Me

Launching, Laughing (and Learning)

Stronger than espresso, spring roars into Vermont this Sunday afternoon.

Busy, busy, those singing robins building their nests. Busy me, emptying ash buckets and raising mud-soaked pallets from a wood pile burned to cinders back in January.

But it’s the kids who are most fiercely passionate about their work: it’s the opening of the Trampoline Season, requiring a search under the basement stairs for a missing spring, socks with gripping marks dug from a drawer, a stepladder precariously sunk in a snowbank as a launching pad for jumping.

The kids intend to grow six inches taller this year. They have work to do. And they are out there, doing what needs to be done in the realm of childhood. Finally: spring is on board with their plans.

Here’s a few lines from my late-night reading:

Questions about happiness generally assume that we know what a happy life looks like. Happiness is often described as the result of having a great many ducks in a row – spouse, offspring, private property, erotic experiences – even though a millisecond of reflection will bring to mind countless people who have all those things and are still miserable.

– Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

 

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A Sharp-Edged Sword

In my novel, I’ve taken a line from my daughter and woven it into a teenager’s dialogue: “What the flip?” the adolescent says, over and over, a tepid variation of an obscenity. At a tense junction, the girl uses obscenities, hammering her dialogue like a weapon.

In our house, we have a phrase that language can be both tool and weapon. To my great satisfaction and joy, I’ve honed my literary skills as tools of beauty and hopefully some measure of illumination – but I’ve also witnessed myself parsing writing in the sharpest and most cutting of ways, with keen intent. Truth is, I can use language as either, but striking out has never brought me any pride.

On this eve of this election, may what musters as democracy in our country emerge as tool, and lessen our divisions.

People rescue each other. They build shelters and community kitchens and ways to deal with lost children and eventually rebuild one way or another.

 

– Rebecca Solnit

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Revision, Again and Again – Or, Happiness

One of my first introductions to my daughter’s elementary school was the all-school hike, all 51 kids on an extended walk through the woods behind the 100-year-old schoolhouse. Of all the school activities, this is one of my very favorite, a relaxed easy hike through a lovely woods. On the way, I had a conversation with another adult about that same theme I keep circling back to, over and over: happiness. Even so many years ago, as an undergraduate, that theme of pleasure versus happiness wound all through my philosophy classes, my writing, and my own life. Here again: present as a handful of soil in my hand.

Pleasure may lie in a well-brewed cup of espresso. But happiness…. what holds the whole of a contented life? All my life I’ve had a dislike of stasis, of suburban dullness, of a two-dimensional life, and I’ve never lived that kind of life. Deep into motherhood, though, I seesaw between feeding the wild dragon of creativity and struggling to keep an even modicum of domesticity. Here’s one line from that conversation: Allow yourself to think differently. Or, as a former grad school teacher insisted, You must revise your life.

When I was an elementary school student like my own daughter now, I believed revise was a punishment, a word written in red pen across my book report. Now, revision in my own work is a near-daily activity. Revise, re-envision, recreate: weave writing practices into life, spread the domestic cloth wider.

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

– Rebecca Solnit

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my kitchen window, September

 

 

Hope Springs

Some unexpected events in our thawing patch of Vermont:

  • dinner guests of chatting children eating grilled eggplant and chicken wings, with gusto
  • exquisitely beautiful poems read at the Galaxy Bookshop last night – and adult companionship, too
  • clouds of frog eggs, knots of trillium blossoms, profuse sunshine and clothes drying on the line
  • a rotten tooth mended

But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles – not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don’t know.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

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Brattleboro, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.