Post #105: “It’s a Poor Sort of Memory That Only Works Backwards.”

IMG_2801Dearest All,

It’s time.

Aw, but there are few things I’ve loved more than this!

When I began this project so many years and so many words ago, I was terrified that I’d run out of things to say, petering out like a gasless motorboat stuck in the middle of a lake. Instead, I think I’ve learned to paddle stealthily forward, sometimes stopping both to catch my breath and to enjoy the view. 

This blog is called Notes From The Room in My Head, of course in honor of Virginia Woolf’s  seminal A Room of One’s Own.  That book, and the fact that I’d found a large print edition of it, squirreled away on a back shelf at the public library,  was the subject of my very first blog post in August, 2014.  In this slim volume, Woolf says that to write a woman needs these absolutely essential things:  a small independent income and a quiet private space of one’s own. Moreover a woman needs time to create. I had none of these things.  And yet,

I am incredulous that somehow I consistently managed to squeeze things off the shelf to make the time to think and to write.

I’ve reveled in the experience of making myself a part of the world around me rather than floating unseeing above it all.

I am deeply moved to at last understand at last that there are connections to be made with so many who  take the time to reach out, to read, to offer. That a tentative step out the door is in fact a  brave and brassy renewable swoop of faith.

And oh dang, really and truly,  it’s been fun. And “fun,” said the inimitable Theodor S. Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, “is good.”

Was this a tiny bit of what the luminescent and brilliant Virginia Woolf was thinking all along, cajoling us,  enticing us, goading us all forward?

Over the course of this blog I’ve thought so often about time itself, how one can wrap time back upon itself through  memory, how to make it as malleable as softened marzipan, how to bend it to appreciate it’s differing shapes and changes of pace.

And now it’s time for a shift.

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” said Lewis Carroll.  In my memory going forward then, I have many more things to say, many more things to write.  There will be a bit of a break from the blog, although the writing redoubles. You will hold my work in your hands and I fervently hope, hold it it your minds and your hearts.  You’ll all hear from me again.

Until then, a toast to each and every one of you and a wish for much happiness. Here’s to the power of the written word, to the myriad  joys of reading and writing.  Back in touch soonest.

With thanks and appreciation, C

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Post #102: The Cottage Loaf

IMG_2658It was different this time.

Instead of the usual tumble of ingredients cascading from the cupboards,  sprays of spices gracefully arching from one end of the kitchen to the other,  a true crazy salad of culinary invention,  this was something else entirely.   It was simple baking, nothing more than flours, salt, yeast and water,  but like all things of great beauty, really wasn’t simple at all.

Sometime ago I came across a lovely piece from the marvelous Paper and Salt  (paperandsalt.org) blog, on Virginia Woolf and her immense pride and preoccupation with cookery and particularly the creation of what even in Woolf’s time would have been considered an unfashionable loaf of bread: The Cottage Loaf.  Bulbous,  unwieldy, awkward, Paper and Salt surmised the odd shape of this bread was created to save horizontal space in small ovens.  And yet, as Paper and Salt note, Virginia Woolf herself took immense pride in crafting this old fashioned, traditional English bread, readily leaving her writing to elbow her cook out of the way to knead, to mold, to shape.  Cooking, and especially bread baking, it seems gave Woolf a sense of calm and comfort.  Like so many others I adore her work.  I wanted that kind of comfort for her. But I also I wanted in some small way to experience it. 

I wondered about this. Writing I think is often an attempt to assuage a gnawing hunger. And yet, what happens when one writes?  There an avalanche of literarily thousands of words as you gingerly reach out into the torrent to hopefully capture a few precious pebbles to cup in your hands. Sometimes this is sheer terror.  But gather what you will, you then polish them, cherish them, and pile them carefully into sentences, wincing as you vaguely recall the rules of grammar and syntax.  You lash the trembling piles of your sentences together to move others, to to express the inexpressible.  To give pleasure.  To be memorable. To maybe, just maybe,  leave something of lasting value to the world. Especially for someone of of Virginia Woolf’s immense talent, the pressures to create must have been intensely magnified.

One wonders, does any writer truly feel that they’ve done it all right? That they wouldn’t change  a sentence, a word, a thought?  James Joyce famously continued corrections of  Ulysses throughout his life, to such an extent that to this day there is dissension about some of his true intentions.  One of the towering works of literature is essentially a work in progress.

But there are respites. For Virginia Woolf it was baking. Something that could be begun, worked methodically, and truly completed. This, as far as I’m concerned, is far more fun than housecleaning.  Unsurprisingly, I could find no records at all of Virginia Woolf pirouetting around her Bloomsbury abode with a mop and feather duster.

It was decided! For a precious afternoon then, I would slip on Virginia Woolf’s own apron to make her favorite bread.  And so I set out to make The Cottage Loaf.

Squinting hard at the recipe,  I began by carefully measuring and mixing, solemnly kneading and waiting and watching, reveling in what I hoped would be a meditative experience that left me serene and centered.

But I am who I am.  I typically bake and cook to jazz standards,  punching dough and stirring the contents of pots in time to the beat of Gene Krupa or the thrum of Django Reinhard. So after a bit I reverted to typical form, poufs of flour hovering around me like dust from the skids at the Indy 500, punching at the dough like a pint sized Joe Louis. Moreover, I have found that the results of my cooking and baking endeavors are enhanced with a nearby glass of chardonnay.

This may be why the resulting Cottage Loaf possesses a rather atypical slooped roof.

It didn’t matter.  While I did not channel Virginia Woolf in the slightest, in my own inefficiently efficient way I’d like to think that I felt some of her joy in completing a task, in creating something that if not perfect, was quite real.

Moreover, I think I understand why Virginia Woolf loved to bake.

I stared at the Cottage Loaf and for a moment or two I could not imaging cutting into it. But eventually I did, slowly dribbling honey on each slice, savoring the sweetness.

***

The inspiration for this post comes from the excellent paperandsalt.org literary cooking blog.  They’ve posted the Virginia Woolf Cottage Loaf recipe.  Do check them out via the link below.

Virginia Woolf: Cottage Loaf

Post #100: The Dance

maxresdefaultI never really expected to be here. But I am so very happy to have arrived.

Four years.
Every other week.
Upwards of 70,000 words.
One hundred posts.

But as I’ve staked my by-weekly Tuesday by Tuesday way through these writings, I’ve found that as I’ve moved forward, I’ve gained so much by looking back. By slowing down. By simply wondering. By just thinking deeply. In a way I feel as if I’ve regained parts of myself that I didn’t even know were lost. Moreover, I feel somehow that I am putting myself back together in ways that I still find a bit mystifying. But I’m grateful it’s happening.

Over the past week I did something that I probably should have done ages ago but didn’t: that is to simply read each blog post once again. Starting at the beginning all the way to now. After writing each post I’ve never before reread them as I’ve always been propelled by the next idea, eager as always to put fingers to the keyboard.

But I did finally reread them, feeling like an guest at my own party. But an honored guest, one who was just handed a flute of champagne, a dish of chocolates, a bowl of wild strawberries. This has been a pleasure.

There are as many reasons to write as there are writers. But I think all writers, whether good or pedestrian or exceptional (think Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen or M.F..K.Fisher or any of your own favorites) all are truly are linked by one extraordinary idea. That is, if one writes one is somehow joining in the conversation of thought, of ideas, of glorious words that stretch back over time and through time. If one writes it feels as if one is part of some magnificent ongoing relay race, each runner fervently doing his or her part, giving all in the hopes of handing the baton up to another to keep moving forward, all for the team.

It’s an honor, no matter how mediocre or how good one’s work is, to simply to try to add to that conversation. Then too, there is so often buoyant bliss, jubilant joy in just putting words on paper. The effort is worthwhile.

In reading over my own work I am struck by how supremely happy so many memories are and how grateful I am to have snared them. Each year becomes studded with wondrous, memorable days of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, successes. They are the ongoing treasured jewels of the crown of each year:

May 13, August 30, November 17, June 23, July 7, November 6, April 30, September 6, March 9, July 20, April 7, May 9, January 4, December 21, July 15

But what are the special days yet to come? What unforetold successes are there yet to be: marriages, births, anniversaries, celebrations? What children will be born, what happinesses yet to happen? How wonderful to think that they will all be there, embedded somewhere in those 365 days of the coming years.

Since we do not know this, which days to come will be hallowed and celebrated as we move forward, I propose then it makes sense to quietly celebrate them all. I like doing things in advance.

In other words, to my mind there is no such thing as a “regular” day. Or, if you choose to turn it inside out, regular days are celebratory days.

My mind turns once again to Matisse’s radiant The Dance. The women cavort in a never-ending circle. They dance with joyful abandon. But a space is open. A hand reaches out. Grasp it.

Come join The Dance. See you soon. And once again, thank you all for reading along with me.

 

Post #99: To Embrace Them Still

IMG_1504The path, from there to here, wends this way and that.  Full of curves and bumps, the road is often sticky, sometimes steep.  Undeterred by brambles, pertinacious,  tenacious, onward ever onward.  The trip has been occasionally wistful, more often memorably joyous.

So many selves, each left at a juncture as I leap across every stream! 

But I wonder, would I know them, those different selves,  if I met them all again?

I’d like to try.   So I turn and look back, just over my shoulder.

***

The Wading Pool, Summer 1962

The sun outside is flaming hot, the water in the round blue pool is icy cool.   Somewhere a barbecue hisses and sizzles. The grown up talk hums and buzzes in my ears.  The ladies’ dresses swish and brush at  the top of my head.  My mother lifts me away then gently puts me down in the water. “It’s not a bathtub,” she whispers, “this is is different. It’s a pool.”   The ladies are there with their Cherries in the Snow lipstick, with their pointy Cutex red fingernails. with the voluminous skirts of their summer dresses ballooning over me like so many parachutes.  So fancy.  I so want to do the right thing. So very delicately I place my hands flat, over — but not in — the water. This has to be the right thing to do.

***

Playground, Francis Scott Key Elementary, 1967

Arms thrust into jackets, feet crammed into boots, hats askew on heads, the bell brrrrrriiiinnngs and we burst through the door like a churning river busting open a dam! The air is crisp and sharp and we puff out our breaths pretending we are smoking Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls.  Some run to the monkey bars, others to the swings. But the best place is the hardtop, smooth and glistening, a sheer, slippery sheen of ice.  We run as fast as we can and slide to the end, balancing on our buckled rubber boots, over and over.  But then, suddenly, my toe is caught and I am  upended.  I wake flattened on the ice, a lump forming on the back of my head.  I am dizzy and it hurts so much. Two of my classmates help me into the nurse’s office.  I am curtly told to lie down.   But when the nurse’s back is turned I jump up and weave away, back down the hallway back to the blacktop.  “Stop, stop, stop! I am crying at everyone. “Please stop before you get hurt too!”  But they won’t!   They don’t!

***

The Little Gym Stage, Cranbrook, 1974

If truth be told I was far more suited to lashing scenery together, deftly whipping the ropes to hold the flats upright, than actually stepping out on stage.  But oh, “the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd!”  With the dawn of Spring, I was, we all were, swept overboard by our longed for performances of  HMS Pinafore, me as one of the multitude of  pasteled and bonneted chorus girls.  But on opening night, instead of the required mild quaver in response to “Hark! Stay your hand! She loves you!”  I wrapped my entire body around my sailor partner in a very non-19th century mode of terror. The audience loved it.  My director, however,  did not. 

***

Domino’s Pizza, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981

This is how it worked. Phones ring, orders taken, tiny shreds of paper pushed down the line.  The dough tossed casually in the air, caught and stretched onto a tray.  Sauced by one and cheesed by another, then shoved over to me, the Toppings Queen.  Mushrooms, onions, peppers, sprayed like confetti from my hands.  Pepperoni dealt like blackjack. Sausage is the worst, so sticky that I have to dunk my hands in the olives to be able to fling bits onto the pies.  The pizza is then shoved into the patented, conveyer belt oven to be out in precisely twelve minutes, then boxed and thrust into the hands of the delivery boy who then has to drive like combination of Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt to have the door to door delivery done within the requisite thirty minutes.   The clatter and the tumult all night long, hour after hour pie after pie.  Until finally closing time, 2:00 am.   Floured, sauced and redolent of raw sausage,  I step out into the empty parking lot.  The velvet sky is flung full of stars.  And I am all alone.

***

Park and 78th Street, 1993

Having punched and feinted my way down to this trim fighting weight, glorying in the fact that at last my closet is arrayed only with stylish clothes that fit, rather than dreamed for outfits that were simply yearned for,  I am certain I can manage this new challenge with aplomb. We sit together in the waiting room, glowing with the knowledge that we belong here.  The low tables are strewn with magazines, each  one more baffling and humbling than the next:  American Baby, Today’s Parent,  Natural Mother. as well as several rumpled copies of What to Expect When You Are Expecting.  I nervously pick up a magazine and riffle the pages and open to  photo of an absurdly tranquil mother double breastfeeding.  I blanch.

When I am called in to the office my practitioner performs a routine sonogram all the while keeping up his usual stand up comedy routine (he’s really quite good).  “Remember,” he says grinning widely,  “if it’s a boy you have to name him Austin after me!”  He stares casually at the screen but then suddenly stops and squints hard. His practiced patter fades away.  His mouth hardens to a line.  Firmly he presses a button and quietly asks the nurse to get my husband.

When I ask what’s wrong, something must be wrong, would he please tell me what’s wrong he doesn’t answer.  Instead, when my husband comes into the room he simply points at the screen.  And to my husband he asks, “What do you see?”  On the blurry screen, my husband points to a trembling bubble.  And then another.

“Exactly,” said my practitioner.  And if they boys you should name them both Austin.

***

Palmer Avenue, 2005

He is the idea man and of course this was his idea too.  Once a week, every week he forgoes he happy chaos of the lunchroom, denies himself the ebullient tornado of recess where he is usually the eye of the storm.  Signed out at the office, we proceed to Balducci’s where he will choose an absurd array of sushi or thickly layered sandwiches wrapped carefully in butcher paper.  He’ll find a cupcake for dessert and always snag a caramel-filled chocolate bar to save for later.

The third of three sons, he is sometimes referred to wryly as “the happy child of benevolent neglect.” But in fact he is, and has always been the man in charge of all.  Somehow he knows how I miss his brothers, relegated as they are to the rigors middle school.   We sit and eat our lunch together in the backseat of the car, the engine running so we can play Tom and Jerry or Rugrats cartoons on the tiny video screen.  I always hate to send him back to school. But I always do.

***

Who are they exactly, these sometimes quirky, often befuddled, flawed but generally well-meaning souls?  Did I leave them all behind or did any of them cling to me  for the march ever forward? All of these earlier selves are both so achingly familiar and yet curiously distant. But even so, no matter what,  my arms reach out to each of them, my former selves,  in kindness, to warm them, to embrace them still and bring them with me as we move forward. 

Post #98: Delicious Joy

IMG_2387The plan, if there was such a thing, was simple. Escape.

The indoors, usually as snug and comforting as old sweater, tonight felt tight and close, even constricting. Really it made me squirm. But to venture directly out into the darkness? I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I never do. I am always afraid. And yet tonight somehow I jam my feet into my sneakers, tie them tightly, and shut the door tightly behind me.

I am doing this.

It being nighttime I expect murky blackness but instead find myself surrounded by a warm dark brownish glow, a darkness which has a sparkly, an almost shimmery quality that seems to catch reflected light and hold it tentatively aloft. In the distance I can hear the muscular hum of the highway traffic cutting through the air. Peering over the railing I can see them, the cars racing like fierce, double-eyed dragons on the attack. I love seeing them cutting, slicing through the night air!

And so I walk onward. I know my legs are stiff, i know my pace awkward. But I manage. I am not used to this. The sidewalks beneath my feet feel blocky and uneven, massed stones immobile and frozen in concrete, lain square to square. Shyly, I still avoid the cracks.

The nighttime houses are neatly buttoned up, lights glowing from within. Some are stacked like layer cakes, the attic windows warmly lit as birthday candles on top the fondant. Others are neatly wrapped packages, cared for and caressed. I stop for just a moment to smell the roses, embraced by the darkness, pink and roundly ripe. One furtive sniff and I am undone. but a glance at the the hedges as they stand crisp and erect, bordered by proud purple iris dancing tremblingly in the darkness restores me.

My flashlight bobs insinuatingly like a flickering, glinting lantern, I am a modern-day watchman, keeper of the nighttime safety. At least that is how I’d like to think of myself. So when the scent shocks and envelops me, a combination of hydrangeas reaching toward the sky and s’mores cooling from the grills, I nearly swoon.

But I righten myself. Out here there is no one to question me. No one to bother me. No one to make fun of me. I can be foolish or bold it doesn’t matter. There is a delicious joy in for once no one knowing exactly where I am, what I am thinking, what I am doing.

Hedges loom. Trees lurk.

And yet? This is impractical walking. Why walk with no real purpose? Why walk when no one knows precisely where I am ? Simply because the world is full of secrets and full of pleasures to know. I can be a part of it.

After an hour my legs are loosened, my steps l   lengthening, my mind relaxing. I can remember. I can think. Out here in the world. A nighttime walk.

I am, just for a moment, suffused with sensation.

It is enough. And now at last, I am home.

Post #97: Early Morning 5 AM

IMG_2261“There is no need for a faraway fairyland for the earth is a mystery before us.”
—William T. Davis

Viewing time: 5 am to 6 am

Early morning. Tousled rumpled crinkled. I slide out of bed and make my way downstairs to the window., sure footed as a mountain goat descending the peaks. Once there, I press my nose to the glass as anticipatory as a six year old at a candy counter. I am ready.

The show is about to begin!

The birds startle into their chorus, trills pinging through the air, bubbling, riffling through the breeze as they themselves play hide and seek in the darkness. I can’t see them at all. Then a pause and a few stray notes float alone fading as a mote drifting to grass.

As always I’m drawn to the trees, flattened almost black against the muted sky as cutouts in a wordless pantomime. In the distance they are smudged, charcoaled. Their arms seem to reach and flail at the sky clawing, scraping sometimes caressing the very air that surrounds them. Soundless, I know that below their roots are reaching out longingly. For comfort? For solace? Their branches above ground shudder exposed in the wind. I feel an inner chill for them. I do worry. And I do care.

Do the trees somehow call to each other? In some odd way do they watch us as we watch them? How absurd! Except a small part of me still wonders. And in this place of deep quiet, the mystical, the magical seem somehow in place.

I sit quietly, patiently, for once no fidgeting. I watch as closely as I can, hardly moving, because watching for the dawn, incremental moment by moment is like watching a cake bake, a flower open, a child grow. It keeps happening but you can’t see it. But I so want to see it, to keep my eyes wide open and be present.

I think, I feel, I truly wish that in that elusive sliver of time between night and day that maybe this is a place where souls reside, a place of peace where all who lived and loved are whole and safe. Restored and loved.

But I blink. It has happened. But no matter. As the light of the sun warms the world, the trees, once stiff in the blackness, seem to stretch and gleam, the leaves almost quivering to reach out to the warmth. Each leaf covered limb seems enrobed and enobled as a queen in her coronation robes. It’s morning.

I yearn to touch everything, to run my hand over the nubbly bushes, the smooth leaves, the gnarled trunks. Make it mine. If I close my eyes, I can make my fingers tingle with the memory.

Today the sky is blunted and matte, restful, never dull. Behind even the thickest cloud cover, the most violent storm it seems remarkable to remember that always always the sun is behind it all, each and every day. No matter what. Hidden but still powerful. Hidden but still warm. Hidden but still restorative.

Now a stretch. Now a coffee. Now the day begins.

 

Post #96: A Gallimaufry of Wonders

IMG_2105

If, during the raucous pelter of the day it all gets to be just a bit too too much, there is always a ready respite. Just for a moment, not more than that, I close my eyes. The thoughts come tentatively at first, curling like wisps of steam from a cup of Russian Caravan. Then bit by bit memories begin first to blend and then to break free, my thoughts expanding like a balloon being plumped full of air.

Ah! For a few precious moments I am transported to that joyous jumble. Shoes off at the door, toes curling with pleasure, in my mind I am home!
THE LIVING ROOM

On the mantel, four memorable baseballs, three mementos of dearly beloved cats, two crystal Hershey’s kisses, and one magnificent and eminently playable, Trumpet Call Harmonica. An over large bellboy teapot, a Lester Lanin cap, a Bibendum ashtray (never used). A Waterford crystal vase, artfully filled with Blackwing pencil nibs.

On the coffee table, a game of Clue, in perpetual play!

Yes, there must be a couch, of course there are chairs. I believe there are lamps as well. And when I squinch my eyes tight and concentrate, I’m sure there are a few tables and I’m guessing some curtains as well. No matter!

Because of course, as always, I’m drawn to the books on the shelves like a tenacious ant to a drop of honey on the kitchen counter. English Country House Murders next to Idioms Delight. The Physiology of Taste sidling up to The Ethics of the Sages. Dandelion Wine elbowing for space on a shelf with Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Plotted, Northern Farm, Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Dessert Book all in a temerarious tumble!

To order them would be an affront. There are hidden mysteries, notes, photographs, perhaps the stray two dollar bill, amongst them, slipped surreptitiously between the pages. But which ones? Where? When? The game’s afoot!

The books make this a room for truly living. The living room.

DINING ROOM

Mounds of risottos, sides of salmon, pots of chili!

Meatloafs bricked together with smashed, mashed potatoes, studded with peas of the brightest green.

The occasional briefcase full of White Castle Burgers, a pepper and onion pizza pie, a tub of mint chip, a dish of vanilla, a cone of fudge ripple.

And yet…

While the music of memorable meals past plays upon my tongue, my fingers still reach out. In the corner by the big chair is my violin, my mandolin, my ukulele, my box of harmonicas, my sliding whistle, my finger piano, my kazoo. I’m Beginning to See the Light, How High the Moon? You Made Me Love You, Peg O’My Heart, Ain’t Misbehavin’ , In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.

The cacophonous, slightly out of key intermezzos to every cooking exploit.

THE KITCHEN

A cupboard creaks open. Next to the stacks of chipped Wedgwood Wild Roses, in front of the teetering towers of teacups, are three small, well used bubble wands. Peek behind a curtain to find Lowly Worm in his Applemoble. In the tea cabinet, a tiny Cracker Jack sailor whistle guards the boxes of Camomile, Earl Grey, and Lemon Lift. Look carefully in one more and find poised between the jars of peanut butter and jelly, a slightly globby, clearly handmade miniature sculpture of a unmistakably oversized orange cat, the whiskers drawn with the proud and unsteady hand of a very small child.
Tiny treasures, placed by me. But no surprise that they surprise and please me each and every time I see them.

THE LOUNGE

Feet up, flat out , completely flopped.

THE PORCH

In the dark the sparkly lights are switched on, outside the stars glint in the night sky. And the music plays. Honky Tonk Piano to Hayden, Fats Waller to the Four Seasons, Bille, Ella, Lena, Sarah. Sousa Marches Frank Sinatra. Barbershop Quartets. The Boswells Sisters. Knit to the rhythm. Jigsaw puzzle to the beat.

***

Too soon, it’s time to leave. Back to work, back to the day at hand. The movie reel trip home has to come to an end.

But I’ve done it. I’ve traveled through my house once again viewing what is surely a gallimaufry of wonders filled to the brim like the cache of nonpareil tiny toys at the dentist.

A  bit more time, and I really will be home for dinner for real!

IMG_2104