the start of the school year

Around and around. It’s good to be at the beginning, again. I’m glad the earth goes around the sun and not in a straight line. I’m glad it doesn’t wobble, but tips on as it always does. And I’m glad that I am in the same place as I was last year, here to see another first day of school, here to see the pomegranates ripening again and the, in a couple months, the persimmons.

Reed started kindergarten last year, and now it’s Helen’s turn. I was at the kindergarten gate, again, and again the people around me were strangers, and all the kids but mine blurred together. Soon they won’t. Soon I will know if their parents drink coffee and what they like to eat. In time.

Let new things be new. I haven’t been around long enough to know a lot of things, but I know that.

adornment, style, what can’t contain us

August

This summer, visiting friends, we played a game describing our style in three words. It’s the sort of game we like, and it took me some time to name mine, but I did.

Yesterday we talked again, and my friend and I. And we caught up, she described a small dilemma she was having trying to decide whether to dye her hair. One hair style satisfied half of her style, one satisfied the other. I listened and gave my opinion, but the conversation stayed with me through the day. I had, without realizing it, been suffering a similar small dilemma.

I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels– one of the very best things I have read in a very long time. I remember something from one of the books- was it the first? the second?- when the protagonist talks about how her friend can’t be contained in one version of her life, of herself, how she will explode out of the limits of it like the copper pot exploded.

Sometimes it seems like we are all always spilling out of ourselves, unable to be contained in our expressions, even in something as mundane as the way we dress, the way we do our hair, the way we set our table. I like how I feel when I wear playful and simple old-fashioned prints. I like how I feel when I am in black. But I’m not the same, just like I’m not the same when I speak a different language, when I’m in a different place.

Or maybe that is just a part of being young- I don’t know, I’ve never been anything else. But I like to think that I will always confound myself. I like to think that if I never know quiet how I like to dress, it’s because there are other sides of me flaring up, catching the light.

**On the subject of dressing oneself, I just became acquainted with India Flint’s work, and am fascinated- Second Skin is high on my to-read list.

Night, Writing, Rebellion

August

The last couple nights I have been up, sometimes long past midnight. I have lay on the sofa, writing, reading, enjoying the dark. This is not normal for me. But I have given myself over to it, even just for this small stretch of days. The quiet of the night makes me feel what people feel who know it better. I wish I had a hundred days to stay up late. Or maybe a month. I wish I could sleep in until 8.

But, even though I don’t, as a rule, do well on too little sleep, there is an energy to creating. And in rebellion. Sitting on the sofa late, late into the night feels, today, like an act of both. A rebellion against what? The order and obligations of daytime? The restrictions of sleep? The part of me that says, “That’s enough reading for tonight”?

Maybe there are truly consistent people in the world; I’m not one. Today, the quiet house, twinkle lights, silence, and two-in-the-morning are magic. Next week I’ll find it at three in the afternoon. The next week it will be nowhere.

ninth anniversary, “there is warmth in its seal”

joy ride

When I saw how one of the Australian gum trees, the angophora, thrust out new branches, I saw how a marriage could work: a nub pushes out from a fork and as it grows into a branch (there are wide-branched trees) the bark of the tree’s trunk spreads smoothly over this rough, crude juncture so that it joins the other branches seamlessly, enhances the whole tree’s amplitude. The bark is purple, tan-pink-violet. There is warmth in its seal.  -Anne Truitt (via Brainpickings)

striving versus contentment

July

Today I worked on my book, whipped up a cheesecake with my daughter, read the New Yorker profile on Martha Nussbaum, and wondered if I need to run ninety minutes a day and sing opera for an hour and get botox and only eat the small slivers of cake to have a effectual voice in the world.

I think I missed the point.

When it comes to striving versus contentment, I am never sure where I stand. And I never know whether it’s better to travel or stay still. Contentment can be delicious, an awareness of all the good things that are already there. And it can also have this overarching hollowness, like nothing out there is worth the effort.  It’s the same with striving. It can be generous, too, knowing there are all these things out there if you can reach it. And it can be hallow inside.

I am overthinking it. Often. But what I want to say is: the best part of my week was this moment I sat down on the ground outside with a bowl of popcorn and my children ran around me. And what I love are the trays of tulsi grown in Styrofoam cups outside the Indian grocery and the women that stand behind the counter and pack curry leaves and smile at my daughter.

And I want it all. And it might be too much, but it’s what I am going to ask for, again and again. And again and again, I am going to remind myself to be faithful to both. To the big and the small. To sit down with a bowl of popcorn. To listen. To hone my craft. To clarify my voice.

starting summer

Back home!

Back home!

We were away long enough that everything was fresh, again. The colors delighted me (the tan of dry grass, the dark green of oak and pine) and so did the smells and the character of the air. The strawberries in the garden did not die from lack of water. I went to the market carried home fruits and brought home some more pots of herbs for the garden.

We’re settling into our summer routine, so simple and quiet during a week that in the wider world has been big and important and full of conversation. Right now, I’m mostly listening. After lunch, the sun at its hottest, Reed and Helen draw, Margot builds, I write. The Hobbit plays in the background. It is good to be home. It is good to see the rest of summer stretching easily out before us, full of time that belongs to no one and nothing but each other.

There are books to read, songs to hear, bushes of tomatoes ready to ripen. There are things to be said. The days are long. Summer is still just beginning.

A Note from Vacation

Summer in Wisconsin
There is the cheerful running back and forth, seeing this person and that, that fills most days. And I get to be a guest, over and over- fed, offered coffee. I fall asleep to the loose-banjo croak of the green frog and wake up to the sun on the lake; it’s not my own bed I look forward to, but my own kitchen. And it’s not for the things I eat. It’s for the turning a scoop from the tub of masa in to a stack of warm tortillas, the going to the market, bringing something home, and turning it into supper.

At the beginning of our stay, N. said he was a creator, only satisfied to be making something. And I said aren’t we all? But of course we aren’t. We talked about the other things people were, the non-creator things, but I don’t remember. I’m often wishing I had written something down.

For now Reed sits across from me working on his book (subject: Pokemon) while I work on mine, and I think one of the girls just woke up. It will be another good day. And tomorrow will be good, and the next day. We all need a break sometimes, especially a good long one. And then Adam will pick us up at the airport and ask if I am tired and if I want to get a pizza for dinner. And I will say no.

how we spend our days

Cucumbers at the table

Some days I have something to hold onto. People can ask what I did, and I can say, “We went to the beach!” “We went to the city!” and we can all be satisfied. Other days pass through with just pieces you try to catch: your daughter’s hand in yours walking to the store for cucumbers, a neighbor waving through the window, the Goodyear blimp, the failed waffles, the blender of mango lassi. Were we laughing at the table?

 

Today was one of those days, and the sort of day I have a hearty hunger for- tangled noodles, songs I can’t remember: the cadence of conversation, cherries at the table, cups of tea, laughter. Maybe that’s why we care about writing, those scraps that are always getting lost.

 

lizards everywhere

We found a lizard in Margot’s room, and now I see lizards everywhere. I always forget to shut the door.

I don’t notice the alligator lizards until they are right in front of me. Earlier this week, I did yoga outside and found myself nose to nose with one. He looked at me, and I looked at him. And then all at once, he slipped away. I couldn’t hear a thing.

In the house, they aren’t so quiet. After he escaped into the living room, I opened the back door, hid in the kitchen, and heard the trip trap of lizard feet on the wood floor. I think the lizard found his way home.

(But still, I nearly spill my coffee when I see the tassel of a rug in the shape of a tail.)

excellence

checking the olives

I have friends who read parenting books, which is fortunate, because I don’t. You would think that as a writer, I would remember that books (including parenting books) expand our experience. But I forget.

So it is fortunate that I have friends that don’t forget. Yesterday, one told me about a book on teaching children to read that talked about modeling excellence. It talked about this beyond reading, modeling excellence in setting the table. Complimenting excellence when things were done excellently. Etc.

This seemed like a great idea for at least two hours, until I tried it, and felt like a total ass.

Maybe it’s just this week, maybe I’m in a laissez-faire sort of mood (I am). But really, I don’t care in the least about excellence*. Not in myself. Not in my children. And I know this is a weakness, because I see those who value excellence and the things they are capable of. My husband values excellence. Thank goodness.

But I don’t. My children will have to learn about it from someone else, at least until I am more inclined to fight my nature. I think that’s okay.

This morning walking home from Reed’s school, we stopped and sat a while to watch a swarm of ants and let them crawl on our fingers. The sun was already hot. Maybe this mood will pass, and next week I will feel entirely different. But today I feel like there is enough excellence in the world. I think there is plenty.

 

*I do care about good habits, and will happily keep my closet neat if I am reminded that putting things back carefully folded is a tidy habit. But telling myself to have an excellent closet only ends in retaliation. I don’t know why little shifts in posture and language matter so much, but somehow they always do.