Speaking Book from Literary Mama

IMG_0353I’m pleased to share this essay, just published in LITERARY MAMA

Speaking Book

http://www.literarymama.com/

***

Even though there isn’t a shred of Nordic ancestry in my DNA, this past year I utterly embraced the idea of Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of giving books in the yuletide season. The fact that I am Jewish and do not even celebrate Christmas was utterly irrelevant. This was not simply an efficient solution to holiday gift giving. For weeks I agonized about my choices, eventually settling on titles as diverse as Alexandra Horowitz’s incisive On Looking (for my niece) to Annie Dillard’s luminous Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (for two of my sons). For me the rules of Jolabokaflod giving were straightforward but rigorous: I had to have read the book I was giving, and I had to do my utmost to match the book to the recipient. There was nothing haphazard about my choices. In other words, I was matching the books I loved to the people I loved.

For me I realized, Jolabokaflod was an extension of a language I had been speaking with both passion and conviction my whole life. Jolabokaflod is about speaking book.

Absurdly, although we live in the age of split-second communications, actually communicating—that is, making our deepest feelings known and understood—is still one of the most daunting and seemingly insurmountable tasks each of us faces throughout our lives. Many of us are simply too short on time, or too shy, or too tongue-tied to reach out to each other. In a sense then, speaking bookthe act of giving books or suggesting books to those we care for, is something of a compressed, but explosively powerful, shorthand for connection. Speaking book bridges spaces between people. It can be an act of courage to suggest or give a beloved book, the fragile offer of a peek into one’s own interior life. Sharing books is also a way of sending people to a place you cannot necessarily go yourself, with faith in their ability to get there. Sometimes giving a book is a badge of honor, showing pride in what someone aspires to be, occasionally before they even know those aspirations themselves.

I became fluent in speaking book because, although I didn’t realize it at the time, book was spoken to me from the very beginning. Neither of my parents are obvious and obsessive readers. In retrospect, how could they have been? My father, one of the finest optometrists in the state of Michigan, worked incredibly long hours, including weekends. My mother was home with my two sisters and me, assorted dogs, Sisyphean mountains of laundry, constant cooking, and the continuous stream of ever-present anxieties and miniseries-worthy dramas. Her at-home workdays were bereft of bookends—in other words, never-ending.

And yet, my mother made sure my sisters and I were wielding library cards with the slashing exuberance of Zorro as soon as we could scratch out our signatures with those big red jumbo pencils. But this wasn’t enough. My parents were adamant that there would be books—real, honest-to-goodness, important books—in our own home. With metronomic regularity, Book of the Month Club began depositing everything from Plato’s Republic to The Sun Also Rises on our doorstep, ponderous, slipcovered volumes that bricked themselves stolidly into the shelves with the immobile and straight-backed sobriety of the Queen’s Guard. While these were showplace books, meant for adornment, their very presence in our house meant that books mattered.

But if the Book of the Month Club books were impressively untouchable, the World Book Encyclopedias were invitingly grabbable. Pulling volumes out at random, boldly riffling the pages like a Vegas blackjack dealer, I would lie by the radiator sinking down into the words and burying myself in a sparkling melange of weirdly disparate ideas. How wrenching that Beethoven was completely deaf and couldn’t even hear his ninth symphony performed, nor listen to the rapturous applause! If the Egyptians mummified their pets, it meant that they adored them, right? How on earth did Nellie Bly pack her tiny handbag for an 80-day trip around the world? My parents never kept track of what I was reading. No one ever quizzed me on what I’d learned or what I knew. My parents just made sure the World Books were there and that I was left alone to read them whenever and however I liked. Speaking book in this case sent the very clear message that not only was the world—via the World Book—at my fingertips, but I was in control. Ideas gamboled and fizzed together in my head like bubbles in a flute of champagne. Books and I had a conversation, a friendship, a relationship. And that relationship was a fine and private thing.

Or, at any rate, mostly private. Each Sunday morning with hardly a word or a sound my mother and I would slip out of the house together. We’d slide into the cavernous Delta 88 and glide down the tree-lined streets with the majesty of the QE2. Above us a cathedral of elms linked their arms together in verdant welcome, arching over the car, the light tipping tenderly in and out of the shadows, Sainte-Chapelle itself on the streets of suburban Detroit.

I thought the plan was always to be the first customers to get the bagels while they were hot enough to steam up the glass bins or to fuss about whether we’d get the round flaky onion rolls or the square New Yorkers. That was part of it. But always my mother dug to the bottom of her purse, came up with a handful of quarters, and then let me pick out a crisp and thick copy of the Sunday New York Times from the middle of the pile. Later, she’d silently note which books I’d notched in the “Book Review” section. And somehow, without my saying a word, I’d find copies of whatever books I’d been dreaming about waiting for me on the edge of my bed. She knew.

I think my mother spoke book to me because she couldn’t bear it otherwise. I thought she didn’t know that I never had anyone to sit with at lunch. I thought she didn’t know that I never had anyone to play with at recess, that every day I endlessly circled the perimeter of the playground tensely waiting for it all to be over. I couldn’t seem to talk about whatever everyone else was talking about nor did I care about what everyone else cared about. I was the way I was, small and plump and bookish, hunched with a nearsighted squint that often looked like a grimace.

Once, feathered-haired and blue eye-shadowed at Matthew Fuller’s backyard Bar Mitzvah party, I bravely shuffled through the grass in overlarge high heels to a tight group of chattering girls. I hovered on the edges for a moment, straining to catch the rhythm of their high pitched chirping. But then almost as one they noticed me. Almost as one they looked me up and down. No one smiled. Then with a synchronous click of their tongues, they turned and streamed away from me, wrinkling their noses as if I were a glass of curdled milk. My mother, also a guest at the party, watched helpless from the window. She never said a word. But later she gave me the longed for Life Goes to the Movies. My mother couldn’t live in my shoes, she couldn’t fight my battles. But she could give me books to soothe me, books to provide escape routes. And she did.

In this way then, the densely packed floor of my room, the desk, the chair, the bed, became a topographic map of the world, with veritable mountains of books stacked as high as I could reach, the piles teetering with the elegant precision of a Calder stabile. Slender, barely passable walking paths twisted from bed to door. I needed to have the books as close to me as possible for comfort. It was as if each title were an opportunity to lay claim to the world itself; I was Magellan of the suburbs, Vasco da Gama of junior high. I too was an explorer, albeit of ideas. Harriet the Spy taught me independence; From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler gave me a sense of adventure; The Wind in the Willows led me down a well of unending wonder. Every book my mother shared with me was a pathway, a safety net, a balm. My mother, her own childhood books wrested from her for younger relatives, possessively embraced the piles of art books stashed in her downstairs studio in exactly the same way.

Soon, I took a summer job at iBrowse Books, a place I loved so much that I’d routinely show up early and only grudgingly pull myself away to go home at night. I spoke book with agonizing abandon here. I wanted desperately to match exactly the right book to the right person at the right time. Every time. Somehow I thought if I could get each person the book they needed, it would save them. Their lives would be different, better. As for me, with my discount I took home everything from Anaïs Nin to Norman Rockwell, but I rarely took home a full paycheck.

By the time I was in college I’d managed to bend my art history honors thesis to speaking book as well, solemnly focusing on the Philipp Otto Runge-obsessed author/illustrator Maurice Sendak. There was an overall plan here: to catapult myself from the Midwest to Manhattan and into the world of book publishing. My parents were frightened for me, particularly my stoic and laconic father. He silently handed me a copy of James Stevenson’s I Meant to Tell You.

I wanted to go into book publishing to enter a world where I was sure everyone spoke the same language I did. In actuality, the coffee was sludgy, the pay was abysmal, we Xeroxed for hours on end. But I was there to see the aged and frail Alfred A. Knopf, still elegantly mustachioed, reverentially escorted to his corner office one last time. I was welcomed, as all new Random House hires were, by Donald Klopfer, who told us how he and Bennett Cerf stressed the equality of their partnership and always worked with their desks pushed together. And as I had dreamed, there was no Tower of Babel in book publishing. Everyone just fervently, passionately spoke book. For all of us bibliophagists, book wasn’t just a language, but actual currency as we bartered for what we wanted from the different publishing houses.

About this time I found myself utterly captivated by a tall, handsomely bespeckled and sleekly suited attorney who’d been my seat partner at a haphazard tossed salad of a dinner party. Although his attention was clearly diverted to the blond on my right, I doggedly refused to concede defeat. When I overheard him mention that he was about to depart for a trip to London and Paris, I knew there was no time to waste. The next day I messengered him a copy of Patricia Wells’s superb The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. Thus baited, he phoned, and we made a plan to meet when he came back to New York. We returned to Paris on our honeymoon and have been happily married for almost thirty years. I could tell from the beginning: he spoke book.

Of course, book was the first language our children ever heard. I read to them as they stared wide-eyed at me, papoosed into their blankets; I read to them as they scooted across the floor; I read to them as they spun crazily around and around in their identical spinny disks. They listened to me read Shakespeare and James Howe, Agatha Christie and Jack Prelutsky, A. A. Milne and M. F. K. Fisher. They used books for building blocks and chose books from the shelves to cuddle for comfort. When they became enthralled by the moon outside our window, I plucked The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System from the shelves and put it in their arms. The funny thing is, when I think back on it, none of my boys ever really learned to read. They just read early and always, joyfully and perfectly from the very beginning. Books were their true language. Everything I couldn’t quite say, everything I felt, was compressed between the words of the books we shared.

As their love of the world and of science grew, they gathered the DK pocket books—Sharks to SkeletonsAircraft to VolcanosInsects to Fossils—swapping them, caressing them, brandishing them proudly. Finally they insisted on carrying their beloved books to the playground at preschool, certain that everyone else spoke book too. They were wrong about that of course. From the parking lot I watched them scurry with their books to the land of swings and slides and monkey bars. No one stopped. No one came over. My boys stood alone and confused, clutching their precious books in their hands.

What had I done?

I had done the best I could, speaking the language I was most comfortable speaking, a language they seemed to understand intuitively. Had I done them a terrible disservice, though?

I don’t think so. With each book I shared with them over the years, each time we said yes to a book they craved, it was an affirmation of their choice, their aspirations, their sense of self. Speaking book was validating their ability to add to the conversation of the world. Each book was a toehold on their way to finding their own true, comfortable place. I had to believe that for them, as for me, books would be the path that would some day bring them to the places they were meant to be.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” the much-loved Mary Oliver asks in “The Summer Day.” After much thought, I realize with a start that I’m actually doing it. I have spoken book my whole life. All these years later, I find that I am still speaking book through Jolabokaflod. I wonder if recommending titles we adore is actually transforming authors into the Cyranos of our lives, conveying the intense emotion that is often too complex for us to express to those we care so deeply for. Through the sharing of books I have tentatively sent tendrils of connection into the world, tiny wisps of love and of thought that gather like steam from a kettle and yet do not dissipate, but are somehow grasped and savored. That’s not simply wild and precious but frankly, miraculous.


 

 

 

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

Post #103: The Riot of Roots

IMG_2690The air is so heavy, so moist I almost feel as if I could grab great fistfuls of it all, smash it together,  and fling them as summer snowballs.

It has been raining, incessantly it seems, but today, miraculously it is not. In truth, I don’t want to go outside but the fact that it’s actually dry is more than little guilt inducing. So I sidle onto the front porch, tentatively blinking into the sunlight like a mole who has just emerged from her subterranean warren.  The heat around me bears down like a heavy woolen blanket and I am absorbing the feeling of flame, my skin almost crackling, sweat beginning to drip like pan juices.

From high up on the porch I can look down on the cars below, their metallic shells gleaming in the harsh sunlight like the brilliantly colored backs of the jewel beetles, suburban scarabs.

The walkway curves in front of me, but I’m dragging, I’m dawdling.  Oh  go, just go for a bit!  And so I do, sluggishly shucking off my lethargy and dipping into the afternoon.

My feet slap awkwardly at the pavement a bass thrum counterpoint to the soft muted blue of the sky.  The grass is uncombed and unruly, having grown bold and swaggering after weeks of rain.  Weeds sprout with insolent abandon, bullying the surrounding flowers. There is no one on the streets, save myself, and even the cars scoot by furtively as if ashamed to be out in this heat.

And yet, the houses look cool, calm, collected. These are proud little city houses, each perched on  tiny intricately formed postage stamp plots, buildings that sprout in proper formation like the petals of a bachelor’s button, their stubby front yards bearded with hedges trimmed so tight and so crisp that I swear you could bounce a quarter off the tops.

The trees that anchor the sidewalks appear isolated,  standoffishly separate. But I know that’s not true. I know they are all linked by an unseen riot of roots reaching deep to the center of the earth, stretching always towards each other, clinging to the soil.

I think about this for a moment because it’s that linkage that I am yearning for this afternoon,  that linkage that I crave.

***

We stumble through our days, all of us so busily patterned, the lines of our anxious movements separately mapped like the intricate tunnels of an ant farm.  The lonely paths seem so separate,  a crisscross such a bitter rarity.

For all of you who are so very far away, I wonder what your days are like, do we sometimes wake at the very same instant, choose the exact same sandwich for lunch, laugh at the same absurd joke, dream the same dreams?

I wonder.

Forget cell phones and texts dinging at us all for just a moment or two.  I love that too, it’s fun and a bit titilating and you bet I love it as much as everyone else does. 

But there is something even better.

Once, a very long time ago, someone I loved very much was very far away.  We made a plan.  Separated by miles and oceans and time zones nonetheless we would think of each other at the very same moment.  Eyes tightly shut, hearts reaching out, a connection that crackled.   It happened, it can happen again and again.

Because of course, below the surface, roots run deep, steadying the trees to grow strong and upright,  but always as well reaching out towards each other, for each other.  Deeply connected. Beyond time and place.

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 #101: Three Walks

IMG_2564That’s that! I’ve had enough. And without another thought, without a look back I am on my way, shoelaces trailing, hair streaming,  papers flying.   Loose ends follow me all the way to the door, cajoling, wheedling, yanking me back.  But I pull past and with a sharp snap the door shuts behind me.

So simple! Move from one place to another. One foot in front of the other. Repeat and repeat and repeat.  It is the most practical thing in the world. But today I don’t feel in the least bit practical.

A Noticing Walk

I am moving, my feet going and going on the sidewalk,  a conveyer belt to the whole neighborhood.   

To my left, tough gnarled old trees are crammed into plots barely bigger than a breadbox, squeezed into their spaces like a fat lady’s foot in a too tight shoe.  The trunks writhe and twist, their branches reaching up to the sky to sway to some etherial sound, undulating to unheard music, perhaps a concert played by God Himself.

My stride lengthens. 

To my right, the houses are tucked in tight, neat and tidy, like a riffled shuffled deck of cards. A hedgerow stands shoulder to shoulder, in tight verdant formation. A few steps on a fence tightly buckles in a yard, unable to contain the voluminous hydrangeas spilling over the buckle of the gate.  Just beyond, spied through a tangle of branches, a tiny hidden playhouse, complete with miniature yellow Adirondack chairs,  a perfect replica of the big house just beyond.

An untrimmed hedge, tendrils shyly reaching out as if for comfort.  Gaudy necklaces of flowers ring the gardens. A few pugnacious weeds elbow their way through the cracks in the pavement.

Then a break through the hedge and I am at the shore.  The world seems somehow wider, so expansive that my vision cannot take it all in.  In front of me is a carpet of water, the sky layered above, clouds littered carelessly on top.  Gradations of Rothko blue.

A gust and the clouds gambol through the sky.   I am once again on my feet. With the whoosh of wind,  I am remembering.

A Drifting Walk

The whoosh of wind. I remember my youngest sister, slight and small, was so delicate and light that my Dad would joke, we all would joke, “that she could blow away in a big gust of wind.”

We laughed but I always worried.  I could see her carried off her feet, snatched by the wind,  her fine straight pixie cut blown back. her hands reaching out imploringly, her eyes dark and frightened.  I would save her, I would save her for sure, by grabbing her by her red sneakered foot and pulling her back, bringing her back down to earth.

Back on solid ground, my middle sister and I, both of us bigger, stronger, watchful, would then take her hands and walk together.  We would find the ice cream truck. I held the dimes for the Eskimo Pies. Sitting on the front stoop, each of us would be in a race against the sun to eat before the vanilla would melt into rivulets, the chocolate sheaths slipping to the pavement.  After a few tentative bites, the littlest sister would ask for help to finish hers.  And we helped her.

As I walk on,  the air becomes dense, almost damp as the clouds above darken and hover.

An Imaginary Walk

Through the window, I can see clouds are gathering, dark and threatening. There’s not much time. I change my shoes and slip out of the office, climb up the dim stairwell. Shove open the doorway to the roof.

I am all alone up here.

The air has a heavy, muscular quality and I can almost see the delicate scribbles of the wind, the advance guard of the coming storm. There isn’t much time.

I begin to walk around and around. It’s a tight circuit. On a level with the tree tops, I can hear the birds’ nervous twitter as they nestle in the trees, surely looking for cover before the storm. Or are they shouting a warning to me?

I am on a pilgrimage of sorts, here as I am adjacent to the church. Drops are starting to plop around me and I find that I am stutter stepping trying to avoid them.  With a flash the sky releases a torrent of coolness.  I stop trying to dodge the rain and instead am embraced by it.

I continue to rhythmically walk in the tight little circuit of the roof, the rain pounding around me, a ratatat counterpoint to my steps. 

And then, just as quickly as it began, the storm ends.  The clouds recoil and reshape themselves once again, the sun streams through the sky.  I imagine that in a few steps I could break free and leap from cloud to cloud, bounding on high.  From there I could see the grid of the world, the pathways and byways, the swaths of space, the connectedness of it all.

***

My three walks, each path moving from vulnerability to a sense of invincibility through movement alone,  all smudge together as I move my feet ever forward. 

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.